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  • Fag Hag: A Theory of Effeminate Enthusiasms
  • Maria F. Fackler (bio) and Nick Salvato (bio)

“Difficult Nomination”

Underrepresented in literature and the arts and undertheorized in gender and queer studies, the fag hag exists on the fringes of an already marginalized life—that of her gay best friend. The fag hag is largely absent not only from artistic representations and scholarly, intellectual discourse but also from politics. As Jennifer Doyle observes, “sexist and homophobic institutions . . . have indisputably ‘hidden’ sex stories from view,” and these stories include those of the straight women who form deep, affective, and intimate bonds with gay men.1 Art and literary history have “cordon[ed] off” such women as a “superfluous category” and thereby created a critical blind spot.2 Even in the critical space where we might more confidently hope that homophobia and misogyny would not penetrate, that of queer theory, the fag hag is still too often conspicuously missing: she is apparently, and simply, not queer enough.3 The refusal to examine more fully and closely the queer coalition between a hag and her fag—the forms of intimacy and performative repertoires and the problems that these dynamics both unveil and embody—seemingly rests upon the anxiety that a [End Page 59] turn toward the hag as worthy of critical inquiry would necessarily entail a turn away from the gay male subject.4 And, of course, the easy way to obscure this anxiety that dare not speak its name in queer theory is to fix on the negative connotations of fag hag and its origins as a derogatory, double disparagement. It is a tidy bait and switch: any possible (recuperative or conciliatory) theoretical work on the figure of the fag hag gets swiftly and summarily undercut by the twinned assumptions that since the etymology of the term reveals both its homophobic and misogynistic origins (woman as an evil spirit, a witch, an ugly repulsive old crone, and, figuratively, a personification of vice) and the woman’s relationality and incidentality to her gay male counterpart, the term fag hag must always already enact the woman’s erasure from gay male spaces as anything other than a supplementary, contingent figure. Whether they mask a disquieting but largely unacknowledged anxiety of queer theory or derive from the principled concern that fag hag is yet another problematic way to define women through their service to men, these arguments neglect the shifting historical and cultural valences of the term (the specificities and nuances of which merit closer attention) and thereby further occlude the presence of women in scenes and representations of queer life.

For all these anxieties and attendant exclusions, the fag hag and the complicated subject position she occupies have begun to enter the mainstream, however elliptically.5 As the fag hag emerges from a position of relative occlusion to one of relative visibility, the cultural texts that we consult to locate her shift accordingly, from the pages of Critical Inquiry to the novels of Armistead Maupin and the scripts of sitcoms. We take a cue from scholars of performance such as David Savran and develop a methodology to examine a diverse set of documents, all of which may “be understood (in one way or another) as performance texts.” The plays, films, and standup routines that we analyze are sites in which and through which the queer subjectivity of the fag hag is “regulated, iterated, and performed.”6

Take, for example, the lyrics to two pop songs, Josie Cotton’s “Johnny Are You Queer?” (1981) and the Hazzards’ “Gay Boyfriend” (2003), through which we might profitably trace key differences between an older, benighted version of the fag hag and a newer iteration of this role.7 The former is the anthem of a girl desperate to seduce and hold onto the friend whom she fears is gay; the latter burlesques (and celebrates) straight women who substitute gay “boyfriends” for problematic heteronormative attachments. “Johnny” arrived before theorists recuperated the word queer, and the denigration is clear in the character’s voice as [End Page 60] she sings. Set to a bubbly sock-hop tune (the record is a parodic version of songs by 1960s girl groups such as the...


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pp. 59-92
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