The Tolerance Trap

How God, Genes, and Good Intentions are Sabotaging Gay Equality

343 pages

May, 2014

ISBN: 9780814770573

$29.95

Cloth

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Author

Suzanna Danuta Walters has written and lectured extensively on sexuality, popular culture, and feminism and is currently the Director of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Professor of Sociology at Northeastern University. She is the author of several books, including All the Rage: The Story of Gay Visibility in America and Material Girls: Making Sense of Feminist Cultural Theory.

All books by Suzanna Danuta Walters

From Glee to 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.
 
In The 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, we tolerate unpleasant 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. In The 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. 

Reviews

  • "In this lively scholarly work, Northeastern University sociologist Walters (All the Rage) manages the rare trick of producing a feast for the mind that is also incredibly funny and humane. In a cogent literary and political analysis, inflected by personal anecdotes and reflections, Walters argues that the concept of tolerance traps LGBT people into being regarded as perpetual outsiders, 'tolerated' rather than treated as full citizens. In making gay rights contingent on 'just like you' arguments, Walters asserts, the movement not only leaves behind LGBT people who don’t fit an idealized standard, but also fails to effectively challenge homophobia and transphobia. The book leaves no shibboleth intact—both liberal and conservative orthodoxies on LGBT people are deftly skewered. Walters demonstrates an impressive command of her material and she deserves credit for making a nuanced argument that calls for robust “integration” as opposed to assimilation or separatism, with a wide-ranging analysis that touches on feminism, the military, marriage, the Internet, and discourse around scientific research. Walters’s humane, transformative vision soars in this must-read for anyone interested in LGBT politics."

    —STARRED Publishers Weekly

  • "The limits of tolerance and why it isn't enough.  In her thorough and engaging study, Walters examines the well-intended but wrongheaded fight for tolerance by LGBT leaders and organizations, as well as lawmakers' pursuit of the same. Mere 'tolerance' falls short of full inclusion in society, she argues: 'No civil rights movement worthy of the name has banked its future in being tolerated or accepted.' The author examines other issues in gay culture, including the scientific search for a 'gay gene,' gender normativity, and the nature of sexual arousal and desire. Her prose is clear and nonacademic; the many references to pop culture make the results of her extensive research relevant and accessible. Particularly illuminating is Walters’ overview of discovering one's gay identity, which offers a pointed contrast between popular culture’s depiction of the familiar 'coming out' narrative and its real-life particulars. The digital age has greatly simplified the process of finding and joining a like-minded community; these searches are now conducted in private and can make coming out—to hundreds of 'friends' or the entire world—as quick and direct as clicking a mouse. Walters invites readers to judge the validity of her well-reasoned opinions, in marked contrast to those social critics more famous for verbal rock-throwing and theatrical provocations than persuasive analyses. In asserting that gay, lesbian and bisexual citizens want rights such as pay equity, voting rights, and an end to discrimination in the workplace and judicial system—indeed, 'full and deep integration and inclusion in the American dream'—she makes it clear that tolerance is much too limited a goal. An enlightening examination of identity and the quest for 'deep freedom' by a largely misunderstood and marginalized group."

    Kirkus Reviews

  • "Over the last few decades, American society has become increasingly tolerant of gay culture: being gay is no longer seen as negative by many people and the gay community is represented in television, film, politics, and more. However, Walters argues successfully that this is not enough to achieve true respect and fair treatment for the gay community. Through a spirited and enlightening discussion of the history of gay rights, gay culture in the media and society, and her own experiences, the author elaborates on how the community and its allies have settled for mere tolerance of their presence rather than demanding true equality. Pulling from numerous sources, this thoughtful and accessible work includes discussions of topics such as the biological theories of a 'gay gene' and sociobiological effects on sexuality, the semantics of terms such as coming out, critiques such as how the film The Kids Are All Right perpetuates negative gender politics and gay family clichés, etc. The title concludes with helpful notes and a bibliography. VERDICT Different, relevant, and thorough, this book is excellent for readers interested in gay rights and culture, as well as sociology and current events."

    Library Journal

  • “It’s refreshing that an American academic, Suzanna Danuta Walters, has come forward with the heretical tract called The Tolerance Trap […] she’s at her most pertinent when questioning those twin pillars of current American gay orthodoxy, gay genes and gay marriage, which are mutually reinforcing.”

    The Independent

  • “Whether you are lesbian, gay or straight, Suzanna Walters's new book should make you wonder how the once kick-ass gay rights movement became so meek and humble. […] The Tolerance Trap serves as a cautionary tale in a climate in which the majority of spokespeople for LGBT rights are mired in appeasement and assimilation, meekly asking to be accepted rather than demanding equality and respect. There has been a shift from angry radicalism to a whisper of gratitude. Walters will upset a great many folk who are invested in the softer, more conciliatory ways of today. But this book breathes vigorous life into a movement in danger of disappearing into a cloud of mollifying acceptance.”

    —Julie Bindel, The Guardian

  • "Beneath this ugly cover lies an interesting addition to the important ongoing debate about inclusion, assimilation, acceptance and the future of the gay rights movement. Subtitled How God, Genes, and Good Intentions are Sabotaging Gay Equality, Walters' cultural critique argues that 'Tolerance is not the end goal, but a dead end.'"

    Diva Magazine

  • The Tolerance Trap brilliantly and boldly goes where few have gone before. It rattles the cage of tolerance in pursuit of true gay liberation. For gays and straights alike, it challenges us to be more our quirky, original, sexual gorgeous selves and to settle for nothing less than radical love and freedom.”

    —Eve Ensler, playwright and creator of The Vagina Monologues

  • "The last decade has brought astonishing changes in the arena of lesbian and gay rights, culture, and everyday life, but The Tolerance Trap—part memoir, part polemic, part sociological analysis—uncovers the troubling dilemmas inside of them. Walters brings her formidable brain, disarming humor, and sharp tongue to bear on the question of why it just sucks to be tolerated."

    —Joshua Gamson, author of Claims to Fame: Celebrity in Contemporary America

  • "Walters has a wicked sense of humor, and in The Tolerance Trap she wields it to argue against tolerance.This is a beautifully written and provocative brief for the integration of queer difference in U.S. society. Combining personal stories with analysis of popular culture, public opinion, movement activism, and trends in gay life today, Walters evaluates where we are in this contemporary moment, showing that we have both come a long way and have a long way to go. And tolerance, she insists, is not the way to get there.After reading this book, you'll never want to be tolerated again."

    —Leila J. Rupp, author of Sapphistries: A History of Love between Women

  • "While the mainstream LGBT movement is clamoring for acceptance and tolerance, Walters worries about the radical vision contained by gay liberation being diluted, minimized, transformed, perhaps even lost forever. Is being accepted by the heterosexual majority really the best the movement can come up with? This book sparks a desperately needed conversation. It needs to be read by every heterosexual concerned about gay rights."

    —Michael Kimmel, author of Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era

  • "Finally, a writer and critical thinker has treated queerness with true insight, and proper respect for its complexities and contradictions. Thank you, Suzanna Walters, for bringing so much rigor and balance; such ardent, subtle questioning; such respect for genuine human rights to the horrifically over-simplified term, 'tolerance.'"

    —Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours

  • "Thought-provoking...Walter recognizes the complexities of our times." 

    Bay Area Reporter

  • “In her newly released book The Tolerance Trap, Walters takes aim at what she calls the ‘born this way’ argument, arguing that it has actually damaged the gay-rights cause, and that it has done so in part by embracing shoddy science that makes human sexual activity out to be a lot more straightforward and easily classified than they are in real life.”

    New York Magazine’s blog, Science of Us