April 11, 2013
What’s wrong with ‘tolerance’?

…as sites of queer and transgender resistance are folded into the state through inclusion and tolerance as technologies of governance, the desires of the communities from which those sites emerged are actively censored, denied, stifled, and extinguished through state and police violence. State recognition in itself, as Jasbir Puar points out in Terrorist Assemblages, is not only exclusionary in its privileging of certain queer bodies, it also perpetuates homonationalism:

“The politics of recognition and incorporation entail that certain – but certainly not most – homosexual, gay and queer bodies may be the temporary recipients of the ‘measures of benevolence’ that are afforded by liberal discourses of multicultural tolerance and diversity. This benevolence toward sexual others is contingent upon ever-narrowing parameters of white racial privilege, consumption capabilites, gender and kinship normativity, and bodily integrity.”

Tolerance discourse functions as a tool for depoliticization, dominance and governmentality while distracting from the state violence and exclusion that underpins it.

In Regulating Aversion, Wendy Brown figures tolerance as a form of Foucauldian “governmentality”. In his thirteen lectures at the College de France, between 1970 and 1984, Foucault responded to criticism of Discipline and Punish, in particular his conceptualization of power as capillary and diffuse. Governmentality, seen as a logic and rationality of power and rule , represented a theoretical move away from the “juridicial model of sovereignty” and towards an understanding of the ways in which power functions discursively and institutionally . In identifying the state as “the fulcrum of political legitimacy in modern nations,” Brown reorients Foucault’s “governmentalization of the state” by focussing on the ways the state governs.“ A full account of governmentality, then, would attend not only to the production, organization and mobilization of subjects by a variety of powers but also to the problem of legitimizing these operations by the singularly accountable object in the field of political power: the state.” Brown argues that tolerance discourse functions to obscure state violence. “Yet at the same time that the state represents itself as securing social equality and rhetorically enjoins the citizenry from prejudice and persecution, the state engages in extralegal and persecutorial actions toward the very group that it calls upon the citizenry to be tolerant toward.” Brown perceptively highlights the ruse of universal liberalism that privileges the discourse of rights and individualism while ignoring systemic power relations and systemic power relations and social hierarchies. The embrace of liberalism, individualism, and free market rationality (neoliberalism), represents for Brown an insidiously reductive form of depoliticization that crystallizes in tolerance discourse:

[Tolerance] is invoked as a tool for managing what are construed as (non-liberal because “different” and nonpolitical because “essential”) culturalized identity claims or identity clashes. As such, tolerance reiterates the depoliticization of those claims and clashes, at the same time depicting itself as a norm-free tool of liberal governance, a mere means for securing freedom of conscience or (perhaps more apt today) freedom of identity.”

- Che Gossett, ‘Silhouettes of Defiance: Memorializing Historical Sites of Queer and Transgender Resistance in an Age of Neoliberal Inclusivity’, chapter 44 in TheTransgender Studies Reader 2, pg 584

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    - Che Gossett, ‘Silhouettes of Defiance: Memorializing Historical Sites of Queer and Transgender Resistance in an Age of...
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