First, the flexibilization of the apparatus of sexuality fosters neoliberalism’s anti-naturalism. Neoliberal governmentality is built upon an anti-naturalistic political ontology since it neither grasps the market nor the existence of homines oeconomici as naturally given but as artificially produced, as Foucault has highlighted in his analysis of neoliberal governmentality (Foucault 2008: 31; see also Oksala 2011: 477). In contemporary neoliberal sexual politics, we also find anti-naturalism as a motif. Not only is the neoliberal apparatus of sexuality no longer based on the rigid assumption that heterosexuality is naturally given but also the reference to ‘naturalism’ has lost significance in governing sexualities. Integrating (some) lesbian and gay lifestyles into what is considered acceptable and legally and socially protectable is based on the discursive logic of locating lesbian and gay lifestyles within the same continuum of normality as heterosexuality. The campaign “It’s no different in our homes” (“Bei uns geht’s auch nicht anders zu”) promoting ‘rainbow families’, which was part of the “Campaign for Self-Determination and Sexual Diversity” that LSVD among others supported, even includes the sameness of ‘rainbow’ and heterosexual families in its title (LSVD 2015). Similarly, in the preface to LSVD’s brochure on ‘rainbow families’, Maria Schwesig, Minister for Family, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth draws on this same logic by pointing to a continuum between heterosexual and same-sex parents (Schwesig 2014). These examples show that differences “are no longer seen as essential or absolute ‘otherness’ but rather as particularity, hybridity, and the products of individual practices in need of continuous refinement” (Engel 2011: 75). In neoliberal societies difference is not strictly derived from a given norm and used to identify ‘deviant’ or non-natural beings. On the contrary, due to a blurring of the distinction between ‘normal’ and ‘non-normal’ subjects and to the increasing importance of individualization, “everybody is expected to find ways of expressing difference as particularity and specialness” (Engel 2011: 75).
Second, by converting inequality into disparity neoliberal sexual politics help to constitute and reproduce a diverse society based on competition. Foucault has argued that neoliberal governmentality replaces the former liberal principle of exchange with the principle of competition as a key strategy of the capitalist economy (Foucault 2008: 118). Competition is the premise for neoliberal society and, as such, the state is called upon to secure the preconditions for competition. Based on their own premise of an anti-naturalistic political ontology, in neoliberalism’s view, competition does not follow—in contrast to liberalism’s interest in free exchange—from a naturally given will, instinct or appetite, but it needs to be politically constituted. Neoliberalism requires that the state organizes—or “artificially constructs” (Foucault 2008: 120)—a formal structure so that competition can develop. In this vein, Foucault points out that whereas “governmental intervention must be light at the level of economic processes”, they must “be heavy when it is a matter of this set of technical, scientific, legal, geographic, let’s say, broadly, social factors” (Foucault 2008: 141). Thus, while the principle of competition requires only ‘light’ interventions on the level of the market, expanding the principle of competition demands state interventions that produce and acknowledge differences and disparity. Unlike Fordist society and its mode of production, neoliberal society and its mode of production are not built upon standardized forms and homogeneity but rather on flexible modes of production, consumption and living (Foucault 2008: 259). The economization of the entire society encourages its subjects to arrange and manage their lives individually rather than to orientate themselves in their everyday lives in a way that is based on a priori given, rigid norms.
One social factor the state governs is sexuality. Recognizing and appreciating (certain) non-heterosexual sexualities fosters a disparate and unequal society where the disparities and inequalities are not viewed as problematic, but are framed as proof of tolerance, plurality and freedom. These paradigms of individuality and diversity are not only promoted by campaigns such as “Berlin Advocates Self-Determination and Acceptance of Sexual Diversity” and in the “Charter of Diversity”. These campaigns focus on ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘sexual identity’ because they are framed as one of the “core dimensions” (Charta für Vielfalt 2011, author’s translation) of individuals. At the same time, the charter closely links diversity to economic success: “We have come to realize that we can only be successful economically if we acknowledge and leverage the existing diversity” (Charta für Vielfalt 2015). Recognizing sexual pluralities can thus function as an important tool in rendering the whole of society more diverse and lends itself to constituting a social framework in which competition is a core principle.
