Queer Mon­ger­ing

THE MYS­TE­RI­OUS RISE OF THE GAY RIGHT WING

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Quinn Lazenby Fea­tures Writer

con­tent warn­ing: ho­mo­pho­bic slurs, na­tion­al­ism, xeno­pho­bia

What does a burly red­neck Repub­li­can have in com­mon with a flam­boy­ant gay man? The an­swer, say some, is a shared po­lit­i­cal vi­sion. A per­plex­ing trend has emerged across the West­ern world, where gay vot­ers are sup­port­ing ul­tra-con­ser­va­tive move­ments. In the last two years alone, Gays for Trump mo­bi­lized in Amer­ica, Ger­many’s AFD cham­pi­oned a les­bian politi­cian, Alice Wei­del, as its leader, and Marine Le Pen wielded the largest gay con­stituency of any party in the 2017 French elec­tions. But why are gay men ral­ly­ing for par­ties known for be­ing anti-gay? What could pos­si­bly at­tract ho­mos to­wards white na­tion­al­ism? It’s a phe­nom­e­non that Jas­bir Puar has dubbed “homona­tion­al­ism.”

Ul­ti­mately, homona­tion­al­ism is about us­ing queer is­sues as a façade to jus­tify racism and West­ern supremacy. For in­stance, af­ter the 2016 at­tack at Pulse night­club in Or­lando, Pres­i­dent Trump framed his anti-mus­lim rhetoric as a homona­tion­al­ist de­fence of vul­ner­a­ble queers. By pinkwash­ing* his xeno­pho­bia, Trump’s racism was re­branded with a rain­bow ve­neer. Of course, politi­cians like Trump are not gen­uinely con­cerned about the LGBTQ+ com­mu­nity, but rather are at­tempt­ing to san­i­tize na­tion­al­ism for the 21st cen­tury. J. Lester Feder de­scribes homona­tion­al­ism as “racism dressed up in lib­eral drag, help­ing make na­tion­al­ism re­spectable again in the West.”

Trump snatched the strat­egy of pop­ulist pink pro­pa­ganda from his Euro­pean coun­ter­parts, who have been brew­ing homona­tion­al­ism for more than two decades. In fact, the first politi­cian to forge an al­liance between the gay com­mu­nity and the far right was Dutch provo­ca­teur Pim For­tuyn. Be­fore his sen­sa­tion­al­ized as­sas­si­na­tion in 2002, For­tuyn grabbed head­lines for his bla­tant racism and crass sex­u­al­ity. His shock­ing tac­tics, such as de­scrib­ing the taste of se­men in a tele­vised in­ter­view and de­fend­ing his poli­cies with quips like “I’m not racist. I have friends in all the colours of the rain­bow… I sleep with them,” laid the foun­da­tion for the weaponiza­tion of queer­ness in ul­tra­con­ser­va­tive pol­i­tics.

— Arwa Mah­dawi One might as­sume that only as­sim­i­lated, mas­cu­line gay men would find ac­cep­tance within the chest-thump­ing, ri­fle-tot­ing ma­cho cul­ture of the Right. You’d ex­pect that the queer­est of queers would be shunted from white su­prem­a­cist ral­lies. Oddly, how­ever, For­tuyn’s flam­boy­ant, hy­per­sex­ual char­ac­ter served as a per­fect tool, and foil, for the anti-im­mi­grant agenda. A stream of con­tro­ver­sial quotes proved to be the per­fect fod­der for head­lines, soon spark­ing sup­port for For­tuyn’s out­ra­geously “hon­est” and charis­matic per­sona. For­tuyn’s spin- doc­tor, Kay van de Linde, re­marked, “peo­ple felt, ‘if he’s that hon­est about his sex life — some­thing I would never have the guts to dis­cuss on tele­vi­sion — he’s got to be hon­est about the other stuff too.’” Within the Dutch po­lit­i­cal arena, For­tuyn’s Is­lam­o­pho­bia was per­fectly tai­lored for a coun­try that prides it­self on its sex­ual pro­gres­sive­ness. His brazen sex­u­al­ity en­cour­aged sup­port­ers to feel pro­gres­sive whilst ral­ly­ing to ban Mus­lim im­mi­gra­tion. Fur­ther­more, For­tuyn’s queer­ness ab­solved vot­ers of the guilt that is typ­i­cally at­tached to sup­port­ing bla­tantly racist politi­cians. Sarah Wild­man de­scribes the ra­tio­nale of his sup­port­ers, “if you’re will­ing to back a man who brags about sleep­ing with Arab boys, how much of a bigot can you re­ally be?”

