GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 10.1 (2003) 123-124
Since their emergence in the 1990s, queer theory and queer studies have functioned primarily as denaturalizing discourses, deconstructing power relations by asserting the incoherence and contingency of identity categories and cultural regimes of the normal. However, the rapid emergence of racial, ethnic, colonial/ postcolonial, cross-cultural, and national/transnational engagements and approaches in queer studies has often contested this deconstructive framework (and its unspoken presumptions), arguing instead for a local and global elaboration of queer identities and communities.
In this panel discussion we consider what is at stake in these contemporary multicultural and transnational strains of queer studies. What are the challenges, conflicts, and/or mutual investments of race/ethnicity studies and LGBTQ studies? How does queer theory reconstitute fields such as African American studies, Asian American studies, and Latin American studies? How do these fields in turn reconstitute the strategies and priorities of queer studies? Perhaps most important, what does the project of queer ethnicities look like now?
In my view, work on queer ethnicities is important because it is doing much more than "extending" considerations of race and ethnicity to queer studies, or extending queer theory to ethnic studies; instead, this new scholarship is redefining the terms through which both LGBTQ and ethnic studies are conceptualized.
For our panelists and others in the field (Siobhan B. Somerville, David L. Eng, and Robert Reid-Pharr come to mind), the key analytic question is, how are categories such as "heterosexual," "homosexual," "masculinity," and "femininity" constructed through racial and ethnic formations? For example, we are privileged to have with us here José Quiroga, whose brilliant and influential book Tropics of Desire argues against the universality of the foundational categories and tactics of gay identity politics in the United States, especially the imperative to "come out." Quiroga reconceptualizes queer sexualities, bodies, and desires through the social reality of Latin American and Latino lives, which, he maintains, have been shaped by a broader set of power relations than identity politics and outing encompass—most important, the geopolitical relations of global capital and the nation-state. In Quiroga's work and that of the other panelists, queer identity is itself understood as part of the history of imperialism—as one aspect of the production and regulation of both the colonial subject and the racialized other.
I seek to take up the critical task of theorizing race and sexuality together in black queer studies, where my own work focuses on the African American dandy in the cultural production of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s. What is most crucial for me is, first, how to make legible not simply the bifurcation of race and sexuality but their interrelation, and second, how to theorize the emergence of gay and lesbian identity in relation to capitalism's increasing investment in producing and regulating desire.
These concerns seem to me very much shared by others in the field. Since it attends to social inequalities and the contexts of colonialism and capitalism, scholarship in queer ethnicities is moving LGBTQ studies in a more materialist direction. This focus departs from the best-known incarnations of queer theory (e.g., the work of Judith Butler), which have tended to treat everything as a cultural and aesthetic phenomenon, to dispense with the category of experience, and to disappear the subject. In contrast, the field of race, ethnicity, and queer studies asks us to consider, among other things, the social, political, and economic basis for transformations in our public and personal lives. It is the implications of these transformations for the future of queer studies that we hope to explore here.
Elisa Glick is assistant professor of English and of women's and gender studies at the University of Missouri, Columbia. She has published articles in Cultural Critique, Feminist Review, and Modern Fiction Studies. Her current book project examines the central but contradictory place of the queer subject in modern, capitalist culture.