Queer Worldmaking: Statecraft and a Decolonial Queer Praxis
By Stuti Srivastava
Mural at a queer art exhibit challenges perceptions of Stonewall Uprising.
A steady march towards imagining and inhabiting a queer planet involves ongoing negotiations with the normative. It calls for a steady engagement with multiple politics that eventually espouse a world that sustains not on structure, but rather on fluidity, ultimately transcending constructed formations of gender, sexuality, nation, and community.
The vision of queer worldmaking subsists upon this idea and constructs a world that is fundamentally free(r) of normative assumptions of sexuality and binary gender.
Queer worldmaking and culture making is a drawn-out process. It involves multiple negotiations at multiple levels and several stages of questioning normative structures and practices – both political and cultural. It takes place in all kinds of places, at all different times, involving all kinds of people, who work toward creating a different world. Queer worldmaking is not a strategic plan, organized by anyone, but a bottom-up engagement with the everyday. (Nakayama and Morris, 2015)
Peterson (2014) argues that normative worldmaking and the current structure of the world and states is the ‘making of sex’. The structure of the sovereign state subsists on the codification and standardization of heteropatriarchal institutions of marriage, lineage-based property, succession and citizenship, and household and family formations. As heteronormative presumptions abound private realms, it makes sense to say that worldmaking begins from these intimate spheres – essentially by ‘queering’ these spaces.
Hunt and Holmes (2015) make a case for queering the intimate spaces of homes and families. Queering, as a verb, is then, ‘a deconstructive practice focused on challenging normative knowledge, identities, behaviours, and spaces, thereby unsettling power relations and taken-for-granted assumptions.’ The idea is to transform the ‘home’ from a site of oppression and violence to a site of resistance, support, and safety. Queering intimate spaces does not just include visibility and acceptance of non-heterosexual families, but rather a systemic destruction of these heteropatriarchal institutions. Allowing traditionally hetero-cis-normative ideals of marriage, biological child rearing and legalised religious unions into queer re-imaginations of the world remove them from broader struggles of equality and fairness. Small allowances by states that satisfy a liberal, consumerist agenda (like same sex marriages and pride parades) eventually result in keeping queer people from furthering their demands and activism that leads to the making of a world where the ‘other’ does not exist.
As the state plays a vital role in fostering heteronormative structures, it is essential to ascertain that both the private structures that form nation states and the entire practice of statecraft in all its manifestations are destabilised. It breaks away from gendered and binarized practices and considers a re-theorization of what constitutes a political individual, and subsequently a shift takes place within political institutions, within global relationships and communities.
It is imperative in any queer worldmaking project to be wary of the ‘nation’. All nation states are nationalism-based states. Tom Boellstorff built upon anti LGBTQ state sentiments in Indonesia and coined the term ‘state straightism’, which is an ideology that defines Indonesians as heterosexual and normatively gendered, and thereby excludes LGBT Indonesians from national belonging despite their formal citizenship. (Boellstorff, 2016). Of course, this is not true just for Indonesia, but for most nations.
The state considering cis-hetero individuals as the normative places queer individuals at the margins of society, effectively denying them protection, the ability to exercise rights and access public institutions. At the same time, internal power structures within countries place certain queer people at more privilege than others. In India, mostly cis-gay Hindu upper caste men have formed the ‘Queer Hindu Alliance’ that is actively involved in Hindutva politics that endangers religious minority groups in the country, including the queer people in these communities. Scenes of this sort make us question the sometimes-assumed existence of an ‘international, inter-racial, inter-community queer camaraderie.’ Gay Israeli soldiers do not share camaraderie with queer Palestinians, and white, gay Republicans do not share camaraderie with black queer people.
This is not to say that we cannot envision an intersectional queer solidarity politics. The aim would be to enable forms of solidarity capable of moving away from and criticizing paternalistic global sexual politics. This political stance is based on the possibility of contesting the paradigm of diversity (both cultural and sexual) and – following the classic queer tradition – reconsidering the fields of intelligibility of the norms of gender, citizenship, and sexuality (Sabsay, 2013). Any kind of worldmaking project would require constant engagement with historical accounts of current issues and the varying, often interjecting interests, or at least desires, of the differing groups involved. Solidarity would include considerations of both normative and non-normative groups’ conditions, along with a deeper understanding of conflicting and converging identities and their resultant, differing experiences.
The Decolonial Queer Praxis
Through several mediums (poetry, visual art and extensive research), queer scholars and artists have alluded to the fact that structures of heteronormativity and cisgender normativity are Western constructs that were absorbed into colonised societies over years of violence and erasure of cultural histories and practices. The practice of separate boxed identities is deeply Western in nature. A decolonised queer world would revert to more fluidity in identities. To be stuck in politically engineered queered terms of identity would be again, to give into the myth of needed structure and stability espoused by normative, colonised thinking.
Decolonization involves actively challenging or disrupting systems of knowledge that do not fully account for the lives of Indigenous people, queer and trans people, and many others whose lives are erased through epistemic and material violence. (Hunt and Holmes, 2015) Using and recognizing indigenous queer identities is an important step toward this for several queer people. Sustaining indigenous cultural communities of queer people is already an act that is denying colonial binaries and fixed identities. These communities have subsisted in several post-colonial societies for several years (Hijras in India, Two-Spirit Native North Americans, Khawajas in Pakistan)
A decolonial queer praxis will also involve actively questioning white privilege within queer communities. However, it will also require a subsequent assimilation of the queer into normative society, so that a separate ‘queer community’ ceases to exist in the margins.
Thus, queer worldmaking requires a complete appraisal of multiple structures of race, class, and identity. A queer world is possible, whence the possible does not pre-exist, it is created by the event…The event creates a new existence, it produces a new subjectivity (new relations with the body, with time, sexuality, the immediate surroundings, with culture…) (Deleuze, 2007) The major obstacle to queer worldmaking is tackling heteronormative, masculinist institutions. Ultimately, the need is to challenge the world order with an intersectional force that allows a rethinking of everything that has been deemed normal and necessary.