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4 - Sexual Fulfillment and Political Disenchantment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 November 2020

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Summary

Abstract

This chapter analyzes individual examples of disillusionment, withdrawal, and demobilization among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) movement activists and former activists. This chapter addresses (a) the confrontation between the privatization and commodification of public LGBTQ identities, and (b) the ways in which subjectivity plays itself out in private identities. It emphasizes activists’ perspectives on the relative normalization of the LGBTQ movement in order to show that, from their point of view, there is a connection between demobilization and the evacuation of sexual themes. It focuses on what this connection means for them: a feeling of frustration, alienation, and a loss of meaning. The empirical data include material collected through fieldwork, respondents’ testimonies, interview quotations, and microlevel analysis.

Keywords: LGBTQ movement, commodification of LGBTQ identities, privatization of sexuality, activists’ disenchantment, LGBTQ movement normalization, desexualization and demobilization

How have LGBTQ activists interpreted the desexualization of their movement over the course of the assimilationist phase underway since the 1990s? Although it is difficult to measure the commitment of activists as such, particularly among a so-called “invisible” minority, it is possible to observe the changing shape and objectives of a political movement and collect testimonies from grassroots actors. Since the 1990s, a chasm has emerged between LGBTQ politics and erotics, which reflects a quasi division of labor in identity politics between organizations – in charge of representing the group according to institutional codes – and the market – responsible for satisfying the demand for hedonism, or even eroticized consumerism. The commercial proliferation of “rainbow” products and services has now become the privatized counterpart of the political movement's bureaucratization.

In this linear and polarized space, there is little room for the provocative expression of a sexualized political identity. The institutionalization of the LGBTQ movement thus evolves alongside a disengagement among activists. In fact, the reasons for an individual activist's disengagement are often expressed in the same terms as their mobilization was. For many, the search for personal fulfillment has now shifted toward other ways of living out their LGBTQ identities. This disenchantment is often expressed in sexual terms, with some actors no longer recognizing themselves or their individual issues – shaped by the experience of alternative sexuality – in the movement's objectives.

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Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2019

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