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72 Katrina Babies Reproducing Deviance in the Future Unknown alix chapman They don’t know we are becoming powerful. Every time we kiss we confirm the new world coming. Essex Hemphill, “American Wedding” In the year following the levee breaks, news reports began covering an in‑ crease in the number of birth rates in New Orleans. Local and national jour‑ nalists found that the city’s birth rate increased 39 percent from May 2005 to May 2006, with one hospital seeing a 25 percent increase in births nine to twelve months after Katrina.1 Some parents reported that these births simply reflected the difficulty in accessing contraception and medical practitioners, whereas others said that they had made “a conscious decision to conceive as a way to foster hope for the future in the wake of Katrina’s wrath.”2 Local obstetricians and gynecologists took these births as signs of a renaissance in the city of New Orleans, and local obstetricians and gynecologists cited the desires that prompted them as a “stress reliever” and as a way that couples could “fill the time.”3 In August 2006, a white family of seven from the New Orleans Metairie suburb was interviewed and depicted in a cbs broadcast titled “Katrina Brides and Babies.”4 The broadcast described how in the absence of physical reconstruction, in the wake of Mother Nature’s destruction, rebirth is pos‑ sible through human nature. The program described the Metairie family’s contribution to a new generation of New Orleanians and paralleled the new births to a recent growth in the city’s wedding industry. In the face of concerns about ongoing infrastructural inadequacy and worries about the city’s and region’s future, mass media expressed optimism and hope in such reports, and ­reporters, doctors, and parents referred to “evacuation babies” and more commonly “Katrina babies.” My research counters this media narrative by of‑ katrina babies 73 fering a different lens through which to see the reproduction and meaning of life, specifically the experiences of queer people of color. The focus of this chapter is not dominant culture’s recursive need to em‑ phasize the biological reproduction of white middle-­ class families, although that deserves address. I am more interested in defining other social forma‑ tions and modes of reproduction and futurity prompted by Katrina, how it “pushed people toward reevaluating what was important—family, connec‑ tions with people and moving forward.”5 For those who cannot rely on bio‑ logical reproduction or who are just not seen as “productive” to the formation of communities and the nation, I argue that Katrina babies become “family” in a nonbiological sense, as discursive subjects who have been pushed out by processes of dispossession and displacement. I link the black queer subject as a particular icon of vulnerability and risk within the context of Katrina babies and to a broader trope representing those who are most often seen as pariahs. Widely said to be a burden on the wider public, these subjects include refugees, ghettoized youths, so‑called welfare­ babies and anchor babies (the latter born in the United States to undocu‑ mented immigrant mothers), and all undocumented immigrants. My focus is not only ostracized lgbtq populations but also single mothers, sex workers, black poor people, and working-­class populations displaced from New Orleans. In black queer vernacular, “the kids” (or “the children”) refers to lgbtq youths and young adults, but the term is not necessarily linked to age as much as to their position within structures of power and oppression.6 Within that context, I appropriate the term “Katrina babies” to represent black queer sub‑ jects, removing it from sole use as a figure signaling the reproduction of white middle-­class heteronormativity in the wake of disaster. The babies to whom I refer are diasporic subjects, birthed out of ephemeral relationships. They may not be widely seen as appropriate contributors to a new New Orleans, the na‑ tion, or dominant social order, but they are productive. This chapter explores how and why a framework focused on black queer diasporas complicates the hegemony of white heteronormative kinship and examines the conditions of social reproduction that characterize black queer subjectivity and kinship, looking at black subjects who do not meet hetero­ patriarchal expectations. This includes those who may be heterosexual but who are marginalized by heteronormative models, such as the nuclear fam‑ ily. Their lives can inform us about nonlinear, nonbiological modes of repro­ duction available to marginalized populations, despite sexual orientation...


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