Queer Intercultural Communication
Summary and Keywords
Queer intercultural communication is an emerging and vibrant area of the communication discipline. The examination of this developing area of inquiry, the preliminary mapping of the field of queer intercultural communication, and its potential guidelines for future research deserves our attention. To do so, there are three sections for examination. First is an integrative view of queer intercultural communication by identifying fundamental components of its major contexts – macro, meso, and micro – and a model for understanding this research. Second is the exploration and examination of these major contexts in terms of theoretical, methodological, and political issues and concerns. Lastly, potential guidelines for research in queer intercultural communication are needed.
Most scholarship, policymaking, service provision, activism, and cultural work remain organized around the premise that migrants are heterosexuals (or on their way to becoming so) and queers are citizens. . . . Where do queer migrants figure in these frameworks and activities?
—Eithne Luibhéid (2008, p. 169)
Located in the shadowy interstices between such academic, cultural, and political frameworks and emerging from unintelligibility, invisibility, and erasure, queer intercultural communication is beginning to establish itself as an important and vibrant body of scholarship in communication (Yep, Alaoui, & Lescure, 2019). For several disciplinary decades, the fields of intercultural communication and queer studies developed and established themselves separately and seemingly without engaging each other. Aptly calling it a “disconnection” between these two areas of inquiry, Eguchi (2016) observed that a great deal of “scholarship on sexuality and communication overlooked the effects of culture on sexuality; and, simultaneously, . . . intercultural communication scholarship ignored the critical and crucial roles of sexuality and sex/gender in processes and practices of cultural identity” (pp. 292–293). Mapping the intersection of the queer and the intercultural, Karma Chávez (2013), guest editor of a special issue of the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication, the first communication journal to address these two fields together, wrote:
There has been an explosion of queer and trans scholarship outside of the [communication] discipline related to themes that should be of interest to intercultural and international communication scholars, including: nationalism, imperialism, international conflict, identity politics, transnational public spheres, militarism and militarization, biopolitics and necropolitics, globalization, social media, representation, and dialogue. (p. 84)
Indeed, queer intercultural communication offers the great promise to advance communication—academically, culturally, and politically—not only for sexual and gender minority communities across the globe but for all communities as they grapple with questions of identity and difference in an increasingly neoliberal and global social world (Eguchi, 2016; Yep, Alaoui, et al., 2019; Yep, Lescure, & Allen, 2016). To investigate and examine this emerging area of inquiry, this article offers an initial mapping of the field of queer intercultural communication and explores potential guidelines for future research. To accomplish this, the article is divided into three sections. First, it provides an integrative view of queer intercultural communication by identifying fundamental components of its major contexts—macro, meso, and micro—and by offering a model for examining this research. Next, the article examines these major contexts in terms of theoretical, methodological, and political issues and concerns. Finally, it explores potential guidelines for research in this emerging field within the communication discipline.
Toward an Integrative View of Queer Intercultural Communication
To develop a deep and multilayered understanding of queer intercultural communication, an integrative view that examines interactions, symbolic representations, and cultural discourses through careful attention to three simultaneous contexts—macro, meso, and micro—in the process of communication across differences is beneficial. For example, using Donham’s (1998) case study of Linda, a gender and sexual nonnormative Black man who lived in post-apartheid South Africa, Yep (2013b) calls attention to the need to analyze and understand the multiple contexts leading to Linda’s articulation of a “gay identity.” Noting that “Linda was not always ‘gay’” and unpacking Linda’s multiple identities, Yep (2013b) highlights how larger political, cultural, and historical forces (macrocontexts), attitudes and relationships between social and cultural groups (mesocontexts), and interactions between individuals in various communities (microcontexts) operated simultaneously in and through Linda’s body to produce an international and Westernized conception of gay identity (p. 121). To put it differently, to assume that Linda, who engaged in same-sex eroticism, was simply “gay” is more than incomplete and misleading but actually constitutes an egregious case of the imposition of Western cultural meanings on local and global—what Robertson (1992) coined “glocal,” the simultaneous interplay of local and global forces—gender and sexual practices in Soweto in post-apartheid South Africa (Yep, 2013b; Yep, Alaoui, et al., 2019). To avoid these academic, cultural, and political errors, mishaps, and impositions, which could be viewed as a form of Western imperialism, this integrative view of queer intercultural communication offers ways to produce deeper and more nuanced understanding of communication within and between the intersections of culture and sexuality. Before elaborating on the three major contexts identified at the beginning of this section, this article discusses four critical themes that are fundamental to an integrative view of queer intercultural communication.
Four Critical Themes
Consistent with critical intercultural communication, there are four themes that are important for a deep and multilayered understanding of queer intercultural communication: culture, history, geography, and power.
Although there are numerous conceptualizations of culture in the field of intercultural communication, culture, in this integrative view of queer intercultural communication, is heavily influenced by the field of cultural studies (Grossberg, Nelson, & Treichler, 1992; Yep, Alaoui, et al., 2019). More specifically, culture is viewed as a site of contestation where meanings are in an ongoing process of creation, affirmation, reaffirmation, negotiation, and transformation influenced by the macrocontexts briefly identified earlier. For example, the meanings of a “global gay culture” are not fixed and permanent; they are constantly negotiated and contested in relation to norms (e.g., appearance, gender presentation), values (e.g., visibility, consumerism), and membership (e.g., acceptance of a global gay identity, sense of belonging), among others. Such contestations are influenced by history, geography, and power.
Like culture, history has been conceptualized in multiple ways. The current integrative view proposes that history refers to narratives or stories a group of people tells about themselves to make sense of who they are. As such, history is not a recounting of “facts” about past events; history is about stories and perspectives that become dominant in a group, which are, of course, intricately connected to power (Weeks, 2016). For example, the Stonewall Riots, commonly believed to constitute the beginning of the gay and lesbian liberation movement in the United States, has become a historical event of mythical proportions nationally and internationally. In narrating this history, Carter (2004) wrote
The Stonewall Riots are the critical turning point in the movement for the rights of gay men and lesbians as well as bisexual and [trans] people. This six-day struggle by gay people with the [New York] police for control of a gay ghetto constitutes an important event in [U.S.] American and world history, for it ultimately lead to the inclusion of sexual orientation as a protected category in the civil and human rights movements. This was a significant broadening of these important historic movements and the beginning of the reversal of millennia of oppression. (p. 267, emphasis added)
Less known in this narrative, however, is who instigated and spearheaded the event: trans people of color and homeless gay youth—the most marginalized and despised members in lesbian, gay, and trans communities. Still less known is a similar event—the Compton’s Cafeteria Riots—that took place in San Francisco, California, three years prior to Stonewall, where a group of trans women and drag queens fought back against police brutality and violence (Stryker, 2017). Although there is a hegemonic—or “official”—version of history of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) movement in the United States and in the world, there are indeed multiple and less known stories of sexual minority uprising and resistance locally and transnationally.
Although the term can be viewed in multiple ways, geography is used here to refer to the spatial organization of sexuality locally, nationally, and transnationally. Such spatial organization is both material (e.g., physical borders of a gay neighborhood; local and national laws and ordinances regulating sexual behavior and identity) and symbolic (e.g., perception of a “gay space” that might include feelings of safety, visibility, and openness; representation of an international tourist site as “gay friendly”). For example, Israel, through a carefully orchestrated communication campaign, has presented itself to the world as a “gay friendly” nation and culture in recent years. This was accomplished through what Puar (2017) calls “pinkwashing”—a communication process designed to highlight the stellar record of a space (such as a site, city, nation-state, and region) regarding sexual minority rights (p. 95). In this sense, meanings of sexuality are very much influenced by spatial relations of power.
