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Queen Pleeeeeeez!

An open letter in response to Peter Knegt’s ‘concerned’ …but far from queer… review of Bohemian Rhapsody (which, incidentally, is not ‘a biopic of Freddie Mercury’ as Knegt claims, but of the creative transformations undergone and effected by the rock group Queen.

 

I think Knegt’s seething review is a complete misrepresentation of what the film does.  Here’s why :
Certainly, the film takes a lot of poetic license, all biopics do. But it’s handling of those narratives is much more nuanced than this critic gives them credit for. And I say this as someone who is extremely sensitive to and critical of moralistic narratives around promiscuity, hiv and drug use.
This is not a film about gays (or bisexuals) and heterosexuals. (Surely we remember that the category of gay identity was emergent at that point in history, not fixed).
It is a film about friendship, collaboration, creative experimentation and cultural transformation.
I thought Bohemian Rhapsody was profoundly insightful about collective creativity, care, play, and the importance of acknowledging the generosity of friendship and the originality of people’s creative contributions to a shared project *irrespective* of sexual identity.
Leaving aside the question of how true to life the moral trajectory the film narrates is (the films makers’ have not denied taking considered poetic license), after reading Knegt’s ungenerous review I am left asking: why do we react so violently against the implication made within this narrative that the camraderie and companionship and fun sexual social life that Freddie experiences in the emergent Euro/ uS urban gay subculture of the late 70s failed him in some ways, as his health was declining and his immune system being ravaged by this devastating, and at the time untreatable, virus ?
I read the treatment of drug use in the film less as moralising – (suggestions are made that drug use is part of Freddy’s creative process pre – the band splitting up, for example) then anxious – the sort of anxiety we see in others narratives of gay life in the 70s such as Dancer from the Dance…. so I thought it did a pretty well informed job of conveying the affective climate of that moment in gay history – the late 70s to early 80s). I admired the film’s bravery in going to that narratively overdetermined place but producing something much subtler about the nexus between risk and care and self-experimentation and cultural transformation. .
It seems to me that we (the Gays of today) – among whom I would count Knegt – are still trapped in this binary of either moralising against promiscuity and drugs (a la northern hemisphere chemsex discourse) …or sentimentalising those party scenes as foolproof generators of care and love and material support.
And yet it seems to me that the present context of PREP- enabled chemsex requires us more than ever to get better at recognising when subcultural care practices within party scenes work, and when they are failing, and how. So we can improve them. Because guess what?  some people slip through the cracks – even while others (including myself) experience these scenes are generative of great pleasure and intense joy and love and camaraderie and self-transformation
Also : Freddy does not present Hutton to his family as his partner/lover/boyfriend . He presents him, with marked and delightful irony, as his “friend”. The ambiguity of this term in that context is deliberate. At that stage of the narrative Hutton really *is* his friend and not his lover. .The scene is sweet because his mother and family take his euphemistic ‘friend’ to be his lover -as was common back in the day- and acknowledge their relationship, when we the viewers know that Hutton is actually acting in this instance /early stage of their evolving relationship in the capacity of Freddies *friend* (by *playing* his lover), to help him through a time of immense personal vulnerability and necessary self-confrontation that involves taking the risk of actively confronting his family with his excessively deviant sexual identification. Necessary, that is, for him, to grasp the moment ethically and self- affirmatively and joyously in the context of his imminent death.
This critic lambasts the film for lack of subtlety but it’s his reading of that I find cliched and stereotyped and full of reactionary moralism.  His ‘concern’ has less to do with anything queer than his righteous desire to enforce what he regards as a ‘correct’ representation of gay identity.
Bohemian Rhapsody is not a film about some precious queen -it’s an exploration of the pleasures and possibilities of playful (often agonistic) friendship

 

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Instagrabs: moments in time, practical aesthetics & digital vernacular creativity

 ~ aka, fucking around on my smartphone ~

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Working Girl – May 2018

 I’ve been doing this thing where I screen-cap a bunch of consecutive shots from my Instagram account that happen to line up, in my view, to make some aesthetic sense of a moment or phase in my life that gives me pleasure or generates affective resonance for me: let’s call them Instagrabs.
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Don’t Cry Mama – July 2018

An Instagrab relies on the mediating capacities of a particular technology, the smartphone camera and its screen cap function, as well as the commercial software platforms of Instagram and Facebook, to pull together a series of takes on the world that I take to hang together to provide some handle on a particular moment in experienced time.
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Kim Jong um… March 2018

It is a tableau of images that in practical and partial terms captures some perspective on my world in a retrospective and makeshift attempt to convey the feeling of particular trajectories or moments of movement through that world that have formed me as a subject (and will continue to do so through this intervention, to the extent that it formats and brings them into the present)
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Viking it – September 2016

As an assembled collage of a series of digital depictions of my experience of the world I move through, the Instagrab assembles a second-order perspective on what that phase in my experience of the world felt like, as well as the sort of meanings and feelings it might generate and confer, both retrospectively and prospectively – into the future.

