The queer asexual activist

This is based on empirical data from my PhD on asexual activism.

While there was much more commonality, homogeneity, of response amongst those participants who framed asexual activism in terms of race, this was far less evident in terms of those participants who framed their activist identities even at least partially in terms of queerness. This is not to imply that queer and queerness wasn’t significant and meaningful, as the quotes below show. Participants responses were thoughtful; it was evident that most had reflected on their sense of queer and queerness and their relationships to their asexuality and their activism. But who was queer, who could be queer, whether it was simply enough to be asexual in some form to be queer? The responses were diverse. In attempting to give some sense of how and why these responses were so framed, one must be careful not to over-define queer, because it is a flexible, heterogeneous signifier. I would suggest that at least some of its success is its elasticity; its ability to be stretched and pulled in various personal and socio-political directions while retaining coherence. It retains this coherence because there are certain broad boundaries I think. As my research participants’ quotes illustrate, queer is being engaged with across three broad interrelated discourses. These are not always antagonistic towards each other, but they can be. Queer is framed as a commitment to an oppositional, activist identity and lifestyle to heteronormativity and homonormativity. Queer can also be an identification of oneself as a sexual and gendered minority outside of mainstream norms. Finally, queer is an umbrella term for sexual and gendered minority identities; often used to be free of the historical baggage carried by prior umbrella terms. 

This sense of queer as an oppositional, activist identity and lifestyle was particularly strong for some participants. For them, although it was linked to their sense of asexuality, it was could be quite distinct.

It’s not just that I feel an affinity toward queer, I am queer. I’m not sure that my asexuality is what makes me queer. I think there are lots of other things about me that make me queer, but queer is at least, somewhat self-consciously, politically existing heteronormativity kind of way. That’s certainly the way that I live my life, that’s who I am, that’s how people treat me as well. I mean, typically, I’m read as a dyke. I mean, that’s incorrect, but it’s still… Non-binary people are not… It’s fairly difficult to pass as non-binary, especially with certain body shapes. But yeah, the kinds of relationships that I do engage in and who I am, and what I’m inclined to do and not do, and what’s important to me, that is something that’s completely outside of the heteronormative, heterosexual matrix thing, and it’s even kind of fringed beads within many queer circles. I’m not part of the homonormative world, either. 

There was an expectation here of queer carrying a commitment to a radical sexual and gendered politics which would preclude many asexual from identifying as queer. S, who is a very committed radical activist, talked about their experience of identifying as heteroromantic when they first came out as asexual, but still feeling queer compared to many heteroromantic asexuals who would identify as straight:

I used to identify as heteroromantic when I first came out as ace. And even then I still felt queer, I know that there’s some people who are heteroromantic who would see themselves or they’ll call themselves like straight aces. I certainly didn’t identify that way. But certainly, to each their own, but I still felt queer. While I think other people that I’ve talked to have maybe not so much

Others spoke about their feelings when their right to claim queerness was denied them by other LGBT+ community members:

And then from the LGBT community, you kind of get… Because people are like, “Oh it’s just the same as being straight, or whatever,” and it’s like, “Mmm. No”. Even if… ‘Cause if you’re a heteroromantic asexual, they can kind of argue that, “Oh no,” just ’cause you’re basically straight, and it’s like, “Well, no, no. I’m still queer.” So, I wouldn’t say it’s the same level as the other oppression, but it is definitely a thing that asexual people experience. 

For many of the queer asexual activists, their queer and asexual identities intersected with each other, but it was often a case of ambiguous coexistence. That was certainly not the case for all. Others felt that there had been productive engagement between asexual activism and queer activism. J, who is a person of colour and a queer demi-sexual, felt that mainstream asexual activism had been more successful in engaging with queer then with issues of race. He also noted the many conversations online as to whether simply being asexual makes one queer. This is a reiteration of the comments by David Jay that I noted in Chapter Four. In essence, that anyone who has struggled with a sexual norm can identify as queer:

I think the asexual community’s been very good, in my opinion, of recognizing being able to be asexual and queer. And I think there’s a lot of debate whether being asexual is a queer identity. And so that’s also been another interesting conversation that I’ve been noticing in a lot of communities. 

