Queer Globalization Conference Stages Conversation Between Postcolonial and Queer Studies

Queer Globalization/Local Homosexualities: Citizenship, Sexuality, and the Afterlife of Colonialism marked the first international meeting of scholars and activists working in the fields of postcolonial and queer studies. Held at the The Graduate Center, CUNY on April 23-25, the conference was the first in a series of conferences sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation organized around the theme of CLAGS’s Residency Fellowship Program in the Humanities, Citizenship and Sexualities: Transcultural Constructions. The conference attracted an estimated 300 participants from across the United States and Latin America. The perspectives of scholars and activists from different academic disciplines, backgrounds, and experiences were represented in twenty panels that explored, among other things: the relationship between American imperialism and sexual dissidence, the significance of the transformation of global capital for contemporary queer politics, the importance of diasporic communities in the formation of queer identities and cultures, the multidirectional travel routes of feminist theory and practice, and the possi bilities for the articulation of a resistant sexual politic within a transnational context. The Queer Globalization conference was conceived in part as a grassroots effort to understand what is at stake in the increasing globalization of lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender politics. Conference chairs Arnalda Cruz-Malave and Martin Manalansan opened the conference by drawing an historical comparison between the exportation of contemporary queer politics and the imperialism of the late nineteenth century. Symbolically the CLAGS conference marked the centenary of the Spanish American War of 1898, which resulted in the colonial occupation by the United States of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam, and the Philippines. “One hundred years later,” Cruz-Malave and Manalansan explained, “a different- but no less violentprocess of economic and cu ltural globalization that packages ‘queer’ differences for world consumption is patently underway. This process risks sweeping away queer particularities, appropriating queer locations and desires, and reducing the density of our histories – of our very lives.” This theme was explored and developed in more detai l by the participants in the opening night plenary, “Globalization and Dissident Sexualities,” moderated by Ella Shohat (The Graduate Center, CUNY). Echoing the comments made by the conference organizers, Cindy Patton (Emory University) noted that “American ideas about sexuality [have] sped around the world faster than any queer could fly.” Patton considered the ways that discourses of sexual liberation travel by looking at the recent protests by Taiwanese homosexuals against mandatory military service, noting the curious and troubling ways that the debates in the United States about the rights of homosexuals to serve openly in the military were used against homosexuals in Taiwan. Wesley Thomas (University of Washington) further underscored the difficulty in translating and defining sexual identities across cultures. Navajo culture, for example, recognizes multiple gendered identities that cannot be adequately defined according to the Western sex-gender system. In a paper read by Cruz-Malave, Silviano Santiago (University of Rio de Janeiro) argued that discourses about sexuality travel in multiple and circuitous paths. Santiago, one of the leading figures in Brazilian cultural studies, explicitly challenged the preconception that the metropolitan West is superior to Brazilian culture, asking the audience to consider how Brazil has contributed to lesbian and gay studies. “Tell me the meaning,” Santiago charged, “and I will tell you the direction.” Chela Sandoval (University of Santa Barbara) reminded conference participants of the contributions made by the U.S. Third World Feminist Movement of the 1960s and 1970s to the development of an oppositional mode of consciousness and political mobilization. It is this “methodology of the oppressed” or “hermeneutics of love” that can help us imagine what a decolonizing queer globalization might look like in the new millennium. The themes of history and feminism were picked up by respondent M. Jacqui Alexander (Guggenheim Fellow at Medgar Evers College), who described the ways in which “queer” operates as an imperialistic and homogenizing term that tends to flatten or erase feminism. Alexander maintained that the lesbian and gay movement needs to think through identity politics, suggesting that it’s not enough that we’re always against something. What shall we be for? The conference concluded on Saturday with a plenary entitled “Intersections of Postcolonial and Queer Theories.” Moderated by Geeta Patel (Wellesley College), the panel staged a conversation between scholars in two fields that are rarely put into dialogue. Norma Alarcon (University of California-Berkeley) noted that much is lost in the “turf wars” among academics who fail to think across disciplines. Kobena Mercer (New York University) advocated for the role of psychoanalysis in black cultural studies as a way of combating the unresolved political problem of black homophobia. According to Mercer, .sexuality remains the “Achilles Heel” of the black body politic. Michael Warner (Rutgers University) suggested that postcolonial studies, especially the work of Gayatri Spivak, has had a significant impact on other fields and methodologies, including queer theory. Warner challenged the so-called “normalization” of the queer movement and privatization of sex culture in the United States, adding that “In the New World Order, we should be more than usually cautious about global utopian isms that require American slang.” K. Anthony Appiah (Harvard University) concluded in his remarks, however, that it is not queerness but gayness that is traveling across the globe and that offers the possibility for expressing the full range of human sexual experiences.