Victory lap? Pentagon? Corporate sponsors? This is not Gay Liberation


Kasama received the following contribution. It also appears on the blog The Cahokian.

by ish It's gay pride season. This weekend is New York City's big Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Parade.

I've gone almost every year since I've lived in New York City, over thirty years. My first Pride was 1977, before I lived here. In the middle I went to Pride in Chicago. I marched many of those years. For a while I was even a member of the official planning coalition, before it became a nonprofit corporation. Back in those days we called it a Gay Pride March.

The gay world has been abuzz with what would seem to be a slew of victories. The repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) has brought Gay Pride to, of all places, the Pentagon, where the masters of war plot how to subvert and attack people around the world. Apparently they will be taking a few moments from piloting child-killing drones over Pakistan and Yemen to celebrate "our rich diversity," as the flyer [right] reads.

Later this year there will be a celebration of the end of DADT at the Intrepid, the aircraft-carrier-turned-museum floating in the Hudson off a New York City pier. That is, if they can swab the decks free of the bloodstains of thousands of Vietnamese killed by the Intrepid's planes in its period of service in the American war of aggression against Vietnam in the 1960s. Look! A Rainbow Flag!

Corporate sponsors are big news this year: A whole bunch of dubious corporations from Wells Fargo to Target have rolled out those rainbow flags, and the gay community rejoices, apparently turning a blind eye to the actual, you know, business practices and social role of these corporations. Hey, they're pro gay!

And speaking of taking time off from piloting drones, President Obama, er, came out in support of marriage equality. Well, he came out personally as a supporter of gay marriage. The day after the lesbian and gay community of North Carolina was devastated by a brutally anti-gay referendum that the President failed to comment on. Did I mention he thinks marriage equality is a states rights issue so his personal opinion doesn't mean he will intervene in such state struggles in the future? Oh sure I understand the limits of his executive power. He has certainly made clear the limits of his moral authority. It might come as no surprise that the gay community, deeply distrustful of Obama, immediately jumped full force on his reelection bandwagon. Seemingly, the only gay voices continuing criticism of the president are those on the right tainted by the dogwhistle racism of the Republicans.

Oh and a new book came out, which I can't imagine myself reading, by a heterosexual woman I'd not heard of before named Linda Hirshman entitled "Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution."

Yes, it seems we have won. The struggle for our civil rights is over! No doubt we are now approaching the same state of grace as all of "post-racial" America.

This needs to be said:

This is not gay liberation.

I'm finding myself surprisingly pissed off this year.


Lesbian and Gay Pride always seemed like an opportunity to take our star turn: to celebrate our place in the fabric of the city, in the fabric of society. To walk about openly without worry, armed with great numbers in mutual solidarity. It seemed to me that while it was not always an overtly political event, it certainly had the political subtext of bringing our own struggle for social justice to the same field of battle where all the other struggles are waged.

But this year it feels to me like the gay community is saying, "Hey, we got ours!"

I think the community understands the threat from the religious right: It's clear a large minority of people in the United States have no love for the gays.

But I think the gay establishment, and hence a large segment of the community, has also been utterly seduced by those fluttering rainbow flags. Gay Pride has literally been sold to corporations. And those who question the sale, or suggest that a pink-washing sleight of hand is at work, are being silenced or marginalized.

What a sham it is that corporations are waving rainbow flags at the same time they're busting unions, taking back basic benefits like paid healthcare and time off, and generally engaging in the looting of society for their own financial gain.

For me, "gay liberation" has always been intimately tied to "the Revolution."

That is, one social justice struggle among many that got at the core nature of capitalist society and its divide-and-rule strategies and materially-based oppressions inherent in that politico-economic system. I always argued that victory for our struggle as gay people — deeply connected to the role of women in capitalism — was not possible in a capitalist society. I don't feel equipped to address that huge question head-on in this essay, but I have to say that what the gay community is experiencing right now doesn't feel like a victory to me. I suppose the end of certain forms of legal discrimination are an advance for a certain privileged layer of the community that may benefit many gay people up and down the class spectrum, but something feels hollow.

While semi-covert gay organizations quietly existed for years before the legendary Stonewall rebellion, the mass gay civil rights movement has its roots in the social uproar of the 1960s and the radical movement against American involvement in Vietnam. It's no accident that the first militant gay organization, the Gay Liberation Front, was named in the spirit of the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front, more commonly known as the Vietcong. At its beginning the queer movement was a revolutionary movement. Perhaps the theory was undeveloped but the impulse was clear. One early group was even called STAR, or Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. And in its earliest days gay liberationists united with others who recognized the connections. While shamefully some forces on the left were slow to embrace the gay struggle, black and Latino revolutionaries in the same gritty urban centers as the multi-racial gay community understood a natural alliance.

The Occupy movement neighborhood assembly I work in, Occupy/Ocupemos Sunset Park, just showed the extraordinary documentary film "Palante, Siempre Palante" about the Young Lords Party, roughly the revolutionary Puerto Rican equivalent of the Black Panther Party.

The film tells how the Young Lords openly and proudly supported gay liberation.

The gay movement went on a long journey toward moderation and respectability. A trans-class movement, it's no particular surprise that today's mainstream "LGBT" organizations are solidly in the pocket of the Democratic Party. But when I see today's pride parades built around corporate sponsorship or the narrow focus on "what's good for the gays" to the exclusion of any other social justice concerns, I am reminded over and over that it hasn't always been this way. Once upon a time gay people were protesting militarist monstrosities like the Intrepid. Now our political leaders are throwing a party on it.

It's not widely enough circulated, but back in 1970 the Black Panther Party's Huey Newton gave a speech in which he touched on the women's and gay liberation movements. The Black Panthers are sadly maligned in historical memory: virtually massacred by government COINTELPRO terrorism, the Panthers are misremembered as being violent, misremembered as some kind of glorified retrograde gang. Nothing could be further from the truth and Newton's far-thinking words from 1970 help reveal this:


"Remember, we have not established a revolutionary value system; we are only in the process of establishing it. I do not remember our ever constituting any value that said that a revolutionary must say offensive things towards homosexuals, or that a revolutionary should make sure that women do not speak out about their own particular kind of oppression. As a matter of fact, it is just the opposite: we say that we recognize the women's right to be free. We have not said much about the homosexual at all, but we must relate to the homosexual movement because it is a real thing. And I know through reading, and through my life experience and observations that homosexuals are not given freedom and liberty by anyone in the society. They might be the most oppresed people in the society.... And maybe I'm now injecting some of my prejudice by saying that "even a homosexual can be a revolutionary." Quite the contrary, maybe a homosexual could be the most revolutionary. When we have revolutionary conferences, rallies, and demonstrations, there should be full participation of the gay liberation movement and the women's liberation movement."

The whole text is quite remarkable, far more advanced than the politics of much of the left at the time. This history of connected revolutionary struggles needs to be revisited.

In New York and San Francisco #OWS contingents will be marching in the parades. They'll be pointing out all the corporate pinkwashing that's going on. Mainstream gays have already suggested this act of elementary and obvious political education is "disruption." They have accused Occupy people of being "outsiders," as if no actually queer person could possibly reject the sale of gay pride to corporate America.

Fighting civil discrimination is good. But fighting for the liberation of society is better. Let's not lose sight of the prize at the end: it's not about queer people being free just to be like suburban "middle-class" heterosexuals, it's about freeing society from all forms of oppressive relations.

The celebration of that victory will take place on the ruins of the Pentagon and at the site of the Intrepid being broken down into scrap.

Happy gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer pride. The struggle continues.



People in this conversation

  • Guest - Daniel Ibn Zayd

  • Guest - automaticwriting3

    Reblogged this on <a href="/" rel="nofollow">Automatic Writing</a> and commented:
    A good post on the recuperation of queer struggles by capital and imperialism.

