In this auto-ethnographic essay I shed light upon processes of racialiazation and sexualization which work to construct the figure of the disabled, diseased, alien. The paper argues disability based immigration policies, along with neoliberal notions of productivity and enterprise operate as technologies of power, excluding queer HiV positive migrant subjects from the gates of the US nation-state. I shed light upon HIV based immigration policies, disability and sexuality rights activism, pre and post 9/11 US national security practices by retracing lived experiences of mine from Kolkata, India and post 9/11 New York City. The narrative journeys to spaces such as HIV clinics, S&M chambers, and hospital rooms in hopes of understanding collective claims to life being made by those occupying the interstitial shadow spaces between nation-states, perverse/ normal, ability/disability, and ultimately life/death.
"But perhaps there is some other way to live in such a way that one is neither fearing death, becoming socially dead from fear of being killed, or becoming violent and killing others, or subjecting them to live a life of social death predicated upon the fear of literal death… Surely, some norms will be useful for the building of such a world, but they will be norms that no one will own, norms that will have to work not through normalization or racial and ethnic assimilation, but through becoming collective sites of continuous political labor."
"The U.S.-Mexican border es una herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country-a border culture."
In this autobiographical essay I sketch the ways in which bodies, desires and life of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) and HIV positive immigrants are being torn apart, and reconfigured within global neoliberal security regimes. I pay keen attention to the practices of community building within Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender communities in global cities such as Kolkata (India), and New York (US) along with US rust-belt cities such as Akron, OH. The article is a cartographic attempt of locating sites within which the boundaries between ability/disability, perverse/respectable, legal/illegal, first world/ third world, diseased/ healthy, living/dead is being reconfigured. The essay journeys through sites from my life such as hospital rooms, HIV clinics, cramped apartments, S&M chambers, and dark un-found cruising parks in hopes of understanding collective claims to life being made by those marked as in- between figures of life and death within transnational assemblages of labor, capital, and national security practices. The article is an attempt at reconstructing memory by journeying through sensations, which rise through my body. Images and sensations flashing through my body send electric like shock waves through my fingers, propelling me to type words on screen (and paper). First, I turn to feminists of color in order to situate memory reconstruction as a site for resisting domination. I shall then narrate fragments from my past 1 pairing them with an elaboration of neoliberalism as form of social rationality intimately informing bodily subjectivation. Following Michele Foucault, 2 I argue US neoliberalism operates at the intersection of body, population, and enterprise in order to create the figure of the disabled/diseased alien. Immigration laws operate as the site for framing bodies as diseased, pathological aliens costing the US government in health care expenses. Cost-benefit analysis along with health status throws the bodies of disabled aliens outside the nation-state of the US. In the final section of the essay I turn to memories of organizing in post 9/11 New York City as a way of situating productive uses of power within LGBT and (dis) abled communities. Abram Anders suggests, disability activism need not attempt recuperating some authentic subject, rather needs to pay attention to activist narratives as sites for refashioning power within and among (dis) abled bodies (Anders, 2013). I bring together memory, flesh, and theory in order to re-sketch LGBT and (dis) ability activisms as they interface with US neoliberalism.
Memory as Method
Feminist theorist M. Jacqui Alexander has written that the act of recuperating repressed, submerged histories is deeply significant, because they provide an "antidote to alienation, separation, and the amnesia that domination produces." They offer a way of excavating "the costs of collective forgetting so deep that we have even forgotten that we have forgotten" (Alexander, 2005:14). In her attempts to examine the trans/national political economy of queer postcolonial sexualities Suparna Bhaskaran deploys a playful interplay of "memories, conversations, archives, multiple media, flesh and blood and imaginary persons" (Bhaskaran, 2004:35). Narrative style theorizing is perhaps best expressed within the writings of Audre Lorde. Lorde situates her bodily sensations of surviving breast cancer as a way of knitting a meta-narrative of surviving cancer, racism, and womanhood in the US (Lorde, 80). Writing about walking through multiple power positions and with Stage III Ovarian Cancer, Sheena Malhotra states, "by writing through my body, I share my personal dance with cancer in order to excavate important political dialogues in feminist theorizing" (Malhotra, 2009: 115). Malhotra recollects her bodily experiences with post-surgery and chemotherapy as a way of theorizing the connections between her body and feminist theory. The disembodied theory for Malhotra is replete with bodily sensations, and speaks to her through her "borderlands of health" (Malhotra, 2009; 120). This essay engages with a range of bodily sensations including pain, pleasure, the debilitating impact of reduced T-Cell counts such as pneumonia and peripheral neuropathies. My recollections of pleasurable sensations generated during my experimentations with S&M seeks to activate memory, friendship, and fantasy as a way of binding "intimate sexual gestures to larger sociopolitical movements through the sexual explorations of power, including forms of submission" (Rodriguez, 2014: 19). Memory within women of color thinkers emerges as a way of recreating the skin upon which multiple wrinkles are layered. Skin, flesh, and memory is recreated through autobiographical story telling in order to (re)member the various way power not only impinges upon the body, rather refashions certain bodies as productive, and certain as (dis)abled, dangerous and disposable.
