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1. Male privilege isn’t a thing. You can’t possess it or have it as an attribute of your person. No one is actually carrying around an invisible knapsack of privilege.

2. What male privilege is first and foremost is a concept: a machine for thinking with that performs a certain function in relation to certain kinds of problem. What the concept of male privilege does is allow us to identify a broad tendency across society, and to think the particular dynamics of a variety of distinct situations as instances of that tendency. It joins the dots between a bunch of different things that tend to happen in the world by allowing us to say that together they constitute a particular phenomenon.

3. The way the concept of male privilege accomplishes this is by referring all these instance to a single abstraction that stands in for the actual relations and processes that link them in reality. It is not a theory of anything. It doesn’t tell us anything about what these relations and processes actually are. It’s a placeholder for when you don’t want to map out the whole reality in order to talk about it. It’s a concept that problematises rather than explains, and that’s fine. It’s important to have concepts that compose problems for us to think, as long as we don’t confuse that for the thinking itself.

4. What Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wants to do with the concept of male privilege is altogether different. She wants to take it as the principle of a logical system that allows her to deduce things about the experiences of others. We are no longer using it to relate things we know about experience, but to directly produce knowledge out of abstractions. The work it’s now supposed to do is to allow her to infer the experience of another by virtue of how that other’s body signifies its sex to her. It’s a way of not thinking the complexity of the world by imposing a pre-constructed image over reality. It’s not just trans women’s experiences, but everyone’s, that disappear in this kind of thinking.

5. This deduction requires her to have an account of gender socialisation that uniformly attaches privilege to bodies according to sexual difference. Historically, feminists have strongly opposed this kind of functionalist thinking about socialisation precisely because it invites the kind of conservative use to which Adichie puts it: overwriting experience, denying agency and variability, and justifying the status quo. Socialisation is not a pressing plant. We are not all of one uniform human substance stamped into universal binary forms. It requires the dismissal of basically every significant contribution feminism has made to our understanding of gender socialisation to think this way.

6. There is no automatic relationship between sexual difference and gender socialisation. Rather it depends on the enactment over time of symbolic roles that gradually shape us. These enactments are situational, and do not necessarily map onto the differentiation of bodies by sex. Bodies marked male can be and are made to occupy feminine positions in particular dynamics and vice versa, and our relationship to ‘privilege’ is contingent on this positioning. Our gender socialisation is a complex mosaic of impressions that form us over time, not a simple binary categorisation.

7. Even the raddiest of radfems have historically been sensitive to the enormous harm done to ‘male’ children in the process of making them men. Children are trapped by absolute dependence in the relations of care into which they were born, and enclosed within various repressive authoritarian institutions (family, school, community, church, state). The processes by which those children marked to be men are by those environments brutalised and taught to fear emotion are not privileges, they are kinds of violence, for which no one should be told to be grateful.

8. Adichie’s women are defined by a lack in relation to men: the lack of male privilege. And moreover, given what she has to say about privilege and socialisation, this maps exactly onto the way women are traditionally defined by lack in relation to sexual difference: by the presence or absence of the Phallus. The thing about the Phallus is: it’s a fantasy, specifically, a male supremacist society’s fantasy about the virility of masculine agency that is not commensurate with the reality of anyone’s actual existence (men’s actual social dominance is considerably more fraught than its representation in fantasy). Adiche’s imaginings about the lives of trans women (it’s very obvious she hasn’t actually talked to any of us about it in any depth) are projected fantasies of phallic agency: we are deemed to have what women lack because we are deemed to have an experience of agency structurally barred for women as a correlate of how our bodies are sexually differentiated from those of cis women, and therefore are disqualified from being women. One way of responding to this is to simply show empirically how the fantasy diverges from reality, by describing all the commonalities in how we are hurt and subordinated by patriarchal society. But I think the more important point is: we should not have to parade our lack in order to be accepted as women because we should not be accepting this phallocentric model of agency in the first place. Woman is not simply what you get when you take away whatever gives men power, and Man is not the fully empowered humanity denied women. Both are ways of being divided against and alienated from oneself by the system within which we are trapped. Both are impoverished forms of human existence. One only benefits from either role in relative terms.

9. What I’m trying to get at here is that there are problems with overextended concepts of male privilege such as Adichie’s beyond that they exclude trans women from being women. They confuse the social function ‘man’ with the actual humans that enact it, and so empty out our understandings of those experiences by reducing them to the dimension of privilege. Being seen as a man allows contingent access to social privilege, but it also quite often involves being hurt a lot and having to pretend you’re not. The kind of feminism that makes a theoretical system out of privilege, and therefore dismisses men’s expressions of dissatisfaction with their gender as the whining of the privileged, adds to the social repression of men’s vulnerability and closes off possibilities for the expression and politicisation of the dissonance of men’s humanity to their expected social function. Drawing an arbitrary line to protect trans women from that kind of treatment isn’t good enough. There are all kinds of experiences of male existence that don’t fit the model of what’s implied by ‘male privilege’ that are not trans experiences, and the concept shouldn’t be deployed to invalidate these either.

