Obama endorses Stonewall? How an imperialist picks his battles

The following first appeared on the Counterpunch website.

Thus you can be the president of an imperialist country, carrying on as normal, killing from the Af-Pak borderlands to the Sahel, presiding over much evil, and still pose as a cutting-edge advocate of human rights, in this case declaring that “if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” Powerful words equalizing hetero- and homosexual loves...

Obama selects his causes carefully, politically. It’s good he has, in his own understated way, paid tribute to the Stonewall uprising. I’m sure many thousands are Google-searching that term since the speech, maybe some feeling inspired by what they learn. But as we revisit the Stonewall experience, should we not also recall how the Obama administration arms the police in countries like Saudi Arabia where gays are flogged, lashed or executed? And should we not note that the campaign for gay rights, however important, is no substitute for a campaign to topple U.S. imperialism, the endless source of war?

The Drones Continue to Kill

Obama Endorses Stonewall?

by Gary Leupp

At first I wasn’t sure I had heard right. “…Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.”

Does Obama, I wondered, mean that Stonewall? Or is there some battle by that name I’ve never learned about?

It soon became clear, that yes, he was referring to the Stonewall Riots of 1969. “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like everyone else under the law.”

This is significant, I thought. A Reuters report this morning notes that “Obama’s inclusion of gay rights—still opposed by many conservatives—among his list of priorities might have been unthinkably divisive as recently as his first inauguration in 2009.” It would at least have been unthinkably risky for a traditional, centrist politician with an instinctive inclination towards compromise.

But much has changed. Public opinion polls show rising support for gay rights including the right to marry; over the last few years those in support for the latter have become significantly more numerous than opponents. A USA TODAY poll shows 73% of 18 to 29 year olds supporting gay marriage.

Seven states legalized same-sex marriage during Obama’s first term. In July 2011 a federal appeals court effectively ended the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. (Now openly gay people can drop bombs on Waziristan.) The National Cathedral is now performing gay marriages. Nobody bats an eyelash when Anderson Cooper comes out as gay. School bullying of gays has declined. Gay-straight alliances have become mainstream, and the influence of religion-based homophobia is on the wane.

Internationally, six more countries have legalized same-sex marriage in the last several years. In June 2011 the UN Human Rights Council passed, 23 to 19, a resolution condemning violence and discrimination against persons based on their sexual preference. In Europe, social democrats who have sold their souls to austerity programs are trying to bolster their progressive credentials by embracing gay rights. It has become less risky politically; indeed, in some places, it’s become de rigueur.

Obama describes his views on gay marriage as “evolving” and points to the influence of his wife and daughters on his evolving thought. (Joe Biden’s announcement for his own support for gay marriage, which slightly preceded Obama’s statement in favor last June, may have influenced the timing of the latter.) They are evolving to mirror the attitude shift we see throughout society. He has more to gain than lose politically for taking his stand at this point.

Still, the specific reference to Stonewall—to several days of violent anti-police rioting in Greenwich Village—was risky. Wasn’t he endorsing rock-throwing? Hundreds fought back in the wee hours of the morning June 28, 1969, when cops busted into a Mafia-owned gay bar called the Stonewall Inn, announcing “Police! We’re taking the place!” They miscalculated as they tried to force patrons (divided into cross-dressers, whom the police wanted to search and, if found to be male, arrest, other gay men, and lesbians) into separate rooms where they were searched and asked for identification. Many refused to produce IDs or submit to searches; a large crowd amassed, police vehicles were attacked, cops were hit with coins and rocks, garbage cans set ablaze.

This was no Seneca Falls (a peaceful two-day women’s rights convention in New York in 1848) or Selma, Alabama (where non-violent actions in 1965 contributed to the passage of the Voting Rights Act). It was violent resistance. That Obama should feel a need to validate it in such a high profile forum is significant.

But meanwhile, in many respects, Obama remains a continuation of Bush. As he announced that “a decade of war is now ending,” his drone war killed three more “suspected militants” in Yemen—another statement that the U.S. has the right to target anyone, anywhere suspected of wanting to attack U.S. nationals or the forces of governments that work with the U.S. are fair targets for annihilation at the president’s discretion.

Obama withdrew from Iraq, but in accordance with the agreement signed by the U.S. and the Iraqi regime of al-Maliki at the end of Bush’s second term. He can take no credit for this, other than to note that he didn’t try to undo it very aggressively—although he did, in fact, try to persuade the Iraqis to accept the ongoing presence of thousands of U.S. troops. (They declined.)

