Queer Politics’ Emergence

“Through its conception of a wide continuum of sexual possibilities, queer theory stands in direct contrast to the normalizing tendencies of hegemonic sexuality rooted in ideas of static, stable sexual identities and behaviors. In queer theorizing the sexual subject is understood to be constructed and contained by multiple practices of categorization and regulation that systematically marginalize and oppress those subjects thereby defined as deviant and “other.” And, at its best, queer theory focuses on and makes central not only the socially constructed nature of sexuality and sexual categories, but also the varying degrees and multiple sites of power distributed within all categories of sexuality, including the normative category of heterosexuality.”

– Cathy J. Cohen, Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens


“Meanwhile a debate emerged over the use of gender as a category of historical analysis. At stake were epistemological and political aspects of the linguistic turn and the implications of post-structuralism for studying history. Consider an exchange in the journal International Labor and Working-Class History between Stansell and Joan Wallach Scott in 1987. Earlier, challenging accounts of French history that gave no place to women, sex, or the household, Scott, too, had written in the vein of labor history. But her work turned in new directions, marked by the appearance of “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” in the American Historical Review (1986), an essay calling for a transformation of history writing that would reveal how the construction of sex difference has infused the organization of power and the ordering of all social relations.”

– Amy Dru Stanley, Histories of Capitalism and Sex Difference


Visibility with Black Queer Intellectuals


“Queer politics, represented most notoriously in the actions of Queer Nation, is understood as an “in your face” politics of a young generation. Through action and analysis of these individuals seek to make “queer” function as more than just an abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered. Similar to queer theory, the queer politics articulated and pursed by these activists first and foremost recognizes and encourages the fluidity and movement of people’s sexual lives. In queer politics sexual expression is something that always entails the possibility of change, movement, redefinition, and subversive performance – from year to year, from partner to partner, from day to day, even from act to act. In addition to highlighting the instability of sexual categories and sexual subjects, queer activists also directly challenge the multiple practices and vehicles of power which render them invisible and at risk. However, what seems to make queer activists unique, at this particular moment, is their willingness to confront normalizing power by emphasizing and exaggerating their own anti-normative characteristics and non-stable behavior.”

– Cathy J. Cohen, Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens

Moonlight and Black Masculinity


“It cannot be taken lightly that white men are in control of the record industry as a whole (even with a few Black entrepreneurs), and control what images get played. […] So performance of Black masculinity (or Black sexuality as a whole) is created by white men for white men. And since white men have always portrayed Black men as sexually dangerous and Black women as always sexually available (and sexual violence against Black women is rarely taken seriously), simplistic representations of Black sexuality as hyper-heterosexual are important to maintaining white supremacy and patriarchy, and control of Black bodies. Black people are merely the unfortunate middlemen in an exchange between white men. We do, however, consume the representations like the rest of America. And the more that Black people are willing to accept these representations as fact rather than racist fiction, the more heightened homophobia in our communities tend to be.”

– Kenyon Farrow, Is Gay Marriage Anti-Black?

“It Is Important To Resist The Violence That Is Imposed By Ideal Gender Norms”


“When tasked with studying the relentless horizon of the Atlantic crossing, scholars and artists across the disciplines have turned to the unknowability of the Middle Passage as its most evocative metaphor. The spaces becomes, then, a womb of sorts, a place from which the African diaspora originated. With only a wide swath of ocean as reference, the inability to chart with certainty the passage of time and the location in space of the cross-Atlantic passage situates a history of the black Atlantic as already fraught, rendered impossible in the absence of landmarks or sights from which one might obtain bearings. For poet Derek Walcott, the sea destroys the evidence of the past, drowning the hideous violence of the Middle Passage – its “shit and moaning” – as “the ocean kept turning blank pages looking for History.” History only comes later with the stirrings of the Nation. Before that, there is nothing but the impossible violence of the Middle Passage and all that it wrought. In Beginning, the first section of her explication of the Amistad revolt, poet Elizabeth Alexander writes of the “Afters”: thirteen of the sixteen poetic lines of the section begin with the word “After.” “After the roiling Atlantic, the black Atlantic, black and mucilaginous” and “After the sight of no land and the zig zag course” and “After two daughters sold to pay off a father’s debt.” In “The Middle Passage,” Robert Hayden too describes this impossible space – this “voyage through death to life upon these shores.”

