Introduction: Fear of a Queer Planet. MICHAEL WARNER. “Oh, the sly Myra Breckinridge! Nothing can escape the fine net of her dialectic!” Myra Breckinridgel.
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Introduction: Fear of a Queer Planet MICHAEL WARNER “Oh, the sly Myra Breckinridge! Nothing can escape the fine net of her dialectic!” Myra Breckinridgel This special section of Social Text has two purposes. The first is to suggest that much social theory could be usefully revised by taking gay politics as a starting point. The second is to urge that lesbian and gay intellectuals find a new engagement with various traditions of social theory in order to articulate their aims. Both interventions have been made necessary by a new style of “queer” politics that, no longer content to carve out a buffer zone for a minoritized and protected subculture, has begun to challenge the pervasive and often invisible heteronormativity of modern societies. It might seem that the bridge between left social theory and lesbian/gay studies is already in place. Many of the leading figures of social thought for the past century have in varying degrees seen the necessity of thinking about sexuality as a field of power, as a historical mode of personality, and as the site of an often critical utopian imagination. There have been major branches of social theory in which the connection between sexual- ity and politics was an important or even paradigmatic concern – French social thought from Bataille to Deleuze; radical psychoanalysis, elabo- rated from Freud by Reich and others; the Frankfurt School, especially the strand that resulted in Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization; comparative anthropological theory beginning with Malinowski’s Sex and Repression in Savage Society; even the critical liberalism of Bentham (or Sade). Liberationist sexual movements from as early as Whitman, Carpenter, and Wilde involved reflections on democracy and socialism; and radical gay social theory revived after 1969 in France, England, and Italy, in the work of Guy Hocquenghem, Jeffrey Weeks, the Gay Left Collective, Mario Mieli, and others. To these traditions Foucault brought such a reinvigorat- ing transformation that his History of Sexuality has become an inescap- able text for intellectuals otherwise oblivious to its subject. Meanwhile feminism has made gender a primary category of the social in a way that makes queer social theory newly imaginable. And in recent years femi- nists have returned powerfully to the topics of sexuality and lesbian/gay politics in the work of Gayle Rubin, Adrienne Rich, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Judith Butler, Iris Marion Young, and many others. These 3

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Introduction: Fear of a Queer Planet writers have argued that a nonoppressive gender order can only come about through a radical change in sexuality, even while they have also begun to argue that sexuality is a partially separate field of inquiry and activism.2 With such an illustrious history, with a literature so massive that it can be sketched this broadly, it might seem that queer left social/sexual theory stands at a convergence point for many of the most important intellectual movements of our time. What intervention could be needed to create this convergence when so many paths of modern thought already lead there? Yet it remains depressingly easy to speak of “social theory” and have in mind whole debates and paraprofessional networks in which sexuality figures only peripherally or not at all – to say nothing of manifestly homophobic work. Jiirgen Habermas, Anthony Giddens, and others have been able to write ambitiously comprehensive works (with titles like The Constitution of Society) in which sexuality plays no role.3 In most such cases the politics of marginal sexualities seems not so much neglected as blocked from view. In other writers, especially those such as Niklas Luhmann who share a structural or system-theoretical bent, sexuality features more importantly but only as a rather unqueer institution – not only heterosexual but normalized and functional.4 Perhaps more surpris- ing is the absence of a more than fleeting consideration of sexuality in Laclau and Mouffe, in Bourdieu, or in the current theory of post-Fordism. Marcuse has fallen from view, while Foucault’s history increasingly tends to be summarized as a treatise on power or on an abstraction called “the body.”5 Social theory as a quasi-institution for the past century has re- turned continually to the question of sexuality, but almost without recog- nizing why it has done so, and with an endless capacity to marginalize queer sexuality in its descriptions of the social world. Even the literature on the so-called New Social Movements, where theorists might have been expected to take gay politics as a model, continues to treat it as an afterthought, and then often with significant homophobia. Alberto Melucci, for example, refers to the gay movement only twice in a book designed to argue that new forms of democratic social movements are transforming the political landscape. The first in- stance is in a section called “Reproduction as a Choice,” which as a heading for sexual politics already inclines toward hetero and voluntarist assumptions: “In addition to the model of the heterosexual and monoga- mous couple, who are the foundation of the family institution and guaran- tee of the continuity of the reproductive process, new choices become possible. These parallel models, which are capable of coexisting with the heterosexual model and even of becoming institutionalized, include ho- mosexuality [sic], singles, and a range of mobile and temporary couples living outside a stable matrimonial friendship.”6 Melucci’s commitments to “the family institution” and reproductive continuity run so deep that he 4

