In 2014, Peter Drucker published a major contribution to the analysis of capitalism, sexual identities, and LGBTIQ oppression. Warped: Gay Normality and Queer Anti-Capitalism quickly became a go-to work in the growing field often known as “Queer Marxism.”1Peter Drucker, Warped: Gay Normality and Queer Anti-Capitalism (2014; Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015). Last year, Warped was brought out in a Castilian edition, and Drucker was given the opportunity to offer comments on developments since he published the original text. This text has not yet appeared in English. Spectre is proud to publish Drucker’s new Introduction to this translation of his now classic work. – Editors
Events since the publication of Warped have only strengthened my conviction that a radical queer politics needs to be intersectional, constantly embracing feminism, antiracism, and an independent class-based approach to a range of social movements. Challenging as it was for me to be truly internationalist in the book and to free it from the Eurocentrism that remains too prevalent in both academia and mainstream LGBTIQ politics, I feel that the attempt was necessary and important, and that Warped at least took some significant steps in that direction.
I also remain committed to the book’s project of queering the broader radical left and to combating the centrist, rightist, and even far-rightist currents that have gradually been occupying more space within LGBTIQ communities and political organizations. Analytically, I am still convinced that the lens of “same-sex formations” is a useful one in understanding the reality of gendered, racialized, sexualized, and globally hierarchical capitalism that queer radicalism needs to resist and transform. To be truly intersectional, as Warped contended, queer radicalism must be founded on a standpoint of social totality, which alone “can explain how particular sexual patterns are enmeshed in a larger economic, imperial, racial and gender order.”2Ibid., 6.
Still, it has been over eight years since the English-language edition of Warped went to the publisher in March 2014. Since reality has not stood still, a queer, anticapitalist analysis needs to change to keep pace with reality. I therefore attempt in this introduction not only to reflect again on the book’s contributions but also to consider what needs updating, and to address some of the issues that have arisen since the book appeared. There are many such issues. An intersectional approach means that queer history intersects with history more generally at many points—and an incredible amount of history has been made in the past eight years!
To begin with the key dimension of gender, history has increasingly been made by and for transgender people, with victories for self-determined gender recognition in one country after another—and with defeats for that same struggle in several other countries. Events since 2014 have also confirmed Warped’s conclusion that queer radicalism’s “most central political concerns relate to struggles against racism and imperialism.”3Ibid., 31. The Movement for Black Lives, which was founded in 2013 and mushroomed with mobilizations of millions in the US and elsewhere in 2020, made links on a mass scale with Black trans and other queer lives in particular. In the same months, as the Covid–19 pandemic spread from China to virtually the entire world, the connections highlighted in Warped between queering healthcare and challenging neoliberal globalization resurfaced with a vengeance.
Geopolitical developments have also had a direct impact on LGBTIQ lives and struggles. For example, homonationalism has been reinforced by the adoption of same-sex marriage in European countries like Ireland and Germany, and in additional countries in the Americas (furthered in some cases by an advisory opinion issued by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2018), linked to processes of European integration and globalization. In these same years, however, setbacks for the Arab uprisings that began in 2011 have largely dispelled hopes for queer breakthroughs in the Arab region and Muslim-majority countries like Turkey and Indonesia, whose well established LGBTIQ movements, Warped noted in 2014, have seen setbacks and repression. The war in Ukraine in 2022 has helped redefine sexual politics on both sides of the front lines. Across these geopolitical divides, the far right has grown stronger, with the “anti-Western” far right defining itself ever more prominently as anti-LGBTIQ and the “Western” far right being more ambivalent and conflicted.
My understanding of various issues at stake in these global developments has deepened since the publication of Warped. I am indebted for my deepening comprehension to the growing number of people working to develop queer Marxism, particularly through the Sexuality and Political Economy Network around the journal Historical Materialism. Since Warped was published, I have gone further into several major issues in a series of published articles. As I analyze the events of the past eight years, it seems appropriate to briefly sum up as well some of the insights I’ve reached or borrowed. In describing the unfolding fight for trans and intersex liberation, for example, I feel impelled to examine once more the implications of Judith Butler’s work for the understanding of gender.
