After Marriage, Redefining Freedom in the Cross-hairs of Empire and Dictatorship

In this talk, Raha Iranian Feminist Collective will offer a transnational perspective on the “after marriage” political moment by exploring the connection between U.S. nationalism and LGBTQ inclusion in the institutions of marriage and the military. As many scholars and activists have shown, the establishment of a normative, nuclear family structure has been indispensable to the notion of a national way of life—“our freedom”—that must be defended from outside threats, in this case, with the largest military in the world. The Middle East, and Iran in particular, is the location of “threat,” held up as the ultimate place of unfreedom for women and sexual minorities. As diasporic Iranian activists, artists and scholars, we are always waging a simultaneous battle to stand in solidarity with those fighting for gender and sexual rights in Iran, while also resisting the discourses and policies of western cultural imperialism. In a context of an open-ended “war on terror” in that part of the world, we foresee that some LGBTQ organizations (and funders) will further channel their activities towards expanding gay marriage rights globally as the litmus test of freedom, and are concerned about how this agenda can dovetail with justifications for military intervention.

Beyond this critique of homonational imperialism, however, we find the notions of human sexuality and kinship that underlie struggles for inclusion within the institutions of marriage and the military to be profoundly limited and impoverished. The rights framework that has come to dominate the mainstream LGBTQ movement often reflects a static image of gender and sexual identity, a flat, sanitized and even de-sexualized notion of human relationships. Our experience of more collective forms of family and kinship in Iranian society has made us both acutely aware of the limits of blood-based patriarchal kinship, but also familiar with more capacious forms of intimacy and care than those which attend marriage in a nuclear family context. Rather than representing an ideal, these other ways of organizing social reproduction help to knock marriage and the nuclear family off their pedestal, and encourage us to imagine other ways of living and loving and caring for older people, disabled people and children. This is especially important as neoliberal economic shifts place greater pressure on families and often push people towards the nuclear family as a new, if strained, global norm.  A more expansive homosociality and intergenerationality can easily get lost in this process and may indeed be important elements in broadening our definitions of intimacy and kinship.


Part of panel Transnational Issues in LGBTQ Politics
October 2, 2016, 09:00–10:45