Queer Notions II:
More Thoughts on the Relationship of Sexuality to Revolution
Volume II, first published August 1997
Click here to read Volume I of Queer Notions
If you'd rather read this in printed form you can purchase a bulletin by sending a $6.00 check made out to News & Letters and address it to:
News and Letters, P.O. Box 3345, Oakland, CA 94609
A Presentation to the Bay Area News and Letters Committee Meeting Fall 1996 by Sharon Cannery, Bay Area News and Letters Committee
Thoughts On Other Peoples Queer Notions: Thoughts On The Relationship Of Sexuality To Revolution Presented by Tom Williamson, AIDS activist, to the Chicago Local of News and Letters Committees, Spring 1997 (Jump to Critique of Math's article on Transsexuals )
Report on Queer Notions I: A History of Queer Radicalism by Darrell Gordon, presented to the Chicago Local of News and Letters Committees, Spring 1997
Correspondence regarding Queer Notions I Letters from Franklin Dmitryev and Jennifer Pen
Bisexual Politics: Theories, Queries, & Visions by Julia Jones
Queer Politics and Marxism by Julia Jones
On The Unbearable Uptightness Of Being . . .ALMOST Total About Revolution by Malcolm
Lesbians During the Third Reich by Sharon Cannery
Women as Thinkers and Revolutionaries: A review of Raya Dunayevksaya's Women's Liberation and the Dialectics of Revolution: Reaching for the Future by Julia Jones
Queer Notion: The Idea of Freedom and Homosexual Self-Definition in the Nineteenth Century by Jennifer Rycenga, San José State University
There are No Homosexuals Back Home by Zorica Mrsevic
Stories and Messages of History by Zorica Mrsevic
Tearing Pain or how do women separate from each other (the experiences of lesbians from Belgrade) by Zorica Mrsevic
Transcripts from "Lesbianism, Queer Politics, and Revolution" Spontaneous Meeting During the Frontline Feminism's Conference, Riverside, California: February 1997
We are proud to be publishing our second Queer Notions Bulletin. Our effort to bring together various queers and friends interested in revolution has been quite fruitful during this past year since the publication of our first bulletin. As you read, you will discover the voices of people nationally and even internationally, who have different approaches to the queer dimension, and yet who all share the desire for a freedom filled future where we are not defined by this oppressive heterosexist, racist, classist, sexist, capitalist society.
We invite submissions and comments on an ongoing basis, both on this website and via "snail mail." Below you will find the addresses for all the various ways we can be reached. We look forward to hearing from you all!
Bay Area Womens Liberation News and Letters Committee, P.O. Box 3345, Oakland, California 94609. Telephone: 510-658-1448, email: email@example.com
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Reports on the First Queer Notions Bulletin
A Presentation to the Bay Area News and Letters Committee Meeting, Fall 1996
by Sharon Cannery, Bay Area News and Letters Committee
I feel privileged to present this groundbreaking bulletin on Queer Notions; thoughts on the relationship of sexuality to revolution. This is a compilation of unedited essays written by Feminists, Anarchists, Queer Activists, and Marxist-Humanists and which directly grew out of a group that has been meeting now for over a year and a half called the Subjectivity of Sexuality group. It is an off-shoot from the Bay Area News and Letters Womens Liberation Committee. There is a Dear Friends letter in the very front of the bulletin written by Julia Jones who gives a condensed yet, very accurate depiction of the groups background and vision.
What the group set out to do is, by no means, a small task. Mostly because discussions on the revolutionary relationship of sexuality have historically been seen as personal and therefore, minor within the broader scale of "the more serious issues" such as, womens rights, labor and minority struggles. We are here to set the record straight or not-so straight if you follow my meaning there is a hefty bit of digging into history that needs to take place alongside theoretical development within the whole subject of sexuality if we are ever have a chance to uproot the old and pose a vision of a totally new human society.
The way I am going to go through this bulletin will be simply, front to back, picking out the key points that I feel was the intent of the author. Ill try to be as accurate and insightful as possible, however, I am not going to ramble on because to tell you the truth, I am looking forward in hearing everyones opinion of the bulletin and if you are a visitor, I welcome any comments on my presentation or on anything brought up during discussion period.
O.K. The first essay after the Dear Friends letter is mine. I have entitled my piece, "Raya Dunayevskayas 1953 Letters on Hegels Absolutes and the Gay/Lesbian Liberation Movement". Here, I was trying to convey the importance of not separating theory from practice. That going back to Hegels Absolutes, as Raya did in 1953 and in her letter to Grace Lee Boggs (one of her comrades in the Johnson-Forest Tendency) will help move and deepen our analysis of the lesbian and gay movement. I came from pure activism and I certainly had no trouble in seeing the limitations of pure practice. When theory is placed along side practice, a fluidity of thought occurs where practice informs theoretical development and theory informs activity.
Diving into the Absolute Idea is crucial in informing revolutionaries because it is revolution in permanence and without it an incomplete analysis will occur. As I quoted Raya, "in Hegelian dialectics, the philosophic moment is the determinate: even if the person who was driven to articulate the Idea of that moment was very nearly unconscious as to its depth and its ramifications, it remained the element that governed the concretization that follows the laborious birth that poured forth in a torrent nevertheless." See, under capitalism ideas have very little value as we are forced to conform to rigidity and add to production thereby, losing any sense of how creative we could really be. I outlined the actual movement of the Absolute Method by using myself as an example. I stated how important it is for all that is part of my history which challenges our current oppressive society come with me in transcending every stage of my confrontation of the objective world.
Our accurate understanding of all that has come before us is vital. The actions of determined souls that lay bare our contradictory world need to penetrate present day struggles, thereby moving us toward a richer understanding of our movement. This movement of the Absolute Method, in my case, of going from individual(lesbian) to particular(gay bashing) to universal(lesbian and gay movement) and philosophy of "Revolution in permanence" is fluid. It is a two way road which can go the other way as well: Universal, Particular, Individual a continual movement that is never ceasing. To quote Raya, "History is enriching and concentrating itself upon itself." Our internalization of the Absolute Method too, must be ever deepening.
The next essay is Jennifer Pens "Subjectivities of Sexualities and Revolutionary Subjects- a review essay". Here Pen, in the beginning gives a general history of the period of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgendered history since Stonewall. Marking how the earlier homophile movements were replaced by an ever increasing separation between lesbians and gay males. Gay males, generally, veering off towards creating safe havens of personal freedom and gay pride where, the lesbians tended to pour their energies into the feminist movement where it was thought best that their lesbianism be toned down for fear of side-tracking the movement as a whole.
Pen then goes onto explain the process of change that took place including lesbians determined not to be silenced and the shift back to gay men and lesbians fighting against the genocide of the AIDS epidemic. She points to a new kind of direct activism found in groups like ACT-UP, Queer Nation, Womens Action Coalition, and Womens Health Action Mobilization. Pen correctly notes, "While there have been plenty of tensions over issues of sexism, racism, and class privilege, gay men and lesbians have increasingly worked together since 1982".
Jennifer goes on to point out the reformist swing of the energies of the movement since Clinton took office and the limitations of some of the approaches to change. Gay conservatives primarily being white, male, middle-to-upper-class, and employed in white-collar or executive jobs. "The multi-issue forces," Pen writes, "are often equally reformist in their goals, and while there are more women, more people of color, and a wider range of class interests represented, they shy away from revolutionary language." A further philosophic deepening of our critique of glbt struggles world wide is needed what and how does the queer dimension adds to revolutionary subjectivity?
Now, what Pen brings up next is what our group is intent on seriously discussing and what I believe is key in our analysis. She says, "It is the self-definition inherent in queer subjectivity that is the location of the dialectic." You can see how the movement of the deepening of the dialectic shows through in even how Jennifer responds to Julia Jones review of Vera Whismans Queer by Choice which will be discussed next. This is what can come from constant exchange of ideas and dialog. How Pen picks up on Jones whole critique and how she says that the claim that "I had no choice does not challenge the heterosexist status quo, and leaves intact insidious assumptions that homosexual behavior is amoral, undesirable and unnatural". "This, says Pen, is a defensive move, which eats away at the subjectivity and self-definition that queer liberation can propel." In other words, lesbians, gays, bi-sexuals, and transgendered people have a very real subjectivity that by no mistake brings them to support other struggles and is so very important to flush out. The very act of coming out, which is something that is never ending, let me tell you, forces you to confront your world in a very concrete way and in my opinion is always a mini-revolution every time you do it. Pen then asks the question to what extent does the coming out process question and negate the totality of what exists, and, if it does, to what extent does it also spiral one in the direction of second negativity, to the positive in the negative, to a new, more human world?" The self-definition that is part of the coming-out process and how the self-critique is also an essential part of revolution in permanence was wonderful to read in Pens piece. She then proposes a new pamphlet on subjectivity of sexuality as an opening for the discussion of these ideas and as instrumental in informing todays perspectives in other struggles.
The third essay is by Julia Jones and it is review or Queer by Choice; Lesbians, Gay Men, and the Politics of Identity a book written by Vera Whisman. An edited version of this piece appears in News and Letters from July 1996. What is so exciting about Julias reading of this book is that she challenging those interested in queer liberation to start from a very radical and inclusive feminist position open to conceptions of sexuality as a choice. I myself, have always believed that sexuality is a choice. However, this position that sexuality is a choice is by and far a very unpopular stance.
Jones sums up Whismans position by saying, "She calls for a non-essentialist politic which broadens the range of sexual possibilities while disrupting the assumptions of societal norms." She continues by stating that "Queer theory which rests on deterministic assumptions necessarily regards the current state of anti-human separation and degraded relations between men and women as, natural, and misses the enormous wealth of possibilities in store for humanity if we take responsibility to work at overcoming all alienating divisions." This critique is important to me because it stresses that to rely on biological determinism is starkly in opposition with the self-determination of radical lesbian feminist thought
The next letter is a response to Jones article and though the author, Sonia Bergonzi may have named it a contradictory letter, I simply see it as part of the necessary dialog that our group is clamoring for. Bergonzis approach to the creation has this layering effect where she says that she "sees the question of choice as a process of self-development, of freeing ourselves from the nature thats been created for us and re-creating our own nature on the basis of the recognition that our nature is opposed to the nature society has given us. But, thankfully, Sonia doesnt just stop at acting in opposition but, rather points to the Absolute movement of Becoming. I quote, "Rayas point is that you begin from the absolute-which includes all of human development in the struggle for freedom-but that its not absolute until its completion and that its completion is really a new beginning. The new society isnt until it is, yet there are glimpses of it everywhere." I would like to hear peoples response to this idea of Absolute movement of Becoming and its relationship to queer subjectivity.
The next one entitled "Kissing in the Face of the Machine" written by K.S. Here he starts off with his own personal history in recognizing that loving a man was also an option for him. He celebrates the fact and is puzzled by other gays and lesbians who feel a sense of wrongness about their feelings. K.S. then offers some historical details of where the concept of homosexuality came from etc., however, I feel a bit more expounding could be done as far as his take on Greek philosophy. The Greeks attitude toward women was a tad misogynistic. Women were only good for having children and were not thought as anyone worth having any meaningful relationship. Did not have anything serious to say. So, I would not hold the Greeks up as a society I would wish to follow, which by no means is what K.S. is suggesting but, I thought a little clarification on that point would be good. I loved what he wrote when he described his first sexual experience. "I was 13 years old and Brian approached me as I stood beneath a towering Maple tree. Are you gay? he asked. And I did not have to think at all. Although I had never actually used the word gay to describe myself, I knew that, at that moment, the word described who I was. That act, of joining my hand to his, was one of the most sexually charged acts I have ever experienced. In my heart, I know that it was also a direct act of revolution." A very good illustration for the title, "Kissing in the Face of the Machine". K.S. also brings up some very insightful questions. "What were the social forces that brought about a limited concept of pleasure and sexuality?" The economy he explains is a great driving force of heterosexism. "Queer subjectivity help to dismantle the machine that is society," he explains and I would like to also add, "What is going to be there as an alternative way of thinking after the dismantling is done? This is what lies on our shoulders for today.
Julia Jones is back for the next essay which she entitled, "Marxs Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence and the Revolutionary Queer Dimension". This was a sub-report that Julia gave during our News and Letters class series last spring. She asks what can we learn from Marx that could aid us in our own philosophic development that is so needed for a total uprooting ? Well, Jones points to Marxs Economic-Philosophic Essays of 1844, his work in Capital, and then finally, his writings on pre-capitalist societies in the Ethnological Notebooks. Jones: "Marx was working out new theoretical pathways to total human emancipation and searching for new Subjects of liberation who would work together to create a society where everyone can be truly free." So true, so true.
This is why it is essential to take responsibility for the ideas of the humanism in Marx. So that Marxism no longer remains reduced to pure materialism. Julia talks about Raya Dunayevskaya and what she saw in those 1844 essays was no less than the philosophic moment of Marxism, the total humanizing Reason and Practice. Where Marx was writing on the Hegelian dialectic and grounding Hegels Idea of Absolute Freedom with the living breathing human being. Jones then moves on to detail how historically, Marx and Hegel chopped up in tiny bite size pieces at best, and called to be driven back into the night at worst. Cutting of Marx youth, sloughed of as just a young optimist or Stalin ordering that Chapter 1 of Capital be left unread where Marx reveals the true character of the commodity fetish and the subjects for its overthrow. This essay was very helpful for me in learning a bit about the history of Marx, how leaders chose to read him, how they divisively used his philosophy and how Raya maintained that Marxs humanism is throughout all of his writings, every chapter. Julia quoted Raya: "Dialectics, of course, is the method of development of each and of all, objective and subjective, whether that new-won force came out of the actual struggle for the shortening of the working day, or in discerning the law of motion of capitalism, with both a look back to pre-capitalist formationsfrom the communal form through slavery and feudalismand look forward at what will follow capitalism: freely associated labor taking destiny into its own hands."
Julia then moves onto discussing various lesbian writers, such as, Margaret Randall and Adrienne Rich and their responses to Marx, Engels, and Dunayevskaya. This particular page is one not to miss because it confronts many of the misinterpretations feminists have of Marx and further poses what Dunayevskaya caught as the movement of philosophy. It is very important that remain patient in our critique with both history and the dialectic because as Jones mentioned throughout her report, doing anything less lends itself to misguided analysis and a repeat of the past in one form or the other. As Julia simply states, "News and Letters is an organization which is committed to working out these new beginnings in thought as well as in reality. The readings for today point to the need to be creative with the development of theory which comes from peoples struggles for freedom, and to constantly be grappling with the difficult abstractions of Hegels Absolutes. We have to be open to new revolutionary subjects along side the revolutionary philosophy which is ever changing and ever developing to meet the challenge of the times."
Next, we have once again Ms. Jennifer Pen and her essay entitled, "The Black Dimension and Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Liberation: a preliminary report. Here she explains how the queer movement has deep -seeded roots within black history in America as well as the Civil Rights Movement. She refers to the book American Civilization on Trial and quotes, "(I)t becomes imperative, therefore, that every freedom movement re-examine its past, and map out its future in direct relationship to the continuous, the ceaseless, the ever new black revolts." Pen goes onto talk about Black lesbian thinkers who rose to prominence in the 1970s. Pat Parker and Audre Lorde. Through her recounting of their history as well as a long list of other prominent Black writers and singers, Pen easily reminds us all how Black thought has been so central to lesbian and gay freedom movements. This self-determination of the queer movement did not come out of the blue. We saw what was being done in the Civil Rights Movement and recognized that we too, had the right to speak up and fight. But, it cannot stop there. A thorough working out of the movement of Black thought and determination needs to come with the queer movement especially today when such a severe concretization of the dialectic is needed.
Sheila Garden from N.Y. gave us a piece on how the demonization of all oppressed people should be seen all at once. She calls for serious theoretical work to be done along side serious practical work. Sheila states, "Choice is crucial to the fabric of being fully human and free. Choosing to be bi-sexual, homosexual, transvestite-whatever- is a form of revolutionary evolution in this patriarchal society. I had the opportunity to speak to Sheila at the News and Letters Convention this year and she sends her support for our subjectivity of sexuality group and is looking forward to having a continual dialog with us.
The next essay comes from Dana Ryan who is a former prisoner and who has offered some illuminating words of her experience from within the walls. She speaks of the inmate society where women seek out other women for relationships as a form of maintaining some piece of control in their lives. I quote: "As a former inmate I understand the emergence of this inmate society as a response to and as a resistance against the destructive effects of imprisonment. A world is created in which the participating inmates are able to preserve an identity which is relevant to life outside the prison." An identity that is relevant to life outside the prison. That is a seriously complex statement. It makes me think of the absolute powerlessness we all feel under the wheels of capitalism and how these women concretely recognize the level and the depth of their struggle. I have a lot of admiration for Dana because many of the women who get out of prison often do not want to talk about it. They want to, as quickly as possible, try to blend in. They already are feeling like they have this brand upon their forehead that says former inmate. Dana recognizes how her struggle is never over. She bravely fights for the right of present day inmates. But, then she goes one step further and sees how valuable her words are and her participation in our group is so needed to have an ever deepening analysis and movement of thought that will help lead the dialectic.
"Thinking Out Loud" the last essay in our bulletin was written by Mara Math and is her take on Male to Female transsexuals. Her position is that, "We may be able to surgically alter our futures, but we cannot surgically excise our history." In other words, she is concerned that MTF transsexuals are wrongly reaping the benefits of male privilege.
So, there is an overview of our bulletin. Again, we welcome comments to add to our collection of writings as we travel down the path of the deepening dialectic. Make no mistake about it, this work is essential if we are ever going to reach the New Society. This report was not an easy one to write. The issues that were presented were so condensed and filled with thoughts that felt like they have been bottled up for a long time. And they have. Now is the time to let them flow.
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Thoughts On Other Peoples Queer Notions: Thoughts On The Relationship Of Sexuality To Revolution.
"Mr. St. John, just bring your son,"
Presented by Tom Williamson, AIDS activist, to the Chicago Local of News and Letters Committees, Spring 1997
This bulletin has been very exciting to read, as well as to participate in the development of, with both members of News and Letters (N&L) and non-members. I was happy that I was able to elicit an essay from my personal comrade Kevin S. from Chicago (who grew up in a Detroit suburb), who doesn't know anything about Marxist-Humanism, but does know about his oppression, and the oppression of queer people. I read his story first because I still struggle with philosophy, and I knew I would be able to understand his writing. I am thrilled to say that after reading the bulletin cover to cover, I was able to understand, and to apply all of the articles within the bulletin, to my unique experience as a gay person living in a capitalist society.
Before getting right into the bulletin stuff I guess I want to start with some ideas I had about the changes in the Who We Are Statement in the News & Letters newspaper. Although I am not a member, I have been a friend and a reader for the past ten years. Initially I was very excited and pleasantly surprised to see the change which included opposition to a heterosexist society, but further exploration and discussion revealed that its not exactly clear how this change came to be, and how the organization philosophically reached this point. I think its important that the organization state that they oppose heterosexism, and although it has been proven over and over again, to myself and to the organization, that the queer dimension is revolutionary in nature, I'm not sure that the organization has philosophically internalized that, with a full understanding of what it means to oppose heterosexism, or what the responsibilities are that come with a statement like that. And that's just regarding the Who We Are Statement, which I know, I asked to be changed two or three years ago.
But let's just say for a moment that at some point the body of N&L says "Yes, we are finally convinced that the glbt dimension is revolutionary both in force and in reason and we are now willing to change our constitution to include the queer dimension as the fifth force of revolution alongside Black, women, labor and youth". Now, I thought that I read in the Constitution that if someone in the organization is racist or sexist then they can be kicked out of the organization. So what are the ramifications to be for being heterosexist? What are the challenges that this dialogue could actually bring to the organization and its members and friends? Are we up for it when we aren't even sure how we are anti-gay/anti-lesbian/anti-bisexual and anti-transgendered? I support the decision and the effort, but this is not going to be easy.
Is N&L a safe space for workers to fully participate? For Blacks? For women ? For youth? I believe that it is. How do we make it a safe space for queer people? How do we make it safe for queer members to come out of the closet, at least within the confines of the organization? It is not just in changing the Who We Are Statement, which is a place to start, but in changing who we are.
I also want to briefly touch on something from the paper that I found really helpful. The recent column by John Alan in the Jan/Feb 97 issue, of the paper, re: Ebonics and the Oakland schools. This was absolutely inspiring to me as a gay person. He states that in an estranged society divided by class and race, and "estranged" language will emerge to express that estrangement. And I noticed in the March issue of the paper someone sent in a Reader's View with that same sentence as a valuable quote for them as well. I guess I've always known that the language and speech patterns of marginalized communities help members of those communities to communicate as well as to identify each other, but I never thought about how: this applies to the queer communities as well.
I started thinking about those other queer kids in high school who I knew were gay but I was afraid to talk to. And then I thought of another more recent example. And I need to stress that this has nothing to do with "lisping" or stereotyping of gay men, but just kind of acknowledging that there may be some commonalties in the way we communicate and use language. Ways that I've been abused for many times. When I was in Cork, Ireland there was a young gay man working in a butcher shop with about 15 other men. I identified him as a gay brother of mine when the woman next to me ordered some meat. The lady friend who brought me to the market heard him speaking to his customer and, without realizing that she was able to identify him as gay only because she knew me, turned to me and said in a hushed voice "I hate it when gays talk that way, why do they have to talk that way, it gives me the creeps."
