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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.

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 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.