Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, these are the words which make up the acronym, LGBT. Most people are familiar with this acronym, most people know what each letter stands for and most people refer to these collective identities as a community.
But, I want to challenge this notion of community. When one thinks of a community, a neighborhood, or specifically regional area, usually comes to mind.
However, community, when applied to those who fall under the LGBT umbrella, essentializes an extremely complex and intimately personal experience that cannot be neatly compacted into a cohesive unit.
In a sense, some may find this argument as one riddled with semantics, but I feel it necessary to challenge the notion of community — in order to both historically and politically contextualize LGBT — as a coalition and movement, rather than the shape “community” has recently taken.
More or less, what I am saying, is that the LGBT community should go back to its radical roots.
In the four years I’ve been a part of this community, I have observed a great deal about the way community functions within either specific discourses of identity, or simply as an empty word heavily embraced by LGBT individuals who wish to assimilate into society.
Further, both functions of community to me, are misguided at best and dangerous at worst.
My problem with the former, is that — while learning and becoming familiar with discourses of identity is important in order to build coalitions and understanding among different LGBT identities — the tendency for people to become fixated on very specific discourses of identity, often leads to separatism, and disunity within the community as a whole.
The latter, I would call identity politics.
I will clarify that, when I say “identity politics,” I do not mean to connote the way the phrase has been popularly used to frame oppressed peoples as too fixated on their oppressions, for speaking out about their oppression.
What I do mean, when I say “identity politics,” is that I think the hyper-fixation on identity as a political issue should be scrutinized.
Further, I feel as though the problem with identity politics as they function within the LGBT community, is that different LGBT identities have become subject to moralization dependent upon the different ways LGBT individuals can be privileged or oppressed for other identities.
To clarify, critique of different and unique dynamics of privilege within the LGBT community, is essential and crucial in order to ensure the safety of most marginalized members of the LGBT community.
However, the ways in which identity politics moralize privilege and oppression, is useless and reductive.
I have seen, without exaggeration, the pitfalls of this politic, over 1,000 times. For example, there is non-stop discourse within lesbian and bisexual women’s’ circles, which seeks to pit bi and lesbian women against each other through tactics of isolation, separatism and moralization of their identities as lesbian and bisexual.
And, as a result of this divisive discourse, terms of derision such as “monosexual,” or “bihet,” arise.
These terms and discourses, are often congruent to other separatist and transmisogynistic discourses which attempt to delegitimize trans women’s womanhood. Ultimately, these arguments, and these dehumanizing and insulting attempts to create a sense of division and separation between different oppressed groups, is nothing but damaging.
And, the popularization of this separation based on identity, I believe, is not only dangerous, but entirely incompatible with what the LGBT radicals who helped build LGBT as a movement and coalition, had in mind.
LGBT as a coalition and movement, I believe, is a better goal than community. I think, that while “community” may help some gay, bi or trans people, community is simply not worth pursuing.
Because the neoliberalization of LGBT as a “community” has left many assimilated, complacent, apolitical and more wrapped up in identity than the dismantlement and destabilization of the oppressors which have classed us as other and oppressed in the first place.
The Stonewall riots, were about forming coalition in order to fight for LGBT liberation, and throughout the AIDS crisis, gay, bi and trans people used radical tactics such as die-ins to fight for their humanity and their lives. However, this radical spirit and fight has seemingly begun to dissipate, due to the process of assimilation and homonationalism.
The very police that criminalized, brutalized and murdered LGBT people during the Stonewall riots, are now welcomed into the “community” with open arms; the very prisons which held gay, bi and trans people for existing, now profits off of Pride. And, tragically, many young LGBT people simply do not know or understand any of this.
The systematic and purposeful erasure of the history of LGBT as a movement and political coalition, is killing the once radical spirit of a community through assimilation.
This is why I firmly feel that we do not need community, we need action.