The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life
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Michael Warner, one of our most brilliant social critics, argues that gay marriage and other moves toward normalcy are bad not just for the gays but for everyone. In place of sexual status quo, Warner offers a vision of true sexual autonomy that will forever change the way we think about sex, shame, and identity.
shame, bringing sex out of the closet and into the daylight, letting all the gerbils scamper free. Its leaders, especially, might have become, by this late date, unembarrassable. But that hasn't happened. Many of the leaders and organizations of the gay and lesbian movement continue to be defensive about sex and sexual variance. As we will see, the aura of scandal has been heightened by many of the movement's spokespersons themselves, who have increasingly called for a "new maturity," beyond mere
problems, bad breath, and outstanding debt. One might feel reassured that one is not the only person to have these things, but the statistics only help with one's embarrassment; they say nothing about the desirability of the things themselves. It is not normal to be a genius, die a virgin, or be well endowed. That, again, tells us nothing about what one should want. Moreover, to be fully normal is, strictly speaking, impossible. Everyone deviates from the norm in some way Even if one belongs to
be. But anytime it seems necessary to explain away other people's sex in these ways, the premises of one's morality could just be flawed. What looks like crime might be harmless difference. What looks like immorality might be a rival morality What looks like pathology might be a rival form of health, or a higher tolerance of stress. It would be nice if the burden of proof, in such questions of sexual morality, lay on those who want to impose their standard on someone else. Then the goal of sexual
But this immense network, in which so many people are working to bring a queer world into being, is less and less what people have in mind when they think of the lesbian and gay movement. Over the past decade, movement politics on the national scale has been dramatically transformed. Its public face is now dominated by a small group of national organizations, an equally small group of media celebrities, connected to a network of big-money politics that revolves around publicity consultants and
movement is more than a matter of spin. The gap between gay and queer understandings of the movement is growing, I think, because of the structural developments mentioned in chapter 2: the changed nature of the AIDS epidemic; the decline of direct-action activism; the 1992 election and the rise of Clintonian politics; the growing importance of big-money political campaigns; the resulting prominence of a fat-cat donor base; the growing centralization of gay politics by national organizations