Can the Party Space Ever Be Truly Queer?
I think we are all in agreement at this point that marriage is not and can never be queer. Whether you take the feminist approach that the institution upholds gender roles or the anti-capitalist approach that its primary purpose is to ensure the production of new workers, it is safe to say that marriage stands no chance in the face of a queer critique. While marriage equality is very trendy right now, we are over here trying to come up with radical new ways to love, to exist, and to solve the problem that is 21st century post-capitalist American personhood. And we can all agree that state-sanctioned unions need to go.
But what about partying? Partying, or the party space, always purports to be a unifying, sometimes transcendental, experience, and we all seem to be okay with that. We party separately in our own communities, but appreciation for cheap beer and good drugs transcends all boundaries. On some level, I think it’s built into our understanding of what and who a modern day subject is.
I use the term partying somewhat as code for getting fucked up, but more so to refer to the image that I feel it invokes: the ecstasy of the crowd, dancing or talking, forgetting themselves in the good vibes of community. Whether sober, drunk, or high, I mainly consider partying the participation in the fantasy of the ecstatic, orgiastic crowd. The ecstasy of community.
The reason I started with marriage is that marriage stands for sex, and sex is a good place to start any queer critique from. In the ‘70s, feminists started asking, is sex part of the problem? And then in the queer movement that followed, we started looking for ways to have sex radically. I’m curious where we could go if we started asking the same questions of partying. Can partying be radical? What would that really look like? Or is it also part of the problem?
I want to ask my queer friends, what are you doing after the party? Back to the grind, back to work, and to read and to write and, again, mull over the problem that is 21st century post-capitalist American personhood?
Or is the party not just the distraction from that but political in itself as a queer space when, built into the fantasy of the ecstatic crowd, is the idea that anything can happen, that our bodies can be free to express themselves without social discipline. At the very least, we know that the party spaces of ‘80s and ‘90s New York City were essential in building a queer cultural history by opening spaces for gender bending and subversive performance art.
But decades later, those ideas that were brought to the clubs stay in the clubs, which makes me think that partying may be an end in and of itself. However, I feel that there is still an investment in the fantasy of partying politically, of coming up with new and radical ways of being on the dance floor, in the fantastical ecstatic crowd. I find this fantasy problematic, especially when it masquerades as progressive. This is not only because it already excludes certain disabled bodies, but because it forecloses other ways of being that may be undervalued. I am thinking mainly of those in recovery from addiction. While of course it is possible to join the crowd while sober, the notion of sobriety is anathema to the ecstatic crowd fantasy. As concepts, they just don’t go together.
If the addict or sober person is excluded from the party fantasy, then they are finding other ways of relating and surviving that may be worth considering that fall outside the boundaries of normative therapeutic discourse. Is it possible to put the two lifestyles in conversation? This might end up being a space that is less ecstatic, less orgiastic, than the party, but that maintains the possibility that anything can happen, of free and undisciplined bodies. If this is difficult to imagine, that’s because this sort of space doesn’t exist. But then again, did the ecstatic crowd ever actually exist before being created by the fantasy of it?
From this viewpoint, one fantasy space can be replaced with another that is less problematic, less exclusive, and frankly, less tired. Perhaps this can redirect us from the death-drive-style escape from regular personhood towards new ideals for relating.
Charles Keiffer 7/7/14
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read this dope article by the artist known as Charles Keiffer
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