November, 2014

Revisiting Places of Queer Crisis

Nyx McLe­an’s text Considering the Internet as Enabling Queer Publics/Counter Publics ex­plo­res the pos­si­bi­li­ties for un­der­re­pre­sen­ted groups to work through con­flicts and crea­te a safer space for dis­cus­sion wi­t­hin LGB­TIAQ com­mu­nities. Her striking ex­amp­le is what hap­pe­n­ed du­ring Gay Pri­de in Jo­han­nes­burg (Jo­burg Pri­de) 2012, whe­re mem­bers of the One in Nine cam­pai­gn pro­tested against se­xu­al vio­lence and cor­rec­tive rape, by in­ter­rup­t­ing the pa­ra­de by sta­ging a ‘die-in’. They were threa­te­ned and de­le­gi­ti­mi­sed by the or­ga­nisers of Jo­burg Pri­de. This “dis­tur­ban­ce of the peace” stir­red fur­ther con­flicts and show­ed how frag­men­ted the South Af­ri­can LGB­TIAQ com­mu­ni­ty in fact is, and how ques­ti­ons of class and race are being sup­pres­sed wi­t­hin this ma­jor pu­blic event.

Es­pe­cial­ly re­gar­ding this ques­ti­on of frag­men­ta­ti­on it could be hel­pful to re­vi­sit the his­to­ry of the Sto­ne­wall ri­ots, an upri­sing in which tho­se who had been pus­hed to the frin­ges of so­cie­ty – queer peop­le of co­lor, trans- and dragfolks, sex workers and home­l­ess youth – were the ones to start the ri­ots. Re­mem­be­ring one’s own his­to­ry could be hel­pful in ar­guing the ne­ces­si­ty of put­ting the fin­ger in the re­cent wounds of the com­mu­ni­ty.

But in this con­tem­pora­ry ver­si­on of ‘dis­play pa­ra­des’ – whe­re the pri­de events have to have a cer­tain mar­keta­bi­li­ty – the pro­duc­tiven­ess of for­mer­ly un­wan­ted bo­dies, on­go­ing trau­mas and self-or­ga­nis­ed re­sis­tan­ce are not wel­co­me wi­t­hin the broa­der pic­tu­re. Such a broa­der pic­tu­re would have to in­clu­de the collec­tive over­co­m­ing of shame, would be fes­ti­ve and (dead) se­rious at the same time, it would ce­le­bra­te life and sur­vi­val, and re­mem­ber tho­se who are no lon­ger able to be pre­sent and par­ti­ci­pa­te in this broa­der pic­tu­re. Nyx McLe­an points to a mo­ment of collec­tiven­ess that is cru­ci­al to many LGB­TIAQ and to pri­de events as an an­nu­al oc­ca­si­on whe­re this collec­tivi­ty gets a boost in vi­si­bi­li­ty. But in fact it is worry­ing, that the ways of ‘go­ing pu­blic’ are in­cre­a­sin­gly being de­ter­mi­ned by for­mal or­ga­ni­sing com­mit­tees. It is a vi­si­bi­li­ty of nor­ma­li­sa­ti­on wi­t­hin ca­pi­ta­list mar­kets, which is not re­al­ly in­te­rested in so­ci­al chan­ge and eman­ci­pa­ti­on. Ins­tead, the aim of at­tai­ning li­be­ra­ti­on is re­pla­ced by the aim of ob­tai­ning equal rights, no mat­ter how ra­cist or clas­sist they might be, for ex­amp­le, wi­t­hin the le­gal and eco­no­mic sys­tems. And yes, the urge to fit into this nor­ma­li­sa­ti­on is so high, that a mi­nor de­vi­an­ce from the cour­se is a vio­lent thre­at. The One in Nine ac­tivists’ call for a mo­ment of si­lence for tho­se who were ra­ped and mur­de­red cros­sed a line that, from the per­spec­tive of the or­ga­nisers, should not have been cros­sed. McLe­an sta­tes that this in­ci­dent is not an iso­la­ted mo­ment and that it would be too easy to ex­plain such events by sim­ply poin­ting to the frag­men­ta­ti­on of the com­mu­ni­ty. What McLe­an com­ple­te­ly mis­ses is the as­pect of what Glo­ria An­zaldúa has cal­led the “Bor­der­land”, a zone of en­coun­ters, a vi­ral spot of life whe­re dif­fe­ren­ces can exist wi­thout ne­ces­sa­ri­ly being op­po­sed to each other.1“We are the queer groups, the peop­le that don’t be­long anyw­he­re, not in the do­mi­nant world nor com­ple­te­ly in our own re­spec­tive cul­tu­res. […] We do not have the same ideo­lo­gy, nor do we de­ri­ve si­mi­lar so­lu­ti­ons. […] But the­se dif­fe­rent af­fi­nities are not op­po­sed to each other.” Glo­ria An­zaldúa, “La Prie­ta”, in Cherríe Mo­ra­ga and Glo­ria An­zaldúa ...continue To call the com­mu­ni­ty frag­men­ted is an easy way out when we find our­sel­ves in a zone of con­flict that has al­ways been pre­sent.

