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Marketing itself is a practice based on differences, and the more differences that are given, the more marketing strategies can develop. Ever more hybrid and differentiated populations present a proliferating number of “target markets” that can each be addressed by specific marketing strategies—one for gay Latino males between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two, another for Chinese-American teenage girls, and so forth. Postmodern marketing recognizes the difference of each commodity and each segment of the population, fashioning its strategies accordingly. Every difference is an opportunity…

When one looks closely at U.S. corporate ideology (and, to a lesser but still significant extent, at U.S. corporate practice), it is clear that corporations do not operate simply by excluding the gendered and/or racialized Other. In fact, the old modernist forms of racist and sexist theory are the explicit enemies of this new corporate culture. The corporations seek to include difference within their realm and thus aim to maximize creativity, free play, and diversity in the corporate workplace. People of all different races, sexes, and sexual orientations should potentially be included in the corporation; the daily routine of the workplace should be rejuvenated with unexpected changes and an atmosphere of fun. Break down the old boundaries and let one hundred flowers bloom! The task of the boss, subsequently, is to organize these energies and differences in the interests of profit. This project is aptly called ‘‘diversity management.’’ In this light, the corporations appear not only ‘‘progressive’’ but also ‘‘postmodernist,’’ as leaders in a very real politics of difference.

Hardt & Negri, Empire, pp. 152-3

I

In One Dimensional Man, Marcuse develops the concept of “repressive desublimation” as a critique of the consumerist politics of desire: In its consumerist phase, capital no longer operates primarily through the denial and repression of desire, but through the satisfaction of desires that it itself produces, thus preventing rebellion and ensuring the reproduction of the capitalist system with a fully closed circuit of desire and consumption. There is a disciplinary machinery at work within the supposed free play of desire: one’s desire must always lead back to capital. One must want only what capitalism offers, and increasingly one must not refuse to want it. As Zizek claims, increasingly “the permissive ‘You May!’ [turns] into the prescriptive ‘You Must!’… permitted enjoyment turns into ordained enjoyment” (The Superego and the Act) but this enjoyment is strictly regulated: “you can enjoy everything, BUT deprived of its substance which makes it dangerous.” (Passion In The Era of Decaffeinated Belief) There is, therefore, an unsatisfying banality to consumerist gratification:

“Behind the glitter of spectacular distractions, a tendency toward banalization dominates modern society the world over, even where the more advanced forms of commodity consumption have seemingly multiplied the variety of roles and objects to choose from… life in this particular world remains repressive and offers nothing but pseudo-gratifications.” (Debord, The Society of the Spectacle)

* I have substantial disagreements, however with Marcuse’s historical thesis and his account of desire: there was never a purely libidinally repressive capitalism with which to compare modern permissive capitalism, while at the same time the immiseration of previous “phases” continues to coexist with consumerist abundance which confounds any notion of historical rupture in this regard.

Thus is the ambivalence of capitalist “freedom”. Who, after all, would want to return from “repressive desublimation” to repression simpliciter?* And yet there is, if anything, a more profound alienation associated with the capitalism that gives us what we want: alienation at the point of production – that is, the alien presence of capital within us, appropriating our will and intent – is generalised to the whole of social life – capital lives within us as desire – the desiring-production of capital

II

I wish to propose a similar (and somewhat related) concept in relation to the (postmodern) capitalist politics of difference: that of “homogenising differentiation”.

In its postmodern phase, capital encourages – indeed in certain senses relies upon – the free proliferation of difference across the social world, both as a necessary correlate of the deconstruction of national boundaries, as a field of opportunity for marketing and consumption, and as a source of productive creativity.† But capital also must impose certain limits on the emergence of new subjectivities to ensure they continue to feed into the production and consumption of commodities, and must continually reterritorialise all escapes. “Let a hundred flowers bloom!” capital says, but in blooming one must remain a flower: you can have whatever identity you like, as long as it is capable of functioning as a marketplace and a workshop for commodity consumption/production. The immanent logic of capitalist pluralism is thus to homogenise the very difference it pursues, to circumscribe and constrain the field of possibilities it simultaneously opens, to reterritorialise with one hand what it deterritorialises with the other.

† Of course, as Hardt & Negri point out, this “global politics of difference established by the world market is defined not by free play and equality, but by the imposition of new hierarchies, or really by a constant process of hierarchization” (Empire, p.154) Capital, even at its most utopian, retains and develops an alliance with patriarchal, heteronormative and racist biopolitical regimes, but this is not our primary insterest here.

This is not at all a matter of opposing a virtual or superficial difference to a real underlying sameness, as if gender, race etc. are merely the surface phenomena of a universal worker-consumer, nor is it a matter of opposing (universal) form to (particular) content. Rather it is the operation of a material process of subjection, universal in scope but particular in application, that organises the subject to produce a certain set of functions, potentials, imperatives, without reducing it to merely another copy of the same. Many different machines can plug into the universal machine of capital, so long as they can manifest certain features: i.e. can speak the universal language of money, submit to work-discipline, produce value, desire commodities, gaze upon the spectacle. In other words, we do not discover a universal figure of the worker-consumer beneath particular articulations of race, gender etc., and thus reassert the political/ontological primacy of class; there is no sub- or super- structure here, but a multiplicity of processes of interpellation that structure a common material.

Put simply: capitalist diversity is internally contradictory, not simply because it relies on the perpetuation of structural racism, sexism, homophobia and the like for its reproduction, but because the logic of (even, or perhaps especially) those capitalist processes that Hardt & Negri claim “have long been postmodernist, avant la lettre” (Empire, p.151) requires that it must continually ward off the emergence of a truly radical otherness that it cannot recuperate.

III

Official (state and corporate) multiculturalism takes this form. The racial/cultural other is officially embraced so long as that otherness never exceeds the implicit bounds set by the state and the market. “We love your exotic foods and dances, your spiritualism, your ecologically sound approach to nature,” multiculturalism says, but in the same breath this incitement to diversity is also a proscription: “this is to be the content of your difference”, which must never exceed the bounds of good citizenship and of enthusiastic neoliberal subjectivity. The celebration and incorporation of “good diversity” is in the same moment the abjection and suppression of “bad diversity”: “Muslims yes! Political Islam no!”

