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The Tolerance Trap

The Tolerance Trap: How God, Genes, and Good Intentions are Sabotaging Gay Equality

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    The Tolerance Trap
    Book Description:

    FromGleeto gay marriage, from lesbian senators to out gay Marines, we have undoubtedly experienced a seismic shift in attitudes about gays in American politics and culture. Our reigning national story is that a new era of rainbow acceptance is at hand. But dig a bit deeper, and this seemingly brave new gay world is disappointing. For all of the undeniable changes, the plea for tolerance has sabotaged the full integration of gays into American life. Same-sex marriage is unrecognized and unpopular in the vast majority of states, hate crimes proliferate, and even in the much vaunted gay friendly world of Hollywood and celebrity culture, precious few stars are openly gay.InThe Tolerance Trap, Suzanna Walters takes on received wisdom about gay identities and gay rights, arguing that we are not almost there, but on the contrary have settled for a watered-down goal of tolerance and acceptance rather than a robust claim to full civil rights. After all, wetolerateunpleasant realities: medicine with strong side effects, a long commute, an annoying relative. Drawing on a vast array of sources and sharing her own personal journey, Walters shows how the low bar of tolerance demeans rather than ennobles both gays and straights alike. Her fascinating examination covers the gains in political inclusion and the persistence of anti-gay laws, the easy-out sexual freedom of queer youth and the suicides and murders of those in decidedly intolerant environments. She challenges both born that way storylines that root civil rights in biology, and god made me that way arguments that similarly situate sexuality as innate and impervious to decisions we make to shape it.A sharp and provocative cultural critique, this book deftly argues that a too-soon declaration of victory short-circuits full equality and deprives us all of the transformative possibilities of full integration.Tolerance is not the end goal, but a dead end. InThe Tolerance Trap, Walters presents a complicated snapshot of a world-shifting moment in American history - one that is both a wake-up call and a call to arms for anyone seeking true equality.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-7058-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Introduction: That’s So Gay! (Or Is It?)
    (pp. 1-16)

    At first glance, tolerance seems like a good thing. Really, who doesn’t applaud tolerance? What individual doesn’t want to be seen as tolerant? It seems to herald openness to difference and a generally broad-minded disposition. Indeed, one of the primary definitions of “tolerance” concerns sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own. But it is a word and a practice with a more complicated history and with real limitations. The late Middle English origins of the word indicate the ability to bear pain and hardship. In fact, some of the first uses of the...


    • 1 Once upon a Time
      (pp. 19-35)

      Back in the day, this was how it went. You sidled or ambled or strode into the gay bar. You were nervous but so very excited to be there. You found this bar maybe through the one gay bookstore in town. Leaflets pointed the way. Maybe you found it through those early cheesy guidebooks that you could buy at those precious bookstores or through the mail, wrapped ever so discreetly in generic brown paper. Maybe you just knew. And you’d go up to the bar and order a drink. If you were me, underage and clearly looking it, you ordered...

    • 2 Coming Out Is So Last Year
      (pp. 36-62)

      “Are you out?” is a question still asked by gays to other gays and to gays by straights, but it may not be the first question anymore or even the most important one. What seems like the timeless story of gay life has a fairly recent provenance and might even have a brief shelf life. There certainly is a sense that something has changed, that the stories we tell now are more varied, less full of pathos and internal self-doubt, less fearful of the response to revelation. That may be true— and more about that later— but I remain skeptical....

    • 3 The Closet 2.0
      (pp. 63-78)

      I admit to some confusion. On the one hand, it does seem that “the closet” is neither as singular nor as significant as it once was. The combined forces of technological innovations and more expansive gay visibility have clearly undermined our reliance on this once-dominant storyline. On the other hand, as I think the preceding pages indicate, we’ve hardly entered into a brave new world of freely flung closet doors and easy-out everyday lives. Perhaps these singular stories have receded in the popular imagination, but I’m not sure that the lived experience of duplicity, of hiding, of demurral has really...


    • 4 The Medical Gayz
      (pp. 81-96)

      In a 2010 episode of the late, great medical drama seriesHouse, a young man faints, has a heart attack, and generally decomposes on his wedding day. His problem? He’s gay and has gone through the full reparative-therapy regime. Blunt Dr. House assures him that “like so many other things, you were born that way,” but the sick man insists, “we get to choose how we live our lives,” and he has chosen heterosexuality and marriage. Of course, the dear doctor is dead on, and the dude gets dumped by his fiancée and embraces the queer inevitable, for the price...

