Near Life, Queer Death: Overkill and Ontological Capture

About the Author

            Eric A. Stanley is a President’s Postdoctoral fellow in the department of Communication and Critical Gender Studies at the University of California, San Diego. He works at the intersections of radical trans/queer aesthetics, theories of state violence, and anti-coloniality. He is currently visiting faculty in Critical Studies at the San Francisco Art Institute and along with Chris Vargas, directed the films Homotopia (2006) and Criminal Queers (2012). He is a coeditor of the anthology Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex. 


Main Arguments

  • Near Life, Queer Death: Overkill and Ontological Capture examines forms of queer non-sociality (near life) as nonexistence.

–The productive discourse that wishes to suggest that queer bodies are no different might miss moments of signification where queer bodies do in fact signify differently. This is not to suggest that there is an always locatable, transhistorical queer body, but the fiercely flexible semiotics of queerness might help us build a way of knowing antiqueer violence that can provisionally withstand the weight of generality (p. 2).

–Queer is forced to embody…the approximation of a terrorizing threat as a symbol of shattering difference, monstrosity, and irreconcilable contradiction. This fetishistic structure allows one to believe that queers are an inescapable threat and at the same time know that they are nothing (p. 12).

–If for Agamben bare life expresses a kind of stripped-down sociality or a liminal space at the cusp of death, then near life names the figuration and feeling of nonexistence, as Fanon suggests, which comes before the question of life might be posed (p. 13).

  • “But what does it mean to do violence to what is nothing?”(p. 1) Through a reading of the brutal murders and disarticulation of a number of trans/queer people, Stanley offers the legal concept of “overkill” (the type of violence against queers which goes beyond death) as a way of apprehending a queer ontology that stands in contrast to the security of an LGBT identity, and the concept of “near life” as death-in-waiting (or “the figuration and feeling of nonexistence”), while queerness means “inescapable violence” (p. 4).

–Overkill is a term used to indicate such excessive violence that it pushes a body beyond death. If queers, along with others, approximate nothing, then the task of ending, of killing, that which is nothing must go beyond normative times of life and death. The legal theory that is offered to nullify the practice of overkill often functions under the name of the trans-or gay-panic defense (p. 9).

— Overkill is what it means, what it must mean, to do violence to what is nothing.(p. 10)

  • Near Life, Queer Death: Overkill and Ontological Capture is an interrogation of how queer ontology and violence against queers can be seen as a constitutive part of liberal democracy. As antiqueer violence is written in the social as an outlaw practice, these forms of violence are not an aberration but are central to the reproduction of liberal democracy in the United States.

–The numbers, degrees, locations, kinds, types, and frequency of attacks, the statistical evidence that is meant to prove that a violation really happened, are the legitimizing measures that dictate the ways we are mandated to understand harm. However, statistics as an epistemological project may be another way in which the enormity of antiqueer is disappeared (p. 5).

–Reported attacks on “out” queer folks, such as these data, can of course only work as a swinging signifier for the incalculable referent of the actualized violence. ..“Reports” on antiqueer violence, such as the “Hate Crime Statistics,” reproduce the same kinds of rhetorical loss along with the actual loss of people that cannot be counted (p. 6).

–The law, and specifically “rights” discourse, which argues to be the safeguard of liberal democracy, is one of the other motors that works to privatize this structural violence (p. 7).

–Thus for the law to uphold the fantasy of justice and disguise its punitive aspirations, antiqueer violence, like all structural violence, must be narrated as an outlaw practice and unrepresentative of culture at large (p. 8).

— The nothing, or those made to live the death of a near life, is a break whose structure is produced by, and not remedied through, legal intervention or state mobilizations (p. 15).



           Stanley begins his article by evoking Frantz Fanon’s “‘Look, A Negro!’” from Black Skin White Masks.  His concept of “near life” of queer is heavily relied on Fanon’s theory of blackness: “Fanon opens up critical ground for understanding a kind of near life that is made through violence to exist as nonexistence. For Fanon, violence is bound to the question of recognition (which is also the im/possibility of subjectivity) that apprehends the relationship between relentless structural violence and instances of personal attacks evidenced by the traumatic afterlives left in their wake (p. 13)… For Fanon, colonization is not a system of recognition but a state of raw force and total war. This space of nonexistence, or near life, forged in the territory of inescapable violence, allows us to understand the murders of queers against the logics of aberration (p. 14).”

Stanley also points out that the murdered queer were largely working class and people of color and/or transgender people, which marks this interpersonal violence as a restaging of larger iterations of necropolitical state violence. Seeing queerness as a deviation from normative white settler sexuality, he fails to adequately theorize its connection to structures of racism and white supremacy. The concept of “antiqueer violence” does not emphasize other differences (especially violence experienced by queer of color and transgender people) and thus makes them invisible and continued to be marginalized in queer politics.