According to Foucault (1978/1990), power is a network of relations that circulates through all social relationships, including interpersonal and intergroup relations, mediated representations, and social institutions. In other words, all individual and social relationships—within a culture and across cultures—operate within relations of power. Such relations are complex (i.e., power does not come from a singular node), multiple (i.e., power has various aims), and productive (i.e., power is not simply repressive but generative of other relations; Yep, 2013a). Power is central in intercultural communication as individuals and groups come together to interact, negotiate, maintain, and contest their identity and difference (Halualani, 2019; Yep, Alaoui, et al., 2019). More specifically, issues of colonialism and imperialism and questions of social change are of particular concern in critical intercultural communication.
Imperialism and colonialism are crucial components of the conversation about the larger linkages between power and intercultural communication. Though imperialism and colonialism are often conflated, they have different but overlapping meanings. According to Said (1994), imperialism refers to “the practice, the theory, and the attitudes of a dominant metropolitan center ruling a distant territory” (p. 9), while colonialism refers to “the implanting of settlements on distant territory” (p. 9). Imperialism and colonialism are by no means relegated to the past. Indeed, their processes and effects are very much alive in the present.
One of the more pronounced and complicated contemporary mechanisms of imperialism is cultural imperialism, which refers to the spread of cultural products and discourses from cultures with greater access to power and resources into cultures that have less access to power and resources (Martin & Nakayama, 2013; Tomlinson, 2002; Tunstall, 1977). Ultimately, cultural imperialism is inexorably related to power, as cultural products and discourses originating from more globally dominant nation-states enjoy a greater degree of mobility than cultural products that originate from less globally dominant nation-states do, which also holds true within the context of the Western world itself (Martin & Nakayama, 2013; Yep et al., 2016).
Related to imperialism, colonialism, and cultural imperialism, settler colonialism is another concept worth exploring. The process of settler colonialism, according to Clarson (2015), involves settlers “claim[ing] Indigenous lands as their own, reshaping Indigenous spaces into settler spaces and remaking themselves into the ‘new natives,’ legitimately at home on someone else’s land” (p. 42). Settler colonialism is crucially different from colonialism in that “the colonizing effort is enacted from within the bounds of a settler colonizing political entity” (Veracini, 2010, p. 6). Mobility is a crucial component of settler colonialism, as settlers (who are predominantly White citizens of imperial nation-states with access to capital) are granted privileges of global and territorial mobility, while the mobility of indigenous populations or migrants who have been displaced by colonialism (many of whom are poor people of color) is more strictly watched and controlled (Chávez, 2009; Clarson, 2015; Puar, 2002b; Rhook, 2015).
Finally, consider the notion of social change. As a decidedly Western form of knowledge, intercultural communication research is implicated in the processes of colonialism and imperialism. Often, intercultural communication research produces knowledge about cultural others without criticizing or attempting to transform the global hegemonic order (Shome & Hegde, 2002b). Additionally, scholarship that might be perceived as counterhegemonic in one context might be perceived as an imperialistic imposition when applied elsewhere. For example, Western identity–oriented activist scholarship might impose Western identity politics into more collectivistic or less identity-focused cultural contexts (Lee, 2003; Yep, Alaoui, et al., 2019). As queer theory has traditionally been theoretically invested in antinormativity (Wiegman & Wilson, 2015), queer intercultural communication must not only focus on the process of challenging normativities at the macrocontextual level but must also focus on the micro and mesocontextual levels. Queer intercultural scholars should therefore be especially concerned with challenging the ways in which their own work contributes to the maintenance of hegemony at the global level (Yep, Alaoui, et al., 2019). One way to accomplish this is to more carefully consider whose perspectives are being cited in scholarship, whose perspectives are left out and how this relates to the creation of hegemonic knowledges about certain populations and subjectivities (Rahman, 2010; Spivak, 1988; Yep, Alaoui, et al., 2019). Finally, taking influence from Spade (2015), queer intercultural scholars should increasingly challenge violent macrocontextual logics (e.g., globalization, neoliberalism, imperialism) in addition to focusing on issues of law, policy, and interpersonal interaction in order to move toward richer and potentially more effective forms of social change. These major contexts are discussed next.
Although macrocontexts are not always overtly emphasized in queer intercultural communication research, they constitute the larger circumstances that microcontexts and mesocontexts occur within and in relation to. Because of this, scholarship that fails to consider macrocontexts will be inherently limited (Katriel, 1995). For example, research that focuses solely on the interpersonal interactions between participants from different national cultures without referencing larger situational conditions such as power, history, and colonialism, among others, will present a myopic view of intercultural communication (Shome & Hegde, 2002b). Focusing on the ways in which multiple contexts intersect facilitates a more integrated view of queer intercultural communication. This section advances four broad and interconnected macrocontexts—globalization, neoliberalism, sexuality, and circuits of mobility—that must be explicitly discussed in relation to queer intercultural communication.
As previously stated, four broad and intersecting macrocontexts are critical to an integrative view of queer intercultural communication: globalization, neoliberalism, sexuality, and circuits of mobility. Although these are discussed separately for purposes of clarity, these macrocontexts intersect and mutually influence one another.
According to Lowe (2014), globalization is a term used in academic and popular discourse to “describe a late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century condition of economic, social, and political interdependence across cultures, societies, nations, and regions that has been precipitated by an unprecedented expansion of capitalism on a global scale” (p. 119). Additionally, Appadurai (1996) notes that globalization erodes traditional conceptualizations of culture as bound to the nation-state and geographical location. Indeed, “globalization as a phenomenon produces a state of culture in transnational motion—flows of people, trade, communication, ideas, technologies, finance, social movements, cross border movements, and more” (Shome & Hegde, 2002a, p. 174). These flows, of course, are uneven and political (Chávez, 2009; Lowe, 2014; Puar, 2002b; Shome & Hegde, 2002a; Yep et al., 2016).
Contemporary discussions of globalization, imperialism, colonialism, power, and the like are incomplete without inclusion of neoliberalism. Duggan (2004) defines neoliberalism as
A political label retrospectively applied to the “conservative” policies of the Reagan and Thatcher regimes in the U.S. and Great Britain, rocketed to prominence as the brand name for the form of pro-corporate, “free market,” anti-“big government” rhetoric shaping Western international policy and dominating international financial institutions since the early 1980s. (p. 10)
Neoliberalism is an ideology, a process, and a cultural project that aims to promote the spread of Western forms of capitalism and democracy around the globe (Duggan, 2014; Giroux, 2004). Neoliberal policies result in the upward redistribution of wealth and increased economic inequalities at the global level (Duggan, 2014; Lowe, 2014). Though the logic of neoliberalism serves to benefit elites at the expense of the poor, this logic is often obscured through neoliberalism’s presentation as “a kind of nonpolitics” (Duggan, 2004, p. 10). One element of neoliberalism’s hazy political logic involves its moral legitimization of that which generates profit for elites. This logic intersects with other macrocontexts such as globalization, sexuality, and circuits of mobility. For example, government-run tourist boards often facilitate global gay and lesbian tourism—which is very lucrative—while those same governments hypocritically enact and are characterized by homophobic practices (Puar, 2002b).
