Sunteți pe pagina 1din 11

Getting Hitched: The Heteronormative Homosexual

Weaver 1

Joshua Ryan Weaver CCTP 721: Critical Theory and Contemporary Culture Professor Matthew Tinkcom Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Final Paper:

Getting Hitched: The Heteronormative Homosexual

Among cultural and gender theorists, there exists a wealth of inquiry into the myriad

speculative approaches to supplant representational hegemonic ideologies. Scholars recognize

various mechanisms, including linguistics, performance, science and others, as the culprit in

buttressing hierarchies that perpetuate societal norms and requisites. These mechanisms represent

tangible instantiations of an omnipresent power framework whose innumerable avenues of

influence are simultaneously elusive, yet subtly immanent to the social being. Theorists employ

various terminology to help describe and label this pervasive conceptual regime of intangible, yet

effectual disciplinary forces. Michel Foucault implements the term Power 1 to designate this

schema, gender theorist Judith Butler prefers the term Culture 2 , while Jacques Lacan places these

disciplinary forces into what he terms the Symbolic. Of the myriad norms perpetuated by these

omnipresent forces exists heteronormativity. Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner attempt to

define heteronormativity in “Sex in Public” (1998) as “the institutions, structures of

understanding, and practical orientations that make heterosexuality seem not only coherent --

that is, organized as a sexuality -- but also privileged.” (548) In their definition, references to

1 Foucault, M. (1990) The history of sexuality. New York: Vintage

2 Butler, J. (2002) Is Kinship Always Already Heterosexual? differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies . 13(1), P. 35

Getting Hitched: The Heteronormative Homosexual

Weaver 2

“institutions” and “structures” seem to connote the phenomena referred to by Foucault, Butler,

Lacan, among others.

The topic of marriage seems to occupy the crux of the gay rights movement’s agenda

today. Marriage represents a particular manifestation or product of various mechanisms within

this regime of power, or in Foucault’s terms, one of “the terminal forms power takes.” (92)

Several disciplines, such as law, religion, education vis-a-vis history, politics, and others, work to

create, influence and reinforce the concept of marriage. Many within the gay rights movement,

as well as numerable others, contend that extending marital rights to gay and lesbian couples will

lend a certain legitimacy to homosexual relationships. Conversely, some, including several

scholars, contend that the mere institution of marriage is founded on a patriarchal framework that

may continue to be a facet of marriage even as its definition and literal manifestations transform.

Gays and lesbians, in an attempt to gain explicit rights that work to help legitimize their

relationships, may reinforce a heteronormative framework by demanding marital rights. The

disciplines of law and politics help formulate the powerful requisites that define legal marriage

and, which, in turn, help define which forms of relationships are both permissible and


Many scholars who investigate avenues of transgressing hegemonic ideologies contend

that any effective method of resistance must take place within the hegemonic sphere; and, some,

such as Foucault, believe that each and every node of resistance, like everything else, is already

within the power structure. Thus said, there exists debate on how gays and lesbians may be able

to prescribe to the institution of marriage, while also disavowing the heteronormative structure

upon which marriage, and subsequently the family, is predicated -- even among non-

Getting Hitched: The Heteronormative Homosexual

Weaver 3

heterosexuals. In other words, can gays and lesbians get married without upholding a framework

that, arguably, continues to keep homosexual and non-heteronormative affiliations at the


David Grindstaff in “Queering Marriage: An Ideographic Interrogation of

Heteronormative Subjectivity” (2003) describes the binarism of what he terms the “regime of

sexuality” (264). Marked by a set of descriptive and active terms set in opposing fashion

(“heterosexual/homosexual, procreation/sodomy, monogamy/promiscuity, life/death” [265]),

Grindstaff underlines how rhetoric may not only help to construct gender and sexual identities,

but also may help to create essentializing equations to these constructions that work to pin these

constructed identities against each other. Foucault in The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1 (1984) also

highlights the use of binaries within the power regime through law. Under what he terms the

“juridico-discursive,” (82) language works to define through law what is proper and improper,

lawful and unlawful. (Foucault, 83) Placing Grindstaff’s rhetorical equations within the

discipline of law, one realizes that each of these categories are, or were at one time, under the

purview of law. Grindstaff argues that sexual acts have, indeed, become equivalent to the sexual

identity: “


contemporary usage of these ideographic terms equates male (hetero and homo)-

sexual identities with specific sexual activities.” (Grindstaff, 265) The promiscuity of the male

homosexual serves as a longstanding trope against the gay male. Grindstaff elucidates this

through a passage by D. Prager, which, in essence, defines the heterosexual woman in the

heterosexual relationship as the basis of monogamy, insinuating that “the male propensity to

promiscuity would simply overwhelm most homosexual males’ marriage vows.” (Grindstaff,

