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Critical Perspectives from Queer Race Theorists

Homonormative by Kim Funk, All Rights Reserved
Homonormative
Linking racial exclusivity to the desire of the middle class LGBT mainstream to integrate into the state, family and cultural institutions of our society is a complex argument to make, and one that many critical race theorists have eloquently made in recent years. Two contributions I read in preparation for the CLAGS lecture (reprinted elsewhere in the texts section on this site) made me sit up and get provoked.

Not only is the challenge of mainstream integration the tendency to be absorbed without deeply changing the status quo, but the very act of admission requires of the outsider a differentiation of themselves and a dis-affiliation of ourselves from others the power structure still defines as illegitimate. For sexual outlaws and gender non-conformists to make themselves “intelligible” or “coherent” to the status quo requires a necessary submission to regulation. As Roderick Ferguson puts it, “the assertion of gay identity ceases to suggest an alienation from but rather an intersection with heterosexual normativity,” a process he calls homonormativity. (R. Ferguson, “Racing Homo-Normativity: Citizenship, Sociology and Gay Identity,” Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology (Duke University Press, 2005), p. 60).

Jasbir Puar goes even further: “National recognition and inclusion, here signaled as the annexation of homosexual jargon [of coming out], is contingent upon the segregation and disqualification of racial and sexual others from the national imaginary. At work in this dynamic is a form of sexual exceptionalism – the emergence of a national homosexuality, what I term “homonationalism” – that corresponds with the coming out of the exceptionalism of American empire. Further, this brand of homosexuality operates as a regulatory script not only of normative gayness, queerness, or homosexuality, but also of the racial and national norms that reinforce these sexual subjects. There is a commitment to the global dominant ascendancy of whiteness that is implicated in the propagation of the US as empire as well as the alliance between this propagation and this brand of homosexuality.” (Jasbir Puar, Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times (Duke University Press, 2007), p. 2).

In other words, these critics argue, there is a connection between the narrowing of the LGBT agenda from its anti-militarist, anti-racist and feminist origins in the late 1960’s to its present patriotic, patriarchy-accepting nationalism and our acceptance by the mainstream: normativity and acceptance of imperialism is the price we pay for our integration into the state at the very instant that this American state is increasingly racially biased towards immigrants, at war with poor and low income people, and in the hands of the corporations.

Ferguson argues: “If rights-based action and an affiliation with the illusory and unusual community of the state achieve coherence and emancipation for homosexuality, then homosexuality achieves coherence and emancipation by regulating gender and sexuality.” Absent a critique by our movement of the racial status quo in America, there is an acceptance of the “ascendancy of whiteness” by the LGBT movement that even transcends the explicit presence or absence of issues of importance to people of color. “Regulating homosexual difference in order to claim coherence as a public citizen is part of the homonormative subject’s entrance into racial privilege…In other words, the appeal to gender and sexual normativity by gays and lesbians…operates as a mode of state identification that promotes racial exclusion.” (Ferguson, supra, page 61).

I still think rights-based action is critical to achieving the standing to be a citizen. But I think the question of what kind of nation we intend to join and to help create is valid.

DISCUSSION:2 Comments

  1. kitty barber says:

    Somehow my notion of revolution never included either joining the military or getting married. And here we are, after all these years, banging on a door that opens to a world I do not want to belong to.
    Some revolution.

  2. bbmonroe says:

    At my first board meeting of the Dallas Gay Alliance (now the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance — thank you, Urvashi) the president (the late Bill Nelson) said we should be working for a paradigm shift in social politics. The norm of the straight world should not be our goal. AIDS necessarily consumed us, literally and figuratively, and we veered from that path. I, too, never desired the patriarchal concept of a wedding nor to serve in the military (but I honor those who do.) I fear assimilation and the inevitable loss of our “queerness”.

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