Nicola Field is working with independent LGBT+ publisher Dog Horn Publishing to bring out a new edition of her 1995 book Over the Rainbow. She talks to SR about why the book is needed now more than ever.
What is Over the Rainbow: Money Class and Homophobia about?
I wrote the book, published by Pluto back in 1995 and now out of print, before same-sex marriage, before employment protection, when serious commercialisation of the movement was just beginning to take hold. Alcohol, tobacco and clothing companies such as Levi and Gap were taking ads in the gay consumer press. Openly gay entrepreneurs were opening up slick new bars and professional companies such as law firms, financial services and so on. For some on the left this spelled a new path to liberation. In the wake of the downturn of class struggle since the Miners’ Strike, and Section 28, they said we couldn’t wait for socialism, we had to make gay lifestyle choices and buy our way out of oppression.
The result was a political melee which took the movement to the right. Civil rights campaigning was pulled away from trade unionists and taken up by professional lobbyists even more than it had been before. The resistance of direct action groups like Act Up and Outrage focussed on single issues and single targets instead of the whole political and social context and structure. LGBT+ writers and artists focussed on creating alternative aesthetics based on a supposed shared “sensibility”.
It was from this ultra-left and cultural background that I had come into revolutionary socialist politics. Over the Rainbow (OTR) asserted the relationship between LGBT+ oppression and class in capitalist society and argued that to get rid of oppression we needed to unite and fight the system itself.
What gave you the idea of getting it republished?
When the film Pride came out last year, I was asked if there was a book about Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), of which I had been a member back in 1984/5. I realised that I had included an account of the LGSM story in OTR. Then, as LGSM reformed temporarily to respond to the tide of requests for speakers and articles, and to plan our solidarity contingents on the Pride marches this year, I met a whole new generation of activists literally seething with anger at the attacks on their lives through conservatism, bigotry and heteronormativity (which we used to call “compulsory heterosexuality”). They are coping with the housing crisis, soaring rents, tuition fees, zero-hours contracts, cuts in health care, racism, immigration controls, austerity. Trade unions have active LGBT+ sections but there is a lack of fightback against the attacks. The official movement, in the shape of organisations like Pride in London, seems to be more concerned with creating a tourist event than being political.
An activist I met through the social and political network around LGSM 2014 had read OTR and said he thought the book was needed more than ever. So we posted on Facebook, hundreds of supporters came forward and Dog Horn Publishing took on the project. It will be coming out next year, in print and as an e-book.
There have been many changes in the LGBT+ movement since 1985. Will you be reflecting this in the new edition?
There have been huge changes. There is now legal protection against sacking and evictions, and we have same-sex marriage. It is wonderful to see trans and intersex people being included in the movement. OTR doesn’t address trans issues but has a chapter on bisexuality, which was advanced for the time. Among many young people there now is a sense that LGBT+ lives should be simply defended and accepted, as part of an inclusive, multicultural society. There is a danger however of focusing too much on terminology and the way in which different oppressions intersect with one another, leading to infighting rather than uniting against a common enemy. This is the current day version of identity politics.
In 1995, the movement was at best “lesbian and gay” and trans and bi people had to fight to be included. I won’t be rewriting a single word of the original book — I will let it stand — but I will be creating a new introduction acknowledging these changes, emphasising that the original analysis is intensely relevant, and arguing that we still need class politics to fight LGBT+ oppression.
What are you working on now?
I am writing a completely new book which will be published next year by PM Press on LGBT+ liberation, pinkwashing and the politics of class. The flipside to becoming respectable and assimilated by bourgeois governments is that right wing politicians like David Cameron are using LGBT+ issues to make themselves look as if their care about equality and justice. The fight from below has made it much more possible for LGBT+ people to be out but we are far from liberated. It’s no good being able to get married if you can’t get a house or a job because of cuts and privatisation. The new book will lay into the gross commercialisation of our movement and hopefully win a new generation of activists to fighting for socialism.