Hetero-fascism: notes towards ending hate.

A spectre of normativity haunts gender theory. More often than not, we tend to encounter normativity in two forms – heteronormativity (a term some common it requires little explanation) and homonormativity, for which Everyday Feminism provides a reasonably thorough definition here. If we dig a little deeper into the complexities of gender, we see normativity appearing time and time again. Within the Masculinities framework espoused by R.W. Connell, among others, hegemonic masculinity functions are a normative mode of male behaviour and performance that polices men’s lives. Normativity tied into gender essentialism in certain aspects of second wave feminism. It’s no great secret that within gender identities, sexual orientations, sex acts, methods of gender performance, there is a tacitly maintained cultural script that guides our actions and results in ostracism for those who fail to conform to it.

I would to try and introduce a new term to the debate here. I’ll emphasise that this is not a term I thought of. I should acknowledge that the first time I encountered it was with my friend and fellow Genderling (a term we used for the students of the Gender Studies MPhil) Slavco. During one particular seminar, in which a lecture was going over some rather regressive aspect of pseudo-science that backed up the gender binary, I heard Slavco mutter darkly “Heterofascism!”

I never got around to asking Slavco what he mean by the phrase, which I had never heard before that day. Googling it later, I can across this rather thin definition on Wiktionary, which defines heterofascism as “authoritarian or aggressive support for heteronormativity.” Beyond that, there is little else to find on the subject.

Let’s try to unpack that phrase a bit; what doe we mean by “fascism”? One might argue (and I generally agree that) the use of fascism as a synonym for authoritarism is a bit lazy. Fascism is, in it’s nature, authoritarian, but authoritarianism isn’t always based around a fascist ideology. Fascism is, of course, difficult to define at the best of times – Mussolini’s fascism had differences to the fascism of Stalin, Hitler, which in turn has its differences to the fascism espoused by groups like the EDL, which in turn is different from the horrific ideology of the Greek Golden Dawn party. How then can we pin down “fascism” within heterofascism?

Umberto Eco’s 1995 essay “Eternal Fascism” (sometimes rendered as UR-Fascism) provides fourteen criteria for defining fascist ideology. For our own purposes, a few of these criteria are applicable to heterofascism:

1) A cult of tradition – traditionalism is held up as exemplar, and must be followed at all times, thus the modern is perceived with suspicion. A very basic example of this within heterofascism is within the equal marriage debate. Anti-equal marriage groups cite “traditional” marriage as being between one man and one woman, and thus the “modern” idea that marriages can exist between two men or two women is abhorrent.

2) Disagreement is treason – Eco defines this as fascism’s anti-intellectualism. Within Heterofascism, I would argue that this is based around a fear of supposedly “new” ideas of gender identity and strategies of gender resistance. An example of this would be the animosity expressed towards transgender people. While it is never a good idea to take the world’s pulse based on the experiences of a famous individual (doing so can erase the experiences of those who do not have the wealth, power or luck to dominant our media) the treatment, and, indeed, vitriol faced by Caitlyn Jenner is an example of this. Jenner’s abuse, at its core, can be read as a reaction to her “disagreeing” to follow a normative gender script – i.e. if you are born male, you are always male. Her very public disagreement with this was treated almost as treason against the gender norm. One might even go as far as to say that transphobia is a cry of treason.

3) “No syncretistic faith can withstand analytical criticism.” – here, Eco suggests that Fascist ideology crushes analytical or critical thinking which goes against faith in a normal. In the case of Heterofascism, this emerges when, say, individuals and groups challenge the gender binary, normative gender roles, rigid conceptions of sexuality and so on. These people are othered, made into freaks and painted as dangerous by a heterofascistic media, state, church, etc.

4) Appeal to a frustrated middle class – again, we see this within heterofascism. With the issue of equal marriage, or gay adoption, its opponents tend to portray these as assaults on that sanctuary of middle class life, the nuclear, heterosexual, monogamous family. The appeal to family, to normality, ties into the anti-critical attitude above. By, say, being polyamorous, defining as queer or non-binary, people are subjecting the norms to criticism, criticism which exposes the underlying assumptions and fragility of these traditions. This must be stopped at all costs if heterofascism is to maintain itself. Furthermore, I would argue in the increasing attack on sex education (something I’ve written about before) we see this appeal to an individualist, nuclear, middle class family.

5) Life is lived for permanent warfare – in political fascism, this takes the form of militarism, the rooting out of enemies and terrorists, and the Orwellian notion that we are permenantly at war with some perceived foe. In heterofascism, this takes the form of a ideological war against those who do sex and gender differently. This is often couched in terms that are physical and sexually violent If we allow homosexual couples to adopt, they will forcefully make our children gay. If we allow trans women to use women’s bathrooms, they will sexually assault cis women. If we allow children to be brought up in a polyamorous environment, they will live a stunted, sexually debauched lifestyle. Violence and the threat of violence is the constant mood music of heterofascism, an ironic fact when we consider that heterofascism is itself violence – when a transphobia murder occurs, we are seeing heterofascism. When someone is sacked and stigmatised for sexual promiscuity, we see heterofascism. 
There is also one factor that heterofascism has which it does not, perhaps share, with political fascism. It is amorphous. It is adaptable. It can give little allowances to the oppressed, a small titbit of mercy, thus making shielding itself from view, until more radical action is shut down. An example of this can be seen in the USA. As we know, equal marriage was legalised across America. This is of course an excellent step towards a more equal society, but it should not, as it was portrayed to be, be taken as a sign of true gender justice (a matter distinct from the more vague liberal notion of gender equality). In the same way that granting black citizens the vote did not eradicate racism, in the same way that admitting women to universities did not end misogyny, allowing homosexual couples to marry did not end homophobia, transphobia, biphobia and so on. A good illustration of this was when Jennicet Gutiérrez, a transgender woman, heckled President Obama at a gay pride reception. Gutierrez called on Obama to end the detention of trans women in detention centres. This is a real, and often ignored issue. Take a look at this sobering report from Forge  which demonstrates that, for example, 46% of transgender and gender-non-conforming Americans are uncomfortable with going to the police (a pretty basic right in a modern society), or that 16% of transgender people had been imprisoned for “any reason,” compared to 2.7% of the rest of the American population. These are terrifying statistics, that, as John Oliver so brilliantly put it in his own report on transgender rights in the USA, it’s enough to make you angry at the concept of numbers. However, Gutierrez was thrown out of the White House for raising this matter. She was treated in the same way a comedy club treats a drunken rugby lad, who has spent the entire performance shouting out from the bar. Heterofascism is at play here – look, we’ve given you a little bit, you can get married now, what more do you want? No I don’t want to here. No, we have a new tradition now which we can grudgingly accept. No more. No more no more. 
So we can see that heterofascism shares more with fascism of the political world. Why bring this up? What can we do with this new knowledge? We can, first off, call a spade a spade and admit that we live in a heterofascistic world.  I do not simply mean in the extremes of UKIP’s traditional politics, or in the sense of the American right’s war on women, queers and so on. I mean that we reinforce heterofascism when we do not question heteronormativity. Lest we forget, heterofascism is the aggressive reinforcement of heteronormativity. It does not simply come from the state. If we see an ambiguously gendered person in the bar, and we mock them, publicly, we are violently othering them sidelining them, enforcing our normativity through a violence that is verbal. So pervasive is heterofascism that we have internalised it. In his foreword to Delueze and Guitarri’s excellent Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Michel Foucault writes of the need to combat not just the jack booted thugs of Hitlerism, but also: 
“the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.”
Foucault, Michel, in Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia available courtesy of LibCom, here
The fascism in us all is not simply the desire to be controlled, the fear of exploring new theories and identities of resistance, but also in our societal reinforcement of heteronormativity. Heterofascism is in us all, and we must fight it, and force it back in the same way that we forced the Nazis to retreat on the battlefields of Europe. We live in a heterofascist world, and it is only through a process of radical self-examination, and radical politics, that we can change that.  

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