In Spring 2019, I re-booted my course, Feminist Online Spaces. This time I taught it with Masters students in Liberal Studies (MALS) at the CUNY Graduate Center and it was called Contemporary Feminist Theories: The Nowheres & Everywhere of Online Feminism. Some quick research established that the last time I had used this site was six years previously in August 2013. At that time it was serving as a research and teaching site for me as well as the temporary internet home for the then still-forming FemTechnet. The last post from that use was called “Ramping Up: Dialogues on Feminism and Technology.” It held some of our collective work as a small number of us began to nourish the roots of what would become FemTechNet’s signature and multiple enterprises including our DOCC, Feminist Wikistorming, and many other projects. We were meeting at my house in Highland Park, CA and in IRL inventing digital worlds, classes, tool kits, community and more. This post features a photo of Adrianne Wadewitz, the feminist Wikipedian and FemTechNet early stalwart, who died tragically about a year later.

Adrianne Wadewitz, ’13

See the rest on Online Feminist Spaces.

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I had the pleasure of attending the 2nd International Conference on Interface Politics, “After Post-Truth,” in Barcelona, Spain, November 28-30, 2018. Scores of speakers, hours of intensity, dark findings about seamless interfaces—even so, the experience was deeply replenishing for no reason more central than that there I was, in Spain no less, and in community with many many others, from around the world, all of us, paying attention. This, the conference co-organizer, Jorge Luis Marzo (with Bani Brusadin) described at our introductory sessions as “an urgent abandonment from the real being replaced by our desire and will to freedom.”

While I can not cover all that I learned, or even all that moved me there (people and their ideas and actions), I will use this brief recap of the highlights of the proceedings to help me to better understand critical frameworks that link to the work I have been doing towards the completion and release of my new website (thanks Ethel Moore and Partner and Partners), fakenews-poetry.org: a useful and pretty container holding the media, ephemera, and yes, the poems, that I have been producing with so many others by initiating, in 2018, something like fifteen Fake News Poetry Workshops, around the world, as Radical Digital Media Literacy given the Fact of Fake News. For some, this post might serve as an introduction to the larger #100hardtruths-#fakenews project (initiated during the first 100 days of the Trump administration, thanks to Craig Dietrich for that website), while for others, it might be a recap of the concerns and practices the project engages or a chance to see your own work held alongside that of others who engaged in different places and communities.

But most importantly, this post and the site serves as an invitation to mount and run your own Workshop, in your community, with your own poets, theorists, and participants (feel free to reach out to me! Stage 2 of the website will build out more how-to documents.)

But the project is always, also about sharing what we do and know about fake news and related travesties. In Barcelona, I learned about a number of exciting sister projects, all seeking, as do I, to break through the transparency of interfaces, and to reveal, understand, undermine, or remake all that might be algorithmically, ideologically, financially, and psychically hidden behind the ever more huge and inapproachable back-end, our frothy frozen impenetrable cloud:

  • bellingcat: the home of online investigations.
  • HyperNormalization by Adam Curtis.
  • Safebook by Ben Grosser. Facebook without the content!
  • Algorithms Allowed, and much more charting the real costs of “free” interfaces (see image below), by Joana Moll,
  • Digital Dietetics, by Javier Lopes, Pedro Fernandez de Castro, and Victor Sampedro. Their project uses a dietary model to facilitate a critical digital citizenship where limiting consumption, setting collective goals for media interaction, and being with others who know more are steps towards better digital health.
  • the films of Metahaven, emphasizing our simultaneous time-scales, each a version of competing or even co-exiting realities: real for people in parallel, these versions  are incompatible and also all “true.”

