Hipsterphobia Sails Close to Homophobia and Gendered Norms [3/3]

This the final article from Cava Sunday’s blog on anti-hipster politics, reposted with permission.

This has been really difficult to write. I have been poring over it for days trying to make what seemed to be gutteral, knee-jerk reactions seem more intelligible. I keep switching tenses, persons and so on. But Ive decided to get it out there because its driving me mad trying to tighten it up. Some issues are just too emotive, and maybe rationality is overrated anyway.

Spike in Homophobic Violence

There has been a spike in anti-LGBTQI violence in recent years in Inner London. I have heard of attacks ranging from verbal abuse, attacks in estate pubs, attacks on the street. Some resulting in punctured lungs and acid thrown in the face, others less severe. Even cops are getting in on the action beating Trans* women in broad daylight. [1]

When the attacks are motivated by religious fascism, the left has no problem in laying the blame with the perpetrator of the attack. Remove this element, and the results are much murkier: subtle homophobias underpinned by an implicit xenophobia [2] emerge. In conversation, typical responses seek to shift the blame away from the perpetrator, by introducing a populist understanding of gentrification. Mobilising homophobic tropes the left is all too familiar with, homosexual men in particular are constructed as inherently bourgeois. Outdated critiques of gentrification, then, leap in to generate empathy for the attacker. This essentially reverses the blame: the attacker becomes the economic and social victim, and their violence is some form of defensive direct action. Such is the poverty of our critique that many queer people themselves will offer explanations along these lines. By wearing those [trendy] clothes, and daring to flaunt their [bourgeois] homosexuality, they were ‘asking for it’. Sound familiar?

“Dickheads” are identified by their “indeterminate sexual preference” and outlandish fashion statements.

‘Anchoring’ Gentrification & LGBTQI Communities

Referring once more to Smith’s ‘three stages’, in the steady collapse of Keynesianism and the emergence of the neoliberal city, we see a growth in space for queer sexualities in London. Whether by accident or design, this seems to eventually correlate with a growth in the normative acceptance of gay identities. Much could be written about the 1980s-1990s, but I lack the formal education to write it. However, what access to a wealth of shared queer spaces in London has given me, is at least a connection to oral history and anecdote. When I think of gay men’s urban lives in this period I think of the explosion in cruising, the emergence of Soho as a gay district, the GLC’s impact on finding housing for LGBTQI people and perhaps even the role of squatted and co-operatively run lesbian & gay social spaces. I might also think about the beginnings of a recuperation of gay identity into equality discourses. Either way, the Anchoring phase in London was one of upheaval and flux in property relations, and one where gay men (at least) found a sense of refuge in inner London’s fluctuating tenure and governance. This continues stubbornly to this day, in face of the onslaught of Generalising Gentrification: with people from all over the world choosing to make (East London in particular) their home because of the relative freedom it offers to shared queer culture, fashion, art and design. Similarly, it is important to acknowledge the effect this has on the heterosexual world; particularly those in the habit of setting and observing trends. The much-maligned hipster look du jour of the ‘beard and the haircut’ started out in the gay scene, as an ironic or fetishized appropriation of rugged masculinity. Much of these aesthetics and lifestyles will be maligned by populist anti-gentrification critiques as ‘hipster’ without any consideration for their origin, substance or purpose. Similarly, social commentary from the queer liberal left exposes the conservatism of much of the radical scene to sexual politics: commentators like Paris Lees, for instance, being far more accessible and exciting. Equally, the queer impact on music scenes (particularly of trans*, working class and minority-ethnicity origin) is becoming inseperable from ‘hipster’ subcultures to a certain extent. Think not just Le1f and RuPauls Drag Race, but also sympathetic straight performers like FKA Twigs and Blood Orange who work alongside performers who embody this aesthetic and cultural contribution. Similarly, in East London, we have club nights like ‘Hard Cock Life’ which perhaps reflect this scene too.