This was a friend. Thats Catholic Ireland for ya. Of course I've had the same experience right here with 'friends" and family in Chicago as well. Because she knew me, my speech and language wasnt a threat to her. For example when I called her "girlfriend" she would laugh and give me a big hug, but if she heard this stranger say it, she would have been repulsed. I don't totally get this, but it seems like we have a great example of the fear and disgust people have with the unknown world of the closet and how people are strongly resistant to sexuality being in the shared space of a butcher shop. Obviously, his "estranged language was a very threatening thing to her world.
Anyway, he recognized me immediately and we both knew that it was not a safe space for us to connect, but we did connect, we knew, we saw each other, and we were very careful, for his job and his safety were quite possible at risk if we were to speak to each other. I went over to the doorway on the other side of the store and asked my lady friend to give him my card (from Stop AIDS Chicago) so he could contact me if he wanted to, or if he ever came to Chicago. When she went to hand him the card, he didnt even see her, not in a sexist way, but he looked straight at me way over by the door as he took the card from her. He couldnt look too long for fear of being exposed, but his eyes said he was grateful for my effort. It was a terribly beautiful moment like from some awful war movie.
It was also a revolutionary moment, for as Kevin S. writes in his essay from the Queer Notions I Bulletin, Kissing in the Face of the Machine, about how denying people a shared experience is how capitalism continues to oppress people, the gay man in the butcher shop and I, although we made a tiny spark of contact, had a shared experience ripped away from us. We didnt get to talk about how he was getting through as a gay person in his country, or if he had a boyfriend, etc
Which reminds me of the one sentence in Kevins essay that really helped me understand this idea of being separated from other queer people by the capitalist machine. Its in his statement that he tells people that he "is proud to feel sexual gratification through being penetrated." I thought of my two heterosexual brothers and how much they let everybody know how much they liked penetrating their girlfriends. A shared experience for them, that helped them build community and establish relationships and build positive feelings of self-esteem. It was important for me to be reminded by Kevin that even after being out for 10 years, there are still parts of being gay that I need to talk to other gay people about and I cant sit around waiting for permission from the machine to do it.
There also seems to be a relationship to sexism here, because my 3 heterosexual sisters never talked about how much they liked to be penetrated, well they never talked to me about it anyway. I wonder if theyve talked to each other, because if they havent then they are being denied a shared experience too, if in fact that is their experience, that then they could be oppressed too. Its all so alienating isnt it?
To quote directly from Kevins essay, which I wont be doing a lot of because I assume youve all read the bulletin: "Queers are still hated, still targeted, bashed and killed. But every time we wear a pink triangle or hold our lovers hands or talk about our sexual experiences we are bashing back. We are bringing a sexually driven discourse back where it belongs, not in the realm of the private, but in the shared realm of the public. Perhaps eventually no one will feel uneasy or different about their sexual orientation. More importantly, perhaps in the future people will be comfortable with their desires. Until that time, people will fight to stay in their closets; they will continue to deny themselves a true sense of self and a commonalty with all people. They will be kept separate. As a Queer man, I am perpetually committing acts of revolution. Each time I hold my boyfriends hand or feel his lips against my own, bricks come tumbling down."
It sounds like Kevin is talking about creating a truly free society with new human relations, which is so great to participate, in the development of. I feel like I participate in the development of the new society through being a gay person who is struggling for survival, for myself, and for my people in this system of heterosupremacy. I am in an HIV prevention worker for gay and bisexual men who also deal with substance abuse problems. The rates of substance abuse related issues among gay people are outrageous. The general population deals with substance abuse somewhere between the rates of 1 in 7 to 1 in 10. Although it is not uncommon for marginalized populations to have elevated rates of substance abuse problems, Gay and Lesbian people struggle with substance abuse issues on a daily basis at the rate of 1 in 3. This is horrifying to witness, especially when you explore the relationship that chemical use has to HIV transmission. Let's talk genocide.
It is estimated that 70% of all male to male transmissions of HIV happen after at least one of the partners has used alcohol or other drugs. This is really frustrating when the people who fund many of our community events are liquor companies. Miller Lite Proudly Supports Gay Pride 1997. The Coors boycott of the 1980's is all but forgotten because theyve become "a friend of the community". Talk about sitting on the fence, Coors has extended domestic partner benefits to its employees while still giving the Christian Coalition the same amount of funds, dollar for dollar, that they give to gay and lesbian causes. I wish someone would knock them off that fence, I for one don't want their blood money. Gay people are being duped and its costing us our lives. "They have really nice ads." To paraphrase Julia Jones with some help from Marx, "Our own contradictions and limitations keep us from full freedom."
I've been struggling with this idea that I am a part of "the movement", which feels at times like a movement without form. Although there have been recent legislative things happening both for and against gays and lesbians, the parliamentary-type of reforms that Jennifer Pen speaks of in her essay, there hasn't been any direct action that holds much interest for me. "Getting out the vote!" just doesn't cut it. The last time I remember there being any action to speak of was the anti-violence march of last year, which is becoming increasingly smaller and somewhat of a joke for the GUPPIES of the Lakeview neighborhood. (Even the Queer Irish in Chicago who have marched in the St. Patrick's Day Parade here for the past few years have disbanded and are referring people back to Queer Nation.) I've been forced to see my participation in the movement as a very personal thing, in the way I live my life, in the ways I do my job.
At work there are many young people of all sexual persuasions who come in for support services as well as to do really great volunteer work. One, of them is a young man named Jimmy, who is queer. He is 14 and attends an all-boys Catholic high-school on the north side of the city. We spend a lot of time trying to undo all the negative stuff that is in Jimmy's head about the way he should feel about himself because hes queer. This isn't part of our job, but its how we participate in the movement. Although his feelings of low self-esteem certainly can increase his risk for HIV transmission, so maybe it is part of our job. Anyway, his sister, who he confided in, is black-mailing him and making him do her chores or else she "will tell mom." He recently stayed out until 2 am on a school night wandering, and when he comes to Kevin or me for support, we are told by our conservative homophobic manager that Jimmy is identifying with us and that we need to be careful and watch our boundaries. Like we're bad people to be identifying with? Or that we would want to have sex with Jimmy? Which really pissed us off.
I wish I would have had two strong, openly gay men with nice hair who I could have talked to about how high school sucked when I was I4. I was left with contemplating running away or suicide. Kevin and I both said screw the homophobic system of this gay health organization that we work for and made a commitment that we would be there for Jimmy to utilize so he could get a little bit farther towards a being a free person than Kevin or I could have been at his age.
This reminds me of Sharon Cannery's statement from the bulletin-"Its imperative that all that is part of my history which challenges our current oppressive society come with me in transcending every stage of my confrontation of the objective world. Our accurate understanding of all that has come before us is crucial." My boss has forgotten his own history as an alienated queer youth. I really think Cannery's quote speaks to where my philosophies are today, because I know that my history is and somewhere in this bulletin it talks about how just being uncomfortable or frustrated isn't enough, but that there must be intense fear to bring revolution. I don't know if that was Raya or Marx, but I get that. I really get that. Since I'm on the subject of teenagers, Jennifer points out that choice in sexuality is not confined to the realm of sexual activity alone. This has been illuminated for me with my recent work with teenagers, letting them know that they don't have to be having sex to be gay or lesbian, which many of them think is a prerequisite for a sexual identification. I explain to them that if I never have sex again, I will still be gay, and if my brother never has sex again, he will still be straight.
We talk about the idea of how in addition to having a sexual orientation, we also have an emotional orientation which is a part of the realm of sexuality . Sometimes they might be looking for a place in the world, and HIV risk is really elevated for 13 year olds' who are having sex because they want to fit in to an alienating society that doesn't want to talk about sexuality.
In Jennifer Pen's essay where she discusses how the self-definition of the coming-out process and the on-going self critique that is involved with that process is the hallmark of revolution in permanence, as well as Julia Jones's review of Queer By Choice. Both illuminated the way that the concept of revolution in permanence can be, and has been, for me a very internal thing. I was thrown back to a frightening moment (and now I mean in high-drama-camp gay-language frightening moment) when one evening while at my mother's home, a friend and I were discussing a news story about genetics and how horrifying it was to me that people might be able to eliminate gay people by terminating pregnancies if the fetus produced gay genes. My mother asked me what was wrong with that. I almost totally uprooted her house. But she was honestly confused, because after coming out to my mother in 1985 when I was 17 and telling her that "Of course I don't want to be gay" and "of course if I could be heterosexual I would," I forgot to keep her up to date on the revolution in permanence that was going on with me and how I had gained all sorts of new ideas about my sexuality and self-esteem and revolution and my beautiful queerness. How could she know, she was working with information I gave her in 1985. Fortunately, she finally figured out what the hell I was talking about, for which I am truly grateful. But this really showed me my constant revolutionizing of myself. And as Julia Jones reminds us in her review;, "Homosexuality is a perfectly reasonable choice to make." I love that. Someone remind me to let my mom know
I was truly upset to read Mara Math's essay which although it claims not to, does indeed support the continued alienation of transgendered people. Her essay is peppered with all types of baiting the reader, with statements like "get the coals ready for me" and preparing herself to be declared a heretic. Whatever... First off, I can't think of anything more alienating in this society than to be transgendered. Math seems to miss the profound and paramount value of self-definition. A transgendered person who was born with genitalia that proves to be contradictory for their idea of who they are, are still identified by external forces as something they are not.
The female to male transgendered gay man that I know speaks of how he was never a girl, a female, a woman, He was always a boy, a male, and a man. The opposite is true for the male to female lesbian I know, who suffered great self-abuse because other people defined her with what was comfortable for them. A penis does not make a man, and I mean that in all seriousness. Math says she doesnt feel safe in the presence of someone who used to be a man, but what she misses is that the transgendered woman in her group may never have been a man. Math is being guided by what I consider a limited definition of who this person is or was.
I must close by saying that the title of the bulletin, Queer Notions: Thoughts on the Relationship of Sexuality to Revolution begs the question: "What is the relationship of heterosexuality to revolution? Is there one, does it exist and if it does, what does it look like?
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Report on Queer Notions I: A History of Queer Radicalism
by Darrell Gordon, presented to the Chicago Local of News and Letters Committees, Spring 1997
Editors Note: The following was excerpted from the minutes of the meeting on the Queer Notions I bulletin in Chicago, and is therefore only a sense of what Darrell said, not his exact words.
I am connected with the Autonomous Zone, an anti-authoritarian anarchist community center, and with the Coalition for Positive Sexuality, a guerrilla street grassroots organization which hands out a booklet, "Just Say Yes," which addresses issues of teen sex education from a pro-feminist and pro-queer point of view and addresses birth control. I'm glad that News and Letters is finally thinking about coming up with a position on queer liberation and how it connects with Marxist-Humanism.
I have some concerns about Jennifer Pen's pieces based on some inaccurate information about some aspects of the movement. For example, she talked about how the gay liberation movement started out as a multi-issue movement, which is true. Within a year the Gay Liberation Front started to splinter into a faction headed up by white upper-middle-class gay men who didnt want the movement tied to the anti-war struggle. The Gay Liberation Front also linked with the Black Panthers, as well as the women's liberation struggle. The upper-middle-class gay men split a radical, progressive movement. Another problem within the gay and Lesbian community was the treatment of drag queens.
One event changed the movement before even the '80s. The bar owners were originally the enemy of the movement, because the early movement fought for the right to dance and kiss in the bars. For their own support and sense of community, they used to have alternative dances. The gay and lesbian petty bourgeois bar owners found a way to co-opt the movement and somewhat finance service organizations. That started by 1974.
At that time the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force started. There was no more Gay Liberation Front. There was in 1975 a new publisher of the Advocate, and he stated that we're fighting for our rights; we don't want liberation; we don't want to change the world. There were some spurts of activism, like in 1977 with Anita Bryant's attack against gays in Florida. Also in 1980 there was outrage against the movie Cruising that created a negative stereotype. But the movement became a white middle-class gay and lesbian movement. Originally it was a grassroots working-class movement during the Gay Liberation Front days. People of color were involved in the movement as well, but it became increasingly white.
Then women, because of the way they were treated, decided to start their own groups and create their own 'zines. It was similar to the way women were treated in SDS and the anti-war movement and the white Left and even in the African-American Left.
I agree with Jennifer Pen about the impact the AIDS epidemic had on the gay and lesbian community. There was a meeting in Washington DC parallel to the lesbian and gay march where it was decided to start a national organization which became ACT-UP. They were successful in raising consciousness and fighting against reactionary legislation and for access to drugs, but there were divisions. Chicago ACT-UP was started by Prairie Fire, which caused an additional problem, because they think a predominantly white organization shouldn't do outreach to people of color. The white liberals joined ACT-UP; they weren't interested in political philosophy or discussion.
I disagree that the gay and lesbian communities worked together well. Here were white gay men who did not want to talk about people of color; they did at want to listen to the issue about women and HIV. Between '89 to about '91 splits occurred in the Chicago, Portland and San Francisco ACT-UPs because of his idea that they should concentrate solely on white upper-middle-class gay male treatment issues. In 1991 when ACT-UP and Queer Nation marched in the anti-Gulf War marches, there were people who didn't think that was their role.
Queer Nation started in '89-'90 because they felt there was a need to deal with more lesbian and gay issues. The problem was it was focused more on just identity itself without any strong ideas about where to go forward from there from a revolutionary point of view. It makes it easier for them to get caught into reformist legislative things. When Clinton got elected, people thought that the Democrats were going to save us.
There are class distinctions even among the African-American glbt community; we are not monolithic. There are people who aspire to be the gay version of the NAACP and Operation PUSH. In Chicago I have a hard time finding another African-American queer radical person who is proud of being both queer and African-American at the same time; it's always one or the other. In other places there are African-American gay and lesbian activists involved in the fight to free Mumia Abu Jamal. It's hard to be an African-American queer activist, and I come from a working-class background, so I always look at class too, which makes it difficult. If you want to build a philosophy that's based on Marxist Humanism and pro-queer, that's a good thing. I hope you recognize that there are different dimensions and subdimensions within the queer communities because of gender, race and economics as well.
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Correspondence regarding Queer Notions I
Letters from Franklin Dmitryev and Jennifer Pen
September 16, 1996
Dear Jennifer, Julia, and Sonia,
I would like to comment on Jennifer Pen's review-essay, the review by Julia Jones, and the response by Sonia Bergonzi in the Queer Notions I bulletin. What follows is a response to the whole discussion the three of you have in the bulletin.
I find very illuminating your efforts to draw out the significance of coming-out in particular. Your relating it to questions of identity and to first and second negation reminded me of my reaction to the film Tongues
Untied. Riggs' experiences spoke to mine, different as they were. So much of the film is about his search for his identity. There's a period of time where Riggs was into drag. He had rejected the old stereotyped forms of how a Black man was supposed to behave--a kind of first negation. Yet he did not know what to put in its place--no second negation--and ended up trying to fit himself into a different kind of stereotyped form. Why does this speak to me? Because my experiences brought home, again and again, how society wanted to force me into a mold I could not fit into. By an early age, I had a sense of being irredeemably different, a pariah. I knew I could never fit in, yet felt I had to at least try to imitate some aspects of "normal" behavior and keep my ways of thinking and feeling "in the closet" (if you don't mind my appropriation of the term) lest I be discovered to be not just weird enough to be excluded but so alien as to earn harsh punishment. Yet this amalgam of assimilation and rejection of the norm made it im-possible to establish an authentic identity. Rather, identity was defined by first negation and filled with alienation.
However, as long as one's identity is not positively developed but remains determined by what one has rejected, relationships will necessarily have some of the same character, no matter how much one has tried to establish them on a new and different basis. (That is, if I could not fully treat myself as a human being, how could I treat her as fully human? If I did not know myself, how could I know her?) The eventual realization that a great many youth rejected at least some aspects of this society was a liberating experience that made it possible to realize that life did not have to be a never-ending grind of unsuccessful resistance but could be totally transformed. It took several years of membership in N&LC to reach the point of being able to leave that closet behind. Which is why I liked so much the question of self-definition as a process, and as resistance to society's depersonalizing ways of forcing external definitions on people--as well as your formulation at the WL meeting that heterosexist (and I appreciated your explanation of the difference between heterosexism and homophobia, a difference I was not aware of) politics have revealed a view of the family as coercive, not voluntary, and as structure, not relation.
Still, Sonia makes a crucial point, that "the transformation has to be a new society...and not left at an individual's life experience...." That positive elaboration of individual human identity in and for itself cannot completely be, so long as our lives are shaped by this alienated society. That movement of self-development can only be absolute when we as society and as individuals are in "the absolute movement of becoming." Otherwise we are always in danger of the looming limits of the given leading to co-optation.
The logic of what Sonia wrote sends me back to Raya's summation of the WLM in RLWLKM chapter 8. It was not only the sum of individual acts of resistance, but a movement that explicitly and radically challenged both the society and the Left, and found wanting the latter's concept of revolution. All sorts of questions--human relationships, above all between men and women; sexuality; the family; the division between mental and manual labor; the meaning of revolution; how deep and total it needs to be--were re-opened. In the discussion of the meaning and contributions of queer liberation, let us not retreat one inch from recognizing what Raya already worked out as the meaning of the WLM. Upon which Raya took the full measure of its contributions as not only unique but unfinished, giving the impetus for a new return to Marx's philosophy of revolution in permanence, not just to make explicit what was implicit in the movement but to meet the challenge from the self-determination of the Idea. If one does "recognize an implicit drive toward second negativity in the coming-out process," is it a reach for something outside of one's individual experience, a "quest for universality"? Does this "process of becoming" also call for Absolute Idea as New Beginning, in order to reach second negativity and not stop short? In other words, is the philosophy of Marxist-Humanism needed not just to recognize the process of becoming but to propel it towards the needed transformation of reality that is total from the start?
I look forward to further dialogue and development of the projected new pamphlet.
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October 15, 1996
Dear Franklin (copies to Julia, Sonia, and the Center):
It is a sign of how busy I have been that it has taken me a month to sit down and give due consideration to the issues raised in your letter of 9/16/96. Please forgive my tardy response, which in no way reflects the interest and excitement with which I and Julia and others received your involvement in the subjectivity of sexuality discussions.
I am going to start with a parenthetical remark you made, when you asked if I(/we) would mind your appropriation of the term, "in the closet." The answer is "Of course not!" (although some queers might disagree with me). But the reason I can answer with such emphatic certainty is that the universality of this term's potential (whether we are discussing the pain of being 'in the closet' or the self-developing freedom of 'coming out of the closet') is precisely a queer contribution to what it means to be human. Understanding the dialectics of the closet is not, in itself, the Absolute, nor is it automatically a revolutionary perspective. But, as you indicated in your autobiographical statements, choosing against the closet any closet is a significant step of first negation.
And, as both Sonia and I pointed out in our articles in the Queer Notions Bulletin, if that first negation is propelled by what I called a 'positive passion.' or what Sonia referred to as "a positive 'affirmation' or creation of self' in which "the creativity, the creating begins long before the choice is made," then both the recognition of being in the closet and the choice to be out of the closet reflect both a first and a second negation, even if, in some cases, these are implicit rather than explicit in each person's mind and activity.
Now, as I understand you, you make a strong case that this second negation cannot remain at the level of the individual and their life history only. Of course, I am in total agreement with you on this. That's why I drew on examples, from Israel, from South Africa, and from the Chicana writer Gloria Anzaldua, which showed sexuality as part of a larger movement in a person towards understanding of the totality and, therefore, the need for a total uprooting. There is also, as I said in my essay last October, a social dimension to queer existence you can't do it alone which is why coming out of the closet is so crucial in self-definition: it is not a self-definition in isolation, but a social self-definition which demands a different world than the one in which we now live. (BTW, that's another reason why I so often use the word 'queer' it is inherently irreconcilable with what is, it can never be the norm, never be the status quo it rebels against all who would 'straight-jacket' reality...).
Let me share from my own life. For me, my coming out which was an explicit choice for women, and entailed ending a heterosexual marriage was also a choice to be more politically engaged. This included everything, all dimensions, not just gay groups. I quickly (in under a year) became involved with a host of feminist/lesbian/anti-violence/environmental groups. I also began to engage philosophy with activity (I had done this before in developing a life and a theory around an engaged aesthetics, but it was most certainly a private enclave I was developing then, albeit a very progressive one). Almost at once, first through the thought of Mary Daly, then more through Audre Lorde, I insisted on the need to have more than an oppositional mentality.
To cite one instance, which I can definitively date prior to my first meeting with NLC, I made an anti-Persian Gulf War statement during my first year at Pomona College, which was less than two years after I had started to come out publicly. As the first shots were being fired, I stated that being an out lesbian compelled me to say that we could not merely oppose the war, but that we had to say what we stood for, and to struggle for that on all fronts. What I can tell you, with utter certainty from my own life, is that the courage and vision that I needed to say that, came from the totality of recognizing who I was as a lesbian, and what that meant. The range of meanings I gleaned, as a movement forward, from the creativity of my own sexuality, included that a) the world was structured in such a way that society tried to prevent affection, touch, and human response, b) that sentimentality alone was not philosophically sufficient, but c) passion about the world was a necessary part of the struggle, and while d) all oppressions were linked, they were not identical, e) yet all oppressions had to be fought at once, and f) movements for freedom were not about unanimity but about creativity. There's more I could say, but what it ultimately means is that for me, and for many other queers, coming out reveals much more than just a road to personal happiness and contentment.
