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Quick Queer Glances at Immigration

Monica Enriquez-Enriquez’s work brings up a lot of ideas about the intersection of queerness and nationality, but very specifically, it deals with the process of changing nationalities as a queer person.  That issue seems to be really generally overlooked by both immigration reform activists and gay activists.

Of course, the HRC has no stance on the issue, but what I think I’ve found most surprising was actually how resistant to it most immigration reform organizations were.  As Timothy Randazzo points out, “While it is still difficult for many gay, lesbian, and transgender immigrants to find support and advocacy from gay and lesbian rights organizations, neither can they always rely on immigration organizations and attorneys.”  Major organizations like FAIR ignore queer people almost entirely.  In fact, I’ve personally had many conversations with leaders of immigration reform organizations who have said explicitly that they would not include queer people in their platform or even acknowledge support from queer organizations, because they felt it damaged their campaigns.  (The strategy has for a long time been to focus on highly religious communities, because they tend to have the most power in the South where immigration is most relevant.  Queer acceptance then posed a threat to relationships with those communities.)  Obviously, that’s terrible and it’s bullshit and it’s yielding to the politics of respectability and it’s not equality and it’s something that no reasonable social justice activist should support, but it’s real, and in the eyes of straight people, it is a good thing.

In class we touched a little bit on how being queer will almost certainly negatively affect a person’s chances at asylum, even though it’s a reason to be granted asylum.  If you aren’t the right kind of gay or the right kind of beaten, you probably won’t be able to stick around.  Extending the conversation further, though, immigration is hard for queers, period.  Certain paths of citizenship like marriage and childbearing are basically non-options for queer people, and the discrimination in housing, healthcare and employment that queer people face will make it significantly harder for them to carve a path.  Finally, the “invisibility” of the queer community may make it more difficult for queer immigrants to find people they can relate to, in a way that is not true for, say, African immigrants.  So then the issue for queer activists (or immigration activists, or anti-racists, or feminists, etc.) is to recognize the common aspects of our struggle and work together.  Equality for some is not equality.

Randazzo believes that LGBT activists should be concerned about immigration reform because “even seemingly neutral policies… have a disproportionately harsh impact on gay, lesbian, and transgender asylum seekers,” and because the inclusion of queer discourse in immigration brings “issues of sexual orientation and gender identity to the forefront of legal and public discourse.”  Additionally, in Enriquez-Enriquez’s piece, un/binding desires, the voiceovers reveal the way that oppression of queer people is frequently compounded by insecure national identity.  One interviewee reflects on his reluctance to embrace his sexual desires because of the judgment or shame he originally felt for his difference (though he did ultimately learn to appreciate difference).  Another interviewee expresses the difficulty of accepting her queerness while in a foreign country and realizing that in order to stay she would need to marry her transsexual partner.  This caused problems not only for the interviewee who was basically forced into marriage, but for her partner whose transsexuality was inspected in order to verify its authenticity, which is absurd and invasive.

Tackling further issues of intersectionality in immigration, Rachel Lewis addresses the issues of lesbians and queer women.  Because of cultural standards that deny many women access to public forums, travel, or autonomy, women around the world are often not given the credit that men are when trying to defend themselves in court.  Laws are inherently biased against women.  When trying to immigrate, and especially when seeking asylum, that misogyny evinces itself.  As Lewis explains,

“lesbians… file fewer asylum claims than gay men, making it more difficult for asylum advocates to invoke legal precedents in the context of lesbian asylum cases….  Unlike gay male asylum applicants, many of whom experience traditional human rights violations in the public sphere, the limited information we possess about lesbians internationally suggests that they are particularly vulnerable to abuse in the private sphere at the hands of non-state agents.”

This creates a serious dilemma and revelation in queer immigration (and queer rights, in general) of how we even define what an abuse is.  Is the economic disadvantage that LGBT people face not just as real as the physical abuse they experience?  Are private human rights violations less real than public ones?  Going back to the concept of seemingly neutral policies, we’re forced to understand that no policy in our world is really neutral.  The very foundational structures of our societies serve to advantage some people and disadvantage others; they serve to normalize some experiences and not others.  When you inhabit a marginalized body, you are essentially a foreign object.  Immigration and asylum is in a sense, the ultimate act of assimilation.  It is literally giving up one legal identity in favor of another.  But what if it didn’t have to be?  What if immigration could allow for difference?  I think that’s the ultimate queer thrust of this issue.

Lewis, Rachel (2010).  “The Cultural Politics of Lesbian Asylum.”  International Feminist Journal of Politics, 12:3, 424-443.

Randazzo, Timothy.  “Social and Legal Barriers: Sexuality Orientation and Asylum in the United States.”  Queer Migrations: Sexuality, U.S. Citizenship, and Border Crossings.  Eds. Eithne Luibheid and Lionel Cantú Jr.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.

