One day I stumbled upon the twitter of Deejay Bootsy (@swallowourpride) and asked if I could interview him to which he consented. The reason why I was so interested in what Bootsy had to say is that I had written articles about how war and militarism affect LGBTQ people, the commercialization of ‘gay pride’, the big gay non-profits (Gay Inc.), how there should be a national conversation about issues beyond gay marriage, and radical views on marriage. Bootsy is a 48-year old queer blogger (his real name is David Lewis) who has been pushing to challenge “convention, orthodoxy [and] mainstream opinion.” For this interview, there is some background that you must keep in mind, otherwise parts of the interview won’t be in context: how Bootsy stumbled upon the concept of Gay Shame, the original email that led to his resignation and his letter of resignation from the York Pride organizing committee. The whole interview I had with Bootsy (me asking the questions, Bootsy responding) was posted his blog here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, but in order to encourage a discussion on these issues, I have reprinted the whole thing below:
1. I’ve read a bit about Queercore, and LGBT hip-hop, part of the radical queer underground music scene and subculture. As a DJ, where do you see yourself in this music scene?
As a musical genre, Queercore in part distinguishes itself through lyrics which explore themes of prejudice, sexual + gender identity and, more generally, offer a critique of society, often expressed in a light-hearted way.My own interest in this -as a queer DJ- is primarily in the concept of the gay anthem, as described by Simon Gage, Lisa Edwards + Howard Wilmot in the 2002 publication ‘Queer – The ULTIMATE user’s guide‘ in which the criteria + themes of the gay anthem are explored. In the book, the following ten main themes are listed:
(1) Big-voiced divas with powerful, uncompromising voices, singing songs about: (2) Overcoming hardship in love often with a narrative of a wronged lover who comes back stronger than before; (3) Solidarity in the form of songs about coming together; (4) Overcoming adversity by throwing care + caution to the wind; (5) Hard-won self esteem where the theme is fighting through oppression, darkness or fear to gain freedom or self esteem; (6) Celebrating unashamed sexuality through transcending cultural shame to celebrate one’s sexual nature; (7) Searching for acceptance by envisaging a promised land where the dream of acceptance, belonging + hope lives; (8) A torch song for the world weary where the narrative is about being used, abused and surviving to tell the tale of lament; (9) The unashamed pledge tinged with tragedy with tales of not giving up despite seemingly insurmountable odds; and (10) Uncompromising self affirmation + an absolute refusal to apologise: “I am what I am and what I am needs no excuses…”Consequently, when we see straight couples walk into our queer clubs, shake their heads + openly mock what they see or hear, we should not -from a queer activism viewpoint- apologise to the heterosexual majority, replace the DJ, dilute the music policy through a fear of offending people, and replace it with a “more popular” selection of “contemporary pop and r’n’b.
2. What is your opinion of the mainstream LGBT movement (Gay Inc.)?
Gay Shame is in part a critique of wealthy white gay male privilege and a timely reminder that our social relationships are “infused by the norms of the global marketplace”.* The broad acceptance that the Pink Pound is one of our greatest assets -when negotiating our position in social hierarchy- and the overreaching predominance + influence of gay male DINKies (Double Income No Kids) in the gay commercial scene, Gay Pride + in the role of ‘representatives of the gay community’, has helped create an ethos, politics + culture that is as “totalizing and tyrannical”* as the very orthodoxy + heteronomy we have arguably been challenging and opposing. The success of most Pride events is judged today by the amount of money spent hosting the event, the amount of money spent by participants at the event, and the overall number of consumers attending the event. And Pride is very much about consumption – a vanity competition where competing egos are encouraged to eat more, drink more + strike a pose more than the other players in this ostentatious carnival of consumerism. And the socialisation of our lesbian + gay communities into the mainstream and of our acceptance + assimilation into ‘normal’ society, is very often measured by how strong the Pink Pound is and how influential we are as global consumers. In short, Gay Inc. is a global brand to which we appear happy to subscribe and a badge of identity which we are encouraged to wear with pride.
