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Archive for 26. Juni 2010

Peter Drucker zu Queer Politics

Posted by entdinglichung - 26. Juni 2010

Quelle: ESSF

The New Sexual Radicalism

Peter Drucker

FROM ITS BEGINNING in the 1990s in the United States, a “queer” activist current has gradually spread to other countries, including in recent years in Western Europe. In decades when the prevailing trend in LGBT movements has been to orient to legal reforms by parliamentary means, queer activism has constituted a third wave of sexual radicalism, [1] emphasizing visibility, difference, direct action, refusal to assimilate to the dominant culture, and the fluidity and diversity of sexual desire.

What are the social origins of queer? Does this current have a vision — whether implicit or explicit — of sexual liberation, and if so, what is it? What is its relationship to such emancipatory projects as feminism, antiracism, global justice and socialism?

I come to these questions as a socialist, whose own socialist activism and LGBT activism have been linked for 30 years. The year I came out as a gay man, 1978, was also the year I became active on the socialist left — more specifically, the socialist-feminist left. The two things were closely linked in my mind and in my life, and still are. So the questions I bring to queer activism are very much the questions of a socialist and feminist gay man.

They are also, for better or worse, the questions of an outsider. Although I was active in ACT UP, the milieu from which the queer current first emerged, in San Francisco and New York in the late 1980s and early 1990s, this current didn’t exist in the Netherlands when I moved here in 1993. In recent years, when a queer activist current has emerged, I have related to it as a sympathetic observer and occasional supporter, but not as a real participant.

I would like to emphasize that the questions I’m posing really are questions. I don’t claim to know the answers; I’m not sure anybody has definitive answers yet. I think queer activists will have to come up with the answers as their politics continue to evolve. My hope is that asking the questions will help stimulate discussion on them within the queer current.

Another point I’d like to stress is that my questions concern queer activism, not the body of largely academic thought that’s called “queer theory.” My impression is that queer activism emerged a few years before the key works of queer theory were published. In later years some queer activists have been influenced by queer theory; but many queer activists are not particularly theoretically minded, and those who are can be influenced by other approaches.

Queer theory is itself a complex, contradictory, evolving body of thought, on which I don’t have any claim to be an expert. I do think there are criticisms to be made of queer theory, [2] but I don’t think they all necessarily apply to queer activism. Although queer activism has emerged only recently in the Netherlands, internationally it is almost 20 years old. The first queer group, Queer Nation, was founded in New York in 1990. [3] In fact the first wave of Queer Nation groups in the United States rose and receded within a few years. Only a few groups, like OutRage! in London (founded only a month after Queer Nation in New York) around its controversial leader Peter Tatchell, have managed more or less to survive through the intervening years. Some of the most active queer-identified groups today are in Southern Europe, like the French and Portuguese Pink Panthers, and have emerged only in the past decade.

Lack of organizational continuity makes the current hard to pin down. Although there are various international queer events, like the “queeruption” that took place annually from 1998 to 2007 in a different country and city, the queer current is also very decentralized, with no permanent national or international structures or decision-making bodies.

Many queer activists define themselves as anarchists, leaning towards the tendency within anarchism that is suspicious of organization; DIY (“do it yourself”) is widely seen as a queer principle. This too contributes to the difficulty in defining queer politics. Finally, queer-identified activity sometimes raises the question of how “politics” should be defined, since much of it consists of cultural and sexual events that make little or no effort to reach non-queer-identified people. The shape of queer activism probably has something to do with its social origins. Before discussing the strengths and limitations of queer activism, therefore, I would like to analyze the emergence of the queer scene more generally.

Fordist to Post-Fordist Gay Identities

The emergence of queer can be explained to a great extent in class terms, I think, starting from John D’Emilio’s analysis of the emergence of gay identity under capitalism. [4] Roughly following his analysis, I would argue that modern lesbian and gay communities are largely a product of the development of capitalism in the 19th and 20th centuries, and on a mass scale particularly a product of the long expansive wave of capitalism from 1945 to 1973.

It is by now nothing new to link the rise of what might be called classic lesbian/gay identity to the rise of a “free” labor force under capitalism. This has developed over the course of centuries, and historians have generally looked at it as a long process. But gay identity as we know it, particularly on a mass scale, is in fact amazingly recent, more a question of decades than of centuries.

On closer examination the emergence, consolidation and spread of gay identity took place to a large extent during what some Marxist economists refer to as the expansive long wave of 1945-73. It emerged gradually from the waves of political and social repression (in Europe fascism and Stalinism; in the United States the aftermath of Prohibition followed by McCarthyism) [5] that had begun with the 1930s depression. Gay identity was dependent on the growing prosperity of the working and middle classes, catalysed by profound cultural changes from the 1940s to the 1970s (from the upheavals of the Second World War [6] to the mass radicalization of the New Left years) that prosperity helped make possible.

