In our previous piece we discussed how part of the goal of our solidarity trip to Palestine this summer was to interrupt the White queer domination of anti-pinkwashing work, and to dialog about the same. Here we want to turn some of that analysis inward, and bring out some of the self-critical lessons we learned—hopefully with the aim of also talking about how colonial genders and sexualities are carried out also by bodies of color like ourselves. What we hope this thought piece will do will allow us to expand our analysis of white supremacy beyond white bodies to discuss how certain bodies of color across time have been strategically utilized to do the actual labor of implementing white supremacy.

1. Not all people of color are uniformly disenfranchised. To maintain this is to perpetuate a white supremacist distinction of white people and everyone else. We have to be more explicit about when we use the term people of color and why.

The multiplicity in our experiences often gets lost in political communities built around supposedly shared identities like ‘queer’ and ‘person of color.’ We want to articulate some of the specific privileges that enabled our travel to Palestine, and the work that we were able to do there. We acknowledge that these privileges do not exist in a political vacuum: we have these privileges because other brown and black people do not. Unless our work is about creating the material conditions to increase access there is absolutely nothing radical about our politics.

  1. Though, as South Asians, we are sometimes profiled as ‘terrorist’ bodies through an Islamaphobic lens, our Brahmanical Indian Hindu heritage in particular enabled easy passage through Israeli security. This is largely because of the extensive political/military relationship shared by India and Israel.
  2. Because we both can pass as male/masculine people, we experience significantly less sexual violence, harassment, and other patriarchal tactics of violence and erasure in any kind of travel.
  3. Due to our own class upbringing and its attendant access to elite educational institutions we had access to a significant network of middle and upper class people from whom we were able to crowdsource funds for our trip.

What becomes apparent is that we are some of the most, shall way say, ‘tepid’ people of color to be doing this solidarity work. Really transformative solidarity would involve brown bodies regarded as more ‘threatening’ than us: we’re talking about Muslim Americans who face surveillance and criminalization domestically and abroad, our comrades in the Middle East who are barred entry to ’48, and Black/Latino/Native queer activists who experience the brunt of systematic racism and settler colonialism in North America. What we want the solidarity movement to think more about is what kind of people of color are allowed and able to do solidarity work and why?

2. Not all white supremacies are the same. Though white supremacy is a global system of domination it operates in localized ways. The US and Zionist settler homonationalist projects are simultaneously mutually informing and distinct.

Similar to ’48, the United States also uses gay rights to make itself appear more progressive. An important moment happened this summer while we were in Palestine as the Defense of Marriage Act and the Voting Rights Act were repealed in one swoop. The Supreme Court made it extremely explicit: LGBT rights are en vogue but anti-black racism will always be upheld. What good is same sex marriage really when people of color are still losing the fundamental right to vote? While it initially felt appropriate to link these domestic phenomenon to Zionist pinkwashing we soon realized that these systems – while similar — are not actually the same. The US carries different legacies of racial slavery and migrant labor than Palestine.

US racism is not a copy-pastable system into the Palestinian context. There are racial politics at play in Palestine too, but Palestinians are not united by race or by the label ‘people of color’, and instead by their indigeneity and claim to right of return. This is where we continually tripped up, because so much of our creative work is related to our US understanding of whiteness. This US understanding of whiteness has been shaped by histories of anti-black racism which have linked whiteness to a property often associated with phenotype. In other words, white supremacy is for white people.

What we realized in our trip is that not all white supremacies are the same. Zionism is entangled with, but distinct from Euro-American white supremacy. Though Ashkenazi (white appearing) Jews economically and culturally dominate Zionism and the Israeli state project—and the Israeli underclass is largely non-Ashkenazi peoples—Zionism is still rooted in Israeli supremacy over Palestinian sovereignty. While some Palestinians might appear white-passing in a North American context, in Palestine having lighter skin, though it affords certain privileges, is not relevant to the settler/colonized dynamic. This revealed the limitations of the ways in which we had been theorizing and writing about white supremacy in the past – we need a way of articulating race that acknowledges the very real and material privileges possessing lighter skin has but one that also is culturally, spatially, and locally contingent – one that invites history and ancestry and manifests itself perhaps less visibly but just as violently.

3. Queer people of color are not always innocent and can actually be complicit in the ongoing colonization of other queer people of color. White supremacy has historically relied on the binary between good native informants and badpeople of color.

Our (brown, queer) bodies were and continue to be also complicit in Western and white supremacist LGBT politics which emphasize hyper-visibility. We are not white, but we are US people with access to urban centers, and many spaces for a flamboyant, individualist type of queer visibility. Our clothing, manner, and approach to gender and sexuality reflects this. This is not to say those spaces and expressions don’t exist in Palestine, but only that, as foreigners, and as folks with US passports, we could ‘get away with’ much more.

The reason that gender-variance becomes a tricky point is that it brings up challenging questions around visibility, loudness, and outness. Whereas privileged framings of gender and sexual liberation often focus on the individual (me, and my gender expression), in imperialist and fascist contexts, and resistance thereof, the safety of the collective becomes increasingly and materially important. While it is by no means the onus of the trans or gender non-conforming (gnc) solidarity activist from the West to individually shoulder their own safety, it is important for them to have those discussions with their group (including Palestinians and foreigners alike as to how strategic presentation might better ensure safety and mobility for all, and how their individual safety as a trans/gnc person can be supported by the group. This is not the place for trans/gnc activists with significant citizenship privilege and access—such as a US, EU, or Israeli passport—to insist on the same treatment as they receive in their home contexts.

Partly, the reason for this negotiation is indeed material safety. The intention here is not to apply a new layer of trans-specific pinkwashing (eg ‘you can totally wear a dress in Tel Aviv, but not in the West Bank’) but to acknowledge to local contexts, and shift the focus away from individual, neoliberal forms of queerness and gender liberation, to ones that re-center Palestinian liberation and anti-imperialist strategy as central goals. These negotiations are also informed by respect for gender-variant bodies who by virtue of citizenship, imperialism, fascism, class, etc may have differential access to visibility and outness.

Coming to terms with not only the limitations but the violence of our queer visibility in Palestine has influenced the ways in which we conceive of our gender presentations as brown queers in the US settler colonial project. There is a reason the fascist police state in our gentrified neighborhoods in Brooklyn do not profile us. As appropriately classed brown queers we are allowed the privilege of our individual genders. Our genders are imagined as a sort of private property, much like our iPhones, that the police are there to protect ‘us.’ This means that we need to name the specificity of anti-black and anti-poor racisms. Who really gets criminalized for queer visibly and why? What is really radical about demonstrations of queer visibility in a political climate where visibility for many brown and black people includes increased state surveillance, criminalization, and exploitation?

4. While it is often convenient to blame white settlers, people of color can also participate in settler colonialism . We have to name our privileges as settlers and attempt to operate in solidarity with indigenous peoples in order to do transformative work.

