Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Critique and Commentary about US Sexual and Gender Politics

image if from here

Part I: Viewpoints and Vision

a. The dominant cultural discourse on gender and sexual politics is, as far as I call tell, most hatefully expressed by orthodox allegedly heterosexual and non-trans religious leaders. It is most liberally expressed by Academics. And there is a kind of liberal-conservative version expressed in some corporate media and through some law.

b. All of those institutions (dominant religion, the Academy, corporate media, and Law), and more—such as marriage and the military--exist to promote and protect CRAP: corporate, racist, atrocious patriarchy, which is also to say capitalism, white supremacy, and male supremacy.

c. Seen this way, contemporary discussions and agendas by marginalised-while-dominant and/or oppressed-while-advantaged gendered and sexed people are usually uncritically white-centered, male-centered, and pro-capitalist. They don't or won't offer the larger society, or ourselves, terminology and campaigns, analysis and understandings, that oppose holding on tightly to those three pillars of CRAP.

d. If the alleged spokespeople for all of us who are sex and gender outsiders don't oppose those three pillars, among others, of CRAP, what happens to the radical and CRAP-resisting spokespeople's voices? Are they heard? By what means and mechanisms do over-privileged people among us—let alone the more dominant members of society—listen for them, and more importantly hear them, and even more importantly take them to be wise and worth adopting, centrally, into our own politics and cultures? How likely is it that their/our own alternate analysis and agendas will be accepted as “the right view” or “the most liberating project”?

e. Naming and agenda-setting, theory- and practice-building is happening in communities and through networks of people who are not white, not male, and not pro-capitalist. But to hear dominant contemporary conversation online and off, you wouldn't easily know it unless you're already part of those communities and networks.

f. How progressive or radical is it to ignore and/or silence the voices of those who are so marginalised that they don't even appear in corporate media (and most alternative media either)? How progressive or radical is it to believe and act as though these voices don't ought not matter to white and male supremacist spokespeople on matters of gender and sexual politics?

g. If our politics—our viewpoints and vision, our theory and our practice—is counter-CRAP, is at least attempting to be CRAP-resistant (if not also explicitly anti-CRAP), how do those of us who are white, male, and class-advantaged support and be responsible and accountable allies to the people promoting radical political positions who are not white, are not male, and are not class-advantaged?

I'm asking.

Part II: Theory and Practice

Contemporary theories and practices building from transgender, queer, and women's experiences tend to protect or deny either the oppressive and genocidal force of white supremacy, the subordinating and gynocidal power of male supremacy, or the generally dehumanising and Earth-murdering power of corporate capitalism.

What I see in plenty of dominant-while-marginalised Queer and Transgender Theory, is this idea: that lack of medical, legal, and cultural acceptance and celebration of “difference” is the central problem to be addressed by pro-liberation queer and pro-queer activists. Racism, misogyny, and corporate exploitation are maintained, in part, through the systematic denial and repression of ethnic and sexual differences. But this is done for the sole purpose of maintaining the power of the elites to protect grossly inhumane race, sex, and class hierarchies. Narrowing our struggle to accepting and celebration of difference among subordinates without opposing the congealed power of the (often ignored or enabled) elites in each hierarchy may allow us increasingly diverse sexual and gendered subcultures but not ones free the least privileged of us from oppressive and lethal raced, sexed, and economic force.

In my experience, no mention (let alone plan) of dismantling these hierarchies is required to come across as progressive. CRAP-denying policies, practices, and points of view pretend that diversity of perspectives and identities is the solution to our problem. In such environments, gender and sexual categories are self-chosen and individually identified. Meanwhile, CRAP's institutions and acted out ideologies force raced, classed, and sexed “identities” (read: denigrated and disenfranchised positions on a hierarchy) on us. They are fundamentally imposed and enforced, not chosen. To highlight the validity of subculturally chosen identities without also identifying how white and male supremacy are systems of brute force that exist in and around them, is to enable that raced and sexed force to continue to rule.

CRAP has demonstrated time and again that its ruling classes may tolerate (or ignore) many forms of difference in oppressed and marginalised people as long as the embodiers of those forms don't threaten to expose and challenge CRAP's key pillars of power-over social control and terrorism.

We have seen how far white, self-defined gay men can get in CRAP as long as they are (admittedly or not) anti-feminist, pro-racist, and pro-classist; they cannot achieve the power of white het men but they can acquire or continue to exhibit power not allowed to anyone female. In such politic practices we see how everything from prostitution to sexual sadism is promoted by white gay men as liberatory. I have seen white gay men condemn feminist critiques of prostitution and sexual sadism as virulently homophobic, ignoring how many of the critics are lesbians who are also harmed by homophobia. Meanwhile, when white het men are challenged in any way (or just as part of the routine maintenance of dominant systems of power), they argue that their oppressive political practice is natural, God-ordained, genetically encoded, or socially inevitable.

We have seen the resistance of white feminists, including lesbian feminists, refusing to acknowledge and center the experiences, voices, and analysis of radical womanist and feminist women of color, lesbian and not. In such politics we see the covert and overt maintenance of white power being promoted as “radical” while the white power that is present is denied. The naming of this has been understood as anti-feminist and woman-hating by some white women, as if the radical women of color being ignored and silenced aren't women and aren't working for women's liberation. But the ignoring and silencing--often enough through overt systematic physical and economic force and chronic murder--is fiercest by white het men.

We have seen how white, non-poor pro-transgender spokespeople (many of whom are not transgender) promote a view of sex and gender that is glaringly white and male supremacist. Women who have always been female, who are socially (and also often intimately) targeted for being female by non-trans men, are sometimes portrayed as anti-trans. Some of those pro-trans people simultaneously neglect to name their threatening, abusive, and oppressive heterosexist, misogynist, and male supremacist practices. These self-uncritical practices currently flourish in gender-conservative and gender-liberal environments, whether non-queer, queer, non-transgender, or transgender. But the most virulently anti-trans, anti-queer, and anti-lesbian communities are those ruled by white het non-trans men.

Part III: Concluding thoughts

Among liberal communities covertly protecting white and male power, there is an accepted practice of promoting “diversity” without radically interrogating such an idea as unequivocally good, or as unquestionably leading us to liberation. From what are we liberated through such a practice? How does a liberal challenge to “the gender binary” with no concurrent work end to white and male supremacy (race, sexual, and gender hierarchies) allow females, women, lesbians, and transgender people to be free from violence and dehumanisation on the collective level? How do we respond to individualistic understandings of liberation (usually sexist, classist, and racist) continually usurping class-based liberation struggles?

Many of these political perspectives and strategies are lacking a revolutionary practice of radical self-critique and accountability to those structurally (not morally) beneath socially advantaged people. These practices are also holding tight to at least one pillar of CRAP. Not naming these pillars when defining our struggles doesn't assist us in the project of liberatory social transformation. I call on all whites, all men, all pro-queer, pro-feminist, and pro-trans people, to responsibly seek out and center the analysis and agendas of Indigenous and non-Indigenous radical feminists and womanists of color.

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