- White Feelings, Feeling Straight:Cultivating Affective Attentiveness for Queer Futurities
February 20, 2014
I write this letter with some regret knowing that you will never read it.1 It pains me to learn another pivotal academic mentor has passed. For many years now, your work has inspired me. A crucial lesson you have guided me to is the importance of articulating the affective relations of normative identities, by privileged bodies, in order to promote futurities across lines of difference. White and/or straight bodies are bound by an affective lacking that removes an attentive awareness of the emotive happenings between their bodies and Others. In this letter, I share how your work has trained me to see the affects of my white straight body in relation to Others.
My life first intersected with you in a university bookstore when I purchased Disidentifications.2 I felt overlaps in my performing self that sought disidentificatory spaces and performances. Your nudging gave me the courage to press through the toxic enculturation of heteronormativity, misogyny, and white supremacy. Reading Disidentification motivated me to continue the theoretical journey of locating performances of agency. I sought to locate spaces of performative agency where marginalized bodies remake and rewrite dominant scripts.3 Although I understood the harms of limiting Latina/o studies to only brown bodies, I desperately fumbled with the negotiations of my heteronormative whiteness in relation to Latina drag queens. I felt like an imposter reading your [End Page 154] work and researching a Latina/o gay bar. In many ways, my discomfort within my research on Latina drag queens was driven by a consciousness to not appropriate their cultural experiences.
I was challenged by another mentor to see the particularities of my white hetero-feminine performances in relation to these disidentificatory functions by centering representations of disidentification on queer bodies of color. These reflexive practices organize how a privileged and marginalized body, like myself, aligns and undermines possibilities of queer futurities. Understanding these Latina/o spaces through this reflexive lens brought new awareness to my discomfort as an emotive happening. José, I felt a new awareness to my identity within this space and that was uncomfortable for my normative affects. You taught me the experiences of my discomfort grew from an affective space of my white straight “lacking.”4 White (straight) bodies often consume racial articulations of people of color because our racial particularities have been so far removed from our bodies; we can’t (even refuse to) see them when they are pointed out to us. For brown bodies, whiteness serves as “an affective gauge that helps us understand modes of emotional countenance and comportment as good or bad.”5 Those that do not perform within this whiteness gauge, even if their bodies match it, are stigmatized and disciplined accordingly. Those that perform whiteness correctly have no emotive understanding of these performances and/or the affective consequences these performances displace on Others.
Although this stigmatization is a constant reality for queers of color, it is only in the moments of disciplining a nonnormative performance of my race and/or sexuality that I am brought to a present “feeling” of my whiteness or heteronormativity. You framed this racial affectiveness as “brown feelings.”6 You explain brownness as a “constant attentiveness to the self for others that is cognizant of the way in which it is not and can never be whiteness.”7 José, this brought me to really ponder the affectiveness of those at the center be that racial, sexual, class, and/or gender. Attentiveness for self and others is not necessary for normative identities because there are no binary negative constructions of these identities. This privileged affective deficit exposes a primary issue to deconstructing dominant cultural performances. White/straight bodies cannot come to terms with their privilege if they have no affective understanding of their own racial/sexual affects.
José, you talked about whiteness as affective normality, but what are “white feelings?” Perhaps whiteness is so normative that there are no affective relations to whiteness; there can’t be. If there were emotive relations that would mean whiteness has an affective consciousness and thus would lose...