Similarly, the “progressive” corporations are pro-gay but virulently anti-queer. Increasingly, capital heroically champions the rights and inclusion of same-sex couples but on its terms. It is interested precisely and only in those wishing to opt-in to heteronormative kinship structures and associated consumer practices, and thus “[t]he sphere of legitimate intimate alliance is established through producing and intensifying regions of illegitimacy” (Judith Butler, Is Kinship Always Already Heterosexual?). Pride is gradually stripped of its political content and instead becomes just another celebration of consumer culture, and the movement began with a demand for liberation – that is, to open new spaces of livability, to push the horizons of experience, and to resist the disciplinary violence of society – becomes “just another interest group, another demographic, another corporate social responsibility box-ticking excercise allowing big business to claim progressive credentials, obscuring the exploitation at the heart of their operation.”

IV

According to many on the Left, this is precisely the sort of thing that postmodernism, identity politics, and intersectionality are incapable of seeing. Focusing myopically on a set of disconnected particulars, so the argument goes, those who pursue a radical politics of difference fail to see the trap that is identity. Capital has outflanked us by incorporating the very politics of difference we seek to deploy against it within its marketing strategies, management practices, modes of biopolitical governance, etc., leaving the postmodern left chasing the ghost of a modernist capitalism that no longer exists. What is needed, therefore, is a return to macro theories with global applicability, and the recomposition of a universal historical (class) subject.

What this perspective is missing is an understanding of the immanent tension of a bourgeois politics of difference, the inescabable insufficiency of capitalist inclusiveness, and thus the tendency of a radical politics of difference to exceed what capital is able to deliver. After all, the space of consumer flavours does not exhaust the potential of human life, and capital must continually frustrate our becomings, blocking paths, recoding and redirecting renegade desires. We should not abandon the postmodern pursuit of difference to the capitalist apparatus of capture, but rather relentlessly push at the boundaries of experiential possibility to pursue a radical difference that capitalism is inherently incapable of realising: “Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to ‘accelerate the process'” (Deleuze & Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, pp.239-40) – an accelerationist identity politics, not technological and productivist, but experiential, subjective. A transversal politics continually shifting focus between structure and intersection to discover possibilities for insurrection – a revolutionary intersectionality that exceeds the individuating and identitarian bureacracy of liberal thought.

This is a response to the piece Exiting the Vampire Castleby Mark Fisher.

I don’t know anything about Mark Fisher. He wrote a book, called Capitalist Realism that a lot of people seem to like, but I have no idea what’s in it or if I should care. But I do know Mark is afraid of me. He is afraid of me, because I am an anarchist, because I engage with “identity politics”, because I think the Labour Party is a load of bourgeois shit, because I believe that influential figures should be held to account for oppressive speech-acts, and because I (occasionally) go to university. Moreover, he is afraid of me because I am destroying something precious to him, something to which he has attributed meaning and invested desire – the Left; a figure, an image and a real assemblage, which produces intense affects in those who believe in its necessity and potential, and whose evident failure to intervene decisively at this moment of capitalist crisis has induced flows of despondancy across the entire social body.

How does one deal with such intense negative affect, with frustrated desire, with a pronounced, emasculating political impotence, which threaten to overwhelm the subject? What happens to the revolutionary breaks and flows of the communist machine when there seems to be precisely no way to productively intervene in the political situation? One possible line of flight is to retreat into nostalgia, pining for a workers movement of yesteryear, which was powerful and decisive and unified, while conveniently forgetting that it was this same workers movement whose failure allowed neoliberalism to claw its way into every last nook and cranny of social existence. Another is to project one’s negativity onto a scapegoat, a monstrous vampiric Other, which can be blamed for sucking the vitality and hope out of the Left.

It is, I think, no coincidence that Mark Fisher chose this historic moment of deficit (the opposite of a “moment of excess”) to dust off an old and conservative discourse, give it a new psychoanalytical gloss, and to use it to rhetorically storm the “Vampire’s Castle” he’s built in his head. Its resonances, both positive and negative, across the left seem to me to be symptomatic of the current (de)composition of the Left as a social force, where old antagonisms along identarian lines have been invested with a new urgency by the collapse of organised resistance to the present capitalist assault. It is the confluence, I think, of a number of affects specific to this period of crisis, some, perhaps, understandable and forgivable, others thoroughly unpleasant and reactionary, which produce the libidinal underpinnings of this discourse, which, following Judith Butler, I shall call “neoconservative Marxism”, namely:

  1. feelings of uncertainty, hopelessness, and directionlessness, that result from witnessing one’s organising efforts come to nothing

  2. a sense of an urgent need for unity to compensate for the evident weakness of the Left as it stands

  3. a sense of the urgency of class struggle at this particular moment, combined with a sense of competition with non-class struggles for increasingly scarce resources

  4. a felt need for robust, “no bullshit” discourse, which also has the side effect of producing a masculine affect

  5. a need to participate in the psychodrama of conflict at a time when there seems to be no way to hit your enemies where it hurts

  6. concomitant feelings of discomfort around the difficult and patient work of rebuilding, rethinking and re-orienting left resistance, and

  7. a jealousy towards the relative vitality and vibrancy displayed by intersectional/feminist discourses

One might recognise oneself in this characterisation, or one might strongly resist such psychological speculation. My purpose here was to demonstrate that the neoconservatism evinced by Fisher could also be analysed as a “libidinal-discursive formation”. But it also, I think, demonstrates why Fisher’s decision to position himself as analyst and to interpellate numerous comrades, as analysand, is both rather presumptuous, and a piss poor form of argumentation. It allows the author to negate the subjectivity of his opponent, and whatever arguments they might marshall in support of their position, and instead indulge in a patronising performance of “I understand why you think the way you do” faux-insight.

Perhaps it would be better to interrogate the substance of the argument.

The Worker and the Vampire as Gothic horror

Exiting the Vampire Castle is ostensibly an attack on the essentialising tendencies of something called “identity politics”, a style of argument that has been rehearsed often enough to constitute a genre in and of itself. This time, however, the usual genre tropes are given a distinct Gothic twist. The hero, as usual, is the ordinary British (i.e. white) working class man, this time played, somewhat incongrously by Russell Brand. The worker, trapped in a castle made out of political correctness gone mad, is stalked and preyed upon by vampires: bourgeois liberal academics posing as leftists, who hide in the shadows waiting for the worker to say something mildly sexist so they can sink their fangs of guilt and shame into the worker’s lovely neck. Once bitten, the worker is subjected to a horrific fate: he is essentialised as a sexist. The vampires may claim that they are interested in things like liberation, justice, solidarity and collectivity, but their bloodlust, it is revealed to our horror, is motivated by something much darker: petty bourgeois class interest. It is only by re-asserting the primacy of class that the vampires can be slayed and the worker can finally escape the castle and carry out his historic mission of abolishing capitalist society.

