A Political Future Beyond Identity

Walcott, Rinaldo

Queer began in a different conceptual space than it resides in now. I want to recall the other moment of queer because in recalling it lays its possibilities. Queer is an apprehension rather than an identity, it is an opening, and it points towards a becoming. Now another way to read apprehension is through the logics of policing where a suspect is apprehended for an alleged crime. It is in fact the outlawness and fugitivity of a queer possibility that I want to re-animate in our conversations and debates. In a time prior to protease inhibitors queer signaled a possibility of community, one bounded around practices of sexual practices, behavior and desire but not one premised on identity. In the advent of HIV/AIDS as a “long-term chronic disease,” at least in North America and Western Europe, the slide into identity has led queer right back into Gay and Lesbian Studies. It is such a return that I wish to contest by reclaiming the apprehension of queer.

Queer as an apprehension asks that we suspend the desire to know that identity claims often promise knowable terms and most often can’t deliver on them. Indeed, what identity claims do or excise to produce some form of knowing is to render transparent the most basic elements of collective identification as the foundational narrative of being or self then rendered group-wise. By this I mean that identity, in this case gay and lesbian identities, are narrated through a series of easily seen elements that can appear to cohere but only after violent excisions. It is in the narrative coherence of violent excisions of elements that disrupt the neat package that group identities appear to make sense. The sense making is experienced as a singular mode of identification or reflection of the self into and onto others, a communal feeling. In short, we see in ourselves that which we see in others as a part of the making of ourself in relation with others. Indeed, there is nothing significantly wrong with such a process given that it might be claimed that human beings primary function is to make community in common. Where the former breaks down is in its delineated excisions that refuse variability and thus are then responded to as an imposition. The queer apprehension does not await variability instead it awaits its variability’s utterance. An utterance that refuses foundation as a mode of communal and community making.

Sometime in the early 1990s, Queer Theory, queer studies and queer activism seem to simultaneously emerge. In the midst of the HIV/AIDS pandemic sexuality could not be suspended but it also did not have to be the route towards identity making. Such was the promise of queer. The movement of queer from verb to noun since that moment is telling. If queer is ushered in as a verb, a set of practices, desires and it evolves into a noun, a name, something goes missing. Something did go missing. For queer to signify differently now is to track what and how and what went missing or put another way what arrived. It is in tracing the arrival and missing part(s) that a re-newed queer potentiality might yet emerge again. (A caution: to write from the place of nostalgia is not the same as to only sit in the place of nostalgia.) So what do I mean by track what went missing and what arrived? My way of understanding queer movements both conceptual and otherwise reads queer through the double-edged problematics of gay men and HIV/AIDS and the multiple demands that responding to it required and simultaneously the possibilities that queer offered for thinking beyond sexual identities to thinking sexuality as an apprehension, a moment of opening to a possible future not known in advance. In such a sense then, queer at the conceptual was and can be an opening to a future that is needed but can’t yet be articulated.

Gay, lesbian, queer is narrated here minus the B and T because it is exactly at those sites that queer potentiality both emerges and horribly collapses. By this I mean that if in a moment now past queer signaled the possibilities of sexual beings, beings engaged in practices that could make one susceptible to HIV/AIDS, it simultaneously called forth communities most affected and infected. By so doing queer slid back into Gay and Lesbian Studies, primarily gay and male and white. Contemporary Trans Studies break with both LGBT Studies, and queer theory marks such a slide as a political tension that cannot adequately capture other possibilities of life. The critique of black queer, of black Trans, of Trans broadly construed is that the apprehension of queer became closed, the circle fully rounded. And it is that rounded circle, a certain demand for identity claims that moved a certain gay and lesbian politics forward to become neatly ensconced in the state. The move to same-sex marriage or equal marriage is the best example of this. Marriage as presently constituted requires the knowing logics of Gay and Lesbian Studies now often going under the moniker of queer. Marriage as presently constituted cannot comprehend the apprehension of a previous instantiation of a prior utterance of queer. Such an utterance, a practice of apprehension is too messy for the tidy boundaries that modern regimes of marriage require.

The project being articulated here then is a desire for the messy recalling of a notion of queer that can contain sexual beings without the claim to identity. It is a claim fashioned out of a prior sensibility that suggests if one has sex one is open to the potential of HIV/AIDS for example. Such an articulation means to place sexual practices, behaviors and desires in suspension, an apprehension that only knows its desire and refuses to give it a proper name. Queer now, then, can only find its conceptual and political possibilities in its originary refusal of all forms of the normative. In refusing the normative at each turn, queer conceptually and politically demands act as an opening, an apprehension that one enters never knowing what crossing the threshold might mean in advance. Queer now can be an opening to a future that comes from the desire of needing sex and sexuality as central to being while desiring a world other than the one we presently have. Political futures beyond identity boundary-making.

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