Following Alexander, Bhaskaran, Lorde, Malhotra, and Rodriguez I turn to lived memories, bodily sensations, previously written essays and blogs of mine, Queer and (dis) ability theory for a playful corroboration of my academic ruminations. The engagement with theorists remains playful since it is a patchwork of quotes along with lyrical fragments from my life. The patchwork hopes to create a disjointed discursive life world within which the readers are invited to find their own interpretations of both theory and flesh. This style of work perhaps will never be considered (and is not intended to be) as objective, but is rather an attempt to retrace parts of mine and some of my friend's bodies, which remain deeply enmeshed within global assemblages of sex, labor, neoliberal capital, and national security regimes.
Neoliberalism's Significant Others
At the onset, I want to briefly discuss how I am using the term neoliberalism and why it is central to my argument. Neoliberalism refers to a set of monetary and trade policies. These policies even though contested, are associated with "free market economy" that has dominated western politics and emerging global markets such as Brazil, India, and China since the early 1980's (Duggan 2003; Giroux 2008; Richardson 2005; Ong 2006; Oza 2006). Further, Neoliberalism is concerned with defining policies which impact the personal, sexual, and domestic life, including welfare reform, education, and recognition of domestic partnerships (Cehrniavsky 2009; Cooper 2002; Giroux, 2008; Reddy, 2005; Winnubst, 2012). Neoliberal regimes seek to privatize the social and economic operations of the government by seeking to protect the individual citizen and the economic market from excessive interventions of the state. The individual citizen is granted a set of liberties and responsibilities, and is assumed to be a self-regulating, enterprising, good citizen subject (Cherniavsky, 2009; Foucault, 2003; Richardson 2005; Winnubst, 2012). Privately and quasi privately funded social programs such as professional institutions, philanthropic foundations, and educational establishments help regulate the behaviors of the citizen, thereby molding them into good, legal citizens.
The US based LGBT rights movement has centralized the right to same-sex marriage, equal employment opportunity, and equal treatment in the US military. The rhetoric of state protection invites the neoliberal state into the lives of LGBT citizens, calling for a confirmation to neoliberal codes of conduct. This has been aptly termed by Duggan as "the new homonormativity" (Duggan, 2003). Central to neoliberalism are policies related to the flow of corporate capital across international borders (Harvey, 2005) and yet meticulous management of the movement of human beings across international borders (Butler & Chakravorty Spivak 2007; Reddy, 2005). In such a context the bodies of immigrants are being re-coded as documented/ undocumented, skilled/unskilled, healthy/diseased, abled/disabled, and threatening/productive. The apparatus of immigration control therefore operate as a technology of power, and intimately re-arrange life and bodies of immigrant communities (Baynton, 2001; Foucault 2004; Puar, 2007; Reddy, 2005; Richards 2004; Shah, 2005). However, the recoding of bodies by immigration regimes is incomplete. The processes of community building within LGBT and HIV positive immigrant communities are the breaking points with neoliberal security regimes. The collective and at times contested attempts to resist death and being marked as disabled and diseased are the discontinuous zones of the power- knowledge nexus of neoliberal regimes.
The beginning, which has no beginning
On May 15th, 2008 in a 4-3 decision, the California Supreme Court ruled that people have a fundamental "right to marry" the person of their choice and that gender restrictions violate the state Constitution's equal protection guarantee. Less publicized news from the same day reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents raided a well-known French bakery in San-Diego, and arrested 18 undocumented migrant workers, some of whom had worked for more than 16 years in the bakery. ICE agents also raided the homes of workers who were not on the job that day, including an illegal raid at the University of California at San Diego graduate students housing. These two pieces of news from the same state and the same day aptly summarize the inequalities that neatly mark my life. LGBT blogs are inundated with pictures of happy couples and their wedding cakes, cakes made with the sweat and toil of hard-working, underpaid laborers. Laborers who could be LGBT and/or undocumented. As the movement for sexual and gender revolution is hijacked for a narrow call to confirm to a capitalist hetero-patriarchal core, the lives and aspirations of millions of human beings deemed "illegal" or simply unwanted are torn apart by imperialist regimes across the globe. While racially and economically privileged LGBT US citizens are finally assimilating into a US citizens' rights framework, and their humanity is being recognized, a whole new class of non-humans has been created.
