Prancing at the revolution

QUEER ISSUE: Why Are Faggots so Afraid of Faggots? questions queer assimilationism

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marke@sfbg.com

QUEER ISSUE "Right now it seems we have more in common with the Christian Right than the gay liberation movement. We've become so focused on marriage as the end-all and be-all of gay rights that it's completely within the realm of possibility that the next leader of Focus on the Family could be a gay man. We all have to get married now for tax breaks, health care, or to stay in this country? Are you kidding me?" Mattilda Sycamore Bernstein spilled some truth into my hot pink Princess phone.

"I don't know how we got to this position where we're either agitating for more tax breaks for the rich via marriage, or we're treating people like disposable objects on hookup sites because they don't conform to certain standards. It's really sickening. How does any of this further any agenda at all besides becoming what we're supposed to be fighting against? I don't get it."

Sycamore Bernstein, who often writes for the Guardian, was speaking about the impetus behind her latest book, Why are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots? Flaming Challenges to Masculinity, Objectification, and the Desire to Conform (AK Press), an invigorating collection of essays from a vast variety of queer people that "challenges the assimilationist norms of a corporate-cozy lifestyle." (Let's just say that President Obama's limp "evolution" on same-sex marriage was not going to be a topic of conversation.) From envisioning a more faggoty Internet and reclaiming perversity as a proud, queer norm to honestly exploring the complex cultural confusions that Western-originating political expressions of gayness can wreak on immigrant and native homos, Faggots goes there with inspiring directness.

"I wanted to put out something that captured the spectrum of radical queer thinking that's been going on while it seems everyone else was in line to get married. There are so many topics that affect our lives that have just been completely bulldozed by the 'gay rights' corporate lobbying groups' crazed marriagemania.

"For example, Chris Bartlett, in his contribution 'Gravity and Levity' talks about how the idea of 'risk' in the gay community has been so associated with AIDS that it may have pushed any aspiration towards risk — emotionally, politically, socially — right out of gay consciousness. Yet being gay used to be all about taking risks. It's what got us so far in the first place!

"I think exploring how the medicalization of AIDS terminology may have numbed us from each other — or how race still defines us in the 'community,' or how every dollar sucked into the corporate marriage machine means less for those in need of actual life or death help, or how hate crimes legislation ridiculously puts more power and resources into the hands of the very system oppressing us — is something we desperately need right now. We're raising an entire generation to think that marriage is the only fight. Meanwhile, we're discriminating against ourselves in so many other ways."

Faggots is no mere spitting into the wind, either. Although Sycamore Bernstein has been sounding the assimilationist alarm for years, the prolific author and activist, now living in Seattle, has been surprised by the tome's positive reception. ("It's quite shocking!" she says with a lilting laugh.) Edmund White, Samuel R. Delaney, and Mx Justin Vivian Bond offered blurbs, and younger readers and the press have been grabbing onto Faggots' incendiary yet sophisticated tone. Could the recent wave of AIDS activist nostalgia and a Occupy-like disillusionment with big money Pride sponsorships (embodied locally, especially, by a Wells Fargo advertisement covering the entire front page of Bay Area Reporter's Pride Issue and a Stoli-sponsored GLAAD Pride float) be buoying the book's popularity?

Comments

So the case being made here is that unless we embrace mincing faggotry, play dress up and adhere to glitter, all gay men are automatically as masculine as frat boys on steroids and by extension pro-corporate.

Here's a thought: not all gay men fetishize gender. There remain a few of we gay men who are gay because we are into rock hard dick, hot ass thumping sex, cock sucking and cum. Given the recurring sex panics and ever present specter of STDs, that is much riskier than the dress up games of the gender glitterati, especially in coastal cities.

There is a lot more to assimilation than what you wear and what aspect of patriarchal binary gender norms work for you. The original ACTUP and Queer Nation fought in the streets to make being gay NOT a fashion statement.

Being a radical queer is much more about what goes on between your ears and how you use what's between your legs than how you carry yourself relative to cultural, standards.

There are plenty of gender variant gay men who are as intellectually assimilationist as Supervisor Scott Penis.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 20, 2012 @ 9:34 am

The case being made here is that the rush to marriage has quashed many of the real discussions we should be having in the community. You must be thinking of another interview, perhaps an imaginary one.