  • Guest - Ian Anderson

    Great article. I think there are two main pitfalls here: opportunism and ultra-leftism. Opportunism in throwing other oppressed groups under the bus, ultra-leftism in not struggling for the basic democratic reforms (or spurning those who do.) Opportunism is the dominant force but we won't win people away from it through ultra-leftism.

    Wrote an article on the marriage equality campaign in NZ here, which weirdly has been kick-started by Obama's statements:

  • Guest - maus

    "ultra-leftism in not struggling for the basic democratic reforms"

    you know those filthy leftists, not trusting the system to do things for them

  • Ian, I agree with your overall point: which is that we can't dismiss partial demands and needs of the people -- but need to find ways to connect them with our larger revolutionary and communist project. (And connect ourselves and our project to sections of the people in a living way.)

    However, I think you may have misread ish's article -- which (in my ears) was not so much in opposition to the democratic demand for marriage equality as it was a protest against the outrageous shameless attempt at cooptation of the strivings of gay people for liberation.

    This article is not a diss of the demand for gay marriage -- but a commentary that the greatest oppressive organizations in modern history (the U.S. military and the multinational corporation) attempt to run up "the rainbow flag" and portray themselves as allies and supporters of oppressed people, and as participants in the larger fight for equality. (It is to the fight of equality what corporate greenwash is to the struggle to save the biosphere.)

  • Guest - ish

    For the record I do certainly celebrate marriage equality, and while much less so, even the end of DADT restrictions for the military. These are true even though I think there is a deep and valid criticism that might be made of marriage as an institution from either a queer or communist perspective, and think joining an imperialist army is highly problematic. There's a related issue of what putting marriage equality at the fore of the gay civil rights agenda as a strategical choice has done to "the movement," such as it is, and that's been explored a bunch in radical queer circles.

  • Guest - Red Fly


    3 possibilites:

    1) Part of what it means to be a revolutionary is to be perpetually restless, maybe even dissatisfied, even after victory has been achieved. If this is case then the real source of dissatisfaction is not the specific traits of the victory but victory itself. With victory comes the end of the revolution, and the end of the revolutionary <em>qua</em> revolutionary.

    In the GPCR Mao was correct about the capitalist roaders and so material conditions dictated the necessity for a revolution within the revolution. But what does the revolutionary do when there's no need for a revolution? There's a danger here of lapsing in to the reactionary valorization of struggle for the sake of struggle.

    2) The Lacanian view would relate all this to the structure of human desire writ large -- desire as that which always both exceeds and falls short of its object.

    The danger here is an ahistorical essentialism that leads to simple acceptance and quietism. (But is there also a danger in simply dismissing this as ahistorical essentialism?)

    3) This desire is itself a product of bourgeois social relations. The revolutionary subject, still under the sway of the law of value and concomitant capitalist social relations, can only ever find an outlet for desire in the next product/reform/revolution, the one that would finally fill the lack that is itself a product of a society based around commodity production.

    And this might be where the real danger from something like "ultra-leftism" lies (very different from the futile adventurism that attracts some in non-revolutionary times): a temptation to "go further" in a desperate attempt to realize immediately in a transition period what can only come after the full realization of communism.

    I think all 3 possibilities are both correct and incorrect insofar as there as aspects of both truth and falsity, promise and peril, contending in all 3.

    <blockquote>At its beginning the queer movement was a revolutionary movement.</blockquote>

    Some revolutionary people take a dim view of romanticism. They claim it's opposed to some clear-eyed, hard-hearted materialism that's "necessary" if we are to succeed. But I think this austere vision is often simply a cover for instrumentalism and opportunism. While there are dangers if romanticism goes too far, at this point I think we could use a bit of it.

    I bring this up because it's one of the things I really like about Kasama. Now I don't know how some folks are going to react to this characterization, but to me, Kasama's appeal lies in part in the willingness of its participants to be a bit romantic and to dream big things, and part of the success of that is dependent upon being able to see the revolutionary potential within the present as well as the past. And I think Ish's statement here is in keeping with that. Because I do think there are those who will want to jump on this statement and claim that the LGBT liberation movement was always "bourgeois" and "reformist." And looked at from a certain perspective there's some truth there. But a big part of the problem is that perspective.

    I feel like part of what holds the left back is a kind of injunction of superego towards "pessimism of the intellect." Not just the constant demand to "be realistic" or to vote for the lesser of two evils, but to constantly keep in the foreground just how small, pathetic, weak, awful, etc. the left is. And it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    If I can just pick on somebody a little, in a friendly, (hopefully) constructive way, a good recent example of this is Platypus' conference (last year, was it?) about "the crisis of the left." I see this and I'm thinking, "Alright, here's this group that has consciously set out to confront head on all the dear old hoary cliches of the past, and yet here they are putting together a conference hawking the most tarnished wares of all: the left in crisis." We complain about a lack of creative thinking and then we set up a mental framework with perpetuates all that's old and stale! And then we wonder why we never get anywhere.

    I feel like we need to go back and read Mao Zedong. More for the tone than the specifics. What's most apparent to me in his writing is a three-sided confidence that we would do well to master: confidence in self, confidence in the revolutionaries, and confidence in people in general. Also, something that Mike mentioned I think only once very briefly that struck me immediately and has for some reason persisted in my mind: the cultivation of a revolutionary empathy. There something deeply true in that though I can't quite put my finger on it beyond the obvious.

    We would also do well to temper the anti-utopianism so prevalent right now, especially in a faux-election year like this one, on the left. "Be realistic, demand the impossible," is still an appropriate slogan for us, I think.

    Lastly, I love "Not Gay as in Happy, But Queer as in Fuck You." I've never seen that before but I love the militant edge to it because it confronts so many stereotypes about LGBT people head on. (Which is also, by the way, what intrigued about the description of the unicorn banner at the May Day parade in Seattle. Not, "may we have a seat at the table, sir?" but "fuck you, scumbag, we're turning the table into fire wood.")

  • Guest - Keith

    I don't think that the gay liberation struggle was reformist from the beginning.

    But there is not an inherently and necessarily antagonistic contradiction between capital and gay liberation.

    There was an accidentally antagonistic contradiction and it is resolving in a non antagonistic way. I am not sure what is so horrible about it. Yes, capitalism still exists and yes gay liberation is on the ascendant.

    When Obama came out in favour of gay marriage it was based on a political calculus that said there were more benefits then costs. There is a large and growing tolerant/pro gay market that capital wants to tap.

    it is not for nothing that Marx determined that the working class was the revolutionary agent. It is our unique position in the capital relation that determines the working class in an inherent and necessarily antagonistic contradiction that can only resolve with the demise of the capital relation.

    Gay liberation under capitalist social relations is an unambiguous good, not the least because it eliminates barriers to higher levels of working class unity.

  • Guest - Red Fly

    What I find interesting about this Ish's piece, Keith, is that it suggests that it does matter whether a contradiction is solved antagonistically or non-antagonistically. Ish's dissatisfaction points beyond the particulars involved here and opens up, for me at least, the question of the relation between revolutionary politics and desire and whether or not we can speak of a universality in this desire, and if we can, what is its character? It matters most obviously for any future post-revolutionary/communist world, but I also think it has a direct bearing on whether we'll be able to reach a post-revolutionary/communist world.

    But then again, maybe we're not speaking the same language here because from what I can gather from your writing these kinds of subjective issues just aren't very relevant in your view, right?

  • Guest - Ian Anderson

    "But there is not an inherently and necessarily antagonistic contradiction between capital and gay liberation."

    This depends how we're defining gay liberation. If we mean civil/democratic rights, I agree.

    But there are problems that go beyond the cross-class legal discrimination. For example, in NZ de facto relationships now have all the same rights &amp; responsibilities as married couples - which makes it harder for some poor long-term queer couples to get access to financial support. Challenging this is necessary to my view of queer liberation, but it's not part of the bourgeois-democratic reform program and it does challenge - if not capitalism - then the current formation of capitalism.

