Archive for the ‘hannah arendt’ Category

who are you? a homosexual

October 6, 2007

reading an essay by scott tucker i stumbled upon a citation of hannah arendt:

“In this connection I cannot gloss over the fact that for many years I considered the only adequate reply to the question, Who are you? to be: a Jew. That answer alone took into account the reality of persecution… Unfortunately, the basically simple principle in question here is one that is particularly hard to understand in times of defamation and persecution: the principle that one can resist only in terms of the identity under attack. Those who reject such identifications on the part of a hostile world may feel wonderfully superior to the world; but their superiority is then truly no longer of this world; it is the superiority of a more or less well-equipped cloud-cuckoo-land…


…in the case of a friendship between a German and a Jew under the conditions of the Third Reich it would scarcely have been a sign of humanness for the friends to have said: Are we not both human beings? It would have been a mere evasion of reality and of the world common to both at the time; they would not have been resisting the world as it was. A law that prohibited the intercourse of Jews and Germans could be evaded but could not be defied by people who denied the reality of the distinction. In keeping with a humanness that had not lost the solid ground of reality, a humanness in the midst of the reality of persecution, they would have had to say to each other: a German and a Jew, and friends. (Arendt Hannah: On Humanity in Dark Times: Thoughts about Lessing, Men in Dark Times, 1968, New York, pp. 17-18 / pp. 23, cited in: Tucker, pp. 29)”

far from trying to construct a sameness between jews and homosexuals, i would like to propose that we as homosexuals can learn from other minorities. that is where this hannah arendt citation comes in.

in my opinion homosexuals have to lead a certain double life: politically and towards the predominantly straight society we can not gloss over the fact that we are, as soon as we come (or are forced) out of the closet: homosexuals.

how much we like that label or not is not the question. if we deny that this label exists, we leave a dominant social reality as hannah arendt points out. and then we can not deal with this reality. the only way out is to become un- or anti-social. if that is possible depends on ones independance (socially, psychologically) and wealth. so this path seems not to be open to many. so we might be forced by society into it, but we have to deal with it, otherwise

“we are setting ourselves up for that inevitable judgement day when we will be found guilty of our gayness and will begin again, uselessly, to apologize for it. (Bersani: Homos, pp. 76)”

this is exactly the point where we have to be aware of our homo-ness. and this is where i am so frustrated to have to witness again and again actions of parts of a gay community trying to make us more acceptable to a straight society. strategically (meaning politically) i think we have no other choice as standing for all homosexuals – as much as we might dislike certain formulations of being gay. so i get rather irritated to witness yet another discussion of people trying to tone down the appearance of participants of a gay parade, “because they are over-represented in the media and because they do not show the majority, the real gay, the real lesbian”.

besides the fact that historically the flamboyant ones, the drag queens were at the beginning of a modern western gay identity, we have to be aware of our homo-ness. we are seen as the same – so we have to defend and stand up for every member of the community. or we eliminate the unpleasant ones. repeating the homophobic gesture within our community. so i agree with leo bersani (and judith butler) that with a queer identity we can not make politics. and we have to ask ourselves if by applying the queer label to ourselves if we do not try to evade politics – if we we might just do it to “feel wonderfully superior to the world. (Arendt)”

i have been talking about a double life: the “other half ” would be that we have to be aware that we have the opportunity to construct at least our community differently. of course gender- and queer-theory should inform also our political selfes, be it only the fact that we are a lot more careful concerning identities (also of the ones of other members of society). and it should inform our social lifes, the way we think and live our lifes and deal with other people (regardless of sexual orientation). but we should also be aware of the homo-ness within our community, as bersani makes the point: to often i just see the same mechanism of exclusive group identities employed also in the gay world. so while i make the point for the necessety of a somewhat clear identity in political circumstances, i would also like to make the point that in other circumstences we should not try to construct identities based on exclusion, identities that would like to appear as “natural” or “god-given” – and suddenly it seems to me that the idea of bersani’s homo-ness and its idea of difference as an additional, not separating attribute to ones identity, and the ideas of gender- and queer-theory of identity as something constructed, and eventually something that might can be manipulated could actually walk hand in hand towards the construction of a homosexual community which is…better?

i guess i am just rather tired of hearing stories like the following (although i have to admit that i laughed out loud). it is again from the same text by scott tucker and already old news – but has some connections to the actual and makes for an interesting example:

“According to a story in the Nov. 10, 1989 issue of Philadelphia Gay News, “Gays Help Cops in Tearoom Bust,” “Campus gays and lesbians at Arizona State University (ASU) have been cooperating with police in a crackdown on anonymous men’s room sex… before undercover officers were assigned to the duty, ASU Lesbian and Gay Academic Union adviser Donna Taylor worked with police by giving them “sensitivity training” and background information about what types of men the officers were likely to encounter.” According to Taylor, “It has absolutely nothing to do with sex. These men have no idea what being in the closet is. They’re married, they have the 2.5 kids. This is something they do for kicks, the same as going to a prostitute.” Alas, even after being trained in sensitivity by Taylor, ASU campus Police Chief Doug Bartosh did not quite agree with the expert’s asexual interpretation:”They probably get off on having sex with a stranger with the prospect of getting caught the real thrill rather then the homosexual activity itself.”

“Taylor said ASU’s Lesbian and Gay Academic Union decided to help police in their crackdown to demonstrate that the gay community isn’t responsible for such activity and is just as opposed to it as straights are.” But in this case, “the gay community” – or rather the Vice Squad’s Gay Auxiliary – is very much responsible for collaborating in actions which are certain to destroy some men, and slam the closet door more firmly on many more. “Taylor”, we are informed, “said that she believes the men arrested in such cases are “psychotic” rather than gay men – even closeted gay men – and that what they need most is counseling.” How convenient for those in the helping professions: the state helps those who help themselves, so they counsel the cops in the entrapment of those persons they define as potential clients in need of still more counsel. Can we assume this particular expert, Donna Taylor, has done exit polls of the tearooms to determine which men are “married with 2.5 kids,” or psychological surveys to determine which are psychotic?

But the expertise here is spurious and opportunist. Gay people themselves made a cold and cowardly calculation to cut an embarassing element adrift; to define these men as something, anything other than gay. How dare Taylor suggest that married men have no idea what the closet is? – as though marriage itself is not the most common closet for both gay men and lesbians, the most public face of much private grief. (Tucker, pp.18-19)”

Tucker Scott: Gender, Fucking and Utopia: An Essay in Response to John Stoltenberg’s Refusing to Be a Man, in: Social Text, No. 27. (1990), pp. 3-34

social text journal