Over here at “. . . or does it explode?”, we take much inspiration from the radical queer militants and organizations of the past and seek to begin to expand upon the discourse around what queer liberation means in the context of the larger class struggle. As movement against the ills and oppressive regimes of White supremacist patriarchal capitalism picks up it is important to look at the contributions to people’s liberation made by those whose voices are often rendered silent by history: the womyn and the homosexual. It is in the spirit of Audre Lorde, The Combahee River Collective, Gay Shame, and James Baldwin that we submit the following post.
In light of the disheartening amount of queer teen suicides, it has become very apparent that organization of queer youth, in particular womyn and those of color, must be re-conceptualized. The two groups previously mentioned were given special attention because they often find themselves directly under the heels of a society dominated by the many-headed beast known as capitalism. The gay rights movement has found itself completely out of touch and sync with the issues facing queers, especially queer youth. In fact, we would go so far as to say that due to the direction and composition of the leadership, the objectives of the gay rights movement are almost diametrically opposed to bringing about true liberation for queers under white supremacist, patriarchal capitalism. If it is true that the capitalist system is beyond reform then it must also follow that a movement that places the markers of its revolution, of its homecoming, at assimilation, cannot possibly succeed in the liberation of its people. It is thus the job of queer militants to bring into being a new proposition for queers and other oppressed people who are increasingly finding that rainbow flags and bumper stickers, made in third world sweat shops, proclaiming love and advocating for equal rights aren’t enough.
In the beginning stages of organizing amongst oppressed people it often becomes necessary to create safe spaces. These are areas that people can congregate away from the stress of daily harassment and degradation. Though they do not serve as a permanent solution they provide comfort and a temporary oasis. It is absolutely necessary that these safe spaces exist in order to create militants that are able to create revolutionary change. After all, if one doesn’t have some degree of self-confidence and support then it is near impossible for them to begin to take on the historic task assigned to us all: the revolutionary overthrow of the oppressive capitalist system. The Black Panther party often spoke of self-determination. It was a common theme in their rhetoric. This idea becomes increasingly important when we speak of those who under white supremacist patriarchal capitalism that face multiple forms of oppression, not only as the mules of the ruling class but also as the inhabitants of the lower stratus of the caste system: queers, womyn, & non whites. In these cases the oppression faced under capitalism is felt, often times, disproportionately harder and the level of struggle involves more than merely overthrowing wage slavery. For example: Black Liberation activist saw the need to battle not only capitalism but also devastating effects of white supremacy. This meant affirming the self and the race through pride and a re-establishment of the Black womyn and man as people with a history and legacy that went well beyond the Maafa. They saw the need to instill a sense of agency in the people who had known almost nothing but rape, murder and forced subservience (spiritual, physical, and mental) to whites. Their oppression was not just as workers, but also as “other’d” humans. In their affirmation statement The Combahee River Collective expressed the following:
The major source of difficulty in our political work is that we are not just trying to fight oppression on one front or even two, but instead to address a whole range of oppressions. We do not have racial, sexual, heterosexual, or class privilege to rely upon, nor do we have even the minimal access to resources and power that groups who possess anyone of these types of privilege have.
The psychological toll of being a Black woman and the difficulties this presents in reaching political consciousness and doing political work can never be underestimated. There is a very low value placed upon Black women’s psyches in this society, which is both racist and sexist.
The same can be said of queer folk, who are also oppressed not just as workers, but also as people perceived to be the lepers of the bourgeois family. Sexuality was something that was immediately policed in several societies by the European colonizer. One of the simplest explanations for this is because the act is not conducive to reproducing the workforce. In order for capitalism to develop it took not only a violent assault on the bodies and autonomy of womyn but also the rape of the African continent. Racism and patriarchy are at the very foundation of capitalism.
Queer safe spaces serve to create the community that queer folk (gay, Trans, etc. . .) are often violently forced out of. The binaries of gender expression and interpretation are laws written in blood. The society acts on these aberrations of the bourgeois nuclear family often with resounding violence and disdain. One has to look no further than the case of Duanna Johnson (the Black Trans womyn who became a national figure initially because she was viciously beat by police, with their hands wrapped with hand cuffs. After filing suit, she was found gunned down in the streets. Her murder is still unsolved.) to see a manifestation of the aforementioned point. Often times, people in more privileged positions in caste society, see these spaces as separatist and incongruous with creating change. While it is true that there is a huge potential for these spaces to devolve into reactionary separatism, which we will discuss a little later, it does not hold true that these spaces are in incongruous with the revolutionary project. They are in fact necessary parts of the blueprint.
Something that queer organizers, and others, should be conscious of, however, is the development of these spaces. For if they never progress beyond creating a space outside of the tyranny of white supremacist patriarchal capitalism, then they have in many, if not all, ways failed in their revolutionary task and have indeed become reactionary separatist spaces. If the coming revolution is truly about an organic coming together of those oppressed by the bourgeoisie then organizations whose end goal is separatist are indeed counter-revolutionary.
