- Queering the Irish Diaspora: David Rees and Padraig Rooney*
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“Look what I have done with the country inside me”
In the 2003 collection I Only Know That I Love Strength in My Friends and Greatness, Irish-American poet James Liddy begins the poem “Francis” by calling Francis Bacon the “Most beautiful Englishman ever to live in Ireland.” Liddy goes on to connect Bacon to another Anglo-Irish queer, Oscar Wilde, adding, “the importance of being earnest angry and funny a big brother/sister” (75). The gender slash of “brother/sister” locates Bacon between normative gender identities but within a figure of queer kinship, a relationship grounded in gender dissidence and disruptive social affect. Bacon is situated thus between gender and ethnic identities, in a space that is imagined and discursive rather than geographic—like Micheál MacLiammóir, whom Liddy imagined as “born neither in London (the reality) nor Cork (the fiction) but ‘on that patch of earth named to poetry’” (Arkins [End Page 173] 105). Beginning in dislocation, the poem ends with a startling reclamation and transformation of place: “Look what I have done with the country inside me” (76). The line could refer to the visceral imagery of Bacon’s art, given the poem’s references to his paintings as “dead meat so beautiful you eat it,” but more importantly it suggests a central tenet of diaspora studies: that the homeland is an imagined space rather than a geographically specific place, and that national belonging is a process of internalization and incorporation, subject to transformations both corporeal and imagined.
A common analytic emphasis on place of origin, says Brian Keith Axel, “posits that a homeland is originary and constitutive of a diaspora, and very often supports an essentialization of origins and a fetishization of what is supposed to be found at the origin (e.g., tradition, religion, language, race)” (DI 411). Against this analytic model of place, Axel proposes a “diasporic imaginary,” arguing that disaporic subjects are created “not through a definitive relation to place, but through formations of temporality, affect, and corporeality” (412). He explains that the homeland “must be understood as an affective and temporal process rather than a place,” a formulation that “draws the homeland into relation with other kinds of images and processes, . . . different bodies or corporeal images and historical formulations of sexuality, gender, and violence” (426).1 Adapting Axel’s concept, Jasbir K. Puar argues further that the shift from origin to “other forms of diasporic affiliative and cathartic entities” specifically enables a queer diasporic thinking by allowing for “connectivity beyond or different from sharing a common ancestral homeland,” and thus for the possibility of “queer narratives of kinship, belonging, and home” (QT 135).
In this essay, I want to suggest some possibilities for queer diasporic thinking in Irish studies. Irish migrant and diaspora studies as a field has done little, thus far, to develop the place of lesbians and gays in [End Page 174] the imagined community of diaspora, beyond the spaces cleared for lesbian and gay identity in the groundbreaking work of Breda Gray on migrant women and Máirtín Mac an Ghaill on migrant men, the particular analysis of complex allegiances in Anne Maguire’s personal writing about the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization’s struggle to march in the New York Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, or the necessary queering of diaspora theory in the work of Eithne Luibhéid.2 A queer Irish diaspora project might focus on the histories, narratives, silences, demographics, and struggles of lesbians and gay men among the migrant Irish. Or it might remark on the fact that until very recently (that is, before decriminalization of homosexuality in 1993), homosexuality was so insistently displaced abroad in Irish literature and culture that queer sexuality was a diasporic project. Instead, after briefly suggesting basic elements of lesbian and gay migrant narratives (particularly a rethinking of the concept of home), I want to focus on two writers: novelist David...