Tyranny of the Normal

I’ve come to believe that the overriding category that governs all others is not race, not gender or gender identity/expression, and not sexuality, but normalcy. Most “minority” identities and experiences derive from this concept of normalcy.  Historically, many different groups of people have been thrown into the category of “abnormal,” usually with reference to some inadequacy or defect — people of color have been marked as unintelligent, women as weak and unstable, queer and trans people as pathologically ill.  It’s why you see racism, misogyny, and homo/trans -phobia as recurring themes in society.

The prevailing sense of normalcy does not allow for the greater good.  If we want to dismantle racism, the oppression of women, homophobia, transphobia, and every other form of systemic hatred, we must begin by dismantling this idea of “normalcy.”  Only then can we free ourselves from the bunk which does not reflect humanity in all its manifestations.  We must debunk this idea of normal.

But just what is normal, and who decides?  Most people confuse normal with that which is most prevalent.  In fact, a good definition for queer is “different." Different from what?  The mainstream.  What’s mainstream?  Really nothing more than the majority.  I’ll concede that being gay, being attracted to members of my own gender, is not mainstream; there are far more heterosexuals in the world than there are homosexuals — but prevalence is no reason to favor one group over another with regard to the laws and the rights afforded individual members of a society.

Race, gender, and sexual orientation are types of human identity that have become especially prominent in our discourse during the last century; each, however, is unchosen, meaning they are not based on any ideology or set of values.  That notwithstanding, the significance of these non-ideological identities, the ways in which they are viewed by groups within society (both secular and religious), is itself an ideological matter.  But the identities themselves are not.

It is for this reason that there is no basis for criticizing a group (or an individual member of that group) on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation.  It would be absurd to praise or criticize Barack Obama for being black, or Hillary Clinton for being a woman, or me for being gay.  There is no ideological content to our identities open for debate, no relevant beliefs or values upon which to base either a negative or a positive response.  The identity of each group is derived from innate qualities that cannot be adopted or discarded after critical scrutiny or thoughtful reflection of any kind.

Contrast that with ideological or value-laden identities, such as political or religious affiliation, and the situation is quite different.  One's politics and/or religious beliefs are comprised of doctrines and values that have implications for how society works (or how it is “supposed” to work by their estimation) and practices for implementing those doctrines and values.  They are open to interpretation and subject to evaluation.

Fighting discrimination is not about erasing that which makes blacks different from whites, women different from men, or gays different from straights; if it were, the result would be the racist, misogynistic, and homophobic annihilation of the minority by the majority.  Advocating equality regardless of race, gender or gender expression, and sexuality is about insisting that each unique group is afforded the same opportunities, responsibilities, and protections under the law, and not denied any because of the tyranny of the “normal” majority.

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