My queer decolonial project

Oscar Monaghan offers Indigenous Honi the pleasure of printing an especially unheard voice, writing from the intersectional perspective of a queer, Indigenous person of colour.

I am interested in decolonising queer frames and queering heteronormative notions of Indigeneity. These are joint projects, as the settler state is both White and heteropatriarchal.

It is the logic of settler societies to erase the colonial violence of the present, whilst at the same time insisting on the construction of Indigenous peoples as dead or near-dead so as to re-assert the legitimacy and inevitably of the White settler state. Death here can be literal death, or the death of Indigenous cultures through assimilation. (One of the paradoxes of the settler colonial state is the desire to disappear the original Indigenous population, so that the colonisers can become the “new Indigenous” in order to assert their own Indigenous claim to territory – and thus claim legitimacy.) To that end, heteropatriarchal settler colonialism requires either the eradication of Indigenous sexualities, or their integration within the heteropatriarchal sexual regime of the settlers. Colonial rule has at all times been invested in targeting Indigenous embodiment and marking out Indigenous desires as sexually transgressive so as to exert power and control Indigenous populations.

I see the act of decolonisation as a necessarily queer process as it provides us space within which to imagine the possibilities beyond the gender binary and outside the confines of heteronormativity. At the same time, ‘queer’ as a term, and as a frame, is epistemologically an invention of the modern West; whatever their formation, I would not wish to label pre-invasion Indigenous sexualities and/or genders as queer. The imperative to queer the decolonisation process should not necessarily entail the epistemic violence engendered through the imposition of Western modes of understanding: the task is not to find a past Indigenous “queer” figure because the act of attaching such a label to persons or practices pre-invasion, would be to commit a violent act in its overlay of colonial frames. Because of this, I situate the queering process in the now and future.

This future orientation means the decolonisation process is not undertaken with a view to arriving at some idealised Indigenous ‘authenticity’. Rather, it is as much about naming the settler state as heteropatriarchal and White as it is about: recovering subordinated histories and recognising that the sexual and gendered formations found in those histories was neither heteronormative nor queer. In the space beyond that imposed binary, I see something
of a decolonised future.

The above is with respect to queering decolonisation. The complimentary task is that of decolonising queer. This, for me, involves the recognition that settler colonialism is ever present – structuring relationship formations and desires. White norms proliferate in contemporary mainstream queer communities, and they participate in White settler societies ongoing project of colonisation through their emphasis on the politics of representation and inclusion in the colonial state. Homonormative politics do not have a critique of the ways in which these processes reify the White settler state and, as a result of this, queer citizen subjects become complicit in nation-building endeavours that further dispossess Indigenous peoples. The failure to link the politics of representation with the legacies of colonial practices, precludes solidarity between a critical queer Indigenous peoples and queer citizen subjects invested in settler homonationalism.

The dual task of decolonising queer, and queering decolonisation entails, for me at least, a politics that is deeply critical of the rhetoric of “rights” and “recognition.” A praxis that centres the slow march towards rights and recognition to be gained from an inherently genocidal and always-colonial state, inevitably sustains the very terms by which the state asserts its legitimacy and derives its power. Similarly, a praxis of decolonisation that reifies the imposed heteronormative/queer binary succeeds only in reproducing the very epistemic violence is seeks to shed.

As a queer Indigenous person of colour, I am interested in all critical queer projects that seek to intervene in homonationalism. The world I am interested in building is one that exists outside the normalisation of colonial institutions and frames.

Glossary of terms: 

Heteronormative: The idealisation and normalisation of heterosexual relationships as normal, easy and good. Contains within it presumptions of binary sex categories, which correlate to an observable and static gender.

Heteropatriarchal: The dominance
of straight men and the hierarchical and oppressive climate that results from that dominance.

Homonormative: A gay politics that chooses to work within the confines of the heteronormative framework rather than dismantling it.

Homonationalism: the idea that homonormative ideologies replicate the same hierarchical ideologies as heteronormativty and nationalism; especially those concerning the maintenance of dominance in terms of race, class, gender, and the nation-state.

Transgressive: An act, identity, body or experience that deviates from the norm.