Queer Migrations, Part 3: Encounters of Empire: Gender, Sexuality, and US Militarism

AHA Session 165
Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History 6
Saturday, January 9, 2016: 9:00 AM-11:00 AM
Crystal Ballroom B (Hilton Atlanta, First Floor)
Judy T. Wu, University of California, Irvine
Emily K. Hobson, University of Nevada, Reno

Session Abstract

“Encounters of Empire” examines sexuality, gender and race in soldiers’ and veterans’ experiences of U.S. militarism across the long 20th and early 21st centuries. We ask how the U.S. state attempted to regulate soldiers and veterans of differing races, sexualities, and genders and how these actors responded to or acted against those regulations. We build from and expand methods of queer history by bringing together queer- and non-queer-identified soldiers and veterans into one conversation about sexual norms, sexual politics, and sexualized racializations.  

Khary Polk will open the panel by considering discourses of immunity and contagion in African American soldiers’ experiences of the Philippines in 1898, World War I in France, and the global theater of World War II. His analysis of the military’s management of venereal disease, interracial sexuality, and medical experimentation reveals how the medical realm was a key site through which the imperial state sought to coercively and punitively regulate Black mobilities, sexualities, and relationships. Tejasvi Nagaraja will reveal the interconnections between seemingly disparate strands of veterans’ activism following World War II, including Black, homophile, and left-liberal formations. He asks how 1940s veterans’ activism marked by variously-gendered, sexual, racial, and globalized visions ran counter to the racial state’s emerging Cold War turn. Elizabeth Mesok will examine queer U.S. servicewomen in post-9/11 Afghanistan and Iraq, asking how these women’s gender presentations and performances shaped their interactions with U.S. colleagues and Afghan and Iraqi counterparts. She extends particular attention to these women’s place in counterinsurgency campaigns in order to contextualize their transnational encounters and their views of their roles in the Iraq and Afghan wars. All these papers will be framed by Judy Tzu-Chun Wu as chair, and Emily K. Hobson’s comment. Wu’s work on radical orientalism in the anti-Vietnam War movement centers the panel’s analyses of discourses of travel and desire as key to U.S. militarism. Hobson’s scholarship on anti-militarism in the Cold War gay and lesbian left contextualizes the panel’s consideration of both identitarian and methodological dimensions of queer history.  

The intersectional and transnational character of this panel is animated by wide-ranging historical debates over the politics of empire, militarism, Black freedom, and sexual and gender self-determination. Soldiering stands as a key avenue and intermediary of migration and mobility, both spatial and social. U.S. military service has been linked to promises of a more beneficial citizenship and belonging; while at the same time containing the worst violence of “peacetime” society. Armed-services management and relations have been constitutive of segregation and surveillance, repression and violence, regulation and reform, opportunity and peril. Our conversation will expose the sexualized and gendered repertoires of American militarism and the contestations that have arisen to unsettle and trouble them.

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