Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 24






Tliis chapter is drawn from a b o o k - l e n g t h study o f the explosion o f queer urban subcultures in the last decade. M y larger purpose is to e x a m i n e h o w many queer c o m m u n i t i e s e x p e r i e n c e and spend time in ways that are very different from their heterosexual counterparts. Q u e e r uses o f time and space develop in opposition to the institutions o f family, heterosexuality, and reproduction, and q u e e r subcultures develop as alternatives to kinship-based notions o f c o m m u n i t y . In my w o r k on subcultures I explore the stretched out adolescences o f q u e e r culture makers and I posit an "epistemology o f y o u t h " that disrupts c o n v e n tional accounts o f subculture, youth culture, adulthood, race, class, and maturity.' Q u e e r subcultures produce alternative temporalities by al l o w i n g their participants to believe that their futures can be imagined according to logics that lie outside o f the conventional forward-moving narratives o f birth, marriage, reproduction, and death. It is usual in the study o f gender and sexuality to use the term " q u e e r " to refer simply to "sexual minorities." And while " q u e e r " certainly takes o n this m e a n ing in my study, it can also b e defined here as an o u t c o m e o f t e m p o rality, life scheduling, and eccentric e c o n o m i c practices. W h e n we detach queerness from sexual identity in this way, we c o m e closer to understand ing M i c h e l Foucaults c o m m e n t in an interview that "homosexuality 27


Q u e e r Youth Cultures

threatens people as a way o f Hfe" rather than as a way o f having sex ( 3 1 0 ) . M u c h o f the c o n t e m p o r a r y theory seeking to disconnect q u e e r ness from an essential definition o f homosexuaHty has focused upon queer space and q u e e r sexual practices, but such theories depend, i m pHcitly, upon a rarely articulated n o t i o n o f q u e e r time.^ T h e y also c o n c e n t r a t e almost exclusively upon the activities o f white gay men. T h i s study will include material on and by w h i t e gay m e n , but it will focus o n lesbian and transgender subcultures (punk, drag, performance, spoken word) and will pay special attention to racialized constructions o f youth, leisure, waste, and maturity. T h e focus on queer subcultures, and dyke subcultures in particular, allow us to make s o m e potentially new claims about agency, style, liminality, community, and history. A broad-based study o f queer subcultures, as I have suggested, can provide material evidence for lives lived "otherwise," outside o f the c o n v e n tional life narratives o f family and reproduction, but it can also point to those m o d e s o f resistance that survive the e n c o u n t e r b e t w e e n m a r ginal subjects and d o m i n a n t culture. A n essay by Judith B u t l e r in a volume dedicated to the w o r k o f Stuart Hall tackles the question o f what kinds o f agency can b e read into forms o f activity that tend to be associated with style. S h e asks: . .] h o w do we read the agency o f the subject w h e n its demand for cultural and psychic and political survival makes itself k n o w n as style?" (36). And, building o n the w o r k by Hall and others in the classic v o l u m e on subcultures, Resistance Throuj^h Rituals, Butler puts the c o n cept o f "ritual" into m o t i o n as a practice that can either reinforce or disrupt cultural norms. Liminal subjects, she implies, those w h o are excluded from "the n o r m s that govern the recognizability o f the h u man," are sacrificed to maintain c o h e r e n c e within the category o f the human, and for t h e m , style is b o t h the sign o f their exclusion and the m o d e by w h i c h they survive nonetheless. T h e power o f Judith B u t l e r s work, here and elsewhere, lies in her ability to show h o w m u c h has b e e n excluded, rejected, abjected in the formation o f h u m a n c o m m u nity and what toll those exclusions take upon particular subjects. P u n k has always b e e n the stylized and ritualized language o f the rejected; as Poly Styrene o f X - r a y S p e x sings:"! a m a reject and I don't care!" Q u e e r p u n k has surfaced in recent years as a potent critique o f h e t e r o - and h o m o - n o r m a t i v i t y , and dyke punk in particular, by bands Hke T r i b e 8 and T h e Haggard, inspires a reconsideration o f the topic o f subcultures in relation to queer cultural production and in opposition

W h a t ' s T h a t Smell?


to notions o f gay comnnmity. Subcultures provide a vital critique o f the seemingly organic nature o f " c o m m u n i t y " and they make visible the forms of u n b e l o n g i n g and disconnection that are necessary to the c r e ation o f community. At a ti me when "gay and lesbian c o m m u n i t y " is used as a rallying cry for fairly conservative social projects aimed at assimilating gays and lesbians into the mainstream o f the life o f the nation and fimily, queer subcultures preserve the critique of heteronormativity that was always implicit in queer life. " C o m m u n i t y , " gener.illy speaking, is the term used to describe seemingly natural fc^rms o f congregation. As Sarah T h o r n t o n cc^mments in her introduction Ilic Suhcullnrcs to /^Jcr/Jrr: " C o m m u n i t y tends to suggest a more permanent

population, often .iligned to a n e i g h b o r h o o d , o f which fimily is the key constituent p.nt. Kinship would seem to be o n e o f the main building blocks of c-ommunity" (2). Subcultures, however, suggest transient, e x tr.if.nnili.il, .nid opposition.il modes of affiliation. T h e ide.i of c o m m u nity, writes )e.ni-kuc Nancy, emerges out of the Christian ritual of c o m m u n i o n .nid expresses .1 sense o f something that we o n c e had that h.is now been lost, A c o n n e c t i o n that was o n c e w.is org.niic and life giving (li.U now is m o r i b u n d .nid redund.nit. N.nicy c.ills this the "lost c o m m u n i t y ' ' .nul expresses suspicion about this "bel.ited the intim.icy of .1 c o m m u n i o n invention." N . n u y writes: "Wh.it (his c-omnumity has l o s t ' t h e i m m a n e n c e and is lost only in the sense that such a 'loss' is constitutive o f \-oininunity' itself" ( I 2 ) . 1 1 i e reminder th.it cjuests for c o m m u n i t y .ire .ilw.iys nost.ilgic attempts to return to s o m e f.intasi/ed m o m e n t o f union and unity reve.ils the conservative st.ikes in urgent. c o m m u n i t y lor .ill kinds of politic.il projects and m.ikes the reconsider.ition of subcultures .ill the more I IN

K M . L A I ) o r A I.ADYMAN

Sle.iter-Kinney's anthem, "B.illad o f a Ladyman," describes the allure of siibcultur.il life for the l.ulym.in, the fre.ik w h o w.ints to " r o c k with the tough girls." H i e y s i n g : " ! could be demure like / girls w h o are soft for / boys w h o .ire fe.irful o f / getting an earful / lUit I gotta rock!" 'Hie b.inci l.iyers ('.orin ilicker's shrill but tuneful vocals over the discorcl.int .ind forceful guit.ir playing o f C a r r i e Brownstein and the hard rhythm of Weiss's percussion. T h i s is a heat that takes no prisoners and m.ikes no concessions to the "boys w h o are fearful of getting an ear ful |. . .|." And while S l e a t e r - K i n n e y are most c^ften folded into histories o f the " r i o t grrrl" p h e n o m e n o n and girl punk, they must .also be placed


