disidentification

As queer of color analysis claims an interest in social formations, it locates itself within the mode of critique known as historical materialism. Since historical materialism has traditionally privileged class over other social relations, queer of color critique cannot take it up without revision, must not employ it without disidentification. If to disidentify means to “[recycle] and [rethink] encoded meaning, and “to use the code [of the majority] as raw material for representing a disempowered politics of positionality that has been rendered unthinkable by the dominant culture,” then disidentification resembles Louis Althusser’s rereading of historical materialism. Queer of color analysis disidentifies with historical materialism to rethink its categories and how they might conceal the materiality of race, gender, and sexuality. In this instance, to disidentify in no way means to discard.
— 

Roderick Ferguson, “Introduction: Queer of Color Critique, Historical Materialism, and Canonical Sociology,” Aberrations in Black: Towards a Queer of Color Critique, pg.5 (x)

Disidentification is the third mode of dealing with dominant ideology, one that neither opts to assimilate within such a structure nor strictly opposes it; rather, disidentification is a strategy that works on and against dominant ideology. Instead of buckling under the pressures of dominant ideology (identification, assimilation) or attempting to break free of its inescapable sphere (counteridentification, utopianism), this “working on and against” is a strategy that tries to transform cultural logic from within, always laboring to enact permanent structural change while at the same time valuing the importance of local or everyday struggles of resistance.
—  Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics, José Esteban Muñoz
8

“A Gut Reaction To Systemic Oppression and Erosion of Freedom Pt. 1”

          This performance is the first part of an experimental physical, personal, and artistic expression that is reflective of my sudden shift from Los Angeles to the Bay Area. Both parts are my personal attempts at coming to terms, re-affirming, shedding, dealing, letting out, reacting, leaving behind and reformatting of my sudden relocation and conscious shift from certain mainstream ideologies about the U.S. government, Mexican government, colonization, a capitalist society, sexuality, queerness, gender, and “immigration”.

           I used two tones of makeup foundation that matched my skin tone. I applied the foundation to my face numerous times and smeared my face across the margins of the canvas leaving a print, smudge, scar, or residue of my brown face. The canvas laid on the ground, as did I, to perform the action or gesture. I was confronting and being honest about something really personal and sensitive as well as something that is looked down upon on men. This ritual of putting on makeup when someone feels the need to “look good”, the need to cover up what they perceive as flaws. Those flaws became visible as I smeared the make up  across the canvas leaving a deformed portrayal of my" ideal flawless skin" on it. I was stripped away from that thing that hid my insecurities and was faced with confronting this moment of vulnerability. I decided to leave the middle of the canvas blank, something that artists are always preoccupied with, and the face imprints on the edges as a representation of the marginalization of queer people of color and my own Mexican culture; simultaneously reflecting my experience at U.C. Berkeley. 

 -Sebastian Hernandez 

- http://instagram.com/brownskinhazel

The process of organizing collective subjects for social change does indeed involve “movement” on many levels, and one of them undoubtedly entails forging forms of collective consciousness. This process is not merely cognitive and rational — though it is that, too; it also works on the affective investments people have in the identities they claim. One of the steps in forming collective agency entails ‘disidentification.’ Disidentification is a practice of working on existing ways of identifying that we embrace and live by. This “work” is a process of unlearning that opens up the identities we take for granted to the historical conditions that make them possible. It involves uprooting these identities not just from ways of thinking that invite us to construe them as natural but also from a history of suffering—the fertile ground for resentment to grow—and resituating how we know them in a different historical frame, a frame that allows us to see how this suffering is the product of a mode of production that out- laws a whole array of human needs. The disidentifying subject taps into the ways her outlawed needs, including her affective needs, are channeled by culture-ideology. She replaces the narrow resentment of identity politics with the potentially much more powerful and monstrous collective opposition of all of capitalism’s disenfranchised subjects
—  Rosemary Hennessy, Profit and Pleasure: Sexual Identities in Late Capitalism, p. 229
Although the political discourses that mobilize identity categories tend to cultivate identifications in the service of a political goal, it may be that the persistence of /dis/identification is equally crucial to the rearticulation of democratic contestation. Indeed, it may be precisely through practices which underscore disidentification with those regulatory norms by which sexual difference is materialized that both feminist and queer politics are mobilized. Such collective disidentifications can facilitate a reconceptualization of which bodies matter, and which bodies are yet to emerge as critical matters of concern.
—  Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter
The Disidentifications of Vaginal Davis & José Esteban Muñoz

When I tell other artists I am studying performance art, they usually ask- “Like Guillermo Gomez-Peña?” But really, they should be asking me, “Like Vaginal Davis?” In the introduction to his book of essays, Disidentification: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (1999), José Esteban Muñoz describes disidentification as, “the survival strategies the minority subject practices in order to negotiate a phobic majoritarian public sphere that continuously elides or punishes the existence of subjects who do not conform to the phantasm of normative citizenship” (Muñoz 4). But Muñoz also clarifies that disidentification doesn’t work for all, “At times, resistance needs to be pronounced and direct; on other occasions, queers of color and other minority subjects need to follow a conformist path if they hope to survive a hostile public sphere” (Muñoz 5). Muñoz is referring to his own early history when he dated white men in order to have access to a world he wouldn’t have had access to, otherwise. In his seminal queer black performance video, Tongues Untied (1989), Marlon Riggs describes his first white love as both, “a blessing and a curse.”