Obama not only continued the unwinnable war in Afghanistan, but dramatically escalated it, making it his own. Over 70% of U.S. fatalities in that dozen year-old war have occurred under his administration, while the Taliban continues to resist, while “green-on-blue” attacks proliferate, while U.S. commanders conclude a military over the Taliban is impossible, while intelligence reports confirm that the entire operation is spreading anti-American feeling and hence further jeopardizing U.S. security rather than enhancing it.

In foreign policy Obama has differed from Dubya in several respects. Aside from ordering the “surge” in Afghanistan, he has made drones his weapon of choice, his signature contribution to the global war Bush called the “War on Terror.” His 298 drone strikes in Pakistan have killed between 500 and 800 civilians, infuriated the Pakistani people and destabilized that populous, nuclear-armed nation.

While distancing himself somewhat from the Israeli government, mildly criticizing its illegal settlements policy and declining (so far) to attack Iran on Israel’s behalf, Obama continues to threaten Iran. He continues to encourage the false perception encouraged by the media that Iran has a nuclear weapons program threatening Israel and the world. Following the joint U.S.-NATO operation to topple Qadafy in Libya (producing an even worse regime), he mulls over intervening in Syria, and already orders his air force to deliver French troops to the battlefields of yet another war-of-choice, this time in Mali.

Thus you can be the president of an imperialist country, carrying on as normal, killing from the Af-Pak borderlands to the Sahel, presiding over much evil, and still pose as a cutting-edge advocate of human rights, in this case declaring that “if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” Powerful words equalizing hetero- and homosexual loves.

But where are the soaring cadences affirming the equal right of the dispossessed Palestinians to the lands appropriated by Zionist settlers? Or the equal right of Iranians to develop nuclear energy under IAEA supervision with the right of the Israelis, who have never signed the NPT and refuse any supervision of their nuclear weapons program, to build power plants?

Where’s the ringing affirmation of the people of Bahrain to topple their oppressive regime (that sponsors the U.S. Fifth Fleet), as the Tunisians, Egyptians and Yemenis toppled theirs? And how is Obama standing up to the Iraqi regime’s assault on gay rights once grudgingly conceded by the secularist Baathist regime? Where the support for the right of marginalized, frightened, oppressed people thousands of miles from Greenwich Village to attack the police having been attacked by them?

Obama selects his causes carefully, politically. It’s good he has, in his own understated way, paid tribute to the Stonewall uprising. I’m sure many thousands are Google-searching that term since the speech, maybe some feeling inspired by what they learn. But as we revisit the Stonewall experience, should we not also recall how the Obama administration arms the police in countries like Saudi Arabia where gays are flogged, lashed or executed? And should we not note that the campaign for gay rights, however important, is no substitute for a campaign to topple U.S. imperialism, the endless source of war?

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu

  • I just feel the need to comment that the author places too much stock in the progress for Gay Rights in European and North American societies. While marriage equality is embraced by many and GSA are "commonplace" discrimination still remains high; still 1/5 of the US states have no marriage equality amendments (with others outright banning it), where institutionalized homophobia, and Queerphobia, still remains a staple of everyday life. GSA (Gay Straight Alliances) may be common but they are still resisted by many school and university's principals and heads. It does not take a lot to see the numerous legal battles students must wage simply to set-up such an organization. Forgetting this there are still a ungodly amount of Queer youth living on the streets because either their parents kicked them out or because they ran away from the horrible life they had as living as an out- Queer person. All of this is on top of the routine discrimination and hatred many queer people see on a regular routine. So I think Professor Gary should spend less time idealizing the positive aspects of progressivism and spend a little more understanding how it is for the working class Queer.

    Other than those thoughts he brings up a good point about the hollowness of Obama's speech: him endorsing a violent gay rebellion while supporting regimes which murder Queers en mass. Any so-called progressive must not forget that Obama is nothing more than a liberal imperialist, a representative of capital which seeks to enforce its rule by maintaining progressive capitalism. He intends to pacify the US Queer population into the mainstream, stigmatize the revolutionary current, and hold-back the tiny glimmers of re-surging radicalism.

  • Guest - Gary

    Curtis,

    You suggest that I place "too much stock" in gay rights progress and ought to spend more time "understanding" the realities of Queer working class oppression.

    I think that's unfair, and that you probably do not know what time I have devoted to understanding LGBT realities or how I have fought within the left for an understanding and analysis of those realities for many years now. (Or how my daughter, who as a GSA activist in high school, at age 16 organized an anti-hate crime rally near her high school after lesbians had been attacked.)

    The point of that Counterpunch column was a limited one: Obama's jumping on the bandwagon now that it's politically expedient to do so... still a little risky, but a good calculated risk politically.