This blindness of the radical left to queer contributions to the pop-cultural zeitgeist, whether or not it is the individual’s ‘cup of tea’, is incompatible with an approach that proclaims to be against homophobia and transphobia. Similarly, to mobilise against these aesthetics is dangerously ambiguous. Not only does it lend homophobic and gendered norms the veneer of political respectability, it reinforces a tropes around ‘passing’ or being ‘straight acting’, that is to say, it discourages queer engagements with queer culture and reinforces the legitimacy of assimilationist agendas. It also reflects a focus on those masculine individuals within a more traditional working class as an idealised form or revolutionary subject. Indeed, we may see the focus on hipsterphobia as a warped expression of frustration at not being able to politically reach these archetypes. In this sense, hipsterphobic pogrom politics increases the possibility of corporeal and social violence towards queers and the alienating of radical movements from queer, trans* and racialised subjectivities.

North London punks ‘Intensive Care’ focus exclusively on war with the male hipster. There is more than a touch of Sexual Economy here.

‘Generalising’ Gentrification & Heteronormativity

In the 2000s, the generalising effects of gentrification seem, at first, to strengthen this (complicated) gay refuge. My experience of London’s gay scene has been one of its’ interconnectedness with ‘hipster’ subculture and equally, my experiences going out in predominantly heterosexual ‘hipster’ nightclubs and parties have always ended up with there being more queer people there than the majority of Anarchist events. Whilst gay people, as residents, are in some senses no different to any other private renting demographic in East London (some can afford to stay put, most are forced to chase the best compromise between cheap rent and proximity to a social scene), unlike our heterosexual counterparts we are becoming increasingly reliant on our private rented bedrooms for social spaces. This is because the aggressive effects of – for want of a better term – ‘peak’ Generalised Gentrification (say, post-2012) are decimating the gay bars and clubs that would be maligned as ‘hipster’ hangouts by the Anarchist scene. In maintaining the illusion that ‘hipsters’ – as consumers of products interconnected with aesthetics and modes of gentrification – have any de facto power in the process, what is forgotten is that they are neither homogenous, nor indispensable, as a demographic. When a development opportunity emerges, the same thing happens as before: the previous occupants are swept away, and the more ‘deserving’ ones replace them, in what feels like an endless chain of increasingly contested entitlements.

Some members of the LGBTQI community capitalised on cheap land and a gap in the market to create cultural hotspots, granted. Over time, these venues came to signify ‘progress’ to the regeneration industries: the capacity of East London to ‘better’ itself with a rise in the value of land. And I’m sure, as businesspeople tend to do, many queer capitalists will have capitulated in this discourse. But just as cruisy public toilets were demolished, boarded up or redesigned under the gaze of CCTV cameras to protect the heteronormative family enjoyment of parks, our venues are the first to go under the hammer when more housing is needed to park the rich and their assets. You see, what isn’t acknowledged is the inherently heteronormative nature of housing design and the owner-occupier imperative in urban design – that is to say, we are culturally blind to the fact that housing is designed to reflect the needs of the nuclear family or the monogamous couple as understood in capitalist modernity. That is not to say that wealthier gay men don’t occupy these homes. Marriage equality discourse promotes the idea of ‘homonormativity’ and queer assimilation into the heterosexual cultural-legal sphere. But it is important to remember that many gay men who can’t afford these luxury properties in the expanding city centre are retreating to the residential areas, living in cramped overpriced conditions and working insane hours for the privilege. Mental health problems, relationship problems, drug problems and riskier sexual practices are skyrocketing. Cruising apps like Grindr are stepping in to fill the void left by accessible gay nightlife (which is becoming increasingly distant and relatively expensive). Chemsex parties are increasingly popular, but are having a polarising effect on the gay scene. In case you hadn’t already heard: its pretty tough being queer in a straight world.

This dysfunctional little bubble can sometimes feel like the only place where we can be (some version of) ourselves, and realistically there aren’t many cities with even these dysfunctional arrangements. We don’t need supposedly libertarian people telling us to get fucked because they don’t like the clothes we wear, the culture we move amongst or the destabilising effect the complexity of our lives has on their narrow and antiquated view of the city. Most of us don’t like paying extortionate amounts of money to survive either, but we’re trying to make the best of our short lives. And yes, the possibility of having our lives cut short still hangs rather gloomily over our collective memory. Your lazy discourses threaten our already dysfunctional and problematic refuges. Come up with a vision of a world without gentrification that goes beyond a return to the days when we had less freedom than we do now, and maybe you will see more participation and support from queer people.

*CS

[1] There is footage of this online, but I chose not to link out of respect tbh.

[2] Xenophobia emerges in failing to identify homophobia within London’s working class, except when the perpetrators are religious fascists.