Judith Butler Protests Homonationalism

Feminist theory icon, Judith Butler caused a scene a Berlin Pride in Germany last week by refusing to accept their “Courage” award and calling the organizers out for being associated with Homonationalist movements/sympathizers. You can watch the speech here (she’s speaking in German, so you’ve got to read the subtitles). When a friend posted this link on facebook I had to read it for two reasons, the same reasons I share it with you…

1. I very rarely hear of Judith Butler (author of “Gender Trouble” and other fantastic, difficult to read tomes on gender, sexuality, etc…she also writes science fiction) doing something so clearly activist. Generally when I’ve hear of her outside the confines of Berkley, she’s giving talks or hosting academic panels.

2. Homonationalism? This was the first time I’ve ever encountered this word and theory. From watching the video and doing a little bit of internet research I have this very basic understanding of homonationalism. Butler, and SUSPECT (the organization that sponsors the blog) make clear that homonationalism is basically what it sounds like…GLTBQ organizations and individuals who perpetuate any ideas of white superiority specifically within the gay community. Nationalism with rainbows…it seems that Butler is emphasizing the way that LGBTQ persons and communities of color are purposefully excluded and marginalized.

While the idea of white gay communities perpetuating racism and exclusion isn’t a new one (this has long been a critique of LGBTQ and feminist movements), I have not heard this label applied. Simplified, the primary point that Butler comes back to is this; queer fights against oppression cannot be separated from the battles against racism, anti-immigrant sentiments, or other forms of oppression. I’m always excited when I encounter new ways of exploring the places our lives intersect. I am looking forward to reading this, and learning more…and more than anything, I’d love to hear your thoughts


  1. Interesting post. I too have been following this story.

    I have a couple of things to add to your post:

    It is a mistake to claim that Judith Butler does not engage in activist activities or leave the confines of UC Berkly. She participates in activist type activities on a regular basis. These two sites have some information, though they are topic specific and do not address all her activities.



    You might also want to read “Doing Justice to Someone: Allegories of Transsexuality.” I think this is a very gender/feminist activist piece.

    Your post is really interesting because it raises questions about what or who counts as an activist. Additionally, it made me think about activism and visibility. Butler’s actions in Berlin were highly visible (to the queer community) and thus can be easily read as activism. Does “activism” have to be highly visible in order to considered activism? If yes, then what does that mean for voices that are not allowed to enter the public sphere?

    Anyways, thanks for making me think!

  2. Judith Butler writes sci-fi? Does she do so under her own name or under a pseudonym? I would be interested in reading the stories.

  3. freewomyn says:

    Lyndsey, I’m glad you posted about this. I think that Butler had some good points in her speech. You shouldn’t discount Butler’s activism – she’s pretty much the OG. Her theory is a result of her activism. Butler has an essay in the anthology Inside/Out (edited by Diana Fuss) called “Imitation and Gender Insubordination.” (This essay is also reprinted in The Material Queer, a queer theory anthology edited by Donald Morton). The essay is very accessible, and Butler talks about her participation in the radical queer groups of the early 1990′s. I believe she also discusses her activism in the 1997 book Excitable Speech. I mention this because it becomes very obvious that Butler’s ideas of gender performativity come from her participation in guerrilla theater and her activism in the queer community.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that Butler is very involved with her graduate students. She routinely sits on students’ committees (sometimes 30-40 at a time) – which I think is very activist. A friend of mine was visiting the Berkley campus and randomly stopped by Butler’s office during office hours. Judith Butler sat down and chatted with my friend for an hour, even though they had never met before. How many academics do the same thing? Not many.

    I think that Judith Butler has been working very hard to make her writing more accessible. Undoing Gender was a challenging read in terms of the concepts presented, but the language was definitely less Ivory Tower than some of her early works. We have to remember that writing is a muscle, and it takes practice to make your writing clear – even if you’re a rock star like Judy B.

  4. I’d never heard of Homonationalism either. Great post. It’s nice to hear Butler speak…as much as I like her ideas, reading her work is always such an arduous task.

  5. Lyndsey says:

    It’s good to hear more about Butler’s life beyond books and academic conventions. I have a professor (and friend) who has worked closely with her, but I have never heard of her speak of Butler outside the academic world. I should have been more clear in my post to state that this is from my limited line of vision.

    Shanman and Freewomyn–thank you for all of your insights, I certainly do believe that activism does not have to be visible to count, but again my encounters with Butler have strictly through her books, and others who count themselves as Bulter scholars. In nearly all of these cases the lived actions of Butler are lost to the focus on the writing.

    And I will admit my bias as a former grad student and as an educator, and hopeful professor in the making…I do not think of meeting with students or serving on committees as activism, I think that’s just quality teaching.

  6. Thanks for posting this. I’ve been searching the internet for a definition of homonationalism and I’ve finally found one here!

  7. Larry Yates says:

    Is there a confusion here with sci-fi writer Octavia Butler, who wrote on some similar themes?

    • No, Judith Butler is a big time queer activist/author. She is the one who made this speech.

      • Larry Yates says:

        I’m sorry, I wasn’t clear. I meant that the reference to sci-fi writing in particular might be due to a mixup with Octavia Butler.

  8. Katherine says:

    It’s also worth knowing that back in 2007, Jasbir Puar wrote the brilliant book “Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times”. This is the first place where I have seen the work. It is not a creation of Butlers. In fact, that it took a famous white American to call to attention a big issue of western European politics is actually a matter of consternation to the activists of SUSPECT.

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