- Queer Resistance
Where there is power, there is resistance.—Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality1
Where there is resistance, there is power.—Lila Abu-Lughod, “The Romance of Resistance”2
#Resist has become a hashtag of choice among many in the aftermath of what was, for the communities and populations we at QED hold most dear, a horrific election cycle with a cataclysmic ending in the appointment of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States of America. Although resistance has been a rhetorical mainstay of queer and other minoritarian social movements for decades, this forum engages ongoing conversations on resistance and views a return to those discussions as urgent right now, even as that urgency was always already implicit in our daily precarity as queer subjects before the election.
In 1990, resistance became an academic buzzword when James C. Scott developed the theoretical use of the term in his book, Domination and the Arts of Resistance.3 Scott presents the concept of “hidden transcripts” whereby marginalized groups craft ideological resistance to those in power through the deployment of ambiguous aesthetics that break with normative understandings of high and low culture to embrace gossip, theater, folklore, jokes, and other forms of [End Page 51] speaking back to power. Emphasis on resistance as a mode of subverting dominant norms, however, has also been roundly critiqued by anthropologists such as Lila Abu-Lughod, who claims that the term has been highly romanticized and does not attend to the ways in which subordinated groups work both with and against power and powerful institutions and people. She recommends instead that we apply resistance as a diagnostic of power. In line with Foucault, she presents a notion of resistance as a way of understanding power not as always or essentially repressive but as a means of cultivating pleasure, alternative forms of knowledge, and other modes of being in the world. “Resistance,” Foucault famously wrote, “is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power,”4 and therefore for Abu-Lughod we must invert the proposition to also read, “where there is resistance, there is power.”5
Queer scholars have also made important interventions into the history of resistance studies that transcend the presumed pairing of queerness and resistance. Janet Jakobsen shows how “queer is often defined precisely as resistance to norms and normativity” but exhorts us to move beyond the mere invocation of either term or an understanding of one term as synonymous with the other, and attend more to embodiment and opposition situated within contextualized understandings of norms and normativity.6 Jasbir Puar cautions against the conflation of resistance and agency, arguing in Terrorist Assemblages that queer studies’ relationship to resistance as an oppositional act occludes the many ways in which queerness can convivially conspire with militarism, neoliberalism, securitization, and war.7 In an article that preceded the publication of Terrorist Assemblages but that refused both the pathologization and the romanticization of resistance, Cathy Cohen seizes not on queerness as resistance but “Deviance as Resistance.” Much in line with the articles gathered here in this forum, Cohen focuses on the potentiality of the “the cumulative impact of individual deviant choices”8 and does so in ways that dislodge sex and sexuality as the only or primary node for mobilizing activist and scholarly approaches to queerness. Our hope, inspired by Cohen, is that “through the repetition of deviant practices by multiple individuals new identities, communities, and politics are created and a space emerges where seemingly deviant, unconnected behavior might evolve into conscious acts of resistance that serve as the basis for a mobilized politics of deviance.”9 This forum is our humble collective offering of queer resistance and doing deviant work in times of crisis.
This forum brings together artists, activists, and academics to collectively comment on the 2016 presidential election by providing concrete and contextual advice for how to develop queer modes of resistance and worldmaking. The primary objective is to offer the QED readership a set of tactics for queer dissidence, civil disobedience, art and advocacy making, and scholarship not [End Page 52] in response to the new administration’s rise to power, but in...