by Daniel Cardoso*
Intimate citizenship as a concept is over twenty years old. While few would argue that almost nothing has been accomplished (just as few would argue that all has been), one element seems to be particularly murky if we take “citizenship” to mean a set of characteristics attached to unique persons.
That element pertains to the role that is continually afforded to families as a central medium through which the State reproduces itself, both ideologically and biopolitically. Issues around same-sex monogamous marriage, same-sex couples’ reproductive rights, and same-sex couples’ access to other economic and health protections has been a way for the State to reinsert itself into what might, otherwise, threaten it, to maintain its control and presence.
|Cartoon by Kimchi Cuddles|
What this means, as Friedrich Engels noted long ago, is that the locus of the family is the locus of the State – not because the State is a higher-order simile of the family (nor the other way around), but because the State represents itself as if it were the fundamental assurance of the safety and order that the concept of the (monogamous) family evokes.
Ulrich Beck says that ‘family’ is a sociological zombie category, that it’s dead but still walking around. That our time is defined by the post-familial family – an expanding and enlarging notion of what a family is and what it can do. True as that might be, our legislative efforts seem rather focused on keeping the zombie up and about, but spraying it with perfume all over, so it stinks less, so it blends in better. Raising the family-zombie to the status of citizen, as it were.
The positive results are lauded and visible (insomuch as any LGB rights are visible). But the other results – that come from raising the family to the status of a citizen – should be equally considered. The most evident ones have to do with how the concerns and revindications of the trans and non-binary communities have been side-tracked. Even so, I will focus on other consequences, that arise from the specific cost of upholding a mono-normative and reproductive (post-familial) family.
1. Post-familial structures that seem too far removed from what Gayle Rubin termed the “Charmed Circle” of sexuality remain as politically unintelligible today as they were some thirty years ago – one of the best examples being that of ‘leather families’ within the SM community, another, more recent one, has to do with polyamorous families.
2. Bonds of parentality are subsumed to a State-sanctioned familial structure, rather than granted their own autonomy, with minors being considered as possessing a citizenship, instead of being subjected to others’ citizenship demands.
3. Persons who choose to engage in modes of relationality that are too far removed even from the post-familial sense of family, or who are thrust into such modes, become particularly vulnerable to economic and societal discrimination, and even more so as their specific plights become ‘fringe cases’, to be resolved by conforming or growing into a ‘proper’ familial structure.
To be clear: these issues have been compounded, rather than assuaged, through mainstream LGB politics and revindications. I have no desire to underestimate or dismiss the importance of contesting and contaminating the heterosexist meanings behind ‘family’, but to do so without acknowledging the constitutive importance of monogamy alongside heterosexuality for our patriarchal society, is to institute compromise as a characteristic of contamination. An odd characteristic for a strategy that depends on denormalizing ‘family’…
A possible way out of this situation is not to abandon marriage or adoption as loci of contestation and social struggle. A possible solution is to rethink ways of conceptualizing citizenship that focus on democratizing access to the same social protections that families receive, and with equivalent expedience. This democratization process must first enable full access to the juridical means of ensuring that each citizen can have the highest degree of self-determination possible within a given legislative frame (needless to say that current legislative frames leave much to be desired and need profound changes).
Afterwards, rights’ ‘fast-tracks’ need to be eliminated.
This means, yes, that the legal entity called ‘marriage’ needs no further extension – it needs extinction. Again, this extinction should be the last step in a complex process in which all the rights and obligations currently sequestered under the term ‘marriage’ are to be extricated from one another and made as easily available as it currently is for a heterosexual couple to be married. Parentality is included here – the notion that genetics grants a certain individual inalienable rights over another individual is eerily reminiscent of – again – Engels’ work about the role of marriage in reproducing capitalism.
These few words cannot fully express the complexity of the task described. But if we are to overcome the profound limitations of current intimate citizenship – and start considering a politics of relating – the legalistic animic force that is propping up the zombie-family needs to be exhausted. Friendship over (normative) family – elective families in whatever configurations, as a by-product of the electing citizen, and not an artificial subject of rights.
Yes, I am aware of it – this still props up the State’s role in our society. This is not the be-all, end-all coup that will dissolve the State and capitalism along with it. It’s not intended to be that – what it is, is a small (but not that small!) step towards making the State more accountable, and making peripheral lives, bodies and politics less subjected to contemporary necropolitics.
This has many gendered implications, as historically marriage has served as a locus of controlling women’s bodies and sexualities, and as non-genderconforming people suffer further exclusions. It is not that monogamy itself creates gender imbalances, or that non-monogamies solve that imbalance, but rather that the historical weight of the institution of marriage facilitates and normalizes a gendered approach to intimate relationships that promotes hierarchical categories of belonging, and thus of being (politically and bodily).
Monogamous and homonationalist marriage, seen as a protector and a cradle of life, functions, for some bodies, as necropolitical. To give life, it takes life – respectability politics has an exacting price. Widening marriage’s reach produces a widening of the underlying system of exclusion. A utopia, perhaps, or a heterotopia – that we might create a space free of marriage as necropolitics.
** Necropolitics is commonly understood as the power over who can or should die, as the main definition of sovereignty. This means that, in any given context, sovereign power manifests itself by leaving some social groups out to die, by considering them expendable.
Daniel Cardoso is Assistant Professor at Lusofona University (Universidade Lusófona de Humanidades e Tecnologias), and researcher on sexualities, youngsters, polyamory, and communication sciences.
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