Plumb Lines

April 8, 2009

Imagined by Stigma, Actualized by Desire

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 10:33 am

This looks like it will be remembered as a significant week for same-sex marriage in the United States. I hope to post more on the question next week, but before I do I must return to an old disagreement with Keith. I said:

I suspect that the contemporary American understanding of “homosexual” as a kind of people rather than a kind of sex act is much newer… Blame the 50s for stigmatizing gays, then, but recognize that it was exactly this stigma the set the stage for the Stonewall riots, for gay pride, and on down the line until we arrive at same-sex marriage.

Keith fired back:

Perhaps this is owing to the company I keep, but I don’t see a lot of conservatives stigmatizing groups in some way readily distinguishable from rejecting bad behavior or bad ideas… So long as group characteristics remain observable realities, people will find words to express their observations.

You can’t predicate characteristics of a group until the group exists in your imagination. Simple induction no doubt plays a necessary role in the invention of new social groups, but not a sufficient one. There are characteristics shared by all individuals who are possessed by some peculiar or distinct desire–any particular sexual fetish provides an apt analogy here. We do not imagine a class of foot-fetishists to be actualized by their shared desire, even if there may be objective similarities–even above and beyond their shared desire–among the group of people who experience pathological sexual longing for feet. The history of the social understanding of homosexual desire is no doubt very complicated, but I think my point stands: by singling out people who experience homosexual desire for stigma and exclusion, “conservatives” of ages past created “homosexuals” who must now be singled out for de-stigmatization and inclusion. What was once “queer” has become merely different, like race, and must therefore become normal.

David Schaengold


1 Comment »

  1. […] Thus Schaengold. […]

    Pingback by Re: Imagined by Stigma, Actualized by Desire « Plumb Lines — April 8, 2009 @ 1:01 pm

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