our friends and comrades at AntiUK have written an article on the plans to further privatise Brighton Pride:
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Brighton Pride have announced plans to turn the legendary (and free) St James’ Street party into a ticketed, controlled event. Health and safety is the official justification, but there are deeper and more unpleasant motives behind the move. Supporters of the proposal essentially argue that the free street party is attracting the wrong kind of revellers. One complainant from GScene magazine states that last year party-goers were too ‘rowdy and noisy’ and were insufficiently ‘LGBT’:
Now that Pride is a paid for event, each year the Gay Village Street Party comes under ever increasing pressure from numbers attending, attracting a rough, noisy and especially on the Saturday night, a not too LGBT friendly community crowd to St James’s Street.
This is part of a broader attempt to ‘exclude those participants that do not match their vision of homonormative gayness.Pride have a problem with queers. Politics returned to Brighton Pride in 2012 with organisers collaborating with the police to move Brighton Queers Against the Cuts to the back of the parade and then kettling them half way round before attempting to arrest anyone who joined their group. Brighton Queers Against the Cuts were a fully approved and paid up group with the backing of Peter Tatchell and Caroline Lucas. Much of this has been analysed by the Queer in Crisis collective
As Queer in Crisis argue:
According to the CIC, Brighton Pride is not a space for protest, but the company constructs Pride as a highly politicized space for expressions of normative gayness. The imposition of a violent, continual stasis on the parade entrants—their hypervisiblity, their subjection to multiple forms of scrutiny and regulation from both within and without—bring me back to the violent, paradoxical simultaneity of “fitting in” and “being yourself.”
All this feeds into a discourse which seeks to police gay politics and queer identities and exclude perceived deviants from participating in Pride. At root, Pride are seeking to monetize this successful free event because their previous efforts to charge for the Pride party in Preston Park have proven deeply unpopular.
Of course this is part of a broader trend towards the privatisation of public space but it is also indicative of the way in which some people within ‘gay politics’ have been thoroughly incorporated. The most worrying thing is that Pride are seeking to exclude those who don’t perform their sexuality in a homonormative, demure, middle-class way.
This proposal to privatise a street party is so far from the original founding principles of gay pride as espoused by the GLF that it beggars belief. The ‘theme’ of this year’s pride is rather ironically ‘freedom to live’ – presumably this ‘freedom’ doesn’t extend to those who can’t afford the entrance fee, to those who are queer, or too straight-looking, to the rowdy and the noisy. Pride want “controlled partygoers” – after all the best kind of party-goers are controlled ones, aren’t they?
There is a public meeting about these privatisation plans Wed 28th May at 7pm at Dorset Garden Methodist Church (upper hall). See you there.
This piece was written by a member of the Queer (in) Crisis collective as an elaboration of a previous post on this blog.
This essay comes from an encounter with a text: Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming-Pool Library. For me, this is a novel that celebrates gay maleness, specifically a gay maleness of the early 1980s. But it represents only a very particular version of this experience, a version tied to a white, male, economically-privileged body. Not coincidentally, I think, this representation of gay maleness also omits experiences of—even language about—AIDS. Maybe this seems like an arbitrary criticism (how can you condemn a text for omitting something it’s not about?), but I want to point out that this omission is itself a political act. Histories (and nonhistories) of 1980s AIDS are always political. I have no direct experience of this history, of the period now commonly historicized as “the AIDS crisis of the 1980s,” but I want to problematize and complicate this idea of experience as having-borne-witness-to. This kind of “historicizing,” the temporal and historical method that results in thinking that I exist at a remove from 1980s AIDS, perpetuates notions of incommunicability and past-ness that work to erase ongoing crises of AIDS infection for queer and marginalized people.
In the interests of constructing a language in which I can discuss AIDS and crisis, I want to give a narrative account of my own (non-)experiences of AIDS. Mine is not a generalizable narrative, I’m sure—but I offer it up here as one example that is in some ways peculiar to my generational cohort, the group of young queer people who have been born into times and spaces that are rigorously construed as post-AIDS or distant from AIDS. I think of my relation to AIDS discourse as a queer relation, at least given my self-identification as queer and my anarchist-orientated politics. But I’ve only settled on that relation through a kind of academic narcissism. This narcissism first took form for me as a general but intense interest in my own gayness, a desire to learn about my sexuality by constructing a constellation of histories and texts around it. This was a very particular version of the ethnicity model of sexuality, what Christopher Nealon summarizes as the tendency to claim metaphorical queer ancestors, an “imagined community” of gays and lesbians across history (7). What I construed as an objective “history” of gay men was actually a self-affirming and largely normative transhistorical narrative, one in which AIDS and AIDS activism were absent. I have only in the past couple of years become familiar enough with histories of AIDS in the 1980s to acknowledge that the particular histories attached to this “imagined community” of gays and lesbians deliberately and insidiously erase AIDS from the archives of queer experience.
Sarah Schulman—an activist with ACT UP and a resident of New York City in the 1980s—argues that this erasure of AIDS is a result of the “gentrification of the mind.” She posits an exemplary narrative in which the AIDS-related deaths of entire cohorts of queer New Yorkers coincide with administrative policies designed to attract wealthy people to poor New York neighborhoods, as part of a plan to broaden the city’s base for tax revenue. She calls this “a tragic example of historic coincidence” (25–6) in which demographic changes effected a kind of cultural gentrification:
Instead of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Eastern European and Italian immigrants, lesbians, noninstitutionalized artists, gay men, and other sexually adventurous and socially marginalized refugees from uncomprehending backgrounds living on economic margins (in an economy where that was possible), the replacement tenants were much more identified with the social structures necessary to afford newly inflated mortgages and rents. That is to say, they were more likely to be professionalized, to be employed in traditional ways by institutions with economic power and social recognition, to identify with those institutions, to come from wealthier families, and to have more financial support from those families. (26)
Schulman proposes that this process of cultural gentrification worked to erase the histories of AIDS that complicated and resisted it, in large part because those artists and cultural producers who embodied these histories—who might have been a kind of embodied cultural memory—were killed by the virus or displaced by the gentrifiers. The gentrifiers brought their own histories with them, ones that work to replace “complex realities with simplistic ones” (36), and for Schulman these simplistic realities become easily naturalized because “gentrification is a process that hides the apparatus of domination from the dominant themselves” (27). The gentrification of the mind, then, manifests itself in a young queer population for whom histories of AIDS are so distorted, so sanitized and obfuscated, that we “don’t see how rigidly the marginalization of point of view is enforced in our own shared contemporary moment” (7).
