My Visceral Thought

Watch the Kathleen Hanna clip.  Read the manifesto.

I can’t help it.  I keep saying I won’t write this post.  It’s not worth it, I’ll appear rude, my knowledge is limited, etc.  But I’ve decided to put it out there, after a cursory read and setting the book aside in annoyance.  The Gurlesque anthology, GURLESQUE: THE NEW GRRLY, GROTESQUE, BURLESQUE POETICS, by Arielle Greenberg and Lara Glenum, despite including a number of poets I admire and some I count as friends, has sufficiently gotten under my skin today, and to be fair, without giving it more than a few hours’ read.  Perhaps I’ll regret it all and delete this rant later because, truly, I love a good number of the poems within.

What bugs though?  Well in brief, Greenberg in her introduction parallels the Gurlesque with the Riot Grrrl movement.  My memory of that movement, which I peripherally participated in by attending shows and working on a short-lived zine in the Baltimore/DC scene, “Shrill” (& listening to avidly), made efforts to include the queer.  In fact, a large number of those bands were shout-out-loud queer and those that weren’t celebrated various permutations and manifestations of queerness, in fact, relied on it.  This inclusion, I imagine, was predicated on the multi-cultural women’s movement of yore that imagined women who weren’t sexually beholden to men had something to offer. And that’s what’s getting under my skin.  Despite similarities, in part, I don’t see the true parallel to the Gurlesque here.  Content-wise, much of the poetry within this anthology is about straight women dealing directly (and sometimes sideways) with the push-pull of being romantically/sexually-invested in men while simultaneously being under their thumb/the symbolic as well as real power of men — I know several straight women who frustratedly deal with the issues that arise out of their desire for men that goes hand-in-hand with the power those same men hold over their heads.  How does one navigate that?  It’s hard, I know.  I’ve been there. But I’m also somewhere else now, and this anthology doesn’t venture into that kind of experience.  From what I can tell, I guess I don’t write the Gurlesque, nor do any other lesbians/queer women, despite Eileen Myles’ blurbage, “I like these dirty poems.”  Yeah, but where’s the *real* dirt post-not-just-in-relation-to-men, just what are those pink claws and cute guns gonna do (as conjured in another blurb), you know, once the men go to sleep.  What are these riot women going to rock then??  I guess this isn’t *that* kind of book, unless I’m missing it somehow…

This kind of reactive grotesque (from the “girls'” pens, beholden to Kristeva’s female groteseque) is why “cock” and “cunt” (cock ‘n cunt?) poems get play and other similar ‘fucking men’ pieces sell:  these poems are very much querying and pushing against or into ‘what does it mean to be with men?’ & ‘how do I navigate/subvert/get out from under this mess’ via lots of sexual allusions, metaphors, and straight up physical descriptions, mostly frustrated and grotesque, however symbolic they may be.  These kinds of poems demand reactions/attention because they’re very much about men, & female bodies in relation to men’s bodies, the mechanics and positions of that and how that plays out on the larger levels, through the lenses of women, toying with and reacting to how women are supposed to present/behave for men, etc.  Certainly not all of the poems in the Gurlesque do this, but on my first and second quick read, a good majority of them.  Perhaps, too simplistically from my perspective, is the Gurlesque simply a place for women who fuck men to work out their frustrations and deal with the accompanying power plays?  Oh, and to trying to stop/subvert the conditioning of girls that rears them to be seen as such fuck dolls?  Not that any of these efforts are wrong!  It just feels like the Gurlesque strain in this particular book is claiming to do more (a la the Riot Grrrls), and I really don’t see it.  Yet.

Well, thinking aloud here still, I suppose one could go further and say, gender (esp the hetero-binary) is everywhere and all the poems about penetration and cock sucking and being sexy-lady-fare could also apply to trans/boi/queer relations because some of us use (co-opt?) that language too.  On occasion.  But I dare say, and feel free to correct me, these are mostly if not all straight women dealing with the fallout of fucking men and/or resisting the implications of that desire in a society that positions them as the fucked, on varying levels of course/discourse.  And for that reason, the Gurleseque is not the same as Riot Grrrl (nor do the women included in the anthology “not belong to any clubs that blah blah blah”, as Greenberg claims).  Lara Glenum claims the Gurlesque is descriptive of a moment, something they observed:

‘The Gurlesque describes an emerging field of female artists who, taking a page form the historical burlesque, perform their femininity in a campy or overtly mocking way. Their work assaults the norms of acceptable female behavior by irreverently deploying gender stereotypes to subversive ends. The theoretical tangents germane to the Gurlesque that I’m exploring in my critical writing include burlesque and camp, girly kitsch, and performance of the female grotesque.”

