Excerpted From: Ali Murat Gali, Crawling out of Fear and the Ruins of an Empire: Queer, Black, and Native Intimacies, Laws of Creation and Futures of Care, 34 Yale Journal of Law & Feminism 176 (2023) (347 Footnotes) (Full Document)


AliMuratGaliQueerness is a generative desiring; it is an evoking of the playful, unpredictable, capacious possibilities of being in bodies, expressing selves, and exploring intimacies. In a society of definitive meanings, where identities signify specific and predictable positions, queerness insists on the incompleteness of any one structure of organizing individuals and relationships. While the social order is diluted by narratives instructing how relationships form, evolve, and get hierarchized, queer relationalities reject the simplicity of common-sense assumptions; in their place creating a playground of love, care, and dependencies. Against the fantasy of the monogamous couples and their biological families, for example, queer peoples have developed hand-made relational configurations. They intermingle friendships, families, lovers, and partners; they render these categories flexible and allow the individuals to give them meanings based on their unique patterns of connection, communication, and communion. Queer peoples have metamorphosed sensuality, from a private act of coupled intimacy, into what can pervade across social relations and positions. Intimacies take shape between individuals who may not know each other's names, and in public spaces where privacy is carved out; sensuality becomes a part of body language between those who may not engage in sexual acts--it structures one's disposition and gendered presentation. Intimacies turn into enactments of losing and gaining control, which stretch the definitions and functions of bodies.

As an invitation to creation, queerness places a fundamental contradiction within the law, which seeks to “provide[] the context for ending the story successfully.” Whereas the legal order is built upon the premise that a truth is necessary for ordering society, and functions through centralizing that truth, queerness “refuses to organize [ ] desire[ ] ... [even] refusing to speak in a single voice.” The tension between the fluid and constructive tendencies of queer worldmaking, against the stabilizing and regulatory matrix of the legal order, offers a beginning point for this article. From within this incommensurability, I will pull forth a conversation on the meaning and ideal of equality, particularly as it shapes the relational order of the society--implicating how individuals perceive themselves and one another.

The law enshrines and entrenches a unified narrative, a singularized network of meanings, as shared principles of the society. This is an ideal of american citizenship, a socialized identity based upon overarching value structures and ethical principles, anticipated to override all particularities. Specifically in the context of rights and liberties, the law relies upon the centralized narrative of citizenship. To make a claim for equality, a minoritarian group must create an image of themselves employing these normalized conditions of the society. In other words, the group seeking equality must bring themselves in a continuous formation with the dominant narrative of american citizenship--what cannot be captured in this linguistic simplification is buried under a political silence; it can only be an excess but it will not be operational in the structuring of reality. The construction of identity-based claims with a reliance on the shared values of citizenry represent a fantasy of equality as sameness-- “pretending that [differences] can be translated with no damage to the structure of meaning underlying the disputes.” Under this hegemonic approach to equality, there is a singular truth, the truth of the dominant civil society, and all variances are narrative modifications that can expand, but never undo this truth.

Even as the introductory remarks show, an understanding of equality that relies upon a singularized narrative cannot sustain the possibilities of existence generated among queer collectivities. Instead, in a queer world order, equality would require allowing difference to produce its own meanings. This is not denouncing the impacts of the social and collective; on the contrary, creation always begins from the vocabulary, grammar, networks, and ideas that populate the social imaginary. Yet, rather than taking the particular ordering of these facets as immutable or essentially desirable, queerness recognizes their historical specificity and malleability. In turn, individuals shift away from being passive observers or reproducers of the social order, and take the stance of being “willful subjects,” those who can claim an agency to shift the forms and concurrently the names given to their bodies, relationships, and the purpose of their lives. Queer worldmaking is an act of survival embedded in creation. Where the dominant order has shunned away, if not actively violated, the existence of queer peoples, finding new names for bodies, coming together in dependent relationships, and visioning other orders through playing with sensualities is an insistence upon remaining alive, declaring one's worth, and retaining hope for futures of freedom.

With the centrality of survival to queerness in mind, the unified narrative of the law comes across as inherently violent to those whose being and loving stray away from its demands. While liberties may be extended to those priorly denied their rights, the existences which lose their essence when translated into the central narrative will remain at the fringes and continue to be dehumanized. Approaching this persistence of inequality as not an unavoidable reality of living in a constitutional polity, but a choice we make in how we think about and organize the law, this article seeks to create a critical inquisition into the centralized relational order, including its forms and specifically its guiding values.

In subsequent parts, the article will attempt to tear away the layered, historicized, and cultural assumptions that persist the societal narrative-- through its tensions with queer desires and dreams, and by unearthing its violent implications on Black communities, and its entrenched roots in colonial dispossession of Native communities. Racialized violence persists across the everyday of the american citizenry. Racialized inequality is never separate from the constructions of deviance and abnormality, which most directly bring to mind gendered, sexualized, hence relational variations. For a constructive critique, this paper will tie racialized violence to the encounters and values guiding the nation's formation and persistence, in which race has functioned “as the baseline historical sign of injury and its reparation,” which structures “the condition of possibility” for modern identities and rights. In addition to the analytic and political convergences of queer, Black, and Native histories, just as queer peoples, Black and Native peoples insist on their existence against a social that do not wish for them to survive. They have possessed and have continued to grow their own cultures, their own ways of existing together, which as I will come to argue, transgress the unified fiction upheld by the law. To this end, they offer knowledge, wisdom, and hope to reach beyond the stifling constitutional polity.

Starting these conversations from a point of relationships is nurturing, because they are personal, as much as always political. We rely upon relationships for sustaining ourselves, building our lives, and reaching towards our dreams. How we come together in intimate relationships and passing connections is the backbone of the society. And where the law can be taken as the story the nation tells of itself, organization of relationships in light of these stories implicate where we think we stand and who we think we can become. There is thus a deep intimacy between the values guiding the legal order and those guiding our lives, and a central work of this article is to explore these values as means of understanding how their reorganization can shift what we perceive to be possible--as legal and social actors. In my analysis I will touch upon three layers of the relational order as responsive constructs: (i) forms, that is how we name our relationships and hierarchize them in a particular manner, (ii) values, that is the ethical and moral principles that reason the organization of relationships, and (iii) feelings, that is the emotional underpinnings that stabilize certain value structures as necessary or desirable for the continuity of the society. Seeing these layers will require bringing disjointed archives and scholarship together, and drawing connections that I will not claim to be the truth, but rather a possible reinvestigation of what we have learned to take for granted. My overarching aim is to reflect upon how a law that conditions equality upon sameness structures and is in turn sustained by the relational order. Through foregrounding relationships of queer, Black, and Native peoples, this paper will simultaneously explore the possibilities of queering the law. In particular, I would like to invite us to think whether changing feelings, values, and forms of relationships can foster the possibility of laws that encourage branching and multiplying the ordering principles of collective togetherness.

With these ambitious and introductory goals, this paper will trail off as follows. Part I will unpack Lawrence and Obergefell to reveal the romanticized narratives that organize connection and intimacy in the broader society. I will focus on the private/public divide, as a fiction that is insistently deployed to establish the idealized relationships of marriage and family. Part II will carry the conversation into the layer of values, specifically thinking about privatization of dependencies as a national value that defines not only the american family, but also creates alienated publics. I will build these claims and explore their effects through centering the families and publics nurtured by Black peoples, which the dominant sociopolitical narratives mark as failures based on their difference from the national norm. To ground these assertions in a historical continuum, Part III will investigate the colonial moment and display how the settlers have deployed the forms of romanticized relationships as well as their accompanying value structures to justify destruction of Native cultures. This Part will further elaborate on the contemporary echoes of this colonial paradigm, ultimately asserting that the centralized relational order persists white supremacy. Collecting the tendrils of these conversations and focusing on how the regulatory force of the law has been justified across time and place, Part IV will elaborate on fear as a public feeling that urges preservation of the relational order and equality based upon sameness. Thinking together with the teachings of Black queer feminists and Native peoples, this Part will end with reflections to move away from fear and towards alternative configurations of laws, which do not homogenize into a singularized ideal, but instead encourage collective living, and make possible accountability and justice.

At the heart of this work lies a desire to produce and promote hope. Particularly within a legal structure that insists upon the repetition of the same, this paper urges a remembering of our own power and creative capacities. To originate laws from our bodies, rather than a nation, is to be guided by these capacities that are already manifested in our loves, dependencies, and intimacies; foreshadowing societies structured not through exploitation, but trust and care.

[. . .]

I am concluding this article in the May of 2022, when fear is publicly waged against queer and trans peoples and against women and non-binary people's bodies and their intimate relationships. States after states have been enacting “anti-trans” legislations, particularly targeting trans youth and seeking to end policies aimed at affirming and facilitating their existence. In the circulating media accounts, trans teens become predators, trans-ness an attack against the american family and the morality of american children. This fear-based framing of hate as self-preservation is not at all surprising, but simply attests to the continuation of white, colonial logics. They are the calls of a fearful, white nation that can recognize the cultural, political, and economic demise of its much-cherished order; scrambling to find new enemies to blame for their suffocating lives. And trans people, whose loving self-making challenges the coherence of heteronormativity, as well as women and queer peoples whose sensuality is made into a public affair, are the fronts of a war to protect the children--the progeny of the empire.

Among these attacks against our lives, we may become fearful, bury ourselves under the weight of hopelessness, and wait for a hero to rise. Yet, as an Oakland-based trans collective that builds up resistance and mutual aid expresses: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” We are the lawmakers. Our daily hustles, creative endeavors, care for our loved ones and those we learn to love; our sprawling, dazzling bodies, and confusing, yet exciting sensual relationships; our gatherings of play, discussion, and action--they all speak of laws imagined and realized. We are the power, and thus, we are feared; and this power is not dependent on cash, degrees, or being taken seriously. Our power is innate and it grows with love, and it charts the future no white man would dare envision. And we are not an exclusive whole; our circle grows to bring in all who fight to make life again in the world's very language of care. Now is the time to recognize that another world is among us, and hold onto those who help you believe in change--change, that is “the only lasting truth.”