Schulman’s arguments are far from unproblematic, but I turn to them in detail here because I wish to contextualize my own sexual acculturation alongside this post-1980s process of gentrification toward which Schulman gestures. I was born in 1989. I spent my early years not in New York but in the western USA. These years were for me remarkably devoid of people who identified as queer, though I lived in a household of individuals who call themselves tolerant, who embrace a typical liberal ethic of inclusion for (as the party line goes) all healthy sexualities. My state education taught me that these healthy sexualities are implicitly heterosexual and explicitly monogamous and safe—that is, oral or vaginal, and only involving a penis as long as that penis wears a condom. In the schools I attended, if any mention were made of the unsafe sexual practices against which this heterosexual paradigm is constructed, it was only (first) to argue that pregnancy would result and (second) to suggest that unsafe sex results in disease. The mechanics of this transmission were not discussed; testing and treatment were not discussed. Discursively, at least, people with AIDS were invisible.
Alongside these narratives of sex/uality—often for me in the same schools, even in the same classrooms—were the American-textbook world histories that, at the time, always seemed to conclude with Mikhail Gorbachev and the demolition of the Berlin Wall: symbolic teleologies of the fall of Soviet communism to American capitalism, an ideology corporealized as Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher. If 1980s AIDS were discussed at all in state-regulated classroom space, it was only as a footnote to these grand triumphalist narratives. In family and home spaces, discourses of AIDS and queerness were erased in more insidious ways. AIDS became a phantom disease attributed to variously defined groups of others—racial, sexual—or linked to variously nonnormative acts, like anal sex or intravenous drug use. But, even more problematically, gentrified narratives of AIDS rendered these bodies and activities naturally infected and infectious, with the suggestion that gay men and IV drug users (this demographic was often racialized as non-white) could be “faulted” for the transmission of HIV to otherwise healthy (white, middle-class) bodies, like my own. As a result, my early experiences of AIDS can only be characterized by their insistence on the fiction of my non-relation to AIDS. Authorized discourses relegated non-heterosexual, non-white, non-middle class bodies to an elsewhere or elsewhen, and, with those bodies, an entire body of knowledge about AIDS, an entire sphere of discourse, was made inaccessible to me.
This phenomenon is at least partially generalizable to a larger American context. Douglas Crimp, writing on popular visual representations of people with AIDS in American media, points out the tendency of mainstream news outlets to represent people with AIDS as, invariably, other, not only in their apparent lack of lifeliness or in their excessive deathliness, but also in their supposed racial and social alterity. Crimp offers one example from a popular television newsmagazine, a late-1980s episode devoted to AIDS reportage
in which a service organization director says, “We know the individuals, and they look a lot like you, they look a lot like me.” The program … is titled “AIDS Hits Home.” Resonating with the assertion that PWAs [people with AIDS] look like “you and me,” the “home” of the show’s title is intended to stand in for other designations: white, middle-class, middle-American, but primarily heterosexual. (369)
Most notable here is the relegation of AIDS to spaces dissociated or distant from home. Home, of course, serves as a metonym for the classed, sexualized, and racialized spaces of American privilege, an emblem of the kinds of discursive manipulation for which I’m attempting to provide an account. But because this account takes the form of a personal narrative of childhood and adolescent sexual acculturation, I also mean to provide, via Crimp, a critical context for my own racially and economically privileged upbringing in the USA. I remember the particular newsmagazine Crimp discusses, a program called Sixty Minutes, hosted by Dan Rather. If I was too young to have watched this particular episode, it’s entirely probable that I watched another like it.
However, Crimp’s reading of home—with the implication that non-home spaces can be neatly correlated to non-heterosexual bodies, in public discourses—is perhaps too simple a reading to extrapolate to the more highly gentrified contexts and discourses of a post-1980s American moment. In this period, my own period, non-heterosexualities were (and are) not universally and unequivocally tied to abjected bodies. As Lisa Duggan argues, sociopolitical changes during and following the Reagan and Thatcher years have produced some Westernized non-heterosexualities that are, paradoxically, heteronormative. Duggan attributes these changes to the complex, contradictory, fractured trends of an emergent neoliberal politics, a networked pattern of cultural erasures and capital redistributions that reify corporate ascendancy and consumerism. Duggan describes the so-called Washington Consensus, a set of international corporate policies of the 1980s and 1990s that have become central to post-Reagan/post-Thatcher conservatisms, as
a kind of backroom deal among the financial, business, and political elites based in the United States and Europe. Its policies reinvented practices of economic, political, and cultural imperialism for a supposedly postimperial world. Neoliberalism’s avatars have presented its doctrines as universally inevitable and its operations as ultimately beneficial in the long term—even for those who must suffer through poverty and chaos in the short term. In other words, neoliberalism is a kind of secular faith. (xiii)
Schulman’s descriptions of gentrification are amplified in Duggan so that they are international in scope. Gentrification functions hand-in-hand with this “secular faith” of neoliberalism, an ideology that promotes routine attachments to what Schulman calls simple fictions, in place of more complex truths. But for Duggan, neoliberalism is not an easily-mapped structure of bureaucratic and institutional policies. Rather, neoliberal politics are messy, contradictory, fractured patterns of capital and cultural shift. Sexual politics, for Duggan, figure strongly into these shifts, for the secular faith of neoliberalism is tied to what Duggan claims is a newly emergent “homonormativity,”
a politics that does not contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions, but upholds and sustains them, while promising the possibility of a demobilized gay constituency and a privatized, depoliticized gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption. (50)
This homonormativity, a form of non-heterosexuality that falls in line with neoliberal forces of upward capital redistribution, forces a contextual reconsideration of Crimp’s reading of non-heterosexual bodies as universally abjected or expelled from home spaces. My own upbringing attests to this too. I can attribute a privileged life in a post-1980s USA to my whiteness, maleness, and relative affluence not in spite of what I now call my queer self-identification, but rather in tandem with these insidiously homonormative tendencies, tendencies to which I continue to feel attached.
Duggan’s most forceful indictment of American homonormativities is her reading of mainstream American gay politics as a narrowing of queer AIDS activism into various social movements for marriage entitlements, all framed by the rhetoric of “civil rights.” Marriage, for Duggan, is an inherently heteronormative institution easily coopted by (and perhaps structurally implicated in) neoliberal consumerist tendencies. Calls for gay and lesbian “rights” are themselves predicated on the same discourses of privacy that underpin and naturalize neoliberal economics. In other words, for Duggan, marriage can be figured as “a strategy for privatizing gay politics and culture” (62). Tellingly, many mainstream voices of Western gay political activism figure gay marriage as sexually normative: un-promiscuous, monogamous, family-oriented, safe, and healthy—providing a means for gay people to be personally responsible for their own sexual health, in the same way that conservative and neoliberal politics are predicated on the personal responsibilities of model citizens and consumers, the capacities of the private market, or the idea that the government doesn’t care what you do in the privacy of your bedroom. Indeed, AIDS is (un)conspicuously absent from these representations of homonormative marriage.