While what I have outlined above as explicit directions in my thought due to coming out do not express the totality of Raya Dunayevskaya's body of ideas, I think they show why I was receptive to the shock of recognition which occurred when I did encounter that body of ideas. So when you ask, "If one does recognize an implicit drive toward second negativity in the coming-out process, is it a reach for something outside of one's individual experience, a 'quest for universality?,'" I would answer strongly 'yes,' on the basis of my own life. In fact, just last Friday at our National Coming Out Day event on the San Jose State campus, I re-iterated this: coming out, for me, was about corning into consciousness of more than myself, but never without myself as an element in the world.
Still, the problem is one you put quite succinctly. "That movement of self-development can only be absolute when we as society and as individuals are in 'the absolute movement of becoming.' Otherwise, we are always in danger of the looming limits of the given leading to co-optation." Yes, certainly les-bi-gay liberation is in danger of co-optation, of being incomplete, even of being turned into its opposite. But that is true of any and all revolutionary dimensions. Your parallel to the Womens Liberation Movement (WLM) is a good one, since queer liberation has often been closely allied with feminism. Like the WLM, glbt liberation has raised a range of questions, and has consistently critiqued the homophobia and heterosexism of the established Left, as well as the assimilationism of its own organizations (see the quotes from Cheryl Clarke and Audre Lorde in my Black dimension article in the bulletin).
The distinction you may be drawing (I hope I am not overstating your intent here?) between Raya's analysis of the WLM and what we are developing in the Subjectivity of Sexuality group and projected pamphlet, revolves around where you say that the WLM was not only the sum of individual acts of resistance, but a movement that explicitly and radically challenged both the society and the Left, and found wanting the latter's concept of revolution....In the discussion of the meaning and contributionsof queer liberation, let us not retreat one inch from recognizing what Raya alreadyworked out as the meaning of the WLM....not only unique but unfinished....
From a queer perspective, the story of individual acts of resistance in the lesbian and gay movements is what we refer to as the day. "before Stonewall." The stories from the fifties and early sixties, especially, tell of inspiring acts of courage, nascent communities, "loving in the war years" to paraphrase the Chicana lesbian poet Cherie Moraga. The explicitness of being openly gay is exactly what could only be wrought by a movement, what blossomed from the civil rights/WLM/anti-war/environmental movements of the 1960s in fact, developed alongside them, since lesbian and gay people were active thinkers, participants, and leaders in all of those movements.
The axis along which oppression of homosexuals has taken place is invisibility/visibility, silence/voice, shame/pride. This is not a unique set of oppressions; one of the reasons there has been such a rich alliance between feminist and lesbian/gay/bi concerns is because women were silenced similarly in many ways. But one of the things that changed with the post-Stonewall movement was understanding these aspects of oppression, and naming them quite explicitly, especially when they hypocritically occurred on the Left. The murderous homo-hatred of the Shining Path in Peru, or the AIDS quarantine in Castro's Cuba, stand as two prominent examples where queers did speak up internationally, and refused to tolerate this. Marcos' inclusion of gay concerns has won him a better audience in queer communities, although (with good historical reason) gay people often adopt a wait-and-see attitude with any leader who claims to have our interests at heart.
The problem has been as it is everywhere the posing of a genuine alternative. So, to answer your implied question, it is obvious that the queer movement (again, like all the freedom movements) has contributed to where we are today, but that a philosophy of revolution, of total uprooting, of the Absolute as New Beginning, is necessary to overcome the limitations and the pull back toward the given.
Because News and Letters has consistently had a benevolent, encouraging, but underdeveloped perspective on queer liberation (publicly and internally), both during Raya's lifetime and since, much of the work we are doing in the subjectivity of sexuality group has included 'ground'-work: giving history and context, looking for the development of the Idea of freedom as manifested in queer liberation, without shying away from the contradictions and self-limitations of the movement, historically or in the contemporary world. I don't believe any of the NLC members in the subjectivity of sexuality group are retreating at all from Raya's body of ideas; I think we are trying to be continuators in an area which she said should be developed by lesbians and gays.
However, we can't fruitfully start from the assumption that what she worked out as the historic and unfinished contribution of the WLM is going to be duplicated in the GLBT movement. If it were, she probably would have indicated that to Adrienne Rich in their correspondence. Her response to Rich I quote in full:
how can I answer the specificity of sexuality...without seeming to slough it off if I reply: You are the one who must do it; workers work out their own emancipation and Blacks theirs, so must all the other forces of revolution youth, women, and women not just in general, but the very concrete question of lesbianism, or, for that matter, all of homosexuality. (letter of 9/18/86)
As I read it, Raya is sensing both the continuity and the discontinuity between WL and gay/lesbian concerns. What we are trying to do in the subjectivity group is to consider this question from every angle, to look ceaselessly for the dialectics of revolution in queer struggles, and to bring Marxist-Humanism to that movement.
The need for Marxist-Humanism as the Absolute Idea for our age is a need that all dimensions of revolution share. The complementary need for Marxist-Humanism to fully comprehend the movement from practice and the movement from theory is equally vital to what we do philosophically. I look forward to your participation and appreciate your careful thought and involvement in these discussions.
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December 25, 1996
I'm sorry I haven't answered your letter sooner. Memphis has been not just exciting but overwhelming. Now that I am on vacation, I want to respond briefly to your letter, which I appreciated very much.
It appears that you got the wrong impression about some of what I was trying to say. My intent is not to draw a distinction between queer liberation and WL, nor is it to draw a parallel. My main point is how intertwined these movements are and have been. In considering what the contributions of queer
liberation are, particularly when the queers involved are women, how do we work out to what extent these are the contributions of the WLM and to what extent of queer liberation? This is not to suggest an answer but to pose a question that I think is important.
When I stressed not retreating from recognizing what Raya worked out as the meaning of the WLM, it was certainly not meant as an accusation that the Subjectivity of Sexuality group was retreating! Nor that it was a question of duplicating what she worked out. Rather, my thought was that it would be important to work these questions out in relationship to Raya's view of the WLM's unique and unfinished contribution--not because it's the same or because it's different (I agree with your statement that, in her letter to Rich, Raya was "sensing both the continuity and the discontinuity between WL and gay/lesbian concerns") but because today's GLBT movement could well be seen as growing out of the ground of the WLM. I'd be most interested to know whether you share that view. Do you agree with my statement that the WLM reopened the questions of sexuality and the family, among others? I'm not lecturing you on the importance of basing today's theoretical work on Raya's body of ideas--one can see that's exactly what you're working so hard at doing. I'm only suggesting one part of that body that seems to me very germane, and no one anywhere has yet worked out how it might relate to queer liberation.
(Terry's critique is that we haven't done much to concretize it for women's liberation either.)
In that spirit, when I paraphrased Raya's statement in RLWLKM, p. 83, that the WLM confronts us "with two seemingly opposite facts--that the individuality of each woman liberationist is a microcosm of the whole, and yet that the movement is not a sum of so many individuals but masses in motion," it was not to draw a distinction but to emphasize that the GLBT movement too is not only the sum of individual acts of resistance but a movement that challenges the society and the Left. As for how explicit the challenge is, I'm sure you know more about that than I do. It's not only a question of actions of individuals in the movement but what the movement as a movement has done. You have done important work uncovering a hidden history of individuals and of movements, and I am arguing that working out what the contributions of the movement as a movement are is a difficult task--not least because, like any movement, it contains opposing tendencies, but not only for that reason.
Your analysis of coming out as a process of "social self-definition" that "reveals much more than just a road to personal happiness and contentment" strikes me as very beautiful and important. Yet, I can't help but ask, isn't that still an individual's life experience you're talking about, even when it has a social dimension? True enough, it can be a dimension of the movement, it can be "wrought by a movement," it can be part of what impels the movement, but isn't there more to the movement? This is not to say that you've ignored the movement. However, as you say, "Understanding the dialectics of the closet is not...automatically a revolutionary perspective." How does it go from first to second negation? How do we see that question in relationship to (1) the movement, and (2) Raya's discussion of how there is second negation at each stage?
This brings us to the unfinished nature of the WLM's contribution. It did implicitly contain second negation. As Raya wrote in RLWLKM, p. 108, it "involves the two pivotal questions of the day....They are, first, the totality and the depth of the necessary uprooting of this exploitative, sexist, racist society. Second, the dual rhythm of revolution: not just the overthrow of the old, but the creation of the new; not just the reorganization of objective, material foundations but the release of subjective personal freedom, creativity, and talents." If it's so great that it raises these two pivotal questions, and therefore implicitly (and maybe not always just implicitly) contains a movement of second negation, how can we say its contributions are unfinished? Yet she does say thatand not to belittle the contributions or make WL subordinate to any other force of revolution. If I understand your letter to me, we both agree that the answer to the problem is not just to make what is implicit in the movement from practice explicit--then there would be no need for Part III of RLWLKM. So how do we bring these insights to the question of queer liberation? Again, I am not suggesting answers but asking questions.
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Review of Bisexual Politics: Theories, Queries, & Visions
by Julia Jones
Bisexual Politics: Theories, Queries, & Visions, edited by Naomi Tucker with Liz Highleyman and Rebecca Kaplan. 1995 Haworth Press, Binghamton, NY. This review originally appeared in News & Letters. For subscription information, please call (312) 663-0839 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Few people realize that a bisexual movement has been developing since the pre-Stonewall days of the 60s "sexual revolution." Though the gay and lesbian movements have achieved enormous visibility during the past quarter century, this visibility has largely been denied bisexuals until very recently. How bisexual activists and theorists have been a vital part of the development of gay and lesbian liberation is well documented in this recent anthology of bisexual history, politics, and theory.
What is also largely unknown even in the Womens Liberation Movement is that Bisexual Liberation has mostly been spearheaded and carried out by feminists, many who formerly identified as lesbians but who refused to remain closeted from their coveted gay and lesbian communities. These women who had struggled with their gay male friends for inclusion and visibility in the gay liberation movement of the early 70s, now found themselves a decade later fighting the same battle again but this time for bisexual visibility and inclusion. Their decades-long struggle with both queer allies as well as the heterosexist outside world has resulted in a unique political perspective fascinatingly documented and debated by the 37 authors in this collection (31 of whom are women.)
Many authors write about their painful personal experiences coming out as bisexuals to themselves and friends after years of believing themselves to be lesbian. Many bisexuals were even rejected by lesbian and gay friends who accused them of "betrayal," or "sitting on the fence," between the two opposing "binary" worlds of gay/straight. These experiences have led many bisexuals to develop an identity politic which asserts the legitimacy of their fluid sexuality.
But what is most interesting and challenging about this collection are the essays by those who wish to go beyond identity politics, as well as "assimilationism" (making queerness seem more straight) to an "idea politics... based on a radical, choice-based, consensual, sex-positive, diversity valuing ideology rather than any specific characteristic-based identity." (Highleyman) Many authors have developed theories to challenge monosexismi and genderismii and "capitalist patriarchy" within the context of a broad-based liberation movement. Moving past the debate over whether or not to include bisexuals in the gay and lesbian movements, feminist bisexual radicals are working to develop a transformative vision for humanity which sees beyond all oppressive societal divisions. This collection is a must read for radicals of all sexualities who are serious about developing revolutionary pathways to new human relationships.
iLiz Highleyman defines monosexism as, ""the belief that people can or should be attracted to only one sex/gender and that there is something wrong with those who cannot or will not choose."
iiJill Nagle defines genderism as, "the artificial channeling of people into two bilogical sexes, which oppresses those who challenge this duality."
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Queer Politics and Marxism
by Julia Jones
This article originally appeared in News & Letters. For subscription information, please call (312) 663-0839 or email email@example.com
Historically, the "Marxist Left" has had a less than noble relationship with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Movements. Despite the radical beginnings of gay rights first in the Stonewall Riots of 1969, followed soon after by groups like the Gay Liberation Front who spoke of changing society on revolutionary grounds, and the journal Gay Left which called specifically for socialism, "socialist" parties and organizations in the mostly heterosexual (or closeted) Left rejected gay and lesbian rights as bourgeois.
In his pamphlet, "With Friends Like These: Marxism and Gay Politics," Simon Edge, a gay British former Trotskyist, takes up an historic relationship between queer politics and British Marxism. Edge shows how in the early years following Stonewall, around the same time as the Womens Liberation Movement was beginning, large radical contingents of LGBT activists took to the streets demanding freedom. Growing from thousands in the early 70s, to tens of thousands later on, to over a hundred thousand in the eighties, these movements were changing societys views of sexuality. Still, many calling themselves Marxist held onto the position homosexuality was a "bourgeois disease" that will wither away with the end of capitalism, while gay rights was a bourgeois deviation from the more important "class struggle."
In the early to mid eighties when activist groups like Act-Up began sprouting up all over the country, and their "in you face" attitudes pushed the closet of radical activism wide open to LGBT politics, Left parties began to change their tune. Dropping the old "bourgeois disease" rap, Left parties began to make it clear that they opposed homophobia and gay bashing, then developed claims that Marxism was the true historic torch-holder for gay and lesbian rights.
Citing the Russian Revolution as the one true liberator of homosexuals because the Bolsheviks eliminated the Tzarist laws against homosexual sex, several Trotskyist groups like Britain's SWP suddenly began to lay claim to the history of gay rights, chiding gay theorists for ignoring their "Marxist beginnings."
Though the truth of what really happened regarding gay rights in the period following the Russian Revolution is muddled by conflicting and scattered records, what can be said for sure is that the Trotskyist movement which had previously denied gay rights as anything but a diversion were now suddenly laying claim to it's history, evidently to recruit radical queers out of the LGBT movement and into the "class struggle."
After his cutting analysis, Edge advises that revolutionary queers leave the Left parties and radicalize the queer movements instead. No Marxist-Humanist would make any objections to Edges critique of Post-Marx Marxisms treatment of revolutionary subjects, but which activist groups radical queers focus on may not be as crucial as Edge suggests. Rather, a collective effort to root out and develop the new revolutionary ideas coming from queers involved in all freedom struggles may be the most vital activity which can assure us that the transformation of society will not settle for the recreation of a heterosexist world.
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On The Unbearable Uptightness Of Being . . .
ALMOST Total About Revolution
I. "Whose Body, Whose Rights?" (a video documentary by Dillonwood Productions)
Monday, June 17th saw the first Public Television showing in California of the video documentary "Whose Body, Whose Rights?" on KQED, Channel 9, San Francisco. WBWR is an unmasking of the practice of sexual mutilation, euphemistically called "circumcision", concentrating on that of males because that is the main American side of the problem, but including both male and female. Through a very thorough overview of literature and research on the subject, and interviews with medical professionals, religious leaders, and victims, the falseness of the medical rationalizations and religious superstitions surrounding it become brutally obvious.
Afterward, both KQED and NOHARMM were flooded with phone calls, mostly favorable. Many were from parents who had decided against doing it to their children after seeing the video. A woman called to talk about women in Africa. Others were from men who were happy to no longer feel isolated in believing that it is very wrong. Several men from Islamic, Jewish, and Conservative Christian backgrounds called to report that they had been harassed or rejected in their communities for not being circumcised. At NOHARMM, membership more than doubled in one week.
This issue goes deeply into the many layers of alienation in this society, but hopefully we will soon be able to end this horrible practice for good, the sooner the better.
- NOHARMM Activist (written July 1, 1996)
II. Sexual Mutilation and the Left's Avoidance of Certain Issues.
I submitted this review to two different Left publications and both have refused to print it, ostensibly on the grounds of lack of space. At 5 ½ column inches, which makes it a very brief review, I of course do not believe this, not for one minute. I believe that it is, in fact, a refusal to deal with the subject matter, that it is in fact censorship. And yet it seems very simple and obvious that the practice of mutilating a child's body is wrong. So why are so many Leftists unable to deal with such a seemingly simple issue? Assuming that there is no direct bad faith such as residual religionism, sexism, or chauvinism, including ethnic,(though these are not ruled out completely), I think that there are a number of possible reasons.
One reason may be something which the revolutionary Queer dimension has made us aware of, the issue of "closeting". Most people in this society are, I believe, what I like to describe as "spiritually closeted", unable to deal with questions of personal alienation, despite all the parroting of the phrase "the personal is political." Many are closeted not just publicly, but even to themselves. In this predatory society, to acknowledge that something which one is doing in one's personal life is wrong, or to show any sense of tragedy, is seen as a sign of weakness.
For a person to recognize personal alienation to themselves is often even more difficult, and yet, to actually feel and then confront personal alienation is a necessary moment in the process of liberation. Under capitalism the true nature of all things remains concealed; the true nature of everything.
Gay women and men have not had any choice about the "closet" in this deadly homophobic society. That they have had to confront it in the courageous and revolutionary act of "coming out", a first step to ending spiritual isolation, is one thing that makes the Queer dimension so awesomely revolutionary, and so fearsome to straight society and even to many straight revolutionaries. It makes very concrete the question of "the personal is political."
A second reason is Impatience, deep and pervasive, the inability to face just how deep the alienation of this society is, the enormity of it all, just how many more negations we have to go through before we will be truly free. It is immensely difficult to face the fact that the limitations and brutality of this society are internalized and permeate not just the ruling class, but the personal lives of everyone, revolutionaries included. It seems much easier to deny that there is a problem, or to blame the messenger. But there is no other way out that to face the enormity of just how alienated human relations are in this society. Impatience demands answers now, now, now, without any mediation.
A third reason, related to the first two, is that sexuality remains entirely a realm of darkness, as much for the Left as for the society as a whole.
One way this shows up is in the reluctance of the Left to recognize the truly and fairly obvious, revolutionary character of the Queer dimension I do not believe that this is out of a fear of homosexuality, but rather that the Queer dimension has, in directly bringing out questions of sexuality, brought forth how truly and utterly abysmal relations are between heterosexual men and heterosexual women in this society. This is what I believe strikes such fear in so many straight people. It certainly may also be a major element in actual homophobia.
Is there homophobia involved in circumcision? I think that there is, especially female sexual mutilation. Female circumcision is an attempt to destroy any sexual independence of women, and to make heterosexual intercourse the only possible expression of sexuality for women. For both male and female it has its origins in only one purpose, to dominate and gain ascendancy over another person, whatever medical or religious reasons it may be cloaked in. Like cattle branding and like rape, it is a manner of appropriating another being. That so many unthinkingly allow it to take place, or defend it out of fear, shows just how far we are from recognizing the extent of our social alienation.
One thing which surprised me very much when I brought up the subject of circumcision (though it probably "shouldn't" have surprised me) was the amount of uptight snickering and giggling I encountered from people of both sexes, but especially from grown men. It was almost surreal, as many of these were people who I respected as deep philosophical thinkers. It was like being back in Kindergarten again, at some kind of "pee-potty party." It gave cause and pause for reflection.
Many people contend that female circumcision is wrong but male circumcision is not, and will often even defend male circumcision vociferously, and this includes many Women's Liberationists. Laws have been passed against the former, while politicians and social activists refuse to even discuss the latter. There is the illusion that quantitative degree of harm determines whether or not something is a crime. If a person is assaulted and suffers a broken arm and a broken wrist, while another suffers two broken arms, two broken wrists, and a broken leg, clearly the latter has suffered more physical harm. But this does not mean that the first assault is not a crime. The utter contempt for life and human dignity is the same in both cases. To trivialize the issue in this way is vulgar and in bad faith, as well as philosophically bankrupt.
I would like to say a word about the great Russian revolutionary V. I. Lenin. Lenin was the greatest and best of his generation, and the greatest revolutionary thinker of his time. He was the only revolutionary of his epoch and the first since Marx to make a journey into philosophy and into the Hegelian dialectic, and this journey resulted in his Philosophic Notebooks. Yet he fell short and failed to follow through
on his philosophic work, stopping at the Practical Idea in Hegel and not going on to work out a sense of what real freedom, a truly free society, would be like. Despite all of his insight, this left him with a kind of enlightened pure activism during the actual Russian Revolution, complete with vanguard Party, with no idea of "what comes after," of how to actually achieve a new human society. He also failed to publish or to make his Notebooks public; he "closeted" his very best work. These left the way open to the counter-revolution of Stalinism and all of its brutality.
There is a lot of discussion of why he stopped where he did. One person has said that he was overwhelmed by the full implications of 5000 years of alienated praxis: the whole of recorded human history, that he simply couldn't face it. Here again, the question of Impatience enters in.
Lenin was also a hopeless sexual puritan, often criticizing his comrades, especially female, under the rubric of Discipline. The American philosopher Raya Dunayevskaya once commented (ca. 1982) that Lenin was "scared to death" of anything to do with sexuality. Did this have anything to do with his failure to follow through on his own philosophic work, with his philosophic "self-censorship?" I think that it did, though I can't "prove" it formally.
We can't afford to make these same mistakes today. We can afford neither Impatience nor the unwillingness to deal with any issue which is unknown or unfamiliar to what has been until now the usual Left-wing practice, or which displeases us, for whatever the reason. If anyone is left out of the revolution, then we won't make it to a new human society, but will end up in a new Retrogression, a new form of alienated social relations. If we do not recognize the revolutionary character of the Queer dimension, then we won't make it. If we allow or accept in any way the barbarous practice of sexual mutilation, then we can't call ourselves fully revolutionary and we won't make it either. As much as we want freedom and we want it now, the only way that we can get there is to work through the alienation of today's social relations. We cannot ignore disturbing questions. It's going to take as long as it's going to take to work out new human social relations. There are no shortcuts to confronting these issues. That sexual mutilation exists at all in our society is a measure of the utter dehumanization of our social relations. In a truly human society, such an act would be unthinkable. May we start by totally opposing it NOW.