Warped portrayed transgender struggles as the contemporary cutting edge of queer radicalism. In the years since its publication, intensifying attacks on “gender theory” and “gender ideology”—from the Vatican for instance, and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s rants against Butler—have made the link it highlighted between feminism and radical sexual politics even closer and clearer. Struggles around gender and transgender are even more prominent globally today, for the Right and for the Left, than I imagined when I wrote about them in Warped.
Looking back, Warped did reflect my gradually dawning understanding of these realities. It recognized transgender relationships as the most common form throughout history of the contestation of culturally predominant sexual roles.4Ibid., 76. It described trans people as incorporated since the 1990s within the acronym LGBT as a doubly oppressed “subordinate minority within an umbrella minority.” It indicted the mainstream lesbian/gay rights movement for “sacrificing trans people to homonormative expediency,” and called on a more radical LGBT movement to take up a range of trans demands, assuming “the mantle of gender nonconformity that the lesbian/gay mainstream shucked off in the course of the past thirty years.”5Ibid., 247, 325, 329.
Holly Lewis’s work has gone beyond mine in Warped, however, in showing how a “queer, trans-inclusive reading” of social reproduction makes sense of many cisgender men’s anger at lesbians and trans people. When lesbians, trans men and gender queers rebel against women’s socially assigned task of caring for men, their refusal to perform domestic and emotional labor evokes rage and even violence.6Holly Lewis, The Politics of Everybody: Feminism, Queer Theory, and Marxism at the Intersection, revised ed. (New York: Bloomsbury, 2022), 103, 155. In his analysis of how capitalist social reproduction leads to sexual oppression, Alan Sears has used Leslie Feinberg’s words to sum up the horrific forms this violence can take: “from institutionalization to gang rape, from beatings to the denial of child visitation.”7Alan Sears, “Situating Sexuality in Social Reproduction,” Historical Materialism 24, no. 2 (2016): 154. Lewis’s and Sears’s insights contribute even more to the argument I made in Warped to seeing transgender and gender queer struggles as central to LGBTIQ politics today.
This applies to intersex struggles as well. I confessed in the original edition of Warped that I found it “impossible to do full justice to intersex people.” While acknowledging that “many people can have ‘intermediate bodies,’” I failed to recognize the full range of intersex conditions, such as those that only become manifest at puberty rather than at birth.8Drucker, Warped, 23, n. 51; 389. I now see more clearly that the great diversity and increased visibility of intersex bodies provide some of the most powerful evidence for the social construction, not just of gender but of anatomical sex. This helps make intersex struggles, too, a central defining element of LGBTIQ radicalism today.
Theoretically, too, Warped showed my dawning awareness of the centrality of transgender and other challenges to the gender binary to an overall queer understanding. It relied heavily on Butler’s conception of gender relations as performative: not established once and for all at birth or in childhood, but rather requiring continual affirmation and reinforcement and involving continual redefinition. At the same time, it borrowed Kevin Floyd’s crucial insight that the origins of performative gender need to be understood historically.9See my tribute to Floyd following his untimely death: “Kevin Floyd’s Foundational Queer Marxism: A Tribute,” Mediations 34, no.1 (Fall 2020): 41–46. However, the relationship between the concepts of “gender” and “sex” has now become more complicated, troubled, and contested than Warped acknowledged, in large part reflecting rethinking that trans mobilizations have pushed theorists to do. The book implicitly relied on the clear-cut distinction proposed by Joan W. Scott’s classic 1986 article, in which “sex” referred to a biological substratum and “gender” to a greater realm of culturally and socially constructed attributes.10Joan W. Scott, “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” American Historical Review 91 (1986): 1053–75. In fact other feminists suggested over the years that there were other ways of relating gender to sex, for instance through Danièle Kergoat’s concept of “the social relationship of sex.”11Danièle Kergoat, “Le rapport social de sexe: De la reproduction des rapports sociaux à leur subversion,” Actuel Marx 30 (2020): 85–100. Christine Delphy, for her part, insisted that gender precedes sex: “sex itself simply marks a social division [that] serves to allow social recognition and identification of those who are dominants and those who are dominated.”12Christine Delphy, “Rethinking Sex and Gender,” in Sex in Question: French Materialist Feminism, Diana Leonard and Lisa Adkins, eds. (London: Taylor & Francis, 1996), 36. By 2010, Scott herself was questioning “the notion that sex and gender could be carefully distinguished, the one referring to biology, the other to culture.”13Scott, “Gender: Still a Useful Category of Analysis?” Diogenes 225 (2010): 7.