Q u e e r Y o u t h Cultures

within a n e w wave o f dyke subcultures. W h e n taken separately, riot dyke bands, drag kings, and queer slam poets all s e e m to represent a queer edge in a larger cultural p h e n o m e n o n . W h e n considered together, they add up to a fierce and lively queer subculture that needs to be r e c k o n e d with o n its o w n terms. T h i s essay tracks the significant dif ferences b e t w e e n the ladymen w h o r o c k and roll and drag up and slam their way toward n e w q u e e r futures and the p u n k rockers o f an earlier generation o f subcultural activity. M y tour o f dyke subcultures takes in riot dyke p u n k by bands like Sleater-Kinney, T h e B u t c h i e s , L e T i g r e , T r i b e 8, T h e Haggard, and B i t c h and Animal; drag kings like D r e d , and drag king b o y band parody group B a c k d o o r Boys; slam poets like Alix O l s o n and Staceyann C h i n . Q u e e r subcultures are related to old school subcultures like punk, but they also carve out n e w territory for a consideration o f the overlap o f gender, generation, class, race, c o m m u nity, and sexuality in relation to m i n o r i t y cultural production. I have long been interested in and part o f various subcultural groups. As a young person I r e m e m b e r well the experience o f finding punk rock in the middle o f a typically horrible grammar school experience in England in the 1970s. I plunged into punk rock music, clothing, and rebellion precisely because it gave m e a language with w h i c h to reject not only the high cultural texts in the classroom but also the h o m o p h o bia and sexism outside it. I tried singing in a punk band called Penny Black and the Stamps for a b r i e f t w o - w e e k period thinking that my utter lack o f musical ability would serve m e weU finally B u t , alas, even punk divas scream in key and m y rebel yells were not mellifluous enough to launch my punk singing career. Instead o f singing, I collected records, went to shows, dyed my hair, and fashioned outfits from safety pins and bondage pants. And so I learned at an early age that even i f you cannot be in the band, participation at multiple levels is what subculture offers. I found myself reminiscing over my punk past w h e n I began researching drag king cultures for a collaborative project with photographer D e l LaGrace Volcano. T h r o u g h my n e w subcultural involvement I began to see s o m e specific features o f queer subculture as opposed to larger his torical subcultures like punk rock. After finishing m y drag king b o o k in 1 9 9 9 , I received calls every few m o n t h s from T V stations wanting m e to put t h e m in t o u c h with drag kings for talk shows and news shows. M o s t o f these shows would invite the kings o n to parade around with s o m e drag queens in front o f a studio audience. At the end o f the show, the audience would vote o n w h e t h e r each king o r queen was really a man o r really a w o m a n . A

What's T h a t Smell?


few o f the kings managed to circumvent the e i t h e r / o r format and offer up a m o r e c o m p l e x gendered self; and so, black drag king D r e d t o o k off her mustache to reveal a " w o m a n ' s " face but then t o o k o f f her w i g to reveal a bald pate. T h e audience was confused and horrified by the spectacle o f indeterminacy. J o s h G a m s o n in Freaks Talk Back has written about the potential for talk shows to allow the "crazies" and " q u e e r s " to talk back, but most o f the time w h e n drag kings appeared in mass public venues, the host did all the talking.^ D r a g kings also made an appearance in H B O ' s Sex and the City and on M T V ' s Real Life. On every occasion that drag kings appeared on "straight" T V , they were deployed as an entertaining backdrop against w h i c h heterosexual desire was showcased and celebrated. As s o m e o n e w h o has tirelessly p r o m o t e d drag kings, as individual performers and as a subculture, I found the w h o l e process o f watching the mass culture's flirtation with drag kings depressing and disheartening; but it did clarify for m e what my stakes might b e in p r o m o t i n g drag kings: after watching drag kings try to go prime time, I remain c o m m i t t e d to archiving and celebrating and ana lyzing q u e e r subcultures before they are dismissed by mass culture or before they simply disappear from lack o f exposure or what we might call "subcultural fatigue," namely the p h e n o m e n o n o f burn out a m o n g subcultural producers. As the talk show p h e n o m e n o n vividly illustrates, mainstream culture within postmodernism should be defined as the process by w h i c h sub cultures are /)()/// recognized and absorbed, mosdy for the profit o f large media conglomerates. In o t h e r words, w h e n T V stations show an inter est in a dyke subculture like drag kings, this is cause for b o t h celebra tion and c o n c e r n : on the o n e hand, the mainstream recognition and a c k n o w l e d g m e n t o f a subculture has the potential to alter the contours o f dominant culture (think here o f the small inroads into popular notions o f sex, gender, and race made by the regular presence o f black drag queen R u Paul on cable T V ) ; but, on the o t h e r hand, most o f the interest directed by mainstream media at subcultures is voyeurisdc and predatory. T h e subculture might appear on T V eventually as an illustra tion o f the strange and perverse, or else it will be summarily robbed o f its salient features and the subcultural form: drag, for example, will be lifted w i t h o u t the subcultural producers, drag queens or kings. In an essay that tracks the results o f precisely this process, M a r c o B e c q u e r and J o s e Ciatti e x a m i n e the contradictory effects o f the sudden visibihty o f Harlem drag balls and their drag practices. In their analysis o f the c o optation o f gay vogueing by Madonna's hit single " V o g u e " and by


Q u e e r Youth Cultures

J e n n i e Livingston s acclaimed independent film Paris Is Burning, B e c q u e r and Gatti show h o w the c o u n t e r - h e g e m o n i c knowledge articulated in vogueing meets with "the v i o l e n c e o f the universal." B e c q u e r and Gatti write o f M a d o n n a s video and Livingston s film: " B o t h partake in the production o f newness, a process w h i c h purports to keep us up-to-date as it continually adds o n novelties to a relational system that absorbs them; b o t h contain vogueing beneath the pluralist umbrella o f hipness" ( 4 5 2 ) . A n d so, while the queens in Paris Is Burning expressed a desire the for precisely the kind o f fame and fortune that did eventually accrue to vogueing, the fame went to director J e n n i e Livingston and fortune went to M a d o n n a . T h e subculture itself, the gay black and P u e r t o R a c a n children o f the houses o f C h a n n e l , Extravaganza, and LaBeija, disappeared back into the world o f sex work, HIV, and queer glamour, and within five years o f the release o f Paris Is Burnirt'^, five o f the queens in the film were dead.^ The mainstream absorption o f vogueing highlights the uneven e x c h a n g e b e t w e e n dominant culture scavengers and subcultural artists: subcultural artists often seek out mainstream attention for their perfor mances and productions in the hopes o f gaining financial assistance for future endeavors. Subcultural activity is, o f course, rarely profitable, always costly for the producers and it can be very short lived without the necessary cash infusions (in the words o f S l e a t e r - K i n n e y : " T h i s music gig doesn't pay that g o o d , but the fans are alright [. . . ] " ) . S o m e subcultural producers turn the subculture itself into a source o f revenue and as Angela M c R o b b i e c o m m e n t s : "Subcultures are often ways o f creating j o b opportunities as m o r e traditional careers disappear [. . . ] " ( 1 9 9 4 , 1 6 2 ) . S o while the subcultural producers h o p e for cash and a litrie exposure, the dominant culture scavengers are usually l o o k i n g for a story and h o p i n g for that brush with the " n e w " and the " h i p " d e scribed so well by B e c q u e r and Gatti. In my experiences w o r k i n g with drag kings however, we found that while big media reached their "hipness q u o t a " quickly with the addition o f a few well-placed drag kings, in return, they almost never paid for drag king services and w h e n they did pay, it was always a pittance. Obviously the payback for the subcultural participants c a n n o t c o m e in the f o r m o f material benefits; what seems m o r e useful then, in this e x c h a n g e b e t w e e n mainstream attention and subcultural product, would be to use the e n c o u n t e r to force s o m e kind o f recognition upon audiences that what is appealing about mainstream culture may very well c o m e from subcultures that they do n o t even k n o w exist or that they have repudiated.

W h a t ' s T h a t Smell?


