I joined an Occupy Wall Street group on Facebook; yes, they are still around, and we all owe them a debt of gratitude for sowing greater knowledge and clarity about economic disparity and the evils of the capitalist system.
One of the first things I read on the Occupy site contained the following passage:
Anarchist politics are usually defined by their opposition to state, capitalism, patriarchy, and other hierarchies. My aim in this essay is to queer that notion of anarchism in a number of ways. To queer is to make strange, unfamiliar, weird; it comes from an old German word meaning to cross. What new possibilities arise when we learn to cross, to blur, to undermine, or overflow the hierarchical and binary oppositions we have been taught to believe in?
Hierarchy relies on separation. Or rather, the belief in hierarchy relies on the belief in separation. Neither is fundamentally true. Human beings are extrusions of the ecosystem—we are not separate, independent beings. We are interdependent bodies, embedded in a natural world itself embedded in a vast universe. Likewise, all the various social patterns we create and come to believe in are imaginary (albeit with real effects on our bodyminds). Their existence depends entirely on our belief, our obedience, our behavior. These in turn are shaped by imagined divisions. To realize that the intertwined hierarchical oppositions of hetero/homo, man/woman, whiteness/color, mind/body, rational/emotional, civilized/savage, social/natural, and more are all imaginary is perhaps a crucial step in letting go of them. How might we learn to cross the divide that does not really exist except in our embodied minds?
This, for me, is the point of queer: to learn to see the world through new eyes, to see not only what might be possible but also what already exists (despite the illusions of hierarchy). I write this essay as an invitation to perceive anarchism, to perceive life, differently. I’m neither interested in recruiting you, nor turning you queer. My anarchism is not better than your anarchism. Who am I to judge? Nor is my anarchism already queer. It is always becoming queer. How? By learning to keep queering, again and again, so that my perspective, my politics, and my presence can be fresh, alive.
There is so much wrong with this that I hardly know where to begin. My response:
Seriously, if Occupy intends to be more than a niche movement, if you want to appeal to real workers and the poor, knock off this talk about “queer theory” and bourgeois identity politics and address the ills of capitalism in terms that mean something to someone other than the highly educated privileged few. You are doing what the Left did in 1972, a misstep from which it is still recovering.
Reaction to this was varied; for the most part people defended the writer, whom I was surprised to see was nearing forty, but a few people saw my point, and the importance of not offending one’s natural constituency (duh).
In fact, social movements attract smart people who are trying to figure everything out, “theorizers”, if you will. That is inevitable, but it must be reined in. One of the glories of the Occupy movement was in that moment when blue collar union members joined the Occupy folks in the streets. Revolutions are usually waged when there is a union of workers and students. If the students and post-student intellectuals offend or bewilder the workers the movement implodes.
May I suggest that although working class people are perceptively more tolerant of homosexuals than in even the recent past, few of them, including gay workers, are going to be other than either puzzled or dismissive of “queer theory” or “queering”?
Please note that I do not single out gay anarchists or even anarchists for this criticism; there are theorists all over the place: socialists and Marxists, libertarians and Catholic radicals. That is inevitable.
But to build a popular movement instead of a boutique one it is urgent to appeal to, well, the people, to their concerns and the concrete injustices they experience.
Leave the theorizing, whether queer or Catholic or anarchist, to the dorm room or coffee shop or bar. Don’t be preoccupied with your niche grad school philosophizing.
Meet the people, the workers and the poor, where they are, in terms that they understand.
It will not only be good for the movement, it will be good for your soul.