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Issue: 7.3: Summer 2009
Guest Edited by Kate Bedford and Janet R. Jakobsen
Toward a Vision of Sexual and Economic Justice

Envisioning Economic and Sexual Justice Spatially

Jon Binnie

Opening Remarks

How can we square sexual justice with economic justice? How can we integrate a concern for sexual and economic justice in our work when sexuality and economics so often appear incompatible or unrelated in academic discussions? Material and economic concerns often appear highly marginal within sexual politics; as Richard Goldstein (2002: 19) in his polemic against the Gay Right has contentiously and provocatively claimed, "poverty is the only dirty secret left in our community." More surprisingly, this marginality of the economic has often been reproduced in academic research on the transnational politics of sexuality, as Geeta Patel (2006: 25) has argued: "Too often the literature on transnational sexualities portrays sexuality as being constituted outside capital, outside political economies, outside transnational or global finance." While Patel is right to highlight this concern, it is critical that we simultaneously recognise the almost complete absence of sexuality within political economic accounts of globalization (Binnie, 2004). Particularly given the current state of economic, social, and political affairs, it is important to think through the interconnections between sexuality and economics, and to acknowledge the dangers of easy moralising in producing well-meaning explanatory accounts of inequality.

Guy Hocquenghem (1993: 93) has argued that, "the anti-capitalist movement can often be pro-family, and indeed anti-homosexual." Erotophobia and homophobia on the Left is widespread. It may be less explicit and more understated nowadays, but it has not gone away completely. This legacy has meant that some political economic accounts of gay male consumption and the pink economy have been problematic and even harmful. For instance, in his pioneering book on the material basis of sexual citizenship, David Evans produced a highly voyeuristic depiction of what he terms the "virilisation" of gay male consumption, with a particular emphasis on the paraphernalia associated with leather and sadomasochism (Evans, 1993). Despite these concerns about the way erotics and sexual politics have been integrated within some political economic analyses, there are studies in which economics and sexuality are integrated more productively. Lee Badgett (1997: 70) has powerfully critiqued dominant discourses about the pink economy, de-bunking myths of gay and lesbian affluence by arguing that, "the real economic difference [of lesbians, bisexuals and gay men] comes from the harmful effects of employment discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people."

Beyond the Gay Affluence Stereotype

While economics and sexuality may sometimes seem difficult to reconcile within academic debates, they appear prominently within media discourses around the pink economy that have constructed (lesbians and) gay men as an affluent niche market in late capitalism. In an essay I wrote over a decade ago on the intersection between sexuality, citizenship and the market in the UK and the Netherlands, I noted the growth of media visibility of gay men and lesbians as model consumers (Binnie, 1995). I argued that as this pink economic discourse emerged during a period of economic recession, it produced a potentially harmful stereotype that fed into a growing resentment over the representation of gay men and lesbians as an economically privileged group in society. Writing this article nearly a year after the Barnard colloquium, it would appear that Naomi Klein's discussion of "precariousness" in relation to neoliberalism and the global economy seems ever more relevant in th e current global financial crisis.

Other writers have argued that the myth of lesbian and gay affluence is dangerous in playing into the hands of the Christian Right. As Hardisty and Gluckman (1997: 218) have noted: "Recently, a new stereotype has crept into the antihomosexual literature of the right. In addition to being portrayed as immoral, disease-ridden child molestors, gay men and lesbians are now described as superwealthy, highly-educated free spenders." Stereotypes of affluence therefore fuel notions that gay rights are "special" or additional rights, and that lesbians and gay men are a privileged minority in no need of legal protection against discrimination on the basis of homophobia. These stereotypes are firmly established within the media and also get reproduced in academic discussions of sexual politics and citizenship. Consider Brenda Cossman's (2007) highly stimulating and thought-provoking book Sexual Citizens, which moves beyond a narrow focus on the rights of lesbians and gay men to examine the racialised and gendered politics of poverty and welfare reform in the United States. Cossman's attempts to broaden debates on sexual citizenship to bring poverty into the equation are of course welcome and necessary, and build on the work of Anna Marie Smith (2007) in this area. However, there are aspects of Cossman's book that make me a bit uneasy. Cossman argues that in some media discourses and legal cases, lesbians and gay men have now become configured as model citizens, a far cry from representations portraying them as sexual outlaws: "Not unlike the Fab Five of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, gay and lesbian subjects are the new model citizens, the heroic citizens, standing for all that is valued in American citizenship. In an extraordinary reversal of the more traditional terms of heterosexual sexual citizenship, gay men and lesbians are here becoming the most becoming of citizens" (177). I think it is easy to overstate the extent to which lesbians and gay men have become full citizens within the United States (see for instance the passing of Proposition 8 in California). I feel particularly uneasy when reading the discussion of gay affluence and model consumer-based citizenship in Queer Eye alongside CossmanŐs exploration of poverty within the heterosexual family—principally because the question of queer poverty is rarely addressed explicitly.

Given the problematic representation of queer poverty and the way the pink economy discourse became visible in the UK during the last recession, what can we look forward to in the current global financial crisis? In my essay from 1995, I noted how the growth in media visibility of a pink niche market in the UK at the start of the 1990s coincided with the recession. There was much discussion in the British media of how this particular niche market appeared to be thriving during an economic downturn and how it appeared to be resilient and recession-proof. In the UK, we can already ascertain a reaction in the media against the forms of lifestyle consumption that have proliferated in the past decade. Lifestyle consumption practices associated with aspiration and class mobility are now denigrated as vulgar, unsophisticated and unethical, thereby reproducing a class-based discourse.

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