This article responds to a Novara Media Long Read, ‘We build a wall around our sanctuaries’: Queerness and Precarity.
I found Joni Pitt (Cohen) and Sophie Monk’s piece an outstanding introduction to queer politics and social reproduction theory, but its political conclusions and class analysis didn’t satisfy me. I offer ten points in the hope of improving queer politics, and in total solidarity over our shared struggle surviving in a hostile, heterosexuality-dominated world. Capital is indifferent to whether we queers live or die, but I’m not. I’m writing this from the perspective of a trans woman and an academic Marxist who wants to make communism sci-fi again.
1. Let’s abolish the family.
Last year I helped write a polemic called Kinderkommunismus, which proposed a revival of the old communist slogan ‘Abolish the family!’ This means ending the burden of social reproduction placed on parents (specifically mothers) by introducing communalised upbringings. Queers can never rely on heterosexual families not to oppress each generation which comes out. Our only choice left is to destroy the family, and replace it with something different. As communists, we propose a system of ‘revolutionary crèches’, to make heterosexual households optional. These would end the shaming and coercing of women into taking responsibility for raising children: motherhood as we know it would become obsolete.
2. Communism is the abolition of existing conditions – our role as communist queers is to end heterosexuality.
‘Revolutionary crèches’ are just one vision of what we could work towards. But communist politics has to go beyond accounting for the bleakness of things as they are, and celebrate our desperate solidarity in the face of it all. Communist politics means a vision of another world which we work towards, away from the police and the rentiers and the job centres.
3. Revolutionary politics has always been full of queers.
The failure of academic Marxism to focus on queers is miserable. But there has always been queer revolutionary politics, even if it’s been forced to thrive at the fringes. Theorists like Mario Mieli and Monique Wittig wrote powerfully against heterosexuality, and in favour of the ‘mark’ of gender being abolished altogether. Groups like Gay Left, Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, and Wages Due Lesbians, Queer Nation, the Lesbian Avengers and Bash Back have in a diverse range of ways tried to press for revolutionary change through queer solidarity. Queer history can let us build on the victories of these groups, and avoid repeating their failures.
4. Living with straights is shit for queers.
The authors of ‘Queerness and Precarity’ draw on their personal experiences of strained living conditions, which I can relate to only too well. I lived in Dresden for a few months with seven straight communists. After outing myself as a trans woman, one responded: “So you’re telling me you want to be a woman?” They repeatedly implied I was ‘male socialised’ (my attempts to introduce them to materialist feminism were not successful). My depression worsened, and I began to feel isolated and shunned. I flinched at hearing my old name, but felt too nervous to tell them my new one. None of them asked. When I left, feeling broken, it took them over a year to return my deposit.
5. But ‘queer housing’ is often just as shit.
This year, I lived with a bourgeois lesbian couple who evicted me with a week’s notice over a dented bathroom wall, knowing that I was severely depressed, and regularly suicidally ideating. On the day I left, one of them earnestly reassured me that me being trans had nothing to do with their decision. They then evicted the girl who took my room a month later, frustrated with her leaving the hallway lights on. After I sent them a letter threatening to tell the scene how they’d treated me, my deposit was partially repaid (three months later). The month they evicted me, they DJed at a popular queer night.
6. Queers are not a class.
This experience led me to reject entirely the idea of queers as a ‘class’. I have heard of still worse stories about the queer scene from queers of colour. White queers are known for being happy to dance to classic RnB and use Ball Scene slang, but less eager to take part in anti-racist work. Queers occupy all classes and backgrounds, and though being disowned by one’s family can easily result in destitution, non-disowned queers can cling to their advantaged social standing just as firmly as any straight can. We’re not a class – we’re splintered.
7. Queers are getting richer, as well as poorer.
The corporate world continually attempts to make in-roads into our communities through outreach groups like Out In The City, sponsorship of Pride, PR-minded anti-discrimination policies and other displays of ‘corporate social responsibility’. Bourgeois queers are an accepted feature of life in a way which simply was not true for previous generations. Even the IMF made an ‘It Gets Better’ video.
8. Shame is not enough.
Many of us will be offered opportunities which maintain class divisions. Gay marriage, a ‘good job’ (management), policemen proposing to each other at Pride. In many cases, assimilation comes at the price of ridding oneself of effeminate mannerisms (and certainly not ‘screaming’). This is no doubt part of the relentless rise of ‘masc4masc’ ideals that have come with the gay scene’s ‘Grindrisation’. Austerity is raising the stakes for complicity, and many of us will fold. But activists rejecting these opportunities is not enough, not by itself. More and more, queers are taking the bargain class society offers them. Racism, transmisogyny and rising intolerance of effeminacy are prising us apart.
9. Identities proliferate under capitalism, and queer identities are no exception.
In ‘The Uses and Abuses of Civil Society’ and ‘Labor, the State, and Class Society’, Ellen Meiskins Wood argues that capitalism is wrongly presented as a homogenising force. Class struggles, driven by coercive imperatives, are ever more ‘local and particularistic’ resulting in a disintegration of the social fabric that Wood calls ‘domestication’. With this material breakdown, politics is reduced to a ‘fragmented plurality of emancipatory struggles’, with any meaningful conception of class disappearing from view. Identifying queer households as increasingly necessary is no way to stop this overarching process.
10. If we’re to have any part in a revolution, we have to survive.
But survival itself is not a revolution. Right now, we’ve become so desperate that we aren’t even picturing one. Let’s try communism.