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Black Bodies in ‘White’ Spaces: A Queer of Color Critique to the Study of Geographies of Difference

Authors: Stefanos Milkidis*, CUNY - Graduate Center
Topics: Sexuality, Historical Geography, Geographic Theory
Keywords: black bodies, queer spaces, New York City, representational practices, historiography of geographies of difference, deconstructionism, intersectionality
Session Type: Paper
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Over the past two decades, queer geographers and scholars from various disciplinary and intellectual positions have been calling attention to Manhattan’s pregentrified milieu during the 1970s and 1980s. Overwhelmingly, New York in the latter part of the twentieth century offers a voyeuristic contemplation on the active production of urban space as intelligibly queer. Often, the constructed narrative reflects an essentializing tendency to glorify spaces of the pre-AIDS era as lost utopias, highlighting the representation of middle-class white gay men who unabashedly claimed their right to sex and the city.

Such conceptualizations of queer space consistently emerge and develop, departing from the recent theoretical calls carried on by some scholars to deconstruct the exclusionary operations of identity politics and embrace a more intersectional model of analysis. A queer of color critique, I argue, challenges the historiography of queer geographies by debunking their male/white-centric assumptions and highlighting their unspoken demographics. This paper brings together three interrelated concepts through which we may shift our methodologies: from the investigative routes that typically seek to analyze queer counterpublics as liberatory, albeit inherently male and white, geographies to under-researched objects of knowledge that disclose the diffusion of nonwhite bodies and their experiences in location. In this respect, I unpack the concepts of the "enclave," "refuge," and what Benjamin Shepard calls "temporary autonomous zone" (TAZ) in an attempt to address the problematic effects of dominant narratives and examine how interdisciplinary conversations may expose or challenge a range of normative assumptions about space, place, safety, and belonging.

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