Andrea Smith- Queer Theory and Native Studies: The Heteronormativity of Settler Colonialism

The essay “puts Native studies into conversation with queer theory to look at both the possibilities and limits of a postidentity analytic” (45) 

  • recent trend in critiques of Native studies to incorporate queer theory: “beyond representing queer peoples within Native studies” but to “queer the analytics of settler colonialism” (41)
  • ”queer theory provides a helpful starting point for enabling Native studies to escape its position of ethnographic entrapment within the academy” (44) 
  • indigenous scholars address this entrapment by calling for a “reformulation of Native studies [that] does not entail rejecting identity concerns, but expands its scope of inquiry by positioning Native peoples as producers of theory and not simply as objects of analysis” (43)
  • interdisciplinarity and alliances necessary for change (not intellectual isolationism)
  • Native Studies can benefit from queer theory’s subjectless critique…by placing focus “on a ‘wide field of normalization’ as the site of social violence,” helping demonstrate Native studies’ broad applicability, and moving beyond a politics of inclusion in the colonial academy (44)
  • On the flip side–Native studies and a decolonization project can prove useful to address critques of Queer studies deploying a “postidentity” politic and the white, middle-classed identity it reinstantiates/universalizes, and its lack of acknowledgement of “settler colonialism and the ongoing genocide of Native peoples” (45)

  • US politics rhetorical construction/use of futurity; protectionist discourse: “the investment in the future justifies contemporary oppression;” (46) this often relies on an appeal to a prior state (problematic)
  • ”the appeal to ‘tradition’ often serves as the origin story that buttresses heteropatriarchy and other forms of oppression with Native communities while disavowing its political investments” (46-7); normative futurity as dependent on an origin story

  • limits of subjectless critique for decolonization- the need for a political program: ”an anti-oppositional politic can quickly lapse into a leftist cynicism, in which all politics are dismissed as ‘reproductive’ with no disruptive potential….a politics of ‘opting out’ clearly privileges those who are relatively more comfortable under the current situation” (48)
  • what is the value of “no future” for Native peoples?
    -”this call for ‘no future’ relies on a primitivizing discourse that positions the [white] queer subject in relation to a premodern subject who is locked in history. The ‘Native’ serves as the origin story that generates the autonomous present for the white queer subject” (48)
    -”the Native queer…becomes situated at the ‘horizon of death’ within a ‘no futures’ queer theory: such individuals must free themselves from their Native identity and community to become fully self-determined subject” (49) –ideological and material death is required of racialized subjects in order for modern white queer subjects to live (or be free)
  • Challenge temporal linearity of “no future” framework made by Native scholars: “memories of alternative social organization exist[ing] at all helps denormalize our current social structure” (50)
  • primitivist discourse found also in queer of color critique and ethnic studies: “it is the primitive Native that enables a mature mestizaje consciousness” (52); and “mestizaje and queerness often intersect to disappear indigeneity through the figure of the diasporic or hybrid queer subject” –without an analysis of settler colonialism, it reifies Native peoples “entrapped in a logic of genocidal appropriation” (53)
  • cultural appropriation of indigeneity- based on a logic of genocide and required for successful colonization of land- or “a logic of bipower whereby Natives must die so that postmodern subjects can live” (54) 
  • can we think of indigenous nationhood as already queered? 
  • tendencies within many Native studies scholarship and Native communities to work through counteridentification (but has ramifications of political silencing)
  • Munoz’s “model of disidentification can inform Native studies’ emphasis on decolonization” -disidentification as “a strategy recognizing the shifting terrain of resistances” (56)
    -but it too has its limits (particularly for addressing settler colonialism) -because of its centering on the public sphere/counterpublic based on a minority whose goal is not necessarily to dismantle the public sphere ; additionally, the binarism = bad, hybridity = good may work against indigenous interests (57)
    -emphasizes the primacy of war of maneuver “implies that the time of direct colonization and subjugation has passed, thus erasing the current colonization..globally” (58) 
  • queer theory generally presuming the givenness of the settler nation-state, particularly the US and “indigenous nationhood is imagined as simply a primitive mirror image of a heteronormative state” (59)
  • Native activists’ visions of national liberation not tied to nation-state governance as potentially useful in challenging heteronormativity and heteropatriarchy because it challenges the naturalness of social hierarchy (60)
  • internalization of social domination logics > reification of neocolonialism (62)
  • “the logics of settler colonialism and decolonization must be queered in order to properly speak to the genocidal present that not only continues to disappear indigenous peoples but reinforces the structures of white supremacy, settler colonialism, and heteropatriarchy that affect all peoples” (64)


  • Can we see how a subjectless critique might be useful (or limiting) for other populations
  • So how do we engage in theoretical practices that utilize the subjectless critique of queer theory while acknowledging settler colonialism in a ways that “contribute to solidarity work with contemporary indigenous struggles” (53)?
  • How do we utilize the disruption in temporal linearity that Native studies provides in thinking about the past and helping to formulate ideas for a future in practical ways?