As long as prevention is the American gay man and straight woman’s private problem, it will continue to be a public disaster. The insistence on bootstrap prevention has produced prevention campaigns for “men-who-have-sex-with-men” because we recognize that homophobia is so punitive that calling homosexual sex, homosexual, will keep people who are having homosexual sex from the support that they need to avoid HIV infection. We decide to replace truth with falsity, to gentrify the truth about sex in order to save lives. Lying becomes constructed as “saving.” (Schulman 44)
The construction of AIDS as a private, not public, problem—even the artificial construction of variously sexualized private and public spheres—not only gentrifies AIDS histories and crises, but also inhibits forms of meaningful signification or communication about AIDS more generally. AIDS becomes a non-experience, anathema to consumerist homonormativities and marriages, the invisible specter against which an apparently healthy experience of neoliberal acculturation is constituted.
By far, the most insidious aspect of this homonormativity is its structural enmeshment. The promises of social and economic well-being that are figured as rewards for well-disciplined neoliberal subjects promote affective attachments to the very behaviors or institutions that cause detriment. This is a version the secular faith of neoliberalism, the way in which the paired processes of attachment and subjection interpellate the neoliberal subject. Julian Carter suggests a version of this structure in his investigation of affect and homonormativity in queer pulp fiction. He points out how disidentification, as a means of affectively negotiating sub/cultural identity formation, can adopt two paired, inverse forms. In Carter’s formulation,
[h]omonormativity is a minority stance, and as such it reflects minority subjects’ resistance to everyday forms of oppression, yet it also allies itself with conventional affect, and as such it tends to shrink from radical change in existing relations and structures of power. (604)
In other words, homonormativity can be figured as either—or perhaps both—disidentification with heteronormative subjects or/and disidentification with decidedly queer subjects (“queer” referring here to those who construct themselves or are constructed in opposition to neoliberal discliplinarity). In this way, gentrified, homonormative narratives of AIDS—those that locate AIDS in variously defined elsewheres and elsewhens—are themselves symptomatic of the cruel optimism of homonormative attachments, for such fictions of AIDS only serve to obscure the present risks and realities of infection. Put differently, affective attachment to the notion that AIDS is past and distant—though this attachment may indeed sustain the fictions of inclusion and “the good life” upon which many safe, healthy homonormativities are constructed—contributes not only to the ongoing invisibility and erasure of contemporary AIDS crises, but also denies language to those, like myself, whose relation to AIDS cannot be figured in terms of historical catastrophe but must instead take form as a crisis ordinary. Homonormative attitudes toward AIDS are a form of cultural irresponsibility.
Hollinghurst himself gestures toward this question of responsibility in an interview with The New York Times. The interviewer, Catherine R. Stimpson, notes that one of Hollinghurst’s own friends was allegedly among the first in the UK to die from AIDS-related complications, during the same period that Hollinghurst composed The Swimming-Pool Library. This death triggered for Hollinghurst a “dilemma” over how to represent in fiction the English sexual sub/cultures linked, in the popular imaginary, to AIDS infection.
“I came to feel that if I played down the sexual side of the book, it would somehow be giving in to all of the new social and political pressure,” Mr. Hollinghurst said. “I wanted to retain an element of celebration in the novel.” Even if, or perhaps especially because, he said, the party about which he was writing was already over.
What Hollinghurst here refers to as the “celebratory” component of The Swimming-Pool Library is what John M. Clum calls a form of “defiance,” a turning-away from the trauma of AIDS by glorifying gay male sex and cruising cultures in an ostensibly radical refusal to temper representations of an “erotic underworld” (660). Other readings, like the one that Stimpson proposes in her review of the novel, suggest that the specter of AIDS takes the form of a ghost from the future, such that the text’s backward temporal turn anticipates an apparently inevitable catastrophe. The novel does produce retrospection when the narrator declares at the opening that his “life was in a strange way that summer, the last summer of its kind there was ever to be” (3); later, as the novel concludes, our narrator admits to feeling “that most oppressive of feelings—that some test [is] looming” (280). (Stimpson reads this concluding rumination as a reference to future AIDS.) But the text’s temporal self-positioning as well as Stimpson’s and Clum’s readings—and, for that matter, Hollinghurst’s own attitude toward the “already-over-ness” of gay sex—participate in what Steven F. Kruger argues is a tendency in AIDS imaginaries “to remove HIV/AIDS not only from spatial and social proximity but also from a present, proximate moment” (256). This takes multiple forms. AIDS is often read “as a break in modernity,” for example, because
the disease-free life seen to have been promised by “modern medicine” and medical technology is given the lie by an illness that is anything but modern, belonging to both the medieval world of “plague” and a “primitive” realm in which plagues are thought to have their contemporary origins. (Kruger 256)
Given this tendency, Clum’s formulation of the backward temporal turn as an affirmation of the “erotic underworld,” far from refusing or negating what Clum and Stimpson imply is the future specter of AIDS, perpetuates normative discourses of the temporal dislocation of AIDS. The very notion of the “underworld” is an invocation of the premodern and mythological in connection with non-heterosexuality, a trope of modern representations of gayness that has served simultaneously to stigmatize and liberate (Kruger 261). And even in its occasional figuration as postmodern or eschatological, AIDS is similarly displaced from the present in “a move that … is in fact complementary to such affiliations of HIV/AIDS with the past” (265). This complementarity, for Kruger, even takes on linguistic dimensions when
verbal constructions operate in such a way that the claim of present-tense narration—to describe an action now, as it emerges—is contradicted by its fusion with a future tense that presents, as known, an action logically unknowable in the present. Such a temporality, with its denial of the contingency of present and future, reflects the consistent Western understanding of HIV/AIDS as fatal … . Such an understanding is clearly related to the impulse to make HIV/AIDS, as pandemic and crisis, either (both) an archaic phenomenon “properly” consigned to a past moment or (and) a “postmodern plague,” only “improperly” intruding on a present modernity. (268–9)
This trend does discursive violence to those subjectivities affected by AIDS. It also does violence to those who exist in a precarious affective relation to AIDS, like those who are construed as distant from AIDS because they have no direct experience of it. Not only do these discourses prefigure death for (and attribute deathliness to) bodies with AIDS, they also inhibit the construction of diachronic affective relations that can, I would suggest, constitute an experience of AIDS outside of or after the period now historicized as “the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.” Even Schulman, despite her arguments against the mentality of AIDS gentrification, participates in a generational discourse that disallows young queer people from formulating even an affective relation to this crisis. Schulman seems to suggest that a proper experience of 1980s AIDS must be authorized, somehow, by an experience of death. This disallows an entire cohort of queer people from talking or thinking about AIDS in relation to its fraught political history.
