Queer People Do Not Exist: The Advent of a Political Aporia

  • 1 — Introduction

It is understood that the provocative nature of the title of this essay may paint the perception that this work is an affront to uphold a political bias. And, in that regard, I hope to borrow the curiosity and attention of the readers sympathies as we slowly unpack this essay. The purpose of this essay — notwithstanding a foray through metaphysics and epistemology — is primarily ethical. Insofar that I will argue for an ethical norm that states we ought prioritize creating consonance between the descriptive body politic and a normative social. In other words, the only ideal our ethics-in-practice should embody is the politics of inclusion that affixes the ideal-social as merely the amalgam of the descriptive qualities of all the individuals within the social. The social ontology ought to be a reflection that captures the full spectrum of the human condition — no human should feel outside the social.

This structure of this essay will be broken into two parts: first it is to make the claim that queer people do not exist, but rather it is the case that society is queer and, moreover, the mutual existence of these two concepts is exclusive. It is, for that matter, either one way or the other — not both. You cannot have queer people in a queer society. The structure of this first part will consist of the following components: a) deconstruct what is meant by queer; b) what is meant by existence; c) what is meant by society and then d) unpack the central claim of this essay on the foundation built from the preceding deconstructions. The second part of this essay will pile-on the conclusion of the first part by making the ethical claim that posits ‘political inclusion’ as a first-priority and necessary normative value of the non-queer society — forcing the advent of a political aporia.

  • 2.1 — Queer

What is meant and not meant by the word queer: Queer as adjective: a term used to qualify a person as standing-out distinctly from (or in opposition to) normative concepts of sexuality and/or identity — inferred as the manifestation of the Other[1]in the abstract or as an oppressed group(s) in the concrete.[2][3]Queer as noun: by noun I do not mean the qualified noun of ‘queer-people’, as the word queer in this sense has become part of the noun and in isolation it is qualifying the human-subject (the noun) and is still functioning as an adjective. What I do mean by queer-as-noun is ‘Queer’ (capital letter Q), as the label of an ideological system that champions ‘political inclusion’, which also happens to rail against the presuppositions of queer as adjective (normative presuppositions). Alas, the Queer political ideology acts to subsume queer as an adjective that violently qualifies the human subject against the backdrop of normative precepts.

Queer as verb: If we were to use ‘queer’ as verb it would need to be phrased like ‘I queer such-and-such’ and this could mean either one is acting in opposition (or in alignment with, when used in a derogatory adjective (‘You queer…’)) to normative constructions of queer-as-adjective, or this could mean that one is acting in alignment with the Queer political ideology of inclusion. However, nonetheless, the statement ‘I am queer’ can also be seen as claiming one is an embodiment of acting in accordance with queer-as-verb. Meaning, it is also the case that queer-as-adjective is a way of making the claim that ones action are queer (either positively or negatively construed).

This aforementioned distinction brings us to a linguistic dilemma of sorts. If somebody was a self-identifying member of the democratic political ideology they could state ‘I am a Democrat’, but in colloquial uses of language the statement ‘I am a queer’ carries the same derogatory tone as the statement ‘I am a black’. This leads to the conclusion that the expressions ‘I am queer’ has at least three distinct meanings:

  1. I am the Other to the normative standards of society — (queer as adjective)
  2. Acting to diffuse (or in defense of) the normative social constructions that underpin it (queer as concept) or acting towards the political aims of inclusive politics — (queer as verb)
  3. I self-identify as belonging to the Queer political ideology of inclusion — (Queer as proper noun)

The intended meaning as used in the thesis of this paper is meaning (1), but before we depart this section I will give a brief analysis on why the term queer has high susceptibility towards equivocation. A possible reason why the expression ‘I am a queer’ comes off as harsh, may be because the article ‘a’ underlines the ‘object-like’ qualities of the noun and disassociates the acting-subject of the statement. In the way that Sandra Harding claims that knowledge claims are conditioned by ones political standpoint,[4] perhaps it could be seen that knowledge of ones political ideology (Queer) is conditioned by ones political standpoint (queer as adjective) and the act of separating these two components is perceived as an act of political disempowerment — this is most likely the cause of the unsettling feeling that you may have experienced after reading the title of this essay. Such that, perhaps, that I am disassociated the existing ‘queer’ subject from being-in-the-world.[5] However, for the purpose of the foregoing claim of this essay (‘queer people do not exist’), I am utilizing the first meaning in complete isolation of the others (queer (adjective) people (noun)).

