Queer Collisions: Personal Interrogations of Life and Performance

By Jorge Rodolfo De Hoyos

January 1, 2010, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

I think I’m queer, but I hesitate to think so.

Here are some known facts about my queerness:

How I might be queer

1. I’ve been curated into a queer performance marathon to be staged January 10 at Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory—a place that’s self-described as San Francisco’s epicenter of queer and activist performance.

2. I’m a male homosexual, and most of my performance work deals in related themes.

3. I enjoy acting “girly” sometimes, and I also esteem drag queens as shining beacons of hope and empowerment.

4. I frequently feel the urge to think counter to the majority and subvert/explode/rework hegemonic expectations. I find deviance fascinating and where the more meaningful questions of humanity are negotiated.

5. Some artists that inspire me include Pedro Almodovar, Bruce LaBruce, Keith Hennessy, and Morrissey; punk and anarchy look sexy as do certain tattooed/pierced hipster artists.

How I’m not queer (and probably just gay or close-minded)

1. I don’t feel as queer or socially conscious as some of my peers. Also, I was not curated into the Queer Dance Festival on February 11 at CSU East Bay.

2. I don’t often consider the subjectivity of women and transgendered people.

3. I dress, move and act like a guy, and I hardly ever deviate from this gender role. Gender deviance can still unsettle me to a certain degree.

4. I repeatedly subscribe to dominant ideologies of capitalism, sexuality and masculinity. For example, I continuously strive to “be successful” as if it were a static state, and I try to be manly enough in order to be “taken seriously” by others.

5. I sometimes feel alienated by progressive activism or art, and I’m lazy about exposing myself to works outside of my personal bubble that deal with subjects like racism, lesbians, or parts of the world that are non-European/non-Latin.

Let’s consider my environment: the Bay Area is a site of convergence and activity. Tectonic shifts grind the foundations of our cities, and the sparks of political activism have ignited cultural revolutions. Histories, identities and ideas seem to converge and reverberate in the Bay Area, and the potential energy is volcanic. Change is always in the air, and artists, activists and dreamers are drawn here by that scent.

I like the smell, but it’s hard for me to define.

Queer (kwîr) 1. adj. (-er, -est) (a) odd/strange. (b) Sl. adj. & n. homosexual. (c) ill. 2. V. to make something go wrong. queerness, n. strangeness/oddness.
–odd adj. (-er, -est) (e) strange/peculiar. oddball, n. inf. Eccentric person.
–strange adj. (-er, -est) (a) odd/bizarre. (b) which you have never seen/heard before.
–Mom: “It’s kinda skippy” (makes an effeminate ballet-type pose with head cocked to the side)
–Pops: “It’s a derogatory term used towards homosexuals. My son is gay, but he’s not queer.”

I asked the artists participating in the marathon and dance festival: What does queer mean to you?

“Queer to me is an argument between authentic-individual-sexual/gender-truth and traditional-constructed-gender/sexual-roles. Thusly queer is in flux. It’s a question as much as a statement.” –VivvyAnne ForeverMORE!

“LGBT.” –Lucia August

“It is an un-straight thinking process, a questioning mind, strenuously and playfully asking questions and pointing at multiple answers. It is to me an invitation to abandon the need to identify and its rhetoric in favor of shared practices of belonging.” –Maria F. Scaroni

“Queer performance has revelatory and revolutionary potential. When people go deep, there is the possibility of seeing and hearing things that have never happened before on stage. But you have to dig. I’m a digger, a butt pirate, a hooker with a heart of gold. In the marathon I want to be inspired and challenged and one-upped. I want to be freaked out by something. Don’t we all long for that as Bay Area artists? Don’t we all crave the shock of the new?” –Kirk Read

“For me it signifies part of my unshakable identity within the larger society. I am queer therefore I am.”
–Peter Max Lawrence

“My artistic path is dedicated to queering as many things as possible: gender, sexual identity, morals, taboos, body image, ideas about size and beauty, ability/disability, artistic forms, why we perform, spiritual practice, inclusive community, professional v. amateur artist, the nature of ensemble, and more. It’s about seeing things in more open, respectful, inclusive, creative ways, and this kind of seeing is crucial to figuring out how to live more harmoniously at this critical point in human history.” –Eric Kupers

“Queer doesn’t mean sexuality. It means deviating from the norm, from what’s expected from you as an artist. It’s a daringness to be more provocative.” –Dwayne Calizo

“Queer, for me, means exposed. Living in San Francisco, I think we enjoy a very critically-minded lifestyle. It could be said that this is a town where an extremely high premium is placed on the scrutiny of ‘the norm.’ In that, I feel that critical thinking is inherently queer. I am queer because I question; I dig; I unearth; I expose.” –Jesse Hewit

“Queer is never static. Queer feels more interested in possibility than certainty. Queer loves the willing: those willing to deviate, to deconstruct and reconstruct; those willing to attempt to see what is instead of what was or what should be. queer doesn’t like this question. Queer is on the lam from this question.” –Laura Arrington

“It means some kind of resolution with your sexuality—an openness to not feel afraid of what people might think about you and to be able to enjoy it. It’s like wearing lots of jackets to protect your body for the big street fight. Be valiant and be real while other times silly and superficial.” –Jose Navarrete

“I think of queer as a relationship of othering. This relationship is not evenhanded or unbiased, and it exists within structures of power: there must be an assumed ‘normal’ for there to be a ‘queer.’ It is context specific and means only that which the user intends. That is to say, it can still be a hurtful slur, and it can also be a self-referential celebration of one’s own otherness.” –Julie Phelps

What compels me most is asking, how shall I contribute?—if Queer is in flux and if Queer abandons the need to identify and if Queer is inclusive and if Queer is because of othering and if Queer is a hurtful term and if Queer is armor to protect against hatred and if Queer is more than LGBT and if deviating is Queer and if Queer is digging deeper and if Queer is possible and if my art can Queer and if Queer has existed since humanity and if Queer is a process that never ends… then the question of whether or not I might be queer seems irrelevant when filtered through this chorus of artists and ideas. For better or worse, external forces may or may not call me queer, but to agonize over such a static label identity would be an inherent contradiction. In regards to Too Much A Performance Marathon, I like how Julie Phelps describes it, “It‘s about queer performance not queer performers—personal identity politics are not what we are concerned with in the creation of this event. The artists are creating a Queer(ed) way to do performance. This could be anything from attempting to warp the audience’s perception of time, or to shift the relationship of viewer and performer, or presenting subject matter or bodies or ideologies or images that may not find space in ‘normal’ performance. Further, there is something Queer about the format of a marathon in general. Simply smashing performance art, dance theater, live art/installation performance, video art, storytelling, spoken word, food art, and drag into one event is a departure from any kind of ‘normal’ theater experience.”

This article appeared in the January/February 2010 issue of In Dance.