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

Love Your Gay Brother

Content Tools

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.