We Build a Wall around ur Sancturaries': Queerness and Precarity // Joni Pitt and Sophie Monk
  ~ Queer College of Art

For our final part of this project we wanted to share with you an important text to us here at the Queer College of Art, one that is intimate and deeply personal, while simultaneously being firm and clear in its demands for collective change. Joni Cohen and Sophie Monk in “We build a wall around our sanctuaries’: Queerness and Precarity” deploy a Marxist reading to highlight queer’s fundamental connection to precarity. In order to show the immiserated class struggle of queerness the paper is deconstructed across four sections: The heterosexual household; Queer (in)access to the household; Queer (in)access to welfare; and Queer families and Queer households.

Before we start our summary of the text we would like to take the opportunity to re-read with you Cohen and Monk’s address, in which they state their aims and intentions of paper:

“To our own queer family.

In this article, we hope to offer an analysis of the material conditions of queer lives in austerity Britain. We want to shed light on the multitude of violent forces that attempt to re-organise and destroy queer communities, but also point out the forms of struggle in which we are already engaged. Queerness and precarity go hand in hand. The fact that you are now reading this article is only made possible by the queer support and solidarity the writers share, and its successful completion is a continuing surprise to us both. Firstly, however, we must begin by de-centring the heterosexual household in Marxist analyses of production and reproduction, in the light of queer politics.”1

The heterosexual household

The paper introduces the household as the epicentre of production in which life is produced and reproduced under late capitalism. Marxist feminism has already remodeled the position of the male proletarian worker as the figurehead of the heterosexual household. His position is only made possible by a network of invisible domestic labour, that often falls on the wife and children. As these forms of domestic labour such as cleaning, ironing, cooking, fucking, caring, comforting, entertaining and most other forms of affective labor are unwaged they in many cases leave the women and children of heterosexual households economically dependent on the male worker.

Queer (in)access to the household

Cohen and Monk now move on to address the structural inequalities queers often face in regards to the household unit, in the forms of being rejected once coming out and the ingrained homophobia and transphobia “produced by and through” household units. According to a report by the Alber Kennedy Trust in 2015, in the UK 69% of youth have experienced rejection, abuse and violence from their families after coming out. What today’s youth are experiencing is the individualisation of production (waged work) and reproduction labor (that of self care, and household management). The physically and mentally damaging conditions queers face often results in trauma that is left to be faced alone or by friends in similar conditions. Cohen and Monk go on to highlight the important relation between queerness and employment:

“From the trans women who faces the daily struggle of passing as cis-gendered in order to keep her job, to the lesbian who experiences daily homophobia in low-waged, casualised bar work.”2  

Queers often struggle to gain access to the necessary training restricting their access to long-term waged employment, highlighting the contradiction that while we are willing to acknowledge the wage gap between women who are earning only 70% of their male counterparts then why are we not willing to show the wage gap between straights and queers? The queers that do have access to employment, often on a low income or part-time basis, are frequently forced into hiding their sexuality and identity.

“Herein we may finally abandon the vulgar Marxist notion of queerness as a bourgeois frivolity, bracketed under the hurriedly dismissed category of “identity politics” to which working class people have no access, and instead understand that queerness constitutes a particular economic marginalisation, that must be integrated into even the most economic reductionist analyses of capitalism.”

Queer (in)access to welfare

Here we see the relationship between queers typically rejected by the heteronormative household unit, and their reliance on welfare systems. However this system of support as we have all seen often turns into a system of control. Cohen and Monk make the important point of the disciplinary function of individualising the welfare needs of queer subjects, which directly restricts the ability of collective organising and solidarity. We: the members of today’s queer youth often fall into the category of the “underserving” based on a policing of our identities. Queers are disproportionately reliant on sexual and mental health services, which are currently facing rapid cuts in funding both in the UK and Internationally. Reports show in the UK that 1 in 4 LGB and 4 out of 5 trans people are estimated to have experienced domestic violence.

“Every cut to specialised mental health and domestic violence support groups is felt sharply by the communities that depend on them. In the words of feminist direct action group Sisters Uncut: when “they cut, we bleed.”4

Queer families and queer households

Queerness is co-extensive with precarity, what queers face are significant structural inequalities in relation to household family support networks and access to employment. What the individualisation of production and reproduction labour results in is often mentally and physically damaging. However there are also the possibilities to formulate our own forms of non-patriarchal reproduction. Here Cohen and Monk describe their project as a strive to build “queer families” in order to take back bodies and subjectivity while withstanding the threat of capitalism.

We would like to leave you with a passage from the text that has deeply moved us, and continues to inspire all that we do. We are constantly reminded how grateful we are to stand, fight and love alongside each and every one of you beautifully fabulous Queer people, this project as in everything the Queer college of Art does is dedicated to you all.

“And so we plan our escapes from the scourges of the family and the state; we make endless cups of tea for one another; we share our Valium and our estrogen prescriptions; we clean each others’ rooms when our siblings are too immobilised by depression to do it themselves; we check that everyone is fed, that everyone has a roof over their heads; we share warm beds  and warmer cuddles; we sit in doctors’ waiting rooms and the foyers of police stations, holding hands in a shared, understanding silence; we pool resources, sub each others’ rents and congratulate each other every day that we manage to get out of bed; we make Facebook groups for selfie-sharing just so that we can tell each other we are beautiful and important; we organise club-nights where we can enjoy ourselves in relative safety; we accompany each other to public toilets when there is no de-gendered option available; we “sit in the warm darkness that collects in the back of pubs”; we comfort, we care, we fight off our street harrassers; at home we build a wall around our sanctuaries and on the streets we chip away at the walls that divide us, shattering the windows of the monuments to our misery, splaying graffiti on the walls of detention centres.”

1. Cohen & Monk, 2016
2. ibid.
3. ibid.
4. ibid.

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