Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Rebel Friendships Talk at the Bureau of General Services - Queer Division, Book Excerpt "Not Quite Queer."

Jamie Leo

My computer crashed when I turned it on five minutes before my talk at the Bureau of General Services – Queer Division.  Jim showed me the space the previous spring.  And I knew this was where I wanted to give one of the talks for Rebel Friendships.  Many of my heros of activism, Jim Eigo, Elizabeth Meixell, and Karen Ramspacker were there.  As were Jim Fouratt and other friends. The computer eventually turned on and I told the story of the book.

Jay Blotcher and Andrew Velez, whose friendship in ACT UP helped inspire the story, were there to offer commentary, along with Terri L. Wilder, of ACT UP/NY.
The women of  actup Jamie Leo

Velez confessed ACT UP had been there for him in good times and rough ones.  It had been there for him when his world felt like it was falling apart.  And really it helped save his life. There were so many stories.
Jay Blotcher described the ways people met and continued to experience joy, even the midst of the chaos during the early years of ACT UP.  None of it was simple.
Terri reminded everyone that there are multiple forms of friendships still propelling ACT UP, with people across genders and sexual orientations, including straight people.  She and several other participants suggested I consider the distinct meaning of women’s friendships, their categories, history and understandings.  This may be the next project.

Several asked about my participation as a straight man. Its not a category that speaks to me at all as Foucault reminds us. Its more interesting to live on the boundaries.  Plus, I’m a bit old school and believe there too  much repression in this world.  Make love not war.  The world could use a little more expression instead of repression anyways.  But the question really inspired the book.  The book charts this messy story of my not quite queerness, as one of the chapters highlights.  See the excerpt from this chapter at the end of this blog.  Being not quite queer was always fine for me. That’s an interesting space to be in anyway. 

"You are queer," Andrew Velez chimed in.

Terri suggested we have another session on women's friendships.  I hope we can with several women in that room, including Elizabeth Meixell, Karen Ramspacker, and Emily Bass.
Friends from CUNY, Picture the Homeless, Action Tours and the Church Ladies for Choice were there .
We were all there to talk about Rebel Friendships. 

Scenes from a reading.

"Rebel Friendships: 'Outsider' Networks and Social Movements" is a book inspired by the world of organizing we have all created, along with the lovely and messy ways organizers go about creating change through our own invisible committees, affinity groups, and networks of comrades. Some of the chapters I’ve been drafting for years now. The work covers my experiences with the first person I know to die of AIDS, my godfather Fred, who worked at Keller’s bar on the West Side of Manhattan, my recollections of towel snapping and high school football, identify blurring AIDS activism in San Francisco, drag marches in New York, anarchist bikers, Occupiers, and universal stories of friends still taking care of each other and their friends coping with premature losses, overdose, and struggles over what we hope our world can be.

Rebel Friendships considers the interplay between individuals and their friendships with social movements. The intersections between individual and community, the ways we experiment with social change, explore, create, and reduce the harms of modern living are the work of social movements. Yet, the process is rarely simple. Through auto-ethnographic reflections of experiences with the Beats, ACT-UP, Occupy Wall Street, anti-consumer, queer rights, and non-polluting transportation movements Shepard explores the way friendship infuses social movements with the social capital necessary to move bodies of ideas forward. Such innovation is rarely seen in more institutionalized social arrangements. Rebel Friendships offers a new take on the ties between friends who are connected through affinity and efforts aimed at social change.

Two ACT UP/NY veterans, Jay Blotcher and Andrew Velez, will join Shepard to discuss our experience of the magic of activist friendships and esprit de corps.

Suggested donation of $5 to benefit the Bureau. No one turned away for lack of funds.

Praise for Rebel Friendships:

“A daring and innovative approach to social movements – Shepard’s book is a treasure and tool. Taking on the importance of affect, friendship, care and trust in movements he at once teaches the reader and entertains simultaneously. This trailblazing book addresses an area of social movements studies woefully under researched and does a stupendous job of capturing theory, history and feeling – all the while using a narrative form that makes the reader not want to put down the book.”
Marina Sitrin, author of Everyday Revolutions: Horizontalism and Autonomy in Argentina and co-author of – They Can’t Represent Us!: Reinventing Democracy from Greece to Occupy.