As G e o r g e Lipsitz's w o r k has shown m relation to ethnic m i n o r i t y cultures, cultural producers often function as organic intellectuals, in a Gramscian sense; as such, minority artists can produce what Lipsitz terms "a historical b l o c " o r a coalition o f oppositional groups united around counter-hegemonic ideas (357). While in (Tramsci's formulation, the organic intellectual undermines the role o f the traditional intellectual w h o serves to legitimize and audiorize elite political interests, in subcultures where academics might labor side by side widi artists, the "historical b l o c " can easily describe an alliance between the minority academic and the m i nority subcultuial j-jroducer. W h e r e such alliances exist academics can play a big role in the construction of queer archives, and queer memory, and, furthermore, queer academics can and sc^me shc^uld participate in the o n g o i n g project of recoding cjueer culture and interpreting it and circu lating A sense of its multij^licity and sc^phisticatic^n. T h e more intellectual records we h.ive of cjueer culture, the more we contribute to the project of claiming for the subculture the radical cultural work that either gets absorbed into or cl.limed by mainstream media. s u i u ui i u K i : s : nil-. o i i r j : K DANCL MIX

Siilniiltures h.ive been an important o b j e c t of study for sc^ciology and cultural studies since the I92()s. In about the l^)S()s, hcwever, work on subciihiiies seemed t o fill out o f fivor as scholars began to doubt the utility o f the term and the descriptive potential o f the binary opposi tion between subculture and dominant culture. W h i l e early work on subcultures f r o m the C l i i c . i g o school assumed a relationship between siibc lilt tires and deviance or clelinquency, later work from the l^irmingh.iin LJniveisily (Center for ( ' o n t e m j M ) r a r y Gultural Studies character ized subcultures as class-specific "youth formations."'' One influential texts on subcultures, S\il)(\il{iircs:'llic o f the most M('(inin<^ of .S7y/c, by D i c k

Hebclige, re.ids subcultures in terms c^f the way they challenged h e g e m o n y through style rather than simply through overt ideological articu lations. 1 lebclige ch.iracteri/ecl the recuperation of subcultural discorder in terms ot either .in e c o n o m i c conversion of the signs and symbols o f the subculture into m.iss culture c o m m o d i t i e s or an ideological c o n v e r sion of the siibciiltiir.il p.irticip.int into either c o m p l e t e otherness or cc^mj^lete spect.icle. I lebclige s wc^rk has been bc^th widely celebrated and widely critic|iiecl in the two decades since its original publication and obviously it cannot be .ipplied in any simple way to cc^ntemporary subcultui.il scenes. And yet, it remains an important text for thinking


Q u e e r Y o u t h Cultures

about h o w to m o v e b e y o n d the contextuahzation o f subcultures in terms o f relations b e t w e e n youth and parent cultures and for its f o r m u lations o f style and historicity. Almost all o f the early w o r k on subcultures, including H e b d i g e s, has presumed the d o m i n a n c e o f males in subcultural activity and has studied youth groups as the most lively producers o f n e w cultural styles. The subcultures that I want to e x a m i n e here are neither male n o r necessarily y o u n g and they are less likely to b e c o - o p t e d o r absorbed back into d o m i n a n t culture because they were never offered m e m b e r ship in d o m i n a n t groups in the first place. Q u e e r lesbian subcultures have rarely b e e n discussed in the existing literature, and they offer today a n e w area o f study for q u e e r scholarship as well as e x c i t i n g o p p o r t u nities for collaborations b e t w e e n q u e e r cultural producers and q u e e r academics. O n e o f the reasons that theorists tend to l o o k to subcultures for political m o b i h z a d o n has to do with the confladon o f subculture and youth culture. D i c k H e b d i g e , in an essay o n " Y o u t h , Surveillance, and Display," for example, understands youth subcultures to register a dissatisfaction and alienation from the parent culture, w h i c h is b o t h "a declaration o f i n d e p e n d e n c e [. . .] and a confirmation o f the fact o f powerlessness" ( 4 0 4 ) . E v e n though this reading provides us with a better understanding o f h o w political protest m i g h t b e registered in a youth subculture, it remains trapped in the oedipal framework that pits the subculture against parent culture. Q u e e r subcultures, unlike the m a l e - d o m i n a t e d youth cultures that D i c k H e b d i g e , Stuart Hall, and o t h e r m e m b e r s o f the B i r m i n g h a m school have written about, are not located in any easy relation to s o called parent cultures: m u c h o f the B i r m i n g h a m school w o r k on s u b cultures indeed (and this is partly why it fell out o f favor in the early 1990s) presumed an oedipalized structure within w h i c h rebel youths reject the world o f their parents and create a netherworld within w h i c h to reshape and reform the legacies o f an older generation. E c o n o m i c , political, and social conflicts may b e resolved in subcultural arenas, according to these arguments, without reaUy effecting any grand changes at the level o f superstructure. O f course such a t h e o r y o f subcultures has l o n g since b e e n replaced by m o r e nuanced understandings o f the relations b e t w e e n class, youth, and mass media, and indeed in an essay on youth cultures, "Different, Youthful, S u b j e c t i v i t s : Towards a C u l tural S o c i o l o g y o f Y o u t h , " Angela M c R o b b i e c o m m e n t s : " T h e r e is certainly n o l o n g e r a case to b e made for the traditional argument that youth culture is produced s o m e h o w in conditions o f working-class

W h a t ' s T h a t Smell?


purity, and that such expressions are authentic and m the first instance at least i i n c o n t a m i n a t e d by an avaricious c o m m e r c i a l culture" ( 1 9 9 4 , 1 7 9 ) . B u t , while M c R o b b i e goes on to rethink the relations b e t w e e n white youth postmodern nes that and youth youth o f c o l o r and the m e a n i n g o f femininity m cultures, she still presumes a heterosexual o f sexuality and trame-

work. ( ) i i e e r subcultures illustrate vividly the limits o f subcultural d i e o omit consideration sexual styles: q u e e r subcultures, obviously, c a n n o t only be placed in relation to a "parent culture"; diey tend to form in relation to place as m u c h as in relation to a genre of cultural expression, and, ultimately, they oppose n o t only the h e g e m o n y of d o m i n a n t culture Init also the mainstreaming of gay and lesbian culture. As M i c h a e l du Plessis and Kathleen C h a p m a n port h o m o c o r e not only signaled their allegiances to post-punk re in an article about "C)ueercore," for example: " q i i e e r c o r e and subculture,

but also positioned themselves as |. . .| distinct from lesbian and gay" ( 4 5 ) . burtherniore, c|ueer subcultures are not simply spin-ofis fiom s o m e distinct youth culture like punk: as we will see in relation to riot dyke, queer music subcultures may be as likely to draw upon womeiTs music from the 197()s
c U i d

early 19(S()s as from British punk circa 1 9 7 7 . o f subcultures in several

W e need

to alter our understandings

imj^ortcUit ways in order to address the specificities of c|ueer subcultures and t | u e e r subcultural sites, birst, we need to rethink the relation b e tween theorist
c U i d

subcultural jxuticipant, recognizing that for many

queers, the boundary between theorist and cultural producer might be slight or at least permeable. S e c o n d , most subcultural theories are c r e ated to describe
c U i d

a c c o u n t for male heterosexual adolescent activity

and they c U e adjusted only when female heterosexual adolescent activity c o m e s into focus. N e w c|iieer subcultural theory will have to a c c o u n t for nonheterosexiial, nonexclusively male, n o n w h i t e , and nonadolescent subcultural j^roduction in all its sj^ecificity. Third, we need to theorize the coiucjM o f the archive and consider new models of c|ueer m e m o r y and c|iieer history caj^able of recording and tracing subterranean scenes, fly-by-night clubs, and fleeting trends; we need, in J o s e Munoz's words, "an archive o f the cj^hemeral" (5~1(S). ianally, q u e e r subcultures offer us an oj>jM)rtiinity to redefine the binary of adolescence and adulthood that structures so many inquiries into subcultures. Precisely because many c|ueers refuse and resist the heteronormative imperative o f h o m e and fimily, they also prolong the j^eriods of their life devoted to s u b cultural j > a r t i c i p a t i o n / r h i s challenge to the notion of the subculture as a youth formation could on the o n e hand expand the definition o f


Q u e e r Y o u t h Cultures

subculture b e y o n d its most banal significations o f youth in crisis and on the o t h e r hand challenge our notion o f adulthood as reproductive maturity. I want to n o w consider each o n e o f these features o f q u e e r subcultural production in relation to specific lesbian subcultures. QUEER SPACE/QUEER TIME ''Hot Topic'': The Death of the Expert