Joana Moll, DEFOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOREST

As critically for my own heart, mind, and practice, I heard presentations that named dynamics that help focus or nuance some of my own perhaps more inchoate motives for the fakenews-poetry project:

  • Doro Wiese‘s explanation that information does not not allow us to feel in time, and then many related pleas for slowness.
  • a shared response by many of the speakers to begin research into the (very recent) past of the internet to understand how earlier cycles of sudden technological, corporate, and digital change have been reacted to by humans.
  • careful attention to delineate between the precise terms and functions of a variety of truth vocabularies—veracity, sincerity, frankness, persuasion, evidence, proof—both in regards to how information is produced, packaged, and sold but also for our (changing) sense of selves as political, psychoanalytic, and human subjects, sometimes embodied.
  • an understanding of truth in a time of post-facts as that which produces a sense of coherence, even if it is false, and despite any evidence, thus a new kind of “partisan knowledge” (Emillie V. De Keulenaar)
  • a related set of attempts to understand how algorithms and computational propaganda have been used to “dismiss, distort, distract, and dismay” (Berke Alikasifoglu and Gabriele Cosentino)
  • several returns to Hito Steyerl’s idea of the “poor image” (what I have called “bad video” in my perhaps old but still too-valid YouTube work), and its links to veracity, and more so addiction, and its sustaining but false forms of intimacy (one click away, so close, just nearby, an immediacy [do see Pooja Rangan here!])
  • significant work on new and consolidating interface realisms (what Christian Andersen and Soren Polk call the “metainterface,” one that both represents and produces our new [fake, post-truth] realities, all the while obscuring the labor, networks, and other resources that produce it).
  • a continuing keen attention to collectives, commons, publics, and lived networks, including the work by Marco Deseriis on “Condividual” activities: “sharing as ‘dividing’ together.”

Then, some useful questions and tactics:

  • do people even want to be truthful (anymore)?
  • strive for trust over truth: create invitations to engage with evidence rather than statements of truth which only lead to suspicion (Enrico Beccari)
  • Pay Attention to What I do Not Say

With this last tactic as a directive and method, I will conclude by nodding briefly at what was impossible not to notice as being invisible and unsaid at this wonderful event: the many approaches, politics, people, and theories whose names and terms and needs were never (or rarely) uttered over hours and days of astute and informative analysis: that is, just about anything to do with race, ethnicity, sexuality, sex, indigeneity, ability, age and as often as not gender or feminism. These body- and place-based, situated politics, theories, lived experiences and methods with their own regal, lengthy, powerful ideas, movements, and actions that have been so central to our experiences, analyses, critiques and movements about the internet and its world (from #Blacklivesmatter to #metoo, from Donna Haraway to my/our own femtechnet and in particular our “Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Workbook“) were, oddly, invisibilized. A cultural and intellectual outsider, I am not sure why these movements and their core theories and practices of justice, epistemology, creativity, and sustainability were not go-to reservoirs of inspiration and power for most of my fellow panelists. Certainly, a significant amount of the evil, despair, violence, and injustice that has been enacted in and by corporate and political regimes of post-truth have been against others seemingly marked by difference of race, gender, sexuality, citizenship, and otherwise. And, responsive movements have been mounted digitally, and otherwise, in response. Perhaps the connection of these movements and methods to “identity” or the “body” or “community” or “care” or the “individual” make these vital traditions seem inadequate in the face of the immensity of our data and its infrastructure that enclouds us? I really don’t understand … But, I will not testify to the definitive necessity of these traditions, because that’s been done everywhere by my allies and colleagues for decades (you can find many links to such research and action in the #100hardtruths primer), but I will end by repeating what I said in my own presentation:

I want to engage in alternative formats for the generation and movement of meaningful fragments, post truth but gentle, not easily spreadable or digestable, not expendable, but rather demanding your attention and care—so perhaps for this moment at least, made for and consumed by small local groups that will listen together in time. With diverse participants in unique places, I am exploring truth and authentication systems that veer away from cameras, and indexical “truth,” thus mobilizing other systems outside of journalistic evidence or slick socials. I want to engage in alternative formats for the generation and movement of meaningful fragments that can mobilize and save honest expressions about our lived experiences of the internet’s deceptions in ways that might momentarily liberate us, or at least partially remove us from the logics of capitalist and governmental watching and lying that have underwritten this dangerous dishonest flow.

