Queer Diaspora

The concept of queer diasporas or a queer diaspora challenges the nationalist ideologies thought by some to be fundamental underpinnings in the conception of diasporic consciousness and traditional models of diaspora. Queer Diasporas represent only one of many ways that scholars have considered diasporas as a challenge nationalist ideologies, and a queer diasporic framework hinges on identifying a relationship between normative constructions of gender and sexuality with nationalisms. Furthermore, a queer diasporic framework challenges the hierarchical construction of nation and diaspora in which the nation is often seen as superior, and the diaspora oft constructed as an inadequate recreation or copy (Gopinath 7).Queer diasporas are often spoke of with an additional modifier, such as the Black Queer Diaspora, or the South Asian Queer Diaspora, but this is not always the case, and one can sometimes also just think about queer diasporas in general. A gendered modifier is also sometimes included, as diasporic experiences are also inevitably varied across the gender, class, and life spans.  In The Handbook of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Anne-Marie Fortier’s work provides a useful overview of the uses and implications for invoking a concept of queer diaspora.  Fortier notes that the relationship between queerness and diaspora occurs at two levels: “the creation of queer spaces within ethnically defined diasporas” and/or “the transnational and multicultural network of connections of queer cultures and ‘communities’” (183).  Both of these relationships feature in various bodies of research; however scholars tend to favor either one or the other in their own respective works.


Fortier’s identification of the two types of queer diaspora have been employed (somestimes indirectly) by a wide range of scholars. For example, Meg Wesling, examines many aspects of a queer diasporic subjectivity in her article “Why Queer Diaspora?”. In her work, she considers Manuel Guzman’s (1997) construction of the ‘sexile’: “a gay cosmopolitan subject who, once exiled from national space, is therefore outside of the duties, identifications, and demands of nationalism, and is paradoxically liberated into free transnational mobility” (31). The sexile, to a degree, transcends Fortier’s two categories of queer diaspora, and s/he draws on both queer spaces and queer networks to provide an alternative framework to conceptualize one form of queer migration linked to the concept of cosmopolitanism. Wesling draws on this example to assert that binary understandings of nation/diaspora are disrupted by a queer subject: “queerness constitutes a mobile resistance to the boundaries and limits imposed by gender, and that resistance is the same as the migrant's movement through national and cultural borders. Put simply, the analogy is this: queerness disrupts gender normativity like globalization disrupts national sovereignty” (31).

One of the key texts for defining and understanding queerness in a South Asian diasporic context is Gayatri Gopinath’s Impossible Desires (2005), but many of the concepts outlined her introductory chapter could also be applied to other diasporic groups and settings. In her introduction, she outlines her rationale for undertaking an analysis of queer diaspora and some of the implications of her work:

The category of “queer” in [her] project works to name this alternative rendering of diaspora and to dislodge diaspora from its adherence and loyalty to nationalist ideologies that are full aligned with the interests of transnational capitalism. Suturing “queer” to “diaspora” thus recuperates those desires, practices, and subjectivities that are rendered impossible and unimaginable within conventional diasporic and nationalist imaginaries. A consideration of queerness, in other words, becomes a way to challenge nationalist ideologies by restoring the impure, inauthentic, nonreproductive potential to the notion of diaspora. (Gopinath 10-11).

 By framing disapora as something other than a site of the reproduction of nationalism, Gopinath argues that queer diaporas challenge Salman Rushdie’s oft cited notion of the diasporic creation of an imaginary homeland. Rushdie writes that “our physical alienation from India almost inevitably means that we will not be capable of reclaiming precisely the thing that was lost; that we will, in short, create fictions, not actual cities or villages, but invisible ones, imaginary homelands, Indias of the mind” (10). With Rushdie’s work comes the implication that diasporic subjects are characterized by a sense of longing for the homeland, but also that they deal with a conception of the homeland that can never be recreated, that their “shards of memory” (12) give increased importance to whatever is remembered simply by virtue of it being remembered.  In contrast,  “[r]ather than evoking an imaginary homeland frozen in an idyllic moment outside history, what is remembered through queer diasporic desire and the queer diasporic body is a past time and place riven with contradictions and the violence of multiple uprootings, displacements, and exiles” (Gopinath 4). Importantly, Gopinath’s framings of diasporic subjectivity hinge one on very specific context, in which the originally homeland is remembered positively and perceived to be frozen, which is, of course, not the case for all diasporic situations. Her critique very overtly addresses the “fictions of the mind” created by some diasporic authors in their work, which create falsely positive homelands.