    His (still vague) statements in favor of gay marriage diminish homophobia (and, say, the likelihood a gay kid in school will be bullied) about as much as his election as the first Black president diminishes racism in this society.

    The point is: he is fundamentally a champion of the system, of U.S. capitalist-imperialism, able to say "Let's be inclusive" so long as those included don't challenge his corporate bail-outs, dictatorial powers, drone strikes, Iran threats, etc. He's calculated that it's best to get gays on board the program, and little to lose.

  • Hello Gary, good to be speaking with you.

    Perhaps I was a little harsh in my condemnations but fundamentally my point still stands: while I certainly can admire and appreciate any crusader's efforts to make life better for Queer youth the primary I was stressing was your seeming over-reliance on capitalist progressivism. By this I mean the way in which you wrote the article. Overwhelmingly you focused on the progress which had been made. This is not bad by any means. However it is deceiving for it can trick the audience into believing that liberation for Queer people can be attained under capitalist heteronormative social-relations. It cannot. It would have been prudent, in my opinion, to mention how many Queer youth are homeless, the severe Transphobia even with the wider Queer community, the fierce discrimination, and even attacks, faced by many Queer people and many of the other dangers faced by the community on a daily basis. You neglected to mention any of these facts.

    While you did mention the brutality faced by Queer people in other countries when it came to the United States you were strangely silent. So this was my point: it appeared you were misleading, endorsing, the progressive bourgeoisie's "solution" and ignoring the working class perspective; namely, that members of the Queer working class have no faith in the establishment's solution, that they care more than simply about marriage equality and care deeply for true equality: the kind of equality where Transgender people can walk down the street without fear of attack and where no-one bats and eye at cross-dressers or gay men holding hands. The kind of equality, in other words, which can only come from dismantling heterosexist capitalist society.

    So this is the point I was grappling with: that for me there is a difference between helping Queer people within educational setting and helping bring about true equality. I thank you for your efforts at helping youth but simply believe we were coming from two different angles.

    In regards to the meaning of the article I understood it's point. This is something I expect of the liberal progressives as they are like their conservative counterparts: opportunist and cheats. Them jumping on the gay rights bandwagon for political points is not something new to me. So, building on what I talked about earlier-with true Queer equality coming upon the establishment of socialist society-it would, indeed, be best for him to attract the Queer crowd so that they may be lead to false conclusions and fake ends. Better for them to have more liberals than revolutionaries, after all. It has been the purpose of liberal progressivism since its inception (I think we agree on this point).

  • Thanks Curtis.

    "It would have been prudent, in my opinion, to mention how many Queer youth are homeless, the severe Transphobia even with the wider Queer community, the fierce discrimination, and even attacks, faced by many Queer people and many of the other dangers faced by the community on a daily basis. You neglected to mention any of these facts."

    But I was not writing a comprehensive piece on the specificities of LGBT oppression. I was saying that a certain conception of "gay equality" has become politically mainstream (in what strikes many people my age---who grew up in an atmosphere of homophobia that I'd argue was more pronounced and toxic than exists in this country most places today--as an unexpectedly rapid, and very welcome, succession of events). That allows Obama, as (in your words) a liberal opportunist and cheat, to embrace gay equality (rather like Lyndon Johnson embraced racial equality) for immediate political ends while his character as a drone-wielding, torture-friendly warmonger continues to shine through.

    I don't see how I may have "tricked the audience" into believing that "capitalist heteronormative social relations" can provide the context from Queer liberation. (Would that I had the eloquence to "trick" my audiences into anything at all!) I have in fact argues on this site, at length, and probably to the discomfort of some, that the narrow championing of heteronormative-mimicing monogamous gay marriage is not the goal so much as the recognition/validation of multiple sexualities including all kinds of fetishes, role-play, "promiscuity" etc. free of religious and (historic, perhaps subconscious) religious-based puritanisms still widespread on the left.

  • It is true, it was not your purpose in this article to write such a critique. Yet, for personal reasons, I felt the need to mention the numerous ways in which Queerphobia is still widespread; I believe that many people, usually heterosexual (though not always), believe in this linear sense of growth where things get better (and indeed compared to decades ago they have) and that soon there will be nothing but this utopia like world in but a little while. Supplementing this naive belief are uncountable comments and stories originating from the liberal media mentioning something positive about a queer person. I think we both know that this isn't actually the case and that oppression is still high. So for this reason I felt the need to add in my thoughts that things still are not all "hunky dory". I find this to be especially important on a site like Kasama where people intrigued by revolutionary politics find themselves reading claims ("things are fundamentally getting better for queer people and will soon be all right") that mimic those of the liberal progressives. This is also what I mean by tricked that you appeared to add in your voice to this choir of bourgeois apologists (fueling the false trend that states true equality can be attained in capitalist society).

