Queers and Capitalism Part One: The Dialectics of Moving Towards A Larger Social Acceptance

“. . . the waters around you have grown “

I remember the first time I saw a B.Scott video. I sat in my freshman dorm and listened to this very flamboyant, very androgynous, bi-racial man rant and rave about Shemar Moore’s penis being exposed online. A moment like this sounds very mundane and trivial, but has profound meaning when placed into context. As a queer person it is very rare that I see myself reflected, even if it is slight, in media and this doubles when we’re talking about queer people of color, who are all but invisible in the culture. So when we see representations of ourselves it becomes something spiritual, something affirming, something that touches us and says: “you are worth attention and love.” The 7-minute rant did that for me. Move ahead 5 years and we get this . . .

The same B.Scott I knew and loved is now a bonified star complete with music videos, red carpet appearances and celebrity interviews. Looking at this very feminine, queer, man of color on the screen brings all kinds of questions to the surface for me:

“Has society come to a place where we can accept queers as people?”

“Does capitalism need homophobia (patriarchy) to exist?”

and “What does this mean for queer struggle and activism?”

I want to think out loud a bit about these things . . .

“Has society come to a place where we can accept queers as people?”

For someone like this and many other gay figures to come to such prominence in our time means that there is a large shift in society. Homo-life is a commodity now, something being placed onto the pedestal of consumer culture and devoured: your favorite pop singer has probably stolen swag from the ballroom, and there is a gay plotline on just about every show. In addition to that, more and more states are sanctioning some degree of union between gay couples and DADT is becoming smaller and smaller in the rear view. The state and big business are slowly adapting to a shift in public opinion. I believe that much of the work of 60’s queer activists to prove that gay culture was just as legitimate as others paved the way for certain aspects of the culture to take center stage in the way that they have thus influencing public consciousness. I also believe that the majority of this “gay is okay” push comes from capitalism’s understanding that it cannot afford for the queer population to be isolated in total from the whole of society.

I’ve always said that queer people represented a very particular threat to capitalism, especially in the United States, because of their positioning in the society. Queer folk prior to many of the movements of the 60’s and 70’s had little to no material connection to the American melting pot. And it can be argued that in certain communities of color the nature of queer oppression had a different character because of the fact that people found themselves already segregated and marginalized. Thus, many queers of color a.) Identified more with their racial caste and were kept in the embrace of their families because of their shared oppression and/or b.) weren’t given access into larger queer spaces because of the segregation.

However, I believe that the generalization can be made that queer folks challenged the stability of capitalism because of their status as people pushed outside of the nuclear family, which is one of the most basic oppressive structures of society and patriarchy. It becomes too dangerous to have pockets of the society that have no material attachment to it. It is also dangerous for capitalism to have spaces in which the development of such a critique can be developed and shared.

In addition, radical queer politics, much like feminism challenged many of the assumptions of the culture and capitalism. What does it mean for white supremacist hetero capitalism when the nuclear family, male/ female socialization and personal identity are challenged? Many older, less fabulous, leftists would say that it means nothing or very little because the means of production, the material ways in which capitalism operates, are not immediately being challenged. But they would be wrong on multiple fronts.  The challenging of patriarchal social relations not only means liberating womyn from unwaged labor but also brings the political and the personal together. Something desperately missing from a lot of movements of the past has been the revolutionary observation and transformation of gender identities. By this I mean, that feminism and anti-patriarchal ideology have never really been taken seriously by groups involving a straight male majority and that’s because it strikes at the most guarded and unchallenged of our identities; our gender. Feminist and queer movements of the past have sought to turn this on its head by placing an emphasis on personal development along these lines along with organizing in the workplace.

Slowly and subtly, queers have been brought into the fold. One interesting moment in this history was in the wake of the 60’s and 70’s, in the middle of the AIDS crisis-we saw thousands of gays –revolutionary or otherwise- pass away at epidemic levels. This crisis had varying effects on gay communities, some of which are relevant to this post and some aren’t. Something that is important to recognize is that the effect of the AIDS epidemic and the response to it not only left a vacuum of leadership in queer spaces but it also paved the way, in part, for queer struggle to be co-opted through the nonprofit industrial complex. This is important because we see a very distinct change in the character of queer activism around this time.  Friendlier, more passive things like quilt making and appealing to the state for sympathy became more prominent. A little later on, queers became more attached to the causes of DADT repeal and marriage rights, the latter can be understood partially in the context of having to watch loved ones die without any recourse or protection from their biological families. I would argue that this more identity based activism, and less aggressive stance in the mainstream, had a less alienating and more tolerance inducing effect on the some of the population.