I am an English educated, immigrant, brown, HIV positive, Kinky, femme fag. I have to constantly negotiate my presence in this country with complex gender, race, class and national border control regimes. My mobility across state and gender boundaries is restricted and contested — the cost of the contestation evident in my failing mental, physical and financial health. I have worked as a house cleaner for upper class households in Manhattan, inhaling ammonium and bleach for long hours. I also worked as a busboy at upscale bistros where I was slapped around by the gay male clientele, and yet made sure to keep smiling at my customers, even when they would cross acceptable physical boundaries, in hopes of a fat tip. I have spent months at a stretch in bleak hospital rooms with needles and syringes piercing into arteries and veins in hopes of finding life amidst excruciating amounts of pain. And, I am not the only one. Our stories as (dis)abled, diseased, gender-queer, transgender, faggots and kinksters don't begin here in the US. We have histories sometimes rich, sometimes of terror and persecution in our countries of origin. Our communities of origin abandoned many of us since we are Namard (not a man in Hindi and Urdu). We come from countries ravaged by colonization, wars, growing inequalities in income, and disinvestment in public services and schools. Globalization has brought structural adjustments to our countries of origin, and a privatization of essential services. This has hit the poorest among us especially hard.
My friendship circles across Kolkata, Dhaka, New Delhi, Colombo, Rawalpindi, Akron, San-Francisco, Lander, Columbus, New-York, Johannesburg, Lesotho, Senegal, Rio-De-Janerio, and London is filled with people who cross diverse borders every day in search of a place called home. My dearest friend Babu from Bangladesh has survived life-long torture from both his family and from society at large due to his feminine presentation and Christian heritage. He lost his job at a government-sponsored development program and was unable to find another, since most folks would not hire someone effeminate. Jobless, he traveled around Bangladesh with a troupe of Kothis (feminine presenting men who have sex with other men). They would sing and dance at wedding ceremonies, living off a meager income of $10-50/ month. After getting beaten and raped by local hoodlums, he escaped to the US and started working at Dunkin Donuts, making $4.99 per hour, way more than he would have earned in Bangladesh. He continues to live in a makeshift room in a basement in Queens, and prays that he does not fall sick. He sends about half of his income back to his sister in Dhaka, hoping one day he can return to build a house there. In my conversations with him over cell phones he mentions praying every morning for my failing health.
My journey across the globe begins with the immigration reforms in the 1970s and '80s, which brought medical and engineering professionals from recently decolonized nations of Asia to the US. Several of my maternal aunts were married off to professionals migrating to the US in search of a better future. Most of my childhood winter vacations in India were spent playing with my cousins from the US — as we explained to them the stories of over three million Hindu gods and goddesses, they shared their Disney View-Master, and Lego toys with us. The dream of crossing the seven seas and living in the land of Mickey Mouse was firmly planted in my heart very early in life. Growing up in an upwardly mobile English-educated family in Calcutta meant that I had access to the United States Information Services and British Council libraries, where I would spent countless hours devouring the Atlantic Quarterly or Signs, learning about the emerging LGBT and new wave feminist movements. The splashy rainbow flag images from the Stonewall 20th anniversary inspired some of us to start the first gay and lesbian support group in Kolkata.
We would spend hours in cruising parks and women's studies gatherings doing outreach for support group meetings. Very soon we connected with support groups in local cities and recently formed LGBT South Asian groups in major cities of the US and UK. We organized the first International South Asian conference on "Histories of Alternate Sexualities" in New Delhi in 1993 and in the following year the first International South Asian conference of gay men and men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM). Tensions existed along class and gender lines, and any conversations with Hijras (often referred to as third-sex-third-gender in South Asian countries) and Kothis (feminine presenting, non-English speaking men who desire other men) were barely happening. At support group meetings, Bengali and Hindi-speaking men and women would often remain silenced. Our publications had to be trilingual to reflect the complex linguistic contexts of India. At the core of these tensions was our own internalized classism and phobia of Hijras and Kothis 3
The key organizers of these fledgling LGBT support groups were all upper-middle class English-educated men and women. We were well-trained, respectable Indian citizens. The feminine voices and flamboyant mannerisms of the non-English speaking Kothis were too disruptive for us. I would be polite and smile as I met Kothis in cruising parks and I would hand them flyers for the support group, yet secretly I hoped they would never show up at meetings. In the parks, they would walk in small groups, wear facial make up, and speak in street Bengali, all of which was alien to me. Their loud mannerisms and shabby clothing seemed very alien from my English-speaking, denim-sporting, globetrotting "gay" world. Yet when I was harassed by cops at the parks, it was Kothis who came to my defense. One such incident happened on a dark winter evening. I was caught carrying condoms in my bag by the local police, who would haunt the cruising joints in hopes of extracting money from "cocksucking Kothis." The two cops threatened to arrest me for distributing "profane materials." I was nervous, and yet kept talking to them in English and broken Bengali, telling them that I worked for family planning programs. The cops laughed loudly at all my pleas. Three of the Kothis came running, yelling and clapping loudly, cursing the hell out of the cops. A small crowd gathered, and ultimately the cops left. As I began to mingle more with the Kothis I began to face my own inner prejudices and fears. I learnt that loud mannerisms, claps, and street-smartness were their way of surviving the dark realities of working class femme men in Kolkata. I went on to build friendships with several of them. Often we would sit on a park bench and giggle over how we would love to be the wives of hot butch men. With increased visibility came increased backlash. Several of us were beaten up, blackmailed and harassed. I was attacked several times while doing HIV outreach at public parks and toilets. As some of us became publicly visible, our English-educated friends started to avoid us. Fear of bringing shame to their families by being visible with disgraceful figures lay at the core of these avoidances. In the wake of constant verbal and physical assault, the dream of Mickey and Minnie became more of a practical and family mediated exit to the land of the Stonewall riots.