Another fabricated parallel between our work and queer Palestine was the common enemy: white homonationalism. This is simply not the case. Queer Palestinians are fundamentally fighting a decolonization struggle where the political ask is for the actual unsettlement of foreign peoples and the right of return to land. It was easy for us to agree with this demand in Palestine, and yet harder and more necessary for us to approach North American queer politics with unsettlement as a mandate.

Our class- and caste- privileged Indian families came to this land for economic opportunity. In other words our families benefit from the spoils of centuries of genocide and anti-black racism. Rather than challenging the systematic racism that allowed our families to succeed and obtain economic progress in this country, our families remained silent and continued to succeed on the backs of other people of color. As Asian Americans we have previously narrated our diasporic stories only through the lens of loss, trauma, and a sense of displacement. What this does is distract away from our mutual complicity in violence against Native Americans and African Americans who were involuntary brought to this context. As privileged diasporic people of color we have to reframe and rearticulate the ways we narrate our immigration toward mutual accountability. We must not only see ourselves as ‘oppressed,’ but also perpetrators of settler colonial and anti black violence. This means that we must come at our queer of color domestic activism from a position of allyship in similar ways to the transnational work that we participate in.

DarkMatter – a queer South Asian artist and activist collaboration — spent the majority of Summer 2013 in Palestine (both the West Bank and ’48). We were hosted by alQaws, a queer Palestinian organization that focuses on cultural and social change around gender and sexuality in the context of the Palestinian liberation struggle. With alQaws, we conducted writing/performance workshops around gender, sexuality, and imperialism, and performed in various cities across West Bank and 48.

The original intention of our trip was to advance broader conversations around the ways in which Western queer solidarity work in Palestine is dominated by white queer bodies and ideologies. We were both concerned by how many queer people of color we organized with in the United States did not have access to an analysis of Palestine, let alone transnational imperialism/colonialism. We trace this to a carefully curated strategy to de-radicalize racial justice in this country by curtailing it as a domestic issue. Thus the racial distribution of solidarity activists is not innocuous but results from the dynamics of white supremacy and imperialism in the state, NGOs, and media

In this first thought piece we want to unpack how white supremacy has influenced solidarity work around Palestine and how that negatively impacts movements for Palestinian liberation. We use white supremacy to signify a form of privilege built from legacies of colonialism, enslavement, genocide, and other acts of terrorism and oppression committed by people with access to whiteness against other peoples. White supremacy includes psychic, cultural, economic, and social supremacy.

We trace the domination of Western queer solidarity work with Palestine by white people to four major roots in the material and social realities of White supremacy:

  1. As a result of (settler-) colonialism and systems of enslavement, white people dominate most material resources and institutions in the West. They frequently have the most access to capital, time, and networks to participate in solidarity work abroad.
  2. White bodies are generally less scrutinized by states, police, and settlers (including Zionist settlers).  They are more easily able to pass through airports and other borders and to be visible without fear of racialized state violence.
  3. The impulse of white people to ‘help’ the foreign Other comes from a long legacy of a colonial mentality. The ‘white savior complex’ is prevalent throughout social sector work, especially global development and NPIC (non profit industrial complex) work.

White folks (and folks with access to various white privileges) frequently displace systems of oppression and power struggles to the non-West, ignoring the struggles—in which they are more materially complicit—in their domestic spaces. We believe North American queer solidarity work with Palestine, for example, is bankrupt without both an analysis of the histories of settler-colonialism and indigenous genocide in North America, and of criminalization and exploitation of black people and people of color through institutions like the prison.

Furthermore, the work that white queer bodies do (by their very presence) is reinforcing the notion that queerness most genuinely ‘belongs’ to Whiteness. This is in the political context of a gay and lesbian movement that increasingly serves the needs of elite white gay men in the West. Over the past decade we’ve also witnessed unprecedented support for a global LGBT rights movement. Several prominent Pride parades have made ‘WORLD PRIDE’ the theme of the week — discussing the rampant homophobia occurring across the world in Uganda, Iran, Vietnam, Russia, etc. The Obama Administration has allocated millions of dollars to the US State Department to fund emerging LGBT social movements abroad. Hilary Clinton declared to the United Nations that “Gay Rights are Human Rights.”

While such support might seem ‘progressive,’ with further scrutiny we realize that a global, homogenous, delocalized gay movement does not serve the needs of most sexual and gender minorities (who are not white, not financially privileged, etc). And actually, such a ‘global gay’ identity further distracts from Western imperialist and racist violence. We saw a connection here between the radical queer people of color activist movements we aligned ourselves with in ‘North America’ and queer Palestinian activism not in our shared oppression but rather our shared resistance to a white supremacist neocolonial agenda. Indeed, such a movement actually serves the interests of the colonizers: in Palestine Israeli settlers on Palestinian land and in North America white and brown settlers on Native American land.

Among Israel’s colonial strategies is ‘pinkwashing’, in which the state of Israel uses gay rights (everything from Prides to advertisements for asylum to gay tourism campaigns) as a distraction from its occupation. The result of the overrepresentation of whiteness in Palestine solidarity work has a few effects on the efficacy of anti-pinkwashing and queer solidarity work:

  1. Pinkwashing is about defining a consolidated queer/gayness as a ‘modern’, ‘progressive’ artifact from the West in comparison to the backwards Rest. The overrepresentation of white US queers in anti-pinkwashing movements perpetuates this narrative.
  2. The colonial impulse to ‘save’ queer Palestine is one that reinscribes the victim narratives about queer Palestinians that actually service pinkwashing.  Further, it makes pinkwashing appear as a single-issue device (that only oppresses queers), where in fact pinkwashing is a tactic of occupation that oppresses all Palestinians, of all genders and sexualities.

Anti-pinkwashing is not a ‘queer issue’; it is an issue of Palestinian liberation. We wanted to envision and practice a transnational queer solidarity that is not dominated by white people, is also not complicit in single-issue politics, and is self-reflexive about the racial and class violences that operate in solidarity activists’ domestic contexts (for us, the United States). The erasure of race and class violence and suppression of race and class warfare by gay rights is not an Israel-only phenomenon. Ultimately, though, the goal is to shift the focus away from white and Israeli settler queer bodies, even as ‘allies’, towards sexual and gender justice for all currently and formerly enslaved and colonized peoples.­

I grew up in a small Texas city, where my white peers called me a monkey. They told me that Indians grow our body hair earlier because we are closer to animals. I grew my first mustache at 11; I did not smile in photographs for years after. My desire to shave was not about wanting to become a man. It was about wanting to become white.

Now, at age 22, I sit in my Brooklyn apartment reading a New York Post story about how men in this city are paying up to $8,500 to obtain facial hair transplants to make their beards appear thicker. The article doesn’t mention race. But the first image that comes to mind is the white boys who taunted me growing up. Then, my dad told me, “One day they are going to be jealous of you.” I refused to believe him until now.