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Tendrils – Autumn 2017

At once intimate, publicly accessible and imbued with personal meaning and affect, Instagrabs attempt to make some aesthetic sense of where I’ve been and the feelings that sequence of moves through the world involved in a multiply-mediated and specifically assembled practice of re-collection.

 

Click through for my Instagrab Album–  a work in progress

 

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FanPhatic – February 2018

 

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Towards a pragmatics of digital encounters & sexual networking: experimental directions

This is where I’m at right now:

I wrote a paper for the Selfies & Subjectivities Symposium organised by Kath Albury from Swinburne and Anne Harris from RMIT in Melbourne this month, which I later developed into this short contribution to a special issue of Sexualities celebrating 30 years of the journal

Here is an abstract I put together for it:

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In the era of smartphones and hookup apps, pornography can no longer be confined to the straightforward production of sexual arousal through representational practices(though this objective certainly remains significant). Rather, digital pictures have accrued additional functions in the interpersonal exchanges and self-projecting activities that characterise interaction and communicative relations on these media. So often, the ‘selfie’ of self-pornography operates as part of the grammar of sexual arrangements, whether these arrangements involve online or offline interactivity, or both. This paper seeks to contribute to pragmatist conceptions of sexual media, selfie studies and digital pornography by situating the communication that takes place on  these media, not as mere representations of ‘actual’ sexual practices or the ‘authentic’ sexual self, but rather forms of practical action that propel some version of the self into one or more of the variously formatted and networked arenas of digital culture. They can be situated in this respect as technical constituents of erotic digital assemblages that seek to solicit, collect, process, store, publicise and convey certain kinds of information according to the affordances perceived in their interactive modes, enabling communicants to recalibrate their activities and respond on the basis of specific feelings, attachments and calculations. Once the grammar of digital sex is grasped in pragmatic terms as a performative element in specifically assembled, multi-dimensional platforms, then all sorts of material objects and technical processes can be understood to enter into the labour of sexual self-formation (see Race, 2018). What once might have been read as a two-dimensional form of visual representation elevated to the status of detached self-portraiture can now be grasped as a vehicle for self-articulation, a form of self-experimentation that seeks to participate in the creation of new attachments, and a potential source of practical (self)-transformation.

 

About a week later I read Meaghan Morris’s fabulous piece Sustaining the Festive Principle: Between Realism and Fantasy which resonated in unexpected ways with work I’ve done on gay partying, it’s significance for queer communal wellbeing, the health of countercultural movements, and institution-building. My primary concern in this work (the last chapter of my new book  The Gay Science) is how to adapt and extend the generative energy  of cultural festivity – those playful encounters that make us something else – in-to the present transitional context (which involves, in my hometown at least, invasive policing, nightlife lockouts through licensing restriction, hyper-gentrification and incessant redevelopment, social exclusion from urban spaces, homelessness, insurgent homo-moralism, the Heroization of ‘Clean Living’, etc….

Then on Friday night I read Noortje Marres’ excellent chapter on ‘experiments in living’ in her 2012 book Material Participation which contains a concise and really informative analysis of the different ways that experimental practices and demonstrative activities have been conceived and approached by people who study them as a sociomaterial, world-making activityies  Marres is mainly talking about public experiments, but I’m interested in the sorts of self-experiments that normative morality deems illicit: for example, how publics and infrastructures of disclosure and support get assembled in contexts of prohibition and disciplinary enforcement, in which any attempt to create a public context for one’s self-experiments is quickly quashed, isolated, quarantined, eradicated, denigrated, privatised or shamed.

The concept of intimate experimentation is something we’ve been grappling with in the ARC Discovery Project I’m conducting with my colleagues Dean Murphy, Kiran Pienaar and Toby LeaChemical Practices: Enhancement & Experimentation.  In this work and thinking, I’m especially interested in how the diversely theorised concept of experimentation might be put to work to activate new approaches to chem-consumption and bring out new dimensions of the activities and self-transformations associated with the consumption of  drugs and medications among queer and gender-diverse communities .

