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The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life

af Michael Warner

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In this essay on the dangers of normality, Michael Warner sends a warning shot to the gay rights movement, which has cleaned up its image in order to blend in with the mainstream. He presents an analysis of the politics of shame and the stigma of sexual identity.
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Accessibly written and interesting, but has a number of flawed premises which lead to wrong conclusions. Warner's essential argument is that we should resist the "normalization" of queer folks -- in particular through marriage -- because queer culture, rather than being bad, has much to redeem it, in particular with regard to sexual liberation.

The problem with his argument is that it takes as a given that there is such a thing as queer or even gay culture, and that certain things are endemic to that culture. The reality is that there are numerous queer cultures and subcultures, some of them delimited by gender (e.g., stereotypically lesbian culture is certainly distinct from stereotypically gay culture), and other by other factors (e.g., queer punk). To suggest that certain features of what he terms gay or queer culture should be embraced by everyone is to assume the existence of a uniform way of being queer.

Moreover, Warner fails to address the crucial question of whether, even assuming that such a uniform queer culture exists, queer culture can be extricated from the oppression that created it. Counterculture cannot exist absent the existence of a "mainstream" culture -- Yiddish came into being as the result of the oppression of the Jewish people and their segregation into ghettos; likewise, much of what we now conceive of as "gay culture" or "queer culture" is the product of the marginalization of queer people. Yet Warner never struggles with whether embracing this legacy of oppression is problematic. ( )
1 stem ihardlynoah | May 14, 2020 |
Articulate and impassioned, Warner, a professor of English at Rutgers University, confronts what he views as the current trend toward sexual conservatism in gay and lesbian politics. Responding directly to books such as Andrew Sullivan's Virtually Normal and Gabriel Rotello's Sexual Ecology, as well as to advocates of legalizing gay and lesbian marriage and of closing down bathhouses and other sex venues, Warner claims that the gay movement has embraced an ethic of 'sexual shame' and de-emphasized gay sexuality in an attempt to win mainstream approval. Instead of targeting gay sex, Warner argues, the gay movement should be 'combating isolation, shame, and stigma.'
3 stem QAHC_CCCL | Jul 14, 2009 |
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In this essay on the dangers of normality, Michael Warner sends a warning shot to the gay rights movement, which has cleaned up its image in order to blend in with the mainstream. He presents an analysis of the politics of shame and the stigma of sexual identity.

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