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21 December 2009, 9:00 am 8 Comments

Undermidwestimated


This post was submitted by Managing Editor


Photo: John Baird

Photo: John Baird

Springfield, Missouri is the kind of place you would be happy to fly over at 35,000 feet if you didn’t, say, spend the first 18 years of your life there, and every winter break since. It gave America notorious Bush-era Attorney General John “Concealer of Lady Justice’s Titties” Ashcroft, the reactionary ecclesiastical empire of the Assemblies of God, and, perhaps most troublingly, cashew chicken (déclassé foodies will note that the New York Times has confirmed this). It’s the kind of place where a full fifth of Barnes and Noble’s floor space is dedicated to something called “Christian Inspiration,” men flaunt (perfectly legal) firearms in coffeehouses, and the regional newspaper regularly publishes op-eds with titles like “New Moon ticket switch a shameful act that left teenager in tears” (“As we got in the light we realized they conned us by giving us $5 matinee tickets for Sunday!”).

It also happens to be the site of one of the most interesting gay scenes I’ve encountered in six years of dissolute cockmongering. It took the radical biographical break of college in a big city to appreciate, but so many Christmas and summer visits later I recognize that places like my hometown have something special going for them – something that just might help us New Gays figure out what we’re doing with ourselves. But first, sex.

Fellow Washingtonians will need no reminder of the notorious erotic ferocity of closeted social conservatives. But the DC GOP crowd has its drawbacks – most of them are too smart to actually fall for the stuff they feed the wingnuts in their districts, and cynicism can make for lousy fucking. (Republican sex scandals might be politically interesting, but they’re not the kind of thing that make you want to jack off during an investigative report on the Rachel Maddow show – Rachel Maddow is.) The men of southwest Missouri, with the kind of knotted and desperate self-loathing that can only come from an adolescence full of hypocrisy and probable pastoral abuse, are another case entirely: neurotic steam engines likely to whistle off their vapor-hot libidinal fury at the slightest provocation. How could they be otherwise, when their evangelical Christianity finally amounts to a kind of theological powerbottoming? And depending on a denomination’s take on the holy eucharist, Christians may be stuffing more pieces of man in their mouth in a given month than the less fortunate among us manage in half a year; they just like to do it with wine on Sunday mornings, while we gays prefer gin and Saturday nights.

Being a small and relatively isolated community has its benefits. Like the Arawak Indians of the Bahamas who, in their moral and immunological purity, greeted Columbus and his men with endearing credulity only to be brutally ravaged by cock and sword (and thank god we have a holiday to commemorate it), the sexual insularity of the queers of southwest Missouri tends toward a spontaneous, unexpected, and disease-free (this is an often overlooked benefit of lax incest taboos) celebration of physicality hard to come by on craigslist or 17th Street. Playful, sexy, naive boyishness should be cherished wherever one finds it, even if it’s dressed like it’s 2006 and happened to sit behind you in sophomore year biology lab.

It would be misleading to paint a picture of a kind of fag Arcadia, some hidden valley in the Ozarks mountains where beautiful flannel-clad boys regularly strip nude, paint themselves in creek mud, scamper satyr-like through unspoiled forest glens and then stage heroic midnight orgies around massive bonfires. This happens only rarely, and never in winter. But there is something special here and other places like it, an energy that can only come from being genuinely transgressive in a town trying its darndest to keep out the social progress that Western liberal democracies have made since the Second World War.

(Coastal queers seem increasingly to have some inkling of this, and can’t get enough of it: a recent BYT article quoted RAW party organizer Karl Jones lamenting the fact that “Most gay bars these days are sanitized and bright… We wanted to tap into that energy carried at a time when you had to look around and be a bit careful about who spotted you out at a gay bar.” I’d advise him to spend a week in the sticky light- and latex-deprived back rooms of the unmarked bars of my hometown, if not to get some technical ideas, then at least to recognize that there are not a few fags in not a few places who still have to watch out for this kind of thing, and that it can be less than fun.)

“New Gay” means a lot of things to a lot of people, the kind of empty signifier (points for the impractically overeducated liberal arts set who doesn’t have to Wikipedia those words) which can accommodate a depth and breadth of content rivaled only by the rectum of the average Apex patron. One point of this blog is to think up these kinds of meanings, moving us beyond the tired old symbols and vocabularies that the 20th century and the screwball homophobes who came out of it throw in our faces. I propose one more of these meanings: what if the New Gay undertook to take a second look at places away from coasts and bright lights, away from the gay metropolis whose bars and bath houses and clinics have defined us for so long, to explore a universe of alternative self-creation which queer folk from Middle America have been crafting in abandoned warehouses and curtain-drawn living rooms for decades? Question marks mean you should comment.

Best of luck to readers who’ll be spending their holiday benders stumbling all over the Eastern seaboard – may your Gingerbread lattes be warm and your Leather Santa parties fabulous. As for me, I’ll be enjoying breaded chicken with oyster sauce, drunkenly cruising Christmas Eve services, and hoping to god that this post never meets the eyes of anyone in my extended family.


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8 Comments »

  • michael said:

    This is brilliant. Fucking brilliant.

  • Jay said:

    The first “real” dance club I went to was in Springfield when I was 17 years old. I remember seeing a girl with a pierced lip and thinking it looked really cool. I’m a west coast fag now, but still remember a time when driving to Springfield meant that I was going to the big city.

