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As part of my work of professionalization, I have signed up for table of contents alerts for various journals in my areas of interest so that I can keep up on recent work. One such alert came through recently for the journal Sexualities, and Shannon Weber’s piece What’s wrong with be(com)ing queer? Biological determinism as discursive queer hegemony caught my eye.

Though I think the piece does some oversimplifying, I was struck by the feeling that it would be great to teach with–uncomplicated being good for undergrads and then I can complicate in lecture. (Inability to exercise my educational creativity muscles strikes again)

I was thinking, in particular, of starting class discussion with the statement that has become the title of this blog post: Homosexuality is a choice. I think this will be quite a jolt, given, as Weber describes, “the success that the Christian Right in particular has had in framing the debate over LGBTQ rights: telling queer people that they are not normal and do not deserve equal rights because their behavior is chosen and sinful” (687).

To say non-heterosexuality is a choice has come to be tightly linked to an antigay position, that is, and correspondingly saying that it is innate has come to be the only politically acceptable pro-gay position.

As Weber points out, following Jennifer Terry, the idea that sexuality is biologically determined positions it as something one cannot control (680). First, this participates in the same logic that stereotypes non-heterosexuals as sexually out of control—manifesting as homosexuals will always hit on every person of their “same” sex or as bisexuals are slutty.

Moreover, it participates in the same logic by which non-heterosexual desire is seen as a bad thing—that no one would choose it freely. As Weber put is, this is “an always already defensive position that argues not for sexual agency and freedom, but an acceptance of same-sex desire only inasmuch as it cannot be cured away into reformed heterosexuality” (682) which takes me back to beating my dead horse on the trouble with tolerance.

Weber speaks of strategic essentialism in LGBT politics (682), but I don’t actually think it is strategic. When you talk to an average person on the street, most of them believe that whatever orientation they have was innate—I was present recently for a round of “gayer than thou” where people were competing to have been gay earlier, but was too tired to intervene and point out their essentialism, too tired even to put my finger on why the whole thing irritated me. And if that bunch, who has read their weight in queer theory, can do that, it’s pretty pervasive.

But of course, it absolutely is a choice. I am agnostic on where desires come from, but once we have them we have to figure out what they mean and what we are going to do with them.

Even if we could prove that homosexuality was genetic and occurred in a certain percent of every population throughout time (which would be a benign variation like eye color, incidentally), how people responded to those desires in themselves and others has varied wildly. How people have made sense of such desires (as holy, as sin, as act, as identity, as mutable, as immutable) has also varied wildly, as is has how people have perceived nonnormative configurations of relationship (as failed heterosexuality, as nonsexual companionship, as sexual).

People can perfectly well choose to never act on their desires. They can choose their religion over it. (Which, incidentally, as Weber points out, using the framework of religion as a way to make cases for same sex rights is pretty clever: you’re not born locked into a religion forever, you can choose a different one, but if you have one it is a very important part of your identity that many would find it appalling  to try to force someone to change–and it would definitely be unconstitutional if the state did it.) Choosing to suppress rather than act on desire makes a lot of people miserable. But it makes other people less miserable than feeling like they’re sinning. Either way, it’s a choice.

This way of thinking of non-normative configurations as a valid choice rather than only defensible as uncontrollable is a useful framework. Weber gives the example of the way biological essentialism frequently attends narratives about transgender status, critiquing how this, like biological essentialism around same-sex desire, disallows the experience of an identity that has changed over time.

Weber stops with pointing out the trouble of essentialism, but it occurs to me that the framework of choice is also useful here: “I want my body to look like this; I want to be perceived in X way” produces a more livable life than “I can’t control this and am forced to change my body because I really am this on the inside but I was born in the wrong body.” (Though I acknowledge that the latter self-narration is often a strategically necessary essentialism for those who want access to medical body modification.)

We might contest the system that produces the self-loathing of the ex-gay or the sense that having certain wants or desires means anything about a sex or gender category to which one belongs, but people choose how to respond. It’s a sane response to an insane system.

What I’d want to get my students to see is that it’s a choice. It’s not an entirely free choice, of course, because it’s constrained by the socially available options. But it’s a choice people can make how they want to respond to those constraints. The world I want to live in is not one in which we all have to accept that the non-heterosexual can’t control it and tolerate them, but rather to open up the things that are socially possible to choose.

