Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Judith "Jack" Halberstam and the It Gets Better Project

I attended a lecture by Dr. Judith "Jack" Halberstam entitled "Transgenders in a Global Frame" that described the various ways in which the gendered categories of Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual are imposed by the United States, and the West generally, on more localized and more gender ambiguous forms of sexual and gender behavior. Of course, this critique leans toward a kind of anti-imperialist rhetoric that tends to see the colonial or local as subaltern and therefore in some ways more congruent with emancipation. 

At the same time, in Western countries, Halberstam argued, that gender norms, particularly those of women, have been scrambled by models of transgenderism, insofar as 51% of women over 45 in the United States are single, suggesting something fundamentally askew in the production of feminine subjects, ready for state legibility. Instead, Halberstam promoted some notion that gender is a kind of ecology, wherein we might migrate to differential performances of gender and sexual life depending on where we are in life, and how we transform.

None of these claims are particularly revolutionary, and none I particularly took issue with. The notion of  gender as ecology makes a great deal of sense particularly with regard to the constant extension of human life in time might suggest a temporal evolution of sexuality and gender identity.

I questioned "Jack" with regard to "imposition" of gender/sex norms as being completely uniform, insofar as groups in Uganda fighting the execution ban have attempted to "take refuge" in LGBT set of identities at least to appeal for international aid against the law. Halberstam reminded me that it was U.S. pastors who helped initiated or at least fostered this law in Uganda in the first place, something I was already aware. But here is the problem with that argument:

On the one hand the state imposes a sexuality on its subjects and this is done with the aid and abeyance, perhaps initiative, of an imperialist/missionary element from the United States. Somehow LGBT groups in the West are responsible or complicit with this process in Uganda because they insist on identification with their categories and cause in order for those suffering under the threat of the new legislation and massive social intolerance to receive succor or aid, and they thus quash the fragile ecologies of gender/sexual life in these other nations. But at the same time, were this law to have passed, as soon as the subjects were to have emerged, i.e. identified themselves, power could do nothing productive with them, but to kill them (which at least for Foucault, the floating influence behind her argument, would be a rather unproductive use of power). LGBT groups operating within a liberal imperialist tradition are therefore retroactively to blame for these deaths which do not really mobilize more bodies ready for governance, or biopolitical regulation, but only death.

Halberstam closed her talk with a discussion of Dan Savage's "It Gets Better Project" that made some rather scattershot and I would say fucked up claims. She suggested that "It Get's Better" is a project that is comensurate with a cultural of neoliberalism, that insists on a generalized faith in the "future," as in market futures will generate profit and social equity if we only have faith in them. This was a claim that garnered at least my tacit assent, but then Halberstam seemed to indicate that somehow the rash of finally publicized suicides (queer teens are 75% more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual teens) by imputedly gay teens were not a socially significant phenomenon because the suicides were just boys. 

This last comment pissed me off to a significant degree, for obvious reasons, in large part due to the fact that outwardly perceived gay men, tend to be the object of public scorn and violence more often than lesbian women in the United States. Her suggestion to my mind seemed like a sort of knee-jerk reaction of a former 1970s radical feminist attitude that treats all men as pristine representatives of the patriarchy. At time, I will admit I thought there was something somewhat cute for me in the "It Gets Better Project," a reaching out across queer generations in a way that queer life in the U.S. tends to prohibit or make untenable.

Later in the year, Dan Savage came to town to discuss this project and basically give a live version of his column "Savage Love," a largely sexual and relationship advice column with national attention. And although I loathed and found completely disagreeable some of Halberstam's grisly conclusions, I have to say that her argument that Savage's project was commensure with neoliberal culture held. 

Savage continually made light of people who responded to the "It Gets Better" project with suggestions that "It Gets Worse" or "It Doesn't Get Better," by indicating that all of these videos to some degree affirm his message despite their interpretations to the contrary with your typical B.A. educated, dismissive certitude. In one response to a student question, Savage actually attempted to depoliticize the work of attempts to reach out. This student asked something to the effect of, "But shouldn't we also be saying that, what you are experiencing is discrimination, this is wrong. And it is part of a system of injustice." Dan, insisted that in the aim of safeguarding said queer child from harm we shouldn't be making such statements, or ask them to. It was in that moment that my lukewarm support for Savage's vision of thethe project was washed away and I found myself agreeing with that single claim made by Halberstam that Savage's work is in fact commensurate with the culture neoliberalism. If we depoliticize the struggle, by excising claims to justice and against oppression what we get is sentimentality and the weak claim that "everything will turn out right in the end." The ways in which the GLBT establishment attempts to depoliticize and make bipartisan what are concrete claims for liberation and against discrimination cut in precisely the same way as the way Savage wants to circumscribe the meaning of his project. So extending Halberstam's logic here is much more useful, than in the tortured logic she proposed above, that LGBT groups were somehow retroactively responsible for Ugandan violence against non-heteronormative peoples. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Tracks that Occupy the Space of Dread Leading Up to Prospectus Draft Submission

The first is a track by Chavela Vargas, a lesbian caught up in the heady days of México's revolutionaries and vanguards. Reconfiguring the traditional, torch-song ranchera songs, with some queer flavor. For a brief period she had an affair with Frida Kahlo.