Pragmatically and symbolically this frames all asexual spaces as queer spaces, which was problematic for some of the queer asexual activists. This ran both ways; not simply about asexuals viewing themselves as queer, but how non-asexual queers view asexuality:

If I’m with a bunch of asexual people, meet ups are often really strange and awkward, depending on the group, because they’re my people but in many ways, they’re really not my people, so that’s less likely… It’s a similar thing with groups of non-asexual queer folk, but in different ways, but often, groups of asexual people are much more alienating than groups of non-asexual queer folk.

Participants once again made mention of the exhaustion that comes from having to constantly explain the specifics of asexual identities in each space. Queer could operate as a form of code-switching, a shorthand, an umbrella term that didn’t carry the historical baggage of earlier umbrella terms. In this sense, queer is not just being used as a more radical synonym for LGBT+. It can be a holding term for a point when the person using the identifier is more comfortable expanding upon their sexual and gendered identities:

I’ve got a few friends who are men exclusively attracted to men, but they call themselves “queer” because they want to kind of disassociate themselves with the gay community and some of the negative areas in there, like the misogyny and that kind of thing, so they disconnect themselves from it by saying “queer”. I think that identifying as queer kind of, is a way of showing that you are…You want to be identified as separate from heterosexual, heteronormativity, but at the same time, you kind of are aware of the problematic elements of the community and you kind of need to have your own identity there, and when not everyone is educated about asexuality, specifically, it can get a bit exhausting, having to explain it all the time. 

Queer asexual activists were therefore framing queer in diverse, heterogeneous ways. What queer meant was contextual and shifted. There was a sense that claiming queer established a critique; both of the heteronormative and the homonormative mainstreams. Whether asexuality and asexual activism in itself was queer was a matter of debate:

Because there are certainly lots and lots of asexuals who are queer. And asexuality can be a queer thing but I don’t think it necessarily is, and… And it depends on what kind of queer space and what queer’s meaning in that moment.

There was a belief amongst participants that queerness, queer communities and queer activism took recognition of emerging sexual and gendered identities in a way that had not yet happened in the mainstream:

So I’d definitely say the… And I think maybe another part of it, maybe for the mainstream queer community, for all its flaws, societies in general have been talking more and more about, for better or for worse, about sexualities outside of heterosexuality. 

There was also an underlying belief the queer activism, and by extension queer asexual activism, concerned themselves with issues that neither the heteronormative nor the homonormative mainstreams were focused upon:

It’s kind of interesting. I’ve had it happen to me before where I’ll be talking, it’s usually to a straight person where I’ll tell them that I’m interested in queer activism and queer thought and queer feminism and all this stuff, and then the first thing that comes to their mouth is, “Well, marriage equality, right?” And I’m sitting there like, “I couldn’t care less.” 

Considering pro-ana as a sexual and gender youth subculture

I had the very great privilege to co-author a chapter with my supervisor, Professor Mary Jane Kehily, for the collection  Children, Sexuality and Sexualization recently published by Palgrave:

Sexualisation

Our chapter was on Reappraising Youth Subcultures And The Impact Upon Young People’s Sexual Cultures: Links And Legacies In Studies Of Girlhood. This was doubly funky because Mary Jane is pretty much a world expert in this area.

It also gave me a chance to explore with her some ideas that I’m beginning to tentatively consider for post-doctoral research, around the ana-mia movements (largely on-line communities of mostly girls and young women  who identify as anorexic, bulimic or vacillate between those identities).

This is something that I feel personally invested in because, during the final year of my BA, I chose to let myself myself become dangerously thin for a number of reasons. The pressures of aiming for a high result; choosing to drink rather than eat (very common with male anorexics); relationship issues; feeling that I had lost control of other aspects of my life but being able to control what I ate, and, wanting to punish myself unconsciously for the growing realisation that I had a bipolar condition. It is only in recent years that I’ve realised that I had used my relationship with food in this way.