Reading Notes for “the turban is not a hat”: queer diaspora and practices of profiling

About the Author:

  • Puar is a US based queer theorist and core faculty member in the department of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University
  • Has two works out “Queer Times, Queer Assemblages” (2005) and “Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times” (2007)
  • Her research interests are in critical ethnic studies, cultural studies, feminist globalization studies, immigration and diasporas, queer studies, sexualities studies
  • She is a 2013-14 Society for the Humanities Fellow at Cornell University, where she will be working on her third book, titled Inhumanist Occupation: Sex, Affect, and Palestine/Israel.

Working Definitions:

Queer Diaspora: “Emerges as a concept providing new methods of contesting traditional family and kinship structures-of reorganizing national and transnational communities based not on origin, filation, and genetics but on destination, affliction, and the assumption of a common set of social practices or political commitments

Brief Summary (or at least what I interpreted):

The turban and the attacks on the turbans present an interesting and complex problem of “mistaken identity” as well as what exactly that means.  With the 9/11 attacks, many were “mistakenly” attacked as terrorists, and to compensate for this mistaken identity many Sikhs would work hard to demonstrate that they were exceptional citizens the “heteronormative model minority ideals”, separate from the other perverse of the terrorist.  Puar relies on several other theorists to build up her argument and make several points. She employs Axel as a way to discuss homeland as an affective process rather than a place, shifting from origin to affective to homeland to contagions, where these queer diasporic subjects are under duress to naturalize their exceptional US-ness or Americanness. The turban becomes several things under this duress to Americanize, it also becomes a signifier of the other masculinity.  Like the veil that marks the other type of femininity, the turban does this for masculinity. Then there is also the discussion of what it means to see, which leads to the discussion of how certain bodies are “marked” with fear. This then leads to the concept of stickiness which we briefly discussed last seminar. Feared bodies are both sticky and contagious. This then leads us to the question of how sticky bodies come to be, for this Puar calls upon Saldanha to argue that “bodies gradually become sticky and cluster into aggregates’ because of how ‘certain bodies stick to certain spaces” (p. 190). Towards the end of the chapter, Puar brings up on the advocacy groups who provided documents on how to navigate through airport security were providing a form of surveillance of the turban and the body it is attached to.

Detailed Summary: (disclaimer: while I may include a lot of points made, I found it hard to try to simplify the arguments)


  • “the turban is not a hat” became a slogan after 9/11 due to several assaults (turban clawing, unraveling, and grabbing incidents) where Sikhs were “mistaken” as Muslim terrorists
  • many took assimilative measures and self preservation tactics to further demonstrate American citizenry, by various methods including the display of heteronormative model minority ideals
  • efforts of damage control for the “mistaken” identity were taken by Sikh lobbyists and lawyers
  • documents were released to instruct Sikhs how to navigate airport security as well as “educate ignorant Americans” (this comes up later in the chapter)
  • the unraveling of the turban/hair signaled a humiliating and intimate submission, hinting at homosocial undertones
  • these efforts of self preservation were driven by a desire to inhabit proper Sikh American heteromasculinity, one of significant remove from the perverse sexualities ascribed to terrorist bodies (p. 167) but also that these efforts rely on the premise that the viewer (assumed to be white) would be willing to care for the differences between difference
  • yet with these political tactics is the acknowledgment of the perverse masculinities encrypted in Sikh bodies via the rescripting of masculinities via an enactment of anti-Muslin sentiment
  • Sikhs were working to remove themselves from the perverse queerness attached to Muslim terrorists as a way to assimilate into us heteronormative citizenship
  • Puar brings up that during this time following 9/11, she was working with SALGA and encountered an issue that other mainstream queer anti violence organizations were not addressing: the relationship between queer bashing and racist hate crimes
  • Queer South Asian communities, particularly those with visible traits of gender non normativity, working class, and working poor backgrounds, were targets of hate crimes
  • As part of working to provide materials/resources for queer South Asians, the material recognized that queer perversity of terrorist bodies was being both read from their bodies as well as endowed onto their bodies
  • The relationship between the brown queer subject who is hailed as a terrorist and the terrorist who is already pathologically queer surfaced as a complex activist issue that challenged the bounds of our work” (p 169)
  • Ironically, South Asians queer diasporic subjects were and continue to be under even grater duress to product themselves as exceptional American subjects, not necessarily as heteronormative but as homonormative, even as the queernesses of these very bodies are simultaneously used to pathologize populations configured as terrorist
  • Under this idea of being exceptional American subjects, they are to participate and reproduce narratives of US queer exceptionalism in contradiction to perverse and repressed sexualities of the East, reclaiming the perversities of the brown terrorist implicit in the queering of terrorist populations
  • Yet beyond the subjects are the turbans and the bodies they sit upon and its attachments to hyper masculinity “Its historical attachments to hyper masculinity, perverse heterosexuality, and warrior militancy rendered these turbaned bodies neither within the bounds of respectable queer subject hood nor worthy of a queer intervention that would stage a reclamation of sexual racial perversity, suggesting that it is a body almost too perverse to be read as queer” (p. 169)
  • The male turbaned body is problematic for they are read as patriarchal by queer diasporic logic because they challenge the limits of queer diasporic identity
  • The author notes that in both the queer diaspora and GSSA’s response to the hate crimes are the hopes that transferring correct information will make a difference, that the turban is worthy of queer intervention and that the misrecognition can be solved

