On the beaches of Fire Island this summer I have been reading two books of Maggie Nelson-esque historical queer essay and memoir that I would highly recommend. I first came across the writer Joseph Osmundson through his remarkable 2019 essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books that cleverly reflects on “the circuit” as both a mainstay of gay party culture and an essential element of networks and computing. In his playful prose, the notion of the circuit comes alive as a site of queer desire, knowledge, and memory. A virologist by profession, Osmundson has now published Virology: Essays for the Living, the Dead, and the Small Things in Between (2022). Based on his own reflections on living through the Covid-19 pandemic in New York City, Osmundson deftly explores how awareness of living among viruses (there are, he tells us, about as many viruses in a mouthful of seawater as there are human beings on the planet) has shaped queer sex and politics for decades, from the fearful times of the early AIDS crisis to navigating quarantine and isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic (a connection Justin Linds also explored on the Blog). By “showing us all how viruses live with us, as we live with them,” Judith Butler writes in a glowing blurb, the book exemplifies “queer pedagogy at its best.” I was particularly struck, reading the book on the eroding beaches of Fire Island, by Osmundson’s remark that “climate change make make us all queer, a worldwide people without a future.” The seemingly futureless temporalities of present intersecting crises Osmundson describes bring to life insights of queer theorists such as Lee Edelman and Leo Bersani, but also sometimes make space for the utopian practices and horizons described by José Esteban Muñoz. Another recent work that brings highbrow queer theory into the everyday is Jeremy Atherton Lin’s Gay Bar: Why We Went Out (2021), which combines gay memoir and essayistic musings on queer theory with little-known histories of a variety of queer subcultures, clubs, and parties from London, to Los Angeles, to San Francisco. Drawing especially upon the rich queer magazine culture of his coming of age in the 1990s, Atherton Lin delivers a paean to the gay bar after an earlier generation had mistakenly and prematurely proclaimed its death. Works like David Halperin’s landmark 2012 How to Be Gay lamented the demise of the gay bar in the age of dating apps, homonormativity, and assimilation, and gentrification, noting their steady decline in economic viability in recent decades. Atherton Lin, however, begins begins with escapades from a number of relatively new gay bars, showing that the institution stubbornly refuses to die, as younger and more diverse generations of queers yearn for connection after the ’90s era of “post-gay” and “de-gaying.” Post-post gay?
This set of reading recommendations were planned with the idea of celebrating Pride month, a cause which though has been partially co-opted by capitalism in recent times, still calls for a celebration of the anti-capitalist emancipatory radical politics it continues to stand for. Through this tiny initiative we sought to shape historical pedagogy, by listing and archiving a set of readings on the gender question, that would help us educate, agitate, and organize for a radically egalitarian future. In the midst of this initiative, we now face a major setback: the anti-abortion legislation in the United States, with fear of further state infringement on gay marriage and inter-racial marriage. It is this fear we must address with hope—hope for solidarity, hope for emancipation, and hope for a better tomorrow—inspiring us to stand up to these atrocities. As historians are pointing out, women have historically always gotten abortions. What this judgment does is create a barricade in terms of access. Perhaps, this judgment in a way makes our task with this reading recommendation all the more crucial, all the more urgent, and all the more necessary. Reproduction remains crucial to the functioning of capitalism, along with affective labor, care work, and other forms of work which contribute to the maintenance of life. The production and reproduction of life largely depends on the labor of those who continue to be exploited by capitalist patriarchy, in intersection with other violent hierarchies. In desperate times such as these, it is imperative to educate, to unlearn, to understand the violence of the state, to be abolitionist—for there is no other way but to overthrow the nexus of state and capital, one step at a time! I will suggest some reading lists, videos, and podcasts, rather than any individual works. The works listed have all played a seminal role in my understanding of the history of reproduction, and the exploitation which lies at the heart of capitalist (colonial and neoliberal) patriarchy. These are extremely useful public resources for understanding the ways in which hierarchies of race, gender, class, caste, and ethnicity function in intersection to inflict violence in association with the state. Thus by centering powerful critiques of carceral feminism, these works provide inspiration for resisting the state’s attempt at coopting the emancipatory potential of gender politics.
- Abolitionist Futures 2022: Reading List.
- Interview with Angela Davis and Gina Dent on abolitionist feminism, and Françoise Vergès on how to end carceral feminism.
- Reading list/Microsyllabus from the Wages for Housework Movement.
- What’s so political about reproduction in Latin America: A Podcast with Professor Laura Briggs.
- On Reproductive Justice: A Verso Reading List
- The Reproductive Justice Research Network
- Tithi Bhattacharya, On Social Reproduction Theory. Also see, Social Reproduction and the Pandemic, an interview with Tithi Bhattacharya.
- Reading list for a graduate course on ‘Sex, Race, and Empire’, compiled by Professor Mytheli Sreenivas on Twitter; Also see Twitter reading list on Reproductive Governance compiled by Professor Helen Tilley.
- Feminism for the 99 percent: YouTube playlist.
- Reading list by Feminist and Degrowth Alliance.
Although I haven’t read it since studying for my Masters’s in 2016, Aaron Belkin’s Bring Me Men Military Masculinity and the Benign Facade of American Empire still remains a useful exploration of masculinity, queer history, and of course, American military history. “Warriors attain masculine status by showing that they are not-feminine, not-weak, not-queer, not-emotional.” (p. 4). Indeed, it’s not difficult to see that this vision of military men runs simultaneously with the United States as a domineering masculine power in the world over feminine (read: submissive) states. With this in mind, it’s not difficult why Robert Kagan, a liberal interventionist or neoconservative, argued in 2003 that the US is Mars and Europe is Venus. This binary is central to the book. Belkin finds that sex (consensual and non-consensual) shaped how male soldiers thought about themselves and others. In male rape, for instance, there was a taboo on the victim because they were regarded as submissive and female. Yet, in a somewhat memorable part (p. 87), marines were stereotyped as ‘bottoms’ and saw being penetrated as a manly test of endurance. Unrelated to Pride month, but nonetheless on topic, I listened to the podcast series Bad Gays, with one episode on John Maynard Keynes.
In an interview with Hubert Fichte in New York in September 1978, the translator Joachim Neugröschel states: “Nothing is as boring as another person’s sex life.” Published as the third volume of Fichte’s monumental cycle History of Sensitivity, entitled “The Second Guilt”, the interview deals with Neugröschel’s emigration, poetry, his encounters with Celan and Gombrowicz, and gay culture in 1970s New York and Berlin (“For me everything is intercourse [Verkehr] but nothing wrong [verkehrt]!”). While extensively traveling through Brazil, Haiti, Senegal and Trinidad, Fichte continued working on sensitivity, writing towards his utopia of a global gayification [Verschwulung der Welt]. Through portraying his own sexuality, he also aimed to rewrite “the history of homosexuality since 1900.” In 1986, he died of AIDS-related illness, leaving behind an ambiguous body of work that dissolved the boundaries between sexuality, poetic ethnography and avant-garde writing. What remains today from Fichte’s history of sensitivity? For me, a first and unique attempt to study tenderness as a concept. In Fichte’s words, his history of tenderness was “about what Henry James calls Private History, as opposed to History, History in general, and as opposed also to what he calls Public History. This private historicity, private evolution is called here, abbreviated, sexuality.”
Featured Image: Flag of gay and trans pride in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.