Queer Disposability

I do not know if William Ruto, Kenya’s possible new vice president, genuinely dislikes homosexuals. I suspect that as a mostly cosmopolitan Kenyan, one with lots of money and influence, he probably travels in the same circles as some wealthy homosexuals. I suspect some wealthy homosexuals might consider him a friend: a shared interest in economic profitability and political power creates “friends.” I suspect he’s even shared a drink with a homosexual or two. In fact, I would hazard that he does not spend much time, if any, thinking about homosexuality, and that he has no strong feelings about homosexuality either which way.

During Kenya’s vice presidential debates, Ruto found it politically expedient to compare homosexuals to dogs. He used the powerful politics of disgust to create affiliation. No one contested his claims. Homophobia became a social glue and a political lubricant.

In casual conversations and elsewhere, I have been arguing that we should think of how homophobia creates affiliations between groups with diverse interests: some Christians of various denominations; some Christians and some Muslims; some anti-racist and some anti-capitalist groups; some feminist and some male rights groups; some political progressives and some political conservatives. More broadly, I am interested in how “the intimate,” most especially what Audre Lorde terms “heterocetera,” lubricates social interactions, making possible worlds and affiliations.

To be disposable, in this instance, is to be available as a figure, body, life, who/that can be used to lubricate socio-political and other kinds of interactions, to be available as a shared subject/object of affect: the thing that can be agreed upon and whose availability to be agreed upon creates a shareable social.

I’m not yet sure if the consensus created by shared homophobia—as performative—will ever have the weight of the consensus created by shared heterocetera. I suspect it will not. So I am interested in the brief, moment-by-moment work accomplished by performances of expressed/expressive homophobia. What happens in the 1-2 seconds, the 3-5 minutes, the 10-15 minute clips in which homophobia is produced as a shared object? What projects take shape? What affiliations become possible? What rivalries are forgotten? What conflicts smoothed over? What good feelings are created that can then be used to negotiate and re-negotiate positions? I am less interested in critiquing homophobia—others do that far more effectively—than I am in understanding how it works. I want to understand its persistence, its intensification, in part because I want to understand how the social and the political and the cultural take shape and move through brief temporal interruptions and increments, moment to moment, minute to minute, micro to micro.

Disposability names a temporal-affective-materiality: one is “trashed.” Something is made possible. While much political commentary focuses on that trashing, I continue to learn the Foucauldian lesson:

We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it ‘excludes’, it ‘represses’, it ‘censors’, it ‘abstracts’, it ‘masks’, it ‘conceals’. In fact, power produces. It produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth. The individual and the knowledge that may be gained of him belong to this production (Discipline and Punish).

It is in the spirit that power is “productive” that I have sought to ask what homophobia makes possible, what it lubricates, what it enables, what it fosters, what it feeds, what it nurtures, what realities it makes realizable.

3 thoughts on “Queer Disposability

  1. Thanks for all the excellent thinking and writing you are sharing with us. Reading this I was reminded of Spivak’s identification of reproductive heteronormativity as “the broadest cultural institution” in her recent book (the chapters “Culture”, “Nationalism and the Imagination”, and “Tracing the Skin of the Day” spend the most time on it, though characteristically there are both too many condensations to allow a broad take-away to post in a comment). Anyway, possibly of use along this line of enquiry?

  2. I have yet to read Spivak’s thinking on this, so I can’t respond directly to that. I do think reproductive heteronormativity is a category that permits and lubricates a range of affiliations and alliances in local, national, regional, and international spaces.

    But I also want to envision a broadly conceived reproductive heteronormativity that goes beyond that incarnated as “the couple” in U.S. queer studies. We must push that narrow definition to consider the conceptual labor of all kinds of kinship: blood-linked, fictive, acknowledged, unacknowledged, desired, undesired, desirable, undesirable.

    1. Yes I think her aim is to suggest that RHN is held beyond the coupled subject, in perhaps a similar way to how you identify homophobia as not necessarily held in Ruto’s “belief” as he mines it for political expediency. At a more technical level, she sees the entire structure of RHN as paradoxically differential from the “natural” or originary. This para from “Supplementing Marxism” (Ch8 p191) seems the most provocative, though there is a lot relevant to your interests in the preceding passages:

      “All initiatives of population control or genetic engineering are cruelly unmindful of the dignity of reproductive responsibility. The imperative collective calculus for winning the right to sexual preference and plea- sure, the right to equitable work outside and in the home, and the right to equality in education must be supplemented by the memory that to be human is always and already inserted into a structure of responsibility.
      To distinguish this strictly from heterosexual communitarianism, we must connect with the subaltern presupposition where heterosexual reproduc- tion is a moment in the general normativity of a homosexuality for which the sexual encounter itself is a case of the caress. This originary queer- ness contains and is contained by reproductive heteronormativity (RHN), invaginated by the law of genre. As I have suggested in “Culture: Situating Feminism,” Chapter 5 in this book, today’s metropolitan, gover- mentalized queer couple uses the difference of heteronormativity in an extra-moral sense. There is no continuous logic between this and the
      logic of capital. The double bind between capital/social and that between the two Marxist uses of the “social,” however, are determined by this problematic as well, for everything within the pleasure principle and a little bit beyond is held by RHN.”

      Thanks again for writing my favourite weblog on the internets, always find your posts very helpful for thinking through different but obviously related sites in the Antipodes.

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