    "Gay liberation under capitalist social relations is an unambiguous good, not the least because it eliminates barriers to higher levels of working class unity."

    I think we need to deal with the particularities of oppression and difference, not treat difference as a hindrance to class unity. Double-oppression and triple-oppression won't be simply eliminated through some bourgeois-friendly legal reforms.

  • Guest - Ian Anderson

    Mike Ely: "However, I think you may have misread ish’s article — which (in my ears) was not so much in opposition to the democratic demand for marriage equality as it was a protest against the outrageous shameless attempt at cooptation of the strivings of gay people for liberation."

    It wasn't really a critique of the article, it was a general point about how we orientate based on my experiences in the NZ queer movement (which is different but comparable.)

  • Guest - Ian Anderson

    One of the major alternatives to a pro-gay reformist program, is the "anti-assimilation" queer outlook. This often encourages people to spurn bourgeois reforms, which will objectively improve oppressed groups' lives. However it has a kernel of truth in critiquing institutions which should be overthrown, not just reformed.

    This "anti-assimilation" outlook wasn't necessarily present in the article, but it's currently (outside the socialist movement) the biggest ideological alternative I've seen to throwing parties in the Pentagon. I think we need to be able to develop a more transitional strategy that, if not dodging reformism and "queer" posturing, transcends them.

  • Guest - ish

    I just wanted to say how much this statement of Red Fly's resonated with me:

    "I bring this up because it’s one of the things I really like about Kasama. Now I don’t know how some folks are going to react to this characterization, but to me, Kasama’s appeal lies in part in the willingness of its participants to be a bit romantic and to dream big things, and part of the success of that is dependent upon being able to see the revolutionary potential within the present as well as the past."

  • Guest - Keith

    I am not familiar with the particulars in NZ but I am curious about what you wrote here:

    "I think we need to deal with the particularities of oppression and difference, not treat difference as a hindrance to class unity. Double-oppression and triple-oppression won’t be simply eliminated through some bourgeois-friendly legal reforms."

    I don't disagree with the first part of the sentence. Oppression of various sorts have their particularities. But, if people are oppressed because of their sexuality this is going to create divisions within the the working class. Just as inequality, say in income, is a sign of disunity and a hindrance to further unity. Marx argues, correctly I think, in "Wage Labor and Capital" that the working class struggle is fundamentally about uniting the working class and dividing capital. Whichever side is more united wins.

    But, I am really wondering what reasoning and/or evidence you have for the assertion that "double-oppression" and "triple-oppression" won't be solved through reforms. Why not?

    It is clear that the contradiction between labor and capital cannot be resolved through reform because it is antagonistic contradiction that can only be resolved by ending the contradiction itself. But what about these other forms of oppression necessitates ending the capital relation for their resolution?

    honestly, I did not really understand your comments. I am vaguely familiar with Lacan because I have read some Zizek. But, you are definitely using a lexicon that I do not understand. I can't criticize it.

    I do think subjectivity is important but I usually think of it in terms of consciousness.

    The goal of revolution to me is leisure time. Leisure time used to be the exclusive right of the upper classes. If you read Plato's dialogues they are discussions between men with leisure time (only men had leisure time), who can play games and sports and then can lie down on the grass for hours or walk around the city and discuss the good life. That is what I would like to do, but I have to go to work.

  • Guest - Ian Anderson

    "It is clear that the contradiction between labor and capital cannot be resolved through reform because it is antagonistic contradiction that can only be resolved by ending the contradiction itself. But what about these other forms of oppression necessitates ending the capital relation for their resolution?"

    Well, these other forms of oppression are deeply tied up with class society.

    Racism is tied to the legacy of slavery and colonisation. Sexism and queer oppression to the gendered division of labour, and regulation of kinship/family structures to maintain property relations (which will continue after marriage equality is won.) Reforms might lessen some of those contradictions, but I'm not convinced for a second that gay liberation will be entirely won through legal reforms.

  • Guest - Ian Anderson

    "Marx argues, correctly I think, in “Wage Labor and Capital” that the working class struggle is fundamentally about uniting the working class and dividing capital. Whichever side is more united wins."

    This implies I was arguing against unity. Rather I was arguing against the idea that difference is a hindrance to unity.

    There's a certain Panglossian perspective some leftists have on the ability of capitalism to end various oppressions, so that we can get on with the "real" class struggle. The point of many radical critiques of corporate pride is that it doesn't liberate - for example the struggle against HIV/AIDs used to be partly a struggle for free and accessible healthcare. Without winning that, queer oppression will continue in some form. I've given another example, how recognition of de facto relationships disadvantages many poor queers (although it was treated as a victory for gay rights.)

    The challenges working-class queers, trans-folk (etc) face have particularities that will not be resolved through winning marriage.

  • Guest - Soheil Asefi

    Brilliant piece!... Thx.

  • Guest - Ian Anderson

    Btw sorry to spam, but if people want a historical materialist analysis of gay oppression, I'm a fan of John D'Emilio's essay Capitalism and Gay Identity.
    Available in the collection The Material Queer, among other places.

  • Guest - Ghan Buri Ghan

    Keith - This is a perfect example of why your ultra-Marxianism or "back-to-Marx-ism" if you will (as opposed to the science of Marxism which recognizes the theoretical and practical advancements made by subsequent revolutionaries) is an ideological dead end.

    Why should we go "back to Marx" to understand queer oppression? Marx and Engels were womanizing homophobes who wrote nothing on queer oppression; in fact they were overtly hostile to queer liberation and attacked the queer liberationists of their day and age, such as Ulrichs.

    The proletariat is not a blank slate when it comes to gender or nationality. Capitalist class-division was germinated from pre-capitalist gendered division of labor; the primitive accumulation of capitalism in Europe required the massacre of hundreds of thousands of women and queer men in order to further refine and discipline the capitalist patriarchal family. The second process of capitalist accumulation was the colonization and plunder of Africa, the Americas, Australia, Asia, and Polynesia. (A process that killed hundreds of millions) Saying that homophobia or sexism or racism is just an issue of lack of unity among the workers is like saying physical abuse of prisoners is just an issue of lack of unity between the prisoners and guards.

    Are our queer friends really supposed to buy that Obama's support of gay marriage or his repeal of DADT is evidence of the inevitable "non-antagonistic fulfillment of gay liberation? Here in the USA alone, we have queer youths who are beaten because they come out of the closet to their parents, we have queer youths who are living on the streets because their parents kicked them out, we have queer youth who are bullied by their peers and teachers, and a suicide epidemic among queer youth, we have hiring discrimination and workplace harassment against queers, (and there may be laws against these acts in certain cases, but are the laws consistantly enforced?) anti-gay lynchmobs, (sometimes lead by cops) we have discrimination in regards to healthcare access, (and not just in regards to AIDS, gender reassignment, etc.) public housing, child custody law, and so on, we have a heterosexual youth culture that casually uses "gay" and "homo" as a pejorative adjective, we have queer folks raped and forced into the sex market, etc.

    We know that Bradley Manning was moved, as a queer private in the US army, to expose crimes committed by the US military against Afghan civilians. Manning correctly saw herself as an oppressed person, just like the Afghans. DADT is repealed but Manning is still being tortured in solitary confinement. DADT is gone but harassment, bullying, shaming, hazing, sexual abuse, and violence against queer military personnel is still engrained in the fabric the military culture of the US. Reform will not solve the problem. We need revolution. Proletarian revolution is wrapped up in queer revolution, womyn's revolution, and anti-colonial revolution. One cannot exist without the others.

  • Guest - Keith

    you misunderstand my comments. I didn't and wouldn't suggest that we study Marx to understand gay oppression. Nor was I in any way dismissive of the struggle, nor did I suggest that gay oppression has ended. I simply stated that gay liberation movement is winning. I think that is obvious, it is even the point of the original post. The OP is asking if these are pyrrhic victories because capital is capitulating to the movement and even embracing it.

