Saturday, June 8, 2013

Why Queers Should Care About Sex Offenders

Andrew Extein
Original Article

We are not sure what gay people think about the term "queer," but to us it seems to be a derogatory term and shouldn't be used. The person who wrote this, which has some good info, uses the term a lot, but also uses gay and homosexual as well.


By Andrew Extein, MSW (Web Site)

"So, how are the pedophiles doing?"

As a group psychotherapist for convicted sex offenders on parole and probation who also operates a private practice for queer people, I am bombarded with comments and questions from friends and family:

  • Aren't you scared?
  • I could never do that.
  • What's it like to talk to all those child molesters?

At first I was surprised to hear some of my most educated, liberal friends ask questions that were, to me, biased and misinformed. I had assumed that, as queers and allies, my friends would have a greater sensitivity to the persecution sex offenders face in American society. I have since come to realize that queer folk are not more prone to find empathy for this population.

I often find myself feeling defensive, and almost guilty, in the line of such questioning. "So... why are you interested in them?" they ask, a look of distaste on their faces.

Here's the thing: I don't consider "them" my bizarre, special interest. All queer people are invested in the plight of sex offenders, whether they like it or not.

Deviance and the Dangers of Othering

Although I studied many subjects in college, my interest especially aligned with the radical thinking of my queer theories coursework. Queer theory obliterates the idea of good and bad sex and what should and should not be deemed deviant. As such, my courses covered gay history, the timeline of the gay rights movements, queer theory, and the burgeoning transgender studies, as well as genderqueers, kink, sexual fluidity, and asexuality.

But there was a strange silence in these class discussions as well. As my education continued, I began thinking about other people who transgressed cultural norms of sexuality, other people whose sexual desires had been labeled deviant -- people who even queer theory courses weren't talking about. There might be no group more maligned, marginalized, and disconcerting as modern-day America's "sex offenders."

In treatment, lawmaking, and cultural discourse, sex offenders are referred to as participating in deviant sexual behavior, having deviant sexual fantasies, and being inherently "deviant" themselves. From one angle, this is true; all sex offenders have deviated from the boundaries of one or more laws regarding sex or the body.

But sociologist Joel Best describes the problematic nature of how the term "deviance" is used in our culture. In his book Deviance, he emphasizes that "a deviant label was simply a sign that some groups with power had singled out some acts or conditions for disapproval." The term means that, according to the rules of a powerful few, something is inherently wrong with you if you are not like everybody else. In other words, deviance becomes a viral social construct that serves as a moral imperative to dictate and intimidate people into behaving.

Queer theory has well documented how those in power have employed the terminology of deviance to oppress queers. In recent history, society has labeled gays, lesbians, and transgender folk as abnormal, problematic, and threatening. Gay men, for instance, threatened to lure, groom, and convert children into the homosexual lifestyle; they were not to be trusted or validated. At one point, they were considered mentally ill and criminal. Sex between consenting adult males was illegal and morally reprehensible and served to mandate a gay man to a mental hospital or jail cell. Gay men and trans people socially congregating in bars, such as at Stonewall, was a valid reason for police to raid, frisk, and arrest mass numbers of them.

This is an important part of history that needs to be retold, to serve as a reminder of what happens when authorities dictate the lives and behaviors of "deviant" populations. In fact, this history is still among us; trans, gay, and queer people are currently arrested and incarcerated at a rate disproportionate to the general population. In this infographic (PDF), the Sylvia Rivera Law Project outlines how trans and gender-nonconforming people are at a high risk of incarceration, police harassment, and violence. Despite the existence of these contemporary systems of inequality, I worry that in the era of gay marriage, pinkwashing, and assimilatory LGBT politics, we queers may be forgetting the dangers of othering.

Because there's no use mincing words here: The same methods historically used by the government to imprison and pathologize homosexuality and gender variation are being used today to justify the extreme marginalization, lifetime institutionalization, and oppression of people who have violated sex laws. Sex offenders are the new queers.


Michael said...

It seems that the author is himself gay, and he is comfortable with the term "queer." From my observations I think the gay community has embraced this word, just as the urban black community has embraced the "N" word (as long as whites don't use it).

Happy, Joyous and Free said...

Speaking as a member of the GLBT community, "queer" is not being used in a derogatory manner throughout the article. "Queer theory" is a legitimate title to a method of understanding GLBT issues, not just for individuals, but as a community.

The author is gay. What of it? However, he is very accurate. Hitler rounded up all of the "sexual deviants", which means gay men, lesbians, transgendered, and obviously sex offenders. Society pushes anyone who is variant in terms of sexual preference or gender identity to the fringe.

Every civilized country, including the USA, has mistreated GLBT individuals. A perfect example would be the Stonewall Riots on June 28, 1969. The Wikipedia article is a good description. These same riots are why we have Gay Pride Festivals on this day throughout the country.

The simple fact is that the author is 100% on target.

deathklok said...

I can't help myself here, but while we're on the subject of political correctness I noticed the author repeatedly uses the phrase "Sex Offender" which (to me) is derogatory as any name calling can get. It is IMHO a big part of the "Othering" process being throw at us from politicians, media, and society. Half the battle we face is getting this label abolished as it carries notions of continued behavioral patterns, as if there is no rehabilitation; when in fact stats show that few registrants will ever re-offend.