As is often the case, poorly-conceived horror morphs into camp comedy. Russell Brand, with his millions of pounds and his habit of subjecting women to public and sexualised humiliation, is hardly convincing as the hapless victim. Indeed, what else is there to do but laugh at a class analysis in which a working class person can be a multimillionaire comedian and film star and retain their working class identity, but a worker who becomes an academic and pursues an interest in Cultural Studies is inevitably possessed by a petty bourgeois essence which structures their discourse according to a subconscious desire to own a prosperous corner shop. One might also wonder in passing whether a worker might be a woman, or queer, or not white, which might recast our tragic male hero in a more ethically ambiguous light, spoiling the dramatic effect.

Neoconservative Marxism as identity politics

There are rather obvious contradictions at the heart of Fisher’s argument: How can one rail against essentialism, while essentialising (and therefore dismissing) a whole family of left discourses as petty bourgeois, and academic? How can one oppose identity politics by valourising a working class identity that is apparently independent of one’s material situation? How can one oppose the supposed suppression of class struggle on the left, while putting forward a view of class as essentially a cultural attitude abstracted from actual material struggle?

These contradictions resolve themselves if one considers Fisher’s intervention not as an opposition to identity politics per se, but as a territorial dispute over which identity politics should have primary status on the Left. For Neoconservative Marxists, the real problem with ‘intersectionality’ and such ‘identity-politics’ discourses is that they are seen as introducing division into the left, fracturing the a priori unity of the working class. Political struggle is seen as a zero-sum game: there can only be one historical Subject, and it must be the worker. Since the worker is now positioned as the sole political subject, aspects of feminism, anti-racism, and queer struggles which cannot be assimilated into an analysis of economic struggles must be something else: ethics, not politics. Therefore, those women, people of colour and queers who refuse to play their allotted role in the class struggle are infecting the workers movement with a debilitating moralism, rather than participating in a (sometimes tense and difficult) negotiation towards a recomposition of “the real movement that abolishes the present state of things”.

Perhaps the most useful lesson to take from Fisher’s piece is that, while it’s relatively easy to produce a critique of identity politics, it is far harder to transcend in practice. It might be accurate to say that intersectional discourses work with reified identity categories (although that too would be an oversimplification), but to understand that reification as merely an illusory effect of intersectionality or identity politics, rather than a material reality, is idealist in the extreme. One does not transcend identity categories by performative critique. Unity pursued through the repression of difference, is only ever purchased through the exclusion, marginalisation and domestication of gendered and racialised minorities within the left. Truly democratic unity, which in any case is never perfect and is always merely a productive conjuncture of difference, is always the effect of a successful prior coming-together on the basis of respect and mutual recognition. The revolutionary force that finally sweeps away this oppressive system is only going to be materialised in a tense coalition of heterogenous political subjectivities: workers, environmentalists, feminists, queers, people of colour, punks, anarchists, socialists, communists, liberals (even). The most prudent form of intervention on this question, then, is not to insist on collective identities that flatten out differences, but to work to build coalitions that honour and respect difference, which become unified through a collective project or vision for social transformation. Interventions like Fisher’s only serve to accentuate divisions. It doesn’t actually advance any kind of project of recomposition.

This is an essay I wrote for my Feminism Today! class last semester, which was really useful in helping to clarify my thoughts on issues of sexuality and gender.

Feminism would hold that sexuality is socially constructed. Discuss how and why women’s sexuality and femininity is socially constructed and how these constructs may be the site of oppression, regulation and control.

Sexuality – its origin, content, and political meaning – has been an important concern for the feminist movement. Key in understanding and articulating a particularly feminist picture of the sexual has been the idea that sexuality is socially-constructed. This essay explores the ideas of social construction and anti-essentialism in the context of female sexuality. No definition of the sexual is taken, rather I agree with Stevi Jackson that ‘an act is not sexual by virtue of its inherent properties… [but] becomes sexual by the application of socially learned meanings’.1 The construction of sexuality involves complex interactions between the body, the self, culture, power, the state, etc., which are explored throughout the essay. First, the issue of essentialism and the meaning of the categories of ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are discussed. Next, Freud’s account of psychosexual development is discussed in relation to critical feminist perspectives. Drawing on Foucault’s analysis of power and of social control, a framework for understanding the mechanisms by which sexuality is constructed is sketched. Next, with Foucault still in mind, the analyses of radical feminists are drawn on to discuss the political implications of normative forms of sexuality. Finally, the tensions between ‘sex-positive’ and ‘sex-negative’ feminism as forms of resistance are briefly discussed.

As it’s presently constructed, to talk of sexuality presupposes gendered subjects. Consequently, to understand how female sexuality is socially constructed, one must first understand how women are constructed as women, by looking at the social construction of sex and gender. Most feminists hold that gender difference is largely if not entirely socially constructed. However, there has always been an essentialist current within feminist thought, which holds that femininity is biologically determined (for example, Naomi Wolf’s recent book Vagina: A New Biography2), but contests the patriarchal conception of femininity as inferior. This viewpoint is criticised by Andrea Dworkin, who argues that essentialism is always reactionary (Fascist, even) in its political implications.3

Many feminists maintain a radical separation between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’, with ‘sex’ referring to the biological differences between male and female bodies and ‘gender’ referring to masculine and feminine behaviours, attitudes, identity, modes of thought etc. However this sharp distinction, while useful in some respects as a counter to reactionary bio-essentialist arguments, is problematic. The sexing of the body is also an act of interpretation, and as such relies on a socially-constructed interpretive framework within which gendered meaning can be ascribed to (or imposed upon) bodies: this or that particular feature of the body (such as the capacity for reproduction, or a certain arrangement of chromosomes, or a certain morphology) is taken as the salient feature of that body and its associated sex.4 In the case of intersex bodies, this act of interpretation is often accompanied by the physical imposition of this interpretation via coercive surgery on infants to ‘normalise’ their bodies within a schema of anatomical norms. Transexual individuals, by radically decoupling bodily sex as interpreted by medical professions from sex as a lived experience, and, in some cases, by transforming their bodies to match their understanding of themselves, also undermine notions of an underlying biological facticity of ‘sex’.5 As such, ‘sex’ is not a neutral pre-discursive surface on which gender is inscribed, but rather the construction of ‘sex’ is an aspect of the social process of gender formation.6

