Being queer in America in 2016 is a precarious position. Queerness is more visible than ever in American society—the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v Hodges upheld the right for same-sex couples to marry, the White House installed its first gender-neutral bathroom, more and more celebrities are coming out as queer, and both mainstream and social media outlets are zealous to cover it all! Who has not scrolled past a Buzzfeed or Huff Post article on Facebook regarding transwomen Laverne Cox or Caitlin Jenner? Did you hear? Obama said the word transgender in his State of the Union address! Representation has greatly increased for gender and sexuality-non conforming people these past few years, which is so important— just like the people they see on TV and read about on the Internet, more and more people (especially youth) are recognizing and embracing their own queerness. It is becoming much more difficult for society at large to ignore its growing queer population. However, while visibility surely counts as progress, it does not come without repercussion. According to a report published by the Human Rights Campaign in February 2016, over 40 anti-trans* laws are on the docket across 16 states, double the number from last year. Frightening, since 2015 saw the highest ever number of anti-transgender laws on US dockets in the form of restrictions on medical practice, bathroom and locker-room usage in public venues like schools, bars on housing and employment, and more (7). Even restrictions on the lifestyles of cisgender, same-sex couples continue to exist in the form of local sodomy laws (state-wide criminalization of homosexual sex was not taken up by the Supreme Court until 2003) and adoption rights.
Anti-queer sentiment obviously still persists in America, and increasing visibility of queer folk makes them easier targets. Marginalized groups desperately need to be recognized by the structures that marginalize them so steps can be taken to alter those structures to make them more inclusive; paradoxically, by becoming more visible, marginalized groups open themselves up for more discrimination from a system that inherently resists change. There exists an ever-increasing tension between the getting-queerer American population and the still-very-straight power structures that govern over them. And the question remains—what can we, as queer folk or social activists, do to resolve that tension?
For the purpose of this paper, I intend to investigate this question. I will begin by exploring definitions of queer as accepted by hegemonic American society, and by queer scholars and activists in an effort to situate the queer experience within the present-day framework of neoliberal politics and state power. I will then explore some past and present responses to queer inequality. Finally, I will offer queer anarchy as the best possible solution to not only the tension between the queer experience and the power structures that govern over queer people, but to creating a more just American society for all people.
Any discussion of the queer experience requires that we first spend some time defining terms. Of whom is America’s queer population composed? Similarly, what qualifies an individual as queer versus not queer? Most obviously, society says that if we engage in homosexual sex, then we are queer. That definition is extremely narrow and arbitrary, and later brands of feminism and the contemporary LGBT+ movement expanded the term to include other non-heterosexual orientations (bisexual, pansexual, asexual, etc.) as well as gender-non conforming people. In an even broader sense, queer scholars and activists have defined ‘queer’ as a mode of subjectivity that seeks to deviate itself from hegemony. Hegemony can best be understood as a set of beliefs taken by society as ultimate ‘truths’ that we may not even think to question. Take the cliché of the American dream which boils down to getting a well-paying job, finding a spouse (typically of the opposite gender), then fulfilling your God-given biological determinist duty by popping out two and half Coke-drinking, sports-playing kids who have their mother’s eyes and father’s playful sense of humor. As Americans, we are exposed to these ideas at such a young age, by so many outlets, so many times over and over again, that these values become valorized, almost unquestionable—they become hegemonic. Ironically, however, for the majority of Americans these ideals are unattainable; race, gender, sexuality, class, and ability present daunting obstacles to success in a rigged system meant to favor white, masculine, straight, upper-class able bodied individuals. Regardless, many marginalized people opt to strive towards those ideals anyway—the ones who do not, those who rebel against hegemonic notions of value and success, could be labelled as queer. The queer are those who, as an act of rejection, attempt separate themselves from the hegemony by opposing dominant values.
If such a wide variety of people could potentially fall under the umbrella term of ‘queer,’ we may then wonder what single system exists that can oppress such a diverse group. The answer is complex—we must first recognize that identity is intersectional, meaning factors of race, gender, sex and sexuality, class, and ability are all intricately intertwined. If one is identified as not-white, the system of racism will oppress them. If one is identified as not-straight, the system of heteronormativity will oppress them. If one is not a man, or does not identify as such even though they have a penis, the transphobic patriarchy will most definitely oppress them, and so on. All of these systems and their interactions are summed up by the term ‘kyriarchy,’ used to refer to intersectional systems of oppression enforced by domination—sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, economic injustice, colonialism, ethnocentrism, and militarism all playing important roles. Under the kyriarchy, power is consolidated in entities like modern nation-states, transnational corporations, and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which all operate together under western democracies, epitomized by American neoliberalism.
If we conceptualize the kyriarchy as the social state of the status quo, neoliberalism is the economic means through which the kyriarchy is upheld. According to cultural anthropologist Margot Weiss, neoliberalism can be defined as an economic school of thought that
‘proposes that human well-being can best be advanced […] by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade.’ There are cultural components […] that in the United States map onto social configurations […] as well as onto particularly American cultural values: privatization, personal responsibility, agentic individualism, autonomy, and personal freedom. As an ideology, the supposedly free, unfettered market is understood as the resolution to social problems, and individual freedom becomes market choice. […] Politics has retreated from the public sphere into the domestic, the intimate. In this newly privatized setting, it is the relationship within families, structured through consumption, rather than a civic relationship between individuals and the state, that serves as the locus for engagement: consumer citizenship. (4)
Under neoliberalism, the line between private entities like corporations and public entities like state agencies becomes blurred, and the individual becomes the locus point for politics. While none of that might sound particularly oppressive, problems arise because neoliberal individualism assumes all individuals to have equal standing in society, which they do not due to kyriarchal issues of identity like race, gender, sexuality, class, et cetera. Neoliberalism is what causes oppression to become cyclical—in a way, it explains how America’s number of queer people and anti-queer legislation are both growing at the same time.
Queer populations are excluded and subjugated in a multitude of ways by the institutions that make up the neoliberal state. Most plainly, the state has the power to pass laws that restrict queer people’s agency, laws like the ones currently sitting on numerous state dockets that allow companies to fire (or not hire) employees based on their perceived sexuality or gender. Furthermore, the neoliberal state resists change because it functions hierarchically, its institutions operated not-so-coincidentally by the mega-privileged. These are the people which had the capacity to climb the socioeconomic ladder of meritocracy in the first place, the same one that is built to prefer white, cisgender, able-bodied men with a plethora of capital. Until marginalized people hold high-up positions within institutions that have the power to create widespread social change, society will remain stagnant. Unfortunately, the odds of marginalized people climbing the hierarchical social ladder under neoliberalism are statistically stacked against them in a kyriarchal society whose neoliberal doctrine claims that all are equal in the eyes of the free market. While one may point to marginalized figures which have succeeded in garnering social power under neoliberalism regardless of identity like Hillary Clinton, these token figures have had to sacrifice much of their identities to get where they are today. Think about it—how feminine of a politic did Hillary Clinton get to execute as Secretary of State? How queer of a politic could a queer person execute as a high-ranking actor within institutions like the United States government or a private corporation?
Clearly, traditional avenues of social change offered by the state are not working well enough. While we cannot deny the harms avoided thanks to milestone legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Hate Crime Prevention Act of 2009, when we think about how long it took such acts to pass and how much longer it took such acts to be enforced, holes begin to appear in the logic of state reformism. State law can have enormous power, but no law has the power to elevate the social status of marginalized people to that of the privileged. Rather, laws place restrictions or punishments on individual acts of oppression that are often limited to the most flagrant and extreme violations, like racially segregating a restaurant or physically assaulting someone for being gay. Many acts of oppression, violent and otherwise, go unreported, and many more are disregarded in a court system that empirically favors white, straight, cisgender males. The situation can seem hopeless at first, but one only needs to look at the history of queer social activism to find potential avenues of change that lie outside of the rigged neoliberal state apparatus.
In 1970, during the midst of the Gay Liberation movement, social activist Carl Wittman published “A Gay Manifesto: Refugees from Amerika,” a short but groundbreaking piece of writing that meditates on queerness, focusing predominantly on male homosexuality. Wittman’s discourse is surprisingly self-reflexive and presented guidelines concerning the social roles gay people tend to play within their straight-dominated society, warning against attempts by queer people be merely ‘accepted’ by straight people. He brings to light four forms of anti-gay oppression: high rates of physical violence; the ‘psychological warfare’ heternormativity imposes on queer youth by invalidating non-heterosexuality as deviant; internalized oppression within the gay community (specifically, he urges ‘closet queens,’ or men who discreetly have sex with other men but pass as straight, to come out in order to become a visible symbol of resistance to straight culture); and he even critiqued the state by mentioning the criminalization of homosexual sex and systemic privileging of straight, cisgender, upper-class white men within institutions like the United States government. While the manifesto is celebrated as a cornerstone of gay activism, few scholars have noted just how critical the author can be of the gay community—much of the text celebrates the sexual aspects of male homosexuality and queer resilience, but the author spends even more time critiquing problematic behaviors within the queer community.