My generation inherited both our beards and our brownness in a post-9/11 era. We experienced a silent war — one that did not make it on the news — in the classrooms, the subways, the airports where we found ourselves under a new type of scrutiny. The brown on our skin: a new flavor of lethal. Its beard, even more of a threat. This is a story for all of the brown boys who shaved, who plucked, who went under laser and knife to emerge American.

Every brown boy has a story about the hair. I promise. When he trusts you, ask him about his first shave.

My father finally let me shave after eighth grade. I remember the date he gave me his old electric razor — the kind that could still cut you — vividly. July 4. Independence Day. The day I bled for my country. The day I looked at my face in the mirror and finally became an American.

Now white boys in Brooklyn are sewing hair onto their faces in the same city where brown boys still have scars from ripping it off. I want to talk about what it means for these boys to be adorned with words like “beautiful” when their brown counterparts are shackled onto other words like “terrorism.” What it says about whiteness. About me and all of the other brown boys fumbling into ourselves in a world where our bodies are policed to the point of being alien to ourselves.

When I read about white men getting beard transplants, part of me appreciates how explicit this transaction is. I understand it the same way I am slowly understanding how my brown body becomes cool here. How such sites of fear and trauma — skin, a beard — become “cool” when associated with the white kind of body. “Cool” is a word that I am still struggling to fit inside of, like a hand-me-down shirt that will never quite fit. In Brooklyn, white people think I can do no wrong: If I dress down, they call me “normcore”; if I dress up, they tell me I’m intimidating; if I dress in Indian clothing, they tell me that I am trendy. I am used to the eyes, the nod, the jolt — the constant feeling of white people scrutinizing me. But here it feels different. No longer am I the brown boy they want to bash, I am the brown boy they want to befriend.

Or sleep with. White gay men send me messages telling me that they have always “wanted to be with a real man.” And when I decide to heed their advances, it inevitably comes up. They tell me how exotic my hairy body is. How masculine. How rugged. These words scatter on my body like the hair on my chest, blessings — or curses — I never asked for.

In Brooklyn, all of the parts of myself that I grew up ashamed of — my skin, its hair; my culture, its history; my religion, its gods — have now suddenly become hip. When I do not shave for the week, white men tell me how jealous they are of my beard — how they wish theirs could grow as thick. When I wear my mustache just like all the Indian uncles I grew up around, they tell me how they’ve always wanted to grow a goatee but it just doesn’t seem connect like mine. Their dismay is an opportunity to touch my face.

But what they quite can’t wrap their mustache curls around is the fact that the moment I walk out of their bar, the world — and its police — see me otherwise. That not all of us have the privilege to embrace difference for the sake of transgression. That some of us have had difference stuffed in our throats and inscribed on our skin.

People want the rugged authenticity of being different without actually being punished for it — and I understand why they do it. I recognize the insecurity. Just a decade ago, my peers were flinging words like “terrorist” and “faggot” to me in the halls of our high school. Now I’m “trendy” and “fierce.” Either assessment rings lonely and desperate. How they are tremendously afraid of being insignificant. How the fantasy of race that they have projected on my body makes me have some mystic power they are jealous of. They are afraid of boring. They are afraid of being nothing. They are in a constant state of falling — grasping for all of the bindis, beards, dashikis, gauges that they hold on to to feel relevant. And what hurts the most is that when they do it, it magically becomes beautiful. It becomes a beard worth $8,500 and not a beard worth five bullets. When the white body wears our scars, they finally become beautiful.

Every brown boy has a story about the hair. Pluck it out of him. He’s used to it.

queerlibido:

I do not remember the first day that I took razor to skin. I only recall the blood in the shower, the scars on my ankles and armpits. I shaved because the white kids at school made fun of me for being so hairy. I shaved to become a little more human. But I do remember the first day I shaved my face: the mirror, that vintage electric razor. I will always remember my face, its smoothness. How light my skin looked. 

What I mean to say is that for me shaving wasn’t a ritual for becoming a man. It was a strategy to become white. Perhaps you could even call it an act of devotion.

Growing up in a small/white/heteronormative/Christian town in Texas as a (gender)queer/Hindu/South Asian I was always made continually aware of my difference. While I have written extensively about racism in the past, I have recently begun thinking about how limiting my understanding of race has been. What do we mean when we say the word race? 

In discussions of racism against South Asian communities, especially post 9/11, we tend to understand race as skin color. While such a framework is important to describe the surveillance and criminalization of brown bodies, I wonder what gets lost in our emphasis on color alone. Before I had the language to articulate ‘racism’ and what it meant to be ‘brown’ – I experienced my racialization predominantly on account of my hairy body. I want to understand why hair – a feature of the human body that serves utilitarian purposes – becomes a contested site of trauma and race. In particular, I want to understand this as part of a project of Christian fundamentalism and (settler) colonialism.

Hairiness and animality

I do not remember the first day I was called a monkey. But I remember believing them, the way that I believed in the cool edge of my father’s razor as it sliced my cheeks. I remember it was the same people who asked me “What Bible do your people read?” and “Have you ever heard of a man named Jesus?” I did not understand how that man could get away with having a beard and I could not. 
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It was only when I started learning about colonialism that my peers dehumanizing me had a history. Race originated a fiction used to create the illusion of difference between the native and the colonizer. The native’s body was put under scrutiny in order to prove that she was not human. The colonial takeover of land and resources relied on this myth of difference. Because she was not human, the native did not deserve the same dignity as the colonizer. This process of domination was facilitated by ideas of Christian fundamentalism where ‘God’ is thought of as something distinct from the ‘people.’ God is divine; the people are not. The goal then becomes to ascend toward God. At its core, Christian fundamentalism is about re-inscribing a hierarchy: God over people, saved over sinful. This idea of fixed hierarchy helped justify colonialism: the colonizer believed he was helping the native by helping her find the Christian God. We cannot forget that colonialism was thought of as a benevolent project: the colonizers genuinely believed that they were ‘saving’ the native and helping to usher them on a path toward salvation.

Christian fundamentalism’s goal of recruiting and saving is inherently a colonial fantasy that requires certain bodies to always be considered as in need of ‘saving’ in order to justify itself.

Being called a monkey, then, is not only about racism (the dehumanization of people of color). It is also an extension of Christian fundamentalism. To imagine a person of color as an animal is to place them in a state of sin – always in need of saving. Christian fundamentalism, with its linear conception of time (moving up to God), reinforces a narrative of colonial development whereby the person of color – her body, her hair, her culture –   are considered backwards. Hairiness, thus, has social meaning because it animates the trope of animality already associated with the body of color. My white peers asking me to shave was another form of coerced conversion: they wanted to police my body into their Christian and colonial conception of human.