In Gender Trouble Judith Butler argues that gender (including ‘sex’) should be viewed as a performative utterance: a discursive act which brings into being that which it names.7 In this, she echoes Monique Wittag’s argument8 that ‘sex’ as a category is inseparable from the power relations in which it is constructed. ‘It is oppression that creates sex and not the contrary.’ To argue the contrary would be to naturalise the oppression of women with reference to a constitutive difference between the sexes that exists prior or external to society, either biologically (the physical sense) or ontologically (the metaphysical sense).9

Among the first feminist works to contest the idea of a ‘natural’ sexuality existing prior to culture is Ann Oakley’s Sex, Gender and Society.10Drawing on anthropological evidence, she compares (hetero)sexual attitudes and behaviours among various indigenous groups, and discovers a wide divergence. Commonsense notions of a qualitative difference between male and female sexuality, in which the male is active and the female is passive (her sexuality is held to involve ‘long arousal and slow satisfaction, inferior sex drive, susceptibility to field dependence… and romantic idealism’), are found to be culturally-specific rather than universal. Cultures are also found to vary widely in the meaning and importance afforded to sexual activity. Oakley’s work provides an empirical support to an anti-essentialist account of human sexuality.

Psychoanalysis is among the key analytical tools for the understanding of sexuality. Sigmund Freud’s male-centric analysis of the psychosocial construction of sexuality, which has had an important influence both on academia and in shaping commonsense understandings of sexuality in wider society, has been contested by feminists. One such critique of Freud is offered by Stevi Jackson.11 She rejects the notion that sexuality is driven by some ‘animal’ or ‘instinctual’ side of human ‘nature’ which is then repressed and shaped by social forces – the Freudian libido – rather it is produced socially, with the biological serving merely as the surface onto which socially-learned meanings are inscribed. Sexual learning involves the assimilation of these social meanings into one’s self-concept, rather than learning to repress or express one’s innate desires. For Freud, libido is an active masculine force, symbolised by the phallus, and the female is defined and understood in terms of its absence, not just sexually, but in her whole personality. Women are, he says, from an early age overcome by an intense envy of the penis and a concomitant feeling of being mutilated which determines her entire personal and sexual development. This assertion, according to Jackson, is unfounded: there is no reason to assume that little girls evaluate themselves negatively on encountering the penis, let alone that penis envy develops to the obsessive proportions Freud gives it. In making this leap, Freud is in fact imposing his own meanings upon children’s behaviour. Simone de Beuvoir12 argues that Freud’s theory makes little effort to study female psychosexual development in itself, rather he simply modified his masculine model, and in doing so obtained the conclusion that the female is a mutilated male, a complex deviation from the human norm, who is male. She argues that while for little boys, who obtain a living experience from their penis, the penis may be a source of pride, little girls are often only dimly aware of the male genitalia, and thus there is no necessary corollary that they should be humiliated by its absence in them. Further, she argues that Freud’s generalisation of the male Oedipus and female Electra complexes (i.e. that a boy’s affection for his mother and a girl’s for her father during their development have a distinctly genital aspect) is spurious and without foundation, particularly in the case of girls.

The regulation of sexuality per se and women’s sexuality in particular has often been a pre-occupation of political powers. This, according to Foucault, is due to sexuality’s two-fold importance: on the one hand, powers are concerned with the regulation and discipline of bodies, on the other with the regulation of populations.13 ‘Regulation’ here should not be confused with ‘repression’: the exercise of control over sexuality may involve ‘refusal, blockage and invalidation, but also incitement and intensification’.14 From the 18th century onwards, Foucault argues, biopolitics – that is, a governmental practice concerned with the rationalisation and control of phenomena of populations of living beings, such as birthrate, health, hygiene, etc. – increasingly formed part of governmental practice and became and important concern of governmentality.15 It is important to note here that, while power often acts through the state, the state should not be seen as a universal and autonomous source of power with a will or intent of its own, but rather as a conduit and series of mechanisms through and by which powers act.16 In Discipline and Punish, Foucault develops two particularly important concepts in this regard. First, biopolitics involves the development of technologies of the body, often diffuse in application and effect, by which the body, understood more or less as a machine, can be explored, shaped and reorganised by disciplinary institutions according to the logic of various powers. These processes produce ‘docile bodies’ shaped and habituated to practices of submission.17 Second, the ‘panopticon’ is used by Foucault to denote a society in which people are subject to continuous surveillance, which functions to remove the need for coercive force in the exercise of social control. The subject of surveillance, aware of her own visibility, is made to apply constraints automatically to herself, and thus becomes simultaneously both agent and subject of her own subjection.18

For Foucault, power is not held or exercised by one group over another, rather it is composed of ‘multiplicity of force relations immanent in the sphere in which they operate and which constitute their own organization’.19 As a result Foucault arguably offers a somewhat depoliticised account of the regulation of sexuality: there is no patriarchy as such in Foucault’s analysis; gender is not of particular concern: it is just one sphere of regulation among many.20 Nonetheless, feminists have found in Foucault important analyses and tools which aid the understanding of female sexuality – in particular, a move away from understanding social control as purely a repressive force, which allows for a more nuanced discussion of how and why female sexuality is repressed in certain directions and encouraged in others. Susan Bordo21 draws on Foucault’s ‘docile bodies’ in discussing how particularly gendered forms of submission are inscribed onto female bodies. Andrea Dworkin’s description of women as being ‘made for intercourse’ (discussed later) can be read in this light.

Radical feminists in particular have been significant in theorising the political significance for women of various forms of normative socially-constructed sexuality. Adrienne Rich, writing in the context of a period of feminist debates on the role of lesbians and lesbianism within the feminist movement, identifies ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ and lesbian erasure – i.e. the idea that women have an innate orientation towards men and the definition of lesbianism as less natural, deviant, a product of bitterness towards men, or an alternate lifestyle choice to the heterosexual norm – as an important form of male power.22 She details a range of manifestations of male power ‘ranging from physical brutality to control of consciousness’ which, in aim or effect, subtly or forcefully, convince or coerce women towards heterosexuality (particularly within the marriage construct) and away from lesbianism, in the furtherance of a male-oriented political economy of female sexuality.

