To be ‘politically queer’ at the beginning of the 1990s indicated opposition to the policing of identity and heteronormativity, and adherence to a politics that transcended liberal-legal claims. More recently, queer activism and scholarship have largely focused on contesting the emergence of homonormative forms of nationalism and institutionalized rights-based LGBT politics. However, to define a political intervention as queer on the condition that it explicitly adheres to one or other specific political project is possibly to overstate the case. The ‘queer signifier’ has travelled far beyond its local origins and, as a consequence, has shifted meanings in significant ways. In this essay, I consider current tensions concerning what it means to be politically queer, focusing on queer responses to the formation of sexual rights-bearing subjects, and critically analyse the notion of sexual rights on which contemporary international mainstream sexual politics is based. Through this analysis I aim to draw attention to the entanglement of the normalization of sexual identities at a national level with current sexual neocolonial projects. Since the signifier ‘queer’ has spread in many different directions, I argue that it is precisely cultural translation that makes key alliances against both universalist and nationalist queer positions possible.