At the Borders of Queer Nation
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Question of use.
Despite my tone thus far, the nationalist/ethnic pattern of identification used in sexual identity politics is not given or a natural outgrowth of 'things as they are': it is a common strategy for oppressed groups to use in activism, but it is a chosen strategy, with its own strengths and weaknesses. Often the strengths have the same sources as the weaknesses.

Definition by essence or true being makes for solidarity and simplicity. Certain issues are lesbian and gay issues; community, while masking diversity, gives support and comfort, and provides a forum for ideological and cultural production. The continuing and contested construction of lesbian and gay identity in the Twentieth century could be compared with the project of Berdahl's Vietnam vets1: language of visibility and coming out "established the tropes of silence, healing, and redemption;" AIDS activism, lesbian and gay history, and pride events contribute to healing through "remembrance, redemption and catharsis" (Berdahl 1994:94,96) Coming out can be seen as a direct parallel to Myerhoff's "definitional ceremony,"2 especially in the context of "National Coming Out Day," which is an official time intended to "deal with problems of invisibility and marginality... and in one's own terms, garnering witnesses to one's worth, vitality, and being" (Berdahl 1994:121) These goals are important to the validation of gayness as constructed as a minority within a country which would prefer to forget it. (Mum: "Sure, do what you want; we just never talked about those those things. I'd rather not talk about it." (personal communication, August 1997)) To remember, to celebrate and remember visibly, is to 'garner witnesses' to the embodied humanity of this stigmatized role. Shane Phelan gave some insight into the essentialization of lesbianism:

when one is presented with a stigmatized identity, it makes sense to challenge the stigma surrounding that identity. This serves, ironically, to reinforce the solidity of that identity even as the stigma is rejected (1993:771).
And what's wrong with the solidity of identity? After all, boundaries "create a structure of meanings in which individuals can relate to one another" (Douglas 1970:50). But as Berdahl reminds us, every remembrance can also be a forgetting, and definitions are "strategic moves" which exclude at the moment of inclusion. (Berdahl 1994:110; Phelan 1989:76) Sometimes it is obvious who is being excluded, and sometimes not.

...I never want to hear
that I am not bisexual
that there is no such thing
that if I haven't been with a man for a while,
I should call myself lesbian
that I am hurting lesbians
that I am confusing
an already confusing situation for heterosexual society. (Kaahumanu 1991:320)

  1. I will be including the bibliography, except that that will have to be retyped. This refers to an article we read in the class about the creation of the Vietnam War memorial in Washington, DC and how it began a process of validation and healing for veterans who had not been lauded, respected, or thanked in any way following their sacrifice. Berdahl went into the processes of remembering and the necessity of forgetting certain things (for example, the Vietnamese who died in the war are not memorialized, nor are the wives left at home). It also explored the trope of "healing" in or as a public ceremony.
  2. Berdahl's essay made use of Barbara Myerhoff's concept of a definitional ceremony, which is a way of asserting a self-definition or ascribing a definition, if i remember properly. She outlined particular properties and stages it had. Unfortunately, these papers aren't really available to me these days, or i would be able to explicate my references much better. However, as i said, i will be including a bibliography, so you students out there can look these things on up! (as if you have the time, right?)

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