Friday, July 2, 2010

Interrogating Radical Queer Identity and Practice


[image is from here]

[image is from here]

What follows is a collection of questions and interrogations. I welcome your respectful input.

[15 October 2010 note: I have, since writing this, come out as intergender after questioning whether or not I might be transgender. See the "About Me" info in the top right of this blog for more on that.]

I've grown up hearing terms like homosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and more recently queer and transgender used to describe a population of people impacted negatively by heteropatriarchy. I'd add to that people who identify and are genderqueer, gender non-conforming (GNC) , same gender loving (SGL), Two Spirit, and intersex.

What we have in common is often misunderstood and misrepresented in the dominant media. We don't, overall, have our own media, except in relatively small, marginal ways. When Queer or LGBTIQ people are presented on network television, we are usually class-privileged and white, and do not seek to overturn the Western heteropatriarchal apple cart, that may have registered the first thud when Adam took a bite of and then dropped the apple plucked, bitten, and handed to him by Eve. (Apparently, he's held a grudge against her, not apples, ever since. He also hasn't made peaceful, anti-patriarchal use of "knowledge".)

I have been engaged in intensive and extensive conversation with a few people in my community, and have arrived at a few conclusions, to be shared here.

How we decide who we are, what we'll call ourselves, and with whom we identify is a complex process, partly or largely imposed by oppressive dominant society, which, for example, will stigmatise as inferior anyone who is not appropriately masculine and manly and male in combination. All women, all trans people, all gay men, all intersex people, to name a few groups, are marginalised and oppressed in systems which determine that manhood is "something socially material and stable" rather than an idea enforced and reinforced with violence, coercion, peer pressure, and institutional normalisation and naturalisation.

The core challenge, for me, is to expose, challenge, and organise against the naturalisation and normalisation of anything resembling "natural patriarchal manhood". One non-mainstream group that is not part of my people, are the heterosexual men, usually white and class-privileged, who gather and wander into the woods together homosocially to reclaim their inner natural masculinity. They may beat drums, or howl, or be shirtless. Many of them have beards. Most if not all are of European descent. Such men appropriate incorrectly imagined Indigenous practices and pretend that being in the woods offers up an opportunity to "be a man" that walking down a city street does not. It may well be the case that howling and beating on a drum with beard and without shirt on Broadway and 32nd Street in Manhattan will be regarded differently than in the a forested section of upstate New York.

Another group of socially dominant malemen is those who fight or speak out for "rights" to do what men have historically done: discriminate against women, control women, and deny women rights and autonomy. They are termed MRAs, or Men's Rights Activists, but I regard them as enforcers of Men's Wrongs.

Another group of dominant malemen is the pimps and procurers, slavers and traffickers of women and other people. These people take pride, pleasure, and profit in treating women the way men have historically mistreated women--as things for men to sexually use and abuse as possessions, rented and bought, traded and sold, raped and killed.

When I consider being a queer male, I want to imagine males who stand in opposition to those and many other dominant malemen. Who oppose what they stand for, who oppose what they do, and who promote ways of being that do not reinforce heteropatriarchal normalised atrocities and naturalised harm.

Once upon a time, queer males were male-bodied people who were opposed to heteropatriarchal ways of being malemen. Now being a queer male tells me little about what their political grounding is, what their values are, and what their social visions look like.

Increasingly, I find that "queerness" is without a politic and a plan. I don't wish for there to be "one". I wish for there to be many. And I wish for the many to all exist in opposition to the status quo, to normative heteropatriarchy, to white het male supremacy, and to the economic and social systems that help maintain and bolster those philosophical and political realities.

In times of crisis, I find, there can be a tendency to clutch more tightly to the institutions and values and ways of being that are strangling the life out of Life on Earth.

I was discussing with a friend this idea, which I've been hearing about for a while. What if people who were out of pay-work, who were socially able to do so, met and organised an alternative largely money-less bartering economy, whereby goods and services would be made and exchanged according to need, especially, and possibly also some wants? What if 100,000 people out of work in a city organised this alternative economy which would provide basic social services, emotional and community support, spiritual guidance and counsel, and engage in political vision and resistance?

At this stage in civilisation, I don't foresee a form of "civilisation" that isn't in the business of committing genocide, gynocide, and ecocide. That said, how might queer people organise and support one another no longer supporting the systems and institutions that will destroy all of us, in time, harming the oppressed most of all?

I long for an identity and practice that doesn't locate me in terms of my relationship to a penis and what is or isn't done with it. I long for an identity and practice that locates me in resistance to patriarchal forces, coercion, and pressures to conform and deform myself into something that will kill others ruthlessly without consciousness and knowledge, or with awareness and callousness.