Hair on white people is not as controversial because we do not have an ingrained association of whiteness with animality. In other words: white hipsters with mustaches and beards are trendy; brown people with facial hair get profiled, tortured, and caged like animals. The brown body – specifically the hairy ‘terrorist’ – becomes imagined as dispensable just like the thousands of animals we annihilate every day.

Call Me Dirty: Hairiness and shame

Race was having dandruff in the third grade. At first I found it beautiful – those white snowflakes which fell in infinite incarnations. But when my classmates saw those specks on my sweaters they told me that dandruff was the sign of not being clean enough. My mother assured me that this thing was natural. But my classmates disagreed. They told me that dandruff is something only Indian people have because our hair is greasy and coarse. So I stopped wearing black. So I scratched my head until it bled.  For years I thought that having the hair I did meant that I was dirty. I fantasized about shaving off all of my body hair. I was attracted to not just white men, but white hairless men because they seemed so much cleaner than me. The hair kept expanding all over my body like the white man who spread all over our lands.
*
What if our experiences of hair shame aren’t just about our own individual beauty trauma, but rather indicative of how our peoples have been forced to carry the burden of sin? Christian fundamentalism maintains and polices the boundaries between the ‘sacred’ and ‘profane.’ The only way to achieve liberation is through Christianity. All other traditions are insufficient. Christianity is the only sacred religion. For me the discourse of hair as ‘dirty’ immediately implicates the religious. Hair becomes a symbol of dirtiness on brown bodies because it is an embodied metaphor for the ways that we were historically, and continue to be, marked as sinful on account of not being read as Christian (which becomes a racialized state of being in the North American settler colonial project).

It is not so much that the hair itself is ‘dirty,’ but that the hair on a brown body accentuates a dirtiness that white people already see in us. This perception of dirtiness is only there because of Christian fundamentalism: an ideology which maintains that all bodies are sinful, impure, and profane until they embrace Christ. In comparison, the bodies that embrace Christ are not just sacred, but become beautiful. The discourse between profane/sacred cannot be divorced from that of ugly/beauty. Part of the ways we are oppressed and made to feel ugly/dirty is facilitated by Christian fundamentalism’s definition of God as distinct from ourselves and our peoples. God is depicted as ‘perfect,’ and ‘distant,’ not already inside of us. White (hairless) people become our Gods – emblematic of a beauty that we aspire toward, but can never actually access.

Unleash the beast!

Race was having chest hair in high school. Every year I would host a birthday party at my friend’s house with a pool. It was the only event of the year where I would take off my shirt in public. We would all joke about it and call me the “hairy beast,” but part of me knew that I was not laughing for the same reasons. (There is an art to it: learning how to find humor in the things that debase us most.) Race was kissing a white boy for the first time. He tugged my chest hair and told me that he had always wanted to be with a brown man because…he had always wanted to be with a ‘real’ man.
 
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The irony of the colonial project is that the colonizer is envious of the native: jealous of the fluidity of her music, her beauty, her sex. The irony of the Christian fundamentalist project is that the savior is envious of the sinner: jealous of her fuck, her drink, her transgression. The white people want to go back into nature, into animality. But they will never be able to find what they are looking for because it is something deep inside of us. It is something that comes out without us asking. It is something that is always there for us. It is growing that goddamn mustache at 11. There is a radical potential in the most ugly and debased parts of us.

What if we rejected the shame around our hair? What if we grew it out? What if we ran into the streets with our naked and hairy bodies and what if we resisted when they tried to touch us, shave us, fetishized us, tried to fuck us? What would it mean to be a brown boi, a brown gurl, with no shaving scars, or creams, and no self-hatred?

We would fuck like animals on the street.

Perez Hilton is at it again. After his online fight with Azealia Banks in January, the blogger caused controversy with recent tweets claiming that “inside every gay man is a fierce black woman.” Then he defended himself by comparing black women to Hitler. Via Jezebel:

"I AM genuinely hurt/saddened. Go back to your superiority complex and overreacting,” “I didn’t attack. They did,” “The whole overreaction has really bummed me out. :-(,” “I only apologize in life if it’s with sincerity. I’m not sorry,” “I’m not racist,” “They should probably just ignore me and/or stop reading my tweets then,” AND, ahem, “Some present logical arguments, but then Hitler attempted to justify the holocaust too.”

According to Hilton’s black feminist critics, like Crunk Feminist Collective’Eddie Ndopu, these caricatures “reinforce dehumanizing narratives … about black femininities.” In an essay for Feministing, Sesali Bowen writes, “We shouldn’t need a white male body to legitimize our experiences or expression…we’re not going to accept this as a compliment.” Even white gay men joined the backlash. Christopher Carbone, a writer for Slate and the Guardian, responded with the hashtag #NotYourSassyGayFriend to call for the end of racist gay tropes.

While I agree with the many critiques that have surfaced in the weeks following his Twitter meltdown, I think we need to push the conversation further to really understand just how deeply racism is entrenched in gay communities.

This incident is not just about Perez Hilton; it’s about the gay movement as a whole. We cannot afford to view appropriation as an isolated incidenceracist appropriation is an underlining component of the contemporary gay rights movement.

Racism is not just about individual actions; racism is a system. The rest of useven those of us involved with LGBT activismare complicit in anti-black racism. This incident brings up larger questions about the status of gay rights in this country. This is about the “progress” of gay rights and gay marriage in a moment of unyielding anti-black racism, leading to mass incarceration.

Hilton’s appropriation of language from black women is symptomatic of a larger cultural theft: the gay movement’s hijacking of the black liberation struggle. In 2008, an Advocate cover asked, “Gay Is the New Black?” That headline is a perfect distillation of the recent trend of activists calling the gay struggle the new civil rights movement, as if the “old” civil rights movement were over. Take, for example, Attorney General Eric Holder’s frequent remarks that the fight for marriage equality is a continuation of the civil rights movement: “Just like during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the stakes involved in this generation’s struggle for LGBT equality could not be higher.” In Arizona, publications like Gawker and the Seattle Times were quick to equate the state’s discriminatory legislation to Jim Crow.

What such comparisons do is create the illusion that anti-black racism is over in this country. But just like Hilton’s superficial nod to black women, what is violent about this appropriation is that the way it operates is not actually about real collaboration and solidarityit’s about exploitation and greed. Perez Hilton, like the gay movement itself, is not actually interested in ending racismboth are interested in exploiting blackness to get ahead.

When gay men like Hilton use black women’s language they are celebrated as “fierce” and “sassy,” but low-income black women are too often shamed for being themselvescalled “welfare queens.” the gay movement has been successful in using the rhetoric of the civil rights movement gaining unprecedented legal victories, such as the recent repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, but in the same political climate, black activists have been unable to garner support for racial justice issues.

