Through an examination of identity politics and queer theory an evident contradiction between the notions will be recognized in relation to the concept of identity. The conflict between these concepts will be clearly depicted through an analysis of identity as an essential element in generating political empowerment or consequently as a method of restricting and limiting a subject within the realm of the social.
Such tension will clearly emerge through an examination of the film Loaded, where the character of Ari appears to advocate the stance of the queer position in querying the accuracy of ethnicity and sexuality as unitary models of identity. However, through an in-depth analysis of the text, it may be apparent that Ari may simply reconfirm his marginalization as well as reasserting the fundamental and governing authority that identity proclaims within society. Identity politics emerged in Western countries in about the 1960’s and reinforces that a subject’s external identity is an expression of a true and authentic nature.
Identity politics articulates that identities are what unites a subject to the social and therefore as identity expresses an inner nature it subsequently connects an individual to people who share that identity, which subsequently allows for communities to develop. Identity’s connection with politics becomes visible in that some identities are clearly more advantaged than others and consequently by affirming one’s identity as homosexual for example will evidently bring forth and confirm a subject’s marginalization.
Identity can therefore be seen as narrowing and oppressive in that it gives people power over others and restricts the possibilities of other ways of being. Identity politics activism emerged within a homosexual context in the 1950’s with the homophile movement, the 1970’s with the revolutionary activism of the gay and lesbian liberation movement and eventually to an ethnic model of gay and/or lesbian identity in the 1980’s.
Steven Siedman writes that: “The notion of a unitary gay identity has been fundamental to the evolving gay communities of the 1980s” (1993, 121). These gay and lesbian movements of the past can evidently be seen to have emphasized the notion of a unitary identity in order to advocate political empowerment and to build a sense of community. Offord articulates that: “… the action of identification, affirming a position and being situated with others who are also affirming the same position, creates a recognizable political energy” (1991, 209).
Emphasized through this idea is the formation of Offord’s paradox where to affirm oneself with an identity, which is seen through identity politic activism is an act of political empowerment but which consequently negates the possibility for difference. Offord consequently argues that the logic of identity, confirmed by groups such as the gay and lesbian movements in the past, signals identity as fixed and which “denies or represses difference” (1991, 209).
A solution advocated by Offord is to aspire to an unfixed identity which is where queer theory’s premise ultimately lies and a notion that can clearly be seen through the character of Ari in Loaded. However, Offord believes that to do so: “… implies a loss of specificity and therefore the entrenched problem of marginalization will worsen” (1991, 210) which ultimately symbolizes a contestation with queer theory’s premise. Queer theory aims to oppose the dominant, challenge what is constructed as normal and ultimately aims to disrupt power relations that have formed over time.
Queer theory also aims to blur, be inclusive and flexible in respect to identities. Michael Warner writes: “‘Queer’ … rejects a minoritizing logic of toleration or simple political interest-representation in favor of a more thorough resistance to regimes of the normal” (1993, 26). The process of queer is therefore to fundamentally contest the normal and critique the logic by which identity groups are created by advocating all forms of identity as a performance. Jagose writes that: “… queer is deployed to indicate a critical distance from the identity politics that underpin traditional notions of lesbian and gay community.
In this sense, queer marks a suspension of identity as something fixed, coherent and natural” (1996, 98). A tension between identity politics and queer materializes in that where identity politics worked on the premise of identity as being an inherent quality queer theory sees gender and sexual identities as cultural signs that are not expressions of an absolutely fixed nature. While identity politics confirmed a unitary identity for subjects queer theory consequently bases itself on the multiplicity and instability of identity.
In Queer Theory, Jagose focuses on the work of Judith Butler who sees identity politic groups as submissive with those dominant establishments they aim to contradict. She writes that: Instead of naturalizing same-sex desire of homosexuality- which is the usual strategy of the gay and lesbian movements- Butler contests the truth of gender itself, arguing that any commitment to gender identity works ultimately against the legitimation of homosexual subjects. (Jagose, 1996, 84) This reaffirms Offord’s position who views that a commitment to an identity can fix and limit the subject while naturalizing and reasserting the power of the dominant.
Butler argues against the authentic nature of gender identities that is evidently promoted via identity politics through feminist groups. Butler rather theorizes gender identities as an anti-voluntarist performance that is unconsciously learned which is known as performativity. Butler argues that gender is not an expression of a pre-existing gender identity but rather that performativity produces the fiction of an internal and unified identity. Jagose writes: “No longer a natural basis for solidarity, gender is refigured by Butler as a cultural fiction, a performative effect of reiterative acts” (1996, 84).
As queer theory challenges the unity and authenticity of identity it therefore contests the identity politics advocated by gay and lesbian liberation movements of the past who used a unitary notion of identity as authentic as a source of political gain, recognition and as away to identify commonalities between them in order to build a sense of community. Through the novel Loaded there is an evident conflict in regard to identity politics, whether identity is a form of freedom or entrapment and queer theory.