It must be made perfectly clear to queers and the larger class struggle is that they are in unity with one another. Does this mean that queers should fully immerse themselves into class struggle, giving up the politics of their radical queer roots? Hell No! These politics, which are in many instances grounded in feminist theory, are so desperately needed in the political Left at the current moment. It is, however an understandable fear by many that entering into the class struggle, as narrowly as it is currently defined, often means class reductionism. One of the reasons that the Left currently finds itself drowning in the muck is because the issues of race, sexuality and gender have not been fully dealt with in a way that is respectful of both and the self-determination needed by people in those particular caste. Until these things are addressed then the Left is certainly doomed. Let us return to another part of the River Collective’s Statement:
We realize that the liberation of all oppressed peoples necessitates the destruction of the political-economic systems of capitalism and imperialism as well as patriarchy. We are socialists because we believe that work must be organized for the collective benefit of those who do the work and create the products, and not for the profit of the bosses. Material resources must be equally distributed among those who create these resources. We are not convinced, however, that a socialist revolution that is not also a feminist and anti-racist revolution will guarantee our liberation. We have arrived at the necessity for developing an understanding of class relationships that takes into account the specific class position of Black women who are generally marginal in the labor force, while at this particular time some of us are temporarily viewed as doubly desirable tokens at white-collar and professional levels. We need to articulate the real class situation of persons who are not merely raceless, sexless workers, but for whom racial and sexual oppression are significant determinants in their working/economic lives. Although we are in essential agreement with Marx’s theory as it applied to the very specific economic relationships he analyzed, we know that his analysis must be extended further in order for us to understand our specific economic situation as Black women.
If this is agreed upon and true, then we cannot merely spend our time fighting a class war under the loose banner of “unite and fight” we need to be in constant struggle with one another against the vestiges of the poisonous system that exist within ourselves and manifest in our organizing. It is through the lens of these politics that we may accurately see the role of the queer militant not as one that advocates for the inclusion of queers into broader activist spaces to argue for the inclusion of “queer rights” but expanding upon what queer rights and liberation mean overall.
In the beginning of this piece I accused the mainstream gay rights movement of being assimilationist in character and I would like to bring the article to a close by elaborating on this point. Firstly I use the term “gay rights” instead of saying queer liberation because the current movement at best promotes an image of bourgeois gays as happy capitalists desperately begging for their seat in the imperialist coliseum. Secondly, I wish to re-label the mainstream movement as a bourgeois white supremacist patriarchal movement that prioritizes the politics of assimilation over true liberation. In the gay community pictured here we see no people of color, no Trans-folk, no poor people and scarcely lesbians (never mind lesbians with any of the other aforementioned categories attached). These people are only seen when the need arises to show false diversity, play on old stereotypes for scare tactics, make sexual objects of, or add more validity to the existing claim of oppression. What we see constantly is middle class white men proclaiming their love for one another and for a system that in reality would rather them choke to death while going down on one another than be present in society. The unity and inclusion featured and promoted through the false images of international love and otherwise are just that: false! Gay Shame poses the following question on their website:
Where are the gay marriage “activists” when the INS is actively raiding and deporting whole families ?(such as it is currently doing just blocks away from the Castro in San Francisco’s Mission District).
Other struggle against oppression is only used in the service of strengthening the reformist dogma of “EQUALITY NOW!” It is also in this erasure of all things not white, privileged and male that we find the rhetoric of assimilation. It is shouted from the mountain tops. “WE’RE HERE WE’RE QUEER! “ “LET US MARRY!” “LET US FIGHT” “LET US ADOPT!” The ability to adopt, join the military and marry is treated as the final indicators of the “Great Gay Arrival” into American society. The problem with this line of thought is that it treats queer struggle as a.) something outside of the problems of the rest of society and b.) Begs for inclusion into the destructive culture that, at this moment, moves to annihilate the Middle East in its quest for profit and control, actively places disproportionately large amounts of Black and Brown bodies into the prison industrial complex, and seeks to privatize higher education. And these are just a few things. Are issues such as housing, healthcare, education, war, and the prison industrial complex not queer issues? Are they regulated to other sections of the population? THEY ABSOLUTELY ARE but cannot be discussed under the context of this bourgeois gay rights hokum.
Over at the Gathering Forces blog there was a post entitled: “Beyond Gay Marriage and Queer Separatists–The Call for a Working-Class Queer Movement” that called for a third tendency in the struggle for queer liberation, one that went beyond separatism and reform. We second that motion. When we speak of queer liberation we are speaking of the liberation of the entire working class from the chains of capitalism because in order for queers to be liberated they must confront and overcome the contradictions of allies but also amongst themselves as people who occupy one of the lower caste in society. It is through this revolutionary confrontation and work that the community of which we also speak may begin being built. Imagine a queer group taking on the issue of child care funding and working with mothers to develop a culture of militant resistance, while at the same time making the space into a place where dogma and stereotype may be challenged and done away with. It’s fantastical but very possible. Queer safe spaces (which they almost always must start as) must also go beyond their comfort zones and begin to intervene and dialogue with the rest of the working class. It is only through this work and dialogue can the two sides be made whole. There must an alternative out there that rejects the push to pacify and young queers bourgeois by telling them to wait on a better life later on. A better life only comes through engaging in struggle that aims at breaking down the walls of this house. Only then will it get better. We have seen that the liberation of queers is dependent on the abolishing of capitalism and thus dependent on working class revolution. We have also seen that the working class cannot move towards liberation, and thus ending its status as a class of exploited laborers under the ruling class, unless it addresses the attitudes prevalent within itself that breed homophobia, racism, patriarchy, etc. This is the challenge that lays at the feet of the new Left in general and queer organizers in particular.