Stonewall: Re-Politicising Pride

(Apocryphal poem by Paul B. Preciado)

In front of the heterosexual machine
It rises, fierce, the ANAL MACHINE

The non-hierarchical connection of the organs
The redistribution of pleasure
And anal collectivisation
That is already going to happen.

Historically the anus
Has been contained
As an abject organ,
Never clean enough,
Never silent enough.

It is not, nor can it be, politically correct.
The anus does not produce, or rather,
It only produces rubbish.

You can not expect from this organ
Neither surplus value, nor profit
Neither sperm, nor ovum.
Come out of the hole.
Nor sexual reproduction.
The great anal factory
only produces shit.
From this point of flight
Capital escapes
To return to earth as humus
And fecal fertilizer

If the strategies of capital production
Want to repossess
The machine of anal pleasure,
They will to be willing
To be transformed into shit.

(Poema apócrifo de Paul B. Preciado)

Frente a la máquina heterosexual
Se alza, fiera, la MÁQUINA ANAL

La conexión no jerárquica de los órganos
La redistribución del placer
Y la colectivización anal
Que ya se va a acontecer.

Históricamente el ano
Ha sido contenido
Como órgano abyecto,
Nunca suficientemente limpio,
Jamás lo bastante silencioso.

No es, ni puede ser, políticamente correcto.
El ano no produce, o más bien,
Sólo basura produce.

No se puede esperar de este órgano
Ni plusvalía ni beneficio
Ni esperma, ni óvulo
Salen del orificio.
Ni reproducción sexual.
Si sólo mierda produce
La gran fábrica anal.

Por este punto de fuga
Escapa el Capital
Que regresa a la tierra en humus
Y en fertilizante fecal

Si las estrategias de producción de capital
Quisiéranse repropiar
De la máquina de placer anal,
Tendrían que estar dispuestas
A ser transformadas en mierda.

ORGIE – Organización Grupal de Investigaciones Escénicas / Lobo Suelto!


The month of June marks the annual high tide of LGBT visibility, with Pride marches organised in many cities throughout the world, in memory of the New York Stonewall Riots of June, 1969, and of the many struggles, past and present, for LGBT liberation.  That such demonstrations remain the object of State prohibition and violence in many places, that LGBT people are still persecuted, arrested, killed, erased legally, testifies to the threat that LGBT movements continue to be for numerous regimes of social control.

The belief though that all is settled with recognition, that is, that once LGBT ways of life are legally recognised as equal to other legally sanctioned identities and relations, that liberation has thereby been attained, is a gross illusion.

The argument for LGBT recognition may be stated simply as follows.  The invisibility of forms of life has historically often served as a justification for the dispossession, exploitation and destruction of those ways.  And thus the belief that recognition provides the basis for the granting of rights and subsequent possible legal protection from political authorities is comprehensible.

The struggle of the “subaltern” (of whatever identity) is a struggle for visibility, or to extend matters to the other senses, to find a voice.

What however is passed over far too lightly in this kind of argument is that invisibility has very often also functioned as a mode of resistance (tactically, strategically, in attack and retreat) while visibility (obligatory, enforced by authorities) has operated as a means of control.  In other words, if the politics of contestation aims at visibility and recognition, the question of “recognition from whom or what?” has to be posed.

The modern politics of “rights” have always been intimately bound to biopolitics of population management and “individual” domestication.  And it leaves those who beg for these rights, inevitably from the State, in a position of passivity in relation to regimes of power and their guarantors, as well as transforming themselves into new territory for capitalist commodification.  (Rightist nationalist, political parties, along with their more “respectable” liberal and social democratic counterparts proudly present themselves as the bigoted defenders of LGBT people against barbarian States outside the “West”, and multinational companies now openly sponsor Pride marches, LGBT “communities” are sold as special economic niches, and , and so on).  “Rights” privatise and depoliticise collective and ethical issues about what kinds of ways of life we desire to  live, handing over such matters to guardian authorities.

But this is to disarm any movement of rebellion, and in the case of the LGBT movements, neutralises their perhaps most radical potential: the critique of normative corporeality, of sex, sexuality and gender identities, the biopolitical pillars fundamental to the reproduction of hierarchical, oppressive social relations, relations constitutive of capitalism and modern nation States.