First then, let us consider the relations b e t w e e n subcultural producers and queer cultural theorists. Q u e e r subcultures encourage blurred b o u n d aries b e t w e e n archivists and producers, w h i c h is not to say that this is the only subcultural space within w h i c h the theorist and the cultural w o r k e r may b e the same people.^' M i n o r i t y subcultures in general tend to b e d o c u m e n t e d by f o r m e r or current m e m b e r s o f the subculture rather than by "adult" experts. Nonetheless, q u e e r subcultures in par ticular are often marked by this lack o f distinction b e t w e e n the archivist and the cultural worker. A g o o d example o f this blurring b e t w e e n producer and analyst would b e D r . Vaginal C r e m e Davis, a drag queen w h o enacts, d o c u m e n t s , and theorizes an array o f drag characters. A n o t h e r would b e Juanita M o h a m m e d , M o t h e r o f the H o u s e o f M a s h o o d , a women's drag house in Manhattan. M o h a m m e d keeps a history o f the participation o f w o m e n o f c o l o r in the drag cultures even as she r e cruits new " c h i l d r e n " to the H o u s e o f M a s h o o d . M o h a m m e d also goes o n e step further and makes herself central to A I D S activism in relation to queers o f color. T h e queer archivist o r theorist and the cultural workers may also coexist in the same friendship networks, and they may function as c o conspirators. A g o o d example o f this relation would be academic T a m m y R a e Carland w h o runs an independent record label, M r . Lady, manages dyke punk band T h e Butchies, and teaches at the University o f N o r t h Carolina. Finally, the academic and the cultural producer may see t h e m selves in a complementary relationship. L e Tigre, for example, a riot dyke band, have a song called " H o t T o p i c " in which they name the w o m e n , academics, filmmakers, musicians, and producers w h o have inspired them and w h o m they want to inspire. T h e y sing: " C a r o l R a m a and Eleanor An tin / Y o k o O n o and Carole S c h n e e m a n / You're getting old, that's what they'll say, but / I don't give a damn, I ' m listening anyway." M o r e typically, cultural theorists have l o o k e d to groups o f w h i c h they are n o t necessarily a part, most often youth subcultures, for an

W h a t ' s T h a t Smell?


encapsulated expression o f the experiences o f a subordinated class. T h e youth subculture then b e c o m e s the raw materia] for a developed theory o f cultural resistance o r the semiotics o f style or s o m e other discourse that n o w leaves the subculture behhid. F o r a n e w generation o f queer theorists, a generation m o v i n g o n from the split between densely t h e o retical q u e e r t h e o r y in a psychoanalytic m o d e on the o n e hand and stricdy ethnographic q u e e r research o n the other, n e w queer cultural studies feeds o f f o f and back into subcultural production. T h e academic might be the archivist o r a coarchivist o r she might be a full-fledged participant in the subcultural scene that he or she writes about. But only rarely does the q u e e r theorist stand wholly apart from the subcul ture e x a m i n i n g it with an expert's gaze. ''Wildcat IVofiicff": Lesbian Punk and Slam Poetry

Second, queer subcultural dieory should begin with those communities that never seem to surface in die commentaries on subcultures in general: namely lesbian subcultures and subcultures o f color. (>ultuial theory has cre.ited a hier.irchy o f subcultures diat places English punk near the top and then arranges mods, rockers, metalheads, club kids, DJ cultures, ravers, and rappers in some sort o f descending order o f importance. At the b o t t o m o f the pyramid o f subcultures we will find girl fan cultures, house drag cultures, and gay sex cultures. Lesbian subcultures almost never appear .it all; and so, even in die documentation on balls and drag cul tures, women's involvement and relation to drag has been left out o f theoretical accounts and subcultural histories. K e c o r d i n g the presence o f lesbian subcultures can make a huge difference to the kinds o f subcultural histories that get written: whether it is a history o f drag that only focuses on gay m e n , a history o f punk that only focuses on white boys, or a history o f girl cultures that only focuses upon heterosexual girls. To give one example o f the difference an awareness o f lesbian subcultures can make, we can turn to early work in the 1970s on die participation o f girls in punk subcultures. Theorists like Angela M c R o b b i e , J e n n i e (iarber, and others talked about the invisibility o f female subcul tures and the tendency o f girls to participate in c o - e d subcultures only as girlfriends o r groupies. M c l ^ o b b i e and Garber concluded: "Girls' subcultures may have b e c o m e invisible because the very t e r m 'subcul ture' has acquired such strong masculine overtones |. . . ] " ( 1 9 7 5 ; 1 9 9 3 , 1 1 4 ) . In this essay and even in m o r e recent work on girls and subcul tures, there tends to be litde recognition that some girls, usually queer


Q u e e r Y o u t h Cultures

girls, may in fact involve themselves in subcultures precisely because o f the "strong masculine overtones" associated with the activity. A n d so, a y o u n g queer girl interested in punk will not be put o f f by the m a s c u Hnity o f the subcultureshe may as easily be seduced by it. In another essay written some twelve years later and collected in Angela M c R o b b i e s b o o k Feminism and Youth Culture, however, M c R o b b i e articulates pre cisely the failed promise o f subcultural membership for y o u n g girls: " W h e r e a s m e n w h o 'play around' with femininity are nowadays c r e d ited with s o m e degree o f power to c h o o s e , gender e x p e r i m e n t a t i o n , sexual ambiguity and homosexuaHty a m o n g girls are viewed differ ently." M c R o b b i e then concludes: " [ . . .] the possibility o f escaping oppressive aspects o f adolescent heterosexuality in a youth culture [. . . ] remains m o r e o r less unavailable to girls" ( 1 9 9 1 ; 2 0 0 0 , 3 6 ) . It is not until the 1 9 9 0 s that girls begin to find in subcultural life an escape hatch from heteronormativity and its regulations. T h e w o r k o f Angela M c R o b b i e over the years has served as a critique o f the masculinism o f early p r o n o u n c e m e n t s on subcultures; but m o r e than this, M c R o b b i e has returned insistendy to the topic o f youth cultures and gender, race, and class. Indeed, M c R o b b i e ' s opus by n o w stands as a rich, deep, and important theoretical archive o n o p p o sitional forms o f culture making. In her collection o f essays and Popular Culture, Postmodernism M c R o b b i e models a f o r m o f intellectual practice

that she calls "feminist postmodernism," w h i c h allows her to "confront questions w h i c h otherwise remain unasked" ( 1 9 9 4 , 2 ) . In the process o f engaging these otherwise unasked questions, she suggests, " w e also find o u r academic practice and our politics undergoing s o m e degree o f transformation and c h a n g e " ( 2 ) . M c R o b b i e ' s wiUingness to track the transformations in her o w n body o f w o r k and to trace changes in her o w n thinking about key topics provides an excellent model for cultural theory in an ever-evolving and shifting field. In o n e key chapter titled "wShut U p and D a n c e , " M c R o b b i e returns to the topic o f femininity and subcultures and considers her position n o w as the m o t h e r o f a daughter w h o attends raves. C o m m e n t i n g that we need to reorient our analyses o f youth culture given "shifts in gender relations in the last decade," M c R o b b i e examines the impact o f feminism upon b o t h mass media representations o f femininity and gender n o r m s circulated by and a m o n g y o u n g girls. M c R o b b i e concludes that girls are n o w o p e r ating with m o r e flexible gender n o r m s and that "femininity is n o longer the ' o t h e r ' o f f e m i n i s m " ( 1 7 3 ) . M c R o b b i e does not go o n to study the punk femininities within dyke cultures, but i f she did, she would find a fabulous array o f feminist

What's T h a t Smell?


