Mommy, Where do Perverts Come From? GaMIT, Queers, and the Birth of Perversion

by Kristen "Nummi" Nummerdor

GaMIT: the organization that so many people on the MIT campus love to
hate-or at least love to complain about. From the "normal" average
Hetero Joe or Jane who thinks most gays are all right but wonders why
GaMIT has to be so "in your face," to the begrudged frat member who,
although he has a token gay friend who is "okay," can't understand why
those gays in GaMIT have to be so unfair and harsh on his beloved
greek system, to the drop poster destroying, BGLAD Thistle flushing,
unrepentant homophobe who wishes that GaMIT, and all queers, would die
a horrible death from AIDS, to the MIT administrator wringing his
hands in his office, trying to figure out how to hush up the fallout
over the latest graffiti spraying episode, to the "respectable" gays
and lesbians (certainly not queers) who wish GaMIT would just keep
quiet so that they can get on with the business of proving to
straights that we really are pretty much just like them-a variety of
faces comprise the peanut gallery of GaMIT's critics.
	While so many people view GaMIT and its more visible (queer)
membership with distaste, it is remarkable to note how much pleasure
those same people seem to derive from worrying about what GaMIT does.
So much effort, so much energy, so much attention is focused on GaMIT
by those who take the time to rip down BGLAD posters, to break in to a
GaMIT dance and tear decorations from the walls, to make GaMIT the
butt of recurring living group jokes, to deface the GaMIT bulletin
board, to send prank e-mail to GaMIT members, to whine in the Tech
about GaMIT's latest poster or political action, or to complain
wistfully to their friends that GaMIT is setting back the clock of
acceptance for all the "good" gay people. Such fervent, almost
religious effort is made by GaMIT's detractors, who must indeed be
giddy from the adrenaline rush caused by monitoring and then furiously
responding to what they perceive to be "wrong" with GaMIT. Like
upstanding community members at a back room peep show, these
voyeuristic onlookers-while loudly decrying GaMIT and its methods of
presentation-still continue to drop in quarter after quarter for
another opportunity to view the horrifying, yet tantalizing spectacle
of marginality and illicit sexuality that GaMIT-and queers in
general-have to offer.
	And what is the spectacle they expect from the queers in
GaMIT? The unrepentant drag queen flouncing through the infinite
corridor sporting Lee Press-on Nails and Maybelline, the loud butch
dyke with the shaved head who hates all men categorically, the
oversexed non-monogamous bisexual who will give us all AIDS, the
insistent pack of political activists, waiting to yell at the top of
their lungs at the slightest hint of homophobia, the mythical posters
plastering institute bulletin boards displaying leather daddies,
RuPaul divas, and scantily clad men tongue kissing-these are the
images that saturate the imagination of the GaMIT voyeur/critic. As
the shape of this mythical GaMIT becomes clearer, we begin to
recognize the familiarity of the scene: GaMIT as the deviant, the
unnatural, the pathologized, the abnormal, the queer. And as the
larger than life shape of GaMIT becomes clearer, so too does the shape
of its critics; they are those who are wholesome, natural, healthy,
normal-those who are straight and those who emulate straightness.
	The above scene is both a reflection and a re-creation of how
the medical, psychological, and legal establishments of Western
Society have, over the past century or so, come to describe "the
homosexual" as a diseased, perverted, or morally deficient individual.
In medical texts and in psychoanalytic discourse, the queer has been
painstakingly defined and categorized; volumes have been written which
describe the queer's perversions and the supposed physical and
psychological causes of said perversions. As Michel Foucault and
others have argued, the medical establishment, through its voluminous
discourse, has created and continues to recreate "the homosexual" by
mapping homosexual behavior or desire on to the body, thus delineating
a static identity for the homosexual. Put more simply, the homosexual,
as defined through medical discourse of the last century, is not one
who simply engages in perverse acts, but as one who is perverse by the
very nature of their being. This established and well-entrenched
conceptualization of the homosexual as a sick, maladjusted pervert
serves a very important purpose: that of drawing and enforcing lines
between sick and healthy, perverted and wholesome, between abnormal
and normal-between the homosexual and the so-called heterosexual.
	All of this is the necessary backdrop for the typical
narrative which is enacted between the straight world and GaMIT, and
also between the so-called "good gays" (straight acting) and "bad
gays" (queer acting). In this narrative, which re-writes the already
existing doctrine of the homosexual as pervert, GaMIT is the deviant