10. Personally, transition has helped me to begin to understand the gendered dimensions of some of the ways I have been victimised during my life, and to integrate these with my understanding of myself. But this is not what I value about it. What matters is that in femininity – or rather particular kinds of femininity: feminist femininity, queer femininity, punk femininity – I have found a model for my own agency that is authentically mine and that feels like agency. Adichie’s Woman is a passive effect of the accumulation of sufferings: all history no futurity. Who the fuck wants that? What does it matter how my miseries stack up next to hers or anyone elses? My “womanhood” is an active creative potential immanent to my being. It is not my shitty childhood nor does it have to answer to anyone else’s. There is nothing positive in defining yourself by victimhood because there’s nothing good about being a victim.

The use of queer as an umbrella term is not a description of an empirically or pre-discursively existing quality common to certain forms of difference, but a normative conception of how difference is to be understood: abjected forms of difference should be positively embraced not merely despite but because of the way they clash with prevailing social norms. Put another way: queer does not describe static pre-political facts about subjects who are essentially queer, but articulates difference-in-conflict with a society that seeks to dominate and constrain it.

There is no politically neutral act of naming. To name a collection of people queer is to impose a meaning on that collection of people that those people do not necessarily endorse. It is without a doubt an exercise of symbolic power. But this is equally true of any other name you might choose for anything. The term ‘gay’, for example, is not embraced by all of those for whom it is routinely used. There are plenty of men who fuck other men who do not call themselves gay, not simply because they are closeted or because of internalised homophobia, but because they do not see themselves reflected in the political, cultural and social dimensions of gay identity. Supposedly non-political merely-descriptive terms such as ‘homosexual’ or ‘men who have sex with men’, on the other hand, are often rejected precisely because they detach sexual practices from forms of community that give them meaning. Any attempt to aggregate a set of particulars under a common term involves an overwriting of their particularity. The coherence of any particular symbolisation is purchased through an elision of some dimension of reality, which is always infinitely more complex and heterogeneous than language can cope with. The alternative is to never have names for anything.

The terms we choose to announce ourselves collectively are never simply descriptive of pre-existing realities, but are attempts to produce forms of collective subjectification at particular historical moments to engender particular forms of solidarity and struggle, and as such are necessarily tied to the exigencies of organising resistance. ‘Gay’, ‘lesbian’, ‘transsexual’, ‘transgender’, ‘bisexual’ (as well as the ever-evolving alphabet soup names for The Community) are all terms insisted upon by particular political factions at particular moments in history as assertions of the positive social value of particular forms of difference against stigmatisation, criminalisation, violence and discrimination. Queer likewise is a response to a perceived need to develop new forms of self-definition due to the shift from repression to co-optation and assimilation in straight society’s strategy for our containment. It is a conscious project to outmaneuver the dynamics of co-optation through understanding ourselves not in terms of positive attributes we supposedly commonly possess but negatively and fluidly in terms of our common relation to structurally enforced norms. The repurposing of the slur ‘queer’ is inextricable from this definition because it is precisely from the position of abjection it implies that we choose to fight: we are the other that straight society must continually exclude in order to sustain itself and it is on that basis that we organise.

Clearly there is always a multiplicity of interacting factors behind any particular disavowal of queerness, but the debate over the term has oddly tended to proceed as if these always and everywhere originate in a pre-political innocence rather than being potentially strategic interventions by agents with their own divergent political commitments. Sure, there are those for whom the term itself is for them too strongly associated with shame and violence who do not embrace the label ‘queer’, but share a commitment to the kind of politics it implies. But equally, there are those who reject the term because their politics has an essentially conservative orientation: e.g. those in positions of power within the LGBT community who are threatened by the kind of political community queer attempts to bring into existence, those for whom the queer rejection of respectability undermines their project of securing acceptance through conformity and integration etc.

The act of naming is inherently contentious. It necessarily takes place in the midst of the contradictions of a particular point in time and involves decisions about how to respond to those contradictions. Calling ourselves queer is a political decision and not everyone is going to like it. Fine. Agitation for radically transformative change is never going to be about finding nice language that everyone can get behind. It’s inherently divisive, and ongoing debate is a necessary correlate. But that debate is between those who wish to define our collective experiences of difference in a hostile society in terms oriented to a particular kind of fight, and those who oppose and seek to prohibit that definition. Those in the latter camp have not chosen a neutral position and there is no reason to treat their wishes as sacrosanct.

 

Writing is difficult for me at the moment, but I feel the need to say something, publicly, about the “Marriage Equality” campaign and the referendum process, and to say it now, not afterwards. So I’ve decided to collect together the various things I’ve written for facebook posts, as a fragmented gesture towards a queer analysis of what we’ve just gone through.

