Friday, October 21, 2011

A Critique of Anti-Assimilation, Part II

Or "Inverted Hierarchies: Substituting Struggle for Liberation with Horizontal Hostility"

Last time, I talked about the problems with the term "classism", what sort of model the term arises from, and how it tends to lead to flawed theory and action. This time, I'd like to talk about how inverted hierarchies arise in queer communities/scenes, and how abandoning class struggle and trying to determine who is most oppressed leads to a lot of horizontal hostility.

First, to define what I mean by an inverted hierarchy, I mean the valuation of people by some trait/identity/social position, in which a community, scene, or milieu values people in terms of that trait the inverse of how the large society views them. For instance, people who conform to their assigned gender roles have an easier time in the larger society; in queer communities (some) gender nonconformity is often seen as making someone more queer, and often results in a better social position within the subculture. Of course, this interacts with a strong preference for masculinity in queer communities. Similar things occur around sexual practices, number of partners, etc. The specific instances are not important here - just the concept.

How does this arise? Well, without a coherent model that both has the potential to unite the majority of humanity in a common struggle and that sees exploitation and oppressions as part of a social structure (the capitalist mode of production), one is left with various oppressions floating around, sometimes intersecting, sometimes not. Even the attempts to create a coherent, over-arching model that puts all oppressions (and generally views class as a system of oppression, rather than a relationship to the means of production), tends to view them as an ever-shifting mass where everyone is oppressing everyone else in some way.

This model where all straight people systemically oppress all gays, all white people all people of color, all cis people all trans people sets us up for a struggle of everyone against everyone, and, combined with the individualism that is hyperpresent in the US, there's a motivation to show that oneself is less of an "oppressor" than everyone else around them, thus, what we call the Oppression Olympics occurs - everybody tries to prove they are the most oppressed, and thus they are the most valid because everyone else around them is participating in their oppression. Thus, the people who can claim the most oppressed identities get the most cred. Now, of course, there are the real effects that the actual stratifications built into the working class by things like racism and sexism have on people's lives - the person who is the "winner" and at the top of these inverted hierarchies is generally not the worst off; they just played the game the best.

I instead propose a model that states the following:

1) That the class struggle is the motor of history: the autonomous struggle of the working class and the reactions to this by capital drive history along. Social revolution can only be achieved by the working class itself.

2) That oppressions have been built into the working class, and produce stratifications in it; struggle against these oppressions are part of the class struggle.

3) While some members of the working class may have petty and apparent privileges over other members of the working class, those privileges are far less than what could be achieved through unified struggle.

4) It is less than useful to talk about oppressions on an individual level - individual circumstances in someone's life, although they are affected by race, gender, sexuality, etc, mean these are not in any way strict determinants of anything on the micro level. It's far easier and more useful to talk about groups of, say, women, then being able to absolutely say exactly what all the effects sexism has on one woman. Besides, we struggle as a class and as sections of the class, not as individuals.

5) Identity labels don't even work well on the individual level - there are too many shades of gray and too many fuzzy boundaries such that we can conveniently box in every single individual in an unproblematic way. Not only is determining someone's value based on these categories undesirable, it's also problematic.

6) While groups within the working class can and often must struggle autonomously, those struggles need to return to and generalize throughout the rest of the class as they progress. The struggle for queer liberation is not against straight people; it is part of the struggle against the bourgeoisie, as homophobia and transphobia arose out of regulations on gender and sexuality that were enforced by the bourgeois during the birth of capitalism to insure that there was adequate production of future labor.

Of course, nothing I am proposing for a model here is new - it merely draws on the rich libertarian communist tradition.

Borrowed from:

Friday, August 12, 2011

Autonomous Struggle of the Glittertariat

By Gayge

A Critique of Anti-Assimilation, Part I

AKA "Why I hate the term 'classism'"; "Why I hate inverted hierarchies" will be Part II

A really big, important concept in radical queer thought and struggle is Anti-Assimilation, which, at its most basic, is "we don't want to elevate our position in the social order by becoming as much like the straights as possible"; clearly, there are a wide variety of possible positions that could be described as anti-assimilationist by that decision - from the communist position of "abolish the present state of things, the revolution is communization" to a very reformist view that just seeks to allow all genders, sexualities, expressions, etc, to be put on an equal footing. Between these two very different poles lie most people who would describe themselves as anti-assimilationist; in fact, I bet many who read this would point out that the very limited, reformist view of anti-assimilationism is not held by many who would use the term (which is true).