(Vaginal Davis wearing the bra from Pat Benatar’s early video. Photo credit Michele “Hell” Carr of Jabberjaw)

However, to relate disidentification simply to who one is dating, or making love to, would be  unjust to what the word can really signify- or how it can be used. As a young, closeted-gay, inner-city Chicano (we used the word Vato, back then) I was pressured to join a gang. Which is fine by me, my freshly pressed size-50 Dickies pants, and shaved head with one-foot rat tail hid the fact that I was a also a raging homosexual. I was the fiercest of the group, and nobody would have guessed my secrets- until much later, when my fashion got even more drag. Meanwhile, I had a friend who when you told him to, “Suck my Dick,” as an insult, he would get on his knees and yell, “Pull it out, let’s do this, don’t be a Pussy!” Both shocking and defeating his homophobic friends. That friend might as well have been a former incarnation of LA conceptual drag artist Vaginal Davis. In his essay, “‘The White to Be Angry’: Vaginal Creme Davis’s Terrorist Drag,” Muñoz discusses his affinity for punk rock music as a teen, despite the common homophobic and racist messages he already endured in real life. And how some people, such as Vaginal Davis, are able to not only be respected, but thrive in this environment- despite being a Black/Chicano who doesn’t look manly, feminine, or more importantly- white.

(Vaginal Davis reveals the secret to her pearly whites, Date/Source unknown)

Davis originally explored issues of blackness with her LA punk zine, Fertile La Toyah Jackson, and later her musical group Afro Sisters- which she fronted with two white girls as back-up dressed in extravagant afro’s reminiscent of Angela Davis and 60’s revolutionary Black fashion- whom which she borrowed her name. She also played with Latino conventions, with her music group Cholita! which is billed as the “female Menudo.” Quite ironic, when you consider that menudo is most commonly made by women- and demands more than 24-hours of slow-cooked attention. Davis describes this transition perfectly, “Vaginal emerged as a filtering of Angela through humor.” Which is where The White to Be Angry comes in. In that performance she played a black woman who has had both racial and gender reconstructive surgery to become a bearded, bald, white supremacist male. During her performance her layers are literally dropped off, revealing a man dressed as a “woman” within. Muñoz explains, “Her uses of humor and parody function as disidentificatory strategies whose effect on the dominant public sphere is that of a counterpublic terrorism” (Muñoz 100).

(Press Photo Head for: “Vaginal Davis, Beware the Holy Retarded Whore;" Photo by John Vlautin; styling and make-up Glen Meadmore; Gown by Rick Owens, 2002)

Suddenly, so much of what I do, so much of what I have lived- and artistically, so much of what I intend to produce and accomplish- makes more sense to me.  Muñoz “Disidentification” applies to me from my being the first in my huge Mexican-American family to attend graduate school, and my lovely white fiancé (who might as well be "Chicano”- an Irish gentleman who grew up Southern Baptist in rural Texas), to my elaborate, multilayered performances where I often portray a multitude of races, genders, characters to tell a story about my family history. But Davis’s performances, and Muñoz critical art theory- are opening up new avenues of thinking- what is next? How can I push the boundaries further; without myself, becoming complacent with satisfying the white majority (hello Portland, OR) around me? How can I stay “underground,” while also entertaining said audience? Sticking to parody and humor seems an excellent way for me to address these issues, because after all, they aren’t “issues” or problems to me; rather, they are different avenues of expressing myself as a queer, Chicano, performance artist. New layers added to my growing stories, characters and performances.

(Photo of José Esteban Muñoz at NYU; Muñoz passed on December 4th, 2013. He will be missed dearly, may he forever Rest in Peace.)

Saturday, June 25th, 2016.

There is a part of this process that is already somewhat familiar to me. It seems to parallel recovery from my eating disorder. Each time I ate normally, gained weight, etc., it felt like I was betraying something, dismantling something I’d worked so hard on. But the truth was that the thing I was building was destroying me. It wasn’t sustainable. It wasn’t helping me grow.

Just like there was resistance to becoming healthy and to attempts to get to the roots of those issues, there will be resistance to coming home to myself. Running away from myself (for lack of a better way of putting it; more like gradually becoming so distant you don’t realize the way back is a patch of light growing smaller and smaller) felt easy because there was little to no resistance, but that doesn’t mean a difficult path is the wrong direction.

