Review: Ties That Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences by Sarah Schulman

Love Your Gay Brother

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Ties That Bind exposes homophobia as a practice rooted in family structures, from abuse of children to exclusion of adults. This pattern extends to the cherished liberal value of “tolerating” queers as if they were wasps at a family picnic. Author Sarah Schulman boldly declares that visibility is a failed strategy for cultural change. Gay people are more visible than ever, but “the hatred and overt campaigns against us, ranging from commodification to constitutional amendments to dehumanizingly false representations in popular culture, have intensified and become more deliberate.” Schulman’s solution is third-party intervention. If your parents direct you not to bring your lover to a family reunion, it’s time for your sister to demand that your lover be included. If commercial publishers refuse to print lesbian work, straight best-selling authors should protest. Ties That Bind argues that this type of allegiance is far more important than gay access to problematic institutions like marriage. Unfortunately, the gay establishment has abandoned challenges to structural homophobia in favor of the fight for gay marriage, a shift Schulman calls “a sign of spiritual exhaustion . . . the white flag of surrender” to the status quo.

Author Sarah Shulman was also named one of Utne Reader’s 2009 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World.

luccia rogers
11/13/2009 10:13:20 PM

Ms Schulman assumes that one's non-queer siblings would indeed stand up for the GLBT sibling. This is an interesting assumption that her own discoveries should lay to rest. The structural homophobia within families in the United States actually ensures that if the parents want the queer child abused and isolated by the family, that child will be abused and isolated by the family. After all, if the parents are willing to cause, and are capable of the physical and emotional harm of one child, how do the other children know they're safe? By participating in the physical and emotional harm of the gay, lesbian, bi, or trans child. It is a simple matter of survival. We must move on and quit trying to fit in and assimilate. Our homophobic parents and siblings admit they hate us by their words and actions. That's the place to start the conversation. Or, we can accept their bigotry as being as much a part of them as our gayness and walk away from it and them. There is no sense and no logic that says anyone has to continue to maintain a relationship with people who hate, abuse, or despise one. My last phone call with my mother almost 13 years ago included an offer for her to get to know me as I really am, not as the fictional being she, my father, and my sisters used emotional, sexual, and physical abuse to try to create from me. I asked we not speak until she was willing to meet the real person I was. Her silence, and my sisters', speaks volumes of the depths of their homophobia.