This weekend I’ve mainly just been fucking around on Instagram, a medium which I’ve found makes me enjoy and look for beauty and creativity  all around in all sorts of everyday situations and odd places – some kind of f #instaaesthetics of experience

My ongoing enjoyment of this app and how it leads me to engage with the world around me makes me think about how its affordances can be used creatively to bring out startling or hitherto unrecognisable qualities in ordinary things/spaces/people/ everyday scenes through the specific possibilities the app/phone/flaneur assemblage affords: filtering, the possibilities of adopting all sorts of techniques and angles  to frame and mediate and make strange or new those things that capture your attention or suddenly strike you as an opportunity for aestheticism ….

Meanwhile other affordances like hashtags can be used to create associations, attachments, and explore various other self-images, accounts and pages:  activities which often entail encounters with all sorts of people, depictions of their lives selves-in-differing-situ hat you never expected developing any interest in or becoming captivated by ….

I’ve been thinking all these thoughts …rather manically and rhitzomatically… on the run, so naturally I’ve had to work with the platform closest at hand …(Instagram of course).  Basically I’ve been taking a whole bunch of phatic selfies….  < lol>

I’ve accompanied this visual work with streams of lateral thought-association which I’ve articulated as best I can using hashtags that mean particular things for me  (usually connected to my idle thoughts and ongoing work) .. which every so often also generate unexpected associations, new attachments, novel modes of appreciation and interest and engagement, and encounters across all sorts of social, material and mediated differences that can result in surprisingly intimate connections or forms of relation

‘in his 2005 intro to ANT, Reassembling the Social, Latour promotes a method he calls associology, that entails tracing the associations and networks that serve to consolidate particular realities which end up producing certain experts and authorities, conferring as well as shaping specific forms of agency: agencements.

But when I read some of the early work from the  Actor-Network Theory crew, I’m often left with the sense of an heroically masterful (or tragically unsuccessful) Manager of Associations, the clever scientist who is smart enough to put in place relations strategic assurance, skilled in picking the associations that best consolidate the version of reality they have encountered through their specific experiments.

A much queerer approach would be less invested in the strategic enterprise making and tracing associations to formulate predefined structures according to fixed objectives, and much more curious about the modes of pleasure entailed in noticing and tracing the chance events that end up affecting or transforming us  (persons and things) when those things  make themselves available to the encounter. As I discuss a fair bit in the  The Gay Science,  I have in mind the happy, unexpected chance encounters that have the power to take us off into multiple new directions (however subtle, trivial, substantial or world-moving they may at first seem or end up becoming): that produce transformations, the possibilities of which we may want to experiment with

Which leaves me thinking, if we want to experience more eventful, enjoyable, energising worlds and realities, maybe we need to embrace and affirm these moments of random connection, expand our appreciation of the many differences available to us in terms of how we  encounter difference and find things to share with whatever is unfamiliar or strange to us; and most of all how different manners of encountering others generate different realities of material consequence.

What we need, in other words – against or alongside Latour’s associology – is another approach which I’m thinking of right now under the working title: encounterology ….. Encounterology is the enjoyable activity of attending to whatever eventuates from unexpected  encounters and queer or improbable relations…

Let’s extend our festive activities by bringing them into new situations to multiply our capacities of feeling, to create situations and events that are enjoyable enough to sustain entire movements and counter-institutions.  

Keep Partying, Keep Playing!   

 

Kane Race, April, 2018

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A Question this Gay Christmas…

and a recommendation …

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This piece was written by the smart and switched-on Australian journalist Julia Baird, sister of former NSW Premier Mike Baird, the bloke who presided over intensified police drug dog operations that made us hate and fear the cops again, the one who went on with his cronies to become such fierce and thick upholders of the NSW lockout laws, which effectively obliterated social life in general and Sydney’s gay party culture in particular as we knew it…

Remember that guy?

sleaze ball 90s dancefloor

Me neither.

Anyway, back to the good bit, Julia wrote this piece in 2004 ~ more than a decade before her brother Mike became Premier of NSW  (the same year, it turns out, that internet sites  for the first time became the most common way men looked for each other for sex; a circumstance strangely absent from the accounts the article engages with to work out what was changing, how, and why …but I say this in hindsight, more a retrospective thought to inform present activities/ activisms.

