Review of Queer (In)Justice.Joey L. Mogul, Andrea J. Ritchie, and Kay Whitlock, Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States. Boston: Beacon Press, 2011, 216 pp.
INTERVENING UPON REDUCTIVE CONCEPTIONS OF INTERSECTIONALITY, BLACK FEMINIST scholar Deborah K. King warned against the tendency of theorists and activists to oversimplify the relationships among experiences of violence and discrimination. Rather than interpret these relationships as an additive mathematical equation ("racism plus sexism plus classism"), she asserts, a more accurate formula might read "racism multiplied by sexism multiplied by classism." In Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States, Joey L. Mogul, Andrea J. Ritchie, and Kay Whitlock endeavor to offer a logarithm for understanding the multiple spheres and dimensions of punishment with which queer individuals have been continually threatened throughout U.S. history. With their thorough, cogent exploration of the American criminal legal system, I believe they get the math right.
Queer (In)Justice begins with an explanation of how, historically, notions of race, class, gender, and sexuality-based criminality have been integral to the foundation of U.S. cultures and institutions, as well to the policies that reflect and reinforce them. Discussing colonial and antebellum legal statutes barring sodomy and "buggery," the authors explain how these laws and accusations disenfranchised people according to their amalgamated race, gender, and class identities.
The book goes on to show how characterizations of inherent deceptiveness and social pathology mark queer individuals within the equivocal but deeply ensconced logics of public safety, propriety, and normativity. The authors explain how queer archetypes (as distinguished from stereotypes) are consistently deployed, popularizing interpretations of pathological queer subjectivity that have as much impact on the larger criminal legal system as in other locations of discourse. Not the least of this is the impact made on the courtroom as a discursive location where persuasions of guilt and capital sentencing rely upon tropes of transgressed morality and criminal human depravity, simply by virtue of one's identifying (or being identified) as queer.
The text exposes some violent and dehumanizing law enforcement practices familiar to or easily observed by readers. These practices have been flattened over time and through popular consciousness to stilled narratives of "brutality" or the now-glossy legends of Stonewall. Queer (In)Justice adds nuance to these narratives to explain how baseless, discriminatory violence is rooted in a rigidly capitalist, moralist compulsion to police gender. Mogul et al. also illustrate how established, discursively "naturalized" authority to control gender and sexuality produces a systematic failure to afford incarcerated queer people basic rights to health and safety. They show how prison personnel routinely deny queer prisoners appropriate and necessary medical resources and often refuse to acknowledge and respond to the "rape/ability" of queer prisoners in single-gender penal institutions. The authors discuss the archetype of queer hypersexuality and its usage in prisons, where assumptions about the impossibility of nonconsensual sex construct a prisoner subject that is perpetually available and consenting to all same-sex encounters.
Beyond explorations of material violence, Queer (In)Justice takes on the problems and failures of hate crime legislation and other responses to the crisis of a grossly discriminatory legal system, offering readers progressive, alternative models for organizing around the issue. Though some of the archetypes and examples given may resist immediate resonance, one of the text's strengths is its refusal to offer a decontextualized onslaught of implausible and unproductive victim stories. Queer (In)Justice instead provides evidence of the fundamental culpabilities of the system--vast and intricate--through a remarkable variety of instances. Indeed, the generous illustrations and case studies in Queer (In)Justice add heft to a solid argument while rhythmically and relentlessly chipping away at the cultural and institutional logics of anti-queer discourse and action.
The text's greatest asset may be its accessibility and potential as a teaching tool in popular educational contexts. The examples effectively displace the stance of scholarly or activist "expertise," and though it will undoubtedly serve as an enormously useful reference for critical race theorists, queer theorists, and legal scholars, I look forward to sharing the book with friends and family in my home state of Tennessee, where even mention of the word "gay" might soon be considered a crime. To be sure, in a national moment that is as hostile to queer identities as ever, Queer (In)Justice's tightly woven arguments and illustrations provide a comprehensive analysis that has emerged right on time.
Jakeya Caruthers *
* JAKEYA CARUTHERS is a Doctoral Candidate in Anthropology of Education at Stanford University. A Teaching Fellow at the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity, her other scholarly interests include the study of queer afro-futurist thought, black humor, and feminist practice within Southern evangelical faith traditions.