The Tolerance Trap
How God, Genes, and Good Intentions Are Sabotaging Gay Equality
by Suzanna Danuta Walters
NYU Press (June 3, 2014)
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 comprehensive civil rights. Indeed, 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 this way” story lines, which root civil rights in biology, and “God made me this way” arguments, which 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 deep 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 genuine equality.
Praise for The Tolerance Trap
“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
“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