Yet in the original edition of Warped, I still used the straightforward term “same-sex,” applied to an extremely wide range of relationships across epochs and cultures—with reservations. “The otherwise arbitrary choice to amalgamate and focus on same-sex sexual relationships can only be justified by the growing tendency of capitalist societies over the past century and a half to classify human sexual relations and even individual human beings along these lines,” I wrote.14Drucker, Warped, 48. Today, I would try to be even more nuanced.
I still think that the concept of “same-sex regimes” or “same-sex formations” is useful, in fact vital, to understanding the transition between different stages of capitalism: from the “invert-dominant” regime characteristic of classical imperialism, to the “gay/lesbian-dominant” regime characteristic of Fordism, to the “homonormative-dominant” regime characteristic of neoliberalism. “Same-sex” illuminates the changing relationship between two different binaries: the binary of sex and the gender binary. These two binaries came, under capitalism, to be distinguished from one another in a long shift from “the third sex,” to gay men/lesbian women, to transgender as yet another available configuration. Today, however, I suspect that there have been other sexual regimes, in other periods and regions—among some pre-Columbian Indigenous Americans, for instance, or parts of ancient Asia—to which the concept of “same-sex” is less applicable, because people living there did not necessarily see humans as divided into two sexes. Today, moreover, as the number of people who deliberately or openly have “intermediate bodies” increase, we can perhaps begin to imagine postcapitalist futures in which the category of “same-sex” is no longer universally valid.
In the years since Warped’s publication, I have tried to take more to heart Judith Butler’s insight that not only gender, but even sex is often socially constructed. (I learned this years ago from Gabriel Girard’s reading of Butler’s work, without giving it enough weight).15Gabriel Girard “Théories et militantismes queer: réflexion à partir de l’exemple français,” Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières, July 17, 2009. The ever more heated debates on transgender issues—making clear for example that not just women but also trans men can have wombs and abortions—have driven the point home to more and more people (although it’s still important to remember that most people who want abortions are still women and that abortion rights remain crucial, specifically, to women’s liberation). Many of us have felt impelled to take sides unequivocally against the anti-transgender campaigns of the right (as in the bathroom wars in the US).
At the same time, we feel an increasingly urgent need to refute the somewhat, sometimes more veiled arguments of self-identified “gender-critical feminists.” Paradoxically, as the most thoughtful feminists have felt the need to complicate the distinction between sex and gender, “gender-critical feminists” have been taking a hatchet to it, insisting that anatomical sex is primordial and unalterable. This creates a danger of reducing the scope for the gender transformation that feminism promises to virtually nothing.
“In queer studies engagement today with radical activism,” Warped noted, “the most central political concerns relate to struggles against racism and imperialism.”16Drucker, Warped, 31. I tried in the book to make the links between queer and antiracist struggles concrete. Yet I missed a striking and promising link that was staring me in the face: with the Black Lives Matter mobilizations.
Though I knew about the protests that began in July 2013 in response to George Zimmerman’s acquittal for shooting and killing Trayvon Martin in Florida, my knowledge of the movement was fairly shallow until it gathered steam following the police killing in August 2014 of Michael Brown in Missouri. I was still unaware in March 2014 of the central role of the young, Black, queer women Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Ayọ (formerly Opal) Tometi in launching the Movement for Black Lives. Warped would have benefited greatly if I had known about the profound and exciting connections they were making between defending Black lives generally against police violence and defending Black trans and other queer lives specifically.
The Black Lives Matter upsurge following the police murder of George Floyd in May 2020 has been the most important radical, implicitly anticapitalist development of the past decade. It has included specific mobilizations in defence of Black queer lives (like the fifteen thousand people who marched for Black trans lives in Brooklyn in June 2020) as a crucial dimension, with repercussions in a number of countries outside the US. This has driven home the lesson that our queer vision needs to be grounded in an analysis of racialization, as well as a critique of homonationalism. Now the queer radical left must help meet the ongoing challenge of recapturing Black Lives Matter’s initial momentum and deepening its radicalism.