Queer Diasporas:

  • Axel- “The Diasporic Imagery” is a study of Sikh diasporas, argues that “rather than conceiving of the homeland as something that creates diasporas it may be the more productive to consider the diaspora as something that creates the homeland” (p 170).  He is discussing the economic and symbolic importance of the non resident Indian
  • “The homeland…must be understood as an affective and temporal process rather than a place” (171)
  • The temporalizing and affective subjectivity involved in creating the homeland pulls processes and images of different bodies, historical formations of sexuality, gender, and violence
  • Axel’s formation goes beyond location, but to connectivity of forms of diasporic afflictive and cathartic entities which is especially critical for Sikhs whose homeland is a perpetual fantasy
  • The author states that while Axel is primarily interested in images of tortured Sikh male body, she argues that a focus on affect reveals “How actual bodies can be in multiple places and temporalities simultaneously…” (p 171)
  • She makes the point that homeland is formulated in multiple ways, not only as a demographic, but on contingent temporalities, and networks
  • Shifting focus to affect, the question changes from “What does this body mean?” to “What and who does this body affect? What does this body do?”
  • Leading to the concept of contagion, where the body is capable of infecting other bodies (infection, transmission)
  • The shift is from origin to affective to homeland to contagions. The shift…is that these queer diasporic subjects are under duress to naturalize their exceptional US-ness or Americanness, both through hetero normative mandates but through homo normativity
  • “South Asian queer diasporic communities in the US are disproportionately impacted by the production of terrorist corporealities, navigating the figures of the Muslim terrorist, the turbaned Sikh man so often mistaken for him, and the woman in hijab who must be rescued from them ( p173)
  • Puar’s aim is to “rethink turbaned terrorist bodies and terrorist populations in relation to and beyond the ocular (visual, that is, affective and affected entities that create fear but also feel the feat they create, an assemblage of contagions… “ (p 174)
  • “this rereading of turbaned bodies offers a critical counter narrative to queer subjects that regulate the terms of queerness “in this case, hinting at the foreclosure o a queer diasporic turbaned Sikh, male of female, a subject that is distinct from the queerness that have often been attributed to Sikh masculinities” and the pathological queerness endowed upon terrorist populations that Sikh communities seek to evade (p.174)
  • her reading thus elaborates the biopolitics of population that racializes and sexualities bodies not entirely through their visual and affective qualities but rather through the data they assemble
  • asks the questions of how the visual is influential in the profiling

Turbans Becoming Strange Attractors

  • turban marks terrorist masculinity, inhabiting space of monstrosity where it can never be civilized “the turban is not only imbued with the nationalist, religious, and cultural symbolism of the Other; it both reveals and hides the terrorist, a constant sliding between that which can be disciplining and that which must be outlawed” (175)
  • the Thind case is an example that “by invoking the everyday experience of race over the scientific an anthropological evidence presented…the decision to not consider South Asian as white Americans demonstrates that the bodies inhabit different tactile and affective economies
  • because of this, the pressure to naturalize the aspirant citizens is reflected in deturbaning
  • since 9/11 Sikhs have claimed that the attacks were because a mistaken identity
  • the deturbaning undertaken by massive numbers of Sikh men was one manifestation of the demanded domestication, where the removal functions as reorientation into masculine patriotic identity. These attacks increased since 9/11, yet it was noted that the actual turban itself was the main point of contention, where the turban was an embodiment of a metaphysical substance, the desired object of violence, much more than an appendage
  • these hate crimes are becoming normalized, an expression of a socially appropriate emotion (desire to counter terrorism) in a socially inappropriate way by the patriotic populous
  • Puar notes that the head coverings also serve as an almost identified of the different body.
  • Puar discussed how turbans and veils converge, for veils were a discussion of submission and a marker of an other femininity, turban are emerging as a signal of an “other masculinity” where the turbaned man is many masculine things but also a figure of failed masculinity in comparison to the white hegemonic masculinity
  • Puar then discusses how turbans relate to the victimology, where turbaned men exemplify an exceptional narrative of victimhood as well as wearing the turban as a form of religious and multicultural excellence, foregrounding the heterosexual mandates of national belonging, a circuitry implicating homo national subjects, model minority, heterosexuality, and perversely queered populations.  This circuit casts immigrant communities and communities of color as “more homophobic” solidifying them, ironically as simplistically heterosexual or hetero normative in an un cosmopolitan, regressive manner.  This then denies the possibility of queer color subjects
  • Puar discusses how Butler demonstrates that the visual field is not natural to race, but that “seeing’ is not an act of direct perception, but ‘the racial production of the visible, the working of racial constructs on what it means to ‘see’’’
  • That these visual differences mean nothing when the visual evidence is within the viewers understanding.
  • the completion of the circuit of white paranoia is whereby attackers initiate the projection of their own aggression an the subsequent regarding of that projection as an external threat (p 184)
  • Puar  wants to go further into why certain bodies are marked, with violence, turns to Ahmed’s exploration of hate and fear, where hate is economic and fear is because of anxiety of the impossibility of containment of the feared object. This then results is the pooling of suspicious bodies.
  • The concept of stickiness arises, where terrorist sticks to some bodies and fear slides between bodies “stickiness can draw into question almost anyone in this affective economic of fear: pools of bodies, populations…where what is being preempted is not the danger of the known subject but the danger of not knowing (p 185)
  • The fact that fear does not reside in a body, but could be materialized in any body within a particular profile range allows for the figured of the terrorist to retain its potential historical significance ambiguity while it also enables the fear to “stick” to bodies that could be terrorists (p 186)
  • The turban is thus a sticky signifier, operating as a fetish object of fear, and the ontological becoming of the turbaned Sikh is intricately tied not the temperoral logical of preempting his futurity, a deferred death… (p 187)
  • Puar says that visibility is inadequate inviting surveillance but also regimes of affect and tactility conduct vital information beyond the visual, the move from visibility to affect takes us from a frame of misrecognition to the notion of resemblance, from “looks like” to seems like (p 187)
  • The mistake itself is not a mistaken, but functions as an alibi… resemblance, indicating either that the Sikh is a fine replacement or substitution: both reflect the circulatory economy of fear proffered…feared bodies are contagious…the very campaigns by advocacy groups to educate ignorant Americans do not address affective economics that conflate resemblance in misrecognition and also the assumption that the difference among difference would matter
  • Fear is produced by signs, where Ahmed schema of stickiness to fear beings the questions of how stickiness came to be
  • Saldanha argues that ‘bodies gradually become sticky and cluster into aggregates’ because of how ‘certain bodies stick to certain spaces” 190

