How do diasporic audiences sustain their sense of collective identity and indeed, nationality, through media consumption and production?
There has been a shift in the contemporary notion of diaspora. As Karim notes in his writing on diaspora, the term originally refers to the displacement of the Jewish people outside of Israel and therefore extends to cover all uprooted, usually involuntarily, peoples from their homeland. Then Karim goes on to note that “an ongoing debate about what ‘diaspora’ should denote has accompanied the current attention to this topic. Whereas some scholars have argued in favour of identifying a closed set of characteristics in order to develop social scientific parameters for the study of diasporas (e.g. Cohen 1997), others have acknowledged its use in a broader range of human dispersals (Tölöyan 1996; Cunningham & Sinclair 2000). All diasporas do not have homeland myths at the centre of their consciousness, contrary to William Safran’s suggestion (1991).” (Karim, pg. 8). In Karim’s work he is careful to remind the reader of the common sociological definition for diaspora, as “limited to ‘non-white’ peoples who remain distinct as minorities in their new countries of residence” (Karim, pg. 9), but is also quick to provide the counter-example of Irish-Americans, who retain a distinct and visible cultural identity in the American landscape. While addressing the fact that various diasporic communities have faced very different trials and tribulations, not limiting the scope of what qualifies as diaspora allows for an interesting analysis of identities under the generally accepted tenants that help define diaspora. Karim lays out some of these features: they function as “transnations” and stretch across borders (Karim, pg. 6), they connect through media and other content created by and for the community (Karim, pg. 7), they “exchange symbolic goods and services” to maintain community (Karim, pg. 7), and significantly, they are defined as the “other” and therefore struggle against “structures of dominance” (Karim, pg.15).
So can these features be applied to the queer community? Can we appropriately use the term “Queer Diaspora”? The basis for a queer diaspora is most expertly defined by Wesling, who in her article “why queer diaspora?” looks at Manuel Guzmán’s (1997) concept of “the ‘sexile’, a gay cosmopolitan subject who, once exiled from national space, is therefore outside of the duties, identifications, and demands of nationalism, and is paradoxically liberated into free transnational mobility” Wesling furthers this notion by stating, “queerness and transnational movement are collapsed: queerness constitutes a mobile resistance to the boundaries and limits imposed by gender, and that resistance is the same as the migrant’s movement through national and cultural borders. Put simply, the analogy is this: queerness disrupts gender normativity like globalization disrupts national sovereignty.” This approach nicely aligns theory on diaspora and queer identity, emphasizing the fluid nature of the two. In the same regard, as Morgan mentions in her discussion of queer diaspora, it’s precisely this fluidity that makes both terms difficult to define. Before delving into drawing parallels between the two, it’s important to note that as there is a multitude of diasporic communities with varying histories, there is also a multitude of queer identities that seek to avoid or subvert definition. Acknowledging this as truth, we can start examining notions of a queer diaspora through the features of diaspora that Karim discusses and that are outlined above.
Queer identity first and foremost is not constrained by location. Queer communities have emerged across the globe and are visible or non-visible as dictated by their environment. Despite a greater struggle for queer individuals in some parts of the world as opposed to others, there is no corner of the globe in which queer individuals do not exist. Increasingly, as for members of other diasporas, interconnectivity amongst the queer community has flourished due to the advent of the internet and other forms of global communications. This leads into how queer individuals maintain a broader sense of a queer identity through forms of queer media, particularly media produced by queer individuals, whether that be LGBTQ content on major sites such as The Huffington Post or Buzzfeed, to queer news sites such as Autostraddle or Queerty, to the wide number of queer blogs and forums. These forms of media tend to show a diverse range of voices and opinions within the queer community, and when gaps in representation appear in the larger discussion on queer issues, they are often acknowledged and filled by those underrepresented in the community. While addressing intersections within the queer community may appear divisive, it also seeks to inform the community at large that as there are commonalities, there are also differences. These differences do not break down the community rather they solely provide different lenses from which to examine queer identity. Though identity may be tighter among other diasporic communities, it does not preclude them from divisions over their lived experiences, i.e. an Iranian-American and an Iranian in Japan must also reconcile their differences as they live in very different contexts, despite both being ethnically Iranian. Most significantly is that, despite these differences, the common denominator for all queer individuals is that they face grappling with “otherness.” This is the key link between queer identity and diaspora. The idea of “other” reinforces a queer culture, one which pushes against the dominant culture. While recent successes of the gay rights movement have sought to fold queer individuals (re: wealthy, white, gay men) into the folds of the dominant culture and claim victory, there is still a large number of queer individuals (re: women, transgender individuals, people of color, the poor, mentally and physically handicapped) who continue to exist on the periphery. The queer diaspora may shift in response to changes in the nation, but it still remains. Queer-focused media reflects this shift and seeks to further it by addressing the most pressing issues amongst the queer community, just as any other diasporic media seeks to update its content to reflect how the community reenvisions itself in the contemporary age.
Karim, K. (2004). Re-viewing the ‘national’ in ‘international communication’: Through the lens of diaspora. In The Journal of International Communication, vol. 10 issue 2. University of Southern California.