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Queer Politics and Subjectivities

Panel III-25, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
  • In this paper, I trace the attachment of sexualized discourses to Alevi bodies, arguing that sexual and sectarian minoritization are intertwined in the context of Alevilik (Aleviness) in Turkey. How can the complex web of discourses imbued with sexual anxiety and moral panic be explained as a site of power, knowledge, and signification about ethnoreligious minoritarian social life and politics? In addition, how does the rhetorical politics of deviance organize current discourses of normativity, morality, and dissent in Turkey? Drawing on archives in the Turkish news media, scholarship, and popular culture, I contend that Alevi culture is a sexualized one that is placed outside established conventions of the Turkish nation-building project. Moreover, Alevis are a "religiously queered" population systematically produced in the Turkish national imagination. These aspects remain marginalized in dominant Alevi scholarship. Instead, scholars of Alevi studies have often shown defensiveness to the politically mediated circulation of sexualized discourses against Alevis. This stance has led them to reproduce such binaries as Alevi/Sunni, straight/queer, and normal/abnormal. I move away from defensive and identitarian scholarly strategies that negate Alevis' allegedly deviant sexuality to offer an analysis of the ways in which sectarian and sexualized differences have become entangled in the service of the control of minoritarian populations in Turkey. I propose that a close reading of the entanglements of sect, sexuality, affect, and politics is essential within the intellectual and political trajectory of Alevi studies and historiography. Therefore, I bring together Alevi Studies, Sexuality Studies, and Affect Studies in this paper. I begin by summarizing a historical matrix of sexuality discourses that imaginatively construct Aleviness as an object of fear in Turkey. I then discuss how this circulation involves or mobilizes affects that support political rule and national imaginary that render Aleviness dissent and a “threat,” thus reducing it to an essentialist category regardless of ethnic, linguistic, and regional differences among the Alevi community. Finally, I conclude by discussing the discourse of sexuality in Alevi scholarship, focusing on my own affective involvement and ethical role in navigating between degrading meta-narratives and collective minoritarian sensibilities. Sexualized discourses, which have functioned as grounds for repression, have become a collective political force for Alevis in the past. In such a political scenario, I suggest that deviant attachments can offer new political and epistemic queer possibilities for the present and future.
  • Saffo Papantonopoulou
    Lubunca and Kaliarnta are two “Lavender Languages”: argot used by LGBT communities in both Turkey and Greece respectively. In this paper, I explore their early origins in nineteenth century Athens and Istanbul, and the maritime circulations that connect them. As has been demonstrated by linguists, both languages draw heavily off of Romani— and yet despite their common origins, they have seldom been studied together. Deploying mixed methodologies, I situate the emergence of both languages in the context of larger nineteenth century shifts in discourses around gender and sexuality throughout the Islamicate world, and argue that the two emerged out of a context in which modernizing practices of policing sexuality led to the emergence of new queer subject positions. As such, I argue that the two languages— with their common historical point of origin— represent a kind of archive of becoming, a record of the birth of a queer subject position.
  • In 1923, the first issue of Bin Bir Buse was published in Istanbul. This magazine advertised itself as containing the “most dazzling stories of all of Eastern and Western literature: the most lively, the most seductive, and the most sultry”. Inside we find a mix of flirtatious short stories, bawdy jokes, and voyeuristic cartoons that attempt to document the sex life of Istanbul in the early 1920s. The stories make claims to realism, they ground themselves in details of the city, of urban life, and together they say that these “most lively, most seductive, most sultry” things are happening all the time, all around Istanbul. In this paper, I argue that these stories produce urban space as full of sexual possibility. The stories delight in showing the immoral or illicit behaviours lurking behind even the most upstanding men and women of the city, and in doing so destabilise new norms of gender and sexuality that were at the heart of Turkish modernity. Moreover, in this production of sexual possibility, the stories, with their frequent references to alafranga behaviour, European norms, and colonial penetration, highlight the non-sovereignty of the new Turkish Republic over urban space. Bin Bir Buse was censored by the new Turkish Republic in 1924 after 16 issues. In documenting the sexual life of Istanbul, Bin Bir Buse also worked to produce it, against the programmatic measures taken by the Republican state to control sexuality. Scholars have documented these measures and the repressive effects on the visibility of homosexuality, the regulation of sex work, and the rigid containment of female sexuality but so far little attention has been paid to the productive effects of such attempts at control on sexual imagination. The stories of Bin Bir Buse function through such imagination, they often describe women as “unimaginably beautiful”, leave scenes trailing off with an ellipsis, or describe, in detail, what is running through a man’s mind when he thinks of a woman. I argue that this terrain of imagination is directly shaped by the recent colonial occupation and the programme of Republican sexuality, that even in its excessive, disruptive power, sexual fantasy is constructed in relation to the state and to international political developments. In my reading of Bin Bir Buse, I work to map the nested interactions of sexuality and the state, pushing Michel Foucault’s arguments further into the realm of the imaginary.
