LG(BTI?) identities as a human right have been universalized. This project is being carried out by a coalition of gay rights organizations that Joseph Massad explores in his book Desiring Arabs, called the “Gay International”. Modeling itself after the liberal feminist movement, the Gay International apparatus is championed by White Western men that perform their homosexuality along heteronormative lines in order to gain conditional acceptance of their queerness as citizens in a capitalist and patriarchal State. Jasbir Puar calls this process “homonationalism” in her book Terrorist Assemblages; it is the way by which the West discusses homosexuality in a hetero/homo binary, and codifies LG(BTI?) identities with neoliberal values, including support for free-market capitalism, liberal individualism, White Supremacy, and imperialism abroad. While harming marginalized queers in the West, especially trans women and men, queers of color, and those with HIV/AIDS, homonationalism has proven particularly harmful to queers in postcolonial and non-Western nation-states.
The use of LG(BTI?) is to signify the uncertainty of whether or not the West, or specifically the United States, has determined a way to locate bisexual, trans, and intersex identities in the homonationalist/neoliberal framework. How do these identities function in a homo/hetero binary? How can these identities be performed according to heteronormative standards? These are the questions the State has not answered.
In The History of Sexuality, Foucault wrote that sexuality is a product of mid-17th century Europe. A time when sexual practices and gender expressions were arbitrarily constructed into categorized identities and placed into “sexual regimes” of knowledge and truth. John D’Emilio argued in Capitalism and Gay Identity, “that gay men and lesbians have not always existed. Instead, they are a product of history and have come into existence in a specific historical era. Their emergence is associated with the relations of capitalism; it has been the historical development of capitalism – more specifically, its free labor system – that has allowed large numbers of men and women in the twentieth century to call themselves gay.” Not only have gay men and lesbians “not always existed” but also what it means to be gay or lesbian is still being produced today. Homonationalism is the production of these identities by the West in order to conditionally accept homosexuals into the State as full citizens who do not challenge power configurations or demand collective rights.
The State prefers queers demand individual rights like gay marriage which profit can be derived from rather than collective rights like addressing homelessness among queer youth or increasing medical care for those with HIV/AIDS. It is no different from the State preferring liberal feminists demand petty individual rights like the right to vote rather than collective rights like addressing the wage gap between genders that directly challenge the patriarchy.
D’Emilio’s argument on capitalism and the free labor system in regards to gay and lesbian identification is important. He argues that the individualist nature of capitalism, and the subsequent breaking down of the family economy, led to not only a rise in homosexual activity but also the space required to form a community around those behaviors; what resulted was the construction of gay and lesbian identities. In the capitalist system, the accumulation of capital is the only way for minorities to gain rights. It is for this reason that White males, privileged by their race and gender, are leading the Gay International. By benefiting most from homonationalism, gay White men (and increasingly White lesbian women) are more and more willing to conform their sexual identities by performing their sexuality according to the heteronormative and neoliberal standards that homonationalism demands.
The West uses homonationalist discourse to paint itself in opposition to whomever it seeks to essentialize as politically, culturally, and morally inferior. The process is similar to that outlined in Edward Saïd’s Orientalism, in which the West Otherizes Arabs and other peoples of Southwest Asia and North Africa in the pursuit of power and maintenance of dominant discourse. Said argued, “imperialism is the export of identity.” The Western gay rights movement, therefore, is an agent of imperialism in service of the neoliberal State as they function to export the “homosexual” identities the West seeks to universalize. The export of these identities into postcolonial and non-Western nation states has been met with much resistance and a stark increase in “homophobia”.
It is not the same sex acts or gender expressions that are foreign or inventions of imperialist intent, but rather those that are performed in a Western framework of sexuality. As Jack Chapman notes, “if people engaging in homosexual activity in Uganda had not been compelled to label themselves as ‘gay’ by the distinctions that Ugandan society (and most modern societies) require, their activities would not have been subject to the scrutiny of public opinion or the law.” Chapman is unraveling the idea of “colonial hangover”. He is arguing that the colonization of Uganda by Britain did not simply result in the importation of prejudice against homosexual activity by way of Christian missionaries, but an entire sexual regime from Europe; a discourse that argues, “sexuality is a fixed, inherent biological feature of a persons composition and that humanity can be bracketed into a hetero/homo binary”.
In this post I have tried to briefly outline the development of sexuality and “gay” and “lesbian” identities in Western Europe and the United States, and how they have been codified with neoliberal values and performed along heteronormative standards. In a personal testament, I was not “born gay”. I was raised in a society in which exclusive sexual attraction to men has been categorized in the Euro-American sexual regime as “gay”, and that identity carries with it significant pressures to perform that sexual identity in a very specific way. With that said, when we claim these sexual identities that have not always existed, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and so on, our understandings of our sexual desires and emotional feelings are often censored, resisted, and closed-off, and thus affect the entirety of our emotional and intellectual self. Considering the problematic nature of such identities in Western Europe and the United States, the societies in which they developed, I argue that “universalizing” these identities and lived experiences and exporting them outside of the United States and Western Europe will be met with justified resistance. I have attempted to contextualize this resistance/homophobia as due to postcolonial amnesia and a reaction to modernity, without apologizing for it. I argue that the work of the Gay International, but also Christian missionaries, often working in the service and interests of Western states or on behalf of them without realizing it, only problematizes the nature of these identities further.