    Convoluted, yes. Not the most clear or concise but still relevant towards mentioning I believe. I think we are on the same page now.

    I agree with your later statement that there are still many on the left who harbor conservative opinions on Queer culture while negating that the goal of many Queer people isn't, in fact, marriage, but true equality (something which cannot be attained through democratic reform, as I think you know). Certainly a problem.

  • Reading the exchange here between Gary and Curtis, I was reminded how much difficulty we communists have had discussing claims of "progress under capitalism" -- evaluating it, contextualizing it, contrasting it with our larger goals and communist project.

    For a long time, I have seen communists mumble over the question of "have African American people made progress?" Sometimes my comrades seemed like they wanted to say "No" but (in good conscience) couldn't bring themselves to depart that far from reality....

    Here is where I have come to on this:

    First, the world has been changing rapidly over the last century and the recent decades -- including social relations, ideas of people, globalization and more. some of these changes have been horrific, some have been positive (for the people and our hopes), some have emerged from the system and continued old oppressions in new ways. But there has been massive change...

    Second, communists have historically given rise to views (occasionally) that insisted "capitalism can't allow change" -- as if it was in the interest of capitalism to freeze everything reactionary in place, and even pull society backwards "toward barbarism." This has (over and over) been embarassingly wrong -- as (for example) capitalism has continued to eat up feudalism all over the world, as women have been drawn into the wage labor force (with many related social changes this brings with it), and so on.

    Sometimes we have said (in a more nuanced way) "Capitalism is incapable of producing fundamental changes." But looking back on that, it seems like a word game to me: is the transformation of small farmers into workers not a kind of "fundamental change" (historically speaking)? Is the incredibly integration of the world economy not creating changes that are pretty "fundamental" in some ways?

    I would like to pose that question sharply (picking up on Curtis' points):

    Is there something fundamentally changed if gay people can live openly, out of the closet, at work and in their families? Or not?

    Has something big changed if gay sex has become legal (after years of criminalization and police persecution) and if (in beginning ways) people can get married legally -- and potentially get the acceptance and social benefits that such legal recognision bring (right to share pensions, inheritance, child adoption, medical coverage, hospital visitation).

    I don't feel a need to have a semantical debate (over what is "fundamental" and what is not) -- but aren't these big changes in people's lives and in society's official norms?

    (Even when such new conditions obviously co-exist with fierce opposition, or lipservice, or cloaked bigotry, gay bashing and more.)

    I agree with Ish: That it is infuriating to watch Obama (whose government helped orchestrate a national assault on Occupy) claim to sympathize with the violent outlaws of Stonewall. Really? More of the morphing and appropriation of Stonewall militancy into liberal pablum, right?

    Third, I have come to this: I think we should say the complex truths about change and capitalism -- using a dialectical (many-sided and contradictory) method. Not deal in cardboard simplifications.

    Capitalism has been a highly dynamic and adaptive global system of vicious oppression -- generating changes of many kinds throughout its existence and continuing today.

    But it is not capablle producing those specific changes that (at the root) people urgently need for liberation and for the next stage of human history -- especially those at the bottom (for whom "legal equality" becomes a bitter joke when confronted with the real chasms of obvious in-equality!) People need socialism.

    Capitalism is (as far as we can see) incapable of holding back from massive destruction of the environment -- even while scientists and others operating within the system may be uncovering ways that a socialist system might tackle these problems.

    It is incapable of functioning without pressing hundreds of millions of people into horrific poverty and wage slavery.

    It is incapable of avoiding human-eating wars -- that aim to enforce tighter oppressive dominations. And (of course) capitalism by its nature socializes production, but is incapable of transcending the private nature of its appropriation -- i.e. the most important and most fundamental change we need (the end to exploitation, and the end to classes) is impossible in capitalist framework.

    Fourth: Part of what comes (simply with age perhaps or the study of history) is a sense of what has changed and what has not.

    Is it wrong to acknowledge (and even celebrate) that there is a huge change happening (here and worldwide) in the popular sensibility toward same-sex relations?

    Or that something historic is happening in the role of women in our epoch that marks a big change from the status of women for thousands of years?

