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

By Cheshire Calhoun | Go to book overview

4 The Shape of Lesbian and Gay Subordination

In introducing this book, I offered two very general reasons for treating lesbian and gay subordination as a separate axis of oppression. First, getting a fix on the most fundamental contours of lesbian and gay subordination is essential if one is to have any hope of accurately picking out and describing the distinctively heterosexist dimensions of social experiences and practices. Just as outlining the structure of race, class, and gender oppression has been critical to social critique of particular racist, sexist, and classist practices, so outlining the structure of lesbian and gay subordination is a critical first step to more informed and well-targeted social criticism of heterosexist practices. In the previous chapter, I argued that lesbians disappear from view even in difference-sensitive feminism because one crucial preliminary question was not addressed: What is the structure of lesbian and gay subordination? A feminist method aimed at uncovering the intersections of different systems of oppression cannot hope to bring lesbians from the margin to the center unless this question is first answered.

Second, it seems to me pragmatically necessary to assume that lesbian and gay subordination is a separate axis. Making this assumption helps feminists guard against the danger of theorizing from a heterosexual viewpoint without noticing that they are doing so. If one has neither a model in mind of what lesbian and gay subordination typically looks like nor a deep appreciation of how differently lesbians and gays experience subordination, heterosexual bias in theorizing will be hard to avoid.

But it is not simply feminism that needs an analysis of the general structure of lesbian and gay subordination. An effective lesbian and gay politics needs it. Because lesbianism and homosexuality are distinctively sexual identities, it is tempting to assume without question that the center of lesbian and gay politics should be opposition to sexual regulations. In addition, because combating racial and gender discrimination are so central to our understanding of what civil rights are all about, it is tempting to assume without question that advocating anti-discrimination laws that protect gays and lesbians against the material costs of subordination—lost income, opportunity, authority, and status—are also at the center of lesbian and gay politics. I think these assumptions need to be questioned. Because any system of subordination will deprive the subordinated of important liberties and social goods, we need to begin an investigation of lesbian and gay subordination by asking which liberties and

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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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