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Queer Marxist Philosophic Directions (hopefully a series)
Review of Harry Hays Radically Gay: Gay Liberation in the Words of Its Founder
Jennifer Pen -- Bay Area News and Letters Committees
Lesbian and gay liberation movements have arisen as part of revolutionary movements since the time of the French revolution. From the socialism of Edward Carpenter to the various Gay Liberation Fronts, there have also been prominent Left les-bi-gay thinkers. But the development of a Marxist philosophy of revolution which would include a prominent gay dimension has often sunk into the pitfalls created by post-Marx Marxism.
It is one such lost opportunity that makes the life and writings of Harry Hay so alternatingly frustrating and inspiring. Will Roscoe, a noted gay scholar and Hay protégée, has edited an important resource collection of Hays writings from 1948 to the present in Radically Gay: Gay Liberation in the Words of Its Founder (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996).
Hay (b. 1912) became a member of the Communist Party in 1934 after participating (with his lover at the time, actor Will Geer) in the deadly rally of the Pacific maritime workers that cost two strikers their lives (see pages 37-38, 326-328). Hay studied Marxalbeit through the lens of official Stalinismand eventually became a teacher for the party on such subjects as Lenins theories of imperialism, and the role of music in the class struggle. However, he was also advised, by comrades and a psychiatrist, to marry a woman, which he did.
Hay first conceived of organizing other gay men politically in 1948, and pursued this plan both philosophically and actively; for instance, Hay recalls how he and Rudi Gernreich combed the gay beaches of Los Angeles in 1950 to collect over 500 signatures for the Stockholm Peace Petition against the Korean wara dangerous action to take in the teeth of retrogressive patriotism, conservatism, and heterosexism (314-315).
In 1951 such actions culminated in the founding of a radical gay organization by Hay and his friends, called the Mattachine Society. The name was derived from a medieval French peasant dance for bachelors that mocked the authority of the rulers. In that same year, Hay resigned from the Communist Partya decision tantalizingly unexplained in the volumeand secured a divorce. But two years later, conservative elements within Mattachine caused a rift by launching a Red scare against Hay and other founding members, and so he resigned from the organization.
This is where Hays development seems to me to be at a philosophic crossroads. He continued to work as a gay activist and thinker, and eagerly welcomed the womens liberation movements and the post-Stonewall gay movements; in fact, he was one of the founders of the Los Angeles Gay Liberation Front. But when the time comes for him to re-assess his Marxist thought, he falls into the traps set by post-Marx Marxism.
For instance, he vulgarizes dialectics as simple binary thinking, on the level of objectivity alone, saying that Marx and Engels (whom he consistently conflates) needed "to re-orient the focus of their concern from objective to subjective dimensions" (207). Given his Communist Party background, Hay had been raised to think of Marxs philosophy as strictly deterministic and material. When Hays own revolutionary blood rebels against these limits, he still knows Marxs thought well enough not to abandon it: he never renounced being a revolutionary. He even grasps that Marxs dialectic could be sufficient to new subjects of revolution, when he suggests that "to apply Gay Consciousness to thinking is the actual model by which...we will find ourselves learning to become proficient in the exercise of the Unity of Opposites and the Negation of the Negation (211).
Yet Hay also feels that the Marxism he knew did not address the subjective element. The result is that rather than return fully to the Hegelian dialectic in Marx, Hay instead critiques all dialectics as being based in simple oppositions alone. Rather than applying a historically critical method to the history of Marxism after Marx, he chooses instead to correct Marx by dragging in a subjectivity which has no dialectic grounding. Philosophically this means that Hays notion of subjectivity becomes increasingly spiritualized: Hay is perhaps best known to contemporary les-bi-gays as a co-founder of the Radical Faeries, a gay male spirituality movement that is avowedly New Age in thought (245-264).
Hay is consistently trying to locate, in thought and in reality, the social, human dimensions of gay existence. When he waxes on these themes, his language can echo that of Marxs 1844 Manuscripts:
Humanity must expand its experience from persons (subjects) thinking objectively, thinking competitivelyin a nutshell, thinking opportunistically and nearly always in terms of self-advantageto thinking subject-to-SUBJECT, equal to equal, sharer to sharer....Humanity must expand its experience to thinking of another, that other, not as objectto be used, to be manipulated, to be mastered, to be consumedbut as subject (208)
And yet, in the absence of a fully dialectical, fully revolutionary philosophy, this subject-SUBJECT ends in ritual practices and consciousness-transformation at best. At worst, Hay falls into another error of the post-Marx Marxists, vanguardism. In his more recent writings, this is posed as a Gay Consciousness that can see the world in "three-dimensional models" undreamed of by others (209), whereas earlier he could be more crass, as when he suggests that "the more far-seeing and socially conscious homosexuals provide leadership to the whole mass" (132). Yet this is the same man who welcomed the Kinsey reports finding of a 10% gay population as the sign of the potential for a mass movement (60)!
Hays extended life and work, representing as Roscoe says, the "unassamilable radical" (9) of contemporary gay liberation, reveal the contradictions of the Left in our century. His ideas point to the still unrealized potential of a genuinely revolutionary les-bi-gay movement, and his philosophic shortcomings should serve as warning signs to those of us who follow.
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Compulsory Heterosexuality, False Naturalisms, and the Commodity Fetish
Sub-report for Class 5 of a series on "Marxs Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence: Its Meaning for Today"
by Julia Jones, Bay Area News and Letters Committees
In 1980, Adrienne Rich, then already a renowned lesbian/feminist poet and theorist, wrote an essay entitled "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence," with the intention of "encouraging heterosexual feminists to examine heterosexuality as a political institution which disempowers women - and to change it." She also wrote it "to challenge the erasure of lesbian existence from so much of scholarly feminist literature - an erasure which I felt (and feel) to be not just anti-lesbian, but anti-feminist in its consequences, and to distort the experience of heterosexual women as well." (AR 1982)
Since the early eighties, much has been written to highlight lesbian lives and politics, however some of the social presumptions which Rich was arguing against still persist in both society at large and many feminist and revolutionary institutions and organizations. Most importantly, "unexamined heterocentricity" remains a stumbling block for many Leftist, feminist and queer theorists and groupings. Despite Richs thorough scrutiny of the ways in which society imposes heterosexuality on people, even those fighting against sexual repression (sexism and homophobia), tend to make a False Naturalism of the heterosexism in the society - meaning that its still common for people to assume that heterosexuality is the natural sexuality for most people, and that all other expressions of sexuality are deviations from that norm.
I see a connection between the historic False Naturalism of heterosexism which Adrienne Rich exposed (especially as concerns women), and the historic False Naturalism of the economy based on commodity production which Karl Marx exposed over 100 years earlier in his book Capital. Both are examples of how, as Marx put it, the products of the human brain gain mastery over man. What I want to explore in this paper is how these two analyses compliment each other in a way which could point to the writings by Marx on "The Fetish of the Commodity and its Secret," as showing a pathway out of this oppressive heterosexist society.
Part I: Compulsory Heterosexuality Examined
Today, as in the early eighties when Rich is writing her landmark essay, "womens choice of women as passionate comrades, life partners, co-workers, lovers, community has been crushed, invalidated, forced into hiding and disguise." The so-called "pro-family" (sic) movement has stepped up their hate campaigns against queers in an effort to halt progress for queers rights, and even remove the hard won gains of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans (glbt) movements. Lesbian mothers have lost their children in the courts, lesbian couples have been killed by "gay-bashers" and misogynists, a lesbian bar was the target of a hate-driven bombing - and these recent incidents are only the most obvious attacks.
Despite the successes of the Womens Liberation Movement, as a matter of course in the society all people are pressured to conform to very conservative sex roles. For many women this means accommodating themselves to ideas and practices which are deemed attractive to men - for instance, submissive behavior, deferring to mens power and intelligence, and allowing men to define womens sexuality for them. Because women hold very little power in the society, many women dont believe they have any other options but to attract a man who will have the economic power to support a family.
Additionally, sexual violence in the form of incest, rape, and sexual slavery, (which is often supported through the hard-core pornography industry) are so wide spread as to indicate a society-wide effort to keep women under the control of men. Rich writes, "we are confronting not a simple maintenance of inequality and property possession, but a pervasive cluster of forces, ranging from physical brutality to control of consciousness, which suggests that an enormous potential counterforce is having to be restrained."
One major "counterforce," Rich asserts, is the "lesbian continuum," which expands the definition of lesbianism to, "embrace many more forms of primary intensity between and among women, including the sharing of a rich inner life, the bonding against male tyranny, the giving and receiving of practical and political support As we delineate a lesbian continuum, we begin to discover the erotic in female terms: as that which is unconfined to any single part of the body or solely to the body itself." Sadly, many women do not even consider relations with other women due to the pervasiveness of heterosexism in the society, and the erasure of historic models of strong women bonding. The "destruction of records and memorabilia and letters documenting the realities of lesbian existence must be taken very seriously as a means of keeping heterosexuality compulsory for women, since what has been kept from our knowledge is joy, sensuality, courage and community, as well as guilt, self-betrayal, and pain."
Another consequence of this erasure of lesbian history is the virtual dismissal of lesbian resistance, rebellion, and involvement in revolutionary movement. What women newly introduced to feminism find in feminist literature even today is usually not a proud account of women of various sexualities fighting against the system of patriarchy, but rather an assumption of womens heterosexuality - with rare mentions of lesbianism or bisexuality. Only in the past several years has there been a renewed effort to correct this inauthentic historicity, with works such as Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold (1993 Kennedy & Davis) placing butch lesbians at the forefront of the famous post-W.W.II womens refusal to be forced out of the factories.
Rich discusses how while a careful study of history reveals, "the covert socializations and the overt forces which have channeled women into marriage and heterosexual romance, pressures ranging from the selling of daughters to the silences of literature to the images of the television screen," many feminist theorists gloss this over, and are remain faithful to the man-made heterosexist institution which claims that "despite profound emotional impulses and complementarities drawing women toward women, there is a mystical/biological heterosexual inclination, a preference or choice which draws women toward men Moreover, it is understood that this preference does not need to be explained It is lesbian sexuality which is seen as requiring explanation."
Though there has been widespread exposure of the depth of the misogyny in the society, this has not fully peeled the mask from the face of heterosexism which is not only responsible for tyranny against queers, but it is also responsible for much of the enforced conformity to sexual stereotypes in the society. Making a False Naturalism of heterocentricity has made something which can be changed appear immutable. When society only offers one choice for sexual expression and represses all others, all sexual identities (and therefore personal identities) are stunted by, "blocked options, broken connections, lost access to self-definition freely and powerfully assumed." Rich leaves us with this warning, "Within the institution exist, of course, qualitative differences of experience; but the absence of choice remains the great unacknowledged reality, and in the absence of choice, women will remain dependent upon the chance or luck of particular relationships and will have no collective power to determine the meaning and place of sexuality in their lives." Clearly womens freedom will be held at bay until the veil of naturalism is stripped from the heterosexist society, and consciousness replaces it.
Part II: The Commodity Fetish as False Naturalism
Karl Marx is most widely known as a revolutionary economist, but during the past 50 years, the comprehensive works of Raya Dunayevskaya, the Marxist-Humanist philosopher (1910-1987), have revealed Marx as a philosopher of revolution who made unprecedented contributions to the understanding of human creativity and the dialectical methodology of change. Though I do not quote Dunayevskaya extensively in this paper, her philosophy has impacted my thinking more than any other single philosopher, including Marx. Her writings allow us to see the humanist dimension of Marx while helping to clear away the debris a century of mishandling has laid on Marxs ideas.
Dunayevskaya emphasizes a total view of Marx which does not consider his early "Humanist" essays as "pre-Marxist," nor his late writings as "the ramblings of an old man," as many other Marxists do. With these eyes it becomes easier to see Marxs original view of Naturalism, and how that differs from the False Naturalism we were discussing above. In Philosophy and Revolution Chapter 2, Dunayevskaya quotes Marx discussing his philosophy in 1844:
We see here how thoroughgoing Naturalism or Humanism distinguishes itself both from Idealism and Materialism, and is, at the same time, the truth uniting both. We see, at the same time, how only Naturalism is capable of grasping the act of world history. (PR p. 53)
How does this view of Naturalism differ from a False Naturalism where the products of the human brain gain mastery over man? Here in his early writings, Marx is discussing how freedom and creativity are the essence of humanity (an Idea he developed from Hegel) - and how alienation from our essence as humans is a deviation from our Nature, our Humanism. He writes how as a result of a system of private property, our human senses have been altered; "in place of all the physical and spiritual senses, there is the sense of possession which is the simple alienation of all the senses Seeing, hearing, smell, taste, feeling, thought, perception, experience, wishing, activity, loving " (PR pp. 53-4) Marx called for a revolutionary dialectical Humanism which would allow for a "freeing of the senses", a return of humanity to itself as a species being - social, historic and creative.
In his essay Private Property and Communism, Marx even discusses human sexuality in relation to all other social relations, emphasizing how the character of all relations between the two sexes is a measure of the development of civilization as a whole. Marx writes:
In this natural relationship of the sexes, the relationship of humanity to nature is immediately their relationship to nature, their own natural determination. Consequently, in this relation, there is sensuously, in an obviously factual way, disclosed to what extent the human essence of mankind has become that of nature, or, to what extent nature has become the human essence of mankind in it is revealed to what degree the natural behavior of humankind has become human to what degree human nature has become their nature.
One thing these writings show is that it does not require a theoretical stretch to relate Marxs philosophy to sexuality. And contrary to popular belief, Marx didnt abandon these "humanist musings" to become a "real Marxist," later in life. Dunayevskaya shows us how Marxs Humanism was a part of his philosophy all along, and reveals itself in Marxs greatest book, Capital. Certainly we can see this for ourselves when we investigate especially Chapter 1 where Marx develops his ideas on the "Fetish of the Commodity."
In this section Marx shows how in our capitalist system, the very form of production is based on an abstraction (a product of the human brain) which makes a thing of use into a thing for trade. This thing for trade, known as the commodity, is thus considered a thing of value not as much for its qualities as an object of use, as for its value as an object which can be exchanged for other things. What makes two things which are different in use value identical in exchange value? Abstract human labor power- the quantity of averaged labor time required to create the object, with little or no consideration given to the quality of the labor required to produce it, or the individual skills and characteristics of the producer.
The place where this abstraction is made most evident is in the factory, where capital uses live human beings as cogs to automated machines with little or no consideration given to the quality of life for those live human beings. However, the factory isnt the only place where these abstractions flourish. As Dunayevskaya notes in Philosophy and Revolution, "the reification of human relations is a fact so overpowering that it dominates the whole of society, including capital itself and the thought of the period." (RD p.88)
Once we begin reproducing ourselves - our needs, our institutions, our means for existence - within an anti-human form of abstraction, we become abstracted from our human essence, what we truly are. Therefore all human creations (including sexuality) are colored by this abstraction - and things take on social characteristics (in that they relate to each other through exchange) while human beings are treated as mere things, or commodities, themselves (objects to be bought or sold.)
Marx writes, "the commodity form has absolutely no connection with the physical nature of the commodity and the material relations arising out of this. It is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them the fantastic form of a relation between things." (KM 165) And despite the twisted quality of this alienated human structure, these relations begin to appear as natural. Marx writes:
These formulas, which bear the unmistakable stamp of belonging to a social formation in which the process of production has mastery over man, instead of the opposite, appear to the political economists bourgeois consciousness to be as much a self-evident and nature imposed necessity as productive labour itself. (KM 175)
Marx relates this creation of a False Naturalism regarding commodity production - which he calls the Commodity Fetish - to the "misty realm of religion," where the "products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own, which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race." (KM 165)
Today even more than in Marxs time, capitalism is seen as the "end of history," the pinnacle of human potential. This is very much connected with the concept that commodity production and exchange are the natural form of human relations.
Part III: Revolutionary Consciousness and Freely Associated Labor
One of the greatest abilities Marx had was to show pathways out of alienation and oppressive social forms. He was never satisfied to just critique the way things are and then leave it at that. However, he was also very careful not to create a blueprint for the future, because he didnt ever want to close off potential roads to freedom. His focus was the methodology of revolutionary change. The particulars would be determined by those masses of individuals struggling for their freedom.
Through his dialectical analysis in Capital, Marx poses the absolute opposite to the commodity fetish in what he calls "freely associated labor." Though in past economic forms, such as rural peasantry, the relations of humans in production are more transparent, and commodity production plays a more subordinate role, these formations, "are conditioned by a low stage of development of the productive powers of labour and correspondingly limited relations between humans within the process of creating and reproducing their material life, hence also limited relations between humanity and nature." We dont want to go backwards, even if we could.
Rather than any retreat into some past form of unity with nature, Marx calls for a new unity of humanity with nature. Here are his words, "The veil is not removed from the countenance of the social life-process, i.e. the process of material production, until it becomes production by freely associated people, and stands under their conscious and planned control." Rather than being controlled by the products of our own brains and hands, rather than being forced into inhuman working conditions which divide our physical labor from our mental labor, rather than being coerced by necessity into a particular mode of production - an association of free human beings would be ,"working with the means of production held in common, and expending their many different forms of labour-power in full self-awareness as one single social labour force The total product of our imagined association is a social product."
Dunayevskaya adds, "Only freely associated [humans] can destroy the fetish, because only they know it from the inside, from within the process of production, and thus only they have the power and the true knowledge of reality." When humans confront each other from within a system of production which recognizes human need over profit, the previous system where people were dehumanized is revealed to be what it is, an anti-human social construction. Likewise, all other social formations which bear the stamp of the commodity fetish would also be stripped of their "mystical veil" - and humanity would begin relating to each other "in full self-awareness."
What I learn from Marx here is that we wont be able to achieve full freedom when we are unconsciously allowing our creations to control us, whether those creations are the simple commodity, or the government, or our social and sexual relationships. Accepting oppressive social and productive forms as "natural" places a barrier between humanity and our creative potential.
Adrienne Rich points out correctly that, "the failure to examine heterosexuality as an institution is like failing to admit that the economic system called capitalism or the caste system of racism is maintained by a variety of forces, including both physical violence and false consciousness." Lets begin to tear down the False Naturalisms which dominate our lives by investigating ideas and activities which can lead toward freely associated human relationships in all aspects of our lives.
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Three Pieces from a Serbian Lesbian Feminist
There are No Homosexuals Back Home
by Zorica Mrsevic
Of course there are no homosexuals "back home" (Serbia). There exists only a very dirty, offensive word which is widespread in daily usage. The word is "peder", and means a gay man, a homosexual.
Children do not know what "peder" means although they often use this word. For them a "peder" is a person of bad character, a person who lies, cheats in games, cries without reason, reveals secrets, selfishly does not want to share his/her toys with other kids...
Children do not understand at all why adults warn them not to use this term for girls, and consider it as one among many non-understandable prohibitions imposed by adults.
Then they discover another meaning of the word "peder": a man who somehow is not enough of a man or does not have enough mannish characteristics. Aha, there is a simple answer for the question of why girls are not and could not be "peders".
And then at the age of ten or so, a hell begins to happen to boys. Somehow, overnight, boys are, from all sides warned to behave. Suddenly, a whole list of new rules is imposed on their lives. All with one reason, to make them real men. Among some of the new rules are:
"Not to smile loudly or with open mouths"
"Not to speak much, like a girl"
"Not to play publicly with his own hair; and the best, never to touch his (or anybody's) hair in public"
"To walk slowly but energetically, not to jump, not to run, not to crawl, and especially not to walk like a woman"
"Not to make grimaces, but always to have a serious face"
"Not to make wide gestures with the hands while walking or speaking, always have calm hands close to your body"
"Not to hug, kiss, or even touch other boys; physical contact with boys is permitted only when shaking hands, punching in fights, or slapping shoulders".
All these rules are imposed on boys before puberty to make sure that something "wrong" will not happened during these turbulent years. A simple explanation of the new rules is that if boys did not strictly obey them they would not become real men. And to be a man is a privilege, but also a responsibility. One must behave like a man. To learn men's behavior boys need strong men's discipline imposed on them. The influence of women during these years of boys' lives is treated like a dangerous intoxication. Somehow, it is not easy to learn to behave like a real man. This is to be achieved with difficulty.
During puberty, girls and boys discover medical and scientific books about forbidden topics. And finally, there is the last meaning of the word "peder": this is a man who has sexual intercourse with another man instead of with a woman. And sexual intercourse between men is when one of them puts his penis is another's anus. And this is not pleasant at all (how could it be!) for all concerned, and causes bleeding, wounds and pain, as well as permanent, even lethal diseases. But somehow, men of such behavior are driven from the inside, from their bad/sick character, to do this in spite of the obvious awfulness of the act. And the more they do this, their behavior and appearance could be damaged forever. They became persons who visibly are not men. A horrible prospect.
Now all male children understand why so many rules are imposed on boys: the aim is to prevent them from becoming "peders". Boys are happy that their fathers, uncles, teachers, and all others took good care of them by not letting them change into "peders".
Children are usually taught not to express hatred towards other children or teachers, and certainly not towards their parents or relatives. There are, however, some who can be hated with impunity: "peders"! Even when children do not know who "peders" really are, and what the term really means, they know that it is permitted to hate "peders" and they are encouraged to express this hatred publicly and openly. "Peders" are to be disdained, ridiculed, hated, rejected.
