Mixing in a variety of circles you find terms which have slightly difference shades of meaning depending on the context of their use. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the epithet “straight“.
As I wander from one deviant community to another (as you do), I sometimes have to remind myself whether this refers to sexuality, criminality or consciousness. Sexual deviants, criminals and drug users have always had a long affinity, and it is interesting that they all use the same term word for their others. The term is usually used descriptively, as a statement of fact, but can on occasion be used pejoratively, particularly in response to perceived slights; but the use of the same term within three distinct deviant groups is significant.
Within the LGBTQIIA/Queer community, “straight” is generally used as a colloquial referent for heterosexuality. The rising prominence of queer sexuality tho is giving it a slightly different shade of meaning: of a sexuality which manifests itself within the confines of a patriarchal heteronormative culture. As such, it is not only heterosexual but also monogamous and family rooted. It is a subscription to the heavily promoted ideal of sexuality being an intimacy between two members of the opposite sex, sanctioned by church and state, lifelong and exclusive. This is of course an ideology which doesn’t fit in with the realities of people’s lives – so covert cruising, of the type favoured by “straight” men, although ostensibly condemned is part of the straight sub-culture, clandestine affairs and paid-for sexual activity tolerated if discreet, but a scandal if discovered.
Within the criminal subculture, straight also has a particular meaning. It is not only a demarker of the non-criminal, especially in relation to property crime, but also denotes a deference to legal authority and acceptance of its norms. Being straight involves purchases from reputable merchants and paying the proper price. It assumes an adherence to the laws governing property ownership and respect for them. Law are of course set by those whom the law already gives power to: tax evasion, workfare and asset stripping are of course all within the law, and while their natural extensions of tax avoidance, slavery and insider dealing may not be, indulgence in such practices (if carefully done) maintain the illusion of being “straight” in a way that supermarket shoplifting does not.
Within the drug using subculture, straight applies to those who do not take illegal substances. It is for those who do not indulge in anything beyond the nictotine and alcohol which are available for legal purchase. Despite the enormous profits made from recreational drug consumption, its customers are alternately villified and pitied. Yet the current structures of our society leads to enormous levels of mental ill-health. While experimentation in altered conciousness is heavily frowned upon, more and more people are drugged to allow them to cope with the ennui and alienation of life in late modernity – all perfectly respectably, with adherence to the straight norms of state sanctioned healthcare and corporate pharmaceuticals.
Its interesting to look at the radical response to these deviences. Queer theory is generally embraced by most young radicals, although the classic stance of “homosexuality as a bourgoise deviation” is still present in the impatience with which older and more traditional activist will dismiss issues of sexual identity and orientation as distractions from the class struggle. Criminal deviance is frequently written off as a response to poverty rather than a celebration of rebellion and a quest for a life unhindered by property laws stacked in favour of the rich. Drug use seen as escapism from alienation, rather than an expression of cognitive liberty.
There is no question that some forms of sexuality, criminality and drug use are damaging not only to those indulging but also to others, but restricting the questioning which goes on around individuals’ rights to their sexuality, their sustainance and their cognition traps us within a system not of our making. The advent of non-Euclidean geometry was a revolution in mathematics, opening up new ways of seeing the world, new possibilities for exploring our assumptions and conjectures at what is possible.
Although an adherence to straight norms can useful in very many settings, it can also easily be overhyped.