One of the ways to make use of existing identity forms is to highlight the gap between identities promoted by the dominant culture and the lived “experience” of social relations that is not summoned by these terms. This is the ‘excess’ that is often ‘experienced’ as an inchoate affect of not belonging, of not fitting in or not feeling at home within the terms that are offered for identity. The process of disidentification can zero in on the affective component of this misrecognition and invite consideration of the ways it is named and routed into emotions (of shame, denial, resentment, etc.) that can naturalize the existing categories. Disidentification invites the renarration of this affective excess in relation to capitalism’s systemic production of unmet need. At the same time it works on forms of misrecognition, disidentification also makes visible the ways the dominant organizations of sexual desires and identities are real sites of affective investment, and through this critical awareness invites a process of unlearning. Unlearning these investments is always an incomplete, unfinished business, and recognizing this is an important lesson on the limits of one’s historical position. But this ongoing lesson in historical limits does not have to be dismissive or belittling; it can also fold the forms of affective identification we historically and critically inhabit into a more ambitious political project that claims the radical outside of unmet human needs as the starting point for a much needed anti-capitalist project
—  Rosemary Hennessy, Profit and Pleasure: Sexual Identities in Late Capitalism, pp. 230-31

From Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender, which I’m currently reading. It seems like this could be an explanation for the people who say “it just makes me feel better being called a man, it’s not because I associate being a man with being inherently better” (as I used to say myself).

blog.lib.umn.edu
Disidentification by Jose Esteban Munoz

From a Queer Theory class, a page with some useful prompts and points about “disidentification”:

Disidentification is meant to be descriptive of the survival strategies the minority subject practices in order to negotiate a phobic majoritarian public sphere that continuously elides or punishes the existence of subjects who do not conform to the phantasm of normative citizenship.

(Picture via Contemporary Art Daily)

We can further track the disidentificatory impulse in [Feliz Gonzalez-Torres’] work if we consider the ways in which he deals with the issues of exile and ethnos. His Untitled (Madrid 1971) is composed of two jigsaw puzzles in cellophane bags, stacked next to each other. The first jigsaw is the picture of the artist as a boy; next to him is a photo of a statue, what appears to be a monument, shot from the perspective of someone looking up, perhaps a child. Matched, these two images represent aspects of the artist’s biography–in this instance, when he was separated from his parents at the age of nine so he could leave Cuba for Spain, where he was housed by the church. These images connote memory’s fragility and permanence. The small puzzles remind us of a few things: the way in which images form memories and, in turn, memories themselves fall together. They foreground the fact that memory is always about the collection of fragments. The constellation of memory is also made through an active spectator who pushed pieces together, like a child with a puzzle. The image of the self alongside the imposing statue connotes the feeling of being small, helpless. The statue looks like a memorial to another place and time. Memorials work to make cogent the fictions of nationalism and individual national culture. The pairing of a photo of the artist as an innocent and sweet-looking boy next to a cold metal sculpture performs, through a calculus of contradiction, the vulnerability of a dismantling of the public/private binary. The piece gestures to the fashion in which one’s identity is eclipsed by a system of national signs that do not constitute one’s citizenship but instead one’s alienation, displacement, and exile.

–José Esteben Muñoz, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics

June, 25th, 2016.

I don’t know what I’m going to do about my name. I’m mostly fine with leaving it the way it is because I’ve gone by Krister since 2011-ish, but I’m also not entirely opposed to being referred to by my birth-name, which is Alicia. I just haven’t been called that name in so long that it’ll probably be weird to hear it and I probably won’t even recognize it as my own for awhile!

like, i really did try to examine my identity. of course i did, as anyone does. i have to give my past self that credit.
but i already felt like i was a faker, a feeling which i do try to ignore as a rule because of all my other experiences (i feel fake neurodivergent, even though my sympoms are many, and apparent, and SHOULD be hard to deny; and i have in the past felt like i was a fake/ wannabe lesbian). and i didnt know that i should accept and try to work through and analyze that fear - as opposed to trying to make that fear go away and accept that it was a lie, something i shouldnt have been afraid of.
i think there are some things i knew in theory but didnt actually fully understand.
like that women are so varied, i can be a woman while being a dysphoric gnc lesbian, that yeah, “she” Is a rigid box that i dont fit into, but neither do a lot of other women. thats actually a common feeling, and it’s easier to cope w and understand that together.

As an artist and a boundary crosser I use comics as a strategy for resisting the conception that the power of academic discourse is located in the written word. In this way, comics are a project of disidentification. By trans-ing the boundaries of academic discourse through comics I [re]draw these boundaries in the hope that in doing so I provide new lines of flight for imagining new forms of scholarship.