Thursday, September 16, 2010

South Asian (Trans)nation(alism)s and Queer Diasporas by Jasbir K. Puar

When Puar submitted a panel entitled “Transnational Sexualities: Narrations of Normativity” which included her paper which bore the same title as her article, National Association for Ethical Studies asked for clarification about the relation of the panel topic to the theme of the conference which was “The Ethnic Experience in the United States: Changing Migrations, Changing Borders, and Changing Traditional Ethnic Communities.” The NAES specifically challenged her paper, the only paper about queer issues which raised many questions in her mind about why they would do such a thing. Puar, in this article, seeks to show how “queer” and “diaspora” relate to each other. She does by looking at A Lotus of Another Color: An Unfolding of the South Asian Gay and Lesbian Experience edited by Rakesh Ratti as well as other productions of South Asian queer diasporic culture.

In the section of her paper “Queering the Diaspora, Diasporicizing the Queer,” she shows us some of the ways the words interact with each other. Puar says “queer” has “presumed that its subjects have a fixed relation of inclusion within the nation-state, one that is rarely interrogated.” Being queer does not bring about questions of whether or not that person is a member of a nation. Diasporas are mobilized spaces of transcendence of the nation-state. People who have moved from one country to another are not fully members of each country. The terms, incorporated together, force particular redefinitions of the originals. Diasporic communities they can also be a source of various support for national movements. The people who have left their home countries still feel like they belong to their home countries and do things to show their belonging.

Puar says she has two main concerns, 1) that constructs of queer diaspora rests on cultural nationalism and 2) that queer diasporic discourses (conversation, discussion) show the West as a site of “sexual liberation, freedom, and visibility,” a place where it is more acceptable to be queer. The first concern is illustrated in Lotus because of the “recovery work.” In
Lotus, they try to show that homosexuality is nothing new to India, that it is there in the history. They reduce South Asia down to India, and India becomes Hindu culture and religion. The static Indian heritage they present has a supposed relevance to all South Asian queers without considering the diversity within the group. They “other” Sihks, Muslims and other groups with the focus on Hinduism. Lotus is a collection of coming out stories, and is in itself a coming out, that there are South Asian queers. This is problematic because coming out is a uniquely Western experience. Lotus was published in the United States, and South Asians in the US have a position of relative privilege compared to those of other Western diasporic locations. These coming out stories show India as a place of origin, but the West as a place of sexual freedom. South Asians living in the West sometimes portray India as a place where being queer is not good and that going to a Western country will liberate queers.

Puar is hoping this piece will serve as a counter to an “overabundance of celebratory discourses on queer subjectivities.” She does not mean to demean them, but she wants to caution that things like
Lotus, which was done to help, can actually be oppressive through problematic politics. Diaspora may add to queer politics. Diasporic queers have this problem of belonging to a nation without being a part of the nation. It's a paradox highlighted in the problem of visibility where some welcome it and others see it as dangerous. It is important to question how and why certain queer subjectivities are highlighted over others.

1 comment:

  1. Nice! Paisley, please check your grammar and spelling. There's a point where you say "they" and I think you mean "the" and a few time where it seems like a word or two is missing in a sentence. Might you provide some definitions to help break down some of the dense language in the reading, like what does "Diasporas are mobilized spaces of transcendence of the nation-state" mean exactly? I really really like your concluding paragraph!