“Rebel Friendships delves deep into a phenomenon that every activist, and student of activism, is aware of, but not enough of us acknowledge: at the core of every collective and at the center of every social movement are individual friendships – radical friendships. Kudos to Benjamin Heim Shepard for writing this perceptive and moving book!”
Stephen Duncombe, Professor of Media and Culture, NYU, and Co-Director, Center of Artistic Activism

“In Rebel Friendships Benjamin Shepard continues and extends the project that has engaged him during the eighteen years of our friendship. That project is an ongoing social activism and a growing body of writing, a politics and an esthetics. It believes deeply in people as the ultimate repository of worth, a community but also a collection of frail, flawed, uniquely amazing individuals. Both Ben and his writing are good.”

Jim Eigo

“Benjamin Shepard book Rebel Friendships is a masterpiece, weaving together the lived experiences of activists critical to important movements for social justice. In lucid prose, Shepard vividly details the dialectical interplay among key individuals engaged in activism through friendships – the magical elixir of sustainable movement making. This compelling analysis is a must read!”
Ron Hayduk, Professor of Political Science, Queens College/CUNY and rebel friend among activists from global justice to immigrant rights, Occupy to the Lower East Side Collective

"Friendship is a central social and psychological force in people's lives. Yet it also has political dimensions, as Ben Shepard so vividly demonstrates. Through his own personal stories, and interviews and biographies of friends, Shepard gives meaning to the oft-quoted feminist phrase that 'the personal is political.' In Rebel Friendships, we experience the many profound ways friends create community activism, develop families of choice, mentor each other, and perform rituals. This is indeed the book that illustrates the transformative political and personal power of friendships."

Peter M. Nardi, PhD, author of Gay Men's Friendships: Invincible Communities

“Rebel Friendships is a necessary contribution to contemporary radical social movements and the literatures that discuss them. Part memoir, part scholarly analysis, and part political assessment, in this book Ben Shepard reminds us, earnestly, that productive struggles from below require the engines of trust, love, and mutual aid that define “friendship.” Throughout the case studies and reflections here, Shepard offers powerful examples of the ways that friendship has played a decisive role in radical social struggles throughout recent history, and how friendship will be the foundation of our efforts toward building a better future.”

Craig Hughes, Team Colors Collective

"Shepard's big-hearted book is a galvanizing reminder that the search for and maintenance of human connections lie at the center of any valid fight for change. Through well-researched historical analysis and engaging personal anecdotes, Shepard reimagines community organizing by simply reminding us who we have been, who we are, and who we can become. This book makes me want to befriend everyone."

Rev. Micah Bucey
Associate Minister, Judson Memorial Church

“A impressively researched and starkly confessional examination of interpersonal bonding at the so-called edges of society -- and how the power of friendship can incrementally reframe notions of normality. Ben Shepard delivers exactly the kind of cross-disciplinary study more social science scholars should be engaged with in order to understand the essentially activist components of our evolving human nature.”

Rob Magnuson Smith, author or The Gravedigger and The Scorper, teaches English and Creative Writing at Exeter’s Penryn campus in Cornwall.

Photos by Brandon Cuicchi

Jamie Leo added 10 new photos — with Greg Newton and 8 others.
9 hrs· Edited· 
Last night at BGSQD.
Benjamin Heim Shepard presented about his new book on the importance of 'Rebel Friendships'. Introduced by Greg Newton, Ben began with images of powerhouses Wendy Brawer and Peter Shapiro and their community garden work. 
Later, Ben was joined by Jay Blotcher, Andrew Valez, and with a brief cameo by Terry Wilder, followed by discussion.

Photos and captions by Jamie Leo, Jamie, Jim, and Victoria Noe

Emily Bass, author of How to Survive a Footnote, talks with my CUNY colleagues,
 WestengardLaura Elizabeth. (2012). Queer Monsters WithinTrauma and the Emergence of Gothic Queer Discourse in U.S. Cultural Production1945-2011.
and Carole Harris, "On Flying Mules and the Southern Cabala: Flannery O'Connor and James Baldwin in Georgia."

NOVEMBER 11, 2015

November 20, 2015—January 17, 2016
The Bureau of General Services—Queer Division presents The Uses of Anger, an exhibition of contemporary and historical activist materials

How do we use our rage? When confronted with injustice after injustice, what do we do with our anger? Audre Lorde, using an excerpt from one of her poems in her 1981 talk “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” argues

everything can be used
except what is wasteful
(you will need
to remember this when you are accused of destruction.)*

Lorde went on to say “Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being. Focused with precision it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change.”