Desiring Disability

Brothers of the Head is a revolutionary film because it simultaneously epitomizes and shatters the ideologies surrounding queer and disabled people. Through the explicit sexualization of the brothers, as well as the concept of  “desiring disability” Tom and Barry are able to show how audiences view queerness and disability but how they are also able to defy those preconceived misconceptions.

The depictions of Tom and Barry throughout the film illustrate both of them as sexual beings, which is unheard of for characters who are disabled. In a photo shoot conducted with two girls, the brothers are seen not only exploring their sexuality with the girls but with each other thus establishing the brothers’ identity as sexual beings. As McRuer and Wilkinson point out in their article, “People with disabilities are told in a thousand ways that their sexuality is unseemly when it’s not denied altogether” (9). However, their sexuality is not only expressed through the brothers’ actions and dialogue. It is also depicted in the way the camera exploits the bodies of the brothers throughout the film. In a scene where Laura, Tom’s love interest, and Tom are laying in bed canoodling and kissing, the camera plays a voyeuristic role by letting the audience into their personal space. At first, the picture is distorted and it is difficult to tell what exactly is happening on screen but as the picture becomes more clear, the audience is able to see Tom and Laura’s naked bodies laying on top of each other while Barry also acts as voyeur because he is in bed with them as well. While queer and disabled are sometimes victims of the privatization of sexuality because of a need to adhere to heteronormative norms about sexuality, Tom and Barry deviate from this by having their sexuality explicitly portrayed (McRuer & Wilkerson, 9).

The idea of the exploitation of the body is taken even further in the film through the concept that Wilkinson describes as “desiring disability.” While McRuer and Wilkerson say that the are critical of “fetishistic appropriations, to disability, from tokenistic cultural representations designed to make able-bodied consumers feel good to some variants of sexual devoteeism,” Brothers of the Head exemplifies this definition of “desiring disability.” Throughout the film, the “disability” (whether it’s interpreted as their queerness or the fact that they are conjoined) of Tom and Barry are exploited by the camera. For example, because of Tom and Barry’s public displays of affection, the audience feels like it is intruding in many of their special moments. The camera takes the audience to the brothers’ bed and to their special moments together, which are usually filled with embraces. While the relationship between Tom and Barry is up for interpretation in terms of sexuality, the camera sets the audience up to be these “variants of sexual devoteeism” by allowing them to experience these moments with Tom and Barry. The actual disability is also exploited when the camera zooms in on the piece of flesh that connects Tom and Barry. Often times, fans, especially women, are seen touching the flesh which is literally fetishizing exactly what makes them disabled. While, this can be interpreted as a fascination because of how different Tom and Barry are, it can also be a way to “make able-bodied consumers feel good.” Audiences get to see that Tom and Barry do not and cannot exist mutually exclusively from one another and see how physically and mentally straining it is to have another human being attached to you. This could serve the function of  “desiring disability” because the audience is able to be grateful for the fact that they are not Tom or Barry.

While the idealization of bodies can be seen as exploitation by the camera, it can also be seen interpreted as a cultural movement in how disabilities and queerness is portrayed in the media. One of the other ways to define “desiring disability” is a “politicized disability rights movement” that would continue to expose contradictions in the system while engaging in “’practices of freedom’ that would work to realize a world of multiple (desiring and desirable) corporealities interacting in nonexploitative ways” (McRuer & Wilkinson, 14). Tom and Barry really begin this idea of “practices of freedom” by having their sexuality be as fluid as possible. The fact that they are conjoined does not make them less sexually desirable, as shown by Tom and Laura’s relationship, but it also does not make them have to abide to sexuality binaries. The kiss the brothers share could be confusing to the audience, but it also shows how the brothers are engaging in their “practices of freedom” Tom and Barry are also comfortable with their disability. It is not something they try to conceal but rather embrace (literally, because so often they are seen embracing one another) it and call attention to it. In solo interviews conducted with only the brothers throughout the movie, they are always joking about the fact that they are conjoined and make funny remarks as to how they would react if they had conjoined children. They also encourage people to touch the flesh that joins them both and instead of trying to conceal their disability, they spend a significant amount of time shirtless in the film. It is also true that the brothers do not see themselves as disabled. When Laura first comes to write an article about the exploitation of the disabled, they joke that one of the band members has a “dodgy ankle” and she should be writing on him. Interactions like these allow people to be at ease when addressing the disability and see past it. In Laura’s case, she sees past it enough to begin a physical and sexual relationship with Tom.

Works Cited

McRuer, Robert, and Abby L. Wilkerson. “Introduction.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies (2003): 1-24. Print.