Your Queerness is Radical, Whether You Are or Not.
Updated: Sep 14, 2020
by Sammy Merabet
They don’t want you. They’ll happily use you---tolerate you so long as you’re willing to delude yourself into believing that they don’t find you reprehensible—-but they don’t really want you. You can conform, hide any hair out of place of the heteronormative norm, try as you might to be their ideal, quiet little gay—but the reality of the matter is that they’d rather you not be gay at all. You shouldn’t want them to want you; we don’t need to grovel at the feet of our oppressors for acceptance, especially when that acceptance isn’t genuine. Queer movements are not just about educating and reaching out to those who are potential allies—-they’re also about standing up against those who are definite enemies.
And, well, we sure do have plenty of definite enemies! Enemies that go beyond just individual people who happen to be homophobic or transphobic. Enemies that are propped up by complex webs of systems and societal bigotries. Enemies that are enforced through laws, where standing against them can result in serious punishment. Enemies that won’t bat an eye at milquetoast actions or conformity, but will crumble in the face of real, radical change.
Not every queer person is radical; to think otherwise would be silly. There are plenty of queer people that are the most conservative conservatives to ever conserve. Hell, even if a queer person is active in pursuing queer rights, there’s nothing stopping them from being an utter bigot in every other respect—queerness does not immediately detract someone from their other privileges in life. And I won’t try saying that if you’re not radical, you’re not queer—we’re born with our sexualities and genders, and that doesn’t change just because of our political views. Frankly, fighting for equality sometimes means acknowledging that people can be equally pretty silly.
That said: radicalism is the only way queer movements have ever progressed, and to pretend otherwise is to reject our history. Whether we think our existence is actually radical—-or whether or not we want to be seen as radical in the first place—-doesn’t actually matter. Our queerness (separated from our individual selves and instead connected to hundreds of years of history, conflicts, and protests) will always be radical to those who wish to oppress us, and rather than attempting to assimilate and de-radicalize, we need to embrace this. Queerness has always been anti-fascist, queerness has always been anti-capitalist, and queerness has always been connected to the broader struggle against oppressive systems.
Queerness has always been anti-fascist. It’s been anti-fascist since before fascism’s had a name, because the fascists don’t want you. Magnus Hirschfeld was a German Jewish gay activist and one of the central early figures of the global queer rights movement. Beyond writing several books and studies of his own, he also founded the Institute of Sexology, which cultivated an extreme large library of foundational queer work and ideas. When the Nazis destroyed the Institute and its books, they set any possibility of queer acceptance or understanding back centuries. They fully knew the importance and impact the work would have and they destroyed it. You cannot work with fascists, and moreover you cannot work under fascists. There is no peaceful debating with them; there’s no glorious “free marketplace of ideas” in which facts and statistics and studies alone will sway them away from their fascist beliefs. The only way to push for queer acceptance is to actively fight against fascism in all forms that it takes. If you’re not rooting out fascists, they’re rooting out you.
Queerness has always been anti-capitalist. This isn’t at all because every queer person is socialist—-far from it, actually. No matter what how any one queer person identifies, as a collective we do not have the luxury of calling ourselves anti-capitalist; rather, the anti-capitalist label has been constantly thrust upon us. I’m not just talking about your typical right-wing Facebook user who thinks every same-sex kiss on TV is another win for the “cultural Marxists,” or whatever buzzword the right has cooked up; I’m talking about the capitalists in power that see the queer community as inherently anti-capitalist. The capitalist state will always see queer people as the antagonist because capitalists don’t want you. Many have heard of the Second Red Scare—-a period of time during the Cold War when the United States government and population persecuted and jailed hundreds of people under the pretense of upheaving communist thought. Less known, however, is The Lavender Scare—-dubbed so by author David K. Johnson in his 2004 book of the same name. As an extension of their anti-leftist hysteria, the United States government targeted LGBT+ people (calling them “sexual perverts). In their eyes, any and all homosexuality was directly linked with communism. Gay communists—-or people even just accused to be tangentially related to either with no real evidence!---were seen as the ultimate threat against the heteronormative, cisgendered capitalist state. The exact same nonsense that McCarthy spewed about communists was repeated at queer people. Even the most defining moment in the American queer movement---that is, the Stonewall protests—-were violent protests done in rebellion against a hyper-capitalist police state. Corporations may try to “celebrate” Pride by pumping as many rainbow themed products down your throat as possible, but in reality nearly all victories for the queer movement were done not with the support of capitalism, but in spite of it. We cannot forget this just because capitalists now see us as another demographic to exploit and haul products at.