  • 2.2 — Existence

I hold no doubts that there are people in the world that associate themselves under the identity of ‘queer’ and the purpose of this paper is not make any claims about the material existence of actual people. Nor do I claim that a persons consonance toward the queer identity is unsubstantiated — the state of queerness is not ex nihilo. To qualify what I do mean requires that a distinction between ‘to exist’ and ’to subsist’[6] — as the former being what stands-out distinctly independent of human consciousness (exists out there in the world) and the latter being what exists solely within human consciousness (exists within the minds of people). So we cannot say ‘queer people’ exist, but we can say ‘queer people subsist’.[7] This, however, does not imply that the concept is subjective, but rather that it is — not unlike any other concept of identity and or ideological content[8] — intersubjective. The justification for making this claim is the product of this formal argument:

P1: If no human has a vantage point ‘outside’ of humanity to make normative claims on humanity that does not become conditioned by their political standpoint[9]; then there is no such existing thing as a normative concept of human.

P2: If, for whatever reason, a normative claim lacks reasonable efficacy at wholly defining a concept, then a descriptive definition is sufficient.

P3: If a normative definition cannot be made to define the members of a set, then no such distinction can be made between normal and abnormal (the ideal member of the class versus the non-ideal member)

C: There is no such existing thing as a normal human and there is no such existing thing as an abnormal human (queer people)

With this clarification of what is meant by queer and existence then it may be more accurate to rephrase the first part of this essay as making two claims: a) ‘queer people do not exist, but rather they subsist’ and b) ’the queer society exists above and beyond mere social subsistence’ (intersubjectivity). The first claim should be supported by the aforementioned analysis on ‘queer’ and ‘existence’, and the secondary claim should become more clear once we elucidate on what is meant by ‘social’.

  • 2.3— Social

Prior to qualifying ‘what is meant by society’ in the statement: ‘the queer society exists above and beyond mere social subsistence’, it would be helpful to lay my background assumptions on the table by taking a brief departure into the sociological work of Pierre Bourdieu. His theory of social production (as a component of his theory of Habitus) paints the relationship between the individual and social as a “dialectic of the internalization of externality and the externalization of internality, or, more simply put, of incorporation and objectification.” In other words, the ‘individual’ internalizes what is ‘externalized’ by the social (and hence externalizes it themselves) and the social ‘internalizes’ what is ‘externalized’ by the individual (and hence externalizes it) — or, in the metaphor that Bourdieu uses, it is like a train (social) that builds it’s own tracks (individual) and functions at such a high degree of seamlessness that it is indiscernible who is influencing who.[10]This may — on the surface — beg a reading that a queer society would become internalized within the individual and henceforth externalize said queerness back, meaning there is no mutual exclusion between the queer existing individual and queer existing social. However, the dialectical dynamic does not imply that the epistemic justification for the two halves of this relationship be born of the same process — the queer-subsisting individual is dialectically bound to the queer-existing social without inconsistencies. Moreover, we cannot say the ‘queer society’ supervenes the ‘queer individual’ because I am not implying any implicit or explicit conditional relationship; — as is highly criticized by Bourdieu — such that the values of the antecedent (queerness of the individual) reflects on to the consequent (queerness of the social) and vice versa in a way that can be seen as a “mechanical reaction” (cause, ergo, effect).[11]Now that this background assumption has been explicated, we can return to this aforementioned claim:’the queer society exists’.   We cannot measure the existence of queer people because it’s existence is not independent of consciousness, but we can measure the existence of the queer society through the material existence of people who self-identify as queer. In other words, what I am calling a ‘queer society’ is a society that fails at mirroring the richness of the human condition (inclusive of what intersubjectively subsists) of the members of the social. And, this ‘queer society’ exists independent of human consciousness. In analogy, say you had a family where a particular individual (say, an adopted child) felt as if they were excluded from the family and were the Other of the family. The feeling of exclusion and otherness may not be materially substantiated, but if we say the concept of family includes the values of unconditional love and inclusion, then the self-reported feeling of exclusion and otherness substantiates the claim that this particular family has failed to capture the aforementioned normative family values.

