LGBT: a Disection
By David Thorstad (counterpunch.org, 15/7/2016)
Community or Fantasy?
The LGBTQ etc. acronym purports to reflect an actually existing community—as was explicitly stated, for example, in the 2008 Duluth–Superior GLBTAQI Pride Guide: “We must always remember the struggle the GLBTAQI community has faced and the hard work that has already been done.” But no such community exists. I would argue that just as there is no such thing as an “LGBT person,” there is no shared community among the hodgepodge identities lumped together in the acronym. That is all the more obvious in view of the absurd lengths to which the acronym has expanded, such as LGBTQQIAA2S (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, allied, asexual, two-spirit). Queers for Economic Justice came up with its own version: LGBTGNC (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming). A leaflet from a caucus of New York’s Occupy Wall Street took this to a bizarre extreme—“Queer/LGBTIQA2Z”—by tacking on “2Z.” The Z presumably stands for any identity not already included, and the “2Z” apparently echoes the phrase “A to Z.” This unpronounceable mouthful is a reductio ad absurdum.
Here’s another, from an interview with Dan Savage, the founder of “It Gets Better”:
Suzanne Stroh: I saw one abbreviation that contained something like twelve letters. I think it was LGBTQQIP2SAA. Some letters I can’t even guess.
Dan Savage: Lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, pansexual, two-spirit, asexual—and I don’t know what the other A is. What you left out was LF, which I’ve seen, which stands for Leather Fetish, and on and on and on. I think we should sing the alphabet song twice to get those Qs in there twice, and be done with it.
The ever-expanding acronym—a kind of perverse inversion of “e pluribus unum”—is apparently intended to convey the notion of diversity and inclusivity. The implied conceit is that it encompasses all sexual and gender identities. In that it fails, despite its unwieldiness. Two of the most obvious behaviors excluded inhabit the margins of the former gay movement: pederasty and sadomasochism. Their omission is intentional: including them would signal acceptance of behaviors that lie outside the acceptability parameters of a movement that seeks acceptance and assimilation into the dominant society rather than challenging its prejudices. Both SMers and pederasts played significant roles in gay liberation from the start. Pederast anarchists in Germany, for example, launched the world’s first gay periodical in 1896, Der Eigene, a year before Magnus Hirschfeld launched his Scientific-Humanitarian Committee. Pederasty has been a feature of male homosexuality throughout most of Western (and not only Western) history and represents its high points in art during ancient Greece and the Renaissance. But that hasn’t stopped the pc LGBT “movement” from anathematizing it.
Another group left out is heterosexuals. Yet post-Stonewall gay activists took as their goal the liberation of sexuality, including heterosexuality, which, despite the privileges it enjoys in heterodominant society, could benefit from liberation from its patriarchal and reproductive strictures.
The notion that the multiple identities included in the acronym represent a community is absurd. Even gay men and lesbians—whether taken separately or together—do not constitute a community. The only thing they share is their attraction to people of the same sex. In one sense, gay men have more in common with straight women—both are attracted to the male of the species. The priority for most lesbians is their femaleness, whereas for most gay men it’s their attraction to other males. The terms “gay community” and “lesbian community” are fictional constructs. Each consists of many different, sometimes conflicting, subsets rather than a supposed supra-class unity.
The disconnect is even more striking when it comes to the T. The trans phenomenon is antithetical to the outlook of gay liberation and feminism (aside from a shared opposition to discrimination). Rather than challenging sex-role stereotyping and struggling to liberate repressed sexuality, trans accentuates hetero stereotyping by imitating episodic features of the opposite sex, using hormones to develop physical features of the desired gender or resorting to surgery to remove breasts or penises. Such drastic measures are horrifying to most same-sexers and echo nineteenth-century views that homosexuals were a third sex trapped inside the wrong body. An extreme example of a transperson’s substitution of idealism for material reality is that of Stefonknee Wolschtt, a man who “transitioned” to a female gender after twenty-three years of marriage and fatherhood and who does not “want to be an adult right now”: “I can’t deny I was married. I can’t deny I have children. But I’ve moved forward now and I’ve gone back to being a child.” Wolschtt now claims to be a six-year-old girl. It seems far-fetched to see any connection between this and gay liberation.
“LGBT” rejects fluidity and ambiguity in favor of fixed and frozen identities. This flies in the face of everything known about human (and primate) sexual behavior, as well as the lived experience of most gay men and lesbians. Cross-cultural studies show that same-sex behavior exists in all societies studied, and can range from occasional to exclusive—as Alfred Kinsey’s studies also showed—and becomes more prevalent the higher up the phylogentic scale one goes.
