- No Tea, No Shade: New Writings in Black Queer Studies ed. by E. Patrick Johnson
Late in this fascinating collection, Kaila Adia Story offers a useful summary of how we got to this place, this time. She returns to seventies-era black lesbian feminism, to the first waves of (white) queer theory that followed, to the early murmurings of black queer studies, marked in 1995 by the Black Nations/Queer Nations Conference and in 2000 by the Black Queer Studies in the Millennium Conference. The volume that emerged from the latter, Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology (Duke UP, 2005) is the precursor to this welcome follow-up. More important, writes Story, it "gave me life!" (363). She continues, "it was in that volume that I first discovered the theoretical language for who I was/am. … For the first time in my academic career, queer theory/studies was not white, and for the first time black studies was not straight" (363). Story's response accurately captures the power and effect of BQS, its radical reorientation of black studies and sexuality studies.
Story reminds us, however, that radical queer interventions are often followed by normative backlashes, in this case by HuffPost taglines like "Gay is the New Black," and by the co-opting of civil rights language by white, male, cisgender gay activists. Story's goal in her essay—which I also take to be the goal of this collection—is to "return to a more radical form of political struggle…, [to] dance in the delight of difference. Indeed," she continues, "I want to throw shade on normativity, sashay away from a politics of respectability, and get my life from a politics of deviance" (364).
Those goals are signaled in the collection's title, No Tea, No Shade (no gossip, no disrespect), a phrase that emerged not from the respectable confines of academia, but from black drag culture. This queering of location continues in the vernacular of the collection itself, where, for example, Jafari S. Allen references "new-way intellectual death drops" (38) and Shaka McGlotten refers to "the reads that follow" (265) rather than the readings, both authors locating their critiques in the language and attitude of ballroom culture, a from-the-ground-up critique meant to resist the new normativity of this queer moment (when "No Tea, No Shade" is also a 100% vegan and cruelty-free lip gloss).
No Tea, No Shade is aggressively interdisciplinary, spanning anthropology, American studies, political science, geography, literature, Latin American studies, performance studies, media studies, African American and African diaspora studies, and women/gender/sexuality studies, while also including several nonacademically affiliated artists and activists. The highlights are many; the following snapshots merely scratch the surface. In "Black/Queer Rhizomatics: Train Up a Child in the Way Ze Should Grow…," Allen borrows Deleuze and Guattari's notion of the rhizome to reimagine the history of black queer scholarship—nonhierarchically, nonteleologically—paying well-earned respect to black feminism of the 1970s. [End Page 149] Allen's essay takes a hybrid form—part scholarship, part meditation—that serves as an intriguing harbinger of the essays to follow. Ramón H. Rivera-Servera's "Reggaetón's Crossings: Black Aesthetics, Latina Nightlife, and Queer Choreography" discovers a new story to tell about the sexual politics of reggaetón, one allowing for black feminist and queer subversion of reggaetón's machista culture. Reversa-Servera usefully models this collection's emphasis on a scholarship that refuses to stand apart from its subject. As he writes, "Understanding reggaetón's queer potential requires a descent from the heady politics of an armchair feminism into the nitty-gritty of a grinding hip or a contracting behind" (108).
In "To Transcender Transgender: Choreographies of Gender Fluidity in the Performance of MilDred Gerestant," Omise'eke Natasha Tinsley finds within Caribbean queer experience an organic theoretical richness in the Vodou sacred energy Ezili, "the beautiful femme queen, bull dyke, weeping willow, dagger mistress" (132). "What would it sound like," Tinsley asks, "if scholars were to speak...