Classing desire: erotics, politics, value
The marginalization of social class from sexualities research raises epistemological questions about whose experiences are being used to generalize understandings of sexual and intimate life.
(Elizabeth McDermott ‘The World Some Have Won’)
Discussions of how distinctions are drawn between valued and unvalued (queer) lives have often overlooked questions of social class, despite the claim by Raffo (1997: 6) that ‘Issues of class frame and run rampant through queer political issues’. Any attempt to produce more just economies of desire is therefore devalued to the extent that it neglects class. In this chapter, I critique the marginalization of class within sexuality studies and discuss how class analysis can contribute towards the imagination of more just economies of desire. I suggest that a classsensitive critique of contemporary sexual politics would benefit from a holistic perspective that integrates both cultural and economic approaches to class. Critical work on homonormativity can sometimes reproduce classed perspectives and generalize about the social, economic conditions of sexual dissidents, based on the experiences of the economically privileged. In a similar vein, Heaphy (2011: 59) argues that ‘“Undifferentiated” accounts of gay life tend to narrate relatively wellresourced and privileged experience as gay experience, and normatively promote this as a script for how gay life should be conceived and lived’. I suggest that the erasure of working-class experience is notable even within work that has explicitly sought to address the class politics of eroticism, for instance on the phenomenon of so-called ‘gay chavinism’ in the UK, which Johnson (2008) and Brewis and Jack (2010) have framed as the consumption and commodification of working-class men by middle-class gay men. Finally, I argue that the emerging body of work on the class politics of sexuality in the UK would benefit from considering the relationship between class and sexuality in a transnational context, and engaging more directly with the politics of race and racism.