and q u e e r f e m m e performances. Guitarists Hke LesHe M a h o f T r i b e 8 and vocalists like K a t h l e e n Hanna o f L e T i g r e and B e t h D i t t o o f T h e Gossip all articulate the explosive potential o f a queer femininity that served as an undercurrent to much o f the riot grrrl feminism and that is readable as radical style in queer punk. T h e recent explosion o f dyke punk bands like Bitch and Animal, T h e Butchies, Le T i g r e , T h e N e e d , T h e Haggard, T r i b e 8 also challenges the conventional of punk as m a l e - d o m i n a t e d understandings that bands and o f queercore as a largely gay male

p h e n o m e n o n . T h i s explosion also makes visible the queerness by mainstream media. T h e hardcore styles o f many o f these

energized the riot grrrl m o v e m e n t even as it was assiduously ignored reminds us that punk in general, contrary to the usual accounts o f the subculture, has always been a place for young girls to remake their genders. In her excellent b o o k on w(^men in punk. Pretty in Pnnk: (ciider ResistiUice in a Boys' Subculture, dirls' Lauraine Leblanc tracks the r e -

lationship o f girls to punk rock; while some girls involved themselves in the scene through their boyfriends, Leblanc argues that s o m e o f the really tough gids involved in punk had to b e c o m e "virtual boys" in order to earn the respect o f their male counterparts. W h i l e the subculture remains resolutely heterosexual in form, Leblanc found that punk offered gids "strategies o f resistance to gender n o r m s " ( 1 3 ) . Lesbian punks are pretty much absent from Leblanc's otherwise excellent and thorough ethnographic study o f punk girls; and this may have had as nuich to do with when she c o n d u c t e d her research as it has to do with the reluctance o f the gids she studied to identify as queer, bor as the wave o f riot grrd crested and began to recede in the mid 199()s, many o f the most interesting bands left standing were queer, fem.ile, and loud. S o m e o f these bands, like Sleater-Kinney, retooled fenuninity and made punk femininity unreliable as a marker of het er osexu.ility. Sleater-Kinney modeled new femininities at the level o f musical perform.mce as much <is at the level o f style. F o r example, the band layers two very distinctive guitars over the drums but they o m i t the bass. I b e b.iss can be read here <is a " m a s c u l i n e " instrument in terms o f its production o f noise in the lower registers but it can also be read as a stereotypic.illy " f e m a l e " instrument given that many w o m e n in rock bands have been relegated to bass player because the "lead" guitar was presumed to be a male role.^ B y using two guitars, S l e a t e r - K i n n e y both undercut the notion o f "lead" and they refuse the conventional arrangement o f bass, guitar, and drums. O t h e r bands, like T h e Llaggard, a hardcore band from Portland, O r e g o n , produce a gender-bending sound by c o m b i n i n g drum and guitar noise with a butch voice overlay T h e


Q u e e r Youth Cultures

singer, Emily, produces a guttural roar that is neither a male v o i c e n o r a female voice, and she spew^s her lyrics in an indecipherable growth T h i s butch voice show^s n o c o n c e r n for intelUgibility o r virtuosity, but it produces a raw and original sound while redefining the m e a n i n g o f voice, singing, and lyric. Just as the recognition o f lesbian involvement in punk subcultures changes the way we understand b o t h the punk p h e n o m e n o n and the recent riot dyke music trend, so lesbian involvement in slam poetry forces c o m m e n t a t o r s to rethink universalizing narratives about youth cultures. W h i l e slam poetry is a nationwide p h e n o m e n o n , the e m e r gence o f highly talented lesbian slam poets has changed the nature o f the slam event. T w o performers in particular have garnered mainstream and local a t t e n t i o n : w h i t e lesbian A l i x O l s o n and J a m a i c a n - b o r n Staceyann C h i n . Alix O l s o n was a m e m b e r o f the N u y o r i c a n Slam Team, w h i c h w o n the national championship in 1 9 9 8 . S h e was also the 1 9 9 9 O U T W R I T E slam c h a m p i o n after a l o n g and thrilling slam o f f b e t w e e n herself and Staceyann C h i n . " Slam poetry is a f o r m o f c o m petitive poetry in w h i c h poets perform three-minute p o e m s for a panel o f j u d g e s c h o s e n from the audience; the j u d g e s rate the p o e m s on a scale o f 1 to 1 0 and the slammers move through preliminary rounds until they face off'in the finals. T h i s necessitates each poet often m e m o rizing and performing up to ten p o e m s a night. As popularized by the film SLAM, the slam poetry contest can easily degenerate i n t o a m a c h o contest o f speed and fury; but it is also an offshoot o f rap in terms o f its rhythm and c o m b i n a t i o n o f spoken word with a beat. Slams therefore do attract poets o f c o l o r in large numbers. S l a m appeals to q u e e r youth and q u e e r youth o f c o l o r b e cause o f the very obvious c o n n e c t i o n s to rap. In places like Oakland, spoken word groups o f c o l o r have b e e n at the c e n t e r o f q u e e r youth activity. R e c e n t l y q u e e r poets o f c o l o r like Sri Lankan slam poet D ' L o and J a m a i c a n - b o r n Staceyann C h i n have made the slam a forum for very different messages about love, race, and poetry. In " D y k e p o e m " from h e r c o l l e c t i o n Wildcat Woman, C h i n begins with the Hne " I killed a man today" and tells o f a y o u n g black girl w h o fights off" a rapist and justifies her sinful act saying: " I g o i n g to hell anyway / w o m e n w h o like other w o m e n go there, you know." T h e p o e m closes with a vision o f prison as "a place / with only girl children inside / that place ain't n o heU / sounds like heaven to m e " ( 1 6 - 1 7 ) . C h i n is a superb performer, and she regularly slams at q u e e r people o f c o l o r events all over N e w York C i t y s h e is as likely to appear in a nightclub as at a rally, at a

W h a t ' s T h a t Smell?


conference as o n the street. A n d while many o f her p o e m s are tough, sexy, and angry, she also infuses her w o r k with a sense o f irony and selfreflexivity. In " D o n ' t W a n t T o Slam," C h i n writes: "I've decided / I don't want to b e / a poet w h o just writes / for the slam anymore [. . . ] . " T h e slam, she goes on to say, is just a "staged revoludon," a spectacle o f word pimps selling lines and rhymes for a quick " T E N " from the judges. W i t h breath-taking speed, the p o e m moves through a pointed critique o f slamming and makes a call for poems that tell "true histories o f m e and you |. . .|." But the last verse shows that the slam is true history, is revolution, and may just change the world by c h a n g i n g the word. B y the end o f the last line, we believe her: 1 want to write / I left my lover and / n o w I want her back poems / I miss Jamaica / but n o w T m never g o i n g back poems / 1 k n o w it's not a ten / but it sends shivers down M Y back poems / p o e m s that talk about life / and love and laughter / poems that reveal the flaws / that make strikingly real people / real p o e m s / poems that are so honest / they slam. C h i n s and Olson's slam poetry takes lesbian feminism and w o m e n o f c o l o r feminism to a new stage and a new audience and make poetry into the language o f riot and change. Shoot i Stdrs: Queer Archives

T h i r d , the nature o f queer subcultural activity requires a nuanced theory o f archives and archiving. W o r k on archives and archiving is well under way and can be found in the work o f an eclectic group o f queer cultural theorists including Ann O e t k o v i c h , Lauren I^erlant, and J o s M u o z . ' Ideally, an archive o f queer subcultures would merge e t h n o graphic interviews with performers and fins with research in the multiple archives that already exist on line and in o t h e r unofficial sites. Q u e e r zincs, posters, guerilla art, and o t h e r temporary artifacts would make up some o f the paper archives, and descriptions o f shows along with the self-understandings o f cultural producers would provide supplementary materials. But the notion o f an archive has to extend beyond the image o f a place to collect material or hold documents, and it has to b e c o m e a floating signifier for the kinds o f lives implied by the paper remnants of shows, clubs, events, and meetings. T h e archive is not simply a r e pository; it is also a theory o f cultural relevance, a construction o f