I feel that a lot of radical queers (and even anarcho-queer tendencies) tend to fall somewhere in the middle; there is the realization that things other than heteronormativity need to be abolished, but, there is a serious lack of class struggle content that stems from a poor understanding of very basic concepts we use when we speak of class struggle. The root misunderstanding is not getting what class is, which is a social relation, in particular, the relationship to the means of production.

At the most basic, we have the proletariat (the working class) that has no access to the means of making/acquiring the necessities of life, and thus must sell their labor power (go to work each day) so they can acquire said necessities, and we have the bourgeoisie (capitalists), who own the means of production, and buy the labor power of proletarians so that the labor is used to transform commodities into other commodities; they sell the commodities, and out of that, pay their workers some of the value of their labor and keep the rest of it. We call this last bit exploitation, as the capitalists take surplus (in the sense that the worker can survive to the next day on the value they are paid in wages) labor value from the workers. Sure, we can talk about stratifications in classes, petite vs. grande bourgeoisie, etc., but that's really not important to the very basic understanding we're going for here.

Okay, as time goes on, I'll try not to repeat the prior paragraph too often in this blog, but it's pretty central to the critique of the concept of "classism" and, if you come from an anti-oppression/social justice background, nothing like the definition of class you've seen over and over. That definition revolves around sociological factors: amount of education, type of work done, cultural cues, etc; often times we'll see the small business owner and the office worker both placed in a "middle class" and "working class" as code for working poor. While stratifications within classes are meaningful and worth talking about, particularly those in the working class - they're not the core of what class is about. By ignoring the relationship to the means of production, the sociological model of class naturalizes the capitalist organization of society.

The deployment of a sociological definition of class lets one talk about classism, the idea that class is nothing but systemic prejudices where there are a hierarchy of classes going on, each one privileged over the ones below it and oppressed by the ones beneath; and that class is reducible to something much like race or gender or sexuality, making it one more thing to try and undo oppression in, rather than abolish.

Thus, we have a fundamental misunderstanding of what class is leading to a massive strategic error in what to do about it. A strategic error that has us set aside the central goal of the communist movement: the working class, through its self-directed struggle, as a class stepping outside of capital and destroying it. We replace this with the much less inspiring goal of getting one social stratification to be nicer than another.

The more important effect of this, for purposes of this discussion, is that now class can be "safely" ignored for most or all of the time, or reduced to some anti-oppression speak. This allows us to construct an anti-assimilationist politic that doesn't include whether mass organizations are mainly serving bourgeois interests or proletarian interests. For instance, two short critiques of the classic assimilationist LGBT organization, HRC.

First, the "classism" critique:

"HRC seems to really only represent the interests of white upper middle class gender normative cis lesbians and gays. I think it's classist that even when they talk about the economic benefits of marriage, they assume either partner actually has health insurance. They don't seem to present any options for queer youth who have difficult times in their families of origins and now have to resist the military being presented to them as a way out. As an organization, HRC is pretty classist."

Now, a more class struggle critique:

"HRC is clearly an organization that represents bourgeois interests. Their agenda comes from the top down, and they don't offer opportunities for working class queers to participate in decision making processes - just raise funds and market a brand. While marriage presents real economic benefits to some working class queers, the way HRC has made all queer struggle about marriage, and channeled that struggle into electoral and legal campaigns, where it is controlled by politicians and big law firms, has sapped a lot of the energy to struggle from a lot of working class queer communities, and taken away from attempts to gain survival and moderate term needs of working class queers: access to health care, strong self-organization of the working class to help protect ourselves from homophobia and transphobia in our workplaces and neighborhoods, networks of mutual support, and so on."