This includes resisting the movement’s co-optation by NGO- and foundation-directed and electoral reform efforts. Instead, queer anticapitalists’ ultimate horizon, like that of radical voices within the movement generally, has to be the abolition of the whole police and prison system, understood as essential infrastructure undergirding the whole web of unequal economic, racial, gender, and sexual power. The sex segregation inherent to prison organization and the sexual violence that is especially endemic in US prisons add a specifically queer dimension to this fight.
The US has undeniable peculiarities in this struggle due to the centrality of racism to the country’s political economy from slavery to Jim Crow to Reaganism and Trumpism. Nevertheless, the connections between heteronormativity and racism are not unique to the US. On the contrary, the surge in global migration, especially from economically dominated regions to the imperialist centers, has resulted in a great degree of convergence in the racialized/gendered/sexualized dynamics of different regions. In Western Europe, for example, the French National Rally has retained the European far right’s trademark anti-Muslim racism while packaging it as a defence of European democratic values, and even of women’s rights. As Sara Farris has shown, the Italian and Dutch right have been using this tactic as well.17Sara R. Farris, In the Name of Women’s Rights: The Rise of Femonationalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017).
The example of the Netherlands epitomises the worldwide repercussions of Black Lives Matter, as well as the key role in queer politics today of fighting Eurocentrism. Gloria Wekker, whose study and celebration of queer African and diasporic traditions Warped cited, has become a leading figure and theoretician of European struggles of the racially oppressed, particularly through her role in the fight against the Dutch racist caricature, Black Pete. She has also labored to forge unity between the struggles against anti-Black and anti-Muslim racism, which are integrally connected to the fight against Dutch homonationalism.
As Wekker has noted, the dominant Dutch narrative has become that “everything was fine with gay and lesbian liberation until Islamic people turned up and … caused a rupture in the triumphant march of progress.”18Gloria Wekker, White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016), 119. In a number of countries besides the Netherlands, especially elsewhere in Western Europe, much of the Right has in similar ways been downplaying or qualifying its traditional anti-LGBTIQ attitudes and adopting to their countries’ increasingly culturally prevalent homonationalism. The interconnected struggles against the homonationalist right are notably being waged today by the Dutch decolonial, anticapitalist party BIJ1, of whose programme Wekker is the co-author and in which queers of all colours are exceptionally visible.
Racism and homonationalism are thus seamlessly linked in propping up the global order, and fighting them is a dual task for radical queers. Warpedcited Gayatri Gopinath’s warning that “colonial structures of knowing and seeing remain in place within a discourse of an ‘international’ lesbian and gay movement.”19Gayatri Gopinath, “Homo-Economics: Queer Sexualities in a Transnational Frame” in Burning Down the House: Recycling Domesticity, Rosemary Marangloy George, ed. (Boulder: Westview Press, 1998), 117; cited in Drucker, Warped, 36. These colonial structures are a big obstacle to the global queer radicalism whose necessity is being demonstrated week after week by global events. As with transgender struggles, the importance of queer issues for geopolitics has proved to be far greater than I could have imagined when Warped was published.
The homonationalism that Warped explored has spread and intensified since its publication, particularly with the adoption of same-sex marriage in more countries, for example in Ireland (2015) and Germany (2017).20Drucker, “Ireland’s Victory for Marriage Equality, Continued: How Irish Was It? And How Much of a Victory?” Public Seminar, July 22, 2015. Increasingly, this homonationalism has become an integral feature of a deepening global divide between “the West” and “the rest.” Warped pointed out the distortions and hypocrisy of European and North American authorities’ efforts to pose as “bearers of sexual enlightenment … to an Islamic world [and African continent] seen as benighted and backward.”Drucker, Warped, 288. It noted that this did violence to the Islamic world’s long, rich traditions of homoeroticism and to a wide range of precolonial transgender patterns across much of Africa, while sweeping “the centuries-old European and US tradition of exporting persecution” under the rug.21Ibid., 281–82; see pp. 75–76 on Islamic traditions. It also described the European Union’s efforts in Eastern Europe to fund “a new gay civil society in its own homonormative image,” countered by efforts by Eastern European “reactionary nationalists … to manipulate popular resentment of the arrogant West to promote anti-LGBT campaigns.”22Ibid., 240.