Gopinath’s explanation of the usefulness of a queer diasporic framework also hinges on understanding the relationship between nationalism and reproduction; “[b]ecause the figure of ‘woman’ as a pure and unsullied sexual being is so central to dominant articulations of nation and diaspora, the radical disruption of ‘home’ that queer diasporic texts enact is particularly apparent in their representation of queer female subjectivity” (15), and she relates the notion of impossibility (invoked in her title), to the inability of many heteronormative institutions to even acknowledge the existence of a queer female framework. Thus, whereas Wesling compares the queer/heteronormative binary with the globalization/national sovereignty binary, Gopinath takes this idea one step further and combines the two –usually opposed -- concepts by considering the relationship between gender normativity and contemporary nationalist ideologies. Thus, Gopinath’s work calls for a refiguring of heteronormative assumptions that she sees as inherent in common understandings of nationalism, and that she warns against reproducing in a non-queer and heterosexualized understanding of diaspora.

Considerations of the existence and significance of a Black Queer Diaspora also abound. Historically, Black sexuality (as well as Black masculinity and Black femininity) have sometimes been constructed and understood in juxtaposition to the white hegemonic norms, and Black Queer Studies and Queer of Color critiques address some of these differences.  Several book-length works address issues related to Black queerness/ queer consciousness and to the related concept of a Queer of Color critique. For example, Roderick A. Ferguson’s Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique encourages looking at the relationship between queer and racial identities. He writes that “queer of colour critique approaches culture as one site that compels identifications with and antagonisms to the normative ideals promoted by state and capital… queer of color analysis denotes an interest in materiality, but refuses ideologies of transparency and reflection, ideologies that have helped to constitute Marxism, revolutionary nationalism, and liberal pluralism” (3). Although Ferguson’s work is not centered around issues of diasporic subjectivity, and a queer of color critique is not interchangeable with a queer diasporic analysis, the two fields of study are related.

In 2012, a special issue of GLQ: The Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies was published. Edited by Jafari S. Allen, the issue, entitled “Black/Queer/Diaspora”, features work by many scholars, and also book reviews covering a wide range of texts that deal with intersections of race and/or ethnicity with sexuality.  Also of interest is Blackness and Sexualities (2007), part of the FORECAST series published by the Forum for European Contributions to African American Studies. This collection, edited by Michelle Wright and Antje Schuhmann, features both theoretical explorations and textual analyses.

In Queerly Canadian the chapter “Outside in Black Studies: Reading From a Queer Place in the Diaspora” by Rinaldo Walcott examines queerness in relation to Black consciousness and community building. He writes that:

Black diaspora queers live in a borderless, large world of shared identifications and imagined historical relations produced through a range of fluid cultural artifacts like film, music, clothing, gesture, and signs or symbols, not to mention sex and its dangerously pleasurable fluids. In fact, black diaspora queers have been interrupting and arresting the black studies project to produce a bevy of identifications, which confound and complicate local, national, and transnational desires, hope, and disappointments of the post-Civil Rights and post-Black Power era. (25).

 Thus, the relation between queer identities and Black identities is framed as complex and multifaceted, and faces a unique array of challenges due to the histories, legacies, and present experiences of racism[1] and segregation that face Black immigrant communities. Of course, racism is not a uniquely Black issue, however different communities have, for obvious reasons, experienced racism differently.


