What’s Sex Got to Do With It? Migration Studies Meets Sexualities

23.06.2022

by Calogero Giametta

Migration research has historically conceived migrants as heterosexual, and rendered gender and sexual identity invisible. It is only recently that the intersection of queer and migration studies has produced critical knowledge about the heteronormative structures that govern immigration institutions.

Queer migration studies emphasize the theorization of queer migration histories and people that have been invisibilized in academia. Authors in this field point out that migrations of all people, LGBTQ or not, that are subject to border control bureaucracy—and thus to the gendered and racialized violence of such control—are key objects of analysis for this field.

We had to wait until the 1990s for non-heteronormative sexuality to find its place in academia. At this time, scholarly attention to what Hector Carrillo would later name ‘sexual migration’ was centered on the internal mobilities of queer people from small towns to big cities. Later, at the beginning of the 2000s, research on the transnational migration of queer people mostly focused on the US context. In Europe, the attention on LGBTQ migrations often revolved around forced migration, when analyzing asylum for queers.

LGBTQ Asylum and Beyond

In my research on queer asylum, I looked at how through the political fixation on migration as a negative phenomenon across the EU, queer migrants occupy a particularly contradictory space within mainstream discourses on immigration. They are both ‘valorized’ and seen as ‘suspects’ at the same time.

They are ‘valorized’ because perceived as worthy of state protection in contexts where the protection of women and LGBTQ rights is increasingly considered a priority of a democracy. ‘Suspects’ because their numbers of arrivals are seen to be threatening in the eyes of immigration institutions, and therefore guilty of ‘invading’ the national space. In this context, the dynamics of control to which they are subject prevail over the protection to which they are entitled.

Colonial Tropes: ‘Good Homo-friendly’ Countries vs. ‘Bad Homophobic’ Ones

The largely represented figure of the queer refugee in the media has fostered a heightened sensibility towards queer asylum seekers in search of protection in the Global North—although immigration authorities often still reject their asylum claims. At the same time, these representations have participated in reinforcing the binary division between the homophobia at work within the ‘refugee-sending’ and ‘refugee-receiving’ countries.

Today in the queer migration field, we can see that academics and activists alike are moving more and more from a critique of asylum bad practices—still an essential part of the work to do—to the more structural question of how refugee-granting processes erase or flatten locally situated queer histories and experiences.

For a More Complete Picture of Queer Migrations

LGBTQ migrations should not be looked at exclusively through the prism of asylum, as it is only one of the many ways in which (queer) people manage to cross borders. Also to not misconceive the ‘queer refugee’ as a new social figure, we need to embed queer asylum in a longer history of migrations. Queer migrations preceded asylum migrations, and older migrant generations might have identified with the categorization of refugees even before the existence of this legal category for queers. For these reasons, adding a socio-historical dimension to the debates on queer migration is essential.

In my preliminary findings, from the interviews I conducted for an upcoming project on aging queer people migrating to the UK, France, and Italy between the 70s and the early 2000s, the accounts of these older generations of migrants highlight that before, during, and after their migrations, they had to use creative and often community-based survival strategies. This is particularly true of the social worlds these research respondents inhabited when they were coming of age, a time when same-sex love was stigmatized and criminalized.

These types of migration research can produce knowledge on the diverse phenomena of kinship, reproduction, and the networks of intimacy that make up (LGBTQ) families today. Thinking about sexualities and migration through a socio-historical perspective provides insightful directions to study the changing anthropological manifestations of kinship: from the 1970s ‘non-standard affective networks’ to today’s advances in same-sex reproduction and parenthood.

When taking stock of the historical marginalization of gender and sexual minorities within migration scholarship, I want to stress that queer people have used migration in strategic ways to counter the processes of subalternization in their places of origin, which they have been confronted to even more at their destinations. When new knowledge is produced in the field of reflexive migration studies about these dimensions of migrants’ lives, we can learn important lessons from the intra-community mutual care, the strategies of everyday care, as well as the conflict and tribulations marking the lives of queer people on the move over the past half-century until now.

This blog series is a collaboration between the IMISCOE Standing Committee ‘Reflexivities in Migration Studies’ and the nccr – on the move.

Calogero Giametta is a lecturer in Criminology with a research focus on sexualities, the political economy of migration, and queer aging. In his work, he looks at how migration control operates through humanitarian interventions in the UK and France, and he is the author of The Sexual Politics of Asylum.

The research project mentioned in the text is titled ‘LGBTQ Mobility and Ageing: Strategies of Migration, Life Orientations, and Care’. It was written by C. Giametta and it focuses on the experiences of aging queer migrants.

References:

– Carrillo H (2004) Sexual Migration, Cross-Cultural Sexual Encounters, and Sexual HealthSexuality Research & Social Policy, 1: 58-70.
– Giametta C (2017) The Sexual Politics of Asylum,
New York and London: Routledge.– Berlant L & Warner M (2000) Sex in Public in L. Berlant (ed.), Intimacy, Chicago: Chicago University Press.

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