– Jennifer L. Morgan, “Accounting for “The Most Excruciating Torment”: Gender, Slavery, and the Trans-Atlantic Passages

How the Middle Passage’s History Overflows into Atlantic and Caribbean Presents

“Her sweet voice sang through the waves:

Hubo un lugar donde los dos desaparecieron

Donde susurraban los secretos de su deseo

Se miraban a través de la oscuridad

Se admiraban y en silencio se decían:

Amor te quiero

Sabes que te deseo

Amor nos iremos de aquí un día

La pesadilla que nos ata desaparecerá

La Mar told her of a place where two people lay with irons on their ankles. They gazed at each other across the darkness, despite the darkness, and their eyes shone like the stars. In the unending blackness that covered them, that suffocated them, they spoke: “Amor, I long for your kisses, your arms around me, along my hips. Amor, I love you.” All this they whispered without moving their lips, in languages that escaped the trappings of sound.”

– Ana-Maurine Lara, Erzulie’s Skirt (From Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley’s Black Atlantic, Queer Atlantic)

The Atlantic – A Site of Painful Fluidities for many Africans

“The Atlantic is today the Atlantic (the navel of capitalism) because Europe, in its mercantilist laboratory, conceived of the project of inseminating the Caribbean womb with the blood of Africa; the Atlantic is today the Atlantic…because it is the painfully delivered child of the Caribbean, whose vagina was stretched between continental clamps… After the blood and salt water spurts, quickly sew up torn flesh and apply the antiseptic tinctures, the gauze and surgical plaster; then the febrile wait through the forming of a scar: suppurating, always suppurating.”

– Antonio Benítez-Rojo (From Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley’s Black Atlantic, Queer Atlantic)

Submerged Histories of the Middle Passage

I, and my lesbian sisters and gay brothers…are not a new fashion… We return to the sea and the shores and once upon a time, which transposes into this time, which it always was…the past simultaneously forever embedded in the present, in the pain and inevitable horrors confronted by conscientious unblinking memory, in the tragedies and occasional triumphs of history always raveled by so much needless suffering, by the unbearable human misery we must not, for our collective sakes and the continued growth of this body we call “humanity,” ever be denied.”

– Thomas Glave, Words to Our Now: Imagination and Dissent (From Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley’s Black Atlantic, Queer Atlantic)


“Oceans and seas are important sites for differently situated people. Indigenous Peoples, fisherpeople, seafarers, sailors, tourists, workers, and athletes. Oceans and seas are sites of inequality and exploitation – resource extraction, pollution, militarization, atomic testing, and genocide. At the same time, oceans and seas are sites of beauty and pleasure – solitude, sensuality, desire, and resistance. Oceanic and maritime realms are also spaces of transnational and diasporic communities, heterogeneous trajectories of globalizations, and other racial, gender, class, and sexual formations.”

– Kale Farjardo (From Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley’s Black Atlantic, Queer Atlantic)


“Conceptualizing the complex possibilities and power dynamics of the maritime, Farjado posits the necessity of thinking through transoceanic crosscurrents. These are theoretical and ethnographic borderlands at sea, where elements or currents of historical, conceptual, and embodied maritime experience come together to transform racialized, gendered, classed, and sexualized selves. The queer black Atlantic I discuss here navigates these crosscurrents as it brings together enslaved and African, brutality and desire, genocide and resistance. Here, fluidity is not an easy metaphor for queer and racially hybrid identities but for concrete, painful, and liberatory experience. It is the kind of queer of color space that Roderick Ferguson calls for Aberrations in Black, one that reflects the materiality of black queer experience while refusing its transparency.”

– Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley, Black Atlantic, Queer Atlantic

The Black Atlantic

“Ships were the living means by which the points within that Atlantic world were joined. They were mobile elements that stood for the shifting spaces in between the fixed places that they connected… For all these reasons, the ship is the first of the novel chronotypes presupposed by my attempts to rethink modernity versus the history of the black Atlantic.”

