Imagining different worlds and other queer visions

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What kind of world would you like to live in? In this post, a few people from different countries provide fragments of theirs. Please add your own to this mix. 

In September 2014, Antu Sorainen asked a handful of academics from different countries for their “queer vision” for a talk she was giving at the Turku Queer Conference in Finland on 27 September 2014.

Antu’s talk posed questions about visions and directions for social justice struggles within the context of global corporate power on the one hand, and the growing institutionalisation of formal equality, for sexual minorities, in many – though far from all – countries of the global north, on the other.

Writing this from Britain, where the idea that a new, better world can be rationally planned and delivered has lost much of its persuasive power; and where optimism that the world could be significantly more just has waned, what visions and hopes endure? Beliefs about the future may not constitute a road map; they may not remain as aspirations within that future – as earlier utopian novels, such as HG Wells’s A modern utopia and Thomas More’s Utopia, only too clearly reveal. But that doesn’t mean imagining how our societies, communities or worlds could be otherwise is a waste of time.

Even if visions tell us more about the present than about the dreams of those still to come, exploring what could be is vital. It reminds us that what is, the world we inhabit, doesn’t have to be the way it is. Our world could function otherwise; and in different places, present day commitments to greater social justice have inspired and helped bring about tremendous change. Elsewhere, social dreaming keeps alive the will to change and the creative exploration of how social life could be organised (and perhaps disorganised too), even if such dreams lack the necessary force to become reality.

At times, the left spends too much time and energy fighting over visions of what another world could be like. But if this world isn’t based on a blue-print, and if it doesn’t take one single form, current ideas of the changes we’d like to experience can sit next to each other, abutting, supplementing and interacting in ways that don’t depend on mortal combat – the crushing of one dream by another.

Below are some fragments, from those who contributed to Antu’s quest for “queer visions” plus one from Antu herself.

We invite you to add a piece. It doesn’t need to be about a specifically queer world or queer future. What kind of world would you like to live in?

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Sarah Schulman:

My utopia is a place with no shunning. Where a friend is a person who helps you make peace. Where families help each other, and are kind to people who are not in their family. Where we intervene when people ask for help. Housing, education, food and health care are free (where housing is a human right). The individual voice has room to breathe and yet responsibility is shared. It’s a place of accountability, opportunity, and recognition of complexity. Some of the most destructive people on earth have rights. Rights are not the key to justice. They close one arena of conflict and open another. But in reality, I have no hope for “queer” itself as long as it continues on the trajectory of rights instead of substantive change.

 

Brinda Bose

Under the British colonial penal code introduced in India from 1861, homosexuality was a criminal activity; the vision of decriminalized LGBT lives has been a wondrous dream and a concrete struggle from the late 1990s. A Delhi High Court ruling decriminalised homosexuality in 2009; and the community and its supporters were ecstatic; it was a dream come true.

But the vision crumbled in December 2013, when the Supreme Court of India upheld the heinous section 377 of the IPC.  So the battles have begun afresh, new strategies for legal freedom and new visions for another ‘after’ are being harnessed. The movement is seeking to reinvent itself and strengthen its reserves for a long hard fight ahead.

Given that the Hindu Right Wing has in the meanwhile swept to political power in the country, it seems like an even greater challenge. It is particularly difficult to be shown hope and promise and then suffer the kind of disillusionment that the legal see-sawing of the anti-377 case has produced in the country. It is not, of course, that the vision of queer futures turns on legal sanction; it has often been argued that the idea of queering may itself find new life and possibilities in transgressing the law where the law is oppressive.

But for a community whose identity has in fact found a sense of being in its visibilisation through the anti-377 struggles, and a sense of power in the possibility of gaining legal legitimacy, the question then becomes  ‘’What happens to a dream deferred?’

The Indian LGBT community hopes that the dream will come back with greater resolve to push toward a brighter horizon, and is re-building its vision of a citizenry where there is no proscription for the way one can be, intellectually, socially, politically, sexually.

A law that criminalises the community will deter no one from loving and living the way they want and must but, as a politics, each and every queer-thinking person believes that people of every orientation must be equal citizens. And so the queer vision in India appropriates this battle and makes it everyone’s, straight or not.

It is both empowering and ironical that in some ways a repressive law has perhaps brought some queer people and some straight people together in a fight that transcends sexual identities for a politically-charged idea of freedom and equality.

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Alexander Kondakov

Looking at this situation from the inside, I dream of a permanent revolution that has no objectives, nor goals, and yet transforms the world we inhabit by destruction of foundations of repressions: gender norms, capital flows and prejudices. My dream comes true in the simple everyday revolutionary acts of people who relate to each other with pleasure, responsibility, ease, care, and without violence. These relations may not be visible to the outside world but they constitute the ground for failure of political and social institutions that exhausted themselves and must give way to the queer utopia.