Wittman decries the escapism evident in mass relocation of gay individuals to ‘queer-friendly’ communities such as San Francisco, opening his piece with, “San Francisco is a refugee camp for homosexuals. We have fled here from every part of the nation, and like refugees elsewhere, we came not because it is so great here, but because it was so bad there” (5). The rainbow crosswalks of the San Francisco’s gay district, the Castro, are even today crammed full of men comfortably holding hands with other men—they are from all over the country, on the run from their gay-bashing or gay-less origins. Burroughs like the Castro are constructed by Wittman in his literature not as secluded paradises, but as symbolic gay ghettos—while the Castro has certainly historically been more accepting than much of the country, and while it offers a high population of hypothetically like-minded queer individuals, Wittman points out that these “… ghettos breed self-hatred. We stagnate here, accepting the status quo. The status quo is rotten. We are all warped by our oppression […] Capitalists make money off of us, cops patrol us, government tolerates us as long as we shut up…” (5). Writing off the suffering caused by the social norms propagated by the state as issues of locality, queer individuals since long before the 1960s have flocked to cities that pride themselves on acceptance and tolerance (San Francisco, New York, Seattle, et cetera) to find solidarity with fellow queers.
However, Wittman reasons that upon arrival, social reality turns out not to be a glittery paradise free of sexual strife and anti-queerness; rather, ‘refugees’ find themselves in minuscule accommodating pockets of larger cities governed by the same heteronormative structures that caused ‘refugees’ to leave their hometowns in the first place—the state is geographically inescapable. The Castro exemplifies his point: it does not exist in some sociopolitical vacuum, rather it must legally operate under the heteropatriarchal systems functioning above it. Even if a queer person relocates to San Francisco from their God-fearing, pansy-punching, probably-Southern hometown to save themselves from damaging physical or emotional harm in the short term, their action does nothing to change the wider, accepted hegemonic beliefs that create the precondition for the existence of their oppressive hometowns in the first place. Even in progressive cities like San Francisco, organizations with power retain that power based off of subjugation of the queer working class.
To truly escape the anti-queer violence of America, Wittman contends that queer people “[…] need to define a pluralistic, role-free social structure for ourselves” (5). Unfortunately, Wittman’s analysis on queer escapism does not take into account the impracticality of completely escaping state politics, thus demonstrating how infeasible it would be to create the new-and-improved societal structure he discusses. So, while Wittman does set an imperative precedent for self-reflexivity within gay activist communities by offering some critiques of larger oppressive systems at play, he leaves us without an effective call to action because he does explain in detail what a new social structure outside of heteronormative state politics would look like—or how we might make one possible. Wittman outlines how that structure would optimally be free of heteropatriarchal dogma, but otherwise, when viewed through a contemporary intersectional lens, many of the ideas Wittman presents as solutions in his manifesto are blatantly problematic because his solution steps are laced inextricably with the identity politics of privileged cisgender gay men—the essay only tangentially mentions the struggles of queer women, and completely disregards transgender people, people of color, and the disabled.
The shortcomings of Wittman’s “Refugees from Amerika” echo the wider inadequacies of the Gay Liberation movement of the late 20th Century—that is, intersectionalism is not stressed enough, and no concrete solutions for effective social change are put forth. Ideologically, a movement truly pursuing egalitarianism must recognize that class, race, gender, and ability all interrelate; yet Gay Liberation has habitually underplayed how these identities intersect with sexual identity. Their radical focus on sexuality only concurrently obfuscates and entrenches other forms of oppression. Additionally, the lack of peaceful proposed alternatives to state politics only creates tension that resolves itself through violent protests like the Stonewall Riots. Regardless of the situational violence committed, Stonewall was an integral moment in queer history, and arguably led to many positive societal changes, furthering the goals of the Gay Liberation Movement.
