This is a briskly paced, sophisticated conversation about gender that sometimes shocks, disgusts, brings you to tears, makes you laugh, and think. Mostly think.
Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?: Flaming Challenges to Masculinity, Objectification, and the Desire to ConformPrice: $17.95
Publisher: AK Press
Length: 232 pages
Editor: Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
Publication date: 2012-01
The 30 essays that comprise this volume are a response to mainstream gay life––the belief that if gay culture normalizes, champions marriage, family, and exaggerated masculinity, then acceptance will surely follow. These essays eschew that belief, arguing instead that gay culture cannot truly be normalized and that those who believe otherwise are committing an act of betrayal.
The phrase “straight acting”, for one, draws an exceptional amount of ire in these pages, from people who have a more complex understanding of gender, femininity, masculinity. The result is a briskly paced collection that offers sometimes terrifying, occasionally uplifting, and always fascinating snapshots of the other queer culture, the one that seeks a more outrageous and thus more liberating ideal.
There's chatter throughout about the binary world––the one that makes us choose straight or gay, male or female, a dad or lad (see D. Travers Scott’s "Fierce.Net: Imagining a Faggoty Web") and safe/unsafe sex. The arguments about this world, one that can barely comprehend the full magnitude of being gay, let alone the trans population and the gradations of gender that fall within its boundaries, are especially illuminating. Nick Clarkson’s “Penis Is Important for That” touches on the latter with thoughtfulness and warmth and an amazingly universal touch.
In fact, the whole range of essays––all of them short, a few disappointingly so––are provocative, not demanding that we answer the question posed by the collections title but, rather, that we contemplate it. Shepperton Jones’ “The Unlikely Barebacker” and Francisco Ibanez Carrasco’s “Rehab for the Unrepentant” do more than raise questions about gender and identity, they raise questions about acceptable and responsible behavior, however the binary straight world defines those.
Not all the works here are outrageous, however. If almost all are beautifully written, several in particular are both poetic and moving. Lewis Wallace’s “Dirt Story” is haunting and subtle in its approach and all the more lovely for it; Jason Lydon’s “Prisons and Closets” and Booh Edouardo’s “A Rock and A Bird” are heartbreaking and unexpected while Jaime Cortez’s “Excelsior” perfectly captures fear and loneliness in a way that is both funny and––that word again––haunting. Also in the latter category is Willow Aerin Fagan’s “My Fear, the Forces Beneath”, the particulars of the author’s story are probably highly familiar within the gay community but perhaps too often untold.
No contemporary anthology of any stripe would be complete without some discussion of race and ethnicity and there are certainly compelling entries in this domain––Debanuj DasGupta’s “Trans/Nationality Femme: Notes On Neoliberal Economic Regimes, Security States, and My Life as a Brown Immigrant Fag” and Ezra RedEagle Whitman’s “Straightening the Shawl” offer surprising insights and are both brutal (the former) and poignant (the latter).
There are a few essays that are less successful than others, some of that coming down to placement in the book rather than the individual content. Michael J. Faris and ML Sugie’s “Fucking with Fucking Online: Advocating for Indiscriminate Promiscuity” is among the less successful here––it doesn’t feel as carefully constructed or thoughtful as the essays which surround it while Mishael Burrows’ “Cell Block 6” occasionally feels stilted, its approach more anecdotal than argumentative, and while neither is particularly fatal, it doesn’t have the zing and zoom necessary to send it to the head of the class. The closing piece, Kristen Stoeckeler’s “Something Resembling Power” feels displaced and lacks the sophistication found elsewhere––or, rather, it squeals with glee when perhaps a somber closing note would have been more fitting.
Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots? offers no easy answers but the conversations that emerge as possible answers are ultimately only part of a longer and no doubt longer lasting conversation.