who is watched, scrutinized, and categorized by those who purport to
be normal. It is GaMIT who is prodded and poked, who is interrogated
and examined, who is diagnosed as the sickness in need of healing, or
as the rampant perversion in need of containing. By continually
diagnosing GaMIT as sick or perverted, those who do the
diagnosing-straight people and many so-called straight-acting
gays-reinforce the status of "straightness" as healthy and normal.
Indeed, the very act of declaring that GaMIT is "sick" rewrites the
definition of those who are not like GaMIT as healthy. The diagnosis
of GaMIT's perversion also reinforces the lines of power between those
who diagnose illness and those who are declared to be ill. Hence, when
our aforementioned peanut gallery of critics voyeuristically examines
GaMIT and then proclaims it to be perverse, that is a reinforcement of
the notion of the homosexual as unnatural and abnormal, and is also a
simultaneous recapitulation of straightness as that which is healthy,
as that which is not perverted. Finally, through this process
straights are inevitably licensed as those who are able to tell "the
sick" from "the healthy" precisely because they occupy the status of
the latter.
	Warren Blumenfeld's presentation at MIT last year entitled
"Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price," was a prime example of how
this typical narrative between GaMIT and the straight world tends to
unfold. GaMIT (queers) played the part of spectacle and deviant at the
event, while the straight audience members played the objective,
sensitive onlooker who had supposedly come to observe and learn from
the deviant. True to form, the question and answer section provided
the straight members of the audience the opportunity to direct
questions to GaMIT members sitting in the front row. Inevitably, an
audience member had to pop the question: "why do GaMIT's posters have
to be so shocking?" His question snowballed into a flurry of
interrogation; soon, a large portion of the audience was demanding
answers from the deviants. Why do you have to assault us with your
posters and with your appearances? Why must your (homo)sexuality be so
visible? Why do you have to be so blatant and obnoxious?
	This interrogation of GaMIT by the audience at the Blumenfeld
event, while lauded by many as a breakthrough in communication between
GaMIT and the rest of the campus, did very little other than to simply
replay the typical relationship between queer and straight by
overstating what has already been assumed about GaMIT. The posters
were declared to be shocking because they were already presumed to be
perverse, and they were presumed to be perverse precisely because they
are queer posters. The outward appearance of certain GaMIT members was
an assault on these onlookers because they have already presumed such
presentations of gender and sexuality to be unnatural. The straight
members of the audience, through evoking the perversity of GaMIT, were
able to escape the Homophobia presentation unscathed-they remained be
the "normal" ones, and they could pretend that the world was becoming
a better place due to the events of the evening. And the
straight-acting gays who distanced themselves from GaMIT's queerness
that night got to appear as though they were at least more normal than
someone. The exchange in the question and answer session did not
transform the power relations between straight and queer; rather, it
replayed and solidified those same imbalances and inequities under the
guise of progress and understanding.
	So who benefits from this narrative, from this perpetual
re-enactment of the abnormal queer and the normal straight? By
continually positioning themselves as examiner and interrogator, as
those who are fit to decide whose bodies must be examined in the first
place or whose bodies are prone to disease, as those who delineate the
limits and boundaries of disease itself, straights are able to
"diagnose" the sicknesses and perversions which they themselves have
created. Indeed, the authority and power accorded to "straightness" is
created, enforced, and legitimated through this entire process. It
becomes clear that our liberation as queers is not so much dependent
on convincing straights that we are not sick, but rather on the
process of challenging the notions of sickness and perversion itself,
and challenging the authority and motivations of those who would
declare us as sick and perverse to begin with. As long as these power
relationships are left intact and unquestioned, as long as this
narrative does not change, GaMIT and queers will remain in the realm
of the "abnormal"-no matter how strictly we try to force our community
into "respectability," no matter how hard we try to "sanitize" our
image. Rather than begging for a place at the (straight) table which,
by its very definition, will continue to exclude us, it is time to
interrogate and challenge how the table was built to begin with.

[thistle homepage] [Volume 9] [9.3 - contents]