Events: Queer Histories and Presents

Politicizing sexuality, rewriting the international: The anti-imperialism of the gay liberation movement

Alex Stoffel – Queen Mary University London

Numerous queer scholars have raised concerns about contemporary transnational LGBT movements. They have provided a compelling critique of both a) the imperialism of contemporary sexual rights movements, as they impose a Western sexual epistemology on non-Western subjects, and b) the nationalism of post-colonial regimes, who legitimize queerphobic state repression by framing homosexuality as a corruptive Western import. However, these critiques have their limits. Analytically, they run the risk of assuming a radical discontinuity among global sexual discourses, which inadvertently reinscribes homosexuality as inherently Western and which conceals the complex struggles over these discourses within the West itself. Politically, it is marked by a sense of political paralysis and paranoia, as it is unable to envision a transnational political struggle around sexuality that does not collude either with the imperialism of global sexual rights movements or with the nationalism of post-colonial elites. This analytical and political deadlock follows from this scholarship’s exclusive concern with the sexual rights movements of large non-governmental organizations, international institutions, and mainstream advocacy networks. Alternative histories of radical sexual politics have largely been ignored. This paper turns to the internationalism of the gay liberation movement, uncovering a history of transnational queer politics that undermines the foundational presuppositions of transnational sexuality studies.

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