In Intercourse23, Andrea Dworkin critically interrogates the act of heterosexual intercourse within the context of a patriarchal society. Within this context, intercourse is understood as both a physical and metaphysical occupation of a woman’s body, which places her in a subordinate position and denies her the integrity and privacy of her own body. She is ipso facto less human than a man, for whom being physically entered is never a normative use of his body. In male discourse, she argues, this is simultaneously both the proper use and a violent abuse of a woman. It further dictates that intercourse is synonymous with and totally delineative of sex. Since men control both the terms on which the act takes place and the ways in which the act may be understood, and since it takes place within a context of fear and inequality, women never fully have ownership of the experience, even if they formally consent to, or even desire intercourse. For Dworkin, private sexual activity is not discontinuous with the social or political spheres: women’s position in the bedroom and in society are inter-related and co-productive of one another. Women must make and remake themselves into the objects of men’s fantasies, failure to do so leaves a woman no longer legibly human. Dworkin leaves open, but does not presume, the possibility that intercourse can survive the dissolution of male power and represent an expression of sexual equality; however, in order for this to happen, women must be equally empowered both to control both the physical and experiential content and to produce the metaphysical meaning of sexual activity.

Dworkin’s argument should be read carefully, however. While she explicitly denies the interpretation that all intercourse is rape24 there is nonetheless a failure to adequately delineate discourses from essences, which leaves similar interpretations open. Read together with Foucault, one might agree that intercourse means violation and domination, and that women may be socialised to experience that domination bodily as pleasure and as desire, but it is not essentially so. It does not follow immediately that entering a person’s body dehumanises and objectifies them – discourse and power relations make it so.

The critical analyses of radical feminists, such as Dworkin, have been criticised by ‘sex-positive’ feminists on the grounds that they are ‘sex-negative’ – i.e. that they reproduce sexually-repressive conservative moralism within the feminist movement in a way that ultimately harms women’s ability to self-determine their sexuality. On her blog25, Lisa Millbank attempts to sketch an ‘authentic’ (non-pejorative) sex-negative feminism, based in the understanding that sex is often in varying ways an imposition, to which feminists can positively subscribe. She argues that sex-positive and sex-negative feminism needn’t be seen as opposed to one another, but rather, that both can act in concert as progressive forces in opposition to patriarchal demands on women. That is: sex-positivity acts as a countervailing force to sex moralism while sex-negativity acts against compulsory sexuality, both of which co-exist as contradictory regulatory forces acting on women. Ariel Levy26, meanwhile, while not opposing sex-positive feminism as such, criticises the utilisation of sex-positive narratives which reposition the sexualising demands and sexually exploitative practices of patriarchy as forms of feminist liberation. These issues are significant when we move from describing the social forces that construct sexuality to formulating a praxis of effective resistance: progressive intentions, such as the creation of counter-hegemonic spaces in which sexuality is celebrated, are susceptible to recuperation by patriarchy, turning them against other women in complex and often unpredictable ways.

In conclusion, a multiplicity of forces and interests are involved in shaping female sexuality. Often, these forces act to naturalise the present position of women by reference to some essential true sexuality: biologically determined, in the case of the bio-essentialists, or ontologically in the case of Frued et al. However, as seen above there is no truth of sexuality that is prior to culture, only discourses and mechanisms which both produce and constrain sexuality according to the logics of various political powers. Patriarchy is the key focus of feminist agitation, but patriarchy is not a monolith, and women are often made to embody contradictory demands simultaneously: for example, that women must be continually sexually-available, but must never be sexual in their own right. Agreeing with Judith Butler, what is clear is that, given the diffuse and multifaceted character of women’s oppression, there ‘is no one site from which to struggle effectively. There have to be many, and they don’t [necessarily] need to be reconciled with one another’.27

Bibliography

Bordo, Susan, “The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity” in Writing on the body: Female embodiment and Feminist theory, eds. Katie Conboy, Nadia Median and Sarah Stanbury, 309-26. US: Columbia University Press, 1997.

Butler, Judith, Gender Trouble. London: Routledge, 1990.

Butler, Judith, Undoing Gender. London: Routledge, 2004.

De Beauvoir, Simone, The Second Sex. UK: Vintage, 1997.

Dworkin, Andrea, “Biological Superiority: The World’s Most Dangerous and Deadly Idea” in Feminism and Sexuality, A Reader, eds. Stevi Jacson and Sue Scott, 57-61. UK: Edinburgh Univerity Press, 1996.

Dworkin, Andrea, Intercourse. New York: Basic Books, 2007.

Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. UK: Penguin, 1991.

Foucault, Michel, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France 1978-1978. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Foucault, Michel, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction. London : Penguin, 1990.

Jackson, Stevi, “The Social Construction of Female Sexuality” in Feminism and Sexuality, A Reader, eds. Stevi Jacson and Sue Scott, 62-73. UK: Edinburgh Univerity Press, 1996.

Levy, Ariel, Female Chauvanist Pigs, US: Free Press, 2005.

Millbank, Lisa, “The Ethical Prude: Imagining An Authentic Sex-Negative Feminism,” A Radical TransFeminist, February 29 2012, http://radtransfem.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/the-ethical-prude-imagining-an-authentic-sex-negative-feminism/

Oakley, Ann, “Sexuality” in Feminism and Sexuality, A Reader, eds. Stevi Jacson and Sue Scott, 35-9. UK: Edinburgh Univerity Press, 1996.

Osborne, Peter and Segal, Lynne, “Extracts from Gender as Performance: An Interview with Judith Butler”. Theory.Org.Uk. Accessed 26 November 2012, http://www.theory.org.uk/but-int1.htm

Moore, Suzanne, “Naomi Wolf’s book Vagina: self-help marketed as feminism”. The Guardian, 5 September 2012. Accessed: 1 December 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/05/naomi-wolf-book-vagina-feminism

Rich, Adrienne, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” in Feminism and Sexuality, A Reader, eds. Stevi Jacson and Sue Scott, 130-43. UK: Edinburgh Univerity Press, 1996.

Scott, Sue and Jackson, Stevi, “Sexual Skirmishes and Feminist Factions: Twenty-Five Years of Debate on Women and Sexuality” in Feminism and Sexuality, A Reader, eds. Stevi Jacson and Sue Scott, 1-31. UK: Edinburgh Univerity Press, 1996.

Wittag, Monique, “The Category of Sex” in Sex in Question: French materialist feminism, eds. Diana Leonard and Lisa Atkins, 24-9. UK: Taylor & Francis, 1996.

Endnotes

1Stevi Jackson, “The Social Construction of Female Sexuality” in Feminism and Sexuality, A Reader, eds. Stevi Jacson and Sue Scott, 62-73. UK: Edinburgh Univerity Press, 1996.