Queer and Brown in the Midwest
In summer of 1996 I arrived at the Cleveland Hopkins airport with two suitcases packed with my favorite clothing. My well-built, basketball-playing cousin came to help me with my luggage, as my aunt waited outside in her Jaguar. I recently went back to the picture my aunt snapped on my first evening in her house: my hair is long and curly and I'm wearing a tie-dye shirt, obviously femme next to my buff male cousins. All of us look awkward next to each other. The awkwardness in that picture continued to frame my next few years in the perfect white suburbs of Akron. I felt like an uprooted tree, cut off from my friends in India, not knowing how to drive, taking long bus rides to go to school. Very quickly I found the cruising spots on campus. Back then cruising went on pretty heavily at a few of the men's toilets. You needed to make foot gestures from underneath the flimsy walls to pick up the guy next to you. I was surprised at the number of men who kept rejecting me, once they came around the doors and saw me up close. I guess being brown and having a medium sized penis did not take you that far in the white, blonde-dominated meat markets of the Midwest.
In summer of 1997 I met Kurt at one of the toilets. He was big-dicked, tall, and broad-shouldered, with sandy blonde hair and green eyes. He was the Superman I was told I could meet in the US. "I would love to tie you up and fuck you," he said. "I am not sure about that," I replied. I don't know why I said that. I always held fantasies of getting tied, always enjoyed reading the daddy-boy sex scenes in porn magazines. But I repressed those fantasies, thinking them to be "sick and perverted." But here was an open invitation from a gorgeous man to enact those scenes. I experimented once, twice, and decided to stick with him. We enacted countless scenes over the next three years.
I was the brown slave boy. I would stand in his dungeon, tied to a cross — unable to move, every part of my body restrained — as he would softly fondle me. Those were such intense scenes, all my thoughts focused on him, every single touch giving me the goose bumps. His dark green sparkling eyes looking directly into my eyes, making me feel as though he was reading everything that was tucked away in the corner of my heart. He would play with my hair, saying how much he loved my dark black shiny hair. I remember distinctly feeling his warm fingers stroking back and forth. The intensity was overpowering.
Our entire Master/slave relationship revolved around race-based role plays. He would pick me up from the school library, and we would fuck for hours. Some days he would be the white master raping my brown hole, and other days the white leather daddy punishing me for being a dirty brown fag. Most of our role plays were supposedly negotiated, but as a lonely fag newly arrived in the Midwest I went along with whatever he proposed. Kurt was the hot white Superman that I had dreamt about. I would do anything to keep having sex with him. Our relationship never evolved beyond sexual buddies, and this began to disturb me. I would spend long sleepless nights wondering if I was merely his Asian sex slave. I ran into him at a local bar, and he refused to acknowledge me! Back then, I was scared to confront him with this incident. Years later, when I did confront him, he awkwardly replied, "I don't know why I did it! I am sorry!" Deep in my heart, however, I knew that while he enjoyed sex with me and several other Asian men, he wanted to fit in with his white upper class gay neighbors by dating another rich white boy.
For those of us whose stories will never be told
"So after the first seizure of power over the body in an individualizing mode, we have a second seizure of power that is not individualizing but, if you like, massifying, that is directed not at man-as-body but man-as-species."
I left the unbearable whiteness of Akron, Ohio in January 2000 for the Big Apple, in search of a South Asian/people of color progressive queer community and a career in nonprofit management. Little had I anticipated that, a year and seven months later, one of the most definitive events of American society was about to hit me and my home. "Debanuj, wake up, the twin towers have been bombed!" David's voice yelled on the answering machine. I turned on the TV and the first thing that went through my mind was, "My green card application is fucked!" I desperately tried to call my work (an environmental canvassing agency) and went over how much I would receive in my next two paychecks, because there was no way that, as a brown gender-queer fag, I would be knocking on doors in Long Island right after 9/11.