Q u e e r Youth Cultures

collective m e m o r y and a c o m p l e x record o f queer activity. In order for the archive to function it requires users, interpreters, cultural historians to wade through the material and piece together the jigsaw puzzle o f queer history in the making. W h i l e s o m e o f the w o r k o f queer archiving certainly falls to academics, cultural producers also play a big role in constructing queer genealogies and m e m o r i e s ; as seen in L e Tigre's song, the lyrics to " H o t T o p i c " create an eclectic encyclopedia o f queer cultural production through unHkely juxtapositions ("Gayatri Spivak and Angela Davis / Laurie W e e k s and D o r o t h y Allison") and they claim a new poetic logic: " H o t topic is the way that we rhyme / hot topic is the way that we rhyme [. . . ] . " In o t h e r words, the historically situated theorists and film makers and musicians rhyme with each other's w o r k t h e rhyme is located in the function and not in the words. Similarly, while many lesbian punk bands do trace their influences back to male punk o r classic rock, as we saw in the last section, contrary to what o n e may e x p e c t , they do not c o m p l e t e l y distance themselves from o r c o u n t e r identify with 1 9 7 0 s and 1 9 8 0 s " w o m e n ' s music." In fact, s o m e dykecore bands see themselves as very m u c h a part o f a tradition o f loud and angry w o m e n . O n their C D Are We Not Femme? for example. N o r t h CaroHna-based band T h e B u t c h i e s perform a cover o f feminist goddess Cris Williamson's classic song " S h o o t i n g Star." Williamson's soaring, e m o t i o n - l a d e n song b e c o m e s a tough, percussive a n t h e m in the capable hands o f T h e B u t c h i e s , w h o add drum rolls and screeching guitars to lift the song o u t o f a w o m a n - l o v i n g - w o m a n groove and into a new era. O n their liner notes, T h e B u t c h i e s thank Cris WiUiamson for " b e i n g radical and singing songs to girls before t o o many others were and for writing such a kickass song [. . . ] . " I f we l o o k at the covers from T h e B u t c h i e s ' C D and C r i s Williamson's C D , it would b e hard to detect the c o n n e c t i o n s b e t w e e n the two. T h e B u t c h i e s C D pays obvious h o m a g e to punk c o n c e p t band D e v o both in terms o f its title (Devo's first album was called Are We Not Men) and in terms o f its iconography. T h e c o n n e c t i o n b e t w e e n T h e B u t c h i e s and C r i s Williamson however runs much deeper than their relation to punk bands Hke D e v o . T h e B u t c h i e s appear o n the cover wearing short, red pleather miniskirts, w h i c h do q u o t e the red plastic flower-pot hats w o r n by D e v o o n the cover o f Arc We Not Men. W i l l i a m s o n , o n the o t h e r hand, appears in dungarees and stands in what looks Hke the J o s h u a T r e e desert. H e r album tide, 77ie Changer and the Changed, references a modaHty o f mutuality, organic transformation, and reciprocity. T h e song itself, in her hands, teUs o f a

What's T h a t Smell?


"wonderful m o m e n t s on the j o u r n e y through my desert." S h e sings o f "crossing the desert for y o u " and seemg a s h o o t m g star, w h i c h reminds her o f her lover. T h e spectral image o f the s h o o t i n g star figures quite differently m T h e B u t c h i e s ' version, where it takes on m o r e o f the qualities o f a rocket than a galactic wonder. B u t T h e B u t c h i e s ' cover version o f Williamson's song has the tone o f tribute and not parody, and by making her song relevant for a n e w generation o f listeners. T h e B u t c h i e s refuse the model of generational conflict and build a bridge between their raucous spirit of rebellion and the quieter, acoustic world o f women's music fi-om die 197()s and 19(S()s. In an excellent essay on riot grrrl, feminism, and lesbian culture, M a r y (Celeste Kearney also points to the continuity rather than the break between women's music and riot grrrl. But, she c o m m e n t s , links between e.irlier modes of lesbian feminism and c o n t e m p o r a r y riot grrrl productions .ire regiil.irly ignored in favor of a history which makes riot grrrl the female offspring of male dominated punk. Like the new grrrl productions, women's music by Alix Dobkiiis, ( j i s Williamson, and others w.is produced on independent l.ibels (like Olivia K e c o r d s ) and received only sc.int mainstream attention, d'lie earlier music was made for, by, .ind about w o m e n and while much o f it did consist o f folkinfluenced b.ill.ids, there was also a hard and angry siibgenre that c o m bined lyrics about

hating with loud guitar playing (Maxiiie Feldniaii's

music, for ex.iniple). As Kearney points out, however, the noncommercial pr.ictices of I ^)7()s lesbi.in musicians has made them less easy to identify as m.ijor influences upon a new generation o f "all-gid community," and so while womeirs music is erased as .i musical influence, so lesbianism is ignored .IS .1 soci.il c o n t e x t for riot grrrl. Kearney writes: "In spite o f the c o t e r m i n o u s e m e r g e n c e in the U S o f riot grrd and queercore bands like Tribe S, K a i i d o m Violet, The Mudwiiiiiiiiii and Team I )resch, there have been rel.itively few links made by the iii.iiiistreaiii press between lesbi.in feminism, c|iieercore .iiid riot grriT' ( 2 2 2 ) . O t h e r lesbian punk or punk/folk bands see themselves both as heirs to an e.irlier generation of "pussy p o w e r " and as pioneers of new genres. Bitch and Animal, for example, authors o f " 7 he Pussy M a n i festo," describe their ( d ) IVIidfs lliiit Smell as "tit rock." In live perfor in.inces. Bitch plays an electric violin and Animal plays an array o f percussion. Their songs, like those o f d he Butchies, are themselves arcliiv.il records of lesbi.in subculture. O n e song from IVIiiits lliat Smell is called " D r a g K i n g B a r " and it posits the drag king bar as an alter native to .1 rather tired mainstream lesbian scene. W i t h Animal picking


Q u e e r Y o u t h Cultures

out a " y e e h a h " tune on the banjo, B i t c h sings about a place w h e r e "all the boys were really girls and the fags whip out their pearls." B i t c h tells o f b e i n g picked up by o n e particularly bold king, and the song ends in a rousing s y m p h o n y o f violin and drums. B i t c h and Animal d o c u m e n t and celebrate the e m e r g e n c e o f a drag king scene in c o n t e m p o r a r y queer clubs, and they blend country-influenced folk with avant garde percussion to do so. B u t their cover art and their manifestos hearken back to an era o f w o m e n - l o v i n g - w o m e n in their e m b r a c e o f the female body; at their website, furthermore, fans are encouraged to take up terms like "pussy" and "tits" with pride by brushing o f f the taint o f patriarchal insult. Like the T h e B u t c h i e s ' decision to cover a C r i s Williamson song, B i t c h and Animal's pussy power reaches out to an earlier generation o f w o m e n musicians refusing o n c e and for all the oedipal imperative to overthrow the old and bring on the new. R e c e n t women's music festivals like Ladyfest are also clear inheritors o f a tra dition o f lesbian feminist music festivals, and they revive an earlier model o f feminism for a n e w generation o f grrrls. "/ Want It Tliat Way'': A Time for Queers

Finally, queer subcultures afford us a perfect opportunity to depart from a normative m o d e l o f youth cultures as stages on the way to adulthood; this allows us to map out different forms o f adulthood, or the refusal o f adulthood and new modes o f deliberate deviance. Q u e e r s participate in subcultures for far longer than their heterosexual counterparts. At a time w h e n heterosexual m e n and w o m e n are spending their weekends, their extra cash, and all their free time shutding back and forth between the weddings o f friends and family, urban queers tend to spend their leisure time and m o n e y o n subcultural involvement. T h i s may take the form o f intense weekend clubbing, playing in small music bands, going to drag balls, participating in slam poetry events, or seeing performances o f o n e kind o r another in cramped and poorly ventilated spaces. Just as h o m o sexuality itself has been theorized by psychoanalysis as a stage o f devel opment, a phase, that the adolescent will hopefully pass through quickly and painlessly, so subcultural involvement has been theorized as a life stage rather than a lifelong c o m m i t m e n t . F o r queers the separation b e tween youth and adulthood quite simply does not hold, and queer a d o lescence can extend far beyond one's twenties. I want to raise here the notion o f " q u e e r time," a different m o d e o f temporality that might arise out o f an immersion in club cultures or queer sex cultures. W h i l e o b -