Personally, I’ve found the referendum process very demanding. Demanding both in the sense of the strain it’s placed on my emotional resources, and in the sense that its produced a slew of moralising demands from marriage advocates which I’m expected to meet. I’m sick of it. At a time in my life where I’m trying to navigate the complexities and risks of openly living a trans life in a hostile society, I’m sick of being told that I’m being insufficiently attentive to the needs of people twice my age who just want to get married. I’m sick of demands for solidarity that are never going to be reciprocated. I’m sick of having to reaffirm that I think discrimination is bad every time I speak about anything other than why same-sex couples should be able to get married. I’m sick of people who want to talk about discrimination but couldn’t give a shit about the discrimination against forms of kinship and family outside the marriage norm that will persist after this referendum passes. I’m sick of marriage being allowed to stand for equality, and of “marriage equality” being treated as the sine qua non of progress for queer people.

My experience of the referendum has confirmed everything I already knew about same-sex marriage politics: Marriage Equality is a politics that must consume all others. It can only function by filling the entire space of queer representation; by monopolising concepts of progress and futurity; by homogenising and flattening queerness into a single issue, a single striving, a single (conservative) picture of the actualisation of queer freedom; by insisting that it and it alone has always been the liberation implicit in our politics. It demands our participation and we cannot refuse. All of us, whatever we wish, whether it benefits us or not, must suffer through a torrent of abuse and behave ourselves, lest our refusal to tolerate violent homophobic speech acts jeopardise a campaign that won’t even afford us the dignity of demanding rather than asking for the meagre concessions being offered to us. (And if you don’t Marriage Equality will call the cops.)

So vote Yes, please, so that we can be spared a rerun of this shit.


fb post for Workers Solidarity Movement:

“Marriage equality” represents a victory for conservatives within the LGBT movement in narrowing and limiting the horizons of ur politics, and for conservative and homophobic social forces in diffusing and recuperating the potential for radical transformative change opened up by the gay liberation movement.

Despite attempts to re-write history by assimilationist LG(B(T)) organisations, inclusion within marriage is not all we have ever wanted. Queer politics has always put forward a vision that proposed a far more substantive concept of equality than just the end of formal legal discrimination: a concept of equality that cherishes difference and diversity, rather than precribing a single ideal based on heterosexual monogamy. Rather than seeking inclusion only for those who are willing and able to conform to the norm, we should seek the abolition of state marriage, the decoupling of rights from aherence to particular norms, and full social acceptance for the full diversity of forms of sexuality, kinship, affinity, alliance and affection. “Marriage equality” is a setback for that vision.

By attaching rights and social acceptance to compliance to a specific norm, we reaffirm that those outside that norm are undeserving of the same rights or social acceptance. We reinforce the idea that difference is to be punished and policed and excluded.

But, whether we like it or not, this is what’s happening. The question for those of us who remain outside, and who hold a vision of a better world in our hearts, is how to advance that vision despite the setback this represents. This is a moment for queers to recognise ourselves as an autonomous political movement, which hopes and fights for a different future than the dismal politics of pro-marriage, and to recognise that we must build communities that can turn our dreams into concrete political action, because no one else is going to do that for us.

fb post on Automatic Writing page

Anti-marriage politics is not anti married people. It’s not advocating your relationship should be banned or forcibly broken up. It’s opposing the idea that your relationship is superior to everyone else’s, that it’s deserving of greater support and protection than everyone else’s, or that it, uniquely, deserves to be built in to the material and legal structure of society. It opposes the coercive application of norms built around an idealised heterosexuality because it wants an end to coercive norms governing relationships, sexuality, gender and identity, not because it wants to replace them with different ones. (So could you please stop the “radical queers imposing their views on us” nonsense? Thanks.)

public fb posts on personal page

If the same-sex marriage referendum passes the primary benefactors will be older more privileged LGBTQ people in monogamous same-sex relationships. If it fails, the people most harmed by a climate of emboldened homophobia are the young, the closeted, the precarious/marginalised and the highly visible queers. I feel like hardly anyone wants to talk about this.


I feel really uncomfortable with most of the standard rhetorical deployments of things like “the gay community”, “the LGBTQ community”. My reasons for this are both personal and political, and tbh the two are blended to the point that it’s hard to separate them. Community means belonging, if it means anything, and whenever I’ve encountered The Community what I’ve felt is not belonging but alienation. I remember sitting in the student bar in Maynooth in first year with what was then the GLB and trying to figure out what the fuck to say to a group of people who were literally talking about Bonnie Tyler and Madonna all night (as if what it is to be queer is to embody a threadbare hand-me-down version of camp sensibility), and wondering where I was going to fit in if I didn’t even fit in the spaces that were for me. I felt much the same looking around at the different LGBT political groups whose politics were (despite whatever good work they surely do) all so fluffy and liberal and incrementalist; where radicalism is basically measured (quantitatively) by how loudly and insistently you demand the exact same reforms, rather than anything qualitative about the stances you take or the things you do. I couldn’t relate to it. As far as I could see, there was nowhere to express the negativity (both of the dialectical revolutionary-critical and nihilist/depressive variety) that was (and continues to be) a major part of how I relate to the world, no one who thought and felt like me. And this was what “community” seemed to amount to: compulsory positivity, compulsory rainbow fluffiness, compulsory liberal representationalism. In other words: yet another injunction to be someone other than who I wanted to be.