    Ghan, you talk about a "science of Marxism." What do you mean by that? What is scientific about the writings of, say, Mao Zedong? Or Lenin? We would need you to provide some definition of science and show how Mao or Lenin's work conforms to that definition. I don't think that they did scientific work, even though they are brilliant politicians. Why would Lenin's writings have scientific status but no Sun-Yat-Sen? Why is Mao scientific but Thomas Paine is not?

    My argument is that Marx's scientific writings are confined to the critique of political economy. Marx's journalism is not scientific and it would be foolish to say that it is.

    to the substantive point:

    Capital is a social relation and a social process. The capital relation contains capital and labour. You can't have capital without wage labour and vice versa. These are facts derived from the essence of capital. If you want to end the capital relation you must abolish wage labour.

    What about queer oppression, or the oppression of women, or racism originates in the capital relation such that it can only be resolved by ending the capital relation itself?

    If you are going to say "Proletarian revolution is wrapped up in queer revolution, womyn’s revolution, and anti-colonial revolution. One cannot exist without the others." You have to prove it. But, you just assert it dogmatically.

    It can't be proven, of course, because it is not true. Gay liberation does not have to wait for socialist revolution.

    But gay liberation (under capitalist social relations) advances the cause of socialist revolution in a number of ways, not the least of which is advancing working class unity.

    My hypothesis is that gay liberation, women's liberation, racism are all problems that will be dealt with more or less thoroughly before the capital relation is abolished and in some ways it is a pre-requisite. In other words, I am taking the opposite view of 20th century communists who argued that, say, women's liberation would have to wait for socialist revolution and that therefore it was a distraction to the struggle for socialism or, worse, created divisions within the working class.

  • Guest - Gary

    Keith wrote: “But there is not an inherently and necessarily antagonistic contradiction between capital and gay liberation.”

    I agree. If by “gay liberation” we mean broad and growing acceptance of the idea that it’s ok for people of the same sex to fall in love, have sex, co-reside, get married, adopt kids, enjoy legal protections against discrimination in housing, employment, etc.---then no, there’s no antagonistic contradiction with capital. There are surely members of the ruling class motivated by religious beliefs to fund attacks on gay rights. But investors profiting off industries like fashion and entertainment surely don’t care if these are largely led by gay men.

    When European “socialist” parties having embraced austerity programs try to maintain their support base by endorsing gay marriage; when the Pentagon announces plans to celebrate Gay Pride Month, and when Dick Cheney and his wife proudly announce their daughter’s marriage to her long-time woman partner, you know there’s no antagonistic contradiction between capitalism and gayness. Some of the most avid promoters of the Iraq War (like Andrew Sullivan) were openly gay… If you were to poll people at a gay pride march and ask their views about Obama’s drone strikes on Pakistan and Yemen I doubt the results would appreciably differ from a poll among the general population. In other words, homosexuality per se does not constitute a particular politics threatening the ruling class.

    At this point there’d be nothing incongruous about the Navy recruiting young gay men to bomb Iran by means of the Village People’s 1978 (very gay) hit “In the Navy.”

    For a variety of reasons---political struggle, the spread of knowledge, advances in science (the 1973 decision of the American Psychiatric Association to removed homosexuality from its list of “mental disorders,” the same decision by the American Psychological Association two years later and similar decisions by comparable bodies around the world), breakthroughs in popular culture such as the positive portrayal of gay men and lesbians on television and in film), the activities of “Gay Straight Alliances” in high schools, etc.---almost as many people in the U.S. now support as oppose gay marriage. Since the Netherlands legalized gay marriage in 2001, 14 countries have done so, plus eight U.S. states. Obama says he personally supports it. One has the sense that the battle for acceptance of homosexuality is being won (although I agree with Ish that what’s been obtained so far is not “gay liberation” but some (significant) reforms accompanied by the corporate cooption of parts of the movement).

    But it is one thing to accept or tolerate a homosexuality that mirrors heterosexuality and the still dominant paradigm of stable, long-term, monogamous domestic relationships, and another to accept the realities of gay/queer sexual behavior. While gay men and lesbians appear to have on average around 6 sexual partners during their lifetimes (the same figure that applies to straight men and women) a significant minority are not interested in or involved in a long-term relationship and not committed to long periods of celibacy but pursue “no strings” sex with numerous partners. Promiscuous by preference, they are perhaps no greater a proportion of the gay male population than their promiscuous counterparts in the straight male population but are the principal patrons of key gay institutions like gay bars and bathhouses. By one estimate 2% of gay men in the U.S. are having 24% of gay sexual activity. The enjoyment may result in part precisely from novelty, variety and impersonal nature of the interaction.

    So, having agreed that it’s ok to be gay, and to marry members of one’s own sex, how do we approach a subculture of promiscuity? Do we say: this is unhealthy, selfishly hedonistic, non-productive, etc., or concede that it’s a valid lifestyle appropriate for some? (I recall Bill Martin’s question: “Shouldn’t there be room in our understanding of sexuality for not letting go of the question, ‘Why can’t the myriad forms of sexuality simply be a source of joy?’ Yes, we go on from there to complicate things with questions of power and gender relations, etc., but why not allow ourselves the possibility (to say something slightly more complicated and less naive) that there is a ‘different economy’ possible and at work in sexuality that ought to be a beautiful thing and sometimes even is a beautiful thing.”)

    Similarly: how do we approach the vast array of fetishes apparent in both gay and straight communities? If you peruse on-line sex ads (have largely taken the place of “hook up” areas as places where people arrange to meet) you find that gay men typically self-identify as either “bottoms” or “tops” and specify interest in anal and/or oral sex. (Such sources have been used by the way to produce some plausible statistics on sexual behavior; see for example this: .) These can be further subdivided into categories; there are men who like to suck but will not swallow, men who suck and like to swallow, etc. There is a division of labor, you might say, allowing the man who wants to fuck or be sucked to meet someone who wants to satisfy those needs. Do we “complicate things with questions of power and gender relations”? Do we say: this is un-egalitarian; we should strive for a world in which all gay men are “versatile”? Or do we accept the fact that sexual desire isn’t just about gender but the specific psychological and physical pleasures of favored acts?

    I almost feel I should apologize for including the detail to follow, but I think it reasonable in the context of this discussion to be frank and specific. Anyone uncomfortable with mildly explicit discussion of sex can skip to the end.

    Among the fetishes often mentioned in sex ads is bondage, which could involve handcuffs, rope, neckties etc. There are many people (gay and straight) who derive pleasure from the feeling of being controlled and unable to resist during sex. Do we say: bondage is the opposite of liberation, this is a matter of internalizing oppression, probably the result of a traumatizing experience in the past (etc)., or simply concede that this gratifies some people and accept it as socially harmless? Some people like to be blindfolded during sex, to highlight the anonymity of the act and allow for fantasy. Some men enjoy sucking penises through “glory holes;” the only thing they see of the partner is his penis. Do we say: this is dangerous, degrading behavior and struggle with such people to change their behavior? Or do we recognize it as their “source of joy”?

    Many ads mention “watersports,” involving urinating on someone, or being urinated on, or even “drinking from the tap.” Do we say: that’s disgusting, unhealthy, and humiliating? (The person might respond that humiliation is in fact a turn-on.) Many ads mention specific clothes fetishes, all conveying different meanings: lingerie, leather, jock-straps. Do we tell the cross-dresser, you’re mocking women, and contributing to their oppression, by this behavior, and try to discourage it? Or do we say it’s harmless, and a source of stimulation for both the man in lingerie and his partner? Many ads are posted by, or in search of, transsexuals, most often feminine-looking males who’ve acquired breasts. Sometimes the partner wants to be the active partner, but some want it the other way around.