In Part II, we'll talk about how inverted hierarchies arise in anti-assimilationist politics, and how anti-assimilation often has no idea what it is struggling against.

Borrowed from

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Queering Anarchism at the Class Struggle Anarchist Conference

At the second Class Struggle Anarchist Conference in Detroit in 2009, members of the Workers Solidarity Alliance and North Eastern Federation of Anarchist Communists organized a workshop discussion called "Queering Anarchism."

Audio from this workshop can be found here.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Tyranny of the State and Trans Liberation

From Anarcha Library

by jerimarie liesegang

It has become very clear to me over the years that a key tenet to Trans Liberation lies within the liberation of ones self from the tyranny of the State, Religion and Society; and equally important from our own self-imposed tyranny. And with that said, viewing Trans Liberation within an anarchist lens has proven an invaluable vehicle for my analysis. As Emma Goldman so eloquently states in her 1911 essay “Anarchism: What It Really Stands For”

Anarchism is the only philosophy that brings to man the consciousness of himself; which maintains that God, the State, and society are non-existent, that their promises are null and void, since they can be fulfilled only through man’s subordination. Anarchism is therefore the teacher of the unity of life; not merely in nature, but in man.

The essence of this point was reinforced at a recent demo protesting the hypocrisy of HRC, where one of the chants included the words Fuck You to HRC. Several people, though one in particular asked with all seriousness “Are we allowed to say that?” Then when the first police car came, they were convinced that the police were called because of our using the words Fuck You. And in reality the cops didn’t really give a damn what we were chanting about. Clearly on the surface this is all kinda silly and a nit; except for the fact that the reaction and fear of this trans person typifies the implicit warnings of Emma Goldman; that the tyranny, or fear of such tyranny, by the State has such a profound impact on our actions and our behaviors. And this clearly ties in very closely with our goal of achieving true and complete Trans Liberation.

We who defy societies precepts of gender identity and expression challenge, at its core, societal, religious and state demands and constructs. Yet sadly I fear that we as a truly inherent revolutionary community will seek the safe route of assimilation; as our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters have done before us. Yet through serious self-reflection, political analysis and dialogue, particularly through an anarchist lens, I postulate that we can avoid the same reformist road that the majorative homosexual movement has been trapped in. To this point, I have remarked over many years how ironic it is that the essence of a transsexual person defies society’s construct of man and woman/masculine and feminine; yet at the same time many in our community work so very hard to subscribe to a binary system that we in our essence defy. Granted this is a complicated analysis and many reasons for so strongly subscribing back to the binaries (major drivers being safety and survival); though at the same time it is something that we as a community and as individuals must seriously challenge.

If we are to liberate society and ourselves from its tyranny against those who traverse gender and sex, we need to ~ no actually we must ~ liberate ourselves from the mental and physical constructs that manipulate us into subordination for the benefit of the “greater good of society, religion and state”
Speaking to the issue of safety, when I embraced my gender identity I lost so many core things in my life. And so I fully understand the need to integrate, or more accurately assimilate into our society. However, over the years I have become more aware that my and our communities’ assimilation is simply subordinating our identities and our essence to the State. In return we are “allowed” to live within the margins of this society, especially if we are not able to “present” within the acceptable boundaries. I must admit that many of us, especially those of my age, struggle with a 1950’s societal mentality that was engrained within the deep recesses of our brains as we were young. Yet I also feel and know that I will not be truly liberated in my gender identity until I personally can liberate myself from subordination to society and to empower my individuality.

