At the Borders of Queer Nation
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as "an imagined political community
" which is "imagined as both limited
" (Anderson 1983:6). This community
is imagined both because its members can never possibly know every other person in their "community," and because the basis for the identification is to some extent mythical
. That is, it does not exist as some prior
of the people but is a shifting construct
formed through many influences, not the least of which is the momentum
and political struggles of the group. Handler says,
the existence of a national identity is a primary assumption of nationalist ideology, rarely questioned; but the content of national being is the subject of continual negotiation and dispute (1988:51).
I am not saying that there is no such thing as 'gayness'1
but that the way people perceive and perform themselves
) is often in large part formed by already existing type
s. However, for political reasons2
, it is often necessary or useful to consider the identification to be natural
Nationalist groups express their ideal of sovereignity in a wish to self-govern, to have their own state (i.e. Quebecois, Hawaiians). Although a nation in the territorial sense is not a political goal of most lesbian and gay activists, part of the "gay culture" is an infrastructure, separate from that of the straight United States, of clubs, clinics, bookstores, meeting places, support groups, chat rooms, mailing lists, websites and resource lists. Another sense in which sovereignity can be applied as a goal for identity activists is in the fight for "voice": the ability to "have one's own group's interests, point of view, or specificity represented" in the dominant discourse on the group's own terms, instead of in the ways in which the part could be prescripted for and about that group (Sampson, 1993) This approach makes self-definition and visibility key political tactics.
A group is inherently limited because it is not made up of all humanity: definitions of who you are are also markers of who you aren't. Because self is defined in terms of the other, "national being is perpetually threatened" (Handler 1988:51). In the case of a group such as lesbians and gays, whose identities are formed in opposition to the dominant, often oppressive or hostile, unmarked, heterosexual or straight world, "in-group/out-group boundaries" are strengthened, visibility is highly valued, and pollution becomes a threat (Kowalski and Wolfe 1984; Walker 1993; Douglas 1966 (in Handler 1988)).
- I choose to use the (I think, invented in this sense) word gay-ness, where homosexuality would often be used. I am not using the word 'homosexual' because it limits the definition to behavior, and implies a collection of people who all do the same thing, like a perverse hobby club (or people with a condition, like cancer victims; this harks back to the attitudes of medicalization), instead of people who think of themselves as being in some way alike, sharing more than a behavior (there are celibate lesbians and gay men) but also a culture and often political cause(s). 'Homosexual' also does not leave room for the diverse and personal ways people relate to the category.
- Also for reasons of subjective continutity. Finding a role or a community which seems to fit most of the way is comforting, especially if you find you have tendencies or urges that set you apart from socially valued or normative roles. And comforting should not be seen as trivializing. Suicide rates among young queer folk are high. Finding a consistent or 'natural' identity is reassuring, in our still-mostly Platonic world.
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