So, attempting to look at the ana-mia movements from a non-pathological point of view was something that was really important to me. The following is an extract from what Mary Jane and I wrote:

The pro-ana movement, largely accessed online, has been written about as a subculture mostly from within the field of social psychology (Giles, 2006; Pascoe, 2007; Sheppird, 2007; Casilli, 2010). It should be noted that the term ‘subculture’ is used uncritically in most of this literature to denote a group of young people who have a shared social characteristic. This is further complicated by the fact that anorexics aren’t necessarily deviant or delinquent figures of the type that characterized Chicago School research into youth cultures and particularly street gangs. Nor are they necessarily oppositional or resistant types such as the Birmingham CCCS choose to explore, largely focusing on the interaction of race and class in a post-war, post-Empire Britain. Nor are the practices of anorexia expressed by pro-ana advocates analogous to a euphoric hedonism that merited the explosion of research into global club cultures in the late 1980s (Thornton, 1995). And yet, the pro-ana movement contains traces of all three of these shifts in subcultural theory.

Anorexics who engage with the pro-ana movement are both identifiable, however anonymously, and involved in collective problem-solving –  key characteristic for Chicago School theorists in defining subculture discussed above. Moreover, the questions raised by pro-ana and its members are not isolated from larger questions concerning body image, advertising, the fashion industry, the pressure of aspiration, the pressure to be normal/perfect, the role of parenting and so on; different in specifics but not in type from the large representational issues CCCS sought to explore for two decades.

‘Anas’ believe themselves to occupy a higher moral ground within the pro-ana community, defining themselves as against those with other forms of eating distress. Such a belief is frequently reinforced on a casual basis in postings on the sites. ‘Mia’ is commonly constructed as an easy option or a fallback position for failed anas:

“I always found something pure about ana, but mia I think would be easier: but then again they both leave messy emotional scars.”

“When I was mia I intentionally switched to ana because mia is so disgusting: Just look at all the anas who have a slip and end up asking mias for advise (sic) on how to purge. “(Giles, 2006)

It is within the context of what Sara Thornton has termed ‘the sub-cultural capital’ or ‘taste cultures’ for young people in Britain (Thornton, 1995), that pro-ana as a sexual and gender youth subculture comes into view. Building on the work of Bourdieu (1984) on taste and distinction, Thornton views subcultural capital as the signifying discourses of ‘cool’ young people in subcultures apply to key subcultural practices (in her research, dance music) to distinguish the cool from the uncool, the authentic from the fake, the subcultural from mass culture. As Thornton notes, these distinctions are arbitrary, which is not to say that they are without meaning. They are part of what we now recognize as the performative nature of identity (Butler, 1993).

ABC of Queer: B for Burnout: the label that keeps on not giving!

While I was at the Non-monogamies Conference in Lisbon recently a young woman in the Q & A section after a session asked about burnout amongst activists. She said that she was a poly-activist aged 26 who was already experiencing burnout after only three years as an activist. Nobody really answered her question. In fact, people quickly moved on to other questions.

To a large extent, this is my experience of the subject of burnout amongst academics, academic-activists and activists in sexual and gender social movements (I suspect it’s similar in most social movements). We kinda acknowledge that it happens, we think it’s awful for the individual, but the movement is the important thing so we move on.

I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been in social movement spaces where stock phrases have been used about people experiencing burnout. “She was too emotional… ””He didn’t understand what the movement was about…” “She took too much on… It was her fault.” In other words the emphasis is to exonerate the movement from any responsibility; the great tragedy is that there is an implication that burnout implies some fault that must lie either with the individual or the movement, so blame must be directed towards an already vulnerable individual.

At the same time I’ve been in other social movement spaces where activists have been incredibly supportive of friends and colleagues who were experiencing burnout. Indeed I would go further and say the best practice I have seen has been from activists who have chosen to confront the kind of narratives I’ve written about in the previous paragraph. I’d also go further. I would say that activist and academic-activist good practice on burnout I’ve seen acknowledges that burnout is part of the activist life/lifestyle cycle, not an aberration of it to be silenced. The real issue is the ease with which people are enabled to transition from an activist state to a more or less everyday state.

