Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times (review)
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Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. By Jasbir K. Puar. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007. Xxviii + 335 pp. $24.95 paper. ISBN 978-0822341147.

On 18 September 2008, Diane Schroer won a federal lawsuit (Schroer v. Billington) against the Library of Congress after a job search committee reneged on a 2005 employment offer. After getting the job offer, Schroer, then known as David, told of his intention to undergo gender transitioning and, eventually, transsexual [End Page 128] surgery. Officials retracted, saying that such a transition might compromise her position, which was as a Specialist in Terrorism and International Crime with the Congressional Research Service. While Schroer’s recent win is certainly a victory for civil rights advocates, it also speaks directly to Jasbir Puar’s acute identification, in her introduction to Terrorist Assemblages, of three symptoms of the “queer times” (that is, the neoimperialist, homonormative contemporary) we live in: sexual exceptionalism, queer as regulatory, and the ascendancy of whiteness. “Sexual exceptionalism” characterizes how U.S. national heteronormativity has absorbed particular previously-excluded gay and queer subjects (not all of them) and cultural politics into American national life: “an exceptional form of national heteronormativity is now joined by an exceptional form of national homonormativity, in other words, homonationalism” (2). “Queer as regulatory” signals how LGBTIQ advocates and scholars’ conventional positioning of queerness as an inherently transgressive category—and thus as a mark of liberalist agency, autonomy, and resistance—capitulates ultimately to forms of normalizing biopolitics. The “ascendancy of whiteness,” a phrase which she draws from Rey Chow’s The Protestant Ethnic (2002) and amends through Susan Koshy’s concept of “class fractioning,” describes how white hegemony is consolidated not by the exclusion of the “ethnic” but rather through liberal multiculturalist inclusion and its attendant violence on and separation of ethnic communities (31). On one hand, these three manifestations of today’s queer times work in tandem to produce a nationally acceptable queerness, thus projecting the U.S. as remarkably “tolerant” in its affording concessions to some queers. On the other, they render other queer subjects—those who either are not white queer liberals or who unwittingly benefit from and perpetuate the ascendancy of whiteness—far too perverse for inclusion into the national imaginary. Ultimately, what has emerged is an exclusionary “global political economy of queer sexualities” that “repeatedly coheres whiteness as a queer norm and straightness as a racial norm” (xxiv).

Schroer v. Billington might thus be “read sideways,” a model of analysis that Puar (borrowing from literary critic Siobhan Somerville) engages in her interpretation of Lawrence and Garner v. Texas (2003) in Chapter 3, “Intimate Control, Infinite Detention: Rereading the Lawrence case.” Schroer might be read sideways with—or contemporaneously across—both the subject of the first chapter, “The Sexuality of Terrorism,” and the second, “Abu Ghraib and U.S. Sexual Exceptionalism.” In both, Puar argues that Orientalist constructions of the “terrorist” allow for the distinction between U.S.-nationalist liberal queers and nationally intolerable, inassimilable racial/sexual others—that is, figures too queer for the nation. The figure of the terrorist, she argues, accelerates not only the limited production of [End Page 129] heteronormatively acceptable gayness and queerness—made tolerable by some subjects’ patriotism, performed both by their comportment and consumption—but also the proliferation of markers of racial/sexual excess, located in the pathological bodies of Arab, Muslim, or gay and queer South Asian Americans. Such “dual movement,” (46) enabled by the figure of the terrorist, also informs critical terrorist studies. Tracking through feminist and queer theory studies of the terrorist that attempt commendably to redress the scarcity of the analysis of gender and sexuality in conventional area-studies research, Puar argues that many of these studies uncritically reinscribe Orientalist myths about Arab and Muslim patriarchy and homophobia, while foreclosing on the consideration of a political-economic motivation for their dissent—“rather than emotional, sexual, irrational, or moral” ones (57)—as well as a sustained critical discussion of female terrorists (60).

Homonationalism’s conservative production of acceptable and unacceptable modes of queerness can be plugged into a transnational framework. In the second chapter, Puar examines the 2005-released photographs of ritual torture...