For many reasons, I am a strong believer of civil disobedience and direct action ~ when the cause and reasons are just. However the fear of challenging the State as a non-operative trans person was a significant challenge and barrier to putting my beliefs into actions. Yet my heart and soul told me that my not acting upon my beliefs was simply allowing the State to control my individual expression preventing my rebellion to a system that works to subjugate my individual identity. I actually needed to go through a year or two process of dealing with this conscious and subconscious fear of being controlled by the system. And it turned out through a long and convoluted process; I was able to put my individual beliefs ahead of those of submission to, and fear of, the State’s total control of my gender identity. Oddly, one night before an affinity group and I were to risk arrest shutting down a Government Building in New York, a dear friend and I saw the opening of V for Vendetta. And for me the transformation of Evey Hammond was so pivotal to my personal transformation. For those not familiar with Evey’s transformation, I paste the following from a wiki on V (though in reality one needs to see this transformation for words do not convey the essence of the struggle):

In her cell between multiple bouts of interrogation and torture, Evey finds a letter from an inmate named Valerie, an actress who was imprisoned for being a lesbian. Evey’s interrogator finally gives her a choice of collaboration or death; inspired by Valerie’s courage and quiet defiance, she refuses to give in and is told that she is free. To her shock, Evey learns that her imprisonment was a hoax constructed by V, designed to put her through an ordeal similar to the one that shaped him. He reveals that Valerie was another Larkhill prisoner who died in the cell next to his; the letter that Evey read is the same one that Valerie had passed on to V. Evey’s anger finally gives way to acceptance of her identity and freedom.

At any rate these are my horridly inaccurate words and thoughts to what over the years I am confidently coming to believe is a critical dialogue on the path to realizing complete “Trans Liberation.” If any of this makes sense, I am hoping to continue a deeper analysis of what this discussion so briefly touches upon.

Strengthening Anarchism’s Gender Analysis: Lessons from the Transfeminist Movement

Originally published in the Northeastern Anarchist.

by Rogue, Common Action/WSA

Transfeminism developed out of a critique of the mainstream and radical feminist movements. The feminist movement has a history of internal hierarchies. There are many examples of women of color, working class women, lesbians and others speaking out against the tendency of the white, affluent- dominated women’s movement to silence them and overlook their needs. Instead of honoring these marginalized voices, the mainstream feminist movement has prioritized struggling for rights primarily in the interests of white affluent women.

While the feminist movement as a whole has not resolved these hierarchal tendencies, various groups have continued to speak up regarding their own marginalization – in particular, transgendered women. The process of developing a broader understanding of systems of oppression and how they interact has advanced feminism and is key to building on the theory of anarchist feminism.

Transfeminism builds on the work that came out of the multiracial feminist movement, and in particular, the work of Black feminists. Frequently, when confronted with allegations of racism, classism, or homophobia, the women’s movement dismisses these issues as divisive. The more prominent voices promote the idea of a homogenous “universal female experience,” which, as it is based on commonality between women, theoretically promotes a sense of sisterhood. In reality, it means pruning the definition of “woman” and trying to fit all women into a mold reflecting the dominant demographic of the women’s movement: white, affluent, heterosexual, and non-disabled. This “policing” of identity, whether conscious or not, reinforces systems of oppression and exploitation. When women who do not fit this mold have challenged it, they have frequently been accused of being divisive and disloyal to the sisterhood. The hierarchy of womanhood created by the women’s movement reflects, in many ways, the dominant culture of racism, capitalism and heteronormativity.

Mainstream feminist organizing frequently tries to find the common ground shared by women, and therefore focuses on what the most vocal members decide are “women’s issues” – as if the female experience existed in vacuum outside of other forms of oppression and exploitation. However, using an intersectional approach to analyzing and organizing around oppression, as advocated by multiracial feminism and transfeminism, we can discuss these differences rather than dismiss them. The multiracial feminist movement developed this approach, which argues that one cannot address the position of women without also addressing their class, race, sexuality, ability, and all other aspects of their identity and experiences. Forms of oppression and exploitation do not exist separately. They are intimately related and reinforce each other, and so trying to address them singly (i.e. “sexism” divorced from racism, capitalism, etc) does not lead to a clear understanding of the patriarchal system. This is in accordance with the anarchist view that we must fight all forms of hierarchy, oppression, and exploitation simultaneously; abolishing capitalism and the state does not ensure that white supremacy and patriarchy will be somehow magically dismantled.

