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  • A Living Legacy:What Disidentification Will Continue to Mean for Queer Performance Artists of Color
  • Brittany Chávez (bio)

José Esteban Muñoz was a trailblazer for scholars/artists/activists of color, particularly those of us who identify as Latina/o and/or Latin American. He made space for those of us who have felt or who continue to feel we will never have one or that are in a constant battle against erasure. He fought against the violence of the times, both epistemic and material, and his work remains timely and timeless. Though his physical presence left us far too soon, we continue to turn to his scholarship to make sense and to create breath, or spaces of ease from which to think. As a genderqueer person of color who straddles the lines between academia and performance, fortified by activism—my own and those of fellow comrades—I will always be an outsider. It is scholars like Muñoz who have helped me feel some sense of temporary belonging in scholarly worlds. It is a border existence and I like it this way. I identify first and foremost as a performance artist, second as a scholar, and always an activist. In January 2014, I became the newest addition to the radical rebel international performance troupe La Pocha Nostra—a clumsy horizontal democracy that is the greatest chosen family I have ever known or could ever possibly come to know. I have found my spaces where I can exist comfortably, uncensored, and supported, but not without firm guidance and mentors. I have also learned and continue to learn to articulate the agency of these groups and spaces and why they matter. [End Page 150]

I remember picking up Muñoz’s book, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics, for the first time my first semester of graduate school as a master’s student in San José, California. I was not out of the closet yet and my life as a performance artist had only just begun, but it resonated more than any other book I had read. I read it again as a PhD student in North Carolina and saw so much of myself in it, especially as a performance artist. Muñoz gave us disidentification as a crucial survival strategy. He defines/redefines and elaborates what this term means various times in the book. I am going to begin with the following: Disidentification is the third mode of dealing with dominant ideology, one that neither opts to assimilate within such a structure nor strictly opposes it; rather, disidentification is a strategy that works on and against the dominant ideology. Instead of buckling under the pressures of dominant ideology (i.e., identification, assimilation) or attempting to break free of its inescapable sphere (i.e., counteridentification, utopianism), this “working on and against” is a strategy that tries to transform a cultural logic from within, always laboring to enact permanent structural change while valuing the importance of local and everyday struggles of resistance.1 Disidentification breaks with binary models of resistance, which tend to fall back into the logics they purport to oppose. Muñoz continues, “Such enclaves, however, are often politically disadvantageous when one stops to consider the ways in which the social script depends on minority factionalism and isolationism to maintain the status of the dominant order.”2 Instead, disidentification provides a way out of the vicious cycle of either ceding to domination or becoming a part of factious resistance, while acknowledging how difficult it is to not fall into either trap. It is to learn to make peace within our (e.g., queer, people of color, women) “multiple antagonisms within the social” as a way to find empowerment.3 It is notable that Muñoz emphasizes performing disidentifications, which attends to the fact that it is, “at its core, an ambivalent modality that cannot be conceptualized as a restrictive or ‘masterfully’ fixed mode of identification.”4 This ambivalence and slippery identification is what I find crucial to the creative practices of many artists/theorists and queers of color today. In what follows, I would like to briefly offer a thought experiment in how these elements of...


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pp. 150-153
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