Feminism, the Family, and the Politics of the Closet: Lesbian and Gay Displacement

By Cheshire Calhoun | Go to book overview

1 Introduction: Centering Sexual Orientation Politics

This book is devoted to two different but interrelated questions about centering sexual orientation politics. The first is the question of the extent to which lesbian theorizing occupies the center of feminist theorizing about women. In raising this first question, my aim is to unsettle the comfortable assumption that because feminist thought is about women, and because so much of existing lesbian theorizing has been conducted within a feminist frame, lesbians are already securely at the center of feminist theory in a way in which women of color or poor and working class women have not been. I will suggest instead that the specifically lesbian features of lesbian lives persistently slip from view in feminist theory. In order to keep lesbian specificity in view, feminist theorizing needs to give up the idea that heterosexism is nothing but a byproduct of sexism; and it needs to work out the basic structure of lesbian and gay subordination.

The second question is the question of what the political center of lesbian and gay liberatory activity should be. In raising this second question, I aim to unsettle the common assumption that lesbian and gay politics should be centered first around combating the socio-legal structures that regulate sexual activity and second around securing protection against the material costs of discriminatory practices. Prioritizing challenges to sexual regulations makes sense if one assumes that gays and lesbians are primarily stigmatized for their sexual object choice. I will suggest instead that the stigma of being lesbian or gay emerges from a century's worth of constructing the identities 'lesbian' and 'homosexual' as types of persons whose deviancies are not limited to sexual object choice. Looking at the multiple deviancies attributed to lesbians and gays suggests that marriage and family issues need special priority in a lesbian and gay politics. The second standard goal of lesbian and gay politics—securing protection against the material costs of discriminatory practices—makes sense if one assumes that lesbian and gay subordination directly parallels race and gender oppression. I will argue that it does not because gays and lesbians can largely evade the material costs of discrimination. This does not necessarily mean that pursuing anti-discrimination protection should not be central to lesbian and gay politics. What it does mean is that we need a better account of why that protection is so important.

In this chapter, I simply want to lay out some of the groundwork for later chapters. Later chapters will focus on specific ways that feminist scholarship

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