"Queer Fire: Liberation and Abolition" (a special issue of GLQ)

deadline for submissions: 
March 15, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies (Duke University Press)

Call for Submissions


“Queer Fire: Liberation and Abolition”


Modes of imprisonment not only pervade historical and contemporary life but, more substantively, structure the grounds of sociality. Calls for justice, then, must have at their fundament abolition, and abolition must be understood as the complete obliteration of modes of imprisonment so as to create a world which would sustain life through forms of justice not conceived through violence. This would entail a radical reorientation to life and living. This reorientation must attend to gender, as gender is one of the chief forms of imprisonment—in the double sense that gender, it can be asserted, is a kind of prison; and the institutions of prisons have at their centers the regulatory (re)production of the gender binary.

            In “Building an Abolitionist Trans and Queer Movement with Everything We’ve Got,” the very first chapter in the collection Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex, Morgan Bassichis, Alexander Lee, and Dean Spade provocatively suggest, “Impossibility may very well be our only possibility.” They go on to ask, “What would it mean to embrace, rather than shy away from, the impossibility of our ways of living as well as our political visions? What would it mean to desire a future that we can’t even imagine but that we are told couldn’t ever exist?” (42). This special issue of GLQ, titled “Queer Fire: Liberation and Abolition,” seeks to begin with these questions of im/possibility, futurity and presence, and knowledge and practice to explore the ways in which queerness converges with abolition.

         Contemporary queer studies scholars often undersell the impact and importance of abolition in their theorizations, and abolitionist thinkers and activists often do not consider queerness and nonnormative genders as sites of critical interrogation. In other words, queer studies often addresses abolition in name but does not attend to its blast radius and impact on how queerness and gender are encountered; and relatedly, abolitionist thinkers often simply name rather than interrogate and, indeed, work to abolish gender. This issue, then, is an occasion to build on work done by those who move simultaneously in both political spaces – prison abolitionism and queer liberation – to more critically examine the possibilities and challenges that emerge when these radical traditions are more explicitly and sustainedly brought together. Extending the work of abolitionist feminists like Angela Davis, Beth Richie, Mariame Kaba, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and Victoria Law, and queer abolitionists like Eric A. Stanley, Che Gossett, and Dean Spade, we wish to bring together scholars and activists working at the intersections of queer theory, critical race studies, and radical activist movements to consider how queer liberation and prison abolition are conceptually, theoretically, and practically entwined. This entwinement may help us think with Bassichis, Lee, and Spade’s invocation of impossibility as a framework for both theory and practice. Ultimately, one way to frame this special issue is, How do abolition and queer liberation both name and enact the impossible?

            Understanding queerness capaciously in a way that brings together various modes of nonnormative subjectivity—what Cathy Cohen has described in her 1997 GLQ essay “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens” as an identity “rooted not in our shared history or identity but in our shared marginal relationship to dominant power”—this special issue queries: What is queer about abolition? Is abolition endemic to queerness? What would an abolitionary project centering queerness look like? What is abolition’s and queerness’s relationship with transgender subjectivities? And how do the future-visions of abolition and queer liberation come together in the here and now?

            This special issue addresses these questions from an understanding of abolition and queerness as more radical than an emancipatory project. Implicit in emancipation is a liberal gender justice: yearning for equality, for anyone’s gender to be on an equal and level playing field as others (think of “gender-responsive prisons”). Rather, we invite writers to consider gender abolition in such a way that presumes that gender itself may be the proposition of corporeal and social order that benefits power. As such, we want to ask what might happen if queer abolition seeks the obliteration of gender since abolition is eradication “of the terms of order” (Sexton, “Abolition Terminal,” 317).

            In addition to inviting contributors to continue considering the ways in which the entwinement of abolition and queerness exceeds additive logic, we invite contributors to continue to build this important field of thought in various ways. How, for example, does attending to carceral regimes beyond the United States sharpen our analyses of both the prison-industrial complex and political projects which seek to make life more livable for queer subjects? Expanding the geographic scope beyond the U.S. also invites further thinking with the coloniality of the gender binary and the possibilities which may emerge in considering decolonial epistemologies of gender. If it is the case that genders beyond the Western male/female binary preexist colonial conquest and the binary itself, these understandings and experiences of nonnormative gender also precede the relatively recent rise of the prison-industrial complex and the carceral state, so how might decolonial and indigenous thought further enrich the field of queer abolitionism?

            The issue is open to traditional critical, article-length pieces, shorter reflections, and individual or collaborative work in music, performance, and art. To this end, we are interested in hearing from a broad spectrum of scholars, artists, thinkers, activists, and organizers that span disciplines such as cultural studies, ethnic studies, American studies, English and modern languages, history, geography, anthropology, and sociology. The following topics are particularly of interest, though this is not an exhaustive list:


  • Antebellum plantation systems, abolition, and queerness
  • Incarceration and abolition in the global South
  • The generational divide in understandings of abolition and queerness
  • Prisons as they intersect with disability
  • (Queer) masculinities
  • Queer anthropologies and incarceration
  • Literary depictions of queer abolition
  • Transformative justice and restorative justice systems as queer projects
  • Indigenous epistemologies of gender and justice
  • Trans experience and incarceration
  • Queer analyses of policing and surveillance
  • Meditations on gender abolition with respect to gender transitioning/grafting/affirmation
  • Histories of queer abolitionist organizing
  • AIDS organizing inside prisons
  • Abolitionist campaigns focused on queer and/or trans people
  • Pathologizations and medicalizations of criminality and queerness
  • The potentials and limits of rights-based activism
  • The criminalization of race and queerness


The issue will be coedited by Marquis Bey (Northwestern University) and Jesse A. Goldberg (Longwood University). Prospective contributors should submit 500-word abstracts by March 15, 2020. Please email abstracts to queerfireabolition@gmail.com with “Queer Fire proposal” in the subject line. Proposals will receive feedback by mid-May. Prospective contributors invited to submit a full article based on an abstract will be asked to submit a draft by October 1, 2020. The full issue is expected to be published in January 2022. (Prospective authors should feel free to email general inquiries about the issue as well.)