What if we aimed for gentle truths? For now.

From Toronto Fake News Poetry Workshop

 

Committed media praxis is a doing as much as it is a knowing. Queerness is a manner of being as much as it is a politics, theory, or set of modish objects. Our labor in queer cinema studies might result in institutional anthologies, retrospectives, or canons, but for me it needs smaller, stranger sites, activities, and outcomes that honor how it’s done: its moods, weather, learning and loving.

Alex, Carolyn, Jazzy and Deborah at Union Square Park, as part of the event, “Dear J,” revisiting “Homosexuals: One Child’s Point of View,” featuring Jazzy and directed by her mother, Juanita Mohammed (1990)

In this talk, I introduce a multi-sited project (three websites: a graduate class, an in-process web app for vulnerable video, and a working group sponsored by the Center for the Humanities, at the CUNY Graduate Center) where I engage in inter-disciplinary, community-based, activist queer film scholarship: VHS Archives. In the talk, I will show some attempts to work with and use some of my own queer media archives, initially held on VHS tape. How I do and did this, often with others in and outside the academy, taking up many art forms and as well as adaptive platforms, and now making use of my own and other’s soon to be lost video fragments, is what I have longed called my committed media praxis. Theory adjacent and conversant, sexual and political proclivities in flux, responsive to communities and collaborators, primarily and definitively process-oriented and often production-based, my committed media praxis in queer media and its archives is about using media as one part of a beloved community’s efforts at doing our best at living queer feminist lives.

Please find here, my power point, script, and three screenshots of me reading (pretty poorly) from my computer: “My VHS Archives: confessions from the field of queer feminist media praxis,” for The Labour of Media (Studies): Activism, Education, and Industry Conference, held at Concordia University, November 17, 2018. Do take a look at the three sites linked above. There’s much to see and explore by colleagues, students, technologists, archivists, friends, and loved ones.

Snow kept me from physically attending.

 

Please see on full post at the Center for the Humanities blog.

The VHS Archives Working Group worked. Sponsored by the Center for the Humanities* at the CUNY GC, and engaging in 2017-2018 over seven meetings and one public presentation (Come Play with our VHS Archive), approximately twenty people**—anyone with an interest in the places where analog videotape meets queer histories and queer/feminist/of color AIDS activism—came together to consider “the difficulties, surprises, losses and bounty that adhere to the task of collecting, preserving, and facilitating access and ethical questions related to the reuse of video materials documenting queer and trans lives.” At each of our meetings “members of the group presented the holdings, concerns, worries, plans for, and uses of a VHS archive important to their scholarship, activism, art-making or community.”

The VHS Working Group worked it. We watched a lot of eclectic tape: clips from Erica’s Transexual Love Trip (1998), YouTube videos of footage from a now-closed Los Angeles nightclub called Arena Café, retro-chic porn tapes, documentation of 1980s performance art and poetry readings (by Neil Greenberg, Assotto Saint, and others), footage for never-to-be-made art works by great artists lost too early to AIDS (the work of Jim Lyons, transferred from Hi-8). We didn’t watch some images: the footage of people suffering from AIDS that one of our members was commissioned to seek, to be used as B-roll for a soon-to-be-released mainstream TV documentary on AIDS in the 1980s. Happily, we did see Pharmaco-Pornographic feminist videos from the 70s and 80s (Valie Export and Lisa Steele) and today’s YouTube videos depicting more contemporary images of feminist fashion (see Medical Landscapes, Birthday Suits & Memory in DenimRhea Tapp).

… (the rest is here)

* The VHS Working Group was supported by the kind and professional efforts of the Center for the Humanities Staff, including Kendra Sullivan, Sampson Starkweather, Jordan Lord, and Alisa Besher.