On Wednesday, December 6, 2012, at 5:44am, a white guy leapt on a South Asian man in the train station in Champaign, IL, shouting something about this being his (the white guy’s) country—exact verbiage hasn’t been clear.

The white guy, identified by local news outlet the News-Gazette as 23-year-old Joshua Scaggs of Fithian, IL, then proceeded to choke the non-white guy, identified as University of Illinois law professor Dhammika Dharmapala, and cut him with a utility knife, opening a “six-inch cut on his throat which bled profusely.”

Scaggs was arrested for a hate crime, but ultimately charged with “attempted murder and two counts of aggravated battery”; the prosecuting attorney “opted not to file it [the hate crime charge] because the other charges carry heavier penalties and he’s confident he can prove the aggravated battery based on the information he has.”

Clearly, the hate crime law is not written in a useful way here. It’s not an add-on that increases the severity of any crime, but a separate charge. Somewhere, in an article I can’t find now, somebody involved on the prosecutorial side of this said that usually the hate crime gets prosecuted with misdemeanors like vandalism or theft, indicating that the penalty attached to a hate crime is worse than that but less than aggravated battery.

This was surprising to me, because I feel like most hate crime laws are written as the tack-on variety—”Now, with 15% more sentencing!” And, I don’t know how I feel about that.

I mean, on one hand, the things one is doing while committing a hate crime are generally already illegal. And, as the prosecutor noted in the quote above, it’s often hard to prove intent enough to get a conviction.

Therefore, I’m not totally on board with hate crime legislation. I certainly don’t think that attempts to put it on the books should be the be-all and end-all of activism (you hear me, LGBT nonprofits?), not least because I’m wary of constructing such positions as inherently, unlivably vulnerable to violence in the process.

Though of course, this case seems pretty clear cut. It’s quite evident that “this is my country” meant “it’s not yours” or “you don’t belong here”—and that it was racially motivated. Dhammapala was visibly different from Scaggs’ idea of “his country.” It’s not plain xenophobia, that is, because a German-born person, say, wouldn’t have produced that same visual trigger. And neither would a person of African descent, whether first generation or eighteenth (Slavery in America estimates 12 generations from the first Africans to the end of slavery; says there have been 6 generations since).

So, even though a racist imaginary would think of the default “American” as white, it would also readily identify a black person as American in a way that East Asians, South Asians, Arabs, and Latinos don’t get—as my Asian-American friends who get drunk fratboys ching-chong-ing in their faces or assuming they don’t speak English can attest. So, race is more complex than the usual American reduction to black and white, but it’s still pretty relevant and this was still an attack motivated by racial hatred.

Moreover, the fact that juries apparently don’t buy it when prosecutors argue that crimes were prejudice-based deserves critique as an instance where attempts to redress structural inequalities become figured as “special rights.”

This, then, brings me to the other hand, which is that it is structural inequality that makes hate crime possible. Some people are seen as less important, less worthy, and indeed less human than others, and—when you get somebody crazy enough—members of certain groups make more cultural sense as targets. Given that, a structural solution seems reasonable.

That is, though I’m not sure anyone has ever shown that increased hate-crime penalties serve as a deterrent for people who for whatever reason translate social devaluation into a hunting license, it does make a statement that, as a society, we don’t find such hunting acceptable.

In this way, hate-crime legislation, simply by existing, perhaps lessens the devaluation that starts the cycle. The challenge, then, is to prevent that devaluation from being replaced by a pervasive, uninhabitably-terror-inducing sense of vulnerability. We also have to not let the framing of a group in the law as not-attackable be framed as “special rights” rather than as a corrective to actual special rights already enjoyed by other groups.

And we certainly have to contest the response to such incidents in platitudes—the email from University of Illinois President Michael Hogan to the so-called campus community ways called for a renewal of “our commitment to tolerance” and requested that “we all take a moment to remember that compassion is our greatest virtue and that we are united together in a wish for healing and understanding in the wake of such a tragic incident.”

This is real. This is serious. It demands more of a response than this. “We,” whoever we are, are quite evidently not “united” and don’t have “understanding.” It’s not an” incident” but the product of a system. And don’t even get me started on the implicit superiority of the tolerate-r over the tolerate-d (because I know I go on about it all the time; just check out Wendy Brown’s Regulating Aversion).

