The LGBT movement is by definition conservative. The two issues that have been at the fore of our movement — for which we and our hetero-allies have contributed our money and our time — over the past twenty years have been “same-sex marriage” (“marriage equality”) and the repeal of DADT. While the repeal of DADT celebrated its one year anniversary this week, there have been marginal gains on the same-sex marriage front; DOMA has yet to be repealed on a federal level even though the President has voiced his support for this action and the Democrats included a marriage equality plank in their 2012 platform.
Public queer intellectuals from Fran Lebowitz to J. Jack Halberstam have lamented the fact that these two issues have defined our movement for so long. How ironic is it that we crave admission not only into two institutions that by definition are exclusionary but institutions that are patently patriarchal and demand both the explicit and subtle subjugation of women in order to reaffirm the foundation of their existence?
To be frustrated by the time and resources spent reinforcing these institutions is an emotion best not harbored long; the time has come for us to think more substantially about our political and activist future(s). First comes the military, then comes marriage, then — well, what becomes of the LGBT movement now?
The Scholar & Feminist Online tackles the question of our political future most thoroughly in its recent issue “A New Queer Agenda,” with the attempt to push “beyond the vision of security and belonging offered through gay marriage to a broader politics of economic, political and sexual justice for all.” In her article “Beyond Marriage: Democracy, Equality, and Kinship for a New Century,” Lisa Duggan, queer feminist amazing-scholar and one of the issue’s editors, explains how the LGBT’s “neoliberalist” tendencies (ie, solidifying and reaffirming patriarchal institutions) have oriented our movement throughout the past decade in particular:
The contributors of this issue collectively advocate the overcoming of the LGBT movement’s neoliberalist tendencies by redirecting our focus onto economics and specifically on issues pertaining to economic equality across class and race and gender lines, which are ubiquitous concerns among nearly everyone who doesn’t identify as part of the 1% (aka, Romney’s 47%). Even in this economic crisis that has continued to devastate the 99% in a myriad of ways, statistics have proven that the LGBT community has been hit harder than our straight counterparts:
The contributors of this issue, each in their own way, call for a reconstruction of the foundation of the LGBT movement itself. The question “What now?” or “What next?” is one that is given an answer: reconstitute our movement not on sex acts but on economics, both defined by fluidity (“liquidity,” perhaps?), but both profoundly different.
It’s really important to note that the movement has been primarily defined by sexuality. That it has been defined by sexuality as identity—the cementation of sex acts into fixed identities—has been the strategy employed for it to (erroneously) align itself with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The mapping of our movement onto the Civil Rights Movement required the metamorphosis of “sex acts” into “sexuality”; we saw the rise of the “Born This Way” fanatic wing of our community, with the premise being that, similar to one’s race, one’s sexuality is determined genetically, biologically. I’ve variously lamented this ideology as conservative and self-abnegating, including in a handful of my Pop Theory columns such as this one.
It is also the primary reason, I think, why younger generations, while respectful, feel disconnected from their “LGBT Capital-H-History” (which we’re chided for, since we show no reverence to, or knowledge of, according to some Baby Boom queers). The Millennial Generation is the generation least concerned with (as in hung up on) sexuality in the sense that they, born into a post-Foucauldian world, know that sexuality is fluid and that sex acts do not define a person, and that one’s self-appropriated identity, therefore, does not limit the type of sex acts they can participate in. (Ie, the lesbian who occasionally sleeps with cis-gender men.) They are “pro-choice” in a number of ways — the central unifying idea here is that an individual has control over her body, including her body’s actions.
Furthermore, the LGBT movement’s foundation on sexuality is a significant reason why the trans community has felt overlooked or disregarded — because trans issues are gender issues, not necessarily or inherently sexuality issues, making their cause more aligned with the feminist movement rather than the LGB movement.
The question that we face now is can a movement be sustained without its foundation, as wobbly as that foundation has been? Doesn’t it irrevocably become something else? Is terminal failure the ultimate sign of success?
This is the potential and necessary future machination — “the new queer agenda” — of the LGBT movement proposed by the queer scholars of the SFO issue, in addition to most queer scholars and savants both within and without academia. New coalitions — across race, across class — need to be built upon the fact that we are all subjects living within the same global economy (on a macro scale; on a micro scale for those of us in the U.S.: a profoundly capitalist oligarchy). The fight for equality has to move out of the bedroom and into the boardroom. The law has to divert its attention away from the private body to the public body; there needs to be policy pertaining not to the movements and actions of a body but to the movements and actions of economic structures.
Is this the next phase of LGBT? Are we ready? Are you ready?