Marquis Bey and Jesse A. Goldberg are editors of “Queer Fire: Liberation and Abolition,” a new issue of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies that brings together scholars, artists, and activists to consider prison abolition as a project of queer liberation and queer liberation as an abolitionist project. Pushing beyond observations that prisons disproportionately harm queer people, the contributors demonstrate that gender itself is a carceral system and demand that gender and sexuality, too, be subject to abolition. Preview the issue’s contents or purchase “Queer Fire” here.
DUP: What makes “Queer Fire” unique or essential? What does it do that no other collection has done before?
MB: I think one of the things “Queer Fire” is doing is pressing on the typical logics of abolitionist thought when it comes to why it matters. Very often one of the justifications for something like prison abolition is that it disproportionately harms, say, women. While this is true, we want to push this further to ask about the carceral logics of such gendered categorizations themselves. How, in other words, is gender itself a kind of prison that is also subject to abolition? Fewer people are asking this question, presuming that with the eradication of prisons we will still be, uncritically and without change, “men” and “women.” What happens if these designations go too? What else is possible, and in what ways do capitalist and colonial logics inhere in these categorizations as well?
JG: While I would hesitate to say that “Queer Fire” does anything that absolutely no other collection has ever done before, as that kind of claim goes against the spirit of abolitionist praxis (Angela Davis, Gina Dent, Erica Meiners, and Beth Richie do a wonderful job articulating this in their new book Abolition. Feminism. Now.), I think that one popular trend it pushes back against is the “disproportionality” framework. That is, a lot of anti-carceral analysis both within and beyond the academy often takes the quantitative fact of specific marginalized communities being “disproportionately represented” within the architectures of the prison-industrial complex as a simple piece of data to be used as evidence of, say, discrimination in outcomes. This comes out in language of who is “most impacted” by the PIC, or “most harmed,” which, while helpful in some ways for highlighting harm that is systematically erased when it happens to culturally de-valued lives, can unintentionally reify the notion that there is some correctly-proportional way to lock people up. “Queer Fire,” instead, insists that data points which bring “disproportionality” to light are not merely evidence for making arguments, but portals into analysis of how the PIC functions to impose the very categories that are used to describe who is “overrepresented” in the system. The PIC emerges throughout “Queer Fire” not as a structure into which already-racialized, -gendered, -sexualized, -disabled, -dispossessed peoples are contained, but also as a structure that racializes, genders, sexualizes, disables, and dispossesses.
DUP: What are some topics that readers can expect to find covered in the issue?
MB: We were quite honestly so excited with all the articles that ended up in the issue. They cover a range of things, from gentrification and banking to Black trans art and memoir to coloniality and Black feminism. One of the articles, though, that I find really intriguing is by Kitty Rotolo and Nadja Eisenberg-Guyot [the article, “A Trans Way of Seeing,” is free to read here through the end of June]. It is a trans epistolary practice, of sorts, that to me makes discursive the practice of being in coalition and forging a relationship with those who live and love at the nexus of (anti)carcerality and transness. When we write alongside folks on the inside of institutions of incarceration, what does that do to how you relate to them, to your or their gender, to subjection?
JG: I would start by loudly echoing Marquis’s highlighting of Kitty Rotolo and Nadja Eisenberg-Guyot’s co-written piece, “A Trans Way of Seeing,” and I would add to everything Marquis says about the piece that I am excited by what it does structurally as a piece of writing. In addition to the ways that its epistolary form, as Marquis notes, opens ways to think carefully about voice and coalition, what it does with paratext through its footnotes is amazing. Make sure you read the notes for that one!
Two other pieces I’m particularly excited about are S.M. Rodriguez’s “Queers against Corrective Development” and another cowritten piece, “Notes on the (Im)possibilities of an Anti-colonial Queer Abolition of the (Carceral) World” by Alexandre Martins and Caia Maria Coelho. Rodriguez’s essay articulates with more analytic clarity than I have previously seen how gentrification is itself a process of spatializing carcerality, and Martins and Coelho really offer a framework for the entire special issue by way of helping us see the inseparability of carcerality from the ongoing violences of colonialism in specific, material ways. Both of these essays, like most of the work in the special issue, also connect academic study to activist practice in important ways.
DUP: How do you imagine the issue could be used in courses or as a basis for future scholarship—or work outside the academic sphere?
MB: I hope that the issue could spark different kinds of conversations in abolitionist spheres, and outside of spheres that are properly understood as abolitionist. I hope that the issue could allow people to think more courageously and broadly, moving abolitionist principles to other vectors of carcerality that don’t necessarily strike most as carceral vectors. What might be possible if we abolished gender, or coloniality, or capitalism? Abolition travels as far as it can and must.
JG: Within classrooms, I think one of the strengths of the issue is its interdisciplinarity: There is work drawing on the methodologies of sociology, literary studies, visual and performance art, historiography, and popular cultural studies. This makes it useful to teachers in a wide variety of fields for introducing students to the overlapping space of carceral studies and queer studies. Additionally, because the majority of the articles explicitly connect their academic analysis to the authors’ extra-academic work in organizing, activism, and other forms of practice, students and faculty can see one form that “praxis” might take when filtered through the regimes of traditional, peer-reviewed scholarly publication, hopefully opening more researchers to turning effort towards the ongoing vibrant, necessary decarceral and abolitionist work and deep study happening in excess of the academy while at the same time continuing to draw on the immense resources and infrastructure for rigorous study provided by the academy.