Turban Modernities

  • Karla says that the turban is just a cloth and that by Sikhs not recognizing this they are demonstrating an inability to be modern
  • The relationships between the body and the turban as extensions of one another
  • Puar discusses perception and then makes the argument that “what if perceiving and being perceived can no longer be separate processes, nor processes that act as extensions of each other? This would be on difference between appendage and assemblage: thinking of the turbaned man as a man with an appendage and thinking of the turbaned man as an assemblage that cuts through such easy delineations between body and thing, an assemblage that fuses but also scrambles into chaotic combinations, turban into body, cloths…destabilizing the presumed organicity of the body (p 193)
  • The turban is always a state of becoming, and eventually becoming a perverse fetish object, a point of fixation, an attractor of anxiety
  • It is this assemblage of visual, affect…and bodily disruption of organic-nonorganic divides that the not fully organic not fully nonorganic body which accounts for the queer figuration of the turban in the calculation of the hate crime (p 196)
  • Trapped by precisely these poles-tradition versus modernity-this placement enables a disavowal of turbaned sexualities by queer diasporic subjects seeking into to approximate cosmopolitan status, as well as queer diasporic subjects seeking to embrace the illegitimate and perverse sexualities ascribed to terrorist bodies (p 196)

Racial and Informational Profiles

  • Puar then discusses how the NYPD began profiling subjects, a “patrolling of affect changes the terms of what kind of person’ would be a terrorist or smuggler recognizing that the terror could look like anyone and do just like everyone else’s, but might sees something else”
  • The racial profiling and targeting of suspected terrorists in the US brings the ideas and organization of yesterdays racial oppression in line with new technologies and the contemporary eugenics movement.
  • Returning back to the beginning of the chapter and how advocacy groups would advise Sikhs on how to go through the airport security, they are demonstrating how to monitor the turban and the body to which it is attached. “the intimacy of the turban unwrapping and the intimacy of surveillance technology that x-rays the turban are bifurcated this: the first produces the violated subject of regulation, the penetration of the sacred private, similar to the queer liberal subject of Lawrence Garner, that hinges on a liberal fantasy of bodily integrity, a projection of wholeness (p 198)
  • In the economy of sight and being able to see the terrorst is not contingent upon surveying the entire body, but rather the securitization that aims t make something visible to ensure its capture relies on assemblage of the individual. Race and sex are reread not only though the regulatory queer subject, but through the regularizing of this re materialization of the body (p 200)

Craig Willse and Dean Spade, “Freedom in a Regulatory State?: Lawrence, Marriage and Biopolitics”

Background: This piece was published in the Widener Law Review in 2005. Willse and Spade have collaborated a lot, often writing about LGBT social movements, most recently with “Sex, Gender, and War in an Age of Multicultural Imperialism,” forthcoming this year in QED: A Journal of GLBTQ Worldmaking.