There is nothing intrinsically radical in different and multiple sexes, genders or sexualities.  That is, these differences, conceptualised as identities and sustained as practices representative of those identities, in no way challenge the hierarchy of social and political relations (they may momentarily challenge particular hierarchies), for the new and/or changed identities can serve to ground other, alternative relations of power.  What needs to be challenged are identities as such, a challenge for which recognition is of little value.

In the essay that we share below, in translation, by Xisca Homar, “‘Stonewall’ o por qué no es inútil sublevarse: una lectura de Judith Butler” [“‘Stonewall’ or why it is not useless to rebel: a reading of Judith Butler”], the author Xisca Homar argues that transgression is above all a political gesture of the body: “The radical gestures that fight the established powers remain impregnated in the naked bodies of the multitude.”  At the Stonewall Inn, on June 28, 1969, “a multitude of bodies risked their physical integrity and, in many cases, their social life, to open breaches of freedom and make their lives and those of many others more livable.”

One could extend this idea to all expressions of rebellion and revolution.  “When extraordinary things happen in the street,” wrote Maurice Blanchot of May 68, “then its the revolution.”  The extraordinary occurs when the everyday fractures, grinds to a standstill, draws forth questions, reveals the “real” as but a possibility, amidst others, unveils identities as “masks”, to be changed or abandoned.  The flow of life so often hidden by the government of things, erupts forth, carrying all before it.

Such moments are far more than a simple questioning of current politics, or appeals for reform.  In “checking norms”, they do not bare with them ready-made new norms to replace the old.  If unrestrained, it is bodily normativity itself which is disputed, disrupted and overthrown.   And to the extent that such normativity is necessary to the production and reproduction of social relations of domination, then it is this that must be escaped from, hollowed out or destroyed.

The brief account of this year’s Pride march in Bordeaux, that we also share below, perhaps exemplifies such a radical politics.

Politics is only superficially and dangerously about recognition.   “When, in the field of public appearance, all persons are not admitted and areas are imposed in which many are excluded or vetoed, the imperative task of appearing, with insistence, in common, in those places and moments where we are not expected, where we are not welcome, where the rule eliminates us, imposes itself upon us.”  But why must we strive to appear in a social world that is itself constituted by oppressive violence?  Why seek recognition from those who determine who can be admitted into public spaces?  Should not the concern be to free “public” space from any control?  Indeed, should we not aspire to destroy the “public”, along with the “private”, and all of the other fictions of contemporary societies of control?

In the heart of the Stonewall riots was the desire for new ways of being; but a desire acted upon, and not beholden to recognition by the powerful.

“Stonewall” or why it is not useless to rebel: a reading of Judith Butler

Xisca Homar (El Salto Diario, 25/05/2018)

When you enter Stonewall, between the dark tables, the beer jets and the T-shirts for sale behind the bar, you can not find any trace of the revolt. Transgression does not inhabit places but bodies. The radical gestures that fight the established powers remain impregnated in the naked bodies of the multitude. “The first gay pride was a revolt,” says one shirt, and refers to the Stonewall experience. At dawn, on June 28, 1969, a multitude of bodies risked their physical integrity and, in many cases, their social life, to open breaches of freedom and make their lives and those of many others more livable.

Judith Butler (1) gives us the tools to analyse the revolt that took place in Stonewall and to open up the possibility of linking this struggle with the different uprisings that take place in the present. The fact of appearing on the public scene, making visible the bodies themselves, becomes a social practice of resistance that allows linking the struggles for the rights of sexual or gender minorities, with the struggles against precarity. Butler argues that the joint action of the multitude can be a way of questioning, through the body, imperfect and powerful aspects of current politics.

What is known as the Stonewall revolt were five days of demonstrations in front of the door of the New York bar, after a violent police raid. The revolt unleashed decades of intense struggle in favor of homosexual desire in the US and Central Europe. An uprising that sought to free desire and life, fighting against a “sexual police” that normalised bodies and relegated the “misfits” to exclusion and silence (a sexual police that continues to normalise in our present).

