Op-Ed: Bashing Back: Queer Thugs?

Forget the gay marriage brouhaha. For a segment of the LGBT activist population this is simply not their cause; mainstream issues like non-discrimination and marriage rights are alienating to their notions of gender identity, and have nothing to do with liberation.

There is no organized group that calls itself “The Radical Queers,” but many use the term to describe their approach to gender and sexual orientation. Central tenets of the radical queer movement include a desire to challenge and dismantle, not only the gender inequality experienced in the existing social structure, but the underlying power structures that enable this oppression.

An early forerunner of the radical queer movement, the Gay Liberation Front, published a manifesto in London in 1971 citing the need for a complete societal overhaul:

It is because of the patriarchal family that reforms are not enough. Freedom for gay people will never be permanently won until everyone is freed from sexist role-playing and the straightjacket of sexist rules about our sexuality. And we will not be freed from these so long as each succeeding generation is brought up in the same old sexist way in the Patriarchal family.

True liberation, they claim, can only be attained through a radical disentangling of the “whole fabric of society.”

“We are fierce as f*** radical queers, transfolk, and feminists… We want liberation, nothing less”

Carrying the torch, decades later, is the task of an offshoot of the radical queer movement called Bash Back!—a small group of “Radical Transfolk, Queers and Allies” with chapters in Chicago, DC, Denver, Lansing, Memphis, Milwaukee, New York, Philadelphia, and Olympia.

Anyone who accepts the Bash Back! “points of unity,” which include agreeing to “fight for liberation,” can start their own chapter and conduct any actions they deem necessary. Bash Back! Chicago describes itself as:

Dedicated to eradicating heteronormativity, subverting binary gender norms, capitalism, and attacking intersecting oppressions including but not limited to white supremacy, patriarchy, classism, ableism, sizeism, and poverty inside and outside of the movement.

This emphasis on the interconnectedness of all things is certainly hard to argue with. The Bash Back! members acknowledge that it takes a holistic vision to realize social justice. (They also claim to be “a bunch of hooligans,” and “really good looking.”)

The Church Has to Pay

But the recent actions by affiliates (a so-called “affinity group”) of the Olympia, Washington chapter against a local temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints—and another by members of the Lansing chapter of Bash Back! against the Mount Hope Baptist Church in Michigan—are troubling.

The underlying violence of these actions undermines the group’s stated ideals:

Last night, under the veil of fog, we visited the Church of Latter Day Saints. We left their locks glued with anarchist messages scrawled in spray paint over their boring veneer.

We did this to show our solidarity with all who are resisting heterosexism everywhere, hopefully to spur them into action; and also because we are angry at the amount of money and propaganda that the Mormon church pumped into the homophobic Proposition 8 campaign. From their disgusting commercials to their despicable sermons to those gross lawn signs, we are sick of this parade of bigotry. The Church has to pay.

A November 8 dispatch from Bash Back!News cites numerous other incidents of “strikes against homophobes,” though neither they nor any Bash Back! affiliates have assumed responsibility for any of these attacks.

Twenty-eight churches of the Church of Jesus Christ were attacked in California, Utah, Washington State, and Colorado, and specific incidents included the burning of a “Mormon Bible” on the steps of the Church and windows shattered with a BB gun. While it remains unclear whether Bash Back! members perpetrated these attacks, they applaud those who did. The author of the post “[hopes] that these events inspire each and every disenfranchised trans/queer person, and all oppressed people, to take power into their own hands.”

Another post describes a “brawl” that ensued after an attack on a trans-man in a Lansing bar:

LET IT BE KNOWN, we are not backing down, we will not retreat! If you threaten us we will BASH BACK! If you f*** with us in the bathroom, we will make it a place where YOU no longer feel safe! Time for a taste of your own f***ing medicine! Your time of power is over! We are the menace now, give us our space or we will f***ing take it by ANY means necessary.

BB! Lansing supports this action of defense, and hopes it inspires all oppressed people to resist the norm and BASH BACK!

The sad irony here is that this language mimics both the tools and the mentality of the oppressor: domination over, displacement from, silencing of. Violence is fetishized as the mantle of power and a means of liberation. But the vitriolic anger of self-proclaimed radical queers actually serves to reinforce a chain of binary oppositions: us/them, queer/straight, bound/liberated. In this way, everyone’s freedom, and with it the fluidity and expansiveness of gender identities, is lost.

Violent force is seductive for the seeming power it affords—instant or short-term rewards and gains. But in the end if you are not seeking to make personal, human connections that recognize the inherent worth and dignity of the very humanity in need of a wake-up, the opportunity has been missed.

Do I dismiss the anger that leads to violence? No. Anger is the only worthy response to “faggot” being screamed from a moving car, to verbal or physical harassment for going into the so-called wrong bathroom, to the deployment of rape to “correct” gender confusion.

But there is a difference between righteous anger channeled into right or righteous action, and destructive vengeance, which seeks only to inflict injury.