–Craig Willse is now assistant professor in Cultural Studies at George Mason University, where he is faculty sponsor for GMU Students Against Israeli Apartheid. Willse co-edited Beyond Biopolitics with Patricia Clough. Willse’s book A Diagram of Surplus Life: Housing, Race, and Capital (currently under contract) “examines how housing insecurity becomes organized as an object of knowledge and intervention.” Willse is also interested in “the ways in which racism and poverty are made productive in the context of urban neoliberal service and knowledge industries, including social services and social sciences.”

Dean Spade is associate professor at Seattle University School of Law (Administrative Law, Poverty Law, and Law and Social Movements).  Spade was also a Williams Institute Law Teaching Fellow at UCLA Law School and Harvard Law School, teaching classes related to sexual orientation and gender identity law and law and social movements. In 2002, Spade founded the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a non-profit law collective that provides free legal services to transgender, intersex and gender non-conforming people who are low-income and/or people of color. Spade is currently the co-editor of the online journal, Enough, which focuses on the personal politics of wealth redistribution. Spade’s most recent book is Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics and the Limits of Law (2011).

Argument: This law review article contextualizes the Lawrence v. Texas (2003) decision that is lauded as the “biggest victory yet” by LGBT legal organizations and advocates. Instead, Willse and Spade argue that Lawrence and its subsequent contribution to the “gay agenda” fighting for “marriage equality” actually represents a lack in commitment to radical political change.

            –Represents a reduction in the demands of what was once “a movement against violent and coercive systems of gender and sexual regulation”; it actually maintains these regulatory systems as LGBT legal organizations (which are the most well-resourced) tie the Lawrence victory to a “broader framing of a ‘gay agenda’ that focuses on marriage rights and fails to meaningfully oppose state regulation of sexuality, gender, and family structures” (311).

            –There must instead be a shift from focusing on formal legal equality (primarily benefits white/wealthy gay men and lesbians) to more radical deregulation of gender, sexuality, and families. The key to this shift is understanding regulatory mechanisms, and “moving away from understanding marriage as simply an enclosed institution that either includes or excludes and towards understanding marriage as a technology of power that organizes all parts of a population in terms of access to resources necessary for survival” (312).

Lawrence and Disciplinary Politics: To take attention away from this association of Lawrence to Hardwich, the implications of Lawrence that are emphasized by the majority are its “newly-validated and more palatable” gay identity àEmphasis on parallels to “incentivized heterosexual family norms.”

            —Lawrence over Hardwich: seen as a victory in terms of disciplinary power on an individual level, however actually doesn’t challenge the mechanics of discipline itself. Instead, can be read as “loosening of certain disciplinary mechanisms—legal holds on some sexual acts—because those mechanisms are no longer sufficient or efficient for managing bodies and resources (316).

            –Demonstrates how power is regrouping in different techniques that address queer as disciplined subject and ensure the domination of some queers

Biopolitics and Gay Marriage: current debates about “gay marriage” represent an inability to move from a disciplinary to a biopolitical model. Consolidation of legitimacy/power in organizations whose priorities are far from radical origins of Stonewall era.

            –Marriage as biopolitical mechanism, therefore “‘Marriage equality’ itself is an ironic term, given that the legal designation of marital status serves to differentiate between and to privilege select family structures and sexual choices” (318).

            –Same-sex marriage does not actually challenge the institution of marriage, but redirects/intensifies biopolitical functions of the state (marriage historically challenged by feminists in a biopolitical capacity as exploitative to women, particularly through the targeting of low-income and women of color in welfare reform and “healthy marriage promotion”)

Raising the Stakes: Potential frameworks for understanding discrimination: discipline targeting individual subjectà remedy as individual rights, or systemic creation of unevenly distributed life chances/biopolitical modelà remedy is redistribution/critical view of status quo that removing barriers to an individual’s access to rights or benefits will not be enough (LGBT movement that also struggles for racial/economic justice)

            –They argue that the current LGBT movement uses individual rights model: “takes the status quo as a given, and argues only for formal equality within the existing distribution of life chances” (328). However a broader framework for queer and trans rights would make redistribution a central goal: the more “just” approach would give resources to those who experience the greatest impact of gender/sexual orientation oppression (329).

Question: Willse and Spade argue that there is a lack of understanding of how marriage functions “as a mechanism for organizing populations in relation to resources for life chances,” that is contributing to the disconnect between a just movement to oppose gender and sexual orientation oppression and the “LGBT movement” as it is currently functioning in the U.S. How would these arguments go over in U.S. public discourse? Where else are biopolitical mechanisms disguised by individual “disciplinary” activism, and how can knowledge of biopolitical functions help us work toward more “just” social movements overall?

puar, jasbir k. “introduction: homonationalism and biopolitics.” in terrorist assemblages: homonationalism in queer times. durham, nc: duke university press, 2007.

jasbir puar (ph.d. in ethnic studies) is an associate professor of women’s and gender studies at rutgers.  her interests include critical ethnic studies, cultural studies, feminist globalization studies, disability studies, immigration and diasporas, queer studies and sexuality studies.  terrorist assemblages is her first monograph and her second, affective politics: states of debility and capacity, will be released in 2014.  she is currently working on a third book (inhumanist occupation: sex, affect, and palestine/israel) while on fellowship at cornell university. 

