The last two Curved Radio shows in which I appeared responded to recent attacks on LGBTIQ+ communities around the world. Examples from the last two weeks include: the forced closure of the Beijing LGBT+ Centre and the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023. At the moment there are few good news on the legal front globally, so I wanted to discuss how this queerphobia (I prefer the term queer, because it encompasses non-normative genders and sexualities) is also hitting heterosexual communities, and different sectors of society, including the economy. I also made a zine for people who want to support the community with the hopefully intriguing title ‘Straight People Are So Fucked Up’ (available at London LGBTQ+ centre zine library, happy to email copy). Here is a summary of the points I wanted to make in the shows:
The social and economic cost of criminalisation
- What criminalisation of LGBTIQ+ people means for the community: no legal jobs, no legal housing, no legal medical care (also often done by homophobic churches), no protection against/after attacks, vulnerability to blackmail or betrayal
- What criminalisation means for the wider society: everyone is under scrutiny – lots of energy wasted on warding off suspicion which filters into all relations, including within the family; drain of resources on irrational threat, general erosion of human rights. Even people who do not support this legislation are expected to be or are forced to act as informers. Note: every time someone says they do this to protect the children and heterosexual relations, they are taking the rights away of future and current generations.
- What criminalisation means for the music and arts community: arts and music are natural havens for queer people who are struggling to fit with normative society. Queer people often function as drivers of innovation (see disco, techno, house music for example). Music is also regarded as erotic and leading to promiscuity, so is being seen as sinful, so enforcers of target music as an ‘entry drug’. E.g. in Uganda, the Nyege Nyege label and affiliates have been under attack on moral grounds.
Image: Authentically Plastic DJing at HÖR Berlin.
Problematic reporting on queerphobia, especially in relation to the ‘Global South’
- Maps showing the state of LGBTIQ+ legislation around the world can be problematic. While the message has mostly arrived that they are not showing an ‘enlightened’ Global North vs an ‘unenlightened’ Global South, the new treatment of this data can also be problematic.
- Many journalists correctly identify colonial anti-homosexuality and anti-matriarchy legislation as a culprit for hostility against queer communities. They call upon people not to continue to oppress themselves. This, however, assumes that people in these countries do not know their history – they do! The hatred is more complex. Some great texts here by authors such as Maria Lugones, or in the African context, Oyeronke Oyewumi, Sylvia Tamale, Stella Nyanzi (Uganda, exiled in Germany), Rahul Rao.
- Some reasons that play into homophobia in the Global South: not wanting to go back to gender and sexual models because things have moved on; anger at United Nations and similar institutions for using LGBTIQ+ issues and feminism as reasons for on-going oppressions (while having shit legislation themselves!); aid and sexual health related politics; neoliberalism’s demand to break human ties and support networks; religious institutions wanting to consolidate power, perceived threat to population reproduction; scapegoating/distraction (queer people are best for paranoia, because anyone could be queer); generational issues.
- A lot of the above reasons with economic and social justice, but they are also ultimately self-destructive. But you have self-destructiveness in Western countries as well, e.g. in the UK, where fantasies of empire led to Brexit, which basically amounts to self-destruction.
- Some reasons for queerphobia also apply to the Global North (e.g. scapegoating, religious influence, perceived threat to reproduction, generational issues).
What ‘safety’ means
- Questions of how to maintain community under surveillance and threat of death/imprisonment/torture.
- The difficulties of finding a safe space elsewhere in a world with tougher and tougher borders. Especially refugees from the Global South having to prove queer identity, because they are often not considered ‘developed enough’.
- The difficulties of living in exile, including negotiating ‘survivor’s guilt’ and privilege.
- The drain on creativity when you have to deal with this mess. This will also affect artists in other countries who are supported by local cultural organisations and networks.
Image: Still from Denise Ho’s video for ‘Infatuation’ (with actress Shu Qi, left)
Queerness and spirituality
- Lastly, some comments on the opposition of religion and queerness. (Some great work on queer spiritual practices by Peter Jones who is just finishing his excellent PhD on this topic.) Some queer musicians (e.g. Desire Marea, Kiddy Smile, Tarik Tesfu) have focused on the fact that queer people have been considered positively different in many cultures and ages, and often had spiritual functions.
- Music and dancing can, in return, have a spiritual function for queer people (e.g. disco has often been described as ‘queer church’), perhaps closer to spiritual intent than organised religion. That itself might be frightening for religous and political leaders who are working closely with religious institutions.
Playlist 25 May 2023:
Listen to the episode here.
Playlist 1 June 2023:
Authentically Plastic ‘Aesthetic Terrorism’
Listen to the episode here.