Across the world, queer people are, still today, second-class citizens. This is not a controversial opinion, or a hot take. It’s just the facts. Legally, socially and politically, we are considered, classified and treated as less than. Our rights are constantly debated, our identities questioned and we are often coerced into assimilating to the heteropatriarchal norm; sometimes, in more subtle ways, other times, through overt and heinous violence. However, since queerness has become - in some places, and as a result of the relentless struggle of those who came before us - part of the mainstream culture (through Pride celebrations and the likes), it’s not uncommon to hear people wondering: what else do they want? Haven’t we reached equality already? With Pride month just gone, I reflect on the strategies deployed to make us think there’s nothing else to fight for anymore, when, in reality, outdated and demeaning ideas around queerness still linger to this day, even if wrapped around a shiny rainbow flag. Ideas that have very tangible consequences for our lives.
If you are from, or reside, in any of the Western or Global North countries where individual freedoms are supposed to be guaranteed for all, and possibly if you also enjoy other privileges linked to your race, religion, class, migration, or ability status and, of course, gender identity, expression or sexuality, you might be thinking: this is nonsense. Don’t we have annual celebrations of the LGBTQ+ community? Aren’t queer people represented in cultural products like TV, cinema or literature? Aren’t queer people free to love whoever they like now? And the answer is, yes, that is true - but it’s not the whole truth. The representation and respect of different forms of queerness has come a long way in recent decades, at least in some parts of the West. However, queerness, like everything else, doesn’t exist in a vacuum. As queer culture infiltrates the mainstream, capitalism has found a way of co-opting our language, re-packaging and selling back to us the old idea that queerness is something that happens (and should stay within) someone’s sheets, which is perfectly encapsulated in its favourite slogan: “love is love”.
First of all, “love is love” implies that all queerness has to do only with who you love. Like many queer people will tell you, others knew they were queer long before they even knew themselves. They were probably subjected to verbal abuse and name-calling when they were children, too young to even understand what it meant. Queerness has many ways of manifesting itself, and in some people, it comes out through their gender expression. This has nothing to do with who they love, and everything to do with who they are. Queer people have historically been punished for questioning and transgressing the boundaries of gender, for being traitors of their own gender-class, as theorised by Monique Wittig in her essay “Straight Mind”. Nowhere is this more evident than when trying to navigate public space as a queer person, who is also gender non-conforming. So much violence occurs when queer people dare to claim and reclaim their access to the space they are, as anybody else, entitled to. The phrase “love is love” then, by definition, excludes those who can’t or refuse to define themselves through who they choose to have intimate relationships with.
Secondly, with a hyperfocus on the individual, rather than the collective, “love is love” strips queerness of its radical history, and reduces it to a matter of preference, “orientation”, or even fate. By purposefully directing the attention to the obviousness of “love is love”, this same attention is taken off the fact that every right that has been conquered for the queer community has been brought about through collective action, organising, and care. All the difficulties that some of us have had to endure throughout history, only culminated in the articulation of the gay movement (and later the LGBTQ+ rights movement), as a result of people coming together to defend themselves, and each other, when no one else would. “Love is love” implies queer people mimicking the heterosexual nuclear family and the traditional monogamous couple. But love, for us queers, has always trascended the couple and poured into the community, into the only family that many queer people have ever known. Reducing queer love to an analogy of heterosexual romantic love is an insult to the memory of all the queer families that emerged out of necessity, and created homes for those who needed them.
Finally, “love is love” represents a chance for liberal and neoliberal actors to engage with queerness and appeal to a queer audience without really endorsing any of the vital changes needed to secure effective rights for the whole of the LGBTQ+ community. “Love is love” provides a sanitised and money-making-oriented version of queerness, with t-shirts, rainbow flags and logos, and sponsored Pride events, which target privileged members of the LGBTQ+ community and straight people alike. “Love is love” represents the part of the queer community that is willing to be accepted by the mainstream, however, being accepted for who you love means nothing when you are homeless, can’t access the vital healthcare that you need or are unable to secure a job. All these things are the concerns of a large part of the queer community, and they can’t be solved through false acts of multi-colour allyship. They require political commitment, funding, and resources.
There is no doubt that queer people are currently enjoying some of the freedoms won after a long fight by activists, organisers, and everyday people alike, most of whom were only trying to live a decent life, rather than just survive. It would be incredibly disrespectful to deny them this credit. However, it would be just as bad to forget where we come from, to transform ourselves into a palatable product ready to be sold to the masses, and to forget those of us who are still struggling in a system that ruthlessly pushes them to the margins. Love is love, there is no doubt about that. But our love is for all of us, without exceptions. Our love has memory. And it definitely can’t be bought.
Bibliography (& Notes)
https://www.pikaramagazine.com/2021/01/la-igualdad-la-tolerancia/?fbclid=IwAR1YfP76aUxCbqA2997xOfnIIRw7l4Xo9uHxAbKRRd2QnQNNhzbzV_mPTcc - I purposefully use “respect” here, as opposed to “tolerance”, or even “acceptance”. How I see it, queerness in its many expressions is not something to be accepted, and much less tolerated. It doesn’t even have to be understood. But it needs to be respected. A great article about this distinction can be found in the Basque feminist magazine Pikara Magazine (in Spanish)
All illustrations courtesy of Phoebe, @everybodys_invited on Instagram
Laura Roca Diaz
I’m Laura (pronouns ella/she/her) and I’m originally from the Basque Country in Northern Spain, currently based in Brighton. I speak Basque, Spanish and English - and hoping to learn Portuguese next! I work as Digital Communications Specialist for WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Organizing and Globalizing), an international workers' rights NGO. Previously, I also worked in digital communications in the charity sector, and before that I completed a graduate training programme with UN Women’s Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean in Panama, working as Campaign and Communications Analyst. I have a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of the Basque Country (Spain), a master’s degree in Neuromarketing from the International University of La Rioja (Spain), and an MA in Gender Studies from the University of Sussex (UK). In my dissertation, and as part of my last MA, I explored the links between queer identity and media representation in the Spanish context, and was awarded for Highest Overall Performance. My interests include feminist/queer theory and activism, worker organising and migrant’s rights, among others.