In fact, many of us who are activists or academic-activists may experience burnout 3/4/5 times across our lives. Actually the lifespan of a single activist role may only be 3/4 years. There is nothing wrong with that. As there is also nothing wrong with remaining committed to a cause for the entirety of your life.

But we have a tendency to fetishize that kind of commitment in social movements which makes people who aren’t able to match up to that kind of ‘hard-core’ identity feel less authentically activist. In reality, the history of sexual and gender social movements has been that the short-term activists have been as significant as the long-term.

As well, we need to consider what burnout is. It’s certainly not just people deciding to disengage from a social movement. It’s a complex cluster of practices and frames. When I started to write this I thought about the times of my life when I’ve felt burnout. I tried to consider the kinds of different meanings involved. For me, burnout can involve:

  1. Moments when your body physically breaks down because you have overextended it too much for too long (as a consequence of being an activist). You are experiencing all types of physical illnesses, especially illnesses that you should usually shrug off. The worry now is that some of these will stay with you.
  2. Moments when your mental resilience breaks down because you have overextended it too much for too long (as a consequence of being an activist). You are experiencing all types of cognitive illnesses, especially illnesses that you would usually shrug off. The worry now is that some of these will stay with you.
  3. The complexity of activist relationships which are often fuelled by the mission, but at the same time operate according to interpersonal dynamics. These can often involve issues of gender, race, social and economic mobility, et cetera.
  4. Simply the experience of living in this heightened state and space of activism which is different from being in everyday space. That there is something wrong with you if you can’t continue to live in this heightened space….

We need to learn to understand burnout, especially to understand it as natural and part of the cycle of activism.  Otherwise the great danger is that ‘burnout’ as a demonised and fetishized label becomes something that we carry with us as a traumatising narrative. I know someone who was an activist for 18 months, but she has been burnt out for 18 years.

Why I think Class War are Shite

While I was in Portugal at a conference somebody told me that people were rioting in the East End. They said that they had attacked an establishment because of what it represented.

I assumed they meant the Jack the Ripper museum in Brick Lane which, after initially pretending that it was somehow presenting the histories of the women who were victims, has increasingly glamorised and condoned the Ripper as a serial killer in order to increase footfall.

But no. A group of hard left-wing academics (most of whom work in the most elitist privileged institutions in London ) and their trustifarian friends decided that the best way to challenge gentrification was to attack two guys who were trying to run a small business:

3264

Jane Jacobs would be so proud…

The ABC of Queer: Q for Queerwashing

The world is made up of Powers-that-be/Great  Oppressive White Cis-Fathers, trying to stay in charge, and the rest of us.

We will lead you…

Social movement theorists are hugely interested in ‘frames’ (see FRAMES); dominant narratives by which society (in a broad sense) imposes coherence onto the kinds of events that social and/or revolutionary movements engage in. These narratives, like all stories, impose beginnings, middles and ends; heroes and villains, victories and defeats, et cetera.

One of the problem for queer social movement theorists is that they may make sexual and gender social movement history clearer for the queer audience, but they rarely make it more factual.

One of the most persistent frames, since the French Revolution at least in Western culture, has been the narrative that change comes from the swelling masses. In particular that it is the most vulnerable, the most oppressed, that lead the call to freedom.

Liberty Leading the People
Liberty Leading the People

Eugène Delacroix’s image of Liberty Leading the People (1830) has become the dominant image, the most powerful frame, by which we view the French Revolution. Liberty, France itself, is imagined as a strong muscular peasant woman leading both the intellectuals and the oppressed poor with bare breasts and bare feet; a gun in one hand and the tricolor in the other.

Even in my own research I could see people draw, however unconsciously,  on this frame:

Asexual Liberty leading the  Reading Pride March
Asexual Liberty leading the Reading Pride March, 2014

Which is ironic considering that Delacroix  was not actually painting an image of the revolution of 1789, but the far more sedate, bourgeois revolution of 1830. Even then Delacroix’s painting was a highly romanticised account of the 1830 revolution, which involved little violent contention and much behind-the-scenes politics.