[* Barry Adams – as quoted by David M Halperin + Valerie Traub in ‘Beyond Gay Pride’ – University of Chicago Press 2009]
3. Is the rejection of support by Gay Inc. for
gay trans whistleblower Bradley Chelsea Manning who leaked thousands of documents to Wikileaks revealing war crimes and other dirty dealings relevant to discussion about Gay Shame and mainstream gay culture?* Bradley Chelsea Manning - gay trans soldier and anti-war activist- faces multiple charges in relation to obtaining and distributing classified documents, including ‘aiding the enemy’ for which the penalty potentially is death. When Manning stated that he believed he was exposing abuses and breaches of other nations’ sovereignty, Presiding Judge Colonel Denise Lind stated that Manning’s motives for disclosure were irrelevant and ruled that Manning cannot argue that he was acting in the public interest. In response, Amnesty International’s FitzGerald stated: “It disturbing that he was not permitted to offer the ‘public interest’ defence as he has said he reasonably believed he was exposing human rights and humanitarian law violations. Allowing Manning to explain his motives only at the sentencing stage could have a chilling effect on others who believe that they are whistleblowing or acting in the public interest in disclosing information. Manning should have been allowed to explain how in his opinion, the public interest in being made aware of the information he disclosed outweighed the government’s interest in keeping it confidential.” San Francisco Pride Board President Lisa L Williams described the announcement that Bradley Chelsea Manning had been chosen a Grand Marshal for San Francisco Pride as as “an error” for which the person who made it has been “disciplined.” She went on to say that “even a hint of support…(for Bradley Chelsea Manning*) will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride.” Glenn Greenwald, writing in the Guardian newspaper, described this as “a cowardly, imperious statement” postulating that the primary reason for making it is that SF Pride fears losing the support of its corporate sponsors, including AT+T and Verizon, who enabled the Bush administration’s illegal eavesdropping on US citizens. And Brian Mccaig from Glasgow, responding to the same statement on the San Francisco Pride facebook page said: “…we broke the law back in the Stonewall era. Pride is running scared of their big sponsors and Government Agencies, and I… and my friends won’t be supporting Pride from now on.” In the Transadvocate, Katrina Williams blogs: “Williams’ response was so obnoxious… I really think that Williams’ arrogance is the bigger concern here, several people have e-mailed me privately arguing convincingly that SF Pride’s rejection of the Manning is indeed trans-related and would not have occurred but for the revelations that Manning might identify as trans. And that brand of disgusting Gay, Inc., obnoxiousness is worthy of protest, irrespective of what one’s opinion is of Manning.” Incidentally, Lisa L Williams is also the Chair of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition. Scott Long in his “Paper Bird” blog highlights the irony that a person who chairs a coalition that is supposed to celebrate Rustin is fueling the vilification of Manning. Rustin was a pacifist, a war resister, an icon of civil disobedience and the key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. During the Second World War, Rustin spent three years in Lewisburg Penitentiary as a conscientious objector. He was also a gay man. In 2002, a citizen of West Chester who objected to naming a school after Bayard Rustin,.is quoted as saying: “I am against naming it after Bayard Rustin, as he was a traitor to the… United States of America.” Manning was an advocate for gay rights. While serving in the military, he says that he experienced harassment and physical assaults on account of his perceived sexuality. He marched against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in the Washington DC Pride Parade, where he spoke to reporters about his position and attended a fundraiser with Gavin Newsom and the Stonewall Democrats to discuss the issue of homophobia in the military. If ever our LGBTQ communities required evidence that corporate Pride, and the commercial gay scene which funds and supports it, does not and cannot represent our communities, our interests or our queer sensibilities, surely this is a prima facie case.
*corrections are made here since Manning changed her name to Chelsea Manning, coming out as a trans* woman.
4. You’ve said that ‘gay pride’ is about being proud of sexual intercourse and sexual acts between men. Would you say this is the same for women and those of other genders?