I always asked myself, if it is so typical and the only natural men's behavior, why it is necessary for so much discipline, so many warnings from adults? Why are boys not just left to behave as they want and they sooner or later will find out what is real and natural men's behavior? Why so much fear that they will make a mistake?
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Stories and Messages of History
by Zorica Mrsevic
Throughout Serbian history, some women were allowed to be something like "men," to be virginas or best brothers. But the price was to adopt men's behavior completely, even requested
to be better than men themselves. Today, lesbians are also unspokenly allowed to do this, if they are ready to pay the price, and the price is to be "the best brother."
Life was hard in the medieval period in the Dinaric mountains: poor, infertile, rocky soil, a severe climate and permanent wars with Turks, and among tribes. Men were highly respected and valued. The real disaster for a family was not to have a son.
Fathers had the right to kill newborn baby girls if born as the third child1, or to raise them as males, announcing that the family has a boy child. This girl was called Virgina, and was obliged forever to keep the secret of her family: that she was not boy but girl. She was forced during her difficult childhood to work the hardest field jobs (to become stronger), to learn to use weapons and ride horses, everything that was part of a boy's upbringing, only she was obliged to always be among the best. Her family honor was at stake if she showed herself to be "not mannish enough". If she failed, the price was her life. She was unworthy if she was not able to behave and to be like a man.
At the age of about 16, she was sent to "visit" relatives who lived in some village many days far from her own. After a few years she was expected to return with a baby boy, "a nephew," "an orphan son" of relatives. Actually, it was her own son to whom she secretly (with the help of her family relatives) gave birth to continue the family name. Of course her daughters were not allowed to live, but she had a few chances to try to produce an heir, a successor for the family.
Later, her life was like the lives of all adult men. Except, her first obligation was to keep the secret forever, to raise "a nephew orphan" playing the role of his "uncle", to take part in the decisions of the tribe like a man, to fight together with other men from her village in battles against enemies.
Young virginas were deliberately exposed to the most dangerous situations in battles, partly because it was believed that they as unusual creatures (they were believed to be innocent, what is the meaning of the word "virgina") could defeat enemies and partly because their lives simply were not worth enough. As long as they lived there existed the possibility of a revealing of the shameful truth: that they were women. For their families, the more acceptable end was their heroic death on the battlefield rather than a shameful revealing of this secret.
Virginas who survived all of life's traps became very respected members of their communities. Behind some virginas were many battles, behind others even a few "nephews", and others even were married regularly!
2. SON REVENGER
In Montengero during the medieval period (including also the 19th Century) there was a tribal custom of bloody revenge: blood for blood, life for life. Only men could "take a blood":
to kill somebody from the killer's tribe as revenge for lost blood (life) of their own tribe. Only men's blood (life) was to be paid by blood. A killed woman was paid for through bargaining between chiefs of the tribes with money, gold or cattle.
But women had specific roles in all of these revenge events. They were allowed (more, expected!) to stimulate men to take blood. They did this task by wearing the killed man's clothes. They also scared face, waved hair, crying through the tribe: "Revenge, revenge! Look, this is the blood of my killed son (brother, husband...). It asks for revenge! Look at the blood! You men, are you all cowards? What are you waiting for? The blood is calling you for revenge! Why are
you hesitating? What do you want? Me, weak woman, to take justice in my weak woman's hand? Where is a real man to take blood for my killed son?".
After this, usually some youngsters eager to show themselves worthy of the heroic tribal history would "take blood." Although women were completely subordinated to men, and no woman was allowed to show any of her real emotions, nobody could discipline such angry women.
If nobody wanted to take revenge, to take blood, then the sister of a killed brother was allowed to do so. Only a sister2. The explanation was simple: all this theater was not giving space to women's emotions, but only space for anger of men's blood. It was believed that a killed man's blood asks for revenge. Only a sister shares the same blood with a killed brother (if he did not have brothers or they did not want to revenge). This was him acting through her; that's why she was allowed to do something dedicated strictly to men. So, if nobody else wanted to take revenge, and if in spite of warnings coming from older people to stop provoking revenge by wearing his clothes and shouting through the villages for revenge3, she still wanted to, then the decision was up to her.
She was allowed to wear men's clothing and to take guns (usually her brother's) and to say to her father something like: "You lost one son but got another one," calling herself a new son-revenger of her father. Nobody was allowed to stop her while she was acting like a man. By tradition, all initiative was given to men.
Her father could say to his daughter, clothed in men's clothes, only something like: "God bless you my son, and return to me alive." If she "took blood" and returned alive, she gained forever the right to behave like a man, meaning, to wear men's clothes, to participate with men in their decisions, and to not be pressed to marry. (Actually, nobody wanted to marry anybody who was "almost a man".)
She became something like a "virgina," but through a different route - not from the beginning of her life because her parents did not have a son, but through her own decision and men's deeds.
3. THE BEST BROTHER
During Turkish occupation (for 500 years), Montenegro was more or less free, thanks to its high mountains. There lived mountain warriors in their mountain nests. All houses were like stony towers.
One day a husband and a brother of one woman were out for a few days. She was alone with the children and her husband's old parents when Turks attacked. The family locked their tower and started to fight, hoping that soon the men would return. The children were filling the guns and she was firing through small windows. Eventually, the old parents were killed and she was bleeding. She ordered her children to bind her standing up, that she could continue shooting although wounded. Then she killed all her children, five of them, because she did not want them to became slaves in the enemies hands. Then she continued to shoot and shoot. When she was nearly dead, she stopped, waiting for the attackers to enter; and with the last strength, she shot the bucket of powder, killing herself and many of attackers.
Her husband and brother saw a big, black cloud of smoke from distance and knew that something terrible had happened. When they arrived, everything was over and they saw very quickly how heroic her death was.
At the tribal meeting, where the oldest men made decisions on how to revenge, her husband said: "I lost my wife, my house, my cattle, my five children, and my parents. I am desperate and I live only to take revenge. Therefore, revenge is mine!"
Her brother said: "I LOST THE BEST BROTHER OF ALL MY BROTHERS, REVENGE IS MINE." The brother got the revenge.
The tribal council's decision was that her husband will build a new house with the help of the whole village, he will get some cattle from other families and a new herd is to be earned, he is still young and strong, his parents were old and awaiting death anyway, his children will be replaced with children born from a new wife, and there were about thirty dead bodies of attackers, so actually the parents and children's blood were already paid. "And your name will live. We the tribe, will help you in providing a new wife, building a new house and breeding new herd. Then it is up to you to have children and not to let your name die. The duties of a man are hard, but that's why they are imposed on men only," the chief said to a desperate man.
And to the brother they said: "Your heroic brother asked the highest price, we will all help you take as much blood as you can." So a woman was treated like a man after her death, because of her male behavior.
1. Families never had enough food and usually couldn't afford to have more than three children.
2. I asked myself for a long time, why only a sister? Why not a mother? (A mother's pain is perhaps the hardest?). Why not a daughter or a wife?
3. For example: "Your brother was caught stealing, he was guilty," or "He was found with somebody else's woman, he was guilty, this is not a case for revenge, don't make a disaster for us, let your father and the chief bargain with the family of the killer"!
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or how do women separate from each other (the experiences of lesbians from Belgrade)
by Zorica Mrsevic
What happens with the dissolution of women's partnerships, how it differs from the "model" of the dissolution of heterosexual partnerships, might possibly be explained in connection with understanding art. There is an alliance between two former partners in that they are torn forever with the pain caused by the dissolution of their strong relationship. The passion for staying is perishable, weakening as time passes, while the passion for leaving exists as a permanent source of self-inducted energy, which as in art, is more powerful than life and a more powerful event than death itself. Visual art changes the visible space around us, defining and stimulating our memories and demanding reevaluation of our remembrances. Visual art provides us with a significant contribution to the imperishable passion of dissolution and the constancy of cold anger as its consequence. The dissolution of women's partnerships get in this way their necessary articulation, which unlike the universality of heterosexual dissolution, is always new and different.
How has in fact the wind behaved in passages
I know that my forest will evaporate one day. I will stand alone, as quickly as running air, breathless in the forest's branches. The roots of my forest will be rotten, but I will continue to get entangled, jumping angrily, running over the tree-stumps of memories. I will pass by, pretending that I do not see them at all, under the shadows of those women who do not exist anymore. I will leave the forest finally on the forgotten road, whose seductive paths could attract me back again into the forest's roads, so similar to those from my past-all those who are lacking in precaution.
For me those sculptures are not cut trees, molded, partly burnt, welded by forging, joined with metal. I have never seen in them only material, although I know very well how the material made the work on them easier, winded in front of the gust of her ideas, better than anything else. Finally, it was so submissive to a public touch, it was more ready to answer a curious palm, investigating grip, slithering or scratch of nails, scrutiny of its surface by skin. For me, from the first, beginning to view through the gallery window, it was always seen as a variation of two elements, split with space, windy passages between the buildings of volumes.
In this silent moment of meeting between two homogeneous elements divided in moving toward each other, or from each other, an understanding of the very sense of space was made possible. To others, it is only the meeting of two equally important elements of the same kind. From a third point of view, dynamically different from the first two, what was visible was the sheer drama of the kind, "that love could be reflected only in broken mirrors". It is presented also as a final separation without any drama, because without meeting, touch, there is no drama at all, as it is the case of two dark banks watching the glittering flow of a river.
Bell-tower, Triumphal arch, Beggar, Pyramid, Trap, Gate are only some of the terms, which ask the inevitable question: has the wind done something bad to the forest, or in fact has something bad happened to the wind in the forest? And taken generally, how has the wind in fact behaved in the forest's passages? But maybe, there was no forest at all, only asphalt, sparse grass, broken park benches, improperly outside of any park?
I know very well that nothing has happened, and that only one improper crossway contributed to establishing a memory. Divided definitely were those two women, who were exceedingly similar each to the other, and exceedingly needlessly angry each to the other.
There is also water, the forgotten sweet of sky. We always have to find some water. Waterfall, Aquarium, Bridge, Abyss, Clouds, rustle pouring through broken floodgates. I have the best opinion about the wooden ships, dedicated to our waters. They are all beautiful, exciting and slim in their tallness, as was the little soul who came quickly and scooted in a great hurry, so that nothing could be given or taken from her. I have never stopped to regret because women flow like waters, and leave like quick ships in front of my eyes, full of red-hot wood, live coals and windy passages.
Dangers of past streets
A long forgotten dream, awakened with winds, their mutual intense blue and red, glisten over the bleak soil. They, three sisters, and I, the fourth one, in the role of the modest observer, who could never meet the others, while passing the others, shaking hands. Daily and nightly, colors have changed many times, while sisters talked, mostly about the sorrow carried by crossings. Due to this sorrow my hands are tired, as they dig gold, searching a precious moment of flash. I start again to be their guest, hasten my steps and hurry, because I know that we are not alone, we, four women at the bank of the Danube.
I told them a sad story, about crossways and inevitable but so needless leaving, about farewells which rest November in my eyes forever, about the history of traveling which is trying to be written. I told them many things, knowing that without those three intense women, I would neither plunge my hands so agile among stars, nor learn about growing internal fires. They understood me: we all have stood in front of somebody's door, not daring to knock, making our foreheads cold on the mossy bricks.
The street behind us has the name Yesterday, at least it was so written in our memories. But I know that they know also that its real name is Never Again. Do not turn back, waiting is only night, it was heard from internal landscapes, tears are not to be received or given as gifts, glittering on their lamps.
We made myths, we made legends from memories and from past loves - shadows, which indeed crave for clouds, but don't leave soil.
I was told about the great world discovered in lost things, a frozen sky over a big river, the black wave of our silences. The summer has the eyes deeper than dawns, mutually, hers and mine, trying to return to ourselves, from women lightened with days. Nights glitter as the shelter of tenderness, always in getaway, always short-lasting women's touches.
Women loving other women walk with an unrealized touch, on the crossways, disappearing in shadows, told these three to me. With talkative faces, with brave faces, with silent faces, with sad faces. Through barely heard whispers, through murmurs and smoke, I had the privilege of playing with their scales, without asking myself what will happen to us after.
I have to ask them for permission to hide them for tonight in my foggy hugs. They won't be alone there. I went there myself, when all other places were deserted. We shall scoot together in trees, we shall join the fish, we shall search the lost together.
And there will be never again the ones who left us, but all my lakes are full. Only a woman is easily obtained and then lost in flower markets. Only there the power of leaving is lost, and only there, and nowhere else, one past street could eat me.
Misundertandings and non-realities
When we speak about dissolution among women, we speak about lesbianism in its political, public expression. Nobody has ever written that it is not shameful to repeat the same old pains and grief because of dissolution. Political theory and the ideology of lesbianism have rarely dealt with the anatomy of dissolutions, ignoring it more or less as something not very interesting, or at least, not of the public interest.
What phases do exist in the dissolution process? 1) the end of love as a result of an underestimation of a partner's personal characteristic; 2) indifference as a result of the dissatisfaction of one partner with many characteristics of the other one; 3) hate, as a result of imagined or real cheating, lies, fraud, betrayal or threats looming from the side of the other partner. This anatomy of grief is resistant to the usual estimation of eventual length: six weeks for the psychic circle of emotions regardless of the cultural environment. Or, grief is painful, but not so long, it is a process which is limited in its length - after a few months the mourning person will stop loving her previous partner.
There is, first of all, a need to demystify the myth of the alleged universality of a model of dissolution of heterosexual couples. Women have more pain, and suffer more and longer in their grieving. We suffer more because we "want" to suffer more; and we "want" to suffer more because we are women and therefore we have no other choice but to suffer a long time after the end of our partnership. Any suffering length could be defined as "long". The windy reality of our forests is the significant evidence of our truths, which consist of our anger and our adaptability to long lasting pains.
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Lesbians During the Third Reich
By Sharon Cannery
Recently gay historians have revealed a most gruesome history of the treatment of homosexual men by the Nazis in W.W.II. However, the stories of lesbians have often been left out of those accounts. Claudia Schoppmann in her work, *Days of Masquerade: Life Stories of Lesbians During the Third Reich* has brought out from the closet the history of lesbian oppression during, "the most terrible chapter of German history."
In the mid to late 20s, inspired by the Womens Suffrage Movement, lesbians in Berlin and other major German cities joined the movement to strike the anti-homosexual law Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code. Because it was illegal for women to gather politically, these lesbians creatively started organizing groups through "bowling clubs" or "savings clubs."
This creativity did not save them from the counter-organizing of the early Nazi Party, and by 1933 when the Nazis took power, lesbians were added to Paragraph 175. Nazis began persecuting women who were unmarried and childless, many of whom were lesbians, and incarcerating them as political prisoners. Lesbians who had been in relationships for years were forced to break up and marry men to avoid the eye of the Nazi informants - the house superintendents and block leaders. The "lucky" ones found gay men to marry. The most unlucky ones found themselves in prisons and concentration camps.
Of the many tales of lesbians who survived the holocaust in Germany, the most interesting is of lesbian Hilde Radush, who was a revolutionary trade union organizer and member of the CP. When she was arrested in 1933 for her political activity and placed in prison for 6 months, she continued her organizing and with other women fought for and achieved better conditions for prisoners. Since this was 1933, she was not sent to a concentration camp which later, would become a matter of course.
After being released from prison, she became a manual laborer, and returned to illegal workers organizing. She managed to elude Nazi informants by refraining from meeting with other lesbians at clubs, and at one point escaping arrest with her lover by living in a remote wooden shed.
Hildes persecution was not limited to the Nazis however. By 1946, she had recognized the "totalitarian politics" of the CP and broke with them.
Her former "comrades" decided to report her lesbianism to her workplace at the district offices of the Department for Victims of Fascism. They were successful and Hilde was fired. She never stopped organizing however, and eventually founded L74, a group for elderly lesbians in 1970. Before her death at age 90 she said of herself, "I never saw myself as a victim, always a fighter!."
This article originally appeared in News & Letters newspaper.
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Transcripts from "Lesbianism, Queer Politics, and Revolution"
Spontaneous Meeting During the Frontline Feminisms Conference
January 18, 1997, Riverside, California
Tape started 10 minutes into meeting. Meeting started at 10:00. Julie, Jennifer, and Sharon had already introduced themselves.
Jennifer: This meeting came out of an uneasiness with what has not been said here at the conference, whereas there is so many incredible good and powerful things that are being said on a number of topics. Would you like to introduce yourself?
Damien: My name is Damien. I live here in Riverside attend UCR. And basically, Im attending this because Im very ignorant as to how queer politics would play into Revolutionary ideas. Im gonna listen and learn I guess.
Michelle N: Im Michelle N., Im a student at Cal state. Im majoring in psychology and sociology and this is my life-mate (woman next to her) and were very interested in whats going on here today.
Donna: Im Donna. I attend UCR and Im a senior. Im planning to go to law school and my interest would be lesbian and queer human rights in law.
Zorica: I come from Serbia right now Im a graduate student and I was trying to decide should I go to artist healing or should I sit here. Now Im sitting here but, maybe in 10-15 minutes Ill go there. Its interesting, its a pity there was no separate session about these issues that you have to come up with it yourselves. Because, I think the issues Rachel spoke of Yugoslavia and well, there were so many lesbians involved in humanitarian work and the anti-war movement back in Yugoslavia I mean they do not want to talk about that .
Jessica: My name is Jessica and I go to Columbia and Im a senior in NY. A lot of this conference was about trying to combine theory and practice and I studied a lot of queer theory and Id like to hear more of what is going on politically. And I think I come from an environment where queer theory is accepted, is talked about. I think I take it for granted a lot and I know when I graduate it is not going to be that easy. I wanted to hear what others were thinking.
Jennifer: Two other people have joined us. Just say who you are.
Ruth: I am Ruth. I live here in Riverside and teach at UCR in the music department. Im here to be with friends and to hear whats going on.
Michelle L: My name is Michelle L, Im from Los Angeles and I work with the News and Letters Committees local.
Julie: O.K. I just want to say a few things about the work weve been doing in the Bay Area and about how were trying to get more people involved in this discussion. I think what you said (re: Serbian woman) has a lot to do with what were thinking right now. Often there are lesbians involved in struggle where it is not dealt with, the fact that theyre lesbians. And that, were not discussed and so, what is not brought out with that is whether there is a particular idea or a particular depth of struggle that being queer brings to the movement.
We know that women bring a certain feminists dimension to the struggle and thats talked about its been being talked about a lot for several decades and we see that as people are oppressed are subjects for their own liberation. That we are developing our ideas about what kind of society we want to have. That its really important for us to discussing what our vision of the future would be. What would it mean to have a society that included our ideas of what it means to be human and I, really didnt prepare anything here
Really, what were planning to do with this Queer Notions bulletin is an open discussion on the relationship of sexuality to the transformation of society on human grounds. My feeling is, if we dont discuss what it means to be gay bashed, what it means that this society is so heterosexist that its deadly. What does it mean that its open season on queers in this society and what would it mean to fight against that and create a society where that couldnt happen. And if we dont discuss it in the process of making the revolution, so to speak, then we will create a society that oppresses us once more.
So, what can we do to battle against heterosexism in this society in such a way that it brings us more forward as a people. And this bulletin came out last summer and was a discussion bulletin that News and Letters put out, that theres many people in our organization and friends who weve been working with where were trying to work this question out together. And we are putting together another bulletin in March and what wed also like to hear from people is if anyone is working on any papers or anything like that or have been thinking about, had ideas about queer politics that they might think would add to the discussion as well.
Jennifer: One of the things, the whole question of queer liberation and queer perspectives on revolution for one thing, a lot of the left wing movements both those that have been explicitly Marxist and many that have been nationalist in character have either included gay and lesbian people only reluctantly or on the condition of silence in other words, staying in the closet. Or they have been very patronizing in their attitudes towards gay and lesbian people and then out and out condemnatory. And there is one that I quoted here from a black nationalist when a black lesbian was attending this black nationalist conference and she found on every seat in the house a pamphlet that said, "Revolutionary nationalists and genuine communists cannot uphold homosexuality in the leadership of the Black Liberation Movement nor uphold it as a correct practice. Homosexuality is a genocidal practice Homosexuality does not produce children. .Homosexuality does not birth new warriors for liberation " and that kind of ridiculous spreed against gay and lesbian people. And that kind of rhetoric is very alive in many left wing struggles and I think its necessary for gay and lesbian people both to give the lie to that kind of material but, also to indicate what is it is different and new and revolutionary that we bring to the struggle that not only transcends that kind of nonsense but, goes to an entirely different place. You (re: Jessica) made a reference to queer theory which is now very much a presence theoretically in the battle of ideas, queer theory is a very important part of that. At the same time there have been a lot of very cogent criticisms of a lot of contemporary theory from people who are involved in a lot of active struggle that hasnt helped things. So, I think we have to ask how is it we see the contributions from the queer and lesbian and bi-sexual and gay perspectives adding to where we are at this moment and where we can grow and go from here. So, thats all from my perspective. Lets hear from others.
Jessica : I think that that pamphlet that you wrote is really important because, I mean a lot of what Ive heard here(re: to conference) talks about something almost more fundamental that needs to be addressed and that is obsessive nature on all sides on the nature of motherhood and reproduction women as reproduction vessels. When you get that, whether its on the right or left, or really get this drive for the reproduction of the revolution and assault on women and womens bodies and I think addressing that and addressing moving women away from the socialization of motherhood is really critical to allowing more openness for a gay and lesbian struggle. It takes the focus out of the body socialized reproduction. I think its important.
