Since the 2000s, forms of articulation between materialist and Marxist theory and queer theory have been emerging and have thus created a “queer materialism.” After a predominance of poststructuralist analyses in the social sciences in the1980s and 1990s, since the late 1990s, and even more so after the economic crisis of 2008, a materialist shift seems to be taking place. These recompositions of the Marxist, queer, and feminist, which took place in activist and academic arenas, are decisive in understanding how the new approaches are developing in their own fields. The growing legitimacy of feminist and queer perspectives within the Marxist left is part of an evolution of Marxism on these issues. On the other side, queer activists and academics have highlighted the economic and social inequalities that the policies of austerity and capitalism in general induce among LGBTQI people and have turned to more materialist references, especially Marxist ones, to deploy an anticapitalist and antiracist argument. Even if nowadays one cannot speak of a “queer materialist” current as such, because the approaches grouped under this term are very different, it seems appropriate to look for a “family resemblance” and to group them together. Two specific kinds of “queer materialisms” can thus be identified. The first, queer Marxism, seeks to theorize together Marxist and queer theories, particularly in normalization and capitalist accumulation regimes. The second, materialist queer feminism, confronts materialist/Marxist feminist thought with queer approaches and thus works in particular on the question of heteropatriarchy based on this double tradition.
Queer as Materialism
Sophie Noyé and Gianfranco Rebucini
Queer Liberation Theory: A Genealogy
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.
The Rise of Transgender Social Movements: Narrative Symbolism and History
B. Lee Aultman
Trans is both an umbrella term for heterogeneous identities and a discrete collective identity type unto itself. It now encompasses a wide range of binary and nonbinary identifications like transsexual and transgender. Social movements arising that take up trans issues do so with certain caveats. Many make the important distinction that “trans” describes human practices and social identities preceding the construction of its modern name and meaning. Furthermore, social movements and activism advance the argument that trans embodiments are not confined to Western or medical imaginaries. Indeed, what is expressed within trans identity narratives have gone by other cultural names, with diverse histories all their own. The rise and ongoing role of American trans activism within social and political domains are careful to consider the narrative histories being summoned. Trans social movements are generally aware of the risks that analytic terms like movement or protest might imply. For better or worse, scholars often associate the rise of social and political protest movements of the 20th century in broadly fantastic terms. The emergence of trans communities, however, unfolded over the course of a century. The episodic ruptures that mark historical events (Compton’s Cafeteria or the Stonewall riots) tend to spur organizational consolidation. Indeed, many of the most recent trends in trans activism then consolidated into organized interests. On that many scholars can agree. But the historical process that led to this point of trans politics is not clear-cut. Often eclipsed by the twin narrative of queer liberation, trans social movements linger among a number of narrative histories. Three periodizations help identify how trans narratives of identity and social justice are deployed, by whom, and for what purpose. The nominal period marks the rise of transsexual identities as they emerged within the space of medical currents in the early 20th century. Trans people in mid-century America may have participated in the power of medical discourse in their own lives. For example, autobiographical texts describe psychic pain, depression, and suicidal ideation that were alleviated only through transition. Naming provides intelligibility to an otherwise opaque set of phenomena. The symbolic period moves away from privileging the medical archive to highlight the connections made between radical identity groups and the growth of organized resources by and for trans activists. Narratives here are socially symbolic and detail how terms like transsexual and transgender(ist) entered a complex cultural milieu. Many activists would permanently shape the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, and agender (LGBTIA) communities for decades. The symbolic emphasizes a politics of narrative origins. Identifying the events and voices that shaped the mainstream conception of trans issues is critical to contemporary movements for social justice. The pluralist period reflects upon the various institutional interventions that shaped popular discourse around sex and gender in everyday life for trans people. It typically recasts the last three decades of the 20th century as a crucial epoch in trans activism (for both social and political forces). Between 1980 and 1990, new energy emerged that ran on the heels of a new posttranssexual politics. What emerged in the early 2000s was a rapid growth of organized advocacy and interest-group formation. Many of the organizations are still active and continue to shape national, state, and local policies. They represent one form of a blend of movement-related strategies for participating in the construction and durability of trans politics.
What’s a “Norm” After Queer Movements?
The question of “norm” is central to queer theory. As this reading of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble (1990), regarded as one of the pioneering texts in queer theory, shows, queer theory has consistently discussed the actual power of the norm, how it works, and how it is appropriate for minority movements to position themselves in relation to norms to abolish them. As many writings and discussions on this subject suggest, the reflection on the norm is based on an internal feminist discussion of identity. Just as there is no naturalness of sex, there is also no natural, preexisting identity. Denaturalizing identity by asserting that identities do not preexist when they are invoked calls for strategic use of identity while at the same time conducting a critique of how identities are produced. More fundamentally, the discussion of norms is linked to a reflection on “priority.” By asserting that there is no being or ontology that precedes socialization and the application of social norms, Butler denies any relevance to the project of reconnecting with practices and identities that have not been shaped by these norms and are thus considered free, escaping power. Postulating that there is no state prior to law, norm, and power calls for strategies of resistance and subversion. There is a need to place oneself within the normative devices and structures produced by power to subvert them. The notion of “performativity” condenses this conclusion by describing the possibility of producing acts that, within the normative system, displace normative meanings. Resistance and subversion lie in the parodic game, in the displacement of gender norms within the structure that produces them. The assertion that “there is no political position purified of power, and perhaps that impurity is what produces agency as the potential interruption and reversal of regulatory regimes” leads to a radical redefinition of politics. All subversive politics thus remain dependent on prevailing norms and structures, within which it acts to contest them. Subversion can only ever be local and never total, as much temporally as geographically. It can only intervene in a place, at a given moment, with reference to a given normative apparatus. Insofar as it remains necessary always to draw on a norm in order to challenge and resignify it, it will never be possible to contest all social norms definitively; it will only be possible to weaken certain ones from time to time. It then remains to identify, at some point, the power with which one wishes to fight, and the most effective strategies to weaken it.