Abstract

In the early 2010s, Santa Ana, a large municipality in the Los Angeles, California, metropolitan area, contracted with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain immigrants. In 2012, Santa Ana formed special units within its jails, including one pod that was designed with the sole purpose of caging trans and queer immigrants, largely trans Latinas. In response to the LGBTQ “pod” and reports of abuse against trans women, Latinx trans and queer activists launched a hunger strike on the outside and demanded that ICE end its detention of trans immigrants. This is but one example of how ICE detention centers have been sites of both strengthening community resistance, demonstrated by more campaigns including inside/outside hunger striking, and of increasing punishment, most notably demonstrated by ICE’s administration of force feeding on hunger strikers. With this unfolding present in mind, this article argues that the practice of hunger striking for trans/queer prisoners represents a critical and necessary mode of refusal. For trans/queer prisoners, hunger striking should be understood and analyzed within a historical frame reaching back to the direct protect tactics of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). Throughout, I explore what possibilities are unearthed by thinking the self-harm of hunger striking alongside AIDS activism. How might trans and queer-led hunger strikes be conceptualized as an act of embodied refusal and generosity, a practice that desires a world without prisons and detention centers while also drawing attention to the racial and gendered logics of the prison industrial complex (PIC)?

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