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Michael Warner doesn’t seem to have imagined that lesbians and gays might be critical of them. Thus he only imagines “homosexuality” as an additional choice, one that entails no challenge to the heterosexual order and seems to have nothing to do with power. Even this sick-making gesture turns out to be too generous for Melucci, who a few pages later takes it back by remark- ing that gay culture, “depriving sex of its erotic content, reduces it to a gymnastics of orgasmit hastened the reduction of sex to the genital level and revealed the poverty of an exclusively male sexuality without eros.”7 This is the kind of stuff that often passes as left social theory of gay politics; that it can do so indicates how little people like Melucci imagine participating in exchange with lesbian or gay intellectuals. (For this reason, although I’m arguing that such cant will only be eliminated by better social theory, I also think that the schoolyard typographical incan- tations made famous by Michelangelo Signorile’s Outweek columns might be appropriate here. So this is for you, Alberto. Stop your IGNO- RANT MORALIZING, you HATEFUL PIECE OF TOE JAM! What would an UPTIGHT FUCKLESS PRIG like you know about eros, anyway? And if you think you can say MINDLESS CRAP like that and not hear back from us, then watch out for some GYMNASTICS IN YOUR FACE, Alberto!) At the same time it remains possible to speak of “gay studies” and have in mind a booming field dominated by literary criticism, film criticism, and cultural history – but not social theory.8 The major theoretical debate over constructionism seems exhausted. Partly because that debate re- sulted in a more historicized and localized view of gay interests, and partly because the disciplines of literature and film studies have afforded a relatively free space for lesbian and gay critics, there has been a turn in gay studies toward the production of impressive new readings of particu- lar cultural texts, usually with a psychoanalytic emphasis.9 The effect of this new “queer theory” wave has been to show in ever more telling detail how pervasive the issues of lesbian and gay struggles have been in modern culture, and how various they have been over time. But the success of that work now makes some other kinds of thinking necessary. In keeping with that pattern the contributors to this issue all teach in university or college English departments. Their work opens directly onto social-theoretical issues that other disciplines have not taken up, suggest- ing that the new wave of lesbian and gay studies is at the point of having to force a thorough revision within social-theoretical traditions, of the kind being won by feminism. There are a number of distinct reasons why that engagement has become necessary: 1) from the most everyday and vulgar moments of gay politics to its most developed theoretical lan- guage, a major obstacle is the intrication of the sexual order with a wide range of institutions and social ideology, so that to challenge the sexual order is sooner or later to encounter those other institutions as problems; 5

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Introduction: Fear of a Queer Planet 2) most broadly, there are very general social crises that can only be understood from a position critical of the sexual order; 3) many of the specific environments in which lesbian and gay politics arises have not been adequately theorized and continue to act as unrecognized con- straints; 4) concepts and themes of social theory that might be pressed to this purpose are in fact useless or worse because they embed a heteronormative understanding of society; and 5) in many areas a new style of politics has been pioneered by lesbians and gays, little understood outside of queer circles. Sexual Politics and the Social Order In the everyday political terrain, contests over sexuality and its regulation are generally linked to views of social institutions and norms of the most basic sort. Every person who comes to a queer self-understanding knows in one way or another that her stigmatization is intricated with gender, with the family, with notions of individual freedom, the state, public speech, consumption and desire, nature and culture, maturation, reproduc- tive politics, racial and national fantasy, class identity, truth and trust, censorship, intimate life and social display, terror and violence, health care, and deep cultural norms about the bearing of the body. Being queer means fighting about these issues all the time, locally and piecemeal but always with consequences. It means being able, more or less articulately, to challenge the common understanding of what gender difference means, or what the state is for, or what “health” entails, or what would define fairness, or what a good relation to the planet’s environment would be. Queers do a kind of practical social reflection just in finding ways of being queer. (Alternatively many people invest the better parts of their lives to avoid such a self-understanding and the social reflection it would imply.) Social reflection carried out in such a manner tends to be reactive, fragmentary, and defensive, and leaves us perpetually at a disadvantage. And it is easy to be misled by the utopian claims advanced in support of particular tactics.’? But the range and seriousness of the problems that are continually raised by queer practice indicate how much work remains to be done. Because the logic of the sexual order is so deeply embedded by now in an indescribably wide range of social institutions, and is embed- ded in the most standard accounts of the world, queer struggles aim not just at toleration or equal status but at challenging those institutions and accounts. The dawning realization that themes of homophobia and heterosexism may be read in almost any document of our culture means that we are only beginning to have an idea of how widespread those institutions and accounts are. The theoretical literature on modernity, for instance, says nothing at all about the fact that one of the most pervasive, deeply felt, and distinctive 6