    Or that changes in popular consciousness toward gay and lesbian people runs parallel to some sputtering slo-moving changes in how American law now treats gay and lesbian people? (I remember the court decisions legalizing sodomy -- and how some dissenting judges documented how universal and basic anti-homosexuality has been within "Anglo Saxon" legal tradition. Is such a big change in the legal structure of an oppressive society a big deal or not? Is the legalizing of "sodomy" -- of gay sex acts themselves -- a big deal or not?) What does it mean for people (and for the ongoing struggle for more radical changes) if the norms of mainstream society (and its institutions) shift?

    Seeing these things doesn't mean we need to abandon impatience, or contrast the often symbolic and glacial micro-changes with people's urgent macro-needs.

    So can't we evaluate those changes while also, soberly and militantly, understanding how deep and intolerable the untouched oppression is? Is it either or?

    When I watched more-dogmatic communists try to deny that deep changes had happened in the conditions of Black people, wasn't it inevitable that among Black people themselves (with any sense of that history) this seems far from reality.

    Yes there has been a limited legal equality (emerging in the place of previous, gruesome and overt legal IN-equality). That has not meant real social equality in the U.S. It has not ended segregation in housing or schools. It has not ended deep differences of a tiered society.

    But anyone who saw Jim Crow conditions (i.e. in the 1950s and before) knows that there is a major difference between legal in-equality and legal equality (in public accomodations, in access to institutions, in the right to vote). The difference is not just a matter of cosmetics, or illusion, etc.

    And the changes that have happened are not (as claimed by the mouthpieces of this system) proof of its progressive nature, and its responsiveness to popular interests, and its build-in journey toward "a more perfect union" (and all that other bullshit). It is a testimony to the struggle of people, and also to the ways capitalism itself finds some older forms of oppression outdated, and invents new ones to serve itself.

    I understand there is a sharp debate (among partisan supporters of Queer liberation) about whether some big victory is right over the horizon, and whether it is already inevitable -- and I'm eager to learn more about how that debate is unfolding.

    Comment last edited on about 1 year ago by Mike Ely
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  • I got in big trouble with my liberal gay friends for being outraged that Obama would invoke Stonewall. Is there any doubt, I asked, that the man who called the cops on Occupy would have done the same on Stonewall? This is an oversimplification of course of job responsibilities and history, but I think the point is valid. And the next day, my liberal friends were all atwitter at the presence of uniformed lesbian and gay couples at the inaugural balls. I feel like the remnants of a civil rights movement have just been purchased cheap by Obama: people I knew with a healthy suspicion of government attitudes toward gay people now feel like Obama's chosen people, with glassy-eyed reverence for him that wouldn't dare confront the drones or the dishonesty and hypocrisy behind the golden words.

    I guess I really do have to ask, now what. For some people, all those "It Gets Better" videos are now really true: lesbian and gay people of a certain class can "make it." But this is generating a lot of anger from queer kids and transgendered folks at the gay people who are accepting the privileges being offered. What do revolutionaries have to say to them? What do revolutionaries have to say to gay people who are saying, "hey I got mine!"?

  • In reply to: ISH

    When open admissions was won for Black people in some colleges, I remember well that some political trends (Progressive Labor Party in particular) announced that it was wrong for Black kids to go to college and allow themselves to be bourgeoisified. That the opening of college was not a victory but a trick -- and that going there was betrayal of the working class.

    At the time, I believe it was correct for revolutionaries to condemn such an approach (as thickheaded and undialectical). We support the breaking of segregation and glass ceilings -- even though we understand that (yes) this means there will be some "integration" of the structures of oppression (so there will be African American war-makers like Colin Powel, or Black administrators of prisons or whatever).

    But can we really claim that the fight against discrimination (and for social mobility) is somehow simply "accepting the privileges being offered"? Are we really hostile to people who cross old barriers, and are the "first" to enter a previously denied position?

    And sure, there is always a current of "I want mine, fuck you" and "I want to be an oppressor not a drone" -- this is america, and that is a powerful, powerful current in popular thinking.

    I think we should (as part of our daily work) deeply and bitingly attack that "I want to make it" mentality that ends up as "dog eat dog." But i don't think we need to take it to the point of denouncing people who cross over previous barriers and break through previous discrimination.

    The maddening point is when people actually join in becoming real oppressors (cops, prison guards, FBI agents, military officers, women becoming commandos and more). Obviously we need to expose the oppressive social role of some institutions and social positions. But we do oppose continuing legalize or defacto discrimination by the society anywhere (even in those social positions).

    Comment last edited on about 1 year ago by Mike Ely
  • I think Mike raises a good point on the subject of fundamental change within the capitalist system. Progress can be made but is is a sort of false, or misleading progress. To me capitalism is rooted in heterosexism (along with a myriad of other reactionary cornerstones). By placing reproduction and nuclearism at the center of the production process, because of the need to have both wage labor an a reserve labor army, capitalism is at its roots, fundamentally, as I say, a heteronormative part of bourgeois society.