Research on globalization, according to Binnie (2004), has paid little attention to the linkages between globalization and sexuality. The increasing and uneven global movement of bodies, ideas, cultural products, and discourses across cultural contexts complicates the concept of sexuality itself. In a certain sense, because Western cultural discourses enjoy the privilege of a heightened global mobility, both Western conceptualizations of sexuality (as well as conceptualizations of gender, race, and so on) have imperialistic implications as they spread across cultural contexts and can result in the erasure of local knowledges (Chang, 2013; Yep et al., 2016). Sexuality, Altman (2001) argues, “becomes an important arena for the production of modernity” (p. 91). Western conceptualizations of sexuality are often positioned as “modern,” while non-Western conceptualizations of sexuality are positioned and evaluated as “primitive,” even though many non-Western societies have exhibited a variety of expressions of sexuality and gender across historical time periods (Chang, 2013). Even Western conceptualizations of sexuality that generally aim to be counterhegemonic—such as queer theory—can be implicated in imperialism through their global spread (Massad, 2007). While Altman (2001) acknowledges this, he also argues that the export of Western constructions of sexuality can also lead to a form of cultural hybridity, offering non-Western activists new traditions to draw from.
Circuits of Mobility
The final macrocontext that advanced here, circuits of mobility, is primarily deployed to refer to control and agency in relation to bodies and their global movement. Using the example of gay tourism to explain this more fully, Puar (2002b) argues:
In a climate of globalization that we increasingly respond to through various heightened efforts at border containment, gay tourism functions as an ironic marker of a cosmopolitan mobility available to a very few bodies, especially in relation to the growing criminalization of immigrants and restrictions on their mobility. (p. 126)
Puar’s argument demonstrates that the nation-state is not rendered obsolete through globalization as Appadurai (1996) argues but instead plays a major role in controlling the exercise of mobility on a global level. Puar continues, arguing that the nation-state polices the mobility of “those who cannot or do not fit into the ‘good homosexual’ image” (p. 126), which is a sentiment echoed by Fobear (2014). The “good homosexual” privileged with greater access to global mobility tends to be a White citizen who enjoys legal recognition and has access to capital (Puar, 2002b). It is crucial to highlight, as Atay (2015) does with queer diaspora, that the value ascribed to queer bodies must be considered intersectionally and in relation to context, culture, and globalization. Therefore, not all queer bodies are afforded the same degree of agency in mobility, which is a theme explored further later.
Mesocontexts and Microcontexts
To examine the connections and interplay of these contexts, this section presents a model of queer intercultural communication. The model highlights the mesocontext, including attitudes and relations within and between cultural communities, and microcontext, such as interpersonal interactions within and between cultural groups or levels of intercultural communication. The model is described first before a discussion of some representative research associated with the four domains of this model.
A Model for Queer Intercultural Communication
As a decidedly critical theoretical and political process, queering arose as a collection of multifaceted methods used to deconstruct the artificial stability of hegemonic sexuality and other interconnected identity categories (e.g., race, class, gender, body, ability, etc.). By illuminating underlying relations of power within specific cultural, geopolitical, and historical contexts and highlighting subjectivity, queering remains a powerful instrument to investigate how identities and social institutions are constituted, understood, and communicated. Multiple scholars have directly extended the use of queering to focus on and include various bodily knowledges such as E. P. Johnson’s (2001) quaring, Lee’s (2003) kuaering, McRuer’s (2006) crippin’, and Stryker, Currah, and Moore’s (2008) transing. Though communication scholars have slowly begun to integrate queer studies into their scholarship, the research often recreates and reinforces hegemonic ideologies and hierarchies that universalize experience and maintain stable and binary categories (Yep, Lovaas, & Elia, 2003). Considering the breadth of queer and trans scholarship that directly speaks to the field of intercultural communication (Chávez, 2013), the importance of sketching a model for queer intercultural communication cannot be understated.
The current model is closely derived from Yep, Russo, and Allen’s (2015) framework for transing communication that consists of two interdependent and orthogonal axes: (a) degree of difference and (b) degree of mediatedness. The first axis focuses on how cultural, social, and geopolitical systems influence and constitute conceptions of sexuality between individuals and groups. As such, it outlines a continuum based on cultural particularity ranging from low (e.g., interactions between individuals from the same cultural system) to high (e.g., interactions between individuals from different cultural systems). The second axis focuses on the extent through which communication is mediated through various technologies. This axis outlines another continuum based on the qualities of communication influenced by technology ranging from low (e.g., face-to-face interaction without technological devices) to high (e.g., interactions between individuals or groups exclusively through multiple communication technologies with a potentially large audience). Together, the two axes intersect to form four domains of communication: (a) low degree of difference and low degree of mediatedness (e.g., individuals from similar cultural systems interacting face to face); (b) low degree of difference and high degree of mediatedness (e.g., mediated representations of nonconforming sexuality within a cultural system); (c) high degree of difference and low degree of mediatedness (e.g., individuals from different cultural systems interacting face to face); and (d) high degree of difference and high degree of mediatedness (e.g., popular discourses of nonconforming sexuality from two different cultural systems). Inherently fluid, dynamic, and ever changing, this model provides a rough sketch of domains with perforated boundary lines, intersecting and interrelating, though sometimes separate areas along the axes of difference and mediatedness.
The model seeks to complement the examination of queer intercultural communication in ways that may contribute to more intricate and nuanced understandings of the ways culture, history, geography, power, and technology intersect to inform and constitute identities, as well as theoretical and political discourses within, across, and between cultural systems. This provides the opportunity to map queer intercultural communication research, as well as more closely examine the ways that research (de)constructs sexual systems within, across, and between various cultural contexts. More specifically, in order to address the symbolic, material, and theoretical implications of queer intercultural communication research, the model aids in the exploration of how research (de)constructs sexuality through microscopic (i.e., interpersonal), mesoscopic (i.e., group or community), and/or macroscopic (i.e., structural and institutional) lenses; individually (i.e., sexuality by itself) or intersectionally (i.e., sexuality constituted by other bodily aspects of identity in relation to Western colonial and imperial powers); as stable or fluid; dualistically (i.e., gay or straight) or multiplicatively (i.e., sexuality as a galaxy); among others.
In order to illustrate the possibilities for mapping and analysis of queer intercultural communication, some of the past research from each domain is explored before the article more deeply traverses various contexts within queer intercultural communication and explores potential ideas for future research. Through the process of mapping past research, it appears that there has been less exploration in the first and second domains and much more exploration in the third and fourth domains. That is, past research has more thoroughly investigated interpersonal and mediated interactions across distinctly different cultural systems, which becomes clear in the following section.
