We on this blog don’t often discuss LGBTQ issues (perhaps because we all happen to present as straight), and today I’d like to think about some of the implications of conscientiously adopting a more “queer” feminism: one that is, perhaps, more explicitly open to alternative lifestyles, more open-ended, less harmonious, more agonistic. Feminists who remain silent on LGBTQ issues risk reinforcing a perceived divide between feminism and queer studies that limits our possibilities for collective change. The rift, however simplistically conceived, between “frumpy, sex-phobic feminists” and their “kinky, stylish queer cousins” (6) is an issue that Lynne Huffer addresses and in some ironic sense attempts to ‘resolve’ in her 2013 book Are Our Lips a Grave?: A Queer Feminist on the Ethics of Sex. While she acknowledges that the opposition is clearly facile, it is the case that some amongst the queer community perceive feminists disparagingly as “convergentist,” attempting to “coalesce under one feminist umbrella an array of positions that complicate gender as a single category of analyses” (7); queer activists, on the other hand, tend toward “divergentism,” dedicated to rupture, to discontinuity, to the antisocial (even as I write this, these binary claims don’t ring entirely true). Huffer yearns for and endeavours to make possible through her book a feminism that is “only convergentist in a contestatory, rift-restoring sense,” a “ruptured convergence” that calls upon divergent positions to clash and clang together, to hang out together in shared spaces without necessarily coming to some sort of enforced consensus (8). Huffer wants women to tell stories that sit in uncomfortable relation to one another.
At least one of the things Huffer is enjoining us to remember, what queer feminism might bring to our feminisms and to our blog, is that although it is important to maintain common goals, this does not mean we always have to agree, always encourage each other, always enact the socialized impulse towards unconditional support and smiling and deference and happiness that is generally expected of us. I have to say I get a little sick at the nurturing impulse I witness (mostly between women) in academia–we have the tendency to tell each other things are okay, to hug, to support each other unconditionally, to celebrate with each other, and sometimes the whole goddamn lovefestness of it all gets to me. Maybe I’m just a hardened grumpycat New Yorker (impostering on a Canadian blog!). But I yearn for more disagreements, more stories that unsettle us and challenge us, more world-shaking opinions and perspectives that do not easily accord with our own received paradigms regarding what feminism is and can be.
Huffer locates this kind of “ruptured convergence” in close-reading and storytelling (72), which enable the emergence of specificity and disallow others from becoming versions of the same, mere reflections of ourselves: narrative performance becomes
an intersubjective model that, paradoxically, undoes the subject, [enlarging] the transformative potential of interpretation, where speaking subject, reader, and discursive traces themselves remain linked but porous, interdependent, and open to change. (72)
Linked porosity. Collective undoing. Huffer calls this an “ethics of bounded alterity” (72).
This week, after Rolling Stone published the horrifying UVA gang-rape story to which I am certainly not linking, Professor Bruce Holsinger (@bruceholsinger) began taking screenshots and tweeting some of the comments that appeared at the bottom of the article, raising more awareness of voices that might otherwise be overlooked. Although I’m not positive if this can be categorized as “queer feminism,” I think this is one possibility for the sort of activism we can practice.
Here (STUNNING), a victim of sexual assault at #UVA recalls the non-appearance of a Cville cop at a PO hearing! pic.twitter.com/GpacNVxNX2
— Bruce Holsinger (@bruceholsinger) November 20, 2014
Here, a 2011 #UVA alum recalls sexual violence as “an accepted part of the fraternity culture.” pic.twitter.com/2aIHgAFIP0
— Bruce Holsinger (@bruceholsinger) November 20, 2014
//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsAnother recent excellent example of speaking out and creating rifts in a possibly convergentist manner is Dorothy Kim’s post on sexual harrassment in the academy, which sprung from an extended conversation on the Facebook wall of well-known medievalist Alexandra Gillespie (University of Toronto). In her Facebook thread–which responds to the Ghomeshi case and is still public if you are interested in spending an hour feeling increasingly hopeless about the state of the academy–dozens of female academics described instances of harassment involving (more) senior male scholars, speaking to “a long and persistent history of sexual harassment in medieval studies spaces,” as Kim puts it. And of course there’s #beenrapedneverreported and all of Erin’s understandable questioning of the appropriateness of social media for issues of restorative justice.
Is this queer feminism? What does queer feminism look like? Really, I don’t know, and to be honest, this post has been extremely hard to write. I guess I’m mostly just opening up questions, as many of our blogs in this limited realm of the digital universe tend to do. Challenges to my [underdeveloped] reading of Huffer or thoughts on queer feminism are welcome in the comment section below. How do we open spaces for more diverse and intersectional voices, more uncomfortably convergent stories and perspectives? Let’s keep trying. For my next post, I will describe my recent experience with an LGBT Ally training course at Fordham, which will hopefully provide more possible answers to such questions.