October 6, 2005

Prof Talks on 'Queer Biopolitics'

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Jasbir Puar, an assistant professor in the department of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, spoke on “Queer Biopolitics and the Ascendancy of Whiteness” yesterday in Stimson Hall to provide a theory for the way race and sexuality affect U.S. and international politics.

A number of graduate students and faculty attended the lecture. The diversity of their home departments – English, political theory, theatre, and others – reflected the interdisciplinary nature of Puar’s work and her educational background.

Puar’s was the first of a series of lectures sponsored by the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department that “seek to explore the future of queer studies,” said Prof. Amy Villarejo, the director of the department. The series of lectures are also a “concerted effort to talk about race and imperialism,” said Prof. Ellis Hanson, English.

Puar distilled the 90-page introduction of her forthcoming book Queer Biopolitics: Terror and the Ascendancy of Whiteness into yesterday’s lecture.

Puar said her lecture explored the “intersections of sexuality and the war on terror, specifically how some [lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered and questioning individuals] are complicit with nationalist, racist, and orientalist politics of the U.S.”

To ground her theories in reality, Puar compared the role of sodomy in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision and the Abu Gharib prison scandal.

The core of Puar’s lecture, underlying the theory and terms, focused on identity. Puar began her work as a graduate student after four years of travel around the world, where she realized her self-identity changed wherever she traveled. In an interview with The Sun, she said identity is complicated, that it is a localized concept, and that who you are depends on where you are.

She said the ideas of her lecture are important because they “complicate single identity politics” and that organizing and activism on many college campuses focus on only one identity.

9/11 marked a turning point in Puar’s work. She said that feminist conversation about a response to 9/11 caused her to try to articulate politics about the tragedy with a queer response. She said she noticed a big vacuum around sexuality and the war on terror and around gender and the war on terror.

Shirleen Robinson grad explained the idea of the dilemma of identity Puar proposed in her lecture.

She said that if a guy wearing a turban is the victim of a hate crime and it also turns out he’s gay, one must analyze what identity his attackers intended to target. She said his identity can be read in different ways; his Arab identity is associated with terrorists and 9/11, while harems and a mystique of hypersexuality are associated with his sexual identity.

Puar discussed the question of supportive community options a man in this case has. She said the gay white community is less racist than certain immigrant communities are homophobic.

The ideas discussed in this lecture relate to Cornell’s stance on affirmative action and multiculturalism.

“I think there are ways of talking about diversity and inclusiveness that embrace initiatives like open hearts, open minds,” Villarejo said, but added that “a lot of those communities are deeply homophobic” and that we need to “make sure discourse of inclusivity is also offered” to queer African Americans, queer Asian Americans, and queer Latinos.

Archived article by Jessica DiNapoli
Sun Contributor