Queer Liberation Theory: A Genealogy
- Cameron McKenzieCameron McKenzieDepartment of Social Work, Wilfrid Laurier University
An emerging critical theoretical framework, queer liberation theory attempts to understand the relationship between queerness and capitalism, and more specifically, anti-capitalist movements. It seeks to update and reinvigorate the structural analysis of the earlier gay/queer liberation movement (1960s and 1970s) with the benefit of the insights of queer theory and empirical queer experiences of neoliberal capitalism. Queer liberation theory recognizes and celebrates diverse sexual orientations and gender identities or expression, including essentialist identities such as gay, lesbian, and trans. Within a realist, structural framework, queer liberation theory is interested in how social movements can move beyond identity formation to produce progressive, structural change. To date, three main tenets of the theory have been noted: anti-assimilationism, solidarity across social movements, and the political economy of queerness. The use of the word “queer” signals a progressive, critical, sex-positive, anti-assimilationist, liberationist perspective as opposed to an assimilationist perspective that strives for respectability, acceptance, prestige, and monetary success on capitalism’s terms. The second tenet, solidarity across movements, is an attempt to transcend to the divisiveness of single-issue politics without sacrificing intersectionality. For example, queer liberation theory seeks to recognize, expose, and dismantle social structures that oppress all communities, albeit in different ways. The political economy of queerness refers to a class analysis of structural inequalities. A genealogy of queer liberation theory’s development shows where it reflects, incorporates, or rejects aspects of various theories including a social constructionist perspective, with its debates about essentialism and identities; social movement theory, with its political tensions between recognition and redistribution; queer theory, with its focus on fluidity and ambiguity; materialism, with the strengths and shortcomings of its class analysis; and intersectionality with its focus on a matrix worldview of interlocking systems of oppression; and feminist political economy, with its focus on social reproduction, but adequate recognition of queer sexuality. Indeed, feminist political economy offers something of a pink road map to discover what aspects of the economy will be important for queer liberation theory to explore. Feminist political economy is helpful in the development of queer liberation theory because it has long claimed sexuality and identity as legitimate, as opposed to frivolous, sites of scholarship and political struggle. Feminist political economy, like queer liberation theory, seeks to understand oppression based on sexuality in everyday life. However, the feminist political economy road map takes us only so far, because the focus of the analysis can be seen as gendered, and often cisgendered, lives. Queer liberation theory attempts to draw from these theories to better understand the relationship between queerness and capitalism and provide a basis for political action.