Posted by marke on Jun. 20, 2012 @ 11:06 am

Nasty habit you have there.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2012 @ 11:18 am

on assholism (not to defame that important body portal) elsewhere on the site. Also, worse, you're late.

Posted by marke on Jun. 20, 2012 @ 12:00 pm

Your just personally don't like any comment that criticizes the behavior of gays.

While the same comment directed at, say, republicans or the "one percent" would not only be retained, but rejoiced in.

Hypocrisy, thy name is Marke.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2012 @ 1:04 pm
Posted by marke on Jun. 20, 2012 @ 1:26 pm

Marke, read the except from the article you wrote:

"Sycamore Bernstein, who often writes for the Guardian, was speaking about the impetus behind her latest book, Why are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots? Flaming Challenges to Masculinity, Objectification, and the Desire to Conform (AK Press), an invigorating collection of essays from a vast variety of queer people that "challenges the assimilationist norms of a corporate-cozy lifestyle." (Let's just say that President Obama's limp "evolution" on same-sex marriage was not going to be a topic of conversation.) From envisioning a more faggoty Internet and reclaiming perversity as a proud, queer norm to honestly exploring the complex cultural confusions that Western-originating political expressions of gayness can wreak on immigrant and native homos, Faggots goes there with inspiring directness."

This speaks to much more than marriage. It also speaks to "masculinity," "objectification" and "the desire to conform."

There are discussions to be had about all of these, discussions that you've just tried to preempt.

For instance, the greatest innovation of gay men is that we can both have objectification and subjectification of our partners and that there is nothing wrong with that.

The other innovation is that we can be of any degree of masculinity or femininity and there is nothing wrong with that. Bernstein seems to claim that there is.

None of it is normative yet it is all normative. Funny how it works that way!

Posted by marcos on Jun. 20, 2012 @ 11:46 am

than wearing glitter and feeling self-persecuted, too.

Posted by marke on Jun. 20, 2012 @ 11:57 am

There's no persecution involved in observing that perceptions amongst the glitterati are not consonant with the experiences of most gay men.

The sense of persecution here is on the part of Bernstein, that every gay man is not bowing down deep enough out of respect for the fey and that the fey are covering for their own insecurities by claiming that every gay man who is not fey is somehow pathological.

The other innovation of gay men is that we're united in diversity through horniness, that we get to know people from diverse walks of life, including gender expression, who most heteros would never even consider talking to.

I mean, shit, many of us grew up in the generation that saw "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" over and again, listened to the Kinks "Lola" and ran with the old skool punk crowd as teens, this is nothing new or special to us, we've long gotten used to it.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 20, 2012 @ 12:17 pm

is not to have "every gay man bow down" -- it's to be included in the conversation, something that's not happening as everyone parrots the marriage and "no homo" line. We'd like to be part of contemporary politics too, not just art from the 1970s, thanks. (You could have at least referenced Lou Reed here?)

If one of our "innovations" is to experience diversity, then why are we stifling it? That's the basic question being asked here, as I see it.

Posted by marke on Jun. 20, 2012 @ 1:02 pm

We have been exposed to so many images of gender autonomy that it is nothing special anymore. I was TEN when WOWTS came out, it was 1972, Marke. That set the stage in part for almost universal acceptance of LGB, at least, over the intervening FOUR DECADES. Trans folks were late out of the gate in coalescing an independent politics, but they're catching up.

But we're not talking trans here, we're talking gay male. Or are we?

It is not that most folks don't validate diversity, it is that we're so accustomed to it that it is not a show stopper.

I understand that some folks don't feel validated unless the show stops for their fabulousness. But that is not most of our problem, now is it? And I'm sure that the self esteem of some is damaged unless the show stops, and that is a matter for the therapists' couch, not a political liberation movement.

I'd argue that it goes the other way, that the only gay men who are portrayed in public are the very ones who exemplify the imagery that is used to marginalize us. Every gay man is presumed to favor glitter, to favor lame, to favor drag and femme conduct. The only progressive gay men tend towards the femme. Active and confident tops scare the hell out of the oversocialized lefties.

A back of the napkin analysis of the content of how gay men are represented in the SFBG would confirm this, that we are only gay if we act out. And that goes a long way to explain why progressives lost gay men, because we're viewed as the straight white male capitalists of the queer world.