    This does not mean progress can be made for Queer people. On the contrary like for national minorities and woman progress can certainly be made. Yet like these oppressed groups Queers cannot truly be given equality as it goes against capitalism's own internal contradictions too much. So failing this the ruling class can only grudgingly give support to progressive liberalism (which is what I see as the primary road-block in forming revolutionary class consciousness).

    With progressive liberalism the bourgeoisie can make it seem like someday all Queer people will be equal. To be sure it is a convincing lie. After all, actual progress *is* being seen; marriage equality is becoming a reality, anti-discrimination ordinances and laws are becoming more routine, GSA are no longer a phenomenon within schools and universities, there is, unlike in some other modern nations, no death sentence for being Queer and so on.

    Yet what does this all mean? That someday, if this trend continues and the left wing of capital (progressive liberalism) has its way, that true equality will reign? No, I do not think so. To me it means that someday the liberation movement, sidetracked as it was by bourgeois ideals, will end in this metaphorical back-alley where things are "good" but not "great"; where Queer people are accepted but still not seen as normal, like everyone else.

    This is in comparison to socialist society where such contradictions can begun to be worked out, where upon communism there is the kind of "true equality" that I speak of where Queer people are merely people, where no one thinks any differently of them, thinks they are strange or weird, or unusual, odd, out of the ordinary, not right, sick, perverted, threats to youth, etc. A equality, in other words, that is unattainable under capitalism. A subtle kind of treatment made unreachable due to capitalism's internal contradictions and that is only reachable under socialism.

  • Curtis,

    You say that "capitalism is rooted in heterosexism." What does that mean, concretely? That the emergence of capitalist class relations in late medieval and early modern Europe (wage-labor and the wage-laborer/capitalist employer relationship such as Marx classically examines in Part VIII of the first volume of Capital, emphasizing Tudor England) were rooted in heterosexism? And that this is necessarily part and parcel of the system?

    It seems to me that heterosexism was equally present in European feudal societies, and many slave-based societies. There were pre-capitalist class societies that were ferociously opposed to same-sex sexual relations, and others that tolerated or even celebrated them.

    Capitalist class relations existed in seventeenth century Japan. I see no correlation between the evolution of such class relations and the evolution of heterosexism in that country. What happened is that pre-existing cultures of male-male relations centering upon Buddhist monasteries (and deriving their conventions, language, poetics, ideological justification etc. from that environment) or centering on samurai life (in which role-structured forms of male-male relations were virtually institutionalized) became joined by a bourgeoisified tradition of male homosexuality centering around the kabuki theater and male prostitution. Capitalism, which as Ferdinand Braudel noted, began in Europe, made a start in Japan, and failed everywhere else (before the era of imperialism established versions of it globally), was not in Japan "rooted in heterosexism" and I don't think ever has been.

    It is fair to say that patriarchy is rooted in the emergence of class society in general, as Engels points out effectively in his The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, and Lenin in The State and Revolution. The very "invention" of agriculture produces the first class divisions, and the subordination of women (most places---it's always unwise to overgeneralize). Patriarchy is certainly connected to the historical imposition of heteronormativity, but there have been very patriarchal societies that tolerated/valued/institutionalized forms of same-sex attraction.

    The prime minister of Iceland (a capitalist country) is lesbian, in a society with some of the most progressive laws related to sexuality in the world. That doesn't make Iceland less crisis-prone, less at the mercy of the global capitalist system.

    And it seems to me that in the most developed examples of socialist society in the 20th century, there was a more thorough imposition of heteronormativity than there is in many capitalist countries today. What I'm trying to say is that, while yes the class structure of a society impacts everything about it, there's no reason to associate socialism (automatically) with the overcoming of heteronormativity, or to underestimate the ability of a private profit-based system to continue to go about its nasty business while openly recognizing to right of people to do what they want in bed and get registered for legal, tax and other purposes as married. This might infuriate religious and other communities for whom homophobia is a general premise, and they might control lots of capital and be able to use it to affect politics, but if they're frustrated in their aims, it doesn't amount to a big setback to the system. It might in fact even strengthen it temporarily, don't you think?

    The system can't give people jobs, or pay off student loans, or fix the mortgage crisis, or deal with the national debt, or continue without constantly attacking workers' rights and challenging New Deal "entitlements." But it can at some point proclaim gay-straight equality (as Obama does) without much damage to itself.

    Sexual liberation and progress towards classless society are surely related, but the relationship seems to me very complicated and the periodization of the two isn't necessarily simple and close.

  • It is certainly true that heterosexism is not an exclusive trait of capitalism and has had its roots in other forms of society throughout the world in one form or another (I think I will have to dwell on this more and write, for the future, a much more extensive essay).

    When I refer to socialism I mean the modern tract that will be built from the American conditions. Previous attempts to establish socialism certainly were not met with much progressive enthusiasm outside of Lenin's time. To how Queer people suffered under what Trotskyist might call "Stalinist" countries this is because such revolutions were still rooted within the socially backward concepts of heterosexism; Queer revolutionaries were silenced, the revolutionary leaders still mired in antiquated thinking (certainly this holds true for Stalin, Mao, Hoxha, etc).

    This is part of the reason why the coming American revolution (coming as in "someday") is important: because it will enable a truly Queer friendly effort of socialism to be built; within a society accustomed to Queer people, queer revolutionaries will be able to take center stage in asserting their demands.

  • Curtis writes: "Previous attempts to establish socialism certainly were not met with much progressive enthusiasm outside of Lenin's time. "

    Thanks for taking the time to dig on this thread, Curtis. Can you help me understand what you mean by this remark?

    Also, isn't the existence of heteronormative culture rooted in the fact that most people are heterosexual (i.e. that man-woman relations predominate among human beings everywhere in their history)?

    I assume we agree that the persecution and marginalization of Queer relationships must be stopped. And i assume we agree that the progressive socialization of society (public education, socialization of household tasks, day care, socialist community life etc.) will continue to break down the isolation of human life into very small nuclear families (which is a relatively recent and unstable development of capitalism).

    But are you arguing that this requires the destruction of man-woman heterosexual relationships as such -- or that man-woman sexual relations would necessarily be replaced (in future socialism) by some other dominant core form of family and intimate relations?

    I.e. are you arguing that for the equality and liberation of gay people that society would somehow no longer be marked by a predominance of man-woman relationships at the core of family and sexual intimacy?

    Forgive me is I am misunderstand your argument, but I'm curious what that would look like.

    Comment last edited on about 1 year ago by Mike Ely
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  • Ah, I made a mistake in that I, in the first part in which you quote, meant to include that outside of Lenin's time there wasn't much enthusiasm for sexual diversity. I remember reading quite a bit how Lenin made efforts to promote aspects of social-equality for Queer people and supported German equality efforts as well. This enthusiasm than went away upon the death of Lenin and the rise of Stalin's supporters. Sad that it was never cultivated.

    I guess we are getting somewhat into semantics in that heteosexism was *created* due to the fact that most people are heterosexual but can become rooted in a class society and capitalist mode of production. I am not arguing, per se, that true equality requires the breakdown of Man/woman nuclearism, as I really haven't had much in depth thought on the matter, but it would certainly be easier if such no longer existed in its institutionalized form (IE promoted and encouraged by the ruling class). So in a sense I suppose you could say I am arguing for its institutionalized form to be broken down, while relations among those which individuals consent to will remain alive as long as people practice such (though this is also broaching monogamy and as such involves Queer people to an extent as well since such would require a complete break with all such nuclearism).

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  • Thanks for an interesting discussion, Curtis, Gary & Mike. (I'm finding Kasama a little buggy the last day or two...hard to maneuver!).

    Curtis, I like the way you put this: "This is part of the reason why the coming American revolution (coming as in "someday") is important: because it will enable a truly Queer friendly effort of socialism to be built; within a society accustomed to Queer people, queer revolutionaries will be able to take center stage in asserting their demands." I think it's very important for openly queer people to be an integral and open part of the revolutionary movement. I think that there are subtle perceptions of sexuality and gender relations that are easier for people to understand who have traveled on the painful edges of society's acceptance: people who are forced to forge an identity for themselves have to play around with concepts that other people might not question.

    I think the 1960s and the 1970s show us that heterosexuality will not be left unchanged in the revolutionary process. Just as all that societal ferment manifested in people opening their eyes to different personal possibilities, I think even with today's seen-it-all mindset, future revolutionary struggle will change everyone's attitudes about sexuality and gender and gender relationships: I wonder if we can anticipate how these things might change given a revolutionary movement that is not afraid to embrace liberatory ideas. But at the same time I guess I have to agree with Mike that I don't see heterosexuality, or even more narrowly, heterosexual couples bearing and raising their own children, fading away in any kind of short term after a successful revolutionary struggle.