May­be we can also re­co­gni­se the si­mi­la­ri­ties bet­ween the bars and clubs of the ear­lier days of LGB­TIAQ com­mu­nal spaces, whe­re a boun­cer was the­re to keep out stran­gers, whe­re peop­le would give them­sel­ves other na­mes and use other codes of gen­der per­for­man­ces. Like with the an­ony­mi­ty of to­day’s so­ci­al me­dia, the­se pla­ces were ob­scu­re and ob­s­ce­ne, peop­le tried to gain safe­ty through mas­quer­a­de and crea­te spaces be­si­de the cent­re sta­ges of the pu­blic sphe­re. As al­ways, the­re are spe­cial de­pen­den­cies and vul­nera­bi­li­ties that be­co­me in­ter­lin­ked with tho­se spaces. In the case of the Sto­ne­wall Inn, the bar whe­re the Sto­ne­wall ri­ots star­ted, it was a Ma­fia-run bar re­gu­lar­ly sub­jec­ted to po­li­ce raids. Wi­t­hin so­ci­al me­dia, like Face­book and Goog­le+, an­ony­mi­ty is in fact not to­le­ra­ted, even though Goog­le+ la­ter apo­lo­gi­sed for en­for­cing such ri­gid po­li­cies on its users.2“Google Plus Stops Requiring Real Names and Apologizes”, CBS News, July 16, 2014. Some be­lie­ve that an up­right ci­ti­zen is so­meo­ne who is trans­pa­rent in terms of their vi­si­bi­li­ty and open­ness about one’s iden­ti­ty. I do not sha­re the over­all po­si­ti­ve de­pic­tion of so­ci­al me­dia by the aut­hor, as it is mis­ses out on a cri­tique of sur­veil­lan­ce and ca­pi­ta­list ex­ploi­ta­ti­on of the data that is collec­ted by the­se com­pa­nies. On the other hand, it is true that more and more peop­le have ac­cess to this form of pu­bli­ci­ty, and a ri­sing num­ber of voices can be heard. Es­pe­cial­ly in times of cri­sis and con­flict, com­ments, posts, links etc., can gather dif­fe­rent view­points of an event and build a coun­ter pu­blic. Re­con­side­ring what has hap­pe­n­ed, how pu­blic space is di­vi­ded, and who ta­kes on the or­ga­ni­sa­tio­nal power to ma­na­ge an event like pri­de, are very im­portant ques­ti­ons, which need to be dis­cus­sed in dif­fe­rent com­mu­nities. Af­ter con­tro­ver­si­al events like tho­se of Jo­burg Pri­de 2012, it is im­portant to find this space to ven­ti­la­te some of the emo­ti­ons. Sin­ce I have not been a mem­ber of any of the­se dis­cus­sion groups and Nyx McLe­an does not go into de­tail about how the emo­ti­ons, re­grou­pings, and ex­ch­an­ge was dealt with, we might want to re­fer to the words of Glo­ria An­zaldúa – can Face­book be used as a vir­tu­al land­scape whe­re our dif­fe­ren­ces can ful­ly ap­pe­ar, be ack­now­led­ged, re­spec­ted, not stand in op­po­si­ti­on to each other? One shall not un­de­re­sti­ma­te the mea­ning of new coun­ter pu­blics, new for­ma­ti­ons of so­ci­al mo­ve­ments through so­ci­al me­dia but like Nyx McLe­an, I am also con­cer­ned with the in­te­gra­ti­on of on­line and off­line en­coun­ters. How can we per­cei­ve the­se mo­ments of collec­tive bo­dies in the streets as im­portant mo­ments for buil­ding a strong, so­li­da­ry com­mu­ni­ty? And with ac­cep­tan­ce and re­spect can we – wi­thout shame – sen­se and ack­now­ledge the pain that is part of our com­mu­ni­ty and, in the end, ce­le­bra­te life? Re­vi­sit­ing the­se pla­ces of cri­sis can in­form us but it can also keep us in the same bub­b­le if we do not wi­se­ly choo­se our con­ver­sa­ti­ons. In this sen­se, it is cru­ci­al to go de­eper into the ques­ti­on of how we or­ga­ni­se this spaces whe­re it is pos­si­ble to sha­re our dif­fe­ren­ces and break down the bar­ri­ers bet­ween us.

   [ + ]

1. “We are the queer groups, the peop­le that don’t be­long anyw­he­re, not in the do­mi­nant world nor com­ple­te­ly in our own re­spec­tive cul­tu­res. […] We do not have the same ideo­lo­gy, nor do we de­ri­ve si­mi­lar so­lu­ti­ons. […] But the­se dif­fe­rent af­fi­nities are not op­po­sed to each other.” Glo­ria An­zaldúa, “La Prie­ta”, in Cherríe Mo­ra­ga and Glo­ria An­zaldúa (eds.), This Bridge Called My Back. Writings of Radical Women of Color, New York NY, Kit­chen Ta­ble, Wo­men of Co­lor Press, 1983, p. 2
2. “Google Plus Stops Requiring Real Names and Apologizes”, CBS News, July 16, 2014.
Marty Huber

Marty Huber is a dra­ma­tur­ge, per­for­mance theo­rist, and queer ac­tivist/​ar­ti­vist. Her work on the in­ter­con­nec­tions of per­for­mance and po­li­tics of­ten re­sults in clan­des­ti­ne, no­ma­dic in­ter­ven­ti­ons in dif­fe­rent spaces. In ad­di­ti­on to her in­te­rest in gen­der and queer theo­ry in prac­tice, she also looks at how they are lin­ked to and si­tua­ted wi­t­hin mi­gra­to­ry and an­ti­ra­cist con­texts. Re­cent­ly she pu­blis­hed her book "Queering Gay Pride. Zwischen Assimilation und Widerstand" (2013) and she works with dif­fe­rent for­mats of know­ledge pro­duc­tion like lec­tu­re per­for­man­ces. Con­tact: marty@dievilla.at