**The VHS Working Group was attended by Shanti Avirgan (AIDS activist videomaker and researcher), Kyle Croft (CUNY Art History MA student), Jean Carlomusto (AIDS activist video maker and professor, LIU), Lisa Cohen (writer and scholar of queer history and biography, Wesleyan University), Juan Fernández (CUNY Media Studies MA student), Anthony Freeman (CUNY doctoral student in Social Work), Michael Henry Grant (media archivist), Theodore Kerr (independent scholar and AIDS cultural worker), Amy Herzog (CUNY, Media Studies scholar), Alexandra Juhasz (AIDS media activist and scholar, Brooklyn College, CUNY), Ann Matsuuchi (librarian and professor, CUNY, LaGuardia Community College), Tara Mateik (video artist and scholar, CUNY, Staten Island), Rachel Mattson (XFR Collective), Karl McCool (Electronic Arts Intermix), Greg Mihalko (Partner and Partners), Helena Shaskevich (CUNY Art History doctoral student), Claire Fox (budding media archivist), Kat Roberts (CUNY, MALS student), Rhea Tapp (MA Media Studies student, CUNY, Queens College).

Below please find my Resolution for the panel, “Ex-Post-Facto? The Anthropology of Media and Journalism in a Post-Truth Era,” to be presented in my absence at AAA on December 1, 2017. Sadly, I can’t attend because I’ll be participating in a Day With(out) Art event in New York City.

Given that scholars and makers of documentary, visual anthropology, journalism, and autobiography have been investigating the construction, forms and circulation of reality-based truth claims in their fields of practice since the invention of these disciplines.

Given that these forms vary across time, culture, media, convention, and discipline.

Given that teachers have attempted, for as long as such claims have been made, to educate about the traditions, forms, and conditions that produce, authorize, circulate, and challenge mediated truth claims because such a “media literacy” is closely connected to citizenship, power, and knowledge.

Given that the mobilization of powerful, loose, and adapting theories and practices of mediated truth claims, under the nomenclature “fake news,” took by surprise even the most committed practitioners, scholars and educators signaled above.

Given, as Naomi Schiller and Robert Samet suggest, that “the deconstruction of claims to absolute truth have us in a kind of bind, one that has become ever more dangerous. In the current climate, anthropological approaches to media as a social practice can bear uncomfortable, even uncanny, resemblance to critiques circulating within the ‘alt-right’ in the United States.”

Let it hereby be resolved that our previous practices of “digital media literacy,” while  useful and relevant for the previous epoch, are no longer equipped for our emergent reality.

Radical digital media literacy is required in a post-truth anti-Trump era.

Given that I was just one within a vast community of scholars, media makers, teachers, and students, over time and across disciplines, who drew “on anti-essentialist theories to show the relationship between power, knowledge, and the construction of truth,” particularly in my earlier work on the productive possibilities of fake documentaries (in the 1990s), and the insidious, definitive “increasingly unproductive” dangers of the destabilization of the fake/real binary as definitive of the forms and platforms of internet culture, most definitively of videos on YouTube (in the 2000s). When our current president and the broader culture became fixated on the problem of “fake news,” especially during the first 100 days of the new administration when this felt the most rabid and destabilizing, I felt compelled and qualified to act in this time of confusion, despair, and self-criticism.

I pledged: For 100 days, aligning and twinned with the new President’s opening timeline, to blog every day about fake news and is so doing produce an online primer of digital media literacy.

Given that my painful if productive effort of informed, desperate citizenship eventually took the form of a digital tower of 100 blog posts, #100hardtruths-#fakenews, each cell holding either my efforts or those of a great many others across a range of fields also contemporaneously attempting to understand, combat, respond to, analyze, and teach about the crisis of fake news as is was unfolding.

Juhasz image

Screen-grab of the final twenty #100hardtruths.

Given that this high and vast monolith itself holds an immensity of deep efforts, inter-disciplinary knowledge, diverse resources and thoughtful tools but that, in this form, these many useful things remain hard to navigate and needing of literacy efforts in their own right so as to make them the most useful for the many people interested in this crisis.