The First Domain: Low Difference, Low Mediatedness
This domain is generally characterized by research that features a low degree of emphasis of cultural difference (e.g., participants from the same cultural system) and a low degree of emphasis on mediated communication (e.g., researchers analyzing or describing interpersonal or face-to-face communication rather than analyzing or describing communication as occurring through technological channels or in relation to cultural texts). Through their analysis of narrative interviews of Jewish LGBTQ individuals from the United States, Faulkner and Hecht’s (2011) study exemplifies this domain. The research in this area tends to focus on micro and mesocontexts more often than macrocontexts, although research in this domain does consider power to varying degrees. There are two predominant themes within the research in this domain: (a) identity (e.g., Abdi & Van Gilder, 2015; Baunach & Burgess, 2013; Faulkner & Hecht, 2011; Gulevich, Osin, Isaenko, & Brainis, 2018; Hankins, 2015; Kitzinger, 2005; Lim, 2016; Liow, Fazli Khalaf, Mohammad Ameeruddin, & Foong, 2017; Lynch & Clayton, 2017; Manning, 2015; Pyne, 2014; Rudwick, 2010; Suganuma, 2012; Yep & Lescure, 2015) and (b) communication strategies (e.g., Abdi & Van Gilder, 2015; Faulkner & Hecht, 2011; Goltz, Zingsheim, Mastin, & Murphy, 2016; Lynch & Clayton, 2017; Manning, 2015; Nghiêm-Phú, 2018; West, Van der Walt, & Kaoma, 2016).
Each of the studies in this domain emphasizes identity, though they do not all do so in the same way. Identity seems to be conceptualized throughout these studies as intersectional and socially constructed yet relatively stable. In this domain, identity is often explicitly discussed as negotiated (e.g., Abdi & Van Gilder, 2015; Faulkner & Hecht, 2011; Lim, 2016; Manning, 2015; Yep & Lescure, 2015) and occasionally as performed (Hankins, 2015; Lynch & Clayton, 2017; Nghiêm-Phú, 2018; Pyne, 2014; Rudwick, 2010; Yep & Lescure, 2015).
Most of the studies in this domain place their primary focus on identities that are marginalized within a larger cultural context (e.g., Abdi & Van Gilder, 2015; Baunach & Burgess, 2013; Faulkner & Hecht, 2011; Hankins, 2015; Liow et al., 2017; Lynch & Clayton, 2017; Manning, 2015; Pyne, 2014). Out of the sources selected in this domain, Kitzinger’s (2005) study is the only one that places its primary emphasis on heterosexuality as a default identity category, though many of the other studies do in fact mention or implicitly describe heterosexuality and masculinity as default identities. In his study, Pyne (2014), for example, describes a discursive shift within Canadian culture where the identity performances of gender non-conforming children are decreasingly pathologized and increasingly seen as expressions of diversity. While Pyne primarily focuses on gender non-conforming children, he also discusses the need to critique the cultural normativities that uphold the hegemony of heterosexuality and masculinity.
Finally, some of the studies in this domain focus on the tensions due of identifying with “conflicting” identity categories or the tensions related to identifying with marginalized identity categories in relation to hostile mesocontexts. In the former sense, Faulkner and Hecht (2011) describe the complexities that result from identifying as both queer and Jewish. Similarly, Abdi and Van Gilder (2015) describe the complexities of identifying as both queer and Iranian American. In the latter sense, Baunach and Burgess (2013) describe the complexities of identifying as queer in the rural and “traditional” cultural context of the southern United States. Finally, Yep and Lescure (2015) describe the complexities of enacting queer gender performances as they navigate various spaces on a college campus.
Some of the studies within this domain focus on the complexities of negotiating marginalized identities within the context of an oppressive larger cultural context through the use of specific communication strategies. In their study, Faulkner and Hecht (2011), for example, describe various strategies that queer Jewish individuals use to negotiate the contradictions of belonging to two marginalized identities within the context of their communities. Similarly, Manning (2015) interviews participants in order to discuss the typology of coming out conversations. Manning ultimately identifies seven different types of coming out conversations, some of which can be understood as communication strategies used by participants in order to come out. While Faulkner and Hecht as well as Manning discuss power in relation to the negotiation of identity in their work, they do not necessarily discuss power in a macrocontextual sense.
Abdi and Van Gilder’s (2015) work also focuses on the negotiation of marginalized identities through the use of communication strategies, but it does so with a greater focus on cultural difference and macrocontexts than typically observed within this domain. They find that queer Iranian American women feel a sense of isolation due to the deligitimization of homosexual identity that pervades Iranian cultural discourses. Because of this, these participants create a sense of cultural distance between themselves and the Iranian community in order to strategically respond to this feeling of isolation. In their discussion, Abdi and Van Gilder reference sexuality in a global, macrocontextual sense by noting specific cultural tensions that exist between Iranian and Western sexual discourses.
The Second Domain: Low Difference, High Mediatedness
This domain is generally characterized by research focusing on relatively low degree of cultural difference, such as individuals and groups from the same culture, and high level of mediatedness, such as representations in media texts (e.g., mainstream and new media). Taken together, this domain highlights intracultural research in mediated contexts. Research in this domain ranged from quantitative content analysis (Bond, 2015) to critical close readings of mediated texts and cultural productions (Chambers, 2015; Dhaenens, 2018; Eguchi, Files-Thompson, & Calafell, 2018; Madžarević & Soto-Sanfiel, 2018; Rojas-Lizana, Tolton, & Hannah, 2018; Yep, Lescure, & Allen, 2015; Yep, Russo, & Gigi, 2017; Yep, Russo, et al., 2015; Zsila, Pagliassotti, Urban, Orosz, Kiraly, & Demetrovics, 2018). Two themes emerged in this domain: (a) identity and (b) bodily acts and practices.
Unsurprisingly, most of the research in this domain highlights representations of sexual identity within the United States. Focusing on sexual socialization of lesbian, gay, and bisexual adolescents and exploring the differences between mainstream and gay- and lesbian-oriented (GLO) media, Bond (2015) found that GLO media offer more validating depictions of lesbian and gay sexualities and identities than mainstream representations. Turning to queer aging, Yep, Lescure, et al. (2015) examined the representation of Liberace, a popular performer and an aging gay man, in HBO’s film Behind the Candelabra, by showcasing the tensions associated with his gay identity—a closeted man in public and a highly sexual being in private.
Other research examined sexual identity in relation to other social categories, most notably gender. For example, Liberace was portrayed as an effeminate gay man—flamboyant, ostentatious, consumer-oriented, and highly concerned about his physical appearance (Yep, Lescure, et al., 2015). In a study of boyhood masculinity in Alain Berliner’s Ma Vie en Rose, Yep, Russo, et al. (2015) noted that sexuality and gender performance tend to be easily conflated. More specifically, Ludovic, the central character in the film, is a self-proclaimed “girlboy” whose gender performance (e.g., dressing in girls’ clothes) gets Ludovic labeled as homosexual or gay (p. 44). Finally, in an analysis of mainstream media representations of Olympic champion Caitlyn Jenner, Yep et al. (2017) find that these representations often conflate Jenner’s gender identity with her sexual identity.
Focusing on bodily acts and practices, this theme highlights how sexual acts and sexual practices become constitutive of sexual identity. Bond (2015), for example, found that same-sex erotic practices are largely invisible in mainstream media, which contribute to the portrayal of lesbian, gay, and bisexual sexualities and identities as ornamental and sanitized for presumably heterosexual audiences. Although gay men were represented significantly more than lesbians or bisexual individuals, Bond found GLO media depicted more realistic gay and lesbian sexual interests, behaviors, and relationships. These contrasting representations, the author argues, has repercussions on sexual socialization for lesbian and gay adolescents.
Noting that aging gay men find themselves caught in the crossfire of two contradictory cultural stereotypes—the aging man, who is simultaneously sexually normative (i.e., heterosexual) and nonsexual, and the gay man, who is simultaneously sexually nonnormative and hypersexual—Yep, Lescure, et al. (2015) argue that the representation of Liberace both challenges and reinforces cultural stereotypes in Behind the Candelabra. By depicting Liberace as a hypersexual gay man, it simultaneously challenges the stereotype of sexual normativity and sexual inactivity of older adults and reifies the hypersexuality of gay men.