In the same way that For­tuyn de­flected ac­cu­sa­tions of racism by bran­dish­ing his queer­ness, his sup­port­ers ral­lied for his an­tiMus­lim agenda with­out a trace of shame. This tact­ful ma­nip­u­la­tion of queer­ness al­lows white gay men like For­tuyn to claim ‘vic­tim mi­nor­ity’ sta­tus and cir­cum­vent ac­count­abil­ity. In other words, queer­ness can be used as a get-outof-jail-free card to ex­cuse racism. Un­der the guise of non-threat­en­ing ef­fem­i­nacy, For­tuyn made white supremacy more palat­able to mod­er­ate vot­ers. As Arwa Mah­dawi as­serts, “far-right par­ties have also re­al­ized that strate­gi­cally dan­gling a few gay peo­ple acts as a sort of fun­da­men­tal­ist Fe­breze that di­lutes the stench of their ha­tred.” Serv­ing as a pinkwash­ing per­fume, For­tuyn’s provoca­tive ef­fem­i­nacy se­duced vot­ers who might oth­er­wise be wary of far­right na­tion­al­ism.

Af­ter the as­sas­si­na­tions of For­tuyn in 2002, and Theo van Gogh (a like-minded queer provo­ca­teur) in 2004, a com­mon frame emerged in Dutch me­dia. The press be­gan to sen­sa­tion­al­ize ho­mo­pho­bic vi­o­lence when com­mit­ted by Mus­lim im­mi­grants, while largely dis­re­gard­ing at­tacks com­mit­ted by white cit­i­zens. This homona­tion­al­ist fram­ing resur­faced in April 2017, when mar­ried cou­ple Jasper Ver­nesSewratan and Ron­nie SewratanVernes, were grue­somely at­tacked in Arn­hem by a mob of eight Moroc­can- Dutch im­mi­grant men who saw them hold­ing hands. In re­sponse to the at­tack, a homona­tion­al­ist sense of sol­i­dar­ity was in­voked by Dutch men across the globe. Tran­scend­ing so­cial de­mo­graph­ics, var­i­ous Dutch soccer play­ers, celebrities, po­lice of­fi­cers ,and diplo­mats tweeted pho­tos of them­selves hold­ing hands with their male col­leagues us­ing the vi­ral hash­tag #alle­man­nen­hand­in­hand (trans­lated ‘all men hand in hand’). The sym­bol­ism of queer men pub­li­cally hold­ing hands was in­stru­men­tal­ized as an em­blem of Dutch pro­gres­sivism, and sub­se­quently wor­thy of pa­tri­otic de­fence.

Of course, un­der­scor­ing this hash­tag was a white su­prem­a­cist con­cep­tion of who be­longs to the Dutch fam­ily. Ad­mit­tedly, pub­lic at­tacks against Dutch-mus­lim women have not stirred col­lec­tive sol­i­dar­ity and em­pa­thy as #alle­man­nen­hand­in­hand did. More­over, hate crimes against gay men are per­ceived as a na­tional tragedy, whereas vi­o­lence against hi­jab-wear­ing women is per­ceived as an un­for­tu­nate con­se­quence, or per­haps pun­ish­ment, for their ex­is­tence.

The Dutch me­dia mar­tyrized the im­age of vul­ner­a­ble gay men be­ing bru­tal­ized by sav­age Mus­lims. The at­tack­ers, who smashed teeth and wielded bolt cut­ters, were de­scribed in po­lit­i­cal par­lance as “prob­lem youth” “kut­marokka­nen,” (lit­er­ally, “cunt-moroc­cans”) and “Moroc­can scum.” Geert Wilders seized the op­por­tu­nity to call for the ‘deIs­lamiza­tion’ of the Nether­lands. Wilders ar­gued that “the free­dom that gay peo­ple should have — to kiss each other, to marry, to have chil­dren — is ex­actly what Is­lam is fight­ing against.” Months ear­lier, the

“Far-right par­ties have also re­al­ized that strate­gi­cally dan­g­ing a few gay peo­ple acts as a sort of fun­da­men­tal­ist Fe­breze that di­lutes the stench of their ha­tred.”

cen­trist Peo­ple’s Party for Free­dom and Democ­racy (VVD) party (which emerged vic­to­ri­ous from the 2017 elec­tion) launched its cam­paign with a poster of two men hold­ing hands with the text ‘be­ing able to walk hand in hand with­out fear. Act Nor­mal or Leave.’ Both the hash­tag and the VVD poster demon­strate that the de­fense of queer­ness is a na­tion­al­is­tic project that de­mar­cates the bound­aries of ‘us’ ver­sus ‘them.’