    Many ads specify age preferences (athletic 23 seeking similar; son ,19 for dad over 40; older gent seeking same, etc.) Some seek “bears” (older, hairy men with bellies, typically tops) or “twinks” (smooth young men, typically bottoms). Should we say: the men shouldn’t have age preferences? Or suggest that older/younger relations are inherently exploitative of the younger? Or do we acknowledge that such preferences are normal and legitimate?
    Some ads mention porn, and meeting to watch during mutual masturbations. Do we say that two men acquiring gratification while watching male-male sex are somehow---in the usual argument against porn---promoting the objectification of women? Or do we say: so long as the porn was made by consenting adults and contains nothing egregious, fine, noting that this is about as “safe” as sex gets?

    The list could go on and on… Some have feet and footwear fetishes. Do we say: it’s wrong to debase yourself like that? Or do we realize that the odors powerfully stimulate some people? Some ask for sado-masochism (SM), of a lighter or heavier variety involving spanking (which some on the receiving end find very pleasurable) specially-made whips, clothespins on the nipples, “C&amp;B torture” etc. Do we say: you’re nuts to take pleasure in pain and humiliation, or in its infliction on others? Or accept this too, as tolerable sexual activity? A lot of men like to rim (lick) other men’s anuses, sometimes specifying that they be “musky.” Do we say: that’s just nasty? Or recognize that it’s some men’s principal source of sexual pleasure?

    Some gay couples seek out strangers for threesomes, or search for group sex parties. Do we criticize that, or accept is as innocent enjoyment? Some gay men like to seek out sex in specific venues like parks know as cruising zones, or public restrooms, “adult” bookstores, etc. Do we say: that’s all unacceptable, and we should make sure that police prevent it? Or do we conclude that so long as other people are not harmed by it or complaining about it, it can be tolerated? How do we view gay bathhouses, designed to facilitate multiple anonymous sexual encounters by providing private rooms, ambient pornography and facilities for group activity? Do we call them a threat to public health, or tolerate them while urging all involved to “play safe” knowing many will not?

    I’m not suggesting that in the socialist society we hope for in the future revolutionary forces would intrude into the bedroom to prevent any mutual, consensual sexual activity. (But it might through the education system and various methods of propaganda try to promote some notion of “healthy sexuality” that is fundamentally conservative, as was surely the case in the USSR and China.) I’m merely suggesting that tolerance for homosexuality, which did not for the most part exist in the two great socialist experiments of the 20th century, and came so late to the RCP and so many of us, is just part of the needed tolerance for sexual diversity as we struggle to liberate ourselves in all respects.

    In my own opinion, all of the above is ok. There need not be a communist “line” on any of it, just recognition of the complexity and variety of sexual desire and behavior. There are plainly forms of behavior that are wrong and ought to be illegal, including use of any kind of force. (But the issue is complicated by the fact that there are those who say they WANT to be forced, as part of a scenario discussed in advance. A lot of sex is part-theater.) Sex with children should be illegal; but note that the legal definition of child varies from country to country and the age of consent is 16 in most of Europe. (So gay or straight sex with a consenting 16 year old is ok in Britain, but if the U.S. government finds out about it, the man involved can be arrested upon arrival in the U.S. for breaking U.S. law overseas.) Kids are becoming active earlier and earlier, both with peers and much older people, often at their own initiative. The assumption that any sexual experience before one’s 18th birthday is damaging or a source of subsequent regret is simply wrong. (See Judith Levine, Harmful to Minors, intro by Jocelyn Elder, University of Minnesota, 2002.)

    I’ve been referring to gay men (although many of the same fetishes occur among lesbians to---although apparently a lot less). But the situation is complicated by the fact that lots of self-defined “straight” men (perhaps heterosexually married and on the “down low”) seek out particular forms of gay sex. They may say they’re “not into men at all” and are absolutely not into kissing them, but they enjoy the experience of sucking a penis, or being sucked, or taking one or the other role in anal sex. You might think that would make them “bi” by definition but they will insist that no, they’re totally straight but just enjoy this sort of physical interaction. The term “metrosexual” has come to mean (rather like “queer”) someone who wants to defy sexual categories. An increasing number of youth are declining to categorize themselves as either straight or gay; I can’t find it now but there was a recent survey of high school students, I think in New York City, with figures showing this. In any case the world is not divided into straight and gay, but there are intermediate categories among both men and women and of course people less concerned about the gender of their partner than some other physical attribute or the activity they indulge in. The podophiliac (foot fetishist) might be equally stimulated by male or female feet…

    Gay marriage is no threat to the system. But I’m wondering: might a society truly tolerant of diverse sexualities, that promotes sex education and the matter-of-fact study of alternative sexual practices, that promotes a cheerful attitude towards sexual pleasure including the “no-strings” type, and doesn’t uphold monogamy as a universal model, indeed threaten the system? Or will the system have to come down before such a society is possible?

  • Guest - Daniel

    Bingo!! Keep up the good work !!

    I particularly like this paragraph! :

    "The gay world has been abuzz with what would seem to be a slew of victories. The repeal of DADT has brought gay pride to, of all places, the Pentagon, where the masters of war plot how to subvert and attack people around the world. Apparently they will be taking a few moments from piloting child-killing drones over Pakistan and Yemen to celebrate "our rich diversity," as the flyer above reads. Later this year there will be a celebration of the end of DADT at the Intrepid, the aircraft-carrier turned museum floating in the Hudson off a New York City pier. That is, if they can swab the decks free of the bloodstains of thousands of Vietnamese killed by the Intrepid's planes in its period of service in the American war of aggression against Vietnam in the 1960s. Look! A rainbow flag! " </blockquote>

    This doc, "The Invisible War" just opened today in SF.
    And it's ironical that w/ the repeal of DADT, ''the epidemic of rape" BY "soldiers within the US military '' will go way beyond the, um, normative, realm.

    In US occupied Korea, South Korean soldiers are forced to serve together w/ GI's and there have been a number of M2M rapes of Korean soldiers by US military personnel. Until this year, DADT was a deterrent factor for the apparent reason, but that's not the case anymore...

  • Guest - ish

    Gary brings up a lot of issues. Very colorfully I might add! I might quibble with a few of his descriptions, but no matter.

    What is the "natural" state of human relationships? Is it pair-bonding? Indeed is there any kind of absolute natural state, or a wide spectrum of potential? I think most of Gary's questions about sexual activity could be asked of heterosexual people and their tastes also. Which brings up the real question, is it possible to judge human relationships free of the power relationships in capitalism? It strikes me that outside of capitalism these human proclivities would undergo massive shifts, in ways it's hard to imagine now.

    What we think of as a "gay" identity is clearly a product of a certain period of capitalism in so-called advanced industrial society. Same-gender attraction takes very different forms in different societies, which is how certain repressive governments can claim that "gay" is some kind of Euro-American colonialist import, even though it's clearly also the case that some males have sex with other males everywhere in the world and always have. All of which means to me that not that gay people aren't really gay, but that capitalism and sexuality and gender are deeply wrapped around each other.

    Some of this was in fact addressed in the aftermath of the Russian revolution of 1917. I found this brief description of the beliefs of the Russian revolutionary Alexandra Kollontai on an Australian left wing site:

    <b>"Unfettered promiscuity was not, in fact, Kollontai's ideal, although she was frequently blamed for the outbreak of casual sex that went on in revolutionary Russia because, in stories like "Three Generations", she gave a not unsympathetic hearing to those who wanted to be radical and free in all things, including sex. Kollontai advocated "free love", by which she meant sexual relations liberated from bourgeois possessiveness, freed from the private property market in people which trapped so many women in the prison of "loveless marriages". Kollontai saw the outbreak of casual sexual encounters as often exploitative (of women by men for their private sexual benefit) and irresponsible (women left to care for the children of these liaisons in a Russia unable to spare the social resources for collective raising of children).

