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.
with greater loyalty to one side or the other. Those closest to the stigmaphile world will express the most radical political defiance. Those closest to the stigmaphobe world will express the most reluctance, the greatest desire for a conformity that yet can never finally be achieved. In the case of gay groups, it might seem that we therefore have an inevitable tension, with sex radicals at one end and 44 • MICHAEL WARNER assimilationists at the other. People at both ends seem to see the
from the bad intentions of the people who devote their lives to activism within the movement. By national standards sex scandals remain extraordinary affairs. For gays and lesbians, they are the norm. As soon as a movement was organized, embarrassment became a permanent condition of its politics. On one side, the movement must appeal to its constituency—people who often have nothing in common other than their search for a sexual world and the shame and stigma that such a search entails. They turn
effects of Mayor Rudy Giuliani's new zoning law limiting "adult establishments," which the city began to enforce in the summer of 1998 after a series of court stays and challenges. As this book goes to press, the court challenges are not over and won't be for a long time. The law has already allowed the city to padlock dozens of stores and clubs, including a gay bookstore. But the law's details contain many gray areas, and the resulting uncertainty and fear have a much wider, chilling effect than
not just in one other, but in a world of others. Strangers have an ability to represent a world of others in a way that one sustained intimacy cannot, although of course these are not exclusive options in gay and lesbian culture. This pleasure, a direct cathexis of the publicness of sexual culture, is by and large unavailable in dominant culture, simply because heterosexual belonging is already mediated by nearly every institution of culture. Publicness can have little of the sense of
raise such questions in especially powerful ways. Bowen might also have pointed out that the study of sexuality, if it were asking such questions, could hardly avoid the shame and offensiveness that so many associate with the subject. In fact, the conservative clamor about the conference could be taken as evidence of the way shame and opprobrium can be much more than just natural responses of instinctual revulsion, and much more than a desire for privacy They are political resources that some