  • Scholarship on sex and sexuality in the Maghreb overwhelmingly focuses on the experiences and identities of foreign men. In fact, scholars have hesitated to tackle the subject of homosexuality amongst Maghrebis, and when they have, their work has exclusively focused on gay men. In some ways the lack of scholarship on homosexuality in the Maghreb reflects the socio-legal oppression of queerness in contemporary Maghrebi societies. Today in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia same-sex sexual activities are illegal and many LGBT people choose to hide their sexual orientation from large parts of their communities for fear of social discrimination, family rejection, violence, or murder. Historically speaking, queer love and relationships have been restricted to the sexually-segregated spaces of the private sphere, sitting outside of the traditional archive. While queer people have been part of every major protest movement since the 1960s, and more recently, led struggles for legal rights, including the right to marry, to organize, and to publish journals, they remain absent from the historical narrative. My second book, Maghreb Mithlya: A History of Queer Women in Postcolonial North Africa, seeks to bring queer voices into histories of the postcolonial Maghreb. This paper will be based on one chapter in the book focusing on the role of queer organizing in the 2011 Tunisian Revolution. I will first introduce the audience to the process of creating a “rebel archive,” in which a historian can find the traces of an intimate queer life, led despite social and legal prohibitions. Then, through an analysis of oral histories, visual arts, and literature, I will tell the stories of a few queer Tunisians and their fight for a democratic society in which they would be free to live and love. This work will help recover the histories of the racial, political, and sexual diversity of people living, writing, and dissenting in the Maghreb during the twentieth century.
  • The “carceral continuum” (Moran et al., 2017) has been recently explored as a useful analytic in migration studies. It brings to the fore the ways in which the regulation of human mobility is a continuous process operating at different levels of intensity and formality. Yet, its “epistemological cisheteronormativity” (Ritholtz, 2022) remains unchallenged. In this paper, I explore how gender and sexuality shape the “carceral continuum” in the context of migration between the Middle East and Europe. I suggest that queer refugees enact what I refer to as 'intensified gender and sexual performance’- that is, deliberately and strategically exaggerating normative gender and sexual expression - in their attempts to navigate “confinement in motion” (Balaguera, 2018). Relying on three months of ethnographic fieldwork in Athens, I analyze the impact of Iraq-Greece’s cis-heteronormative carceral geographies on the life of Ziri, an Iraqi trans woman stuck in limbo. While tracing her (im)mobility trajectories through time-space, I focus on her relational encounters with (1) border police and flight attendants at the airport-prison, (2) humanitarian workers and refugees at the camp and NGO accommodations, and (3) smugglers at borders. I argue that Ziri futilely mobilizes masculinity and/or femininity to escape confinement in these sites, which in turn impacts her gender subjectivity. Ziri's path has prompted a reconfiguration of our understanding of how gender and sexual norms are inextricably linked to the experience of carcerality. It contests the homonationalist discourse which characterizes queer migration as a unidirectional journey from repression in the "country of origin " to liberation in the "country of reception". My study thus brings together and contributes further knowledge to debates on carcerality in geography and queer migration by queering the carceral continuum as both a gendered and relational experience that is not necessarily bound to place.