This article explores how Black LGBTQ-identified and other gender nonconforming South Africans juxtapose the queer with the customary as they constitute forms of biofinancial personhood that are paradigmatic of capitalisms globally. These hybrid forms of personhood inadvertently index the secret normativities of so-called antinormative theories of performativity within Euro-American queer theory. Everyday South Africans foreground practices of cross-context citation in the register of “unsuccessful” performatives. Their experiences underscore Jacques Derrida’s diagnosis of the performative’s structure as irreducibly contingent; its structural rule is the possibility of the failure of the performative, rather than its success. The cultural milieus of postapartheid South Africa are also spaces where financial instruments like derivatives, social theory, and pharmaceuticals actively produce queer connections and contestations through the circulation of ostensibly universal subjects, be they the risk-bearing patient, the scholar, or the (biological) human. In South Africa, citational sexualities are performative of both constitutional and customary cultural spheres when juxtaposing multiple gender and sexual identities within hybrid forms of queer personhood. Through an examination of the figure of the gay woman—not a lesbian or trans subject but, rather, a gay man who is also, alternately a woman—the author argues that sexualities that bridge the paradoxical impasse between constitutional and customary cultural life are, like all performatives, first and foremost citational. Such citational sexualities are considered in clinical contexts where many Black gay women were coded as men who have sex with men in global health HIV science. In this vein, new forms of global biofinancial connectivity expressed by biomedicalizing risk-hedging practices, personhood, and subjectivities—what the author terms derivative subjectivity—implicitly depend on the suppressed presence of cross-cultural citationality of sexuality and gender that are customarily queer.
After Performativity, Beyond Custom: The Queerness of Biofinancial Personhood, Citational Sexualities, and Derivative Subjectivity in South Africa
Kirk Fiereck is adjunct assistant professor of anthropology at City University of New York. He works on two long-term ethnographic projects. The first translates three-plus years of fieldwork into a book-length monograph, “Queer Customs: Cultural Authenticity, Sexual Ideology, and HIV Science in South Africa.” An open-access account of queer customs, “Queer Customs, Customarily Queer,” is available at www.medanthrotheory.org/read/10018/queer-customs-customarily-queer. The second project is a multisited ethnography of biofinance, which examines the rapid, fundamental changes to cultural economies globally that he summarizes as “the derivativization of sociality.” Derivativization is the transformation of commodity-based, labor-monetized value in industrial capitalisms to derivative-based, information-monetized value in financial capitalisms. His recent coauthored op-ed about bio-finance is available at www.forbes.com/sites/alisonbatemanhouse/2018/04/10/why-grindrs-privacy-breach-matters-to-everyone/#1913c6cf67f4.
Kirk Fiereck; After Performativity, Beyond Custom: The Queerness of Biofinancial Personhood, Citational Sexualities, and Derivative Subjectivity in South Africa. GLQ 1 June 2020; 26 (3): 503–527. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-8311829
Download citation file: