yeah, the title is from a book by andrew sullivan. a journalist / blogger, often described as “controversial”. i do not really see where the controversial comes from – thought provoking maybe, but to mee it seems that a liberal-conservative gay bear is quite the norm these days…? but i digress.
this post is not about his book – it is about being normal. being different might has something to do with not being normal, or doesn’t it? it seems somehow a little bit muddier than that. in the tv-series heroes there is this cheerleader that discovers that she is kind of unbreakable. so she has her difficulties of accepting that she is different and just wants to be normal. but is being a cheerleader normal? so there seems to be differences that let you stay normal, and differences that make you…un-normal.
but what exactly is normal? a statistical value? so hardly anybody in society will be normal – there will just be different grades of proximity to a statistic ideal. and where does one draw the line between “close enough to be considered normal”? so this idea of normal is, well, elusive, not really working. there is another way to define normal via statistics: take the difference in question and see if it is statistically relevant, i.e. the difference appears so often in society that it is considered (by statistics people) to be normal. so 10% of homosexuals in society would be normal. this explains the from time to time occuring fights about these statistics – i do not remember where the cut off line lies (statistically) – but the lower that number, the closer we are to not being normal. so statistics do not really help us. beside the fact that statistics are always a tricky thing in social sciences, it only can tell us that not being in the majority of society has not necessarly to do with being normal. but then, in a society full of individuals, how could that be, anyway?
especially concerning homosexuality there are two other strategies to prove that homosexuality is normal. the first one is biology: animals do it, too. true. but then how come we can term that homosexuality? and then in the background there is for me the question if comparing humans and animals is not a little bit more complicated then a lot of people pretend? second there is history. homosexuality has been present in all societies, at all times. most probably true. well, not really, though. we come back to the old problem that homosexuality is actually a rather young invention of the european medical discourse, just a little bit more then a hundred years old. don’t get me wrong: men to men and women to women sex did exist in all societies and at all ages, i believe. but it had different meanings. different restrictions, rules, possibilities – it was defined differently.
so it seems we have two problems – we have problems to define normal, and we have problems to prove that homosexuality is normal. i do suspect that homosexuality is indeed not normal. by the simple reason that it is in our society not constructed to be normal. it is actually the counterpoint to, the contrast to make the normal (i.e. heterosexuality) visible. and here we already see how normal gets defined very often: by defining what is not normal.
so we might not be able to define what is normal, but we might get closer to the function of normal – especially in relation to homosexuals. normal seems to take the function of an imaginary ideal. an ideal that allows to exclude the not normal. tha actually gets defined through this exclusion.
an imaginary ideal for people opposing homosexuality – especially its out and proud visibility. so by opposing homosexuality they use homosexuality in its “old” meaning: as being fundamentally different, as being not normal, being a medical condition. in turn these people become normal. yeah, it seems somewhat cheap but it seems to be a big motivation for opposing homosexuality: opposing it makes you normal.
so normal takes on the function of a disciplinary tool. a lot of people do not want to stand out in society, fear eventual repercussions if they do. they want to appear normal. being normal as protection. even for the price of hating others. well, its the others that pay the price, right? and just to mention it, too: it is of course also a great tool to create a group identity.
and for the homosexuals themselves? obviously there is a great desire in big parts of the gay community to be accepted as normal. to a degree it sometimes strikes me as naïve – homosexuals are by definition not normal. but others work on re-defining the term homosexual and try to eradicate differences through their political work. and here we are back to andrew sullivan, who fights for gay and lesbian marriage and the official acceptance of gays and lesbians in the u.s.-military. reaching this goals would eliminate at least differences on an important level – the level of the citizen. so as citizens we would become normal.
interesting to note is that also andrew sullivan does not think homosexuals and straights are the same – so as i understand it his fight is not really one for being normal, but for equality. which brings him in close proximity to rosa luxemburg and her saying that she does “not want to be the same, but to have the same rights”.
as an interesting note i would like to add that many gays seem to follow rather unkowingly the argumentation of their opponents. somehow many gays seem to believe that the straights are the “normal ones”. not that normal is in this context a good word, it is rather something to sneer at. the really interesting effect here is that therefore there seems to be the belief that because heterosexuals are normal, they are all the same. what i want to get at: we gays know sometimes terribly little about straights, especially the ones we deem normal. why should we care, one might ask? there are a couple of reasons why (straights can be fun, too), but the political reason for me is: because we are the minority. and if we learn something from history, and especially the history of society and its relationships to its minorities i think we learn that we have to know the so-called normal ones, the ones who have also a lot of power to define normal, the ones who define themselves as normal. often for the price of persecution of the not-normals. to put it simple: it is a question of survival.
here some links to additional information on mister sullivan:
if you want to read an interesting interview with andrew sullivan, go here.
and if you do not know it by now, here the link to his very popular blog.