Gay New York by George Chauncey

It is often thought that before events such as the Stonewall Riots incited a gay movement there was no existing queer culture because people felt compelled to hide their identities. In George Chauncey’s 1995 book, Gay New York, he shows that this claim is misguided through a variety of collected evidence.  He instead explores a world in which the homosexuals between 1890 and the 1940s forged safe spaces for themselves throughout New York, and there was a web of complex relationships including sexual meet-ups, social connections, drag shows, and more.

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Gay New York refutes the widespread beliefs about pre-World War II queer culture. Chauncey not only proves that there was “gay” activity, but that these events “sustained and enhanced gay men’s communal ties and group identity.” In fact, before the 1930s, there was a certain openness two men could have regarding sex and romance. However, that is not to say that the two men could stroll down the street holding hands. Instead of coming out, the term we use today, the men “came in” to the homosexual society. This coming in process was almost a ritual of being introduced to cultural peers. Instead of coming out of the closet, which sounds hidden or isolated, this was being introduced to a society that shared feelings and interests. Walt Whitman was writing in the mid to late 1890s, but his story seems different. Perhaps the relationships and intimacy he describes in his poems were similarly rich to those in the New York gay culture, but he was one of the members that became involved in the night life, but hid his identity behind a veil of respectability and masculinity during the day. Chauncey’s book describes the life that many speculate Whitman to have led. He might have been a victim of the “crisis of masculinity” that Chauncey describes, in which men were challenged by the more fluid gender roles of the early 20th century, thus causing them to overcompensate with shows of strength and heterosexuality. This could be the cause of Whitman’s adamant negation of John Addington’s Symonds question regarding the poet’s relationships with men. He wanted to adhere to the masculinity of the time to maintain his image and popularity.

The homosexual culture described in Chauncey’s book had different norms than the heterosexual culture of the time. While looking at Gay New York, it is worthwhile to compare the acceptance of very “queer” and flexible norms to the emphasis on normalization in today’s queer culture. The largest fight of the current community is the fight for marriage equality. The way that this is often presented is through a lens of comparison to straight parents, because if queer couples can prove that they are not at all different from straight couples they will appear less threatening. Through this normalization, have we lost the rich culture that Chauncey writes about? Despite the strides we have made in a variety of areas, by claiming to be the same as the dominant culture the queer community has moved away from the richness of relationships that Chauncey describes. As we move out of the closet, we also seem to move away from one another. How can we maintain a sense of queer identity and accept our differences while still making strides towards deserved equality?

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Salacious Magazine

For this post, I will be discussing Salacious Magazine. This magazine was created in early 2011. The website calls Salacious a “Queer Feminist Sex Magazine, Radically Sex-Positive Thought-Provoking Porn.” The magazine is the brain-child of Katie Diamond, a self-described “queer comic artist who fuses art with politics, graphics with sex, and education with visuals as a method of altering societal norms and breaking down preconceived notions of gender and sexuality.”   She felt that there was a need for a publication like Salacious to break down barriers and create pornography that was not homophobic, misogynistic, racist, or otherwise offensive. She works with a team of eleven others of varying gender and sexual identities, geographic locations, and specific interests within the realm of the magazine. They sell their magazine, as well as having a shop on their website and a party business. For the magazine, there are a number of regular contributors, many of whom are well-known in the kink or queer communities. The website also allows submissions. Salacious posts a wide variety of content, and targets both sexuality and art. This can include erotic drawings, smut, etc.

Salacious belongs in a queer archive because of its fearless and open dedication to queer sex and sensuality. The dominant views of sexuality focus on that of heterosexual relationships. Even porn featuring two people of the same gender is often inaccurate, or it uses heterosexual actors, thus giving a flawed portrayal. Additionally, it is often made to please heterosexual people. Salacious is made by queer people, about queer people, and for queer people.

Salacious reflects the ideas of many well-respected theorists. Berlant and Warner were proponents of breaking away from the heteronormativity and normalization of sex. Additionally, they share the view of Salacious that sex needs to be less normalized and less public.   As the two orphans say, “by making sex seem irrelevant or merely personal, heteronormative conventions of intimacy block the building of nonnormative or explicit public sexual cultures.” Salacious and its board agree with this, and they intend to make queer sex more accessible to those who want it. Similarly, James Franco in Interior, Leather Bar would agree with their desire to break down the barriers surrounding sexual attraction and kink. Franco insisted that the sexual scenes of Cruising should not have been cut, and that that reflected the need of our culture to censor queer sexuality, which should be viewed as a beautiful and sensual act. Salacious is an important step in countering societally accepted media such as Playboy, and other heteronormative sexual representations. Hopefully, it will gain popularity among the queer community because I am impressed by its intersectional inclusion of those of all sexualities, races, abilities, and more.

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“The Electric Lady” by Janelle Monae

The Electric Lady is Janelle Monae’s second album, and it was released in early fall of 2013.  This follows her first album, The ArchAndroid. which was released in 2010.  Janelle Monae’s single “Q.U.E.E.N.” was featured on The Electric Lady. The lyrics and music video, as well as the album as a whole, feature a number of queer topics such as same-sex attraction, resisting labels, questioning religion, and challenging gender roles.

The Electric Lady fits in a queer archive because Janelle Monae embraces difference, an idea often associated with the queer community in numerous ways, including her album’s concept, lyrics, and music videos.  She as an artist is unafraid to take risks and address potentially taboo topics in her work.  Additionally, Monae speaks to a number of possible identities, including queerness, blackness, and womanhood.  The story of The Electric Lady is queer in itself.  Both it and The ArchAndroid depict a dystopian community in which there is a totalitarian government, humans are forced to wear cages on their heads, and everyone looks down on androids. Monae portrays the character of  a revolutionary android who actively resists the regime that is in power.  The androids could be compared to various societal minorities, including those with which Monae identifies.

“Q.U.E.E.N.” is a song that does not shy away from questioning our societal roles. Janelle Monae is well-known for this, and while she has not officially confirmed or denied any rumors about her sexuality, she is a great representation of queer ideals, saying “I won’t allow myself to be a slave to my own interpretation of myself nor the interpretations that people may have of me.” “Q.U.E.E.N.” itself has many lyrics that can be connected to queer thought, such as “Am I a freak because I love watching Mary?,” “Hey sister am I good enough for your heaven?,” and “Categorize me/I defy every label.” Also, Monae sports a multitude of styles in the music video which include aspects of masculinity and femininity, challenging gender norms. I wanted to feature this song because I believe Monae is one of the more progressive artists of our time. Her music constantly questions the labels and differences our society seems so focused on.

The ideas expressed by Janelle Monae’s music seem to align specifically with those of Monique Wittig. Monae resists the general norms set up by society, which is reminiscent of Wittig’s sentiment that “these discourses of heterosexuality oppress us in the sense that they prevent us from speaking unless we speak in their terms…these discourses deny us every possibility of creating our own categories.” This is echoed in Monae’s lyric; “categorize me I defy every label.”  She does not believe in the labelling that is so prevalent in both our culture and that of her dystopian fantasy world.  Monae resists the norms in both her appearance and her creative output, and her work should be cemented in this queer archive as an example of an artist who is not afraid to take risks.