An interesting (if not unproblematic) piece on Chelsea Manning and LGBT politics. Despite its clear American context the parallels with the UK are obvious – from an organisation like Stonewall to the aspirational content of our most prominent magazines, our representations of gay life are indeed stitched “ever more tightly against the fabric of late capitalism’s pirate sail.” It’s difficult not to be dismayed by how utterly facile in its expression most mainstream LGBT politics is, concerned solely with individual legal equalities in a neoliberal framework without any interrogation of that context. The use in this article of ‘Gay Inc’ is grotesquely apt, as the dominant ideological viewpoint found in mainstream LGBT politics encourages a tunnel vision which views LGBT individuals as one-dimensional beings affected only by issues of equal access to the privileges afforded to certain heterosexuals. So the politics of companies such as Barclays become solely concerned with their affinity with and treatment of their Western LGBT employees; the human rights records of leaders like Cameron and Obama become overwhelmingly dominated by their actions on LGBT rights. Further, these rights are solely the aforementioned ones regarding legal equalities – economic issues are almost entirely neglected and wider rights seen as unrelated to sexuality are ignored. I’ve previously voiced the question of how the response to the Guantanamo residents would differ had they been white gay men pleading homophobia – it seems to me that this would insert Guantanamo firmly into the tunnel vision of ‘Gay Inc’. Chelsea Manning is of course a perfect example of this, with her treatment (and actions) viewed as unrelated to her gender status and so as irrelevant to LGBT politics, which spent the previous year almost entirely ignoring her and instead fixating on the almost-entirely symbolic (and unthreatening to authority) question of gay marriage.
Of course such tunnel vision isn’t confined to LGBT politics and this is a great danger of the view that ‘all politics is identity politics’. Just as Cameron and Obama’s stances on gay marriage can be said to have obscured more meaningful (and harmful) examples of their use of power, we are seeing with increasing frequency the exploitation of ‘identity politics’ (e.g. LGBT and feminist politics) to obscure and divert in the service of authority. The justification of interventions in the Middle East in the name of ‘women’s liberation’ is an obvious example. Glenn Greenwald wrote this week about the Republicans’ use of homophobia to oppose Chuck Hagel. The abuses exposed by Wikileaks, meanwhile, ceased to exist for many as soon as Assange was accused of rape and became a feminist cause célèbre, despite these accusations having no bearing on the leaks themselves. In the rush to combat inequality and discrimination many are all too eager to reduce themselves to a cosmetic humanity capable only of outrage at slights against their particular identity and uncritical of all else. It is here that I take issue with the article’s talk of “Proletarian drag” and “history’s costume shop”, as positing political identity as a grab-bag of choices easily leads to its co-option and manipulation. Classical Marxism and ‘class vocabulary’ certainly have problems galore, but it’s disingenuous to pretend that they are anathema to LGBT and other issues of ‘identity’ and in fact I would argue that they provide a core critical grounding to political identity which is lacking in the postmodernist ‘all politics is identity politics’ view. Such a critical grounding is undoubtedly completely lacking in much LGBT politics – as the article suggests, “the gay establishment is paid very well to underscore it every day” with their focus on ‘the gay angle’ and perceived slights overriding any rigorous and wide-reaching attempts at analysis. Indeed, it’s clearly possible to make quite a decent living from being a ‘useful idiot’ for your identity of choice and churning out columns on the homophobia/sexism etc of the day. It’s an approach which is as insulting and damaging as any bigot. We shouldn’t need Chelsea Manning’s status to be relevant before LGBT people take notice – rather anyone who is concerned with abuses of power, justice and human dignity should take heed and always strive to be sceptical of the authority which Manning bravely opposed.