Julie: So, its coming from both sides where, some from the movement are saying well, you have to reproduce the revolution where, in television are idealizing motherhood.
Jessica: I mean, no matter who its coming from once you start talking about the notion of reproduction, you start talking about sensual woman, once you start talking about sensual woman its almost impossible to expand any notion of sexuality within the context of these very tight understandings.
Donna: I was writing this paper on how the media portrays lesbians its kind of a cool thing now. Theres Ellen almost coming out of the closet and Rosie ODonnell on TV and her and Ellen have this pretty frank discussion on "Im coming out as Lebanese" and Rosie says, "Well, I might be Lebanese". And then theres this movie, Two mothers for Zachary where theres this struggle of this lesbian mother to keep custody of her child but, then at the same time Valerie Bertanelli and her co-star can kiss on screen but, those two women who they portrayed did not get custody of Zachary. So, theres this thing in politics where lesbians can stay where they are in media you know, Bound just came out and that was cool but, we had that DOMA Act that was just passed that lesbian and gays cannot get married and they can disregard marriage in other states. So, there is a big rift between media and what they portray lesbians and gays to be and how politics see lesbians and gays.
Julie: Very interesting. And you are doing this paper for
Donna: Its for one of my classes. Its Global Feminism.
Julie: Because, if you were interested, we could publish this in a discussion bulletin. If people were interested in responding, we could get them a way to respond to you.
Somebody: What about the Internet? Is any of this available on the Internet?
Jennifer: A lot of it. Well, this discussion bulletin will be and the next one will be available on the Internet. The queer Internet is pretty amazing I dont know if youve been out there. Theres plenty of material. At the moment, Im on one list that sends two or three things a day that you can do on a very practical level but, then theres no philosophy backing it up, its just individuals sending individuals things that they think you ought to do. So, for instance, writing letters to the Tourism Bureau in Hawaii saying if they allow gay marriage, you will certainly visit there. Then there is the right who says they will not visit there. Which of course will make it more paradisicle. As I said, a lot of these lists are so eclectic basically, I mean the only thing that unites them is gay and lesbian and no overall sense of the kind of progressive sense that animates a lot of this conference. So, to me its a real mixed bag out there. On the information level, theres plenty of stuff. But, we have an e-mail address for this and for continuing this conversation.
Julie: Yeah, and we are also setting up a web-site which we hope to be allow for an even wider base of discussion on these questions that if people wanted to upload any articles that they had rather, than being limited to twice a year putting out something like this bulletin then, it would be globally available. And that we would have a pretty open policy about what we would put up as long as it wasnt sexist or racist or something like that or gay bashing kind of thing. Were in the process of getting that done within the next month and if we can get names and addresses, we can send out letters for calling for papers.
Youll see if you look at the bulletin, theres a wide range of people writing. Theres a former prisoner writing about sex roles within the walls of prison, theres a gay activist from "Stop Aids" from Chicago, and theres a woman whos been writing articles for lesbian papers for years, theres highly theoretical, historical papers. Theres an activist whos been working with the right to marriage groups. We want to have a wide range of discussion of politics and theory and it could be the loosest thing too of a train of thought or what have we thought because as far as trying to relate sexuality to revolution. Historically, right after Stonewall, when there were some radical, queer groups forming like the Gay Liberation Front, they were explicitly Revolutionary. And explicitly discussing the relationship of queer sexuality to socialism or concepts of transformation of the society. And as Reaganism grew, that kind of thing declined and there was a more assimilationist type of movement but, then on the other hand, there was these great activist groups like ACT UP that were really challenging the social orders were coming back around now where people are looking for a way to unite their concepts of sexuality, lesbianism, and queer politics to the overall transformation of society and yet, dont have a forum in which to do that especially, because the activist groups dont really have a place where you can have discussions its more of a planning of action kind of thing.
And so, what we want to do is , we want to provide a place where that kind of discussion can grow and you dont want any intimidation around whats acceptable to bring up. Were sort of at a new beginning in a sense. And we need to work out these ideas ourselves. There are very few books that really take up Revolution in the context of sexuality. I dont know if anyone knows of any we would also like to have reviews of books and things like that. If people knew of anything so could develop our minds together and to go where we are and start raising these kinds of questions and seeing how people are responding. How we can help our movement to develop.
Sharon: I wanted to say something in response to ACT UP and Queer Nation which was something I was involved with in Philadelphia had started at least in Philadelphia to try to put forth ideas of sexuality and the very name "Queer Nation" invokes idea of what Queerness can add to our ideas of society but, quickly slipped into pure activism. A lot of people who were involved in that, including myself, were queer youth. Queer youth Id like to hear a lot from them as well you know, 14,15 yr. Olds or where I was in my young 20s taking part in this movement all I saw as an option was hitting the streets and hitting them hard. But, that stopped short, I saw such limitations in that and it turned into you know, planning the next thing and so, I wanted to put that across queer youth has a very different and specific voice within the queer movement, as well as many others.
Julie: We have some new people show up. Its a pretty open discussion and we can talk about whatever areas people think are important but, if you didnt introduce yourself, would you like to?
Durda: I will like to talk about.. actually, I gave them idea for this meeting! (Laughs) I can tell you how it is there (re: Croatia). To begin with, you are lucky people you can sit here and you can have your discussion and its not that easy, were marginalized not that I like to be marginalized, I like to be part of society. Male and female, yeah? In Croatia, there are two places that a lesbian can go and feel safe. Young lesbian feminists are so self-confident, its scary there. Just to have something you know, anything, a newsletter anything. They do some action. Its not easy but its funny.
Gila: Is there formal legal repercussions?
Durda: No, no. With the law its all right. Its just the culture, the whole society very much against it. To be gay or lesbian is like sticker.
Gila: Is that rooted in religion or something else?
Durda: Not only religion very, very patriarchal. (Silence) I dont feel good about it.
Nancy: Im Nancy and I live in the city of Syracuse in New York state. And a lot of the work that I do is around police violence and until recently, I edited a national newsletter called Policing by Consent that was the national newsletter on police accountability. A lot of what I see has to do with police dont solve murders of lesbians and how they treat us during domestic violence disputes, how they dont protect us in our neighborhoods, that kind of thing. In my city, I was involved in the passage of the Fair Practices Law some years ago that bans discrimination between gay and lesbian people in my city and many of the same people that worked on this were part of the campaign that passed the Citizen of ??? Law that many of our city counselors thought was a lesbian plot. We enjoyed annoying him. So, thats a lot of the kind of perspective that I have. I could be pretty open about my sexuality in most cases. In a few places it seemed to have caused some discomfort. I dont know what that would be like in other countries. So, Im glad you had this meeting this morning. I really liked being at this conference and having this meeting not make a whole lot of difference having it be pretty integrated here. But, I found when this workshop was announced, I was really glad. I was really glad we were able to get together. Thanks for doing this.
Charlotte: My name is Charlotte. Im a volunteer for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered resource center here on campus.
Julie: What kind of discussion have you had?
Charlotte: Were really just starting off. We just started at the end of the month.
Julie: What kind of stuff do you do at your center?
Charlotte: Well, right now we just got a new director so, she is going to be wonderful. Right now, were trying to organize for our pride week in April and thats going to be fun.
Gila: My name is Gila, Im from Jerusalem. Im a lesbian. Im living with the same wonderful woman for the last 11 years. Its our anniversary this month. (aaaawwws from the crowd). Shes not here. I was talking yesterday about lesbians vs. The religious Jews in Israel and the story I told started with the bombing of one of the buses in Jerusalem, one of the terrorist actions. About 20 people were killed and in the course of the week, one body was left unclaimed and the police kept saying, "Is there anyone whos missing someone someone hasnt come home for a week? Let us know." And no one showed up to identify the body and finally, there was no choice they usually dont do this, but they published a picture in the newspaper of the face of the dead woman. They fixed it up and they asked, "Does anyone recognize her?" And of course, we recognized her immediately because she was a member of the lesbian community in Jerusalem only, the reason no one claimed the body is because she was living alone and has been rejected by her family who was originally a member of the ultra-orthodox family and had been married with children and then left her family or actually, her family forced her to leave her children. She had come over and stopped being fully religious although, shes still religious in many ways. That is why that had happened.
And then theres the next part of the story concerns the fact of course, no one had said a word about her being lesbian. We knew in our community and we held a service for her but, the next day on the radio and in the newspapers suddenly, there was statements made by the man who was then deputy mayor of Jerusalem and an ultra-orthodox rabbi and he said, "The lesbians are terrible and were going to close down their clubhouse in Jerusalem." (We dont have a clubhouse there) "Nobody knows the tragedies they cause." And of course, nobody knew what he was talking about. We, in the community guessed that it had to do with the story of this woman being killed. But, then I was called for comments by the newspaper and I said, "Well we have no clubhouse in Jerusalem and were not causing any tragedies and the man is stating views that are medieval in modern times.
And then I was asked to be interviewed on the radio and then they told me there would be a confrontation on television with this ultra-orthodox rabbi who, by the way, is minister of housing and me. And I was a little nervous because I cant debate on the grounds of Talmud and the bible and all of this so, I called up some religious friends who are sympathetic and I said, "Can you help me out is there anything I can say that might make a point to people who are religious?" And sure enough, they fortified me with a statement from the Talmud. I got on television and the interviewer said to the rabbi, "What is your problem with lesbianism?" And he said, "Well, you know the bible is against homosexuality, its an abomination, and the sentence for homosexuals is death according to the Talmud." And to me, the interviewer said, "How can you respond to something like this?"
So I said, "Well you know, Im really not a Talmudical scholar but, I asked some friends who are religious and they gave me this verse from and then I quoted tract eight of the Talmud and what not and Ill give you the literal translation it is "Two women who are paving one another" you know, like a street that was a euphemism of course. "Two women who are paving one another", Rabbi Shamai says, "It should be canceled" or forbidden and Rabbi Hillhal says, " It can be affirmed" in other words it can be acceptable. And so I put it down and the interviewer looked up at him and said, "Well, what do you say to this, rabbi?" And he was at a loss for words and he started to say it was an abomination and I quickly said, "Well you know, there are lesbians in the ultra-orthodox community." This is the last thing he wanted to talk about and then the interviewer said, "Rabbi, let us not forget that the Talmud also says that when there are to opinions in Judaism, these words and these words are both the truth, but the words of Rabbi Hillhal are the words of the living god." It was really a wonderful interview and I was wearing my best dress and all my lipstick. My friends didnt recognize me.
Georgiana: Im Georgiana W. and Im not a lesbian if I were, I wouldnt have four babies. Im just a supporter because Im against discrimination, I want equal justice for everyone and I had a lot of support from the gay and lesbian community in my hour of sorrow when my son, Damien W. was facing three life sentences. We had lots of gay supporters that started from day one and went all the way through the trial and without their friendship and a lot of other peoples friendship, my son would be spending his life in prison. And I say to the gays and lesbians, you aint gonna take no shit in my part of town!
Clarice: Im Clarice, I live here in Riverside and most of the work Im doing now is with the Unitarian church and on gay and lesbian spirituality and working with the district and the continental we have a group called "Interweave" and before that I worked locally on an initiative that was proposed here in Riverside to prohibit gay and lesbian rights. It was stopped and I was lucky to be able to work on that as an attorney to keep it off the ballot along with some other really good women. We feel that a lot of that work was precursor work to stuff that happened in Oregon and in Colorado. A lot of the same arguments were made later and hopefully, some of those same arguments will help the 209 litigation as well so, I basically just came to hear what was going on in the rest of the world.
Sheri: My name is Sheri and I live here in Riverside. I havent been real active in anything because Im in a band that is doing a lot of music in the goddess movement so, I havent been doing a lot of stuff in the gay and lesbian movement. Formally, I was in a group called "Women in Rage" in Riverside that was very active in working against violence of women.
Jennifer: I was living here in southern California when that group got started and I dont know how many other people know the story of that group. If you could tell us
Sheri: Its been close to five years ago a friend of a lot of people here in Riverside, a woman named Nancy ??? was murdered in her workplace and she was a lesbian activist/a feminist activist and had touched a lot of peoples lives. She was murdered by an intruder in her workplace and her partner a day before their fourth anniversary came down the mountain looking for her when she didnt show up at home and found her dead and she was brutally brutalized. The group basically, formed around the partner as a support, as a way of not letting it go unnoticed. We did a lot of candlelight vigils, actions at the courthouse and after we got organized, we began taking on other womens problems, like women would come to us with violence that had been perpetrated against them and we would help them work through the system or court and do actions at court. But, it seemed to petered out. Were all doing our own separate things now.
Janet: It lost focus. People werent sure if they have the identity be strongly, Nancy. Some people joined because of Nancy and that didnt like that our direction was moving away from Nancy towards the wider feminist movement. There was just difficulty in regards to what to do and so some people said well I dont know what to do and so it just fell apart.
Jennifer: Who else hasnt had a chance to introduce themselves?
Daniel: My name is Daniel Rivers and I was raised in a lesbian household and have been dealing with some issues ( I just started graduate school) around bringing my personal life and the joys of my childhood and what it is like to be raised within the community into the academic sphere and to start to wrestle with some of those issues. So, Ive been trying to do some work around forging ties with other children of gays and lesbians who have similar experiences.
Chry: Im an activist who goes all over the country to try to help GIs who realize that they want to get out and to talk to the military recruiters (at this point her voice starts to get drowned out by military plane).
Jennifer: Wait, could you hold on a second? The military culture is drowning you out.
Chry: Im trying to find ways to challenge and include queer organizations to look at militarism and our own oppression and therefore, take on that question.
Kim: Im Kim and I live in Santa Cruz and Im an undergraduate. Basically, Im for gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual rights and Im interested in hearing more about everything.
Janet: My name is Janet, Sheris my lover and were local women and you heard a lot about us from her.
Heather: My name is Heather, I go to Johnston Center for Integrated Studies, University of Redlands. I just have a lot of friends who are gay and lesbian Im interested in their rights and Im here to learn more
Adrianne: My name is Adrianne McCurrach and I also go to the Johnston Center. I just support everybodys rights to live and be who they want to be no matter what. Im not really sure where I stand as far as my own sexuality I mean Im going through that right now. Anni DeFranco has been a real inspiration to me as well as Heather here. (re: to DeFranco) Like she says, "It doesnt matter who you love, what you love, anything you love, its just about love." Thats pretty much exactly where Im at right now.
Sharon: It would be nice to be in a society where you didnt have to make a statement where you could be just fluid and relate to people rather than labeling yourself a lesbian or a bi-sexual which is such an old argument.
Adrianne: Yeah, you have to tell people over and over again. I wish people would be all right with who you are.
Sharon: Thats right. My decision to be with other women, I hesitate to say Im a lesbian but, Ive never been in a relationship with a man but, it wasnt an anti-man decision, it was a pro-woman decision.
Donna: My brothers wanted to know if I was a separatist and hated men.
Michele: My brothers wanted to know what they had done to me. (Laughs)
Jennifer: I was also glad to hear discussion about the law that has Riverside, indeed has been a testing ground for a lot of anti-gay initiatives. But, yesterday I attended a session on student responses to Prop. 209 (tape ended this side)
Damien: My growing interest in trying to reach into L/B/G/T issues (if I could use that anachronym for the lesbian/bi-sexual/gay/transgendered community), I get to hear them answering the phone for the L/B/G/T resource center everyday. It has been because of my involvement in the student movement against prop. 209 and the regents decision to eliminate affirmative action at the start at our campus anyway, I wouldnt say it was the start of queer alliance that was involved. There were several individuals who were openly queer or involved in queer alliance that were involved with this fight. A lot of them graduated in that year part of it was, you know, it was a generation of college students who, four years ago, taken over the administrative building who were very interested in activism, who were kind of filtering out.
This has been two years that we have been working on this fight against prop. 209 last year, there was trouble trying to build a coalition between the different groups mainly, and this is coming from more than queer alliance but, different ethnic groups or womens groups presented themselves as more a social group rather than political which, to me to even state that you are queer is a political act. If you are going to have political consequences then, you might as well understand the game and try to win or stay alive. Its very interesting, on different campuses that the range and not quite what youd expect. It seems that Santa Barbara has the strongest presence of queer students involved in the top of organizing level throughout the UC system which, I stereotypically wouldnt expect where, Berkeley and LA has the largest population of queers. Part of my frustration a lot is dealing with whether groups want to be a social club or they
(This is where we had to move to another location because somebody had reserved the right to sell pottery exactly at the table where we spontaneously, plopped our meeting. So, we moved.)
Julie: In regards to your (re: to Damien) statement of "coming out" as being a political act, our group in the Bay Area, where we have been meeting for two years, has been trying to root out the revolutionary ideas and experiences of queer politics and queer systems and one of the things that especially, Jennifer had been writing about was with the coming out process, which is a life-process it never ends because, you are constantly meeting new people in new situations. That is a challenge to the social order that makes us necessarily political in our personal lives so, that when we come out into a hostile environment, were actually having to have political debates or our mere existence being a challenge to the status quo.
That was something to me that really shows how lets say being a woman, for most women its obvious that they are a woman or when you go into a situation most of the time you dont have to say, "Im a woman" you know what Im trying to say, its obvious youre a woman. You could be targeted for that or whatever its not something that though, as a woman, you have battles to fight everyday its sort of a different thing to have to come out to people who assume that youre straight and assume the world is straight and assume the world should be straight. And there you are and what do you do? A lot of times that is framed in the way you dont have to come out so, you can hide and you can be in the closet therefore, you are not oppressed. You see how that works? What weve been trying to bring out also is how silence is a part of our oppression. That being in the closet is part of our oppression but, were not aloud to be ourselves. I mean outside the fact that were being killed. That were getting beaten up. We dont have rights. Besides all that, just having to hide what does that do to us? And the opposite of that is a real world transforming act. So often were accused of just not being political or that queer politics is an anomaly and a contradiction.
Danielle: I guess the best example for me or that Ive been thinking a little bit lately is my whole life or when I would tell people about mom and my background or people would come over to the house its amazing even in the eyes of progressives, liberals, or leftists Id notice this glazing over and then it would become almost this involuntary question, "Oh, how bad for you." Or like there was something inherit I was missing in my upbringing somehow I didnt learn how to be a human being or I was not properly socialized. The ideas about fundamental heterosexist ideas of family and consciousness are so deep. Most people dont even notice. I think most people dont understand how intensely, intensely radical it is for gay and lesbian culture to be coming forth. Its breaking down so many barriers. I taught a woman studies class in Santa Barbara last quarter and we were dealing with radical sexuality and recent experimentations and I taught Pat Califias book, Public Sex and did some work with Anni Sprinkler and Susie Brites work and it seems the queer community is going through some struggles around those things.
People who are working around issues of sexuality, the S & M movement, and other things like that dont consider themselves political by nature. I think they are looking at moving away from those definitions and the queer community, I think, are going through a lot of changes with working out those self-definitions. Personal is political weve known that forever, right? Thats been the word, thats been the way weve got through the movement. At the same time now, there are parts of the queer community that are saying, "No. Were going to put that aside and were going to explore these other parts of ourselves and refuse to let our sexuality be political. So, I think those things have got to be addressed when we talk about the Revolution and the revolutionary character of queer politics.
Jennifer: Im confused though. How can desire and the very expression of "public sex" or something happening in the public not be political? I mean Im really kind of confused. Im interested in how Pat Califia "defends" that in her most recent work.
Danielle: I think the point you raised is valid. If something is public, it is a demonstration thats involved in the public sphere. So, its going to come to those kind of negotiations. It just seems to me that what Califia is also saying is, "I want to make sexual choices without having to feel the weight of the force of history upon me. The pull and the weight pulls me towards these political struggles." I dont know if that is feasible at this point.
Jennifer: Its interesting, even putting it that way, I think a lot of heterosexuality, even getting married, how can they do so without feeling the weight of history on them? And especially after the passing of DOMA the weight of history is on those unions. In other words, to what extent does the acknowledgment of that weight equal its existence? I mean it exists whether its acknowledged or not. I find it an interesting theme.
Danielle: I dont think the political part is whether someone has an identity the part that is political is so against what is expected of you. Whether or not you want to or choose to you are challenging people with your perspective, whatever it be. Against what is expected of people. And you just cant run from that no matter how much you want to deny it. Its an existence and you see the result of when you do deny it so much when you get things like prop. 209 being able to pass when so many civil rights groups fizzled to doing odds and ends work without really trying to create a strong movement that could defeat something like that.
Julie: Does anybody have any ideas of why, in this historical period that heterosexism is growing. Do people think thats a response to the Gay Liberation Movement? Anti-gay propositions, pushing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which sanctifies the heterosexual marriage and de-legitimizes all other human relations. And to me, I think it is curious that this is happening now. What is it about this society that queers are such a big threat that we have to be killed, we have to bashed, we have to be stripped of all of rights, we have to be made out to be evil or insane or abnormal or whatever it is, what is it about a fear of human relations.
Donna: I think its a lack of education is the main problem for example, I was sitting in my sociology of gender class just the other day and I was really surprised at how few people knew what a gay or lesbian was. They lump us into transgendered and you know, transsexual. And I think we have so few real solid role models out in public that are speaking a lot and its just a lack of education in regards what we actually are. I think you have to change the perspective of who we are and educate people on who we are so it changes the fear that were just an everyday person.