The as­sumed vul­ner­a­bil­ity of gay men is weaponized against the trope of a preda­tory im­mi­grant. Data from the Anti-ho­mogeweld in Ner­land re­port, how­ever, proves this racist preda­tor-vic­tim fram­ing to be false. Con­trary to per­va­sive rep­re­sen­ta­tions, the re­port finds that in­ci­dents of hate crimes tar­geted against racial­ized cit­i­zens are ac­tu­ally more fre­quent than ho­mo­pho­bic hate crimes in the Nether­lands. Fur­ther­more, the re­port re­vealed that 86 per cent of in­di­vid­u­als who per­pe­trated vi­o­lence against LGBTQ+ cit­i­zens were eth­ni­cally Dutch, while only 14 per cent had an im­mi­grant back­ground. This is roughly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of their pro­por­tion in the Dutch pop­u­la­tion as a whole. Thus, in­stances of an­tiv­i­o­lence com­mit­ted by racial­ized, specif­i­cally Mus­lim, cit­i­zens is ex­ag­ger­ated to scape­goat Is­lamic im­mi­grants for all ho­mo­pho­bia.

So, why are white gay men ir­ra­tionally afraid of Mus­lims? Per­haps the over­sen­si­tive per­cep­tion of threats is based on their so­cial po­si­tion. Lo­cated on the apex of both gen­der and racial hi­er­ar­chies, the sta­tus of white gay men is solely com­pro­mised by their queer­ness. This pre­car­i­ous and in­fu­ri­at­ing lo­ca­tion—one vari­able from hold­ing ab­so­lute priv­i­lege—can fuel a hy­per­de­fen­sive men­tal­ity. Writer and so­cial critic James Bald­win ar­gued that, “white gay peo­ple feel cheated be­cause they were born, in prin­ci­ple, into a so­ci­ety in which they were sup­posed to be safe. The anom­aly of their sex­u­al­ity puts them in dan­ger, un­ex­pect­edly.” Sim­i­larly, Michael Darer con­tends, “scroung­ing for priv­i­lege is the story of main­stream white gay­ness.” These quotes demon­strate the ap­peal of Wilders’ queer mon­ger­ing among gay male vot­ers, who are des­per­ate to de­fend their so­cial po­si­tion. Sim­ply put, queers are eas­ily mon­gered. The void left from ho­mo­pho­bia is ful­filled by a sense of be­long­ing within Right-wing rhetoric, and in some cases, within po­lit­i­cal ranks. Sub­se­quently, white gay men are will­ing to “throw those with less sta­tus un­der the bus to cling onto their new found priv­i­lege.”

The ex­treme mea­sures of ‘ deIs­lamiza­tion’ called for by Wilders seem rea­son­able to white gay men whose com­pro­mised priv­i­lege fu­els a hy­per­sen­si­tive per­cep­tion of threats. Darer writes “the daily bat­tle to en­sure that what­ever is lost to ho­mo­pho­bia is re­placed two fold by the bless­ings of white­ness and male­ness.” Ul­ti­mately, the re­alpoli­tik al­liance of queer­ness with the Right-wing is cen­tred on a prom­ise to de­fend the pre­car­i­ous priv­i­lege of white queer men against the ‘threat’ of im­mi­gra­tion.

Homona­tion­al­ism has gone be­yond pro­pa­ganda; it has be­come in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized. The Dutch im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem uses sup­port for ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity as a pink lit­mus test to de­ter­mine who is granted cit­i­zen­ship. Im­mi­grants are screened, in part, based on how they re­spond to ques­tions about gay men kiss­ing. One ques­tion in­cludes “you’re on a ter­race with a col­league and at the table next to you two men are fondling and kiss­ing. You are ir­ri­tated. What do you do?” Footage of queer cou­ples and top­less women at beaches are also shown to po­ten­tial im­mi­grants to ad­ju­di­cate whether they will in­te­grate into Dutch so­ci­ety. No­tice­ably, these ques­tions on ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity are not posed when screen­ing im­mi­grants from Canada, Aus­tralia, or Amer­ica. This elu­ci­dates the as­sumed cor­re­la­tion between white­ness and queer pos­i­tiv­ity, as well as the racist as­sump­tion that peo­ple of colour are in­trin­si­cally ho­mo­pho­bic.