The Uses of Anger is an exhibition of activist materials born of rage in response to a variety of injustices, including: physical and psychological violence against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender people, and others who do not conform to established gender conventions; police violence against people of color; efforts to deny women access to safe and legal abortions; the failures of governmental and medical institutions to adequately address the AIDS/HIV crisis. These posters, flyers, tee shirts, and other materials give voice to the anger that these injustices inspire. The Uses of Anger includes materials from the following groups:

Black Lives Matter. NYC Shut It Down: The Grand Central Crew
Fierce Pussy
Gran Fury
Lesbian Avengers
Occupy Wall Street
Queer Nation
and more!
The Uses of Anger is organized by Charlie Welch and Greg Newton with help from Elsa Waithe. On view at the Bureau of General Services—Queer Division from November 20, 2015 through January 17, 2016.
Opening reception on Friday, November 20, 6 to 9 PM.

*From “For Each of You,” first published in From a Land Where Other People Live (Broadside Press, Detroit, 1973), and collected in The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde (W.W. Norton and Company, New York, 1997), 59.
“The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Crossing Press, Berkeley, 1984), 124-133.

I took a few snapshots from the show on the way out out to dinner.

I love the Keith Haring Bathroom.

Not Quite Queer by Benjamin Shepard. A chapter in Rebel Friendships originally published in M. B. Sycamore. Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity. Emeryville, CA: Seal Press/Avalon. 2006
I wanna be where the boys are but I'm not allowed
on the other side of the boys bar I want them to all come out
               But its not my fault that I'm not a boy
               It’s not my fault, I don't have those toys
               I'm not a boy

               “Boy” Book of Love, 1986
            One of my favorite memories of high school is of hanging out at "Daddy's", a gay bar in Dallas and dancing with the other ‘straight’ guys to Book of Love.  Although ecstasy had been rendered illegal since ‘black Monday’ the previous July of 1985,[1] Daddy’s still offered a generic alternative ‘Eve’ over the counter, in a shiny blue florescent box, at the bar.  The legions, pouring into this one of Dallas’s many public sexual spaces for their little pills, would find a spirit of fun and kink, margaritas and lust, bulging pupils and knowing glances which made the trip unique.  On one occasion I ran in still wearing a prom tuxedo as my friends waited, double parked outside. A laid-back African American gentlemen wearing black sunglasses walked up, said hello, put his arm around my waist and gave me a little pinch.  A gentle pinch, but it suggested there was more where that came from if I was interested.  I did not really know.  But it still gives me a pause.  Those experiences in queer spaces completely altered my ‘straight’ view of the world.  Writer Amber Hollimbaugh describes a similar experience with leather bars, "That was where I first learned that you didn't have to be the person sitting next to you.  You could be fascinated by it by it but it wasn't a threat to your own sexual desires."[2]  Throughout high school from 1985-88, we all flocked to the Stark Club, Daddy’s, the Walk, JR’s and the other venues within Dallas' thriving queer ghetto and had a ball. 
            What started as a curiosity opened a new democracy of pleasure and politics for me.  These queer spaces offered new forms of comradery, legions of friends and urban vistas.  When heterosexual class hierarchies offered little but exclusion, these spaces opened their doors.  They showed me more about community building than anything I had known. Rather than clicks, here the citizenry built community through pleasure. 
            As a het, I did not see a point in trying to pass; yet I often did, sometimes to my advantage, sometimes in powerlessness.  Through grade school, I played the cello in the string quartet.  And accusations of sissydom followed.  In Texas, you were either a ball player or queer.  There wasn’t much room for nuance.  My resentment (and insecurity) led me to conform, do high school butch masculine, and play football.  Yet, even there, towels snapped; boys were boys; and a Spartan level of queer desire/repulsion allowed many to bond.  Sometimes it was through the constant flow of anti-queer jokes; at other times through quasi homo-erotic rituals of passage.  (The guys at a rival school were known to have shoved Oscar Mayer wieners up their bums before they did sprints up and down the football field).  A couple of the guys on our team had even taken the talk of jock straps, etc. into play off the field.  Doug[3] was known to enjoy his trysts with an older boy who’d been in and out of college, dressed like a new waver, and could always get you into the Stark club, where even Grace Jones was know to cavort.  I was intrigued.  When I confessed to have an interest in Andy, a friend warned me. “Watch out if you approach him or next thing you know, he’ll be knocking on your window at three am with a martini in one hand and an ecstasy tab in the other.”  That did not sound bad to me.
            I was fixated with the music, the clothes, the sensibility, the underground, the pleasure, the connection to culture, the dandiness of it all.  Summer of 1985, Rupert Everet appeared in Another Country; the following year his movie Dance with a Stranger showed at the movie theatre across from the Italian restaurant where I worked.  Dressed in khakis and a leather jacket, Everet was the perfect kad.  As a prep school boy doing what prep school boys did with other boys in Another Country, I was captivated.  I adored his Merchant-Ivory Oxford wardrobe, mannerisms, and inability to heed to advise, ‘Discretion is the better part of valor.’  When Everet set up a clandestine date with another boy and proposed, ‘Shall we get terribly, terribly drunk’ over lunch, I was enthralled.  That summer I went to the movie two or three times with another boy.  He had just been accepted at Brown and looked and felt much like one of the boys in Another Country.  He was attracted to the movie as much as I was.  We exchanged mix tapes all summer.  One of his tapes featured the Blancmange anthem, ‘Lose Your Love.’ ‘No, no, no, no, no, no, I don’t want to see you go.  I don’t want to lose your love,’ the emotional chorus concluded with a crescendo.  It was all very dramatic.  There was no word for the sensibility but excitement.  We got fairly drunk ourselves his final night before he was to go, shared a drunken make-out.  I threw up - not from repulsion but too much vinegary warm white wine in my bloated stomach.  The next morning was summer football.  I glad to leave the realm of dandidom for the comradery of the locker room. 
            While my experiments with guys never went anywhere, the appreciation for the spaces men created together endured.  It was always refreshing to know such a space was out there when hetero mores grew too restrictive.  Yet, sometimes I did not have to retreat.  Weeks before high school graduation a bunch of the guys from the football team joyously danced naked in a circle on my patio to ‘The Age of Aquarius.’  Still, the coolest places in Dallas were the gay bars where hipsters, dandys, drag queens, and outsiders could share space in a non-homophobic culture organized around aesthetics.  While sharing sexual contact with guys was a little sleepy for me, I adored the embrace and ethos of closeness.  Those years left a deep abiding appreciation for an exploratory approach to churning pleasure out of one’s body.  If it felt good, it was fair game. 
