Archive for the ‘LGBT’ Category

Chimps Ahoy!*

March 4, 2012

Recently, there have been a couple of articles on Gawker about “bonobo lesbian relationships“. My humor juices got flowing about this, and so I thought I’d mix theory and my wacky humor in one post.

When talking or thinking about sexuality, most North Americans tend to adopt understandings that circulate North American culture, most often along the lines of gender differences or clearly delineated sexualities. Those who have read Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality are in some ways at an advantage for being able to acknowledge that most of our ideas of sexuality come from the 19th century with small transformations over time, but no real substantial difference from the way people thought and constructed sexuality a century and a half-ago.

To summarize Foucault, (more…)


Homophobia and the Post-colonial Predicament

January 28, 2011

As we mourn the passing of David Kato (h/t: feministing) and imagine how this is the tip of the homophobic iceburg, the whole global issue of homophobia makes me ponder some of the historical and structural issues that come into play with world-wide homophobia.

As some of us know, homosexuality is a recent development. While same-sex love has been around for all of recorded history, its iterations have been many, various and at times even the status quo (I’m looking at you, Ancient Greeks). Homosexuality itself, however, is an invention of a nineteenth-century Europe dedicated to SCIENCE!!!! and the “finding”–pronounced construction–of deviance from a bourgeois, middle-class state-promoted sociology of the nuclear family. This sociology was developed in order to guarantee the subsequent generations of a middle-class educated populace that is the foundation of the modern nation state. For those who like trivia, keep in mind that the term heterosexuality only began to see wide usage in the 1930’s, about 50 years after the invention of the term homosexuality (which, originally meant what we now think of as heterosexuality, with a brief period where it meant what we now think of as bisexuality).

Homosexuality as a term is not some neutral term that just describes the state of affairs of a particular sub-set of people. It is a term that springs from the titillated desire for science to shamelessly catalogue and pruriently search out for hidden deviance with a perverse twinkle in its eye. The term has a complex history that includes its use to discipline and discriminate against those classified as homosexuals. It has also been taken up with pride by those who faced oppression based on the term, and in this strategy there has been some success in the West in ameliorating its rhetorical uses for oppression.

Aside from these elements worthy of note, most important for understanding global homophobia is that at the same time as homosexuality is being constructed as a deviance–not coincidentally–European powers are colonizing the world. The power of Europe to be there (a phrase I take from Edward Said–also note how close this resembles Heidegger’s Dasein, “being-there”) enabled Europe to construct itself as the West, and this in turn affected its own constructions of sexuality. The end product was that most colonial powers brought a new and, for Europeans, important,  legal framework into the colonies: sodomy laws, and laws against homosexuality. For many of these colonized regions (aside from those already impacted by their common connection to Western epistemes, most noteably Islamic regions) these laws criminalizing homosexuality and sodomy were new and entirely innovative procedures of classifying people. For some countries, these laws were minor blips that were paid little attention. For other countries, especially those who were under discursive pressure to fight against the “feminization of the East” that Orientalism so handily lobbed towards them, these laws were quite useful for convincing themselves that they were as masculine as masculine can get.

And here we come up against what is known as the post-colonial predicament. This term was coined by Carol Breckenridge and Van der Veer in their edited volume The Post-Colonial Predicament. What the post-colonial predicament describes is the internalization and naturalization of colonial epistemes, structures and institutions by once colonized peoples. That is, it is when colonized and post-colonized people take once imposed colonial stuctures as if they were their own natural way of doing things.

In order to understand globalized homophobia, we need to understand that in almost all cases (I’m hedging my bets, but note I’ve never seen a counter-example) homophobia in postcolonial regions is precisely an example of the post-colonial predicament. The homophobia of, say Uganda, was a colonial trope that is now coming to fruition as if Uganda has always been against people of alternative sexuality. This is absolutely not the case. And it is not isolated. World-wide, almost every case of homophobia is caused by the remnants of colonialism.

