Tracing the Coloniality of Queer and Trans Migrations: Resituating Heterocisnormative Violence in the Global South and Encounters with Migrant Visa Ineligibility to Canada.

Author:Lee, Edward Ou Jin


Most of the scholarship on queer and trans migrants focuses on the refugee experience post-migration to Canada. In contrast, this article draws from a doctoral study that included participant interviews and policy/media textual analysis to map out the historical, geopolitical, social, and economic dimensions that shape homophobic and transphobic violence across the globe, as well as queer and trans migrations from the Global South to Canada. These realities are analyzed through the lens of coloniality and on the scale of empire to historicize how queer and trans migrant lives are shaped by forgotten histories of colonial violence. This study suggests that the hyper-visibility of Canadas "generous" treatment of queer and trans refugees obscures how its border regime blocks people from the Global South from entry.


La plupart des travaux de recherche sur les migrants queer et trans ciblent leurs experiences postmigratoires. Cet article fait en revanche suite d une etude doctorale qui comprend des entretiens avec les participants et une analyse de textes au contenu politique ou mediatique pour rendre les dimensions historiques, geopolitiques, sociales et economiques qui faconnent dans le monde non seulement la violence homophobe et transphobe, mais aussi les migrations de personnes queers et trans des pays du Sud vers le Canada. Ces realites sont analysees sous le prisme de la colonialite et a l'echelle de l'empire, afin d'historiciser la maniere dont les vies des migrants queer et trans sont faqonnees par des histoires oubliees de violence coloniale. Cette etude laisse penser que l'hypervisibilite du traitement > du Canada vis-a-vis des refugies queer et trans occulte la maniere dont le regime frontalier empeche les personnes provenant des pays du Sud dentrer dans ce pays.


Canada has recently asserted itself as a global LGBTI human rights leader, especially in its welcoming of LGBTQ refugees. (1) Indeed, some of the scholarship and media accounts of LGBTI rights hail Canada as a "safe haven" for LGBTQ refugees, while highlighting the pre-migration experiences of homophobia and/or transphobia (in countries of origin) as the primary, and sometimes only, driver for why LGBTI people from the Global South flee to Canada. (2) However, a growing body of scholarship critiques the Canadian refugee apparatus and highlights the structural and intersectional barriers faced by queer and trans (3) migrants within and outside of the refugee determination system. (4) These scholars also interrogate the ways in which homonational and settler colonial discourses and practices interweave through immigration and refugee processes. (5)

However, most of the Canadian scholarship focuses on an analysis of the LGBTQ refugee experience after migration to Canada, and especially the refugee determination system. As a result, few scholars provide an in-depth portrait of the historical, geopolitical, social, and economic conditions that shape the realities of queer and trans people living in the Global South prior to their arrival. This article thus aims to map out these complex dimensions that shape contemporary forms of homophobic and transphobic violence across the globe, as well as queer and trans migrations from the Global South to Canada.

In order to do so, I draw from my doctoral study in which I conducted participant interviews and analyzed policy and media texts in order to trace how the realities of queer and trans migrants were socially organized by the Canadian immigration/colonization regime. (6) Paying attention to social organization, as Roxana Ng suggests, allows for links to be made from "local experiences to broader social and global processes, which are not always immediately apparent at the local level." (7) Although my study includes post-migration experiences, I have chosen to focus this article on my study participants' pre-migration experiences and contexts. More specifically, I examine the realities of queer and trans people living in the Global South by resituating their experiences of homophobia and transphobia in their countries of origin and then tracing their attempts to migrate to white/Western nation-states, including Canada.

