Longing for a Queered ACLU

This is the type of article I am always hesitant to write and publish because the American Civil Liberties Union, or the ACLU, has done incredible work for decades. I am a proud member of the ACLU. But, someone has to write about such….

The ACLU is one of the main organizations that is consistently working toward bettering the nation and enforcing the Constitution (in the “proper,” “respectable” way). On Saturday, March 11, 2017, the ACLU hosted a resistance training summit that was also screened at thousands of various watch parties around the United States. I attended one of these! 

While listening to the various speakers, I noticed five things–problems of sort–with the ACLU’s event yesterday. (And keep in mind, these are things that I especially notice because these are related to topics I teach and research.)

  • There was no recognition of intersectionality. They talked about women, about immigrants, about transgender people, and others. There was no acknowledgment that there are, for example, Black trans, immigrant women. In other words, we all have numerous identities (or “adjectives”). These combine, intersect, and interact in ways that must be acknowledged outside of Gender Studies departments. We cannot talk about women without also talking about their gender identity, gender expression, religion, sexuality, able-bodiedness or lack of, for example. In other words, it lacked queerness big time.
  • The discussion was normative. When discussing current problems and solutions, everything was fairly general. The ACLU clearly did not consult with those who are in immediate danger, per se — the kind of danger that is more urgent than the slow(er) courtroom approach. Voices from the likes of bell hooks, Melissa Harris-Perry, and Cornel West or from BlackLivesMatter were not acknowledged, not included, and not represented. There was no sense of specifically asking minorities (especially “double minorities”) what they want and what they need. ACLU is radical for sure when considering the White Supremacy of United States History, but there are plenty of far more radical groups. In other words, it lacked queerness big time.
  • The speakers were normative. There were “diverse” speakers, but there were not speakers who transgressed societal expectations of gender expression. All of the speakers were able-bodied, too. In other words, it lacked queerness big time.
  • Neoliberalism was ignored. The ACLU and other such organizations are perfect embodiments of Neoliberalism. They are private organizations dependent on donations from private individuals that exist to do what government should do on its own. At no point today (or ever) do most people take time to acknowledge these political processes and social constructions. The ACLU also depends, in part, on another tenet of Neoliberal ideologies – paternalism or the necessity of a few important, powerful people who will take care of the rest of us. In other words, it lacked queerness big time.
  • Civil religion was perpetuated. The “greatness” of the United States was perpetuated. The meeting started with the national anthem. The myth of inclusion was repeated. The nation was emphasized over humans, over the globe, and over the universe. For example, “crimes against our nation” were discussed. Nationalism only does harm. In other words, it lacked queerness big time.

As the very word implies, “queer” does not name some kind of natural kind or refer to some determinate object; it acquires its meaning from its oppositional relation to the norm. Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence. “Queer” then, demarcates not a positivity but a positionality vis-à-vis the normative.

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda