Queer/toxic

The discussion of queerness and toxicity at Sussex Occupation was generally unscripted; as an attempt at summary, these notes are not comprehensive. Please note that many of these observations and arguments about toxicity are drawn from or draw upon Animacies, by Mel Chen.

“Toxicity’s coextant figure is immunity; to be more precise, threatened immunity.” – Mel Chen, Animacies

The discourse of capital invokes the notion of the toxin to describe—perhaps to quarantine—those segments of the consuming population that do not, from the perspective of those in whom capital is concentrated, consume properly. (Consider the phrase “toxic assets”: the concept is linked to the commodified credit debt and subprime mortgages traded by financial institutions, especially during what is called the financial crisis of the late 2000s.) To think of toxicity in a generalized way, we might think of space. Toxins are threatening entities that exist outside (a body, an environment, an institution, etc.), and they are threatening because of their capacity to cross the boundary between outside and inside, or to penetrate.

Queerness seems always to be implicated in notions of the toxic. Queer itself arises from the AIDS crisis of the 1980s—a crisis over a virus which is a kind of toxin, and a crisis linked discursively to queer bodies and sexualities. According to one poll, a majority of the US public in 1985 favored quarantining seropositive people; a majority also supported criminalizing sex with a seropositive person. Both of these responses to HIV/AIDS suggest the reciprocal relationship between toxicity and immunity—bodies (materials, assets, etc.) defined as toxic threaten comfortable subjects by disturbing or complicating constructed boundaries and immunities; simultaneously, the response by those whose immunity is threatened is to further shore up these boundaries, to contain the toxic bodies (materials, assets, etc.).

Mel Chen discusses “immunity nationalism,” a kind of xenophobic discourse of nationhood that locates and externalizes toxins in foreign bodies and institutions. Perhaps we can also apply this notion of immunity to the university’s plans to outsource, and to larger neoliberal trends in the concentration of capital and liberalization of politics. If this occupation situates bodies inside a space connected to the administration of the university, those bodies operate as toxins. Simultaneously, the university may move to neutralize or quarantine these toxic bodies—that is, the university may seek to comfortably manage the occupation. Perhaps our goal is to produce a state of intoxication, so to speak—to make the administration constantly uncomfortable by complicating the neoliberal boundaries between public/private spaces (or, maybe, between student/nonstudent spaces).

Originally posted at the Queer (in) Crisis blog.