With vapid and condescending responses like this, hate crime laws start to look better and better.

I’m a little behind on watching Glee. Really, I’m perpetually behind on all TV; I don’t think there’s been a time since Star Trek: Voyager went off the air that I tuned in to watch something in a regularly scheduled time slot—not least because that was the point when I stopped having regular access to TV.

No TV, plus a number of other factors, mean that I am late to the party on discussing Glee‘s “The First Time” episode, which aired on November 8, 2011. But it annoyed me enough that I’m going to write about it anyway.

The episode has gotten some positive press because it depicts gay teens making the same virginity-losing decisions as heterosexual ones, rah-rah once again Ryan Murphy makes the world safe for people like him.

Though, in their defense, I think that the decision to be really vague about both the heterosexual and homosexual sex scene avoided the whole problem of the double standard whereby a much lower bar for what’s offensive exists for gay sex than heterosex, so yay for that.

Glee tends to do an ok job representing white gay men—Kurt is a little stereotypical, but to some extent that’s because they cast Chris Colfer and that’s how he is, so I’m ok with it—but a pretty horrendous job with everybody else.

In particular, in this episode, the character of Rachel is done a disservice–and through her, so are teen girls.

Rachel has very clear plans for herself, such as moving to New York City, attending the fictional New York Academy of the Dramatic Arts, starring on Broadway, etc. One of these plans, the series has established, is not to have sex until she’s 25. In “Grilled Cheesus” (2.02), Rachel and Finn have this exchange:

Rachel:I need to know that when I’m 25, and have won a bunch of Tonys, and I’m ready to have intercourse and babies, that those babies will be raised in a certain way.

Finn: You’re really not going to have sex until you’re 25?

The show has enough continuity that this is referenced again in “The First Time” (3.05)

Finn:Why now? The last time we talked about this you said you wanted to wait until you won a Tony.

Rachel: Or any other major award. Emmy, Golden Globe. People’s Choice would’ve gotten you to third base.

Now, I’m not claiming that this is a good plan, necessarily. It’s indicative of someone who underestimates the power of social norms on them and overestimates their own control of their life to be able to plan so far out. It is, that is, the plan of someone quite young, as Rachel is.

But Rachel, over and over in the show, is someone who sticks to her guns. She decides what she thinks is right and she goes for it wholeheartedly. And, especially if it has to do with her career, god help you if you get in her way. This person would totally believably have sex to further her acting ability, despite Brett Berk’s contention in Vanity Fair’s “Gay Guide to Glee entry that

as desperate, conniving, and monomaniacal as Rachel is about advancing her acting career, it is neither believable nor even amusing to imagine that she might be “convinced” to try out intercourse in order to better her portrayal of a character like Maria in the high-school production of West Side Story. (It is, in fact, grotesque.)

Grotesque it may be, or “supremely stupid, even considering ‘Glee’s’ tenuous tether to reality,” as Mark A. Perigard described it at, but it is actually pretty believable because it’s congruent with the Rachel who sent exchange student Sunshine Corazon to a crack house because she felt threatened by her talent.

However, for all her selfishness, Rachel can be selfless too. In 1.13, after telling Finn that Quinn had misled him to think that her pregnancy was his child (for selfish reasons), she was genuinely sorry and offered to let Quinn hit her if it made her feel better. Rachel organized interfaith prayer with one glee club member who tolerates her (Mercedes) and one who verges on hatred (Quinn) when Kurt’s dad Burt had a heart attack in 2.02.

She arranged with Finn to throw the duets competition in 2.04—unexpected from the super-competitive, rival-sabotaging Rachel—so that new member Sam could win and feel welcomed to the team. In 3.06, Rachel withdrew from the class president election in order to help Kurt’s chances at winning and thus help him get into NYADA.

This Rachel might well have been selfless enough to offer her virginity to Finn as a consolation prize for losing out on his football dreams.

But the writers shouldn’t have gone through with it. Not like that. Because, at least under our culture’s odd relationship to sex (which the show seems to share), the first time is supposed to be a special event for Rachel, but in this episode it wasn’t even about her.