Chavela vargas - la llorona by laodameia

Death Grips. I tend to think that more often than not rock/punk/hip hop intersections don't always work out for the best. I think a good example of this might be Mad Decent World's podcast that set punk and hardcore anthems in a kind of hip hop ambience as podcast/mixtape which doesn't completely fit with the irruptive qualities of punk/hardcore, at least in places. This does an interesting merger by not always trying to balance elements to give each their due, but rather in cases merely channeling a punk angry affect, in other cases chanting more than rapping to reduce the dissonance between the two elements. Download this full album free at the Death Grips website.

Stay+ (formerly Christian AIDS, but had to change the name after a cease and desist order from Christian Aid the NGO). This track is double reminiscent of both 1980s era New Order-like melancholy, '90s dance pop, but is also an indirect tribute to the intensely driven, urgent, and anti-establishment activism of ACT-UP in the 1990s (an organization I have a lot of respect for) in response to the accelerating AIDS crisis to which the Reagan administration turned a blind eye (in the end killing thousands just in New York City). Download some of their material here.

In my endless pursuit of musical material that appeals to my punk/metal interests that nonetheless is something I can read, write, or study to, I recently stumbled upon this beautiful video by Kerretta.

Sunglitters have incredibly chill tracks perfect for a panic-stricken summer:

Also, Cayos, supply me with some tracks to lower the blood pressure:

IceAge, some atypical Danish teens, producing a post-punk fuzz ridden track that instills occasional desire to start dancing

Iceage - New Brigade from iceage on Vimeo.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Thinking New Political Prisoners

Stolen from our friends at Franc-tireurs:

"Firstly, a man, Tim DeChristopher, who disrupted the auction of public assets in Utah by making bogus bids has been sentenced to two years in prison. This sentence is clearly out of proportion with the offense. Moreover, we support his action, regardless of their legality. Somewhat similarly, a man, Bilal Zaheer Ahmad, has received 12 years in Britain for apparently threatening Western politicians, or rather encouraging others to harm them on the internet.  We have to be clear that in both cases, these men are political prisoners. Both of them have engaged in actions which are fundamentally threatening to the basic norms of our society, though different norms in each case. DeChristopher's action is a crime against commerce; Ahmad's is a crime against politics. DeChristopher's action threatens our ability to buy and sell at auction, and as such he received an exemplary sentence. Ahmad's action threatens the ability of politicians to pose as the representatives of the people, and as such he incited the vengeance of the state. In both cases, the rationale is that commerce and politics as they are conducted in our society are perfectly proper activities that need the protection of the state. This is not our position. Rather, we think that commerce and politics as they go on are anything other than proper activities. That is not to say that we advocate the deliberate disruption of either as a strategy: in neither case will this be likely to be productive. Despite the feeling that the pseudo-elected leaders who unleashed slaughter on the world deserve to be executed, this cheap moralism must be eschewed in favor of the sober judgment that killing politicians who support war will play precisely into the hands of the warmongers. I do not make a pacifist argument: it's not that all killing is counterproductive, just this killing, because it plays to the prevailing rhetoric of fear.  Still, these men are political prisoners, because their crimes are political. They are at odds, as we are, with the way our society operates, are a threat to it, and it is for this that they are in jail."

Ghostface Killah, Top 10 Softest Rappers

Some of Ghostface's comments here are a little fucked-up, particularly those that regard gender norms, but I think there is something fundamentally right about his assessment of Soulja Boy:

Aka the 2011 Mr Bojangles. This nigga also deserves recognition as the coon of the decade namsayin. I dont even kno how muthafuckas listen to this niggas music….nevermind callin that shit hip hop. If it was 1930 this nigga would be rockin a necklace made of chicken legs n pigs feet n be tap dancin on watermelons for a livin. Anyways…sons music is only technically hip hop….like drinkin a beer wit a straw n a umbrella in the bottle is technically drinkin a beer namsayin. Hidin behind 50 Cent wont protect you from ya own bitchassness tho son. This nigga been germinatin in the garden of wackness for a hot minute now. This nigga done splashed hisself wit enough water from the fountain of coonery to last 12 lifetimes. Stop givin this nigga a pass jus cos he young. Muthafuckin Run DMC was around this niggas age when they made King Of Rock yo. LL Cool J was on his first comeback when he was this niggas age yo. NWA made Fuck The Police when they was this niggas age son. You cant hide behind youth forever you clown ass muthafucka. If I see you Imma smack the slaves outta you nigga. Its open season on you son."

Despite the proliferation of rap artist personas we see in the media, some even transgressing boundaries that make Ghostface uncomfortable, there remains a need to furnish America with a metonymic stereotype or icon upon which we might heap blame upon as a representative not only of the "poverty" of culture in African-American communities, but also for the affliction of its persistent economic poverty. To the reactionary mindset, the former produces the latter.