In Florida, a black woman named Melissa Alexander is now facing up to 60 years in prison for firing a warning shot into the ceiling for her abusive husband; Alexander is having difficulty fundraising for her legal expenses. Where was the gay movement when CeCe McDonald a black trans woman was thrown into prison after defending herself from racist and transphobic attacks? Where was the gay movement when Assata Shakur, one of the most influential black feminist activists, was the first woman added to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list. Gay organizations have not come out in support of the countless black people in this country who are being targeted, criminalized, and incarcerated unfairly. Where is the solidarity now?

What becomes evident is how gay rights organizations are quick to use the language of the black struggle but not actually support black people themselves. This is how appropriation works: black people are reduced to a concept, a history, an ideasomething able to be contained in a gay man’s body. Black people are not respected as thriving people still resisting virulent state criminalization and violence.

What is so violent about appropriation is that it gives the superficial impression that oppressors are somehow supporting the people they oppress. I’m sure that Mr. Hilton genuinely believes that he supports black women; I’m sure the gay movement believes it’s helping all people of color.

However, what becomes evident is that appropriation really only benefits people with power. Appropriation is manipulative: It strategically steals to get ahead. Both Hilton and the gay movement merely give lip service to black people: using their language, but not actually supporting them. We have to own up to the fact that not only the success of gay celebrities like Perez Hilton but also the “success” of the gay movement is on the backs of black people in this country.

It’s time for less talk and more action.

queerlibido:

THIS IS THE STORY of Brown. How it travels over state lines, oceans, and lips to feel beautiful. This is the story of beautiful — of learning the parts of us that cling on too hard for us to scratch them out, of the failure of human heart to desire more boldly. This is the story of a brown too bold to be beautiful, or too beautiful to be brown, or, in other words, a boy who no longer tries to use English to tell his story. This is their story.

My senior year of college I had enough. I took off the Fall semester from school and moved to Bangalore, India to organize with the queer Indian movement (read: find myself). Let’s call it a naïve desi romanticizing the homeland. Let’s call it a cliché. Let’s call it foolish notions of finding Love and finding Brown and not being able to tell the difference.

College Station

The story begins something like this. At the peak of its empire they say that the British controlled almost 85% of the world’s landmass. India was the crown jewel — that place of tea, and mystique, but mostly sex. Colonialism they tell us was a project of benevolence. The civilized white people of the world were there to help us — we the brown, the abject, the queer. When they came to our lands, they talked about how sensual our women were, how our beauty was not gendered, the familiarity of our bodies with one another and the intimacy of it all. They brought words like “sin” and “homosexual” to describe the rhythms of our people, stifling our songs with sodomy laws and penal codes; they wanted to make us more pure for God and for profit. (Is there a difference?) And at some point, we began to believe them. We stopped speaking about sex, we ignored the thousand-year old- temples with gods of all genders fucking, and we threw the hijras on the streets and on our backs in secret. The Brits blew us so hard that we scattered like dandelion seeds across the world — English branded on our tongue, white branded on our heart.

My parents somehow landed in Texas. When you fly into the two-plane airport of College Station, the first thing you’ll see is a sign that says: “Home of the George Bush Library.” I was in elementary school when they opened the behemoth — that destination of every fourth grade field trip and that thing that finally put us on the map. That year, my teacher asked me to come to school wearing “traditional” clothes. When they would ask me who my favorite President was, I’d always say George Bush; he was the man who not only led the country when I was born, but held me — and the rest of the world — in his lap. There is a photo somewhere out there on the Internet that will prove it.

History repeats itself. When you exit the airport, go down Highway 6, turn onto Rock Prairie Road, and then I’ll meet you at Arroyo Court — that house where Google Images first taught me the word “gay” (read: white). Then I’ll take you down the road to my elementary school where I grew up developing crushes on white men with names and politics much like George. I’ll show you the rooms where I used to write love letters to the white boys in my classes and sign them “from Crystal,” hope that the swirl in the “L” would give me away — like the way I smiled too hard while we played truth or dare. This is the park, this is the school, this is the street, this is the town where I grew up loving white men and hating myself. This is where I grew up wanting to sleep with the very men who called me faggot, called me terrorist and noticed me.

It took me years to come out not because I was afraid, but because I didn’t want my family to know that I was becoming white.

Growing up in Texas, I developed a bad case of white fetish. I could show you the porn I used to jack off to, and I could show the boys I fell in love with. I could tell you how the only representations of homosexuality I consumed were white, but in some ways that’s only part of the story. You see, white fetish is a condition that’s only partially about sex. For Indians white fetish is in our blood. It’s why we moved to America, it’s why we work hard to get in the best schools, it’s why we buy skin lightening cream to feel beautiful. White fetish is ancestral violence inscribed in our bodies; it’s a condition that describes the ways in which we are ready to be penetrated by America. Give us your racism, give us your Orientalist media representation, give us anything, and we will say thank you and keep quiet. We will check you in your hotel rooms, and we will hand you your groceries, and we will be your second-in command, and we will dress our kids in J. Crew and make them only speak English so we can be like you. And sometimes we think you believe us.

Pack all of your bags as fast as possible, dash back to that small goddamn airport and catch the first flight out to Houston, then connect to San Francisco, then run to Stanford University and I’ll show you the classrooms where I learned fancy words like “decolonize,” the poorly lit dorm rooms where I shed tears and cloths and cum and tried to do it by letting white men inside of me when they told me they were “different from the rest.” I’ll introduce you to the first boys of color I met — the ones who called me beautiful but I didn’t believe them because they did not have names like George.

So I told my parents I wanted to go back to India for a while. My Mom didn’t get it, “Why would you want to go back?” I didn’t really have the words for it at the time, but I felt the tug. I bought a ticket across the ocean and ran.

Bangalore

Bengaluru Airport is nothing like College Station’s. Outside there are a couple of fast food restaurants that all mean “food poisoning” when translated into English. Swarms of men smelling of that combination of sandalwood soap and sweat will ask you if you need a taxi. Push past the chaos with your luggage, button down shirt, and slacks. Your accent will mean that they will rip you off, undoubtedly, but they will listen.

The taxi will take you through the outskirts. Marvel at the billboards with faces that look like yours and gawk at the Ganesha at the mantle, the foreign made familiar. When the driver asks you where you are going, show him that chit of paper to your uncle’s place near Abbas Ali Road, shukria. Move out as fast as possible. Find your own place. Oops, that bougie apartment in Vasant Nagar where there’s even an interracial white/African couple and their boisterous child — complete with a gym! Do not tell your friends how much you are paying; remind all of your Skype calls back home that the currency rate is in your favor. Breathe in the salt, the sweat, the indigestion of India. Make home out of the leftovers Padma the cook leaves for you, that stray puppy you picked up from the street, and the contemporary art you plaster all the walls. Do not think twice before you cross the road, just leap out. The eighteen lanes of traffic will mold around you. This is India.