In fact, there is even further transformation of discourse about this. In India, we find a discourse among the right that India has never has same-sex love and that homosexuality is a Western imposition, and that same-sex love is actually Indians pandering to the West as if they are some sort of colonial spy. This makes the right feel good, as it rhetorically situates them as anti-colonial gatekeepers. However, as people like Ruth Vanita and Peter Jackson and others have shown, India has a long long history of alternative sexualities. Indeed, what IS new is the taking up of Western understandings of same-sex love by activists in order to find strategies and global support for fighting DISCRIMINATION. It works both ways. Also note that this discrimination only began because of colonization.

So how do these insights help us? There are many answers to this question, but I would argue that a rhetorical strategy that reversed the Indian right’s strategy would not only hold some element of facticity, but also be quite attractive. I would argue that LGBT activists and the like should start arguing that homophobia is pandering to colonialism. One could even spin it by making material connections between the elites in, say Uganda, and the right of the United States. If homophobic rhetoric in post-colonized countries begins to be associated with colonial cow-towing, the anti-colonial sentiment that still remains a powerful rhetorical device world-wide can be strategically and fruitfully used to shame and counter this homophobic discourse. The key, of course is marketing and the pragmatic concern of being able to penetrate the media etc. with this trope.

Regardless, my sentiments go out to all those globally who have to face oppression based on the convoluted and complex history of homophobia and its rhetorical uses by elites to shore up their own power.

The critical underpinings of everyday life

July 21, 2010

I’ve been recently reading about hermeneutics, in specific about Riceour and his interpretation of the Gadamer/Habermas debate found in “Hermeneutics and the Critique of Ideology”. It has made me imagine a new way of thinking of ideology and criticism that incorporates a potentially more robust understanding of the way people interpret the world around them. Keep in mind this is just a hypothesis, or a one-off insight that needs more thought, deliberation and research to reach more fruitful insight.

In short, it is to argue that with the onset of modernity, subjectivity has necessarily entered a critical mode of thought. My critique of the binary of modernity and tradition is comprehensive. These categories are purely ideological or conceptual. There is no modernity other than that which we give a name to and then act or think upon. There is no tradition anymore either, because of the power of the concept of modernity. The two concepts are now inextricably linked. Tradition no longer means the traditio of the Roman period. Tradition is always in critical dialogue with modernity. The two terms are tactics put into the play of discourse for people to construct the world in ways that suit their needs–and these terms are situated now as almost uniquely powerful tools for rhetorical sledgehammers to define reality in certain ways. These terms are, then, in many ways of thinking of the term, ideological. This is true even if we have different meanings of the terms modernity, tradition, and ideology.

That being said, we often have the “common sense” or even “critical” interpretive stance that those who we label conservative or traditionalists are not critical or self-reflexive about their own positions. This is what I would like to challenge. From a hermeneutic perspective, what we call “back-ward thinking” and “critical thought” are produced in subjects in very similar ways. Both are conditioned by upbringing, education, social norms, interpretive frameworks, etc. etc. The process by which subjects are constructed (or to be a little more nuanced, the process by which subjects take the available horizons of meaning to heart in their own self-constructions) are similar, it is rather that the varied inputs of biology, sociology, culture, education etc. on a subject differ for each in such a unique way as to produce very unique, contextually-dependent subjects who are nonetheless all undergoing similar processes of subject- and identity-formation. Whether one is born-again or a freethinker, one is inevitably shaped by one’s context and relates to and constructs oneself in/from that context in the same manner. (more…)

Hijras – Part III – Decolonization

March 20, 2010

Continued from two earlier posts: Hijras and Hijras: Colonization.

Under the pressures of legal, categorical, social and colonial oppression, Hijras became marginalized very rapidly in the British raj. They became subject to legal and social policing, and suffered many economic, material and symbolic hardships. The label of the Hijra as a prostitute became a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. In order to survive day to day, many Hijras had to resort to or were forced into prostitution by the economic and symbolic order around them. Within the cultural and semiological order the role of Hijras became reversed from auspicious in-between liminal figure to frightening transgressor of the symbolic order. Significantly, the force of their symbolic power changed little. Practically, what this meant was (again, generalizing) that Hijras no longer blessed, they cursed–with the same amount of power. They became inauspicious.

