The Inevitable, Irreversible Return Of Identity Politics

Identity politics has a way of sneaking up on you.

Once exceedingly popular among gays and many other movements, the idea that one’s “minority” existence challenges higher powers has, in some ways, gone out of style.

Blame it on consumerism, blame it on relatively more inclusion, but for many people “queerness” no longer carries the same sexy, radical thrust. What’s more, identity politics can be seen as divisive in this post-global world. Just look at the gendered, racialized debates that have played out during this extended presidential election.

While identity politics doesn’t provide the fuel for contemporary gay rights debates – marriage, adoption, finances – it has a curious way of rearing its complex head.

Before we go on, we’re so fascinated with the topic because it’s been coming up a lot. First singer Chris Willis told editor Andrew Belonsky he felt his existence “challenges” racism and homophobia, saying, “I think my existence really challenges that.” Then, mere days later, the topic came up while editor Andrew was speaking with Amy Ray, one half of the Indigo Girls.

That piece will be posted in its completion tomorrow, but here’s a relevant excerpt:

Andrew Belonsky: You used the word “vapid” earlier while discussing the “new lesbian” – and we were talking about the Indigo Girls being lesbians and political. That made me think of the decline of identity politics. I think that a lot of people my age – I’m 26-years old – including myself… I don’t know if I always consider the fact that I’m gay to be a political thing. Do you consider your lesbian identity to be a political thing?

Amy Ray: Um – sometimes. And yours is political sometimes, too, whether you know it or not. If you go hang out in another country where homosexuality’s illegal, you’re definitely political. It depends on what world you’re moving in – your gayness can be very political. People have to realize that their privilege might have something to do with where you are and all that stuff. I don’t know – sometimes I think that being gay is a political thing and sometimes it’s not. I don’t even think about it.

Ray’s comments resonated just now as we read a story about the inadvertent politicization of marriage in California.

Activist Molly McKay tells journalist Laura E. Davis that while she’d rather have her forthcoming gay nuptials be a private affair, she can’t help but frame them in more universal terms: “Nobody wants to be political about their wedding day. But we have to do double duty. There’s no other choice.” Wedding planner Pamela Yager echoes McKay’s message, “[People are] taking it very seriously. It becomes, ‘It’s not just our union.’ It becomes a political message they’re trying to get out.” As McKay and others – like George Takei – are eschewing gifts for pro-gay marriage donations, the politicization of personal marriage moments has manifested in other respects:

When Pamela Brown got married, the two bride figurines atop her wedding cake celebrated her newfound right in California to marry another woman. But one of the figurines had a tiny sign over its head with something more to say: “Vote No on 8.”

Brown and Shauna Rajkowski even inserted language into their ceremony in Berkeley that specifically referred to the fight against the proposition. And guests could take home pamphlets, bumper stickers, yard signs and postcards, all advocating “No on 8.”

“If I had my preference, I wouldn’t bring politics into it. But we just can’t lose the moment and the opportunity when so many friends and family are together,” said Brown, who is the policy director for Marriage Equality USA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to securing gay marriage rights nationwide.

In this context, a personal moment, one which in many ways shapes your identity, grows and mutates into something else entirely. Perhaps its ugly, perhaps it’s beautiful, but the quest for marriage resurrects identity politics. And, as more and more younger gays get married, even the least suspecting will find themselves inadvertently – and maybe consciously – politicized.