Rainbow capitalism will not save queer people. This has been well-established over many years. Still, a recent discourse has emerged defending so-called “representation” in the marketplace against right-wing fanatics.
As we meander through one of the darkest Pride Months in recent times, through the constant barrage of right-wing (and left-wing) attacks on trans people, the rise of far-right slogans harking back to 1980’s hate campaigns, and the scapegoating of queer people and drag queens across the world, people are understandably beginning to feel nervous. I am too quite frankly. There is a lot to be anxious about in these current global circumstances, and it’s understandable for people to feel concerned about a loss of “overt” support from corporations.
Both liberals and leftists complain that companies are caving in to the right over their ostensible support of queers people as though they weren’t expecting this all along. Sure, public support can be positive, but capitalism will never be the solution. Rainbow capitalism has not worked. It has not liberated queer people; while it might have (loosely) improved tolerance, it has not fostered acceptance. If it had, we wouldn’t be in this problem, feeling the very anxieties we feel now. Brands follow the money – if it becomes profitable to serve the queer community, they will latch on and suck the life out until we’re shrivelled and dead, before moving on to drain the next profit-making opportunity.
Reaching for tolerance is already reaching for failure. Companies cannot give us freedom. We cannot rely on capitalism to create space for us. We cannot rely on brands to dictate where and when we exist, nor should we give them the authority to. We cannot spend our way to freedom. Capitalism is patronising, it is demonising – it tells you how and when it is acceptable to be. It pretends to support our cause and fight for our history, playing over the tannoy “To all our LGBTQ+ customers and colleagues, we love you” whilst instantly ignoring us come 1st July. It grants us tiny displays in the corners of shops that are easily missed and don’t cause too much controversy. The problem is not in demonstrating that queer people have spending power in shops, or that shops have the power to tell us we can, but instead a more structural and ingrained system of thought at the root of capitalism that demonises not only queer people, but all ‘Others’ – Black, Roma, disabled, working-class people, to say the least.
Rather than waiting for anyone, let alone capitalism or your favourite brand, to grant us the space to be queer, we have the power to go out and queer spaces ourselves. In small ways or huge, we remind people we exist. Play music that fucks with heteronormative patriarchy, wear skirts or suits or nothing at all, paint your nails, graffiti rainbows in shops, cut your hair, speak about queer power in public, move through spaces as collectives. Disrupting heteronormativity in any and all its forms is embodying queerness and the power that comes with it. As rainbow flags get torn down and hidden in shops, we show up in full force and remind the straights we exist. In embodying our queerness, we build communities and solidarity, we educate through our bodies, and we say fuck you to anyone who can’t bear to look. It’s not always easy, and it’s not always safe – protect yourself and those around you. But capitalism will continue to hide us so long as it isn’t commercially viable. An end to hierarchy and imposed power structures should be every queer person’s approach.
Don’t wait for brands to tell you when to exist, and don’t wait for capitalism to save you. They won’t. Queer people save queer people.
~ Daniel Newton
Image: Guy Smallman