– Paul Gilroy (From Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley’s Black Atlantic, Queer Atlantic)


“If the black queer Atlantic brings together such long-flowing history, why is black queer studies situated as a dazzlingly new “discovery” in academia – a hybrid, mermaidlike imagination that has yet to find its land legs? In the last five years, black queer and queer of color critques have navigated innovative directions in African diaspora studies as scholars like Ferguson and E. Patrick Johnson push the discipline to map intersections between racialized and sexualized bodies. Unfortunately, Eurocentric queer theorists and heterocentric race theorists have engaged their discourses of resistant black queerness as a new fashion – a glitzy, postmodern invention borrowed and adapted from Euro-American queer theory. In contrast, as interventions like the New-York Historical Society’s exhibit Slavery in New York demonstrate, the Middle Passage and slave experience continue to be evoked as authentic originary sites of African diaspora identities and discourses. This stark split between the “newest” and “oldest” sites of blackness reflects larger political trends that polarize queer versus diasporic and immigrant issues by moralizing and domesticating sexuality as an undermining of tradition, on the one hand, while racializing and publicizing global southern diasporas as threats to the integrity of a nation of (fictively) European immigrants, on the other. My discussion here proposes to intervene in this polarization by bridging imaginations of the “choice” of black queerness and the forced migration of the Middle Passage. What would it mean for both queer and African diaspora studies to take seriously the possibility that, as forcefully as the Atlantic and Caribbean flow together, so too do the turbulent fluidities of blackness and queerness? What new geography – or as Fajardo proposes, oceanography – of sexual, gendered, transnational, and racial identities might emerge through reading for black queer history and theory in the traumatic dislocation of the Middle Passage.”

– Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley, Black Atlantic, Queer Atlantic

The Different Sum of Her Parts

“Indirect references to gender and gendered violence on the Middle Passage are often all that are left in the historical archive of slavery. When discussing the fear of rebellion off the coast of Whydah, a slave ship captain wrote: “To avoid a similar incident, we put the largest part of our Negroes in irons, and even among the Negresses those who appeared to us the most resolute and the most dangerous […] although because of their beauty they were very dear to the chief officers and sailors who had each given their names to chosen ones, there was nothing left to do but put them in chains. Here the archival evidence lays bare the claim that slaveowners and slave traders were so caught in the blinding glare of racial capitalism that the simple humanity of captives was in some fundamental way unthinkable to them. We see that the absence of gender or age designations on a slave trader’s manifest was an act of disregard not uniformly applied: slaver traders articulated a deeply vexed recognition of captives’ personhood through repetitive acts of sexual violence. The degree to which the captain’s resignation demarcated a host of outrages reflects the extent to which the discursive realm in which he traveled both firmly and finally situated these women by the turn of the seventeenth century. The offhand tones of this captain is sometimes replaced with outrage when he discusses the propensity of captives to rebel, but he reserves no outrage for the behavior of the crew towards captive women; and thus the ubiquity of rape persisted regardless of his or any other captains’ feelings about it. For captive women, the terms of their enslavement were always meted out both on and in their bodies. For those held captive on board with Cugoano, the future possibilities were so bleak once the ship left the coast that they planned to set fire to the ship, preferring a mass suicide – to include the children on board – to whatever lay ahead. But for one of these women, the anguish of repeated sexual violation was preferable to being engulfed in flames; she betrayed the plan. Her calculations added up to a different sum.”

– Jennifer L. Morgan, “Accounting for “The Most Excruciating Torment”: Gender, Slavery, and the Trans-Atlantic Passages

Here is an article that discusses how genderqueer identities threatens patriarchy and how “normality” is maintained in a patriarchal society: 


Sexual orientation and gender identity play a large role in the social stratification structure of the United States. Because we operate under a system of patriarchy, typical gender roles are expected to be kept firmly in place to continue male dominance. Homosexuals, bisexuals, and people who do not fit the gender norm, i.e. transgender and bigender people, upset the dominance of patriarchy. Therefore, from birth we are taught that we are either male or female and must look and act in masculine or feminine ways. We are also taught, both explicitly and through subtle socialization, that the natural, normal and expected sexual orientation is heterosexual. Upholding these expectations perpetuates heterosexual privilege, and, ultimately, male dominance.

To deconstruct the ties between sexual orientation, gender norms and male dominance, let us first examine what patriarchy is. Patriarchy is a social structure in which men have and maintain the dominant power. This means that men, overall, have the highest-paying and most powerful decision-making jobs. They make most of the governmental and business decisions within the country. They have significantly more representation than do women in the most powerful and prestigious social institutions: government, business, law, medicine (as doctors and surgeons), and higher education. (Johnson, 2006; 28) There is an institutional wage inequality between men and women, with women making about 70% of men’s wages on average for the same work. A by-product of this structure is that women are often relegated to being stay-at-home wives and mothers, or working in fields which make less money and have lower social status, such as childcare, elementary school teaching, or secretarial work. (Johnson, 2006; 49) But patriarchy goes beyond what kinds of jobs people have. A male-dominated society also means that men feel they have power or authority over women in personal situations as well as the workplace. This can feed into many disadvantages for women, from rape culture in which sexual violence is considered the right of men and/or the fault of women, to men dominating conversations because they have been socialized to believe that what they have to say is more valuable than anything a woman could contribute. (Johnson, 2006; 28)

So, how do gender identity and sexual orientation play into all of this? Typical gender roles are an essential aspect of maintaining the status quo as it is. Because males are the ones with the power in society, masculinity is defined as being physically strong, authoritative, competitive, emotionally distant, and independent. Femininity, on the other hand, is associated with being physically attractive, physically weak, demure, subservient, emotional, nurturing, and dependent. These roles are essential for upholding patriarchy. So our gender roles are taught to us from birth. Social standards say that sex and gender always must match up: people with male anatomy must be male in gender identity and gender role, and people with female anatomy must be female in gender identity and gender role. (Wolf, 2008) Being male and being female is so much more than whether a person has testicles or ovaries. Our expectations are narrowly defined, from what type of clothes we should wear to whether we should be a Senator or a stay-at-home parent.

However, gender identity is not as directly related to anatomical sex as society would like us to believe. The term “genderqueer” can be used as a blanket term for those who do not fit the male-female gender binary. Transgender people typically identify themselves as the opposite gender to which their sex indicates. There are also a range of other gender possibilities, including bigender, agender, and genderfluid. Bigender people feel that they are two separate genders, and can often switch between both. Agender people do not identify with a certain gender or feel they are gender-neutral. Genderfluid people feel that they can move across the gender spectrum. (Beemyn, 2008) Genderqueer individuals include but are not limited to all of the above categories. All of these are valid ways of being, but they are not accepted or encouraged in the United States. Being either male or female both anatomically and in terms of gender identity is the only acceptable or “normal” option.

Beyond genderqueer individuals, some people simply do not fulfill their gender expectations. It is entirely possible to identify fully as one’s anatomical sex and still not comply with the gender norm. For example, a woman is born with female anatomy and she considers herself a female. However, she prefers to wear men’s clothing, has a short haircut, and is a construction worker. She does not identify herself as being male, but because her appearance preferences and occupation are associated with men, she is not seen to measure up as a “real woman.” There are negative sanctions for not complying with gender standards. These can range from social exclusion to hate crimes. The punishments are more severe for anatomical males who violate the gender norm. Anatomical males who do not identify as men, or who do identify as men but prefer “feminine” styles of dress or personal interests, are considered a threat to masculinity and therefore to male dominance.

One of the most common assumptions about gender identity and sexual orientation is that those who do not comply with gender norms are homosexual. (Wolf, 2008) A man who likes to wear pink and purple clothing and is interested in interior design or fashion, for example, is assumed to be gay. However, that he likes fashion and wears pink tells us nothing about who is attracted to. These assumptions play off of stereotypes about LGBTQ people and cater to homophobia in creating an “us” and “them” distinction which is supposed to be clearly recognizable. The view of sexual orientation in the United States is that everyone is heterosexual unless they explicitly state otherwise, or unless they use “coding” such as style of dress. This assumption is a product both of heterosexism and heteronormativity. Heterosexism is the institutional and ideological domination of heterosexuality as a fundamental element of the structure of patriarchy (Wolf, 2008). Heterosexism is the basis for discrimination against LGBTQ people and the privileges enjoyed by heterosexuals. Heteronormativity, similarly, is the pervasive cultural norm of heterosexuality as the natural and normal sexual orientation, and its promotion in all forms of social institutions and media.

Heterosexism is part of the system of patriarchy. In a heterosexist society, it is assumed that the natural order of things is for men and women to be together in romantic, sexual and marital relationships. Anything other than male-female relationships is considered unnatural and immoral. This maintains patriarchy by keeping men and women in their prescribed gender roles. Homosexuality and same-sex relationships disrupt the hierarchy of the genders by breaking down traditional gender roles. In a same-sex relationship, there is not the patriarchal element of a man having authority over and possession of a woman. This is not to say, of course, that every heterosexual relationship follows a typical gender role pattern or that every homosexual relationship does not. It is simply to say that the mere concept of same-sex relationships threatens the basis of patriarchy because the gender roles necessary for the dominance of men to continue are disrupted. If we become more open to different types of relationships, we will see more possibilities for men, women, and genderqueer people than the heterosexist model which we have been taught. This is a threat to patriarchy, and so those who step outside the gender and sexual orientation norm are deemed unnatural and immoral. Heterosexism forces us to believe that it is only natural and normal to be heterosexual, which in turn forces the belief that male dominance is only natural and normal.

Heterosexism can manifest itself in many ways. One major way that heterosexism operates in US society is with the denial of various rights and protections for LGBTQ people under law. Because same-sex couples cannot be married under federal law, they miss out on many rights and privileges which are afforded to heterosexual married couples, even if they are legally married in their state, due to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). There are 1,138 benefits, rights and protections provided on the basis of marital status, and because DOMA restricts federal recognition of marriage to opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples are denied all of these. Such rights and privileges include social security benefits, tax benefits, and immigration procedures which are limited to married opposite-sex couples. (Human Rights Campaign) Until 2011, the United States military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy prohibited gay, lesbian, and bisexual military members from being open about their sexual orientation, or else they would be discharged from the military. Until 2013, the Violence Against Women Act did not extend protections to lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women. Gay and lesbian couples are discriminated against for housing. People can be legally fired for their sexual orientation in 29 states, and for being transgender in 34. (Margolin, 2013) Revealing one’s sexual orientation in the workplace can lead to discrimination and harassment. In social settings, not being heterosexual can result in anything from inappropriate questions and comments, to exclusion, to verbal or physical harassment and assault. In addition, because heterosexuality is the pervasive cultural norm, LGBTQ people do not have adequate or proportionate representation in government, business, or the media.

All of these factors contribute to a heterosexist and sexist society. We cannot separate heterosexism from sexism; they are deeply intertwined. The continuation of patriarchy depends on the continuation of heterosexist ideals, and vice versa. It is typical in the United States for the oppression of various groups to be compartmentalized and marginalized. This is to say, first, that issues of oppression for one group are seen as separate from issues of all groups; and second, that the oppression of non-dominant groups is made to seem like a coincidental collection of trivial, individual issues rather than deliberate institutional inequalities. An understanding of heterosexism and gender norms as an essential element of patriarchy requires an understanding of intersectionality within social stratification. This means that the issues of all groups interact with one another, leading to varying degrees of privilege and oppression for different group members and perpetuating all systems of inequality. We cannot separate the issues of LGBTQ people from the issues of women, nor the issues of people of color from those of LGBTQ people, nor the issues of any non-dominant group from the issues of human beings as a whole. To separate people into groups and deem them important, normal, and deserving of rights or unimportant, abnormal, and not deserving of rights hurts not only the people in the latter groups but society as a whole. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (King, 1963)


Beemyn, Brett Genny (2005). Genderqueer. glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture.

Retrieved from: An Overview of Federal Rights and Protections Granted to Married Couples. Human Rights Campaign.

Retrieved from:

Johnson, Allan G. (2006) Privilege, Power, and Difference: Second Edition. McGraw-Hill: New York.

King, Martin Luther Jr. (1963) Letter from Birmingham Jail.

Margolin, Emma (2013). The Fight for ENDA: Think You Can’t Be Fired For Being Gay? Think Again. MSNBC.

Retrieved from:

Wolf, S. Rowan (2008). Dialectic of Social Inequality.

*This article was written by Rowan Wolf on 05/26/13 for the website CJ Journal. All rights reserved.