The Stonewall experience is an example of the transgressive potential of bodies. Bodies occupying the public space, becoming visible, questioning the norms that shape gender, desire, identities. Far from fostering the myth of Stonewall, which has gone down in history as a revolt of gay-white-young-men, we would like to emphasize that it was an uprising carried out by a diverse multitude that made differences visible and, with the the same gesture of making them appear in public space, put norms in check.

The mobilisation originated with diverse groups, for the most part precarious, who with their street work, resisting daily in a society that rejected them for living beyond the norm, fought directly against what challenged them. It is an event that is repeated throughout history. Groups of people concentrate unexpectedly in a public place, and such massive gatherings have an essential political potential.

The bodies gathered in the public space say that “they are not disposable” and claim the possibility of a livable life. In the words of Judith Butler: “when bodies meet in order to express their indignation and represent their plural existence in public space: these bodies request that they be recognized, valued, while exercising their right to appearance, their freedom.”

One might think that the demonstrations that took place at Stonewall’s door were a way of expressing collective rejection of exclusion: that of desire and non-normative bodies. And it’s true, but they are more than that. The demand, embodied in these bodies, of a more livable life, is a performative exercise of their right to appear, to become visible.

And, following Butler’s argument, if we start from this “right to appear”, we can analyse the forms of action and mobility of bodies from another perspective. Taking as a framework this “right to be visible on the public stage,” sexual and gender minorities can ally with populations considered precarious, beyond the different discourses they defend. Because the importance does not lie in what they say, in what they claim through their speeches, but in what they provoke with their bodies, occupying a space that was not reserved for them, putting into question the exercise of power with their mere presence.

Starting from this right to appear, the revolt for the rights of sexual and gender minorities can establish alliances with the different revolts that take place in the present and that struggle from precariousness to achieve a more livable life. Here we find an interpretive key that allows us to understand the last displacements that have taken place in Butler’s investigations. It may seem that before she was interested in queer theory and the rights of sexual and gender minorities, and that lately she prefers to write in a more general sense about precariousness and vulnerable bodies. But, precisely, the same Judith Butler affirms that what she seeks is to link both concepts: performativity of gender and precariousness.

Precariousness is that politically imposed condition that imprints vulnerability in bodies and life forms. Precariousness exposes a part of the population to state violence, to street or domestic violence. With the term precariousness, Butler refers to population groups that go hungry or are on the threshold of malnutrition, to all those people with temporary or private housing, to transgender sex workers who have to defend themselves from violence in the streets and police mistreatment, to the people who are being pushed out of the margins of legality. All of them are bound by precariousness, as a condition that has been imposed on them and that inevitably binds them.

In this broad sense of the word, precariousness is related to gender norms. Those who do not live their gender in a comprehensible way for others suffer a high risk of abuse, pathologisation and violence. One suffers, in many cases, exclusion and silence. The theory of gender performativity (2) of Judith Butler is precisely a practice that faces these unsustainable conditions that are imposed on sexual and gender minorities (and sometimes also those gender majorities that go through regulations sacrificing indispensable parts of one’s life).

Precariousness, in the same way as the normalisation of gender, generates a multitude of criminalized lives, deprived of police protection, unprotected by the law, stigmatized, deprived of rights, lives that become increasingly unlivable. The need to claim another life and another world, the only link they have in common, is enough to bind their diverse revolts.

When, in the field of public appearance, all persons are not admitted and areas are imposed in which many are excluded or vetoed, the imperative task of appearing, with insistence, in common, in those places and moments where we are not expected, where we are not welcome, where the rule eliminates us, imposes itself upon us. Only then will it be possible to break with the current frameworks of recognition and open up new ways of being.

The Nietzschean gesture that articulates the whole work of Michel Foucault: to bring to light the conditions of possibility of our normalisation, is reactivated by Judith Butler. Questioning how the rules have been established and at the expense of whom, is the first step to denaturalize them, to be able to transgress them. Those who have been silenced or degraded by the norm, that should be incarnated, will have to fight to be recognized, to defend their existence. And this struggle can only occur from the place of bodies, allies, occupying public spaces.