The Third Domain: High Difference, Low Mediatedness
This domain is conceptualized through interpersonal interactions across distinct cultural systems. The most popular style of research within this domain is situated in the ethnographic field where individuals from very different cultural systems (e.g., a Western researcher visiting a non-Western country) come together for face-to-face interactions to discuss the differences between their lived experiences and the cultural systems that have informed and shaped them. There was a plethora of research in this domain that echoed the overarching issues of colonialist and imperialist entitlement of viewing non-Western cultures through a Western lens. Three primary themes emerged from this domain: (a) use of language, (b) construction of identity, and (c) construction of relationships.
Communication scholars are expected to be interested in the ways that language contributes to meaning-making processes. Yet those who are also intercultural scholars must recognize that meaning making can be wildly distinct across and between cultural systems. The static nature of language and of published writing provides researchers with the dilemma of attempting to stabilize fluid identities and cultures. This dilemma proves to be a consistent point of contention as many researchers acknowledge that their language choices (and the Western interpretation of those choices) do not necessarily encapsulate the full or nuanced meaning of their subjects (Cashman, 2018; Collins, 2012; Eguchi, 2014, 2016; Gaucher & DeGagne, 2016; Greensmith & Giwa, 2013; Hobson, Alexander, & Weems, 2017; J. R. Johnson, 2013; Jordan, 2009; Lee & Ostergard, 2017; Lee & Brotman, 2011; Luibhéid, 2008; Nyanzi, Rosenberg-Jallow, Bah, & Nyanzi, 2005; Otalvaro-Hormillosa, 1999; Padilla, 2007; Patterson & Leurs, 2019; Robbins, 2011; Stout, 2015; Van Gilder & Abdi, 2014; Yep, 2013b).
There is an imperialistic tendency within Western research to utilize language that does not necessarily constitute identities in non-Western cultures, though researchers will often acknowledge that they are essentially doing the best that they can with what they have in an effort toward reflexive analysis (Collins, 2012; Eguchi, 2014). Additionally, Luibhéid (2008), notes the importance of tracking how language (e.g., queer) has been messily circulated and appropriated across various historical contexts in order to address the historical and geopolitical implications to the term or identity. Perhaps due to the complex historical nature of popular terms, some researchers choose not to include their personal definitions of key terms (e.g., queer) (Puar, 2002b).
Most queer intercultural research, in some way, shape, or form, explores the ways that the subjects of research identify. Whether the research ultimately determines the subject’s identity for them, there tends to be a discussion about the ways that the cultural system in question differs from Western cultural systems. Hailing from queer and feminist methodologies, a large faction of queer intercultural communication research acknowledges identity as fluid (Collins, 2012; Eguchi, 2014; Gorman-Murray, 2009; J. R. Johnson, 2013; Luibhéid, 2008; Puar, 2002a; Yep, 2013b), with an emphasis on the importance of intersectionality often included (Eguchi, 2014; Greensmith & Giwa, 2013; J. R. Johnson, 2013; Lorway, 2008; Luibhéid, 2008; Puar, 2002a; Yep, 2013b).
However, not all research fully embraces these ideologies. For example, it was perplexing to some researchers that Western identity categories, no matter how similar the behaviors associated with a particular identity may be, were not accepted by non-Western subjects (Collins, 2012). Additionally, some research reinforced harmful normative ideologies by upholding the gay-straight binary and regarding nonconforming sexuality as a mostly negative experience (Howard, 2012). In contrast, some research specifically pointed to the ways in which Western discourses and representations significantly impacted identity formation in queer experiences (Lorway, 2008).
Relationships also maintained a focus in the intercultural communication research in a variety of different forms such as the relationship of the researcher to the research itself, the relationships of the researcher with the research subjects, the relationship of the research subject to the research itself, the relationships among research subjects, the relationships of the research subjects and their communities, and the relationships of the research subjects to their nations. The importance of acknowledging the multitude of relational intricacies lies in the implications of which relationships the research chooses to center. The politics of queer intercultural research call for a reflexive relationship between the scholar and the scholarship, but too much focus and the research becomes self-indulgent. Thus the choices made about which relationships to center can be significant in the mapping and analysis of queer intercultural research.
The politics of reflexivity can be particularly important when researchers enter a community that they do not identity with (Collins, 2012) or it can be practically nonexistent (or at least not a focus of the research) when the community welcomes the researcher with relatively no issues (Gorman-Murray, 2009). Collins explores the notion of what constitutes an “authentic insider” considering the privilege of having access to intercultural community spaces that may not be widely available to outsiders (p. 51). However, moments of tension arose when queer and feminist research practices held researchers back from being able to more deeply investigate a subject potentially impacting the conversation and relationship between the researcher and the subject (Collins, 2012; Greensmith & Giwa, 2013).
Intercultural communication is often studied within the backdrop of tourism, as cross-cultural travel provides a ripe opportunity to explore how people of different cultures interact with and come to understand one another (Greensmith & Giwa, 2013; Nyanzi et al., 2005; Padilla, 2007; Puar, 2002a; Stout, 2015). Due to the temporality of tourism, some of the community bonds formed (i.e., a researcher or tourist being allowed access to a community) are predicated on the fact that they will not last very long. Specifically, Puar addresses the implications of queer tourism as gay and lesbian tourists look for travel locations that will provide them a community for travel but not necessarily for any extended period of time afterward.
Relationships to the nation are of particular importance in queer intercultural research as rudimentary definitions of cultural can often stem from nation borders. When exploring the relationships of queer people to their nations, identity formations through nationalism as well as legal rights are addressed. Eguchi (2014) specifically acknowledges the complexities of transnational identities by noting that his self-labeling and embodiment of a gay Asian American man can replicate Western institutions of power as Western gay culture is imperialistically imposed on the rest of the world. However, by acknowledging thick intersectionalities that include nuanced relationships to transnationality, Eguchi’s autoethnographic research seeks to complicate traditional notions of national identity. Similarly, some scholars attribute a large aspect of identity construction to the migration process, concluding the transnational identity not only informs but constitutes sexuality, gender, and other identities (Gorman-Murray, 2009; Luibhéid, 2008). Specifically, Luibhéid (2008) discusses the intricacies of traveling between intercultural sexual systems and the imperialist and colonialist tendency to default to hegemonic Western sexual systems. To complicate a queer person’s relationship to their nation even further, J. R. Johnson (2013) explores the ways in which queer bodies are often not protected even when they are considered citizens of a particular nation.
The Fourth Domain: High Difference, High Mediatedness
This domain is generally characterized by research that features a high degree of emphasis of cultural difference (e.g., researchers analyzing or describing the occurrence of communication between different cultural systems) and a high degree of emphasis on mediated communication (e.g., researchers analyzing or describing communication as occurring through technological channels or in relation to cultural texts). Hatfield and Dionne’s (2014) discussion of the ways in which the Disney film Maleficent can be seen to transculturally promote queer ecofeminist values exemplifies this domain. Studies are also considered that describe and analyze law and policy in this domain, with the position that law and policy can be considered cultural texts. The research in this area tends to focus strongly on macrocontexts, with four predominant themes: (a) identity (e.g., Burns, 2012; Chávez, 2009; Lünenborg, 2018; Puar, 2002b; Yep, Russo, Allen, & Chivers, 2017), (b) body (e.g., Burns, 2012; Wesling, 2008; Zhu, 2016), (c) relationships (e.g., Burns, 2012; Chang, 2013; Chávez, 2009; Fobear, 2014; Puar, 2002b; Wesling, 2008; Wu, Mou, Wang, & Atkin, 2018), and (d) activism (e.g., Chang, 2013; Fobear, 2014; Harris, 2013; Hatfield & Dionne, 2014; A. K. Johnson, 2011, Russell, 2018).
