A Queer tour through music
But we’re trash
You and me
We’re the litter on the breeze
We’re the lovers on the streets
Me and you
It’s in everything we do
It’s in everything we do
Trash by Suede
The concept of QUEER (CUIR) has been closely linked in recent years to vindication of sexual diversity rights. The Q of the rainbow LGBTIQA + refers to it. This acronym increasingly embraces more letters. It is difficult not to do so in the face of the myriad social movements that are beginning to highlight that what has historically been considered “normal” — such as heterosexuality or our gender identities (woman vs. man) — hide deep down an enormous plurality of nuances that reveal that, if we face the mirror and come clean, nobody fulfills one hundred percent the stereotype imposed by the dichotomy.
As Coco Riot, a Murcian artist, states in their work Llueven Queers (Raining Queers), “I don’t know anyone who fully corresponds to the gender that society has imposed on them.”
Here everyone has oddities and normality is the state in which they hide to survive.
Those “oddities”— all that which does not fit into the status quo and that makes us different — are precisely what the Queer movement wants to affirm in order to make life more livable. Unmask the lies, come out of all the closets and unbuckle the requirements to fit into such a small mold, which does not recognize the greatness of the diversity that we are.
The history of the term Queer
Philosopher, writer and art curator Paul B. Preciado is one of the referents of Queer stances within the Spanish State. In an article for the website Parole de Queer, Preciado makes a comprehensive journey through the origins of the term: its roots and social transformations through the centuries and its subsequent use as a category within the struggle of dissent and of corporealities deemed undesirable. That is, outside the norm.
As the writer explains, there was a time when the word ‘queer’ existed solely as an insult:
In the English language, since its appearance in the 18th century, ‘queer’ served to name those whose condition of uselessness, wrongdoing, falseness, or eccentricity might jeopardize the smooth functioning of the social machinery. ‘Queers’ were liars, thieves, drunks; the black sheep and the rotten apple, but also anyone who, because of their peculiarity or their strangeness, wouldn’t be immediately recognized as a man or a woman.
Queerness as mark and flaw, as dislocation and failure.
Queerness as mark and flaw, as dislocation and failure. The Queer —as the philosopher from Burgos affirms— is “neither fish nor fowl.”
Preciado keeps delving into the history of this concept and focuses on the Victorian society, in which heterosexuality was at the center of the bourgeois conception of the family and the state. In these cases, “’queer’ would name also those bodies that broke away from the heterosexual institution and its norms”, he maintains.
“The threat came, in this case, from those bodies that, through their forms of relation and production of pleasure, placed in question the differences between masculinity and femininity…”
Among the Queer that Preciado describes, were the so-called “inverted.” A word that has historically been used as an insult, as is the case with fag, dyke or transvestite. All these terms are resignified in these movements to turn the insult around, ascribing both personal and political value to them: Fag Pride. Dyke Pride. Bi Pride.
In words of Paul B. Preciado, “Displaced outside the social space by the insult, the ‘queer’ was condemned to secrecy and shame.”
We have an obvious example of this in the Spanish State: at the beginning of the 20th century, the Law of Vagrants and Crooks condemned those behaviors considered antisocial. This Law was amended during the Franco regime to also repress homosexuals.
As a matter of fact, The Queer turn and its use as a category of struggle and denunciation took place in the nineties. According to Preciado, “We had to wait until the mid-80s of the last century for, impelled by the AIDS crisis, an assemblage of microgroups to decide to re-appropriate the insult ‘queer’ to make of it a place for political action and resistance to normalization.”
Activists from groups like Act Up (fighting against AIDS), Radical Furies, or Lesbian Avengers decided to take the insult and transform it into a program of social criticism and cultural intervention.
What had changed was the subject of the enunciation: it was no longer the hetero young man who called the other “fag”; now the sissy, the dyke and the trans called themselves “queer” announcing an intentional rupture with the norm. This intuition was present since the gay riots of the 70s.
For Paul B. Preciado,
“To be a fag is not enough to be ‘queer’: it’s necessary to subject your own identity to critique”.
Vogue culture and the representation of gender identities
North American philosopher Judith Butler is the architect of the so-called Queer Theory, which, broadly speaking, underlines the social construction of the sexes through the concept of “performativity”.
Inspired by the popular culture of non heterosexual environments — a community of which she is a part — Butler addressed the question of the social machinery that constructs genders as we understand them.