Tofik Dibi, a queer Dutch politi­cian who is the son of Moroc­can im­mi­grants, says that Right-wing politi­cians who sound the alarm over ANTI-LGBTQ+ vi­o­lence “don’t give a fuck about gay rights.” He con­tends that, in the 2017 elec­tion, the de­fense of queer­ness was solely a tac­tic to le­git­imize anti-mus­lim sen­ti­ments. In dis­cussing the homona­tion­al­ist tenets of the Dutch im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem, Dibi as­serts, “of all of these tests, the gay rights is the one that is used the most be­cause they know that that’s the most dif­fi­cult thing within these com­mu­ni­ties.” Queer­ness be­comes a piv­otal value that sep­a­rates the ‘me­dieval’ im­mi­gra­tion ap­pli­cants from the ‘en­light­ened.’ Through to­k­eniz­ing queer­ness as a hall­mark of Dutch iden­tity, the im­mi­gra­tion de­part­ment can dis­miss Mus­lim ap­pli­cants with the le­git­i­macy of claim­ing to pro­tect vul­ner­a­ble queers. Fur­ther­more, this pink lit­mus test ho­mog­e­nizes di­verse in­ter­pre­ta­tions of Is­lam and po­lar­izes 1.8 bil­lion peo­ple on the sin­gle wedge is­sue of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity.

The most vul­ner­a­ble within this sup­posed clash of civ­i­liza­tions are queer Mus­lims. In­deed, their mul­ti­di­men­sional iden­tity is torn by the po­lar­ized rhetoric of ‘gays ver­sus Mus­lims.’ Con­structed as mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive mi­nori­ties, or­ga­ni­za­tions aimed at com­bat­ing Is­lam­o­pho­bia rarely work in tan­dem with those tar­get­ing ho­mo­pho­bia.

Sub­se­quently, is­lam­o­pho­bia is de­fined through het­ero­sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ences, and ho­mo­pho­bia through a white lens—eras­ing the in­ter­sec­tion­al­ity of these in­ter­wo­ven sys­tems. Caught in the nexus of os­ten­si­bly op­posed iden­ti­ties, queer Mus­lims are un­able to grieve tragedies that im­pact the com­mu­ni­ties in which they be­long. In the af­ter­math of the Or­lando shoot­ing, queer Le­banese singer, Mashrou’ Leila, de­scribed his frus­tra­tion, “there are a bunch of us who are queer who feel as­saulted by that at­tack, who can’t mourn be­cause we’re also from Mus­lim fam­i­lies [...] this is what it looks like to be called both a ter­ror­ist and a fag­got.”

Rather than be­ing para­noid of Is­lam, we should be vig­i­lant of the Right Wing. Of course, it is ap­par­ent that homona­tion­al­ism harms Mus­lims, and queer Mus­lims es­pe­cially. But if left un­tamed, homona­tion­al­ism will also de­vour those it claims to pro­tect. The op­por­tunis­tic al­liance between the Right-wing and white queer men is forged on a shared de­sire to pro­tect white male priv­i­lege. But as trans ac­tivist and Bu­run­dian refugee Olave Basa­bose warns “we all know in his­tory when you give the far right room, the next tar­gets are the gays.” There­fore, all priv­i­leged gays hold a re­spon­si­bil­ity to con­demn and con­test the pink-washed Tro­jan horse that is homona­tion­al­ism. Ul­ti­mately, in the pol­i­tics of queer mon­ger­ing, the only thing to fear is queer it­self.

“White gay peo­ple feel cheated be­cause they were born, in prin­ci­ple, into a so­ci­ety in which they were sup­posed to be safe. The anomoly of their sex­u­al­ity puts them in dan­ger, un­ex­pectly.” — James Bald­win “This is what it looks like to be called both a ter­ror­ist and a fag­got.” — Mashrou’ Leila

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