Most of the sources found within this domain are highly intersectional, paying a great deal of attention to race in relation to processes of othering as they exist at the global level. This discussion often exists in relation to larger ideas about the body and mobility. Chávez (2009), for example, discusses the construction of racial others within the context of dominant U.S. discourse. Chávez notes that the use of migrant metaphors and the way that non-White bodies are read as texts are crucial within the process of othering, which is a necessary mechanism in the (re)production of settler colonialism.
Other sources in this domain focus more on the creation of a sexual cosmopolitan subject and how this construction also requires the subjugation of global others, many of whom are intersectionally marginalized. For example, Burns (2012) argues, “The cosmopolitan sexual citizen is almost always presumed to be a white, western citizen-subject who has access to ‘difference’ through urban living, global travel and through his or her investment in the project of global queer world-making” (p. 316). Burns characterizes the fetishization of cultural others as being integral to the construction of cosmopolitan sexual citizens. This has clear racial, class, national, and imperial implications. Similarly, Puar (2002b) argues that gay and lesbian tourism ironically reproduces an imperial binary in the form of the “queer modern” versus the “primitive native.”
The construction of cosmopolitan sexual citizens as a dominant global identity category requires the construction and marginalization of others, which inherently involves the body. In her study of the opening ceremony of the 2002 Gay Games, Burns (2012) analyzes the ways that non-White bodies and lives are fetishized and ultimately marketed to cosmopolitan sexual citizens. The construction of this identity involves a certain “worldliness” through the consumption of images associated with global, often “native,” others. Continuing this theme, Wesling (2008) argues, “Gay tourism in particular upholds a dichotomy between consumer and produced perfectly aligned with a first world/third world hierarchy in which the ‘queer fetishized native’ is the silenced and place-bound product, which the gay tourist is encouraged to consume” (p. 41). Further developing the notion of native bodies as marketable to Western cosmopolitan sexual citizens, Wesling describes the overlaps between tourism and sex work, mentioning:
Websites appeal to potential tourists by promoting the fantasy of unfettered access to women and girls of varying ages and ethnicities as part of a vacationer’s experience in an “exotic” location. Such marketing strategies promise authentic contact with the racialized Other, where wealthy white men from Europe and North America are solicited as sexual adventurers in a new, foreign landscape. (p. 38)
In addition to the relationships between cosmopolitan sexual citizens and global others as previously described (e.g., Burns, 2012; Wesling, 2008), many of the sources in this domain discuss the complex relationships between the nation-state, identity, power, and mobility. Some of the sources emphasize the global mobility unequally afforded to individuals who belong to normative identity categories (e.g., Chávez, 2009; Fobear, 2014; Puar, 2002b). Some of the sources in this domain also describe the relationships between discourse and the (re)production of settler colonialism at various contextual levels (e.g., Chang, 2013; Chávez, 2009; Fobear, 2014). Many of these sources show that the nation-state is far from being irrelevant in the context of globalization and has a major involvement in the control of the global mobility of bodies (e.g., Chávez, 2009; Fobear, 2014).
Although all of the sources within this section can be referred to as having activist themes due to their encouragement of social change in multiple paradigmatic senses, a few of the sources call for or describe activism more explicitly. A. K. Johnson (2011) pushes for law and policy reform, arguing that nation-states in Southeast Asia are not doing enough at the legal level to combat the sexual exploitation of children. A. K. Johnson’s discussion does not position global sexual exploitation very clearly in relation to larger macrostructures, unlike Wesling (2008) does in her analysis of the film Remote Sensing. A. K. Johnson’s call for activism primarily involves the passing and enforcement of law on the national level.
Hatfield and Dionne’s (2014) study argues that, despite the potential problematics of being a film produced by a major multinational media corporation, Disney’s Maleficent can be read as communicating a queer ecofeminist message across cultures. Without getting very deep into the politics of cultural imperialism in relation to their artifact, Hatfield and Dionne argue that the film offers new ways of engaging in “eco-conscious community building” (p. 83). Engaging a bit more with macrocontexts, Harris (2013) similarly discusses media’s activist possibilities. Harris focuses on the creation of animated short films as a way to address and disrupt homophobia and racism within multicultural communities in Australia in order to ultimately argue that digital media can be used to serve cultural activism projects.
Finally, Chang (2013) and Fobear (2014) overtly call for activist challenges to settler colonialism. Focusing specifically on Hawaii as a site of settler colonialism, Chang (2013) calls for decolonization, encouraging Hawaii’s “LGBT communities, both local and settler, to analyze how their methods of pursuing equality may harm the Native Hawaiian movement for self-determination” (p. 133). Fobear focuses on Canada as a site of settler colonialism and encourages scholars to critically analyze the macrocontextual power relations that impact past and present global migration patterns as well as the experiences of sexual and gender minority refugees.
Traversing Macro, Meso, and Microcontexts
As stated earlier, a deep and more nuanced understanding of queer intercultural communication requires that attention to macro, meso, and microcontexts in research. To put it differently, there is a need to traverse these contexts to understand how they influence each other in the process of communication across differences. Through the integrative view of queer intercultural communication presented in the previous section, three critical areas can be identified—theoretical, methodological, and political—for researchers and practitioners to be particularly aware of and attentive to as they explore, analyze, and expand work on queer intercultural communication. These three areas are analyzed next.
The first critical area, theoretical issues, refers to the ways intercultural communication researchers and practitioners view, conceptualize, examine, and explain cultural similarities and differences in interaction and representational practices. In terms of queer intercultural communication, hegemony of Eurocentric theories and hegemony of identity politics appear to be particularly salient.
Hegemony of Eurocentric Theories
As participants in an ongoing project that takes influence from the agendas set by the Western disciplines of intercultural communication and cultural studies (Moon, 1996; Stam & Shohat, 2005; Yep, Alaoui, et al., 2019), queer intercultural communication scholars must be mindful of the ways that their research can perpetuate Eurocentric cultural ideologies. According to Stam and Shohat, a Eurocentric viewpoint “assumes that democracy, science, progress, and prosperity all emanate from a western source” (p. 482). Besides being patently false, such ideas promote an imperialistic understanding of Europe as “the originary fountain from which all good things flow” (Stam & Shohat, 2005, p. 482). The way that Stam and Shohat are using the term “Europe” refers to a global hegemony of European thought rather than strictly to the continent itself. Indeed, U.S. scholarship tends to promote Eurocentric perspectives. To challenge Eurocentrism, queer intercultural scholars must be self-reflexive about the global and political ramifications of their work as well as the ways that nationalistic and Western assumptions operate through scholarship (Shome & Hegde, 2002b; Stam & Shohat, 2005; Yep, Alaoui, et al., 2019).
