Issue section: 

Queer - Gaza - Sex work

Queer as theory

The debates surrounding queer theory have to do with the discrepancies between a set of theoretical writings that seek to destabilise all identitarian projects and gay and lesbian politics that revolve around identity struggles and equal rights issues (Debate, Socialist Review, July/August 2010).

The latter is essentially a politics that is as comfortably situated in a left liberal project as in a socialist one. While this debate is somewhat similar to those surrounding second wave (separatist) and third wave (postmodern) feminism, there is little in the short pieces by Alan Bailey and Hanif Leylabi that presents a queer viewpoint that does what socialist feminism did to enrich socialist thinking.

In many ways Monique Wittig and Judith Butler remain exemplary figures in this regard. Sexual politics benefits immensely from the feminist tradition, as it does from the revolutionary romanticism of the Marxist tradition. It remains an enormous task for people on the left to appreciate that, as Slavoj Žižek perhaps explains best, capitalism as the concrete universal prevents sex, gender and race from operating in the same way as class. For LGBT activists who are also leftist radicals, this theoretical problem is aided by many of the insights of queer theory.

Marc James Léger
Montreal, Canada

Strange word

As a lesbian woman I have my reservations concerning queer politics. The term "queer" implies that you are weird or a freak show. It is not possible to easily cleanse a word of its homophobic context - "queer" has long been used as a word of abuse. I do not think that queer and gay can be conflated because "gay" does not translate as "strange/odd, ill", as queer is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary.

For as long as LGBT people face discrimination and abuse it is important to be very wary of the words that we use in forging an identity.

Anna Lansley

Spin on the Med

BBC journalist Jane Corbin, in the face of countless reports from the United Nations and very well respected NGOs as to the true situation in Gaza (Feature, Socialist Review, July/August 2010), has decided that there are no shortages of food and medicine and that none of the aid the Free Gaza movement is attempting to bring in is at all necessary.

This was her starting point for the Panorama programme Death on the Med shown on BBC1 last month. By using footage provided to the BBC by the Israelis, the BBC presented precisely the view that the Israeli authorities wanted it to present.

Presumably the BBC is aware that Israeli commandos stole footage shot by accredited independent journalists on board, along with all communications equipment, videos and stills cameras and laptops, in their continuing attempt to ensure only their side of events is published - just as they did during the assault on Gaza (what the Israelis called Operation Cast Lead) over 18 months ago, by blocking entry of international journalists.

It was unforgivable when the BBC refused to show the DEC appeal for the people of Gaza and this just shows the BBC has learned nothing from that error.

In response in Manchester our Stop the War group, like many groups around the country, held an angry protest outside the BBC buildings. We recognise the shameful fact that we cannot look towards the BBC or the British state to act as a voice for the Palestinians. We need to continue to do that on the streets of Britain ourselves.

Nahella Ashraf

Sex workers by choice?

I was pleased to see Xanthe Rose's review of Sex Work Matters (Books, Socialist Review, July/August 2010). There has been a spate of articles in the press highlighting aspects of this issue and it's one that socialists need to develop a deeper understanding of.

I'm not entirely comfortable with the term "sex worker". Although it is used by some women (and men) who work in the sex industry (a huge industry with profits running into billions each year), I have reservations about trying to "normalise" prostitution and pornography in this way.

Most "sex workers" have been coerced - either by being direct victims of kidnap, trafficking and imprisonment or by the slightly less direct effects of poverty, forced migration and addiction.

We have to be careful not to let the terms of this debate be set by a small, but vocal, group of women who have chosen to make their careers in the sex industry. They are not representative of the vast majority who are forced into this situation against their will.

People selling their bodies is not the same as other work. Marx called money the universal pimp because it mediates between men and their desires. Has this ever been truer than when it comes to the sex industry?

We need to fight to create a world where sex can be reintegrated back into our lives and is no longer something outside of ourselves that can be bought and sold.

Andrea Butcher