Judith Butler, in an interview with Xtra

Relevant to my latest post on John Corvino’s short-sighted focus on “joining the club” as the nexus of his fight for “equality:”

Xtra: The relationship between queers and the state has always been a strained one, and I wonder if in the struggle of dealing with Israeli policy, I wonder if queers are already cynical of the state, writ large.

JB: Yeah, well, you know, I think there are different states. There are different kinds of states, and in the US and several different European states and I think here in Canada as well, the gay and lesbian movement has been really focused on getting recognition by the state and having equal entitlements that would not only be recognized but guaranteed by the state.

So my sense is that the gay and lesbian movement has moved, has embraced the state as the centre of politics, much more than in earlier years, where it was maybe more of a cultural movement or a political movement that was taking place in civil society, not necessarily in relation to the state.

The idea of queer has never really easily lined up with lesbian and gay legal rights. Although we’re glad to have legal protections, the question is whether legal protections are the aim of political movement. My sense is that “queer” had a more critical relationship to those issues, much more fearful of normalization by the state.

Xtra: In your essay on gay marriage in Undoing Gender, you point out that recognition of gay marriage segregates the population. And also in that essay, you’re trying to come to a way of defending the movement against homophobes, the people on the rightwing who are opposed to gay marriage, without yourself endorsing it. It seems like an uneasy balance you’re trying to stake.

 Yeah. Well, I think there are many homophobic arguments against gay marriage that have to be opposed. And then there’s a separate question, which is should gay marriage be at the centre of a movement that is meant to enfranchise or empower sexualities? And that’s where I want to say, Look, it’s not at the top of my agenda. And I’m not sure it should be at the top of the agenda. How did it come to be at the top of the agenda? But I don’t think it’s inconsistent to take those two positions.

I just thought it was brave, and maybe not a point that people have given a lot of thought to. In particular, you were talking about people who have maybe more complicated loving arrangements of more than two, or single people, and how it affects people of colour…

JB: I think, in the US at least, the right-to-marriage movement has focused on property and wanting acceptance as normalized bourgeois people and monogamy, and the idea of couplehood. So we think about the complex ways in which sexual and intimate relationships take place; they don’t always conform to that. And I think there are other forms of kinship that are not based on the family. I’ve made that clear in my work. But I also think there are modes of sexuality that aren’t centred on marriage-like arrangements, and that that’s been part of a radical sexual movement for a really long time, calling into question how we arrange sexuality, and what arrangements are best, and what works and what doesn’t, and what are the norms or ideals around which we organize our sexual lives. It seems really important to keep those questions open.