Against this background, (some) gay and lesbian ‘lifestyles’ can be seen as ‘prototypes’ of a neoliberal society. Antke Engel describes the process of integrating (some) gay and lesbian lifestyles into neoliberal forms of normality as “projective integration” (Engel 2011). ‘Projective integration’ is characterized by a positive and affirmative position toward differences viewed as employable cultural capital. Imagining a ‘homosexual lifestyle’ in which subjects are flexible, dynamic and self-determined configures gays and lesbians as neoliberal role models, in contrast to the Fordist heterosexual couple that organized their lives based on standardization, inflexibility and predictability. “Projective integration fulfills a double function: normalized subjects can project their desires onto images of difference, while dissident or marginalized subjects enjoy inhabiting an avant-garde position” (Engel 2011: 74). Positive images of lesbian and gay ‘lifestyles’ “act as screens of projection that stand in for individuality, flexibility, and above all, for the ability to manage the contradictory demands of late-modern life” (Engel 2011: 74). In these discourses that Engel describes as ‘projective integration’ the ‘promise of happiness’ (Ahmed 2010) operates as a crucial technology of power: It not only helps to integrate and assimilate lesbian and gay lifestyles but at the same time it stabilizes heteronormative paradigms of happiness precisely through the ‘projective integration’ of (some) queer lifestyles (see also Berlant 2011; Nay 2014). These heteronormative affective promises are both, a “process of hegemonic consensus production” and a “modernization of heteronormativity” (Engel 2011: 75). They strengthen a “society that is not orientated toward the commodity and the uniformity of the commodity, but toward the multiplicity and differentiation of enterprises” (Foucault 2008: 149). ‘Promises of happiness’ operate as neoliberal technology of power that support a capitalist mode of production that is built upon plural, flexible and diverse enterprises where each of them promises individualized satisfaction and individualized ‘well-being’ (Aschoff 2015; Davies 2015).
Third, sexuality is a crucial construction in making the subjects governable through their interpellation as entrepreneurial selves. Neoliberal governmentality redefines the homo oeconomicus: It is not merely a partner who engages in an economic exchange, but an entrepreneur of oneself (Foucault 2008: 226). As a consequence of the marketization of the entire society, the model of the market is applied to “every social actor in general” (Foucault 2008: 268). The individual should consider her- or himself as a “sort of permanent and multiple enterprise” (Foucault 2008: 241). Privatization and individualization encourage neoliberal subjects to conduct themselves as entrepreneurial selves. These neoliberal core strategies are promoted in the name of freedom (Foucault 2008: 63). An important element in governing the subjects as entrepreneurial selves is the “cult of being special” (Bröckling 2000: 158, author’s translation). The entrepreneurial self implies self-conduct, which enables a person to develop his or her own specificity and individuality. Neoliberalism offers the promise of being able to be one’s true self, which is framed as the ultimate freedom. These promises of individuality and freedom are closely linked to sexuality. Enabling the neoliberal subject to have a self-determined sexuality means giving them the possibility to obtain complete self-realization. The campaign “Berlin Advocates Self-Determination and Acceptance of Sexual Diversity” clearly links ‘self-determination’ to sexuality (as the title already points at) claiming that self-determination requires sexual diversity.
Thus, also in neoliberalism, sexuality remains a crucial construct that renders subjects governable. What has changed in the governing technology of neoliberalism, however, is that the sole aim of sexuality is no longer reproduction and rigid self-control. Neoliberal subjects are no longer primarily governed by an ideal of a strictly heterosexual and self-controlled sexuality. Instead, subjects are asked to find their ‘own’ self-determined sexuality within a plurality of sexualities, to express it, and to allow their choice to be recognized by a tolerant and diverse neoliberal society. Since sexuality is viewed as inner and intimate truth also in the neoliberalized apparatus of sexuality (as both the campaign “Berlin Advocates Self-Determination and Acceptance of Sexual Diversity” and the “Charter of Diversity” argue), this ultimately ‘liberated’ inner sexuality makes subjects governable and helps to turn them into entrepreneurial selves who are supposed to consider themselves as ‘free’ subjects.
