Pleasure, Politics, and the Performance of Community: Pomo Afro Homos's Dark Fruit
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Pleasure, Politics, and the Performance of Community: Pomo Afro Homos's Dark Fruit JAY PLUM Identity claims are vital forces in the realization of a multicultural polity insofar as they mark the presence of new social actors to create a political space in and around which previously disenfranchised groups can mobilize. If identity has become an "issue"for the Left in recent years, perhaps it is because of the crisis of agency that Kobena Mercer associates with an inability to "go beyond the atomistic and essentialist logic of 'identity politics' in which differences are dealt with only one-at-a-time and which therefore ignores the conflicts and contradictions that arise in the relations within and between the various movements , agents, and actors in contemporary forms of democratic antagonism.'" Although Mercer is specifically concerned with the twentieth-anniversary celebrations Of"1968" and the challenges confronting the New Left more generally , his remarks speak to a reflective moment in the history of the lesbian and gay movement when debates about political agendas and strategies are framed in discussions of self-definition. I am thinking specifically about the emergence of "queer" politics as an oppositional strategy that challenges a civil rights movement based on the assumption that assimilation is synonymous with equality and freedom. In his introduction to Fear ofa Queer Planet, Michael Warner describes the shift from a self-identification as "gay" or "lesbian" to "queer" as a resistant act that, among other things, opposes the tolerance of lesbians and gay men as a minority constituency. Like Mercer, he is critical of the multicultural mantra of "race, class, gender" and its valuing of difference through the creation of a representational economy in which identities trade equally. The so-called "Rainbow theory" of multiculturalism feeds a pluralistic impulse in which categories of identification are predetermined and unchangeable, overlooking the intersection of various factors in the construction of social identities as well as the negotiability of any identity claim. "Queer" marks the problem of fixing identities by "pointing out a wide field of normalization, rather than simple Modem Drama, 39 (1996) 117 IIB JAY PLUM intolerance. as the site of violence.'" To the extent that it escapes the reproduction of hegemonic structures within lesbian and gay subcultures. queer is a site where community might be re-imagined through a negotiation of the contradictions and conflicts that exist within and among different individual and group identities. While the shift from a politics of assimilation to a politics of inclusion is compelling. I cannot help feeling somewhat ambivalent about the rapid ascent of queer theory and activism. On the one hand. I am seduced by Steven Seidman's description of queer as a postmodem politic "speaking of multiple. local. intersecting struggles whose aim is less the 'end of domination' or 'human liberation' than the creation of social spaces that encourage the proliferation of pleasures, desires, voices, interests, modes of individuation and democratization."3 At the same time. however. I am troubled by practices in which the concerns and experiences of middle-class gay white men dominate discussions about what comes to represent queer. Surely something more than a change in rhetoric is needed for a new and "progressive" politic. especially one that imagines identities and communities in terms of shared sexual and political desires. Indeed, if queerness is to be as radical as Warner posits. it needs to stimulate change through equal participation by and among its diverse constituents rather than confinning existing relations and systems of power. While the Stonewall riot circulates as an "originary" moment in the history of the modem lesbian and gay movement. how historians record its twentyfifth anniversary will depend in large part on how the issue of identity is resolved or, to be more specific, what queercomes to mean in lesbian and gay cultures. Will the flurry of activity surrounding the 1994 Gay Games and Cultural Festival. for example. be viewed as a celebration of the advances gay men and lesbians have made into mainstream culture? Or will the sanctioning of events as "official," "endorsed," or "co-sponsored" be read, as Alisa Solomon suggests. as a sign of a struggle over "how to represent the shifting polymorphous culture we...


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