By Josh Inocéncio
The Chicago pride parade I attended last June was only two days after the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality. With a huge achievement for the LGBT community, the crowd roared in celebration as politicians, church leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, and others marched through Boystown, Chicago’s gayborhood. But most interestingly, there were chants of “’Murica, ’Murica, ’Murica!,” an oft-used word with a conservative inflection to demonstrate American patriotism and exceptionalism.
For a moment I found myself exhaling the chant, too, but then three years of queer theory and 24 years as a gay man flashed before my eyes as I asked, “Is this what we’re fighting for?”
Don’t get me wrong. Marriage equality was significant. We don’t have full equality in the United States until we can access the same rights as heterosexuals. But my fear is that as we collect equality triumphs, we’re likely to assimilate into the pre-existing, heteronormative imperialist structure that requires us to abandon what makes us queer.
Queer sex is unabashedly about pleasure, which many social conservatives in this nation find threatening to the heterosexual homogeneity they claim holds together religious unity and procreation. I mean, for the first half of my life, gay sex (not gay love) was illegal in Texas. Gender-nonconformity still conjures anxiety, as many Americans are incapable of processing the difference between “gender” and “sex.” To exist as a queer man or woman or neither or both in the United States remains a radical act. But this is changing, and not always for the good.
As the late historian Howard Zinn noted in A People’s History of the United States, the most radical gains for African Americans, women, and other marginalized groups still needed the approval of the predominantly white male nation-state that mediates minoritarian agendas to serve its own purposes.
On July 1, the Defense Department lifted the ban on transgender service-members. Again, we should celebrate. Anyone who can survive armed forces training should be able to serve, if they choose. Nothing about my cisgender maleness makes me more qualified than a transman or -woman to participate in the U.S. military. However, as we acknowledge this inclusivity, let’s not forget that the military is still an instrument of American imperialism, particularly in developing Latin American, South Asian, and sub-Saharan African nations, protecting our economic and military dominance at the expense of mostly poor people of color.
We will always need allies in privileged spaces. President Obama has uplifted the LGBT community through his administration, and a President Hillary Clinton would continue to do so through hers. But as we saw in Orlando last month and in the reactions from the right, there are still swaths of the populace that don’t want to acknowledge our struggles or don’t want us to even exist. The Democrats have called us to patriotic unity and declared that “discrimination” isn’t an American value. And while I appreciate their sentiment, the reality is that discrimination is, perhaps, the oldest American value, which creates a challenge to embrace a patriotism that so many straight and mostly white people take for granted.
With childhood memories watching the AIDS crisis unfold on TV in the early ’90s, hearing rhetoric every day from Texas and Washington politicians seeking to undermine gay rights, listening to pundits refer to gay men as “pedophiles,” growing up in a church that condemned homosexuality as a stain upon America that would accelerate the apocalypse, and witnessing the surge in LGBT hate crimes now, there are just a few moments where I’ve felt resolutely proud to be an American.
But while a small group of evangelical Republicans excoriates us now, they’re waiting for us to assimilate. The more we assimilate, the more we’ll ignore the imperial ventures that sustain the United States as a superpower. Silence arrives with privileges. There are already gays and lesbians swallowing Trump’s xenophobia. There are white gay men waiting for the moment they don’t have to say #BlackLivesMatter or worry about reproductive rights. Femme-shaming is rampant among Millennials. This nation has subsisted on a “divide and conquer” strategy between marginalized groups; we won’t be tacit teammates forever.
Unless we stay woke. And stay queer. This means not compromising with the policy shifts, but changing the culture that makes the policy shifts.
As Zinn said, “There is very little in the government that I admire—certainly not in the present, and certainly not in recent years—but there is much that I admire in the United States, and what I admire is the spirit of independence and thought, which has allowed so many Americans to protest against policies they disagreed with.”
I find pride in our resilience, our ability to survive in a culture that prefers us silent. And that’s why, this July 4, I’m flying the rainbow flag.