This means that gay identity was shaped in many ways by the mode of capitalist accumulation that some economists call “Fordism,” specifically by mass consumer societies and welfare states. After 1945, working-class living standards in capitalist countries went up dramatically under the Fordist order, in which increases in labor productivity were matched to a large extent with increasing real wages that sustained increasing effective demand, and many forms of social insurance cushioned the blows that hit working people during dips in the business cycle.

As a result, for the first time masses of working-class people as well as students and others were able to live independently of their families. Working-class family structures and gender roles also changed. For the first time since the family wage became a cherished ideal, and sometimes a reality, for broad working-class layers in the mid- to late-19th century, World War II made waged work at least temporarily normal for even respectable working-class and middle-class women. This transformation made a dent in the pronounced gender polarization that had been characteristic of both working-class heterosexuality and homosexuality in the first decades of the 20th century. Higher funding for education and expansion of a social safety net (in the imperialist countries at least) decreased people’s economic dependence on parents to support them as students or young people, on spouses to help pay the rent, and on children to save them from poverty in old age. Rapid growth of service and leisure industries in developed countries created more jobs, for men if not for women, in which gender expectations were in some cases less rigid than in blue-collar sectors.

The combination of increased economic possibilities and more questioning of gender roles helped many more people in the 1950s and ’60s defy convention and form lesbian/gay couples and communities. What remained to prevent people from living openly lesbian/gay lives were the constraints of the law, police, employers, landlords, and so on. The lesbian/gay movements of the 1960s and ’70s rebelled against these constraints, inspired by a wave of other social rebellions: black, youth, antiwar, feminist, and (at least in some European countries) working class.

The second wave of feminism was key in virtually finishing off (or at least driving underground) the butch-femme patterns that were still largely hegemonic in 1950s lesbian subcultures. The first lesbian/gay legal victories in the 1970s made mass, open lesbian/gay communities possible in the imperialist countries for the first time in history.

The conditions that initially shaped emerging lesbian/gay identities did not last. The depressive long wave that began by 1974-75 was met by the late 1970s with a neoliberal offensive. This offensive has included (to be incredibly schematic): a shift to “Toyotist” production techniques and to “lean production” generally; economic globalization, liberalization and deregulation; an increase in the wealth and power of capital at labor’s expense; an increase in inequality among countries (through the debt crisis and structural adjustment policies) and within countries (through regressive tax and welfare “reforms” and attacks on unions), and luxury consumption that has increasingly replaced mass consumption as a motor of economic growth.

This offensive has among other things fragmented the world’s working classes. Big differences have grown up between better- and worse-paid workers, permanent and temporary workers, native-born and immigrant, employed and unemployed. The relatively greater homogeneity of national working classes in the 1960s, which was the backdrop to the rise of lesbian/gay identity, is a thing of the past. Like the rise of Fordism, its decline has had implications for LGBT identities, communities and politics. There is of course no one-to-one correspondence between economic and social developments and shifts in sexual, cultural and political identities. In lesbian/gay communities, as in the world at large, there is a whole set of institutions that produce (among other things) lesbian/gay ideology and identity and mediate the underlying class and social dynamics. But there are some trends that correspond to changing class dynamics in lesbian/gay communities and are expressed in a shifting relationship of forces within them. On the one hand, commercial gay scenes and sexual identities compatible with these scenes have advanced and been consolidated in many parts of the world. Particularly among some middle-class and upper-working-class social layers that prospered in the 1980s and ’90s, especially but not only in the imperialist countries, commercial gay scenes continued to grow, continuing to undergird lesbian/gay identity. [7]

Market-friendly lesbian/gay identities have prospered in commercialized spaces, in the construction of two-income households among better-off gays and to a lesser extent lesbians, and in the tolerant public space fostered by gay rights victories. Many relatively better paid lesbian/gay people who have benefited from both economic success and gay rights reforms have some cause to be contented with the progress they have made: “Inside a cozy brownstone, curled up next to a health-insured domestic partner in front of a Melissa Etheridge video on MTV, flipping through Out magazine and sipping an Absolut and tonic, capitalism can feel pretty good.” [8]

The ideological and cultural sway of gay identities in LGBT communities extends beyond the more privileged social layers in which people’s lives most comfortably fit these identities. In the imperialist countries, despite the proliferation of websites and zines defining identities and subcultures for minorities within the minorities, the most widely circulated books, periodicals and videos tend to be those most closely linked to the new, predominantly middle-class gay mainstream. Even poor transgender and queer people, whose lives are most remote from the images of the gay mainstream, often incorporate aspects of gay mainstream culture into their aspirations and fantasies.

