Obama, homonationalism, sex classification

So, a short piece I wrote has just been published in a special symposium section on the 2012 elections in Theory & Event.The essay, “Homonationalism, State Rationalities, and Sex Contradictions,” is in no way a paen to Obama or his neoliberal agenda, but neither is it a typical rehash of the homonormative critique. (It does, though, explain what’s meant by homonormative, heteronormative, and homonational and go over each term’s provenance.) I try to move the discussion sideways, suggesting we displace the mainstream LGBT rights crowd and the queer left’s tendency to fetishize  “the state.”

Spending most of my (unfortunately rare) research time poking through agency rules on sex classification, state court decisions on “transgender marriages,” and the “freeze-frame” policy governing incarcerated trans people, I can’t help but see a much more jumbled, complex picture.

Here are a couple of paragraphs from the piece:

“While the queer critiques of homonormative and homonationalist agendas are more complex than the GLB mainstream’s celebration of recent victories, the emphasis on the interpellation of queer subjects through national biopolitical projects tends to frame the discussion around activities regulated by the federal government (commerce, war, immigration, national security, etc.) and national discourses of American identity (marriage and family). In doing so, this scholarship tends to overemphasize a unity of intention on the part of state actors and to imagine the “the state” as far more monolithic than it is. Similarly, while gay rights advocates have been forced to battle official homophobia at the state and local levels, they seek a singular, all powerful, champion to resolve the problem once and for all at the federal level. One act of Congress could end employment discrimination everywhere; one Supreme Court ruling could rid us of the patchwork quilt of laws and constitutional amendments on marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnership.”

“However, construing the election as presenting a choice between Obama the good and Romney the bad [the mainstreams LGBT position], or as a battle between Obama the not-so-great and Romney the bad [the queer left], elevates grand narratives and concepts—marriage, the state—over the thousands of ongoing and quotidian decisions that regulate life. That simplification is understandable. It’s certainly much easier to talk about same-sex marriage than to do archival excavations of applications of SSA policy, to delve into the cracks and crevices of the regulatory state apparatuses….Becoming swept up in the romance, or tragedy, of the electoral narrative, gets in the way of understanding the minute technologies of governance that regulate our lives.”

I simply can’t reduce all that I’ve found (apologies for the empiricism here) into a singular narrative–be it one of progress or not (the other being, what, something like neoliberalism in the age of declining empire).  What I can say, though, is that different decisions on sex classification represent different state projects. Sometimes those projects are contradictory.

Hats off to  Steven Johnston, of the University of Utah, for organizing the symposium and the convivial post-election conference in Utah.  You can see my piece and the other symposium contributions–including Paulina Ochoa Espejo on Obama and the Dream Act, Robyn Marasco  on “Romnesia,” and Michaele Ferguson on women as an interest group (not!)–in Theory & Event, Vol. 16, no. 1. Email me if you’d like to read it but don’t have access to Project Muse.

Next up…something on the Court, same-sex marriage, federalism, and–to add something new to this discussion–sex classification.

Securitizing Gender

Tara Mulqueen and I have just published an article, ” “Securitizing Gender: Identity, Biometrics, and Transgender Bodies at the Airport.” It’s about how different security mechanisms in place at US airports assume that gender is an easily known, permanent, and reliable metric of identity, and the problems these assumptions pose for transgender individuals. If you don’t have access to Social Research, email me for a copy of the paper: pcurrah AT brooklyn.cuny.edu

Paisley Currah and Tara Mulqueen, “Securitizing Gender: Identity, Biometrics, and Transgender Bodies at the Airport,” Social Research 78:2 (Summer 2011): 556-582.

ABSTRACT: It is widely assumed that the more information surveillance apparatuses can collect about an individual, the less risk she poses. In this article, we examine how gender figures into and potentially disrupts the link between identity and security. Our analysis centers on one very particular event: the confusion that erupts at the airport when US Transportation Security Administration agents perceive a conflict between the gender marked on one’s papers, the image of one’s body produced by a machine, and/or an individual’s perceived gender presentation. Gender has been so deeply naturalized—as immutable, as easily apprehended, and as existing before and outside of political arrangements—for so long that its installation in identity verification practices largely goes unthought. In what follows, we describe how the two TSA programs, “Secure Flight” and “Advanced Imaging Technology,” operationalize gender differently. We examine what happens when different sources of knowledge about gender clash within the security assemblage of the airport. As part of state security apparatuses’ unceasing quest for more and better information, both programs securitize gender. We argue that the effects of gender’s unreliability as a measure of identity do not constitute a problem for the TSA but rather for the transgender individuals whose narratives, documents, and bodies reveal the category’s mutability.

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