265) The AIDS epidemic and its equation to male homosexual sex also serves to buttress and

Getting Hitched: The Heteronormative Homosexual

Weaver 4

reinforce claims that the gay male libido, defined by promiscuity and unchecked by the

“monogamating” forces of the woman, is transgressive to the institution of marriage. And,

according to Grindstaff, the rhetorical and ideographic equation states that a transgression on

marriage is a transgression of procreating, a transgression of life -- and, ergo, a representation of


Marriage as an institution of power -- one marked by fidelity and productiveness (i.e., the

act of procreation) -- is disconnected from the homosexual male through Grindstaff’s

ideographic equation. In essence, the mere performative essentializing of gay men with

promiscuous, deviant and unsafe sex disavows them from the institution of marriage. But, what

if the male homosexual disavows the promiscuity to which he is constructively equated? Judith

Butler in a 2002 essay for differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies (13:1) entitled “Is

Kinship Always Already Heterosexual?” introduces the concept of the intelligibility of sex and

sexuality. Butler contends that the sexually unintelligible realm should not be written off as

necessarily undesirable or unproductive:

“On the other hand, there is always the possibility of savoring the status of unthinkability,

if it is a status, as the most critical, the most radical, the most valuable. As the sexually

unrepresentable, such sexual possibilities can figure the sublime within the contemporary

field of sexuality, a site of pure resistance, a site uncoopted by normativity.” (Butler, 18)

Heteronormativity may work to add levels on intelligibility to what, on the surface, seems

to be the inherently subversive sexual and affiliative relationships of homosexuals. Prescribing to

an affiliative rigidness, i.e., marriage, may help to legitimize homosexual relationships,

especially if this rigidness takes the form of that within the normative heterosexual relationship.

This prescription to heteronormativity may not be an advertent tactic in the gay arsenal; but,

Getting Hitched: The Heteronormative Homosexual

Weaver 5

rather, heteronormativity may work within Foucault’s power-knowledge regime to make the gay

relationship intelligible within the Scientia Sexualis (Foucault, 1984). In other words,

heteronormativity, situated within the bounds of the state, science and other disciplines, works to

de-pathologize the homosexual and his affiliative dynamic by setting out to define a normative

“truth”. Through the lens of Foucault, one can see heteronormativity as an agent in resituating

homosexuality outside of the pathological and perversive periphery of Scientia Sexualis.

However, Butler argues that exiting the periphery may not be the most efficacious move in trying

to transgress the heteronormative hegemony that has kept the homosexual within the perversive

periphery. Butler highlights the normalizing agency of the state in affording gays (and lesbians)

the right to marry: “That the state’s offer might result in the intensification of normalization is

not widely recognized as a problem within the mainstream lesbian and gay movement, typified

by the Human Rights Campaign.” (Butler, 16) More than a mere upholding of the desire for

equality, gay marriage may uphold the agency (and the willingness for) the state to determine

“what forms of relationship ought to be legitimated.” (Butler, 17) This is an agency that Butler

argues gays and lesbians may not want: “The sphere of legitimate intimate alliance is established

through producing and intensifying regions of illegitimacy.” (Butler, 17) Indeed, the legitimate

way of married life is not a savory concept for many homosexuals. And, more importantly, this

legitimacy comes straight from the power-knowledge structure, and in a very tangible and

coherent fashion. In “What If? The Legal Consequences of Marriage and the Legal Needs of

Lesbian and Gay Male Couples,” David L. Chambers contends that the discipline of law may

work to normalize homosexuals into a realm in which many of them may not want to be:

“Many lesbians and gay men will find state-imposed fidelity repugnant on more than one

ground. They will do so in part because they reject the notion of criminalizing any

Getting Hitched: The Heteronormative Homosexual

Weaver 6

voluntary sexual conduct between adults. They will also reject the legitimacy of

state-dictated terms of the intimate relationship between partners.” (Chambers, 460)

While Chambers argument may be motivated by the very rhetorical and typified structure

highlighted by Grindstaff, it brings to light the constructedness of fidelity within and outside of

the realm of marriage. The repressive power-knowledge structure (herein represented as the

institution of marriage vis-a-vis the state) mandates fidelity and monogamy within the

heterosexual relationship as a means of upholding the legitimacy of sex and sexuality, which

may only afford said legitimacy when linked to a certain productiveness, i.e., procreation.

Promiscuity, heterosexual or homosexual, does not actually pose an inherent or imminent risk to

the “sanctity” of marriage; using adequate prophylaxis can adequately safeguard one from the

risk of HIV infection -- arguably one of the largest tools used to demonize male-to-male sexual

affiliation and, in turn, male homosexuals. And, moreover, one’s sexual exploits and endeavors

have little bearing on the stability of marriage as an institution. (Emphasis is given to institution

as a means of differentiating said marriage from that of the mere social practice for one’s

marriage may, indeed, avow infidelity, however such a marriage may fall outside the institutive

intelligibility of marriage.)

