"4 Throats"-an excerpt from John Greyson’s Fig Trees. Headlined as a “documentary opera”, this film explores a pair of bi-continental, AIDS activists as they struggle for access to treatment drugs. One could say the documentary is filmed in a queer style. It’s music and cinematography are eccentric and powerful.


FDA Donor History Questionnaire

There are countless examples of how heteronormativity in the medical systems impacts all kinds of people, but perhaps the best illustration of Cohen’s thesis is the FDA’s Full Length Donor History Questionnaire.

This is the list of questions that everyone gets asked before there allowed to give blood. It may seem like an innocuous safety precaution at first glance, but upon careful analysis, one can see a heteronormative narrative present in the underlying priorities of the questioner.

Just take a look at a few of these questions:

What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?

Here is a Youtube video about HIV Stigma that might be said to have a queer filming style.

Centers for Disease Control on HIV/AIDS

According to the CDC, in 2006 over half of “new  infections occurred in gay and bisexual men. Black/African American men and women were also strongly affected and were estimated to have an incidence rate than was 7 times as high  as the incidence rate among whites”. The stigma is associated primarily with the people mentioned by the CDC, especially gay/bisexual black men. While it is true that gay/bisexual men account for over half (53%) of new infections by the CDC’s research, 31%, nearly ⅓ of the new infections are among heterosexual people! There is a correlation between stigmatized people and HIV, however it is not by an overwhelming amount!

Bersani’s “Is the Rectum a Grave”-Stigma and AIDS

Leo Bersani in Is the Rectum a Grave? points out the stigma associated with AIDS, not just in regard to the syndrome being inevitably fatal, but the attitude put on people who have it (or HIV) as being deserving of it, or even “guilty”. The justification for that claim is that HIV is contracted by IV drug use and promiscuous gay sex. This is not always the case, as is exemplified by the burning of the home of three boys in Arcadia, Florida who tested HIV positive*, however that is the largely used justification.

Bersani quotes Professor Opendra Narayan* of the Johns Hopkins Medical School as saying “These people have sex twenty to thirty times a night […] with a man having three thousand sexual intercourses  [in a year]”. This is an example of an educated medical professional at a prestigious university making an attempt to scientifically justify stigmatization of gay men by referencing contraction of HIV. This totally ignores reality, assuming all gay men, or even some reasonable portion thereof, have that kind of sexual stamina, desire, and time for these practices. If a medical expert works to legitimize the dehumanization of people, then the ignorant no longer need to feel ignorant since they can cite an authority figure.

*Please look in our Pages-Further Reading section for a collection of articles regarding the Rays Brothers whose home was burned down and for a Wikipedia article on how Narayan,  despite some of his bigoted statements, has been helpful in treating HIV

Intersectionality, Leftism, Queer politics, and Welfare Queens

In Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens Cathy Cohen proposes that there is more radical potential for queer politics. Queerness is able to bring together many non-normative peoples who are, based on their relationship to power, marginalized. However, these Welfare Queens are not necessarily marginalized based on heteronormativity. Cohen questions whether the term queer can fulfill this radical potential as it does not consider the intersecting/complicated ways oppression can occur. She uses many examples to illustrate the vital role intersectionality plays in achieving queer politics’ radical potential. As an example, Cohen discusses how some queer politics operates on a “single oppression framework” and how this “anti-straights” argument fails to present a intersectional analysis of power that transcends the hetero/homo divide, the us/them dichotomy (32). She also pushes the argument that using a Leftist political view, even with its imperfections, is essential for this movement. Cohen’s arguments pushes the idea that “heteronormativity interacts with institutional racism, patriarchy, and class exploitation to define us in numerous ways as marginal and oppressed subjects” (32).Queer politics often fails, to attend to the intersecting ways in which power dynamics occur, by not analyzing power and how it travels (not exclusively) based on race, class, sexuality and gender.

But How Does This Relate to Queerness in the Medical System?

 The assumptions made in the medical system fall along many of the intersecting axis of oppression that Cohen mentions in her conceptualization of Queer. When the medical system takes an oppositional  measure against LGBT people, it often effects people who are deviant along other axis of being.

In other words, medical policies that effect LGBT folk, also effect non-normative heterosexuals, just like Cohen explains in her article, “Punks, Bulldagger and Welfare Queens”.

Cohen on Queer

“Every person who comes to a queer self-understanding knows in one way or another that her stigmatization is connected with gender, the family, notions of individual freedom, the state, public speech, consumption and desire, nature and culture, maturation, reproductive politics, racial and national fantasy, class identity, trust and trust, censorship, intimate life and social display. terror and violence, health care, and deep cultural norms about the bearing of the body”-Cathy Cohen

From these quotes, we can see what Cathy Cohen means when she uses the word queer. She’s talking about any sort of deviation from a concept of normalcy that has racial, class, and gender elements to it, in addition to the assumptions regarding sexual object choice.