    I wish she had written a lot more, but it's interesting to read the works of the Russian revolutionary Alexandra Kollontai after the revolution in Russia. I approach this not in the spirit of using her (in my opinion very incomplete) ideas as some kind of guidebook, but as an example of how, at least for a while, matters of sexuality and family structures were directly addressed in a period of creative ferment after the success of a revolution. You can pick around here: http://www.marxists.org/archive/kollonta/index.htm

    She had an optimism that something different would happen in the sphere of social relations, and that optimism is good! That said, straight people want to feel like the revolution is in their own interests, so suggesting to our straight comrades that their own identity is somehow flawed or due for ideological revision seems as problematic to me as suggesting homosexuality is. We know there are complex links between culture and capitalism and sexuality and I think we do well to arm ourselves with ideas of how oppressive relationships might change and evolve, but I think it's soon to be advocating raising children in people's dormitories so that adults can live in mandatory polyamorous communes, if you know what I mean.

    We've talked a little bit before about the contradictions in marriage equality, and I have trouble resolving these issues in my own head: balancing the political victory of marriage equality, understanding how exciting this is for so many lesbian and gay people, and yet, not dismissing the notion that the institution of marriage is borne out of a property relationship and aspects of the marriage equality struggle represent a more conservative direction for the gay movement. I think how a socialist revolution continues an exploration of what marriage and marriage equality means is more complex than simply saying, "communists will ban marriage after the revolution because that's the only way to prevent the enslavement of women in unequal power relationships." Does that make sense?

    I am woefully inadequately exposed to queer theory and queer studies, since it's a field that developed after and outside my own formative period. I'm curious to the extent your thinking about this stuff is informed by those theories. I get that a lot of queer and especially transgendered people find a lot there that resonates with their own experience outside what many people are able to see: but aside from diagnosing and revealing oppression in many forms, how does queer theory fit into the strategy of making revolution? Is there anything you've read from the queer theory world that addresses not only the relationship of queer identity to capitalism but points to how to directly change society? I know queer theorists like Judith Butler have embraced the Occupy movement. ANy take on all that?

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  • In response to Ish:

    I do not mean to imply that heterosexual individuals identities to be devalued. Whenever I talk of erasing heterosexism, gender, or heteronormative identities I mean the institutionalized kind created by capitalism. Taking this further I also mean the indirect identites which Queer people have taken on; so for e it isn't so much as abolishment as it is a melding.

    To achieve this I do not I advocate force, as I believe, like religion, one cannot simply enact some law and banish something, but over the course of socialist construction. Indeed on the onset of any revolution it would bee far too soon to go headlong into communal settings for the greater population (I believe the options should be there for the few who do want to take up such a lifestyle but for the majority of people it would be too soon). So I advocate, instead, a gradual approach which introduces communal facilities, on a widespread scale, once socialist construction (which for me might mean something different than you are accustomed to hearing) has reached a point where society can accept and build on the foundation of this start.

    I reject leaps and bounds by all means. For instance, I remember reading an old piece by the Young Socialist Alliance in which they described their vision for a American socialist society. It was a well written piece and something I admire yet on their nucelarism subject they were vague and unclear. Instead of adopting a gradualist approach they instead adopted this line of "adults will see all children as children and be raised collectively by the community." Certainly a viable vision for communism, but socialism? I highly doubt so (due to many, many reasons).

    So for me it is a slow and steady journey.

    This has its flip side in Queer theory as well where I advocated much of the same for marriage equality initiatives. There I promote a line where the revolutionaries interact with the working class struggling to achieve marriage, reject ultra-left demands (abolish marriage as a whole), and take to educate the members of the working class they interact with hopefully leading them to a revolutionary understanding of how property relations figure into the eventual decay and collapse of marriage as an institution; in this manner communists prepare the minds of the uninformed and make it so that when marriage's ultimate collapse comes, the two strata of society-homosexual and heterosexual-are united in their desire to abolish such an institution of their own free will.

    Promoting such a theory takes practice and has the usual ups and downs of any strategy. It has pitfalls, most importantly its reliance on struggle (which the supreme court will likely remove come spring). Yet it is an ideal which seems to me most appropriate given our political climate.

    In regards to how Queer theory interrelates with the revolution I am afraid I cannot say much. I know that it is vital in the sense of building a queer friendly socialism, since I have no illusions that if we do not take up this task a queerphobic communism is possible, and leading the Queer community into the revolutionary movement, but beyond this, such as the action or organizing the working class beyond the Queer segments, I have precious little thoughts on aside from educating ignorant heterosexual workers. So as one can see it is still something I have been grappling with for some time and likely will continue to grapple with for some time more.

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