Current Project: Queer Zine in Orange County
Radio is power. Listen to UC Rebel Radio!
"the importance of imagining an alternative to the current order is not to lay down a precise programme for the future, but rather to provide a point of alterity or exteriority as a way of interrogating the limits of this order. Moreover, we should think of utopia in terms of action in the immediate sense, of creating alternatives within the present, at localised points…. Utopia is something that emerges in political struggles themselves." -Saul Newman
The gay marriage debate has taken over all the attention from the queer movement left and right. The right wing is consistently and stubbornly denying the existence of queer folks by saying that it’s an immoral choice of lifestyle. The liberal gay and lesbian organizations are continually pulling millions and millions of dollars to appeal to the state for marriage equality under the rhetoric of “we are all the same.” On the other hand, queer separatists are fiercely combating the liberals with the slogan: “we are totally and absolutely different from the heteros,” and have made good points on criticizing the oppressive patriarchal nature of the institution of marriage and how queers should not seek this type of inclusion. However, these critiques have not necessarily been able to generate an alternative grassroots movement which can seriously take on the demands of those queers who are marginalized–queer people of color, trans folks, working-class queers, queers with disabilities, and third world and immigrant queers–from all of the above approaches.
There has been a series of intolerable queer violence that occurred very recently in the country–torture, youth suicide, school bullying–while the violence is nothing new to queer folks, it is urgently calling for the communities’ response to these issues. Though the liberals are posting heartwarming videos and articles and holding vigils saying that “it gets better”, we know that the fight cannot end here. As oppressed folks we know that queer oppression does not end when we graduate from high school bullying and move to San Francisco and suddenly become successful professionals who hang out in fancy bars and overcome all of our internal and external conflicts. Here are QPOCs’ responses to queer youth suicides: “It doesn’t get better. You get stronger”
The liberals see gay marriage as the end of the queer struggle, and have this fantasy that if gay marriage was legal national-wide, then soon it would “trickle down” to the marginalized communities and thus end all queer oppression.
We know for a fact that the gay marriage demand alone is incapable of solving our problems of physical, psychological, and economic violence, but instead normalizes a different though limited type of family under capitalism. Criticizing the approach of marriage equality alone has not helped much with movement building either. The debate overall has clearly not been very productive so far, but instead, it has instigated so much anxiety among the queer communities–many politically conscious queers are having panic attacks just over the moral decisions of choosing to support and/or participate in gay marriage if they had the rights to do so. All this overwhelming anxiety around the gay marriage issue is exactly because that there has not been an alternative queer movement that can channel the energy, and this debate has been monopolized in the framework of “individual choice” and “individual freedom.” Under this liberal ideology, many queer folks think that, of course we should have the right as individuals to choose who we love, who we want to have sex, and who we want to have family with! If straight people do why can’t we?! While queer folks are absolutely discriminated against by the heterosexist state which should not be tolerated, seeking freedom under this individualist ideology has not gotten us too far. Instead of carving out a tiny gay space out of the small stream of bourgeois, legislative rights, can we imagine a kind of sexual freedom that is for all people? A kind of freedom where a single mom is able to bring up her child without feeling obligations to marry? A kind of freedom that no one would be restrained in pantyhose at work anymore? A kind of freedom that as a culture we are finally not tabooed to talk about sex, but does not idealize or professionalize it either? A kind of freedom that everyone would play with gender without shame, and a culture that no youth would commit suicide because of school bullying, or because they might just have a different sexual fantasy? A kind of place that no one would be afraid to walk the streets at night, where none of our body parts– our brains or our genitals –are pathologized. A kind of freedom that is multifaceted, and does not merely carve out a different shape of box to fit in a particular sexuality, but opens up the possibility to more creative desires for everyday folks.
The mainstream gay movement today has hijacked the revolutionary sexual liberation movement in the 70s and turned it into a short-sighted individual rights agenda. They assume that every queer person has the same class position and desires the same kind of American Dream. Their answer to the queer working-class concern is that marriage can help poor folks get access to spousal benefits such as health insurance–which is fundamentally contradictory. For instance, many of our partners do not have health insurance in the first place because we do not have stable jobs or jobs that offer it in the first place. That said, the issue of gay marriage should not merely be decided by who participates in it. Rather, we should ask–who are the people controlling the movement? Whose voices are not heard? And, what is our alternative? While having equal rights can perhaps open up more space for our struggle, we cannot let the liberals such as the Human Rights Campaign and Democrats define our movement. We also cannot let the queer separatists defeat us and push us out of the struggle.
What we need is to build an issue-focused working-class movement that centers queer analysis. Our demands should cut across sexuality and gender lines, while fore-fronting and popularizing queer needs. We should demand universal health care that includes access to hormones, gender reassignment surgeries, and an anti-heterosexist health system that does not attempt to pathologize our queer bodies and erase the traumas we face in a violent homophobic society. We should demand asylum for all immigrants and not solely rely on the liberal, imperialist reform agenda such as the DREAM Act that attempts to draft the youth from our communities into the oppressive military system. These need to be our demands because we know that our fate as workers are bound up with the exploitation of the undocumented workers and the exploitation of youth of color. Today, anti-queer violence erodes our sense of community and leaves us feeling raw, vulnerable, and fearful for ours and our friends’ safety. This is a crucial time for queers and allies who distrust the state and the police to come together and mobilize from the grassroots to defend ourselves from homophobic violence. We should take the lesson from the initial domestic violence movement which set up grassroots phone trees, patrols, and shelters to challenge patriarchal violence in the households and in the streets. Today, we need to resurrect this sense of grassroots unity that links our struggles together and not to rely on the compromised liberals and non-profits, or the homophobic, racist state institutions that divide and assault our communities.