Although a picture of the actual revolution such as The Death of Marat (1793) may be a masterpiece, may the first truly modernist painting as some have suggested; Jean-Paul Marat was also a key figure in the Revolution of 1789 and the Terror that followed it.

Over the centuries the picture has had an enduring influence on artists, philosophers and radicals. But it hasn’t become the pre-eminent frame by which we view the French Revolution because it doesn’t tell us what we want to know about revolutionary and social movements.

Delacroix’s painting does that. It acknowledges death, but it whitewashes (see WHITEWASHING) the painful truth that revolutionary birth makes most players act very badly at least some of the time.

Queerwashing is very like the Delacroix painting. It presents a queer-romanticized version of LGBT history where dates, people and events can be fast and loose. It usually frames LGBT history around certain presumptions which can be quite contradictory; challenging those contradictions is to be often met with accusations of heterosexism, misogyny, transphobia, et cetera. It has to be said that there can often be some truth in the accusations, but the presumption is invariably more complex than that…

Queerwashing presumes that people analogous to Queers of Colour (see QUEERS OF COLOUR) were always and everywhere in LGBT history; that it goes without saying that people analogous to Queer Trans* (see QUEER TRANS*) were always and everywhere in LGBT history. That these people were not only oppressed and silenced by heteronormative society (SEE HETERONORMATIVE) but by homonormative elements as well (SEE HOMONORMATIVE) usually represented by middle-class gay cis-men (SEE CIS).

At the same time, confusingly, there is an insistence that it was actually these most vulnerable elements of proto-LGBTIQA+ society that were actually and always the agents of change, but they were whitewashed from LGBT history by the middle-class cis-men and cis-women (see GAYWASHING).

As regards cis-women, Queerwashing’s relationship to Feminism (SEE FEMINISM) is strained, but compliant. This is despite mainstream Feminism’s long history of accommodating homophobia, transphobia and ethnocentrism (SEE ETHNOCENTRISM), et cetera.  Queerwashing prefers to remain on the surer footing of critiquing middle-class gay cis-men.

The contradictions in the above four sentences become more apparent when you consider that a post-modern post-structuralist theory of sexual and gendered identity is being applied to LGBT history to do precisely the opposite of what Foucault would have wanted it to do, in my opinion. Labels are being applied, people are being put into boxes that they wouldn’t have claimed for themselves; the actual historical experiences of oppressions and privileges (which are complex) are being turned into framed queer binaries.

Queerwashing doesn’t critique binaries, it imposes them. Sexual and gendered groups are seen as essentially victims with oppressions, or, perpetrators with privileges.

An exemplar of this is how often you will hear in queer activist circles how the Stonewall Riots “were actually a trans* riot, they started it and then they got pushed out by gay men and white women.” This is an actual quote from somebody who was doing an MA in Queer Studies. It’s also remarkably similar to the opinion given in a recent article in The Guardian by Owen Jones.

The Stonewall Riots are complex like any significant contentious event. In some ways the riots themselves are less important than what came after them, but what they are not are trans* riots (John D’Emilio who is probably the foremost LGBT+ historian in America is good to read on this) nor were they started by trans-variant people if they started at the Stonewall Inn.

There is a good reason for this. The Stonewall Inn wasn’t a particularly trans-variant friendly space, certainly not genderqueer in the modern sense. We know this because Sylvia Rivera, the great queer and trans* activist, was one of the few drag queens (correct term at time) to get in to the bar on that night and has talked about it in interviews. The Stonewall Inn’s clientèle was mostly made up of lower middle-class, white gay men. If the riot started at the bar, then that’s who probably started it.

Once the riot spilled over into the street the first projectiles were thrown by  “‘flame queens’, hustlers, and gay ‘street kids’ – the most outcast people in the gay community”. These are all American terms for gay/bisexual  identities of the 1960’s.

This is in no way to deny the centrality of trans-variant people in the riots themselves nor to ignore the appalling exclusion and silencing of trans-variant activists like Sylvia Rivera from emerging Gay and Feminist political/community spaces in the 1970s.