Let it hereby be resolved that I will transform my own preliminary efforts at “an online primer of digital media literacy” to become something even more useful, responsive, thoughtful and focused on educating about, and working against, the enduring and complex crisis at hand by experimenting (with others) with new formats and practices for radical digital media literacy.

Given, as Naomi and Robert suggest that “this presents new dilemmas both for our teaching and our research. What is to be done with our constructivist analyses of truth in a post-truth era? What would it mean to reclaim objectivity, validation, and truth?”

Let me suggest five alternatives toward a radical digital media literacy in our post-truth anti-Trump era:

  1. fake news r us: we are implicated by, produce, and circulate this crisis whenever we study, teach, or try to fix it.
  2. virality is virility: a potent mix of internet-fueled falsity, masculine grandiosity, and  resulting real-world bellicosity undergirds fake news and our efforts to understand it.
  3. art answers to fake questions: departures from evidence-based, indexically-linked practices into realms of truth-telling verifiable by different logics might get us out of the he-said/he-said rabbit-hole we currently find ourselves in.
  4. our internet truths trump media lies: we must name, share and honor our own lived experiences within social media as another form of honesty in desperate times. Let’s do this first offline, together where we live, work, struggle or learn.
  5. heed the poet’s call: poetry, a time-honored word-based form of truth-telling outside the logics of indexical mediation might be one well-honed literacy practice well-suited to this crisis.

Let it hereby be resolved that I will work with poets in their local communities to adapt, transform, extend, translate and all-in-all make more usable my original “online digital media primer.” That I will experiment with others in place-based, local, embodied poetry workshops that begin with the five alternatives above and my #100hardtruths-#fakenews primer as resources toward new forms of radical digital media literacy. That in so doing we will engage together in place-based, people-made, word-bound expressions of individual’s and community’s truths about social media, fake news, and post-truth outside of the indexical, evidentiary traditions that currently bind us and the technologies that are built upon, reinforce and monetize such expression.

I hope to conduct such workshops with Art and Public Policy MA students at NYU working with the artist, Pato Hebert; members of the literary journal club at La Guardia Community College in NYC working with the writer Lisa Cohen; at Occidental College and with the Get Lit Players in LA, at the University of Sussex, working with writing students under the tutelage of Samuel Soloman, and then elsewhere until 100 poems are written as new practices of and resources toward radical digital media literacy.

Please stay tuned.

“Poem (I lived in the first century of world wars),” Muriel Rukeyser

I lived in the first century of world wars.

Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.
I lived in the first century of these wars.
Muriel Rukeyser from The Speed of Darkness, 1968.
(gifted to the project by Barbara Browning)

Today I begin my first class at CUNY, ITP Core 2: Interactive Technology and the University: Theory, Design, and Practice, co-taught with Luke Waltzer, Director, Teaching and Learning Center, CUNY GC. I’m thrilled!

Here’s a few bullet points that can serve as a brief and relevant introduction to my past and current interests related to this class and digital thinking, making and pedagogy:

  • My DH Story: An Invitation (May 27, 2015) is a post I wrote in a similar fashion, introducing myself to DH Summer Fellows of an Institute I ran at the Claremont Colleges for two summers. It spells out some of my thinking about DH—a sub-field of academic inquiry and practice that holds some of my work (and some of this class)—while providing a list of projects and links to most of the digital projects I have worked on over the past 10 or so years (when I moved pretty firmly from video to the internet): particularly Learning from YouTube, FemTechNet, Feminist Online Spaces, and Ev-ent-anglement.
  • Visual Research Methods 2014 (January 7, 2015) is a post I wrote to try to sum up my students’ work over six iterations of this course at the Claremont Graduate University from 2010-2015. In this methods class for graduate students in the Humanities, I supported students to think and make visually (and digitally) across five traditions: video essays, documentary, ethnographic film, academic blogging and digital storytelling. That blog post holds a lot of links if you are interested, but I’ve culled a few here, pretty randomly, to give a tiny sense of the kinds of work they made, and that I support: Facing Down the DST/DH Divide, A digital story about digital storytelling the classroom, Instagram as Digital Storytelling and Visual Culture Video Essays published in Audiovisual Thinking.
  • I am presenting this as a post on my blog as a self-referential nod to my always changing commitment(s) to writing and sharing academic work in this and other digital formats. See “Why Don’t I Blog: On Internet Cultural Production in 2016.”
  • Given the unfolding devastation of Trumpism, I will personally engage in more direct scholarly, digital activism and education in my work this spring, and with students in this class if they are so inclined. Here are four of my recent efforts in this direction: Visual Resistance, Watching/Making Race, BC Against Trump, and Four Hard Truths about Fake News.
  • I will also be engaging this spring in an inter-CUNY research project, Feminist Archive/Small Archive/Media Archive, whereby I use my own 300-strong collection of feminist, queer, anti-racist, experimental, AIDS VHS video tapes as a test case to work through best practices for storing, sharing, and teaching with similar personal/professional materially formatted archives. See this recent essay that begins to make use of this archive: Stacked on Her Office Shelves: Stewardship and AIDS Archives.

I look forward to meeting you all today, and to learning about some of your digital research interests, practices and commitments. Below, please find a video I recently made with Jean Carlomusto and Hugh Ryan for International AIDS Day With (out) Art 2016. It also thinks about video archives and represents my ongoing commitments to videomaking as another form of digital pedagogy and activism.

img_2411-2I’ll begin with a shout-out, a dream-out—not a review but a reverie—of Taylor Mac’s “A Twenty-Four Hour History of Popular Music,” an unforgettable opus, atheistic tent revival, and hootenanny that I was privileged enough to attend, for 24 hours, last weekend. So powerful: I dreamed about it again last night (nights later). I could try to give words to the trippy commitment of staying awake together with a room of 650 strangers as jaw-dropping costumes changed in front of us (by the hands of their designer Machine Dazzle, himself always in yet another exuberant, preposterous, marvelous outfit) …

img_2370-3… onto the beautiful almost-naked masculine-feminine body of Taylor Mac who all the while espoused radical analyses of American culture, personal theories of performance, and raunchy and proud depictions of his own political and sexual predelictions and sang so beautifully while his wonderously weird brigade of dandy minions danced among and for us, leading us here and there like hooligan pied-pipers, and the band played, and we were asked to engage together in ever more weird ways and I kept moving, from chair to floor, from snack to sleeping bag. Sometimes I’d talk with people nearby, other times dance or take a little shut-eye.

img_2389I’ll dream of it because that seems the best way to process an over-full body and mind experience—much better than writing. Dream of the experience, yes, and in that form try to encapsulate it and own it for myself as my mind turns off. But also there re-engage bodily in how art really can make action, and community, and ideas, and love for a day and even perhaps after, in all that lingers; and how these experiences, coming in the form of a “radical faerie realness ritual,” manifest the best of what this country, and its art and artists, can be.

img_2401Instead, I’ll use this place, my blog, one of mostly rational words, to name and ponder one of Mac’s big stated concerns of the night, and how it presses up against my own recent questions about what it means and how it feels to move marginal, or counter-cultural, or radical culture into the ever more normative spaces that graciously invite us there. Over the hours, Mac talked frequently, and at great length about the “cross-cultural translation” work his performances enact: connecting tony theater crowds to the outrageous, lusty, ethical politics and practices of America’s marginal activists (anti-abolitionists, Native Americans, radical faeries and lesbians, suffragettes, civil rights activists, burlesque dancers, gay male bath-house enthusiasts, etc). Mac explained frequently that we were in “mixed-company,” and what this meant for the audience and the show. That is, being in a room where some of the people (in the cast and crew and audience) were members of the counter-cultural communities and causes that the show celebrates, borrows from, appropriates, and learns from, but that many or most were probably not (given the cost of the ticket: $400!)

img_2414-2

Costume for hour 22, 1986-1996, the decade of AIDS. The shawl and sleeves are adorned with audio cassette tapes.