            And I almost always passed.  ‘I know you are one of us, that you love men,’ a buddy from the college rugby team proposed during one of our drunken post game beer parties freshmen year in college.  It was a fun compliment.  No need to recoil.  By that point, I was pretty sure I was playing with the other team.  But I was always glad to know there was a different kind of space to play.  "Some of the things I have always taken from gay male sexuality is the play and the danger...drag, and bars, mixed bars, and the leather community... I wanted their atmosphere of a kind of sexual," Amber Hollibaugh explains.   
            Over the following decade, many of my friends from the club days would encounter police interrogations, social exclusions, and positive test results.  Trips from one clinic to another robbed much of the innocence of those early lusty connections.  Between alcohol, indiscretion, stigma, pills, HPV, warts, scars, swabs, doctors, health care payments, judgments, scabies, sex was messier first imaged.  And as a generation, we would go from ecstasy to ACT UP, and become a little queerer together.  Yet, even with repression and sexphobia, pleasure remained an imperative.  Much of the lesson started for me in San Francisco, where sex and citizenship had long been interconnected.
San Francisco
            In San Francisco, the very lines of the city are drawn around sexual struggles and stories.  After failure at my chosen post-college vocation of waiting tables, I worked late grave yard shifts at an AIDS housing facility on Market and Van Ness in 1993.  Only a couple of years earlier my godfather had succumbed to HIV-related complications, including a descent into mania, hallucination, car wrecks, dissociation, and dementia in a desert in West Texas.  Dad had known him since college.  In the years that followed, they both joined the beats, hitchhiked out to join the poets of San Francisco, skipped back, where Dad went to law school and his best friend worked as a bartender at Keller’s, a notorious leather bar facing the West side piers, in pre-Stonewall Greenwich Village.  My godfather would tell me story after story about his father who had known Lotte Lenya during the decadent peak of Berlin’s Weimar culture after he lost his job as a U-Boat conductor during WWI.  Even with a Harvard PhD in hand, his queerness was never discussed as much as it remained a quiet, irrepressible defiance to bourgeoisie mores of ambition, career, or convention. ‘Why should I have to work?’ he insisted defiantly in his bathrobe regaling me with stories in between rehearsing Chopin before the dementia set in again.  I saw him in many of the guys who lived in the building where I worked in pre-protease San Francisco.  The guys would come in late after being out at the sex clubs, cruising, or running.  Here, eros served as defiance to thanatos and illness.  On their way, many of the guys stopped to chat about where they had been, what they had done, and what their San Francisco stories had meant.   Some lived only a few months afterward. 
            If ever there was a town where people sought to make sense of the sublime between pleasure and infinity it was in San Francisco.  I watched residents revel, swagger, lose themselves, find something else, and shuffle from this life to the next.  One Saturday, I arrived for the swing shift, and asked about one of the tenants.  “He died this morning.  They just took his body away,” I was informed.  That was the first five minutes of my shift.  The next eight hours were interminable.  By midnight, I walked out to smell the air, talk look, touch, and ponder the epiphany, the mystery of a life in which some are lucky enough to hang around, while others disappear to god knows where just as they are getting started.  Never was I more fixated with the burlesque of street life.  I wandered, watching the characters, dipping in and out, chatting, grieving, sensing, and experiencing, perfectly aware so many were running out of time for such opportunities that Spring. 
               If you walked toward the bay from Market street and zagged left, you could stumble into the Tenderloin, one of San Francisco’s queerest neighborhoods.  Public sexual culture in the Tenderloin felt immediately dangerous and edgy.  Kids dropped off from the bus station, who had left often desperate conditions of their lives, survived on tricks, speed, comradery, and the hazards of underground.  Different spaces catered to different interests.  At the Mother lode, guys from the East Bay who longed for male contact yet didn’t want to associate with Castro clones, found easy access guys in dresses who’d be more than willing to please (for a small fee). [4]   This public sexual sphere of San Francisco’s Tenderloin was rife with sadness and hope, connection and separation, loneliness and pleasure.  Writing, cruising, drinking, and hanging out there opened up entirely different lens into urban experience.  Here, street hustlers drew new storylines for the performative necessities of gender, work, play, labor, release, friendship, and the ways lust overlaps with a queer approach to commerce and pleasure.   
            While listening to the stories, I slowly started to reconcile the powerful desire and the cultural shame I associated with eros.  Before returning home for the holidays in 1993, I picked up Pat Califia's Public Sex: the Culture of Radical Sex.  “Eros is arbitrary, bizarre, impeccably honest, bountiful and so powerful as t o be cruel.” read one passage.[5]   Within this narrative, I reassessed the meanings of what was impossible to contain, messy and intriguing about social eros.  Within the San Francisco stories, I started to put a distance between my experience and the toxic elements of heteronormativity with which I grew up.  And saw there were other ways to build family and community and democracy without having to pass for being what one is not, without having to divorce one’s self from his or her body and senses.  For the San Francisco sex radicals, the social and sexual imagination was not to be seen as a liability, but rather as a part of a lifelong excavation.  Rather than degrading, a different way of being could be found in its expression.  A few years later, I saw a gentleman in hot pants and high heels at a SexPanic! rally with a sign proclaiming, "Free your ass and your mind will follow.”  He was onto something.