In the days that followed we went back to being a one income household. David worked for his father's construction company during the day and as a go-go dancer at night. I sat at home, cleaning and cooking, frantically begging friends to give me consulting gigs under the table. We were running out of food. Babu, my friend from Bangladesh, got us a ten-pound bag of rice from his church. I started to help him on his asylum application. He was starting to feel unsafe working at Dunkin Donuts. Back in those days, there were a lot of community dinners at friends' houses. We would huddle in people's cramped Manhattan apartments, and silently eat. Yet soon these parties became rowdy with music and robust with our zeal to survive and thrive amidst growing violence and xenophobia. Since David, a Mexican immigrant, was very active in the Latina/o LGBT community, and I was involved with the South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association, our house soon became a venue to build cross-racial bridges. On David's birthday that October, my South Asian friends brought flyers for a teach-in on Afghanistan, and folks talked about how we were all oppressed in this system!
Our efforts to build cross-ethnic alliances were fraught with challenges. Most of David's friends were working income Spanish-speaking Mexican queer men and a few women, while most of my friends were English-speaking middle class South Asians. Let's just say there was a communication gap between us that had to be filled with rounds of tequila shots and food fights. Some of my closest friends would privately ask me: "How can you hang out with those illiterate Mexicans?" Very soon I would fall off the good books of the socialite South Asian queers, owing to my "wayward ways."
Post 9/11 was marked by an overwhelming culture of fear. I was attacked by a group of young men (they were a mixed racial group), and beaten up in an empty subway station. I was lucky that a few people came running down the stairs and I got away with a couple of punches and a twisted ankle. My attackers yelled at me, "terrorist fag go back to your country!" In the first week of that October after 9/11, eight queer-transgender South Asians were physically attacked across Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. South Asian drag queens saw a marked drop in attendance at clubs across New York City. One renowned South Asian female-identified DJ summed it up aptly, "People are afraid to be around brown people." Policing in its multiple forms is so common in the lives of (dis) abled communities, queer and transgender people of color that we learn to normalize it. In his seminal work on the management of spoiled identities Erving Goffman elaborates that stigmatized individuals face a constant tension upon entering mixed social situations. The individual gets so used to this tension, that they start responding by "defensive cowering" (Goffman, 1963: 17). Such defensive cowering is not new to me. I learned how to walk fast in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, since there were always cop cars roaming. I also changed my style of dress — instead of wearing skirts with denims; I started to wear traditional male clothing, hoping to avoid ruthless comments from the streets. I knew I could not rely on the police for any safety, or to address any violence done to me, in fact, they might cause me more harm.
One of my friends who lived with his partner in Kew Gardens, Queens called me and was shocked to have received a notice from immigration authorities in the name of his lover (a gay undocumented man from Pakistan), saying that he was to be deported to Pakistan due to a visa overstay. He could hardly do anything to prevent his lover's deportation, since he also had just applied for political asylum in the US. We found a pro-bono attorney and were able to get "withholding of removal," which allowed him to live and work in the US; today he is still unable to leave the US borders. Several of my Pakistani and Bangladeshi friends had to go and register, since special registration was passed. Men who had grown to live their lives as women felt to dress and behave "manly" when they went to register.
Needless to say, all of this put a heavy toll on our physical and mental health. I fell into depression. We got used to eating one heavy meal a day. Often we would pull in cash between three or four households and hold joint dinners. Soon tensions emerged in the community, and most of us just stuck to work and home. We were even scared to talk about immigration or 9/11 over the phone. The culture of fear and terror seeped into our efforts at community-building. Many of the Hindu middle class members of the South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association would warn me not to hang out with my Muslim friends. The nationalist divisions between Hindu Indians and Muslim Pakistanis reared its ugly head. Many of my Hindu, Indian upper class friends would avoid their Pakistani friends, and often in all-Indian settings you would hear someone alluding to all Muslims as gun-toting, backward folks. I would be warned by my fellow Hindu Indians, "You know they are all being watched! Don't go to their homes; you will be on the FBI list!" As I look back to the dim days after 9/11, all I can think of was how paranoid and fearful we were of everyone, including our best friends. All kinds of spying scenarios would go through my mind. I would wake up in the middle of the night thinking that the FBI had busted open my doors. All this is not to suggest that our problems started after 9/11. Prior to 9/11, fears and tensions about immigrants and queers existed in the communities we lived in. Detention was still high in working income communities, and transgender folks were facing harassment, often rape, in detention centers. The NYPD had a heavy presence in neighborhoods such as Bed-Stuy, Harlem, Washington Heights, and Jackson Heights. The strategy was to nab immigrants on all kinds of misdemeanors and get them into the database. 9/11 gave the police and immigration authorities a reason to do everything overtly in the name of fighting "terrorism."
