Plenary Sessions

Plenary I - At the Intersections: Migrancies, Intimacies, Gestures

Nayan Shah, University of California, San Diego
“Queerly Transient. ”  
This presentation will draw from Nayan Shah’s new book, Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality and the Law in the North American West (2011). In exploring an array of intimacies between global migrants Shah illuminates a stunning, transient world of heterogeneous social relations—dignified, collaborative, and illicit. At the same time he demonstrates how the United States and Canada, in collusion with each other, actively sought to exclude and dispossess nonwhite races. Stranger Intimacy reveals the intersections between capitalism, the state’s treatment of immigrants, sexual citizenship, and racism in the first half of the twentieth century.

Roderick Ferguson, University of Minnesota
“Reading ‘Intersectionality’.”  One of the primary objections to intersectional work and to the category “intersectionality” has to do with the category’s presumably unwitting fidelity to discrete ideologies. This paper looks at the ways in which the presumption that intersectionality is destined for discreteness emanates from a notion in which the relationship between the vehicle for meaning (i.e. the signifier) and meaning itself (i.e. the signified) are actually predetermined. In such a conception, the signifier “intersections” must always arrive at the signified meaning of discreteness. Such an understanding of language—as it is applied to the category “intersections” and the work that takes it up—ends up disciplining the meaning of intersectional work, threatening to produce a policing consensus that not only jeopardizes future innovations of the category but potentially assigns past work to the dustbin of history, reading that work as the victim of a univocal commitment to ideologies of discreteness. As an alternative to this conception of language and the category “intersectionality,” this paper theorizes intersections as a signifier whose meaning is never predetermined and thus draws on work that demonstrates the multivocal properties of the category.  The paper ends by arguing for a reading practice that analyzes the varied meanings of particular deployments of intersectionality, citing the category as a “plural text”—to quote Barthes, invoking reading—particularly the reading of intersectional work—as one of the dramatic and difficult trials of a modern existence shaped, to a large degree, by the emergence of women of color and queer of color critical formations.

Juana María Rodríguez, University of California, Berkeley
“Queer Gestures in Mambo Time.”  This paper examines how forms of racialization seep into the pleasures, traumas, fantasies and corporeal experiences that shape us as sexual subjects. It proposes new understandings of how sex is animated discursively and affectively in political projects of social change, as it contemplates the circuits of mobility that make sexual gestures and utterances legible across differently understood communities of belonging. Threading scholarship in performance studies and queer theory through the lens of queer of color critique, I argue for the necessity of investigating embodied sexuality in ways that consider how the material, the ephemeral and the imaginary shape the contours of racialized sexual subjectivity. This work is part of a new book project entitled Sexual Subjects, Queer Gestures.

Eithne Luibhéid, University of Arizona
"(Un)bounding Distinctions Between Citizens and Migrants Through Sexualities and Intimacies."  Queer debates about recognizing same-sex couples for purposes of immigration have become deeply polarized between those who view the issue as urgent, and those who view it as complicitous with neoliberal homonationalism. Bringing scholarship about the social construction of the undocumented immigrant into critical dialogue with queer theory, this paper broadens the debate beyond these polarities to suggest a critical agenda for queer engagement with questions about who gets legal status or not, and why. The paper argues that sexualities and intimacies provide the means to constitute, but also potentially blur, the status distinctions between citizen, legal migrant, and the undocumented. I provide historical examples to illustrate this process; describe recent legal and social changes that have altered how these status distinctions get constituted yet sometimes blurred; and raise questions about possibilities for envisoning queer intimacies and sexualities that further challenge these status distinctions.

Plenary II: In the Archives: Performance, Publics, Punk, Porn

Susan Stryker, University of Arizona
“Cross-Dressing for Empire: Transgender Performance at San Francisco's Bohemian Club, 1870s-1920s.” San Francisco’s elite, all-male Bohemian Club holds a lavish annual gathering at its rural retreat in the redwood forests of Northern California that is attended by some of the world’s most powerful men. Since the late 19th century, that gathering has been the scene of elaborate amateur theatrical productions staged by club members, which involve performances that cross boundaries of gender, race, and class. My talk explores the role these performances played in constructing white heteronormative masculine identities for club members in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I argue that modes of identification and embodiment produced through these club performance were integral to the expansion of an American Pacific empire—an empire largely built and administered by the club’s membership around the turn of the last century.