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Michael Warner structures of the modern world is the opposition between hetero- and homosexualities. As Jonathan Goldberg’s essay in this issue makes clear, this opposition is such a constitutive moment in the self-understanding of modernity (or in its unconscious) that we cannot easily think compara- tively about it, either in the epic period of New World colonialism or in current anthropology. Yet it is clear enough that modernity has entailed the globalization of a new and exacting sexual order, so that the regime of sexuality that first transformed Europe has now been registered not only in the New World but in all the reaches of modern colonialism. Goldberg’s essay demonstrates that the interaction between different cultures of sexuality mediates the colonial encounter on many levels at once. Much more remains to be said on this problem: not only could local analyses be done of comparable colonial settings around the world, but we could begin to consider why the heterosexualization of society was such a fundamental imperative for modern colonialism. This would in- volve considering, among other things, the way modernity models self- other relations, or the way modernity’s consciousness of time is deeply intricated with a reproductive growth economy and its oedipal household. Thus modernity may be the historical epoch of what might be called repro-narrativity: the notion that our lives are somehow made more mean- ingful by being embedded in a narrative of generational succession. Needless to say, it would be difficult to claim here that a particular connection between modernity and hetero/homosexuality has been estab- lished, and my point is simply that the questions remain to be asked in a sustained way. Lesbian and gay critics have had much to say about the opposition of hetero- and homosexualities, but we are only beginning to speculate about its embeddedness in modernity, colonialism, structures of civil society, ideologies of liberalism, and the like.” The tactical necessities of queer politics mean that not every question facing us will be of such a global scale. Many will be embedded in too many contradictions to admit of a programmatic theoretical rationaliza- tion. But large-scale social questions tend to be backgrounded in all local struggles, and bringing them into view can often transform those strug- gles. As Cindy Patton has shown in Inventing AIDS, for example, the local requirements of AIDS organizing have newly brought into focus problems of welfare state-client relations, health care professionalism, first-third world relations, civil society structures of voluntary association, the privatized production of health services and goods, disparities of position between gays and other affected populations or between lesbians and gay men.’2 The more lesbians and gay men elaborate our positions in this political environment, the more we are called upon to consider our resis- tance to normalized sexuality in terms that are not always initially evident as sex-specific. Care of the elderly, to take yet another example, does not initially seem to be an issue of sexuality. But a society that relegates care 7

