Queer Erasure

A conversation / an interview / a dialogue between the Against Equality collective and Mathias Klitgård Sørensen

“This Against Equality anthology reminds us and the world that there is a queer radical/left history that has not been co-opted into meaningless support for ‘gay rights’ at the cost of furthering neoliberalism. It exists to document our resistance to a gay agenda that has actively erased radical queer history by rewriting recent events into a narrative of progress, one where gays and lesbians flock towards marriage, military service, hate crime legislation, and the prison-industrial complex.”

This statement figures in the introduction to the Against Equality collective’s recent book Against Equality: Queer Revolution Not Mere Inclusion (2014). The work is a collection of three previous publications: Against Equality: Queer Critiques of Gay Marriage (2010), Against Equality: Don’t Ask to Fight Their Wars (2011), and Against Equality: Prisons Will Not Protect You (2012). The compilation contains a series of articles by activists and scholars that comprise critical and queer investigations into the fight for gay marriage, the right for gays and lesbians to serve openly in military, and the increasing focus on hate crime legislation for mainstream LGBT advocates, respectively.

HYSTERIA’s Mathias Klitgård Sørensen (MKS) sat down with editor Ryan Conrad and the Against Equality collective  (AE) to discuss issues of erasure of radical queer narratives, economic marginalisation and what it means to be critically queer.

MKS: At the time of this interview (February 2015) you are touring Australia and New Zealand with the Against Equality compiled anthology. In your book, however, many articles point to factors specific to the US that give reasons to oppose gay marriage, gays in military and hate crime legislation. What do you regard to be the most important general reasons for rejecting these struggles, beyond the particular scope of the US?

AE: Despite the different geopolitical contexts in which gender and sexual politics happen all over the world, most of us are at the mercy of capitalism, neoliberal austerity governments, and social policy organised around markets meeting our every need. Against Equality offers a critique that doesn’t take queerness to simply be a cultural identity, but one that exists within an economic framework. By doing so, there are numerous points of crossover between the US context and other so-called “Western” democracies. Sharing our critique in a global way also disrupts this singular progress narrative being exported through US foreign policy and various forms of mass/social media. We hope our work can serve as a warning signal for those that might want to emulate the US or provide fodder for those already struggling against dominant US cultural imperialism that attempts to dictate gender and sexual politics globally.

MKS: In also considering queerness within an economic framework, an interesting angle to queer struggles appears in your work. You have yourself contributed with an article on the effect of the fight for gay marriage in Maine being that “de-prioritization and de-funding of critical queer and trans community issues/organizations/services” (p. 57), and similarly we read Kenyon Farrow arguing that “military service is not economic justice” to members of the LGBTQ community (p. 107), and E. Meiners, L. Michaud, J. Pavan and B. Simpson show how hate-crime legislation increases the prison and surveillance budget, with the more or less explicit intention of controlling people LGBTQ, homeless people and people of colour (p. 231ff). All these contributions also seem to depict, a material reality for the queer struggle of today. How should we understand the project of being 'critical' or 'critically queer' within such a framework?

AE: Part of our work here is to point out how a cultural critique of assimilationist gay and lesbian politics is not enough. Inclusionary gay and lesbian politics are not merely ruining a discrete queer cultural identity (i.e. gay marriage will make us boring and cut short our sex lives), but are actually part of the machinery of neoliberalism that is killing marginal queer, trans, and gender nonconforming people. So to be critically queer, we must take into account the material reality of our conditions in addition to the psychic or cultural violence that assimilation unleashes. To be clear though, cultural critique and material critique aren't mutually exclusive.

Of course some critiques of neoliberalism may just rearrange pieces on the chessboard of capitalism, much like so-called Obamacare and other half-assed social programs in the US and abroad.  But at the heart of our critique is an anti-capitalist vision that takes seriously the utopian world-making project of forging an existence without hierarchies or exploitation. One of the difficult questions is how to get there, a question which many of us on the radical left struggle with as we do the work we do, but amongst the Against Equality collective, we share common ground in knowing there is no future in capitalism.

MKS: Would you say that being critically queer, one necessarily also has to be anti-capitalist? Maybe you can comment on the relation between queers and neoliberal exploitation. If gay marriage, repeal of DADT and hate crime legislation do not benefit queers, who does benefit from them?

AE: I don’t know whether one necessarily has to be an anti-capitalist, but as a collective we aren’t all that interested in fighting for a future that isn’t deeply critical of capitalism. In terms of whom these institutions benefit most, I think it’s instructive to think again in terms of situating sexuality in an economic framework.  For example, marriage as the nexus through which benefits are distributed allows the State to abdicate its responsibilities to ensure the wellbeing of its citizens.  Additionally, marriage has been used as a strategy to kick people off state assistance.  Once married, double-income families always have their benefits reduced. The US military functions as a de facto jobs program for the poor, only to be used to secure resource extraction and emerging markets for corporate empire building.  And prisons, which are increasingly run by private corporations in the US and elsewhere, provide a captive population contracted to corporations to work for pennies by the hour.  To not grasp the economic function of these institutions while screaming about LGBTQ exclusion from them leaves any political organising short-sighted. In the long run, our inclusion only further entrenches the neoliberal logic enabled by these institutions.

MKS: When we talked prior to this interview, you said that the Against Equality project is in a sense also to fight against your own erasure. What do you mean by that?

AE: There is a singular, linear progress narrative that is told by mainstream gay and lesbian organisations and the media.  The story being told is that all queer and trans people are on board with gay marriage, gays in the military, and hate crimes legislation as the most important and next logical steps, and that we are all aligned with this political goal. In contrast, our project collects and elevates voices that break this assumed political consensus, voices that are ignored and actively silenced by mainstream gay and lesbian political organisations.  By archiving these voices in our digital archives and publishing them together in our print anthologies, we are refusing to be silenced, isolated, and ignored. We have written our own counter-histories.

MKS: How do you see your project as a positive formation of ways of living a (queer) life, and which critical imperatives can you give to non-theorising everyday-queers?

AE: Our work is grounded at the intersection of action, analysis, and resistance to the steamrolling of our lives and dreams by a neoliberal machinery that has learned to use gay politics in particular to great effect. As radical, anti-capitalist queers, we believe that a knowledge and understanding of queer resistance, both historically and culturally grounded, is essential to our survival, and that is why we began this on-going project as an archive of written and visual materials that recorded a history that is continually being erased.  We believe that these are the necessary tools with which to begin the end of the coercive state, and we do not distinguish between theorising resistance and acting upon it.  Certainly, there is a vast difference in simply mouthing off theoretical paradigms and abstractions and resisting the state’s brutality with our lives and bodies.  But we firmly believe that to be queer, to have to constantly negotiate a world where one’s very existence is under threat or questioned is in itself to embark upon a theory of our existence, to continually wonder about what better, bigger possibilities might be dreamt about.

So, in that sense, our strongest critical imperatives would be for queers to believe that knowledge about our histories, our radical pasts, and the possibilities of radical futures is essential. 

Artwork: Zahra Luengo