This article was written in response to the NUS workshop ‘Building Anti Racist Spaces’ held at Goldsmiths on 6th November. Many thanks to the speakers for sharing their wisdom and to all the attendees for sharing their experiences.
This Trans Awareness Week it’s important to take opportunities to educate ourselves about the issues that trans people (and other queer people) of colour face.
One of these is homonationalism, which is the construction of an LGBTQ+ identity within a white colonial national identity, resulting in conflating queerness with whiteness and a white aesthetic. This in turn gives rise to damaging stereotypes, such as ‘Muslims can’t be queer’.
In her critical work Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times, which coined the term, Jasbir K. Puar defines homonationalism as the way in which ‘domesticated homosexual bodies (are used to) provide ammunition to reinforce nationalist projects’.
Homonationalism pervades our society from politics to pop culture. Michael Segalov describes the alarming trend for white nationalism in gay men in relation to Theresa May’s alleged support of LGBTQ+ rights: ‘In Britain the right have long attempted to pit white gay men against… other marginalised identities’. This frequently overlaps with Islamophobia. The use of pinkwashing by right-wing politicians to further a racist agenda is very much present in our country.
In 2015 the film Stonewall was heavily criticised, among other things, for its refusal to acknowledge the vital role of black drag queen Marsha P. Johnson, who threw the first brick in the riots. The decision - defended online by director Roland Emmerich and screenwriter Jon Robin Baitz - to attribute this act to a conventionally masculine white gay man was seen as a revisionist gesture of whitewashing, homonormativity and trans erasure. As reviewer Solvej Schou observed, Emmerich and Baitz are themselves conventionally masculine white gay men.
These examples remind us that conversations surrounding trans people so often focus on and are dominated by white people. As residents in a western formally colonising country, it’s essential that we are aware of the extent to which white queer liberation has been built, as Shon Faye observes, on the backs of both BME citizens within western countries and otherised non-white nations collectively.
For more information about homonationalism, check out Jasbir K. Puar’s lecture ‘Discipline, Control, and Affective Politics of Sensation’ and (for a briefer explanation) Shon Faye’s video on homonationalism as a structure in global politics.
*There are still a couple more events to mark Trans Awareness Week at Goldsmiths. Have a read here.*