Around the globe, sexual minorities participate in a tragi-romantic-comedy. It has been 40 years since Judith Butler first conceived gender as a performance… and yet the struggle for gay rights, its political theatres in Moscow or Washington, its costumed rivals in Warsaw or Mecca, has followed a dangerous script about love.
Surrounded with hashtags such as #LoveWins or #LoveIsLove, LGBT rights may be as doomed as Greek tragedies. Antigone, for example, could be read as a cautionary tale about the lethal combination between love and rights. No one believes the tragic heroine’s appeal for the right of her brother to be buried. Why? Because she cannot be objective. Not with the love she feels for her family.
LGBT activists, too, and their chosen families, have been reduced to romantic heroes who may persuade, but never convince. Persuasion is foul play in the agora. As a rule, the mind is the foundation of politics, not the heart. Leave love for Sophocles, not Socrates; for playwrights, not philosophers.
My thesis on the danger of love in politics is not new. Hannah Arendt, a German-Jewish political theorist, addressed a riveting letter to James Baldwin in 1961:
“What frightened me in your essay was the gospel of love which you begin to preach at the end. In politics, love is a stranger, and when it intrudes upon it nothing is being achieved except hypocrisy. All the characteristics you stress in the Negro people: their beauty, their capacity for joy, their warmth, and their humanity, are well-known characteristics of all oppressed people. They grow out of suffering and they are the proudest possession of all pariahs. Unfortunately, they have never survived the hour of liberation by even five minutes. Hatred and love belong together, and they are both destructive; you can afford them only in the private and, as a people, only so long as you are not free.”
Here is Hannah Arendt’s prophecy: that someday, should the successors of James Baldwin empathetically chant out Black Lives Matter, the first of America’s children, the jealous elder, shall stand up and rebuke: No, All Lives Matter. We return to the family drama of Antigone: before we can debate about rights and structural inequalities, we slip into the abyss of catering injured hearts, not flawed logics.
The struggle for gay rights, newer than its racial predecessor, has reached the same impasse. Whenever we chant in the name of love, once new sexual freedoms are legally granted, in pride parades or social media filters, it is not love that merely wins. Hate, too, makes a small victory. In clandestine, it jumps on the bandwagon that we cheerfully leave behind.
So long as we continue to frame the movement as a fight for love, we will never break the cycle of hate. A good show needs good guys and bad guys. We must therefore switch costumes. Restart a neutral debate over LGBT rights, as one deliberates over constructions scheduled for renovations.
It is us who must first rip out the romanticized script. Because without it, our disoriented foes must improvise. No more passive following of the director’s wishes. Homophobia, too, is an act. Only through a coup de theatre, which we must ourselves orchestrate, can we push the opponents of sexual minorities to snap out of their roles and think for and as themselves. Only then will we be all welcomed back into the agora.