 

Antu Sorainen

Housing for all. A universal right to day care and public health care, including dental care – good teeth is more important for equality, sexual freedom, diversity and democracy than one would think. Basic income but also an active social policy: one which will look after those who need support and protection in the private sphere. We need state statistics and more bureaucracy to ensure diversity. More teachers! More schools! Societal conditioning that supports all care relations, not just those based on marriage or couple norms. Legal and tax support for trade unions; a really high tax for those who want to eat meat; tax benefits for manual labourers, especially for those working in care and community infrastructure sectors. More support for critical research; an independent media to guarantee high level discussions in party politics and in public. And maybe better wages for politicians so we would get better politicians and better laws?

I have just described the society in which I was brought up (with some additional issues). Why it created children, our politicians, who want to eat their own “mother” is beyond me – it is also a very queer concern.

 

Davina Cooper

I want a place for scepticism, dry wit and a continuing sense of the absurd in a social world whose resources are shared, land un-owned, and cultural differences of ethnicity and gender not defined by what you are born into, though you can be born into difference, but power should not rest upon it, and differences can change.

Where the shit work is shared (for there is likely always to be unsatisfying tasks that need doing), and other work is challenging or fun; where profits don’t accrue, and animals aren’t exploited; where there is time for contemplation and space for ambivalence. Where staying put is to embark on change, and moving doesn’t cause environmental damage. Where politics is vibrant, and the administration of things is done by those who enjoy managing in a democratic context where governing is creative and sometimes dramatic, and people engage and drop out, according to need and as the mood takes them.

Queerly, sex here is not an activity or gendered status; maybe not even a word… Physical intensities come in different forms and flourish in different places. Relationships are evolving networks that may or may not seek shared housing; and children attach to many people, with different kinds of responsibility. Free, across streets and public spaces, films show that demand thought and action and play; art is made and theatre happens; as the streets fill with music that is varied and sometimes dissonant, and its corners fill with dancing.

 

What kind of world would you like to live in?

 

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8 thoughts on “Imagining different worlds and other queer visions

  1. What kind of world would I like to live in?
    1. Where well-being and not material profit is the first priority.
    2. Where we have learned to balance ecological living with our high-technological civilization (ending the fossil-fuel era).
    3. Where extensive re-wilding has occurred, we have done our utmost to repair the damage, and HALF the planet is given over to wilderness.
    4. Where democracy has penetrated into all of our institutions, especially work.
    5. Where artists and writers are actually valued!
    6. Where we have a culture that brings people together and does not isolate them.
    7. Where any kind of prejudice is extinct.
    8. Basically, any trend that’s opposite to where the mainstream of our culture seems to be headed!

  2. From Janet Newman:

    Hope

    Hope is of course a positive asset. It is what makes us human, what we need to take us through troubled times. Yet it is also what gives us acute pain when it is dashed.

    Hope seems impossible in austerity Britain. But austerity also potentially ruptures past certainties of progress and growth, allowing other imaginings to take hold – if only for a while or at the margins.

    Speaking personally, there has been a profound disjuncture in my work, with, in the first half, a professional career working towards transforming the profession and changing lives, we hoped, for the better- suffused with hope and, of course, the arrogance that sustained it. I also participated in lots of quasi utopian projects geared, in different ways, to transformative social change: community arts/theatre, collective living, the women’s movement, anti psychiatry groups, all geared towards constitutive and generative work.

    Then as an academic I have made my reputation in critical work that has deconstructed what others thought were progressive ideas – from the welfare state and equal opportunities to more recent moves towards enhancing public participation, choice, coproduction, partnership working, decentralisation, modernisation and so on, in each case showing how these served as legitimating devices for furthering the interest of capital by installing new governmentalities of the self.

    As such academic work tends to produce a politics of despair rather than of hope.

    We train students to be analytic, critical, taking apart those ideas out of which a previous generation crafted hopeful possibilities. We ensure that any normative or idealised statements are stripped out of PhD theses (apart, perhaps, from the final paragraphs).

    They are taught to erase the personal and affective from their scholarly work, leaving a stripped down, eviscerated self prepared for admission to academic life.

    So now I’m thinking about the power of the stories we tell…

    Stories

    The stories we tell of the times we live through tend to be rather grand stories, detached from the specificities of particular moments in particular places. These produce a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. When I understand my time as characterised by neoliberalism, a big force sweeping all before it, hope seems less than possible. To hope at all is to refuse the logic of history, to fail to see the underlying forces that collapse the particular into the general, or collapse the particularities of time and space

    But when I talk to people trying to make change, or to live change in a different way, hope reappears, is resurgent and unstoppable in a thousand particular ways.

