History: Introducing Why Doesn’t [Blank] Have a Bigger Queer Following?
Submission by A.M. Bowen.
A.M. Bowen, after his chat with Sara Marcus in Why Doesn’t the DC Punk Scene Have a Bigger Queer Following Part One and Two was so well received on TNg, has decided to embark on a journey of analyzing other people and things that seemed to have missed an appearance the LGBT radar. Here’s a little taste of what’s to come:
Kanye West would probably say this if he were queer, which is to say I know this sounds egotistical and crazy, but I think it’s true for me: I had to be my own queer revolutionary.
I’m not ignoring history when I write that. I know that I wouldn’t be able to even write that if it weren’t for the litany of revolutionaries that made open queer life possible (and I use queer in the sense that it’s a much more elegant way to say lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and questioning than LGBTIQ. I like “queer” better than that unwieldy acronym).
But like many contributors to The New Gay, I concluded pretty early on in life that mainstream gay culture—as it was presented to me, at least—was bewildering. As a teenager, I liked punk rock and weird historical things, which is to say I didn’t like that which was notably mainstream-gay. The first time I tried to win a boy’s heart, in high school, I went to a bookstore with him, and tried to sell him on the merits of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. He tried to sell me on the merits of the XY magazine photo issue. At the end of the evening, we exchanged a cold handshake, and I tore up the love letter I had written him. This boy was fairly unconventional himself, but he certainly felt more comfortable with mainstream gay life than I did. I think it was clear that we didn’t get each other.
As I explored other aspects of queer life, I still found myself super-confused. Queer theory was fun (and helpful for my own conceptualization of the world), but as someone who tried to explain what I felt to family members in Judith Butler terms, I’ll say that queer theory’s usefulness is limited—unless you’re into carrying around vocabulary lists and flashcards for follow-up with your unschooled loved ones. When I learned that there is a question in the transgender community as to whether one is “trans enough” (in that one is not trans enough unless one fully transitions), I think my jaw dropped. There are good people fighting that concept, thankfully, but I’m still upset that there are constraints upon identity within the trans community.
All cultures are contradictory, and all have their own norms. But since that failed high school not-date, I wondered: what the hell is wrong with so many queer worlds? Feeling not wholly comfortable with a lot of them, I created my own queer world, delving into things I liked, regardless of whether those things had any sort of acceptance from wide swaths of queer people.
As I studied those things I liked more deeply, I found that they had cultural rhymes with queerness. Fugazi, a band I adore, was a stalwart supporter of queer rights. Teddy Pendergrass, the late R&B icon—a heterosexual male icon at that—recorded a song called “You Can’t Hide From Yourself,” a disco tune that sounds like the best coming out anthem that I’ve never heard mentioned as a coming-out anthem (though the Internet tells me Pendergrass had a gay following). And when Pendergrass got in the car accident that paralyzed him, he was traveling with a transwoman.
Thinking about these things that I liked, things with not-inconsiderable connections to the queer world, I asked, “Why don’t these things have a bigger queer following?” And thus: over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting pieces to The New Gay called, “Why Doesn’t [Blank] Have a Bigger Queer Following?”
In these pieces, I’ll explore not only these cultural icons that I adore (and deserve a deeper examination by wider swaths of queer people), but also ideas and institutions that have some connection to the queer world, but don’t have quite the following (or respect) of queer people that I’d expect. I recognize that I’m not the first person on this site to do this kind of “queer canon-extension”/“expanding what it means to be queer” work—TNG is dedicated to such work.
What I hope to bring to the aforementioned work is (obviously) my perspective: even if something (a person, institution) has a spotty past with respect to its support for queer people, I’m willing to examine, again, places of cultural rhyme between queerness and whatever the immediate subject is. Ultimately, I’m interested in how the queer world—a complicated thing with different constituencies, lest I sound too reductionist—makes and alienates allies: given any relationship between queerness and x subject, what factors, from relationship to relationship, create or hurt chances for an alliance? What general principles, if any, can be drawn from a study of how things garner (or don’t garner, but maybe should have) a queer following?
Back to that not-date in high school. I pushed W.H. Auden on that boy, and he didn’t seem interested. But an Auden line deeply informs the way I think: “We must love one another or die.” It seems overserious to reference that line, given that some of my forthcoming subjects are Teddy Pendergrass and the DC punk scene; but I also wish to explore feminism, Catholicism, police, and other institutions that have somewhere between a friendly and highly dysfunctional relationship with queerness. I wish to examine what does and doesn’t function in those relationships. Compelled by my own interests, “Why Doesn’t [Blank] Have a Bigger Queer Following?” is a study of serious and less-so things, exploring how queer people relate to institutions that have some sort of tension with queer lives. I hope to provide understanding as to why some love doesn’t occur—because, as Auden understood, we need that, or we die.
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