    • 5 Dangerous Liaisons
      (pp. 97-114)

      Nowhere are the biases and limitations of the immutability argument more evident than when gender differences rear their tired heads. Repeatedly and consistently, theories of biological immutability rely on essentialist notions of gender difference and asymmetry and even sometimes outright sexist stereotypes. Or, as Simon LeVay crudely puts it, “most men can figure out their sexual orientation by consulting their genitals, but few women can do so . . . [because] sexual orientation is a ‘higher-level’ phenomenon in many women than it is in men, perhaps because it is embedded in relationship issues.”¹ LeVay doesn’t stop there. Like most scientists...

    • 6 You Say Nature, I Say Nurture . . . Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off
      (pp. 115-142)

      In our present political context, gay volition is like Voldemort—dangerous even to be uttered. Biological determinism is the new normal, yoked to tolerance claims much as magic hews to Harry Potter. As I have argued earlier, it was not always thus, but the determinist ethos began to insinuate itself into gay politics in the late 1980s or so. As sociologist Vera Whisman noted, as early as 1996, “the claim of ‘no choice’ is to a pro-gay stance as the claim of ‘choice’ is to an anti-gay one: a foundational argument. Anti-gay rhetoric uses the term ‘sexual preference’ to imply...


    • 7 Homeland Insecurities
      (pp. 145-172)

      What does it mean to be a citizen? At first glance, this seems an obvious question with an equally obvious answer. Citizenship is, we are told, both a right and a responsibility. One can be born into it effortlessly, thinking very little of its meaning, or struggle for it relentlessly, risking life and limb to access that imprimatur of belonging. One can marry for it, cross dangerous borders for it, treat it casually, or cling to it fiercely like a lifeline or like an embracing mother. One can cynically dismiss it as meaningless or idealistically invest it with futuristic fantasies....

    • 8 Better Put a Ring on It
      (pp. 173-205)

      Should I or shouldn’t I? Will they or won’t they? It’s hard to bring up this subject without getting personal. Even if marriage is a profoundly social (and legal and economic) institution, it is also one that carries more than its share of emotional weight. I remember when I was pregnant with my (now grown) daughter, and my mother threw me a lavish baby shower. It wasn’t really her style, but she claimed it was justified since I would never be getting married. It wasn’t only my gayness that seemed a deal breaker on the marital front, but my earnest...

    • 9 In the Family Way
      (pp. 206-236)

      In the early summer of 2012, right on the heels of President Obama’s announcement that he supported gay marriage, deep in the midst of an ugly election season that saw no shortage of anti-gay animus, a new study emerged. In this one, purportedly scientific and vetted by scholarly peers, sociologist Mark Regnerus claimed he had definitive proof that kids raised by gay parents are worse off than kids raised by straight parents.¹ It ignited a firestorm of controversy. Critics claimed it was bad science and worse sentiment, fanning the flames of homophobia in the guise of “research.” Supporters hailed Regnerus...


    • 10 Is That All There Is?
      (pp. 239-255)

      In 2013, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released a report that concluded that equal rights generally make for happier citizens. No surprise really, but perhaps a bit more interesting is the finding that “all of the highest ranking countries are accepting of homosexuality, support equal rights and have laws protecting gay people. All of the top 10 countries have legislation in place to protect citizens against discrimination based on sexual orientation.”¹

      I can imagine a future—perhaps one I will live in—that looks something like those countries, where all the major structural impediments are gone. Where all...

    • 11 When the Rainbow Isn’t Enough
      (pp. 256-276)

      In the great—and pretty gay—musicalRent, a rousing and poignant song marks the death of a character from AIDS, asking us, “How do you measure a life?” Of course, since it is a Broadway musical, the answer is “love.” But how do you measure the success of a social movement? The gay rights saga is, like so many other stories of integration and inclusion, complicated and filled with contradictions. Truth be told, I can’t make up my mind about it half the time! I am torn, like many people, I think, between a celebration of the real changes...

    (pp. 277-280)
  9. NOTES
    (pp. 281-298)
    (pp. 299-316)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 317-332)
    (pp. 333-333)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 334-334)