Tied to this assumption of a “universal female experience” is the idea that that if a woman surrounds herself with those that embody that “universal” woman, then she is safe from patriarchy and oppression. The concept of “women’s safe spaces” (being women-only) date back to the early lesbian feminist movement, which was largely comprised of white, middle-class women who prioritized addressing sexism over other forms of oppression. This notion that an all-women space is inherently safe not only discounts the intimate violence that can occur between women, but also ignores or de-prioritizes the other types of violence that women can experience; racism, poverty, incarceration and other forms of state, economic and social brutality.

The Transfeminist Manifesto states: “Transfeminism believes that we construct our own gender identities based on what feels genuine, comfortable and sincere to us as we live and relate to others within given social and cultural constraint. (1)” The notion that gender is a social construct is a key concept in transfeminism, and are also essential (no pun intended) to an anarchist approach to feminism. Transfeminism also criticizes the idea of a “universal female experience” and argues against the biologically essentialist view that one’s gender is defined by one’s genitalia. Other feminisms have embraced the essentialist argument, seeing the idea of “women’s unity” as being built off a sameness, some kind of core “woman-ness.” This definition of woman is generally reliant on what is between a person’s legs. Yet what specifically about the definition of woman is intrinsic to two X chromosomes? If it is defined as being in possession of a womb, does that mean women who have had hysterectomies are somehow less of a woman? Perhaps, if we reduce the definition of “woman” to the role of child-bearer. That seems rather antithetical to feminism. Gender roles have long been under scrutiny in radical communities. The idea that women are born to be mothers, are more sensitive and peaceful, are predisposed to wearing the color pink and all the other stereotypes out there are socially constructed, not biological. If the (repressive) gender role does not define what a woman is, and if the organs one is born with do not define gender either, the next logical step is to recognize that gender can only be defined by the individual, for themselves. While this concept may cause some to panic, that does not make it any less legitimate with regards to a person’s identity.

It is important to note that not all transgender people chose to physically transition, and that each person’s decision to do so or not is their own. The decision is highly personal and generally irrelevant to theoretical conceptions of gender. There are many reasons to physically change one’s body, from getting a haircut to taking hormones. Some reasons might be to feel more at ease in a world with strict definitions of male and female. Another is to look in the mirror and see on the outside (the popular understanding of) the gender one feels on the inside. Surely, for some, it is the belief that gender is defined by the physical construction of one’s genitalia. But rather than draw from speculation as to the motivations for the personal decisions of trans people (as if they where not vast and varied), it is more productive to note the challenge to the idea that biology is destiny.

Thus far, gender and feminist theory that includes trans experiences exists almost solely in academia. There are very few working class intellectuals in the field, and the academic language used is not particularly accessible to the average person. This is unfortunate, since the issues that transfeminism addresses affect all people. Capitalism, racism, the state, patriarchy and the medical field mediate the way everyone experiences gender. There is a significant amount of coercion employed by these institutions to police human experiences, which applies to everyone, trans and non-trans alike. Capitalism and the state play a very direct role in the experiences of trans people. Access to hormones and surgery, if desired, costs a significant amount of money, and people are often forced to jump through bureaucratic hoops in order to acquire them. Trans people are disproportionately likely to be members of the working and under classes. However, within the radical queer and transfeminist communities, while there may be discussions of class, they are generally framed around identity – arguing for “anti-classist” politics, but not necessarily anti-capitalist.

The concepts espoused by transfeminism help us understand gender, but there is a need for the theory to break out of academia and to develop praxis amongst the working class and social movements. This is not to say that there are no examples of transfeminist organizing, but rather that there needs to be an incorporation of transfeminist principles into broad based movements. Even gay and lesbian movements have a history of leaving trans people behind. For example, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act does not protect gender identity. Again we see a hierarchy of importance; the gay and lesbian movement compromises (throwing trans folks under the bus), rather than employing an inclusive strategy for liberation. There is frequently a sense of a “scarcity of liberation” within reformist social movements, the feeling that the possibilities for freedom are so limited that we must fight against other marginalized groups for a piece of the pie. This is in direct opposition to the concept of intersectionality, since it often requires people to betray one aspect of their identity in order to politically prioritize another. How can a person be expected to engage in a fight against gender oppression if it ignores or worsens their racial oppression? Where does one aspect of their identity and experiences end and another begin? Anarchism offers a possible society in which liberation is anything but scarce. It provides a theoretical framework that calls for an end to all hierarchies, and, as stated by Martha Ackelsberg, “It offers a perspective on the nature and process of social revolutionary transformation (e.g. the insistence that means must be consistent with ends, and that economic issues are critical, but not the only source of hierarchal power relations) that can be extremely valuable to/ for women’s emancipation. (2)”