Nancy: I think you (Julie) touched on it that more queers are speaking out bringing litigation into Hawaii. I think a lot of it is a response, a last well, it doesnt feel last ditch, but I dont think the feelings are stronger or worse but rather, they didnt have a need to express them and come out in political ways because we were all quiet and behaving respectively, not telling anybody anything. So, now that we are there is definitely a response to that. Because, at the same time you get that kind of response you are also getting a movement from other people who are more supportive so, I think both of those things are happening concurrently. Thats probably the fear theyre working under. That were "convincing" all these people that were O.K.
Michele N: Ill do a little theorizing here. I was talking to this one professor and I was told that at the end of every century theres mass hysteria that the world is going to end and so you have to join god, find god, and find him quick before the century ends so, homosexuality is bad in the old and new testament and Christianity is a big part of American history. We can deny it all we want to. We have freedom of religion in the constitution but, we dont have freedom from religion. Theres a big nationalist movement right now and those who are joining it are finding out that homosexuality is bad, its evil, were condemned to death in the bible. There is this big religious movement in America that Im seeing.
Donna: When DOMA was being passed some of the arguments used by some of the senators were, "If we allow this same sex marriage to happen, then what is going to stop pedophiles from marrying children next?" So, that is what I was saying before, its just a lack of education. So, the DOMA Act was being argued from a religious standpoint. It is "immoral".
Michele N: The religious right is specifically being manipulative out there in order to further their own agenda. Theyve got to have a scapegoat its not O.K. to say something against black people anymore, its not O.K. to come out against other minority groups, but it is still acceptable to come out against gays and lesbians. So, it gives them a scapegoat to rally their people around and they need that in order to keep their people in line. To keep them working for their agenda.
Nancy: I dont think this has much to do with us to tell you the truth. I think we follow their lead and we become very self-centered. This has to do with the right wing voicing a focus on family values so that we dont look at political issues and I was just sitting here thinking, "Are we going to sit here and talk about marriage for the rest of our time together?" Once again, they start that stuff and we buy right into it and well spend the whole time together talking about and theorizing about whether we will be able to get married. There are so many other struggles Stonewall was about the police for gods sake! Stonewall was about fighting against police violence for gods sakes! It looks like we forgot that. And I go to community after community and lesbian and gay people say, "Oh well, we have our own deal with the police. Were part of the training now."
Nancy: "We dont have to march about police violence, we help train the police." And what that is is, "We have our own special deal with the police and we dont have to work in coalition with other people" And Urvashi Vaid is not telling us to do that in her book. Thats not what shes talking about.
Sheri: Our own "special deal" with the police will last as long as the police think its convenient.
Nancy: Its a way of making us feel like were different in how the oppressor treats everyone else. Were not any different. People in my community tell me that I was a traitor because I was working on how the police beat up black people. And I should be back at home worrying about lesbian and gay rights. And I was like, "Please, oh please." It was a black city counselor who stuck his neck out to pass our law banning discrimination and let me tell you, he almost got hung in his community for doing that, for crossing that line, he almost got lynched. It took some serious work for him to survive politically for taking that stand the only one on the city council who was willing to come out for us. I think I have this real strong conviction that we need to not get caught in that way of thinking, that the move to the right is all about us. Its not. Were a grand excuse a grand diversionary tactic. Its really not about us.
Judy: Wow, did you capture a point there, Nancy. I think, at least to me, the whole issue is what is Revolutionary and what is going to make this a different kind of world for everyone to live in? And the gays and lesbians struggle and the black struggle and the womens struggle and the workers struggle, they all have to do with getting rid of the oppression in this world that we live in today, now, every minute and its getting more retrogressive and without some idea of where you want to get to, you can just get depressed and go to bed. And hide under the covers and that will do nobody any good except get you crying kill you, physically. So, it seems to me what is really important is what is going to change this society and the kinds of directions youre talking about going are very important. If teaching knowledge needs to be imparted, it needs to be imparted in those communities and with those people who are also looking for change. And yes, there is an enormous amount of homophobia in some of the black communities because I work in them a great deal but, its those communities, those people who it is worth your while to educate and to communicate with. I run into medical professionals who think theyre going to get AIDS if they touch someone whos infected, and you go, "Where did you get your medical education give me a break!" Its just those kinds of things that go crazy and can divert you if you want to keep talking about, as Nancy said, "Are we just going to talk about whether we can get married or whether gays and lesbians should get married or whether they shouldnt get married?" You know, all of those things.
Nancy: Mrs. W., Damien W.s mother being here this morning now, thats really revolutionary. Whoever managed that
Judy: She did!
Nancy: I mean whoever reached out to her when that happened with her son that allowed for her to wind up at this meeting, that was Revolutionary. Thats a whole lot more Revolutionary than anything about queer weddings.
Adrienne: I think its great that this dialog can take place in the midst of all this conservative rhetoric about family. We simply cant separate this particular Revolutionary movement from any other movement that is being attacked chipping away at the welfare system or chipping away at affirmative action. That you simply cant understand this without understanding the context of conservative arguments.
Judy: They gave us marijuana so we wouldnt notice. (Laughs from crowd)
Nancy: They gave the Indians liquor us marijuana, right.
Adrienne: And the second thing I want to say is, I dont know if you could draw a distinction between wanting to assimilate and wanting a certain level of freedom of not wanting to be political. That being political all the time is exhausting. The desire to say, "O.K., I want to close the door on it, I dont want to be a Revolutionary today." is there room for that? I would want to say that there is. The other thing I want to say is in the context of this conference I do want to point out since we are talking about the United States, that this is very much a conversation of privilege. The type of things were talking about, while critical and theyre very important to me, theres a level of privilege we have to talk about. The type of gains that were talking about in a place where we are talking about basic human rights.
Kim: Going on coalitioning with people of color or students I too was involved with prop.209 and working against it. It was a great feeling because we finally saw a good representation of ethnic organizations, student union, and then everyone was like, "Yeah, we finally did it, we accomplished coalition building." Now, that I think about it, there is a definite group missing and that was the queer community or at least politically, werent there as an organization. That really highlights what you guys were saying here. But, to put that on first steps on how to do this actual concrete steps on how to achieve this goal were talking about student leaders on campus and in communities, theyre the people who people of color in the communities will listen to. Because, they come directly from that community and the first steps in organizing this when youre organizing against prop. 209 or whatever, outreach to student organizations, particularly the communities of color, ethnic organizations once you get them with that mind-state because I never had this until my professor talked to me about this. Once you have that, thats when you have the future leaders of America who are fighting for the rights, who are going to have this as well, thats going to be a medium that people of color will listen to. People who come from their own community who are poor and going on that, Im just curious, what kind of coalitioning has been going on between the queer community and people of color communities. I just want to know concrete things, instead of theorizing. I want to know what has been done, how we can concretely move on from there.
Danielle: Theres a pretty large tradition, and I recommend a book called, This Bridge Called Our Backs, its a collection of really beautiful essays by some really interesting people, Sheri Meraga, Audre Llorde who was a great poet, theres been a lot of work a lot of it has been done from within the literary and theoretical fields in the academia so, because of certain boundaries, certain problems it has theres been work on the streets
Kim: What about like, on prop. 209, the recent legislation?
Jennifer: Two examples I can give you really quickly: One is that the congressional caucus that has most consistently supported gay rights and lesbian issues is the Congressional Black Caucus. No member of that caucus has ever themselves come out as gay or lesbian. So, thats a really impressive bit of coalition. Another example on the campus where I work at San Jose State, there has been a lot of cooperation with gay and lesbian faculty and gay and lesbian students with the students in the MECHA at our campus and it was mediated because there were a lot of people in common between the two groups at the womens resource center. There it was, it was a feminist organization that included both members of both groups that led to a really helpful ongoing coalition and we do support each other, and call each other on actions and for actions all the time. That was one that really did grow up through the kinds of things that were being discussed. A panel yesterday on U.S. responses to militarism was personal friendships, that you dont just leave it at the level of well, at an abstract level. We ought to be cooperating with each other but, instead you attend a meeting and go out for coffee afterwards. That you find a way of establishing a ground that is human ground as well as a political ground. Then the ties are stronger as well as really knowing where your differences are stronger. I think that can create a movement that will take you beyond just the present moment into wherever we are going into next.
Sharon: I thought that was interesting when Nancy brought up keeping our own ground and not being so reactionary. Theory is not a luxury. It needs to be brought along with action and during the sixties, when they said, "Well, well just grab theory on the way we need to do this, do that hit the streets. Well get theory on the way. It will just become part of it."(re: to the movement) Well, guess what. It didnt happen. And they hit a wall. And theyre wondering why. So, theyre (re: to 60s "radicals") becoming part of the reformist politics which is not going to get us anywhere. So, theory really needs to be part of it. Coalition building needs to be part of it everything needs to go along and its very hard when youre getting these attacks from the right that try to push you off your track push you off your solid ground, in thought as well as in action.
Adrienne: Ive been listening to everyone talk and stepping into the activists world in college, I really did not know where I wanted to go. I was so concerned with these rights over here, and these rights over here, and everybodys rights and I just couldnt it just seemed like everybody was telling me I had to choose. And to me its all about empowering the people and making sure that people can make their decisions for themselves and feel good about themselves. That they dont have to be effected by outside forces. Leaders to me, on my campus, its incredible how many of them want to reign. Its like a tyranny. "Ah, here I come, watch me. Let me tell you how its suppose to be" And it seems to me like the point of a leader is to show other people how they can be leaders. How they can influence people. How they can feel good about themselves and what theyre doing. I think on either side of the spectrum "the good and the bad", that people feeling good about who they are like somebody said, I think it was you who was talking about the rights need to be in control its like their insecurity is coming out. On the left too. If people could wipe away their insecurities then, I think progress can be made more effectively.
Nancy: Very few leaders allow the people around them to blossom. Its not the American model. And you can tell a real leader by how the people around them are. How free and how powerful they feel.
Donna: Id like to go back to what Nancy was saying earlier about how it is so self-centered for us to be just looking at the gay and lesbian community. A lot of other organizations at UC Riverside we have Asian organizations, we have the Mexican-American organization, and we have queer and theyre in such separate compartments. They have closed doors. They keep separate. When Angela Davis spoke when she spoke about how were moving from a military industrial society to one that is police industrial. (military plane flying over head at this point) We have somebody to fear. Its not just lesbians and gays that the right is trying to make us fear, its also women on welfare, the criminals, the drug lords, African-Americans, and Mexican-Americans with affirmative action. The right wing is trying to make us fear everybody else. The person sitting next to you. If you are united like, if you have a stack of sticks, you cant break that. But, one stick is very easy. And thats what is happening I think. Were all separated out.
Damien: I was going to say, it seems a lot of the problems we have been trying to get passed well, someone had mentioned yesterday, I think, that we compartmentalize our identity so much. Their are certain critiques within certain organizations that are not made. Like, within the Chicano or Black communities, there is not so much criticism with the leadership that are homophobic because, as long as you are getting the job done or the group that they are suppose to represent we overlook a lot of things just because there is so much division. Like, within the queer community. Is there a lot of criticism with class issues in the queer community or are those who make it are they
Julie: I wanted to say something regarding that now, I havent been to any Lesbian Avengers meetings in the East Bay (re: to Berkeley, Oakland) San Francisco or the East Bay but, there was several meetings this last year called, "Women in Action" where a variety of women from a multitude of different organizations came together to discuss vision. A vision of what kind of society we want. Or a vision of where the movement must go. And the Lesbian Avengers from the East Bay wanted to say that they had expanded their original scope to include opposition to race and class issues. We actually tried to get together but, it sort of fell through. We had to meet over coffee kind of thing because some of the women from this group (re: to Women in Action). But, I think that showed when you had a single focus group expanding like that, and many other groups were interested in moving beyond a mere reactionary movement you know, things coming down the pike: anti-gay legislation or violence against women or something like that. But, to broaden the view, to really what it is, its a human question. And the real question is: What does it mean to be human? And how can we create a society where we are all free to be realizing our human potential?
When we went to South Central (LA) to pick up Georgiana actually, Im from Berkeley. We dont have helicopters (re: to police) flying two feet above our house shining a light in our window but, when we were there I cant count how many cops we saw! I think 5 or 6 racing cop cars and 2 helicopters in a period it took us to get off of rt.10, go down Normandy, just to 72nd St. and then back to the highway. Thats how many cops we saw. That is a police state. And we read about this in history about martial law being set up in certain countries that were under some kind of war or fascist regime but, we have that happening now. There is something about what connects us all as people and I think there is something ideas that always come out of the civil rights movement about freedom that effect us and that have inspired our movement and I think also, that we have something that we need to bring out on our own that expands the concept of what does it mean to be free. And what does it mean to be human. (Long span of silence) I didnt mean to shut people up. (Laughs from the crowd)
Jennifer: It is 11:30 I might add. The workshops run from 10:00 - 11:30 so, I guess lunch starts in ten minutes
Julie: O.K., then what I would like to say is that hopefully, everyone has signed the mailing list. What we would like to do is invite if people havent had an opportunity to get this (re: to Queer Notions Bulletin), we may have run out of them we may have two more at the lit table. This is a bulletin that me and Sharon and Jennifer, from a group called, News and Letters and from the past two years, we have been having a group discussing with various feminists lesbian feminists mostly or bi-sexual feminists on the question of the relationship of sexuality to revolution. And last August, we put together this bulletin which is an unedited bulletin of articles submitted raising the question of the relationship of sexuality to revolution.
We have been trying to distribute this as widely as possible were putting up a web-site this month, hopefully to have this be an electronic exchange of ideas. Were putting another physical bulletin in March and well be sending a letter out on February 1st to everyone who signed our list and to anyone who has signed our list in the past two years calling for articles on what you have been doing, works that youve been doing, ideas that have come up, opposition youve come up against, things that you think are important, books that youve read, the debates that youve had, all of these kinds of things. Well be putting them together and well be Xeroxing them and distributing them and well be putting them up on the web-site. Even in between times that we put these bulletins out, we will be having the same kind of open policy with the web-sites, so that we can put articles up, links to peoples e-mails so, that people can get responses and feedback from their articles. Our immediate goal is to put together an actual published pamphlet which will address these issues, politics, philosophy, and theory on the relation of queer sexuality and revolution.
All of the ideas that are shown there in these preliminary bulletins, will become a part of that pamphlet and it is not ever really going to end we want to continue this and we want to continue the discussions with a variety of different communities, not just the queer community. Also, other revolutionaries. So, I think we only have a couple of these left if you cant get one when we send you out the letters and stuff, well give you addresses that you can write to and well send it out to you. And also, well be sending out the web-site address so, that people can log onto there. Well also have an e-mail address that we can especially dedicate to this project.
Nancy: Would you think about putting on your web-site other links?
Julie: Yes, also were going to have a thing where people will be able to send links to other web-sites. We will have a link button that well be looking for queer, political and other related subjects and have those listed in our links. And so, well have a way that youll be able to send links to other e-mails so, well have a way to do that as well.
Sharon: I dont know how many people are hooked up to the net I dont want to sit here assuming that everyones there so, I just wanted to address that.
Julie: Yeah, well be putting the Xeroxed bulletins together. We will be sending them out and if you have people or a group that wants several, just call us or write us, well arrange to be able to get you more than just one copy and try to do it as cheaply as possible because of the postage because we get our Xeroxing for free right now. Its a little on the guerrilla Xeroxing side.
Jennifer: Lets just say Pete Wilson is paying for it. (Laughs from crowd)
Jennifer thanked everyone for coming. Everyone thanked us for having the meeting.
Minutes by Sharon. Meeting adjourned 11:30
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Women as Thinkers and Revolutionaries
A review of Raya Dunayevksayas Womens Liberation and the Dialectics of Revolution: Reaching for the Future
by Julia Jones
"Challenging, passionate, witty and deeply learned, Dunayevksayas voice speaks in this new edition to a whole new generation. It was never more needed." Adrienne Rich, 1996
Those of us who have ever fought against the thoughtless chauvinism of a male dominated world, who have lost a job because we challenged the authority of our boss, who have found ourselves on the streets or shelters struggling to avoid the fists and rage of one we thought loved us, who have feared the innocent act of holding our lesbian lovers hand in public because it could cost us our lives, who have marched with our banners held high demanding justice, we have all imagined a world where we could be free.
But in our defiance of what others tell us is, "the way it is," we are told we are "utopian," "unrealistic," that things wont ever change. Some of us close our ears to such warnings and join womens groups. We march on Washington; We wheat-paste posters up on signposts that read, "Women Are Watching;" We fight the "Right," defending our clinics while fanatics pray in our faces; We argue with our brothers, our fathers, our friends; We throw eggs at the Klan and scare them from marching through our town; We gather in small groups to support each other in our battles against the world; We read feminist books searching for words that will help us. And still they push us back, the powers that be. They strip our hard won rights, deny us freedom over our own bodies, steal food from the mouths of our hungry children, jail us when we break their laws, then leave us to grow sick in a small overcrowded cell.
Where are our dreams of this free world then? The next battle confronts us sooner and sooner and we grow tired. "Havent we already tried everything?" the cynics cry. We have fought and fought, but in our fight, have we forgotten our dreams of a free world? Did we ever develop our vision, what it could mean to be free?
In the recently re-published anthology of writings on Womens Liberation and the Dialectics of Revolution, (WLDOR) Marxist-Humanist philosopher Raya Dunayevskaya calls on us to "demand back our own heads," because in all our fighting, our activism, we have often neglected our minds. We put off discussions of "why were here, why were feminist, what kind of society we want," in favor of the immediate "whos going to distribute the fliers to our next rally?"
Maybe we believed those who told us that our ideas werent more than mere emotion. Maybe we thought that theory had nothing to do with us, that it was something developed by scholars who never marched through rain drenched streets on callused feet holding signs saying, "US Out of My Uterus!" "Lesbian Rights are Human Rights," and "Freedom Now!" But what is so great about Dunayevskaya is that she shows us that our struggles, our daily battles, our historic demands, are a form of theory. The movement from practice, she insists, is also theoretical, and is connected to another movement, from theory to philosophy. Dunayevskaya uncovered this dialectical "dual movement" during her break-through on GWF Hegels "Absolutes" in the early 1950s. WLDOR is a 35-year collection of articles, essays, speeches and interviews which trace out the development of that breakthrough as it concerns womens liberation, from the pre-feminist days of the late 1940s, through the publication of the book in 1985.
Whether she is challenging womens liberationists to see the full humanism of a great revolutionary like Rosa Luxemburg; whether she is railing against even feminist historians for neglecting to see Sojourner Truth as a philosopher in her own right; whether she is chiding Simone de Beauvoir for telling us we need men to free us; or whether she is inspiring us to see how women have always been at the forefront of every revolution; Dunayevksayas point is that women are both "Force and Reason," both brains and muscle, for the revolution. We are not just "helpmates." Our ideas matter.
In her Introduction and Overview, Dunayevskaya writes, "It is precisely because womens liberationists are both force and Reason that they are crucial. If we are to achieve success in the new revolutions, we have to see that the uprooting of the old is total from the start." But along with this beautiful category of "women as thinkers and as revolutionaries" comes a dire warning, that if we dont learn to hear that theory coming from real people struggling for freedom, and develop it into a philosophy of revolution, we will never be able to move beyond the fate of all the failed and aborted revolutions of this century, we will never find that new society where we, as Karl Marx put it, "do not seek to remain something formed by the past, but are in the absolute movement of becoming."
Karl Marx, many have said, knew nothing of womens struggles and has nothing to do with us. He is passé, a mere economic theorist for men to quibble over. But Dunayevskaya shows us a feminist Marx, a Marx who saw that no revolution could succeed without the women, a Marx who saw the anti-human treatment of women by men as the fundamental marker of an alienated society, a Marx who was the philosopher of "revolution in permanence," which accepts no diversions from total human liberation.
She writes, "Marxs whole point is that nothing, nothing short of a new thorough-going Naturalism or Humanism, that is to say, the self-development of men and women (and for that matter, children, for we all live and suffer from living in what Marx called the pre-history of humanity), the reconstitution of being as laboring, thinking, passionate, whole human being signifies a new society." Separating "Marxs Marxism" from those who followed him, including his closest collaborator, Frederich Engels, and all those calling themselves Communist, from Stalin, to Mao, to Castro, Dunayevskaya challenges us to read Marx for ourselves, to catch the dialectical method of revolutionary creativity.
In her 1985 review of WLDOR for Womens Review of Books, Adrienne Rich wrote, "Dunayevskaya vehemently opposed the view that Marxs Marxism means class struggle is primary, or that racism and sexual oppression will end when capitalism falls. What happens after? she says, is the question we have to be asking all along. And this, she sees in the Womens Liberation Movement, both women of color and white women have insisted on asking."
As we approach the 21st century with the goals of our movements still unrealized, will we continue to rally in the streets, fighting against this sexist, racist, classist, heterosexist, alienating society with little or no vision of what we are for? Dunayevksayas challenge to us to "reclaim our minds" as we reclaim our bodies and "Take Back the Night," is irresistible. Following her pen through the original feats of historic womens struggles reminds us that we are not the first, and we are not alone. She writes, "There surely is some time in everyones life when one wants to reach for something of the future. I do not doubt that in the present historic stage women want to reach for that total uprooting of this sexist, racist exploitative society. Lets begin there."
