by Jeremy Fernando
(Yanyun Chen, Fishylove)
Clearly we have reached a juncture — or perhaps, never moved away from the point —where the sexuality of the subject, the sexual orientation of the subject, in a state is in focus. And, more precisely, where heterosexuality is the legitimised sexual relationship, whilst homosexuality is frowned upon; particularly, in terms of state regulation, and oftentimes even in public opinion.
However, it would be too easy to launch into the standard Marxist analysis (where the subject is alienated from her own body, in a false consciousness; where performativity by way of productivity is the sole purpose of a subject in a neo-liberal state) or even open the register of fascism (where the corporatisation of the state means that the private and public spheres are no longer separable).
Perhaps instead, we should consider those who defend the logic that the only legitimate sexual relation is a heterosexual one on their own terms.
The most commonly cited one is that the sanctity of marriage demands that some form of exclusion is made. Whilst this exclusive gesture is always already part of any institution (what good is a membership if everyone can be a member), premising entry on an exclusionary sexuality does open up some interesting considerations: for instance, can someone who is bisexual claim half a membership? This might seem like idle speculation but if sexuality (or more precisely the biological sex of the person you are in a relationship with) is the only factor, this must surely be a possibility.
Moreover, if marriage were indeed sacrosanct — a sacred union — this would also mean that it cannot be spoken of. Otherwise, by definition, it enters the realm of the profane. And perhaps, this gives us a certain insight into homophobia, one that can be found within the marriage vow itself. Taking the Christian wedding as an instance — after all, the Abrahamic crew are usually the poster boys of homophobia — one cannot but notice that the standard ending goes along the lines of, « what God has joined man must not divide ». This suggests that the union is not very stable: in fact it is completely fragile; otherwise it would have read what man cannot divide. But, this is precisely what is sacred about marriage: the fact that the union is ultimately an unknowable one, known at best only to the gods. This means that every union between two people is a union that is made in absolute blindness to the possibility (or impossibility) of this very union.
And this is precisely what homosexual relationships foreground.
Not the fact that there is some God who disapproves of it (even if this were so, would it not be a vain proposition to presume that one is privy to divine proclivities). But, more pertinently, that a homosexual relationship reminds us that any union is always already one based on an assumption; groundless, baseless and completely unstable.
But the question that remains to haunt us is why homosexual relationships are more pronounced in reminding us of this fragility. This is due to the fact that if a relationship — any relationship — has no basis except for a leap of faith, this means that all relationality lies in the imaginary. This is an imaginary not so much in the sense of one being in a masturbatory relationship with one-self, in the form of a narcissistic relationship, but rather that the possibility of responding with another person (one who always will remain other to your self, alien, ultimately unknowable) must first be imagined. And, since imagination can only come about in and through your own self, this suggests that the very realm of any relationship is one that is played out through your own imaginary sphere. By extension — since you can never escape your own biological being — this also already means that any relationship you form with another, always already comes through an imaginary sphere of the same biology.
Thus, all relationships begin with a homo-imaginary sphere.
Which brings us back to the very basis of Christianity itself and its claim that all relationships that last must be God-centred. Unless we are hubristic, and make cognitive claims on the will of the Divine, we will have to admit that this space — in which all relationships that last are based — must lie in the imaginary. This is in no way a claim that God is imagined — or, at least necessarily in the realm of make-belief. After all, the atheistic view is a mere reversal of the fundamentalist believer: both are too certain, too absolute. What this suggests is that this space — that we have named God — is a space of potentiality, and perhaps of beauty, and even love.
This is captured perfectly in the words « I love you » ; words that are never original — always already a quotation, perhaps even a repetition. However, the significance of the statement is that it is meaningful in a particular time and space; it is a singular utterance that is important at that moment, and for the person(s) whom we are saying it to: and for that, there is no replicability. A further meditation on the statement would also suggest that there is a calling forth of an « I », as if the self and the « I » are momentarily separated, in a certain relationality — that of love — with a « you », as if the « you » and the person before the self uttering the statement are also separated. This becomes even more obvious in the response — assuming there is one — to the utterance: « I love you », at most « I love you too » ; an exact replication that says absolutely nothing more nor less than the first statement.
And in this reversal lies the very secret to love and relationships: reciprocity; not of any object, or anything material, but the reciprocation of reciprocity itself, a return of the utterance that puts the persons in a relationship with each other.
I offer you a statement in which I am unsure of my relationship with my own self, but still offer myself up in relation to and with you, whomever you are; and you offer me this very offering in return. And in-between, in this imaginary space between the two persons, is the potentiality of love, of relationality.
In this sense, all homophobia is a rejection of this uncertainty, is an attempt to fix relationality as something between two stable, binarily opposed, biological beings (as if this were even possible). Ironically though, in its attempt to concretise relationships within a heterosexual sphere, the possibility of this space — where the « I », the self, the other, and the « you », negotiate — is also effaced.
This is not to say that the only true relationships are homosexual. Far from it.
For, every person can choose to be in a relationship with another person, regardless of any category — biological, gendered, or otherwise.
However, a rejection of the possibility of a homosexual relationship is also the rejection of the possibility of every relationship.
And, this is why the rainbow has long been associated with homosexuality. For, without this space to imagine, there is no more hope for relationality itself …
A version of this piece was first run in January 2009 in MalaysiaKini, and can be found here: http://www.malaysiakini.com/opinions/96094
Jeremy Fernando is the Jean Baudrillard Fellow at the European Graduate School, where he is also a Reader in Contemporary Literature & Thought. He works in the intersections of literature, philosophy, and the media; and has written eighteen books — including Reading Blindly, Living with Art, Writing Death, and in fidelity. His work has been featured in magazines and journals such as Qui Parle, Berfrois, CTheory, Full Bleed, TimeOut, and VICE, amongst others; and he has been translated into Japanese, French, Italian, Spanish, and Serbian. Exploring other media has led him to film, music, and art; and his work has been exhibited in Seoul, Vienna, Hong Kong, and Singapore. He is the general editor of both Delere Press and the thematic magazine One Imperative; and is a Fellow of Tembusu College at the National University of Singapore.