REVIEW OF One-Dimensional Queer by Roderick A. Ferguson. POLITY PRESS, 2019. (HB/PB/EBOOK) 168PP.
REVIEW BY KATIE ARTHUR, KING’S COLLEGE LONDON
The multidimensional beginnings of gay liberation are being written out of history, but One-Dimensional Queer counters this prevalent situating of the gay liberation movement within a capitalist agenda. An essential introductory companion to any queer studies module, Ferguson’s compact account of the beginnings of the LGBT+ liberation movement in cross-issue coalitions weaves together those accounts erased, elided, and forgotten by the current mainstream movement.
Drawing from Herbert Marcuse’s 1964 essay One-Dimensional Man, Ferguson inherits a concern for the ideological containment that restricts and re-appropriates opposition to the status quo. Primarily for Ferguson, the one-dimensionality of mainstream discourses regarding the LGBT+ movement reveal how the once disruptive, radical, and progressive political potential of gay liberation became misdirected for the needs of state and capital.
Ferguson offers a sharp critique of the mainstream history of gay liberation and a reparative reading of the movements’ multidimensional beginnings, returning us to the voices and aims that have been forgotten by some in the community. In doing so, One-Dimensional Queer adds to the current discussion pushing for restorative historicizations across academic disciplines. The book serves as a cultural history that questions the price paid for the mainstreaming of the gay liberation movement, posing the question of the cost of an assimilative politics.
Chapter 1 returns to Stonewall as the event often cited as the beginning of a formally organised gay liberation movement. Ferguson roves across reports by frontline organisers including Sylvia Rivera, Latinx co-founder of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), and Asian American queer activist Kiyoshi Kuromiya, as well as materials from STAR, the Gay Liberation Front, Third World Gay Revolution, and Black Panthers. Ferguson’s analysis of these first-hand accounts illuminates the multi-dimensional beginnings to the LGBT+ movement, showing how those involved with the Stonewall uprising were rooted in cross-issue organising with tactics adopted from the anti-racist and civil rights movements.
One of Ferguson’s most poignant interventions occurs in his discussion of the transwomen of colour who propelled Stonewall. He argues the mainstream positioning of those organisers as apolitical subjects seized by spontaneous rage erases their cross-issue activism as well as the multi-dimensional understandings and ambitions of the early movement. Pointing to interactions between and across movements – from Latinx and Black members of the Gay Liberation Front forming Third World Gay Revolution as a means to combine anti-racist, decolonial, and anti-homophobic organising, to STAR members joining the Black Panthers for marches – Ferguson also acknowledges the systemic transphobia and homophobia faced by these multidimensional activists across movements. Recognising the work of transwomen of colour, on the frontlines and across issues, Ferguson provides a vital alternative history of recognition for the contemporary community.
After establishing the beginnings of the gay liberation movement as embedded within a multidimensional politics, Ferguson explores the mainstreaming of LGBT+ rights in Chapter 2. Drawing from Stuart Hall’s concept of depoliticisation, Ferguson charts how ‘homophile’ groups such as the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis disregarded anti-racist and anti-poverty aspects to liberation in an attempt to adopt an assimilationist stance in the face of societal pressure to conform. These discourses would set a precedent for queer liberation to be seen as a single issue embedded within liberal capitalism. Tracing the histories of ‘insider’ groups like the Gay Activist Alliance and National Gay Task Force, Ferguson argues that claims of homophobia were deliberately deployed as a means to promote liberal capitalism at the expense of other minority groups.
In Chapter 3, Ferguson focuses on urban space as a site of contestation through which we can see the one-dimensional discourse of gay liberation exploited to aid the expansion of liberal capitalism. From the Gay Latino Alliance in San Francisco to the Philadelphia based DYKETACTICS!, Ferguson uses frontline activist groups to explore how the cityscape became a negotiation of the potential use of space. As city officials and property owners attempted to reassert power and increase profit through urban planning in the late twentieth century, Ferguson points to how a selective notion of ‘gayness’ was enacted within discourses of redevelopment that exploited, excluded, and criminalised those members of the queer community outside of neoliberal market uses.
The feminism/s theorised and practiced by women of colour and the critical formations of queers of colour form the focus of Ferguson’s final chapter. He argues that it is only through these multidimensional approaches that we will be able to develop an analytical framework for understanding and challenging forms of state and economic violence – even as they are transformed and extended through modes of LGBT+ visibility and inclusion.
A critical approach to the erasure of gay liberation’s beginnings in anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-poverty activism, One-Dimensional Queer offers a concise and accessible history of the capitalist encroachment on the radical potential of LGBT+ organising. More than this, however, Ferguson offers the student of queer history hope: hope through the radical power of the LGBT+ movements’ multidimensional coalitions, a potential future from queer history that can again be reclaimed.