Since Warped’s publication, however, I have rethought the way in which I conceptualize these conflicts. In Warped, I still used the term “homophobia” to describe reactionary anti-LGBTIQ campaigns (albeit in the sense of “political homophobia,” as theorized by Meredith Weiss and Michael Bosia).23Meredith L. Weiss and Michael J. Bosia, eds., Global Homophobia: States, Movements, and the Politics of Oppression (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2013). Today, I prefer to avoid the overtones of individual psychopathology that this word conveys. In its place, paralleling Jasbir Puar’s coinage of “homonationalism,” I have coined the term “heteronationalism” to sum up the ways in which reactionaries, usually complicit themselves in the imposition of Western European- and North American-dominated neoliberalism, have postured as defiant nationalists by scapegoating supposedly alien LGBTIQ people.
Even in power, the Right can play on resentment of neoliberal ideology while maintaining many key features of neoliberal economics. This allows neoliberal austerity and far right reaction to continually feed on one another. In several articles, beginning particularly with a review on the EU and its adversaries in Eastern Europe, I have argued that homonationalism and heteronationalism form a vicious circle, reinforcing one another, in clashing attempts (respectively) to repress and use LGBTIQ people.24Drucker, “The EU Enlargement and Gay Politics: The Impact of Eastern Enlargement on Rights, Activism and Prejudice,” Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe 25, no. 2 (2017): 285–88.
I believe that this same framework, despite obvious differences, makes sense of geopolitical sexual dynamics in the Islamic world and Sub-Saharan Africa as well. Sadly, heteronationalism has been a useful tool for reactionary authoritarian regimes reasserting their dominance in the Arab region, betraying the early promise of the 2011 uprisings. It also divides the Palestinian liberation struggle, which Warped pointed out had become a touchstone for radical queers: “For many queers worldwide,” the book noted, “the Palestinian struggle is also a fight against Israeli self-legitimation through highlighting lesbian/gay rights in Israel (‘pinkwashing’).”25Drucker, Warped, 36. Since the book’s publication, queer and other campaigns for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel have gradually made headway. International human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, increasingly reliable champions of LGBTIQ rights in recent years, have at last begun openly using the word “apartheid” to describe Israeli crimes against the Palestinians.
Yet growing condemnation of Israeli apartheid by international civil society has gone hand-in-hand with the further rightward development of Israeli politics, shown by Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to power in 2022 in alliance with a newly strong and openly racist far right. So far, the ever more glaring nature of Israeli repression has made little dent in practice in economic complicity with Israel by the world’s governments, going beyond the US to those that pay more lip service to Palestinian rights (like the European Union, China, and Russia). In the last few years, more governments even in the Arab region besides Egypt and Jordan—the United Arab Emirates, Bahrein, Sudan, the Saudi kingdom—have been strengthening their economic and/or diplomatic ties with the Zionist state. These include the Arab states that are most viciously repressive against LGBTIQ people. The arrest, imprisonment and torture of Egyptian queer socialist Sarah Hegazi in 2017 after she flew a rainbow flag at a Mashrou’ Leila concert, followed by her suicide in 2020 in Canada, put the ugly face of the Egyptian regime in a global spotlight. Queers need to be part of a global human rights struggle that shows how intimately all these governments’ anti-LGBTIQ, anti-Palestinian and antidemocratic repression are bound together.
Going beyond North Africa and the Middle East, spreading heteronationalism has contributed to major setbacks for LGBTIQ communities even in those Muslim-majority countries where Warped still saw them as making headway, such as Turkey and Indonesia. These dynamics underscore the importance of a more powerful challenge by scholars from dominated countries to the still strong Eurocentrism of LGBTIQ studies. Decades after the “transnational turn” in LGBTIQ studies, the task of forging a global narrative in which the majority of the world’s queers occupy center stage is still an uphill struggle.
More recently the vicious circle of homo-nationalism and heteronationalism has become more prominent in regions outside what is usually seen as the Global South. Events since the original edition of Warped have only confirmed neoliberalism’s weakening hold on global loyalties. This prompts both homonationalist efforts to harness the theme of sexual freedom and heteronationalist efforts to fuel a cultural rebellion against supposed liberal decadence.