At the crux of the gay marriage debate seems to be the child. This child does not

necessarily represent a literal manifestation, i.e., gay adoptive rights, etc.; but, rather, this child

represents the abstract and essentialized futurism of marriage and the intimate relationship. Lee

Edelman in No Future (2004) defines futurism and highlights how it works to disavow

queerness: “


futurism: terms that impose an ideological limit on political discourse

as such, preserving in the process the absolute privilege of heteronormativity by rendering

unthinkable, by casting outside the political domain, the possibility of a queer resistance to this

Getting Hitched: The Heteronormative Homosexual

Weaver 7

organizing principle of communal relations.” [Emphasis Added 3 ] (Edelman, 2) In her essay,

Butler discusses the debate concerning gay domestic partnership in France around 2002, stating

popular French philosopher Sylvaine Agacinski’s contention that gay adoption and homosexual

families “goes against the ‘symbolic order.’” For Agacinski, this disruption of the Symbolic

seems to come from the biologic: “Heterosexual coitus will be understood for her, regardless of

the parent or parents who rear the child, as the origin of the child, and that origin will have

symbolic importance.” (Butler, 31) While Agacinski equates the biologic with the Symbolic,

Butler seems to argue that the biologic, i.e., male-female parenthood, heterosexual coitus, is not

necessary to what she terms “the hypostatized heterosexuality” (34): “According to its precept,

those who enter kinship terms as nonheterosexuals will only make sense if they assume the

position of Mother or Father.” (Butler, 34) Even though the homosexual couple cannot literally

reproduce (excluding reproductive technologies, i.e., surrogacy, which still makes one of two

parents a reproductive parental), the homosexual relationship is only legitimate when semblant to

the heterosexual, procreative and futurist relationship -- a relationship institutionalized as

marriage. Furthermore, this requisite seems to exist in all relationships, regardless of child-

bearing status; and, this exists to reinforce the procreative imperative of sex and sexuality -- sex’s

productivity. Edelman discusses how reproductive futurism uphold Lacan’s Symbolic and the

concept of linguistic meaning, similar to “intelligibility” as outlined by Butler. And, within the

Symbolic per Edelman, the procreative underpinning of heterosexual sex, and ergo heterosexual

relationships, preempts truths of heterosexual sex and heterosexuality as inessential to

procreation and child-bearing today, upholding Grindstaff’s rhetorical equation

(“heterosexual=procreation=life”[Grindstaff, 269]).

3 Emphasis Added to highlight use of “heteronormativity” in lieu of “heterosexuality”, etc.

Getting Hitched: The Heteronormative Homosexual

Weaver 8

According to Edelman, the queerness of the non-heteronormative relationship may serve

as a vehicle outside of the symbolic -- outside of the institutive bounds created by marriage (and

congruous affiliations) vis-a-vis futurism by precluding the need for meaning (Edelman, 25),

representing what Lacan term’s jouissance, the discomforting state outside of the Symbolic and,

in turn, Foucault’s power-knowledge structure, each of which work to reinforce a

heteronormative imperative: “


undoes the identities through which we experience

ourselves as subjects, insisting on the Real of a jouissance that social reality and the futurism on

which it relies have already foreclosed.” (Edelman, 24) If the sustainability of life and humanity

that helps to motivate the institution of marriage may work to predicate a certain

heteronormativity within homosexual matrimony, then how can homosexual couples be

“intelligible” and legitimate within the institution, without disavowing their queerness? A

queerness that may be necessary to transgress a heteronormative structure that may never

legitimate same-sex relationships.

According to Foucault, the elusive, multifaceted and omnipresent nature of power means

that nothing exists outside of the power-knowledge structure, not even the myriad nodes of

resistance to said power: “They [nodes of resistance] are the odd terms in relations of power;

they are inscribed in the latter as an irreducible opposite.” (Foucault, 96) Samuel A. Chambers in

“‘An Incalculable Effect’: Subversions of Heteronormativity” (2007: 55, 656) highlights Butler’s

thoughts on transgressing hierarchical power structures: “Butler’s critical readings of Foucault,

Kristeva and Wittig consistently demonstrate that subversion cannot serve as a radical practice or

fund a radical politics if we conceptualise it as external to or beyond the system that it

subverts.” (Chambers, 660) The heteronormativity existent in the regime of marriage is neither

unique or exclusive from the heteronormative facets that permeate culture and the power regime.

