Highly regarded and influential queer theorist and NYU Tish School of the Arts professor José Esteban Muñoz died yesterday at the age of 46. His work focused on the intersections of race, sexuality, class, aesthetics, and performance. His death was first announced on the blog of the University of Minnesota Press — where his groundbreaking Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics was published — soon after which I started seeing tributes on social media from my queer and trans people of color community.
I’ve written before about how the past year, which has seen the deaths of two queer men of color in my life, has had me on edge about the untimely death of members of my community; about the nagging and debilitatingly scary question: who’s next? With queer and trans folks of color facing interpersonal and systemic violence in addition to the toll of the combined stressors of racism, homophobia, and gender policing and/or transphobia, it is sadly not an unreasonable question. I did not know José personally, but many members of my community did, and his untimely death picks at old wounds and has me mourning the brilliant minds we lose too soon.
José Esteban Muñoz was born in Cuba in 1967, and immigrated to the United States with his family shortly after. His work challenged us to imagine a queer future beyond what current reality allowed us to think of easily.
“We must strive, in the face of the here and now’s totalizing rendering of reality, to think and feel a then and there. Some will say that all we have are the pleasures of this moment, but we must never settle for that minimal transport; we must dream and enact new and better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, and ultimately new worlds. Queerness is that thing that lets us feel that this world is not enough, that indeed something is missing.”
This is a devastating loss for queer thought, but José’s work will not soon be forgotten. Feministing sends our deepest condolences to his family, friends and community.
Verónica is an immigrant queer writer who stands on the shoulders of the amazing community of queer immigrants of color thinking and dreaming before her.