The Commodification of Queer Bodies

By Doctor Comrade

Two hospitals in Florida will not bill the Pulse nightclub massacre survivors for out-of-pocket medical expenses, which will cost the two hospitals a combined $5.5 million. Orlando Health President and CEO David Strong said "The Pulse shooting was a horrendous tragedy.... During this very trying time, many organizations, individuals and charities have reached out to Orlando Health to show their support. This is simply our way of paying that kindness forward." According to the Orlando Sentinel, "bills will be sent to health insurers for patients who had coverage, but whatever those policies don't cover will be absorbed by the hospital chain." It is incredibly moving to see the outpouring of support for the Pulse survivors, and it is equally disturbing how the costs to the survivors were not already covered by the American healthcare industry, and the fact that this story should be so uplifting is indicative of the deep flaws in American capitalism specifically.

There is no altruism in capitalism. We can never truly know the intentions of the administrators at the two hospitals who made this decision, but we can clearly see the effects of that decision. It's unquestionably cynical to interpret the hospitals' actions in such a way, but all charitable and seemingly altruistic actions under capitalism are marred by capitalism's touch.

The tragedy of the Pulse massacre is being exploited for public good will. For one, the hospital created a press release and then held press conferences to announce the news, rather than making quiet or anonymous filings that would hide their charitable works. Furthermore, one of the hospitals is reaping the benefits of billing the insurance companies for the survivors who did have coverage, so it's not as if they are foregoing all the profits from their medical treatment. In the more civilized parts of the world--where healthcare is free to everyone--this kind of story could not exist.

But more importantly, this decision tells us about what kind of tragedy is required for healthcare to be affordable in this country. The Pulse attack was undeniably an appalling act of terror against a vulnerable population, and it left 49 people dead and 53 others injured. It has become politically expedient to treat the Pulse attack as a talking point, in the name of altruism, in the name of fighting "radical Islam," and in the name of protecting LGBTQ people from foreign hostility.

According to the Brady Campaign, 40 children and teens are injured by gun violence every day. 2,806 are shot unintentionally every year. But this tragedy--this politically treacherous tragedy--does not rise to the level of the Pulse shooting, and their medical expenses are not forgiven by the hospitals that treat them.

According to the CDC, almost 10,000 people died of alcohol-related driving accidents in 2014.

Victims of sexual assault are often forced to pay for their hospital visits, which has made some states create Crime Victim Compensation funds to reimburse victims. According to NPR, "the patchwork of state laws that govern what's included in a forensic medical exam can present bigger financial problems for rape victims.... The [Violence Against Women Act] doesn't require states to cover tests for pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections as part of the forensic examinations... They're less likely to cover treatment for those infections, pregnancy or for injuries sustained during the rape."

Yet hospitals have not refused to bill these individuals--gun shot victims, drunk driving victims, and rape victims. Is there a functional difference between these tragedies--which are often only reported locally, if at all--and the national tragedy that Pulse became?

The clear answer is yes. The support shown for the Pulse victims, the fear of Islamic terrorism, and the increasing national support for LGBTQ acceptance made the Pulse massacre an opportunity for Islamophobic reactionaries and capitalist opportunists alike.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Donald Trump said, "Ask yourself who is really the friend of women and the LGBT community. Donald Trump with actions, or Hillary Clinton with her words? I will tell you who the better friend is and someday I believe that will be proven out bigly." Trump elaborated, "I will fight for [the LGBT community] while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs." In a statement, Trump went further, saying, "The terrorist... is the son of an immigrant from Afghanistan.... We admit more than 100,000 lifetime migrants from the Middle East each year. Since 9/11, hundreds of migrants and their children have been implicated in terrorism in the United States.... We need to protect all Americans, of all backgrounds and all beliefs, from Radical Islamic Terrorism."

And here we see the ways that Trump attempts to use queer people--and the protection of queer bodies--as a smokescreen for Islamophobia. In the statement, Trump pivoted immediately from sympathy for the victims to attacking Islam, Sharia Law, immigrants, people from the Middle East, and refugees. He also specifically attacked first-generation Americans--people born in the United States to immigrant parents. With no evidence in support of this clearly racist and Islamophobic view, Trump implicated every immigrant in the US, every refugee, and every Muslim, including those who were born in the US and have shown nothing but loyalty to this country (no surprise, given that Trump attacked the family of a Muslim soldier who was killed fighting for the US).

What Trump has shown is his willingness to commodify queer bodies as the means by which to express Islamophobia. To him, the victims of the Pulse shooting were nothing more than political tools used to erect his white supremacist-white nationalist project. He offers the patriarchal and paternal protection of queer bodies in exchange for violence against Muslims, immigrants, and refugees. He sees queer bodies as things to be exchanged and counted to justify the hatred and fear of Muslims. 

Because Pulse became part of the national discourse on terrorism, LGBTQ rights, and immigration, it also became integrated into the imperialist-capitalist mode of thinking about how to exploit tragedy best. When tragedy is localized--to individual children or women--it can be safely exploited at the local level for petty profits in hospitals. When tragedy is nationalized--as an attack on a group of people--then it can be sold for good will and political points. The reactions to Pulse remind us that capitalism and its imperialist desires can manifest from even the most altruistic expressions of national sympathy.

My very short collection of short stories, Prepare Your Defenses, is now available! You can pre-order it for Kindle or purchase the softcover. Click here to read the entire first chapter.