W h a t ' s T h a t Smell?


vionsly heterosexual people also go to clubs and some mvolve themselves m sex cultures, queer lubamtes, lacking the pacing and schedules that inhere to family life and reproduction, might visit clubs and participate m sex cultures well into their forties or fifdes on a regular basis. At the same time that queers e x t e n d pardcipadon m subcultural activity long b e y o n d their "youth," s o m e queer subcultures also provide a critical lens through which to revisit seemingly heterosexual youth cultures. In new work on subcultures and gender/sexuality, generally speaking, there is the pcHcntial to explore the possibilities and the promise o f rebellious youth genders. B y focusing on the realization o f t o m b o y desires or youthful femme aspirations in dyke punk bands and forms o f cjueer fandom, we can see that pre-adult, pre-identitarian girl roles offer a set o f oppcMtunides for theorizing gender, sexuality, race, and social rebellic^n [precisely because they occupy the space o f the "not-yet," the not fully realized. T h e s e girl roles are not absolutely predictive o f either heterosexual or lesbian adulthoods, rather the d e sires and the pl.iy and the .niguish they access allow us to theorize other relations to identity. (ayle W i l d s work on boy bands has also drawn our attention to the h o m o e r o t i c subtext to much teen culture. B o y bands like T h e Backstreet Boys, W i l d suggests, produce and manage anxieties about gay modes o f gender p e r t o r m a n c e . Boy bands perform what W i l d calls "a girlish masculinity," and they channel the fantasy o f perpetual youth referenced by the m o n i k e r " b o y " ; but they also play out socially accejHable forms of rebellion ("backstreet" for example conjures up images of working-cl.iss youth) that can be both expressed and neatly channeled into white, middle-class heteronormativity. I h e p h e n o m e n o n of boy bands, for me, raises a n u m b e r of c]uestions not simply about the per f o r m a n c e of masculinity but also about what Wald refers to as the threatening aspect o f the "ecstatic responses that they elicit" ( 1 - 3 9 ) . After all, while music critics love to dismiss fandom as a passive " t e e n y b o p p e r " subculture, there is s o m e t h i n g all too powerful about a nearly hysterical audience of teen girls screaming and crying together; tliis activity may well have as much to say about the desire between the scre.imers as it says .iboiit their desire for the mythic "boys." Wald argues that the p h e n o m e n o n o f teenybo|^per fins and young boy bands creates a h o m o p h o b i c fear o f both boy fandom and h o m o e r o d c dynamics on stage between the boy performers. The policing o f male homosexuality, however, she continues: "creates opportunities for girls to engage in modes of c o n s u m p t i o n that have a markedly h o m o e r o t i c c o m p o n e n t .

46 although

Q u e e r Y o u t h Cultures they are typically characterized in terms o f (heterosexual)

'puppy love' [. . . ] " ( 3 2 ) . Again the n o t i o n o f h o m o e r o t i c b o n d i n g as a stage o n the way to heterosexual maturity creates a c o n t e x t within w h i c h b o t h subcultural activity and queer desire can be dismissed as temporary and nonserious. Gayle Wald's careful excavation o f the sources o f social scorn levied at teenyboppers and her contextuahzation o f the b o y band p h e n o m e n o n within popular culture opens up n e w and important questions about youth cultures and femininity, and it makes possible a consideration o f the queerness o f even the most h e t e r o s e x u ally inflected pre-adult activity. I never invested m u c h hope o f queer alternatives in the perfor m a n c e o f b o y bands, I must admit, until I was present at the W o r l d P r e m i e r o f N e w York's drag king b o y band: T h e B a c k d o o r B o y s . W h e n the B a c k d o o r B o y s t o o k the stage as A.J., N i c k , Kevin, H o w i e , and B r i a n , I saw at last the butch potential o f the boy band p h e n o m e n o n . T h e q u e e r audience screamed as each boy was introduced, picked their favorites and began the ritual ecstatic fan worship that we associate with teenage girls but that seems to b e fun at any age. T h e current b e t w e e n the stage and the packed house was electric. At least part o f the appeal o f the Backstreet Boys depends upon the production of seemingly safe and almost unreal masculinitiesthe boys c r o o n about what they w o u l d do for their girls, about b e i n g there for her, buying her flowers, giving h e r gifts, doing everything that o t h e r boys suppos edly won't do. T h e boys, in short, ofl^er themselves as a safe alternative to the misogyny and mistreatment that many girls find and e x p e c t in adolescent relationships. H e r e , in a drag king c o n t e x t , the space o f the alternative is taken back from the realm o f popular culture and revealed as proper to the subcultural space. As the B a c k d o o r Boys went into their version o f " I W a n t It T h a t Way," and they began to act out the barely c o n c e a l e d h o m o e r o t i c implication o f the lyric, the queer crowd went wild; the source o f pleasure for the q u e e r fans had as m u c h to do with the acting out o f the song's h o m o potential as with the sexual appeal o f the drag kings. T h e B a c k d o o r B o y s ' performance o f " I Want It T h a t W a y " speaks to the purpose o f what Wald calls " t h e deliberate subhmation o f sexual explicitness" in Backstreet B o y s ' lyrics and dance moves. T h e fan desire and ecstasy can only be maintained by keeping at bay the erotic relations b e t w e e n the boys o n the o n e hand and the potentially erotic relations b e t w e e n the screaming girls o n the other. As the boys sing together, the girls scream together and the w h o l e fragile edifice o f heterosexuality could c o m e tumbling d o w n at any m o m e n t

W h a t ' s T h a t Smell?


i f the h o m o s o c i a l structures o f desire are made explicit. T h e drag king impersonation o f the faggy boy band, finally, recognizes the act as neither a performance o f male heterosexuality n o r a performance o f gay masculinitythis is rather an intricate performance o f butch mas culinity, q u e e r masculinity that presents itself to screaming girls as a safe alternative to heteromasculinities. Finally, all o f these representations o f teen and youth genders offer us a space within w h i c h to think through the alternatives that young people create for themselves to the roudne and tired opdons recycled by adult culture. W h e n the Backstreet Boys c r o o n " I want it T H A T way" and the girls scream, we think for a m o m e n t that it does not have to be this way and that j u s t maybe girl and boy partial idendties can be carried forward into adulthood in terms o f a politics of refusalthe refusal to grow up and enter the heteronormative adidthoods implied by these concepts o f progress and maturity. T h e boy bands in particular allow us to think o f b o y h o o d , girlhood, and even t o m b o y h o o d and riot girlhoods, not as stages to pass through but as pre-identities to carry forward, inhabit and sust.iin. Cofh'hisiofi In his powerful study o f a disappearing sexual subculture in N e w York City s T i m e s Square, q u e e r legend Chip Delany describes q u e e r subter ranean worlds as "a c o m p l e x o f interlocking systems and subsystems" ( x v i i i ) . T h e unimaginably precious m e a n i n g o f these systems are o f no c o n s e q u e n c e to the city planner w h o sees only ugliness and fikh where Delany sees a distilladon o f die promise o f radical democracy. T h e porn theaters that Delany visits and learns from offer him and o t h e r m e n , he claims, o n e o f the last opportunities in urban A m e r i c a for "interclass contact and c o m m u n i c a t i o n c o n d u c t e d in a m o d e o f good will" ( 1 1 1 ) . C o u n t e r - p u b l i c s , as his b o o k shows, are spaces created and altered by certain subcultures for their own uses. Since lesbians and w o m e n in general partake so litde in public sex cultures, we, much m o r e than gay m e n , need to develop and protect counter-publics for subcultural uses. In die Bay Area, San Francisco, and O a k l a n d in particular, there is a l o n g history o f subcultural activity; counter-publics abound here and n e w bands, spoken-word artists, and performers appear weekly at dif ferent shows in different venues. T h e s e counter-publics have survived the d o t . c o m explosion and the latest recession, the yuppies and die businessmen; they have also survived so far the n e w patriotism o f a


