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Transnational Queer Theory and Unfolding Terrorisms

From: Criticism
Volume 50, Number 3, Summer 2008
pp. 533-541 | 10.1353/crt.0.0072

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Queer theory has always been attentive to often undertheorized relations between sexuality and cultural citizenship. Recently, much of the most exciting queer scholarship has directed its attention toward an analysis of spaces outside of the United States and beyond the West, focusing in particular on transnational communities affected by ever-expanding global capital and imperialism. In an issue of Social Text (“What’s Queer about Queer Studies Now?”), the editors suggest that a reinvigorated queer framework “insists on a broadened consideration of the late-twentieth-century global crises that have configured historical relations among political economies, the geopolitics of war and terror, and national manifestations of sexual, racial, and gendered hierarchies.”1 In other words, a renewed queer theoretical frame must thoroughly adapt to and expand upon the specific ways in which counterterrorism, mass consumerist culture, and battles for legal recognition have compartmentalized nonnormative populations. This new queer work examines new forms of subjugation across national borders and requires that we reevaluate sexual, gendered, and racial politics in a global age. What iterations of queer culture are produced at this crucial juncture? How might a range of performance practices contest, negotiate, articulate, and heighten these iterations?

Examples of new work addressing these kinds of questions include Martin Manalansan’s Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora and Gayatri Gopinath’s Impossible Desires: South Asian Public Cultures.2 Both revisit diaspora as a rich space from which queer belonging could be imagined. This revisiting is especially relevant given the expansion of transnational migration and labor. Spread across multiple locations and temporalities, “queer diasporas” create their own cultural archives amidst efforts to survive and cope with the everyday. Manalansan and Gopinath argue that, in addition to nationality and ethnicity, sexuality is an important site for understanding practices of diasporic belonging. New queer work also reexamines the changing relationship between sexual minorities and heteronormative culture. Could sexual minorities foster, rather than resist, sexual, gendered, and racial oppressions? In The Twilight of Equality, Lisa Duggan analyzes the many ways that limited representations of lesbian and gay culture have become so normalized—and in a sense evacuated of a contestatory politics—by a mostly white, upwardly mobile, gay population that has demanded legal recognition through gay marriage. This normalization is compounded by the demands of a growing consumer class that requires queer representation adequate for consumption. Coining the term “homonormativity,” Duggan describes the movement of lesbian and gay politics closer to the standards of normative heterosexuality, fueled by human rights discourses that in many ways mask the violence of neoliberal capital’s spread.3

Jasbir Puar’s Terrorist Assemblage: Homonationalism in Queer Times is a refreshing and much-needed addition to this recent queer scholarship. Like Manalansan and Gopinath, Puar studies “queer diasporas” and their multiple performance practices. Expanding on Duggan’s work, she maps out moments of queer normalization and inclusion within U.S. dominant culture. What is most salient about this book, however, is that it focuses on the ways in which sexuality aids in policing appropriate forms of U.S. citizenship and diasporic identity during the current “war on terror.” The author examines a collection of examples ranging from South Park episodes, to photographs from Abu Ghraib, to the Lawrence vs. Texas ruling that struck down the Texas sodomy law by arguing that consensual sex was protected as “private.” Using these examples, she creates a complex theoretical approach to analyzing the ways in which sexuality has been mobilized by the United States after September 11th in order to demonstrate the country’s “exceptionalism.” Puar takes aim at “exceptionalism” because it allows the United States to set itself apart from other more “barbaric” (i.e., nonsecular, Islamic, and “fundamentalist”) nation-states and cultures. She argues that exceptionalism also helps to produce a continual state of paranoia that justifies the complex methodologies needed to “fight” the war on terror. Her argument is essential for critics looking for a way to better understand the linkages between sexuality and antiterrorism. Puar suggests that exceptionalism serves as a strategic and effective means of furthering violence against postcolonial populations by legitimizing secularism as the key ethical standard of communities in the global north. It is precisely these...



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