Anarchists need to be developing working class theory that includes an awareness of the diversity of the working class. The anarchist movement can benefit from the development of a working class, anarchist approach to gender issues that incorporates the lessons of transfeminism and intersectionality. It is not so much a matter of asking anarchists to become active in the transfeminist movement as it is a need for anarchists to take a page from the Mujeres Libres and integrate the principles of (trans)feminism into our organizing within the working class and social movements. Continuing to develop contemporary anarchist theory of gender rooted in the working class requires a real and integrated understanding of transfeminism.

This article neglects to address another important concept: the idea that biological sex is somewhat socially constructed as well. Given the high prevalence of intersex folks, it is worth re-evaluating whether or not there are only two supposed biological sexes. This is a whole additional discussion, and one that would require a bit more research. Recommended sites for more information are and


1. The Transfeminist Manifesto by Emi Koyama (2000)

2. Lessons from the Free Women of Spain an interview with Martha Ackelsberg by Geert Dhont (2004)

Queer Is Many Things


by Abbey Volcano

Queer is many things. It’s a critique of identity– critiquing/questioning the boxes and categories we are given to cage ourselves with. Example, we can be gay, straight, or bi. These are the choices we have. But they don’t describe reality and they do more to contain us than to liberate us. (Although, I have to note that people do find empowerment and community within these identities and I don’t mean to downplay that.) It’s a critique of the construction of sexuality– formed by the ideas we have to conceive of it. If who you fuck is what you are (i.e., “gay”) — then that’s a sexual identity. Or we can do sexuality differently– it’s not who we are but what we do– our acts.

I may engage in homosexual acts, but what does it mean to say “I am gay”? And how does that identity restrain me? (Also, many argue that asserting an identity like “gay” or “bi” actually uphold the binary of “hetero/homo” and, as with all binaries, one will be privileged over the other. Therefore it can be argued–and I agree with this–that upholding a gay identity can actually work against liberation by reinforcing heternormativity and asserting, rather than destabilizing, the hetero-homo binary.) If you’re interested in that, read Jagose’s Queer Theory: An Introduction (I love this book but it’s dense and heavily theoretical and some people hate theory). Also, the notion of the “homosexual” was actually invented in the mid 1800s. Gay people didn’t exist before that. I’m not saying women didn’t fuck women and dudes didn’t fuck dudes, but they were engaging in *acts* and didn’t label themselves something because of it– they didn’t *identify* by what they did erotically.

Queer builds off of feminism and poststructuralism. Instead of only focusing on gender-specific sexualities (who you fuck) it focuses on all non-normative sexualities, some that don’t depend on the gender of the person you’re fucking (i.e., non-monogamy, bdsm, sex work, etc.).

Queer means “strange”. And when we queer sexuality, we critique the boxes that are formed around our understanding of sexuality, we critique the permanence (if you’re gay, you’ll always and constantly desire gay love b/c that’s *who you are* not what you do) of sexual identities. Queer is more fluid– sometimes you may desire this and sometimes you may desire that—it makes more sense to label your desires rather than who you are because of them. What you do is easily changed but who you are is always a crisis– that’s just too much pressure.

Queer critiques the idea of “normal”. If we label something normal (or an act/way of being “normative”) what is happening is that we are setting a status-quo, calling it “normal” and by way of this we are creating an “ab-normal” and if anyone happens to fall into the “ab-normal” category (which we have invented) then they are going to get shit on. It works very similar to the ways most privileges work. Normal, sexually, would be heterosexual couples that have monogamous permanent relationships and don’t have kinky sex and don’t sell or buy eroticism. Abnormal is everything else. So queer aims to smash the idea and the very desire for there to be a “normal”. We don’t need status-quos and normative expectations– they cage us, whether we fit into their boxes or not.

