Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands / La Frontera (1987) provides a rousing starting point for our thinking of the queer experience of discomfort. Writing on her time teaching at a New England college, Anzaldúa tells the story of how “a few lesbians threw the more conservative heterosexual students into a panic”. One of these students, she writes, claimed to have mistook the word “homophobia” for a “fear of going home after a residency”. She reflects on this: “But how apt. We’re afraid of being abandoned by the mother, la Raza, for being unacceptable, faulty, damaged. Most of us unconsciously believe that if we reveal this unacceptable aspect of the self our mother/culture/race will totally reject us”.
This fear of “total rejection” reveals the double irony implicit to familiar scenes of hospitality – that is, of the hostility that always undergirds hospitality as we know it. There is an etymological point to be made here as well: the word “hospitality”, coming from the Indo-European word ghosti, shares its roots with the term “hostile”. Ghosti, if it isn’t already immediately obvious, is also where we derive the word “ghost”. The queer ghost – the one that haunts Anzaldúa’s text – exists always at the juncture of this uncertainty. It might not be rejected, but it isn’t exactly welcome either.