De-gentrifying the mind involves engaging a queer critical historiography of AIDS. I follow Kruger here. He distinguishes between two predominant forms of AIDS historicism. The first is unchallenging, a form of historicism that reproduces the homonormative temporal dislocation of AIDS histories, that reinforces the eschatological associations of AIDS-time, that locates AIDS in the bodies of racialized and sexualized others. In opposition to this historicism, Kruger advocates an activism-orientated process of historiography, one that functions as an “analysis of the ways in which temporal constructions have operated during the years of HIV/AIDS crisis, as well as a consideration of the ways in which activist responses to other crises have been contained” (276). These historiographies must be, “all at once, a consideration of the past, a grappling with the present, and a movement toward a better future” (278). That is, they must be political. These historiographies must insist on the presentness of historically-mediated experience for young queer people. I can attest to the difficulties this process involves: because my adolescent exposure to discourses of AIDS was always circumscribed by the liberal rhetoric of tolerance, I was left with little reason to question the information delivered to me, which is perhaps one of the most dire effects of the gentrification mentality. I don’t want to posit a narrative of self-discovery, for my own fantasies of the good life are still—despite everything I argue here—quite tightly bound up with narratives of homonormative existence. I have developed cruelly optimistic attachments to these fantasies of the good life, as I think others have as well. But the work of a queer AIDS historiography must force confrontations with and reconsiderations of these very attachments.
This piece was reblogged from Aimee Heinemann at the request of Queer (in) Crisis.
The problem with living in a constant state of crisis is that it isn’t. Like, how are we meant to deal with our temporal/Oedipal/daddy issues when this is just what _is|? Like, how would anyone /accidentally/ kill their dad in the age of preemption? I mean, there are no atheists on Facebook and it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of the end of the world. #nodads #NeverForget
Future is now. And yesterday. (And tomorrow – but that feels very retro.) The future starts when you start and everything happens so much and horse_ebooks was a human like all the best spambots and I’m not saying those things are connected but I think in 140 characters or less and I never drop below 7 open tabs and the next pandemic does not exist yet but the risk it represents is entirely plausible. #SpeculativeFML
I don’t want to perpetuate the myth of a flat internet, but last night I dreamt about a virtual buffer zone, a safety net at the edge of the net (to prevent falls and injuries and lawsuits). Time’s slower there, and the space is heavy and soft – you’d like it. I’m not sure what comes next because I wasn’t trying to leave, and there were meters and meters of Bliss (image) to get through, and I can’t afford the insurance.
[Hey btw from one broken boygirl glitch body 2 an/other I can see your structural violence through that t-shirt and I guess it’s a lqqk but like I mean have you heard of daisycutter bombs? Sorry, that came out wrong, I meant to say it’s qt, very Precarity SS14.]
A nervous trigger is a connective tissue and we’re all connection now because wasn’t that the point? (Although don’t take my word for it – I’m 2 yung 2 remember and trust no man’s post-gender history.) Every system is nervous but that’s accounted for like everything else and every thing is ‘literally’ or ‘virtually’ because what else are we going to cling to? I don’t understand ontology but I’ve been able to feel the emotional block in my back ever since someone told me it was there and I can describe in detail how bodies feel when they don’t want to exist anymore. I don’t wanna get corporeal about this but Cartesian dualism is so 2000 and l8 and there’s a lot of dead skin trapped in your keyboard and I had my first panic attack because someone told me hot tubs cause cancer and like, ‘the greater the threat the greater the risk of inaction’. So like prophecy is the externalization of desire but some prophecies have more biopolitical klout than others?
There’s no such thing as irrational fear and every fear is forever and disintegration is my utopian dream and disaster planning offices are the institutionalization of fantasy and your darkest desire is probably already a Craigslist ad so like, get over yourself. In my dreams nobody gets a cohesive subject position or body to match (which is less good than it sounds) but last night I got beaten up (a post-post-body exorcism) and stayed myself for the duration which is #rare and in the dream I wrote on the wall and it looked like this: |—————? except that line was solid and the question mark sat above it and I woke up smiling and I’ve never been on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors but sometimes they stop you dreaming. No moralizing, we’re all trying to fall apart in a constructive way and irl is the highest drag and sometimes I think singularity is the hardest thing there is (and I Have Even Met Happy Call Centre Workers). And sleep is like the body’s last bastion of resistance to l8 capitalism or whatever but #StressStillLingers
Fuck it, I mean, let’s ‘fuck’ ‘it’, I /mean/ – we’re precarious aesthetic architecture and our architectures are shoddy and subcontracted and structurally unsound but so is their junkspace and there’s no_such_thing as an earthquake resistant structure and the real 9/11 is inside of you and their combined vibration control system has nothing on my pile of rubble.
This piece was submitted to Queer (in) Crisis by Daniel Lourenço. More of his work can be found on the LusoQueer blog.
“any appearance of the individual heart
is a political occurrence.”
— kathy acker
“the revolution did not happen
for the sake of prostitutes and homosexuals.”
— colonel galvão de melo
caffeine starcluster of morningache and out of bed and right into boyhood right to rip it sunrise: much milkred: hatred sent. a book incidental & pierced sentimental: she is rather good. today twinkpunk blocks of roving queers flock to the corpse of a geometry because she said so. says to them: “it has teeth to better test your flow so you best preserve your lucifer shreds on silver platter, so as to provide them poison-like to the luminous presences of manpower and mandible. also, fuck everything but the burning heart.”
goes to best spot to create her scene, left eye clouded to shitstorm again. has done away with drafts of father’s discourse: that which is word for shit and fear which is word for falter; out with that which is word for. destroy: daddy stem, cut cut men as in, cut shit and cut death down. shouts: “if your body has not torn its nerves open to then find its black cores marble-cracking on street paved with impatience and the stomach-turned populations of these skins then you need to shut the fuck up about who i give my body to.”
other-girl hears the good news and adds: “also, best pay attention to the licking of the flame. desire is harsh; tends to sway way past waste the page and onto wake the wind up to you. and though we differ on politics and mother-parts, on skins and their counter-parts too, this map is still clear as a scream as a sigh.”
