By Stewart Killeen
Last week’s Pride celebrations were for me both memorable and thought-provoking. Memorable for after many years of attempting to furtively evade my sexuality and personal longings I had both the privilege and honour to participate in this year’s national Pride Parade. And thought provoking because amidst the display of colour and lavishness, the plurality of personality and age, and the showcase of corporate sponsored inclusiveness and solidarity, there appeared a small contingent who’s warlike cries and protestations broke the seamless coherency of the burgeoning rainbow nation. This small group of dissenters, visibly distinct in their dark, stark attire and their warlike body paint, and bearing an indelible black and pink hand stitched flag called for gay liberation and for an end to what they perceive as a rainbow corporation.
The ever greater commercialisation of Pride and of the LGBT community at large represents for some a weakening of the political momentum that drives gay activism and is ultimately geared towards greater normalisation and mainstreaming of the LGBT community. While the growing trend of corporate-backed progressive movements has undoubtedly helped in both realising greater equality in terms of rights and privileges for the gay community and in affirming the presence of the wider LGBT community, the increasing assimilation to neoliberal market forces may pose a very real threat to the capacity to effect social change through political discourse, consequently undermining any chance for the blossoming of meaningful diversity and individual autonomy.
For one, the “single easy-to-adopt narrative” of LGBT equality, most especially on singular issues such as marriage, increasingly championed by many multinational companies is often employed as a means to distract attention from equally pertinent issues including exploitative labour practices, human rights offences, and continuing discriminative employment practices – so-called “pinkwashing.” And even where such progressive stances are sincere they are frequently aligned with heteronormative practices – marriage for example – thus potentially serving to marginalise and alienate even further those individuals who’s views and lifestyle choices do not conform to such standards. The possible net result of all of this is a kind of Faustian bargain where apparent gains are offset by a greater loss in the credibility of Pride and the wider LGBT movement’s political clout and earnestness, a loss made all the more acute given Pride’s historical affiliation and solidarity with members of society whose voices are drowned out and silenced by tired and chauvinistic normative discourse.
It is arguably the case of course that the superficial amour that exists between corporation and LGBT poses merely a benign threat to the latter’s political strength, but beneath the prismatic surface of this liaison, something deeper and more worrying may be discerned.
The sharpening of focus on identity and the growing tendency to discuss LGBT in terms of a culture in its own right should come as no surprise in a globalised world increasingly dominated by identity politics and issues of multiculturalism. Given the prevalent tendency in contemporary thinking to view identity as being inexorably imparted by a given culture we are left with a scenario where, as the philosopher John Gray has put it, collective cultures become “ascriptive, not elective… a matter of fate, not choice.” Add this to the monumental status accorded to identity within the LGBT community and the insatiable appetite of today’s leading corporations for personal information so as to market and package the very thing of identity and you begin to see the possible malignant threat operating. It is no wonder then that despite the general desire of young people to avoid the restrictions of “definitions and labels” we live in an age where the “boxes” of identity have simply got smaller but more numerous, and where “questioning” is endorsed as an identity within the context of LGBT.
The politics and economics of identity may offer what seems like diversity but it is only a semblance for the price paid in the end is real equality and autonomy. For the politics of identity is the “politics of difference”, and embedded in a culture where identity has become increasingly the preserve of the marketplace diversity becomes merely an ephemeral phantom in the service of a singular purpose, namely profit. The determinist logic that underlies current conceptions of multiculturism and identity, albeit noble in its purpose, combined with the opportunistic and increasingly invasive marketing strategies of large corporations may also give us cause for concern for “someone who takes autonomy seriously may worry whether we have replaced one kind of tyranny with another”.