‘Queerness is not yet here’. These are the opening words of José Esteban Muñoz’s now iconic work of queer theory Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. Yet, when one looks to the pre-eminence of Pride – to the marches which celebrate and uplift ‘us’, one cannot help but wonder: is it not?
The answer to that question obviously hinges upon how one defines queerness. Is queerness merely to be not-straight? Is it a matter of sexuality? Gender? Or is it perhaps something more? Something political? Something utopian?
‘We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality,’ writes Muñoz. This sensibility is echoed in the demands laid out by one of the many queer liberation groups which formed post-Stonewall, the Third World Gay Revolution. In a 1971 issue of the gay liberation journal Gay Flames, the group state:
We want a new society—a revolutionary socialist society. We want liberation of humanity, free food, free shelter, free clothing, free transportation, free health care, free utilities, free education, free art for all. We want a society where the needs of the people come first.
Queerness here is a horizon. A potentiality. A politics. Is this the queerness we march for today?
As has been elegantly (and righteously) articulated by fellow queer writers Joshua Badge and Joanne Zou in this magazine, the current iteration of Pride which we are now faced with is most definitely not what Muñoz (or the Third World Gay Revolution) had in mind. It is state-sanction and cop-infested, stamped with the monetary support of endless fawning corporations. In other words, Pride appears now as a relatively apolitical phenomenon.
Originating nine years after the Stonewall riots of 1969 as an explicit response to those events, the first Sydney Mardi Gras and the early Pride marches that followed were by their very definition political. Up until September 1975, homosexuality was considered illegal within Australia (Tasmania was the last state to repeal this law, in May 1997). To march with pride in this era was to say: I am here, I am alive, and my existence will not be a crime. As the AIDS crisis escalated from the mid ’80s through to the late ’90s, once again, to march with pride was to say: I am here, I am alive, and I will not let my community die at the hand of state-sanctioned indifference.
In both these contexts, to march was to actively fight for liberation rather than to merely celebrate queerness. The demands of Pride put those who marched in direct opposition to the state. And so the question becomes: what does it mean to march with pride in 2021? What are our demands?
Looking through the ‘mission statements’ of many NGO-adjacent organisations such as Midsumma or Mardi Gras, one would be hard pressed to find anything resembling a demand – let alone one that actively challenges the state or pushes for clear and direct policy. To march with pride in this era seems to say little more than: I am here, I am alive, and that is enough.
But is it?
Though there is a focus on inclusivity, on greater and more accurate representation for LGBTIQ+ people within our current system, I would argue that this is not so much a matter of politics as it is of proportions. Growing representation for queer individuals is clearly a net-positive, but it does not challenge the state and all its inherently unequal institutions as much as it reshuffles how this power is distributed. It may use political signifiers, but it does not challenge political structures, and although it can be celebrated, it should not be our end-goal as such. As articulated by Holly Lewis in The Politics of Everybody: Feminism, Queer Theory, and Marxism at the Intersection: ‘One isn’t really fighting for a position if one never intends to take it.’
In this sense, Pride and its demands no longer put us in direct opposition to the state. The very fact that state governments and police – alongside all of corporate Australia – feel comfortable enough to support Pride presupposes this, and removing them from our marches (though necessary) would not do much to change this fact. If our Pride is not predicated on demands, if it remains apolitical in character and a mere proclamation of identity, who can and can’t attend will make very little difference.
Some may ask: does it matter if Pride is still radical? We have fought long and hard for our civil rights. We have been accepted into civil society. We can achieve things we never thought possible. Why can’t we simply be proud?
To this I would say: why would we ever want to be accepted by the same system which once criminalised our very existence? By accepting our place in civil society as the end-goal of queer activism, we not only legitimise the very state that once demonised us, but also forfeit all solidarity towards those who still suffer at its hands. We cannot say Black Lives Matter whilst warmly embracing the racist, immoral system which makes such movements necessary. We cannot support decolonisation whilst treating citizenship on unceded land as the focus of our activism. In light of this, I would argue that pride is no longer enough. We need to move beyond pride. We need to move towards liberation, solidarity.
But what does this mean in concrete terms? That is a hard question to answer, and as is often the case, it feels much easier to state what we should not do than sketch out what we should. But in saying this, I think at the very least there are certain ideas that we must centre if we do choose to work towards liberation.
We must first and foremost pursue a politics of solidarity. Solidarity with First Nations peoples, with anti-racist and decolonial collectives, with unions and other class-centric groups that actively push for political change.
What does this solidarity look like? I refer again to Holly Lewis:
Solidarity, in the political sense, is not an end in itself; it is a process that seeks to achieve the decisive resolution of a political antagonism through allied forces. The resolution is not based on establishing pluralist social harmony; it is based on resolving injustice and material devastation.
We must also work to foster more genuinely grassroots organisations that can exist independently of the state or capital. By decoupling our activism from the onslaught of NGOs forced to rely on revenue gathering, state funding and profit seeking, we can begin to create community that looks past the present state of things. Community that attempts to exist outside of capitalist relations shows us another world is possible, which requires us in turn, as GA Cohen puts it, to ‘discredit the pretensions’ of our present one.
For working examples of this kind of activism, one could point to the 100-per-cent Indigenous run & owned grassroots organisation Black Rainbow, which organises among others things a program providing free pre-paid phone data and credit to LGBTIQ+ identifying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who may be suffering homelessness, leaving a domestic violence situation or facing the justice system. One could also look at the recent work of The Department of Homo Affairs, who recently raised more than $7000 in legal assistance for those who were unfairly imprisoned and fined for staging a ‘CopsOut’ demonstration protesting the police presence at the latest Mardi Gras ($1767 of this total was given to the Dhadjowa Foundation and $1767 to NSW Community Advocates for Prisoners after those fines were fully accounted for).
These are merely hints, but they do give us a direction. Pride in identity is no longer enough. We must bring back liberation. We must demand utopia. If it’s true that queerness is not yet here, we must continue to fight for it.
Image: Pride parade in Geneva, Switzerland, July 2019 (Delia Giandeini)