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Michael Warner allowed itself to imagine tolerating adult gays (lesbians rarely figure there). The idea that the emergence of more queers might be a desirable outcome remains unthinkable. Heterosexual ideology, in combination with a potent ideology about gender and identity in maturation, therefore bears down in the heaviest and often deadliest way on those with the least resources to combat it: queer children and teens. In a culture dominated by talk of “family values,” the outlook is grim for any hope that child- rearing institutions of home and state can become less oppressive. Sexuality and its Global Environment Part of the difficulty lies in the apparent separation – made practical and enforceable by family ideology – between alternative sexualities and social reproduction. Indeed, in Anglo-American culture the colloquial term by which many queer people define the enemy is not “straights” but, bitterly, “breeders.” The folk usage of this term illustrates the involve- ment of sexual identities with a wide range of cultural norms; it also illustrates the difficulty in clarifying what is at stake in those contested norms. The folk theory of breeder-identity attempts to demystify what could be called reprosexuality – the interweaving of heterosexuality, biological reproduction, cultural reproduction, and personal identity. The point is not necessarily to forego childbearing, still less to manage popu- lation technocratically. Anti-breeder rhetoric represents a politically de- veloped suspicion about a traditionalized self-understanding and about the way the premises of a growth economy govern the sexual order. Because those premises shape everything from gender norms to under- standings of history and fantasies of self-transcendence, they are difficult to bring into focus. Reprosexuality involves more than reproducing, more even than compulsory heterosexuality; it involves a relation to self that finds its proper temporality and fulfillment in generational transmission. Queers often find themselves in transgression not simply of a command- ment to be fruitful and multiply, but more insidiously of the self-relation that goes with it. Probably most lesbians and gay men have at some point encountered the obliterative heterosexual rationale in which it is asserted that if everyone were queer, the race would die out (i.e., so don’t be queer). Reproduction must be the logic of sexuality and the means of self-tran- scendence. Though this passes as enforcable wisdom in most contexts – where it is made natural by countless institutions of generational trans- mission of capital and culture – its illogic should need little comment here; it presupposes that there are no lesbian or gay parents, that people who have gay sex do not have other kinds, that heterosexuals only have sex when they want to reproduce, that sex always means coupling, that parental narcissism is higher consciousness. In fact, reproduction ratio- nalizes nothing about sex; even granting the absurd premise that humans 9

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10 Introduction: Fear of a Queer Planet are in short supply, a population would sustain itself if every coupling were random as to gender. These problems with repro dogma would be so obvious that we must seriously ask how anyone manages to believe it, for it seems to assert a paradigmatic status for heterosexual coupling against all reason. And why should that be so important? Why indeed, unless the real reason is to render the tacit value on reproduction itself unquestion- able? Would heterosexuality find it necessary to exist – i.e., to be mean- ingfully opposed to something else – were we not invested in a growth economy of population? Perhaps. At least repro ideology is not the only dimension of homopho- bia. But for many queer people it is an irony not entirely lost that we are being held morally culpable for not contributing to repro-narrative prog- ress at a time when the global growth economy that has come to inform reprosexuality also threatens the ecological devastation of the planet. The reprosexual order has lately become embattled over abortion as well, of course, and although the most obvious drive in that conflict is the reaction against feminism, there is also a level on which the current obsession with the fetus represents, a la 2001, a displaced identification with future generations and a denial about the present. Modern Western culture seems to fantasize that a world destroyed for future generations can be redeemed by reproducing. This complex convergence of sexuality, identity, economics, choice, and ecology is the starting point for Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckinridge, that redoubtable and eminently queer social theorist: “I believe in justice, I want redress for all wrongs done, I want the good life – if such a thing exists – accessible to all. Yet, emotionally, I would be only too happy to become world dictator, if only to fulfill my mission: the destruction of the last vestigial traces of traditional manhood in the race in order to realign the sexes, thus reducing population while increasing human happiness and preparing humanity for its next stage.”‘4 Few of us can manage divinity of Myra’s ample proportions, and any such statement of mission faces so many contradictions of its own (as in the prospect of first-third world relations that would be dictatorial, to use Myra’s own term, a kind of ecofascism) that Vidal eventually crashes her chariot, returning her to a more local strategy of queerness. Thus while in Kalki Vidal works through the dangers of a merely Malthusian ecology of population that treats people rather than economies as the problem, in Myra Breckinridge and Myron he explores strategies of gender identity and self-transcen- dence that could challenge an instrumentalizing economy of global ex- pansion. Vidal gives Myra a compellingly clear vision of the way issues of sexuality involve not just personal expression, but judgments about social questions of considerable scope. Myra’s character-defining insight is that the instrumental reason and growth economy that are destroying the