note then that the precariousness of brown punctures rest-assured her fight monotone; a manyforced piercing is required to even start making sense of this and rage is a start and perception and favour to self. demanding retribution, dearth now blooms for most plus: manifesto for pretty boys breaks through. blast powers, black powers, non-powers trickle.
meanwhile carnation conservatives silence fag and whore in favour of phallic their communal, such bullshit. she come counter the sound of their ripped mouth pundits with a live rendition of chipcore porn so as to delete their redundances: this is not diplomacy: his cunt has claws deep in it. because yes, going back to portugal she chose to be a boy for another nine months and his mouth was then full of powers and needs; this boy with shades of dick for every circumstance, face and papers summer-bruised, steps on mouth much with want faster than fall: so violent.
fades to four-minute slut so as to crash their cuntcracker complex. turns to crowd of clash-lips: “so pretty you, all you girls so abyss goliath: so ready to gorge. am grateful for sex, friends and failure as i sit and drink little fennec’s phoenix piss so as to harness heart & fist.” lips licked, having not very eagerly hummed notes on the ego, she adds “basically, now that it’s safe to say that high art equals low bass, i expect most quarrels of the cunt to come forward all clever and leporine, tumbling and laugh-like.”; various unserious things ensue.
other girl back to a joy and a jag, cries “kisses to you who are false and fun, kisses to the death of the very unworth of whatever works one-way”. like copper girl and like any fag, her belly so full of burst the latent, the liquid consistency of riot and of rip it. there goes the rythmic art of ragged laugh for the just-right tone of her red act; there goes the she-gorge-too to grasp the loss of rabid possibility: a poem about rage.
rage which wrecks the nerve forever in the after-may of the fawns.
rage so that lacks die out & good morning, gorgeous.
This piece was written by a member of the Queer (in) Crisis collective.
I’m not a drag queen, but I am a performance maker and someone who writes about performance. I spend a lot of time watching and writing about burlesque, cabaret and drag performance more specifically. I am also emotionally and critically invested in the drag “scene” in which I participate. This investment stems from the social and sexual “communities” that I inhabit: I count myself part of an extended “family” which includes drag queens, burlesque performers, artists, writers, and fabulists. I am also in a relationship with someone who defines their professional and artistic practice as drag performance.
This investment also stems from a theoretical and affective immediacy within my own thinking and practice: the search for a space of radical social and political action/activism within queer lived experience. There is something, something as of yet unarticulated and ungraspable, for me, about drag, which returns again and again to the radical. Here, in this blog post, I want to re-think what the term “drag” could and, in some instances, does signify by considering some recent and contemporary examples of drag performance that challenge traditional notions of what a drag queen can or should be.
The drag queens I encounter are not, as a rule, attempting to successfully imitate a universalised notion of “woman”; rather, I read them as dragging up as drag queens. The four queens I find myself surrounded by on a regular basis, who I will write about in varying degrees in this post, represent for me a present and future of drag which is challenging and radical. As well as accomplished individual performers in burlesque, cabaret and performance arts settings (to name but three) they also perform as a drag troupe called &?! (Aaaaaaand What?!). Here is my interpretation of who they are.
Miss Cairo: a hyper-sexualised tour-de-force of in-yer-face drag extremism, who fucks with anyone and anything that gets in her way. Lady “Maxi” Tena: an elegant, experimental, gender-challenging queen whose 7-foot-tall presence in heels warps the space around her until she is the only thing anyone wants to see. Rubyyy Jones: a biological woman who still manages to be the fiercest bitch of them all, she combines high art integrity with glamour that’s so wrong it’s right. Meth (also known as Mr Mistress): couples aloof drag grace with a mind-bending androgynous aesthetic that plays with the fluidity of gender and sexuality, drag and performance, life and death, until no one is sure which way is up.
Before discussing drag performance in more detail I want to contextualise what I see as the “crisis of drag” by glancing briefly at the film Paris is Burning. Anyone who has seen the iconic documentary-film, which chronicles the drag ball culture in New York City in the mid- to late-eighties, will know that for many queens drag is much more than an aesthetic but also a means of survival. (If you haven’t seen the film, you should. You can watch it all online here.)
When I say drag is a means of survival, I am not investing it with a disembodied transformational power, I am rather considering drag as an assemblage of activities, tools, communal relations and embodied practices which have the potential to enact an alternative mode of being, an alternative lived experience, for those who participate within its broad and constantly evolving borders. A number of the queens encountered in Paris is Burning have been kicked out by their families, are socially and economically limited by their sexuality, their race, their class, have no means of properly existing with normative cultural sites of heterosexuality and productivity.
Drag, then, provides a site within which to enact alternative familial relations. The various Houses (the Houses of LaBeija, Xtravaganza, Ninja, for example), are examples of these survival attempts. Without traditional notions of families, these drag houses, presided over by a Mother, become places of (admittedly precarious) economic stability, as well as cultural spaces of caring and loving. Drag, in Paris is Burning, also provides a cultural space of investment, with the drag balls that the film focuses on enacting spaces of communal gathering, competition and exchange.
In the drag I am often witness to in the UK, the visceral and affective immediacy that drag has in Paris is Burning – the use of drag as a tool of resistance and survival – is somewhat dimmed. In fact, the crisis of UK drag culture is its inexpression and reflection of this role of drag. Even the most contemporary and mainstream manifestation of drag in the US, RuPaul’s Drag Race, provides examples of young queens rejected by their families, left in poverty, turning to drag Houses, Mothers and performance for support and alternative modes of existing.
British drag, or at least a large proportion of the British drag I encounter, doesn’t have this same urgency. I’m not rejecting the British drag scene, and I do not want to insult the skill and cultural importance of the scene which has produced such power houses as Regina Thong, or even Lily Savage. However, contemporary drag, in my metrocentric and London-based view, is filled with far too many queens singing Sweet Caroline and Shirley Bassey, and not enough queens making edgy, challenging and interesting drag. It is, then, to those forms of drag that I introduced above, that I turn (alongside recent contemporary American queens such as Sharron Needles or Raja), all of whom remain visceral and immediate, challenging and exciting to watch.
My reading of Paris is Burning here, and drag more generally, is of course idealised. The film also exhibits the violence, rejection and death experienced by drag queens and those gender and sexual dissidents that it attempts to capture. Drag, more generally, can be regulatory and exclusive; even as a privileged homosexual I have stood at the edge of a dance floor populated by drag queens and felt myself slowly sliding into the anonymity and invisibility which I always resist in heteronormative society as a young queer. More than my own whining privileged experience of marginalisation, traditional notions of what a drag queen is could be thought of as representing some idealised form of beauty which regulates or abjects those bodies which cannot adhere to this.