  • 2.4 — Queer People Do Not Exist

Hopefully, by this point, the claim that queer people do not exist should not be taken as an outlandish claim. Additionally, the secondary claim that the queer society exists should be ipso facto unless you actually hold the opinion that queer people actually do not exist in the world. However, before transitioning into ethics, we need to thoughtfully tease out the claim that the ‘queer’ existing individual and ‘queer’ existing society are mutually exclusive. Following the section on ‘existence’ it may seem redundant or, perhaps, nonsensical to discuss the mutual existence between these two concepts after I put emphasis on the existence/subsistence distinction — insofar that there is not a queer-tree where one can pick queer-fruit and have empirical evidence of queerness. And, in this regard, the non-existing queerness does not depend on the existence (or non-existence) of the queer society. It is, as I will show, not that simple.

I will further double-down on the claim that ‘queer people do not exist’ and argue that if we accept the queer-society, then it is the case that queer people do not subsist. And, conversely, if we accept that queer people subsist, then we are rejecting the existence of the queer society. This is the mutual exclusion that garners the ethical claim that will round out this essay. If we conceive of ‘society’ (say, the United States) like a set, and we define the members of said set based on spatial data (are you in or out of the boundaries of the United States) and political data (are you or are you not a US citizen), then the Other to this society is physically not contained and is not a citizen. Within this schema, there could not be an Other within the bounds/citizenry of the USA. However, we do not live in that world. So, if there are people who feel themselves as an Other, oppressed or queer, then it must be the case that the descriptive set of the social is defined in such a way that it excludes in such a way that this sense of Otherness, oppression or queerness is felt as a product of this excluding set.

This brings us the point of summing up the mutual exclusion: if there there is no normative concept of human, then there cannot be an Other as a natural outlier to the human (ideal human versus non-ideal human). Thus it is society that is defining itself as such to create exclusion that engenders social outliers. Our society is the ‘other’ to the normative concept of society — ergo, society is queer.

  • 3 — The Ethical Implications

First I will reiterate the last point of the last section in metaphor: Say we have a jigsaw puzzle the represents ‘the social’ and say there was a puzzle piece for every individual. If the totality of the puzzle was wholly inclusive to represent the full range of pieces then it’d be necessarily descriptive and sufficiently normative; insofar that the puzzle would be solvable without any unused remainder. If it is the case that there are pieces that feel as if they do not fit (and perhaps they do not), then we can say that either that particular puzzle piece is wrong (for whatever reason) or that the puzzle itself is poorly conceived. But, however, if there is no such thing as a normative value system to define the qualities of the ‘puzzle pieces’ then it is impossible for the puzzle piece to be in qualitative error. Therefore, it is the puzzle-itself that is poorly conceived at fully accounting for that which it should contain. The puzzle qua society is queer (the abnormal version to its own normative rendering).

The implication here is not that we should all go around telling queer people they’re imaginary, or something of that nature. As I started earlier, the state of queerness is not ex nihilo. If we follow the reasoning of Giorgio Agamben and replace ‘homo sacer’ with ‘queer’, we could say that the state justifies (creates) it’s power (and freedom) through the process of generating social outliers/untouchables/oppressed/queer — the ones who we can sacrifice — and stripping their power/freedom. Like we could almost go as far to say that the state gains the power to oppress by stripping the power from the oppressed reducing the category of queer to bare life (zoe) to maintain the states (bios) power.[12]Karl Popper attempted to argue out of this power paradox (paradox of Sovereignty for Agamben) by stating that we need to advocate for education that focuses on seeing beyond ‘systems of ideology’, so we can move towards transcending ideology.[13] This is, most likely, a fools errand. Ideologies in social formulation are ahistorical,[14] or as it’s eloquently articulated by Judith Butler, “I ‘come out’ [of the closet] only to produce a new and different ‘closet’” [15] — “man is by nature an ideological animal”[16] and there is no magic method of ‘problem solving’ to enable transcendence. Ethically speaking, the ethos of political inclusion ought to be an ethical norm on the grounds that universalizing the opposite — Kant’s first formulation[17] — would collapse into contradiction through reductio ad absurdum. Such that, creating a jigsaw puzzle around the goal of universal piece-exclusion (broadly construed) is no longer a puzzle (and a logical contradiction). Ergo, there is an ethical imperative towards the politics of inclusion.

And to clarify further — and pull out of the Popper paradox— political inclusion is not an ideology, rather it is a logically sound epistemic position that garners our relation to ideological systems. It flattens the ideological field by rejecting that any particular person or group has a privileged standpoint to ideological authority. It pronounces our de facto existence within the puzzle framework and that our respective identities qua ‘puzzle piece’ may coexist without judgment or assumptions of preferential power. Can we defend the Queer-as-noun politics of inclusion whilst abandoning the linguistic trap of ‘queer’ as adjective or ‘queer’ as verb without undercutting itself? How much does the empowerment of these identities support the will-to-power grab of the white-male assumptions of androcentric “rationality” or “masculinity”?[18][19] Can we strive for epistemic grounding to social formulation without the the conditionality of power (Foucault be damned)? Maybe it is a Utopian pipe dream to think we can live in a world of inclusion and/or to think we can unhook the baggage of ideology from greater aims of society.

