he United States Empire continues to roll out its genocidal warfare against people of color abroad. With half  of US prisons containing Black men, many for drug-related offenses, a slower genocide occurs within the ever-expanding borders of the Land of the Free. It should come as no surprise then, that queer people of color activists in the country I (abashedly) call home have called on me with urgency to drop what I am doing, step up and be a leader in the fight for none other than... "marriage equality."
What in gay hell? People are being murdered, the planet can't handle the perpetual barrage of human-caused devastation, and I'm being asked to work for the right to eat legitimized three-tier wedding cake? Is revolution going to come before or after the champagne toast? And why would anyone, particularly radical South Asians, support this nonsense?
I thought about this during a recent trip to Pennsylvania, where I visited my parents and the conservative town where I grew up. My upper middle class parents, staunch Democrats, seem to be the odd ones out in a largely Republican South Asian community. They vote, contribute money to Democratic campaigns, and my mother even did jury duty. They are proud to assimilate to the culture of the Empire that oppresses them. It makes sense that my father is an engineer, my mother is a medical administrator and my older brother is a doctor.
I tell friends it makes perfect sense that I, a radical, fluid, queer, third wave feminist activist, got my start through the fundamentalist Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh. Perhaps my experiences in these fascist groups ignited a spirit of resistance that I use to drive me to work for racial justice and queer liberation. My identity seems to be an overt challenge to the rabid monster of assimilation. I fuck who I want to fuck - with their consent; work to bring out radical political activism in South Asian youth, and I fight against gay marriage.
"AGAINST GAY MARRIAGE? But we have worked so hard to get to this place! We need South Asians to lead us in the battle for marriage equality! How can you do this to us?! We are your community!" First of all, what a stupid, stupid question! It's one I get asked too often by people who think they know who my community is. It assumes I have betrayed South Asian queers in the United States, who are marginalized either through the overt racism of white queers by being the fetishized objects, the exotic 'other,' or by being completely invisible and undesirable.
When South Asian queers spew hate-filled rhetoric at me because, to them, I am a sell-out to the (straight heteronormative) ruling class, they forget that many of them are members of this ruling class. Sure, they may not get health benefits or tax breaks for their domestic partner, but guess what, Uncle? A whole hell of a lot of people don't make enough money to get healthcare for themselves. They'll never pay taxes and they'll never have to think about Social Security because under the neoliberal welfare for the rich that went into hyperdrive after Margaret Thatcher's graceful decimation of the working class, they are the throwaways of society. So, the next time you pat yourself on the back for helping out at the soup kitchen on Thanksgiving Day (but never again the rest of the year), ask yourself what you are doing to help poor folks empower themselves to take action to change their conditions.
You won't get very far. Blatantly obvious point of the day: the capitalist system functions on a principle of haves and have-nots. The people in power have, and they got the have by enslaving, torturing, bombing, murdering, and otherwise more subtly oppressing the have-nots.
If you're one of those who is quick to tell me "But I earned everything I have through hard work, blood, sweat, and tears," I'll point you in the direction of some of the millions of people who probably work a whole lot harder than you and have shed more blood/sweat/tears (at the hands of one or more authoritarian regimes or the complacent people who let them stay in power) than you ever will. And they don't have food to eat or a warm place to sleep at night. Or healthcare.
"But if the straights have it why shouldn't I?" Well how about this. Legal marriage is a racist and classist institution. It's based on a contract and on heteronormative-assigned-male ownership of heteronormative-assigned-women, for fuck's sake. Picture that memorable scene from your favorite trashy American wedding film, where the (heteronormative-assigned-female) bride cuts the cake while guided by the (heteronormative-assigned-male) groom's hand. There's something behind that, and it isn't creamy vanilla frosting..Though there does seem to be another recurrent theme in contemporary Christian-style marriage in the good ole U S of A: pure, angelic, innocent, honorable and sacred WHITE. Try looking up the words 'white' and 'black' in an American English dictionary and maybe you can unpack some of the racial coding in that happy gem of romantic misogynistic tradition.
My feelings on this run deep, folks. I'm scared. My South Asian friends born and raised in the United States struggle with being told by their immigrant parents that they are not brown enough - as if kids raised in the US would retain every piece of South Asian culture and heritage while picking and choosing only the parts of white American culture that are palatable to their parents - while their white friends tell them they are not 'American' enough. To be American in this country is to have white skin and to eat burgers and fries and wear henna tattoos when they're trendy -- just don't call it mehndi; too ethnic-sounding, and way too hard to spell.
