Authors: Suad Jabr*, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
Topics: Migration, Sexuality, Middle East
Keywords: queer refugee activism, exceptional vulnerability, authenticity, deservingness, Orientalism, multiculturalism
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded
Queer Syrian refugees are discursively constructed as "exceptionally vulnerable" since they are fleeing both a humanitarian crisis and persecution on the basis of sexual orientation/gender identity. This exceptional vulnerability feminizes queer Syrian refugees, positioning them as helpless victims who are therefore more deserving of international aid and resettlement. However, this deservingness is hinged upon an ability to perform queerness in a way that is deemed “authentic” by western audiences and that confirms specific narratives of trauma informed by Orientalist conceptions of the Middle East. In this paper, I seek to problematize these narratives of authenticity, exceptional vulnerability, and deservingness by analyzing media articles and representations of Canada-based queer Syrian refugee activist Danny Ramadan through a lens of queer theory and critical refugee studies. In doing so, I argue that through Ramadan’s narrative, we can undertake a project of more nuanced understanding of refugee self-formation, beyond an over-simplified “authentic self” narrative, where instead refugees like Ramadan position themselves relationally to political landscapes already punctured with rupture points. Particularly, Ramadan’s narrative is a vantage point into the tensions present in Canadian multiculturalism and other liberal political asylum systems. I argue that by pulling at these tensions and challenging these narratives, we can understand queer refugees outside reductionist frameworks, instead viewing them as complex actors who can work to shape their subjectivities and the socio-political landscapes they occupy.