  • 4 — The Advent of a Political Aporia

If we follow the reasoning — both said and implied — of this paper then it may be quite apparent that I have painted myself into a linguistic bind. The politics of inclusion implies the politics of exclusion, as the word ‘include’ creates (regardless of intention) the trace of it’s unsaid negation (exclude). The ethical consonance between the descriptive body politic and the normative social is not unbridled tolerance toward some political memorandum of ‘everybody gets an invite to the social party’, rather it is asking we just abstain — ahem, destroy — the party, eo ipso. Every standpoint will indefinitely attempt to reimagine the puzzle in their own image and even the tempered reasoning of the Popper proposal out of the paradox of tolerance[20] wholly undercuts itself and presupposes a preferential power/knowledge standpoint.

What is ‘the political’ if we strip away — destroy — the necessity towards ‘political identity’ — but merely a cajoled effort to ironically argue for an apolitical politics. Being a member of the ‘body politic’ implies a sense of semblance towards being identifiable and discernible within said ‘body’, otherwise what prevents the system from collapsing into totalitarianism? This renders the advent of a political aporia, where the logical conclusion of the ideal politic is no longer political. The mechanism of creating oppressive conditions, the other, the queer and the sacrificial lamb are omnipresent within the concept of the politic itself.   To think beyond the subsisting queer is to think beyond the political. Surely I have harshly lacerated myself as I leapt through the looking glass in pursuance of a hazy Utopia that rails against human psychology and our pragmatic judgments. Nonetheless, inefficacy is not a justification for passivity. One does not follow the preachings of Christ to become Christ, but rather it is become more Christ-like. Given the option between striving towards Utopia-like and the Dystopian-like opposition — I’d rather see what we can imagine than withdraw into nihilism.


Sources:

[1] Beauvoir, Simone de. The second sex. Vintage Classic, 2015. p. xxvi

[2] Combahee River Collective Statement. (n.d.). New Press. p.1

[3] Harding, Sandra G. The feminist standpoint theory reader: intellectual and political controversies. Routledge, 2009. p 4-5

[4] Ibid. 7

[5] Intentionally tugging at the Heideggerian terminology to imply that the expression ‘queer people do not exist’ can be felt as bucking against ones intuitive desire towards authenticity.

[6] Meinong, A. (1933). Meinongs theory of objects. London: Oxford University Press. P. 86

[7] This is not commentary on the ‘existence’ of people who happen to identify as queer, but is rather stating that the qualified existence of the concept/state of queerness is immaterial and henceforth the ‘queerness’ of a self-identifying queer-person can only be stated as subsisting.

[8] Althusser, Louis. On the reproduction of capitalism: ideology and ideological state apparatuses. Verso, 2014. p. 175

[9] Harding, Sandra G. The feminist standpoint theory reader: intellectual and political controversies. Routledge, 2009. p 9

[10] Bourdieu, Pierre. Outline of a theory in practice. Cambridge University Press, 2006. p. 72

[11] ibid. 73

[12] Agamben, Giorgio. Homo sacer. Seuil, 2003. p. 9-10, 21, 23, 25

[13] Popper, Karl. All Life is Problem Solving. Taylor and Francis, 2013. “On the Necessity of Peace” pp. 139-144

[14] Althusser, Louis. On the reproduction of capitalism: ideology and ideological state apparatuses. Verso, 2014. p. 175

[15] Butler, Judith . The lesbian and gay studies reader. Taylor & Frencis, 2012. “Imitations and Gender Subordination” p. 309

[16] Althusser, Louis. On the reproduction of capitalism: ideology and ideological state apparatuses. Verso, 2014. p. 188

[17] Kant, I. (n.d.). Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. Oxford U.P. [6:231]

[18] Butler, Judith, and Sara Salih. The Judith Butler reader. Blackwell, 2010. “Variations of Sex and Gender” p.132

[19] Haslanger, Sally Anne. Resisting reality social construction and social critique. Oxford University Press, 2013. 48-49

[20] Popper, K. R. (1999). The open society and its enemies (Vol. 1). London: Rutledge. Note 4, Chapter 7

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