[Assimilation = Death sticker.]
So the Supreme Court has started to talk about Prop 8, which means that my Twitter feed is suddenly full of people using the word “assimilationist” in cold blood. Unfortunately, shouting at people in incoherent rage does not actually get them to stop using the word, so ugh.
Worry about assimilation is a common thread that runs through a lot of social justice movements– race, disability, even atheism– but I’m going to specifically be talking about it in a queer context, because that’s the one I’m most familiar with.
The assimilationist mindset is “we’re people just like you, you should give us rights.” Which, as strategies go, has the advantage of totally working. Seriously! The single thing that correlates best with having changed your mind to support same-sex marriage is knowing a queer person– that is, your mental image of queers shifts from “Pride Parade and anonymous bathroom sex” to “Joe down the street who grows really nice roses.” It also really cleverly defangs a pretty major squick-based anti-queer argument: it’s hard to argue that LGBT people are sick disgusting perverts who live loveless lives full of casual sex when observably the queer rights movement is advocating for their right to have spouses, children, a white picket fence, and a golden retriever.
The problem here is that if you say “we fall in love and want to get married! We’re people just like you!”, you’re implicitly saying that people who don’t fall in love and get married are not people just like you. Which is kind of a dick move. Assimilationism sanitizes queerness to make it more acceptable to Jane Homophobe: if she’s still vaguely threatened by Ellen, she’s just not ready for “and also anonymous bathroom sex is a totally valid lifestyle choice.” This is simultaneously an understandable political tactic and really, really shitty.
Where this gets absolutely toxic is that, for various reasons, Joe Homophobe tends to find a lot of the most marginalized queer people the most threatening. Trans people are scary and confusing! It is much easier to sweep us under the rug and just focus on same-sex marriage, particularly if the activists involved are kinda transphobic themselves. The HRC in particular has a history of being shitty to trans people.
But trans people, don’t rest on your laurels, we totally pull this shit too– the trans movement as a whole regularly ignores trans addicts, mentally ill people, sex workers, homeless people, survivors, and other groups, partially because they’re alien and scary and partially because we’re afraid embracing these issues will just reinforce the stereotypes and make us look alien and scary. If the only time you talk about trans women and sex work is to criticize the idea that all trans women are sex workers, you need to check yourself.
As it happens, the basic strategy is the same. I’m a nonbinary kinky poly queer sex worker and I’m basically a normal person. I have shitty customers and sometimes don’t really want to go to work! I like cuddling my partners a lot! I have deep feelings about Hey There Delilah! I sometimes eat a pint of ice cream in one sitting! I am basically a person, not a Terrifying Monster or a Pitiable Creature Who Needs To Be Saved or a Horrible Slutty Slut Slut, and my life is neither alien nor scary. The problem with assimilationism is that the tactics haven’t been applied enough.
Occasionally people will object to LGBT people getting the right to marry because marriage is a highly problematic institution, and then they will proceed to talk about misogyny and rape culture and capitalism and elevating monogamous romantic-sexual relationships over other forms of love and make a lot of really salient critiques most of which I agree with.
The problem with this line of thought is that, near as I can figure, about 98% of married people are cishets. Therefore, to be fair, solving the problems of marriage is 98% cishet people’s job. I don’t see why I should have to not get married just because cishet people fucked it up.
…Also even in a society where we didn’t have any misogyny or rape culture or capitalism or elevation of monogamous romantic-sexual relationships over other forms of love, people would still probably want to be life partners with each other sometimes, and there are certain rights the government should give to people who want to be life partners. We might as well call that “marriage,” and we ought to extend it to all genders. (Some people think that these rights should be extended to everyone regardless of relationship status– but that ends up obviously absurd. Married couples don’t have to testify against each other in court, which is fair and just. Making everyone not have to testify against anyone in court seems like it would end poorly.)
The final form of anti-assimilationist thought, using the term generously, I wish to address is the idea that queer people are radical and rebellious and fighting the patriarchy and wanting to get married and have kids is like, so not cool man. To which I say:
The whole point is that people end up with more choices. Sometimes, if people have more choices, it means they make choices you don’t like. You do NOT get to take away their choices because YOU disapprove of them, as long as they are not hurting anyone else. If you do, you are basically the same thing as the homophobes– just with less political power.