Category Archives: Subjectivity

The Fool Speaks the Truth

From September 27-30 2012, the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies and the Harry Hay Centennial Committee sponsored “Radically Gay: The Life & Visionary Legacy of Harry Hay,” a conference to commemorate the 100th birthday of Harry Hay. I responded to the call for papers with a proposal to discuss how current Radical Faeries use or think of the queer past and archetypes. I wanted to put this in conversation with Harry Hay’s research motivations and his general interest in past queer figures. Through participant observation at 2011 Wolf Creek Samhain and an interview with Portland Radical Faerie and clown Michael Zero, I contest some queer theorists vision of queer space as “fragile” and “ephemeral” and instead begin to build a theory of sustained queer space and community.

This presentation is the second one I have produced out of this set of research. The first is here. The page limit was 10. I had to cut out some important discussions of clowning that I hope to put into the larger project, which is a dissertation tentatively titled “Sustaining Gay Liberation: The Practice of Radical Faerie Culture.”

Below is the abstract. Click The Fool Speaks the Truth for the paper. Thoughts, comments, and critiques are welcome. Please send feedback to mlecker at gmu dot edu.

The Fool Speaks the Truth: The Creation of Queer Archetypes in the Radical Faerie Community

Harry Hay asked of gay men, “Who are we? Where did we come from? What are we for?” and looked to other cultures (including Medieval Europe, Iron Age British Isles, goddess worshiping cultures, and Pueblo cultures) to validate sexually and gendered others as having a legitimate and important role within society–a role destroyed within contemporary patriarchal and capitalistic Western Culture. Hay theorized that men who loved men constituted a third gender, a minority within humanity that has its own language, culture, and skills. In 1979, Hay’s research turned to praxis through the manifestation of the Radical Faeries, a loose network of people who explore queer spirituality, community, and identity through gathering and consciousness raising. Using research collected via participant observation at various gatherings and through interviewing Radical Faeries, this paper documents how three decades after its inception, Radical Faeries use, but also distance themselves from, Hay’s initial teachings and approach, while creating new roles such as the “Stag King.” These roles legitimatize the Radical Faerie’s existence outside of mainstream gay and lesbian culture, while also creating multiple positions of power to contest and critique the Radical Faerie community and the broader culture at large. From these events and interviews what becomes clear is an expressed desire and need amongst participants to build, and plug into a queer genealogy or mythos, which ultimately sustains this queer institution and contributes to its longevity. The ethics of using figures from other time periods or cultures to ground Western same-sex or queer sexual identity has been debated with LGBTQ studies for nearly four decades. In this paper, I reject the good/bad judgment imposed by some scholars and instead conjure what David Halperin calls  “a sensitivity to difference [that] need not rule out identification… or form of queer multiplicity and solidarity.”

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Faerie Futurity

This is the first presentation of my research on the Radical Faeries. This writing is based on my last four months of fieldwork. The sites I have visited so far are Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Sanctuaries in Minnesota and Oregon. I have had an amazing journey so far. I get to spend time practicing yoga, cooking, talking, and camping with some of the most amazing people I have ever met. I am indebted to the Faeries who have welcomed me into their fabulous lives and let me interview them. I sadly have not had time to review all of my material. I got back from Portland two days ago and this paper is due tomorrow morning— so it’s not my best piece of writing or a comprehensive sampling of sites. However, I have begun engaging with one idea that I think will become central to my project— queer genealogy is what I am currently calling it. I invite Radical Faeries to comment and critique this concept and the paper, either on this website or through sending me an email (mlecker at gmu dot edu). Take care, sistabrothers.

Love, Husk (formerly known as Quill).

This paper entitled Faerie Futurity will be presented at the Annual American Anthropological Association Meeting in Montreal at 8:00 AM on November 18, 2011.

Here is the paper.

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Contemporary Theories of Sexuality Field

To become a PhD candidate in Cultural Studies at George Mason University, one must complete two fields—literature reviews of areas of study. My fields were “Mass Culture and Urban Space” and “Contemporary Theories of Sexuality.” Attached below is the “Contemporary Theories of Sexuality” field, but before that is my introduction.

INTRODUCTION

In this overview of contemporary theories of sexuality, I trace sexuality as a public and political issue. The purpose is to understand how a supposedly private issue became a space to regulate bodies, but also a space for marginal subjects to contest norms. Theories I consider will discuss in numerous ways the political importance of history, social constructionism, essentialism, desire, bodies, identity, community, and normativity. I follow the field’s trajectory by examining four major movements: psychoanalysis, feminism, gay and lesbian studies, and queer theory, and their initial and continuing impact on how sexuality is theorized.

Contemporary Theories of Sexuality Field

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Grant Application

I have been searching for grants to fund my dissertation for a few weeks. It has been a frustrating experience. Surprise, surprise, not a whole lot of institutions want to fund the humanities. I was ecstatic when I stumbled upon the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center’s Blanton Owen Fund Award. I have never applied for a grant and since I discovered the opportunity two days before it was due, I did not have a lot of time to revise. Please feel free to provide feedback on the proposal; this is part of my dissertation proposal and also any recommendations on how to write a grant proposal, if I erred, are welcome.

The proposal is to fund a trip to IDA, a Radical Faerie commune in central Tennessee.

Oral History and Communal Living at IDA Proposal

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The Humanity of Hate

I watched this documentary and really enjoyed it, so I thought I would share.

Louis Theroux’s documentary The Most Hated Family in America provides insight into the daily lives of the Phelps family, creators of http://www.godhatesfags.com and picketers of almost every kind of event. (They seem to pick an enemy of the day.) Through the documentary you see their ridiculous campaigns and the ignorance produced from strong emotion (hate). Their lives depend on hating others; this obviously closes them off from understanding the other’s position and reinforces their opposition to them (obviously).

