Glocalizing Feminist and Queer Theory?

March 3, 2008

Over the past few weeks, I have been conducting non-stop research for my thesis prospectus and I came across a really interesting article on AIDS Activism and Feminist Theory by Katie King. Although the article does not fall under the purview of my project topic, I felt impelled to draft a brief intervention, namely because I’ve been feeling starved for work on the intersections of feminist and queer theory.

I remember a time at Hamilton College when Chandra Mohanty insisted that AIDS is a feminist issue. She proceeded to advise the class that in order for us, as feminists, to begin to understand the HIV/AIDS pandemic, we must think trasnationally and translocally in the same moment. For Katie King, AIDS activism presents potential shifts in feminist theory. King notes that “feminist as theoretical agents are both accountable to and shaped by these shifts that are radically altering transnational locations of power.” What King refers to as “global gay formations and local homosexualities” and their subsequent connections with HIV/AIDS that presents an apparatus for “the construction of political identities.” These identities are engendered within the postmodern cultural conditions that are currently enveloping our world through commerce and globalization. Yet, within this context, a process of glocalizing is also occurring through the hybridization of sexual identities with local and western sexualities at it core.

In October 2004, I attend a symposium entitled Homosexualities, HIV/AIDS and Hivos in Amsterdam. One of the main purposes of this symposium was to discuss possible strategies for creating new alliances with queer and feminist theorists on addressing HIV/AIDS. On this particular day, no new strategies were created, but certainly new epistemic networks were formed. One possible reason that no strategies were created that day is because within our postmodern cultural conditions, strategies stabilize identities, create new binaries, and in turn are counterproductive. King notes that “in such activist engagements and political realliances, overlapping AIDS activisms [must] challenge the simple binaries and the misleading charges of essentialism that academics use to process, categorize, and taxononomize political identities, struggles, and literatures and to manage political alliances in U.S. feminism. Is King suggesting that we return and rearticulate identity politics? King asserts that the global gay formations and local homosexualities are in fact creating three direct consequences for feminist theory. The first is “a new appreciation for ‘cultural feminism,’ which [she] claims is the proper name for our apparatus for the production of feminist culture: a sometimes essentialist and sometimes anti-essentialist synthesis of identity politics and sex-racial productions of feminist and gay culture.” Many believe that identity politics is a failed political project, but I am not so quick to disregard its accomplishments. The second is the destabilization categories to re-define HIV/AIDS. Is this best accomplished through a return to consciousness-raising groups, cultural analysis, or art theoretical agitprop activism? The third consequence King mentions “comes new visibilities created by such activism…that suggest directions for gay/lesbian/feminist/gender studies in a global gay formations and local homosexualities.” But, would Barbara Kruger’s appropriation art of a hand grasping the words, “I am out therefore I am” translate or transliterate transnationally and translocally?

In order for us as feminists to understand HIV/AIDS as a feminist cause, we must reevaluate several issues. First, we must recall the fundamentals of our struggle. The global gay movement first theorized sexism as the root cause of homophobia. This exhibits a fundamental alliance that can be reestablished between queer and feminist theorists. We must understand the layering of identities, and evaluate whether performative politics of identity are applicable to HIV/AIDS activism. We must, as Mohanty advised, think both transnationally and translocally, while also considering the borderlands. Finally, we must, as Sandoval proposes envision a democratization of oppression to engender an “identity politics…mapping across classes, sexualities, religions, nationalities, and ethnicities.”

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