Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Making sense

But here Kelvline is on the phone, leaving a manic message. She says: I want to be that person who goes everywhere and debates gay marriage -- I want to make a flow chart with all the answers to every possible question, I want to be that person. I need to be that person, but I don’t have anything -- any books, or movies, anything I can use -- but I guess I have Gay Shame, maybe I can use Gay Shame.

I might as well tell you that marriage is what broke Gay Shame’s stride. When Gavin Newsom emerged victorious from a close mayoral election against a progressive opponent, he “legalized” gay marriage as a risk-free 2004 Valentine’s gift to the powerful gay people who got him elected on an anti-homeless platform. His popularity ratings in San Francisco skyrocketed and he became a national celebrity, anti-poor crusader remade as a civil rights hero. Thousands of gay people from across the country descended upon City Hall at all hours of the day and night, camping out, sharing egg salad and wine, and toasting Gavin Newsom as the vanguard leader of the gay and lesbian movement.

It’s hard to over-emphasize how dramatically San Francisco changed with this shrewd gesture on the part of Newsom’s political machine -- beforehand, an anti-assimilationist queer politic sometimes existed as an acknowledged part of local debate; afterwards, any challenge to the gay marriage agenda became heresy. If those of us in Gay Shame felt marginalized before, afterwards we felt like pariahs. We didn’t know what to do -- yelling at a bunch of marriage supporters just felt hopeless. We created a poster that said GAY SHAME OPPOSES MARRIAGE IN ANY FORM, and stenciled END MARRIAGE around the city. We also distributed our own version of the ubiquitous red-white-and-blue “Freedom to Marry” stickers. Ours said, “We All Deserve the FREEDOM TO BURY,” and continued, “How many Iraqis were murdered while you were getting married?” But we struggled to think of a larger intervention.

I keep trying to tell you how hard it was to work with Kelvline, but then I circle back around and make it all sound rational. When Kelvline gets all frantic and tells me she wants to be that person who goes everywhere and debates gay marriage, doesn’t she mean that everyone else trying to inject some kind of sense into the debate isn’t doing anything? Maybe I’m trying so hard to be clear that I end up clearing away too much. Because marriage did make us desperate; it still does. But Kelvline constantly contradicts herself and then I go off trying to make it all make sense -- that was always part of our relationship. Maybe it’s a dynamic I still don’t know how to avoid.

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