So I feel like this way of talking about community – as a kind of primordial unity of the queers – is basically reactionary. Most of the time these days I find it deployed against me as a form of command, to moderate my speech, to subordinate my desires and hopes to some mandatory loyalty to The Community, to undertake activity that I find humiliating, like going door-to-door begging for rights I don’t even want. This sense of community is a fiction, the fiction that we all share a common outlook, common strivings, common political goals, common needs, common desires, merely on the basis of who we are. We don’t. I’ve nothing in common politically with Leo Varadkar, or your average masc-seeking-similar Grindr dweller, or whoever. This kind of primordialist thinking about community is always going to end up with a least-common-denominator politics that seeks to represent everyone and as a result ends up representing the most conservative and privileged voices and excluding the rest. It’s tied up with assimilationism, whitewashing, homonormativity, pro-capitalism and liberalism. It demands solidarity and sacrifice from queers like me that’s never going to be reciprocated. It’s a trap, basically, that we’ve got to break out of.

But community is also essential. As queers we live, to varying degrees and in varying ways, precarious lives – lives constantly threatened by the soft genocidal politics of heteropatriarchy. We need relations of support, spaces where we are affirmed in who we are, access to forms of belonging. We need community, both to make our lives that bit more livable and to enable collective political action. Personally, I’ve been feeling much more of a sense of being part of a community in recent times. The people around me are amazing and supportive, and I feel safe enough to be publicly trans in quite a confrontational way. But the people who enable that are not all queers; many of them are straight anarchists, socialists and feminists. And tbh I feel a lot more supported by good pro-queer straights than I do by the LGBT mainstream, who I often encounter as people who want to police my identity and silence my speech.

So to me “community” is not about who you are but what you do. It’s a construct, one that’s fluid, mobile and contingent. It’s a set of relations we build together in order to protect and enable one-another, not something we form merely because we share a common identity, or a common relation to power structures. It’s something that does not exist, so its necessary for us to invent it.


If the term ‘equality’ is to have any substantive meaning, it must refer to a society radically and qualitatively different from the one we now inhabit. When people say things like “Vote Yes for Equality” or “Vote Yes to a fairer Ireland” or “Vote Yes: let’s treat everyone equally”, it does more than simply advocating support for a reform that will end some forms of discrimination against some queers – it works to launder ongoing structural racism, misogyny, class exploitation and the structural homophobia and transphobia that will persist long after this referendum passes. It is meaningless to talk of equality in a society that permits the racist and punitive detention of migrants in direct provision, or the brutalisation and murder of pregnant (usually migrant) women in Irish hospitals, or the class-based robbery of austerity, or the subjection of trans people to arbitrary, restrictive and humiliating gatekeeping processes in order to have their gender legally recognised. So call for a Yes vote, but don’t call it equality.

Speakers (not in order of presentation)

Paul McAndrew
A non-monogamous gay man living in Cork and a member of WSM who has been out as both queer and anarchist for thirty years and is in favour of equal marriage.

Eilís Ní Fhlannagáin
Has been active in radical trans women’s circles for the past two decades. Her activism focuses on trans women, their access to quality health care and employment, poverty, and transmisogyny within feminist communities. Her work has been mentioned in Mimi Marinucci’s “Feminism is Queer: The Intimate Connection between Queer and Feminist Theory”, as well as Sybil Lamb’s “How Not To Have A Sex Change”. She currently lives in Dublin where she is writing a book about starting an underground orchiectomy clinic. She blogs, very infrequently at http://hacklikeagirl.wordpress.com/

Aidan Rowe
A queer anarchist activist and writer who will criticise the goal of assimilation through inclusion within marriage and ask what the next steps are for those with a more radical vision of queer liberation. Aidan blogs at https://automaticwriting1.wordpress.com/

Fionnghuala Nic Roibeaird
Fionnghuala is a queer anarchist-feminist from Belfast and a member of WSM. Her main activism has been around Palestine and Pro-Choice politics. She will talk from a northern perspective where the majority party is openly homophobic and where there has been an upsurge of homophobia recently.

Janet O’Sullivan
Is a bisexual activist, who was the first Bi person to be visible on national TV, she has also done bi visibility interviews on radio. she runs Bisexuals for Marriage Equality on twitter and facebook, and is a member of the Bi+ network. she is also a sex education and Reproductive rights activist and blogs at Janet.ie

“NOTHING can/will define me! Free to be EVERYTHING!!!”