After decolonization this marginalization of Hijras continued–it became the internalized cultural model of the newly reconstructed Indian traditional authenticity as propagated by the elites during colonization. This sets the stage for the last 70 years of contemporary Hijra history that can be accessed by ethnography. There are a number of interesting theoretical insights that can be made in particular about the Hijras, but also extrapolated as general theory.

For instance, in a significant Foucauldian twist, the Hijras now use their marginal status as inauspicious to eke out a living. Where they previously were (and still sometimes are–this is not a total reversal, but a contested one) considered auspicious (weddings, births), they now use their inauspiciousness to threaten pollution unless given economic incentive to “go away” and thus take the pollution with them. In reality, many ethnographies show that these two historical trajectories of the inauspicious and auspicious Hijra often play out simultaneously in contested ways. Unfortunately, many of the ethonographies I have seen seem to miss the import of the historical geneological history that shapes this. They tend towards an ahistorical essentialism.

Another source of agency for Hijras is that since their identity is so contested, they allow themselves a certain freedom to reconstruct their histories and sense of self. Many Hijra self-constructions are a bricolage of Hindu, Muslim and European mythologizing. They reconstruct empowering myths of themselves to create local collective identities that resist the post-colonial marginalization they face. Regardless, it points to the fundamental Nietzschean point that history has always been about a reconstruction of the past to enable the present. It is a very honest re-evaluation, from this perspective–and related to the reimagining of Indian history by the oppressive class of elites.

The final post-colonial point I’d like to make is that since the 90s, European categories of gay, straight, bi, trans, lesbian etc. have entered urban bourgeois settings, like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.  Collective identity is becoming reshaped in these settings to tap into the global Eurocentric categories that, as we have seen, were constructed in the 19th century (partly due to the European conception of the other–including Hijras). So in an interesting irony, Hijras are now aligning with trans-identified people, are now self-identifying as ‘trans-‘, a category that only exists partly due to the British re-imagination of sexuality that was reacting to the Hijra itself. Nonetheless, this is an interesting political move, and seems to be gaining much cultural capital in the bourgeois sphere. The collective identity taken up globally, now most commonly signified by LGBT(QII) or a variant, that has helped to create such practical gains (and at the same time categorical shackles and in-group policing) is likely to significantly reshape the Hijras place in South Asia yet again.

Star Wars is not Ghey!

April 29, 2009

The upcoming video game Star Wars: The Old Republic, has flirted with controversy on the Bioware forums. Just a quick summary, as you can find the info in various places, on the forums the community manager Sean Dahlberg shut down some threads discussing same-sex relations in the MMPORG and also cut out certain words like ‘lesbian’ etc. From io9, we have the post by Sean:

As I have stated before, these are terms that do not exist in Star Wars.

Thread Closed.

Needless to say this caused outrage, counter-outrage, a discussion of rights, the place of sexuality in Star Wars, video games, life, etc. And lots and lots of hand-wringing. Quickly, Bioware has issued a retraction, an apology and a reinsertion and opening of same-sex threads and language on the forum.

Now, I happened to go peruse bioware forum threads regarding this issue after they got reopened. Interestingly, and occasionally sadly, the forums reflect a variety of views on the issue (as I mention in the last paragraph). But, what made me stop reading  was how privileged and subtly homophobic so many of the comments were. Under the guise of two main points–1) It’s just a game, and 2) you’re manufacturing a controversy! (often with the “you’re injecting your sexuality into it!!!)–many many commentators allowed themselves to forget that straight relationships pervade the series, and that there are homosexual relationships in Star Wars already. What hit home most to me was that straight sexuality already pervades the setting. So, the many comments that imply that homosexuals (leave alone BTQI) are imposing their sexuality on the game, don’t realize how the game is already imposing a sexuality. Ahhh… privilage.  The forum is here, and though I couldn’t read more than a page and a half, if anyone can brave it and report back, I’d like to hear other opinions.

Queer Friendly Webcomics

March 27, 2009
There is more, but I can’t be bothered to find them. Other suggestions? I’ve perused lots, but if the art doesn’t appeal to me, I cannot read it.