Queer Dilemmas


Willse, Craig


When Eve Sedgwick published “Queer and Now” in 1993, she could not have anticipated the ways queer would mutate in the years ahead. Since then, queer has both expanded and contracted. Expanded: in the realms of popular discourse, mass media and culture, and social and political institutions, queer proliferates. Representations of queer people, lives, and sexualities hold new, though still contested, spaces. But queer has contracted as well: often this visibility has been in the specific terms of white supremacy, neoliberal inclusion, and capital consumption. And so as queer gains currency, it divides itself from some of its resistant, subversive, and illegible strains.

Of course capital and governance have not subsumed all of queerness; other queer lives survive, thrive, and emerge. In local communities, in activist formations, in writing and art, queer and trans people have rejected the terms of inclusion, even naming inclusion as a form of violence that especially harms trans and gender non-conforming people, disabled people, people of color, indigenous people, and the poor. Parallel to and feeding this contestation of the hegemonic homo, queer of color critique developed in part from a struggle against the failures of early queer theory to attend to the processes of racialization through which gender and sexuality are managed, contained, experienced, and contested.1 Recently, Native scholars have interrogated the presumption of the settler state in both queer theory and queer of color critique, producing an “un-seeing” of Native sexualities. As Qwo-Li Driskill writes, “This un-seeing—even if unintentional—perpetuates a master narrative in which Native people are erased from an understanding of racial formations, Native histories are ignored, Native people are thought of as historical rather than contemporary, and our homelands aren’t seen as occupied by colonial powers” (78).2

Within these expanding and contracting realms of queer, the specter of queer youth suicide with which Sedgwick opens “Queer and Now” remains. Far from ending violence, the neoliberal terms of acceptance accelerate conditions of precarity by normalizing the often unbearable conditions of racism, gender regulation, and capitalist exploitation in which queers live. And not only this. Queer youth suicide—entering public protection under the banner “anti-bullying”—has been used to wield state violence and expand not space for queerness, but the carceral space that so deeply subtends US life today.3 The bullying discourse individualizes systemic violence as an interpersonal problem requiring intervention of institutions, rather than a problem produced by and in those institutions that presume to save the queer from bullies: families, schools, and prisons. This has been one instance in a deployment of queer for the branding of a liberal state apparatus that does its violence in the name of those it claims for representative democracy, especially women, people of color, and sexual and gender minorities. Chandan Reddy has designated this violence “on behalf of” a “freedom with violence.” Along similar lines, queer Palestinian activists, pushing back against the attempts of the Israeli state to brand itself as liberal and multicultural, have used the term “pinkwashing” to name this use of gay life to obscure colonization and occupation.4 If Sedgwick wrote at a time marked by demands for recognition, today some forms of queerness find themselves not only recognized but essential to extending projects of state violence and control.

“Queer and Now” concerns not only the status of queer, but how we might write and teach queer. Sedgwick’s work helped force open space in the academy for queer genders and sexualities. Today the challenge becomes holding that space against university administrations eager to slash the budgets of those programs seen as extraneous to an instrumentalized education set to market demands. Roderick Ferguson has warned of this in the terms of the “will to institutionality” (223-26). Ferguson suggests that if radical anti-colonial, anti-racist, feminist movements of the 1960s and 70s insisted the university, as site of knowledge production, include the subjugated knowledges of those movements and their constituents, today we face the dilemmas of living inside the reply that has offered inclusion, but in narrowed and insecure terms. Today, to think of queer in this now, we must ask how to live, teach, learn, write, and organize both against the university and within it.


1See, for example, José Esteban Muñoz, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics; Roderick A. Ferguson, Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique; Jasbir K Puar, Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times.

2See also Andrea Smith, “Queer Theory and Native Studies: The Heteronormativity of Settler Colonialism.”

3See Angela Y. Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete? and Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California.

4See Heike Schotten and Haneen Maikey, “Queers Resisting Zionism: On Authority and Accountability Beyond Homonationalism.”

Works Cited

Davis, Angela. Are Prisons Obsolete? New York: Seven Stories Press, 2011. Print.

Ferguson, Roderick A. Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. Print.

—. The Reorder of Things: The University and Its Pedagogies of Minority Difference. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. Print.

Gilmore, Ruth Wilson. Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007. Print.

Muñoz, José Esteban. Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999. Print.

Puar, Jasbir K. Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2007. Print.

Reddy, Chandan. Freedom with Violence: Race, Sexuality, and the US State. Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books, 2011. Print.

Schotten, Heike and Haneen Maikey. “Queers Resisting Zionism: On Authority and Accountability Beyond Homonationalism.” Jadaliyya, October 10, 2012. Web. http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/7738/queers-resisting-zionism_on-authority-and-accounta.

Smith, Andrea. “Queer Theory and Native Studies: The Heteronormativity of Settler Colonialism.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 16.1–2 (2010): 41–68. Print.


This text was an invited submission reviewed by TWI editors prior to publication.

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