And, like, I’ll admit that as a Faberry shipper (Rachel and Quinn) Finchel (Rachel and Finn) is objectionable all by itself, but I have a more specific critique of Finn here. Even in this episode when we’d imagine Finn will be set up as a good boyfriend so that he “deserves” the ending, he feeds Rachel, a vegan, actual meat. And then doesn’t confess. And then takes advantage of Rachel’s sympathy for him.

That’s pretty horrifying, and that fact has gotten missed in the discussion about the show, at times glaringly so, as when Jerome Wetzel of Examiner.comconcludes that there’s nothing more to critique after the have-sex-for-acting plot is resolved, commenting that “once Rachel and Blaine stop trying so hard and enjoy being in their respective relationships, sex does happen for each.” Blaine and Kurt do indeed “do the deed” out of enjoying being with each other, but not Rachel.

And, you know, I get it. Kids make bad decisions. I know I made some. And they make the decision to have sex for worse reasons than wanting to comfort their partner. As Vanity Fair’s Berk reminds us, “an overwhelming physical desire for Finn, or some socially motivated goal of impressing her friends” would have been more in line with “the two core incentives for teens.” And like Berk, “I appreciated that she, as the girl, was the instigator” rather than the usual storyline of “boy pressures girl.”

But if Glee is trying to do the Very Special Episode shtick, they needed to do better. Because I, too, “wish I could un-see that Endless Love remake these two created in front of the fireplace at the Hudson/Hummels, and un-hear Rachel’s creepy pledge to ‘give Finn something no one else will ever get'” (Berk).

I wish they hadn’t even filmed it. I wish they had written Finn differently so that he wouldn’t take advantage of Rachel’s moment of generosity. I wish they themselves hadn’t taken advantage of the character of Rachel. Because that just replicates in the structure of the episode that story of girls being pressured into sex for reasons that have nothing to do with them that they tried to avoid in the narrative itself.

A peculiar thing happened in the news on the Fourth of July: there were surprisingly many stories about religion and nation. It wasn’t overwhelming, by any means, but there were enough that it was noticeable as a trend, which struck me as sort of weird.

First, there was a bit of a flap about atheism. It seems that the American Atheists wanted to conduct an advertising campaign in the skies above 27 states on Independence Day using planes pulling banners that read “God-LESS America” or “Atheism is Patriotic.” Trouble was, “out of the 85 people in the country who fly these sign-pulling planes only about 17 have agreed to fly the messages” as of whenever CNN posted the story.

It made for an interesting news story that looked at the Fourth of July from a different angle, so I can see why they’d run it to spice up the otherwise routine flag-waving, irritatingly Lee Greenwood-saturated coverage that the Fourth of July tends to produce. (Obligatory “God Bless the USA” YouTube link; feel free to skip.)

It was certainly not the case that CNN’s Belief Blog Promotes Atheist Group’s Fourth of July Airplane Messaging despite the headline at NewsBusters (though such hysteria isn’t exactly unexpected from an organization who defines their business as “Exposing and Combating Liberal Media Bias”), not least because plenty of other news outlets covered the story.

And then, also at CNN, Independence Day brought an opinion piece from Kenneth C. Davis, whom Wikipedia describes as “an American popular historian, best known for his Don’t Know Much About… series,” called Why U.S. is not a Christian nation(because apparently the headline editor is allergic to definite articles).

by TauZero, used under Creative Commons from Flickr

The go-to answer to why the U.S. isn’t Christian is that we have separation of church and state. It’s in the First Amendment, duh.

Except that it isn’t really. The relevant part of the First Amendment says:“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” which certainly points to the government staying out of religious institutions and practices. But the phrase “separation of church and state”—the phrase that makes me chuckle every time I’m on a bus that turns from Church St. onto State St. in Champaign—actually isn’t there.

Instead, as Davis points out in that CNN opinion piece, the phrase “separation of church and state” comes not from the Constitution but from a letter Thomas Jefferson penned in 1802 when he was president. Jefferson wrote, as Davis’s piece quotes:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State

That all sounds great. The Founding Fathers, objecting to the ways in which the Church of England was headed by whoever was on the throne, wanted do things differently in the new country they were envisioning.