  1. in the introduction to her first monograph, puar explores the interrelationship(s) between biopower and necropolitics evident in the production of a homonational subject that simultaneously engenders and disavows entire populations of “sexual-racial others who need not apply.”  she explores three manifestations of this project: sexual exceptionalism, queer as regulatory, and the ascendancy of whiteness.
  2. homonationalism: “an exceptional form of national homonormativity” (2)
  3. u.s. sexual exceptionalism
    1. exception and exceptionalism work in tandem -by marking for death a particular population so that the life of another population may be secured and valorized-  in order to produce the u.s. as simultaneously unique (a superior singularity) and universal (it is at once the paragon of appropriateness yet not beholden to its mandates).  
    2. u.s. exceptionalism feeds off of other exceptionalisms (and exceptional victimhood secures, rather than disputes, claims to exceptionalism).
    3. u.s. exceptionalism depends on a narrative of transcendence which places the u.s. as above empire (insofar as it is not subject to empire’s shortcomings yet empire is beyond the pale of its own morally upright behavior).
    4. homosexual sexual exceptionalism does not necessarily contradict its heterosexual counterpart but, rather, supports and conceals the classed, racial, and citizenship axes structuring the latter.
  4. queerness as a regulatory frame of biopolitics
    1. queer secularity, which demands a particular transgression of norms (through which queerness narrates its own sexual exceptionalism), marks queer religiosity as subjugated, sexually repressed (and repressive, rather than productive), and void of agency (reinscribing its own transgressiveness by comparison).  rendered a contradiction in terms, the proper gay/lesbian muslim subject is foreclosed, allowing only for the orientalist fantasy of perversely sexualized terrorist corporealities (always already queer and improperly so).
    2. queer operates as an alibi for complicity with other identity norms while concealing these violent complicities through its imagined inherent transgression. 
    3. the fantasy of queer secularity depends on and recirculates the conviction that “religious and racial communities are more homophobic than white mainstream communities are racist” (15), marking white secular queerness (a white secular queerness committed, if unwittingly, to the replication of neocoloniality) as fit for inclusion into a body politic imagined as multicultural, while simultaneously reinscribing the racialized other as too intolerant for inclusion.
    4. it is though an ideal queer subject imagined as free from norms that queerness becomes a regulatory mechanism contingent upon various regimes of mobility wedded to individualism and the rational, liberal humanist subject. 
    5. “[q]ueerness as transgression (which is one step ahead of resistance, which has now become a normative act) relies on a normative notion of deviance, always defined in relationship to normativity, often universalizing.  thus deviance, despite its claims to freedom and individuality, is ironically cohered to and by regulatory regimes of queerness – through, not despite, any claims to transgression.” (23)
  5. the ascendancy of whiteness
    1. drawing from rey chow’s notion of “the ascendancy of whiteness” (which “incorporates the multiplication of appropriate multicultural ethnic bodies” (25) through a management and domestication of difference (within and containing sameness) that obscures the primary beneficiaries of this project), puar explores the twin processes of multiculturalization and heterosexualization that extend the trappings of (white, straight) citizenship to the (straight) ethnic and the (white) queer (through an “affective be/longing that never fully rewards its captives yet nonetheless fosters longing and yearning of affects of nationalism” (32)). 
    2. this extension is interpellated through participation within global economic privilege that faction, fraction, and fractalize identity (which, in turn, allows for disidentification from disenfranchised populations and  consolidation with axes of privilege).
  6. queer necropolitics
    1. puar interrogates the tension between bio- and necropolitics (to the extent that “the latter makes its presence known at the limits and through the excess of the former [and] the former masks the multiplicity of its relationships to death and killing in order to be able to enable the proliferation of the latter ” (35)), contending that it is by exploring the collaboration between the two that the multiple spaces of the deflection of death can be attended to and that it is “within these interstices of life and death that we find the differences between queer subjects who are being folded back into life and the racialized queernesses that emerge through the naming of populations” (ibid.).

snorton, c. riley and jin haritaworn. “trans necropolitics” in the transgender studies reader vol. ii, aren aizura and susan stryker (eds.). new york, routledge, 2013. p. 66-76.

riley snorton (ph.d. in communication studies) is an assistant professor of communication studies at northwestern university.  his research interests include rhetorical and cultural theory, queer diaspora, media anthropology, africana studies, performance studies, and popular culture.  he is also a filmmaker (his documentary is entitled “men at work: transitioning on the job”).  his first monograph, nobody is supposed to know: black sexuality on the down low is currently under contract with the university of minnesota press.  (i caught his panel at the 2012 nwsa’s and he was a tremendously engaging speaker.)

jin haritaworn (ph.d. in sociology) is an assistant professor of environmental studies at york university.  their main areas of interest include transnational race, gender, and sexuality studies, feminist/queer/trans of color theories and activisms, urban and environmental justice, gentrification, bio-/necro-/geopolitics, and violence/affect.  they’ve penned and published two monographs (the biopolitics of mixing and queer lovers and hateful others) and a great deal of edited collections, articles, and essays.  i’ve never seen them speak  but i’d probably faint of awesomeness if i did.