    We do, of course, need more than stories, more than isolated examples; this is the work of social theory, theory that stitches examples into a newly crafted whole. But social theory tends to get frozen into binaries: structure/agency, macro/micro, with the occasional reference to meso or even mediation. My own work – on women ‘working the spaces of power’ – explores ways in which new social and political formations emerge out of social activism, and how these may be incorporated into dominant relations of power. But it also points to the incompleteness of dominant projects and the constant resurgence of new forms of activism – forms that offer, once again, the possibility of hope.

    Janet Newman
    j.e.newman@open.ac.uk

  3. My world is a fluid one with endless possibilities oozing to happen. We have all agreed about what the guidelines for us to survive on earth are: We are open to creation that promotes our flourishing and evolving into more complex and caring beings. We are against that which inhibits this (r)evolution.

    Everyone has food, shelter and opportunities for learning. We have cool technologies that allow us to stay connected all over the planet and share our knowledge. We travel a lot. Well-aware that we are inter-dependent, humans know we’re stewarding the earth and all its inhabitants, including animals, plant-life and the earth itself – this includes water. We basically like each other or at least are polite.

    There is a global entity that does regulate. Humans being human, we are bound to infringe on persons, property (yes, we own things but not to access) and our entire ecology. The U.N. has tried as have other global organizations. We need more creative types in this governing body who are not as interested in defending their own positions and jockeying for power and privilege for who gets to decide what for whom. They are excited to do this work and happy to consult colleagues who also are creative. Offenders of the regulations need arts-based therapy. This does work to open hearts and minds to compassion as well as cool-headed decision-making. Some will need to be isolated and therapy for a long time. Sigh.

    And the arts will flourish above all. Art transcends all boundaries since time immemorial and yes, artists are critical thinkers. Our impulses to wreak wanton destruction and our revengeful rage responses to it will be held in scary movies, sad symphonies, bold performance art and stories that are well-written – age appropriate, of course. As well as warnings of what can go wrong, we humans also create such beautiful, inspirational things.

    That’s my world that I’d like to live in.

  4. Imagining a Queer Present?

    Having listened to Antu Sorainen’s talk on queer visions at the Turku Queer Conference (Finland on 27 September 2014), and read Davina Cooper’s blog post on the topic, I try to write down some thoughts of my own on imagining and making queer futures.

    For me, it seems surprisingly difficult to imagine the kind of world I would want to live in. Reading the visions collected by Antu and posted by Davina, I find that I share many notions of a better future with the writers featured: shared responsibilities, recognition of complexity, free housing and health care, support for critical research and so forth. We can imagine better futures, and therefore we can also struggle to make those futures into present reality.

    However, I think we also need to imagine better ways to get there. In Antu’s talk, and in some of the individual visions presented, there’s a hint of what reads to me as ‘desperate positivity’: We are not doing enough, so we must try harder. We must stay positive, to believe, to do more, to be more.

    After a fashion, I agree – but I’m not convinced that this is the message we most critically need to hear. Looking at the queer activists among my own friends, looking at myself, I think we already know that we must do more, to try harder. And some of us are exhausting ourselves very fast because of that knowledge. More often than not, the ‘we’ becomes an ‘I’, and people take more and more on themselves, as the only way to be certain that something gets done is to do it yourself. And while most of us know that activism, ideally, is empowering and gives more than takes, we also know that it stops being fun when you’re too tired.

    I’m not saying that we shouldn’t imagine or that we shouldn’t struggle. But we need alternative ways to motivate ourselves besides just having to try harder. As Alexander Kondakov points out in their vision: “My dream comes true in the simple everyday revolutionary acts of people who relate to each other with pleasure, responsibility, ease, care, and without violence.” We need to stop telling ourselves that nothing we do is ever enough – we are all too ready to believe that.

    In the future imagined by Davina Cooper “shit work is shared (for there is likely always to be unsatisfying tasks that need doing), and other work is challenging or fun”. We can’t afford to see this merely as a vision of things to come – I believe we must build our present of queer activism on it.

  5. Solidarity Forever was a fine Wobbly song that invited people to recognise the humanity they shared with other people, including those whom they had never met. A hundred years later solidarity has become an unfashionable concept. The decision by European governments to reduce the funding for services to rescue migrants who are in danger of drowning is a shocking example of this lack of solidarity. Over three thousand people have died this year, while trying to reach Europe in unsafe and overcrowded boats. So desperate is their desire to leave civil war, hunger and corruption behind that they are willing to pay money to people whom they know to be unscrupulous to reach what they believe to be the utopia of the European Union. My utopian dream would be the revival of solidarity as a basic value. Once solidarity has become part of our common sense, we shall all be in a much stronger position to seek the political utopia that would cherish the humanity and the aspirations of everyone.

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