Miley Cyrus

I wish to speak of something without knowing quite what it is. A disposition; a sensibility; a micropolitical strategy; a navigational heuristic; a performative absence; a forgetting, perhaps; a queer site of refusal and resistance; a creative potential; an experiment, a mode of living within, despite and against the regime of gender, which I’m going to call “gender nihilism”.

Gender nihilism designates a kind of radical agnosticism at the level of (gender) identity; a refusal of the injunction to know what one is, to objectify oneself as knowledge, and to make oneself known; a persistent “no comment” to the police who surround and suffuse us, and marshall against us a vast array of tactics – promises, threats, insults, lies, seductions, manipulations, forms of violence – to extract a confession. It names a possibility latent within any particular gender position: that of disidentification, of non-identification.

Silence too is performative.1 If gender is in some sense the effect of the repetition of gendered expressions, what is the effect of the repetition of a silence when the question of one’s gender is posed? It is not an escape. Norms continue to inscribe gendered meanings on the body, to produce modes of embodiment, and to act upon expression. One remains both a relay for and a product of gender as a form of power.2 It is more like a strike or an act of sabotage, a refusal to function as a site of production for a particular kind of knowledge and an effort to disrupt one’s normal functioning as a force of production.

There is nothing natural about having a gender. The shift from sovereignty – whose mode of action is necropolitical and whose instrument is law – to discipline – in which the fashioning and control of life (rather than consignment to death) becomes the primary concern of power, and the norm its instrument – as the dominant form of power required the expansion of modes of inquiry and knowledge production. Simply: that which is to be disciplined must be rendered intelligible to disciplinary powers; the norm must be defined and delimited and deviance understood in order to be corrected and eliminated. Gender, sex, sexuality are conceptual instruments of this form of power. The belief that one must have a gender, that is, that one must know oneself in gendered terms and be capable of transmitting that knowledge, that gender self-knowledge is a necessary condition for a livable life, and that the absence of such knowledge is a form of crisis, is a historical phenomenon and an effect of power. Gender nihilism is the lived refutation of that belief, the demonstration that life can be lived without such knowledge, and that such a life can flourish.

If the disciplinary society aimed at the elimination of troublesome difference through institutional power, the new capitalism, the society of control, produces a fresh twist on the politics of intelligibility. Control is interested not in the elimination of difference but in its assimilation, the recuperation and reincorporation of renegades into the market, the state, the family and so on by adding additional axioms which conditionally and selectively allow access to the norm. Homosexuality no longer requires a cure, rather the marriage norm is expanded to include gays who conform to certain norms of acceptable difference, while the rest are further abjected. Disciplinary power is tactile and direct, control is remote and abstract. It effects biopolitical control through the modulation of differential access to markets, food, shelter, recognition, rights, protections.

If the assertion of abjected identities, and the hybridisation and invention of new identities directly confronted disciplinary power, such gestures are increasingly incorporated by new forms of control. The assertion of identity becomes the means by which a population delimits itself and renders itself intelligible to power and begins a trajectory of assimilation which assigns it a place within marketing strategies, state institutions, culture and social life.3 It thereby structures oppositional politics according to a logic of recognition, drawing renegade flows back toward the state and the reproduction of the present.

Gender nihilism is disinterested in recognition. Recognition is always “recognition as…” and therefore remains always conditional: “I recognise you as…” is always conditional on a prior identification, always implies a “because you are…”, and always retains the possibility that recognition will be withdrawn if you become something else. The power of recognition is also simultaneously the power of misrecognition and non-recognition, and the goal of recognition, whether demanded or asked for, exposes one permanently to these forms of violence. However forcefully we assert “I am…”, we remain vulnerable to “You are not…”, “You are instead…”4

Gender nihilism has no positive content. In itself it does not prescribe or recommend any particular way of being in the world. It makes no claims about what it is. If identification is drawing a circle in the sand saying “here are the things I am, there are the things I am not”, gender nihilism simply lets the circle be washed away by the waves. The gender nihilist is therefore indifferent to the names they are called and the genders they signify.* Gender nihilism opens the entire space of gendered possibility as a terrain for exploration, but does not replace fidelity to an identity with fidelity to an ethics of exploration. One can stay where one is just as surely as one can set off at a sprint. In this sense it is less a nomadism than a homelessness.5 It opens up gender as a space of play, or of combat, without mandating either. It’s mode of address is “you can…” – “you should…” and “you must…” only emerge when other components are bolted on. It is futural in the sense that it refuses the conception of historicity that grounds identity (“I am what I always have been”) which is always in any case a founding myth, a constantly reworked fiction that establishes continuity with the past. Gender nihilism is at ease with rupture. It allows us to treat our histories as a resource, an archive of past styles, ways of living, memories, experiences, beliefs to be reworked and refashioned in any way desired, but is not innately a postmodernist, or futurist, or accelerationist disposition towards novelty or innovation.