  • snorton and haritaworn explore the ways in which trans bodies of color (and, particularly, transfeminine bodies of color) targeted for death facilitate the enhancement of homo- and transnormative life.  they examine the interrelationships between necropolitics (which points to the “centrality of death in contemporary social life” (66)) and biopower (“the carving out of subjects and populations” (ibid.)) evident in the vitalization of trans- and homonormative political projects as well as the development of a “newly professionalizing class of experts” (67)  made possible by the extraction of surplus value from trans of color death.
  • snorton interrogates the intricate network of beneficiaries produced by the afterlife of tyra hunter (a life valued only as the afterthought of a violent death).  in order to be rendered suitable for expropriation, tyra’s life -structured both by illegibility and spectacle- required a series of postmortem translations in order to be reincorporated under the more legible/sanitized sign of gay masculinity (a sign unable to accommodate the disposability of aberrant queerness typically assigned to black bodies or the illegibility assigned to transfeminine bodies of color)
  • haritaworn then discusses the production and incorporation of the german trans subject through a model of traumatized citizenship dependent on the threat of a racialized other (prefigured by existing scripts of muslim migrant homophobia).  hate crimes discourse, the result of the performative labor undergirding and concealing the racialization of gender and sexuality, produces both a victim-citizen (whose incorporated excess gestures to the colossal tolerance of the body politic) and a homophobic (muslim) perpetrator (who is once again deemed unfit to reproduce -and be reproduced by- the nation).  lodged firmly within urban policies of gentrification, touristification and securitization, the vitalization of homo- and transnormative political projects is wholly dependent on the spectacularized circulation of poor, trans(feminine) of color death.

Brain Massumi

Is a Canadian social theorist of much renown, he has done many translations of French poststructuralists like Jean-François Lyotard. His own work explores the field cultural thermodynamics. For this class we’re focused on affect and in his words  he uses affect“as a way of talking about that margin of manoeuvrability, the ‘where we might be able to go and what we might be able to do’ in every present situation. I guess ‘affect’ is the word I use for ‘hope’. One of the reasons it’s such an important concept for me is because it explains why focusing on the next experimental step rather than the big utopian picture isn’t really settling for less. It’s not exactly going for more, either. It’s more like being right where you are – more intensely. To get from affect to intensity you have to understand affect as something other than simply a personal feeling. By ‘affect’ I don’t mean ‘emotion’ in the everyday sense. The way I use it comes primarily from Spinoza. He talks of the body in terms of its capacity for affecting or being affected. These are not two different capacities – they always go together. When you affect something, you are at the same time opening yourself up to being affected in turn, and in a slightly different way than you might have been the moment before. You have made a transition, however slight. You have stepped over a threshold. Affect is this passing of a threshold, seen from the point of view of the change in capacity.”[1]


Parables for the virtual



According to Massumi the project of this book is to explore the implications for cultural theory of the reconceptulization of the body within the context of movement/sensation and change. He goes on to describe how the body was reduced to discursive circuits bleached from possibilities of ruptures, revolts or even everyday resistances that could lead to systemic change. Rather the body was frozen into fixed positions as an object on a grid. The link between the systemic and the local was created through the notion of positionality, within a grid that was devised between polarities of male/female and so on. Except this interpolation causes the body to be stuck, divorced from its fluidities and movement that could not be mapped onto a grid. The cultural photograph was a point stoppage and leads to the impossibility incorporating movement, since movement is not just for the purpose of the beginning and end point but the process that takes place in-between and that is not reducible to the ends. This movement is really a “qualitative transformation”(Massumi, 3), while matter is never properly attended to either.

Therefore the project is the “hope that movement, sensation, and qualities of experience couched in matter in its most literal sense (and sensing) might be culturally-theoretically thinkable, without falling into” (Massumi,4) the problematics of naïve realism or subjectivism or negating the important work of “poststructuralist cultural theory concerning the coextensiveness of cultural with the field of experience and of power with culture”(Massumi,4) the relationship between body and movement is transformational and opens the body to its own indeterminacy. This conceptualization of the body as “real-material-but-incorporeal” is to liken it to the relationship between energy and matter that are different forms of the same reality. This follows to a kind of incorporeal materialism where the movement can not be encapsulated by the endpoints of a trajectory where every point on the trajectory can infinite permutations, subsequently it is only retrospectively that we find the in-between positions. In fact the idea of space is also constructed this way retrospectively. 

The emphasis is on ideas of fluidity this presents a revolution in thought that presents the limits of thinking in stasis, positions and end-points.  The focus is on process rather than stasis and yet stasis can be explained as well. The point is that cultural theory today needs to incorporate affect and intensity.