Craig Young responds to Dean Kiley

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Having read Dean’s witty and brandnamed account of Ozqueer literati and assorted generational dissent, I want to ask some questions about queer practice. Now, is it the case that queer theory is strictly the province of transgressive aesthetes and avant-garde publishing circuits, or is there something else to this? Okay, sure, Dean’s article is on cultural production (sorry to be clunky, I’m still an old-fashioned eighties libertarian socialist queen deep down) — so what does that do in terms of things like performativity?

What might queer practice be like? In focusing on queer theory as a predominantly academic and cultural product, are we not falling into a discourse that could best be described as Absolutely Faggotry:

“Butler, Sweetie?”

“Sedgwick, Darling!”

… the products of a specific cultural niche or enclave in which a zone of Marcusean repressive tolerance occurs? I don’t know, it’s probably the difference between Australia and Aotearoa/ NZ, but I tend to get the perception that there’s a level of entrenched hostile working-class conservatism and backward rural populism (Tas, Qld, WA) that we deconstructed over here during our version of homosexual law reform…

As far as queer theory goes, I want to patch it in to concrete politics, y’know? It’s all very well celebrating transgender performativity, but I can’t get Judith Butler’s sobering article on what happened to Venus Extravaganza out of my mind … or Roberta Perkins’ AFAO report on transgender lifestyles and HIV/AIDS risk.

For me, queer theory is about dialogue, in Bakhtin’s sense, a polyphony of voices. That’s one of the reasons that Oz corporatism is such a problem for me — a lot of voices seem to be silenced in ozqueer and ozgay discourses … like the working-class men who have sex with men that Gary Dowsett discusses, or the absence of Aboriginal queer discourses and that particular locus of queer discourse. I’m not denying that Gary Dowsett, Dennis Altman , Michael Bartos and others have all done valuable work in the HIV/AIDS statutory sector, but there are times when I wonder why your country is so stratified.

As far as local queer theory goes, I suppose the quiwi take on it is that it has to be a full dialogue — that means lesbian/gay gender dialogue, indigenous/coloniser dialogue, crossclass dialogue, monogender/transgender dialogue, pos/neg, etc. Sure, that includes the leather and fetish communities — I don’t want a context where SM is partially criminalised. And sure, too, if we’re talking Bakhtin, I have to acknowledge the utility and need for carnivals, like Mardi Gras and Hero, because I regard the carnivalesque as a liberatory politics of cultural practice that can contribute to a public presence that modifies perceptions and discourses.

As for ethnocentric responses to the above, ahem — equal age of consent for the last decade, anti-discrimination laws that don’t exempt educational institutions, partial inheritance rights coverage and much more liberal censorship laws than your community standards regime permits. No Christian Right political parties in Parliament.

But theoretical texts? Ah, watch this space…

Craig Young is a postgraduate student at Massey University, New Zealand.


Quiwi: Okay, so what’s queer theory like on this side of the Tasman? To be sure, queer cultural practice exists — Douglas Wright in dance, the Topp Twins and Phillip Paxton in comedy, Peter Wells in cinema and literature; and a contingent of intrepid queer theorists here at Massey University, particularly the Women’s Studies Programme where I live at the moment.

But that isn’t my focus here. I suppose that local queer theory does share some objectives with its Australian counterpart — my good friend and thesis supervisor Lynne Alice works extensively on body-related issues, influenced by some Oz feminist Deleuzian and phenomenological theorists. Me, I do work on Foucault’s theory of governmentality and how its neo-liberal version over here is busily recuperating some of the progressive social movements of the seventies and eighties. Lynne Star does work on media studies and postcolonialism. A masterate friend, Marti, recently completed a thesis on queer families, while over in Sociology, Allanah Ryan has just finished her doctorate on women and negotiating safe sex.

One difference I’ve noted between my work and that of my queer feminist friends is in our political trajectories. I tend to focus on formal political institutions and discourses a lot more, while they deal with representations and embodiement. I think we’re learning from each other, though. As far as the transtasman linkage goes, I do have some time for the Griffith Uni Institute of Cultural Policy Studies mafia — they were quite useful in a past work on censorship policy here that I did in ’92. That’s the main question I want to pose to Deano and other Ozqueer theorists — a lot of Ozqueer cultural practice seems to be either diffuse and despatialised, or else it’s in-yer-face carnivalesque transgressive. Isn’t there another way to consider all this?

Me, I may be a thirtysomething Generation Q boy, but I’m also a lobbyist for Rights Right Now, our quiwi/LGBT lobby group, and focusing on relationship equality issues. Now, how does that figure into things? How does radical pluralism a la Weeks ‘n’ Watney include monogamous relationships and kids without it becoming exclusive and non-dialogic?

Over to you, Deano, and can we see some flesh?

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