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The Fracturing of LGBT Identities under Neoliberal Capitalism

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[AbstractHistorians have linked the emergence of contemporary lesbian/gay identities to the development of capitalism. A materialist approach should also look at different forms of sexual identity, and their connections with specific phases of capitalist development. Marxist long-wave theory can help us understand how the decline of Fordism contributed to shifts in LGBT identities, speeding the consolidation of gay identity while fostering the rise of alternative sexual identities. These alternative identities, sometimes defined as ‘queer’, characterised by sexual practices that are still stigmatised, by explicit power-differentials and above all by gender-nonconformity, are particularly common among young and disadvantaged working-class strata. The growing diversity of identities is a challenge to any gay universalism that neglects class, gender, sexual, racial/ethnic and other differences, to the currently dominant forms of lesbian/gay organising, and ultimately to the prevailing division of human beings into gay and straight.1, Abstract Historians have linked the emergence of contemporary lesbian/gay identities to the development of capitalism. A materialist approach should also look at different forms of sexual identity, and their connections with specific phases of capitalist development. Marxist long-wave theory can help us understand how the decline of Fordism contributed to shifts in LGBT identities, speeding the consolidation of gay identity while fostering the rise of alternative sexual identities. These alternative identities, sometimes defined as ‘queer’, characterised by sexual practices that are still stigmatised, by explicit power-differentials and above all by gender-nonconformity, are particularly common among young and disadvantaged working-class strata. The growing diversity of identities is a challenge to any gay universalism that neglects class, gender, sexual, racial/ethnic and other differences, to the currently dominant forms of lesbian/gay organising, and ultimately to the prevailing division of human beings into gay and straight. 1]

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76. FN11. Some initial thoughts for this article originated as a talk at the IIRE Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual Strategy Seminar in Amsterdam in August 2000; many thanks to the 2000, 2002 and 2009 IIRE Seminar participants for their comments and ideas. Criticisms and observations by Nina Trige Anderson, Pascale Berthault, Terry Conway and Jamie Gough, and especially comments, suggestions and written exchanges with Alan Sears, were particularly helpful. Thanks as well to David Fernbach and to the editorial committee of Science & Society for comments on earlier versions, to Christopher Beck for his support and stimulating comments and questions, and to Historical Materialism board-members, especially Paul Reynolds, for their comments and suggestions. This article is dedicated to Torvald Patterson (1964–2005), in-your-face revolutionary queer, in loving memory.
77. FN22. For example, Fernbach 1981; D’Emilio 1983a and 1983b. A word on terminology: the term ‘lesbian/gay’ in this article refers to a historically specific phenomenon, defined in Section I below. ‘LGBT’ (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) is used as a broader term for people with same-sex sexualities or identities. Although the word ‘queer’ is sometimes used by others to refer generally to LGBT people, I try to reserve the word in this article to those who self-identify as queer, who are often rebelling, not only against the heterosexual norm, but also against the dominant forms of lesbian/gay identity. I sometimes use ‘gay’, ‘lesbian/gay’ or ‘LGB’ particularly to refer to more ‘respectable’ people who emphatically do not identify as queer.
78. FN33. See, for example, D’Emilio 1983a.
79. FN44. See, for example, Hennessy 2000; Sears 2005.
80. FN55. Floyd 2009, p. 2.
81. FN66. Altman 2003.
82. FN77. For example, Seidman 1997, p. 195.
83. FN88. Reynolds 2003.
84. FN99. This article uses the term ‘social constructionism’ simply as the opposite of ‘essentialism’ (a view of sexual identities as biologically determined or otherwise transhistorical), not to refer to a specific school of thought contrary to Marxism. Although Marxists such as Klara Zetkin and Alexandra Kollontai wrote insightfully about sexuality within a purely Marxist framework, more recent Marxist treatments of the subject have almost always engaged critically with other approaches, such as psychoanalysis, feminism, Foucauldianism, post-colonialism and queer theory. I believe that a rigorous Marxist approach to sexuality is not only compatible with an engagement with other social-constructionist approaches, but in fact requires it.