So I think the boost in queer visibility can be attributed to a push and pull between forces. I think that movements against patriarchy and capitalism paved the way for aspects of oppressed peoples humanity (specifically queers here) to be accepted in the mainstream and capitalism, by it’s very nature and need to survive, adapted to this shift by exploiting and incorporating what it could.

“Does capitalism need homophobia (patriarchy) to exist?”

For me, a struggle against homophobia must mean one that addresses capitalism. I see my oppression as a Black, gay male as one whose roots are intrinsically linked with the beast of capitalism. In order for the power structure to maintain itself it needs to suppress certain parts of the population. Does this mean that we will never see wealthy gays? No, San Francisco is proof of that. However, it does mean that the majority of queer and trans folk, especially those of color, can bet that they will never be apart of the ruling class. The very nature of the society cannot allow for that. Queer folk, being a one of the more vulnerable parts of the population, find themselves subordinated into lower levels of the working class through homophobia or excluded entirely as seen in the case of trans folk. This strengthens the elite and their machinery because the horizontal violence (homophobia) maintains a division of labor and permanent caste position. We also see the building of a surplus army of labor (the unemployed) to be used against working people who may feel the need to challenge their abuse at the hands of the elite. Workers who seek to withhold their labor (strikes) until better conditions arise are quickly met with the leagues of unemployed folk who will scab (break the picket and replace the strikers) and that makes sense in a society where there is no space for the entirety of the population to work for a decent wage.

Also, just as in the case of race, socialized gender is a one of the pillars of capitalism. In using patriarchy as one of it’s stepping stones, capitalism has created the conditions under which it’s demise cannot come without attacking the gendered division of labor, homophobia, etc . . . This means that our ascension into the utter fabulousness of liberation means that gender, and capitalism must be destroyed because the destruction of such a poisonous ideology (patriarchy) would mean the crumbling of walls built between working people. The system needs us isolated into paranoid fractions.

“What does this mean for queer struggle and activism?”

It is in the best interest of capitalism to bring queers into the fold (through a very narrow, white supremacist, patriarchal view of course) the potential to expand capital through an exploitation of queer images and culture is vast. At the same time this gay assimilation dulls the blade of radical queer politics. Because capitalism’s veil of justice and equality is kept in place through the façade of acceptance and limitless upward mobility, embodied in the emerging queer ruling class, it becomes harder for queer militants to argue for the necessity of a revolution against capitalism itself. Reform to the system is popular when the connection between class oppression and patriarchy isn’t clear. If I believe that patriarchy is something completely separate from the otherwise redeemable capitalist world order then it makes no sense to seize the means of production as apart of liberation because my conceived liberation is tied to the eradication of an ideology within certain people and not connected to a material struggle against the bourgeoisie (the top 10% of people who own everything) to end the totality of oppression. Radical queers, in this historical moment, find themselves struggling to articulate the need for a queer struggle that includes a radical class analysis and positive program that reflects such. We must also win people away from bourgeois delusions like equality under capitalism.

I think it’s exciting to be alive right now, and to organize right now.  We have an opportunity to present a new proposition and deconstruct past failures with the intent of building a movement that can win.  For me, radical queer organizing looks like many things: the building of safe spaces where we can heal and build self determination, the challenging of straight and male privilege, and the inverting of gender roles with the intention to create the conditions where all beings can fully express themselves are a few of those. The incorporation ideas such as self-care, and consciousness raising around gendered dynamics are some others. The appropriation of queer identities by the mainstream has, in an unintentional way, given us the opportunity to observe and reflect on our organizing and position in struggle. It also has made the ground fertile to plant revolutionary seeds. More queers are out and engaging in some form of political activity than we’ve seen in a while. (Maybe ever, I would wager that the amount of queers campaigning for reform and the amount visibly/verbally opposing the reformist queers out numbers the activists of 40-50 years ago) And that means we have some work to do. We have some questions to pose. We have some ideas to raise. And we have some consciousness to change.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s