Heterosexuality, the opiate of the people

Yesterday was the big day of student elections at Paris-8, just as there were elections in Aix that I covered a few weeks ago. But in the thick of the afternoon I was delighted to see that not all the groups were handing out election fliers, for right at the campus entrance was a new feminist collective. Such groups seem somewhat less common in France than in the US, where gender-based activism, while far from mainstream, is quite usual. And their flier, when I sat down later to look at it, turned out to be a good one:

Questionnaire on Sexuality

  • Where do you think your heterosexuality comes from?
  • When and under what circumstances did you decide to be heterosexual?
  • Could it be that your heterosexuality is only a difficult and troubling phase that you’re passing through?
  • Could it be that you are heterosexual because you are afraid of people of the same sex?
  • If you’ve never slept with a partner of the same sex, how do you know you wouldn’t prefer one? Could it be that you’re just missing out on a good homosexual experience?
  • Have you come out as heterosexual? How did they react?
  • Heterosexuality doesn’t cause problems as long as you don’t advertise these feelings. Why do you always talk about heterosexuality? Why center everything around it? Why do the heterosexuals always make a spectacle of their sexuality? Why can’t they live without exhibiting themselves in public?
  • The vast majority of sexual violence against children is due to heterosexuals. Do you believe that your child is safe in the presence of a heterosexual? In a class with a heterosexual teacher in particular?
  • More than half of heterosexual couples who are getting married this year will get divorced within three years. Why are heterosexual relationships so often bound for failure?
  • In the face of the unhappy lives that heterosexuals lead, can you wish for your child to be heterosexual? Have you considered sending your child to a psychologist if he or she has turned out to have heterosexual tendencies? Would you be ready to have a doctor intervene? Would you send your child to in-patient therapy to get him or her to change?

After this mock questionnaire, the flier remarks that “these questions which marginalize, psychoanalyze and denormalize (anormalise) — non-heterosexual people suffer from these questions, and face them on a daily basis.” And it goes on to enunciate a political agenda which argues, in effect, that queer and women’s issues belong together, “because heterosexuality,” in addition to harming gay, lesbian and trans people, “is a political system which divides the world in two, into men and women, and which assigns one side to maternity and domestic labor while giving the others privileges and power.” Their list of political demands hence included not only equality and an end to homophobia but also (and this struck me as being a little more unusual) an end to the traditional system of dichotomous sexual classification. Indeed, they claimed “the free disposition of one’s body and the free choice of one’s sexual identity, sex and gender.”

This placed them in the paradoxical position, it seems to me, of being a feminist group trying to undermine the category of ‘women’ that served as their tacit basis of political unity: while open to all, as of yesterday no males had joined. I’d guess that they’d interpret this apparent paradox by saying that in fact they’re brought together by shared domination on the basis of their gender, and that of course the whole point of the project is to overcome this domination. But the political horizon of this project is very far off; the moment where gender domination will be overcome is infinitely far in the future from the point of view of the present.

4 thoughts on “Heterosexuality, the opiate of the people

  1. It is hard to believe that “More than half of heterosexual couples who are geting married this year will get divorced within three years?” I wonder how the divorce rate really compares.

    Can you give us a sense of how homosexuality is perceived in France? One would assume that having fewer religious conservatives they would be more accepting.

  2. I have no idea about the marriage stats! It’s something I didn’t really think about, never having given a second’s thought to family demography things before now. The first official stats that I found seem to indicate that divorce happens at a far lower annual rate for a given marriage cohort and peaks around years 4-7, but probably adds up to a substantial fraction over time. I don’t think you can’t just add up these particular figures; as you could probably figure out from glancing at them even if you don’t speak french, the table shows how many people (per thousand) of marriage duration X got divorced during year Y, ie, it’s not following cohorts over time but giving slices of cohorts in a given year. But I saw figures of 1/3-45% total divorce rate mentioned on other sites I came across. This article gave something that seemed like it might be the origin of the claim you’re questioning — apparently the Justice Minister said (probably a while ago) that the rate of divorce for marriages less than 3 years old had risen 50% between 1998 and 2003. I could see this being misinterpreted into the claim I translated above.

    On your other question, my sense is that although there is less overt anti-homosexuality here (eg, as a right-wing political issue) there is also less of a public queer (sub)culture than in the US.

  3. Do the marriage stats include the French civil partnership, PACS, which is open to for heterosexual and homosexual couples alike? PACS couples are divorcing quicker, as far as I know.

    As for the perception of homosexuality, my only comparative experience is with Scotland, where my flatmates would use ‘gay’ in (pejorative) ways that none of my French friends would ever dare to do. But that’s anecdotal evidence.

    For slightly more robust evidence, check the intolerance data from the EVS.

  4. I don’t think the stats include the PACS. The chart with intolerance data is very interesting… although for a contrary piece of anecdotal evidence to your observations in Scotland, consider that France is a country where it is moderately common to refer to gay people as “pédés.” (IE, a kind of semantic blurring between homosexuality and pedophilia.) That always sounds rather pejorative to me! Or does it have a more… positive… implication for some native speakers?

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