I could give a flying fuck about how anyone carries themselves, what kind of clothes one wears and one's stance on glitter, heels or pumps. The only thing that binds the vast majority of all gay men together is love of cock, rock hard cock and lots of it.

Anything aside from that is a distraction to most of us and inspires one big collective yawn, been there, seen it, done it.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 20, 2012 @ 1:20 pm

I think you feeling so attacked is part of your own insecurity (a very stereotypically masculine insecurity at that). And your constant fixation with cock may help shore up your machismo in your mind, but it really just seems like immaturity to me.

But when masculinity (or, worse, culturally enforced masculinity) becomes the dominating mode in the community it deserves to be questioned. And when it leads to social conservatism and the exclusion of substantial voices in the community, it deserves to be challenged.

Maybe you thought Andrew Sullivan blogged for this site?

Posted by marke on Jun. 20, 2012 @ 1:38 pm

Marke, I'm not taking time to write a book about how my view of homosexuality is normative and everyone else is in some state of denial for not honoring my view as normative. I'm responding to someone else doing that. It is all normative, none of it is normative, that's the beauty.

The title of the damn book asserts that some of us are afraid of others. You interpret that such that the focus on marriage has made anyone who does not embrace their inner mincing faggot as a masculine frat boy who wants to get married and be done with it.

This is all such insider baseball that is has no play with most of us. I'm sure that lack of legitimation from most gay men of the notion that lack of faggotry means assimilation and marriage will result in another storm of epistles calling for a big ole pity party where we'll all be denigrated as wanting to join the military unless we drink the kool ade.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 20, 2012 @ 1:52 pm

of essays from voices that don't get heard enough, in my opinion. Whatever you're constructing in your head about it is fine, since you never do anything about anything anyway, Marc. Maybe you SHOULD take the time to write a book. talk about inside baseball -- all you do is comment on progressive blogs about how progressives are too progressive.

Posted by marke on Jun. 20, 2012 @ 2:38 pm

Marke, why do you always try to disarm cogent political critique with ad hominem? That's assholism, dude.

I've DONE more radical activism over the past 35 years on a wide range of political issues than you've ever contemplated thinking about. More of the radical activism that I've done over that time period has been more successful in the aggregate and more radical in reach than anyone else active in SF progressive politics today, hands down and none of it was paid.

At this point that kind of activism does not work anymore, the system has adapted an immune response to it and holds up paid activists as political fig leaves to insulate the system from demands for change. Individuals are either bought off with crumbs or are so deluded that they are reduced to complete ineffectiveness.

The same crap is going down with Occupy Pride, where, you guessed, it, the focus is the narrowest possible issue that is important to activists but does not mobilize beyond the converted, parade sponsor Wells Fargo not providing trans health benefits. This is how populist energies are kept out of politics.

Either we adapt or we perish. We are perishing because activists focus on narcissistic narrow and less-popular issues instead of organizing on radical issues that enjoy broad popular support. These liberals posing as leftie radicals cannot be allowed to speak for "the people," because they despise most of them for violating PC codes to some extent. It is this kind of liberal elitism which has marginalized radical progressive politics in the US, a contempt for the people and an assertion over their objections of what is best for them. This is why neoliberalism is triumphant scant four years after cratering the economy and here in San Francisco, because we can't do shit to stop it.

The near complete disconnect of the SFBG from political relevance has happened for the same reason, you're enamored with self promoting scenesters who blame a super majority of San Franciscans for their political failure which and that has clouded your analytical judgement as to what political approaches are effective and which are not. I'd rather just write, work and play than participate under those terms where my friends' feelings are more important than human beings and the environment laboring under the burdens of perennial political failure.

There are no instances over the past 30 years where paid activists and authors have furthered radical change in the US. It is just a merry go round that they ride so that they can look cool while they assuage their liberal (and all too often Catholic) guilt.

The assertion that if one does not play fey that one believes that same sex marriage is central to gay liberation and that one is assimilationist is fallacious. It also ignores the fact that economic equality for many LGBT like for many heteros, is predicated on relationship and job status. Calling out marriage is just fine, but it is not like we are anywhere near powerful enough to free people from having to rely on job or relationship for certain types of economic support.