Gender nihilism is political but it is not a politics. It is queer by definition, but proposes no ideal queerness, nor any queer horizon towards which to direct itself. It is a negation that doesn’t presuppose some future dialectical turn. Clearly it is in various ways a marginal and precarious position and thus its structural position pushes towards certain forms of alliance, and indeed may in itself open unique political possibilites. In this sense gender nihilism may be a valuable conceptual component in a political assemblage, but one ambivalent to the particular political projects it connects with.6


1 One stock example of performativity is the “I do” of a wedding ceremony. Consider how the same ceremony also incorporates a performative silence to sanction the legality of the marriage: the moment after “speak now or forever hold your peace”.

2 A question arises here: if we assert that gender cannot be escaped, are we not legislating against the identities of those who claim for themselves a position outside of the gender binary, or outside of gender as such – those who call themselves agender, non-binary, or third gender, for example? This, I think, is a problem that arises in all forms of gender identification, which I call the problem of ‘lived ontology’. That is: any particular assertion of gender identity involves claims about what kind of genders can exist and which cannot, whose implications extend beyond the self to the whole social body. For example, a trans person’s insistence that their anatomy does not dictate their gender troubles the gender of a cis person who understands their gender as grounded in biological fact, while in turn forms of lived gender fluidity trouble some trans people’s understanding of their lived gender as grounded in fixed interior truth. The various forms of gender identity in the world are mutually incoherent, and in some cases mutually canceling. This should not be seen as a problem, rather we should seek to understand the ways that a variety of mutually incompatible forms of gender dissidence each open up their own spaces of freedom and effect their own disruptions of the gender regime. I intend to return to this topic in a more systematic way in the future, but provisionally we can say that all genders are in some sense impossible, and that the extension of recognition despite or even because of that impossibility is one of the ways in which we can collaborate and support one-another to performatively open up possibilities that are barred by gender norms.

3 Of course, this process is not inevitable. Identity categories can be queered and re-queered to resist assimilation. And identity-based movements can exceed containment and threaten power. My aim here is not to proscribe identification, but to question its necessity and sketch an alternative.

4 This condition is perhaps never fully escapable. As social beings we are always minimally vulnerable. We never fully control how we are affected by the names we are called. In this sense perhaps gender nihilism designates a horizon rather than an actuality. In any case, it is certainly not a delusion of invulnerability.

5 My point is not that a nomad ethics is not desirable (I think it is, and there is clearly an affinity or compatibility between the two), simply that this question is external to the proposition of gender nihilism.

6 Indeed I write this in part because I am convinced of the political value of nihilism both as a point to pass through and as a position to act from, but that’s another essay.

* EDIT 11/11/15 The struck-out sentence is one I no longer endorses since it prescribes indifference as an ideal way of living queerness – prescisely the kind of prescriptivism this text seeks to escape. I have struck it out because, while I feel it can safely be removed from the text without loss of coherence, I don’t believe in simply deleting problematic/contentious mistakes so it appears as if I never said them.

Camden Street, Harcourt Street, George’s Street, Smock Alley.

No bells from the churches, no urban foxes, no first snowflakes.

Just the boom-boom of a bass, somewhere in the distance.

Rats skittering, across sodden blankets, beds of needles.

On our journey, people laughing, having the craic.

Making the most of their night out, under Christmas lights, strung high on streets, over strung-out people.

On Grafton Street, a Gucci sign beams over the remnants of humanity.

(Source)

What does this poem say?

It begins with four street names. A sense of placement and of movement: a short stroll round Dublin’s Southside.

Then three negations: “no… no… no…”. What is missing? Church bells, foxes, winter’s first snows. A Christmas card scene, an idyllic picture of Dublin, present in the form of an absence: a haunting.

Then contrast. A bass throbbing in the distance, no poetic quality, no imagery, just onomatopoeia: “boom boom”. The vulgarity of nightlife and its idiot rhythms.

Another twist of perspective: from pumping drunk ecstasy to grim filthy horror. Rats, dirty blankets, needles: the homeless as the figure of abjection, appearing not quite as people, but as the intersection of various forms of filth. Here is the obscene underbelly of the city, that only we who take this walk can see.

The rest are blinded by the oblivion of their own enjoyment. Fun and laughter return, and so too beauty, pleasantness, warmth in the form of Christmas lights, but now they are hollowed out, absurd. How could such things coexist, share space with such misery? How could their brightness, their aspiration, amount to anything other than an obsecenity: strung-up lights over strung-out people?

Final shift, final contradiction: Grafton Street and Gucci appear as the figure of consumption, the hypocrisy of the city’s bustling indifference as money and goods circle round and round. The humanity of the homeless is reduced to waste, “remnants”, as the lure of high-fashion branding beams down in grim irony.