What does gender produce outside of the body: what roles, what discourses, what literature? What does it produces within our own bodies?
The Drag King and Drag Queens shows of the nightclubs brought into play the prevailing femininity and masculinity taken to the extreme.
But not only nightclubs put this philosophy into practice. The sexual dissenting racialized communities in the US created an entire culture around gender performativity long before it was theorized. It was the ball culture later to be staged by Madonna in her famous Vogue.
The Pose TV series reflects an approach to this response to the exclusion of cross-border identities. It also reflects critically how theories sometimes blur the origins of practices.
In these gatherings, people performed and prices were awarded to those performances closest to the normative. Gay men trying to get as close as possible to stereotypical femininity, trans women striking their best poses in different social costumes: best female body for an impersonator, military parade, business executive, glamorous…
Manuel Segade, director of the Dos de Mayo Art Center (CA2M) and curator, together with Sabel Gavaldón, of the recently completed exhibition «Elements of Vogue. A case study of radical performancelements of Vogue» explains in this article for Pikara Magazine, “The ballroom or ball culture was born in the 1920s in the Harlem neighborhood as a Queer scene: a space for the articulation of LGTBQ presence in the Afro-descendant community of New York”.
Within the ballroom culture, explains Segade, “voguing was born as this community’s particular dance style. Then, a system of families emerged in the 70s [the houses] that gradually sophisticated the organization of gatherings and parties, leading to what we know today as ball.”
The series shows how these houses were run by a trans woman who welcomed young people expelled from society because of their identity or sexual orientation.
The workings of these houses is also recreated in International artist and drag RuPaul’s Drag Race reality show, which delves into ballroom environment for inspiration to create the different challenges that contestants must face to become Drag of the year.
This show has had recently a Spanish version under the name Drag Race. Thanks to the participation of non binary artist Hugáceo Crujiente we could see in this show the Drag interpretation of the Fallas de València created for one of the challenges. The Instagram post, included this message:
“Honestly, this runway was the most difficult for me to develop. I am a person who does not identify with a specific city. I am not folkloric either. How am I supposed to identify myself with one city if I move to a different place whenever I need? I was born in Getafe, I lived in Segovia and then moved to Valencia. Well, I finally chose València because it is where Hugáceo Crujiente was born. I consider myself a person under development, hence the falla under construction. I developed the idea for this look from some pieces by @parodiparadise and built it with the fantastic team at @visorifashionartstudio
I know it is a very experimental look and I hope that the people of my beloved Valencia understand that I have made this look from the depths of my love for their most international art.”
Don’t be a drag, just be a queen
On the music scene, RuPaul’s career is precisely one of the most renowned in the Queer universe. He has been the key figure in popularizing drag culture and turning it into a mass phenomenon. His musical career is full of greatest hits and collaborations such as Don’t Go Breaking My Heart with Elton John and current hits made popular by the reality show.
Madonna’s iconic song Vogue is another of the greatest hits that has brought to the masses a culture that is the product of marginality. The series Pose covers this phenomenon, and shows how when it boomed, some venues became trendy but when popularity disappeared, they were once again discarded by society.
Another artist who often takes the Queer universe back to her world is Lady Gaga. Both her lyrics and her philosophy always remind us to value rarities. In her song Born this way, she tells us “Don’t be a drag, just be a queen”.
Freddie Mercury turned his way of life into a symbol and was one of the icons that suffered the stigma of AIDS. His subversions had everything to do with his peculiar way of inhabiting the world. He decided to make it his greatest strength. Often, the world of culture and music accepts and allows identities that, outside that framework, would be rejected. The person is experienced as a spectacle, not as a person subject to rights.
David Bowie could also be considered a musical God of all things abject and bizarre. Much more recently, appearances like Conchita Wurst’s at Eurovision posed a real challenge to what is expected of a male or female.
It’s not just abroad. Right here in the Spanish State, we have our Queer dissidents in the musical scene. Falete, Miguel de Molina, La Prohibida… have historically shown their irreverence. In the south of the American continent Sudor Marika or Kumbia Queers would be great exponents of the movement from the music.
In the Queer music scene, gender is blurred and leaves the center. It is neither forced, nor it forces us into dichotomies, as it remains in constant change and transition, like music itself.
As Butler would say, “after all, the justification for the struggle is in the sensory field, sound and image are used to recruit us into a reality and to make us participate in it”.