March 2013



Queering Anarchism: Addressing and Undressing Power and Desire edited by C.B. Daring, J. Rogue, Deric Shannon, and Abbey Volcano

You might easily say that queer is an explosive concept in and of itself. Add anarchism to the equation and you'll get auto-combustion: of the mind, of the soul, of every binary pattern you've used to preserve your comfort zone. And Queering Anarchism: Addressing and Undressing Power and Desire, one of the latest collections delivered by AK Press, is genuinely committed to shed some natural light on the connections and similarities between anarchism and queerness without boring you to death with unfamiliar terms, definitions, and usually anything that could easily have the same effect as benzos and Z-drugs. Without being overly presumptuous about the fact that anarchists and queers must have some sort of truthful grasp on each other's politics, Queering Anarchism opens with an introduction that stays somewhat true to the very idea of being queer: it's not an introduction in the common sense of the word. In fact, this body text serving as an introduction collects various opinions of the people involved in bringing you this collection, people with varying levels of experience and who are all keen on emphasizing the following aspect: "We put together this volume to help draw out some of the propositions and debates within this overlap. And, importantly, we tried to collect pieces that were not written for an academic audience. Much of queer theoretical writing is dense and difficult. While we feel that dense and difficult texts have their place, we wanted to provide a collection for a general audience."

Both being of a diverse milieu, both highly controversial and contested, anarchism and queer are terms that can easily stir up the spirits. So providing a common framework is a clever yet a tricky move when planning to trace the similarities between these two politics. Without hoping to resolve larger debates on these two terms, the introduction of Queering Anarchism tries to offer an insight on the particular pieces put together in this collection and establish a common, constructive understanding of the language used in the collected writings: "We might start the process of queering anarchism in this way, adding a needed critical analysis of sex, sexuality and gender where it is often either out of date or simply missing... So queering anarchism might also refer to making anarchism strange, creating new understandings of anarchism that re(de)fine it using insights from queer theory and politics." Mainly focusing on the destructive and constructive urges of anarchism and the main uses of the term queer, as a noun, an adjective, and a verb, the introduction stresses the editors' efforts to fit all the pieces into a rather coherent collection of texts that sometimes may seemingly find themselves at odds with each other, to offer a collection that moves conversations further and beyond rigid definitions to reach broader, more fluid approaches that are beneficial both to anarchists and queers because, in the end, it's all about "queering the script" of a dumb, automaton-like world that we should at least try not to perceive it as a given that cannot be changed: "the strength of this volume is not that it provides simple solutions to these questions... Rather, the essays -- each in its own way -- persistently and consistently ask them and explore the answers."

The collection starts with Ryan Conrad's "Gay Marriage and Queer Love," which deals with gay marriage and queer love, their rhetoric, and the way the rainbow-flavored, blood-glucose-level-raising neoliberalism has affected trans folks and radical queers through its gay marriage and equal rights campaigns. Although Conrad doesn't claim to provide any answers or solutions to the current situation of queer people in the US, he argues for creating more time and space to ask some vital questions and thus becoming more open when it comes to the queer critique of marriage and imagining alternative worlds that meet queer people's needs, both the affective and material ones: "How do we reconcile the contradiction of our anger and fervent criticism of so called equality when presently many of our material lives depend on accessing resources through the very subject of our critique?" There are some pretty mind-grinding texts following focused on: anarcho-feminism and its relations with the transfeminist movement (J. Rogue's "De-essentializing Anarchist Feminism: Lessons from the Transfeminist Movement"); the pressure queer folks may experience when they aren't "up to standards" when it comes to queering their sexuality and being polyamorous "enough"; the perversity of having to deal with the same original hierarchic relations but in an inverted way; and above all, the queer anarchism seen as an unbinding social form that can virtually challenge state conceptions, such as compulsive possession and property (Abbey Volcano's "Police at the Borders," Susan Song's "Polyamory and Queer Anarchism: Infinite Possibilities for Revolution"); gender fluidity and the way it can challenge the oppression imposed by the social constructs that are perceived as "natural," when in fact they are anything but natural (Stacy aka Sallydarity's "Gender Sabotage"); and a pretty inflammatory piece, I'd say, on the questioning of the invisible borders that are likely to be mapped out when caught in the compulsion to oppose things just because opposition seems to be the best way to challenge the status quo (Jamie Heckert's "Anarchy without Opposition"). As Ursula K. Le Guin wrote in The Left Hand of Darkness, "To oppose something is to maintain it."