    Lenin was reputedly aghast at Kollontai and her "famous theory" that "in communist society the satisfaction of sexual desires will be as simple and unimportant as drinking a glass of water". This "new sexual life", he was reported as saying, "is an extension of bourgeois brothels", has nothing in common with free love, is "driving our young people mad, quite mad" and is "un-Marxist". "What normal man would want to lie down in the gutter and drink out of a puddle, or out of a glass with a rim greasy from many lips?", he is said to have asked rhetorically.

    These views, however, have been passed on at second or third hand and their authenticity is uncertain. Kollontai and Lenin actually had quite similar views on free love and casual sex. Neither saw them as one and the same thing — freedom in sex and love demanded equality, which meant responsibility to the other sexual partner and a shared obligation to any children of a relationship." </b>—

    Civil reforms make life easier for some gay people; but clearly not all. What then, is gay liberation? Is it different than the overall human liberation that revolutionary ideology aims at? Big questions!

  • Guest - Ian Anderson

    @Keith: "I simply stated that gay liberation movement is winning. I think that is obvious, it is even the point of the original post."

    Except the title says "This is not gay liberation," and she's now said, "Civil reforms make life easier for some gay people; but clearly not all. What then, is gay liberation?" I hate to bring the term 'intersectionality' into the discussion, because I find it kind of inadequate, but that's an underlying premise here. That you can't have gay liberation without liberating people from, say, the class oppression where the state demands that their relationship is accountable to welfare agencies, or where medical assistance is commoditised etc.

    You haven't addressed the point me and Ghan both raised about the gendered division of labour, and regulation of kinship relations (which again will continue after same-sex marriage is won.)

    Gary: "There are plainly forms of behavior that are wrong and ought to be illegal, including use of any kind of force. (But the issue is complicated by the fact that there are those who say they WANT to be forced, as part of a scenario discussed in advance. A lot of sex is part-theater.)"

    Although you mention consent in passing, I think this needs to be far more explicitly a discussion about consent and coercion. Those are the key questions for radicals discussing sex, not rough and vanilla.

  • Guest - Ian Anderson

    Sorry, just headed over to the blog, he.

  • Guest - Ghan Buri Ghan

    Keith - The problem is that science is also political. There are plenty of examples that come to mind; The debates over evolution, global warming, (If I recall correctly, you and I have actually had that debate ourselves) the genetics of "race", psychology, (from the misogyny of Freud's psychoanalysis to controversy surrounding recovered memories of sexual abuse) clinical psychiatric medicine - (see the struggles and writings of the SPK, or more recent controversies in the US surrounding DSM diagnostic definitions) hell, even the naming of extinct species of dinosaurs and the designating of celestial bodies as planets can involve a little bit of politics involved. (With prominent egos in the field of paleontology, for example, eager to declare juvenile fossil specimens of existing established species as new species for reasons of vanity and careerism)

    Marx named his critique of capital a critique of political economy for a reason. It was not merely an academic curiosity, like counting the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. The purpose of his entire body of work was to change and overthrow the existing political system. Marx was first and foremost a revolutionary, he did not view the inevitable overthrow of capital by labor with clinical detachment as one would view sun spots or craters in the moon. He was an active participant in the process, like millions of others before and after him. So yes, the scientific is political, and the political is scientific; it is called "political science" for a reason. The only difference between Lenin and Paine is that Lenin's political science was valid, it was objectively correct.

    And yes, there is a science to good journalism, the art of capturing objective events through one's own subjective observation and research. (Just as there is a bit of science behind all good art, even though many artists would loathe the suggestion) This is the difference between real journalism and tabloid propaganda journalism. Did Marx's journalism always achieve this? No, but science is not about the infallibility of the individual scientist, but rather recognizing one's own subjective fallibility.

    Regarding the topic of hand; the oppression of race, gender, and sexuality, and their mutual dependency on capitalism. Race, for example, is very much an instrument of capitalist exploitation. (I recommend this article on the subject by Rashid Johnson: In a country like the US, or any country, if social foundation of racism was uprooted, this would generate a very real and immediate crisis of capitalism; it's racial resentment, for example, that keeps the Black, Brown, Red, White, and Yellow workers divided against each other instead of united against the bourgeoisie. Racial resentment is also used as a tool to pit the disenfranchised middle-strata (predominately white) within the camp of the bourgeoisie. If racism was uprooted and overthrown, what illusion would remain to ensure the loyalty of the exploited masses to the bourgeoisie? Fundamentally, a regime like the US is dependent upon the super-exploitation of the mass of afrikans, puertorriqueñas, mexicanas, first nations, hawai'ians, vietnamese, cambodians, hmong, chinese, koreans, hillbillies, muslims, nisei and sansei, "white trash", all varieties of "mulattos", "mutts", and "half-breeds", etc. etc. In many ways what is commonly referred to as "racism" in the mainstream media and corporate diversity seminars is merely the superstructure, whereas the super-exploitation I speak of is the base. So when you say that racism can be non-antagonistically resolved under capitalism, do you mean superficial changes to the racist superstructure? If so, yes, this has already happened; public schools of posts with kids of all colors playing together, and so on. Do you mean that a small minority of oppressed people are given a certain degree of political and economic power once exclusively reserved for the WASP male bourgeoisie? We have that already; we have Condi Rice, Bill Cosby, and so on. But is this what we truly mean when we speak of an end to racism. No, we mean the empowerment of the masses, a basic change in their living conditions, a fundamental and very radical overturning of the existing structures of political, economic, and social control, including people's ways of thinking, the beginning of a transition towards a society where notions of race and nationality wither away completely. You can't point to Condi Rice or a school poster of a black kid and a white kid shaking hands and say this is a sign that we are any closer to that

    Getting now to queer liberation, which as the author of this article quite correctly points out is completely entwined with womyn's liberation. As I've said before, capitalism was built upon, and continues to nourish, the gendered division of labor, and the base of that division of labor is the patriarchal family. (Capitalism is both the son and the father of patriarchy, just as it is both the son and the father of colonialism) Queer oppression in the modern epoch began in Europe, where the foundations of the modern family were forged. I'd always recommend Butch Lee's "The Military Strategy of Women and Children" as well as Sylvia Federici's "Caliban and the Witch" as crucial writings on this thesis. In order for capitalism to flourish in Europe, the ruling class had to confront dwindling populations; they went after midwives who practiced birth control and abortion, artisan bachelorettes, (the origin of the term spinster) radical-Christian celibates, (such as the Cathars) and homosexuals - both men and women. In Italian, the term "faggotto" means heretic, one who was burned at the stake, and there is some controversy in etymological circles surrounding the relationship between this term and the modern pejorative "faggot". (In fact the term "faggot" was once also a term of abuse for old women) And patriarchal monogamy, the capitalist family-structure refined from the patriarchal divisions of the prior fuedal epoch, was imported into every reigon colonized by capital; and policies against homophobia followed with it. To many (but of course not all) African, Asian, Polynesian, and American peoples, anti-homosexuality was something very new that needed to be imposed on them by force via the colonist. (And this does not mean that the pre-colonial social constructs around sex were necessarily more enlightened or desirable, for example in what is now called New Guinea the indigenous sexual customs included sexual exploitation of older men by younger men, much as in classical Greece)

    Do you honestly expect homophobia to be destroyed as a social force when millions of men expect their sons to go out and marry and start families, and their daughters to bear progeny? And this expectation carries a certain degree of economic reality to it. Yes, there is a privileged strata of queer petit-bourgeoisie who can adopt (usually laundered) third world children, but this is just the queer equivalent of the "black picket fence", it's not sustainable without sustaining colonialism and the devastating effects of colonialism on third world families, and it's certainly not a realistic option for the majority of working-class queers who are pressured by their families to fulfill social expectations lead wholesome, heterosexual lives.

