Sunday, July 27, 2014

Queer politics: the debate

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Queer politics are influential in LGBT liberation movements. Should this be embraced or is it an obstacle to taking the fight forward? We present the cases for and against.

The gay and lesbian rights movement has never been made up of simply gays and lesbians - it's always been an alliance of activists with a whole host of sexualities and gender identities. The Stonewall riots are often referred to as riots of gays and lesbians, but actually many of the rioters were trans.

Queer is nothing new; it's not some recent invention by activists deciding to divide the movement. Queer has been about for a long time. During the 1990s a group called Queer Nation held demonstrations and actions in the US.

So what are people's problems with the term Queer? The first panicked remark that most of us will hear is that "Queer is an offensive word, that's what the bigots call us - how can we call ourselves that?!" Now this argument (apart from the obvious flaw of us even considering being worried about what a bigot calls us) lacks an understanding of bigotry.

What the advocates of this argument need to realise is that a bigot hates us for what we are, and any term we call ourselves will be an insult that they will use, because to be us is an insult in their eyes. A bigot isn't going to double check which words we define ourselves with before launching a tirade of abuse. How many of us have had "gay boy" shouted at us? Yet many people against the use of the word Queer will have no such problem defining as gay! The "offensive" argument is nonsensical at best, and hardly an appropriate argument from a political standpoint.

The pigeonhole labelling system for sexuality and gender suits capitalism just fine. We box ourselves up into groups and create clear differences - all the better for capitalism to brand us. We split ourselves off into these groups and kid ourselves we are too different to be together - all the better for capitalism to divide and control us.

Queer breaks down these boundaries, these differences. By refusing to pigeonhole our sexuality and gender we are also refusing to be branded. It is a statement of rejection of being assimilated after "coming out" and it rejects being branded at all. Some make a big fuss about how Queer is indefinable, but this is part of the point, and part of what makes it so good.

Queer activism is within the LGBT movement: it's building links with the feminist fight, it's providing an alternative to the assimilatory offer ings of many gay scenes, it's fighting the commercialisation of our Pride and it's providing an identity to those who think gender and sexuality are a bit more complicated than a tick box.

Many say the now slightly cliched line "I'm not gay as in happy, I'm Queer as in fuck you!", but that in a sense captures the heart of it. Queer is not about being happy with the current set-up, it's not about being happy about being assimilated into a heterosexist capitalist culture, it's about being angry (because we do still have a lot to be angry about), it's about being radical, and it's about fighting for liberation.

Some have said that Queer represents a split in the movement. Well, that is true to a degree, but there is no need for the surprise - it is not as if the "straight" dominated movements are so unified!

The fact that Queer, according to some of its critics, is somehow the invention of the lofty middle class, yet also a term so horrifically offensive to the same society that the middle class seeks to thrive in, seems at times a little bizarre.

When we "come out" (as whatever we may identify as), in a sense we free ourselves from the branded roles of gender and sexuality imposed on us by society. However, this has led to the commercialisation of gay scenes and the gay community. This should come as no surprise to us - it's the same capitalist tactic of taking everything good we have and everything we have achieved and corrupting it, branding it and selling it back to us, all the while telling us how liberated we are. Everyone knows the value of the "pink pound"!

In this climate Queer is becoming a rallying flag for all those who are left out of the commercial gay man dominated scenes. "Queeruptions" appear at world Prides and elsewhere to provide a radical political alternative to the depoliticised and often commercialised events that are many modern-day Prides. If we were to compare a Pride such as Manchester, run by some of the same people who run Marketing Manchester, with Queeruption, which often hold events in squatted buildings and have workshops on radical Queer and left politics - which one seems the more middle class?

Queer is anti-capitalist. It's just a shame that more anti-capitalists aren't pro-Queer.