11 Feb. 2014: Words for ’77 Countries Where Being Gay is a Crime’

Reading the news over lunch, I was drawn to a BBC news item entitled ‘Banned Love: 77 countries where being gay is a crime’. Clicking on the link led me to this short article and the following world map (click on the link for a better view):

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-25927595http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-25927595

As it happens, I had been spending the morning thinking about Jasbir Puar’s work on homonationalism. Puar coined the term to develop a framework for exploring ‘how “acceptance” and “tolerance” for gay and lesbian subjects have become a barometer by which the right to and capacity for national sovereignity is evaluated’ in the contemporary world. Or, to phrase this differently, homonationalism describes a historical shift in the treatment of homosexual bodies, as the question of whether or not homosexuality is a crime has come – for certain nation-states and in certain contexts – to be seen as indicative of a nation’s degree of ‘modernity’ or ‘civilisation’.

The critical concept of homonationalism has been taken up in particularly contested ways in relation to debates about Israel-Palestine where some anti-occupation campaigners have accused Israel of ‘pinkwashing’ – using LGBT rights rhetoric to legitimise its occupation of Palestine – while in turn being taken to task for problematic conflations of Jewishness with Israel (see Judith Butler’s thoughts on the topic here).

As modern notions of sexual identity have been shaped by colonialism and the racialised ideas ideas and practices that have become ‘knowledge’ in Western (post) enlightenment thinking, and as words such as ‘homosexuality’ were coined specifically in relation to political debates about state-formations in Europe, I think it is right that we should be cautious about using the language of lesbian and gay identity in global terms. At the same time, however, I also think it is important to make speakable and to speak out against the prosecution and the denial of lives that are lived against the (sexual and gendered) norms of the societies in which they are located.

Looking back to Magnus Hirschfeld’s ‘gay rights activism’ a hundred or so years ago, I’m trying to trace some of the conscious and unconscious ties between sexual reform debates and racialist thinking at the time. I am helped along the way by the words of Stuart Hall, the influential cultural theorist who died yesterday. Hall once suggested that the metaphor of theoretical work is ‘the metaphor of struggle …. [for] the only theory worth having is that which you have to fight off, not that which you speak with profound fluency.’ As someone working with and across languages, times and contexts, the struggle for words lies at the heart of my own research. The stakes are high, for in debates about inequality, injustice and persecution, the process of struggling-for-words is intimately connected to individual and collective existence .

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 16.27.43

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