How do you deal with things you believe, live them not as theory, not even as emotion, but right on the line of action and effect and change?Determining what counts as sexuality and persecution within the terms of international refugee law is fraught with challenges.
Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider
Many decisions that seek to discern if a refugee was or was not homosexual, rely on discourses of sexuality that privilege the authentic from the inauthentic (ie the ‘confused’ or ‘experimental’ sexual experience from the ‘genuine’ sexual identity). What these analytic and moralising terms gesture to is that some sexual orientations are more valid than others. Using international jurisprudence commenting on the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 (UN) (‘Refugee Convention 1951’) and subsequent interpretations of this Convention in administrative law in Australia, it is clear that the policy and legal structure seeks to codify the ‘refugee’ in the terms of a discrete persecuted characteristic.
Authenticating refugees on the basis of sexuality relies on a causal narrative — suturing stereotypes of ‘functioning’ sexuality to incidents of persecution. Emotion, desire and feeling are obscured by a largely ethnocentric administrative method of verification, a narrative process which produces a caricatured, stereotyped and overdetermined legal trope of the gay or lesbian asylum seeker. Refugee voices become mute within the colonising space in which they seek asylum.
Such an approach raises broader questions as to why the law continues to construe identity and experience within objectifying representations of legitimate sexual practices or violent experiences. While the ‘queer refugee’ has no currency in international law, I use it as an analytic term to encompass individuals who experience persecution framed in terms of their (perceived) ‘queerness’. Queerness as it relates to refugees is not confined to a particular sexual identity or identification, but rather articulates sexual and cultural difference(s). It is a discursive and affective subject position which emerges through how a refugee experiences and negotiates their sexual attachments, persecution, displacement and intimate practices.
Focusing on spatial and embodied difference(s), rather than a quest for universal (fixed) identity, this article considers legal representations in a relational context, alongside experiences of emotion, to frame sexuality
and persecution in heterogeneous ways
Affective Displacements: Understanding emotions and sexualities in refugee law