The readings this week (specifically Warner’s “Publics and Counterpublics” and Matt Houlbrook’s book) got me thinking about a question that has loomed in the field of gender history and the history of sexuality: Did the rise in disposable income among LGBT peoples (predominantly gay men) consequentially increase both their visibility and society’s acceptance of them? I ask this because the transition from being a member of a counterpublic to then entering the public is arguably an example of how porous boundaries are between the two concepts. In the book Queer by Simon Cage, Lisa Richards, and Howard Wilmot, they argue that the Pink Dollar, Pink Euro, Pink Pound, etc. has increasingly resulted in companies and capitalism taking a “gay-friendly” approach to LGBT business and demanding that employees promote “corporate values” of acceptance. The visibility of LGBT business has arguably led to a dramatic shift in the visibility and acceptance of LGBT peoples and continues to bring them into the “public sphere” as members of an increasingly diverse public. However, I cannot help but wonder then, what remains of the counterpublic?
Just as more members of the LGBT community are included into the hegemonic public, so too are they continually differentiated in much more subtle ways. Take for instance the binary between “gay” and “straight.” This binary in society means that no matter the extent of acceptance society has for LGBT peoples, they will always be “othered,” as Edward Said would say. I suppose these readings have made me question my own understanding of what constitutes a counterpublic in this day and age. Is the performance of attending a gay bar or drag show a means of participating in or maintaining ties with a counterpublic? Or, is merely the discourse of differentiating oneself or being differentiated by another using sexual binaries enough? To what extent does sexuality have the power to dictate and even transgress where we stand in relation to a public or counterpublic? (The example of the police investigating the urinals in Houlbrook’s book is a good example of an answer).