Three aspects of the lesbian/gay identity that stabilized by the early 1980s fit well with the increasingly conservative social climate: the community’s self-definition as a stable minority, its increasing tendency towards gender conformity, and marginalization of its own sexual minorities. A higher degree of gender conformity among lesbian/gay people has fit with their incorporation into a neoliberal social and sexual order.

Lesbians and gay men’s self-definition as a minority group expressed a profound social fact about lesbian/gay life as it took shape in the 1970s. To the extent that lesbians and gays were increasingly defined as people who inhabited a certain community (went to certain bars, bathhouses and discos, patronized certain businesses, and in the United States at least even lived to some extent in certain neighborhoods), they were more “ghettoized” than before, more clearly demarcated from a majority defined as straight.

The tendency of many early theorists of lesbian/gay liberation to question the categories of heterosexuality and homosexuality, emphasize the fluidity of sexual identity and speculate about universal bisexuality tended to fade away with time as the community’s material reality became more sharp-edged. The lesbian/gay rights movement accordingly ran less risk of seeming sexually subversive of the broader sexual order.

The decline of butch/femme role-playing among lesbians and of camp culture among gay men also contributed to normalizing lesbian/gay identity. The drag queens who had played a leading role in the 1969 Stonewall rebellion found, as social tolerance of lesbians and gays in general began to increase in the 1970s, that social tolerance for gender nonconformity in many queer spaces if anything decreased. Drag often seemed anomalous and even embarrassing in the context of androgynous imagery that was in vogue in the early 1970s.

Despite growing levels of consciousness and self-expression among transgender people, lesbian/gay communities increasingly defined themselves in ways that placed transgender people and other visible nonconformists on the margins if not completely out of bounds. The decline of Fordism was accompanied early on by a shift among gay men from the largely androgynous imagery of the early 1970s to the more masculine “clone” culture that took hold by the early ’80s. Feminine forms of self-presentation that lesbian feminists once frowned on, using the label “lipstick lesbians,” had become more common and acceptable by the 1990s.

The Social Origins of Queer

Commercial scenes, however, have not been equally determinant for the lifestyles or identities of all people with open same-sex sexualities. In the dependent world many poor people simply have a hard time taking part in commercial gay scenes. In the imperialist countries, while commercial scenes are more accessible to even lower-income queers, growing economic inequality has meant increasingly divergent realities in lesbian and gay people’s lives. Criticism has mounted among LGBT people of the over-consumption increasingly characteristic of many aspects of the commercial gay scene, which inevitably marginalizes many LGBT people and alienates many others.

Alternative scenes of various sorts (not always less commercial) have proliferated, creating space for queer identities more or less outside the mainstream commercial scene. Contrary to much right wing anti-gay rhetoric, the prosperous couples focused on by glossy lesbian/gay magazines were never typical of queers in general. Data gathered by the U.S. National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey in the 1990s suggested that lesbian and bisexual women were still far less likely than other women to have professional or technical jobs and more likely to have service or craft/operative jobs, while gay and bisexual men were more likely than other men to have professional/technical, clerical/sales or service jobs but less likely to have managerial jobs. [9]

Whatever the causes (less ability or willingness to meet gendered job expectations, migration to more competitive job markets, discrimination), the net result (contrary to unfounded claims made not only by anti-gay ideologues but also by some gay publications) was that at least in the United States, both gay men and lesbians were and are underrepresented in the higher-income brackets (with family incomes of $50,000 or more), while gay men in particular are over-represented in the lower-income brackets (with family incomes of $30,000 or less). Another set of data showed that after taking differences in education, age and other factors into account, gay and bisexual men earned 11-27% less than comparable straight men. [10]

The expansion of queer communities centred on gay commercial scenes has not improved the situation of lower-income queers. Particularly in imperialist countries like the United States and to a lesser extent Britain, the welfare state has been shredded by Reaganism and Thatcherism, unions have been very much weakened, and inequality has grown rapidly. Economic inequality is presumably as characteristic of LGBT communities as of the broader societies within which they exist.

Lower-income queers, transgender people, street youth and queer people of color have been under assault in various ways, as attacks on poor people and minorities have become more prominent in politics and society generally in recent decades. Queers are also more likely to be cut off from broader family support networks and, as the social safety net has frayed, inequalities resulting from wage differentials have affected queers with particular intensity.

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