The introduction of same-sex marriage in Taiwan (a first in Asia) has been flanked by stalled progress on LGBTIQ issues in the People’s Republic, as China’s claim to Taiwan has become more of a looming geopolitical flashpoint. The war that broke out anew and more intensely in Ukraine in February 2022 has helped redefine sexual politics on both sides of the front lines, with Ukraine increasingly profiling itself as sexually tolerant and Russia as an adversary of “satanic” gender and LGBTIQ ideology. While the worsening reality of Russian anti-LGBTIQ repression is clear, however, Ukraine’s greater tolerance is only relative. Ukraine still has no law against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, for example. Trans women trying to flee Ukraine have sometimes been stopped because men between the ages of eighteen and sixty are usually not allowed to leave the country.26Inna Iryskina, “The Situation of Ukrainian Trans People During the War,” Insight, April 26, 2022.
Mark Gevisser in his book, The Pink Line, has given a far more comprehensive account than I could of the realities on both sides of these geopolitical divides, painted with a skilled journalist’s keen eye for the joy and suffering they entail for LGBTIQ people. He also has an analysis behind the “human stories.” “It was no coincidence that the notion of LGBT rights was spreading globally at the exact moment that old boundaries were collapsing in the era of globalization,” he writes, becoming “enmeshed in a bigger geopolitical dynamic.27Mark Gevisser, The Pink Line: Journeys Across the World’s Queer Frontiers (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020), 24. Yet Gevisser misses the worldwide crisis of neoliberalism, the dynamic by which homo- nationalism and heteronationalism feed on each other, and the need for a radical left alternative to neoliberalism to break this vicious circle. Nor does Gevisser have a profound critique of the neoliberal homonormativity that homonationalism so often fosters.
On both sides of Gevisser’s “pink line,” the far right is in on the rise. Some far right currents, particularly in northwest Europe (for instance the Netherlands and Sweden), have taken their distance from the crudest forms of anti-LGBTIQ ideology. This reflects the fact (as I argue in a forthcoming article) that women and lesbian/gay people have come to play such an extensive and visible role in the North American and European waged labor force as to make a complete rejection of feminism and of lesbian/gay rights seem implausible even for many far right forces that try to draw the line at “gender ideology” and transgender liberation.28These far right contradictions are explored in Drucker, “Far-Right Antisemitism and Heteronationalism/Building Jewish and Queer Resistance,” Historical Materialism (forthcoming, 2023).
As a result, in much of Western Europe, Israel, and the Americas, some far right currents share a homonationalist linkage of LGBTIQ rights to imperial pretensions with virtually the whole of their local political spectrum. This stance often enmeshes the homonationalist far right in contradictions, given the still negative attitudes of much of its base towards LGBTIQ people. At the same time, the homonationalism of these currents puts them at loggerheads with the heteronationalism of the “anti-Western” far right. There is thus a clash between strands of the far right that are explicitly anti-LGBTIQ and strands that are only implicitly anti-LGBTIQ.
Epidemics and Unqueered Care
Another dimension of the radical queer vision that Warped put forward was the need to “queer” movements around economic and social demands. Unfortunately, events since the publication of Warped have only underscored the obstacles to the agenda it set out for queering social movements and the Left. This is most glaringly obvious in the case of healthcare, which Warped cited as an outstanding example of a potential multidimensional queer liberation politics in which mass social movements do justice to queer bodies and queer selves. Covid–19 has underscored (on an even larger scale) many of the lessons of AIDS that Warped drew, such as the way the “syndrome’s global advance continually replicated the divides of class, race and planetary inequality.”29Drucker, Warped, 265. Gary Kinsman has been particularly insightful in drawing the parallels between the two pandemics and the challenges they both pose for activism.30Gary Kinsman, “Silence=Death, Action=Life: New Relevance in Pandemic Times,” Radical Noise, April 6, 2021; see also Alan Sears, “Health from Below in a Global Pandemic,” New Socialist, April 24, 2020. Judith Butler, too, has noted how “radical inequality, nationalism, and capitalist exploitation find ways to reproduce and strengthen themselves within the pandemic zones.”31Judith Butler, “Capitalism Has Its Limits,” Verso Blog, March 20, 2020.
