Disestablish Yourself.The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life
by Michael Warner
Free Press, 1999. 240 pages, $23.
One of the great pleasures of attending the Gay Men's Health Men's Health Definition
Men's health is concerned with identifying, preventing, and treating conditions that are most common or specific to men. Summit in Boulder, Colorado, last year was seeing some of the forgotten dreams and ambitions of the gay and lesbian movement of the 1970's being dusted off and reconsidered. It was like seeing the first signs of green under the blanket of snow and ice that the ATDS ATDS Airborne Tactical Data System
ATDS American Theatre and Drama Society
ATDS Air Tactical Data System
ATDS Aircraft Tactical Display System
ATDS Advanced Test Driver System
ATDS Advanced Tunnel Drive Steering crisis and more than a decade of conservative politics created. In a similar way, Michael Warner's The Trouble With Normal reaches back to the beginnings of gay liberation to combat the "active mystification mys·ti·fi·ca·tion
1. The act or an instance of mystifying.
2. The fact or condition of being mystified.
3. Something intended to mystify.
Noun 1. " and "widespread amnesia" of the movement today.
In five related essays, Warner offers a clear and fascinating analysis of the stigma of sexual identity and how it operates in contemporary shame-based politics:
Those who fought the early struggles of the movement were those least cowed by shame. Their very success has allowed others to see themselves as part of a movement without having to take the same degree of risk. That may be a good thing in itself, but its unanticipated result is that many of the new arrivals to the movement are less disposed to challenge the force of shame and stigma fully. ... I believe that this difference in ethical orientation, a difference in ways of resolving the ambivalence of stigma, best explains the political divisions in the movement right now.
Warner's principal arguments are laid out in the first two essays, "The Ethics of Sexual Shame" and "What's Wrong With Normal?" There he attributes the fitful fit·ful
Occurring in or characterized by intermittent bursts, as of activity; irregular. See Synonyms at periodic.
fit progress of the gay and lesbian movement to our society's deeply rooted aversion to sex, and to the mainstream GLBT GLBT Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered movement's willingness to accommodate itself to that aversion in order to be accepted by the dominant culture, rather than attempting "to change the self under standing of that culture." He argues that our community repudiates "its best histories of insight and activism" when it becomes nothing more than "an instrument for normalizing gay men and lesbians." The upshot is what he calls a "politics of sexual shame," in which gay people are forced to desexualize de·sex·u·al·ize
tr.v. de·sex·u·al·ized, de·sex·u·al·iz·ing, de·sex·u·al·iz·es
1. To take away the sexual quality of.
2. To desex. themselves, depriving themselves of their sexual dignity, so as to achieve certain political goals.
But Warner questions the validity of the goals themselves in three consecutive essays, "Beyond Gay Marriage," "Zoning Out Sex," and "The Politics of Shame and HIV HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), either of two closely related retroviruses that invade T-helper lymphocytes and are responsible for AIDS. There are two types of HIV: HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-1 is responsible for the vast majority of AIDS in the United States. Prevention." He challenges in particular the recent focus on gay marriage, questioning those whose "zone of privacy requires the support of an elaborate network of state regulations, judicial rulings and police powers police powers n. from the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, which reserves to the states the rights and powers "not delegated to the United States" which include protection of the welfare, safety, health and even morals of the public. ." He's written intelligently on these topics before- notably in his 1997 essay "The Bloodless blood·less
1. Deficient in or lacking blood.
2. Pale and anemic in color: smiled with bloodless lips.
3. Revolution of the New Gay Right"- but here he has done it in a crisp, clean style, dropping the jargon that befits a Rutgers University English prof in favor of a language that's simple and accessible.
But to point to Warner's reasonableness is not to say that his writing lacks bite. For example, when discussing the much-discussed changes in gay men's behavior after the introduction of protease inhibitors Protease Inhibitors Definition
A protease inhibitor is a type of drug that cripples the enzyme protease. An enzyme is a substance that triggers chemical reactions in the body. , he writes: "What is to be done about this? Well, here's one option: we could all get really shocked and talk about how horrifying it is. This wouldn't do anything for the poor flickers at risk, of course, but as long as you're talking about how scandalous and outrageous it is that some guys are having unsafe sex, you can always say you're doing your part for prevention. You, at least, are taking a moral stand. Unlike some people."
Warner 's aim in The Trouble with Normal is to create--or perhaps restore--an ethical vision on which an honest movement can be built. By this he means a movement in which we are truthful about our "variations from the norm" rather than ashamed of them, in which we own up to these variations while refusing to surrender our dignity. And in this he succeeds brilliantly. The framework Warner provides could profitably be used to explain, for example, why some people had such strong objections to the Millennium March on Washington Millennium March on Washington was a controversial LGBT event held April 28 through April 30, 2000 in Washington, DC. A march from the Washington Monument to the front lawn of the Capitol took place on April 30, where the crowd was addressed by several members of , or to articulate the growing sense of isolation and betrayal felt by many gay and lesbian people of color Noun 1. people of color - a race with skin pigmentation different from the white race (especially Blacks)
people of colour, colour, color
race - people who are believed to belong to the same genetic stock; "some biologists doubt that there are important , or to understand the contradictions inherent in the murky concept of "gender identity."
The Trouble With Normal is essential reading, even-or especially-for those who think that gay marriage should be our ultimate goal: It's your best shot at understanding where the other side is coming from.
Jim Baxter is editor and publisher of The Front Page, the gay biweekly of the Carolinas.