As the GLM and other grassroots movements continued to battle for queer equality into the 21st Century, traces of sexist, racist, classist, and ableist behaviors still lingered in the forms of phenomena like racialized depictions of HIV and AIDS during the scare of the 1980s. Even within the contemporary reformist-centered LGBTQ+ equality movement these problems arise—for example, the recent movie Stonewall was meant to celebrate the roots of the LGBTQ+ equality movement and Gay Pride, but instead presented a revisionist account of the riots that failed to mention that a transwoman was the one to catalyze the event, replacing her role with a cisgender gay man.
Paralleling the shortcomings of Wittman’s “A Gay Manifesto,” the contemporary struggle for queer equality has also reverted back to focusing on state reformism—American society has taken the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage as indicators that gay is officially OK, and queer folk are no longer marginalized. Even many queer people (particularly male, cisgender, gay youth—the queer people with the most privilege and the most power, therefore those who are the most visible to straight society) seem to have irresponsibly ignored the cries of their lesbian, non-gender conforming, non-white allies, and accepted the status quo as good enough.
The shift in focus away from direct political action and towards state reformism can be noted in movements like Gay Pride, which ironically started in New York as a remembrance of the Stonewall riots. The modern LGBTQ+ equality movement hinges on these festivals, but, viewed critically, Gay Pride events are often mere consumerist extravaganzas that only engender neoliberal violence by promoting legal reformism. Disavowing the strategies of direct political action practiced by movements like Gay Liberation, today’s Gay Pride events concern themselves with shallow, symptomatic levels of gay oppression, the end-goal typically being to reform unfair laws. Frequently, the laws targeted are only the ones that affect cisgender homosexuals, furthering a violent form of identity politics that excludes wide swathes of the overall queer population. Even worse, Gay Pride attendees often unwittingly support anti-queerness, since many of the corporations that sponsor (AKA, profit off of) these events engender anti-queerness themselves whether directly (such as using profits for anti-queer lobbying) or indirectly (such as promoting neo-colonial representations of anti-queerness that isolate heteronormative violence in, say, the Middle East).
Despite flaws, Gay Pride events are being embraced by many privileged queer communities as well as straight society. The contemporary LGBTQ+ equality movement seems to be falling into a similar rut as Wittman—but luckily, with each unique form of oppression uncovered by activists, multiple forms of resistance spring up as a reaction. Queer theorist Jack Halberstam, in a 2014 lecture entitled “The Wild: The Aesthetics of Queer Anarchism,” has at last outlined an alternative to oppressive state-bound, legal reformist approaches to equality in the form of queer anarchism.
For us to understand what this particular strand of anarchism looks like, it is helpful to first connect the queer identity to anarchism. Much like how we as Americans are socialized into upholding the hegemonic notion of the American dream, and in doing so accept the underlying kyriarchal notions that uphold it, Halberstam argues that America’s children are socialized to think and act like miniature heteropatriarchal states, whether they consciously want to or not. Citizens of the modern, western nation state prioritize notions of symmetry and order over chaos and disorder, they fear the unknown and flock to the certain, not necessarily because those ideals are better, but simply because those ideals are what they have learned (3). The logic of the state and the decision-making processes behind it have become hegemonic—so who is better equipped to combat state rationale than the queer? According to Halberstam, the queer’s mode of subjectivity allows for an interjection in the foundations that structure our collective ways of knowing and existing; the queer is able to remove themselves from hegemony, is able to question hegemony, and is able to reject hegemony entirely. The ability to reject universally accepted ‘truths’ is why queerness melds so well with anarchy.
In terms of defining queer anarchism, the beauty of the school of thought lies in the fact that no one truly knows, exactly. Halberstam implores, “I ask you to hold onto the idea of anarchy. Not as a clear tradition that we all know, but hold onto it as something other than business than usual” (3). Popular visions of anarchism view the system as a sort of glorified libertarianism, a violent world of lawlessness ruled by roaming gangs of hypermasculine terrorists, an undeniably pessimistic view. The dystopic mythos of anarchy is possibly a result of the anxiety one feels when attempting to conceptualize thought outside of what hegemony tells society to be true—it requires embracing the same sense of radical freedom that comes with, say, accepting the gender binary as a cultural construction. Halberstam counters negative depictions of anarchism by queering the definition: the theorist formulates queer anarchy as an unexplored area of potential operating outside of the state apparatus. This realm of thought and being, one outside of state logic and politics, has been deemed the Wild, or the unknown.
