Academic journal article Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law

Queering International Law

Academic journal article Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law

Queering International Law

Article excerpt

The panel was convened at 10:45 a.m., Thursday, March 29, by its moderator, Ralph Wilde of University College London, who introduced the panelists: Doris Buss of Carleton University; Aeyal Gross of Tel Aviv University; Dianne Otto of the University of Melbourne; and Amr Shalakany of American University, Cairo.


By Ralph Wilde *

Towards the end of the twentieth century the discipline of international law was enriched as certain important developments in ideas more generally, such as feminism and postcolonial theory, began to be integrated into it. It is no longer tenable to understand international legal theory only in terms of its origins in liberal thought.

That said, the process of opening up international legal theory to hitherto ignored intellectual developments is an ongoing one, and a continuing gap in the intellectual canon of this discipline is the tradition of "queer theory"--an approach to ideas rooted in the experience of non-heterosexual sexualities in the world. Rather as feminist approaches seek to understand how ideas generally have been shaped by ideas of the relationship between women and men in particular, so queer theory interrogates how ideas of sexual orientations are implicated in, and affected by, ideas of the world more generally.

Although there is now a relatively established tradition of applying queer theory to law, its application to international law remains sparse, especially if one moves beyond the treatment of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and trans people in human rights law. Yet just as feminist approaches to international law involve much more than considering how international law literally treats women--also addressing, for example, how ideas of the state, the use of force and so on are gendered--so the application of queer theory to international law has a rich potential to enhance understandings of our discipline and intellectual tradition beyond the issue of rights.

Given the limited time frame and the richness of the topic, the objective for the present panel is to try and explore this potential, by both looking across the range of possibilities and exploring select topics more deeply. Each of the four contributors is a pioneer in the exploration of queer theory and international law, and I am very grateful to them for giving up their time to provide their contributions and, within this, for engaging with the enterprise at hand in a collegiate and thoughtful manner.


By Dianne Otto ([double dagger]

What does it mean to "queer" international law? For some, queering international law might mean extending the existing "normal," normative framework of international law so that it is inclusive of non-heterosexual experience and identities, but otherwise left unaltered--for example, by broadening the reach of human rights law so that it prohibits homophobic discrimination, recognizes gay marriage, and protects sexual expression as a private matter. However, I think that "queering" international law suggests something more than normative inclusion: it presents a fundamental challenge to the usual way of going about things. Ralph Wilde's decision to identify this panel as "queer," rather than "gay and lesbian," indicates to me a more comprehensive critique of regimes of the "normal" than can be answered by equal rights. The terminology of "queer" also suggests a conscious concern with pleasure, thereby "taking a break" from the politics of hetero-normative injury, and imagines human sexuality as much more diverse and shifting than the dualism of heterosexuality and homosexuality implies. (In fact, whether or not "sexuality" provides an adequate foundation for queer theory is a matter of debate for some queer theorists, but for present purposes, let us accept that it does.)

So, what is the "normal" in international law that queer theory challenges? …

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