Andrew recently offered a post explaining why he thinks "queer theory" holds more promise for the gay community than "GLBT activism," grounded as it supposedly is in "essentialist" or "essentializing" approaches to sexuality. Of course, there are plenty of LGBT activists who subscribe to "deconstructionist" "queer theory," so I'm not sure it's quite accurate to characterize this as a question of queer theory versus GLBT activism. However, it's probably* true that the vast majority of gay men and lesbians in this country -- including activists -- subscribe to what he would characterize as an "essentialist" approach to sexuality. I.e., You're either gay or straight (or bisexual). We just "are" this way.
Now, what's interesting is that queer theorists themselves seem to be at least a little bit troubled by the fact that their views of sexuality seem to converge with the views of the extreme, homophobic Christian right, which insists that homosexuality is an illusion/delusion, that sexualities are completely socially constructed and are, in essence, whatever we want them to be. What I find a little bit troubling (apart from the fact that this view of sexuality doesn't actually seem to correspond to the real-life experience of the vast majority of gay men and lesbians), is that in order to get around this itsy bitsy little problem, queer theorists will in turn argue that the problem with the Christian right view is that it insists on there being a right and a wrong. Take morality out of the equation, and it doesn't matter how polymorphously perverse our sexualities are. We have a right to do whatever we please, so it shouldn't matter if there's no such thing as homosexuality. There's no such thing as heterosexuality either. So there!
That view of sexuality is "liberating" for about two seconds. Usually the two seconds can be lengthened out to four or five years if you're in some cutting edge liberal arts program at a major secular University. It is liberating precisely until you realize, as a gay man or lesbian, that you do in fact find the most fulfillment in a loving relationship with a person of the same-sex, and despite all your efforts or wishes that that not be the case, it is. And so some queer theorist telling you that you're supposed to revel in your polymorphous perversity, and some Christian right therapist telling you that your homosexuality is due to your fear of connecting with your own masculinity or a Satanic deception -- none of that helps in the least. What helps us is what helps everyone else in the world: love, freedom, acceptance, community, commitment. And guess what? Morality.
There's a reason why the vast majority of "queer" folk take a more essentialist perspective for granted. It's because it fits with our experience. And it works best for us. Now I'll grant that the inner workings of sexuality are likely complex. I'll grant that just because the sun appears to rotate around the earth doesn't mean that it in fact does. Just because I have to rely on Newtonian mechanics to ride my bike and go about my business day-to-day doesn't mean that Einstein was wrong about time and space being relative. Nevertheless, the sun still rises every morning outside my eastern window, and I still organize my day around the very Newtonian clock hanging on my wall. Einstein isn't particularly helpful for running my life. And queer theorists (not to mention Christian right therapists) are a long way away from showing that their speculations about the nature of sexuality are anything like natural law. Eve Sedgwick is no Einstein (even though she's almost as difficult to read).
There came a point in my life where I realized that in order for my life to have a meaning, it needed a center. I spent a lot of time and energy searching for that center. I tried to find it in academics, in humanism, in political activism, in artistic endeavor. I certainly tried to find it in my relationship with my husband. I pondered whether a meaningful life could even be possible if it was centered merely in the self, in myself; though that's always seemed least promising of all. My best efforts to make sense of my life and find a center in anything but God ultimately failed.
The most meaningful parts of my life -- including my coming out and coming to terms with my sexuality, and the establishment of my relationship with my husband -- were the parts of my life that literally had been touched by God. And so opening my heart to the Spirit, and accepting the Spirit's invitation to "come home" was ultimately simply an acknowledgment of that fact. And it was the single most liberating act of my life.
I am willing to say that opening my heart to God would and could be liberation enough. But as I followed the Spirit's invitation to "come home," and to enter as fully as I could into the path of faith, without self-condemnation and without fear, I began to learn that the Restored Gospel offered very specific hope and liberation to me as a gay man that I didn't see anywhere else.
For one thing, it quickly became clear to me that religious traditions, like Protestantism, that are rooted in a scripture-based authority paradigm, will never be able to resolve the problem posed by homosexuality in a satisfactory manner. All they will be able to do is engage in a never-ending argument about how the scripture applies to homosexuality; an argument that becomes increasingly irrelevant as historical/textual criticism of the Bible undermines people's faith that what the Bible may or may not say about homosexuality really matters anyway. This is not helpful to gays. But a revelation-based authority paradigm, in which human beings seek wisdom directly from God, in which human beings are in a dynamic, historically contingent and ever-evolving relationship with a living and eternal God, a God who is progressively revealing to them line upon line and precept upon precept the truth of their own natures, and the truth of God's nature as revealed through them.... This holds promise.
Religious traditions, both eastern and western, that hold that spirit is somehow beyond and/or superior to matter; that hold that physical existence is a trap or a delusion or tainted with sin; these traditions couldn't really help me either. Perhaps I could find peace in some path of asceticism. My husband has frequently accused me of being a "monk," of having too little interest in material things. It's probably true that without him, I would be living something like a monk. I was seriously tempted by monasticism in my mid-twenties. But ultimately I realized that while I might find "peace" in this approach to the spirit and the flesh, I would never find what is best captured by a turn of phrase in Section 93 of the Doctrine & Covenants: "fullness of joy." Namely, that thing that we find in the eternal union of "spirit and element, inseparably connected."
Our bodies are real, and they matter. And they are good. Very, very good. And it is God's intention, according to "Mormonism," God's "work" and God's "glory," to enable us to enter into that fullness of joy. My fellow Latter-day Saints may not understand what my relationship with my husband means to me (though it's not that difficult to understand, if you are happily companioned, it's not that huge of a leap of imagination). They may believe that my homosexuality is somehow the flawed by-product of a sin-filled creation; that God would never intend to make me this way because to do so would undermine his whole plan for creation. But what others know or don't know can't determine my happiness, nor does it set the limits for what God can and can't do. And God is in my life, so I have it on good authority that my life is headed toward something very, very good.
So I choose to be patient, and to walk down this path step by step. The only reason at this point in my life I might trade up what I have for whatever elusive dreams reparative therapists or queer theorists might offer me would be if I somehow abandoned the connection to the Spirit that has so filled my life with faith, hope and love in recent years.
But what would be the point in that?
* I don't have any survey data to back me up on this. My impression that the vast majority of gays and lesbians hold more "essentialist" views of sexuality is based on personal observation of many, many friends and acquaintances, and involvement in a wide variety of gay organizations. In fact, I dare say that the only people I know who insist on a more "deconstructionist" view of sexuality are people in academia.