Also, what queer does with sexuality, it can do with other things. We can queer many things. What that means is finding the boxes and cages of something and getting rid of them. For instance, with politics, as you are aware, people often think they have the Correct Line or are constantly searching for it. They want one political ideology to find it with, too. In reality, we can pull from all sorts of different theories and use them when they’re useful– the world is complex and it requires a complex understanding. The nitty gritty is not something we always have to clean up– in that mess is where we can find some understanding.

Anyway, I think a lot of this may seem pretty abstract, but in real life queer organizing is important b/c people are killed, caged and tortured by the state and by each other because they don’t fit into the boxes we’re given, for instance transgender and genderqueer folks don’t even have simple social viability within the way sexuality and gender has been constructed– hell, they don’t even exist– we erase them, make them strange. Of course, if we didn’t have the boxes we do around sexual identity, then this would not be the case. Queer organizing aims to dismantle the ways we conceive of and reproduce sexual identity and gender and all that jazz.


Beyond Gay Marriage and Queer Separatists – The Call for a Working-Class Queer Movement

From the Gathering Forces website.

The gay marriage debate has taken over all the attention from the queer movement left and right. The right wing is consistently and stubbornly denying the existence of queer folks by saying that it’s an immoral choice of lifestyle. The liberal gay and lesbian organizations are continually pulling millions and millions of dollars to appeal to the state for marriage equality under the rhetoric of “we are all the same.” On the other hand, queer separatists are fiercely combating the liberals with the slogan: “we are totally and absolutely different from the heteros,” and have made good points on criticizing the oppressive patriarchal nature of the institution of marriage and how queers should not seek this type of inclusion (see: against equality). However, these critiques have not necessarily been able to generate an alternative grassroots movement which can seriously take on the demands of those queers who are marginalized–queer people of color, trans folks, working-class queers, queers with disabilities, and third world and immigrant queers–from all of the above approaches.

There has been a series of intolerable queer violence that occurred very recently in the country–torture, youth suicide, school bullying–while the violence is nothing new to queer folks, it is urgently calling for the communities’ response to these issues. Though the liberals are posting heartwarming videos and articles and holding vigils saying that “it gets better” (Dan Savage’s video), we know that the fight cannot end here. As oppressed folks we know that queer oppression does not end when we graduate from high school bullying and move to San Francisco and suddenly become successful professionals who hang out in fancy bars and overcome all of our internal and external conflicts. Here are QPOCs’ responses to queer youth suicides: “It doesn’t get better. You get stronger”

and “For colored boys that speak softly

Yosimar Reyes; "for colored boys that speak softly" from Corduroy Media on Vimeo.

Yosimar Reyes; “for colored boys that speak softly” from Corduroy Media on Vimeo.

The liberals see gay marriage as the end of the queer struggle, and have this fantasy that if gay marriage was legal national-wide, then soon it would “trickle down” to the marginalized communities and thus end all queer oppression.

