- The Violence of Heteronormativity: Queer Worldmaking in Anohni’s Hopelessness
Last summer eleven U.S. states announced their plan to sue the Obama administration over the civil rights directives allowing transgender students to use bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity. The lawsuit claims that the directive is unlawful1 and that the Obama administration has “conspired to turn workplace and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running rough-shod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights.”2 Pushing back against this fast-moving antitransgender rhetoric, and specifically against the North Carolina’s HB2 (the so-called “bathroom bill”3), the Justice Department and Attorney General Loretta Lynch issued a lawsuit declaring their commitment to transgender rights: “This action is about a great deal more than just bathrooms. This is about the dignity and respect we accord to our fellow citizens and the laws that we, as a people and as a country, have enacted to protect them—indeed to protect all of us. And it’s about the founding ideals that have led this country—haltingly but inexorably—in the direction of fairness, inclusion and equality for all Americans.”4 As a significant site of public cultural negotiation, the HB2 bill has helped form political coalitions of genderqueer activists enacting their collective agency and highlighting the bill’s productive potential to advance transgender rights advocacy. [End Page 150]
The politico/ideological climate in the United States has changed dramatically since the attorney general issued that statement. Today our country faces an administration hostile to transgender civil rights, as reflected in the triumph of Donald J. Trump, Mike Pence, and the GOP administration, all of whom oppose transgender and gay rights, and have made concerted efforts to deny equality to LGBTQ people. In foregrounding the sexual othering embedded in our judicial institutions, and the Trump administration, is the recognition that our economic, political, religious, and educational institutions, including our media organizations, further perpetuate heteronormative violence—invisible, widely shared, ideological, and very effective.
The Academy Awards stands as one such socially marked cultural institution that lauds itself as a progressive humanistic bastion that highlights under-represented stories and perspectives, despite the fact that its performance of solidarity and activism is perpetually dominated by the narratives of systemic racism, discursive erasure, and injustice sheltered within its violent heteronormative logic. The historic underrepresentation of women in Hollywood, the whitewashing in casting practices, and the heteronormative political imagination in the industry are palpable (i.e., Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia, Matt Damon at the heart of the movie The Great Wall, and Scarlett Johansson currently starring in the movie Ghost in the Shell). Ian McKellen has openly interrogated Hollywood’s heterologic and the issues orbiting the LGBTQ depictions in movies by arguing that prejudice was the reason that no openly gay man had ever won an Academy Award for best actor. Sean Penn, Tom Hanks, and Philip Seymour Hoffman have all won Academy Awards for playing gay men, said McKellen. “What about giving me one for playing a straight man?” LGBTQs, women, and people of color have been ill-treated in Hollywood and “have a legitimate reason to complain.”5 Indeed, the Academy has recently squandered an opportunity to recognize and celebrate unique voice of Anohni, the Mercury Prize-winning musician recognized for her song “Manta Ray” in the documentary Racing Extinction. The Best Original Song nominee, and the first transgender person to have been nominated since songwriter Angela Morley earned two nominations in the mid-1970s, Anohni was not invited to perform during the telecast.
Given the context of the current homophobic and antitransgender rhetoric, the politicized visibility of transgender issues, and the escalating misrepresentations of transgendered experiences (including hate crimes and fatal violence against transgender people6), I offer a critique of this ideological wave of anti-transgender discourse that masks, yet insists upon, the intimate institutional violence of heteronormativity.7 The heightened visibility of anti/transgender rhetoric demands accountability of an ensemble of social relations; it demands [End Page 151] a critique of heteronormativity as a political practice of ordering and regulating transgendered non...