Does my "queerness" stand against white supremacy, male supremacy, heterosexism, and capitalism? Does it recognise and responsibly act within "civilisation" in ways that attempt to organise greater objection and rejection of it?

While I have been gay-identified for approximately 25 years--please don't send anniversary gifts, being "gay" doesn't indicate much about what my spiritual, sexual, affectional, emotional, mental, intellectual beliefs, passions, and practices are.

What it ought to tell you is one thing primarily: I am not a heterosexual maleman and don't "enjoy" or "exploit" the privileges and entitlements of het malemen. But it doesn't say whether or not I wish to. That's a problem, to me.

I toss around ideas: being anti-patriarchal gender systems is true enough, but also defines me in terms of a negative not something affirmative.

As I occupy a space that falls within the bounds of transgender identity, I don't experience myself transitioning in my lifetime, because there is nothing socially existent for me to transition towards. I expect to live my life dissatisfied and dissociated, to varying degrees. Am I transgender? Probably. But what I'm wanting to transition from is someone who is lives in an oppressively gendered civilisation to someone who isn't.

In this way, my identity isn't "personal" only. It is necessarily both social and political. It is not primarily subjective, but is rather collectivist and visionary, defining practices, ways of being alive that do not encourage, endorse, or enable contemporary brutal, bigoted society.

I used to live in a community that had this sense of what "identity" was: it registered where one was located by dominant forces, and stated a position in relation to that. A position that was not in support of the status quo. That community was flawed, as communities tend to be. It was white-centric, euro-centric, anglo-centric, classist, racist, and ableist. It didn't necessarily see "civilisation" as a problem, but rather only some forms of it. But it was solidly against heterosexism and patriarchy. Clearly, definitively, unambiguously. This didn't mean we didn't participate in heteropatriarchy; it meant we didn't promote it, defend it, or protect it--or identify with those levels of participation. We didn't construct ideas of self that felt threatened by critique and challenge to heteropatriarchy, we welcomed the critique and challenge.

Since that time I've found individuals who are committed to living in a way that is anti-racist, against the dominance of whiteness, opposed to unsustainable living, who are against civilisation that requires genocide, gynocide, and ecocide to exist. But individuals sharing a few beliefs and practices isn't sufficient to radically transform society.

Contemporary "queer" politics do not speak to me. An agenda of allowing privileged queer people to marry does little to pull up and expose the roots of heteropatriarchy, especially when it reinforces capitalist coupling. And promoting polyamory, while counter-cultural, isn't a threat to the status quo.

There are other questions for me about queer identity: how does it assist the struggle people are waging worldwide for access and proximity to free drinkable water and unpolluted land? How does it assist people in nations occupied by Western military forces? How does it stand in relation to Indigenous struggles for sovereignty? How does it support women fighting systems of prostitution and procurement? How does it support intersex people being unharmed by surgeons? How does it support queer people not being manipulated and exploited by the psychiatric-medical industrial complex? How does it support the end of rape on Earth?

The queer communities I've seen lately fetishise without critique militarism, master-slave dynamics, and ideas and practices of oppressive gender expression as "transgressive" and even "radical". To look at what constitutes "transgression" and "radical queerness" is to find no action threatening or even resistant to capitalist racist heteropatriarchy, as far as I can tell. I know there are some white-majority and white-dominant groups that term themselves radical and queer that proclaim to be in opposition to things like racism, heterosexism, and misogyny, but I don't see evidence of the practice, only the statement, the wish to do so. That, to me, is liberalism, not radicalism. Liberalism is the practice of making promises that will cannot be kept because the philosophy doesn't have a practice to achieve the realisation of vision proposed. That the vision isn't envisioned centrally and predominantly by the most oppressed, marginalised, least privileged people is one of the problems. People with privilege will, in my experience, inevitably envision worlds where those privileges are somehow protected and maintained. As I see it, white people are not capable of producing a world without white supremacy, and men are not capable of producing a world without patriarchy. The same for Western capitalists. The same for proponents of modern or post-modern, industrial or post-industrial civilisation.

So I'm not supportive of white queer "transgression" as queer social practice because I don't witness it being anti-kyriarchical, and instead, I see it being pro-kyriarchical. So to me, it's not "queer".

To be pro-pornography is to be about as unradical as being pro-pollution. I get that we all will pollute, or leave a carbon footprint, but that doesn't mean I have to construct my sexual life around doing so, does it? And, even if my sexual life is bound to it, that doesn't mean I have to promote those aspects of my sexuality as "liberating" and "radical".

Audre Lorde wrote an essay that pointed us in a direction, that opened up radically different ways to conceptualise, embody, and experience the Erotic. Her work has been ignored or opposed by every white queer class-privileged person I know. Why?


JJ said...

Amazing, thank you for writing.

Julian Real said...

Hi JJ,

You're very welcome. Stop by any time.