Farhang Rouhani's "Lessons from Queertopia" argues about the importance of autonomous queer collectives but also about the need for more extensive approaches when it comes to dealing with the divisiveness that is bound to appear in any queer dynamics. "Tyranny of the State and Trans Liberation" by Jerimarie Liesegang deals with the main waves of sexual liberation in history in order to find the right context for the trans liberation (aka the fourth wave of sexual liberation, aka gender liberation) and look at it with an anarchist lens, namely challenging the state as a trans person who is oppressed due to his or her chosen individual identity and expression of it while C. B. Daring's "Queering Our Analysis of Sex Work: Laying Capitalism Bare" focuses on the ways capitalism oppresses sex workers, conveniently hidden behind its smokescreen of false concepts such as imagined choice and individual's freedom: "Those who sell sex directly for goods and services are not more entrenched in capitalism than those who sell their labor behind a restaurant counter or in a factory." Benjamin Shepard's "Harm Reduction and Pleasure Activism" is what you may call a genuine textual erosion of the anti-pleasure ideology and its core principles that lurk anywhere around us, an ideology based on the increased shame that eventually causes harm to the "carrier" and the repression that individuals feel they ought to experience if they don't conform to the social order, both physically and sexually. Confronting the normativity of the able body, the construction of the so-called bodily normalcy, and the labels that put people with disabilities into a disciplinary box (aka marginalized group), "Queer-Crippling Anarchism: Intersections and Reflections on Anarchism, Queerness and Dis-ability" argues that disability and queerness are inextricably interconnected to the point that they should both be perceived as being fluid states that can push the anarchist history and politics towards a new direction regarding social justice.

Concerned with the relationship between being a radical queer and also becoming a part of the class struggle and stressing the importance of creating a more holistic queer practice that challenges "classism" and identity politics, "Radical Queers and Class Struggle: A Match to Be Made" by Gayge Operaista concludes with a question: "Queer anarchists are faced with a choice: do we stay with an analysis based on identity and see our liberation entity? Or do we directly engage in class struggle with the rest of the working class and see our liberation as inextricably linked with the liberation of all?" This is a question that obviously every individual has to answer by himself or herself, honesty included. This is also a question somewhat answered by "Straightness Must Be Destroyed," a text handling the internal contradictions triggered by the monocracy of straightness and internalized hierarchies on the expense of the queerness thought to dwell within each of us, in one form or another. "Queering the Economy" and "Queering Heterosexuality" are two pieces that challenge the status quo of economy and heterosexuality, questioning their current expressions -- both economy and heterosexuality are seen as being natural and normal thus leaving little to no space for non-normative needs, desires, and sexualities. Diana C. S. Becerra's piece "Sex and the City: Beyond Liberal Politics and toward Holistic Revolutionary Practice" comes with a rather stingy outlook for those interested in diving beyond the shallowness of a mainstream movie that caused so much mass hysteria worldwide, while "Tearing Down the Walls: Queerness, Anarchism and the Prison Industrial Complex" stresses the importance of transformative justice practices and strategies, both short-termed and long-termed, including the attrition model, decriminalization, and excarceration.

And to conclude, Hexe's "Anarchy, BDSM and Consent-based Culture," with core ideas that worth replicating as they tickle the very notions of BDSM culture and anarchism and their genuine fetish with active consent. Drawing on the relationship between the consent-based sexual plays that seek to challenge the "normal" power distribution in authority fueled relationships (sexual and non-sexual ones) and the possibility to use these plays in order to understand our internalized oppression and come up with ways to dismantle it, "Anarchy, BDSM and Consent-based Culture" is a genuine temptation to become better at practicing consent, starting with your own social context: "What we want is a system that benefits everyone and eliminates prejudice and racism and the inequalities of capitalism; and then we'll have our own unicorn to ride along shining streams. Because you know you want your own unicorn. To ride into battle. Against capitalism." Definitely a book worth reading, regardless of the labels of normalcy you've pasted up to yourself or grown accustomed to letting others do the nasty gluing for you.

Queering Anarchism: Addressing and Undressing Power and Desire edited by C.B. Daring, J. Rogue, Deric Shannon, and Abbey Volcano
AK Press
ISBN: 978-1849351201
240 pages