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Opinion Piece

We need to return to our liberation roots

Originally published in Sydney Star Observer, 14 June 2012

The mainstream queer movement is really frustrating me at the moment.

For me, the queer movement is born in the idea of fighting against the way society decides we should conform sexually and the sexual labels placed on us. It is about sexual liberation much more than it is about equality. It is about fighting against the systems in our society that oppress members of sexual minorities.

In doing so, it is an inclusive movement. It encompasses anyone who doesn’t identify with traditional heterosexual labels (and even many of those who do).

Yet, something is happening in significant parts of the queer movement and I don’t like it. I am now seeing major queer organisations and queer activists develop exclusive habits, excluding those who they think don’t fit the mainstream gay and lesbian model.

For example, after some publicity around the issue, marriage advocates from Australian Marriage Equality (AME) and the Greens recently game out strongly against the idea of polyamorous marriage. In commenting on the position, Alex Greenwich said AME’s concept of marriage was of “two people who rely on each other in a relationship to the exclusion of all others”.

Earlier this year in the United States, Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon came under huge fire because she stated that for her, her sexuality was a choice.

Nixon was discussing her engagement with her female partner of eight years (they married recently) and stated, “I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me.

“A certain section of our community is very concerned that it not be seen as a choice, because if it’s a choice, then we could opt out.

“I say it doesn’t matter if we flew here or we swam here, it matters that we are here and we are one group and let us stop trying to make a litmus test for who is considered gay and who is not.”

Many activists reacted poorly to Nixon’s comments, saying she is giving fodder to conservative activists and that she should just ‘come out’ and say she’s bisexual.

These two examples are part on an ongoing problem with the queer movement where people who don’t fit into the mainstream queer mould are being excluded from the debate, with claims that they are ruining our chances to reach equality. They are the victims of all-consuming campaigns around issues such as same-sex marriage.

What’s happened? The institutional queer movement has become dominated by upper to middle class wealthy queer activists, who have populated organisations and put significant money behind the movement. The struggles that face this group are very different from those of other people.

Buoyed by the privilege of wealth and class, this group has focused on gaining acceptance into the structures the queer movement should be fighting to overturn. Campaigns have now become focused on fighting for acceptance into the heteropatriarchal society. Fights for equal marriage, for the idea that homosexuality is not a choice, and even for the idea that we should be striving for equality as our end goal have become about ensuring a select few get equal access to heteropatriarchal systems.

The problem with this is that the heteropatriarchy is inherently conservative. As a male heterosexual-dominated social structure, the heteropatriarchy is designed to develop labels and force people to conform to sexual norms. As long as it exists, people continue to suffer.

And that is what we are now seeing by the mainstream queer movement. Those in the minority (based on wealth and influence) of the movement are being pushed aside as the wealthy middle class fights for its acceptance into the heteropatriarchy and for equality.

People are told they need to conform to ‘family values’ and we begin to try and hide the ‘scary queers’ who may harm the rest of the movement.

As we do this, we lose the idea of liberation, and create a world where instead of one acceptable label (heterosexuality) we now may have two, if we are lucky (heterosexuality and homosexuality).

As the queer movement continues, it seems as though we are losing everything that is worth fighting for. I feel ashamed every time I see a mainstream queer activist tell me that someone isn’t part of our movement, or that their choice and the labels they place on themselves are not acceptable.

If we want to achieve anything real, we need to return to the liberation roots of the queer movement. Queer activism is not about obtaining access to heteropatriarchal structures, but about sexual liberation.

If we keep going the way we are, we’ll lose everything that was ever worth fighting for.

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About Simon Copland

Simon Copland is a freelance writer and climate campaigner. In his spare time he plays rugby union and is a David Bowie fanatic. He is a regular columnist for the Sydney Star Observer, blogs at The Moonbat and tweets at @SimonCopland.

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