(1) Judith Butler, Cuerpos aliados y lucha política, Paidós Básica.

(2) “Cuando decimos que el género es performativo, en lo que estamos incidiendo es en su puesta en acto: el género sería una clase determinada de práctica; y además destacamos que la aparición del género suele interpretarse erróneamente, como si fuera una señal de su verdad interna o inherente. El género sale a la luz a raíz de normas obligatorias que nos exigen convertirnos en un género o en el otro”. Judith Butler, Cuerpos aliados y lucha política, Paidós Básica, p. 39.

Pink Block Everywhere

(lundi matin 11/06/2018)

On the necessity of re-politicising gay pride and other queer considerations for our time

It is on Saturday, June 2nd, 2018, that the Pride March was held in Bordeaux.
A call to form a Pink Bloc had been launched. During the previous pride, it had for a motto “Down with the dictatorship of normal” (in tribute to the Front Homosexuel d’Action Révolutionnaire) and it was the first time that an attempt to re-politicize this event took place, with a banner, placards, and a moving and anonymous procession that had managed to take the lead of the demonstration, making it reconnect with its radical origin.

We were therefore expected. To welcome us, seven security agents ready to separate us from the official procession confronted us, to show that we did not have a place, following the instructions given by the Pride organizer: the association Girofard (a Bordeaux LBGT centre). After bitter negotiations and seeing that some of the organization’s volunteers were ready to support us if the separation was maintained, our presence was finally tolerated, but still at the end of the procession; a situation that made us laugh when we heard the speech by the president of the Girofard, speaking of “unity” and recalling the insurrectional origins of Pride (omitting of course that it was directed against the police and order), a unity which, in principle, everyone is not part of, which we were reminded of from the beginning, by a threat of exclusion and a political discourse that reappeared partly thanks to our presence last year.

Having only to obey the orders of an organization that only represents itself and that never wanted to hear us, we decided happily to sneak into the march, to finally take its lead and there unfold our banner: “Do not fall in love with power”. Once in front, we were joined by many people, with whom we sang, danced, threw glitter and passed on our best mad greetings to the police! At the end of the march, we were some 200 people who refused the obligatory party imposed by the Ultra (the gay nightclub of Bordeaux) float and the republican and nationalist watchword of the Pride: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, for everyone and all this is learned”, a slogan to which we answered” MY ASS “. Arriving at the end of the march, we turned the banner against the event and thus against those who had sought to make us invisible. With dlare guns and leopard patterned cloth in hand, we shouted “Resistance”, finally departing in a monstrous and wild procession through the city, ending with an improvised party, letting our joy overflow, in seeing the city go mad.

The film: The Stonewall Uprising (The online English language versions of this documentary are of a poor quality.  We therefore share a Spanish language version of the same, waiting for better days on this.)

Postscript (final thoughts with Maurice Blanchot)

An illusion haunts politics of recognition: the universal.  In other words, the belief is sustained that through the defiant bodily occupation of “public” spaces, different identities will ultimately be accepted morally and politically, in a potentially universal community of (at least) tolerance.

Against this, let us assume instead that we speak from within enemy territory, “in a space where every word, captured by the enemy, will be put to their service – a friendly, benevolent, ferocious enemy.”

“This truth has been incontestably lost, at least in our so-called peaceful societies.”

But what “is the class struggle?  It is not the struggle to open the ghetto, which is the inferior class and permit access to a better class in a satisfying harmony: it is on the contrary the making use of the closure of the ghetto, thereby rendering it impossible for any contact between classes other than collision, violence, destruction, and thus perhaps one day changing the very law of class structure.”

Rather than seeking what the others possess – and they possess everything – concede it to them.  “To the others, that is, if possible, to us, shortages, the absence of the word, the power of nothing, what Marx rightly called “the bad side”, that is, the inhuman.  This still remains of course an ideology, but already radically other and such that, to attain it, we must and always yet again liberate ourselves from values, including freedom as an already acquired value.  In other words, and in all gravity, and not without pain: the destruction of the category of the universal.”

(Maurice Blanchot, En état de guerre)


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