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Acts of Gaiety

LGBT Performance and the Politics of Pleasure

Sara Warner

Publication Year: 2012

Acts of Gaiety explores the mirthful modes of political performance by LGBT artists, activists, and collectives that have inspired and sustained deadly serious struggles for revolutionary change. The book explores antics such as camp, kitsch, drag, guerrilla theater, zap actions, rallies, manifestos, pageants, and parades alongside more familiar forms of "legitimate theater." Against queer theory's long-suffering romance with mourning and melancholia and a national agenda that urges homosexuals to renounce pleasure if they want to be taken seriously by mainstream society, Acts of Gaiety seeks to reanimate notions of "gaiety" as a political value for LGBT activism. The book mines the archives of lesbian-feminist activism of the 1960s-70s, highlighting the outrageous gaiety that lay at the center of the social and theatrical performances of the era and uncovering original documents long thought to be lost. Juxtaposing historical figures such as Valerie Solanas and Jill Johnston with more recent performers and activists (including Hothead Paisan, Bitch & Animal, and the Five Lesbian Brothers), Warner shows how reclaiming this largely discarded and disavowed past elucidates possibilities for being and belonging. Acts of Gaiety explores the mutually informing histories of gayness as politics and as joie de vivre, along with the centrality of liveliness to queer performance and protest.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Triangulations: Lesbian/Gay/Queer Theate

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xxii

At approximately 7:00 p.m. on May 1, 1970, just moments after Kate Millett, chairwoman of the National Organization for Women (NOW), called to order the second annual gathering of feminist groups from across the country, the lights in the auditorium at Intermediate School 70 on West Seventeenth...

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pp. xxiii-xxvi

I am indebted to and deeply grateful for the individuals who have inspired, encouraged, and nurtured my intellectual development and for the communities that have supported the researching and writing of this book. Colleagues, mentors, students, family, and friends in a range of locales have...

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pp. 1-30

Once an sobriquet for eccentrics and a slur for sexual deviants, queer became, in the 1990s, a diacritical term for a wide-ranging political movement and nuanced scholarly critique of normative regimes, phobic policies, and structural inequalities. Queer theory and activism dramatized, often...

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1. “Scummy” Acts: Valerie Solanas’s Theater of the Ludicrous

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pp. 31-71

On May 10, 1965, a twenty-nine- year- old aspiring dramatist named Valerie Jean Solanas registered an unpublished one-act play with the US Copyright Office. Solanas called her satirical comedy Up Your Ass, but the official title listed on her application is From the Cradle to the Boat, or Up from the Slime....

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2. Guerrilla Acts: Marriage Protests, 1969 and 2009

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pp. 72-104

Florynce Kennedy and Ti-Grace Atkinson’s defense of Valerie Solanas, against the express wishes of Betty Friedan, incited rancor within the ranks of NOW. Citing “irreconcilable ideological conflicts,” Atkinson resigned as president of the New York chapter of NOW and founded the October 17th...

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3. Expatriate Acts: Jill Johnston’s Joker Citizenship

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pp. 105-138

On August 9, 1970, Ethel “Spike” Scull and her husband Bob, a taxi mogul who at one time owned the largest collection of pop art in the world, held a benefit for Women’s Strike for Equality at their house in East Hampton.1 The organizers of the fund-raiser were Betty Friedan, cofounder of NOW, Gloria...

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4. Terrorist Acts: The Maladapted Hothead Paisan, a Lesbian Comedy of Terrors

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pp. 139-162

Jill Johnston’s Lesbian Nation helped spawn many separatist endeavors, from communes to co-ops. Arguably the most enduring and self-sustaining experiment in sex-segregation has been the women’s music scene, which includes a host of entertainers, engineers, producers, labels, and a lively...

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5. Unnatural Acts: The Tragic Consequences of Homoliberalism in the Five Lesbian Brothers’ Oedipus at Palm Springs

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pp. 163-188

One of the fiercest and funniest comedies of terrors, The Secretaries, was penned by the Five Lesbian Brothers, an irreverent troupe of sapphic satirists who have made audiences squeal and squirm with polymorphously perverse, politically incorrect, ribald sex comedies since 1989. Delighting spectators...

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pp. 189-193

Acts of Gaiety attests to the salubrious social and political transformations that have taken place over the past five decades and to ever-expanding definitions of what it means to be a sexual subject. This progress, and the progressive visibility of LGBT life, reflects the incredible successes of queer...


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pp. 195-230


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pp. 231-247


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pp. 249-263

E-ISBN-13: 9780472028757
E-ISBN-10: 0472028758
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472118533
Print-ISBN-10: 0472118536

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 11 B&W Illustrations
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Triangulations: Lesbian/Gay/Queer Theate