Q u e e r Youth Cultures

p o s t - 9 / 1 1 culture and the n e w " h o m o n o r m a t i v i t y " o f the recent les bian baby b o o m . T o return to Judith Butler's question from "Agencies o f Style for a Liminal S u b j e c t " : " W h a t sorts o f style signal the crisis o f survival?" ( 3 6 ) , we can n o w answer that the crisis o f survival is being played out nightly in a club near you. T h e radical styles crafted in queer punk bands, in slam poetry events, in drag king boy bands do n o t express some mythically pure form o f agency or will, but rather, they model other modes o f b e i n g and b e c o m i n g that scramble our u n d e r standings o f place, time, development, action, and transformation. A n d for a m o r e c o n c r e t e example o f h o w the "crisis o f survival" may play out, w e can g o to the B i t c h and Animal website (wwwbitchand animal.com ) w h e r e B i t c h and Animal present fans with a hard-hitting politics o f transformation in their "Pussy Manifesto"; and they counsel listeners as follows: " W i s e , old, kick-up-shit-chicks and c h i c k lovers alike: B e not afraid to take up space! Manifest this Motherfuckers and let the Pussy rule!" NOTES 1. Thanks to Glen Mimura for the formulation o f an "epistemology o f youth." 2. For work on queer space see Gordon Brent Ingram, Anne-Marie Bouthillette, Yolanda Retter, eds.. Queers in Space: Communities, Public Places, Sites of Resistance (Seatde,WA: Bay Press, 1997); David Bell and Gill Valendne, eds.. Mapping Desire: Geographies of SexuaHty (New York: Roudedge, 1995); Joseh Boone, et al., eds.. Queer Frontiers: Millennial Geographies, Genders, and Generations (Madison, W I : University o f Wisconsin Press, 2000). 3. See Joshua Gamson, Freaks Talk Back: Tabloid Talk Shows and Sexual Nonconformity (Chicago, IL: University o f Chicago Press, 1999). 4. For an article on the fate o f the queens and children featured in Paris Is Burning, see Jesse Green, "Paris Has Burned," New York Times, "Styles o f the Times" Section 9, Column 5, page 1 (Sunday, April 18, 1993). Green documents the death o f Angie Extravaganza and Kim Pendarvis among others. Drag queens are interviewed for the article, and Green reports on the anger that many in the ball world feel about Jennie Livingston's film. Green reminds us that: "the film's critical and financial success should not therefore be taken for the success o f its subjects." While Jennie Livingston became a filmmaker as a consequence o f the circulation o f Paris Is Burning, the film's subjects contin ued to live in poverty. 5. See Resistance Through Rituals.Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain, ed. Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson. London: Roudedge, 1975, rpt. 2000.

W h a t ' s T h a t Smell?


6. Paul Gilroy, for example, was a D J while w o r k i n g o n black e x p r e s sive cultures; and nowadays, m a n y public intellectuals straddle the worlds of cultural p r o d u c t i o n and theory. J o s h K u n , for example, writes about R o c k E n Espaol and hosts a radio show. Patrick J o h n s o n is a theorist o f black perform a n c e art and he himself performs iii a o n e - m a n show. 7. F o r a great rdele on feminism and rock music see Gaylc W a l d , ' J u s t a Girl? R o c k Music, Feminism, and the Cultural C o n s t r u c t i o n o f Female Youdi," m % / / s 2 3 ( 3 1 ) : 5 8 5 . 8. F o r Alix Olson's p o e t r y see Only F e e d die Fire P r o d u c d o n s , 1 9 9 8 ) . 9. See M u o z , " E p h e m e r a as Evidence: I n t r o d u c t o r y N o t e s to Q u e e r Acts"; Lauren Berlant, llic An Airliii'c of I'ccliiij^s:

the Stannng




of Afucricd


to PViisliifii^tofi (jfy: Public CJultuirs

lissiiys on (l])urliam,

Sex (iiid C^ifizcnsliij) ( D u r h a m , NC': l^uke University IVess, 1 9 9 7 ) ; Ann Cvetkovich, 'Hiiunidj Scxudlify dad Lcsbidn N C : D u k e University Press, 2 0 0 3 ) .



B e c q u e r , M a r c o s , and J o s e Gatti. "Elements ofVogue." In llic 1997. C h i n , Staceyann. "Dykepoeni." IMldcdf iVonidn: Delany, Samuel. 'I'inies Press, 1 9 9 9 . Sqiuar Red, lunes Squdrc



ed. Ken Gelder and Sarah T h o r n t o n . N e w York and L o n d o n : K o u d e d g c , Poetry. Self-published, 1 9 9 8 . Blue. N e w York: N e w York IdenStudies, Collected

D u Llessis, Michael, and Kathleen C h a p m a n . "C)ueercore: T h e Distinct tities of Subculture." (^llci^e Litcrdture 2 4 , 1 Queer Ibeory, Pedd{^0{^y, I I^iiixis ( F e b r u a r y 1 9 9 7 ) . as a W i y o f Life." In Ivucaulf 1996. Live: Foucault, Michel. " E n e n d s h i p lutcrvieivs, Utilities: lextudl

I- I 9S4, ed. Sylvere Lotringer, trans. Lysa H o c h r o d i and

J o h n J o h n s t o n . N e w York: S e n i i o t e x t b i , Display." In 'I'be SubcultUivs Reader,

Liebdige, Dick. "Posing . . . Threats, Striking . . . Poses:Youdi, Surveillance, and cd. Ken Gelder and Sarah T h o r n t o n . Leshian N e w York and L o n d o n : R o u d e d g e , 1 9 9 7 . Kearney, M a r y (Celeste. " T h e Missing Link: I^iot G r r d , Feminism, ( A i l t u r e . " SexiiiiJ the C^roove: Populdr Music dud Gender, (urls' (ieuder Resisfduce N e w York and L o n d o n : R o u d e d g e , 1 9 9 7 . Leblanc, Lauraine. Pretty in Puuk: New in d Boys' Subculture. and Brunswick, N J : R u t g e r s University Press, 1 9 9 8 . Redder: 1990. ed. Sheila Whiteley.

Lipsitz, G e o r g e . "C'ruising A r o u n d the Llistorical Bloc: Postmodernism Popular Music in East L A . " In 77/c Subculfuivs Iruiiuisiii dud Youth Culture.

M c K o h h i e , Angela. "Settling A c c o u n t s with Subcultures: A Feminist C'ritique." N e w York: R o u d e d g e , 1991; 2000.


Q u e e r Youth Cultures

. "Different, Youthful, Subjectivities: Towards a Cultural Sociology o f Youth." Postmoderism and Popular Culture. London and New York: Roudedge, 1994. . "Introduction." Postmodernism and Popular Culture. London and New York: Routledge, 1994. -."Shut Up and Dance: Youth Culture and Changing Modes o f Femininity." Postmoderism and Popular Culture. London and New York: Roudedge, 1994. McRobbie, Angela, and Jennie Garber. "Girls and Subcultures." Resistance Tlrrough Rituals. Ed. Hall and Jefferson. London: Routledge, 1975; 1993. Muoz, Jos Esteban. "Ephemera as Evidence: Introductory Notes to Queer Acts." Queer Acts: Women and Performance, A Journal of Feminist neory 8:2, 16 (1996): 5 - 1 8 . Nancy, Jean-Luc. " T h e Inoperative Community." The Inoperative Community, ed. Peter Connor, trans. Peter Connor, Lisa Garbus, Michael Holland, and Simona Sawhney, foreword by Christopher Fynsk. Minneapolis: University o f Minnesota Press, 1991. Thornton, Sarah. "General Introduction." 77/e Subcultures Reader, eds. Ken Gelder and Sarah Thornton. New York and London: Roudedge, 1997. Wald, Gayle. "I Want It That Way: Teenybopper Music and the Girling o f Boy Bands." Genders 35 (2002): 1-39.