Why Marriage? Why Monogamy? Re-imagining the Social

Why do we tend to couple up and live only with that person? Queers who are interested in fostering other ways of being and belong that do not involve the dominant life narrative of maturity, namely the couple form and parenthood, feel a sense of defeat in the face of what Leo Bersani calls, “the rage for respectability . . .in gay life today.” Bersani’s influential work on queer negativity, the ways in which sex is not future-bound and redemptive but rather self-shattering and destructive has greatly influenced queer scholarship. For example, Lee Edelman argues that different subjective formations and socialities that counter heteronormativity come out of the negativity of the death drive, which “names what the queer, in the order of the social, is called forth to figure: the negativity opposed to every form of social viability.” Queers must embrace the negativity that is ascribed to us, rejecting the disciplinary lesson of normalcy in the name of “saving the children.” The death drive is a cultural and political fiction that we should identify with, for embracing the death drive’s negativity enables one to reject the discourse of deferral in the name of future generations. We can then reject, rather than acquiesce to, the hetero-normative terms under which debates are set and public spaces for adults are shut down. Also arguing for the socio-political potential of negativity, Judith Halberstam challenges us to refuse dominant culture’s narrative of maturity that upholds biological generational transmission and instead imagine alternative life narratives that break this cycle. Dyke subcultures, like drag king troupes and the Michigan Womyn’s Festival (albeit a problematic space for its often times lack of acceptance for femmes, BDSM and trans folks), become sites for developing queer temporalities and counter-publics that break with the hetero timeline (i.e. the musicians and folks at the festival refusing to grow up and act/dress age and gender appropriate).

The intimacies and counter-publics borne out of negative affects and acts disrupt the coherency of the dominant life narrative, showing us that we are clearly not married to only one way of being in the world. Queers have built communities and spaces around negative affects like shame for decades. Tim Dean argues, “the shattering of the civilized ego betokens not the end of sociality but rather its inception . . . the movement of coming together only to be plunged into an experience of the nonrelational represents the first step in Bersani’s account of relationality. The second, correlative step is to trace new forms of sociability, new ways of being together” (827).

From the potential of the abject, for instance, to bring people together to form counter-publics for pleasure and coalition-building (Michael Warner, Douglas Crimp), we seem to find ourselves in theoretical/political slump borne of defeat in the face of the overwhelming triumph of pride over shame, the valorization of the respectfully private over the luridly public, and celebrations of lame monogamy over shameless promiscuity. It doesn’t have to be this way. Things can be different. It’s up to us to build more public spaces for sex and talk.

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