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In Chemical Palace, Fiona McGregor articulates that sense in the late 90s that things were splintering, but what were the mechanisms of that splintering? It splintered in so many ways: including all those she names, for sure, and more ..

For guys especially, I think, one important source of this splintering was the new pleasures and possibilities and problems of digital cruising ..(I explore the impacts of digital culture on queer sexual sociability in my new book, The Gay Science (Routledge, 2017).

One thing I wonder about, re-reading this piece today, at any rate, is whether Mike ever read his sister’s piece, and if the did, what he thought of it? could he relate? how did it affect him? Could he even be bothered trying to get a sense of what it’s feeling out for, its significance, its meaning?

Because I guess in the back of my mind I’m wondering, Mike (if I may): did you ever have the pleasure of partying at Mardi Gras? with your sister? or whoever? did you enjoy it? make new friends? smile with someone? learn new dance moves? get a jiggle in your hips? have an adventure? have a chat with ….anyone? anything?

(I just remember how my sister and I loved these parties, went to them together, or separately with our friends and others, so many times, such awesome times, all of us dancing, playing, laughing, crying, moving, joking, smiling, zoning out, searching, encountering each other, beside ourselves, together…)

And Mike if you did get the pleasure, what did you think of it? What did it do for you? How did it change you? How could it not have??

Tell us, wherever you are, Mike Baird, what did you make of it?  Do you remember? (because many of us do). What did you do to it? Where are they now?

I can’t help thinking, you see, Mike, had you actually got that pleasure …  ( & now I’m just speculating I suppose) … what would Sydney feel like today? How would it differ?  What would we be capable of? How would it feel?  What might become of that history today –  the good bits at least – & what supports do we need to build for these good bits to flourish, right now, all together, in the present?

It’s not at all a matter of wanting or thinking we can somehow just go back and live happily in some romanticised mid 1990 bubble.  I don’t think anyone really thinks or wants that, anymore.  Things have changed.  We’ve moved on.  New things are happening now, some better, some worse – including for new, previously excluded, identities and constituencies – that nobody could have imagined then.  Creativity.  Or, as Muriel Heslop’s father would say, ‘You can’t stop Progress’…   (I beg to differ)

No, it’s more a matter of thinking about what this time did for us, what bits are worth carrying forward, what bits are worth affirming and remembering, what we want to let go of, what can’t we forget? .  In other words, this isn’t a whinge, or some sort of nostalgic rant (ok maybe just a little bit of each/both to be honest), but actually meant this festive season, in the gayest of spirits as an entirely practical question:

How can we make what was nourishing and energising and important about those times, those spaces, those processes, those connections, those intimacies, those dynamisms, return/again ~ be renewed ~ newly happen?

I love Dion Kagan’s fresh new thinking on this question, by the way … he’s young and well-read and smart and lives in Melbourne and well, he definitely gets it. His book is even bathed in the inverted colours of Gay Christmas! 🖤❤️🖤

Perfect Summer Reading ☀️  Hopefully it’s out before Gay Christmas (by which I mean late February… what were you thinking??)

 

 

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Gay Science Studios

You can now follow Gay Science Studios on Facebook ~ just click on my mug

cropped-science-is-magic-selfie

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Collective experiment

As queers our bodies are known to be particularly vulnerable: to disease, shame, violence, self-doubt and ostracization.

Indeed abuse, or the experience of abuse – both social and physical – could be considered constitutive of queer subjectivity.

For such subjects, experimentation is not some idle game but can emerge as a necessity – however steeped such experiments may be in risks and danger.

Despite such risks, testing out new ways of feeling the world can come to seem necessary if one wants to survive, if we want to make worlds and lives for ourselves that feel worth living

These experiments work better, their dangers maybe mitigated, when we find ways of conducting them safely and openly. That’s why so many work so hard to build and sustain collective arenas  of care, play, disclosure, support, curiosity, adventure and scandalous pedagogy.

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@quitgrindr : constituting wholesome, respectable gays, bit by bit, every day…

Well, I’m devastated to discover that @quitgrindr on Instagram has blocked me!
Was it something I said?? 😱 or, heaven forbid, *did*??
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Luckily I managed to screen cap a few of my personal favourites from among its many, nasty little gems:
Do visit @quitgrindr on Instagram some time if you want a good belly laugh. I can guarantee hours of hilarity 😝
And remember:
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#homonormativemuch ??

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