Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay

Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

December 3, 2016
3 min read

Capitalism has played a dual role in the path to sexual liberation. On the one hand, it has inhibited progress by ideologically thrusting people into the heterosexual family, which has been enshrined as a source of security and love. Hence, many have long held that any challenge to this institution was by default typically anti-capitalist, and thus that lesbian and gay subcultures are inherently radical. On the other hand, capitalism plays another role: it provides avenues for sex in superabundance, and thus can be seen as facilitating progress toward sexual freedom.augsep-book3In the wake of a string of victories for gay marriage movements in the west – a signal for many that LGTBQs are indeed ‘winning’ the battle by redefining the family – David Alderson’s Sex, Needs and Queer Culture offers a timely and much-needed critique of ‘gay liberation’.

Alderson offers a carefully constructed, critical analysis of contemporary notions of sexual freedom in the historical context of a nascent neoliberal capitalism and era of flexible accumulation. He addresses the processes by which the initial radicalism of sexual liberation of the 1960s gave way to the relatively conservative agendas of marriage and adoption rights. At the same time, he challenges the notion that this transition was in any sense disloyal to its revolutionary roots. Among his many observations, Alderson points out that while ‘[queer] radicals often like to remind the organisers of contemporary mardi gras-style Pride events that Stonewall was a riot . . . it was first of all a bar’.

By re-examining the works of Herbert Marcuse in relation to cultural theorists Raymond Williams, Marianne DeKoven and Alan Sinfield among others, Alderson outlines the historical shifts that have led to the current economic and cultural conditions (a ‘diversified dominant’) within which sexual dissidents have been assimilated. From a socialist-humanist perspective, Alderson thereby stitches together a framework that aims to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion.

Alderson acknowledges that his work focuses primarily on the gay male experience. But in addition to largely overlooking the role of gender, he also fails to consider the processes of colonialism and racism. This becomes particularly problematic when he makes reference to non-British or American examples of sexual liberation.

Nevertheless, the exceptionality of Alderson’s contribution is his placement of the sexual in close proximity to the economic.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank

The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant


5