One of our commenters, Nome has been rather upset with me because I do not embrace “queer” as a label. Or queer community. I realized from her e-mail address that she is probably still a student and has a completely different take on the term “queer” than do people who lived in a pre-Stonewall world or even the heady days of 1970s gay and lesbian liberation.
There was a time in 1969 when Gay subsumed Lesbian in the same way that “Man” and male pronouns were supposed to include women too even though the opposite would be more logical since woman actually does include man as part of it and she does include he.
Feminism made the erasure of women’s voices unacceptable. It meant that in order to work together gay men had to accept using a different word for lesbian women. As a result we have Gay and Lesbian Centers and strings of initials that give priority to the one that people identify as.
The dreaded identity word. In the LGBT/T etc string, identity is actually little more than a place marker. Rather than transgender or even transsexual I long ago realized the truth to the phrase “feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the practice.” Putting women first and asking the question is this or that good for women or bad for women has guided my politics for many years.
But lesbian community… If that means laughing along and relating to the jokes told by Wanda Sykes in her HBO special we watched last night before the absolutely must see HBO film Schmatta. Or reading lesbian feminist writers and campaigning for LGBT/T issues then I am part of a community. But then that means I am a part of a lot of other communities too. Including the photography and folk music communities, the anarchist/socialist communities, the activists for media reform, the anti-WTO and Fair Trade, Not Free Trade communities.
I obviously still care about the interests of people with transsexualism and transgenderism even if I do not see there being some form of overarching “transgender as umbrella” community. The reality i discovered over 40 years ago when I first came out was just as there was no one particular “gay as umbrella” community there is no “trans community”. For that matter there isn’t a “transsexual community” among those of us who are either pre or post SRS. Post-op lists dissolve in the same sorts of differences that other larger “communities” do. Sartre described hell as other people. The paradox is in the existential loneliness of the group where to assert self-hood negates submitting to a collective identity.
If we are individuals rather than cogs in a machine, then identity politics that require the subsuming of self and the existential individualism of self for membership in a hierarchically determined collective, where proper identity is dictated, and deviation from that collective identity is cause for great gnashing of teeth and rending of garments accompanied by great wailing moans and accusations of betrayal, then the identity politics of “community” are doomed to failure.
Queer as an anarchic, outlaw position makes an oxymoron of the phrase “queer community” unless one uses a reading of queer as gay with a subtext of sameness. This immediately becomes problematic given the traditional male sex linkage to the term queer and the historical hegemony of gay male erasing lesbian. This along with the historical association of queer with those who exercise an often terrorist level of control over LGBT/T people. Queer is the insult that accompanied beatings, imprisonment on laws that made our very being a criminal offense, lobotomies and other horrific acts aimed at curing.
It bears many commonalities with the usage of “nigger” by Black rappers, who are aware of the connotation. Yet like “nigger” it has the potential to limit LGBT/T people to the negative stereotypes connotative with the historical associations.
The focus on “queer” like the focus on “transgender” tends towards a form of nationalism of the sort that divided the Black militant organizations such as Ron Karinga’s group US from the Marxist and revolutionary Black Panther Party. It says that “we are the only people who care about our problems and therefore our sole point of focus should be upon our problems”.
This divisive narrow focus upon the politics of identity rather than upon agreed upon issues allowed the rabid right wing to rise to power and thrust into a 30 year period of reactionary politics that have destroyed American industry and the rights of all working people. It has been a mind set of, “Yes, so and so is good on X,Y, Z but they haven’t spoken out strongly enough on my particular position therefore I won’t work for them even though they are good on many other issues that affect my life.”
As someone who had her sex change operation so long ago that it was done at the time when they had just gone from obsidian operating instruments to bronze, my connections to trans anything are awfully faint. The issues of transgender people and laws impacting them are something I support not out of identity but rather out of their being human rights issues.
Perhaps rather than identity politics we should return to issues oriented politics. Lately I have been listening to a lot of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Weavers and Almanac Singers as well as reading Dorothy Healey’s book California Red: A Life in the American Communist Party. One reason to study history is to learn to avoid the errors of the past.
The New Deal era under Roosevelt was actually a high point for progressive politics in America. Those politics didn’t die under McCarthyism, they continued through the 1970s. When World War II started the communists and other progressives formed something called the “Popular Front”.
What slowly bled all the progressive movement energy away was only partially the right wing and reactionary influences even though they played a role. What really did in the liberal, progressive coalitions that included not only different minority groups but labor was increasing factionalism based on identity.
The largest movement I was a member of was the anti-War in Vietnam Movement, the longest enduring have been the feminist and LGBT/T movements. What those movements have in common is that they are more issues oriented than identity based. The long enduring movements recognize there are differences including different interests with in and among those involved in the respective movements.
Transgender on the other hand has been very Satalinistic, more similar to the Black Nationalist movements in demanding one identify as transgender or else one is an enemy. Not allowing post-SRS women to be post-Transsexualism as well as post-op has resulted in more anger, in-fighting and wasted effort than most realize.
Further the insistence that we are queer or gender transgressive silences us, particularly those of us who are older and have the same concerns as not only older L/G folks but as older straight people. Interests that may involve National Health Care, Reindustrialization. Ending Free Trade, the G20 and WTO and stopping the economic race to the bottom.
Some may find it unacceptable that I am interested in the rights of all workers to organize around issues such as “Living Wage Standards”, The Employee Free Choice Act but those are matters not limited to LGBT/T worker and especially not to just transsexual or transgender workers.
In short I believe it is time to call an end to all the identity crap and the usage of identity as a basis of movements and to replace identity politics with issues based politics and coalitions rather than “communities”. While it is important to think locally it is equally important to reach beyond local and act globally.