The addition of “queer” to the list is apparently meant to get around that obstacle. But the word itself is problematic and carries unpleasant baggage. It allegedly describes anyone who falls outside the boundaries of heteronormativity. Just about anyone can call himself or herself queer. But “queer” has historically applied mostly to gay males, and has long been considered a deadly insult, one bearing a threat of violent assault. The Village Voice once noted that it was the only word that U.S. commanders during the Vietnam War could rely on to prod reluctant GIs to fight. “Queer” struck terror in any guy who was called one. That’s why it was long anathema to gay liberationists. Its negative power was similar to that of the N-word. Teenage (male) gay-bashers who call their victims “queer” are lashing out against their own repressed sexual desires. For gay liberation, same-sex love is as natural as other-sex love; its goal is to liberate the repressed homoerotic potential of everyone, including so-called straights.
Those homosexuals who embrace the epithet argue that they are “reclaiming” it and thereby stripping it of its terrorist power. That argument is unconvincing. It implies that “queer” was once embraced by the oppressed but that it was hijacked by hostile others. That’s illogical and contrary to historical fact. In February 2016, Huffington Post’s Gay Voices changed its name to Queer Voices. Its editor, Noah Michelson explained the decision as follows:
We, like many others before us, have chosen to reclaim “queer” and to rename the section HuffPost Queer Voices because we believe that word is the most inclusive and empowering one available to us to speak to and about the community — and because we are inspired by all of the profound possibilities it holds for self-discovery, self-realization and self-affirmation. We also revere its emphasis on intersectionality, which aids in creating, building and sustaining community while striving to bring about the liberation of all marginalized people, queer or not.
“Queer” functions as an umbrella term that includes not only the lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people of “LGBT,” but also those whose identities fall in between, outside of or stretch beyond those categories, including genderqueer people, intersex people, asexual people, pansexual people, polyamorous people and those questioning their sexuality or gender, to name just a few. These groups have been and will continue to be featured on The Huffington Post, however now the section dedicated to these identities will be inclusive not only in scope but also in name.
The first gay group to emblazon “queer” on its banner was Queer Nation in 1990. At New York’s gay pride rally in Union Square on June 23, 1990, it distributed a large brochure titled “Queers Read This!” (“published anonymously by queers”) in which it asked, “Why Queer?”:
Well, yes, “gay” is great. It has its place. But when a lot of lesbians and gay men wake up in the morning we feel angry and disgusted, not gay. So we’ve chosen to call ourselves queer. Using “queer” is a way of reminding us how we are perceived by the rest of the world. It’s a way of telling ourselves we don’t have to be witty and charming people who keep our lives discreet and marginalized in the straight world. We use queer as gay men loving lesbians and lesbians loving being queer. Queer, unlike GAY, doesn’t mean MALE . . . Yeah, QUEER can be a rough word but it is also a sly and ironic weapon we can steal from the homophobe’s hands and use against him
This strikes me as delusional and little more than wishful thinking. The group was famous for its slogan “We’re here, we’re queer; get used to it!” But the word seems to have had its broadest currency among academics, including New York University’s kultkrit queen Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, whose Epistemology of the Closet, which also appeared in 1990, helped spawn “queer studies” and “queer theory.” Queer Nation proposed the existence of a “queer nationality”—a bizarre notion, to say the least, since same-sex behavior has nothing to do with nationhood or nationality. Within five years, the group had virtually disappeared. But “queer” persisted.
As historian and lexicographer Wayne Dynes aptly observes,
The gay and lesbian embrace of the Q word is striking in view of the earlier history of aversion, at least in the United States. In fact the claim that the word has been “detoxified” is contested, especially by older people. They remember a time when its utterance all too often served as a token of hatred, the opening gambit in an ugly game that, played out to its end, meant fag bashing. . . . In any event, to many veterans it seems ageist for the young to set aside the feelings of older gay men and lesbians as of no account. Ageism is a cardinal sin among the politically correct, though one that is scarcely combatted with the same zeal as racism, sexism, and looksism.
Writer John Rechy pointedly dismisses “queer”:
Now comes the odious word “queer”, eagerly seized by dippy academics and converted into yet another undecipherable “theory”. The rationale? Defuse the word “queer” of its ugly meaning, arrogate it and convert it. Oh? How about proposing “dyke theory”, “kike theory”, “nigger theory”, “spik theory”, “dago theory”, “fag theory”, “cunt theory”? Would that defuse those hateful names, strip them of their dangerous power? How, then does “queer”, the language of gay-bashers, purge the devastating meaning?
One can imagine why ivory-tower academics might cling to “queer,” because conceivably it’s a tool for maintaining their particular fief in academia or for getting grants and book contracts. It’s harder to understand the lemming-like embrace of “queer” by any self-respecting gay man, or by people who identify as “LGBT.”
If the disparate groups and identities in the alphabet soup constitute a fictional “LGBTQ community,” is it a useful fiction? And if so, for whom?