    You cannot cut off someone's leg and leave them to bleed out without killing them, or at least putting their life in danger. The patriarchal family is one of the "legs" of capitalism. It's true that capitalism, by its very nature, often leaps over the familial and feudal boundaries of the traditional family, as nothing is sacred to the capitalist. But that does not mean that capitalism is capable of carrying out an extensive cultural revolution that overturns the deeply rooted foundations of the patriarchy. Capitalism can pave bridges over, tunnels through, and pathways circumventing these foundations, but ripping it up would undermine the stability of capital.

    So yes, if by "victory for queer liberation", you mean certain tainted privileges such as marriage and military service, we are seeing that now, but that's lipservice. Do you honestly think for example, that the AIDS epidemic within the queer male community can be resolved without a transition to a socialist system of medicine, or that workplace discrimination of queers will be fully rooted up without the destruction of the capitalist exploitation of labor?

  • Guest - Ghan Buri Ghan

    Gary - I think you're missing the forest through the trees. It's not as if marriage equality, openly gay military service, and Ellen DeGeneres have freed us up to fight for the civil rights of foot fetishists and water-sports enthusiasts. And the struggle against the patriarchal family and hetero-monogamous chauvinism does not necessarily entail some vision of socialism as a giant gay-bathhouse. (Although there's no reason socialism couldn't be a giant gay bathhouse) What you're missing here is that this isn't about people's sex lives at all really, it's about social categories, just as class is a social category. (It's not like there's a magical monster called "the economy" that decides by lottery who is or isn't an economic producer, it's something people are typically born into, or else forced into later in life by socio-economic forces) And being a "dyke" or a "faggot" is not about who you like to suck off or pee on...if you haven't read "Stone Butch Blues", you should. Traditional Stonewall-era butch-lesbian culture had as much to do with taking on traditionally economic male roles such as working in the auto-plants, as it did with dating other women. And in the stonewall era, when homophobic cops used to frequently arrest and rape butches and fairies, (and notice how, in the latter case, raping another man didn't change the heterosexual male cops' socio-sexual identity one bit) they weren't monitoring their bedroom activities through surveillance cameras or anything, they were profiling people based on location and physical appearance. (Just as cops don't do genetic tests to decide who is or isn't descended from African slaves, they just know who is Black based on certain assumptions related to location and physical appearance)

    You just need to look at the life of the average working-class lesbian or working-class transwoman in the US to see what I mean; not in 1960, but now. Not much has actually changed since the Stonewall Era when we look at the objective material conditions of the queer proletariat. The only difference is that the "queer community" now has a parasitic bourgeoisie. (If we look at the "queer community" as an oppressed nation, and ignore a certain degree of reductionism in doing so, we could compare the queer bourgeoisie to the neo-colonial comprador bourgeoisie of other oppressed nations. In fact this is why lesbians and transwomen often refer to gay male yuppies as "uncle toms") This is a somewhat serious issue, unlike foot fetishism. Most people are not raped and murdered because of their foot fetishism. And there's no correlation between enthusiasm for water-sports and poverty, police profiling, or lack of access to healthcare. (Back in my anarchist days I used to jokingly argue that furries were more oppressed than BDSM enthusiasts)

    On a secondary, but related note, the abolition of the patriarchal social-system which favors heterosexual monogamy does not automatically mean free truckstop blowjobs for everyone. Plenty of various family structures have existed throughout history; Engels famously wrote about the group-marriages of the Polynesians in "Origins of the Family". What we're talking about is the end of territorial and proprietary romance and the birth of a new, genuine human community. How many straight women are trapped in heterosexual relationships where their male partner harasses them for hanging out with or flirting with other men, or whose male partner tries to divide them against their heterosexual female friends? I know heterosexual females who have been called "lesbians" by the jealous boyfriends of their platonic female friends. And this is honestly as much of a part of queer liberation as anything else, because a straight girl who is loyal to her female comrades is also a "lesbian" in the eyes of the patriarchy.

  • Guest - Ghan Buri Ghan

    Two other points, and sorry for spamming:

    -I think Gary's error is a common one. When queer folks talk about having to assimilate into hetero-normative society to gain civil rights, some of us straight folks can't quite jive on what they're talking about and assume they're making some sort of allusion to the need to fight for bathhouses, BDSM clubs, hook-up websites, and truckstop glory-holes. This just plays into the negative stereotype that we as straight people have about queer people, that they're naturally just a bunch of perverts and promiscuous deviants. What queer folks are actually talking about here is the gendered division of labor. Whenever the "left" wing of the bourgeoisie makes an argument in favor of civil rights for homosexuals, they always make a big deal about how much the "LGBT community" (ie: the gay assimilationist community) naturally compliments and reinforces the patriarchal social order. This is no different than any oppressed minority group needing to go above and beyond in showing their outward allegiance in order to assimilate and gain acceptance. (It's actually like Japanese-Americans choosing between military service and the internment camps) In order for gay people to be viewed as "real" couples, they have to mimic and ape the twisted and perverted model of what a "healthy " heterosexual relationship looks like, ie. one partner is the "wife" who cooks, cleans, does the shopping, and the other partner is the "husband" who is the "bread-winner". (Even when the "wife" also has the job) I think that's what's at the heart of the issue. Could you imagine Obama getting up on stage and saying "I know a young lesbian woman in [insert generic midwestern town]. She and her two female friends are in a lesbian menege e trois and they share an apartment together and decide household chores based on a chore-wheel. They also spend their time working night-shift jobs at the poultry plant to pay the bills, going to riot-punk concerts, and creating campaigns around wages for housework." That would be absurd.

    -Secondly, I think it's totally wrong to say we are on the verge of winning the gay liberation struggle in the US, congratulating ourselves because queer people can openly serve in the military, when around the world the status of queer people as an entire social group is actually deteriorating, when this is a direct consequence of the forces of imperialism, of which the US military is no small part. How many fascist religious organizations based in the US work to stir up anti-homosexual lynchmobs in other parts of the world? How many puppet regimes of the US are openly genocidal towards queer people? How many lesbians have been raped in territories occupied bv US forces? Do queer people in the military want to wash their hands and pretend they have no part in this?

  • Guest - Ian Anderson

    Ghan: "What you’re missing here is that this isn’t about people’s sex lives at all really, it’s about social categories, just as class is a social category... some of us straight folks can’t quite jive on what they’re talking about and assume they’re making some sort of allusion to the need to fight for bathhouses, BDSM clubs, hook-up websites, and truckstop glory-holes."

    Especially since a lot of those options for sex are borne of social isolation, closets, and the commercial opportunities for exploiting that situation. Hence the slogan "out of the bars and into the streets."

    I think it's legitimate for socialists to talk about sex itself (hell, we should talk about everything) but again it should be primarily about consent, coercion and power (by power I mean social structures, not people tying each-other up.) And yeah it is secondary to the discussion of gendered social roles, which covers people across the sexuality spectrum.

  • Guest - Gary

    In The Origin of the Family, Engels following Lewis Henry Morgan described the evolution of the family as the basic unit in human relations through specific stages, including the “pairing family” based on gender equality and the “monogamous family” based on patriarchy. He discussed how all kinds of events, such as the Protestant Reformation and European colonization, affected the family and marriage in modern times.

    As I see it, the basic Marxist insight into gender and sexuality is to posit these things as ever changing and contingent on relations of production and other material circumstances such as the progress of science. This contrasts with the religious viewpoint that marriage, established by God, has no history and the only “origin of the family” is the creation of Adam and Eve on the sixth day of creation---the view expressed often in opposition to gay marriage by those declaring “It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” or “I believe in marriage as it’s existed for 5000 years” etc.

    In other words, Marx and Engels rejected any “natural” (fixed) state of human relationships. They were influenced by the radical critiques of the contemporary family made by Fourier and Owen and indeed asserted (as early as the Theses on Feuerbach) that the “earthly family” as it existed in the early nineteenth century must “be theoretically and practically destroyed.”

