Forty Years Army

PRIDE week and all the ambivalent feelings it brings. What is the work that we continue to ask queerness to do, in relation to homonational formations like PRIDE? What might we learn from looking back at a longer history of queerness as an idea developed in relation to PRIDE?

This 1973 interview with Rita Mae Brown is now forty years old. Brown’s call for an alternative culture—an “army of lovers” who “shall not fail”—in response to the inadequacies of gay rights for gay whites movements is a popular reference point for contemporary queer subcultures. I especially like her “five or ten” year prediction for this army’s conquest; an army whose arrival we are forever anticipating.

Civil rights is a reformist measure. Revolution is what counts, not civil rights. You’re going to buy people off with civil rights. That’s the lesson of feminism. We got bought off with that vote. Don’t waste any time on civil rights. It’s a big political mistake.

You build an alternative culture within the existing culture. I think people are going to be motivated by an alternate culture instead of civil rights. We’re not going to solve this tonight. I think probably over the next five or ten years if we all do our homework, we’ll come up with something.”

– Rita Mae Brown, interviewed in The Lesbian Tide April 1973, AN ARMY OF LOVERS SHALL NOT FAIL

Barbara Gittings, Radical Lesbian Librarian (1971)

From: Gays in Library Land: The Gay and Lesbian Task Force of the American Library Association: The First Sixteen Years by Barbara Gittings (1990).

What a heady time! We were activists. We were innovative, bold, imaginative, full of fun and energy, full of love for promoting our cause.

Predictably, it was our gay kissing booth that really threw us into the limelight. All the SRRT task forces had been invited to use a booth in the conference exhibit hall for a couple of hours each. We could have devoted our turn to a nice display of books and periodicals and our “Gay Bibliography.” But Israel Fishman decided to bypass books and show gay love, live.

We called it Hug-a-Homosexual. On the bare grey curtains forming the back wall of the booth, we hung signs reading “Women Only” at one end and “Men Only” at the other, and there we waited, smiling, ready to dispense free (yes, free) same-sex kisses and hugs.

The aisles were jammed. But no one entered the booth. They all wanted to ogle the action, not be part of it. Maybe the Life photographer and the glaring lights from the two Dallas TV crews made them feel shy.

Hundreds of exhibit visitors crowded around and craned their necks as the eight of us in the booth hugged and kissed each other, called encouragement to the watchers, kissed and hugged each other some more—and between times handed out our bibliography to those in the throng.

Librarians at that 1971 conference learned fast that lesbians and gay men are here and everywhere, that we won’t go away, and that we will insist on our rights and recognition. Result: In the last days of the conference, we got both the Council (the elected policy-making body of ALA) and the general membership to pass our pro-gay resolution. Maybe some librarians voted for it because it seemed innocuously vague, and maybe others voted for it in hopes we wouldn’t embarrass ALA with another Hug-a-Homosexual stunt. Still, the resolution did become official policy of ALA.

“The sheer butch glamour of printing”

Wendy Cadden works an offset press.

From “She Who Owns the Press: The Physical World of Early Feminist Publishing” by Barbara Sjoholm (2012):

It’s difficult to convey the sheer butch glamour of printing. This black-fingered, muscle-building blue-collar work was just the sort of thing that many women found we really liked doing in the 1970s and early 80s. The Second Wave had more than its fair share of car mechanics, plumbers, carpenters, and electricians. Some women went into the trades because the paychecks were much better, and some forced their way up from apprentice to master because they were tough rabble-rousers. Others founded carpentry collectives or car garages so that we women didn’t have to depend on know-it-all men to build our fences or repair our cars.

Some women went into the printing trades for some of the same reasons as women fought to join the United Brotherhood of Carpenters—better paychecks and the love of loud noise. The majority, I suspect, were more like me—strong enough to haul boxes, determined enough to learn how a press worked and to stand on my feet for hours, but not really all that interested in trouble-shooting printing problems and dismantling and reassembling machinery. Like me, they were in printing for the thrill of it, lured by the vision of a process that created words on paper that could be turned into pages, bound into books, placed on shelves, bought and sold, held in hands, and taken into the heart and mind. That could transform the world.

There was often an obstacle between the woman writer and her public. That obstacle was a printing press. In the 1970s, that changed.