I argued in an earlier blog post that “the concept of ‘Gay Pride’ was not simply about being proud to suck cock or fuck men – although we clearly shouldn’t be ashamed of these activities- but that we should be proud of our queer cultural identity + history.” [italics added] This was in response to an email which was sent to the Gay Pride committee in York describing the MoQuo playlist -that is Music of Queer Origin- that I chose as co-resident DJ at OUTrageous, which was at the time York’s only queer disco and a fundraiser for York Gay Pride, as “stereotypical gay anthems” and observing “straight couples walk in and shake their heads or openly mock what they saw”.They gave, as one example of an act or artist they considered to be ‘stereotypically gay’ – Queen, which was fronted by the Zanzibar born Freddie Mercury, born Farrokh Bulsara, who died from bronchial pneumonia after acquiring the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. My response to this was to say that ‘straight couples’ openly mocking us for celebrating queer history + culture by enjoying dancing to + listening to gay anthems, was no reason for us to deviate from the MoQuo component of our playlist. I was then asked to step down as co-resident DJ and subsequently decided to resign from the York Pride organising committee. My belief was -and is- that, if LGBTQ Pride was not about celebrating + taking Pride in our unique culture + history, then by default it becomes simply about being proud to be men who have sex with men, women who have sex with woman, and -in the case of bisexuals- men or women who are proud to have sex with men or women. This clearly is nonsense. And, for members of the trans community, an irrelevance.
5. What part of queer identity and history in your view is being lost in ‘gay pride’?
The Pride movement was born out of the Stonewall riots, which were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the gay community, as a protest against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, in the Greenwich Village area of New York City. At the time, New York had laws prohibiting homosexuality in public and private businesses and gay establishments were regularly raided and shut down. As word spread throughout the city, the customers of the Stonewall Inn were joined by other gay men and women who started throwing objects at the policemen, shouting “gay power.” Thus the queer liberation movement was born. According to Wikipedia, “The Stonewall Inn… catered to an assortment of patrons, but it was known to be popular with the poorest and most marginalized people in the gay community: drag queens, representatives of a newly self-aware transgender community, effeminate young men, male prostitutes, and homeless youth.” One month after the Stonewall riots, 500 people gathered in New York for a “Gay Power” demonstration. And on June 28, 1970 -on the first anniversary of the riots- the first Gay Pride march took place in New York city. Over the weekend, marches also took place in Los Angeles + San Francisco. And so,Gay Pride was born. I attended my first Gay Pride march in 1984 at age 19. The age of consent for gay men at the time in the UK was 21 and the march itself was no parade, carnival or Mardi gras. The tone of the march was angry + the model one of civil disobedience + non-violent direct action. As a demonstration of anger at unfair treatment + protest against inequality of opportunity, it displayed strength through solidarity. It seems that, over the last 40 years, we have seen a fundamental change in emphasis in our movement, away from the original concept of Gay Power through queer solidarity, towards faith in the power of the Pink Pound + consumer unity. And at the same time, we have witnessed a transfer of power from marginalised, queer + questioning members of our communities, towards a financially powerful mainstream elite of key stakeholders who attempt to determine our direction of travel. I wrote in an earlier blog post [see Question 3. Gay Inc.] that I believed that “the success of most Pride events is judged today by the amount of money spent hosting the event, the amount of money spent by participants at the event, and the overall number of consumers attending the event. And Pride is very much about consumption – a vanity competition where competing egos are encouraged to eat more, drink more + strike a pose more than the other players in this ostentatious carnival of consumerism.” I went on to say that “the socialisation of our lesbian + gay communities into the mainstream and of our acceptance + assimilation into ‘normal’ society, is very often measured by how strong the Pink Pound is and how influential we are as global consumers.” We have clearly gained a great deal in 40 years: the decriminalisation of sexual acts between consenting men, the equalisation of the age of consent, adoption rights for gay couples and marriage equality. However, we have at the same time lost a lot. This loss is highlighted + represented by a shift away from a fundamental + passionate belief in the value of Truth + Freedom, towards an apparent recognition of the importance of Obedience + Consensus at any cost. This requires the avoidance of open criticism, direct confrontation, civil disobedience + controversy and an unwillingness to press personal opinion for fear of conflict with Gay Inc. / Gay Pride Inc. and the risk of ourselves becoming targets of this powerful lobby group / vested interest. Bobby Harrow, in The Cycle of Socialization, wrote: “Some of us who are targets try to interrupt the cycle because the discomfort has gotten larger than the comfort. If we try this alone, or without organization, we may be kicked back down to our powerless positions. If we begin a new direction, or even work with our agent allies, we can create hope.” It is time now, I believe, to create that hope.