But four points emerge:

Firstly, queerwashing silences the narrative of oppression that gay men experienced, particularly white middle-class gay men (and that history is ongoing). Furthermore it often excludes the considerable contribution those white middle-class gay men have made to furthering the sexual and gendered rights of all LGBTIQA+ people.

Secondly, although queerwashing will often condemn individual feminists for their prejudices – particularly transphobia (SEE TERFS) – queerwashing tends to act as an apology for Feminism in general. Queerwashing is ideological and essentializing; it always prefers to blame men (however constructed) rather then women (again, however constructed).

Thirdly, queerwashing is flawed social movement theory. Events such as the Stonewall Riots weren’t tipping points where the most oppressed rose up and freed everyone else from their chains (of the kind that the Delacroix picture seems to suggest). Often those most actively involved in revolutionary and social movements are elites; people who have social, educational or economic capital, but have been triggered for one reason or another into activism. Moments like the Stonewall Riots shouldn’t be polarised into oppressed victims and privileged elites (SEE INTERSECTIONALITY). Actually, they’re illustrative progressions in an organic, changing, often unpleasant-to-each-other history of sexual minority lives in the 20th century.

Finally, queerwashing is bad Queer Theory. Foucault set out to critique the tendency to impose binaries  in Western cultures; not to imagine, catalogue and collate a whole new set of binary catalogues and impose those coercively on the past and, by extension, the present.

Foucault spoke of “We ‘Other Victorians.'” In other words, how we seek repression in the past so that we might feel more liberated in the present; avoiding how controlled our world has become in other ways. We might also speak of ‘We Other Stonewall Rioters’. How we seek oppressions in the past, or colonise what victimisations there are there, so that we might feel more justified in our oppressions and victimisations in the present; avoiding our privileges and how they may victimise others now (the dead Liberty tramples on in the Delacroix picture).

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ABC of Queer: A for Asexual

Asexual identities have the ability to radically challenge Queer Theory’s often taken for granted assumptions about sexual orientation in the same way that Trans* (see TRANS*) identities radically challenged Feminism’s (See FEMINISM) often taken for granted assumptions about gender.

For a long time feminists have challenged the socially constructed nature of gender. This is a good thing because, invariably, gender was/is being constructed in our society to privilege white, biologically male men (see CIS, see WHITE PRIVILEGE). However, for many feminists, the challenge to the socially constructed nature of gender only went as far as how it oppressed them. They weren’t prepared to critique the privileges they enjoyed under the same constructions of gender (see ETHNOCENTRICISM; see INTERSECTIONALITY); a form of strategic essentialism (see STRATEGIC ESSENTIALISM).

They often failed to distinguish between gender as biological sex, gender as gender role and gender as gendered behaviour (see PORTMANTEAU); issues which would be of increasing significance to Trans* theorists and activists. When faced with the challenges and contradictions of Trans* Theory and identities, to previously taken for granted assumptions about gender, some feminists have responded with gender panic (see PANICS) that has expressed itself in transphobia (see TERFS, see TRANSPHOBIA). It should be stated that this is largely generational and most contemporary feminism acknowledges the need to have a more nuanced understanding of gender.

Likewise queer theorists have often focused on critiquing sexual orientation as a social script we learn. Again, broadly speaking, this is a good thing because the social scripts we learn often imply that heterosexual lives and codes of behavior are superior to sexual minority lives and codes of behavior (see HETERONORMATIVITY). Even when these scripts become more tolerant they may still suggest that sexual minority lives are better when they mimic heterosexual lives (see HOMONORMATIVITY).

But Queer Theory itself also writes a strategic social script which maintains particular privileges and intersections. In both its progressive-liberal and authoritarian-judgemental modes it maintains the pre-eminence of individual choice. Your ability to, indeed your ethical responsibility to, take charge of and control your sexual script is implied. What is subtly being suggested is your responsibility to be queer.

The fact that this type of scripting tends to privilege certain socio-cultural classes, as well as particular sexual and gendered identities, is overlooked. Equally as important, this type of scripting ignores the fact that sexual orientation is portmanteau (see BIOPSYCHSOCIAL) made up of parts which are biological, parts which are physiological and parts which are socially scripted. Another way to put this is that sexual identity is made up of sexual orientation, sexual role and sexual behaviours.