When the gay liberal assimilationists say to middle-class straight folks, “we are just like you,” and the queer separatists on the other say “hell no we are nothing like you” and form their own blocs, we should be the force that says to every day folks who struggle that “we are just like you, and you are actually just like us”–because queer folks have always been part of the working-class and we are not fundementally different from one another. Our oppression as queers is not a fixed pathology. It is a product of the heteronormative, homophobic society, and it does not have to stay that way forever. In fact, the essence of queer liberation lies within the ability for everyone to celebrate and experiment their sexuality, gender, and desire. It is not enough to only carve out another limited category of acceptable sexuality for a certain group of people. This kind of change is not liberation–it is a very limited imagination of freedom. We need to start off with this fundamental vision of uniting the working-class and queer struggles and ensure that not any part of ourselves will be forced to compromise in the movement.
Failed. Not because of lack of funding or the “fucking conservatives.” It’s because people do not know how to organize and they let their passions blind them from their own faulty logics.
This is just my critique so also keep in mind that I have a fairly radical stance when it comes to my politics, I am going to be admitting my bias upfront.
The problem with the way that Yes on Proposition 19 was organized was that it centered around ethics as opposed to logic. What do I mean by this? When fighting a battle on controversial topics, if you are arguing that a certain something (whether it be abortion, marijuana, healthcare, hell even gay marriage) is “normal,” “safe,” and/or “moral,” you are arguing on behalf of ethics. “I believe that marijuana is harmless. I believe that it should be taxed to save our economy. I believe that it is the same as alcohol. Alcohol is ethical to consume and regulate. Why not marijuana?” You are saying that the other person is “abnormal,” “absurd,” and “immoral” for holding an opposite ethic than you, and therefore you lock yourself in to a binary of oppression and argumentation. This argumentation leads to emotions, fiery passions, and leaves both parties upset and furious with the other because both are speaking past each other rather than seeking a way to build coalitions with each other.
“But what coalition could I possibly build with a conservative!!!? What do people against the use of marijuana have in common with me!?” This is the question that most people should be asking, on what groundwork do we have in common with our opponents? In what way can we move away from these identity politics to actually get shit done in our “democratic” system where we need a majority to get anywhere? This is a logical argument, a realistic argument, and something that rarely becomes utilized in mainstream politics.
Identity politics are a tricky minefield to navigate. It is the human condition to concede to a group, a larger societal body in which a person can find commonalities and congruencies in their ideologies. The problem with identity politics is that is always homogenizes that group (all conservatives are pro-life. all gays are liberals) and it strips away the ability to self-identify (but you’re gay, you can’t dislike Britney Spears!). Identity politics is the crux of mainstream politics, ever heard of the term of “voting along party lines?” Identity politics, it’s stupid but it works, unfortunately.
What does coalition building look like? What should the Yes on Prop 19 activists rally around next time?
What about the effects of the prison-industrial complex? It was mentioned in the proposition (in terms of marijuana-related incarceration laws) but it was quickly brushed to the side as a “perpetual effect” of the proposition. Why?
The legalization of marijuana wouldn’t just “save our economy,” it would save the lives of thousands of people of color who are locked up in prisons for minor drug offenses. 1 in 3 black men will go to prison and black men consist of 75% of ALL drug convictions. In the late 1980s, 50% of all incarceration was on minor drug offenses (and this number has increased drastically because of the war on drugs). In addition, in terms of proportions to populations, blacks and whites use drugs at exactly the same rate. If you are incarcerated, you lose most of your civil rights including the right to vote. Clearly, incarceration is racist and disenfranchising most communities of color, especially black communities.
If the Yes on 19 campaign rallied around these points as a way of saving communities of color, as a way of pointing out the institutional violence against people of color in relation to minor drug offenses (which includes possession of a small amount of marijuana and recreational use), how could this have changed the outcome of the election?
First off, by highlighting these institutional violences against communities of color, what person of color would vote against Prop 19? If this was a rallying point of discussion, an opponent to your ideas would have to self-identify as racist and a white surpremist—although there are many groups out there who preach this ideology, I intuitively know that this is not a majority.
Point being, if we argue on ethics rather than logic (what is right and wrong on the individual level, freedom of our choices, etc. etc.) we ignore large coalitions that we can build with our “opponents.” Racism and the disenfranchisement of people of color is wrong and violent. This is not contestable and therefore, a much more solid argument.
If you look at the companies that supported No on 19 (since companies are now considered citizens in this fucked up democracy), they all have huge investments in the prison industry. They exploit prison labor (who don’t get vacation, don’t get paid overtime, don’t have regulated wages, aka contemporary slavery) and make absurd profits in the industry. Our state now spends more on prisons than it does on schools (I haven’t looked up the figures but last time I remember prisons were 11% of the CA budget and schools were under 10%).
I call for coalition building. And you cannot do this if you argue on behalf of ethics, this locks you in to a binary that will always leave both parties frustrated and in stagnation. People will always have different beliefs with their morals, if we argue on behalf of logic and institutions, highlighting their violence against a majority of our communities, I believe we can build a stronger case for change.
I am disappointed that Prop 19 did not pass, but at the same time I expected it to fail. If we can mobilize and inform our activism in new ways, I know that we will be successful in tearing down a system that is so violent to all of us.