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The Fierce Tribe

Masculine Identity and Performance in the Circuit

Mickey Weems

Publication Year: 2008

Mickey Weems applies overtly interdisciplinary interpretation  to a subject that demands such a breakdown of intellectual boundaries. This is an ethnography  that  documents the folk nature of popular culture. The Circuit, an expression of Gay culture, comprises large dance events (gatherings, celebrations, communions, festivals). Music and dance drive a complex, shared performance at these events—electronic house music played by professional DJs and mass ecstatic dancing that engenders communitas. Other types of performance, from drag queens and concerts to contests, theatrics, and the individual display of muscular bodies also occur. Body sculpting through muscle building is strongly associated with the Circuit, and masculine aggression is both displayed and parodied. Weems, a participant-observer with a multidisciplinary background in anthropology, folklore, religious studies, cultural studies, and somatic studies, considers the cultural and spiritual dimensions of what to outsiders might seem to be just wild, flamboyant parties. He compares the Circuit to other traditions of ecstatic and communal dance, and uses his grounding in Afro-Brazilian Candomblé and in religious studies to illuminate the spiritual dimensions of the Circuit. And, a former U.S Marine, he offers the nonviolent masculine arrogance of circuiteers as an alternative philosophy to the violent forms of masculine aggression embedded in the military and much of western culture.

Published by: Utah State University Press


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pp. vii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xxiii

Public attitudes toward Gay men in the United States and Canada have improved immensely in the last few years. Some books in recent popular literature highlight the positive impact Gay men have made on society. How the Homosexuals Saved Civilization by Cathy Crimmins (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 2004) and The Soul Beneath the Skin...

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Introduction: Fascists and Whores

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pp. 1-4

The Circuit, a series of dance parties where thousands of shirtless men get inebriated, flirt, and dance with each other, caters to a community full of narcissists and drug users. Two Circuit stereotypes say it all: body fascists, men who judge others solely on physical beauty, and and crack whores, those who use illegal...

Part I: Fierce

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1. Banishing the God of Mediocrity

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pp. 7-12

When I first came out, I felt out of place in the local Gay scene. Most of the Gay men I knew were effeminate and not into bodybuilding—I had little in common with them. I used to tell people I was “stray,” that is, both Straight and Gay. I finally came to the conclusion that I was a Straight guy who happened to sleep with other guys. I was especially...

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2. The Few, the Proud, the Cracked

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pp. 13-21

The Circuit community is a loose-knit, transregional association of men and women from many backgrounds that come together for extended weekends to dance. Circuit participants make up an urban nomadic community of revelers that reconstitutes itself for a few days and then disperses until the next Circuit party. In addition to the movement of...

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3. Thousands of Dancing Gay Men

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pp. 22-28

Dance is powerful. It is a source of profound sensual, emotional, and spiritual pleasures for people from cultures around the world. At a certain level, people who dance for pleasure understand each other, in much the same way that people all understand what it is like to breathe. I am a dancing fool. I dance around my house. I dance in the shower....

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4. Fierceness

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pp. 29-56

One of the highest compliments in the folk-speech of the Circuit community is to be called “fierce.” One may have a fierce body, fierce attitude, or fierce haircut. A drag queen in a striking outfit may be fierce. DJs who play a good set are fierce. People who dance well are fierce. Those who are the life of the party...

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5. The Girlfriends

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pp. 57-69

In the early days of the Manhattan/Fire Island Circuit, the Gay male party scene underwent a serious shift that reflected the new confidence and raw sexuality of proud Gay men, a strong sense of self-worth, and an obsession with muscle that fostered body fascism. It was also the dawning of the age of club drugs beyond the old standards of alcohol...

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6. Harm Reduction

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pp. 70-78

In response to the excessive and self-destructive behavior of too many Circuiteers, there has been a strong movement within the community for harm reduction, strategies and programs to reduce health risks associated with intoxication and unsafe sex in the Circuit community. The basic principles of harm reduction are as follows: drug addiction...

Part II: Tribe

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7. A History of Festive Homosexuality: 1700–1969 CE

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pp. 81-100

As a Gay festive movement that celebrates the forbidden, the Circuit has ancestors. The oldest Gay communities are remembered today because of parties and scandals that occurred 300 years ago. In fact, modern LGBTQ history revolves around Stonewall, the most notorious and publicized Gay party-scandal in history, a pivotal event in 1969...

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8. A History of the Circuit(s): 1969 CE–Present

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pp. 101-144

Just as there was a circuit of drag balls in the eastern part of the United States during the 1930s, so were there annual Gay events before Stonewall. But it is a bit of a stretch to consider any of them Circuit parties because of some features that came into existence only...

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9. A Tale of Two Cities: NOLA and MIA

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pp. 145-160

I have included detailed accounts of two major Circuit events I attended in the last few months of 2007: Halloween’s in New Orleans and White Party Miami. Halloween’s in New Orleans was held on the last week-end of October. White Party Miami was held Thanksgiving weekend. These parties are fundraisers for AIDS charities: Project Lazarus in...

Part III: Pulse

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10. Popular Dance

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pp. 163-183

Dance and LGBTQ history go together. From molly house to drag ball to rent party, same-sex dancing inspired persecution by the state but also promoted solidarity among those within the outlaw community for hundreds of years. During Stonewall and its aftermath, dance accompanied, sustained, and accelerated liberation. The AIDS epidemic dampened...

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11. Ax

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pp. 184-196

In order to understand spirituality-in-motion on the Circuit dance floor, it is not enough to look at the history of dance by itself. Rhythm and music are the sources of energy that fuel the performance of dance in the Circuit and, like dance, have African roots. Music is also the primary means for participants and performers to transmit Africanized...

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12. From Marching Soldier to Dancing Queen

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pp. 197-212

The most important feature of dance in the Circuit is the awareness of pulse, the energy imparted to the body that comes at specific points in rhythmic repetition. Awareness of the pulse as a means of unifying people from different backgrounds predates the Circuit, disco, and the United States. It goes back thousands of years to the first military...

Part IV: Ecstasy

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13. The DJ

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pp. 215-227

The most important professionals in the Circuit are the DJs. In a groundbreaking study of the Gay male party scene in Sydney, Australia, Lynnette Lewis and Michael Ross state that DJs carry the highest status as sacred persons. Party promoters and drug distributors, who likewise occupy positions of power similar to that of religious leaders, are...

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14. Stepping Out

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pp. 228-256

Ecstasy1 is the common goal for those who wish to push things outside of their normal boxes, including themselves. Although most societies allow some form of ecstatic expression, undisciplined ecstasy is often considered dangerously excessive because it may lead to transgressive behavior. Substances and behaviors that produce ecstasy are...


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pp. 257-263


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pp. 264-265


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pp. 266-272

E-ISBN-13: 9780874216929
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874216912

Publication Year: 2008