An arbitrary lettersoup: LGBTI(QQAA… ad infinitum)


Last week, I attended a talk by Eusebius McKaiser in context of the Pink Week at UCT – an event organised by RainbowUCT – titled “Intersections: Race, Class and Sexual Orientation“. As always, Eusebius’ talks are interesting, I first met him during the Gender DynamiX conference in 2010, and the topic at hand fit in with some of the thinks that I’ve been preoccupied with of late.

Interestingly, the talk was introduced by someone from RainbowUCT in the light of the need to come together and be united; Eusebius immediately countered that he might stir some controversy as he felt that it was somewhat presumptuous to automatically assume that LGBTI communities should be united. He highlighted the immense class differences within these communities, and how this was merely reflective of the wider demographics of South Africa. According to his opinion, to simply assume that a white gay male would be – or should be – in solidarity with a black lesbian wasn’t logical, as their life experiences are vastly different, with only one aspect in similarity: their sexual orientation.¬†His argument at the talk was that, apart from sexual orientation, LGBTI was fairly arbitrary as a community. He did reiterate several times that he personally thought that he didn’t understand such indifference, yet in the same way he would question it from any other minority.

I tend to agree with him on these points, LGBTI and all its variants are fairly arbitrary constructions of “identities“; while there is overlap in communities and experiences, in my opinion there is a lot more difference than similarity. I have always questioned the existence of the “LGBTI community“, because in my view it simply doesn’t exist. There are black lesbian communities (divided as well, according local and class lines), white gay male communities, I don’t know if a “transgender community” exists – that really depends on the definition of community, it isn’t like we hang out together in bars all the time and prefer to only fuck other transgender persons (quite the opposite actually.)

If “LGBTI” stands for anything, it is a convenient way of lumping several groups of people together who portray similarity on a superficial level; its usefulness in terms of organising is limited, from my point of view, to coming together on specific and singular issues for strategic reasons (e.g. decriminilisation of same-gender sexuality and sex practices, etc.). When issues get specific, any assumption solidarity quickly gets a very cold shower, the limited support from middle and upper class gay men with regards to “corrective rape” faced by black lesbians in townships is only one example of it. The simple disregard towards transgender issues from some gay and lesbian activists and/or organisations is another.

A recent reflection during a meeting I attended (check here) lamented on the issue of identity based organising and its problems; LGBTI organising seems to suffer from it quite a bit. In part, perhaps, this is because of the investment in identities among those included in the LGBTI accronym; identity does provide a tool of self-realisation, growing up in heteronormative societies. The problem with identity is, however, that it portrays a charactaristic to be an essential (and permanent) part of an individual; despite the reiteration that identity is fluid, it simply is too often perceived as fixed. What’s more, arguments from the LGBTI movement often establishes it as fixed, stating that it is an innate part of and individual; i.e. the “born this way” argument.

Far from going into the nature vs nurture argument (which belongs in a philosophy class, not in political organising), I’ve found LGBTI organising to, too often, induce silos and fail to link the rights and lives of their supposed community to broader contexts. It feels like an almost territorial approach, without actually understanding those who inhabit those territories.

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