Getting Hitched: The Heteronormative Homosexual

Weaver 9

Heterosexuality as the norm is reinforced through ubiquitous and unsuspecting repetition; and, as

much, any transgression to heteronormativity must effect change on levels deeper than a single

instance of heteronormative ways. Some academics, such as Chandler, believe that subversion of

heteronormativity in its general sense may be neither predictable nor calculating; instead, as the

regime of heteronormativity is increasingly challenged, the inner-workings of the hegemonic

practice will be critically exposed. For instance, Chandler gives the example of the introduction

of DOMA, or the Defense of Marriage Act, to illustrate how the increased presence of the

hegemonic regime of heterosexuality in the discipline of law may shed light on the progressive

weakening of the regime. (Chandler, 675) While homosexual couples may or may not evince

heteronormativity in their relationships, the act of marriage upholds the agency given to the state

to decide whom and what it decides to label legitimate, which seems to be one of the bases that

drive the debate on gay marriage. Gay men are allowed nuptials only when they evince the

heterosexual binary as defined by Grindstaff and others -- only when they disavow themselves

from the promiscuity associated with gay men and uphold the rigid futurism upon which

marriage is defined as a productive and necessary institution.

Chambers contends that the ultimate subversion of heteronormativity can only come from

the complete disavowal of the institution of marriage. (676) Butler struggles with this in Is

Kinships Always Already Heterosexual?, understanding the basis upon which gays and lesbians

may ask for marital rights, yet simultaneously being critical that such a sanctioning is even

necessary: “For a progressive sexual movement, even one that may want to produce marriage as

an option for nonheterosexuals, the proposition that marriage should become the only way to

sanction and legitimate sexuality is unacceptably conservative.” (Butler, 21) However, while

Butler express her discontent, she alludes to Foucault’s ubiquity of power in discussing just how

Getting Hitched: The Heteronormative Homosexual

Weaver 10

pervasive the mechanisms of the state are; and, more importantly, how the state’s many

mechanisms may make it seem more formidable than it may actually be: “The state is not

reducible to law, and power is not reducible to state power.” (Butler, 27) While Butler believes

transgressing heteronormativity can come from the exploitation of the law and the state, it seems

to take more than mere judicial or legislative rethinking. According to Butler, it takes a

quintessential rethinking of the conception and motivations of the state (and when I use state

here, I use it as a referent to power as aforementioned throughout the paper). Inasmuch, gay,

lesbian and other non-heterosexual relationships stand a chance at transgressing the

heteronormative requisite of marriage by identifying the hegemonic mechanisms that uphold it.

While dismantling marriage and power’s role in sanctioning relationships represents the

consummate transgression to the heteronormative framework, according to Butler, to find

effective nuggets of transgression within the framework, one must take advantage of the

structure’s necessity for recognition and sanctioning: “


is crucial that, politically, we lay claim

to intelligibility and recognizability; and, it is crucial, politically, that we maintain a critical and

transformative relation to the norms that govern

(Butler, 28) And, in coupling Butler’s theory

with Foucault’s conception of power, one comes to a sort-of nihilistic dead-end, wherein the

inability to lie outside the mechanisms of power (Butler’s state being an instance of such) seems

to stymie an ability to truly subvert and disconnect from a binding heteronormativity. Thus said,

the intensifying rhetoric and purposeful avowing of heteronormativity within the system seems

indicative to an equally intensifying challenge to the heteronormative. While homosexuals may

have to affiliate within the heteronormative realm today, the recognition of the very mechanisms

that necessitate the requisite may be a step in the right direction.

Getting Hitched: The Heteronormative Homosexual

Weaver 11

Works Referenced

Berlant, L. & Warner, M. (1998) “Sex in Public”. Critical inquiry, 24(2) 547-566

Butler, J. (2002) “Is kinship always already heterosexual?” differences: a journal of feminist cultural studies, 13(1) 14-44.

Chambers, D. (1996) “What if? The legal consequences of marriage and the legal needs of lesbian and gay male couples”. Michigan law review, 95(2), 447-491.

Chambers, S. (2007) “‘An incalculable effect’: subversions of heteronormativity”. Political studies, 55, 656-679.

Edelman, L. (2004) No future: queer theory and the death drive. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Grindstaff, D. (2003) “Queering marriage: an ideographic interrogation of heteronormative subjectivity.” Journal of homosexuality, 45(2/3/4) 257-275.

Folgero, T. (2008) “Queer nuclear families? Reproducing and transgressing heteronormativity. Journal of homosexuality, 54(1/2) 124-148.

Foucault, M. (1990) The history of sexuality. New York: Vintage.

Krause, H. (2000) “Marriage for the new millennium: heterosexual, same sex -- or not at all?” Deutsches und Europaisches FamilienRecht, 2, 208-211.