We know for a fact that the gay marriage demand alone is incapable of solving our problems of physical, psychological, and economic violence, but instead normalizes a different though limited type of family under capitalism. Criticizing the approach of marriage equality alone has not helped much with movement building either. The debate overall has clearly not been very productive so far, but instead, it has instigated so much anxiety among the queer communities–many politically conscious queers are having panic attacks just over the moral decisions of choosing to support and/or participate in gay marriage if they had the rights to do so. All this overwhelming anxiety around the gay marriage issue is exactly because that there has not been an alternative queer movement that can channel the energy, and this debate has been monopolized in the framework of “individual choice” and “individual freedom.” Under this liberal ideology, many queer folks think that, of course we should have the right as individuals to choose who we love, who we want to have sex, and who we want to have family with! If straight people do why can’t we?! While queer folks are absolutely discriminated against by the heterosexist state which should not be tolerated, seeking freedom under this individualist ideology has not gotten us too far. Instead of carving out a tiny gay space out of the small stream of bourgeois, legislative rights, can we imagine a kind of sexual freedom that is for all people? A kind of freedom where a single mom is able to bring up her child without feeling obligations to marry? A kind of freedom that no one would be restrained in pantyhose at work anymore? A kind of freedom that as a culture we are finally not tabooed to talk about sex, but does not idealize or professionalize it either? A kind of freedom that everyone would play with gender without shame, and a culture that no youth would commit suicide because of school bullying, or because they might just have a different sexual fantasy? A kind of place that no one would be afraid to walk the streets at night, where none of our body parts– our brains or our genitals –are pathologized. A kind of freedom that is multifaceted, and does not merely carve out a different shape of box to fit in a particular sexuality, but opens up the possibility to more creative desires for everyday folks.

The mainstream gay movement today has hijacked the revolutionary sexual liberation movement in the 70s and turned it into a short-sighted individual rights agenda. They assume that every queer person has the same class position and desires the same kind of American Dream. Their answer to the queer working-class concern is that marriage can help poor folks get access to spousal benefits such as health insurance–which is fundamentally contradictory. For instance, many of our partners do not have health insurance in the first place because we do not have stable jobs or jobs that offer it in the first place. That said, the issue of gay marriage should not merely be decided by who participates in it. Rather, we should ask–who are the people controlling the movement? Whose voices are not heard? And, what is our alternative? While having equal rights can perhaps open up more space for our struggle, we cannot let the liberals such as the Human Rights Campaign and Democrats define our movement. We also cannot let the queer separatists defeat us and push us out of the struggle.

What we need is to build an issue-focused working-class movement that centers queer analysis. Our demands should cut across sexuality and gender lines, while fore-fronting and popularizing queer needs. We should demand universal health care that includes access to hormones, gender reassignment surgeries, and an anti-heterosexist health system that does not attempt to pathologize our queer bodies and erase the traumas we face in a violent homophobic society. We should demand asylum for all immigrants and not solely rely on the liberal, imperialist reform agenda such as the DREAM Act that attempts to draft the youth from our communities into the oppressive military system. These need to be our demands because we know that our fate as workers are bound up with the exploitation of the undocumented workers and the exploitation of youth of color. Today, anti-queer violence erodes our sense of community and leaves us feeling raw, vulnerable, and fearful for ours and our friends’ safety. This is a crucial time for queers and allies who distrust the state and the police to come together and mobilize from the grassroots to defend ourselves from homophobic violence. We should take the lesson from the initial domestic violence movement which set up grassroots phone trees, patrols, and shelters to challenge patriarchal violence in the households and in the streets. Today, we need to resurrect this sense of grassroots unity that links our struggles together and not to rely on the compromised liberals and non-profits, or the homophobic, racist state institutions that divide and assault our communities.

When the gay liberal assimilationists say to middle-class straight folks, “we are just like you,” and the queer separatists on the other say “hell no we are nothing like you” and form their own blocs, we should be the force that says to every day folks who struggle that “we are just like you, and you are actually just like us”–because queer folks have always been part of the working-class and we are not fundementally different from one another. Our oppression as queers is not a fixed pathology. It is a product of the heteronormative, homophobic society, and it does not have to stay that way forever. In fact, the essence of queer liberation lies within the ability for everyone to celebrate and experiment their sexuality, gender, and desire. It is not enough to only carve out another limited category of acceptable sexuality for a certain group of people. This kind of change is not liberation–it is a very limited imagination of freedom. We need to start off with this fundamental vision of uniting the working-class and queer struggles and ensure that not any part of ourselves will be forced to compromise in the movement.

News on the recent anti-queer violence and youth suicides:

Lured into a trap, then tortured for being gay

Anti-Gay Attacks Reported at Stonewall Inn and in Chelsea

NJ’s student suicide resonates on campus, beyond

Campus Pride: Openly gay Johnson & Wales student Raymond Chase commits suicide