2Suzanne Moore, “Naomi Wolf’s book Vagina: self-help marketed as feminism”. The Guardian, 5 September 2012. Accessed: 1 December 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/05/naomi-wolf-book-vagina-feminism

3Andrea Dworkin, “Biological Superiority: The World’s Most Dangerous and Deadly Idea” in Feminism and Sexuality, A Reader, eds. Stevi Jacson and Sue Scott, 57-61. UK: Edinburgh Univerity Press, 1996.

4Peter Osborne and Lynne Segal, “Extracts from Gender as Performance: An Interview with Judith Butler”. Theory.Org.Uk. Accessed 26 November 2012, http://www.theory.org.uk/but-int1.htm

5Judith Butler, Undoing Gender. London: Routledge, 2004 pp.4-5

6Judith Butler, Gender Trouble. London: Routledge, 1990, pp.6-7.

7Judith Butler, Gender Trouble. London: Routledge, 1990; Peter Osborne and Lynne Segal, “Extracts from Gender as Performance: An Interview with Judith Butler”. Theory.Org.Uk. Accessed 26 November 2012, http://www.theory.org.uk/but-int1.htm

8Monique Wittag, “The Category of Sex” in Sex in Question: French materialist feminism, eds. Diana Leonard and Lisa Atkins, 24-9. UK: Taylor & Francis, 1996.

9For the remainder of this essay I will discuss ‘femininity’ and ‘female sexuality’ in terms of cisgendered and cissexual women – i.e. those with normative gender identity, gender expression and bodily sex – and accept, for example, the normative assumption that men have penises and women have vaginas. However, with the above discussion in mind, it is important to note that to do so is, in itself, an act of social construction with political consequences.

10Ann Oakley, “Sexuality” in Feminism and Sexuality, A Reader, eds. Stevi Jacson and Sue Scott, 35-9. UK: Edinburgh Univerity Press, 1996.

11Stevi Jackson, “The Social Construction of Female Sexuality” in Feminism and Sexuality, A Reader, eds. Stevi Jacson and Sue Scott, 62-73. UK: Edinburgh Univerity Press, 1996.

12Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex. UK: Vintage, 1997, pp 70-4

13Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction. London : Penguin, 1990, pp145-6

14Ibid. p.11

15Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France 1978-1978. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, p.317

16Ibid. pp.76-8

17Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. UK: Penguin, 1991, pp 135-69

18Ibid. pp 195-228

19Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction. London : Penguin, 1990, p.92

20Sue Scott and Stevi Jackson, “Sexual Skirmishes and Feminist Factions: Twenty-Five Years of Debate on Women and Sexuality” in Feminism and Sexuality, A Reader, eds. Stevi Jacson and Sue Scott, 1-31. UK: Edinburgh Univerity Press, 1996.

21Susan Bordo, “The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity” in Writing on the body: Female embodiment and Feminist theory, eds. Katie Conboy, Nadia Median and Sarah Stanbury, 309-26. US: Columbia University Press, 1997.

22Adrienne Rich, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” in Feminism and Sexuality, A Reader, eds. Stevi Jacson and Sue Scott, 130-43. UK: Edinburgh Univerity Press, 1996.

23Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse. New York: Basic Books, 2007, pp 153-82

24Ibid. pp xxxii

25Lisa Millbank, “The Ethical Prude: Imagining An Authentic Sex-Negative Feminism,” A Radical TransFeminist, February 29 2012, http://radtransfem.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/the-ethical-prude-imagining-an-authentic-sex-negative-feminism/

26Ariel Levy, Female Chauvanist Pigs, US: Free Press, 2005.

27Peter Osborne and Lynne Segal, “Extracts from Gender as Performance: An Interview with Judith Butler”. Theory.Org.Uk. Accessed 26 November 2012, http://www.theory.org.uk/but-int1.htm

While compulsively checking my WordPress stats (as I often do) I came across a piece titled ‘Is hetronormativity the problem ?’, which is a response to my piece ‘Can heteronormativity be smashed?’ (Spoiler: It can.) The piece is interesting not because it brings anything particularly new or insightful to the discussion, but because I think it’s reflective of the prevailing attitude to queer and gender politics among the leftist milieu.

The central claim of the piece, which might more accurately have been titled ‘In Defense of Hegemonic Masculinity’, is that

[t]he phenomena (sic) of people considering heterosexuality the norm does not cause heterosexuality to become a privileged identity… rather homophobia diminishes the general value of gay (sic) identities in relation to heterosexuality – thus establishing heterosexuality as privileged… it’s the activity of homophobia that’s problematic… not homophobic/sexist attitudes being seen as the norm retrospectively.

Hetronomrativity (sic) is less of a value statement (or collective set of statements) about the way things should be, and more of an assessment concerning the way things are.

The inability to understand this distinction, and the cause of gender/sexual oppression tends to result in misplaced attacks on manifestations of homosociality/heterosexuality (which are assumed oppressive on account of their privileged status within hetronormative (sic) society)… [such as] isolationist proclamations on the need to smash an ambiguous ‘’lad culture’’ ect.

The ‘distinction’ drawn here is an abstract one, which separates homophobia as a concrete activity from the material and cultural conditions that produce it: homophobia is metaphysically prior to heteronormativity and the relationship between the two is one of simple linear causation (X causes Y, stop X and there’s no more Y). In reality, this distinction is about as useful as arguing for a separation of classist activity from capitalism, and asserting that if we can put a stop to the activity of classism, the lower classes will be able to live harmoniously within the system (the liberal position).

This ‘Red Rant’ is breathtakingly un-Marxist in it’s approach, which is probably a reflection of the privileging of economics (and by implication of the white heterosexual male worker) among Marxists, and a resultant failure to apply a Marxist methodology to gender. Gender is not understood as forming a system in it’s own right (in practice “patriarchy theory” is treated with derision within the organised Left) and is only relevant insofar as it relates to the class struggle, which is where real politics happens. Gender issues are reduced to sexism and homophobia – discriminatory attitudes and practices which divide the working class against itself – and are treated more or less as liberal issues.

In ‘Marxism, Method & State’ (which is excellent and deserves to be read in full) Catherine McKinnon frames the relationship between Marxism and feminism as follows:

Sexuality is to feminism what work is to marxism: that which is most one’s own, yet most taken away. Marxist theory argues that society is fundamentally constructed of the relations people form as they do and make things needed to survive humanly. Work is the social process of shaping and transforming the material and social worlds, creating people as social beings as they create value. It is that activity by which people become who they are. Class is its structure, production its consequence, capital its congealed form, and control its issue.