The “crisis of drag” I want to briefly talk about here also relies on an aesthetic which isn’t about attaining beauty or femininity, but which is intrinsically about both of these things at the same time. It combines both traditional elements of drag performance – lip synching, over-exaggerated gesture, drag bodily and facial constructions – as well as more interesting performance arts based-elements and an albeit clichéd emotional framework about beauty.
The performer Meth enters the stage with a bag over her head. As the opening moments of the instantly recognisable “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera play, a narrative arc begins to form in my head about where the piece is going. When the bag is ripped off and the performer’s face revealed, the expectation of a severe, beautiful and dragged-up queen meets a face distorted behind masses of clear tape. Only when this tape is ripped off is the face of the performer revealed. At the end of the piece, standing in front of the audience is a highly-emotional, well-constructed drag queen who is claiming her place as an unconventional form of drag beauty. The performance uses traditional drag practices and also conveys a traditional message about drag – that we are all beautiful, we can all be fabulous. However, the performance combines this generalised cliché with elements of performance art and enough irony to communicate to the audience the artist’s awareness of the clichés being reproduced.
Meth has been known to challenge notions of gender, sexuality, and beauty as both Meth and her alter-ego Mr. Mistress. She can be seen in a bald cap with blood pouring from her mouth, stripping until she is left with only a question mark covering her slowly bleeding crotch, lip synching erratically to Meatloaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” (no blood this time), or standing on a table in a pub performing to “If I Were a Boy” – and this is just a brief résumé of her work. I read in the work above, and in all of the work that I encounter in the “crisis of drag”, something more challenging and engaging than that seen on the drag scene for a long time. It is not just drag performance, it combines elements of performance art, burlesque, creative thought, academic engagement and a desire to fuck with things to see what will happen. As I see it, this style of performance acknowledges the UK drag scene’s ordinariness, pushing beyond it with new, exciting forms of drag performance. Meth, and drag performers in a similar vein, seem to want to express that which is not ordinarily expressed in UK drag’s tired and familiar performative repetitions. Rather, they are concerned with the expression of the visceralities of living in the contemporary moment, the possibilities of the immediate crisis-ordinary, and most importantly the potential of drag to reflect, inform, and produce new ways of being.
Drag is, for Meth and the other queens I talk to, get drunk with, and love, more than just performance or beauty, but a way of exploring and living in the world. I only have to look around my own flat covered in make-up, wig heads, glitter, sequins, a dress-maker’s dummy and a weird latex representation of a mangled crotch to see how much it has taken over my life, and the lives of those closest to me. Standing in a smoking area of The Black Cap in Camden, Meth expresses her opinion that ‘“drag has nothing to do with what is between your legs, it is a performance of gender, an idea of “femininity” or female”’. As with her performances, drag, for Meth, is more than what you think it is. More than just the subversion of the gendered body, but the performance of an idea of gender itself.
When I suggested above that the contemporary drag queens I encounter “drag up as drag queens” rather than as women, I mean to propose that the aesthetic to which they aspire isn’t necessarily female-ness and, whilst still re-producing something feminine, is an aesthetic that is no longer simply about gender parody. Contemporary drag, I believe, presents something more than just the reproduction of ordinary and even stable forms of subversive gender-binary enactment, queering this notion in its lack of adherence to the rules of gender parody. The drag queen, in a contemporary sense, is for me a queer figure because she challenges – or has the potential to challenge – the position of the drag body as conventional form, choosing to present, rather, the potential of that gender-queer drag body in all its dysphoric celebration.
I am aware, here, of the amount that I am idolising a particular mode of performance of drag and being which is, perhaps, also exclusive and regulatory in its own ways. I am enamoured with drag, I am invested in its continuation – both culturally and economically – and I am critically engaged in writing about it. But I am also aware that some drag can be terrible, and that not everything that I see is perfect or interesting or exciting. There is, also, a tremendous amount of joy and pleasure to be taken in seeing a traditional practice done well.
What I want to suggest, however, is that a change is happening. It is slow and, like all changes, it is resisted by those who are established in the scene already. The change in drag feels similar to the change I feel I am witnessing in young queer politics. There is a need for something more immediate, more challenging, more visceral. The new drag I see works and fucks with the traditional and takes it to places still unknown, and it is these unknown places which are exciting, which provide performative ways to explore more the alternative modes, spaces, sites of living.
This piece was written by a member of the Queer (in) Crisis collective.
As a young gay kid navigating one heteronormative space after another, my imaginings of what I will call the gay bar always arose from that popular banality about “safe space.” The gay bar, in my mind, was a community locale where LGBT people could be both out and in, where you might simultaneously “be yourself” and “fit in” with the clientele. All my fantasies of the gay bar, in one way or another, attached themselves to this paradox of the self and the collective. I might cruise for sex, drink underage, barter for drugs, and all of this was—could only be—safe and inclusive, both normal and subversive, because in my mind the gay bar was always a utopia.
Now, ten years later, I’m not entirely surprised that my imaginings of the gay bar as a queer space were (are) inaccurate or impossible. For me, it’s the extent of my own attachment to this fantasy of the gay bar that fascinates, an attachment that persists even though I recognize and acknowledge how formulaic, fantastic, and inaccurate my utopic fantasies are. I will readily admit that my first experiences of gay spaces (these in a relatively small town in the western USA) were largely positive, both because of their novelty for me and because they offered a reprieve from the heteronormative and overtly coercive spaces of home and public. My fantasies of the gay bar, to some extent, were built against my experiences of heteronormative spaces, so—of course—I found some version of solace in the very absence of those heterosexual imperatives inside gay spaces. But, after my first forays into the gay bars of my hometown, I became more attuned to the exclusionary qualities of these supposedly queer spaces: the omnipresent sense of hypervisibility I felt, the injunction to authenticate my own presence, and the sometimes violently stabilizing production of a properly “gay” subject—that is, how I might be not only a subject occupying a gay space but also a person subjected to and regulated by that space itself.