New York
               ‘Don’t move there, Rudy Giuliani is shutting down queer New York,’ my mentor in graduate school had advised me.  I was determined to prove him wrong.  For me, public sexuality was part of the very pulse of NYC.  And I was anxious to get out of sex negative Chicago, where I had been in graduate school.   In between terms, I had dropped in and out of NYC.  I felt a certain sexual contact high the second I got off the train at the Port Authority on 42nd street.   The first stop of every trip into the city was to Show World, an emporium of sexual commerce at the corner of Eighth Ave.  Usually, I did not get past the trannies on the second floor...  Show World never failed to please.  By the time I moved to the city in 1997, the club, like much of New York’s public sexual culture was under attack from the moralists, big real estate, and a Comstock like mayor who sought to shut it all down.  His aim seemed to be to make New York as bland as the suburbs.  Without sex, there was little room for culture - no jazz, no pleasure, no street life, no pulse.  Yet, there was still a little fight left in New York’s queer public sphere. 
               ‘Never pay attention to what straight people think,’ Robert scolded me after one of the SexPanic! meetings in the winter of 1997.   SexPanic! was formed to fight the Temperance era logic of the moralists.  We had been discussing Larry Kramer’s predictably sexphobic rant, "Gay Culture, Redefined" an Op-Ed article in the New York Times in which Kramer condemned gay men for building a culture around pleasure and public sexual culture.   Robert was probably right.  Yet, the exchange brought up a strange conundrum.  After all, as a man who slept with women one could consider me part of the camp Robert suggested should be ignored; yet as a sex positive person who abhorred Kramer’s attack on sexual self determination and queer world making and fought to spread a message of sexual liberation for all, I felt anything but ‘straight.’  The word felt far too restricting for the bountiful sentiment I felt.  Yet, the exchange with Robert revealed a very real conflict between an old school brand gay politics of identity and a contemporary queer politics based in a vaguely defined rejection of sexual shame and regimes of the normal as Michael Warner famously noted.   Yet, queer never seemed quite the right term for those who rejected prohibitive politics.  When I tried telling a gay co-worker I was ‘queer identified’ she thought I was a ‘closet case.’  Many did. 
            I was certainly not the first to encounter this.  “Being straight in ACT UP was like knowing what it was like to be in the closet,” Allan Clear, who worked with the ACT UP syringe exchange, remembered.  “I certainly pass in appearance of not being straight.”[6] 
            On some days I did pass as queer simply by virtue of being a kinky man who was intrigued with the sex positive narratives SexPanic! advanced as an alternative to the ‘Turdz’ such as Kramer, who condemned queer sexuality, and Andrew Sullivan, who suggested ‘AIDS was Over’ once it no longer disproportionately effected  economically privileged gay men.  What their writing revealed was a lack of a coherent argument about sexuality, race, and difference in the left.  I had spent the previous years studying the history of US public policy.  Every social problem seemed to emanate from poor women: teenage pregnancy, poverty, what have you, anything to do with public sexuality.  In the meantime, gay apologists were further distancing themselves from the notion of sexuality as something which could be a force for good.  The politics of coming out seemed lost.    
               The closet and coming out, after-all, come in many forms.  From what I had learned about gay liberation in San Francisco, coming out meant more than coming out sexually, it meant coming out as who you are.  In my case, it meant rejecting a politics of shame and sameness in favor of a lusty politics of joy, justice, and rambunctious.  Yet, it was still hard to say participation in such a politics should constitute a level of authentic queer identification.  For me, this was simply a politics freedom and authenticity.  
               There had to be a way to reject parts of one’s connection with a system which one abhorred without taking on an inauthentic shell or trying to pass for something one is not.  The history of social movements is chalk full of stories of anti-racist Caucasians activists who have rejected their old selves, taken on new identities and acted out of a sense of guilt which distorted their politics.  Rather than being motivated by love and care, they acted out of personal ambivalence.  And the results were often mixed.  The examples of the German Red Army Fraction, who killed out of shame over their parents apparent inaction during the Third Reich, and of Kathy Boudin, who participated in the 1981 Brinks Robery with the Black Liberation Army without feeling she had the right to know the details of the action, are but two examples of guilt motivating action which produced mixed results and long jail sentences.[7]  The lesson of the Gay Liberation Movement of the same era was that pleasure was a valid aim for movement activists.  And it could not be separated from struggles for justice.  Here, an authentic politics of anti-militarism and anti-racism melded with a raw politics of personal freedom.  
               I was drawn to SexPanic! because of just such an ethos.  Here, queer politics was linked with a pursuit of pleasure which rejected the notion that play had to wait until the revolution was complete.  Joyful rejection of docile obedience was intimately linked with a politics which embraced embodied experience over colonialism of the mind and body.  Certainly, the discussion of SexPanic! in the press suggested the group was trying to create a different kind of queer politics rooted in pleasure, rather than an essentialist identity politics, a universalizing rather than minoritizing discourse.  To substantiate this ever expanding queer politics, writers such as Douglas Crimp suggested that AIDS and connection with its stigma had transformed a gay politics of identity into a queer politics which encompassed the experiences of social outsiders including injection drug users and welfare moms.  The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) brought together the most unlikely of coalition partners to queer the AIDS struggle.   For sexual civil liberties activists such as myself, notions of soli-fucking-darity among perverts, anarchists and outsiders remained intriguing.  “The people perverted will never be converted,” queers, adult entertainers, and kinky hets screamed in one of the rallies against Giuliani’s ‘Quality of Life Campaign.’  Here, a polymorphous politics of social and sexual freedom felt vital.  From the streets, such an idea seemed possible.  
               From the academy, the notion sounded contrived.[8]  Fall 1998, I asked Ann Pelligrini, a queer theorist who had been involved with SexPanic!, about the idea of ‘queer hets.’  She suggested the idea sounded dubious.  It is easy for hip urbanites to claim a queer mantle as long as they did not have to do any of the gooey sex stuff or deal with the implications of giving up their subjectivity and rejecting heteronormativity.  Some level of privilege would have to be left behind - not so easy.  Instead, the queer het phenomena seemed to involve a new set of revolving doors between closets and social worlds.  At some gatherings, hets could be queer; at others, it was best to put on the wedding bands and leave queerness in the closet.  Yet, perhaps this back and forth between performances in identity deconstruction, reinvention, and strategic essentialism, was just what the new post modern politics required.  
      Further, there is little consensus about what being queer or sexual freedom really mean, for heterosexuals, queers, or the liberal left.  Certainly, the right has always known it hates sex for very specific reasons having to do with social control of women, people of color, and social outsiders who make money and build communities with their bodies.  On the other hand, the left has rarely articulated or cohered around a position on sexuality as part of a broader politics of personal freedom.  With the exceptions of the Women’s Movement, the politics of sexual self determination has not been a priority.  The historic contribution of the Gay Liberation Movement was the view that iron clad social categories are best rejected in favor of an abundant polymorphous plurality.  From there, ACT UP transformed the way activists experienced politics, political performance, and citizenship.  Here, the group reconnected gay politics with a queer sensibility and broad social critique of the system which sent soldiers to war, incarcerated the poor, and left illness to run rampant as long as it affected the junkies, homos, and communities of color.  