  • Andy said:

    Having recently relocated to MO from fair D.C., I can empathize. Springfield is a special, special place.

  • Andrew Pendleton said:

    I agree with the above: this is exceptionally well-written. More, please.

  • Jean said:

    Excellent. Just excellent.

  • Volgerstraße said:

    That newspaper headline really got me. Gin on the rocks please for this Springfield gay. Sehr schön.

  • Joseph said:

    Hello there sir!
    When I read this I was struck by how well it mirrored some of the themes and ideas I’ve been drafting out for the past few days. It’s a response to a set of claims by two queer theorists. Most of what is below is just a copy and paste of that. It’s a bit in Lacanese, and for that I apologize:

    “I once perused a large and extensively illustrated book on sexual activity by and for homosexual men. It was astonishing for one thing in particular, namely, that its pages constituted a huge lexicon of words: words for acts and acitivties, their sub-acts, preludes and denouements, their stylistic variation, their sequences. Gay male sex, I realized then, is articulate. It is articulate to a degree that, in my world, lesbian ‘sex’ does not remotely approach. Lesbian ‘sex’ as I have known it, most of the time I have known is, is utterly inarticulate. Most of my lifetime, most of my experience in the realms commonly designated as ‘sexual’ has been pre-linguistic, non-cognitive. I have, in effect, no linguistic community, no language, and therefore in one important sense, no knowledge. …The meaning one’s life and experience might generate cannot come fully into operation if they are not woven into language: they are fleeting, or they hover, vague, not fully coalesced, not connected, and hence, not useful for explaining or grounding interpretations, desires, complaints, theories.” –Marilyn Frye.

    to this, Elizabeth Grosz replies:
    “It is not clear to me that representability is itself always a virtue: the most intense moments of pleasure, their force and materiality, while broadly evocable in discourse, are never captured discursively. A distinction must be drawn between discourse and experience even thought one understands that langauge is the prior condition for the intelligibility of experience.” –Elizabeth Grosz.

    Both Frye’s and Grosz’s naively contemptuous comments about the ‘joissance of the [homosexual male] Other’ (Lacan) aside, I do think that both have significant insight here. One need only see these as opposing insights if one assumes the conditions of human sexuality (or really enjoyment altogether) is at peace with itself, that it partakes in an stabilizeable equilibrium of supply and demand, that desire goes unsatisfied only when the Other refuses us our satisfaction. Instead, it seems to me that these “opposing” insights demonstrate precisely the tragic and unstable economy of human desire outlined by Lacan: the full satisfaction of desire is eclipsed precisely by the conditions that give rise to its possible pursuit, namely, a subject and a language. Individual subjectivity and language–no doubt necessary conditions for any pursuit of desire–can never experience the satisfaction of that desire, which is pre-subjective, and pre-linguistic. In their distinction and structure, subjectivity and language fail to capture the radical community and particularity that all desire aims to achieve–that any erotic act attempts to achieve.

    When I read thoughts like Frye’s and Grosz’s above, I am always reminded of this scene from Brokeback Mountain

    at 2:26 – 2:50. Sorry, this is the best video I could find of it.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6VcVQ1Xjm0

    What strikes me is just how much communication–or perhaps communion–is going on in this scene between Jack and Ennis. A communication not in words, but in hands and breath. A communication or communion not easily distinguished from an ineffable passion. I am inclined to call it “passion without language;” an expression of passion gifted with muteness. “Gifted,” in that the passion is not domesticated by the logic of discourse; it retains its pure particularity, its raw ‘reality’, and because of this Jack and Ennis experience a rare community. Their passion is simply there, in its embodied, sweaty, radical particularity, no moment pre-narrated by social convention, no movement categorized and compartmentalized by language. Of course, this “gift” is also a curse. This muteness is nothing but the systematic silence queer subjects experience under the dominion of heteronormativity. Their language has forgotten them. The tragedy, then, is that the closest experience to undomesticated, unnarrated, improvised, authentic enjoyment we can imagine, is the enjoyment of the oppressed, the enjoyment of those gifted, and cursed, with silence. Systematic, traumatic violence is the condition for the possibility of approaching passionate ecstasy (jouissance).

    I bring this up because I worry that your post operates a conservative logic. It is true that we need to be on the lookout for homonormative exclusion by the now-standard G&T coastal gay club blah blah blah. I don’t deny that–I tute that horn loud and proud. My point here is this: the hottest gay sex undeniably happens in more oppressive situations, but nevertheless justice may require gay sex to, some day, I hate to say it, be just as boring as straight sex. Those of us who are lucky enough to switch back and forth between more oppressed and more tolerant sexual climates need to have the maturity to make this concession. This isn’t a sacrifice we should shy away from because homoeroticism under oppressive conditions tends to be more intense and authentic. It’s a shitty concession–but it’s a necessary one. This is why I always have mixed feeling when the Raw party is brought up. Yes–it does combat the prevailing homonormativity of DC gay culture, but it does so by recreating the psychic experience of oppression–as the quote you reproduce undeniably illustrates. I’m very serious when I say that this is dangerous, because it redirects the energy we should be dedicating to writing an autonomous, creative, and new gay logic to a social space constitutively dependent upon oppression and exclusion. It may not be homonormative, but I’m almost tempted to say its heteronormative.

    P.S. “…which can accommodate a depth and breadth of content rivaled only by the rectum of the average Apex patron.” …um, ew.

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