To get to work, tell the auto driver to take you to Infantry Wedding Hall. Dismount and walk across the street to what looks like abandoned house. This is actually your office. Push through the screen door (but make sure the kittens, puppies, and occasionally street children run out) and set your stuff down wherever you see a spot. Don’t bother to open your laptop: your boss will ask you if you want a cup of chai. Do not say no even if you don’t; they will think that you are rude as fuck. The trick is in changing the hand that holds the piping hot glass as frequently as possible in order to avoid burning yourself. Do not wince or seem disconcerted. Smile and sip as frantically as you can.

Before they ask me my politics, they ask if I have a boyfriend. The question arrives in different ways, always subtle. “So, are you single?” he asks, his eyes staring intently ahead as he negotiates all the traffic. It appears that the entire gay movement in India is polyamorous — finding ways to politicize their voracious libidos — so I try my best to fit in. I wear Bata chappals and over-compensate for the skinny chinos with an eager bobbling head and pseudo-accent (with a hint of cardamom). “Well, it’s complicated…I’m not really interested in physicality…I’m more invested in the idea of…romantic friendships…building affective solidarity?” “Does that mean you are single?” “No, no, I’m not, but I’m not sure if I’m necessarily looking, either.” I play my cards cautiously in this place where veins run slower than telephone lines, and secrets function as currency.
Another asks me as I cling on to him as he speeds his motorcycle down MG Road.

Maybe it is something about the wind on my face, the Bollywood drama and desperation or the accidental intimacy of the embrace, but I feel more at ease this time. “Do you have a boyfriend?” “No.” “Why not?” “Umm…I don’t know…I just…” My voice is lost in the sound of traffic.

Another asks me out for dinner at a cheesy American-themed restaurant. (Drunk is a language that transcends borders.) He is surprised that I don’t fuck as much as him, “But we’re young, you know. It’s in our hormones!” So I try my best to tell him about racism in America — how white gays either ignore or fetishize us. I tell him about the first white boy I kissed — the one who told me that he always wanted to “be with a brown man because it makes him feel like he’s with a real man.” He nods his head in agreement but I think these are the lessons one has to learn in the flesh — seeing oneself as a Brown does not happen in India.

Oppression does not happen to me in India. I can’t claim any political marginalization: me, the upper-caste, upper- class, English-speaking, male-passing buffoon who stumbles across the streets lost late at night — always safe. In fact, I am learning what it must feel like to be a white man in the U.S.: the whole world bending itself backwards for me. The auto drivers always stop when I wave my hand, the waiters trip over themselves to lay the napkin on my lap, and the men, well, the men all want to fuck me.

I realize this first when I walk into a local support group for queer men. There are about twenty-five of us in attendance. I am trying my best to keep calm as I join a circle of men who look just like the family friends I grew up with. We go around and introduce ourselves.

All eyes turn to me. “Hi, I’m Alok. I’m visiting from America.” Their faces lighten up like diyas on Diwali. “Tell us more.”

I join them for dinner after. They are joking about me in Kannada, Hindi, Tamil, all the languages we are losing across the ocean. “We should hang out. What’s your number? Do you need a ride home?” Five of them escort me out to make sure I don’t get ripped off from the auto driver. My phone is buzzing all night with texts: “Hey.” “Wuts up?” “ ;)” (The language of horniness transcends borders.)

It happens again the next week when I am volunteering to teach English to a group of kothi sex workers. I start first with the ABCs and one of them blurts: “U is for underwear! Do you wear boxers or briefs?” They ask for my number, if I want a massage, where I live, what it’s like to live in America, fuck me America. Two can play this game: “A is for Anus, B is for Buttocks, C is for Cock.” They promise me they will come back next week.

That Friday I somehow direct the auto driver to this bar on the outskirts of Bangalore. Tonight there is some cheesy gay party my friends all tell me I must go to — with some theme like James Bond or AmericaTM. It is packed to the brim. Boys of all shades, smells, castes, regions and languages are actually dancing to the hybrid Bollywood/American fusion music. In the office we like to call the repeal of Section 377 — the British imposed sodomy law — the party law because all that can change is that gay men can now congregate in public. The city of Bangalore usually shuts down all parties by 11:00 (because late night dancing encourages prostitution). But for some reason, the gay parties keep booming until at least 1:00.

Everyone wants to know who I am. Everyone wants to dance with me. I have never felt more wanted and more desired in my entire life. And I know it’s because my skin is lighter than theirs and I know it’s because my passport is more American than theirs, but for a moment I feel beautiful and I want to believe that there is something in that. But then I notice the entire crowd stop moving. They are still dancing, but their eyes are turned to the entrance. Three white guys walk in and the entire pulse of the party changes. I notice the way we all continue taking to one another — but still glance back. I notice the way I feel that warmth in my body. I hate them so much, but I want to fuck them. We hate them so much, and that’s why we want to fuck them. I go home early.

My colleagues accuse me of having a bad case of diasporic angst. “America is so hard, why don’t you just move back here?” And it seems so simple, so doable for me, the foreign-educated rich Indian with U.S. dollars stuffed in his back pocket, the one who gets away with the nose piercing because the wealthy are excused from custom, excused from gender. And at first the prospect of it all seems so tantalizing: the food and the hospitality. But the white fetish is not gone.

Race finds a way to haunt me here. At the first queer youth social I attend, they berate me with questions: “Have you slept with a Latino before? I heard they have big dicks.” “How do you know?” “I saw it on porn.” “Have you slept with a white boy before? I heard they are cleaner than Indian men — more loving, more compassionate, more open, more tolerant, more accepting…” At the support group everyone talks about their dream of getting married: of having some white Fulbright scholar find them on Planet Romeo (Indian Grindr) and take them back to America. Leading gay activists aren’t excluded from this: “Americans just have…a better sense of culture.”

And I try my best to dull at the noise but at the end of the day I still believe them. I believe them as I use my high-speed Internet to watch Western porn of white men fucking each other. I believe them as I close the pop- up windows of Indian men — the first time I have ever seen bodies as hairy, as Brown as me on a screen. I believe them as I stumble on ex-pat parties with white boys at hotels that won’t let in my friends and hate the American boy who dresses up as a “Mexican” for the Halloween party but still wants to take him home.

So my roommate makes fun of me for it: Why haven’t you brought a single boy back with you after all the parties you go to?

I don’t have the language for it: the way the nice boy after the support group offers me a ride home on his motorcycle, the way the wind kisses our faces, the way he stops half-way and asks me for a drink and the way I sit on the steps of the road and I lie to him that I have a boyfriend.

How to explain to a body that it is Brown? How to explain white fetish in a country which has been fucked for years? To a city whose most famous landmarks are the cum stains left from the British? To a city with a commercial street where you can buy Adidas sneakers and watch Hollywood movies in 3D.

Pick up an auto from Mantri Mall and ask it to drive you to the Design School outside of Bangalore. Meet up with your friends at the liquor store and sneak the girls into the house. Sit in the corner as your friends dance to the Bollywood tunes your hips cannot comprehend. Pretend to act drunk, even though you are not drinking. When the bottle spins to your direction, lean across the circle. Do not think about it: kiss him as they gasp and clap. Wake up the next morning and realize that this is the first Brown boy you have ever kissed.

