On the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia 2022, we are reminded of the need for love, acceptance and solidarity
Imagine living your life as an ‘other’, someone who is different from people around you, not necessarily in a visible way, but through something inside you, an integral part of you. This difference shuts you off from important social institutions. Perhaps most importantly, this difference and the resulting discrimination prevents you from forming affectionate relationships with those you feel attracted to, i.e. to love who you want to love.
Still clinging on to the modernist grand narrative of ‘progress’, we like to tell ourselves that things are getting better. We are steadily – albeit slowly – progressing toward a better society in all aspects. Yet on this International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, we should stop for a moment to evaluate the progress.
That sexual orientations outside the heterosexual norms are no longer considered mere behavioural deviations or medical conditions may be considered progress by some. ‘The homosexual’, however, is an invented category, and its ‘upgrade’ from ‘homosexual acts’ – behavioural traits that could be criminalised, and still are in many places – to a gender identity was not a progressive moment but merely transformed the power to punish the citizen as a perverse entity. Nor have the previous ideas of homosexuality disappeared. One has to only look into the history of the word ‘gay’ to see that its hundred-year-old meaning is still used as a label referring to a certain ‘lifestyle’ or behaviour of homosexuals.
‘Homosexuality’ was invented alongside the rise of capitalism in the mid 19th century to reinforce patriarchal control of the production unit of capitalism: the heterosexual family, a foundational binary of capitalism. Today, many more sexual orientations and gender identities are recognised, and included in the list of phobias we are discussing today as they further threaten the prevailing hegemony. In a book with the same name Mark Fischer has called this hegemony capitalist realism, emphasising how capitalism is taken for granted and ‘it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism’.
Until the recent achievement of marriage equality in many places, ‘progress’ was understood as the interrogation of prejudice regarding family as an institution, the easing of social opprobrium and the granting of limited rights. However, with the very advent of marriage equality, a core foundation of capitalist productivity (marriage as the guardian of financial power and resource) has been undermined, assailed from within as it were. These achievements are being fiercely opposed by those that claim to protect ‘traditional family values’ but are ultimately safeguarding the capitalist system which depends on them. A current example of this can be found in the U.S. Supreme Court’s present considerations of overthrowing the constitutional protection of the right to abortion. While the capitalist Right has always fought for their control of the means of production, the Empire is now striking back to gain (further) control of the means of reproduction as well.
The term homophobia, coined by George Weinberg and popularised by his 1972 book Society and the healthy homosexual, is a powerful one in that it turns the ‘problem’ upside down. Instead of homosexuality being a problem, it points to those finding it problematic as suffering from a phobia.
Phobia is defined as ‘an extreme or irrational fear or aversion to something’, and irrational being defined as ‘not logical or reasonable’ with its mathematical meaning referring to numbers that go on and on and on ad infinitum (like pi). The idea of a homophobe sits with these definitions in that they are extreme, they go on and on, and they’re not reasonable. Unlike other phobias, however, this fear is of course very rational to those suffering from it, as it is socially constructed. It is easy to argue that our society is based on the above-mentioned ‘traditional family values’ threatened by the claims of the ‘sexual others’ for rights to participate in important institutions.
Fear, however, is also a very potent tool for wielding power. Threats to our security, especially to something so fundamental as family, solicit emotional reactions that can be pointed at the perceived threats and used to gain popularity for political actions that proclaim to address those threats. Such actions, of course, aim at preserving the status quo and therefore protecting the privileges of those benefiting from the present hegemony – defined by Marv Waterstone as ‘governance with the consent of the governed’.
On the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia we should think about our relationships to each other in society and where our solidarities lie. There’s no true freedom or justice as long as it’s limited to only certain members of society. We like to think of our democratic system as ‘majority rule with minority rights’; representational majorities making decisions, but granting rights to the minorities in the fringes.
The reality, however, is that decisions are mostly made by minority groups of powerful people – mainly heterosexual white men – and they grant any rights to the ‘minorities’ only grudgingly. Furthermore, they are not always minorities at all. Women are the majority sex on this planet, yet they are still underrepresented in most prominent positions and continue to be undermined in a variety of contexts and institutions. Misogyny, therefore, remains a profoundly undemocratic war against all who identify as women, the most current phase of which is the above-mentioned legal discussion in the U.S. Supreme Court which seems poised to deny women (and trans men) the right to choose whether they are in a position to reproduce or not.
Queering the system
To fight the heterosexist phobias – and xenophobia might also be included here – a queering of the system is needed. This means challenging the often unquestioned, social categories implied in the ‘traditional’ values mentioned above to not only include those outside heteronormativity but to rethink the categories from a perspective that is critical of the prevailing heteronormative assumptions – without phobia.
Thus, queering the system is not only challenging the heteronormativity of capitalism, but rethinking society from a different starting point. While the current social structures build from a heteronormative standpoint may or may not serve the LGBTQIA people, the opposite is much more likely to be true. The existence of rainbow families is not a threat to hetero families, although they do require some different social structures. E.g. sex-neutral public toilets can have a huge impact on the possibilities of sexual minorities to enjoy public spaces, but presently often unsafe for them due to homophobia, transphobia and biphobia.
Paulo Freire said that education was a loving experience, riddled with difficulties that required hope. As we sit and stand together on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, we think locally. We are variations of love outside and beyond the norm. We ask ourselves to meditate on what we think love is and how we do it, and we consider a year ahead of learning as much about love and loving as we can.
Whether we win or lose some battles, we must keep trusting that love wins in the end, and we should get better at it.
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