This review originally appeared in Mama Bears Newspaper, Oakland, California. Womens Liberation and the Dialectics of Revolution by Raya Dunayevksaya is published by Wayne State University Press and is available from News and Letters Committees. Call (312) 663-0839 or email email@example.com
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Queer Notion: The Idea of Freedom and Homosexual Self-Definition in the Nineteenth Century
by Jennifer Rycenga, San José State University
In the twenty-eight years since the Stonewall riots of 1969, lesbian and gay scholarship has expanded our knowledge of queer history and queer lives in ways hitherto unimaginable. Much of what I am presenting today is dependent on this magnificent recovery and discovery of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender history, art, and thought. The rise of this scholarship has, however, coincided with intellectual movements towards deconstruction and post-modernism which simultaneously move away from dialectics, humanism, and Hegelian Marxism. The result has produced an interpretive anomaly concerning the question of when, and by what means, homosexuality became an identity rather than a behavior.
The full course of this debate is too involved to adequately reprise here; suffice to say that I am not contesting the chronological hypothesis per se. I think that identities based on sexuality are a product of the nineteenth century, and that to apply the term homosexual to define the self-perception of a fourteenth century European participant in same-sex acts, is anachronistic. What I am contesting is the logic -- specifically the dialectic logic -- of the thesis (stated here by Margaret Cruikshank) that
|"laws against homosexuality and the writings of the early sexologists helped to create a new class of people, homosexuals. As they reacted to attempts to regulate their behavior, their identities became more sharply defined. In attempting to label a form of deviant behavior, doctors and lawmakers called more attention to it. Thus the development of homosexual consciousness...depends to some degree on organized opposition to homosexual behavior. That is why some scholars say that social forces not only shaped attitudes toward homosexuality but actually constructed it."|
Certainly this language reveals some dialectic logic: regulation and oppression calls forth creative resistance and self-definition. But this thesis places far too much agency in the hands of the sexologists: a small, self-important group of intellectuals, some of whom were hostile to (while others were supportive of) homosexuality. In its strongest form, this thesis erases or marginalizes the revolutionary subjectivity of nineteenth century lesbians and gays, and also the revolutionary social movements which made the growth of homosexual identity possible. Philosophically, I would suggest that homosexual self-definition arises in the mid nineteenth century because the idea of freedom had been articulated in both practice and thought. Homosexual identity, thus, is among the first fruits of a philosophy of revolution.
To demonstrate this, in outline, I want to draw from the lives and works of two queer British socialists -- philosopher and trade unionist Edith Simcox, and the author and agitator Edward Carpenter. I will also consider larger interactions between early homosexual rights advocates and working class people.
Edith Simcox, born in 1844, was a middle class English woman. She was denied any consistent formal education on the basis of gender, but undertook considerable self-teaching, developing into a polyglot, philosopher, and socialist trade union advocate. She is best remembered today, however, for her passionate and unrequited love for her friend, the novelist George Eliot, a.k.a. Marian Evans. While Simcox never used any term like 'lesbian' or 'homosexual' to define herself, she had a sharp sense of who she was, a sense which directed her intellect and passion, as we shall see.
Edward Carpenter, by far the better known of the two, was also born in 1844, and lived a long life, dying in 1929. A great admirer of Walt Whitman's poetry, and a natural synthesist in thought, Carpenter left the ministry, for which he had been trained, and instead gave himself to various movements to aid the working class, culminating in his avowed socialism from 1883-1898. Carpenter was a champion of homosexuality, writing on homoerotic themes from the 1880's through more scientific and scholarly studies in the first decade of the twentieth century.
On the handout, I have provided a comparative timeline chart for these two thinkers and political-philosophic developments. As we consider the sexologist thesis, as I call it, consider these chronological facts. First, the term "homosexual" was not even coined until 1869, and Magnus Hirschfeld did not begin his formal organization for homosexual rights in Germany until 1897. Similarly, the English sexologist Havelock Ellis says that when he first met Carpenter "I had never before known personally anyone of that sexual temperament"-- this is ten years prior to Ellis' own sexological publications. The question of what crystallizes homosexual self-consciousness, if we look at it chronologically, suggests that it was not the process of medicalization and stigmatization which "rendered homosexuals self-consciously aware of themselves," but that a growing of self-consciousness by homosexuals elicited a process of social categorization in response to it. The 1885 British act which outlawed sodomy in the name of strengthening the family (sound familiar?), was not passed in a vacuum devoid of gay subjectivity. While I am not suggesting that there was any gay mass movement, I contend that by 1885, the dialectic questioning of revolutionary movements had placed that possibility on the table, at least, certainly, for its homosexual participants. This manifests in the kinds of questions raised by abolitionists, women's liberationists, and revolutionaries.
In 1895, only months prior to the panic created by the Oscar Wilde trials, Edward Carpenter prints, for private distribution, a pamphlet entitled "Homogenic Love and Its Place in a Free Society." I will return to the phrase "Homogenic Love" in a moment. First, though, consider the chronology at this moment, 10 years after the British anti-sodomy law of 1885. Carpenter here acknowledges the crucial work of the sexologists, but note his wording:
|their labours have established the fact, known hitherto only to individuals, that sexual inversion--that is the leaning of sexual desire to one of the same sex--is in a vast number of cases quite instinctive and congenital, mentally and physically, and therefore in the very roots of individual life and practically ineradicable.|
In other words, Carpenter says that the sexologists have broadcast, and made generally known, the reality of sexual orientation. When we consider that the dialectics of queer liberation proceed along what I call a dialectic contradiction between passion and silence, Carpenter's claim that this knowledge had existed for individuals is not a move away from the self-definition I am trying to establish. On the contrary, he seems to be maintaining that 'sexual inversion' existed and was a self-recognized, lived reality long before the scientists named it.
Below is an extended quote from Homogenic Love. Despite Carpenter's (characteristic) amalgam of utopianism, romanticism, harmonism, struggle and dialectic, it is difficult to interpret this triumphant political vision of a new society as a capitulation to medicalization:
For if the slaughter of tyrants is not the chief social duty nowadays, we have with us hydra-headed monsters at least as numerous as the tyrants of old, and more difficult to deal with, and requiring no little courage to encounter. And beyond the extirpation of evils we have solid work waiting to be done in the patient and life-long building up of new forms of society, new orders of thought, and new institutions of human solidarityall of which in their genesis will meet with opposition, ridicule, hatred, and even violence....It may indeed be doubted whether the higher heroic and spiritual life of a nation is ever quite possible without the sanction of this attachment (i.e. homogenic love) in its institutions; and it is not unlikely that the markedly materialistic and commercial character of the last age of European civilized life is largely to be connected with the fact that the only form of love and love-union that it has recognized has been one founded on the quite necessary but comparatively materialistic basis of matrimonial sex-intercourse and child-breeding.
One remarkable feature of this passage is Carpenter's insistence on the social role of same sex love. Indeed, he favors his term 'homogenic love,' over "homosexual" because, he says, the latter is a 'bastard' term (it is a Greek/Latin neologism). Homogenic lovehomogenic meaning 'same sex' (rather than same-sexual)is relational, involving at least two people. While it describes an identity, it does not describe isolation, loneliness, or illness, which is why Edward Carpenter insists on calling it homogenic love. (Even his later preferred term of 'intermediate type' anticipates the continuum of the Kinsey scale rather than the binarism of homo/hetero.)
Likewise, this passage indicates that Carpenter linked what we now call heterosexismthe idea that reproductive heterosexuality is the only acceptable form of human sexual relatingthat Carpenter linked heterosexism to material conditions, in particular to the commercial character of modern European life. This is miles distant from the unilinearism of Engels' Origins of the Family, which was not only dismissive of homosexuality as a degenerate excess, but which considered the defeat of matriarchies to be a "world historic defeat for the female sex." As Raya Dunayevskaya, the founder of Marxist-Humanism in the United States, points out, Engels capitulates to a gender determinism that is rigid, instead of seeing "the new revolutionary upsurge" in each transformation. Carpenter, while not approaching either Marx or Engels in the totality of his revolutionary thought, seems here to see that homosexuals will be a vital part of the creative work of transformation.
His 1895 pamphletwhich was published by the Manchester Labour Presswas part of Carpenter's progressive philosophy and activity. In 1883 he had declared himself a Socialist, and worked closely with the working classes of Sheffield. In doing so, he was consciously imitating one of his greatest influences, Walt Whitman. After the passing of the 1885 anti-sodomy law, Carpenter's militance only grew, and, in the 1886 reprint of his well known tome Toward Democracy, he included this explicitly Whitmanesque and homogenic poem:
Into the Regions of the Sun
So at last passing (the great sea stilled, the raging ocean)passing away,
All sorrow left behind, the great intolerable burdens which men vainly try to carry,
All all abandoned, left lying there
Suddenly lightened, like a bird that shakes itself free from the limed twigs,
Soaring, soaring, into joy supernal passing,
Lo! the dead we leave behind and pass to the realms of the living.
And not we alone.
By our love poured out, by the manifold threads and strands of attachment to otherswhich cannot now be severed;
By not one inwardly refused or disowned whom we have ever met;
By the dear arms of lovers circling each other all night long, by their kisses and mingled breath,
And love by night and daythinking of each other when absent, rejoicing so to be near;
By tramps over the hills, and days spent together in the woods and by watersides;
By our life-long faithful love(ah! what more beautiful, what in all this world more precious!)
By the life-long faithful comradeship now springing on all sides, the Theban band henceforth to overcome this worldits heroisms and deaths
And him who gave the calumus-token first;
By all these
Not alone, no longer alone
But drawing an innumerable multitude with us,
Into the regions of the sun, into the supernal Æther,
With love perfected, bodies changing, an joyah! joy on earth unutterable
Lo! the dead we leave behind, and pass to the realm of the living.
(poem from Towards Democracy, dated 1886.)
The image of "passing to the realm of the living" is reflected in his political writing of this period. Virulently anti-imperialist, recognizing however faintly the subjectivity of the subjugated, and predicting class warfare, Carpenter proclaims the source of his inspiration as the "new school of political economy in existence, the school of Marx, Engels, Lassalle, and others--founded on just this new basis, taking as its point of departure a stricter sense of justice and a new conception of human right and equality. And I contend that whoever to-day feels in himself that there is a better standard of life that the higgling of the market, and a juster scale of wages--contains or conceals in himself the germs of a new social order." So at this most explicitly Marxist moment, Carpenter is, in the poem, explicitly extending the gay "calumus-token first" towards a humanism of lovers and "an innumerable multitude" of gay men.
The calamus, by the way, was a particularly phallic shaped flower that flourished in Walt Whitman's native Long Island. Carpenter's open admiration for Whitman reveals an even more significant gap in the chronology of the sexologist theory, for Whitman's male loves, celebrated long prior to sexological writings, were largely working-class men. As Carpenter states in "Homogenic Love," "Whitman could not have spoken...if he had not been fully aware that through the masses of people this attachment was already alive and working." As Carpenter sees it, Whitman is giving voice to a subjectivity already present, which Carpenter also finds among the laborers in England, which he describes as, "a moving force in the body politic," adding that homogenic love draws members of different classes together across economic and labor boundaries. Again, we are left with a politicalindeed, revolutionarysense of the meaning of homogenic love: a meaning which is consistent across the politically socialist decade of Carpenter's life.
Edith Simcox, as the earlier of the two figures, is less explicit in her language sexually, but more consistently revolutionary and socialist than Carpenter. She was the first woman delegate (with Emma Paterson) to attend the Trades Union Congress in 1875, and was active in the formative politics of the Second International. Her last written work, Primitive Civilizations, despite its Eurocentric anthropology, was intended as a "history of appropriation" meant to illumine the question of gender relations: "ownership, identity, evolutionary processes, the naturalizing of the family, gender-relations and gender definitions." As her feminist biographer, Gillian Beer, eloquently states, Edith Simcox
|defines existence as the 'power of producing and undergoing modification...it is only by changes in ourselves that we discern the existence of change, or changing things, beyond ourselves.' Her emphasis is on the communal, the changing, the interactive, the conflicted....She refused to accept social taxonomies: that was also part of her learnt skill as a philosopher. She did political work with the crossing of class boundaries: she put categories under stress.|
But she did this productive work while under her own stress: her great unrequited love for Eliot. Gillian Beer gives us a sampling of Simcox's activities in those years:
over the period of the 1870s and into the 1880s she is working on her philosophical treatise, establishing a shirtmaker's co-operative...(writing) of her experience in the co-operative workshop to persuade middle-class readers to sympathize,...discovering a language to articulate the needs of her own sexuality and desire,...writing the constitution for the Second Socialist International...as well as acting as simultaneous translator between French, German and English colleagues in the international socialist movement.
The context for this activity was, as Beer develops, Simcox's growing self-knowledge. The following quote comes from Simcox's unpublished autobiographythis passage dates from after George Eliot's death. Here Simcox sees quite clearly the distorted gender and sexual relations which we would now characterize as compulsory heterosexuality, coupled with the silencing power of sexism:
I should like to know how many women there are who have honestly no story to tell, how many have some other story than the one which alone is supposed to count, and how many of those who think it worthwhile to dissect themselves are in a position to tell all they know of the result.
It is her own subjective experience which leads her to this further philosophic insight in her final decadenot the writings of anti-feminist or anti-revolutionary sexologists.
But this is not surprising, really; Simcox, like Carpenter, places the stress of social change on human relations. At the height of her passion for Eliot, in 1877, Simcox published a philosophical work on ethics, Natural Law. Listen to this plea for full personhood from this active feminist thinker:
|There can hardly be a more dangerous mistake made in good faith than that of assuming that the division of labour, which is socially convenient, must be mimicked by a subdivision or scattering of mental and moral qualities among different individuals or classes, restricting intelligence to an aristocracy of birth or wealth, making industry the prerogative of the proletariat, sensibility the specialty of women, and full human life the affair of no one.|
This emphasis on full human life was something that Simcox attempted to live in her activities. She reveled in the discontinuity that (male) observers assumed between being a shirtmaker and a philosopher simultaneously, and rejected any false dualisms between thought and action. Even before she met Eliot, she was concerned with authenticity and self-consciousness, seeking to comprehend totality outside of any religious framework.
Simcox's work is always directed towards women, as the late feminist scholar Norma Vince described:
|Seeking co-operative utopias of women in the social order, wanting to integrate her love for a woman with political work to articulate her compassion for the Other, Edith Simcox, in a Victorian world, makes the journey towards change identified many years earlier by Marion Lewes. She dares to be wrong, and defiantly continue.|
And, as Beer points out, Simcox develops past Eliot, when she
increasingly diverges from the social determinism implicit in Eliot; Simcox puts her energies into practical change and into a major study of the past control of property. Her review of archaic cultures is undertaken in order to understand history in fresh terms that may change women's relations within current and future society.
And, of course, part of what it would mean to change women's relations within society would include the earlier-cited musings from Simcox's journal: what are the stories of women loving, when women's loving is not directed exclusively or even predominantly to men. The fact that, like Carpenter, Simcox rejected the self-imposed limits of social determinism, does illustrate how her women's liberationist and nascent lesbian politics were not about defeateven when that was her experiencebut were instead about participation in transformation.
I want to return now to the larger question of the Movement of the Idea of Freedom. Here we have two major figures in nineteenth century socialist movements in England, both having homosexual feelings which explicitly spark their thought and support their activity, and which are significantly not in conflict with their extended contact and solidarity with the working class. When one adds the earlier American evidence in Whitman's life, a queer revolutionary dialectics can be hypothesized, if not yet definitively proven. As Sheila Rowbotham suggested in a 1974 essay on Carpenter, "he attempted to assert a dialectic between personal sexual life and the institutions of society in the effort to understand the relationship of subjective consciousness and external social relations, with inadequate theoretical equipment." The inadequacies may well be due to Carpenter's own romantic eclecticism and the retrogressive changes of the early twentieth centuryas Rowbotham points out, Carpenter and his associates "made briefly a movement in which a total union of socialism could emerge as a challenge to all the distortions which capitalism brought to social relations" but wistfully adds that "the romantic socialism of the 1880s and early 90s (is) a remote and broken tradition." But perhaps their model, in which "they were crossing divides of class, gender and monogamy all at once in the midst of intense political activity, faction fights and anarchist trials," is worthy of our uncovering its spirit.
In hypothesizing that homosexual self-definition represents a concrete movement of Idea of Freedom, I am drawing on the Marxist-Humanism of Raya Dunayevskaya. While Simcox and Carpenter may not use the explicit terms of gay liberation or Hegelian Marxism, they demonstrate in their development a contention Dunayevskaya made about the Women's Liberation Movement: "it is not an outside mediator that brings Marxism and feminism together. It is life." Clearly, the "Marxism" of Simcox and Carpenter was in their lives and thought, implicit in their human actions. Or, as Dunayevskaya further elaborates:
only live human beings can recreate the revolutionary dialectic forever anew. And these live human beings must do so in theory as well as in practice. It is not only a question of meeting the challenge from practice, but of being able to meet the challenge from the self-development of the idea, and of deepening theory to the point where it reaches Marx's concept of the philosophy of 'revolution in permanence.'
I am suggesting that Carpenter and Simcoxand the unrecorded voices of their comrades, associates, and allieswere recreating the dialectic, in their age, to include sexuality, even if their thought was not yet fully articulate. And they each did this in thought and in activitynot as separate spheres, but, however falteringly, as an attempt to meet the challenge of practice and philosophy. As Dunayevskaya points out, in Marxism and Freedom, "it is not the Idea that thinks: it is people who think. What must be added, however, is that the dialectic logic of the Idea moves in the direction of what was implicit in the movement from practice."
The movement from practice reached a high point in Marx's life in 1871 with the Paris Communean event which also influenced both Simcox and Carpenter. Summarizing its significance in the development of Marx's philosophy of revolution, Dunayevskaya calls the Commune the "culmination of all (his) theories and activities" in which "along with the great discovery of a historic form for working out the economic emancipation of the proletariat a new force of revolution, women," emerged. With its revolutionary activity, its non-state character, and, most centrally, its mass creativity, the Paris Commune stands as a prime example of the unity of philosophy and activity. Despite its brutal suppression, its existence unleashed other forces. Simcox's development in thought and activity, across lines of class, and including her body's sexual knowing, well illustrates the attempt to be fully human that the revolutionary longs for. As Dunayevskaya expressed it:
|When an Idea's time has come, there are just as many
contradictions and challenges as when the Idea was first thought of...(when) it isn't just
an Idea, but a movement(,) (i)t's going to act, to try to make the Idea of freedom real.
And it is the kind of philosophy we have that will determine if we constantly check
ourselves to see what has to be opened up, and enable us to see ourselves not as the
fragmented people class society makes us.
Otherwise you wind up with less than freedom.
Simcox, as a Women's Liberationist, did try to make the Idea of Freedom become real. And, she used philosophy to see what was being left out of the discussion. And, I would claim, it was this that led her to see the fragmentation of her own life, to record this in her journaland, most sadly, to leave that autobiography unpublished, and her letters to Eliot posthumously burnt at Simcox's request. As Vince says "Edith Simcox...keeps herself a secret, for a fractured female life cannot want to be borne aloft by Victorian public acclaim." The contradiction between subjectivity and silence which marks so much of queer life is quite poignant here. It is also a marker of the gender privilege enjoyed by Carpenter, who not only published his autobiography to acclaim but was able to mention in it his living together with his long-time companion George Merrill (albeit without specifying the sexual nature of their relationship). It is also true, by the way, that Carpenter's friends were more politically troubled by his discussions of sexuality once he was explicitly living with Merrill, but that is another chapter for another day.
The hypothesis I have put forward here is, most forthrightly, a work-in-progress. I am participating with other Marxist-Humanists and unaligned queer activists in developing the specificity of queer movements within a philosophy of revolution. What I want to leave you with is three-foldfirst, the decentering and recasting of the role of sexology in the elaboration of the category 'homosexual' and returning queer agency to our own self-development. Second, I hope that some readers will want to participate in these discussions, which are based in the Bay Area but accessible to e-mail and snail mail extensions. Third, I want to draw on a nascent queer subjectivity suggested by Carpenter in a work of 1919, in which, "finding himself (herself) different from the great majority, now an object of contumely and now an object of love and admiration, (the queer) would be forced to think." If we can, as a community, as a mass movement, recognize here two components: one of difference (a.k.a. diversity) and the other being the way in which social contradiction is provocative to thought which moves past the given, perhaps we, too, can see, as Dunayevskaya says, that "What Marx developed in his discovery of a new continent of thought is that Mind is free and, when tightly related to the creativity of the masses in motion, shows itself to be self-determined and ready for fusion in freedom."
1995 Passion, Politics, Philosophy: The Work of Edith Simcox. Women: a cultural review 6:2:166-179.
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1906 Days with Walt Whitman: With Some Notes on his Life and Work. London: George Allen & Unwin.
1915 The Healing of Nations and the Hidden Sources of their Strife. London: George Allen & Unwin.
1917 Towards Industrial Freedom. London: George Allen & Unwin.
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1989 Minor Prophecy: Walt Whitman's New American Religion. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
1915 Edward Carpenter: An Exposition and Appreciation. New York: Macmillan.
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1961 Edith Simcox and George Eliot. London: Oxford University Press.
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1987 Calamus Lovers: Walt Whitman's Working-Class Camerados. San Francisco: Gay Sunshine Press.
1877 Natural Law: An Essay in Ethics. London: Trübner and Co.
1995 The Fiddler, the Angel, and the Defiance of Antigone: A Reading of Edith Simcox's 'Autobiography of a Shirtmaker.' Women: a cultural review 6:2:144-165.
19 'A Girton Girl on a Throne': Queen Christina and Versions of Lesbianism, 1906-1933. Feminist Review 41-
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