Queer anarchy and the Wild are beneficial in that they offer the opportunity to formulate new strands of political thought that avoid hegemonic state logic, which is inherently violent. The sovereign state pulls individuals into its own violent mode of being in what Halberstam identifies as a ‘violence of inclusion’ (3) that manifests itself in innumerable ways, most of them seemingly unavoidable. After all, as Americans we are born into citizenship and told that we are Americans from the day we are born. It may seem harmless to identify as an American, but by identifying as a part of a state (whether done consciously or not) we are also tied to the actions and discourse of that state—including harms like imperialism and kyriarchal oppression. Disavowing our relationship to the state can be tricky, however. If we speak out against the state, we are otherized by those who continue to operate within state structures—queer anarchists are subject to being lumped with reactionary groups like the Tea Party or religious fundamentalists. While social repercussions may seem severe, Halberstam maintains that we should embrace the exclusion that is the result of resisting state logic, since it could generate momentum for a grassroots movement—after all, why seek to be included in a violent system?
Halberstam offers a long history of anti-state and anti-capitalist resistance as evidence for the possibility of new and unexplored political frameworks, and she also takes note of the general growing discontent with the legal system that could fuel queer anarchist momentum. Movements are happening now—Halberstam points out, “people are so sick and tired of state politics that […]It’s not something you have to call for, it’s something you have to notice” (3). Social movements of the 20th Century like Gay Liberation long ago sewed seeds of doubt in state logic, and today discontent with the legal system, especially with regards to how it treats the oppressed, has been growing steadily in the past few years. For example, one might think of the failure of the Grand Jury to indict Officer Darren Wilson after he murdered Mike Brown, an unarmed black man. Would he have been shot if it were possible for him to consent to the hegemony by being white? The conflict garnered international media attention and helped the Black Lives Matter movement gain momentum, an undertaking that is still generating considerable quantities of discourse focused on systemic racism, police militarization, and the legal system as a whole.
While less prevalent than Black Lives Matter, a collective that better embodies queer anarchist thought (especially with regards to anti-state politics) is the organization Gay Shame. A radical queer protest group founded in New York in the late 1990s, Gay Shame was initially formed as a reaction to the perceived commercialization of the gay identity, particularly evident in the corporate sponsorship that sustains Gay Pride events. The organization prospered for a while with chapters springing up internationally, but after a decade the movement lost momentum and seemed to fizzle out. However, in 2013, Gay Shame reemerged in none other than America’s queer refugee camp, San Francisco. Currently the largest and most active chapter, Gay Shame San Francisco’s political agenda has expanded, using non-conventional direct political action to achieve broader queer anti-assimilationist goals. The “About Us” section of Gay Shame San Francisco’s website reads as follows:
GAY SHAME is a Virus in the System. We are committed to a queer extravaganza that brings direct action to astounding levels of theatricality. We will not be satisfied with a commercialized gay identity that denies the intrinsic links between queer struggle and challenging power. We seek nothing less than a new queer activism that foregrounds race, class, gender and sexuality, to counter the self-serving “values” of gay consumerism and the increasingly hypocritical left. We are dedicated to fighting the rabid assimilationist monster with a devastating mobilization of queer brilliance. GAY SHAME is a celebration of resistance: all are welcome (1).
Gay Shame attempts to adhere to queer anarchist thought by operating on the spectrum opposite state politics. Embracing notions like those discussed in Halberstam’s lecture, the group is organized non-hierarchically and decisions are made by consensus—every individual has to agree on an action before it is undertaken—a radical departure from the supposed democratic republicanism of the modern neoliberal state, in which majority rule has become a means to silence those without power. The means by which the organization engages in direct political action also challenges the state. Through spectacle, camp-ness and theatricality, Gay Shame combats hegemony by injecting politics into public spaces through street performance and protest (4).
Gay Shame’s brand of theatrical, over-the-top direct political engagement through street performance is an alternative that jolts citizens out of their day-to-day thoughts and actions, and can promote thinking outside of the hegemonic and state politics box. Margot Weiss, in her article “Gay Shame and BDSM Pride: Neoliberalism, Privacy, and Sexual Politics” highlights the importance of performance in Gay Shame’s ideology.
