Transmissions Ep. 6: Gay Particularity (w/ Armand M); Labor Strikes in France (w/ Jamal)
Hello comrades! Welcome to our sixth episode of Class Unity Transmissions.
In this episode, we open with a quick check-in with our comrade Jamal, from CU Chicago, who has been studying the recent strikes in France. Then we move to our interview recorded earlier this year with Armand M, one of the authors of our article from last September, “Gay Particularity, Reconsidered.”
In the interview, we discuss some main points from Armand’s piece. We look at how, in the late 80s and 90s, activist organizations such as ACT UP participated in civil disobedience actions against insurance rate increases and worked to expand universal Medicaid benefits to include AIDS treatment. In 1990, when Congress refused to release funds already earmarked for AIDS services, claiming that patients with other conditions were more deserving, ACT UP called for national health insurance. What was it about the ACT-UP era that made the gay rights movement so capable of articulating universalistic political demands?
We also look at the struggle for gay marriage, and how it effectively diverted financial resources and political energy away from organizations prioritizing healthcare and employment. Given that the gay liberation movement has not always supported this demand, what changed? Armand discusses the role of “respectability politics” in diverting the struggle from a more traditional leftist perspective. Notwithstanding the importance of access to health insurance and spousal inheritance for partners, Armand suggests that the shift toward gay marriage should be viewed as a conservative turn in queer politics.
Next we turn to the historical emergence of queer identity. Postmodern theorists like Judith Butler tend to see politics as essentially a question of identity, and thought. In this light, politics for them is necessarily the question of a slow, patient struggle to change unconsciously held ideas. However, notes Armand, while homosexual behavior has always been present in human societies, “queer” identification is only a very recent phenomenon and its emergence, as we will see, cannot be understood apart from its specific socio-economic conditions of possibility.
We also discuss some wider literature around this topic (see links below). For example, we address Roger Lancaster’s piece in Jacobin, “Identity Politics Can Only Get Us So Far.” Lancaster raises the question of how today’s “identity” version of gay liberation struggle orbits this idea of a certain quest for one’s subjective essence. Earlier versions, to the contrary, saw “coming out” as an “indispensable means” for building a political movement. Among other things, this means that earlier liberationists generally took a dialectical approach to sexual categories. We ask Armand how this “pre-Stonewall” idea of a subjective labeling understood from the outset as something eventually to be cast aside connects with Marx’s notion of the eventual self-abolition of the “proletariat.”
Other key points raised include the relation of identity-based struggle to CU’s concept of the iron triangle, the limits of aesthetic struggle (“psychosocial emancipation),” and the extent to which Armand’s critique of the limits of contemporary gay liberation struggle might be expanded to other cases.
Your hosts for this episode are Nicholas K, Steph K, and Jamal.
Here is a list of the readings mentioned in the article:
- Andrew Davis (2010), “Queer writers/activists criticize marriage-equality movement at forum; discussion with Yasmin Nair and Ryan Conrad,” Windy City Times, http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/ARTICLE.php?AID=29057&ref=nf.
- John D’Emilio (2020), Capitalism Made Gay Identity Possible. Now We Must Destroy Capitalism, Jacobin, https://jacobin.com/2020/08/gay-identity-capitalism-lgbt.
- David Faes (2018), “Transgender liberation? A movement whose time has passed,” Platypus Affiliated Society, https://platypus1917.org/2018/11/02/transgender-liberation-a-movement-whose-time-has-passed/.
- JacksonLewis (2001), “Union Avoidance Training,” JacksonLewis , https://www.jacksonlewis.com/resources-publication/union-avoidance-training.
- Roger Lancaster (2017), “Identity Politics Can Only Get Us So Far,” Jacobin, https://jacobin.com/2017/08/identity-politics-gay-rights-neoliberalism-stonewall-feminism-race.
For more from Class Unity, please see https://classunity.org/.
Enjoy the show!