Any public schoolchild (hopefully) knows the story of how the Puritans left England for religious freedom. Some of the people involved in the founding of the U.S. as a nation had even been victims of religious persecution much more locally, such as Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island because he’d been “banished from neighboring Massachusetts, the ‘shining city on a hill’ where Catholics, Quakers and Baptists were banned under penalty of death” (Davis).

But here’s the thing, and here’s where the “America is a Christian Nation” proponents get their ammunition: those are all denominations of Christianity. Intra-Christian strife there was aplenty, but all of them were some sort of Christian or another (Unless they were Deists. But even Deism relies on there being a God, and to my knowledge it was a Christian-flavored one).

The fact that those Founding Fathers were all Christians isn’t just an interesting historical coincidence, but rather had the effect of making Christianity part of the basis of the U.S., to the point that, in some sense, it is a Christian nation. Christianity is normative in this country. If the scripture you follow consists, in entirety or primarily, of the Old and New Testaments, you never have to explain yourself or apologize for your deviance from the norm.

Believe that God kept talking after the New Testament with The Book of Mormon? Maybe you’re not electable as president. Stop believing after the Pentateuch? At certain points people believed you might be a traitor.And forget about it if the Koran is your main holy book—we all know that Muslims aren’t quite trusted to be loyal in the contemporary U.S.

So how did we get here? Christianity as the norm or not, whatever happened to the free exercise of religion and it being “between God and me”? (Which, that part of Broadway musical RENT is one of the most brilliant rhymes ever: “To sodomy/it’s between God and me” = <3)

What happened to the nation where “In 1790, President George Washington wrote to America’s first synagogue, in Rhode Island, that ‘all possess alike liberty of conscience’ and that ‘toleration’ was an ‘inherent national gift,’ not the government’s to dole out or take away” (Davis)?

Here again, my current favorite book helps make sense of what’s going on. Yes, it’s Wendy Brown and Regulating Aversion. The problem is that Mormons, like Muslims, like, at certain points in history (or maybe even today), Jews and Catholics (JFK “getting orders from the Pope,”anyone?), are imagined to be members of their religion first and Americans only secondarily, but “the state promises to protect and tolerate individuals, not groups whose fealty is to some higher or lower god, to some other national formation, to some elsewhere” (95).

That is, under contemporary assumed and normative (I am sort of tempted to say compulsory) Christianity, the nation and Christianity are assumed to basically, fundamentally align. It’s not a conflict. However, the flip side of this is that if you aren’t Christi-merican, there is a demand, implicitly or explicitly, that you be American first and religious second.

Notably, this takes place with respect to Islam, as Jasbir K. Puar has skillfully illuminated in “Monster , Terrorist, Fag” (with Amit Rai) and Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. But it’s also the case that Mormons are suspected of holding their religious allegiance above their national one—though being generally white, conservative, and not all that downtrodden they don’t make such a good cause célèbre.

The default Christianity of the United States is why we have a National Prayer Breakfast that is Christian but doesn’t have to announce itself as such. This is why it is such a scandal for those who (incorrectly) believe Barack Obama is a Muslim.And, ultimately, it’s why the atheist plan to fly their banners on the Fourth of July was so powerfully symbolic, because it was a rejection of that embedded Christianity. It’s also why it was so offensive to people who want the U.S. to stay stealthily Christian.

Those wacky current events just keep being fascinating. Next time, the weird racial politics of the way Casey Anthony keeps getting conflated with O.J. Simpson

So there I am, minding my own business the Sunday before last, when the Internet goes crazy. Or, rather, one of the corners of the Internet that I keep an eye on went crazy.

From D. Agron’s Tumblr at

I’ll admit it: I have a Google alert set for Dianna Agron. It’s what I do these days when I like an actor (which others, I’ll never tell!). So when the actor in question—who’s female and heretofore evidently heterosexual (Achele shippers notwithstanding. Also, check out Urban Dictionary’s Acheleography definition; it’s hilarious!)—wore a “Likes Girls” t-shirt to perform a Glee Live show in Toronto, my inbox became a popular destination—15 news stories in the first 24 hours, then 16 more over the next 3 days (many thanks are due to threaded emails that it didn’t actually fill).

There were questions: Did Glee’s Dianna Agron come out as bisexual with a tshirt? and dry factual headlines: Glee’s Dianna Agron “Likes Girls” T Shirt in Toronto and (not-so) subtle digs at fans: Dianna Agron Wears “Likes Girls” T-Shirt, Gleeks Freak Out.

