34.3: Performing Queer Lives

Performing Queer Lives
vol. 34, no. 3, Summer 2011
Guest Editor: Francesca T. Royster
Miss Shenita Bath, photograph by Stephen J. Lewis (appears by permission of the artist and the photographer).

Introductory Notes: Performing Queer Lives” by Francesca T. Royster

How are life writing and queer theory at odds with what we’ve come to expect in autobiographical narratives? The essays in this collection intervene in the traditional project of autobiography by taking as their subject the process of queered meaning making. Our focus on “queer” and “performing” brings the following challenges to life writing: first, to expand the social defi nitions of the self or “I” as the readable, recognizable subject; second, to introduce the resistant, playful, and sometimes odd or eccentric aesthetics of “queer” into life writing’s language, form, and treatment of the social fabric; and third, to give special attention to the performative as a process of self-making and selfrecognition that is active, ongoing, contingent on relationships to others, and grounded in embodiment. All written by folks of color, the essays in this cluster are also liberation narratives, centrally concerned with freedom and social change larger than but including ourselves. Using queer theory, performative writing, memoir, and interview, these essays explore queer ways of knowing, while suggesting how queer bodies can teach the world by naming the unnamable, courting the illusive, and training us to see and feel differently.

Queer Epistemologies: Theorizing the Self from a Writerly Place Called Home” by E. Patrick Johnson

Drawing on the insights of performance studies, this essay theorizes writing as autobiographical performance. Methodologically, the essay employs the act of writing itself to engage the politics of representation and the ways that class, race, sexuality, and gender may be meaningfully explored through the self-reflexive act of performative writing.

Becoming Joaquin and Mind If I Call You Sir?: Exploring Latino Masculinities” by Lourdes Torres

Becoming Joaquin and Mind If I Call You Sir? are autobiographical transgender narratives that offer insider perspectives on transgender realities. These two texts productively complicate our understanding of contemporary nonnormative female Latino masculinities. While one text is fictional and the other features autobiographical histories, both rely on the trope of life story telling to address non-normative Latino masculinities in contemporary culture.

Being and Belonging: Joey Terrill’s Performance of Politics” by Richard T. Rodríguez

Since the early 1970s, Los Angeles-based Chicano artist-activist Joey Terrill has been at the forefront of numerous struggles for social justice. This essay examines the performative politics of Terrill’s t-shirt art, ‘zines, painting, and testimonio, while situating his biography within a community of Latino gay male artists impacted by AIDS.

Fela!: Fela Kuti, Bill T. Jones, and the Marketing of Black Masculine Excess on Broadway” by Francesca T. Royster

Choreographer Bill T. Jones and Nigerian Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti have both shaped careers that have confounded categorizations, exploring sometimes contradictory spaces of gender, sexuality, race, and national loyalty through performance. This essay considers the recent Broadway show Fela!, a biographical and performative exploration of Fela Kuti and his life, directed and choreographed by Jones, as a means of thinking about the queer interconnections between these two performers.

Holding” by Aimee Carrillo Rowe

“Holding” is a braided lyric essay that weaves narrative, performance, and theoretical strands to pose the question: How do we hold trauma, without it holding us? This question is particularly acute for queer people of color, who often undergo or inherit legacies of imperial trauma. It is also vital for researchers, writers, and performers who excavate imperial trauma. I suggest that collective and individual sacred healing practices provide a means of recovery, allowing us to disentangle ourselves from trauma’s grasp, while remaining present to its effects.