Fly back home via London. Heathrow Airport is much larger than College Station’s. Take the Tube all the way to his arms. Wait for him in the coffee shop in Queen’s Lane. Open your eyes and pretend that you do not see him like the way you have hidden that photo of you and George Bush. Pretend that he is just the Skype screen. Pretend that he is just the friend. Pretend that he is just the past.

Fuck him that night. Wake up and recognize that he is white. That you are Brown. That nothing has changed. 

bring in brown to keep black down

a poem by alok vaid-menon (returnthegayze.tumblr.com)

there is a photo on the fridge back home of me at
maybe eight or nine wearing a cardigan, a plaid tie,
and matching dimples. this is the kind of photo
my family has selected for commemoration because it’s
a type of nostalgia that reminds grownups of words like innocence.
the type of photo you can mail back home across the ocean say,
“look how happy we are here”  “we made it”

this photo was taken during my elementary school’s living history
museum
where students dressed up like some famous person and stood like a statue until parents came and pressed a button
then we’d come to life and narrate our stories.

i chose martin luther king.
so when the white families pressed my button
i said something like
“long ago this country used to be racist but
then i came along and made it better”
all of them clapped – my family too – and they took this photo
and put it on the fridge because they were proud of me
for doing a good job
and i believed them

so when beatrice got suspended for bringing a knife to slice her pear
— the same day my math teacher told my parents i “might be a genius”
so after 9/11 when i found myself equally brown and ashamed
— the same day my hindu temple made a shirt that said “proud to be american”
so when i became the darkest face in all my advanced classes
— the same day there was a shooting at the other school

my father taught me how to tie a tie
and recite our
pledge of assimilation:
“long ago this country used to be racist but 
then i came along and made it better”

when you rinse brown across a blue ocean
does it get lighter or darker?
(your choice)

in 1958 my grandfather moved from india to study english at harvard
i wonder what his colleagues wrote in his letters of recommendation
how remarkable it was for him to emerge from a fractured lung misnamed
as country and breath english so poetically
(footnote: why can’t the blacks speak like that too)

in 1964 the civil rights act banned discrimination against racial minorities
(footnote: when you throw a piece of paper in a pool of blood – who wins?)

in 1965 the immigration act instituted a system that gave preferential treatment to immigrants with skills
(footnote: bring in brown to keep black down)

my grandfather tells me that he
always respected martin luther king
and was sad to hear about his assassination.
i have never asked him if he
went to any protests. never asked him if
he left his library to the streets,
because i know the answer the way i
know my people
the way we are
too busy reading rather than revolting
the way we will develop theories about revolution
for someone else to fight for
the way that we have been trained to
keep quiet,
smile back

almost fifty years later
this model minority holds a scantron like a mirror
recognizes that his body has always been filled in as an answer

when the white man said jump
we said:
how many grades?

said keep quiet!
we said yes sir,
whatever you say master

said work harder!
so we had to cheat to keep up
stole the words straight from their tongues
hello my name is martin luther king
and i have a dream that one day asian americans
will appropriate our struggle for their own advancement
and blame other people of color for not working as hard


and i am sitting in my gentrified apartment in brooklyn
in my gentrified skin writing poetry with big words that i learned in private school like
‘white supremacy’ which means that i could you tell about how there
is a long history of white people painting themselves black
but i am looking at a photo of myself from
when i was eight or nine and put on martin luther king
used the black struggle to legitimize my difference
to my white peers growing up
which feels like its own form of
blackface

press my button:

bring in brown to keep black down:
when i speak about how my people were colonized by the british
but not mention how they gave some of their ties, titles, and guns
and we used all three against our own
hide all the blood we made beneath the
brown

bring in brown to keep black down:
when i cry about diaspora and missing my homeland
even though my people chose to come here for more power
did not mention the countless bodies we
stepped on when we arrived
just to get close enough to kneel
for a white man – dick or
degree is there a difference —
carry both on your tongue

bring in brown to keep black down:
when white people use one hand to give us medals
and the other to give them handcuffs
call us brilliant and over-achieving
then call them slow and lazy
ask them why they can’t be as
hard working as us?

bring in brown to keep black down:
when i post facebook statuses about
how the prison industrial complex targets all people of color
while on the block next door
a man two bullets darker than me
is arrested by a night three shades
lighter.

what i mean to say is
go back home and look at the fridge
what images have the privilege of nostalgia?

in one story
black is forcibly transported across an ocean in a ship
as they put a collar around his neck

in another story
brown books the next ship out as they
put a tie around his

“long ago this country used to be racist (but then
white people brought us here to make it seem better)”
and we have done little to make them
think otherwise since.

queerlibido:

In this series of pieces I hope to develop a new grammar to talk about asexuality outside of the ways in which it has been co-opted by neoliberal identity politics. I am interested in reclaiming and developing an analysis of (a)sexuality in our collective efforts toward racial justice and anti-capitalism. These pieces are motivated by an absence of dialogue around asexuality and all of its associated critiques from many queer spaces I’ve been a part of.

The first time I ever saw someone like me having sex was in a spam internet advertisement in India. “Hairy Mallu Boys.” And I may have followed the link. And I may have gawked at the spectacle of it all: brown hairy men fucking each other. I want to tell you about the validation, how affirming it was to finally see someone who looked just like me having an orgasm, but that would be misleading. I was too shocked to feel validated. Too surprised to see a body like mine fucking in this city where my gay Indian friends ask me if I’ve ever slept with a white men because “they are cleaner than us” because they’ve “seen it on porn.”

Growing up in the US I never really saw brown people engaging in public acts of intimacy. From a young age I remember feeling jealous of the Suzy, the Michael, the Patrick and their parents who kissed them goodbye. I remember getting jealous of the Tom, the Dick, the Zach and their parents who hugged when their child scored a goal at soccer games. My parents never touched one another in front of me. In fact, we never really spoke about sex. So I remember always thinking that sex was something for white people. I understood that our parents must have ‘done it,’ but I couldn’t imagine them enjoying it. Pleasure didn’t belong to us. That’s why we moved to this country, right?

When I looked to the media for representation of brown sexual boys all I got were spelling bee champions, gas station owners, and that one guy from Mean Girls – that archetype of the brown boy being forced to overcompensate to compete for the attention of white people. Indeed, the brown body was usually depicted as engaging in emotional, physical, or mental labor for white interests. And as I got older and the other male assigned people around me had voices that got deeper I witnessed the many ways in which they felt compelled to overcompensate – by either adopting the aesthetics of white patriarchy in all of its J Crew JP Morgan finesse or by adopting and exploiting blackness to seem more ‘cool’ and ‘masculine.’ The plight of the South Asian American male lied in his effort to grapple with a culture that did not, and continues to not, recognize his body as beautiful and worthy of receiving and transmitting desire.