And there was squee. Oh dear God was there squee. Some of my favorites from the tumblr tag “dianna agron come out riot”:


chikaru: so dianna agron likes womenin other news water is wet, pope is catholic etc

Then, about 12 hours after the first alerts had come through, the tone shifted. The second set of headlines included: Dianna Agron explains ‘likes girls’ t-shirt worn during live show and Dianna Agron Talks About Gay Issues.Basically, these stories said: “Ha ha, just kidding, she doesn’t have the gay. No worries!”

Along with this batch came Agron’s own essay, published at her tumblr, which is what the walking back of the gay speculation was drawing on—as far as I know, she hasn’t given any interviews on it yet. The piece was sort of a “gay pride month is really important because clearly it’s still not that awesome to be gay, so I’m going to stand up for gay rights” statement.

And honestly I still can’t decide how I feel about it. On one hand, it’s like, “Well, that’s easy for you to say. You get to go back to having heterosexual privilege when you take the shirt off.” But on the other hand, she is putting herself on the line in some sense, because she is choosing to stand with (and temporarily as) a category that’s socially devalued. And putting herself—her career, perhaps—“at risk” in that limited sense is certainly better than no sense at all.

But what really stood out to me about her essay was the logic by which she counted herself among those who like girls:

I love my family, my friends, my co-workers…and they all consist of girls AND boys. I do tell them that I love them. Yesterday, during our second show, Instead of wearing my usual shirt during “Born This Way” I decided to wear one that said “Likes Girls”. It should actually have read, “Loves Girls”, because I do. The women in my life give me things that the men in my life can’t. And vice-versa. No, I am not a lesbian, yet if I were, I hope that the people in my life could embrace it whole-heartedly. And let me tell you, I can easily spill (quite comfortably) what I admire, respect and think is beautiful about any of the women in my life. Piece of cake!

Last night, I wanted to do something to show my respect and love for the GLBT community. Support that people could actually see. Which is why I decided to change my shirt for the show.

Reading this, I had a total sense of déjà vu. I’d read this before:

I mean the term lesbian continuum to include a range—through each woman’s life and throughout history—of woman-identified experience, not simply the fact that a woman has had or consciously desired genital sexual experience with another woman. If we expand it to embrace many more forms of primary intensity between and among women, including the sharing of a rich inner life, the bonding against male tyranny, the giving and receiving of practical and political support [ . . .].

The above quote is from Adrienne Rich’s 1980 essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” (from the version in The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader, p.239), and the resemblance is sort of uncanny.

There’s the same move to relate loving and supporting women with having same-sex sex—deliberate and political on Rich’s part, not entirely elaborated on Agron’s.

At the same time, both authors also insist that they aren’t identical. Agron says “I love girls. Just not for fucking.” Rich distinguishes between the above “lesbian continuum” and “lesbian existence,” which she defines as “both the fact of the historical presence of lesbians and our continuing creation of the meaning of that existence”—meaning that this is where we get literal, actual lesbians (p. 239).

Rich, then, would argue that Agron is actually sort of a lesbian, sex-free love of women notwithstanding, since she’s on the lesbian continuum.Indeed, Rich wanted to “consider the possibility that all women [ . . . ] exist on a lesbian continuum,” because this would let us “see ourselves as moving in and out of this continuum, whether we identify ourselves as lesbian or not” (p. 240).

What Rich wanted to do in the essay, as the title suggests, was figure heterosexuality not as a “natural” disposition—either for all women, in which case lesbians are unnatural, or for most women, which makes lesbians natural (whatever that means) but unusual—but something that had to be imposed to make women identify with men’s interests rather than their own (which has its own set of problematic assumptions—I’ll get there).

She questioned “why species survival, the means of impregnation, and emotional/erotic relationships should ever have become so rigidly identified with each other,” contending that, however related they seem to us now, there was nothing inevitable about this outcome (p. 232).

Ultimately, through proposing this continuum, Rich wanted to help women “feel the depth and breadth of woman identification and woman bonding that has run like a continuous though stifled theme through the heterosexual experience,” with the goal being “that this would become increasingly a politically activating impulse, not simply a validation of personal lives” (p. 227).