By the time Warped appeared, anti-AIDS activists had risen to the challenge AIDS posed. With the adoption of health exceptions to the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), ACT UP and especially the South African Treatment Action Campaign had apparently “succeeded in reining in the logic of for-profit pharmaceutical research and intellectual property rights.”32Drucker, Warped, 359. Yet tragically, Covid–19 has shown the necessity of waging the same anti-neoliberal battle all over again. The exceptions to TRIPS are still there on paper, but the global of relationship of forces has barely allowed them to be used in practice against this latest pandemic. The terrible gap in vaccination rates between the rich countries and Africa in particular is well known. Even poorer countries with well established pharmaceutical industries, like India and Brazil, have lagged behind.
Legitimate popular anger at mismanagement of Covid–19 (particularly by governments that gambled wrongly on “herd immunity” and rejected Zero Covid approaches) has been largely capitalized on by the far right. Meanwhile, even the best formations of the institutionalized radical left often fell in line behind government measures, and in any event failed to mobilize in the streets for Zero Covid.
The incipient monkeypox epidemic shows, in Sarah Schulman’s words, “the same problem on repeat,” where “inequalities converge most catastrophically.”33Sarah Schulman, “The Same Problem on Repeat,” New York Review of Books Online, September 4, 2022. Queering of healthcare organizing remains an urgent global imperative.
This disgrace reflects an overarching reality: the openings for queer anticapitalist politics that arose after the outbreak of the 2008 crisis (manifest I thought in queer studies in the GLQ 2011/2012 special issue with Marx on the cover) have not been sustained. True, the numbers of activists and researchers working to develop queer anticapitalism has grown. Opposition to capitalism may even be predominant today among both queer scholars and activists and scholars. Judith Butler spoke for many of them when she wrote that she had voted for Bernie Sanders in the US 2020 Democratic presidential primary because he “opened up a way to re-imagine our world as if it were ordered by a collective desire for radical equality.”34Butler, “Capitalism Has Its Limits.”
Butler’s forthright progressive politics, in this way and others, form a welcome contrast to the position of a queer theorist like Michael Warner, who wrote in the early 1990s that urban gay men’s “smell of capitalism in rut … demand[s] of theory a more dialectical view of capitalism than many people have imagination for.35Michael Warner, “Introduction” in Fear of a Queer Planet: Queer Politics and Social Theory, Michael Warner, ed. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), xxxi, n. 28 (cited in part in Drucker, Warped, 19). The great diversity of positions within this body of thought has led David Halperin, once viewed himself as a founding father of queer theory, to remark that “no one knew what the theory was … for the very good reason that no such theory existed.”36David M. Halperin, “The Normalization of Queer Theory,” Journal of Homosexuality 45 (2003): 340.
Despite the widespread distaste for capitalism among many queer scholars and activists, moreover, the queer audience for an intersectional Marxist approach has remained limited. The existing anticapitalism among queer radicals, implicit or explicit, is far from grasping capitalism as part of an oppressive social totality. On the contrary, often queers’ anticapitalism is more incidental than central to their politics.
Independent class politics in particular is still a struggle against the current. Whatever issues can be taken with the specifics of my analysis in Warped, I think that they might have been addressed more extensively if the political and social climate had been more favourable. For example, the main theoretical contribution the book proposes—the concept of “same-sex regimes” or “same-sex formations”—has not, so far, stimulated much discussion, either positive or critical, except in a couple of sympathetic reviews.37Alan Sears, “Anti-Capitalism & Queer Liberation,” Against the Current 179 (November–December, 2015); Michelle E. O’Brien, “Queers in the Era of Capitalism,” H–Socialisms, August, 2017; Sears cited Warped’s analysis of same-sex regimes at greater length in “Situating Sexuality in Social Reproduction,” Historical Materialism 24, no. 2 (2016): 144–45.
At the level of left-wing political parties, too, queer thinking and queer debates barely have any echo today. So, there are big challenges for queer radical left, theoretically as well as practically. As much today as when Warped first appeared in 2014, “the queering of radical left organizations remains a challenge to be addressed everywhere.”38Drucker, Warped, 374. It is more important than ever to insist on sexual radicalism while queering other issues and building broad alliances, and to challenge the institutionalized radical left while not giving up on the arena of institutional politics.
Notes & References
- Peter Drucker, Warped: Gay Normality and Queer Anti-Capitalism (2014; Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015).
