The article I’m referring to is here, read at your own risk. I’m going to put ‘queer’ in quotes throughout because, while it’s relevant to discussion of the article, it’s so incredibly nebulous that I don’t think I can use it in good faith while writing out an actual argument.
I am fully aware of the implications of not only taking such obvious bait in the first place, but also typing out a lengthy reply. There has been enough backlash in the last two days, from both left and right, to Ana Valens’ article: I don’t want to slip into criticising the obvious, or reiterating talking points about its fundamental arguments. I would like to approach this from a birds-eye-view – taking into account the background and aims of such a piece, and what it might mean for the groups the author keeps mentioning. I’m doing this not as an outside observer, but as a lesbian woman skeptical of ‘queerness’ as a sociocultural concept in liberal media channels.
But a brief overview of the article and argument: Valens (a transgender woman hired by the Daily Dot specifically as an ‘NSFW reporter’ and self-identifying as ‘leatherdyke, furry, vorexpert’) identifies ‘public sex as integral to queerness’ (I am not able to specifically pick out which groups possess this ‘queerness’ – as I’ve said before, the very term is so nebulous and flexible that it’s hard to tell). Several ‘queer’ people provide their views on public sex, ranging from the disconcerted to the joyous. As pointed out in the Twitter replies, someone’s discomfort at being made to see public sex without being asked for consent is treated equally to someone else’s empowering experience at seeing it consensually. Valens explains this supposed penchant for sex in public, outlining historical public outlets for homoeroticism, and identifies more recent objections to sex in ‘queer spaces’ as ‘steeped in racism, classism, gentrification, and police surveillance’
I think Valens, as a white person with a background in a liberal and sophisticated niche of ‘queer’ BDSM and a job writing for the Daily Dot, is using the historical struggles of disenfranchised gay men, as well as recent racial tensions, to advocate for a very personal kind of sexual freedom. I was rather nervous to point this out – the ‘sex pest trans woman’ idea is fairly widespread nowadays – but I don’t think this is a gut reaction. I am concerned about Valens’ intentions in the same way I would be about any other writer attempting to rethink sexual boundaries. It is disturbing to me that someone listing their fetishes in the blurb of their Twitter account is using quasi-academic social justice language to call for a legitimisation of sex in public, and receiving a platform to do so.
The clear benefits that Valens, as a kink practicioner and fetishist, would receive from the normalisation of public sex are overshadowed in the article, seemingly on purpose. Although the author is rather pasty, almost all of the inset images are of black people, and it is this group who are repeatedly mentioned. A Foucaultian paragraph tenuously arguing about the links between modern tech surveillance, public policing and sex suddenly cuts to an interviewee’s specifically Black outlook on the subject in general, which then turns into the conclusion of the whole essay. ‘Queers of color’ are the only ‘queers’ mentioned in a point about homelessness and homophobia (do white people not get kicked out of their homes? Is the author suggesting people of colour are notably intolerant?). Valens veers towards using these groups to create legitimacy and relevance, a civil-rights veneer for a crumbling, yellowed incisor. This is, of course, especially despicable in the wake of BLM’s worldwide resurgence.
I also believe that the author’s use of ‘queer’ – and, in the plural, not ‘queer people’ but the rather demeaning ‘queers’ – serves to push my underlying point further. As I’ve said before, the word is a homogeniser, reducing a diverse range of people into a nebulous, docile mass. As someone with actual boundaries, I deeply dislike being drawn into this argument on behalf of a legion of fetishists who have nothing to do with me. I did not consent to it. This only backs up my original objection: this cloud of ‘queerness’, both easy and difficult to define, considered harmonious and cooperative, is only good for outside forces to use and manipulate. We are no longer independent people who happen to share a sexuality, but a useful consumer market and a tenderising buzzword.
When inflammatory articles like this appear – which they do, and regularly, in droves – we should not meet them halfway by simply arguing on the opposite side – as internet users, we should question the motivations of the writer to incite the argument in the first place. And so let that saying of Cassianus apply in this case: Cui bono fuerit?