In summation, the relationship between diasporic subjectivity and queer subjectivity has been studied through a wide variety of lenses. The concept of Queer Diasporas crosses disciplines, invoking, in varying degrees, concepts of home, belonging, space, place, race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identities, and nationality. As Gopinath and Walcott and Ferguson demonstrate, different diasporic communities perform/construct queer diasporas in different ways, and to different ends. However, the emphasis placed on the relationship between nationalism, ethnic and/or racial identifications, and sexuality are salient in both works, and resonate throughout the broad and growing body of scholarship considering queerness in diasporic contexts. In particular, these texts, and others in the field, examine the ways that heteronormative and queer sexualities interact with other aspects of the diasporic condition, and the way that these interactions can be read. Therefore, it is not surprising that, as a concept, Queer diaspora lacks a monolithic and simple definition. While part of the difficulty lies in the inherent ambiguity and contested definitions of queerness, the concept of diaspora itself is constantly undergoing modifications and further applications which sometimes expand and sometimes limit its usefulness. Nevertheless, queer diaspora and, more broadly speaking, the relationship between sexuality and diaspora, represents a growing and dynamic avenue for researchers, and will no doubt continue to expand and respond to the varied and changing levels of acceptance and recognition of queer identities around the world.

Works Cited

 Allen, Jafari S., Ed. GLQ: The Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. Special Issue
            “Black/Queer/Diaspora”. 18(2-3):2012.
Ferguson, Roderick A..  Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique.
            Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004. Print.
Anne Marie Fortier, "Queer Diaspora," in Handbook of Lesbian and Gay Studies, eds. Diane
            Richardson and Steven Seidman (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002). 183–97. Print.
Gopinath, Gayatri. Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures.            Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2005. Print.
Rushdie, Salman. “Imaginary Homelands.” Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism.
            London: Granta Books, 1991. 9-21. Print.

Walcott, Rinaldo. “Outside in Black Studies: Reading From a Queer Place in the Diaspora”
            Queerly Canadian: A Introductory Reader in Sexuality Studies
. Eds Maureen
            FitzGerald and Scott Rayter. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2012. 23-34. Print.
Wesling, Meg. “Why Queer Diaspora?” Feminist Review 90 (2008), 30-47.
Wright, Michelle and Schuhmann, Antje, eds.. Blackness and Sexualities. Lit Verlag: Berlin,
            Germany. 2007. Google Books. Web. 15 July 2013.

Recommended Further Reading:

 Ahmed, S. Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality, London and New
            York: Routledge. 2000.

 Bhaskaran, Suparna. Made in India: Decolonizations, Queer Sexualities, Trans/national
. New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2004. Print.
Butler, Judith.  Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. 1990. New York:
            Routledge, 2007. Print.
---. “Imitation and Gender Insubordination.” The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader.
            Eds. Henry Abelove, Michele Aina Barale, and David M. Halperin. New York:
            Routledge, 1993. 307-320. Print.
Cruz-Malavé, A. and Manalansan, M. eds, Queer Globalizations: Citizenship and the
            Afterlife of  Colonialism
, New York: NYU Press. 2002.
Muñoz, J. Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics,
             Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1999.
Sinnott, Megan. “Borders, Diaspora, and Regional Connections: Trends in Asian ‘Queer’ Studies.” The Journal of Asian Studies 69.1 (2010): 17-31. JSTOR. Web. 31 June

The recommended and supplementary readings for this session were:

Mandatory texts:
Hill Collins, Patricia. “It’s All in the Family: Intersections of Gender, Race, and Nation”.
            Hypatia 13(3): 1998. 62-82.
Hong Kyungwon, Grace & Roderick A. Ferguson. “Introduction.” In Strange Affinities: The
            Gender and Sexual Politics of Comparative Racialization
. Durham: Duke University
            Press, 2011. 1-24.
Lowe, Lisa. "The Intimacy of Four Continents." In Haunted by Empire: Geographies of
            Intimacy in North American History
. Ann Laura Stoler, ed.

 Supplementary texts:
El-Tayeb, Fatima. 2011. “Dimensions of Diaspora: Women of Color Feminism, Black
            Europe and Queer Memory Discourse.” In European Others: Queering Ethnicity in
            Postnational Europe
. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Pp. 43-80. Ferguson, Roderick A..  Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique.
            Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004. Print.
Gopinath, Gayatri. Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures.            Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2005. Print.
Roy, Anindyo. “Postcoloniality and the Politics of Identity in the Diaspora: Figuring ‘Home,’
            Locating Histories.” In Gita Rajan and Radhika Mohanram (eds). Postcolonial
            Discourse and Changing Cultural Contexts. Theory and Criticism
. Contributions to
            the Study of World Literature 64. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995, 101-115.
Wesling, Meg. “Why Queer Diaspora?” Feminist Review 90 (2008), 30-47.