To conclude the reading for my independent study, I had the pleasure of reading the late José Esteban Muñoz's Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. After encountering the introductory chapter in my coursework and preparation for comprehensive exams, it truly was a treat to peruse the entire text. In Disidentifications, Muñoz theorizes on the survival strategies that minoritarian subjects employ in a majoritarian public sphere. Naming these survival strategies "disidentifications," Muñoz opts to display the ways in which minority subjects deal with dominant ideology. In public spaces, minorities are subject to numerous forms of normalization: citizenship, heterosexuality, whiteness, capitalist pursuit. Muñoz looks specifically at various performances queer people of color enact in order to disidentify with these normalizing institutions. For Muñoz, to disidentify is to neither assimilate within nor completely resist dominant structures. Instead, “disidentification is a strategy that works on and against dominant ideology” (11). This working-on-and-against blurs the resistance/assimilation binary and encourages a strategy that takes seriously antiassimilationist thought while also valuing the ways assimilation may offer strategic and methodological survival tactics.
"At times, resistance needs to be pronounced and direct; on other occasions, queers of color and other minority subjects need to follow a conformist path if they hope to survive a hostile public sphere. But for some, disidentification is a survival strategy that works within and outside the dominance public sphere simultaneously" (5).
At its center, disidentification is a form of worldmaking. Through disidentification, change is enacted within. The disidentifying subject works “to enact permanent structural change while at the same time valuing the importance of local or everyday struggles of resistance” (12). Disidentification imagines a queer world for the future while also staging new political possibilities in the present. This disidentifying method of survival and resistance disrupts linear time. With a coterminous focus on the future and the present, disidentifications simultaneously tears down the values of the majoritarian public and recycles these dominant structures in order to make a new world. This is seen vividly in the text's final chapter on "Latina Performance and Queer Worldmaking; or, Chusmería at the End of the Twentieth Century" where Muñoz spotlights Chicas 2000, a play by Carmelita Tropicana. In this chapter, Muñoz ruminates on "the burden of liveness", an embodiment and temporality that positions the latina performer in a perpetual state of liveness. To "be live" is to be denied history and futurity. To "be live" is to always exist for the consumption of the spectator. Chicas 2000, for Muñoz, maps a future where minority subjects resist the dangerous threats of the majoritarian public sphere by performing the very embodiments that are expected of them by dominant ideologies. For minority subjects, "the burden of liveness" is neither simply a lack of futurity, nor solely a means of performing for elite audiences, but a significant and daring gesture of disidentification.
For me, disidentification resembles a form of infiltration. This infiltration braids ambivalence with contradiction. Permeating the public sphere, queer of color performers do so in a way that is not always unobtrusive. In other words, disidentification reveals the ways in which assimilation is not always passive. In fact, much of Disidentifications elaborates on contradiction, ambivalence, and copresence. In the chapter, ""The White to be Angry": Vaginal Creme Davis's Terrorist Drag", Muñoz articulates Gramsci's "war of positions" in relation to the Marxian "war of maneuvers": "Whereas the war of maneuver was a necessary modality of resistance at a moment when minoritarian groups were directly subjugated within hegemony, the more multilayered and tactical war of positions represents better possibilities of resistance today, when discriminatory ideologies are less naked and more intricate" (114). By advocating for a war of positions, Muñoz argues that a microstructural analysis of oppression must be understood in terms of copresence: "interaction, interlocking understanding and practices, often within radically asymmetrical relations of power" (91). This copresence follows queer of color critique's and intersectionality's suturing of identities and structures. Each frame of analysis offers a way to conceptualize the inextricability of identity differentials. Copresence, however, also works to sustain a critical uneasiness with present modalities, and most importantly, a desire for that critical uneasiness.
Disidentifications was a wonderful way to conclude my queer of color critique directed reading. As I transition to writing my final paper I'll pay close attention to Muñoz's articulation of hybridity in his chapter "The Autoethnographic Performance: Reading Richard Fung's Queer Hybridity":
"To perform queerness is to constantly disidentify, to constantly find oneself thriving on sites where meaning does not properly "line up". This is equally true of hybridity, another modality where meaning or identifications do not properly line up. The postcolonial hybrid is a subject whose identity practices are structured around an ambivalent relationship to the signs of empire and the signs of the "native," a subject who occupies a space between the West and the rest" (78).