Narratives of the gay bar as a site for the production and consolidation of queer publics—for organizing, for gathering, for the formation of “communities”—are frequent, and I came across very specific etiologies of community even with respect to the gay bars in my hometown. These narratives seem innocuous enough: local, sexually-marginalized subjects find both a community base and community-based relations inside an alternative, subversive space. Insidious and embedded in these narratives are discourses of authenticity, not only regarding the “prestige” of the gay bar but also about membership in “the” community, and the authorization of properly gay subjecthood that is in some ways predicated upon admission to the gay space in question. To me, discourses about “the gay community” in my hometown sometimes feel indistinguishable from regulatory discourses disseminated by the gay bar’s internally-constructed public, by the “regulars” who manage—somehow—to impose injunctions on what constitutes proper behavior inside and around the space.
I adopt a critical tone here, but I don’t wish to suggest that I have radically renounced the gay bar as site of affective attachment. Lots of nights I want nothing more than admission to the regulatory space, the sense of proper citizenship that comes with it.
This concept of queer citizenship, maybe, is key to understanding the problematic relationship I’m attempting to outline. Intrinsic to the notion of the queer counterpublic are the same violently stabilizing notions of citizenship that lead to the exclusion or co-optation of queer subjects from/into a larger hetero-/homonormative public. And it seems that the gay bar—even while it remains, for me, a site of affective and emotional attachment, a place for some endlessly elusive “confirmation” as nonhetero—is just as regulatory as the space it might purport to define itself against. This seems true of sexual counter-spaces apart from the gay bar, as well. Bobby Noble, for example, writes about the regulatory qualities of such spaces as the gay bathhouse, which often adhere to gendered and sexualized “dick at the door” or “dick slammed in the door” policies that systemically exclude trans people. The gay bar enacts its own version of this policy in the communally-enforced mandate to be gay in gay space. This is another paradox of embodiment, to me: when, for instance, I enter the gay bar, I become legible in terms of “gayness” such that my bodily presence is subject to scrutiny and authentication as gay. Illegible bodies are, maybe, abjected, or otherwise forced toward compulsory performances of gayness.
I am probably quite privileged in that I seem to avoid abjection from gay space. Even despite the discomforts of coercion, I perform gayness in adequately legible ways. And I continue to perform gayness—for the disciplinary compulsion toward inclusion and assimilation is just as strong, I think, as the threat of abjection. And this disciplinary compulsion toward inclusion is only intensified by my attachment to the fantasy of the gay bar, a fantasy toward which the gay bar makes (incomplete, problematic) gestures, as a kind of reward for the labor of performing gayness properly. This is, maybe, what Lauren Berlant calls cruel optimism, the set of affective relations that emerge “when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing.” As Berlant argues, attachments to such things as fantasies of the good life can offer many subjects a (problematic, contradictory, irrational, essential) means of surviving the everyday. Perhaps the gay bar—and other gay spaces—position themselves as gateways to the good gay life, the good homonormative life.
Consider, alongside the gay bar, the space of the gay pride festival. For me, as political spaces that arise from histories of queer protest and dissent, pride festivals offer the promise of the good queer life—one that can remain successfully politically engaged—but enforced regulation is just as intrinsic to pride (as both a space and an affect) as to the gay bar. Take, for example, Brighton Pride, an event now owned by a Brighton and Hove Council-recognized “community interest company” that is itself managed by Paul Kemp, David Hill, and DJ Dulcie Danger. Kemp and Hill head two UK-based entertainment and promotional agencies; DJ Dulcie Danger is connected to Sauce FM, a so-called gay radio station based in Brighton. Sauce FM is sponsored by Legends, that Brighton-located “gay hotel,” bar, and club which is also, predictably, a “partner” with the Brighton Pride community interest company. And, alongside this half-visible web of corporatism and bureaucracy, consider this year’s rules of parade conduct. The Brighton Pride CIC states that
[w]hilst we recognise that Pride was born out of protest and encourage political participation, parade entries will be disallowed or removed if they denigrate the work of Pride or other charities, community groups and businesses participating in the parade.
Additionally, the regulations state that participants in the parade “need to nominate and provide details of a responsible, contactable individual for [their] group who needs to be identified and present at all times,” and that “[a]ll members of each group, float, tableaux or walking group are the responsibility of the designated and named group representative.” Despite the inclusion of some of these regulations under the heading of health and safety, these prescriptions are all overtly political. Brighton Pride’s attempt to characterize the parade and festival as innocuous, apolitical spaces for open and safe expression actually render them violently regulatory, politicized spaces, coercive spaces that aim to prohibit forms of expression unwelcome, maybe, to the company’s managers. The event encourages and obligates not only self-policing behavior but also mutual monitoring. Parade participants become hypervisible spectacle—to onlookers, participants are exhibits of proper, safe gayness and pride; to each other, they are potential transgressors or liabilities at the hands of the Brighton Pride company.
According to the CIC, Brighton Pride is not a space for protest, but the company constructs Pride as a highly politicized space for expressions of normative gayness. The imposition of a violent, continual stasis on the parade entrants—their hypervisiblity, their subjection to multiple forms of scrutiny and regulation from both within and without—bring me back to the violent, paradoxical simultaneity of “fitting in” and “being yourself.” I will probably attend the parade this August. I might put on an uncritical performance of gayness, and I will probably express excitement over my participation in the events. The prospect of queering a space with as much institutional weight as Brighton Pride is, to me, overwhelming; I write this critique as much out of guilt over my own complicity as out of anger about the ever-tantalizing promise of the good (queer) life.
 I’m using the term “gay” to refer to a (homo)normative, neoliberal LGBT-ness that exists alongside and in opposition to a more marginal “queer.” This distinction is just as problematic as it is productive, and I invite and deserve critique.
 Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner discuss the notion of a sexualized counter/public in their essay “Sex in Public,”Critical Inquiry 24.2 (1998): 547–566.
 This and all subsequent links were accessed 7 June 2013.
This piece was submitted to Queer (in) Crisis by Lucy Freedman.
The phenomenon of assimilation of the ‘sexually deviant’ is, though relatively new, not in itself a result of crisis management. Nothing pacifies those ‘radical elements’ of whom we are constantly warned better than de-radicalising them, deeming them acceptable, legitimate, so they no longer exist in a state of struggle or dangerous opposition. The neoliberal agenda has, in this vein, handled the ‘gay question’ with remarkable finesse; to be non-heterosexual is no longer to necessarily exist on the fringes of society—people who, even twenty years ago, could choose to either hide behind a façade of heteronormative paradigms or live a life of permanent subversion have been offered a third option. This option, when considered within the neoliberal rhetoric of consumer choice and autonomy through entrepreneurship, appears particularly attractive. In return for contribution to capital, those who were previously pariahs are offered legitimacy and the chance for an economic stake in consumer society.
