Last week’s anti-Capitalist Feminist Conference took the form of working sessions in the morning and afternoon. Session one included discussions of Reproductive Freedoms, Challenging Domestic Violence, Learning from Feminist History, and Penetrating sex: a queer discussion. I went to the latter discussion because a lot of my past writing’s been on black women’s sexuality and I wanted to see if I could add some dimensionality to my thinking beyond representation, as well as hear others’ views on the meaning of queer.
I’ve been torturing my students with group work for who knows how long, so karma came round and bit me in the ass: in this, and the afternoon session I attended, there was a lot of breaking up into pairs and groups for discussion. Misanthropy aside, it was good to speak to a range of people about their definitions of monogamy, non-monogamy, polyamory, sex, and intimacy. Each group I was in seemed to arrive at a cul-de-sac of imprecise definitions and more questions, which is a good thing when it comes to deconstructing heteronormativity.
I’d say I got two things out of this workshop. Most of the women, in their twenties I’d guess, are trying to live out their sexual and intimate lives differently than the standard heterosexual script. This could be in whom or how many one chooses to be intimate with. Yet, despite this divergence from the usual path, we seem to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to explain it to parents and other people. How to make a queerly lived sexual life translatable seemed to be a big concern. I don’t think it’s condescending to say that this may be a “time of life” issue, when one makes a number of decisions about how to live and how to be accountable for those decisions. Not that women in their thirties and older don’t grapple with similar issues, but this workshop was a good reminder to me that no matter at what age one comes to feminism, you have to figure out how your life meshes with the ideology and that it’s a process that is continuous. Which, in a way, leads to the second insight…
This session was, though it was never called as such, a good old fashioned consciousness-raising session. I kind of pre-empted the workshop leaders’ segue into the question of how our personal decisions are politicized, but don’t feel like we quite got to the concrete ways in which we define our sexuality and what that means politically. When I say politically, I suppose I ended up meaning “legally.” Since the passing of Prop 8 in California—actually, even before then—I continue to question marital privilege and the rights accorded to people because they choose to live as a legally-defined married couple. I actually don’t believe anyone should get special rights just because they choose to co-habitate. So there are two of you in the home? Yea, you! Split the bills and be done with it. Goods and utilities don’t cost less for single people. There seemed like no better place than an anti-capitalist conference to point out the discriminatory nature of legal benefits for coupledom, which are clearly geared toward re/productive families with the assumption that singles (increasingly the norm) don’t contribute to society. The larger point being we don’t contribute off-spring to The Machine.
So, even if we are engaged in non-monogamy or polyamory, it was telling that the words “primary partner” were a reoccurrence that, in many ways, capitaluates to capitalism’s desire for functioning families no matter the gender of those constituting the family. One member of my group discussing polyamory made the observation that the State will often attempt to co-opt difference, so differently defined families will be offered “family” discounts or benefits, depending on geographic/nation-state location.
This has me thinking about the ways in which we’re bought off to ignore our own oppression and perhaps one thing progressive needs to do is some empirical work around the costs of being bought? If my individual queer family is incorporated into, say, a health benefits structure, what do working class and poor people lose out on by my acceptance of this piecemeal bribe that falls short of universal health care?