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[Pn. 3] Bodies on the Market: Bears and the Neoliberal Construction of Queer Subculture

19 October 2013


The relation between neoliberalism and sexuality has been theorized primarily in terms of social movement politics; that is, neoliberalism has been understood as the dominant frame through which recent lesbian and gay activism has articulated its demands. To a lesser extent, however, neoliberalism has also been theorized as a logic through which sexual subjects are constituted. Inspired by Foucault’s important critique of Chicago School economics, some have argued that neoliberalism functions as a powerful discursive regime through which economic actors are self-subjected. This paper seeks to contribute to this latter body of literature by illustrating how economic rationalities were mobilized in the emergence of Bear subculture. Drawing upon a textual analysis of historical accounts written by self-identified Bears, I will argue first, that Bear subculture was imagined by some its most influential early figures not as a socially vibrant and politically active community of otherwise marginalized gay men but as a niche market, or as a nascent group of consumers to whom Bear-themed products could be advertised and sold. Second, I will argue that Bear subculture was understood as an alternative sexual market on which older and overweight gay men could maximize the exchange value of their erotic capital. Desexualized in other gay male spaces, Bears sought to establish a network of businesses and social organizations through which their bodies could be recast as sexually desirable. Thus, this paper provides historical evidence to support the conception of neoliberalism as a productive force within market and sexual economies.


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