Friday, February 19, 2010

Queer Protest

I promised that I would talk about the problem of protests. At the Edith Stein Conference, the LGBT group on campus organized a protest in the form of a reading of queer poetry. The poetry was, from what I heard of it, embarrassingly bad -- but that is more or less the standard for political poetry and spoken word "political actions". Okay, I was about to start ranting about political action as a form of post-modern art, and the problems therewith, but I'll try to stay on topic. The point is not that the poetry lacked literary merit, but that it was "scandalous" -- not in the strict St. Thomas Aquinas sense, where something is scandalous because it leads others into sin, but in the colloquial sense in which something is scandalous because it produces that strange sensation, a combination of discomfort/embarrassment/contempt, which most of us describe as being "scandalized" by the behaviour of another. It was quite a surreal scene: a Catholic college, a Catholic conference, a cadre of nuns, several small children running about in the JPII-Theology-of-the-Body generation style, and a group of queer identified students reading vulgar poetry about how often they masturbate. Obviously, it had exactly the effect that you would expect: most of the Catholics present thought that the poetry was obscene, and it helped to cement the idea that gay culture is totally obsessed with vapid, meaningless and self-indulgent sex.
So why have such a protest? The LGBT community generally goes out of its way to insist that it is not obsessed with sex, that it's about all sorts of more important things, like family, and love, and so forth. Isn't this kind of thing intensely counter-productive?
Well, yes and no. It's sort of the mirror image of the right-wing Christian holding up a sign at the Gay Pride parade that reads "Leviticus 18:22." It's a kind of protest that is absolutely guaranteed to fail as a means of convincing anyone of anything -- but it's not really about that. I suspect that a great deal of what is called "protest" is largely concerned with the formation and galvanization of identities. The audience for the protest is not the person or group being lobbied/protested, but the group of protesters who are learning and forming their identities through the conflict that protest always suggests. War is a fabulous tool for cementing patriotism and national identity, and anything that smacks of confrontation always has this effect as well. It's the same throughout the political spectrum: when we used to go down to the local porn shop to scream "Porn is the theory, Rape is the practice" during the "Take Back the Night Rally," it wasn't really in the expectation that we would stop the selling or buying of pornography in Brampton. It had to do with who we were as feminists, with teaching ourselves what we thought and felt about demeaning sexual portrayals of women. When Pro-Lifers gather faithfully at the "March for Life" every year, it's not because there is any worldly chance that doing so will actually cause Parliament (in Canada) to make abortion illegal. It's because it's a chance for the Pro-Life community to network, to declare our identity to the wider community, to re-affirm our dedication to the protection of the unborn/unwanted in society. It doesn't do anything in the strict sense of changing other people, but no one cares, because that's not actually the point.

1 comment:

  1. Melinda
    Congrats on getting through it! I'd love to read a summery of what you said. The fact that a protestor could appreciate your position was a breakthrough. Did you have any interesting comments or questions from conservative Catholics.
    Greg

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