Cultures of Pain, Cultures of Contestation
The fear and confusion which ensued post 9/11, got complicated with my HIV status. As I began to organize, build collective power within LGBT immigrant communities, my body began to internally decompose. In the summer of 2003 I was diagnosed as living with AIDS. This diagnosis came within a few days of my immigration application being granted by the United States Citizenship and Information Services (USCIS). The United States has denied the entry of HIV+ people for both short term travel and immigration since 1987. This exclusionary practice follows a long history of excluding immigrants into the United States on public health grounds (Baynton, 2001; Luibheid, 2002; Zolberg 2006). Since the 1890's the US Congress empowered the federal government to turn back those with loathsome or dangerous contagious diseases (Fairchild, 2004). Douglas Baynton argues "One of the fundamental imperatives in the initial formation of American immigration policy at the end of the 19th century was the exclusion of disabled people. Beyond the targeting of disabled people, the concept of disability was instrumental in crafting the image of the undesirable immigrant" (Baynton, 2001: 45). The rational for such exclusions ostensibly being two fold; i) protecting the public health of US citizenry and ii) Reducing the burden on health care expenses of the US government. The intersections of racism, abelism, xenophobia and public health becomes evident when these bans are contextualized within the demographic profiles of generations of incoming immigrants and those who are excluded (Fairchild, 2004; Gardner, 2005; Lee and Young, 2010).
In the early 1990's during the Haitian Refugee crisis, all Haitian detainees at Guantanamo were forcibly tested for HIV, and those found positive were detained in Guantanamo under un-hygienic conditions. The Haitian Centers Council successfully fought a case for the release of the terminally ill detainees. The entire situation created a renewed fear of "diseased foreigners", and prompted Congress to consider legislation that legally deemed HIV+ persons as "inadmissible". Review of the congressional hearing proceedings reveals deployment of xenophobic, HIV phobic and homophobic remarks by those in support of the ban (Fairchild, 2004). A large coalition of medical, legal and LGBT rights organizations opposed the ban, but in wake of virulent AIDS phobia and stigma of the early 1990's, and fear of a flurry of HIV+ immigrants driving up health care costs in the US, the ban was adopted (Luibheid, 2002; Fairchild, 2004). The ban disproportionately impacted immigrants of color, since majority of recent immigrants to the US are from Latin America, Caribbeans, Asia and Africa. It can also be argued that the ban like other bans in the past is deeply rooted in scientific racism, xenophobia and homophobia (Ordover, 2003 & 2012).
Efforts to remove the HIV ban have largely been organized by HIV/AIDS, LGBT rights and some immigrant rights organizations. In 1990, several medical, Gay and Lesbian and Immigrant organizations such as Gay Men's Health Crisis, the American Medical Association lobbied the Health and Human Services (HHS) to remove HIV from its list of inadmissible diseases. As the HHS was preparing recommendations, the then Republican dominated Congress pushed through a bill that eventually made it a law to ban HIV+ individuals from entering the country. Since then, extensive on the ground organizing has been conducted by grass-roots immigrant organizations, who worked to push policy organizations to bring the removal of the ban back as an agenda item, to their work. In May of 2006 the "Lift the Bar Coalition" was formed, lead by Gay Men's Health Crisis, Queers for Economic Justice, The Audre Lorde Project, Immigration Equality, HIV/AIDS organizations such as African AIDS Services, AIDS Lesotho and AIDS Action along with immigrant rights organizations such as the National Immigrant Justice Center. On July 2008, after years of significant on the ground organizing, and lobbying "Lift the Bar Coalition" was successful in removing the HIV ban language from the "Immigration and Nationality Act".
As the New Voices fellow (2006-2008) I was one of the lead community organizers around the initiatives to "Lift the Ban". Publicly my body was mapped as that of an Immigration and Education Policy Expert, whereas privately I was intimately aware that any inkling of my health status would have me labeled as "diseased, public burden." I recall organizing community forums, frantic negotiations and coalition meetings. Throughout this process I remained "in the closet" about my HIV status, and yet every cell within my body wanted to announce loudly my own health status, and the ways I have had to hide in fear. The pain of hiding underground, days of unemployment, hunger, and fear of accessing treatment leading me to near death would flash across my mind. I wondered where I would turn for the wasted seven years of my life. Will the judge or the Senator be able to understand the lost wages, aspirations, depression and most of all the psychological violence of being separated from my beloved parents? I knew that my life and story was not the only one, there were several HIV positive immigrants silently waiting for some form of relief, as they continued to work hard, and pay taxes. Justice for me lay in the removal of the US HIV Ban, and continuing to channel my pain, and anger towards global regimes of security which relegated differently abled bodies to die privately and shamefully. There were days when my frail body, dressed in suits would march into law-makers offices speaking in policy slang. I learnt to calculate the cost of treating an HIV positive person, and comparing these prices with the cost of compulsory testing/deporting HIV positive immigrants. The Urban Planning tools associated with my dreary days at the University of Akron came handy. The application of the cost-benefit grid seemed like a tactical strategy during 2006-2007 to get the attention of lawmakers. Ruth Colker describes similar negotiations while narrating the legislative history of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) (Colker, 2005). Colker enumerates that the passage of the ADA was largely predicated upon arguing for the rights of disabled people, along with negotiating the price of accommodating disabled especially those living with AIDS in employment sectors such as food handling (Colker, 2005: 55). Colker narrates that there seemed to be confusion in the US Congress around the nature of HIV as an infection during the 1989 debates over the ADA. Several members of the congress were unsure if HIV was a contagious or infectious disease (Colker, 2005:56). The confusion over the nature of HIV framed and at times withheld the passage of the ADA. The debates over those living with HIV/AIDS and the costs incurred in treating these bodies therefore remain central to debates around HIV, disability, and immigration. These debates predicate the life of those living with AIDS, and at times relegate us to die painfully in private and shame.