6. Gay blogger and activist Glenn Greenwald wrote in March 2013, in a column for The Guardian that “allowing same-sex couples to marry doesn’t undermine oligarchs, the National Security State, or the wildly unequal distribution of financial and political power” and the next month he added to this in another column noting that “it seems because the cause of gay equality poses no real threat to elite factions or to how political and economic power in the US are distributed. If anything, it bolsters those power structures.” Would you say this is in line with your criticism of ‘gay pride’ and mainstream gay culture? If so, what would you add to it?
Of course, Greenwald is right – marriage equality does not undermine oligarchs or redistribute financial /political power. Nor did equalising the age of consent, allowing queer couples to adopt children or allowing black people to use the same restrooms as whites. Does that mean we should oppose these reforms? Absolutely not. And while these measures are in themselves evolutionary rather than revolutionary, it does not follow that these measures reinforce existing power structures. Do I support marriage equality because I want to get married? No. Nor did I support adoption equality because I wish to adopt children. However, neither do I believe it is right -or ‘radical’- to deny other lesbian + gay people the right to choose to do the same things that heterosexual people are able to do by birthright, simply because they aren’t ‘straight’. Trans-Feminist Grrl Blogger Natalie Reed (@nataliereed84) put it very well when she said, regarding ‘radical’ views of marriage:
“A vast majority of the alleged radical views rely on completely false and unsupported assumptions about who modern marriage benefits. Hint: it is NOT the white middle-class, nor even necessarily men. In fact, given how marriage law relates to children, income, welfare, etc., marriage equality is an issue that is of disproportionate IMPORTANCE to groups like queer women of colour, or poor queers…that “marriage helps white cis middle men!” is a bullshit, self-serving, privileged myth.”
7. Gay Shame, a movement that proposed a radical alternative to the commercialization of “gay pride” and mainstream gay culture which spread to numerous cities across the world starting in Brooklyn, New York in 1998, had its last chapter close in San Francisco in 2012. Your blogspot says that “Gay Shame is about recognising that the socialisation of LGBT people and the assimilation of queer culture into the mainstream has a price. It is also a recognition that “gay pride” as we now know it is more about the pink pound, spending power and consumer unity than it is about queer mutiny and fighting for those who are marginalised by society.” Do you see your blog as a continuation of the ideas of SF Gay Shame and ideas of other chapters? Can you elaborate about the on what you mean by the “assimilation of queer culture into the mainstream” and by “queer mutiny”?
David Halperin – in his book ‘Gay Shame’ [University of Chicago Press 2010] – suggests that “cross-gender queer identification and cross-gender queer sex may provide particularly points of entry to an understanding of the dynamics of shame” and quotes the publicity for the first annual Gay Shame Awards in 2002: “GAY SHAME is the radical alternative to consumerist ‘pride’ crap. We are committed to fighting the rabid assimilationist monster of corporate gay ‘pride’ with a devastating mobilization of queer brilliance.” Halperin builds on the ideas of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in her 1993 essay, first published in GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, in which she suggests shame has “a near-inexhaustible source of transformational energy” arguing that without an “intimate and never-forgotten relation to shame, gay pride turns into mere social conformity.” “Gay Power” as a rallying call for the gay rights movement, gave way to “Gay Pride” as the political force behind the quest for equality of opportunity. But, in the drive to transform homosexuality from a perversion to a proud social identity, Halperin asks, have we lost, forgotten or buried something fundamental in terms of our culture, history or identity? And have the political + social requirements of Gay Pride repressed discussion around the less comfortable or dignified aspects of homosexual behaviour? Gay Shame, as a movement which challenges conventional modes of organisation + distribution (of wealth, of capital, of political power + influence) does not adhere to or require the same modes + structures which facilitate delivery of the commercial gay scene + corporate Gay Pride. GS is, by definition, unorganised, chaotic + shameful. Gay Shame is a the transformational engine of Queer Mutiny – the anarco-queer movement which opposes hierarchies, capitalism + assimilation, and which promotes actions + activities which do not solely revolve around consumption. In doing so, it challenges the limitations of consumerism + markets as the primary nodes for social behavior and discourse.