Hegemony of Identity Politics
Additionally, queer intercultural scholars must be aware of the hegemony of Eurocentric notions of identity politics in intercultural communication scholarship. Grosfoguel (2012) notes that Western forms of knowing tend to be suspicious of and reject non-Western ways of knowing, which he then connects with the broad concept of identity politics, noting that subaltern groups often have their own cultural expressions of identity politics that do not correspond neatly with Western conceptualizations of identity politics. Queer intercultural scholars need to be mindful of the problematic imperialistic intercultural application of Eurocentric theoretical concepts (e.g., identity politics, queer theory) that can be transgressive in one context but normative or violent in others (Yep, Alaoui, et al., 2019).
The second critical area—methodological considerations—refers to the ways researchers and practitioners gather information, examine, and interpret worldviews, norms, practices, and interactions within and across cultural contexts. This is particularly important in an era of rapid transnational flows where same-sex eroticism circulate in diverse cultural contexts with local and global meanings and consequences (Martel, 2018). Centering subjectivities and attention to context are two critical methodological considerations.
Using methodological approaches, such as critical, interpretive, and performance ethnography, to understand cultural meanings from the perspective of the members themselves is imperative in queer intercultural communication research (Yep, Alaoui, et al., 2019). Such methodologies create spaces for cultural members to speak for themselves—rather than having researchers speaking for them—to narrate and capture the complexities, tensions, and contradictions of the meanings of same-sex eroticism within and across cultural contexts (Yep, 2013b). To put it differently, queer intercultural communication research must adopt methodologies that center and highlight the subjectivities of the members of the culture under study. Such subjectivities—along with the researcher’s critical self-reflexivity—have the potential to produce dense cultural particularities, that is, nuanced, rich, layered, and deep meanings and contexts associated with same-sex erotic practices, interactions, relations, and representations.
Attending to Macro, Meso, and Microcontexts
Closely related to the previous methodological consideration, queer intercultural communication researchers and practitioners must attend to and explore the dynamic interactions between macro, meso, and microcontexts through which cultural members perceive and make sense of their social worlds, including personal meanings, interactions, and social relations (Yep, Alaoui, et al., 2019). As stated earlier, such contexts include globalization, neoliberalism, history, geography, views of cultural difference, and degrees of mediatedness, among others, involved in a particular queer intercultural communication situation or event. History and geography, for example, provide temporal and spatial contexts for understanding culturally specific meanings of same-sex eroticism and conditions to promulgate social change that do not necessarily adhere to the promotion of “global gay rights” advanced by the Western cultures in the Global North (Bakshi, Jivraj, & Posocco, 2016). Some cultural groups, on the other hand, adopt the Western gay rights framework for economic and political reasons, which underscores the hegemony and power of the West (Martel, 2018).
Exploring the political implications of queer intercultural communication, the third critical area, mostly stems from the aforementioned and ever-present hegemonic Eurocentric ideologies that accompany the comparison of one nation (i.e., generally “the West,” or more pointedly, the United States) to another. Within these faulty comparisons are two interconnected themes—social change and narratives of progress.
The notion of social change is a vague rhetorical strategy without much of a stable denotative meaning, leaving ample space for assumptive proclamations to be made about the communities or nations in question. This ambiguity often leads to social change referred to as a move toward more legal “rights” for marginalized populations. Spade (2015) addresses the current conceptualizations of social change and the limitations of focusing solely on legislative reform to solve issues for marginalized communities. In other words, changing a law does not always equate to the deep cultural change needed to affect paradigmatic views in the majority of a community or nation—in fact, it often acts as a bandage over deeper systemic and institutional issues that require much more than law to change the lives of the people affected. While mainstream media may paint these bandages as progress, often the implicated communities recognize that these changes may actually harm them in the long run.
Narratives of Progress
The rhetoric of social change often leads to narratives of progress, where a strategic emphasis is placed on a change that has taken place (e.g., the U.S. legalization of same-sex marriage) in order to placate—and potentially foreclose upon—further change, such as enhancing the life chances of the most marginalized members of LGBTQ communities (Ross, 2005). Narratives of progress rely on the vague ideology that an unjust and problematic status quo is likely to automatically improve over time. Narratives such as “discrimination might be prevalent now, but people will be more accepting in the future” are exemplified in the popular “It Gets Better” Project, created by Dan Savage and his partner Terry Miller, to assure gender and sexual minority youth that their lives will turn the corner, positively develop, and become worthwhile—in other words, progress—as they grow older (Savage & Miller, 2011). In some senses, these narratives address the reality that marginalized communities are experiencing trauma, loss, and heartbreak as a result of their oppression. However, these narratives of trauma are often used against marginalized communities to assert that their deviation from normative identity constructions is what is causing their marginality. Constructing the history of LGBTQ communities in terms of simple and linear narratives of progress reflects the superficial engagement with power that Spade (2015) criticizes and also encourages a certain strategically depoliticized sense of happiness without recognizing the generative opportunities that might come with acknowledging and embracing other emotions (Yep, Olzman, & Conkle, 2012). These narratives serve hegemonic institutions and perspectives while maintaining a depoliticized and vague mask of utopia for the future. This puts us at an impasse or, as Love (2007) aptly puts it, “we are not sure if we should explore the link between homosexuality and loss, or set about proving that it does not exist” (p. 3).
An example of the intricate relationship between social change and narratives of progress is the recent U.S. federal decision to legalize same-sex marriage. Though “liberal” cities have been painting crosswalks with rainbow colors in a strategic attempt to market themselves as a “gay friendly” place to boost their local economies (i.e., pink-washing), it was not enough to consider the United States a gay friendly nation. However, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states may not ban same-sex marriage, there is a large faction of the United States (and the world) that considers the U.S. trials and tribulations with LGBTQ issues dealt with and completed. While marriage may now be legal, it is also still legal in a multitude of states to discriminate against LGBTQ identified people in the workplace, healthcare institutions, and more (Knauer, 2019). The legalization of marriage may have ended discrimination for the most privileged of LGBTQ communities, but it certainly did not incite the deep cultural change necessary to end discrimination of LGBTQ people in the United States (Yep, Gigi, & Avila, 2019).
Exploring Potential Guidelines for Queer Intercultural Communication Research
As the emerging field of queer intercultural communication continues to grow and expand, there is a need to develop some potential guidelines to tackle the complexities of this work. As guidelines, they are not meant to serve as rigid standards but areas of increased attention and vigilance for the production of ethical queer intercultural communication research. This final section explores four issues, which are framed in the form of questions, that researchers and practitioners must carefully reflect and consider in their work. They are questions of (a) researcher accountability, (b) authenticity, (c) representation, and (d) praxis.
Questions of Researcher Accountability
The question of researcher accountability and ethics has been an arduously debated topic among academics and community members. Cannella and Lincoln (2018) note that an ethical perspective is one where researchers
would always address human suffering and life conditions, align with politics of the oppressed, and move to reclaim multiple knowledges and ways of being [that involve] complexity, openness to uncertainty, fluidity, and continued reflexive thought . . . [to recover knowledges and voices] that have been historically marginalized and brutally discredited, facing violent attempts at erasure. (p. 85)
Urging researchers to be sensitive and conscious to contexts—macro, meso, and micro—in their work, they further argue that there is an urgent need for research to highlight diverse realities (e.g., how different cultural groups, locally and transnationally, make sense of eroticism, particularly same-sex relations), engage with questions of power and privilege (e.g., how colonialism and imperialism produce particular forms of sexuality, such as the “global gay,” while making other forms unintelligible and discredited), assist in the creation of new ways of functioning and relating (e.g., making erased and discredited forms of sexuality legitimate and intelligible), and strive for social justice (e.g., using their research to make lives more livable for marginalized erotic communities). Cannella and Lincoln’s (2018) call appears to be particularly urgent as queer intercultural communication routinely grapples with questions of life and death, such as local and international persecution, maltreatment, and diminishment of life chances for erotic minorities living at the intersections of multiple cultural systems, values, and policies (Bakshi et al., 2016). As such, the demands for accountability for the queer intercultural researcher are, indeed, quite lofty.