Feminist and poet of color Audre Lorde, speaks about pain eloquently in her book "The Cancer Journals." Pain for her (and several disability theorists) is an area of experience where language fails (Scarry, 85; Lorde, 80). Lorde conceives of physical pain as "sheer power" (Audre Lorde, 80). The sheer pain of needles and syringes piercing into my arteries and veins, and a battered immune system circulated (and continue to circulate) throughout my body. My struggles with AIDS reached its peak in the summer of 2003. My T-Cell counts had dropped to a mere 50. I was diagnosed with PCP and Kaposis Sarcoma. During my prolonged hospital stay I was surrounded by an amazing care giving posse. One of my friends gifted me with the collected poems of Audre Lorde. Much like Lorde, I decided not to romanticize the physical pain, and sense of loss that had gripped me, instead I decided to channel my pain into creative power for ushering justice. Justice for me is when every immigrant will be imagined as a human being with dreams, aspirations and emotions. Justice will shine when all LGBT people, people with all kinds of (dis)abilities will be able to live life free of shame, with un-restricted mobility across global borders, and with access to universal health care. And, for each of these to happen we need to go beyond our focus on public policies, we need to expand our work to incorporate strategies that fundamentally alter power relations in society.
Connecting the dots: What do neoliberalism and security states have to do with faggots?
"American neo-liberalism still involves, in fact, the generalization of the economic forms of the market. It involves generalizing it through the social body and including the whole of the social system not usually conducted through or sanctioned by monetary exchanges."
Sometimes I am read as respectable, upper-class, English educated, sometimes as the brown, perverted, diseased other and sometimes as underemployed household help. In slowly waking up to these multiple mappings I have had to travel to my inner phobias of other gay /queer/gender-queer/ transgender, diseased and (dis)abled people. The pain of loving a hot white stud in the Midwest who used me sexually while rejecting me emotionally served as a jolting reminder of my place in the race-class hierarchies of gay/queer men's communities in the US. In a twisted tale of global migration I went from being on the top of the hierarchy in India to somewhere near the bottom in the US. I began to debunk my own internalized hierarchies by constantly challenging myself to love Babu and David during those dark days of post 9/11. Honestly a large part of it was prompted by my own survival needs. Yet in attempting to survive I was reminded survival is never a singular journey. Individuals can make it on their own, and those of us who succeed need to move on, leaving behind unsuccessful individuals. This idea is at the heart of neoliberal social ethics. Human relationships, like the economic market, are left to laws of competition and individual gain. For those of us who find ourselves in the lower rungs of the racial-sexual-economic ladder, such notions are dangerous. As evident from my stories both in India and in New York, our survival and thriving is predicated upon our community's survival. Every time I have attempted to make it on my own, I have found myself isolated, hopeless and often at the mercy of underpaid and overworked social workers. Healing and collective resistance occurs only within the context of community formation (Lorde, 80).
Journeys of LGBT and HIV positive immigrants across national borders in search of sexual and economic opportunities are not singular journeys. We follow a global chain of movement across borders. Stories and images of sexual and economic freedom circulating through the fast globalizing family networks and media circuits pull us to this very core of neoliberal capitalism. A set of hierarchies reduces us to nude housecleaners, go-go-dancers, nannies, food servers, diseased/(dis) abled and figures of death/terror. We are overwhelmed by financial stress and physical pain. Immigration regimes mark us as either "documented" or "undocumented," "highly skilled" or "unskilled." These markings manipulate our abilities to negotiate the price of our labor, often resulting in competitions among friends.
Are we weak and silent victims living in shade and in need of super-(wo)man like saviors? Or are we strong resilient communities? To answer this question I invite everyone to imagine these two paradigms not in contrast with each other, but rather on parallel (and at times intersecting) paths. We spend countless hours calculating the complex equations of immigration attorneys, international phone calls, medical bills, and rising food prices. Sometimes the losses far outweigh the gains, and then there are times when our tired brown bodies wrapped around shinning red, pink and gold colors march down Fifth Avenue or Market Street celebrating all things queerly brown, and the very fact that we continue to survive, thrive, and cook cheap curried meals for each other. And, in our survival small victories are gained against all-encompassing global security and economic regimes that would rather see us decompose and die. Our survival leads us back into newer systems of power, one which is created through our encounter with global regimes of capital, national security, and labor.