The interesting twist is that you also see the normality of their lives. The teenagers act like teens and if the video was edited you would not even know they were in a cult; the only difference is they have no interest in dating, the end of time is near and God needs soldiers, not a populated Earth, and they hate everyone who is not them. The seemingly normality of their lives made me question what role plays in typical US subject, is hate already so central to who we are that dedicating your life to it does not radically reshape your subjectivity?

Louis Theroux does an excellent job of documenting, but also intervening. He is not pretending to be a fly on the wall. Instead he attempts to get the family to think about their lives, what they do to others, and their beliefs. I actually prefer this style. It does not pretend to be objective; he’s biased and obviously does not agree with the family’s stance, but he wants to understand. This is why he prods and makes the family members uncomfortable. He wants to know why they hate. He makes it personal because they hate him. He has a baby and is not married. Everyone is worthy of hate in their eyes.

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On Being Bored

My research and writing sometimes focuses on subjects and destabilizing subjectivity to create new possibilities. This research interest draws me to psychoanalysis and queer theory because of their ability to intervene into other disciplines notions of subjectivity and question the completeness and foundations of subjectivity. I mention this because of where and when I found the article that I will soon discuss. While completing my Mass Culture field, I read a collection of essays by Siegfried Kracauer and was taken back by his simple, yet provocative essay “Boredom.” Here is a short introduction into the work of a not-read-as-much-as-he-should-be Frankfurt School Scholar.

Siegfried Kracauer positions subjects as under bourgeoisie domination, which overpowers memory and distracts subjects from reality.[1] This domination reveals itself in “surface-level expressions,” which depict how a culture functions, the economic base, cultural hierarchies, dominant ideals, and subjects as alienated and sacrificing themselves to the larger mechanized order (reality).[2] Despite cultural domination, Kracauer does not position subjects as passive, but as a molded and still cognizant. Because surface-level expressions reveal more than they conceal, mindful consumers can see past the spectacle and into the injustices. Capitalists use sentimentalism and spectacle to make the bourgeoisie position amiable and desirable, hindering this revelation.[3]

Kracauer examines a similar potential in his discussion of space. Different spaces position subjects differently; suburbanites move with purpose due to the distance between spaces, while city dwellers move more aimlessly. Both face rising standardization in the experience of time, space, and commodities available, but location alters their experience and time spent on capitalists’ desired routes.[4] The standardization of experience causes alienation from their particularity. Alienation can cause subjects to seek momentary relief through religion, group politics, or commodities, which promise the truth, but ultimately distract.[5] Subjects can avoid these momentary satiations by committing to “hesitant openness,” a position of repose and reflection in a system that creates subjectivities and spectacular spaces that attempt to deter contemplation.[6] Certain spaces and moods facilitate hesitant openness, such as the aimless hotel lobby and boredom.[7]

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He begins “Boredom” with a campy sentence; “People today who still have time for boredom and yet and are bored are certainly just as boring as those who never get around to being bored.” Cultural conditions never allow us to be bored, but certainly allow subjects to be boring. Subjects have nothing to say about anything of interest because they are all occupied by the same mass culture. The subject is lost in a world where he or she must always be busy either doing something (work, child-rearing, or leisure) or fretting over what it is that they must do. When subjects are not “busy,” they occupy themselves with hobbies (such as blogging?).

The boredom he discusses is not the kind achieved through repetitious labor (this crushes subjects and because subjects still have to do something in this process), instead a position of “radical boredom” is where one can just be. We never get to boredom because mass culture occupies us: “One forgets oneself in the process of gawking, and the huge dark hole is animated with the illusion of a life that belongs to no one and exhausts everyone” (332). He discusses people standing and sitting next to each other, not having boring conversation or wondering if their existence is significant, but engaged with the latest popular trend, looking as if they were not present. Radical boredom creates a space where one pushes out the daily noise and is simply present. Through this position, there lies the possibility to see the world  as dull, predictable, as dead. Subjects could reject this world that was fabricated for them. New ideas would come to them, allowing world-making.

Kracauer offers an interesting approach to creating new subjectivities. Boredom is not the solution to the world’s problems. (Could you imagine a world of people sitting in boredom?) However, what he provides is one position that subjects can occupy. He points out a space that is not available to us and shows its potential. The difficulty and feelings of “wasting one’s time” by being bored will have to be tackled. We have been trained to think that idleness and repose are insufficient ways of using one’s time. Additionally, what kind of politics can be created out of this?  I would have to say that there is no political project in boredom. Instead, it can be a momentary rejection of the world that allows the mind to wander. This wandering allows subjects access to something normally denied— contemplation. No massive movement will start from this, but perhaps it can provide an opportunity to be more engaged with one’s world and being. The only clear objective we can have is to facilitate this through creating spaces that allow for relaxation and timelessness, such as Kracauer’s  hotel lobby.

What is for sure is that boredom will have to be actively sought by subjects.


[1] Siegfried Kracauer “The Little Shopgirls Go to the Movies,” “Photography,” and “On Bestsellers and their Audiences”                                         

[2]Siegfried Kracauer “The Mass Ornament”

[3]Siegfried Kracauer “The Mass Ornament,” “The Little Shopgirls Go to the Movies,” and “On Bestsellers and their Audiences.”

[4]Siegfried Kracauer “Analysis of a City Map” and “Travel and Dance”

[5] Siegfried Kracauer “Group as Bearer of Idea”

[6]Siegfried Kracauer “Those Who Wait,” “Boredom,” and “Cult of Distraction”

[7] Siegfried Kracauer “The Hotel Lobby”

These essays all appear in The Mass Ornament by Kracauer

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