Week 13: Mysterious Skin

This week I was struck by thematic thread of nostalgia that wove itself through almost all of the readings. Discussing the formal, aesthetic, and industrial conventions of the New Queer Cinema, all the authors discussed the tension between appreciating the progress the LGBT community has made in the post-Stonewall moment while also lamenting how this progress has changed the dynamics of that same community. Where no one is asking for less human rights, it is hard to deny that the progress the community has made has also come with capitalist neoliberal homogenization. This sentiment is most clearly defined in a quote from Neta Alexander’s interview with B. Ruby Rich:

“The queer community has lost a lot of its institutions because of what we can call assimilation. As there has been less and less resistance, there is less and less need to fight for a space (15).”

Within the mainstream culture, asking to be accepted has turned into being asked to abandon the quirks and most uniquely non-normative parts of queer identity. And yet, no matter how much queer bodies assimilate to the heteronormative conditions, the homophobia persists creating a culture of hypocrisy. Reading these pieces, I was reminded of a concept I learned about last semester in my LGBT theory class, called homonormativity. It is defined in Lisa Duggan’s The New Homonormativity: The Sexual Politics of Neoliberalism as “a politics that does not contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions — such as marriage, and its call for monogamy and reproduction — but upholds and sustains them while promising the possibility of a demobilized gay constituency and a privatized, depoliticized gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption (179).” For me, the concept of homonormativity crystallizes the central anxieties of all of this weeks readings around the loss of a defined and more importantly, oppositional queer culture in the face of assimilatory politics. For Davis, reading camp into the films of the New Queer Cinema was a way to both name and recognize queer nostalgia while also restoring a sense of oppositional aesthetics to the depoliticized industrial context of late New Queer Cinema filmmaking. On the other hand, Munoz’s piece unintentionally named a facet of homonormative politics in discussing the construction of the on screen queer body as white, and also the now normative trope of the dead queer as well. After this week, the central question seems to become, how can the queer community remain oppositional while achieving full legal and cultural identity with their non-LGBT counterparts?

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