The encounter between regimes of national security, immigration regulations and bodies of LGBT/HIV positive immigrants occur in the interstitial shadow spaces 4 between nation-states, ability and (dis) ability, perversity and respectability. Interstices following Deleuze are neither the beginning, nor the end rather the middle (milieu), and the space of revolt against the imaginary origin, center, and boundary (Deleuze, 1988: 123). Just as the grass has no one root, central part, or limits to its growth, to find oneself in the interstitial shadow spaces is to find oneself in the middle of multiple worlds. Multiplicities, which trouble originary ideas about ability, home, and productive body. Through out this essay I have been attempting to sketch diagrams of my body, sensations, and relations as they multiply through my journeys. There is nothing authentic about my recollections. Rather, sensations flowing through my body and are refashioned as multiplicities, an intimate cartography, mapped through words. I am marked as an immigrant of color bearing the monstrous capacity to spread the HIV virus; and at times as English educated potentially productive person caught in-between native and foreign lands. These multiple mappings allow for potential contestations and continuous collective political labor. The perversity of my diseased, disabled body, and the assemblages I journey, propel the multiplicities of what Robert McRuer terms, "a will to remake the world, given the ways in which injustice, oppression, and hierarchy are built (sometimes quite literally) into the structures of contemporary society" (McRuer, 2012). According to Robert McRuer, "increasingly, the disability movement or disability studies emphasize recognition within the terms of dominant norms and assimilation into the mainstream, rather than fundamental changes to society. The good disabled subject is similarly the one most distanced from queerness (that is, the unruly kind of queerness that cannot so easily be domesticated)" (McRuer, 2012). The task for the "emerge-agency" of disability studies is to question the medicalized gaze and the formation of hegemonic body during states of emergency (Bruggemann, Chrisman & Lupo, 2005). The formation of a productive, healthy body remains central to a post 9/11 US nationalist project (Bruggemann, Chrisman & Lupo, 2005; Puar, 2007). (Re) membering multiple interstices, (instead of a singular center-margin) troubles neoliberal normalization and allows for a dislocation of neoliberalism's en-abling power-knowledge nexus. My rotting T-Cells give way to a different cell division count regulated through multiple drug cocktails. My decaying body is medically regenerated. The bio-medical regeneration of (my) cellular protein is unable to fully erase memories of pleasure, pain, ecstasy felt through multiple friendships, similarly neo-liberalisms en-abling subjectivation remains incomplete within un-mappable sites wherein bodies deemed as (dis)abled monsters refuse to "let die." Refusal occasions the emerge-agency of a kind of will, which holds potentials for cripping neo-liberalism.
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Portions of my recollection was published as a narrative style essay titled "Trans/Nationally Femme: Notes on Neoliberal Economic Regimes, Security States, and My Life as a Brown Immigrant Fag" in Why Are Faggots Afraid of Faggots? Edited by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. Edinburgh, Scotland & Oakland, USA: AK Press. Further,
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In Society Must Be Defended, Michelle Foucault argues Sexuality is "at the intersection of body and population" (Foucault, 2003: 251-252). Further, in Birth of Biopolitics, Foucault argues the hallmark of American liberalism (in the colonial era) was around the question of freedom of individual from the state. In his later lectures Foucault enumerates American neoliberalism as a form of social rationality, which hinges around competition between individuals (enterprise society), social insecurity, and productivity.
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I am referring here to a vast body of literature, which indicates the class, regional, and linguistic divisions within men-who-have-sex-with-men, gay identified men, and gender variant male bodied people who articulate their lives and desires through terms such as Hijra and Kothi. For a detailed discussion around these conflicts refer to Cohen, L.2005. "The Kothi Wars: AIDS, Cosmopolitansim and the Morality of Classification" in Sex in Development: Science, Sexuality, and Morality in Global Perspective eds Vincanne Adams and Stacy Leigh Pigg. Specific to West Bengal, the work of Aniruddha Dutta enumerates regional, class, and linguistic divisions among English speaking gay men and men living in urban peripheries who identify as Kothis.
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I borrow the term "interstitial shadow space" from Juanna Maria Rodrguez. For Rodriguez, the figure of the queer asylum seeker occupies the interstitial shadow space between nation-states. Rodriguez urges for theorizing from the ethical standpoint of the queer asylum seeker, keeping in mind the subjects precarious location between different nation states, immigration laws, and interlocutors such as human rights activists. In my work I draw upon spatial thinkers such as Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos while theorizing "interstices" from a material perspective. In his theorizing of spatial justice and lawscape, Philippopulos-Mihalopoulos ascertains interstices as the interval between bodies where speed is generated towards "mad becomings" (Philippopulos-Mihalopoulos, 2013). Interstitial shadow spaces between nation-states come to represent the interval between multiple bodies in my narration. Disease, pain and pleasure operate as modalities of power propelling bodies on emergent planes in spaces such as hospital rooms, S& M chambers, and across sovereign borders towards multiple becomings.
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