Precisely because sexuality is constructed as a force that individualizes subjects, it is a powerful tool that aids in anchoring “neoliberalism’s key terms” “privatization and personal responsibility” (Duggan 2003: 12) in people’s everyday lives. The entrepreneurial homo oeconomicus is not only responsible for his or her own economic fortune but also for his or her ‘own’ and ‘specific’ sexuality, desire, reproduction and family. Neoliberal subjects conduct themselves as homines oeconomici—not because they are forced to—but because they also see perspectives for themselves within this mode of existence. Framing sexual plurality as means of realizing a society full of self-determined, free and self-responsible subjects can then be viewed as technology of power that helps render the entrepreneurial model “a model of social relations and of existence itself, a form of relationship of the individual to himself, time, those around him, the group, and the family” (Foucault 2008: 242). Advocating sexual self-determination also fosters the image of the subject as homo oeconomicus because both emphasize individual freedom and self-responsibility as key aspects of a good life.
Fourth, the emergence of what Lisa Duggan has described as “homonormativity” (Duggan 2002: 179) advances the anti-social attitude of neoliberal governmentality. In neoliberal societies, the social is dismantled in the name of privatization and individual freedom. Neoliberal governmentality promotes individuality and personal responsibility, presenting them as hallmarks of freedom and at the same time it frames social responsibility as the epitome of dependency and paternalism and as a threat freedom. These anti-social assumptions take on material forms in the dismantling of the welfare state, the marketization of social relations and social institutions, and the privatization of social risks (Foucault 2008: 144).
Homonormative politics buy into neoliberalism’s anti-social program: the legal and social recognition of same-sex partnerships and ‘rainbow families’ strengthens an ideal of an anti-social society by expanding marriage and its underlying ideals of privatizing social responsibilities to also encompass non-heterosexual partnerships (Duggan 2002; Warner 1999). As Duggan points out, homonormative politics link homosexuality to “domesticity and consumption” (Duggan 2002: 179). The legal institution of same-sex partnerships that can be viewed as the main politics of homonormativity reiterates the heteronormative ideal of a privatized, domesticized mode of existence. It also reinforces (neo-)liberal norms, which dictate the private organization of care, family and social reproduction. By doing so, homonormative ways of living support and (re-)produce the neoliberal ideals of privatization, individual freedom and independence from society and the state.
Furthermore, homonormativity also needs to be seen as a counterpart to the neoliberal moves to dismantle the welfare state. By including same-sex partnerships in the neoliberal project of privatizing social issues, in neoliberal societies all family constellations—not only heterosexual families—are asked to compensate for the dismantling of the welfare state. Neoliberal governmentality also invites same-sex partnerships and ‘rainbow families’ to perform the outsourced tasks within their own private spheres. The political campaigns as well as the legal reforms that aim to normalize ‘rainbow families’ seek to expand the group of people addressed as being responsible for performing the tasks of social reproduction within the private realm. Equating rainbow and heterosexual family arrangements also renders ‘rainbow families’ equal in terms of their obligation to organize social reproduction in the private realm. Volker Woltersdorff thus concludes: “social de-solidarization is the historical precondition of the state recognition of some non-heterosexual ways of living” (Woltersdorff 2004: 146, author’s translation).
The four dimensions demonstrate that the flexibilization of the apparatus of sexuality not only corresponds with neoliberal governmentality, but needs to be conceived as productive element of neoliberal governmentality. The transformation of the apparatus of sexuality helps govern subjects in a way that enables them to accept neoliberal ‘regimes of truths’ and integrate them into their everyday lives. This includes viewing self-determination, privacy and freedom as desirable values, favoring ‘diversity’ and ‘plurality’ over solidarity, equality and collectivity, considering self-determination and self-responsibility as key elements for one’s pursuit of happiness. Governing sexuality in the name of individual freedom, tolerance and diversity helps to constitute neoliberal subjects and a neoliberal population where individuals consider themselves as free entrepreneurial selves and where society is based on marketization and competition as its principle structures. Thus, the transformation of the apparatus of sexuality is not merely a side effect of neoliberalism. The diversification and pluralization of what counts as a ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable’ form of sexuality, desire, partnership or family imply that individuals and the population are governed in a way that helps them integrate neoliberal governmentality into their everyday practices and behavior. The flexibilization of the apparatus of sexuality helps produce a social reality that presupposes the existence of neoliberal governmentality.