Beyond Blood

In the wake of the violence of September
11, people in New York, the United States,
and around the world have been groping for
forms of community that might sustain a
meaningful and effective emotional, political,
and material response. Within the U.S., the
responses most supported and circulated by
mass media have invoked imagined
communities of blood membership — the family
and the nation. The family is represented as the
primary site of victimization (fundraising and
support is for “the families of the victims”), and
the nation the site for mobilization and
intervention (signified by flags and through
patriotism).

Though families and nations are actually defined more by law than by blood, in their
emotional/ideological registers both depend upon the regulation of membership by birth
and the symbolics of blood relations. It is not coincidental that calls for national solidarity in
the days following Sept. 11 were immediately focused on blood donation — an enactment
of blood community at once practical, material, and deeply symbolic.

Sexually active gay men have not been permitted to
donate blood. This exclusion, irrational from a public health
standpoint, serves to mark the larger exclusions of queers from
the family and the nation — exclusions materialized in family
law, military policies, and a wide array of state-regulated
educational and cultural practices. There are at least two ways of
responding to these exclusions in this time of crisis: demand
inclusion in the blood imaginaries of family and nation, or bring
to public recognition the modes of affinity, solidarity, intimacy
and community that queers (and others) have created to
challenge and exceed the exclusions of birth and blood-based
belonging.

The call for inclusion in existing structures of family and
national community, expressed primarily as a demand for
marriage rights (the primary legal form for converting sexual
affinity and intimacy into blood community) and military participation
(in which bloodshed and brotherhood are the sacrificial
centers of national coherence) , too easily reproduces the
exclusions of blood imaginaries and the gendered inequalities of these structures.

A visit to AndrewSullivan.com quickly illuminates how starkly masculinist and jingoistic
the politics of inclusion can become. Filled with praise for the courage of “surpassingly male
and masculine” gay white heroes whose bravery proves the foolishness of the military
exclusion, and homage for the politically conservative/gender normative “husband” of Flight
93 passenger Mark Bingham, Sullivan’s website also excoriates anti-war efforts:
The middle part of the country—the great red zone that voted for Bush—is clearly
ready for war. The decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead—and may
well mount what amounts to a fifth column.

Of course, not all calls for inclusion in marriage or the military are as
narrowly framed, anti- democratic dissent and anti-egalitarian as Sullivan’s. But there are
alternatives to the politics of inclusion — alternatives which may be more difficult but more
necessary to formulate and circulate in crisis time. Many queers and our allies have spent
political and personal lifetimes building alternatives to nation and family as primary modes of
affinity.

During the AIDS pandemic, queers learned the practical, material and emotional as
well as political importance of mobilizing alternative forms of support in an emergency.
Queers and feminists of color in particular have worked to forge affinities that might
challenge and expand family-based forms of nationalism. The politics of transnational queer
organizing have also illuminated the limits of hewing to national borders in thinking through
the modes of connection that might ultimately save all our lives.

Now is the time, more than ever, to bring to public recognition ways of imagining and
sustaining connection beyond birth and blood, as well as ways of responding to violence
beyond the vengeful or sacrificial bloodshed of brothers.

Lisa Duggan is Associate Professor of American Studies and History at New York University.