It further ignores the fact that the time to organize against the conservative hijacking of the LGBT liberation movement was when it was ripe, in the 1990s. That check has been cashed, game over, dudette.

Being gay is about sex, that is why we are homoSEXuals not homoGENDERals. The small minority who fetishize gender are more active and have attempted to dominate the debate by projecting their fetish onto the rest of us as normative in a way that no other subgroup of LGBT tries.

Seriously, Marke, who the fuck do you think you are, printing these patently bogus assertions and then calling me out when I point out the contradictions in the piece? Go wear your hot pink with glitter, heels and gold lamé at pride and give me a break, hippie.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 21, 2012 @ 6:02 am

The Occupy issue with Wells Fargo is that it's fueling the continued eviction of thousands. And also, again, hardly any of the above piece is about some weird gender war that you keep projecting (which, talk about stuck in the 90s). The context of the discussion about the hijacking of 90s movement was in the context of a question about nostalgia, so naturally the answer deals with the past.

Yes, flamboyance is being sidelined in the name of some fake conformist masculinity that's so backwards it's doing loop-de-loops (for all your bitching about how masculinity is precious, are you waxing your chest and eyebrows right now?). But the main point is looking at how gay men have sacrificed difference in order to promote some family-friendly, cuddly, acceptable normality -- surely the same point you've made at some point in your prattling -- and how that sacrifice has derailed many of the discussions that we should be having. The book is a collection of essays that ranges so much further than some argument you seem to be having with yourself about the relevance of the progressive movement.

No one's asserting that you're either for marriage or you're genderqueer, lol. That's your own dichotomy. And if you consider same-sex marriage's acceptance in the US radical, then sure, tons of paid activists and authors have made a radical change in the past 30 years.

I really think you SHOULD write a book, and try to use all this anger constructively, Marc. You could really just string all these comments together!

Posted by marke on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 7:36 am

Marke, there is no anger in reading a piece and responding to infirmities in that piece.

As far as Occupy and Wells Fargo, yeah, the substance is legitimate but the effectiveness of progressive housing discourse has long since been exhausted in its current form. Grafting failed approaches onto something new and fresh will taint that new fresh thing and cause it to fail as well. Sure, evictions are activist priorities, but activists have failed to connect with voters on that for the better part of the last decade. How about activists put aside their preferences for a moment and act like organizers and put the majority's radical interests first?

The reason why "faggots hate faggots" is the same reason why "niggers hate niggers" and "bitches hate bitches," because many of us had the shit kicked out of us because people thought that we were gay and used those disparaging stereotypes to express their homophobia.

The representation in the SFBG is almost exclusively that gay men are stereotypical when the reality is that we're profoundly diverse. That means that there are hardly any representations of gay men in the SFBG that are not stereotypical.

"Exhibitionism is like a drug. Hooked in adolescence I was now taking doses so massive they would have killed a novice."

--Quentin Crisp

Crisp refers to his faggotry as intentional exhibitionism, not some immutable characteristic that he was born with. I concur with Crisp's perspective.

Nobody is sidelining flamboyance in favor of frat boy masculinity except in some sort of paranoid, defensive world that you inhabit. Isn't that fun, Marke, using that kind of language to avoid a real discussion?

The error you put forth is that unless I legitimate something important to you, that means that I hate that thing that is important to you as well as everything else that is important to you, and I hate you too.

Don't support an almost exclusive casting of gay men as glittery, effeminate and prancing? Then you are completely pro-frat boy masculinity and hate trans folks.

Follow that reasoning at your peril. It explains the lack of traction of progressives in San Francisco in a few words.

Marke, the piece specifically makes the connection between masculinity and marriage. I did not make that up, you printed it. Why do you print things that you claim are absurd after you print them?

Same sex marriage is by no means radical. Radicals like me were howling into the darkness in the 1990s against the hijacking of the LGBT movement by marriage and military. Where were you? Where was the SFBG?

Angry? Hell no, I'm positively GAY!

Posted by marcos on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 1:30 pm

that the queer community is diverse. which is what this book is about. sheesh! you got a lot of words!

Posted by marke on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 1:43 pm

is confusing - because I thought for a moment you were referring to Larry Kramer's seminal work "Faggots."

Posted by Troll II on Jun. 20, 2012 @ 11:50 am

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