In Terrorist Assemblages Jasbir K. Puar makes coins a new term called “homonationalism” which is the following: “the emergence of a national homosexuality,” one that has emerged most significantly post 9/11. In a general outline of her introduction, the reader is briefed on three distinct but coterminous manifestations of “homonationalism”:
1) U.S. Sexual Exceptionalism,
2) Queer as Regulatory, and
3) The Ascendancy of Whiteness.
Puar ends her introduction with a cursory look at Achille Mbembe’s idea of “necropolitics” (33) in a section called “Queer Necropolitics” (that I will not comment on here).
In a more specific definition of “homonationalism,” Puar contends that this “brand of homosexuality operates as a regulatory script not only of normative gayness, queerness, or homosexuality, but also of the racial and national norms that reinforce these sexual subjects” (2). One of the problematics situated by Puar is to note that not only are “some homosexual subjects . . . complicit with heterosexual nationalist formation,” but also (and more “pernicious”) “homosexual sexual exceptionalism occurs through stagings of U.S. nationalism via a praxis of sexual othering, one that exceptionalizes the identities of U.S. homosexualities vis-à-vis Orientalist constructions of ‘Muslim sexuality.’” (4). In other words, the usual suspects of what we might consider champions of inclusion (feminists, queer theorists, etc.) have inadvertently adopted a residual heteronormativity by inculcating a “sexual exceptionalism” that “works by glossing over its own policing of the boundaries of acceptable gender, racial, and class formations” (9). To quote Puar:
The historical and contemporaneous production of an emergent normativity, homonormativity, ties the recognition of homosexual subjects, both legally and representationally, to the national and transnational political agendas of U.S. imperialism. Homonormativity can be read as a formation complicit with and invited into the biopolitical valorization of life in its inhabitation and reproduction of heteronormative norms.” (9)
In the second section, “Queer as Regulatory,” Puar extends her definition of U.S. sexual exceptionalism by claiming that it has its European counterparts—homonationalism, as such, is not merely an American imperialist formation: “U.S. sexual exceptionalism has its European counterparts, especially in Britain and the Netherlands, which expand, intersect, contrast, and often fuel U.S. homonormative formations” (11). Within a conversation that considers the intersection of “queer liberal secularity” with traditional Muslim religious communities and a Western orientalizing impulse, Puar clearly articulates her interest, which is “to examine the resilience and stranglehold of this discourse, its operating logic, the myths and realities it manufactures” (14). In a summative statement on page 19, Puar uses the work of Outrage! as a pertinent example of how “well-intentioned gestures of inclusion and acknowledgement of multicultural diversity . . . may unwittingly replicate the very neocolonial assumptions Outrage! seeks to dislodge”(19). Puar continues:
But there is something more insidious going on here. The Muslim or gay binary mutates from a narrative of incommensurate subject positioning into an “Islam versus homosexuality” tug of populations war: a mutation that may reveal the contiguous undercurrents of conservative homonormative ideologies and queer liberalism.” (19)
Finally, and briefly, in the third section on “The Ascendency of Whiteness,” Puar develops her idea of a homonormative homonationalism around Heidi Nast’s term “market virility,” which might be best construed as a “fitness-within-capitalism” as opposed to a fitness-for-reproduction, a shift away from a sense of national belonging that is predicated upon one’s “heteronormative” designation as a reproductive unit, but as a fully virile consumer, instead. Puar contends that because “capitalism is ambivalent,” it has “freed (predominantly white male) workers to form alternative sexual and kinship communities and networks,” a kind of class mobility that is “constrained by race, ethnicity, gender, class, and citizenship” (27). The central problematic introduced in this section is the following:
[While] the nation-state maintains its homophobic and xenophobic stances while capitalizing on its untarnished image of inclusion, diversity, and tolerance . . . multiculturalism (and homonormative) subjects reorient their loyalty to the nation through market privileges, a remasculinization that Heidi Nast terms “market virility,” that masquerades as forms of belonging to the nation and mediate the humiliation of waiting for national love [what Sara Ahmed calls the “angst of unrequited love”]. Multiculturalism is the accomplice to the ascendency of whiteness, reproducing the biopolitical mandate to live through the proper populations statistics; channeled through the optics of gender and class are their attendant attributes and valuations of longevity, illness, health, environment, fertility, and so on. (26-27)
The result: a “new global family” (31) that produces the “good ethnic” (32)–one that is classed, hetero/homonormative, and thoroughly capitalistic/patriotic—is also thoroughly constrained by a “pernicious new binary that has emerged in the post-civil rights era in legislative, activist, and scholarly realms: the homosexual other is white, the racial other is straight” (32).