This struggle is then shifted to one that takes place between the state, colluding with those who have chosen to be assimilated, and those who have not. In this case, what we are talking about is a struggle between queer and homonormative communities. I am interested in exploring how, in a time of ‘crisis’, this rift widens and toxifies, and how this impacts current queer identity.
Kemptown and Polk Street as examples of pre-‘crisis’ assimilation and pacification of queer space
You couldn’t ask for a better example of gay capitalism and its role in the production of a ‘homonormative’ identity than Kemptown, Brighton’s ‘gay village’. Kemptown seems to separate itself into three distinct, painfully gendered genres—‘gay’, ‘lesbian’ and transvestite/drag. Each exists in relative isolation, and all are about selling not only drinks but also an entire constructed culture. In a crude analysis of Kemptown’s nightlife, gay spaces are about sex and promiscuity, feeding into the stereotype that all men are interested in indiscriminate sex, and lots of it; lesbian spaces are framed in the rhetoric of ‘safe space’, feminine, quiet, with deals on fruit cider and other ‘girls’ drinks’; and transvestite spaces focus on humour and the loud externalization of gender play, seemingly ignoring questions about the unnecessary existence of a gender binary which, one would hope, lie at the crux of queer identity.
San Fransico’s legendary Polk Street in some ways proves an interesting comparison to Kemptown. While homosexuality was still illegal, and then legal but highly taboo, Polk Street was a queer space home to “hookers, hustlers, drug addicts, homeless people, trannies, needle exchange services, working-class queers and other social deviants.” Slowly, though, as the morality of the market usurped Christian morality, the space, formerly condemned as a badland and ignored by the authorities, was gentrified; ‘the trendy transformation of lower Polk (…) pushed along the urban removal of an already marginalized group of people’, removing its queerness.
As in Kemptown, to be gay while generating money became completely acceptable; Polk Street had its notoriety to maintain, and the gay tourism market became a new, hugely profitable industry to capitalize on. A rift was driven through the heart of the ‘gay community’—gay capitalists were given a new standing in society, while delinquents and those whose ‘sexualities’ did not fit the narrow parameters of what was deemed acceptable (or, rather, what the market deemed sell-able), those who I suppose we would call queer, were excluded from the space and the community which for decades had accommodated them. These areas now signify the tension between radical and conservative non-‘straightness’.
An anecdote to highlight this tension: recently the flat above an abandoned shop in Kemptown was squatted. This squat was surrounded by gay capitalist industry: bars, sex shops, even a travel agent specializing in ‘gay tourism’. The squatters received regular abuse from punters and workers at a number of local bars. When the squatters questioned this hostility, they were told that their presence was detrimental to surrounding businesses. The owners of a nearby club stated that for generations they had been involuntarily associated, as people who openly identify as gay, with radicals and delinquents. They had recently been given what they termed ‘legitimacy’—i.e., a chance to be included in the market—and they believed the squatters’ presence in a space heavily associated with this new ‘legitimacy’ jeopardised this newfound status. Mary, a spokesperson from Gay Shame, claims that gentrification crushed the ‘cross-class, cross-gender and cross-sexuality (…) interaction between street cultures’ on Polk Street. Similarly, in Kemptown, already gentrified, solidarity among those who face systemic oppression is void in place of a want of recognition from those very same systematic oppressors.
Crisis as catalyst
As the era of ‘crisis’ takes hold, frenzy sets in—unemployment and austerity force us into instability in many forms. There is also, at a time of crisis, a shift towards cultural conservatism; the nuclear family, deemed less ‘needy’ of welfare is held up as the perfect model (gay marriage and adoption here become a ‘progressive’ mirroring of conservative norms). We are all told to pull together, not to complain about concerns that might once have been pressing, to find what we have in common with one another rather than focus on difference and dissidence. To be truly queer, then, is to exist outside a state of collective acceptance of the attacks to our survival that crisis and austerity have brought us.
But our current economic ‘crisis’, situated within the neoliberal, throws up new dichotomies that were perhaps not as relevant in previous crises. In a ‘liberal democracy’ we face the strange problem that almost anything (as long as it does not threaten to destabilize capital) can be adapted to become marketable. While cultural conservatism may be on the rise, the ‘alternative market’, made up of assimilated, pacified ex-subcultures, is still to be catered for.
The recent trend for ‘gender-bending’ supermodels is an interesting example of queerness introduced into the market. While transient gender identity becomes endorsed within fashionable and influential circles, statements of queerness, of nonconformity, are being assimilated into a culture of deep oppression, a culture which by its very nature objectifies, exploits and controls. The morphing of behaviours considered queer into mainstream culture runs the risk of depoliticising them. The very term queer is used more and more widely: it runs the risk of becoming the code word for a new, edgy-yet-buyable mode of being non-‘straight’. As with Kemptown’s clear-cut pockets of sexuality called ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’ and ‘drag’, queer, as it emerges as a new genre of non-‘straightness’, would be imbued with a new set of oppressive signifiers. It is imperative to fight the growing assimilation of conventionally gay identity into a sellable, controllable commodity, mirroring and deifying the nuclear family or heterosexual couple form.
Where does this place us?
Reactions to the economic crisis can have a propensity for defensiveness and even regression. Cuts to public services have prompted our political movements to focus on and fight for not our real ideals but the welfare, education, healthcare and pensions which fall within the realm of the system we previously resisted—things that were previously guaranteed to us.
In the same way, faced by crisis, queer communities may turn dangerously inward. To be queer, to me, necessitates an existence in constant flux, while ‘crisis politics’ often exist in stagnation. Crisis exacerbates attacks on the marginalised through the normalisation of wider society, and a drive to sell everything. Inevitably, this leads to defensiveness, but we need to be careful about what, and how, we defend. In ceasing to challenge ourselves, ceasing to exist in flux or be queer, we realise that all we really defend are the empty, marketable clichés we are thought to embody.
Austerity and vicious attacks on all those who refuse to conform bring with them the power to push us toward the norm, as existing outside it becomes more difficult. However, they also present us with the opportunity to re-radicalise, to join in solidarity with others who are marginalised by an ever-normalising society. As we are forced to confront poverty, we are told to ‘keep calm and carry on’, to maintain business as usual, even when this business becomes infinitely less fruitful and cajoles us to sell ourselves. To be queer in a time of ‘crisis’ is to remain on the margins, to refuse calm assimilation into a mass who collectively accept their fate, to refuse that we exist in a crisis defined by any but ourselves.
 Leslie Fulbright, “SAN FRANCISCO / Polk Gulch cleanup angers some / Gentrification pushing out ‘hookers, hustlers’”, San Francisco Chronicle, 12 October 2005.