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Michael Warner planet have been mediated through the institution of a paradigmatically reproductive sexuality enforcable at all levels, and that “traditional man- hood” is a medium of that sexuality. Myra’s queerness is therefore rather more than the reactive politics of a natural minority. It is solicitation on a messianic scale. As a strategy it contrasts sharply with that of the Chinese state and the United Nations, which have similarly become interested in population growth. In China the strategy has been one of simple control, a state policy of limiting births under criminal penalties. That policy does not in the least translate into support for nonreproductive sexualities, since the Chinese state also has a policy of criminal penalties and forced electro- shock therapy for “homosexuals.” And neither the United Nations nor Amnesty International has been willing to classify that policy as a human rights issue. The extreme version of homophobia enforced by the Chinese govern- ment thus demonstrates that homophobia does not in all contexts draw on the energies of a growth economy based in reproductive dogma. There is nothing rational or market-driven about the politics of alternative sexual- ities, since the promotion of nonreproductive sexuality might otherwise be seen as the state’s interest. In China and the US, then, homophobia is linked in very different ways to population growth. This is in keeping with one of the most important lessons of lesbian and gay theory in the past ten years: sexuality can have different meanings in different contexts. Sexual norms vary culturally, but not in any predictable relation to other factors, and there is therefore no necessary politics of intragender sex. The task of building an international lesbian and gay culture or politics depends on a great deal of comparative work, and must continually be regulated by critical comparison. The Social Environment of Queer Politics The theoretical problem of coordinating the local and the global is also a political problem. It requires bringing differently sexualized and differ- ently politicized people into a movement that can address broad ques- tions. Much depends on how the common ground is defined, and in recent years an important multicultural critique has shown that too often the common ground has been assumed to be that of relatively dominant positions: whites, males, middle-class activists of the US. In order to continue this self-clarification of the movement, queer social theory must also reflect on the conditions that make the current practices of queer politics possible. This means, among other things, partially disarticulating itself from other kinds of identity politics and, partly, from the frame of identity politics itself. The first necessity here is to understand the historical constraints that stylize sexual politics as a form of identity politics – often with the result of major distortions. The 11

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Introduction: Fear of a Queer Planet second necessity is to see that the differences between queer struggles and those of other identity movements, or alternatively of other New Social Movements, are often important, even definitive. In saying this I am of course cutting against current wisdom, which is to insist on the alliance politics of the slogan, “race, class, and gender.” And indeed alliance politics are necessary and fragile. The slogan, how- ever, often implies not alliance or intersection so much as a fantasized space where all embodied identities could be visibly represented as par- allel forms of identity. This political desire has exerted a formative influence on Anglo-American cultural studies in the form of an expressiv- ist pluralism that might be called Rainbow Theory. It aspires to a repre- sentational politics of inclusion and a drama of authentic embodiment. There are many worse things in the world than Rainbow Theory, but its standard of expressivist pluralism results in several dangers, especially a reification of identity. Already people speak as though “difference” were in itself a term of value. (It isn’t.) Marginal styles of embodiment, even while they appear more in a public arena, therefore continue to do so in hyper-allegorized form; i.e., as representing “race” or “gender” or “sexu- ality,” now interpreted as signs of inclusion and authenticity. A popular button sold in gay bookstores says, “Racism, Sexism, Homo- phobia: Grasp the Connections.” Whatever the connections might be locally, they are not necessary or definitive for any of these antagonisms. Any one can do without the others and might have more connection with political conflicts less organized by identity. “Race, class, and gender” stand for different and overlapping ways of organizing people in response to different kinds of power. As styles of politics they have to be disartic- ulated from the national-representational space often fantasized in the very act of listing them. Historically we might say that queer sexuality is like gender or race in being a political form of embodiment that is defined as noise or interference in the disembodying frame of citizenship.’5 This is to point to the common ground of “identity politics,” itself insuffi- ciently theorized as yet, and to the close relation between identity politics and a national imagination. Within this liberal-national frame of citizen- ship there is an important common ground to be grasped among identity movements. But it will be necessary to break this frame if we are to see the potential alliances with movements that do not thematize identity in the same way. The theory of New Social Movements has the advantage of cutting up the pie differently, and thus has the potential of reinserting queer politics in another frame. And political contexts other than the US have less disposition to identity parallelism; so there may be important lessons to be learned from a more comparative queer politics. Comparative thinking is needed even within the frame of the identity movements. The family may be a site of solidarity and value for racial or ethnic struggles, for example, but current definitions of the family are 12

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