Which goes to say that it has always been difficult to fantasize with sexual scenarios that involve my own body because I have never had a reference point for my own pleasure. Voyeurism here becomes less of a choice and more of a position of coercion: feeling like I’ve been set to watch sex occurring, always at a distance. Queerness here becomes less of a destination aspired toward, but rather one dressed on a body without its consent – a type of otherness that is not only about not seeing one’s face reflected on the screen, but about experiencing one’s difference inscribed on skin. Wearing it close and lethal, like a weapon.

Over the years I have stumbled on several words to articulate this distance: gender-non conforming to express an inability (and perhaps unwillingness) to identify with the masculinity I was assigned at birth and ‘asexuality’ to articulate an inability to feel authentically ‘sexual,’ capable and worthy of wanting. But these terms never really felt adequate to articulate that conglomeration of anxiety, power, histories, stories, and paradoxes that come to mind when I think of my gender and sexuality. Like all identity markers they are shorthands we have been prescribed to halt conversation: we can retreat into our identities like we retreat into our apartments not asking how and why we got there, who we gentrified to get there, not being able to have a conversation about how this place will never fit all of our idiosyncrasies. 

And this ‘distance’ has been something I have been trying to reconcile for years: how to articulate that mixture of power, shame, desire, and fear that makes me uncomfortable thinking about myself as a sexual body. And, simultaneously, how to challenge the onslaught of dogma from so called ‘sex radicals’ who claim that we have just internalized ‘sex shame’ and that shame is something we can be emancipated from.

So when I talk about asexuality I don’t mean some sort of sanitized model of identity politics invested in being recognized and affirmed (by capitalism) – I’m talking about that distance. That absence of wanting. That anxious condition of not being able to differentiate trauma from truth – that peculiar position of never being able to divorce ourselves from the power that continues to shape our every want, desire, and action. 

Why Asexual Identity Politics Isn’t Enough

As a queer South Asian I don’t feel comfortable ascribing the identity of ‘asexual’ to my body. Part of the ways in which brown men have been oppressed in the Western world is by de-emasculating them and de-sexualizing them (check out David Eng’s book Racial Castration). What then would it mean for me to identify as an ‘asexual?’ What would this agency look like in a climate of white supremacy? Can I ever authentically express ‘my’ (a)sexuality or am I always rehearsing colonial logics?

The dilemma of this brown queer body is its inability to see itself through its own eyes. The mirror becomes a site it which we view what white people have always told us about ourselves. Regardless or not of the status of my libido, I’m not sure I will ever feel comfortable identifying as asexual because it seems like I am betraying my people. 

I am invested in South Asians and all other Asian Americans being able to reclaim, re-affirm, and be recognized for their sexual selves. I am invested in brown boys and brown gurlz being able to get what they desire. I am invested in the radical potential of brown (queer) love in a society where so many of us grow up hating our bodies and bending our knees for white men. I want to be part of this struggle. Sometimes I get angry at myself for not being able to eliminate the distance, not being able to join in solidarity. To fuck and be fucked, to publically claim and own my sexuality. I understand that there is something (as Celine Shimizu reminds us in her book Straightjacket Sexualities) radical about Asian American masculinities being displaced from patriarchal masculinities rooted in hyper-sexuality and hyper-masculinity and the reclamation of ‘effeminate’ and ‘asexual’ representations of our bodies as a political refusal of the very logics which have rendered those bodies numb.

But at the same there is a difference between theory and practice. Theories don’t matter when you find yourself always defaulted in the category of ‘friend.’ Theories don’t matter when you grow up being turned on by ghosts of all of your internalized shame. Theories don’t matter when you find yourself buying button up shirts and shaving your beard and trying your best to look more white so they will even have the courtesy to look back to you. Why do theories always put the burden of change on the oppressed and not the systems that oppress them?

There is some part of me that will never be able to overcome the desire for ‘more.’ I want to be able to be in a bar and to not just be the object of desire, but a subject of desire. Part of white supremacy as I understand it is the privilege of being a subject of desire: one who can feel in control of one’s desires and one who has more agency to act on said desires. The ‘distance’ I experience around my sexuality makes me often feel unable to be a subject of desire. This distance makes me feel out of control, jealous, and in a perpetual state of lack. It feels like I’ve just internalized white control of my sexuality and my body.

So when I read this piece about how folks involved with the asexuality community feel as if they are post-race I’m pretty well, flabbergasted. Asexuality has always been a carefully crafted strategy to subjugate Asian masculinities. Asexuality has everything to do with race. Which goes to say that what if the very act of articulating a public asexual identity is rooted in white privilege? Essential understandings of being ‘born’ ‘asexual’ and loving my ‘asexual’ self will never make sense to me. In a world that continually erases Asian (male assigned) sexualities I was coerced into asexuality. It is something I have and will continue to struggle with. My asexuality is a site of racial trauma. I want that sadness, that loss, that anxiety to be a part of asexuality politics. I don’t want to be proud or affirmed – I want to have a serious conversation about how all of our desires are mediated by racism and how violent that is. My pleasures – or lack thereof – are not transcendental and celebratory, they are contradictory, confused, and hurt.

I want to envision and build communities where we can discuss and heal together from the traumas inscribed in our flesh. I do not think that declaring an asexual identity is the best strategy for me to pursue this. What I am asking for is an acknowledgment among all people – not just people of color – of the ways in which colonialism has and continues to map itself on our bodies in different ways. My story of distance is only one of the legacies of the ways in which racism has shaped our desires. I do not mean to suggest that all South Asian male assigned people are asexual nor do I mean to suggest that asexual identity is necessary oppressive for South Asians – what I am sharing is the story of a body that has found and continues to find ways to cope. Which means that my ‘asexuality’ can never been seen as outside of the saga of racialized violence against people of color. I want a space where I can claim that with those folks and discuss the ways in which white understandings of relationships, intimacy, desireability, beauty, progress, and happiness have made us always feel a certain sense of lack and how we have built our entire lives constructed around that lack. For me sometimes I feel like escaping from asexuality would mean one way of escaping from colonialism – would mean finally having the ability to self-identify to really know who “I” (whatever that is) am.

The idea of an identity politics around asexual identity scares me in the same ways that any other single issue politics anchored around a (sexual) identity does. It operates in was that are racist, classist, and colonial. It assumes particular bodies with particular histories and particular political interests. What I am calling for is a departure away from asexual identity politics toward a frank conversation of trauma and sexuality. How can we move our understandings of sexual politics away from anchoring them in essential narratives that reproduce biological essentialism (born this way) to narratives that name specific moments of historical and personal trauma that inform our sexualities. Which means that I am not as interested in the words that you affix to your body – I am interested in the journey that it took for you to get there.

What inhibits you still?

What makes you tremble?

What would it mean for you to feel free?

(is that even the goal?)