Queer Belongings, Timing

“Most of the audience came every week. They came because they loved Jeff [Weiss] and they loved Hot Keys but they also came because something was happening in the room that exceeded all of us but that also depended on all of us — the us in the audience and the us on the stage. I’m not sure I can fully find language to describe the experience of that show. It has stayed with me for a very very long time. It’s not unlike other experience I had, experiences at some demonstrations or at some political actions. Moments where I am taken out of myself, where I am seized by something that moves me, not emotionally — although emotions are certainly a part of this experience — but rather something that compels me to an even more extended set of actions or commitments. It’s this very specific experience of suddenly finding yourself wanting to be a part of an event or a group or a world that you recognize that you are just then in that very moment a part of it. It’s an experience, I think, of realizing that you’ve somehow managed to bring yourself to just the right place. It’s a kind of ecstatic pleasure in belonging, not forever necessarily, but at least in that exact moment in which you realize you want to belong.”

– Sharon Hayes (2009) Keynote Lecture, The Creative Time Summit: Revolutions in Public Practice. In Coming After: Queer Time, Arriving Too Late and the Spectre of the Recent Past (2012), Ed. Jon Davies.

Finding more a more modest “so what”

“Many works in queer studies end with a bang by imagining and describing the new social forms that supposedly emerge from gay male orgies or cruising escapades or gender-queer erotics or sodomitic sadism or at any rate queer jouissance of some form or another.”

– Judith Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure (2011: Duke)

Coming across this passage made me laugh out loud because I’ve also been reviewing my comps annotations this week and so many them end with something like, “[author name] concludes by describing how [insert their theory] offers new [horizons for, forms of, ways of imagining] [the social, relationality, history].

Queer Stadiums – ACT UP at Shea

I had the opportunity to go to New York last week for some research and spent most of the trip in the ACT UP collection at the New York Public Library. I was looking for documentation of how the international ACT UP network communicated, especially during the early days of email and the web. I found some great material and I think the network might end up being one site for my dissertation research (I’ll write more on that in another post), but this post is actually about Shea stadium, where the Mets and the Jets used to play.

In the Spring of 1988 The ACT UP women’s committee organized an action at Shea Stadium. They bought 400 tickets to the Mets game in strategically selected blocks and unfurled massive banners throughout the game that read “No Glove, No Love,” “AIDS Kills Women,” and “Men! Use Condoms.” If you’re interested, Maxine Wolfe tells the whole story of the action at DIVA TV (video and transcript available). There aren’t any photos online but I’ve seen 8mm footage of this action from the perspective of someone sitting in the stands and it’s totally breathtaking.

Screengrab from ACT UP NY:

I’m a big sports fan, especially NFL football. Sometimes when people find this out they seem put off, as if liking sports isn’t rightly feminist or rightly intellectual. This perception has a lot do with live sporting events as spaces that can be exclusionary and even violent toward people who don’t fit the typical sports-fan bill. It also has a lot to do with misconceptions about working class masculinity and violence. Of course, this perception isn’t helped by stuff like Tim Tebow, THE PATRON SAINT OF FOOTBALL, the fighter jet flyovers at the beginning of sports events, the constant association commentators make between contact sports and war, the singing of “God Bless America” during the 7th inning stretch, and the very existence of cheerleading or that thing called Lingerie Football. Cultural studies of sport have shown that there are many small ways in which heterotopic spaces that defy these stereotypes spring up at live sporting events, they’re just usually quiet, or go unremarked except to the people for whom they mean something. The Shea stadium action is remarkable because it puts them front and centre.

Maxine Wolfe sums up what I want to say perfectly in the video I linked to above:

When we came to the floor of ACT UP and we presented the Shea Stadium Action as our Nine Days of Action thing, the room became dead silent. Panic was in the air, absolute panic. So people started to stand up and speak. First, we got the “class” stuff. “We’re gonna get beaten to death there,” and we’re standing there very calmly saying, “Do you know who goes to Shea Stadium? We go to Shea Stadium? Kids go to Shea Stadium on Friday nights to pick each other up. Queers go to Shea Stadium.” And in the room all of a sudden the closet baseball queers started standing up. All these gay men who wouldn’t tell anyone they were baseball nuts because it’s not the “thing to be,” and they started saying, “Yeah! I go to Shea Stadium.” So we finally got people to go.