85. FN1010. Mandel 1978 and 1995.
86. FN1111. Lisa Duggan has defined ‘homonormativity’ as a set of norms that ‘does not contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions but upholds and sustains them’ (Duggan 2002, p. 179).
87. FN1212. See, for example, Chauncey 1994, pp. 334–46.
88. FN1313. Bérubé 1983.
89. FN1414. The concept of Fordism has been largely associated with the French ‘régulation’ school, the current of Marxist economics relied on by, for example, Floyd (Floyd 2009). Many of the basic elements of what regulationists call the Fordist mode of accumulation are also to be found in Mandelian long-wave theory or the ‘social structure of accumulation’-approach. These different schools differ with each other particularly about the causes of the rise and decline of different modes of accumulation. While important, these debates are not directly relevant to this article.
90. FN1515. Althusser 1971, p. 162.
91. FN1616. Floyd 2009.
92. FN1717. Marx 1968, p. 182.
93. FN1818. Rich 1983; Wekker 1999. Fernbach (Fernbach 1981, pp. 71–5) gave an early and clear account of the uniqueness of lesbian/gay identity among historically existing forms of same-sex sexuality. Greenberg 1988 provides the most comprehensive survey available of the range of same-sex sexualities.
94. FN1919. Butler 1999.
95. FN2020. Floyd 2009, pp. 57–66.
96. FN2121. D’Emilio 1983a.
97. FN2222. Floyd 2009, pp. 43–5, following Foucault 1978, pp. 118–23.
98. FN2323. Katz 1995.
99. FN2424. Foucault 1978, p. 121.
100. FN2525. Chauncey 1994.
101. FN2626. Drucker 1997, p. 37.
102. FN2727. Warmerdam and Koenders 1987, pp. 125, 153, 169; Floyd 2009, pp. 167–8.
103. FN2828. Floyd 2009, p. 174.
104. FN2929. D’Emilio 1983b.
105. FN3030. Califia 2003, p. 3.
106. FN3131. See Floyd 2009, pp. 177–8.
107. FN3232. Floyd 2009, pp. 168–9.
108. FN3333. Hennessy 2000, p. 6.
109. FN3434. One study of wage-trends shows that among manufacturing workers in the US, ‘inequality soared in the 1970s and 1980s, reaching levels far higher than those existing during the Depression. The recovery after 1994 brought inequality down again, but only to just below that of the worst years of the 1930s’ (Galbraith and Cantú 2001, p. 83). Mike Davis noted ‘extreme income/skill polarization’ in the growing US healthcare, business-service, banking and real-estate sectors, resulting in a ‘split-level economy’ and ‘reshaping the traditional income pyramid into a new income hourglass’ (Davis 1986, pp. 214–18). Figures from the US Federal Reserve show that income-inequality increased further at the end of the 1990s (Andrews 2003).
