Baynton’s (2001) Root of Hierarchy: Queering the Dimensions of Ability-Disability and Advantage-Disadvantage

Roy Æ Hodges
Department of Sociology, Washington State University
WGSS-300: Intersections of Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality
Lindsey Carman Williams, PhD
May 24, 2023

In reading Gates’ (2015) article on LGBT marriage and families, I had been particularly struck by the congruence between concern with parenting between same-sex couples (p. 74) and earlier text outlining social concerns segregating ability-disability in protecting society (Baynton, 2001). As Baynton asserted that disability is a core to “all social hierarchies” (p. 52), it is not surprising that there is a theme running through Gates’ (2015) discussion of experts evaluating whether “deviant-disabled” individuals at the minority/marginalized edges of a center of a distribution of social norms are close enough to its center to be deemed worthy of raising children. Gates found disadvantages to children in same-sex families were due to earlier breakup of different-sex parents (p. 74). While studies that showing advantages and disadvantages of divisions of sexual/gender pairings are more fit for a course on families, it is interesting that comments are framed in the semantics of “advantage” and “disadvantage”—a stone’s throw away from ability-disability. A euphemism washing away overtones of disability and anti-social disorder that so justified prejudice and discrimination of LGBTQ lives. It’s as if the studies of the lives of the children “othered” their same-sex parents. As Zola (1993) had written summarizing studies on stigma, “people are treated categorically rather than individually and are devalued in the process” (p. 169).

Yet sticking with a theme on families, the “traditional” 1950s notions of family are more recent than one might realize (see Cohen, 2021, pp. 55–66), the focus on a companionate family while newly idealized was not the reality—older forms of institutionalized ideas of family were still a challenge, but this did change over time (pp. 55–p. 58). Regarding companionate or institutional, was there any measure of children’s health and well-being in either case amongst normalized “default” heterosexual relations? In this regard, it appears that Baynton’s (2021) assertion about ability-disability may very well be at the core of social hierarchies. The “challenge to the traditional” is socially constructed just as much as “traditional” is socially constructed. Beyond debate about reliability and validity of research methodologies raised by Gates (2015) and peers, the judiciary did eventually uphold support for same-sex marriage, yet on what grounds? Is it possible that the ideal of companionate marriage in cohorts replaced enough individuals beholden to institutionalized marriage?

It was asked whether same-sex marriages challenge traditional notions, and I believe for some it does, but for others it does not because “traditional” is itself socially constructed. Which “traditional” are we talking about? As Zola (1994) had written of language, it is an important and powerful. In sociological studies, the Zeitgeist pushes, pulls, together or against on definitions justifying and excusing motivations in seeking to resolve needs through drives, conditioned environmentally, biologically, and socially. Borrowing from Dozier (2015), homonormativity acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals for expressing heterosexual values and behaviors. While stereotypes of LGBTGQ+ individuals may challenge gender roles ascribed to family roles, the same concepts applied in other posts apply here, that of externalization and objectification (mainly in media) of these stereotypes and family roles, and their internalization (see Ore, 2009).

Much has changed across time and space with respect to families, family roles, gender roles, and the inclusion of not only LGBTQ+ individuals but marginalized individuals as well. While Gates (2015) wrote that “same-sex and different-sex couples may not look as different in the future as they do today”, there is a glaring response from the LGBTQ+ community, and that lies in the “Q”. If it looked the same, it wouldn’t be queer. While recognition of same-sex families might leader to greater equality, I ask a reader, what segment of same-sex families are we looking at? Are they willing to participate in the current climate? I think in this case the “not look[ing] as different” might be an artifact of individuals protecting themselves from another Holocaust, it’s happened before, numerous times. I am confident that the same-sex families examined might evidence the same methodological problems Gates discussed. If prejudice and discrimination and their results of poverty are at the root of hierarchy as Baynton suggested, then is it possible that studies of this or that division of race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, etc., are all convenient confounds obfuscating something deeper in the study of family? I think so, and that’s not for me to externalize, at least not yet… because the stigma continues against new divisions fulfilling a psychological need for uniqueness (Fromkin, 1970; Snyder & Fromkin, 1977) against a homogenized center (e.g., [redacted]).


Baynton, D. C. (2001). Disability and the justification of inequality in American history. In P. K. Longmore & L. Umansky (Eds.), The New Disability History: American Perspectives (pp. 33–57). New York University Press.

Cohen, P. N. (2021). The family: Diversity, inequality, and social change (3rd Ed.). W. W. Norton & Company.

Dozier, R. (2015) The power of queer: How ‘guy moms’ challenge heteronormative assumptions about mothering and family. In B. J. Risman & V. E. Rutter (Eds.), Families as they really are (2nd. ed, pp. 458–474). W. W. Norton & Company.

Fromkin, H. L. (1970). Effects of experimentally aroused feelings of undistinctiveness upon valuation of scarce and novel experiences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 16(3), 521–529. to an external site.

Gates, G. J. (2015). Marriage and family: LGBT individuals and same-sex couples. The Future of Children, 25(2), 66–87.

Ore, T. E. (2009). The social construction of difference and inequality: Race, class, gender, and sexuality (4th Ed.). McGraw-Hill.

Snyder, C. R., & Fromkin, H. L. (1977). Abnormality as a positive characteristic: The development and validation of a scale measuring need for uniqueness. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 86, 518–527. to an external site.

Zola, I. K. (1993). Self, identity and the naming question: Reflections on the language of disability. Social Science & Medicine, 36(2), 167–173. to an external site.