I’m just beginning to read Chandan Reddy’s Freedom with Violence: Race, Sexuality and the U.S State (2011). The book critiques the way neoliberal societies (here: the U.S.) construct narratives of freedom around rights and anti-hate legislation that perpetuates state violence. Reddy ‘argues for modes of critique from the perspective of queers of colour, modes consciously and formatively tied in to critical ethnic studies. We might say,’ he writes, ‘that race is the political unconscious of sexuality, in its current mode as an amendment to twentieth-century orders of legitimate violence’ (p.17).
I have not yet read my way through the full extent of Reddy’s thought-provoking study, but I am particularly interested in exploring how his U.S.-focused insights translate into German and English contexts. For thinking about ‘race [as] the political unconscious of sexuality’ undoubtedly opens up important new perspectives on the relationship between colonialism and the political rights campaigns of early homosexual activists such as Magnus Hirschfeld, and it also raises fresh questions about the relationship between race and sexuality during the Nazi regime, and its legacies.
As always, I am also interested in locating questions of gender in these debates. Given Reddy’s focus on dismantling deeply entrenched power structures, I was taken aback to find that he uses the abbreviation ‘GLBTQ’ when discussing sexual subcultures and politics. In my experience of sexual debates in the U.K. the abbreviation is usually rendered ‘LGBTQ’. I too use ‘LGBTQ’, putting ‘lesbian’ first as a deliberate feminist challenge to the male primacy within patriarchal language.
So why is ‘GLBTQ’ still in use? A quick internet search brought me to GLBTQ.com, an ‘encyclopaedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer culture’. In 2003, someone questioned the abbreviation on the site’s discussion forum, receiving the following response:
‘The G, L, B, T, and Q in our name are meant to convey a sense of unity while recognising the distinctive characteristics of the many groups that comprise our community. The order in which the letters appear is arbitrary, and is not intended to convey any historical or other priority for any particular group.’
This reply seems to me misguided. For the order of these letters is not ‘arbitrary’, but the product of a cultural unconscious that renders women second to men. Language and the unconscious have their own contingencies, of course. Could the use of GLBTQ versus LGBTQ be culturally specific, with the former more frequently used in the U.S.?
Feminist debates about language may not be particularly fashionable at the moment, but the question of where women – and gender – are located in political, socio-cultural and theoretical discourse remains absolutely central to any critique of power.