Gay Shame’s performative campaign draws attention to the coconstruction of sexual
citizenship with racialized, gendered, and classed positionality. The celebration of
effeminate flamboyance—femininity in the face of “male power”—is precisely what
is excluded from homonormative gay activisms. By spectacularizing the intersections
of gender, race, class, and sexuality, this campaign showcases Gay Shame’s strategy
of “turning it out”: building a loud sexual culture that is inclusive of and responsive
to these vectors of difference (4).
By combining intersectional political goals with public spectacle that disrupts everyday life and encourages non-hegemonic thinking in a feminine, evocative, fun and gay way, Gay Shame’s protests challenge state neoliberalism and broader assimilationist politics. Their methodologies confront traditional masculine, respectable forms of protest often spearheaded by white cisgender men seeking institutional change. Gay Shame’s protests offer a glimpse into Halberstam’s Wild; the unknown political framework that lies outside the state apparatus: queer anarchism.
A helpful illustration of Gay Shame’s doctrine in work can be found in their protest of the 2014 San Francisco Pride event “Prison of Love.” The event was plainly sexual in nature, co-sponsored by Kink.com—it “mockingly invite[d] people to ‘get arrested’ and enjoy ‘solitary confinement, showers, jailbreak, love and lust, freedom and confinement” (2). The gathering was condemned by Gay Shame, which argued that it trivialized very real state violence committed non-proportionally against gender non-conforming people. Specifically, it belittled the harmful effects of the prison-industrial complex, a state byproduct of kyriarchy and neoliberalism, which disproportionately subjects incarcerated groups like transgender people of color to rape and brutalization. Gay Shame also condemned the fact that San Francisco Pride was doing so in the name of profit. The event was the epitome of privilege—safe gay men and women were paying money to live out their exotic sexual fantasies of being ‘dominated’ by ‘prison guards,’ while outside the orgy countless queer prisoners had to face the horrific realities of sexual abuse. So, Gay Shame arranged a protest called “Prison of Love”—“On June 28th as hordes of white gays dance the night away to the deep thump of domination, GAY SHAME calls on every one to pull the fire alarms and shut this shit down; because PRIDE is a nightmare, prisons are not sexy, and boycotting is not enough” (2).
On the night of the protest, after organizing, Gay Shame activists were (ironically) met with police violence—seven protestors were arrested and dozens more attacked. According to witnesses, well after the protest had transpired, a Kink.com security guard pursued protestors down the street to a BART station, then harassed the protestors, who at this point were simply waiting to go home (1, 2). Kink.com did not comment on the confrontation—occasions such as this one illustrate how the companies which sponsor Gay Pride events have motives consisting almost entirely of money and power, not the lavender façade of social progress their advertisements promote.
While the “Prison of Love” protest demonstrates Gay Shame’s intersectional politics, its anti-assimilationist politics are typified by the organization’s stance against gay marriage. In June of 2015, the federal Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing same-sex couples to marry. While pockets of resistance still persists (symbolized on polar ends by Gay Shame, and by Kim Davis, the shrew-like Kentucky legal clerk who refused to marry a same-sex couple despite legal precedent), the overall societal opinion towards the ruling hailed it as beneficial social progress. After all, if two straight people are able to get married have always been able to marry, is it not only fair, is it not only time, that two gay people can get married, as well?
According to Gay Shame, the answer is, “Wrong!” Even the question is fraught with problematic assumptions: it assumes that state-sanctioned straight marriage was fair in the first place, it assumes that queer people want to be a part of heteropatriarchal institutions, and it assumes state reformism is the best means for social progress. Besides acting as an external form of validation for love, Gay Shame asks, what is the point behind marriage? Put under scrutiny, marriage is simply a legal and financial contract that consolidates power into the family unit, something widely acknowledged as the very base of heteropatriarchal society. Plus, the institution of marriage further excludes marginalized peoples economically—it props up neoliberalism by bringing the public into the private sphere and consolidating wealth through inheritance funds and unfair tax policies. Under the American legal system, opposite-sex marriage also means that the woman is ceding some of her power and agency in the transaction since divorce court is patriarchal and favors men over women in situations such as divvying up financial assets. One member of Gay Shame, identified as Samantha Saxaphone, produced the figure below in response to dominant rhetoric surrounding gay marriage; the cartoon highlights just how unfair marriage as a legal institution can be.