- Ibid., 6.
- Ibid., 31.
- Ibid., 76.
- Ibid., 247, 325, 329.
- Holly Lewis, The Politics of Everybody: Feminism, Queer Theory, and Marxism at the Intersection, revised ed. (New York: Bloomsbury, 2022), 103, 155.
- Alan Sears, “Situating Sexuality in Social Reproduction,” Historical Materialism 24, no. 2 (2016): 154.
- Drucker, Warped, 23, n. 51; 389.
- See my tribute to Floyd following his untimely death: “Kevin Floyd’s Foundational Queer Marxism: A Tribute,” Mediations 34, no.1 (Fall 2020): 41–46.
- Joan W. Scott, “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” American Historical Review 91 (1986): 1053–75.
- Danièle Kergoat, “Le rapport social de sexe: De la reproduction des rapports sociaux à leur subversion,” Actuel Marx 30 (2020): 85–100.
- Christine Delphy, “Rethinking Sex and Gender,” in Sex in Question: French Materialist Feminism, Diana Leonard and Lisa Adkins, eds. (London: Taylor & Francis, 1996), 36.
- Scott, “Gender: Still a Useful Category of Analysis?” Diogenes 225 (2010): 7.
- Drucker, Warped, 48.
- Gabriel Girard “Théories et militantismes queer: réflexion à partir de l’exemple français,” Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières, July 17, 2009.
- Drucker, Warped, 31.
- Sara R. Farris, In the Name of Women’s Rights: The Rise of Femonationalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017).
- Gloria Wekker, White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016), 119.
- Gayatri Gopinath, “Homo-Economics: Queer Sexualities in a Transnational Frame” in Burning Down the House: Recycling Domesticity, Rosemary Marangloy George, ed. (Boulder: Westview Press, 1998), 117; cited in Drucker, Warped, 36.
- Drucker, “Ireland’s Victory for Marriage Equality, Continued: How Irish Was It? And How Much of a Victory?” Public Seminar, July 22, 2015.
- Drucker, Warped, 288.
- Ibid., 281–82; see pp. 75–76 on Islamic traditions.
- Ibid., 240.
- Meredith L. Weiss and Michael J. Bosia, eds., Global Homophobia: States, Movements, and the Politics of Oppression (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2013).
- Drucker, “The EU Enlargement and Gay Politics: The Impact of Eastern Enlargement on Rights, Activism and Prejudice,” Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe 25, no. 2 (2017): 285–88.
- Drucker, Warped, 36.
- Inna Iryskina, “The Situation of Ukrainian Trans People During the War,” Insight, April 26, 2022.
- Mark Gevisser, The Pink Line: Journeys Across the World’s Queer Frontiers (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020), 24.
- These far right contradictions are explored in Drucker, “Far-Right Antisemitism and Heteronationalism/Building Jewish and Queer Resistance,” Historical Materialism (forthcoming, 2023).
- Drucker, Warped, 265.
- Gary Kinsman, “Silence=Death, Action=Life: New Relevance in Pandemic Times,” Radical Noise, April 6, 2021; see also Alan Sears, “Health from Below in a Global Pandemic,” New Socialist, April 24, 2020.
- Judith Butler, “Capitalism Has Its Limits,” Verso Blog, March 20, 2020.
- Drucker, Warped, 359.
- Sarah Schulman, “The Same Problem on Repeat,” New York Review of Books Online, September 4, 2022.
- Butler, “Capitalism Has Its Limits.”
- Michael Warner, “Introduction” in Fear of a Queer Planet: Queer Politics and Social Theory, Michael Warner, ed. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), xxxi, n. 28 (cited in part in Drucker, Warped, 19).
- David M. Halperin, “The Normalization of Queer Theory,” Journal of Homosexuality 45 (2003): 340.
- Alan Sears, “Anti-Capitalism & Queer Liberation,” Against the Current 179 (November–December, 2015); Michelle E. O’Brien, “Queers in the Era of Capitalism,” H–Socialisms, August, 2017; Sears cited Warped’s analysis of same-sex regimes at greater length in “Situating Sexuality in Social Reproduction,” Historical Materialism 24, no. 2 (2016): 144–45.
- Drucker, Warped, 374.