The term white/Western, as conceptualized by Gada Mahrouse, (8) highlights the complex relationship between race (whiteness), nation (Canadian), and geopolitical centre (Western). White signifies Canadas historical formation as a white settler society and its contemporary implications, while Western signifies its place of global power alongside the European Union and the United States. This framework binds the Canadian immigration/colonization regime to global power relations, which are often dictated by Western actors. This article explores how participants from my study were refused entry into multiple white/Western nation-states on the basis of visa eligibility requirements. These "encounters with ineligibility" reveal the ways in which white/ Western border regimes block entry of queer and trans people from the Global South and put into question the degree to which countries, such as Canada, can truly be "generous" towards migrants in general and LGBTQ refugees in particular. As part of a constellation of border regimes, "Canadas colonial project goes beyond its geo-political borders as a nation ... how different non-white bodies are placed within and/or arrive at the borders of the contemporary Canadian nation-state is a complex story of placemaking or the denial thereof, of arrival and becoming or of constantly being made to exist out-of-place." (9)

These processes of racialization and colonization are simultaneously gendered, classed, able-ized, (10) and sexualized, resulting in an uneven and hierarchical distribution of life chances and exposure to death. (11) I also draw from queer and trans diasporic critique to highlight how complex notions of home and nation are imbued by cisnormativity and heteronormativity. (12) An analysis of cisnormativity reveals the ways in which social institutions and practices presume that everyone is "cis"--whereby one's gender identity and physical sex are entirely aligned, thus erasing trans realities and rigidly enforcing the gender binary. (13) Whereas heteronormativity can be defined as the presumption that everyone is heterosexual through dominant institutions and practices that reproduce heterosexuality and naturalize monogamous marriage between a cis man and cis woman. (14) I also use the term heterocisnormativity to highlight when cisnormativity and heteronormativity overlap.

Since the participants from my study span across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, I use an analytic that not only attends to geographically situated specificities, but also power relations on a global scale. Thus, coloniality, as coined by Anibal Quijano, provides a framework to map out a global matrix of power. (15) The coloniality of power is obscured by the prevailing narratives of modernity: progress, civilization, development, and market democracy. (16) Modernity's form of global governance--the nation-state--emerged from the ashes of the many colonial projects driven by Europe, its desires for empire-building and, as Sylvia Wynter argues, "its construction of the 'world civilization' on the one hand, and, on the other, African enslavement, Latin American conquest, and Asian subjugation." (17) As such, the "residual intimacies" of conquest, slavery, and indentured labour persist and deepen into the present. (18)

A central feature of coloniality is how modernity has defined the "civilized" human subject as white people/whiteness in relation to the non-human black people/blackness. (19) Anti-black logics that underpin white/Western empires persist in classifying people on a hierarchical scale of humanness, since, as Rinaldo Walcott suggests, "the Black body is not the most abject body in a competition of abjection and oppression, but the Black body is a template of how the abjection by which the Human was produced." (20) Moreover, an analytical focus at the scale of empire makes legible what Jodi Byrd describes as the "cacophonies of colonialism"--interlacing colonial and imperial logics across geographies. (21)

This article seeks to historicize contemporary queer and trans migrations from the Global South to Canada to take into account the "fractured continuities" of "geographies and histories of empire, global capitalism, slavery, coerced labour, forced transportation, and exile [that] have materially shaped queerness, migration and queer migration, both past and present, including through the effects of haunting." (22) This historicization situates contemporary forms of queer and trans migrations within histories of white/Western empire building to map out hierarchies within and across groups and locations while also contending with human classifications that were informed by colonial and imperial logics.

Forgetting Colonial Histories of Cisnormative and Heteronormative Violence

In this section I consider how the forgetting of colonial histories of social violence imbued by heterocisnormative processes indelibly shapes how queer and trans migrations from the Global South to Canada and other white/Western nation-states are articulated. Which acts of social violence are remembered and erased intimately shapes what and how we know what we know about contemporary forms of social violence and forced migrations. According to Lisa Lowe, there has been a lack of knowledge produced about the ties between "the slave trade and the extermination of native peoples that founded the conditions of possibility for indentureship; that stretches forward into the ubiquitous migrations of contemporary global capitalism." (23)

This forgetting of colonial and imperial violence and can be traced back to the nineteenth-century emergence of the Western European liberal philosophy of modern humanism. (24) The liberal philosophy of modern humanism...

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