"An influential concept in North American queer studies, gender has been forged as part of the anti-communist Cold War and became one of its key analytics at the beginning of the 1990s. In tracing the conceptual history of gender, this book de-centers queer studies and provides an innovative approach by excavating a rival communist sexuality during the Cold War. As opposed to a theory of gender, eastern European Marxism generated a revolutionary imagination that had at its core a dialectical understanding of bodies and sexual acts. This communist understanding of sexuality centered on a productive body that was better able to feel and live than its capitalist counterpart. The book is original not only because it analyzes competitive models of Cold War sexuality, but also because it inserts historical materialism into queer theory. By drawing on materials from socialist theory, queer studies and communist films, it moves from the 1920s to the 1950s to the 1990s to understand the emergence of contemporary sexual categories. It traces the rise of gender and queer by studying the shared and complicated history of communist history and queer theory. It also provides a new dialectical method by juxtaposing socialist theory and films with queer anti-racist theory. In doing so, it offers a sensuous materiality that transforms the epistemology of a queer of color analytic. The book is an essential contribution to a scholarship that interrogates queer liberalism and new formations of anti-gender ideology.
This chapter introduces a materialist conception of queer theory and explains why it is needed in the field. It presents a brief introduction to the literature and explains the broader goals of the project. This first chapter has a separate section where it introduces the key concepts of the book and explains their use in social science. In the following section, it offers a detailed presentation of the material in the book and its organization chapter by chapter. Finally, it clarifies the use of its archive.
In Chapter 2, I look at early Soviet Marxism as an epistemological framework that produced a productivist understanding of bodies and sexual attraction. Communist figures in socialism were neither individual territories of freedom, nor subjectivities who fought against the conformism of an established ideology. Marxist films present a productivist body that is not individualistic, but the unfinished product of a dialectical process to achieve communism. To begin the process of analyzing the erasure of eastern European Marxism, I explore the gradual disappearance of the productivist Soviet body during “the thaw,” with a focus on socialist Romania. While, in the 1950s, Romanian socialism followed a Soviet politics of sexuality, I show that during the 1960s Romanian socialism reflected a western European trend to naturalize conservative norms about marriage and abortion. I analyze the 1964 Romanian film The District of Gaiety and argue that conservative tropes of sexuality altered the project of Marxist sexuality
In Chapter 3, I suggest that Cold War gender is part of a broader social constructivist program in US social science. Unlike scholars such as Jemima Repo and Susan Stryker, who criticized the use of gender as an analytic, I focus on its emergence as part of an anti-communist ideology. To flesh out my claim, I analyze how gender emerged in the work of sexologist John Money as a term with anti-communist and racialized assumptions. While Money understood gender as an imprimatur that was given by society, his term was undergirded by an ideal of white Anglo-American masculinity. I also continue to explore how Cold War gender was theoretically at odds with Soviet Marxism, particularly in its racial epistemology.
In Chapter 4, I investigate the formation of a deconstructivist gender and trace it to the 1980s and the end of the Cold War. First, I historicize the elision of Soviet Marxism from the avant-garde art and theory of 1970s critics of socialism to the beginning of the 1990s in queer theory. Second, I offer a close reading of queer theory texts to show that the fall of State socialism at the end of the 1980s has taken Marxism out of queer theory. In refusing the narrative that gender is only gender identity, gender became a vehicle to deconstruct categories such as man and woman (Judith Butler), historicize them (Joan Scott), or analyze how they are part of larger processes of racialization (Hortense Spillers). Unlike a Soviet Marxist epistemology, queer theorists such as Butler did not produce an aesthetic and vocabulary that were explicitly anti-capitalist. In response to this problem, I argue that the epistemology of Soviet Marxism can transform queer theory and point to novel historical possibilities for sexed bodies.
In Chapter 5, I argue that abolitionist ideas are key to both Stalinist art and a queer of color analytic. I claim that Stalinist art is a refusal of capitalist codes of gender and sexuality according to a global Anglo-American imagination. In rearticulating an abolitionist imagination of capitalism, socialist films can generate a new imagination of the future. I identify common themes between Boris Groys and José Esteban Muñoz’s theories: if socialist realist artworks function like a contemporary avant-garde, not unlike queer performances of color, they can help de-naturalize the normative performances of the body. I show that the Romanian realist socialist film The Valley Resounds offers a surprising archive regarding the meaning of sexuality that has been buried under the umbrella of Stalinism.
In Chapter 6, I claim that sensuous material objects from socialism constitute important starting points for rearticulating the notion of materiality in queer theory. I read Marxist films in conversation with the work of José Esteban Muñoz and Fred Moten’s, and the purpose of this conversation is to investigate the role of objects that were imagined to abolish the domination of private property. In a queer of color analysis, practices such as counterfetishes are “potentialities” that have the goal of generating a new utopian imagination. To underscore a historical process of abandoning a Marxist materialist epistemology, I concentrate my analysis on the role of counterfetishes in the Romanian socialist film The Cruise.