Queer Women's Activism in China: Trauma, Sociality, and Confrontational Politics
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In an ethnography of queer women’s (lala) activism in China, I tell the story of a social movement from its effusive beginning to disillusionment and pose the difficult question of what went wrong. I trace the dissolution of a key organization, the Chinese Lala Alliance, in which I played a leadership role for over ten years, and examine the pattern of interpersonal drama that frequently erupted between lala activists throughout China. With “glass hearts” that easily shatter, many activists air their grievances and angrily demand redress with an affective intensity that further escalates conflict and fractures sociality. I argue that trauma results from the chronic, systemic oppression that impact the lives of most queer women. The intimate kinship bonds formed between lala activists also leads to deeply felt pain and injury when conflict erupts.Delving into the in-fighting, the break-down of social bonds, and the demise of an organization, I point out the problems with the tools of critique and confrontational politics, which have defined queer and feminist politics around the globe. Utopia is a vision of the social, but those with utopian fantasies of safe space in the activist community are inevitably disappointed when interpersonal conflicts arise. Perceiving their experience of injury and pain as abuse and oppression inflicted by another, activists with glass hearts deploy the powerful tools of confrontational politics against other activists, with devastating consequences. To build sustainable social movements, we need a different activist culture that prioritizes healing and reparative work. I also situate “movement trauma” in the national landscape and draw parallels between the temporal arch of lala activism and the Chinese Dream. The pursuit of progress, in both capitalism and activism, follows a trajectory from effusive optimism and hope to disenchantment a decade later.
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