* * *

There’s nothing difficult about this poem. It’s diagnosis is simple: beneath the affirmative veneer of the city is a subterranean world of poverty. We could see it if we only looked, but we choose to look past it as we busy ourselves with our own privileged lives of shopping and socialising. But it exists nonetheless as a kind of horror that haunts our activity and spoils and corrupts our happiness.

Everyone, I think, has experienced these moments where the presence of suffering is forced to the attention of our consciousness, and asks us difficult questions of ourselves as caring moral beings. Is not our humanity partial, self-serving, hypocritical when suffering can coexist in such proximity? And we have all written this poem in one form of another, drawn together the same clumsy contradictions, puked out the same tired autocritique, so that we can finally utter the statement “homelessness is bad” in the guise of a profundity.

I have written this poem several times, and always scrunched it up and threw it away. Why? Because it says nothing. It presents itself, hypocritically, as social critique, as a political statement, as a symbolic mirror reflecting the ugliness of the real which we refuse to see directly. But really, its diagnosis is not social or political, but spiritual, metaphysical. It pushes homelessness and homeless people outside of politics and into the syrup of sentiment, smothering structural reality in the fake universality of human empathy (if only we could recover it!) as if the world were experiencing a deficit of nice thoughts. It’s message is not that a problem exists that must be fixed, that people live in shit situations for specific reasons that we might do something about, but rather that society is decadent and we must lament and find redemption. It is patronising and self-indulgent. Patronising, because real homeless people are reduced to abstract, identical and absolute victims in order to tell us something about ourselves; self-indulgent, because it’s not really about homelessness or homeless people at all, it is about the redemption of the person who speaks through the poem, allowing him to transcend the moral cesspit in which he traumatically finds himself: self-worth is restored because he is The One Who Has Drawn Attention.

It’s bollocks, basically. And specifically, it’s the kind of bollocks we as adolescents come out with when we’re first finding our feet in the world as moral and political beings and still think we’re the first ones in the world to have ever noticed anything. It’s excusable when it’s handed up by a Junior Cert student as a composition assignment. (Which is not to say that teenagers don’t have unique, important and interesting thoughts, because they do, all the time.) Maturation is the process of learning that it’s not about you, that other people are not characters in your moral drama, and that what you think means fuck all unless you’re prepared to do something about it.

* * *

But Enda Kenny is not some middle class teenager, privileged but basically as powerless as anyone else, indicting the world to resolve his guilt. He is the leader of government of a territory in which homelessness is ever-mounting as a crisis. His pukey humanitarianism is not a few lines in a notebook that nobody will ever read – it’s national news and a matter of Dáil record. A text is indissociable from the voice that speaks it, and here the transposition of sophomoric bien penses into the discourse of power transforms banality into obscenity. Here gooey universalism isn’t just some hippy rubbish to make us all feel better, it’s the attempt of one whose policies, whose decisions, whose position and function within a structure of power, puts human bodies on the street to shiver and die, to assert that, beneath it all, he shares a common humanity with his victims. That beneath it all, Enda Kenny and Johnathon Corrie are just people trying to make the best of things. That he is just one of us struck by guilt and grief and trying to make sense of the absurdity of it all. It’s obscene beyond comprehension.

This is Scrooge McDuck’s Christmas epiphany. This is the mercy of power for its subjects. This is the cold monster of the State trying to fabricate a heart. It deserves nothing more or less than contempt.

Another college essay. I found writing this useful in clarifying my understanding of subjectification in Foucault, perhaps others will too.

[I]t is not power, but the subject, which is the general theme of my research.” Explain what Foucault means by this remark.

Foucault’s works are often read as theorising a kind of cold monolithic structuralism, in which power is determinate and human subjects are merely its passive products, whose conscious intentions are more or less irrelevant. (Heller, 1996, pp. 78-9) Indeed, when Foucault tells us, for example, that “individuals are the vehicles of power” and that “[t]he individual… is not the vis-a-vis of power… [but] one of its prime effects” (Foucault, 1980, p.98), it is difficult not to envision the human subject as merely a leaf caught in a storm, helplessly blown this way and that by monstrous flows that are essentially beyond her control. Does Foucault’s picture of modernity, as Habermas (1986, p.106) alleges, not simply reduce to “a senseless back-and-forth of anonymous processes of subjugation in which power and nothing but power appears in ever-changing guises” – power as the real subject of history, abstract and inhuman? And yet Foucault insists that his analytics of power is secondary to his interest in subjectivity. (Foucault, 1982, pp. 208-9) My aim here will be to offer an explanation of Foucault’s interest in the subject in the light of the apparent structural determinism that is so often attributed to him, which entails discussion of (1) the relationship between power, the subject and resistance in Foucault, and (2) Foucault’s approach to theory as a desubjectifying and transformative practice.

Foucault claims that the central concern of his work is to produce “a history of the different modes by which… human beings are made subjects”. His work focused primarily on three inter-related modes of subjectification: (1) the modes of inquiry (sciences) which produce the human subject as an object of knowledge, (2) “dividing practices” which divide the subject both within herself, and from other subjects according to a binary logic of norm and deviance, and (3) practices of self-governance by which the subject (re)produces and transforms herself as subject. Within these modes of subjectification, Foucault detected a form of power for which traditional modes of inquiry lacked adequate analytical tools, that is, a form of power whose effect is to attach the subject to her own identity: “a form of power which makes individuals subjects”. (Ibid., p.212) For Foucault, the analysis of this subjectifying power entailed a shift to the outside in relation to traditional understandings of power. The conception of power as coextensive with the will of the sovereign (the juridicial conception of power, as it appears e.g. in Hobbes’ Leviathan) is rejected by Foucault, (Foucault, 1980, p.97) as it the theorisation of power based on the immanent logic of institutions (the conception of power in terms of the problematics, functions, and objects presumed by institutional logics). (Foucault, 2009, pp.117-8) Rather, Foucault seeks to analyse power in terms of strategies, but insists on a form of strategic analysis in which strategy is not conflated with the intentionality of a subject: “Power relations are both intentional and non-subjective… they are imbued, through and through, with calculation… but this does not mean [they] result from the choice or decision of an individual subject”. (Foucault, 1998, pp.94-5) Power relations are an immanent feature of human relationships, and arise wherever one acts on the action of others to constrain or direct the present or future effect of potential of that action. (Foucault, 1982, p.220) There is no power as such as a kind of universal substance, but rather powers which are immanent to relations between subjects and exist only through their application (Ibid., p.219)

Thus, in contrast to phenomenology, for which the subject is a kind of primary transcendental substance (Foucault, 1991, p.31), Foucault’s subject is always already implicated in circuits of power, an emerges in the context of a strategic field where she is always simultaneously undergoing and exercising power, and it is within this context of the strategic interplay of power relations that “certain bodies, certain gestures, certain discourses, certain desires come to be constituted as individuals” (Foucault, 1980, p.98) – a kind of folding or doubling of the field of force relations, in which the subject is always the product of the interiorisation of her relations with the Other. (Deleuze, 1988, p.98) Foucault’s subject, then, is neither a radically free or self-originating agent nor the passive interpellate of some overdetermining structure, but is always in some sense an active participant in the interplay of power relations which produce her as a subject. Consequently, resistance is always possible – the exercise of power is always vulnerable to reversals, disruptions, refusals – but resistances never originate from a position of exteriority to power, rather a plurality of points or strategies of resistance exist within the web formed by power relations, as its immanent and irreducible opposite. (Foucault, 1998, pp.95-6)

Foucault’s interest in subjectivity, then, can perhaps be summarised as seeking to understand the power relations which form us as subjects and the strategies by which we might seek to transform the power relations to which we are subject and thus transform ourselves as subjects. Theory itself, for Foucault, can be such a transformative strategy. Inspired by the works of Nietzsche, Blanchot and Bataille, Foucault conceives of theoretical practice as a kind of desubjectifying “limit experience”, such that the subject is torn from herself and produced as something other than herself. Foucault’s historical inquiries (however rigourous) are concerned only secondarily with the production of truths – the primary concern is that of the experience of history as a transformation of the self, as the production of new understandings and new relations to the present. (Foucault, 1991, pp.30-6) “A book… is a little machine” (Deleuze & Guattari, 2013, p.2), and Foucault’s machines are built with a particular purpose in mind: that of allowing the subject to transform her relations to the games of power in which she is constantly and inextricably implicated. This is the second sense (which ultimately produces the first) in which Foucault is a thinker first not of power but of the subject: the analytics of power is always motivated by the problematics of our existence as subjects within particular constellations of power. “Knowledge is not made for understanding; it is made for cutting.” (Foucault, 1984, p.88)

Bibliography

Deleuze, G. (1988). Foucault. US: University of Minnesota Press.

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (2013) A Thousand Plateaus. UK: Bloomsbury.

Foucault, M. (1980) Power/Knowledge. U.K.: Harvester.

Foucault, M. (1982) “Afterword: The Subject and Power” in Dreyfus, H.L. and Rabinow, P. eds. Michel Foucault: Structuralism and Hermeneutics. US: University of Chicago Press.

Foucault, M. (1984). “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History” in Rabinow, P. ed. The Foucault Reader. New York: Pantheon.

Foucault, M. (1991) Remarks On Marx. Trans. Goldstein, R.J. and Cascaito, J., US: Semiotext(e).

Foucault, M. (1998) The Will To Knowledge: The History of Sexuality Volume 1. UK: Penguin.

Foucault, M. (2009) Security, Territory, Population. UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Habermas, J. (1986) “Taking Aim at the Heart of the Present” in Hoy, D. ed. Foucault: A critical reader Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Heller, K.J. (1996) “Power, Subjectification and Resistance in Foucault”. SubStance, Vol. 25, No. 1, Issue 79, pp. 78-110.