Toronto
3 min

A schizoid two-step

Community is the enemy

Credit: Xtra files

Oh shit, I feel like I’m doing the time warp again. Graced with a big lipstick grin, the cover of That’s Revolting! Queer Strategies For Resisting Assimilation can’t help but remind me of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And by the editor’s own admission, it’s a book by “a bunch of freaks, fruits, perverts and whores.” Good. I’m in the right company. So why do I feel like this is so rehearsed?



It’s not like the timing is wrong. As I write this, a spectre is haunting boy-town. The world is turning bottoms up. A mysterious sleeper cell called Limp Fist is leaving anticorporate flyers in Fab boxes and condemning the homonormative circuit scene for its fall from once-dangerous degeneracy. Respectable gay men and lesbians are getting married. Concerned that it’s contagious, queers are fleeing the village for Parkdale and the like.



The essays in That’s Revolting promise to make sense of these shifting surface patterns. And while the focus is overwhelmingly American, there are definitely parallels north of the 42nd.



With more than 30 chapters spread out between three different sections, the tone is eclectic, to be sure. But through the cacophony, the authors draw out a consistent theme: When gay culture goes mainstream, queers who don’t conform get dumped. Once guided by a progressive political vision, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans “community” has become a smokescreen for greed, a paradigm for property values and consumer goods.



How did landlords become part of my community? Until last year, I couldn’t afford glitter eye makeup. With righteous indignation, several Revolting contributors smite the fags who opposed a queer youth shelter in San Francisco’s Castro district while citing security concerns. Visions of being chased out of Cawthra Square Park by neighbourhood resident goons dance through my paranoid head. It must be the drugs I bought there earlier.



“Today, there is a split, a huge split, in the queer community between those who ally themselves with the ruling class, big money and the Chamber Of Commerce, and those who see themselves in coalition with the poor,” writes contributor Tommi Avicolli Mecca.



Following his lead, others add volatile agents to the coalition. Before the book is done, women of colour and tranny boys march shoulder to shoulder. Queers with disabilities retrofit the world. “Being a threat is sexy,” contends Rocko Bulldagger. I concur. To hell with the community. What we need is an army. What we need is to recruit.



According to editor Mattilda, aka Matt Bernstein Sycamore, the enemy is assimilation. This is what you call it when gays act straight and get rewarded with access to straight stuff. You know, like marriage. Or the right to put on a uniform and pick up a gun so you can go and kill Iraqi civilians. Not one to beat around the bush, Mattilda puts it bluntly: “Homo now stands more for homogenous.” Ouch. And she’s right, of course. The fight for mainstream recognition has meant that critiques of the straight world get pushed to the wayside. Thanks for nothing, Will And Grace. Stick a safety pin in it, Queer Eye.



I’ve gotta admit that there’s some pretty good stuff here. The pieces by Patrick Califia and Carol Queen don’t disappoint. They’re sassy and well written. On top of it, there’s also some smart stuff dealing with the history of queer liberation struggles. Stonewall still makes me smile. But it also reminds me how far we’ve come. And how far we still have to go.



It’s in the context of this timeline that the book becomes less than the sum of its parts. Though we’re promised “strategies for resisting assimilation,” what we get instead is a schizoid two-step metronome: Let us into the community! The community is the enemy!



Sadly, there’s nothing sexy about strategy. Even sadder, though, is being offered a million ways to deconstruct the gender binary but not a single way to change it. I recognize this two-step. I’m doing the time warp. And every jump to the left is followed by a step to the right.



THAT’S REVOLING! QUEER STRATEGIES

FOR RESISTING ASSIMILATION.

Edited by Mattilda

aka Matt Bernstein Sycamore.

Soft Skull Press.

318 pages. $23.95.