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

By Cheshire Calhoun | Go to book overview

Preface

Writing philosophy has always been, for me, a way of bringing some greater amount of conceptual clarity to puzzling issues in everyday life. This book is no exception. I am one of the not so small group of people who switched sexual orientation from heterosexual to lesbian in mid life. Feminism had, in many ways, enabled me to think critically about women's intimate relations with men and to call into question the assumption that a normal, healthy, mature life trajectory for women must include an intimate relationship with a man. It had not, however, prepared me to live life as a lesbian. After thirty-seven years of living with heterosexual privilege, I was stunned at how difficult it was to present myself publicly as a lesbian. I was also deeply unaccustomed to having my most important, intimate relationships treated as mere friendships or imitations of 'real' romance. Feminist work, however, had largely failed to provide me with a conceptual scheme for clearly seeing and articulating the shape that the subordination of lesbians and gays takes. Indeed, while reading Susan Moller Okin's Justice, Gender, and the Family, I was forcibly struck by how much I knew about the structure of women's oppression from reading feminist work and how structureless my grasp of lesbian and gay subordination was.

The aim of this book is to explore the distinctive features of lesbian and gay subordination. Paying attention to the distinctive structure of lesbian and gay subordination means, in part, resisting the temptation to view lesbian experience through feminist eyes that are on the lookout for evidence of gender oppression. In Chapter 1 , I suggest that this will mean that feminist theorizing must make a methodological shift from thinking that heterosexism is just a byproduct of sexism to thinking of lesbian and gay subordination as a separate axis of oppression. In Chapters 2 and 3 , I argue that feminist theorizing about gender oppression has worked to conceal, rather than reveal, lesbian specificity; and I try to determine what it is in feminist thinking that makes it difficult to see the lesbian in the feminist subject 'women'. Paying attention to the distinctive structure of lesbian and gay subordination also means trying to get a grip on just how social practices work to subordinate lesbians and gays so that it is possible to get a clearer picture of what needs to be done politically. Chapter 4 is my attempt to isolate the structure of lesbian and gay subordination. Chapters 5 and 6 address what is, for me, the most frustrating dimension of lesbian life and the dimension that needs to be politically prioritized, namely, the denigration of same-sex intimate relationships that claim to constitute marriages or families.

Most of the chapters in this volume have appeared in a somewhat different form in a variety of philosophical, feminist, and legal journals and books. Each essay was originally written with the previous one in mind. Together

-v-

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

Table of contents

  • Feminism, the Family, and the Politics of the Closet: Lesbian and Gay Displacement iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • 1: Introduction 1
  • 2: Separating Lesbian Theory from Feminist Theory 25
  • 3: The Gender Closet 49
  • 4: The Shape of Lesbian and Gay Subordination 75
  • 5: Defending Marriage 107
  • 6: Constructing Lesbians and Gay Men as Family's Outlaws 132
  • Bibliography 161
  • Index 169
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