In the novel, the narrator Ari aims to resist all forms of identificatory classifications particularly ethnicity and sexuality. Ari says: To the South are the wogs who have been shunted out of their communities. Artists and junkies and faggots and whores, the sons and daughters no longer talked about, no longer admitted into the arms of the family. (Loaded, 1998, 132) Through this we can see how a wog identity brings with it expectation through the effects of identity politics where the notion of a unitary identity based on ethnicity has been enforced.
Through this it is clear that when the expectations of being a ‘wog’ are not met, they are punished for it which brings forth the premise of identity politics which has therefore erased the possibility of difference within ethnic groups. Throughout the novel, Ari appears to persistently reject identity due to the consequence that it brings in regard to restricting and fixing his life. While Ari determinedly rejects the restrictions of identity he still aspires to be masculine which is apparent when he says: In latrines and underneath piers I have enjoyed pleasures…
And the danger I face in pursuing my pleasures is the guarantee I have that I am not forsaking my masculinity. (Loaded, 1998, 132) This can be viewed as contradictory as it is a way of Ari consequently reinforcing the identity of masculinity upon himself, which is highlighted when Ari says: “I get off on real men, masculinity is what causes my cock to get hard… ” (Loaded, 1998, 91). Kirby identifies this as a way of Ari reinforcing a hyper-masculine identity upon himself which is evident when she writes of Ari as: “… clinging to an idea of inviolable masculinity as a fortification” (1998, 10).
Masculinity is not only an identity that he reinforces upon himself through his resentment toward feminine gay men but also as an identity that he sexually desires in men. Ari ultimately views identity as a way to fix and limit his life that is evidently seen through Offord’s paradox, which to some extent regards identity as a form of entrapment. Ari’s main aspiration throughout Loaded is to reject identity and the consequential classifications it generates, which Ari perceives as placing burdens upon him. Through this, Ari’s attitude evidently connects with queer theory when he refuses to commit himself to an identity.
Ari says: “I’m not Australian, I’m not a Greek, I’m not anything… What I am is a runner. Running away from a thousand and one things people say you have to be or should want to be” (Loaded, 1998, 149). Ari’s attitude toward identity appears to directly correlate with queer theory’s premise towards a “zone of possibilities” (Jagose, 1996, 2). By Ari’s refusal to confirm to an identity through his persistence in running from it appears to ensure that he will achieve an existence that ensures possibility and subsequently denies that he will be limited by the classifications that identity brings forth.
This idea also connects with Offord’s proposal of the subscription to an unfixed identity in order to combat the repression that is produced by the affirmation of identity. The character of Ari consequently appears successful in generating and affirming the aims that queer theory advocates. However, Ari ultimately lives in a world dominated and severely regulated by identity which is clearly evident through his obsession with classifying his whole world.
Ari actively pursues to escape identity and the limitations that it commands which is evidently contradicted through the way he constantly fixes every facet of his surrounding with an identity. The character of Ari is obsessed with identity and while he actively denies such regulations in regard to himself it is evident that he constantly emphasizes the dominance of identity within his community. As Ari aggressively pursues the rejection of a unitary notion of identity it results in the formation of a binary that can be seen to reconfirm and reassert the dominance of identity within society.
This idea can be seen through Luce Irigaray when she writes: “… to replace the universal subject with the multiple… To deconstruct all reference to unity… risks disintegrating the subject in favor of the savage reign of death drives or of the coming power of an even more totalitarian authority” (2000, 145). Irigaray demonstrates the idea where to aspire toward multiplicity, which is where Ari’s and queer theory’s aim presides, can construct a binary which results in further generating the authority of the dominant regime.
Irigaray’s ideas also connects with the latter part of Offord’s paradox where he advocates that the subscription to an unfixed or multiple identity may evidently reconfirm a subjects marginalization particularly in respect to the authoritarian parts of society. Throughout Offord’s article there is an evident paradox in relation to the notion of identity as a form of ‘freedom or entrapment’. The concept of a unitary notion of identity is evidently articulated throughout the concept of identity politics which correlates with part of Offord’s premise in that it focuses on the affirmation of identity as a source of political empowerment.
In evident contradiction with identity politics, queer theory advocates the capability for possibility which derives through a resistance to a unitary model of identity. Queer theory and identity politics are clearly seen to operate in contestation with one another through the character of Ari in the novel Loaded. Ari appears to operate in parallel relation with queer theory in that he simultaneously rejects the classifications of identity and advocates the possibility of existing without adhering to a particular identity which eventuates in a querying of ethnicity and sexuality.
However, Ari may be seen to fail to some extent in successfully enacting queer theory’s premise in that his rejection of identity may result in further marginalization as well as reasserting the dominance that identity possesses in society. Similarly, Ari fails in relation to queer theory and the querying of ethnicity and sexuality as he contradicts his stance of adhering to an unfixed notion of identity by constantly reaffirming the existence of identity, which consequently has the effect of reasserting its force and dominance throughout the realm of society.