375 transgender people were killed in 2021, making it the “deadliest year” of violence against gender diverse people since records began in 2008. The full extent of mortalities is likely much higher; the deaths of trans and gender non-conforming people are frequently underreported, and the victims themselves are often misgendered. The sustained assault on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) rights is deeply rooted in the division of society into classes, which, for the first time, generated surplus wealth and the possibility of passing it in the form of inheritance.
This produced the need for monogamy (primarily imposed on women) so that alpha males could preserve intergenerational purity of bloodline. Thus arose the patriarchal family. Under capitalism, the importance of the family increases. The workplace replaces the home as a site of production. Household become units of reproduction of the working class: of making sure workers are fed and clothed and children are raised to join the ranks of the proletariat. At the same time, men become wage laborers to sell their labor elsewhere.
Since there is no public arrangement for child-rearing – which would cut into the profits of the bourgeoisie – a private solution has to be found by wage-earners. The nuclear family is the simplest unit for child-rearing – both because of its simple numerical composition and because of the fact that a capitalist society forces people without any preexisting kinship ties to group into families. Patriarchy is maintained in this configuration, with women responsible for unpaid labor in the home, regardless of whether they are also responsible for waged labor.
The establishment of patriarchal and heterosexual structures manifests itself in certain cultural codes. Families instruct young people to accept traditional sex roles – men are the strong breadwinners, while women are the child-raisers. “Homosexual and transgender behaviors present a challenge to this ideological norm”, writes Sherry Wolf in “Sexuality and Socialism”. In her words:
“After all, if women can look and act “like men” and men can look and act “like women” and/or if men and women can live in same-sex relationships and each embody attributes conventionally attributed exclusively to men or women, gender and familial norms are thrown into question. The behavior of sexual minorities and gender-benders weakens and even defies these sex and gender roles, thus undermining the attitudes most desirable to the smooth functioning of capitalist society.”
What is fundamentally threatening about LGBTQ practices is its attempted separation of sexuality from the functional imperatives of capitalism. Antonio Gramsci writes that as capitalism grows and becomes increasingly reliant upon rigid and exploitative labor processes, “these new methods demand a rigorous discipline of the sexual instincts…and with it a strengthening of the ‘family’ in a wide sense and of the regulation and stability of sexual relations.” “It seems clear that the new industrialism wants monogamy: it wants the man as worker not to squander his nervous energies in the disorderly and stimulating pursuit of occasional sexual satisfaction. The employee who goes to work after a night of ‘excess’ is no good for his work.”
Homosexuality advances a progressive approach to sex and morality. In opposition to the capitalist regime’s subjection of the body of the workers to prolonged and painful work, gay liberation highlights the development of automatism, which can massively reduce working time and eliminate grueling tasks. This paves the way for an authentic sexual liberation, freeing the body from exploitation and from the weight of an unwanted motherhood. These views are linked to a broader rejection of restrictive gender categories. Wolf comments: “There are not two kinds of people in the world, gay and straight. As far as biologists can tell, there is only one human race with a multiplicity of sexual possibilities that can be either frustrated or liberated, depending on the way human society is organized.”
The aim of creating a world of porous gender boundaries does not imply the disappearance of men and women; it merely means the shattering of the expectation of universally single-gendered human beings. As Nancy Fraser remarks: “The transformative aim is not to solidify a gay identity, but to deconstruct the homo–hetero dichotomy so as to destabilize all fixed sexual identities. The point is not to dissolve all sexual difference in a single, universal human identity; it is rather to sustain a sexual field of multiple, debinarized, fluid, ever-shifting differences”.
Lately, the LGBTQ movement has witnessed an extinguishing of its emancipatory potentials. Lesbian and gay life has become attached to commodified forms: bars, restaurants, stores, coffee shops, commercial publications, individual styles of dress, harmless Pride Day celebrations with corporate sponsorship etc. This is related to the neoliberal offensive of the ruling class which has severely weakened the global Left. Before the incorporation of LGBTQ demands into capitalist institutions, there existed a radical strand, beginning its political journey with the Stonewall rebellion.
On June 28, 1969, there was a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village in Lower Manhattan. There had been many raids before, but this time, the people at the Stonewall fought back and locked the police in the bar for more than 45 minutes. Eventually, more police forces arrived and began the beatings and arrests. Following these events, the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) was formed, committed to internationalism and socialism. Members of the organization declared:
“We are a revolutionary homosexual group of men and women formed with the realization that complete sexual liberation for all people cannot come about unless existing social institutions are abolished. We reject society’s attempt to impose sexual roles and definitions of our nature. We are stepping outside these roles and simplistic myths. We are going to be who we are. At the same time, we are creating new social forms and relations, that is relations based upon brotherhood, cooperation, human love, and uninhibited sexuality…We identify ourselves with all the oppressed: the Vietnamese struggle, the third world, the Blacks, the workers…all those oppressed by this rotten, dirty, vile, fucked-up capitalist conspiracy.”
Formations like GLF opened up noncommercial spaces such as community centers, non-profit publications (e.g., Body Politics and Gay Community News), and community dances. It is the persistent probability of the emergence of anti-systemic projects like these that compels the ruling elites of our time to deploy violence against LGBTQ people. If gay liberation movements are not repressed, then the very foundations of capitalism can come into question. Through the focus on the fluidity of gender and sexuality, homosexual politics show the socially constructed nature of sexism, its status as a releasement of men and women’s alienation. This, in turn, promotes intra-subaltern linkages. Today, we need to reclaim the socialist heritage of LGBTQ revolts so that homophobia can be countered in an effective manner.
Yanis Iqbal is an independent researcher and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at email@example.com. His articles have been published in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and several countries of Latin America.