“If I believed Hannon was actually interested in dismantling what queer theorists call “compulsory heterosexuality,” I’d be the first to enlist in his campaign. As theorists of race and gender have long recognized, however, the dream of easily declaring ourselves “post”-anything often conceals a desire to sweep structural inequalities and long histories of violence under the rug. To say that sexuality doesn’t or shouldn’t matter is to deny many people the reality of their lived experience. It is also to ignore this important truth: that while society may construct these categories, these categories also construct us, and not only in negative ways. Identifying as queer isn’t simply a matter of swapping your straight hat for a feather boa. For most of us, it is a lifelong process of crafting bodies, relationships, and selves that can make our lives fuller, our art more vibrant, and the task of existing a little less destructive.”
To me, making space for that kind of work seems like a better use of our collective energy than spinning our wheels at the biology vs. culture impasse. Changing our ideas and institutions is possible: that’s what The History of Sexuality helps us see, by showing us that our categories are not set in stone. After all, we arrived here, and that must mean we can still go elsewhere—but in order to do that, we have to follow Foucault’s lead and start asking some different questions.
In short, the caravan forces us to contend with the political efficacy of these forms of self-activity that are indifferent or opposed to electoral contestation; that are registered instead in another terrain altogether; that measure their success by the degree that they cultivate political agency and construct organizational forms that point beyond the state and its apparatuses, beyond the nation, legal citizenship, and social partitions.
Although identity politics sometimes act as a fetter on genuine multiracial/multicultural alliances, I believe it has also enriched our conception of class. Indeed, there are many serious scholars — I count myself among them — trying to understand how various forms of fellowship, racial solidarity, communion, the creation of sexual communities, and nationalism shape class politics and cross-racial alliances. We are grappling with how self-love and solidarity in a hostile context of white supremacy, the embrace of certain vernaculars, can be expressions of racial and class solidarity, and the way class and racial solidarity are gendered. Not to recognize this is to wonder why more West Indian workers participate in Carnival than in the Labor Day Parade, or why District 1199 had the foresight and vision to maintain an 1199 float and/or banner in the West Indian Day parade. Those who pine for the good old days before identity politics, when class struggle meant rough guys who understood that simply fighting the bosses united us, forget that Yiddish was a source of solidarity within the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, to the point where union leaders were offering courses in Yiddish for black and Puerto Rican workers in the late 1950s, to their dismay. Identity politics, in other words, has always been central to working class movements, from minstrelsy on up.
“But today, as racism and xenophobia return to the centre of western politics, it is time to remember that the background to the first world war was decades of racist imperialism whose consequences still endure. It is something that is not remembered much, if at all, on Remembrance Day.”