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Professors, speaker deconstruct queer identity

Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 23:10

In response to apparent gender stereotypes, Tuesday’s Coming Out Week program, “Deconstructing Queer Identities,” emphasized that one-word labels, such as gay and straight or black and white, cannot encompass the complexities found within one individual.

The program featured two presentations and a panel discussion. The first lecture was given by academic Sima Shakhsari, a professor at Wellesley College, on “Cyberspace, the War on Terror, and the Hypervisible Iranian Queer.” Following her presentation was Carre Adams, the director of community organizing for Allgo, an Austin-based organization that serves queer people of color across the state. Shakhsari and Adams participated in the panel, as well as Amber Johnson of Prairie View A&M University and Antonio la Pastina of Texas A&M University.

The conversation of the evening called into question the construction of the identity of the queer population. The panelists were highly critical of the portrayal of the gay population as white, middle-class males who were primarily concerned with gay marriage and don’t ask, don’t tell policies. Adams said this is merely a glimpse of the true identity of the queer person.

“What does gay look like? What does lesbian look like? The face of a lot of these national organizations are white, cisgendered (non-transgendered) people,” Adams said. “The perception of what queer folks in this country look like is that.”

Even when the intersections of identities such as race, religion or gender are considered, Johnson said the representation of queer people is never as simple as it is portrayed.

“This intersection, if you think of it as a map, the streets are not straight. The streets don’t cross at perfect X-Y axes,” Johnson said. “The streets overlap, they intermingle, they play, they dance. I do not know what it means to be sexual outside of being a woman, outside of being black.”

La Pastina was critical of the picture of a queer population that was only concerned with marriage and discrimination within the military. He said this was a construction of an idealized population that served a social function, but does not benefit the queer identifying community.

“The function I think of gay marriage and don’t ask, don’t tell has been one of media campaign,” La Pastina said. “It’s easily accessible.”

The panelists said this easily digestible presentation of the diverse spectrum of issues unique to the multitude of queer-identifying factions is offensively simple. Shakhsari said that even if gay marriage was legalized, it would solve none of the real problems experienced throughout this population.

“What does gay marriage do for queer immigrants? Nothing,” Shakhsari said. “What does it do for single moms who are having a hard time making ends meet?”

Johnson said that many of the true issues get ignored in the popular media, such as violence directed towards transgenders.

“So many stories get lost,” Johnson said. “We have so many transgendered people who are killed or in prison for defending themselves and those stories never get told.”

Panelists called for reform throughout the spectrum of social justice, in issues that impact queer identifying peoples but are not specific to this population. They said the country needed to consider economic justice, to re-evaluate notions of nationalism and militarism, to construct new languages and discourses, and to reorganize the prison and health care system.

Adams said that what the queer population needs is not equality, but justice.

“In order for equality in America to exist for me, and for members of my community, America would have to not exist because of the history of colonization,” Adams said. “The other thing is that I don’t want to be equal to anybody, because I don’t want to be in a position to do the things to other people that have been done to us.”


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