Guest author Tamar Shirinian is a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in the Sociology and Anthropology Department at Millsaps College
This month, major cities throughout the U.S. will hold annual gay pride events: parades followed by parties throughout the night and weekend. These kinds of celebrations – for rights (to marriage, for example) and especially for LGBT visibility – make up domestic claims to freedom. According to these rhetorics, by providing visible space and time for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people to take pride in their worlds, the U.S. is on the proper path toward civilizational progress. As such, gay pride, its ideological and cultural attachments to a certain kind of good life, should be contextualized within geopolitics.
Yes, geopolitics. The queer political has become geopolitical. This U.S. practice of attaching nationalist ideals of liberty and freedom to homosexuality is now well known within queer anthropology as well as wider queer studies. It is usually referred to as “homonationalism,” a practice and ideology that often positions itself against its own perceived radical other – Islam. This is no longer just a U.S. tactic, however. Homosexuality – and also anti-homosexuality – as the container of national values is becoming a major trend in the post-Cold War era.
The attachment of certain “values” to the figure of the homosexual has been critical for the establishment of new alliances over the last couple of decades and especially over the last few years. While this is a global trend – breaking up the world into those who are for homosexuality and those who stand against it – this has become especially true for the reconfiguration of opposition between the old superpowers – Russia and the West. Since 2012, when Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law the “anti-homosexual propaganda bill,” it seems as if the world is being divided into pro-gay and anti-gay. While much of nationalism in the U.S. is dependent on the configuration of homosexuality as the current frontier of liberation, Russian exceptionalism has just as much become dependent on marking homosexuality the ultimate sign of the West’s moral deterioration. And, as such, it is picking up speed in defining a different world, one that stands in opposition to “Western imperialism.” The homosexual has become a kind of central undergirding figure of the post-Cold War ideological opposition between East and West – or, Global North and Global South.
The very unfortunate circumstance is that very real lives and livelihoods are at stake within the seemingly universalist battles for ideology. As the U.S. props up freedom as its ultimate global aim – driving various projects of democratization through funding, military intervention and sanctions – and often in the name of homosexuality, by way of condemning the actions of evil-doers elsewhere (see for example, condemnations of Iran or ISIS) – those opposed to U.S. global interests are increasingly coming to define anti-imperialism by way of cultural detachment from homosexuality.
One need not look further than the recent shooting at the gay club Pulse in Orlando, FL – a tragedy that left 49 people dead and 53 others severely injured on the early morning of Sunday, June 12, 2016. The shooter, Omar Mateen is said to have pledged allegiance to ISIS (Islamic State). Business as usual: much of contemporary media as well as politicians themselves narrate this event as a problem of Islam against freedom, the oppression of what stands as the most valuable of U.S. values – the homosexual as the ultimate sign of liberty – and what stands against it. This is even though any insight into the case shows how Mateen seemed to have known very little about ISIS and other Islamic organizations with which he claimed to be affiliated. However, there is an intricate and complicated set of politics involved within the association of Mateen with ISIS – as well as his own desire to be affiliated with ISIS – and with homophobia that must be probed with a wider – geopolitical -scope.
This month, as the public mourns those whose lives were taken in Orlando and the pride celebrations continue, we must be attuned to the ways in which our actions, feelings and cultural attachments are propped up by these geopolitical endeavors. When thinking about the association of U.S. and Western human rights progress, we should not fail to think about how this affects those with aggression toward the U.S. and the readiness to resist U.S. imperialism through the use of the homosexual. How do we celebrate, take joy in and – in the contemporary moment – mourn queerness when these practices fall in line with larger geopolitical projects? Queer anthropology’s focus must turn attention to these understandings of the queer geopolitical if we are to understand how homosexuality gets attached to values whether or not they have anything to do with actual lived experiences of LGBT, homosexual, or non-heterosexual peoples.