    (On the other hand Engels was convinced homosexuality was “unnatural.” When sexual liberation pioneer Karl Heinz Ulrichs sent Marx and Engels his book on homosexuality in 1869 Engels opined that same-sex relations were “extremely against nature,” and repeated this view in Origin of the Family. This was a major error/blind spot in Marx &amp; Engels’ work.)

    Ish asks: " it possible to judge human relationships free of the power relationships in capitalism?"

    I'm not sure the problem is to "judge," but rather to understand. Certainly the (good academic) studies of the history of sexuality firmly ground it in analyses of class society and material conditions. Geopolitical circumstances (the integration of large numbers of “Rosie the riveters” into the labor force in the 1940s), advances in science (the pill), the women’s liberation and gay liberation movements of the 1960s, the advent of the internet etc. have helped shape the sexual (and other) relationships of men and women in this country today.

    How to understand “human relationships free of the power relationships in capitalism?" We can look at the socialisms which actually existed in the twentieth century, which of course were not at all “free of the power relationships in capitalism” (as Mao contra Stalin emphasized) but at least took steps towards sexual liberation (with landmarks like the New Marriage Law in China in 1950). My sense is that guaranteed education, housing, employment and medical care eroded the power of the father and husband and allowed people to more freely pursue all kinds of relationships. Women became formally, legally equal to men and much more independent. A general culture of egalitarianism emerged.

    On the other hand, relationships could be affected by fear of the powerful state apparatus; in the Soviet Union, certainly, one hesitated to express criticisms even to close friends and relatives for fear of punishment. Homosexuality was illegal in the Soviet Union from 1933. This was not liberation. (Strangely enough, East Germany decriminalized homosexuality in 1957 and by the 1980s there was at least one state-run gay bar. The DDR was simultaneously the most efficiently repressive Soviet-bloc state---I think the depiction in the film The Lives of Others (2006) is probably accurate---and maybe the most “liberal” in terms of terms of sexual expression. Famed for its nudist venues.)

    Imagine a society in which all the advantages of those (defeated or failed) socialisms are combined with legal and institutional frameworks allowing people to express their (innumerably varied) sexualities freely. One can’t predict specifically what it’d look like, but I think it’s an important goal.

    Ghan Buri Ghan: I think you misunderstand and caricature my point, which you refer to as a “common error.” I am NOT saying that “marriage equality, openly gay military service, and Ellen DeGeneres have freed us up to fight for the civil rights of foot fetishists and water-sports enthusiasts.” And I didn't say that "we are on the verge of winning the struggle for gay liberation." Quite the opposite!

    I’m saying that the mounting support for equal rights for gay men and lesbians is a good thing, but one should challenge the expectation that the legally equal queer emulate the straight married person, and that we should aspire towards a broad and tolerant vision of multiple sexualities.

  • Guest - Ghan Buri Ghan

    Gary, sorry if I caricatured your point. I mostly agree with your most recent point, especially the points about "Origin of the Family" and the New MarriageLaw. (Although of course it's worth mentioning that homosexual cohabitation, along with abortion and birth control, were legal in the USSR until '33, so the Chinese Revolutionaries actually lagged slightly behind in this respect)

    To give you an idea where I'm coming from, I was in a queer relationship when I was 18. (With an intersex/transwoman) My partner and I both worked minimum wage jobs and lived in a slum-apartment. We lived with another man, who was 100% straight, but who still got called a "faggot" at least once (by alcoholic neighbors) for living with us, and he was also very much a part of our "family". I worked at a state-run daycare, and was not "out" at work. There were a lot of older, more socially conservative women who worked at the daycare for decades who probably would have looked at me differently, and there would certainly be lots of conservative parents who wouldn't have wanted me watching their kids. My partner worked at a mom-and-pop convenience store, where the employees were allowed to surf the Internet on the store computer. My partner was almost fired once for allegedly looking at "pornography" at work; she was in fact looking at medical information about intersex conditions. There was literally nothing about our material conditions that would have been improved by me and my partner getting married, or by the two of us adopting an Asian baby, but this is the liberal establishment's notion of "gay rights". Gay rights don't mean shit if we don't have worker's rights, or tenant's rights...

  • Guest - Ghan Buri Ghan

    And the point about bars and bathhouses and such being, by your own admission, only around 2% of queer men go in for that sort of thing, and, as Ian points out, a lot of that has to do with the social alienation of the closet and social alienation. There's nothing "unnatural" about it of course, but there's no reason to assume the situation wouldn't be dramatically transformed by a cultural revolution.

  • Guest - Gary

    Thanks, Ghan Buri Ghan, for your response and especially for sharing your experience. I better understand your point that workers' and tenants' right may be larger factors in the oppression of many queers and transexuals and other sexual minorities. I also agree that current forms of discrimination won't necessarily be "dramatically transformed" through revolution. Your former roomate who was called a "faggot" could be addressed the same way by neighbors under socialism. This is why I'm treating the issue of tolerance for multiple sexualities as a sphere in itself.

    Just as women in the communist (and anarchist) movements have long insisted that we can't wait for the revolution to start transforming social/sexual relations, I don't think we should wait to address the questions I raise in my piece.

  • Guest - Matthijs Krul

    At the risk of causing a derail, Ghan, why do you constantly make such negative or dismissive references to BDSM and kink? It strikes me as annoying when people talk a good talk about sexual liberation but then give up on it as soon as it hits their icky zone.

  • Guest - mattcornell (@mattcornell)

    Great post and discussion here.

    I think it's also important to notice the way homophobic language is being used by liberals for partisan purposes. Witness Dan Savage's recent comment that "The GOP's house faggots grab their ankles" or the refrain that leftist critics of Obama are "butthurt." (Note how both comments denigrate bottoms, specifically.) Previously, the butch Savage referred to a group of Christian students as "pansy assed."

    Last week, I saw Sarah Silverman do a stand-up comedy performance in which she was wearing an Obama t-shirt and made a joke about Republicans being "faggots." It's important to note that just 2 days earlier Silverman was the Grand Marshall of SF Pride, where the Occupy faction drew a backlash, accused of being "crybabies," and whiners.

    This isn't reclaimed language, but rather a nasty use of words in their original pejorative sense, and it signals that Dan Savage and "allies" like Silverman, are less interested in liberation, than in simply expanding the circle of privilege for a narrow section of the queer community.

    Also, I think it's telling that Private Manning has been, more or less, ignored by the mainstream gay rights movement. I have seen small contingents of Manning supporters at Pride marches, but these people could also be accused of misgendering Manning, who we learn via the chatlogs introduced at trial, was in the process of transitioning to female identity, and preferred the name Breanna. There is debate within the trans community about whether we can truly know Manning's wishes, such that Manning's agency has been so totally stripped by the state. Manning's lawyers are, in fact, using gender identity disorder to argue that the analyst wasn't in "his" right mind when he leaked.

    This follows the establishment media narrative on Manning which all but implied that the only reason he leaked classified documents was because he felt alienated and unwelcome in a military that hadn't repealed DADT. I'll wager that if you ask many liberals what they think about Manning's case, they'll say that it's too bad DADT wasn't repealed sooner, because then Bradley would have felt welcome in the military and wouldn't have acted out by spilling all those dirty secrets.

    Notice here how the frame shifts. Under Obama, we can have gay men openly serve in the military (transgender and bi ones too if we're to believe that Pentagon Pride flyer), but we can never tolerate a whistleblower. A traitor. To serve is honorable and normal. To leak is deviant and queer.

    Those liberals and gays who fall in line with establishment dogma can now be counted in the circle of privilege. Republicans? They're faggots. Leftists? Butthurt. Whistleblowers? Vilified, tortured and prosecuted by the "first gay President."

    Finally, I'd like to add another layer to this discussion by directing your attention to this fine talk on race and queer politics.

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