               From ACT UP, queerness developed a new cultural currency which many wanted to be part of, including heterosexuals.  While many viewed the phenomena of ‘straight queers’ as a kind of identity politics nightmare, something was going on.  ‘Bend Over Boyfriend’, a straight porn movie about guys receiving from their girlfriends, was a top rental in San Francisco in 1999.  It might have simply been that the hetero world was just realizing what ten zillion gay men already knew -  the prostate is too good a secret for gay men to enjoy alone.  Certainly phone sex advertisements in straight porn offered amble indication that social mores were shifting.  "I will fuck you in your tight ass," a caption from a woman in leather proclaimed in one magazine. While the men catered to could be closet cases, most likely they were a reflection of a market demand for an ageless form of pleasure and gender play, which was being openly acknowledged.  
               Leo Bersani talks about, "celebrating 'the homo' in all of us."  Yet, such a proposition was anything but simple.  As I continued with queer activism, the relationship between self and political identification remained messy.  I was arrested with members of SexPanic!, ACT UP, Housing Works, and Fed UP Queers during the Matthew Shepard political funeral in 1998.  I hoped my queer bonifides were in place.  Yet, the strange looks I was getting about saying I was straight while doing queer activism still inspired curious bewilderment.  So I tried saying I was bisexual.  But the identification felt awkward.  It didn’t last.  In a couple of cases, it even backfired.  At this point, I would do or say anything to show I had some queer cachet.  I was invited to write a story for a national AIDS glossy about a post I had made to the SexPanic! e-mail list about sex and condoms only to have the story turned down when the editor read I was not talking about a boyfriend.  “You’re such a closet case,” another friend scolded me after the post about my ‘partner’ rather than my girlfriend.  It didn’t sound or feel real.  
               Even when a member of SexPanic! brought a newspaper clip about a similar ‘straight’ man who chose to play on the gay rugby team, offering me a bit of solidarity, or ‘courtesy stigma’ as Irving Goffman would describe it,  I was still on the outside.  ‘The biggest influences of my life have been gay men,’ I read one straight man proudly declare in Michael Musto’s Village Voice column that December, reveling in an appreciation for lust and style and mentoring he’d enjoyed from his earliest years.   I wish I could have put it that way.  Yet, change was afoot. Inside and outside, the game was changing. 
               More than anything one cannot really say she’s queer if she does not practice it.  For many, queer implies playful, defiant, and unscripted forms of direct action.  So when it came time for invitations to the first meetings of the Fed Up Queers (FUQ), a by- invitation group of New York’s most daring queer activists, many of whom had split from SexPanic! I rarely made the list.  After the Matthew Shepard political funeral organizing bogged down into ridiculously long meetings, FUQ moved forward with a series of fiercely creative direct action spectacles, including the first of the hundreds of acts of civil disobedience in protest of the murder of unarmed Amadou Diallo at the hands of the NYPD, which captivated the city and drew national news headlines.  For a few months there, FUQ was the hottest group in town.  Yet, they could not keep up the pace (no one could).  And observers would come to call the Fed Up Queers ‘adrenaline junkies.’ A member of the old Weather Underground who had spent years in jail even warned one of the members to think through what she was doing or risk a similar fate. [9] 
               While the comparison between FUQ and the Weather Underground is tenuous, the similarities are instructive.  Both groups were intensely aware of security culture and the threats to groups which utilize brash forms of direct action.  Both weeded out those who sought to pass and infiltrate.  FUQ simply had closed meetings and only invited those with long histories of direct action to participate; to throw FBI counterintelligence programs off their track, the Weather Underground required everyone sleep with each other.  Inevitably, the cops who were unwilling to participate were found out and left.
Even after failing to make the cut with FUQ, queer world-making remained alluring.  June of 1999, I dressed up for my first ‘drag march’ with New York’s Radical Fairies and Church Ladies for Choice.  I had worked with them to support the theatrics of civil disobedience to save another public sphere – the community gardens - which had been under threat from development that Spring.  Marching from the East Village, where Jackie Smith’s flaming creatures distinguished themselves from the bland citizenry, toward the West Village where Gay Liberation was won, I spoke with another march participant in similar drag.  When I told him I was ‘straight,’ he seemed to laugh.  ‘You’re marching in the drag march,’ he gestured, chuckling and strolled away.
               Later in the weekend, FUQ blocked the parade route during the Pride Festivities, as Rudy Giuliani marched.  Shortly after the disruption, SexPanic! ‘Rudy’s Sex Mobile’ a 1970s hot-rod, a blue squad car, dubbed “Rudy’s Sex Police”, cruised down the parade route. On top of the car, a paper mache Rudy Giuliani puppet head leered below a sign reading ‘Because he hates you.’  Two lesbians made out on the hood. Go-go boys and hustlers danced and shot water guns from an accompanying float, while we lead the crowd in chants of “More Booty, less Rudy!! Keep New York Sexy!’  By the time we got to Christopher Street, police ordered the ‘Sex Mobile’ off the parade route.[10] 
               After the march was over, I rode the subway with the paper mache Rudy back to the Lower East Side.  A woman who, had watched the parade topless, joined me.  And a couple of stops later, she walked home and back to my apartment.  It was the first and last time I would ever hook up with someone on the subway.  The play of joining Radical Fairies, the Drag March, and the theatre of Rudy’s Sex Mobile brought a different kind of joy and embodied experience to my politics.  This playful feeling of exploration and wanderlust would continue to renew itself over and over again.  It always had.  
               I did not pass for long with Robert from SexPanic!, who suspected something was amiss when noticed I did not wax the hair on my back.  Yet, it wasn’t necessary.  Something else was in order and he appreciated what I had brought to the group.  If anything, I live through public sexual culture.  It makes me happy to know it looms on the other side of the city and imagination.   Yet, I don’t need to attach my identity to it.  
               Just a few weeks ago, I joined a group of students and researchers on a trip to Slammers, a sex club in Hollywood during the Spring 2006 Pacific Sociological Association Meetings, where we strolled about, looked around, and talked.                
               ‘This is no doubt one of the strangest trips to a public sexual space I have ever participated in,’ explained Ralph Bolton, an anthropologist from the Stonewall boomer cohort.  ‘It seems strange to walk through our sacred temple with infidels of non-gay people.’ 
               ‘I don’t really agree with you.   I like being in the company of a room of fellow perverts,’ Matt Brown, a younger researcher, followed.  Maybe that was it.  While it is never so easy to conceal privilege or identity, a politics based on fellow feeling, solidarity, and pleasure requires few such deceptions.  Yet, rather than call such a feeling queer it may be better just to leave this space undefined.  There are countless people across sexualities who aspire to be part of such a space without having to name it. Rather than pass or create a new word for it, a great many would just like to play in such a space. 

