I am so happy to participate in this conversation. I don’t live in the Bay Area anymore, but I do make a point to spend substantial chunks of time there every year. What is so nice about being part of this discussion is that my participating demonstrates how Bay Area queer economies reach beyond the physical limits of the Bay Area. Just like how all economies, as economic flows, as exchanges, as movement across space, and as relationships, reach beyond their physical geographical limits. Instantiations of capitalism are so expansive that they are global (and have many unsavory aspects, to say the least). But in the case of queer economies in the Bay Area, relationships and feelings extend out to more queers and more queer places than just the physical space of the Bay Area.
Let’s consider the question of “economy” as it relates to feelings and relationships. I’m going to define “economy” as: exchanges of resources and things that are worth something. Perhaps feelings are resources and perhaps relationships are assets, and perhaps certain performative personality traits are rewarded more in the economies of desire and intimacy than others.
Beyond currency and capital, how are we “rich”? What are we rich in? Who is “rich” and who is “poor” in relationship economies in our communities? Who has more access to the resources and rewards of emotional intimacy? Who enjoys the privileges of emotional security of feeling belonging? What shapes do inequalities of feelings assume in our queer communities?
There are economies of feeling, of community, of belongingness, and of relationships. Some people are more connected and welcomed in their communities, friends, lovers, partners, than others. At times some people give more to their communities, friends, lovers, partners, and at times some people take more. There are economies of mentorship, where people teach and learn from each other; certain people get encouraged, supported, and funded more than others. There are relationship inequalities in our art communities and in our activist communities.
Love, sex, and relationships are resources that some people seem to have more access to than others. In queer economies of love, sex, and romance, certain bodies and personalities get more attention and appraisal. Bodies that are commonly not acknowledged as desirable in dominant culture also are commonly not acknowledged in our communities as desirable, even with some big efforts to work against these ideas. Ableism, fat-phobia, looks-ism, and all the rest persist. There is not an overwhelming preference for sharply traumatic histories in possible mates. As we all, as queers, face the collective trauma of rejection from mainstream (heteronormative) society, we are all working with at least one level of trauma. This can impact our relationships in major ways that we are not aware of. We may be extra sensitive and may live our histories of shame, invisibility, and targeting continuously in our present queer relationships. Thus, structural patterns of relationship inequalities and structural trauma are often replicated in queer communities.
We also engage in relationship economies with the self. We give to ourselves and we take from ourselves. We love ourselves, and we less-than-love ourselves. Many of us struggle with our relationships with ourselves, and this is often a direct experience of internalizing anti-queer oppression. How can we love ourselves to resist this? Sometimes feelings of shame (and guilt or remorse) can be intensified if we feel ashamed about the original feeling. Sometimes self-love discourses can feel shaming. Sometimes allowing ourselves to feel the feeling and move through it can be more self-loving than judging ourselves for not loving ourselves enough. You know? It is a complex process of relating to ourselves as queers.
In thinking about how we are on the margins of economies, I’d like to also consider the ways we are at the center of economies. We shape economies just as we are subject to their established shape and patterns of exchange. The Bay Area is a very queer place. We create the economies of desire here, just as we are subject to them. We can impact them.
In terms of economies, what resources exist for queers, who can access them, and under what circumstances? While we seem to talk about structural inequalities (in terms of differential access to resources based on combinations of real or perceived racial, class, gender, etc. statuses) in our communities, I’d like to break down what we mean when we talk about class.
Education, wealth and class of origin play major roles in classed experience, in terms of access to information and performativity of “class culture,” which impact a person’s access to material and nonmaterial resources. While we talk about “being poor,” let’s think more critically about how we use this word. If we grew up with access to healthy food, electricity, heat, employed caregiver(s), a computer (depending on when we grew up), car(s) in the household, if our parents had/have some wealth or assets and they share with us, if they make more than us, if we’ve gotten monetary gifts (or loans) or gifts of things like cars or computers from our parents// family/community/caregivers, if we’ve gone to college, if none of our family lines are impacted by multidimensional economic trauma such as slavery where over generations we are building up from owning nothing, it is likely that we are not in a relatively vulnerable position because many people around us are not in relatively vulnerable positions. We are not in a position to support most of the people around us, because they are ok financially. So, if we may not earn a lot of income, we are still not “poor” in many senses of our complicated class position.
But, if we are “poor” financially, perhaps we are not poor in economies of relationships and feelings, perhaps we love and are loved, perhaps we are rich in some kinds of belonging.
Let’s think about resistance. How can we be creative in resisting economic inequalities? In thinking about how we can address belongingness inequalities, who can we reach out to include in our queer friendships? How can we think about economies of the self-as-queer? Can we be rich in self-love? Can we give to ourselves as equally as we take from ourselves? Can we give to each other as much as we want from each other?
Let’s queer the structures of belonging.
[box class=”grey_box”] About Sonny – Sonny Nordmarken is a doctoral student in sociology at UMass Amherst. He works in the areas of transgender studies, sexuality, race, empire, disability, emotions and affect, discourse, embodiment, somatic psychology, media, and performance. Sonny integrates traditional qualitative methods with arts-based and critical interdisciplinary methods of inquiry, such as performance ethnography.
Current Projects – Sonny’s current research investigates the emotion work that trans and gender variant people do in response to everyday gendering interactions and microaggressions. He has a performance autoethnography on his own emotional experiences with the interactive process of gendering under review at the journal Qualitative Inquiry.