Implicit in feminist theory is a parallel argument: the molding, direction, and expression of sexuality organizes society into two sexes – women and men – which division underlies the totality of social relations. Sexuality is that social process which creates, organizes, expresses, and directs desire, creating the social beings we know as women and men, as their relations create society. As work is to marxism, sexuality to feminism is socially constructed yet constructing, universal as activity yet historically specific, jointly comprised of matter and mind. As the organized expropriation of the work of some for the benefit of others defines a class – workers – the organized expropriation of the sexuality of some for the use of others defines the sex, woman. Heterosexuality is its structure, gender and family its congealed forms, sex roles its qualities generalized to social persona, reproduction a consequence, and control its issue.

What McKinnon calls ‘heterosexuality’ might be more accurately be described by the neologism ‘heteronormativity’, which refers to cultural and institutional practices which establish, reproduce and enforce heterosexuality as the norm (and indeed also limit the forms which sexual activity between men and women can take). In this analysis, the issue is clearly far deeper that mere homophobia: homophobia can be seen as a policing mechanism aimed at those who deviate from the norm, but the problem is the compulsory nature of the norm, the forms of cultural participation and belonging that are contingent on compliance with the norm, and the forms of power that are accessible differentially based on the extent to which individuals or groups comply with the norm.

Heteronormativity is not an historical accident. Neither is it simply a hangover from pre-modern religious ideologies. Rather, as Foucault points out, it is intimately linked with the emergence and practice of biopolitics (that is, a governmental practice concerned with the rationalisation and control of phenomena of populations of living beings) by political powers. The regulation of sexuality is an important biopolitical concern because on the one hand, powers are concerned with the regulation and discipline of bodies, on the other with the regulation of populations. (‘Regulation’ here should not be confused with ‘repression’: the exercise of control over sexuality may involve ‘refusal, blockage and invalidation, but also incitement and intensification’.) (Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction.)

Effective resistance, then, is not simply a matter of opposing explicitly discriminatory practices either by individuals or institutions, but in contesting the terms on which masculine and feminine identity and sexuality are constructed. This makes things like ‘lad culture’ – which is defended as “a male working class identity” as if this were all that need be said on the matter, implicitly privileging working class heterosexual men, with any critique dismissed on the basis that it is ‘alienating’ (this is liberalism of the 6th type, incidentally) – which at it’s heart is the celebration of a hegemonic masculinity which is implicitly heteronormative, into sites of political contestation. Who gets to participate in masculine cultures, who is included and who is excluded, who gets to decide on what basis, and why certain forms of activity considered to be homosocial by default, are all important political concerns, which leftists should afford the same level of rigorous and radical criticism as the do to class issues.

  

This is the first draft of a piece I wrote that eventually became this piece on the New Statesman blog. They asked me to focus on one issue in more depth rather than the two separate but related issues of pinkwashing and queer assimilation (which I was happy to do). However, I think it’s also important to understand that the two processes reinforce one another, so I’m presenting the original piece here.

In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, something perfectly ordinary happened: a gay bar, the Stonewall Inn, in Greenwich Village, New York, was raided by the cops. At the time, gay bars were illegal, Mafia-run, and frequently the subject of police violence.

What made this particular night extraordinary was that the patrons fought back. First bottles and beer cans were thrown at the police, then bricks and cobblestones. Burning rubbish was thrown into the Inn and police responded by turning a firehose on the crowd. 13 people were arrested, 4 police officers were injured, and at least two patrons were severely beaten by the police.

Several days of sporadic and spontaneous protest erupted, including two more nights of rioting, with police struggling to regain control.

The first Pride marches, in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, took place on June 28, 1970, in commemoration of the riots.

Today, as queer Londoners take to the streets for the parade which forms the centrepiece of London’s WorldPride festival, Pride is an unrecognisably different affair: a 3-week consumer-fest replete with corporate sponsors (including, incongruously, the TUC side-by-side with viciously anti-union companies like Coca Cola). [http://www.pridelondon.org/]

It’s a spectacle indicative of an LGBT movement that is increasingly being assimilated into the mainstream, but at the cost of our radicalism and transformative potential.

We are becoming just another interest group, another demographic, another corporate social responsibility box-ticking excercise allowing big business to claim progressive credentials, pinkwashing the exploitation at the heart of their operation. But hey, at least we can be “Out @ Tesco” [http://home.outattesco.com/] while earning a pittance on workfare.

Worse still, we have lost our understanding of solidarity. While the Gay Liberation Front – who emerged from the Stonewall Rebellion as the movement of organised queer militancy – actively sought to build links with groups such as the Black Panthers, now we are allowing our struggles to be co-opted by racist agendas, with everyone from the English Defence League to apartheid Israel feigning concern for LGBT rights in order to portray Muslims as a pre-modern barbarian threat to the status of LGBT people in the enlightened West. [http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/23/opinion/pinkwashing-and-israels-use-of-gays-as-a-messaging-tool.html]

Perhaps most offensively, Pride London will host a £250-a-plate gala dinner, at which US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be presented with an award, while US troops continue to destroy lives in Afghanistan (including those of LGBT Afghans) and Bradley Manning (who is commonly described as gay, but is actually a trans woman who identifies as Breanna [http://globalcomment.com/2011/why-does-the-media-still-refer-to-%E2%80%9Cbradley%E2%80%9D-manning-the-curious-silence-around-a-transgender-hero/]) Chelsea Manning rots in prison for revealing details of US atrocities in Iraq.

At present, the LGBT movement is organised around a set of fairly narrow demands for equality, understood as assimilation within already-existing conservative institutions: marriage, the nuclear family, the military, the police, the boardroom.

But equality is not liberation. Take marriage, for example. Whether the definition of civil marriage is expanded to include same-sex couples or not, the State retains the power to define what constitutes a “normal” relationship, to write the relationship script for the vast majority of society, to bludgeon our sexualities into its preferred shape, while those who don’t or won’t fit the script are pushed to the margins.

However marriage is redefined, it will never be ours. However much it changes, we will always have to change more in order to assuage the fears of “family values” conservatives that we pose a threat to their vision of sexual morality. Within the community, there is political pressure, particularly on those who are the most visibly queer, to reshape our sexualities into forms that are more palatable to conservative moralists and legislators, or to ditch the concerns of trans* people altogether because they make us look bad.