While reformists may insist that allowing for the state-sanctioned joining of same-sex couples could change the way the legal system operates, historically accommodation has not worked well for any oppressed group. Black people cannot attain the privilege whiteness allocates white bodies by conforming to white standards—attempting to do so through the legal system still has not worked, and while slavery and racial segregation are no technically no longer legal, systemic anti-black racism is alive and well regardless of any legislation. Similarly, gay people cannot attain the privilege of straightness by adhering to homophobic institutions like marriage and the state. Gay Shame San Francisco’s website puts it like this: “Don’t get us wrong—we support everyone’s right to fuck whomever they want—we’re just not in favor of supporting the imperialist, bloodthirsty status quo” (1). The anarchistic, anti-assimilationist, anti-hegemonic goals of queer anarchism prioritizes dismantling state systems—not reforming them. Gay Shame entirely rejects marriage, and in doing so avoids the violence of inclusion that upholds normative systems that will always privilege certain groups over others. Engaging with the imperialistic United States government only leads to error replication because it instills the same state-poisoned logic that reproduces the oppression of those which the state deems replaceable second-class citizens (women, people with disabilities, and people of color, for example). Marriage reformism is at best a pander for the privileged gay vote, giving a small number of queer people (the monogamous, straight-ethic conforming individuals who would wish to be married) a teeny taste of the straight privilege provided by marriage. But a married gay couple is still not straight, no matter how bad they may want to be, and they still have to combat the violence of heteronormativity. Gay Shame’s answer is that neither gay nor straight couples should get married—they advocate for a removal of state influence altogether (1, 6).
As evidenced by gay marriage, queer anarchism is all about rejecting the options offered by existing state-sanctioned avenues for political change in favor of creating new ones. The political strategy of queer anarchism rejects the game of picking the lesser of two evils and embraces the notion that there will always be unexplored means of change like the Wild just waiting to be discovered and utilized. While queer anarchism is so widely removed from the status quo that many view it as almost too radical, Jack Halberstam reminds us that outspoken radicalism is exactly what society needs to create fissures in extant modes or thinking and action that rely on the state apparatus. As queer performance artist Vaginal Davis puts it, “I’m all about keeping it radical […] the Revolution is my boyfriend!” Queer people must avoid the temptation of ‘inclusion’ that heteronormativity advertises as liberation. This “liberation” in reality a reduction to sameness—it is masked oppression. Queer people and social activists must remain self-reflexive—we must band together collectively in order to move towards a more equitable society. Doing so will certainly result in radical, effective, and long-lasting change, but it also offers the chance to be fun, too—through flamboyant street performance and protest a la Gay Shame, and through spectacle and extravaganza that draws viewers out of their everyday routine and makes them think in new ways. There is so much for us to explore—all that is necessary is a leap into the Wild to move toward a better, more queer, world.
- N/A, Mary. “About Us.” Gay Shame San Francisco. Gay Shame, 2014. Web.
22 Nov. 2015.
- N/A, Mary. Prison Breaks, Not Prison Parties. Digital image. Gay Shame San Francisco. Gay
Shame, 2014. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.
- Halberstam, Jack. “The Wild: The Aesthetics of Queer Anarchy.” Youtube.com.
Goldsmiths Art, 10 June 2014. Web Lecture. 16 Nov. 2015.
- Weiss, Margot. “Gay Shame and BDSM Pride: Neoliberalism, Privacy, and Sexual Politics.”
Radical History Review. Duke University Press, 2008. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.
- Wittman, Carl. “Refugees From Amerika.” American Protest Literature. By Zoe Trodd. 5 Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 2006. Print.
- Saxaphone, Samantha. “Are YOU Out To Destroy Marriage?” Gay Shame San Francisco.
Gay Shame, 2014. Web. 22 Nov. 2015. <http://gayshamesf.org/samanthasaxaphone.html>.
- ANTI-TRANSGENDER LEGISLATION SPREADS NATIONWIDE, BILLS TARGETING TRANSGENDER CHILDREN SURGE. Rep.
Human Rights Campaign, 19 Feb. 2016. Web. <http://hrc-assets.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com//files/assets/resources/HRC-Anti-Trans-Issue-Brief-FINAL-REV2.pdf>.