Last Friday April 22, I presented a paper titled "The Glorification of Mixed-Race as Reparations | M!xedness Beyond Repair" at the DC Queer Studies Symposium. The theme of this year's symposium was Queer Beyond Repair. I juxtaposed Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha's memoir Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home with the case of Daniel Holtzclaw in order to explore counterdiscourses of mixedness in general, and mixed-Asianness in particular. Much of the conversation on mixed-race identity formation and embodiment regards multiraciality as an indication of a post-racial contemporary moment; the acceptance and proliferation of mixed-race bodies is seen to be on the right side of history. Within this train of thought, mixedness serves as a reparative tool that positions the nation as a progressive entity. In writing this conference paper I read the phrase “beyond repair” as a call and demand to situate our questions of queerness, difference, and recovery alongside a critical mixed race perspective that both complicates dominant processes of racialization and emphasizes the mutability of race. How can mixed-race be employed to do things other than repair histories of slavery and exclusion, to indicate something other than a hybrid future?
I concluded my talk with a musing on m!xedness. Rather than perpetuate narratives of repair, my use of m!xedness with an exclamation served as an exclamation: a sudden reaction, remark, and demand that racial mixture does so much more than signal progress.
I'm blogging this morning with another exclamation. It's been more than a week after the symposium, and I'm still thinking about conversations on repair. What is beyond repair? How might we consider queer critique beyond repair? The symposium featured an amazing slate of panels. I find my thoughts of the day, however, hinged on the keynote address delivered by Kathryn Bond Stockton.
Queer critique needs repair!
I'm posting the open letter to Stockton in full here:
On Friday April 22, you closed the 9th Annual DC Queer Studies symposium with a keynote titled, “Impure Thoughts and All They Birth: What Does the Dildo of the Future Look Like?”. After a long day, the four of us (one black queer woman, two mixed-race queer women, and one white queer woman) were excited to listen to your talk. As we sat down and your talk progressed, a flood of emotions overtook our bodies: confusion, anxiety, disgust, anger. We began shifting in our seats, looking around, fidgeting. These corporeal movements transformed into visceral responses: a churning stomach, nausea, an accelerated heartbeat. Our bodies were under attack.
While most of your talk was unsettling, we would like to focus on our larger concerns:
- Penetration: Throughout the talk, you used “penetration” as a central metaphor - equating teaching as penetrating and learning as receiving. What violence occurs when you fail to contextualize and historicize sex (penetration, barebacking, dildo-ed/ing, receiving, kissing, orgasm) as a metaphor? We live in a rape culture in which sexual violence goes unseen and unacknowledged. You asked, “Did you feel that? I just penetrated you,” which conveys that this penetration was an unexpected violence. Your use of penetration without communicating consent perpetuates rape culture. How does a queer white body that can be read as masculine continue to perpetuate white heteronormative masculinity? Or, how does a queer white female body make invisible sexual violence within queer communities?
- Race: The teaching and circulating of stereotypical characterizations of Eldridge Cleaver privileges white students and renders students of color, and the trauma their bodies carry, as invalid. While you claim “historicizing doesn’t fit the way we read,” what violence occurs when you don’t contextualize and historicize a complicated figure such as Cleaver? As problematic as Cleaver is, exhibiting him and his “codpiece” pants serves as more than just a punchline in your keynote address but continues to perpetuate the fetishization of the Black body.
- You justified usage of, and risk the reification of, these over-simplified archetypes through pedagogical commitments, arguing that Cleaver’s work is demonstrative of the ways that “we are all infected with racial cartoon,” which students need to recognize, and by declaring this exercise as an “equal opportunity offense.” However, the operating assumption at work here is that your students are equally unaware of “racial cartoon,” thereby presuming a white student as subject – presuming your students are sheltered by whiteness, allowing them the privilege to not see themselves in racialized terms. Further, in suggesting that these generalizations function as “equal opportunity offense,” you refuse and obfuscate a historicization of the explicitly racialized, sexualized nature of these representational tropes, which disproportionately influence depictions and popular understandings of Black women and men. Given the way these images and characterizations have populated our collective national imaginary throughout history, and still haunt depictions of blackness today, these tropes are anything but “equal opportunity offense.” It is epistemically violent to presume that “stereotypes” about white people are weighted, circulated, and concretized in the same ways as are stereotypes about Black people. How might our theories be compromised when we don’t acknowledge our positions of power? How does a queer white body simultaneously silence and speak for racialized bodies?
- Trickle-out theory: We understood your notion of trickle-out theory as an attempt to disrupt the hierarchical dispersion of knowledge: “trickle-out theory vs. trickle-down economics” as you distinguish. By positioning academics as “repair queers,” you center the academy and decenter those “at the dinner table.” Your notion of “succinct complexity”, the ability to translate theory at the dinner table, mirrors code-switching, the practice marginalized students employ in order to communicate their academic endeavors to those who have been historically disenfranchised. You proffered the concept of “swiss-cheese” minds; not everything we learn will remain and this is okay. You claim students no longer need to articulate rigorous theoretical language. What is disconcerting is the lack of recognition that this rigorous theoretical aerobics has historically been and continues to be a key mechanism used to deny marginalized persons access to the academy. How is the queer white academic body exempt from the standards placed upon academics of color?
Ultimately, we are writing this letter because we cannot let this violation of our bodies, knowledges, and experiences remain invisible. Your keynote was a visceral reminder of not only (white) queer theory’s limits but also that the Academy is in need of desperate repair. You asked us if we felt you “penetrate” us and we can guarantee that we did and continue to feel this violation. In fact, your non-consensual “penetration” birthed this letter.