In thinking about Puar’s articulation of “homonationalism,” and with reference to Mary A. Fischer’s 2009 article in O Magazine (above), several questions come to mind:
CONTEXT/QUESTIONS: # 1
In a media saturated culture where Fischer gets to speak for “queerness” and Halberstam is relegated to a brief mention in a quaint story of her frolicking in the sand with a new lover, who then gets to speak in a meaningful way for the critical theorists who, like Puar, have something extremely important to say? Out of the thousands of readers who have read Fischer’s article in O Magazine, how many are reading Halberstam, Puar, Herring, and Tongson? It reminds me of our conversation last week about academic versus popular writing and the intended and unintended consequences peculiar to both forms of rhetoric.
CONTEXT/QUESTIONS: # 2
If Halberstam isn’t writing articles for O Magazine, Fischer (a journalist) is. Fischer wins by default; she has Oprah’s audience. To whom, then, is Halberstam speaking, and why? And if only scholars and graduate students are wrestling with the ideas presented in the work of actual queer theorists, how can queer people, people on the street, in schools, in red and blue neighborhoods, and in hetero-scripted homes, come in contact with more than what is safely quarantined within an article like this, one that reinforces a heteronormative superstructure that champions “upright homosexuals engaged in sanctioned kinship norms” (20) and propagates the myth that ALL queer people wish to “get married” and join the great hegemonic party that already exists by default? What happens to the “marginalized within the margin” that Delany speaks of or the “subcultural” groups that Sedgwick identifies? Who will make “invisible possibilities and desires visible” and “tacit things explicit” if all we have is O Magazine speaking in the public square on behalf of queer people? (Queer and Now 3)
CONTEXT: # 3
In contradiction to the heteronormative pabulum of the media described above, Puar echoes Alexander’s caution about being “one-sidedly oppositional” when she posits that the “emancipatory, missionary pulses of certain (U.S. western) feminisms and of gay and lesbian liberation” . . . a “freedom from norms” actually “resonates with liberal humanism’s authorization of the fully self-possessed subject, untethered by hegemony or false consciousness, enabled by the life/stylization offerings of capitalism, rationally choosing modern individualism over the ensnaring bonds of family.” Ironically, according to Puar, “queerness as transgression (which is one step ahead of resistance, which has now become a normative act) relies on a normative notion of deviance, always defined in relation to normativity, often universalizing” (22-23).
QUESTION: # 3
If “transgression” and “resistance” have become predictive and normative, a predictable queer move that reinscribes a heteronormative homonationalism, how then can a well-meaning queer organization like Outrage! avoid its homonormative homonationalist tendencies while it seeks to redress real and perceived wrongs?
Great questions, Tim. I think we are seeing some of Puar’s critique moving outside the academy within activist circles — a quick Google found me this extensive list of tumblr posts, not all of which are academic, for example. Yet I definitely agree that there is a big disjuncture between radical queer scholarly and activist worlds and the kind of queerness that gets reported in the Oprah article.
In response to your last question, I wonder whether resisting homonormativity and homonationalism is what we should be trying to do… What relationships toward these formations might be possible other than resistance?