As the day progressed into night and then later yet, morning, it became increasingly clear to my addled brain that the seemingly straight and white and aged members of the audience were quite able to stay, see and listen to the wildly out-there things that the performance and Mac encompass, including but not limited to the penultimate hour (that is hour 23), that attended with great care to the causes, songs, politics, and wisdom of radical lesbians. Although I had shed a tear a few times over the 22 hours thus far (particularly in the hour for the decade that preceded this, the hour devoted to the ravages of AIDS), I was not prepared for how moved I would be to see this powerful-almost-shattered man, and his amazing brigade of talented artists, attend lovingly to the often-derided, rarely-attented-to (by outsiders that is), people, ideas, culture, pastimes, and wisdom of people like me. I was deeply moved that we were being attended to—in this vast and rather dominant space—with dignity and curiosity: there is something to learn from these strange people … I can’t say the audience went wild, we were tired and lesbian culture remains foreign and unpalatable to many (as indeed it is designed to do), but the audience listened and learned with a heart and mind opened by all that had preceded. And now I think this has to be more than 21 hours of Taylor Mac breaking us down, although that was amazing and intense. There is a larger cultural phenomenon counter-cultural inclusion at this time of which he is one important player.

img_2423

Costume for hour 23, 1986-1996: the decade of radical lesbians who put their own needs aside to care for gay men and others during the height of the AIDS crisis. The wings are vulvas.

Because I realized that night that something similar had happened to me only a few days before. Just the previous Monday in fact, when the film I produced, The Watermelon Woman, played at the MoMA, as part of its 20th anniversary remaster re-release. There, too, a different crowd from its original home in marginal queer of color culture, enjoyed, thought about, and learned from the film and our attending cast and crew. And by doing so, in many ways they were only acknowledging what we already knew and had always tried to promote: that the first black lesbian feature film (directed by Cheryl Dunye in 1996) was serious (and funny and charming) cinema about ideas of great import to all Americans—race, sexuality, memory, history, archives—just as was Mac’s.

14525104_10154200431712946_4768849351831713135_o-2

Kenrick Cato (actor), Alex Juhasz (producer and actor), Bill Coleman (sountrack), Burke Moody (executive producer), Paul Shapiro (original score), Annie Taylor (editor), Jaguar Mary (actor), Shar Olivier (actor), Marc Smolowitz (producer of re-master), Cheryl Dunye (writer, director, producer, actor).

And when I was on the stage that night, a little nervously looking into the crowd, seeing some recognizably queer or black or feminist faces but mostly not, I felt that everyone there (again, note the price of the ticket) was actually quite ready to attend to our tiny little micro expression of that same 90s feminist, lesbian of color wisdom, humor, style, and outsider mojo that Taylor Mac had also celebrated, and I wondered: why … and how?

tpAnd I watch Transparent with a similar haunting refrain: whatever can it mean that our most cherished, carefully tooled criticisms, and the words we have refined to better understand the cruelty and sick reason of our world, can now be available to many more than have lived and defined these positions from the counter-cultural margins? I want to be clear that in all three cases I am not talking about “selling out,” because that is not what this moment feels like from the inside. Rather, inhabiting these new bright rooms and viewing platforms with many others who are clearly unlike myself, the lifestyles, values, ways of living and knowing and loving that have been refined by many marginal cultures look to be becoming palatable expressions of the American experience for many more than I would ever have imagiend. And because this post has gone on too long, and because I haven’t figured it out at all, I’ll end by proffering two initial explanations for a seeming acceptance of radical queer culture in increasingly mainstream spaces:

  • one: we’ve been producing representations of and for ourselves that are continuing, expanding, and refining for now so many past several decades that people are getting used to us. We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!
  • and, better yet: perhaps others, outsiders, the different and the dominant, are actually opening to hear us by necessity. For in these vile, racist, misogynist, cruel times, it seems ever more likely that we’ve actually been right all along.