That is, it isn’t just to get women to come together and identify as or with lesbians for a round of kumbayah, but to further feminist action. That part remains unrealized in Agron’s rendition, and that possibility is a danger Rich herself realized about the term.

Rich wrote an addendum to “Compulsory Heterosexuality” the following year–when it was to be anthologized in Powers of Desire, in order to respond to some queries from the editors of that volume–in which she addressed this issue: “My own problem with the phrase is that it can be, is, used by women who have not yet begun to examine the privileges and solipsisms of heterosexuality, as a safe way to describe their felt connections with women, without having to share in the risks and threats of lesbian existence” (249).

This definitely gets at what makes me uncomfortable about Agron’s statement.She can be edgy and wear a “Likes Girls” shirt as a way to proclaim her love for the women in her life because she has enough privilege–as heterosexual, but also as white, as normatively gendered, as meeting standards of attractiveness, as wealthy, and as a celebrity–to insulate her from what that would entail were she someone else.

Rich wanted to make it “less possible to read, write, or teach from a perspective of unexamined heterocentricity” (p. 228), but 30 years down the line being unexamined is clearly still possible. Certainly, Agron’s post did not succeed at really examining her own positionality, since the larger argument is grounded in a presumption that straight people ought to be nicer to those poor queers.

I’m sure she doesn’t realize it, but this relies on an assumption of heterosexual superiority. They are apparently in a position to tolerate us because we are the lesser objects of tolerance in the equation (see Wendy Brown’s2006 book Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire).

This isn’t to pick on Agron. These are things I think about because it’s my job. These are ways of seeing I am trained in. Her job and her training are something else. She did ok. She really did. For a young person (though, I have to remind myself, not as much younger than me as it feels like) whose fame has led to her opinion—about anything—being news, she’s doing pretty well.

But it is to temper the praise she’s getting for being SO progressive. Seriously, you’re going to ask “Is Dianna Agron more supportive of LGBT rights than the rest of the “Glee” cast?” on account of one blog post? And this blog post? She’s not some kind of new gay patron saint.

I’m also not trying to hold up Rich as the true homosaint. I will be the first to tell you that there are a number of problems with her piece—I was, literally, when we read this in my Queer Theory class a couple years ago. Rich wants to open the arms of lesbian feminism to heterosexual women and express that, though heterosexuals get more privilege, it’s the structure of the system that makes that so and not necessarily heterosexual woman going around acting to oppress, which is great.

But, like many a second-wave feminist, Rich doesn’t get that men aren’t the enemy. They benefit from the unequal distribution of power, sure, but they don’t completely control it. In fact, men can be allies to change things—just like Rich argues that heterosexual women can.

Rich seems to mistake the situation as one in which men are running the system in a smoky room somewhere, trying to trick women into heterosexually identifying with men’s interests rather than their own true female/lesbian continuum interests. This is ridiculous for a number of reasons, not least because women don’t inherently care about the same things.

Indeed, the assumption that all women share interests simply by virtue of their membership in the category demonstrates that at that point Rich did not understand her own race or class privilege all that well—I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she does now. She makes offhand references to the importance of race and class, but they aren’t a substitute for a thorough and integrated understanding of how gender and sexuality are racialized.

In the end, what’s interesting about both Agron’s essay and Rich’s is that they both want to trouble or push the boundaries of categories but end up reinforcing them instead.

Agron wore a tshirt that was meant (when it was printed) to indicate same-sex attraction to proclaim both her platonic love of the women in her life and her support for those who do have such attractions. That’s a blurring of boundaries that had a great deal of potential to make things queer–but she contains it by making an unequivocal statement that “I am not a lesbian.” Why not refuse the question altogether as irrelevant? Or, why not refuse the privilege or the position of superior tolerate-er of the tolerated?

Rich wanted to insist that lesbians and heterosexual women had something in common, breaking down the hetero/homo divide, which again had potential to reorient us away from hard binaries to something more complex. However, in recognizing only hetero and homo–and especially in holding on so tightly to male vs. female as precisely an antagonism–she stopped short of the radical intervention her piece could have made to thinking systemically about power, inequality, and change.

Putting these two pieces side-by-side, then, produces an interesting look at how far we’ve come–and how far we have yet to go.