[1] Pierce, K. 1985. Federal Government Cracks Down on the Use of Ecstasy. Dallas Morning News. 7/1: 2c.
[2] Hollibaugh, A. et al. 1998. Another Place to Breathe in Opposite Sex: Gay Men on Lesbians, Lesbians on Gay Men  edited by Miles, S. Miles and E. Rofes. New York: New York University Press.  P. 113.
[3] All names are changed to protect and conceal the anonymity of those referred to in this essay.
[4] Shepard, B. 1993.  Crossing the Line: Panning for Gold at the Mother Load.  Bay Area Reporter 9/2.
[5] Califia, Pat. 1980/1994. Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex. San Francisco: Cleis Press.

[6] Interview with the author, 2005.
[7] Stashenko, J. 2003. Boudin: I Felt Guilty About Being White Newsday, May 23. 
Varon, J. 2004.  Bringing the War Home: The Weather Underground, the Red Army Faction, and Revolutionary Violence in the Sixties and Seventies. Berkeley. University of California Press.
[8] Thomas, C. Ed. 2000. Straight With a Twist: Queer Theory and the Subject of HeterosexualityChicago: University of Illinois Press. 
[9] See Flynn, J. and Smith, E. 2004. Fed Up Queers. In Thats Revolting: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation. Ed. Mattilda, AKA Matt Bernstein Sycamore. Brooklyn: Soft Skull Press.
[10] McGovern, T. 1999. Police clashes disrupt paradeNew York Blade News. 2 July. p.8.
Bookey, S. 1999. Questions Linger After Cops Eject Two Groups from March. LGNY. 15 July.   

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