Putting cultural appropriation aside for just a moment, let's talk about queer-South Asian-assigned-males I am friends with. They are clean-shaven, body hair waxed or removed with expensive laser surgery (but only for those who can afford this exclusive but highly necessary "beauty treatment"), and they hate themselves. They look at white beauties like Aishwarya Rai (or is she brown today? It's so hard to tell..) and rank each other's sex appeal based on who has the lighter skin tone.
I for one am really freakin' tired of hating that how I look doesn't conform to the fucked up consumerist capitalist white gay male culture. I live in the Castro, the infamous wealthy white gay male neighborhood of San Francisco, the "gayest city in the United States," I'm told. Hurray. This is a land of rich cyborgs - almost everyone looks, talks, and acts the same! Everywhere I turn, it's the same tight fitted black t-shirt and body-hugging jeans, the same manicured hands, the same petty degrading of that gay-assigned-male who was so wearing the wrong shoes with that outfit. Oh, and supposedly there's a person behind all that plastic! I'm glad the weather never gets too hot in this city or I think all my neighbors would melt. The Castro scene is built on body-fascism, which is built on a much larger base of capitalism. Assimilation equals beauty, beauty equals acceptance, and acceptance equals love. All can be bought and sold at a high markup. Welcome to capitalism! The Castro is a gated community that doesn't need a physical gate or security guard because the gentrification of the neighborhood pushed out undesirables (poor folks, people of color, etc.) long ago.
While I hate the Castro and the assimilationist culture it represents, I love being queer. You can keep your heteronormative privilege, thank you very much. I'd rather not bathe in the hypocrisy of challenging patriarchy while being part of the patriarchal institution of marriage, where heteronormative-assigned-female is subservient to heteronormative-assigned-male. Why would I want my relationships to be sanctioned by a fascist state? Would you want your love to be judged by Hitler's stamp of approval (or Bush, or Kerry, or any other leader of the status quo)?
I'm not up for pretending that gay marriage will be some magic force that revolutionizes the fucked-up institution of marriage. It will reform it. So, now, privileged white queers and a few privileged queers of color will get a few more benefits - sort of - while poor queers, mostly queer people of color, will not. Is this a solution? Does this mean the state will suddenly fall in love with queer liberation? No, because this isn't queer liberation. It's the same bullshit that equates civil rights for people of color with truly liberatory racial justice.
I won't assume either that gay marriage will be a solution for queer immigrants who are undocumented, who do not have a green card, etc. I'd much rather work to battle the racist immigration policies and the ever-increasing powers of the state that chooses who is worthy of staying within its borders. Many of my friends have faced state repression in the form of deportation simply for being political activists or for speaking out against the Empire.
Queer immigrants face unique challenges in their roles within the capitalist system that exploits their labor and disposes of them when necessary, by any means necessary. Will queer immigrants ever see equality in this country? No. The capitalist system can't work if everyone has equal rights; equality is antithetical to capitalism. I can't fight to expand an institution built around a legal contract to protect private property - and I include in this the property of women, which few queers acknowledge. Besides, what exactly would we be equal to?
Who benefits from gay marriage? Mainstream white queers in San Francisco seem to think they will. Though ultra-conservative San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom pandered to the mainstream white gay vote to get himself elected and is notorious for supporting same-sex marriage (because it helps his political machine), the fight for gay marriage didn't originate here. It began many years ago with a right-wing plan to hijack queer liberation and turn it on its head. What are the key issues of the gay agenda (and of course gays do have an agenda - one - because all queer experiences can be essentialized into one)? Gay adoption, the right to serve in the military, ending workplace discrimination, strengthening hate crimes laws and (drumroll) gay marriage.
What isn't on the gay platform? Ending police brutality is one. The causes of the Stonewall uprising seem to conveniently contort into some pathetic story about queers needing to express their sadness at the death of gay cultural icon Judy Garland. Was it Judy Garland? At this point I don't really care. I care about the real causes of Stonewall, the ones that liberal and conservative historians alike erase from history (but really, is there that much of a difference between the conservatives who know they are the ruling class and the liberals who think they aren't?).
How about this version of history: One day in June of 1969, poor queers - butch dykes, transfolk, and queers of color - got tired of the frequent police raids on gay bars and the police assaults (I'll say that again: police ASSAULTS) on some of the most marginalized of queer people in the country. They decided they didn't want to get their heads bashed in anymore, so they fought back. And, for the short term, they won. It brought about a rejuvenated energy in queer organizing (contrary to popular belief, queer activism in the United States didn't start with Stonewall; it was already a part of working-class struggles for quite some time).