In addition to displaying sensitivity and skill to deeply understand and unpack meaning systems in multiple cultural contexts under investigation, queer intercultural communication researchers are accountable to the communities they engage with, describe and examine, and showcase in their work. Further, their “embodied translation”—the process of articulating lived experiences of community members across cultural systems—is consequential in multiple ways, including personal, social, economic, and political (Yep, 2013b, p. 124). For example, Puar (2017) notes that through the process of “pink-washing”—a concept discussed earlier—Israelis distinguished and elevated themselves as the most accepting and progressive culture in their region, which provided them with tremendous economic and political gains on the global stage (p. 95).
Researcher accountability is undoubtedly an extremely complex issue. To concretize accountability, some questions queer intercultural communication researchers might ask include but are certainly not limited to: What is the impetus—personal, professional, political—behind the project? What are the politics of speaking (e.g., “who speaks under what power relations”) and listening (e.g., “whose voices are attended to and whose voices are ignored”) in the project? How does the researcher demonstrate accountability to the groups under investigation and how do such groups view this arrangement? How does the project proceed when there is disagreement between the researcher and the groups involved? How do the parties work through such disagreements? What are the symbolic and material consequences of the research? How is the researcher accountable to such consequences?
Questions of Authenticity
The notion of authenticity is a consistent yet highly contested concept in queer and trans studies. Eurocentric hegemonic standards are often used to validate and celebrate a select few (contributing to issues within representation), while invalidating and dehumanizing many more by assuming that social legibility equates to a “true” identity. Identities that fall outside of the strict set of rules and expectations are either deemed as inauthentic, disingenuous, or simply “too much” for (lucrative) consumption (Yep, Russo, Allen, et al., 2017).
It is vital to acknowledge that authenticity is not determined by the nonconforming person but by outsiders (e.g., researchers) who are judging whether that person’s identity is “real” enough, indicating that the person is now being regarded as a passive object of study, instead of an active subject. This maintains and perpetuates the marginalization of nonconforming sexual identities by reducing them to their difference without recognizing their vast human intricacies.
Authenticity is both a contested concept and a complex issue. Questions for queer intercultural communication researchers to consider regarding authenticity include but are not limited to: What are the consistent patterns about those who are being deemed authentic and inauthentic? What standards are we using to consider someone’s identity, representation, or voice authentic? Who decides on those standards? What does the entitlement to people’s identities and authenticity indicate about the colonial and imperial tendencies of the West?
Questions of Representation
Representation refers to the mechanism through which specific groups and communities (e.g., nonconforming sexualities) are portrayed through media. Representation in this sense may refer to movies, television, textbooks and academic scholarship, and everything in between. The last few years have seen a rise in portrayals and representations of nonconforming genders and sexualities in a variety of contexts across the globe (Yep, Russo, Allen, et al., 2017). Though this rush of visibility, particularly in popular Western culture, may seem like a positive turn for queer communities, it comes with significant implications, such as erasure of modes of relationalities of local groups and networks (e.g., local meanings of same-sex eroticism), for Western and non-Western cultures and communities.
The creation and validation of knowledge has been a consistent point of contention creating divisive lines that dictate what information is worthy of time, space, and money and consequently insinuating whose voices are worth listening to. It is not always the most lucrative option to cast the unknown queer actor in what hopes to be a major box office film nor writing and publishing a person’s life story through free or low cost distribution to be more accessible to the marginalized communities implicated by the piece. Recognizing that the neoliberal condition serves the commodification of identity masquerading as “representation,” it is pertinent to consider questions surrounding the ethics of speaking for and making money from the commodification of individuals’ and communities’ lived experiences.
Representation is intimately connected to power. Some questions for queer intercultural communication researchers to consider regarding questions of representation include but are not limited to: How does the piece represent the marginalized communities it is centering? Who is creating the representations of the individual or group in question? What is their relationship to the communities in question? What are the ultimate goals of the representation? Are the subjects of research being compensated in some way? How can researchers center marginalized and oppressed groups without fetishizing or exploiting them? How might this representation impact the communities in question? What is the lifespan of the representation—will there be a follow-up or is this representation a one-time occurrence? What are the implications of featuring nonconforming identities once, instead of integrating nonconforming identities into a majority of research (i.e., what are the implications of covering marginalized identities in “special issues” in academic journals and anthologies)?
Questions of Praxis
The notion of praxis refers to the potential application and use of queer intercultural communication research. Such application can take place at various contextual levels such as interpersonal interaction in an intercultural same-sex relationship (micro), intergroup communication between erotic minorities (meso), international discourses about rights for sexual minorities (macro), and interpersonal relations between intercultural groups locally and transnationally (combination of all three), among many others.
Praxis is, in many ways, related to the previous questions. For example, presenting a group as homophobic is a question of accountability and representation with potentially enormous symbolic and material consequences for the group. In his research on gay men in the United States, Han (2015) observes that U.S. Asians are consistently characterized as homophobic while U.S. White gay men are presented as not racist. In spite of its inaccuracy, which Han documents, this is a question of accountability (e.g., researchers who perpetuate racial stereotypes of gay men in the United States), authenticity (e.g., an “authentic” gay Asian, whether from the United States or abroad, is homophobic), and representation (e.g., White gay men from the United States are presented as not racist and more liberal than Asian gay men) that are related to praxis at the three contextual levels described throughout this article. For example, such pervasive views might be manifested and embodied in relationships between these two groups, such as intercultural intimate interactions (micro), intercultural intergroup communication (meso), and political discourse and mobilization for an issue or cause (macro). Taken together, questions of praxis call our attention to the potential uses of the research to enhance the lives of cultural community members—personally, socially, economically, politically, or a combination of these realms.
Although some researchers do not necessarily consider praxis in their work, queer intercultural communication is both a theoretical and political project (see also Yep, Alaoui, et al., 2019). As such, queer intercultural communication researchers should grapple with certain questions, including: What are the politics of the project? What are some of the potential political consequences of the research? How does the research make the lived experiences and lives of the cultural community under investigation more legible, locally and transnationally? How can the research and its findings enhance the quality of life of its community members? How can the research create a more socially just world for sexual minorities, locally and globally?
Emerging from the intersections of queer studies and intercultural communication, queer intercultural communication is becoming an important area of inquiry. This article has proposed an integrative view of queer intercultural communication by highlighting the importance of exploring and examining such phenomena by attending to macro, meso, and microcontexts; introduced a model for analyzing this research in terms of degrees of difference and mediatedness; highlighted some theoretical, methodological, and political issues in queer intercultural communication; and explored some preliminary guidelines for conducting such work. As Yep, Alaoui, et al. (2019) note, queer intercultural communication is both a theoretical and political project. It is enormously complex yet full of possibilities to enrich and enhance the lives of sexual minorities within and across cultural contexts.
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