queeringborders interview series by Xavier de Sousa
14th February 2018
“Our capacity to know is dependent on our capacity to have a home”
In her excellent and hard-hitting article on Epistemic Homelessness, Kinouani explores the dichotomies between being present in a specific place and how alienating it can be to constantly being aware of not belonging to it, specifically as people of colour and various minorities navigate particular societal systems that are not accommodating of their experiences and identities.
Historically, certain Western capitals have become homes for the queer diaspora. New York and its vibrant subcultures of the 80s brought queerness to the mainstream, whilst London and Berlin continue to host queer-led spaces actively positioning themselves on the front line of resistance against hetero-patriarchal normativity and racist gentrification.
You cannot begin to compare the experiences of, for example, the current 3,500 queer Syrian refugees currently residing in Berlin, to the travels of white migrants to London after the EU opened its doors. To do so would be a disservice and indeed an insult to less privileged communities and the study of contemporary colonial discourse. But we can certainly draw parallels or contrasts between processes of adaptation of those migrating to a seemingly queer-friendlier place. Processes of adaptation can be incredibly hard. There are systems in place that prevent you from simply walking into a country without a legal paper. And even before that legal paper is in your hands, you go through bureaucratic and nationalistic processes that constantly remind you that you are other. You are there temporarily or, if you are lucky, as a favour.
Beyond the physical border, you find other, less discussed or acknowledged (or platformed) types of barriers: that of the social and the personal borders. The social border goes hand in hand with the physical border: the ‘legal’ citizens of a certain demographic who believe that you are not a full member of their community, for you were born elsewhere outside of the land they perceive as ‘theirs’. Nationality has deep ramifications on your psyche, nonetheless the exacerbation, branding and commercialisation of a feeling of belonging to a place, and therefore a community. Nationality in a Western civilisation also comes hand in hand with racism: all those who appear to not be white are automatically deemed lesser, second-rate citizens.
And then, the personal borders: that of disassociating with a particular community or identity that you do not feel you belong to; that of inherited walls we build to protect ourselves from harmful influences, or to better – more safely – navigate social encounters or systemic violence.
Queer history goes beyond physical borders and systemic oppression – it lives within us. The emotional and historical inheritance from our queer ancestors can at the same time be oppressive, crippling and empowering. We build on the past victories and defeats of our queer ancestors, who paved the way and suffered consequences for their fights and liberations.
“Whether we recognise it or not, our bodies bring the closet with us into adulthood”. Michael Hobbs
Take, for instance, the disproportionally high levels of loneliness found in men who identify as gay. The gay community has had some success in gaining civil rights in contemporary civilisation, particularly the right to adoption and marriage in certain countries. This, however, has come with a particular type of compromise that is never really balanced: the very notion of ‘marriage’ and its monogamy-standard branding are hetero-normative concepts at their roots which have continuously been used to discriminate against queers.
Queer identity is often a political and radical identity, a form of resistance against what is contemporarily considered the standard – white, male, binary understandings of identity. It is one constantly changing itself and which continuously fights against a specific and final connotation. Home thus, for most minorities, becomes a much broader idea.
It is in the midst of all these concepts and lived experiences, in these continuous journeys, that a whole host of questions come to light:
How friendly are cities to queers, really, beyond small pockets/bubbles of queer-friendly spaces?
What is the influence the process of adaptation has in the shaping of your understanding of belonging?
How much is the identity of the queer diaspora being co-opted by straight-normative liberal culture?
What are the intersections between queerphobia, racism and xenophobia?
What impact does our queerness have in one’s relationship with ourselves and others?
How do we read queerness from different cultural perspectives?
This new queeringborders series proposes to investigate some of these concepts through the prism of performance, art and curatorial concepts. Over the next few months, I will be speaking with artists who identify as both queer and as migrants, and reflect on some of these themes and facts. I am not necessarily interested in how their new show might explore, for instance, the notion of borders. Instead, I would like to focus on how their own personal journeys, what influence that has on their work and making processes, how they navigate different cultural contexts and how their work might be perceived differently depending on where they are presenting it.
And ultimately, I hope this series will be a celebration of queer and migrant identities and experiences, of all kinds and from all backgrounds and art forms. Some conversations will be centered on racial discourse, others will explore emotional capacity, others representation. Because visibility and sensitivity to the experiences of others is important, it is how we build the future. And as the anarchist Greek saying goes:
“We are smashing up the present because we come from the future”