Queerness has always been connected. Let’s say they did want you. Maybe you’re content with assimilating to a capitalist system, maybe in your eyes the struggle for you stops at same-sex marriage being legalized. Sure, capitalists saw queer people as lesser before. Sure, the people in power consistently struck down and hurt queer movements whenever they could. But, if they’re willing to change, to accept us now, shouldn’t that be enough?
Even ignoring the fact that what queer assimilationists tend to consider “queer acceptance” usually tends to ignore the issues of trans people and other groups in the community, the reality of the situation is that queer movements must go beyond simply tackling queer oppression. Queer people exist in every community; therefore, so long as any oppressive system exists around us, queer people are suffering under that system. And, under the framework of intersectionality, they’re likely suffering in unique ways than their heterosexual, cisgendered counterparts. Simon Nkoli was not just an out-and-proud activist for gay rights, but also actively campaigned against apartheid. Nkoli had been an active member in the predominantly white Gay Association of South Africa---which had attempted to stay neutral and apolitical (as neutral as one can be against oppression, anyways…) against apartheid. In response, he founded GLOW, the Gay and Lesbian Organisation of the Witwatersrand, which sought to address not only LGBTQ+ issues but also fight back against the wrongs of apartheid. He believed his two causes were inextricably linked to one another—-that the intersectional oppression that Black gay people experienced in South Africa were the “same closet.” You cannot simply take the small part that oppresses LGBTQ+ people out of the equation because oppression is interconnected. If your queer activism doesn’t seek to disrupt to cut off all heads of oppression as they appear, it will fundamentally fail.
The subject of queer assimilation is absolutely nothing new. An oft repeated defense of the homophobe-in-denial is that they’re not homophobic, not really. They just, y’know, don’t like the loud queer people. The radicals, who shove their queerness in your face all the time and want to dismantle capitalism. They’re completely fine with gays that just act like “normal” people, but it’s the radicals that ruin the bunch for them and give the community the bad name. Normally, this is easy to write off as just homophobic schlock, but to some in the community, this might actually make sense. Even reading the posts and writings of young queer people—-particularly white, cis males who don’t necessarily experience the exact kinds of oppression that the rest of the community does—-it’s a sentiment that comes up a lot. This position generally comes from a place of privilege, a sort of “I have mine, so screw you” attitude with regards to equal rights. That said, beyond just privilege, it comes from a place of major ignorance—-a complete misunderstanding of how oppression works and how any strides for queer rights were made in the past.
Conforming to oppressive systems will only allow the oppression to continue. If these systems don’t want queer people, if they see them as perverts or degenerates or enemies, then we are of no obligation to prove ourselves to them, especially when they also lead to the oppression of other groups. We chant “We’re here, we’re queer!” for a reason—-quiet acquiescence under the heel of those in power is far weaker than being unabashedly, radically queer.
Sammy Merabet is constantly attempting to reconcile his strong anti-capitalism with his love of Madonna’s “Material Girl.” When he’s not doing that, you might find him writing, maybe! From gayness, to Marxism, to depression, to Sailor Moon (also known as: Gay Depressed Marxism: The Series), Sammy will write about whatever he wants using as many commas as possible.