By Kate McNicholas Smith
In a period widely celebrated for its queer progress and inclusion, recent years have seen legislative and social change around LGBT rights. In popular culture we have seen new LGBT visibility and, in perhaps the most iconic symbol of social change, we have seen same-sex marriage legalised or soon to be legalised in multiple countries across the world (Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, UK, USA, Uruguay). After much high profile campaigning, 2014 saw the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 come into force in the UK under the Conservative Party, and in 2015, same-sex marriage was legalised nationwide in the US. In a shift that would have once seemed unimaginable, the Conservative prime minister, the US president, and gay and lesbian activists found themselves unlikely allies.
As many feminist and queer theorists and activists argued, however, the convergence of queer and conservatism should always have given us cause for concern. Imogen Tyler and I recently wrote about the ways in which contemporary representations of lesbian visibility – largely coded through ‘ordinariness’, white femininity and the symbolic markers of weddings and babies – mediate the possibilities, and critically, the limits of these shifts. Mobilising what we describe as ‘a post-queer sensibility’, inclusion is offered on selective terms. Feminist and queer struggles are imagined as completed and belonging to the past. Post-queer popular culture destigmatises but also depoliticises, diminishing the critical potential of feminist and queer politics, and silencing the actually existing conditions of inequality, prejudice and stigma that continue to shape social worlds. These conditions, as the Trump victory made so painfully apparent, have far from gone away.
Trump’s convenient claims to support LGBT rights – ‘as your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology’ – appropriate (some) LGBT lives and politics on what Jasbir Puar has described as homonationalist terms. Mobilising the US as a liberal, queer-friendly nation against an imperialist imaginary of ‘hateful foreign’ others, LGBT rights are selectively incorporated into Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant platform. Clearly, Trump’s positions on immigration, the racism and misogyny of his rhetoric, and his associations with white supremacist organisations offer little protection for LGBT people of colour, queer Muslims, LGBT immigrants and queer women.
The hollowness of such promises is made clearer still as the Trump administration is appointed, and threats to LGBT rights become ever clearer. As Pink News site state: ‘LGBT activists are gearing up for tough battles in years ahead’. Since Trump’s win we have seen, as we did post-Brexit, a rise in racist and homophobic attacks (the three months post-Brexit saw a 147% increase in homophobic hate crimes). Tumblr pages, news sites and twitter feeds track the influx of hate incidents. On a car in North Carolina, a message reads: ‘Can’t wait until your ‘marriage’ is overturned by a real president. Gay families = burn in hell. #Trump 2016. #REPENT #GODBLESS’. A Utah couple’s car is vandalised with ‘faggot’ and ‘die homo’; a Michigan couple have ‘fags’ written across their apartment door. A neo-Nazi site calls its readers to ‘troll’ LGBT people scared of Trump ‘until they kill themselves’. Meanwhile queer suicide prevention hotlines soon reported a marked increase in calls, with reports circulating online of at least eight suicides of transgender people since the election results. This, in a year already described as ‘the deadliest year on record for trans people’.
On social media, queer vloggers, bloggers, writers and activists express shock, fear and sadness. If racism, homophobia and misogyny come as no surprise to those who already know what it is to encounter them in the everyday, the consolidation and legitimation of this symbolic event is a stark reminder of their presence. As one queer vlogger articulates: ‘if you voted for Trump, you don’t care about me. Because you voted for a man that hates everything that I am’ (Foxy).
Terror, a word so powerfully mobilised in homonationalist discourses of the threat ‘out there’, reverberates amongst young LGBT people: ‘It’s terrifying, honestly… just to see how much of America hates us’ (UppercaseChase1); ‘I am absolutely terrified of what is to come’ (Cammie Scott). Fears of newly legitimated violence and of losing freshly won rights threaten to close down possibilities of living queer lives: ‘I just feel so overwhelmed with no possibility’ (UppercaseChase1).
At the same time, however, rallying calls for newly energised collective struggles also circulate. The significance of these media platforms as sites of intimacy and recognition, of circulating knowledge and facilitating critique, reveals the simultaneous existence of queer counterpublic sociability ad struggle. Reminders ‘to the people who feel alone and unsafe in their communities around the county’ that ‘we stand with you’ (Tyler Oakley) and calls to share ‘nuggets of hope’ (Ashley Mardell) offer comfort and connectivity in the face of violence and impossibility. In a challenge to the post-queer progress narrative, YouTuber Cammie Scott reflects:
‘I think this is a huge wakeup call for everyone. We are not done fighting for our rights. We are not done with sexism, racism… any discrimination of any minority or honestly anyone who’s not a white male is not over… things are not ok’ (Cammie Scott)
Others discuss the tensions and privileges of hope itself, and insist on a recognition of the intersectional and unequal implications of this election. Ari Fitz mobilises the power of the marginalised, calling viewers to exercise their power:
‘I’m a black person, I’m a queer person, I’m a woman, and I’m a lot of things that in many ways are at risk in this country right now. And despite that, actually because of that… I am so powerful’ (Ari Fitz)
In the multiple articulations of marginality and hope circulating online, the precarious and selective co-option of LGBT politics of homonationalist inclusion is disrupted. Care is offered, resources are shared, the struggle against all that is legitimated in this moment continues. Much to fear then, but much to fight for also.
Kate McNicholas Smith is Lecturer in Gender, Media and Cultural Studies at Lancaster University.
Originally posted 25th November 2016