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Gay Shame Redux

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Abstract:

In March 2003, the University of Michigan hosted the Gay Shame Conference, organized by David Halperin and Valerie Traub. The conference was designed to bring together scholars and activists interested in affect and abjection and critical of gay normalization. It was attended by a range of prominent scholars in LGBTQ studies, scholars in disability studies, activists, University of Michigan students and faculty, and members of the Ann Arbor community. Conflict marked the conference: the activist group Gay Shame, dissatisfied with the academic bias of the panels, suggested that the conference should be called Gay Sham; concern before the conference about the failure to invite prominent scholars of color in the field deepened into anger in response to several racially-charged exchanges that took place during the weekend.

The recent issue of Social Text, “What’s Queer about Queer Studies Now?” includes articles by Hiram Perez and Judith Halberstam that critique the racist logic of the Gay Shame conference. For both Perez and Halberstam, the problems that plagued the conference were not incidental; rather, they argue that they were rooted in a particular conceptualization of shame—as a feeling bound up with a “property interest in whiteness.” Offering a significant challenge to work that has seen shame as a basis for coalitional politics, Perez and Halberstam argue that “white gay shame” is private, colonizing, and that it feeds a nostalgic image of pre-Stonewall life that depends on the spectacle of racial otherness.

The gay shame debates have opened crucial questions about the relation between shame, identity, and praxis. The recent issue of Social Text raises the possibility that shame should be abandoned as a key concept for queer politics. The introduction to the volume, co-authored by Halberstam, José Esteban Muñoz, and David Eng, calls for a turn away from gay shame and toward “gay humility.” This paper aims to think through this suggestion by looking at the way that race has functioned in several influential accounts of shame, from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s treatment of Andy Warhol’s whiteness to Muñoz’s discussion of shame as an integral to the disidentificatory stance of the queer racialized subject.

In looking at accounts of shame as foundational to identity, as a means of survival, and as a political strategy, I hope to address a series of questions: What are the limits and possibilities of work that compares experiences of shame across race, class, gender, and disability? To what extent do theories of shame depend on accounts or spectacles of other people’s shame? Is gay shame coded white? What alternative understandings of shame emerge in recent work by queers and feminists of color on this topic? How central is shame to understandings of queer as a stigma-inflected form of coalitional politics? What, if anything, is left of the idea of shame as the basis for collectivity in the wake of these debates?
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Name: American Studies Association
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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p113719_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Love, Heather. "Gay Shame Redux" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association, <Not Available>. 2013-12-16 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p113719_index.html>

APA Citation:

Love, H. "Gay Shame Redux" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association <Not Available>. 2013-12-16 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p113719_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: In March 2003, the University of Michigan hosted the Gay Shame Conference, organized by David Halperin and Valerie Traub. The conference was designed to bring together scholars and activists interested in affect and abjection and critical of gay normalization. It was attended by a range of prominent scholars in LGBTQ studies, scholars in disability studies, activists, University of Michigan students and faculty, and members of the Ann Arbor community. Conflict marked the conference: the activist group Gay Shame, dissatisfied with the academic bias of the panels, suggested that the conference should be called Gay Sham; concern before the conference about the failure to invite prominent scholars of color in the field deepened into anger in response to several racially-charged exchanges that took place during the weekend.

The recent issue of Social Text, “What’s Queer about Queer Studies Now?” includes articles by Hiram Perez and Judith Halberstam that critique the racist logic of the Gay Shame conference. For both Perez and Halberstam, the problems that plagued the conference were not incidental; rather, they argue that they were rooted in a particular conceptualization of shame—as a feeling bound up with a “property interest in whiteness.” Offering a significant challenge to work that has seen shame as a basis for coalitional politics, Perez and Halberstam argue that “white gay shame” is private, colonizing, and that it feeds a nostalgic image of pre-Stonewall life that depends on the spectacle of racial otherness.

The gay shame debates have opened crucial questions about the relation between shame, identity, and praxis. The recent issue of Social Text raises the possibility that shame should be abandoned as a key concept for queer politics. The introduction to the volume, co-authored by Halberstam, José Esteban Muñoz, and David Eng, calls for a turn away from gay shame and toward “gay humility.” This paper aims to think through this suggestion by looking at the way that race has functioned in several influential accounts of shame, from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s treatment of Andy Warhol’s whiteness to Muñoz’s discussion of shame as an integral to the disidentificatory stance of the queer racialized subject.

In looking at accounts of shame as foundational to identity, as a means of survival, and as a political strategy, I hope to address a series of questions: What are the limits and possibilities of work that compares experiences of shame across race, class, gender, and disability? To what extent do theories of shame depend on accounts or spectacles of other people’s shame? Is gay shame coded white? What alternative understandings of shame emerge in recent work by queers and feminists of color on this topic? How central is shame to understandings of queer as a stigma-inflected form of coalitional politics? What, if anything, is left of the idea of shame as the basis for collectivity in the wake of these debates?

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