Gay Shame / Queer Mutiny share an understanding that, only by building intellectual capacities that exist + thrive outside the parameters of consumerism, can queer liberation be truly formulated + achieved. Gay Shame, as a source of transformational energy which facilitates self-actualisation -by encouraging creative self-expression, the quest for spiritual enlightenment and the pursuit of self-knowledge – offers a revolutionary alternative to the juggernaut of corporate gay pride and the rabid assimilation of queer culture into the mainstream of contemporary popular culture. GS/QM encourages discussion of the role of management + organisations within LGBTQ communities in terms of production, consumption, commercial enterprise and globalisation. Combining theories of culture, media, gender anthropology, literary criticism + semiology, Gay Shame thrives on a constant renewal of styles, forms + images to ensure the enduring continuum of “a devastating mobilization of queer brilliance”.Our LGBTQ communities of identity are unique + brilliant and we celebrate our diversity + individuality. Proud of our differences and of our sometimes shameful history + cultural heritage, we reject conformity + cultural assimilation in favour of liberation + self-actualisation.
8.. On twitter, someone told me that radical queer activists are anti-equality and part of an ‘identity movement.’ Others criticize radicals for saying marriage is oppression, as they argue that gay marriage is a form of liberation. What is your response to these criticisms?
I encourage constructive criticism of marriage, as I do of all forms of partnership agreement. However, any such criticism is best done from a level playing field. For as long as spousal relationships between lesbians or gay men remained outside the law, the focus of the debate around marriage rested on discrimination + inequality of opportunity. Now that they do not, the debate around the negatives + positives of state sanctioned, legally recognised partnership agreements can, I hope, flourish. As I commented in an earlier post, I am not in favour of marriage equality because I wish to get married: I oppose marriage inequality because I disapprove of discrimination on the grounds of sexual preference, orientation or identity. The question of whether or not marriage -as an institution- is liberation or oppression is, for me, part of an entirely separate debate. As indeed is the issue of whether monogamy as the guiding principle of any relationship is realistic, achievable or (from the viewpoint of emotional wellbeing + fulfilment) desirable. Supporting equality of opportunity, opposing discrimination and challenging normative behaviour + orthodoxy, are not incompatible.
9. Some of the people that have retweeted my article about the corporatization of gay pride have been involved with the Occupy Movement. Do you think that this social movement will bring new life to Gay Shame and other radical efforts?
Absolutely. As an international protest movement which campaigns against social + economic inequality and in favour of less hierarchical political + economic relations, the Occupy Movement shares common ground with Gay Shame / Queer Mutiny. Both the Occupy movement and GS/QM object to the corporatisation of Gay Pride / Gay Inc. and the way in which it disproportionately benefits a minority and undermines freedom of speech + self-expression.
10. What can people reading this interview do to spread the message?
- To find out more about the ideas which underpin Gay Shame, read Robert Halpern’s excellent 2010 book GAY SHAME: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/G/bo5877479.html
- Follow, share + help promote my Gay Shame blog [http://gayshame.blogspot.com]
- Visit, like + help promote the NEW Gay Shame facebook page.
- Organise + promote your own Gay Shame activities + events.
- Refuse to support or participate in Gay Pride Inc. events.
- Proudly tell people why you won’t support or attend corporate Gay Pride.
- Follow on twitter: +swallowourpride @Fagburn @ashfool @CCarbone7 @NedFountain @PeterTatchel @burkelyh and anyone else who dares to challenge orthodoxy, heteronormativity, the mainstream + Gay (Pride) Inc.
- Refuse to hand your money over to commercial gay venue operators who warn us that “if we don’t support us, you will only have yourselves to blame for not having a decent venue…” (Personally, I’d much rather have an indecent venue.)
- Keep fighting for equality of opportunity for all and…
- Keep it Queer!