This is significant for asexuals because most asexuals define their identity through their biological asexual orientation. The standard definition being that an asexual is someone who experiences no or little sexual attraction to others. Therefore scripts barely come into it; it’s very much a case of ‘born this way’. Though the extent to which socialisation will then impact on someone after birth is always important. Equally as important, asexuals reject the pre-eminence given to the scripted sexualised self by queer theorists.

They would claim that other modes of human relationship orientation (the romantic, the platonic, the aesthetic, the sensual, et cetera) are equally as important if not more so. I also see little to suggest that they view these as uniquely social scripts, but as physiological/psychological interactions. It also remains the case that a significant minority of asexuals, in selecting other types of relationship orientation, will choose orientations that would be viewed as heterosexual in preference.

Therefore Queer and Asexual may be on a similar collision trajectory that some parts of Feminism and Trans* were on, for similar but slightly different reasons. Queer may have to realise that it has to to develop a more nuanced notion of the scripted sexualised self. It may have to accept that sometimes it cannot always privilege that sexualised self.

It may also have to accept that being inclusive of Asexual is also to be inclusive of heteroromantic asexuals, for example, who make up such a large number of the increasing visible asexual community. Whether that happens easily, or, we see a similar sexual panic happening with queer theorists and asexuals as occurred with feminists and trans* individuals leading to A-phobia? Only time will tell…

The ABC of Queer: A for Activist

Queer activism is one of the two or three most confused concepts in queer culture.

On a basic level a queer activist should be someone who is campaigning for the fair and equal treatment of queer people in society (the rebel with a brick against the the big straight person). They should also be promoting the increased visibility and awareness of queer people in society; usually by exemplifying queer lifestyles and modelling queer identities (queer people are everyday people). This seems perfectly laudable. It’s also seems clear that there are many people who identify as queer or queer-variant who still feel oppressed or silenced in society, despite claims for increasing tolerance.

The first confusing difficulty stems from the fact that Queer isn’t the same as Lesbian, Homosexual, Asexual, et cetera… Or for that matter Female, Trans*, Male… It’s neither a sexual orientation spectrum nor a gendered orientation spectrum identity, but a socio-political-cultural attitude embraced by certain sexual and gendered minority people to their identities.

In that sense, it’s remarkably similar to Gay which is probably why it has such a historical antipathy to it (younger sibling to older). It’s particularly embraced by people who have considerable economic, social and/or educational capital (so the simple rebel against the big man or big woman narrative is a bit problematic). You will often therefore hear such queer activists talking on behalf of queer communities (queers of colour, Irish queers, crip queers, et cetera) where it’s really unclear that they can actually speak for those communities (because it’s moot whether anybody, certainly not everybody, in those communities would define as queer).

The second confusing difficulty stems from the fact that queer activism is rarely about exemplifying queer lifestyles and modelling queer identities in themselves. Queer activism grew up as a politicized alternative to mainstream gay culture, critiquing what it saw as its lack of challenge to dominant, orthodox heterosexual norms and behaviors (heteronormativity and homonormativity). In particular, queer activism sought to incorporate insights from feminism, post-colonialism and post-structuralism to reject the sexual and gender orthodoxies of its time.

However, over the last 25 years, Queer activism has established its own orthodoxy often acting as ‘purity police’ for sexual and gendered codes of behavior and conduct (see CHARMED CIRCLE). Therefore queer activism in this mode is increasingly about judging others for their specific identities and behavior (so identity is never quotidian and everyday). The irony being that queer activism is now more concerned to attack LGBT identities they feel are unworthy (see WEBER) than heterosexual oppression, often quite viciously – in some situations it becomes difficult to judge whether the queer attack or the heterosexual oppression are more invidious.

Concurrent to this has been the development of a repertoire of contentious tools to judge other sexual and gender minority individuals (see CALLING OUT, CHECKING YOUR PRIVILEGE, THE POLITICS OF SNIDE, et cetera).