Now, the big box mainstream national gay groups - the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Human Rights Campaign, and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, among others - are quick to mask these victories. The groups aren't exactly shining examples of queer organizing in the first place. The Human Rights Campaign, for example, has as one of its biggest sponsors Nike. It's a common tactic for corporations to clean up tarnished images by marketing to the queer community. Marginalized groups often develop cultural definitions, such as styles of clothing or language, that are then appropriated and mass-marketed to an American public where many choose to express their individuality by buying the same sweater from The Gap. It worked.
At a National Gay and Lesbian Task Force conference in November 2004, I was on a panel called "Organizing Asians and Pacific Islanders for Social Change" with several other "leaders" in the queer Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community. This was a low point for me when I saw how deeply seduced my queer API friends - "my community"- were by mainstream gay America. A panelist talked about his personal commitment to fighting for gay marriage for the past two years. He cited a 2004 rally in San Francisco that attracted four hundred Asians and Pacific Islanders who were opposed to gay marriage. He said this showed how badly queer API people needed to fight for gay marriage so we could be visible and accepted both in the queer community and in the API community.
How about this: if queers of APIs or queer APIs or whoever doesn't accept me then fuck them, because I won't (fuck them). The queer activism that I believe in says I have a right to be whoever the hell I want to be, that I can fuck whoever I want to fuck with their consent, and that whether or not my sexuality is a choice doesn't really matter. If my sexuality is a choice, where's the problem there? What might come next? Would people have to start respecting other people's choices? The world would be in total chaos!! I can see how that could upset some people.
I left the conference bitter and jaded. I guess I expected that an event with the theme "Building an Anti-Racist Movement: Working for Social and Economic Justice and Freedom" would attempt to work for some of those things. I was eager to return home to my radical queer support system in San Francisco, where my friends are opposed to gay marriage -- and all forms of state-sanctioned marriage.
Sometimes, when surrounded by so many people who "get it," I let my guard down and forget that some ridiculous bourgeois liberal capitalists can be found even here in radical San Francisco. A few days ago I got an email directed at queer South Asians. It was a call to action for "South Asian leaders" willing to fight for marriage equality. I read the email and I cried. This was supposed to be my community. Or was it?
I find increasingly that, while my identity informs some of my politics, my politics define my identity. And no one but me has any right to define me. If there is some law out there that said otherwise, I would happily and deliberately break it (authority and power are forces that marriage perpetuates and I'm in no mood to reinforce these destructive phenomena).
The people who are whining about gay marriage are, hello, mostly white, with some token people of color thrown in to make good publicity photos. They're mostly wealthy; at least wealthy enough to have to worry about taxes and property rights and passing on inheritances. Yes, it sucks that heteronormative people can have their heteronormative partners visit them in critical hospital visitation situations or make important health decisions for them while those who don't fit into these boxes can't. But I think it sucks way more that many many people - queer, heteronormative, whoever they are - will never have adequate hospital care. Hell, many people's communities don't have hospitals. And personal property? Forget it.
Let's make a deal. If you're so hell-bent on gay marriage, how about you fight for universal healthcare? Better, how about you work to replace the patriarchal specialized healthcare system with pre-capitalism style community healthcare? How about you stop supporting an institution that poor folks can't afford? Because, come on, when was the last time you saw poor people having a wedding ceremony and signing official marriage papers at a district magistrate downtown?
Instead of supporting tougher hate crimes laws that give even more power to the cops who are beating trans folks and queer youth of color, what if you work for a world without police abuse - and without police, who do the bidding of their government Masters? Instead of supporting the rights of queers to serve in a military that is largely poor folks and people of color - often the same group - can you work to dismantle the military that is committing the mass genocide in Iraq and destroying entire communities around the world?
Gay adoption? What about a world where no child is hungry; and since the world produces annually twice the amount of food than is needed by the human population, that shouldn't be too hard.so why are people still dying of hunger? Could it be, Oh I don't know, capitalism?
What if every child had a place to call home? And by home I'm not talking private property. That shit has to go. Didn't this whole mess come about largely from capitalism? What about a new sense of community, real community, with direct democracy, where someone can love one person or many, of any gender, gender identity, gender expression, for one hour or one year or the rest of their lives; where white people stopped colonizing people of color; where people stopped trying to purchase beauty in a can; where everyone was happy being themselves.where everyone was committed to everyone else?
Working for gay marriage is helping to expand a system that destroys lives. You call this love? Gay marriage, like heteronormative marriage and the Empire it calls Master, is a tool for ownership, a cry for validation by a fascist state. It is the very foundation of capitalism, and it must end.