110. FN3535. Altman 1982, pp. 79–97.
111. FN3636. Gluckman and Reed 1997, p. xv.
112. FN3737. Drucker 2009, pp. 826–8.
113. FN3838. Altman 2000; Oetomo 1996, pp. 265–8.
114. FN3939. Drucker 2000a, pp. 26–7.
115. FN4040. For example, Seidman 2011.
116. FN4141. Heaphy 2011.
117. FN4242. McDermott 2011, p. 64.
118. FN4343. Floyd 2009, p. 64.
119. FN4444. Rubin 1982, p. 214.
120. FN4545. Brenner 2003, pp. 78–9.
121. FN4646. Browne 2011.
122. FN4747. Puar 2007, pp. xxiv, 38–9.
123. FN4848. Mepschen, Duyvendak and Tonkens 2010.
124. FN4949. Badgett 1997, p. 81.
125. FN5050. Sears 2005, p. 106.
126. FN5151. Badgett and King 1997, pp. 68–9.
127. FN5252. Romero, Baumle, Badgett and Gates 2007, p. 2, cited in Wolf 2009, p. 241.
128. FN5353. Transgender Law Center and San Francisco Bay Guardian 2006, cited in Wolf 2009, p. 147.
129. FN5454. Escoffier 1997, p. 131.
130. FN5555. Jacobs 1997.
131. FN5656. Sears 2005, p. 103.
132. FN5757. Rubin 1982, p. 219; Califia 1982, pp. 280, 244–8.
133. FN5858. Altman 1982, p. 191.
134. FN5959. Ira Tattleman, ‘Staging Masculinity at the Mineshaft’, cited in Moore 2004, p. 20.
135. FN6060. Altman 1982, p. 195.
136. FN6161. Rubin 1982, p. 222.
137. FN6262. Nestle 1989; Hollibaugh and Moraga 1983, pp. 397–404.
138. FN6363. Vance (ed.) 1989; Linden, Pagano, Russell and Star (eds.) 1982; Califia 1982, pp. 250–9.
139. FN6464. The state enforces a related point of view, as shown in hundreds of prosecutions of LGBT people each year under age-of-consent laws, the repeated prosecutions of the Canadian gay paper Body Politic for discussing the issue in print, and US Senator Jesse Helms’s successful move to block UN recognition of any LGBT group that condones ‘paedophilia’.
140. FN6565. Drucker 1993, p. 29.
141. FN6666. Patterson 2000.
142. FN6767. Seidman 1997, p. 193; Drucker 1993, p. 29.
143. FN6868. Califia 2003, p. xiv.
144. FN6969. Hennessy 2000, pp. 140–1.
145. FN7070. Drucker 1996.
146. FN7171. Oetomo 1996, pp. 265–8.
147. FN7272. See, for example, Drucker 1993, p. 29.
148. FN7373. Robson 1992, p. 87, cited in Robson 1997, p. 175, n. 13.
149. FN7474. Drucker 1993, p. 29.
150. FN7575. Sears 2005, p. 100.
151. FN7676. Hennessy 2000, p. 113.
152. FN7777. Altman 1982, p. 154.
153. FN7878. Butler 1999, p. 44.
154. FN7979. Califia 2000, pp. 186–9.
155. FN8080. Califia 2003, pp. 52–85.
156. FN8181. Califia 2003, p. 224.
157. FN8282. Herndon 2006, p. 1, cited in Wolf 2009, p. 230.
158. FN8383. Mansilla 1996, p. 23, cited in Palaversich 2002, p. 104.
159. FN8484. Drucker 2000a.
160. FN8585. Rubin 1989, p. 279.
161. FN8686. Hollibaugh and Moraga 1983, p. 396.
162. FN8787. See Fernbach 1998, p. 51; Drucker 1997, p. 37.
163. FN8888. Chauncey 1994.
164. FN8989. Oetomo 1996, pp. 265–8.
165. FN9090. Kevin Floyd argues that ‘the reifying of sexual desire needs to be understood as a condition of possibility for a complex, variable history of sexually nonnormative discourses, practices, sites, subjectivities, imaginaries, collective formations, and collective aspirations’ (Floyd 2009, pp. 74–5). Having earlier recalled Lukács’s later criticism of the conflation of objectification and reification in his History and Class Consciousness, Floyd here reproduces it upside down, celebrating both as Lukács had rejected both. Objectification, the alternate adoption of subject and object-positions in an interplay between different human individuals, is inherent to sexuality; reification, the petrifaction of specific rôles and sexual identities, is not.
166. FN9191. For discussions from an anticapitalist perspective of the potential and limits of queer radicalism, see Drucker 1993 and Drucker 2010.
167. FN9292. On sexual politics in the global-justice movement, see Drucker 2009.
168. FN9393. Califia 2003, p. 256.
169. FN9494. Wekker 1999, p. 132.
170. FN9595. Marcuse 1966, pp. 191, 195, 203.

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