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I Do? Towards an (Alternative) Alternative Sexual Politics
Unformatted Document Text:  17 of color continue to be much broader in its understanding of transformational politics … While heterosexual privilege negatively impacts and constrains the lived experiences of ‘queers’ of color, so too do racism, classism, and sexism.” (446) Thus, even as the political limits of “queer” identity is exposed, Cohen’s model suggests that political alliances can only be forged among those similarly situated in hierarchies of power. Yet this leads to the very atomism Cohen criticizes among queer activists. If intersectional, identitarian experience becomes the basis for political practices, then only poor, “queer” women of color, whether “queer” signifies a “welfare mother” or lesbian, can contest power it its multi-systemic, intersectional form. If queers draw an unjustified political line between everything heterosexual (as opposed to heteronormative) and everything queer, Cohen runs the risk of drafting a politics where only those similarly oppressed can work together. Barbara Smith, too, acknowledges that her own intersectionalized experiences as a black lesbian makes her particularly capable of locating the interconnectedness of oppressions. “‘Queer’ activists focus on ‘queer’ issues,” she protests, “and racism, sexual oppression and economic exploitation do not qualify, despite the fact that the majority of ‘queers’ are people of color, female, or working class.” (1993, 13) Note too how the Combahee River quotation cited above concludes: “…the synthesis of these oppressions creates the condition of our lives. As Black women we see Black feminism as the logical political movement to combat … oppressions that all women of color face.” (qtd. in Cohen 1997, 441) To make it clear, my critique is not the whiny white guy’s proverbial claim to victimhood and exclusion. Rather, if only queers of color can authorize transformative politics, if Smith’s experiences were similarly enabling, and if Black feminism is only logical for the collective as Black women, than any collaborative political project is strangled from the outset by an insuperable atomism. If the charge is made that both mainstream gay and queer activism occlude more nuanced, structurally attentive understandings of power, an alternative politics must be proffered that deprioritizes, rather than just reprioritizes, identity and experience. Cohen’s final argument for an expansive queer politics is her strongest, without parallel in either the Vaid or Smith readings she cites. So too, this “strong” intersectional

Authors: Fischel, Joseph.
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of color continue to be much broader in its understanding of transformational politics …
While heterosexual privilege negatively impacts and constrains the lived experiences of
‘queers’ of color, so too do racism, classism, and sexism.” (446) Thus, even as the
political limits of “queer” identity is exposed, Cohen’s model suggests that political
alliances can only be forged among those similarly situated in hierarchies of power. Yet
this leads to the very atomism Cohen criticizes among queer activists. If intersectional,
identitarian experience becomes the basis for political practices, then only poor, “queer”
women of color, whether “queer” signifies a “welfare mother” or lesbian, can contest
power it its multi-systemic, intersectional form. If queers draw an unjustified political
line between everything heterosexual (as opposed to heteronormative) and everything
queer, Cohen runs the risk of drafting a politics where only those similarly oppressed can
work together. Barbara Smith, too, acknowledges that her own intersectionalized
experiences as a black lesbian makes her particularly capable of locating the
interconnectedness of oppressions. “‘Queer’ activists focus on ‘queer’ issues,” she
protests, “and racism, sexual oppression and economic exploitation do not qualify,
despite the fact that the majority of ‘queers’ are people of color, female, or working
class.” (1993, 13) Note too how the Combahee River quotation cited above concludes:
“…the synthesis of these oppressions creates the condition of our lives. As Black women
we see Black feminism as the logical political movement to combat … oppressions that
all women of color face.” (qtd. in Cohen 1997, 441)
To make it clear, my critique is not
the whiny white guy’s proverbial claim to victimhood and exclusion. Rather, if only
queers of color can authorize transformative politics, if Smith’s experiences were
similarly enabling, and if Black feminism is only logical for the collective as Black
women, than any collaborative political project is strangled from the outset by an
insuperable atomism. If the charge is made that both mainstream gay and queer activism
occlude more nuanced, structurally attentive understandings of power, an alternative
politics must be proffered that deprioritizes, rather than just reprioritizes, identity and
experience.
Cohen’s final argument for an expansive queer politics is her strongest, without
parallel in either the Vaid or Smith readings she cites. So too, this “strong” intersectional


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