Of course, we should fight for a society that’s inclusive of LGBT people, but genuine liberation means changing society so that it’s worth being included in. That won’t happen as long as we continue to dance the tune of capitalists, racists and conservatives in exchange for incremental changes.

I wrote the other day about how “gay marriage takes a certain section of the queer community and makes them just like straight people” and creates internal pressure ” particularly on those who are the most visibly queer, to reshape our sexualities into forms that are more palatable to conservative moralists and legislators”.

Sadly, real life (well Facebook) almost immediately provided a (fairly nasty) example.

On a Facebook friend’s discussion about whether we need Pride marches anymore (cos like, we’ve won already or something, haven’t we?) a couple of people posted comments like this:

Personally as a gay man, I dont see the need for gay men to walk around the streets of Dublin wearing things and leather straps. Thats not something anyone should be subjected to! Straight men don’t do it? SO why do gay men need to! I dont believe in gay pride at all and would certainly never go to one!

The only thing that really bothers me about the pride parade is the whole tight clothes/scantily clad aspect of it. Encouraging acceptance of other sexual orientations should not be used to promote a specific fetish which a small minority of people (gay or straight) have, and pushes a stereotype of limp-wristed, sex-obsessed screamers which isn’t representative of gay people at all. To me that’s just exhibitionists having the time of their lives. And that’s fine, but get your own fucking parade, lads.

I used to be this guy. I’m not particularly obviously queer, and unless I tell people, they don’t realise, which is handy because I can avoid a lot of situations where my sexuality would put my life/safety in danger. I used to have a huge problem with visibly queer people and blamed them for being stereotyped by straight homophobes.

But all this is just homonormativity. It’s people whose sexuality and gender expression is similar to straight people trying to disassociate themselves from the rest of the queer community in order to access straight privilege, and in the process indulging in the same shaming and homophobic abuse as the straight oppressor.

Don’t do this. Ever.

Oh and also: “limp-wristed, sex-obsessed screamers” fought the cops at Stonewall, so it is their parade.

As it’s presently constructed, the LGBT movement is probably less than a decade away from achieving all of it’s major aims in most Western societies: centrally, same-sex couples having the right to marry and raise children, and, more broadly, equality, understood as assimilation within already-existing conservative institutions such as the military, the police, or the boardroom. Inevitably, this will mean a massive demobilization and depoliticisation among LGBT people and the collapse of much of whatever activist networks currently exist, as, demonstrably, we will have achieved pretty much everything we are currently demanding.

But equality is not liberation. Paradoxically, even as gay concerns become increasingly mainstream and everyone from major corporations, to the English Defence League, to apartheid Israel scramble to feel the benefits of positive pink PR, we are hardly closer to liberating our sexualities from the bridle of conservative/religious moralism.

Instead, we have sought, and are beginning to be granted, inclusion within heteronormative structures, namely marriage, but only on the understanding that the basic form and logic of marriage is to remain unchanged. In fact, this very concession is at the core of much of the smug liberal advocacy for “marriage equality”: of course conservative concerns are irrational, we have no intention of threatening their family values ideology, we just want in.

Marriage as an institution is the antithesis of free love, the mechanism by which the state bludgeons our sexualities into the most useful shape for reproducing the next generation of labour, and the word-made-flesh of anti-sex theology.

However marriage is redefined, it will never be ours. The State retains the power to define what constitutes a “normal” relationship, to write the relationship script for the vast majority of society, while those who don’t or won’t fit the script are pushed to the margins. This doesn’t just affect people at the point where they “choose” to get married, but in fact all relationships are expected to be proto-marriages: monogamous, and aiming at permanence, with a series of predefined stages (which vary according to culture) on the way to marriage. Romantic narratives about “finding your soulmate” (i.e. expectation that you will only legitimately love one person in your entire life) are bound up with the institution of marriage, and shape people’s expectations around sex and relationships in an often damaging way.

Marriage is the institution of an ideology that sees human sexuality as a threat, and seeks to constrain it. Ideally, sex should only happen for the purposes of procreation, but failing that, only within the bounds of stable monogamy, and not in any way that might be considered kinky or weird. There is no room for fluidity, or polyamoury, or promiscuity, which are at best tolerated among young people with the expectation that they will “settle down”.

It’s an institution borne out of sexual repression and patriarchy, and inseparable from its history as male ownership of women – a history which still shapes the lived realities of married people.

Generally speaking, within the structure of marriage, women are still expected to do the work of child-rearing for no money, and their work isn’t even considered work. Often this is on top of having a full time job, so women work a double-shift, usually for less pay than a man on a single-shift. While same-sex marriage may begin to decouple this expectation from gender somewhat, the child-rearing-as-unpaid-labour problem remains embedded into the very construction of the nuclear family.

Necessarily then, we can only participate in marriage on their terms. However much it changes, we will always have to change more in order to assuage the fears of conservatives that we pose a threat to their vision of sexual morality. Within the LGBT community, there is political pressure, particularly on those who are the most visibly queer, to reshape our sexualities into forms that are more palatable to conservative moralists and legislators, to have a binary-identified sexuality that was fixed at birth, or to ditch the concerns of trans* people altogether because they make us look bad. In other words, gay marriage takes a certain section of the queer community and makes them just like straight people, casting the rest aside.

This process of recuperation has happened over a relatively short historical period. Within decades, we have gone from being a radical sexual liberation movement which challenged and threatened the foundations of conservative sexuality morality, of which marriage is a keystone, to being little more than a movement beating at the door of family values ideology begging to be let in. In order to claim the right to be included within marriage, we place ourselves in the position of defending marriage, or cementing its position in the centre of society – we become it’s biggest cheerleaders, pushing out endless stories about happy gay couples who just want to get married because marriage is such an awesome institution – the fullest and most natural expression of love between two human beings – or of gay couples who raise perfect children (according to conservative standards) because we’re such awesome parents.

In short, as long as we continue to aim for equality-through-assimilation, we concede that we will never win the struggle to free love from the grip of bourgeois morality, and to experience love as we see fit, with whoever we see fit. In fact, we strengthen the institutions that keep our bodies and our hearts in chains.

EDIT: It has been pointed out to me that the usage of LGBT here for what is essentially an LGB movement focused on LGB concerns erases trans* people. I use LGBT in a referential rather than descriptive sense because that is how the majority of the movement self-describes.