Queer Visions of Another World
by Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez
The news this week that Private Bradley Manning had come out as Chelsea made me think first that truth is way stranger than fiction, and second that it makes perfect sense that one of the most courageous warriors of our time would be a queer woman.
Gloria Anzaldua, who has been one of my heroines since I first read her seminal work Borderlands/La frontera back in the 1980s, always insisted that queer folk have a special role to play in bringing about a change in human consciousness — moving us from the patriarchal mold of the past 5,000 years or so to what she called “a new mestiza consciousness,” a much more holistic, inclusive, planetary awareness.
Anzaldua extended Virginia Woolf’s famous statement, in her anti-war tract Three Guineas, that “as a woman, I have no country. As a woman, I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world,” giving it a new queer mestiza twist:
“As a mestiza I have no country, my homeland cast me out; yet all countries are mine because I am every woman’s sister or potential lover. (As a lesbian I have no race, my own people disclaim me; but I am all races because there is the queer of me in all races.) I am cultureless because, as a feminist, I challenge the collective cultural/religious male-derived beliefs of Indo-Hispanics and Anglos; yet I am cultured because I am participating in the creation of yet another culture, a new story to explain the world and our participation in it, a new value system with images and symbols that connect us to each other and to the planet. Soy un amasamiento, I am an act of kneading, of uniting and joining that not only has produced both a creature of darkness and a creature of light, but also a creature that questions the definitions of light and dark and gives them new meanings.”
Because queer folk have lived in their own bodies this awareness of being more — more than meets the eye, more than can be limited by any label or category — Anzaldua believed that they would be able to lead the way towards a new human civilization founded not on dominance and subordination, not on hierarchies of value, not on black-and-white binary systems, but on synthesis and what she called “a tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity.”
Some, like Anzaldua herself, would be called upon to become what she called nepantleras, boundary crossers and bridge builders who would go through the wounds and pain of traumatic life experiences to access courage and wisdom to lead others into a new awareness of human potential.
Chelsea Manning is such a nepantlera.
Several years ago, in a class I offered on human rights, my students and I watched, horrified, a recently leaked video called “Collateral Damage,” which clearly showed a group of American soldiers in a helicopter searching out and gunning down unarmed Iraqi civilians who were simply talking together on a quiet, sunny, bombed-out village street.
The language the soldiers used as they hunted down their targets was straight out of a violent video game, which is probably where they had learned the shoot-em-up skills they displayed. But this was no game. Of the several men who lost their lives that day, one was a journalist on assignment for the Western media, armed only with his digital camera.
My students and I agreed that we needed to know that this kind of behavior was taking place under the banner of the American flag. Keeping us in the dark about the reality of what was happening in Iraq, at the cost of enormous sums of taxpayer monies, was a violation of the rights of every American citizen in whose name this war was being fought.
Many obviously agree: the clip “Collateral Damage” has now been viewed more than 14 million times on YouTube. Only because of the courage of Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange of Wikileaks, both now branded political heretics, did we find out this information.
We like to think that America is a free country, but it turns out that our freedom has very carefully regulated borders and boundaries. We are free to dissent as long as we have a permit.
The World Wide Web knows no such boundaries. It is truly a queer space, a space that has room for every kind of human activity and belief. In exercising her freedom to circulate information on the Web, Chelsea Manning ran afoul of those who would try to dam the flow, controlling access to knowledge.
Some insist that it is essential that knowledge be controlled, in the name of national security, counter-terrorism, American interests, etc., etc.
It’s past time to start asking questions about whose interests are really served by restricting the free flow of information.
Are we going to become another China, where all individual freedoms are subordinate to the will of the State? Has it already happened?
What all totalitarian states have eventually learned is that the more human beings are repressed, the more our will to resist is strengthened.
In this country, for the past few decades, our attention has been dulled by the opiates of the entertainment media, consumerism and drugs of many kinds. A majority of us have slipped without even realizing it into a new form of labor bondage, in service to the almighty Bank, by whose credit and in whose debt we live.
During this time, the military-industrial-financial-media corporate conglomerates have grown huge and menacingly well-armed, to the point where it seems almost impossible that those of us who dare to imagine another way of living — another way of relating to the planet and to each other — might prevail.
We must not allow our vision of a better world to be limited by those who are currently in power.
We must insist on the freedom of the World Wide Web as a queer space for those who understand that “our country is the whole world.”
Chelsea Manning, I salute you! You had the courage to shine a light into the dark corners of our government, no matter the consequences, and now you courageously step into the full measure of your own identity.
May we each learn to be so bold.
Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez, Ph.D., teaches comparative literature, media studies, and human rights with an activist bent at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, and directs the annual Berkshire Festival of Women Writers and the new Citizen Journalism Project at WBCR-LP. She is a Contributing Author for New Clear Vision, and blogs at Transition Times.