With the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, there's been a lot of talk of the “success” of the American gay/GLBT movement, and questions about where to go next. Alex Blaze, at The Bilerico Project, recently pointed out that straight* support for queer rights only goes as far as erasing the most obvious markers of discrimination (marriage equality, exclusion from the military, perhaps adoption rights or immigration rights). The deeper quality of life issues, he argued, will only be fought for by queer folks themselves. Gender policing, workplace discrimination, lack of media representation, generally speaking, the oppressive heteronormativity of our society – these are things that cis straight people are neither well-equipped to notice, nor particularly interested in dismantling. But it's amazing how internalized these assumptions can be, to the point that even many LGBT activists cannot conceive of advancing queer liberation very much farther than straight allies.

This point was brought home to me several months ago by a service at Washington, D.C.'s All Souls' Unitarian Universalist Church last year. All Souls' is a welcoming church: at the time, they had two gay/lesbian pastors, were deeply involved in the fight to legalize same-sex marriage in D.C,, hosted a gay men's group and other queer-oriented discussions, and otherwise supported the large minority of queer parishioners. But none of that prepared me for my shock when the pastor used the story of two male partners as the core of a sermon on love and relationships – and the only example of romantic love. The mainstream LGBT rights movement focuses on allowing queer people to participate in heteronormative culture. Sometimes we advocate for better representation in the media – better meaning more proportional to the size of the LGBT population, more positive in the straight majority's eyes, more in line with mainstream LGBT movement goals. Rarely, if ever, do we think that queer people could, or should, be role models for the rest of society.

Even LGBT rights activists often buy into the myth that what's good for the majority must be good for everyone. Add to that the need to be politically palatable, and we find a lot of heteronormativity in mainstream LGBT activism. But I know that I, too, moderate my presentation, and maybe even my goals and aspirations, so as not to make straight people too uncomfortable. I think most of us do so, consciously or not. I don't just mean staying closeted out of a real fear of violence – which is understandable – but rather censoring yourself about the rather wild queer party last night so as not to support the idea that queer people are degenerate, and nodding along with talk of “when you're married with kids...” because it's too much effort to disrupt everything by saying that you don't believe in marriage and plan to live in a queer poly household where any children will be by adoption only. The other day, I hesitated before recommending a book to a friend because, well, it has mostly queer characters, and maybe my friend didn't want to read about them. I think we expect queer people to identify with straight protagonists (because they're the default, don'tchaknow, and so they stand for everybody), but believe it would be too much to ask straight people to identify with queers. When we do this, we're still positioning ourselves as less than our straight counterparts.

This is why I burst into tears at that Valentine's day service, hearing someone say to a straight audience: let these men be an example to you, and know that their relationship is worthy not because it is an imitation of yours, but because they are humans, doing what humans do – forming relationships and loving and fucking – and doing their best to do it with honesty and integrity and respect. I think we need to remember, in our queer communities, that our worth cannot be earned by trying to play someone else's game. We are already worthy by the simple fact of our being human. Our feelings, our ambitions, our ways of acting and interacting – these are all legitimate, and worthy of respect. Can we imagine a world in which our diversity of experiences and desires are valued and supported, instead of trying to stretch the normative model a tiny bit wider so a few more people can squeeze in? I want to hear your thoughts and dreams – how would the world look if you could fully be who you want to be? And what steps can we take toward that goal?

Hat/tip to my friends at Against Equality, who helped me first think about where the mainstream “Equality” paradigm went wrong. And they're planning a speaking tour for the spring, so perhaps you can hear them yourselves!

* I'm using the word “straight” here to mean non-queer. There are many heterosexual people who consider themselves part of the queer spectrum (being trans-, kinky, poly, gender non-conforming, etc.); they are not who I mean here.

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