Joseph Boone, University of Southern California
“Creating a Queer Archive in the Public Eye: The Case of Resad Ekram Kocu’s ‘Ansiklopedesi Istanbul’.” As Orphan Pamuk reports, throughout the nineteen fifties, sixties, and early seventies, the serially released volumes of Kocu’s encyclopedia were a staple in middle-class households, and they were particularly popular with adolescent boys, given their numerous entries on the strange and the marvelous, the adventures of enterprising youths migrating to the city to make their fortune, the colorful presentation, in all its bloody intrigue, of the history of the Sultans, and the plethora of curious facts and eccentric tales filed under innocuous headings. 

What interests me about this never-completed, eleven-volume Herculean endeavor (Kocu never moved past the letter “G”) is the degree to which the encyclopedia’s taxonomic façade allowed Kocu, a discrete homosexual keenly aware of the modernizing forces that were increasingly writing the Ottoman empire’s homoerotic heritage out of official history and public memory, to make his encyclopedia an archive of this disappearing past—even as the encyclopedia “passed” as family-friendly fare. Hence, wedged between serious entries on government officials and neighborhood mosques, the volumes overflow with stories of street youths and their older admirers, roustabouts who become prostitutes, cross-dressing performers, (male) strip-tease artists, body-builders, and nude models. Such racy stories are generously interspersed with equally racy extracts, quoted verbatim, taken from the rich heritage of Ottoman love-poetry and literary texts such as “Book of Bathboys” (an eighteenth century text advising prospective clients which bathboys offered what sexual services, for what fees) and “Book of Beautiful Boys” (also eighteenth-century, detailing the erotic glories of youths across the globe).  

Even more interesting, and the subject of my presentation, is the interface between these entries and the line drawings that copiously illustrate the volume, adding a visual trace to Kocu’s covertly homoerotic enterprise, all taking place in the public eye. Drawn with an appealing “innocent” style that is evocative of Boy’s Life in mid-century America, these illustrations when set in context with each other reveal a surprising visual archive of homoerotic desire: from the numerous illustrations of impossibly beautiful bath attendants, to a fisherman nominated the “beauty” of the Bosphorus, to working youth whose tattered clothing strategically displays their bodies, these visual elements add a covertly homoerotic element that the taxonomic structure of the encyclopedia disguises. Thus, my talk will attempt to shed light on another formation of the queer archive, one perhaps made uniquely possible by Istanbul’s own position as crossing-point of East and West.

José Esteban Muñoz, New York University
“Performing the Punk Rock Commons: Queer Germs.” The great paradox of any punk scene is the ways in which it can simultaneously foster a sort nihilistic individualism and an often-transformational sense of communitas. This presentation is culled from a larger project that considers the performance of a punk rock commons that emerged from the Los Angeles Punk scene of the late 1970’s and early 1980s. In this presentation I want to re-imagine and, to some degree, re-function the history of the early Los Angeles punk rock scene in an effort to better understand what queer negativity might mean. I will propose that we can see the negation that is negativity as something that can be strangely utopian while simultaneously dystopian. It can represent conterminously both innovation and annihilation. I want to talk about the desire, indeed the demand, at the heart of punk, for “something else” that is not this time, this place, with its stultifying limits and impasses. This demand is for a dystopia that functions like the utopian. To that end, this paper’s central presence is the tragically doomed punk icon Darby Crash and his legendary band the Germs. Darby Crash is one in a sequence of queer oddballs and madmen about whom I have been thinking and writing about. His often quoted demand for more, “Gimme gimme this, gimme gimme that” is the semi-articulate demand for a world that is not the world he lived in of California in the late 1970s or Ronald Reagan’s America. This paper will look at documentation of live performances by the band and the ephemera that functions as the band’s queer remains.

Tim Dean, University at Buffalo
“Sam Steward’s Porn Archives.” I will discuss Sam Steward’s work in the context of a recently completed project on pornography and the archive, looking specifically at Steward’s pornography, what counts as pornography, and the history of how porn is preserved, sequestered, destroyed. Using Derrida’s Archive Fever, I will also consider archivization as a process of destruction as well as of preservation.