Huh.  I suppose there aren’t many/any lesbian or female/femme-queer poets writing stuff that fits that particular bill?  What would that be even?  Do we know anything about pleasure beyond being in relation to men?  Based on the rampant physicality in these poems:  Pussy on pussy?  Cunt to cunt?  Boobs buoyed by female sinew?  I’m a thigh and eye woman, hear me roar?  Okay, now I’m just fucking around and denigrating the Gurlesque, sorry.  But somehow this whole Gurlesque scene conjures the Alison Bechdel test for films that try to reach beyond the mainstream/status quo / structure:  1. It has to have at least two women in it  2. Who talk to each other  3. About something besides a man.   Achoo.  To be fair, I did spot some poems about girls doing girl things like hopscotch and one about  a granny.  And someone pointed at a literary history via Woolf briefly.  But if you’re going to conjure the Riot Grrrl movement, give me something to get fired up about!  Because I’ve been there (the hetero-“lockdown”), done that and am just not as invested in direct rupture from male-on-female-play-as-we-know it.  I live post-that investment now, so to speak.  I’m in a privileged position, and I think that’s something worth inquiring about.  Just my initial two interrogative (reductive?) cents; I’m ready to be schooled, so fire away.


Additional reading on the Gurlesque

Lemonhound – “Are we buying the Gurlesque?”

The Original Gurlesque – Some Debate


On deck – Just getting into Feminaissance, and so far, digging it.  Also, A Decade of Negative Thinking has arrived on shore.

P.S.  Coincidentally, The Runaways anesthetizes the queer dyke right out of Joan Jett’s story, apparently.  Makes the film into a Little Debbie snack cake.  Scoop from Susie Bright:  “I’ll tell you why dyke rock’n’roll legacy is important. Because in order to stand up to the shitheads who tried to keep young women out of EVERYTHING, you had to NOT GIVE A SHIT ABOUT THEIR SEXUAL APPROVAL.”

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AMY KING View All →

Amy King is the recipient of the 2015 Winner of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) Award. Her latest collection, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. She co-edited with Heidi Lynn Staples the anthology Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene: When Ecopoets Think Climate Change. She also co-edits the anthology series, Bettering American Poetry, and is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.

33 Comments Leave a comment

  1. So odd that something that obviously draws from contemporary burlesque eschews queerness! It seems so embedded in that aesthetic. Certainly, I saw a burlesque/dance show the other night put together by the amazing Moira Finucane and Jackie Smith, which might have interested you rather more. Sadly it’s in Melbourne, otherwise I’d urge you to go!

  2. Hey, Amy,

    I don’t find Gurlesque boring, but maybe ’cause it’s about my hometown. And that in itself is kinda nice. I mean, how many literary fellas have had the privilege of boring me? And many of them get to bore in perpetuity. It’s about time I got to do some of the boring (boring into!) right from my very own subject position.

    But this is really interesting! I think you’re spot-on about the relationship to sexuality in a lot of these poems. I definitely interrogate my position in the heterosexual matrix. And if that were all I ever did, it’d probably be enough for me, since I am a feminist breeder living in hetero town, often thinking, huh? well, how did I get here?

    But even beyond the literal cunt-to-cock, doesn’t male gaze construct our cultural understanding of (life inside) the female form no matter who we have sex with? It’s not just the hetero lover that constructs the girl/woman. It’s the parents, the doctors, the teachers, the reception of queer women (I love that article that Heather Cassils interview Ana pointed out: And most of those things construct a person before she gets anywhere near the first boyfriend. I wonder if the female/feminine grotesque can ever be performed without reference to male gaze and heteronormative sex acts… I mean, does a woman ever get to take her body out from under patriarchy? That’s a sincere question. Seriously–is there a place to go?

    I dunno, I wasn’t in the right place at the right time for real Riot Grrrl scene (baby doll dresses and combat boots aside), but I do think that Gurlesque poems can do similar violence to the viewer (or vindication of the viewer if she’s identifying with the performance). They lock the gaze and exploit the stare. The Gurlesque reaction to the medico-sexualization of female bodies is worth getting fired up about. And the reconstitution of “girl” as viable subject position. Lately, I’m really interested in the way we market things to girls that we then denigrate them for buying, the way the “girl” is always/already a vulnerable, gaping wound, a burden on her people, ripe for demonizing. We don’t want to be called “girls,” we want to be called “women,” but when we distance ourselves from girl so aggressively, I think we’re buying into girlhood = disease. What’s less important than a “girl”? Or more vulgar than an old girl? And it’s not like a person gets to identify as “girl” or not solely on her own say-so. Woman & girl, both categories created by patriarchy, both labels applied willy-nilly, yeah?

    And another thing that just occurred to me–Gurlesque tactics must also be about the relationship of straight women one to another, or the relationship straight women have to queer women? Hmmm.

    Okay, I’m mostly just yakking here. And taking up a lot of space.


  3. Hi Danielle,

    Boring? That was one of the risks I knew I was taking simply by critiquing this anthology and speaks to my hesitation: that I would somehow be read as going against what the poems within those pages are doing: I’m not. As the project stands, I think it’s a fine one and there certainly should be poems out there that address those heteronormative structures/contents/images/symbols and fuck the hell out of them, to make a poor pun. I’m all for you and the women included interrogating the hell out of the hetero-matrix! And some of those poems give delight, cause pause, etc in many good ways. I wouldn’t deny you that neighborhood because I know it’s a liberating one and I want the option to visit too sometimes bc I don’t only inhabit a queer sensibility at all times (nor have I historically)…

    But the implications set forth by Glenum and Greenberg imply a scope that I don’t think this anthology reaches. That’s where my disappointment lies. A few of the Riot Grrrls wore baby doll dresses; many did not. Many played naked, wore attire across the board, mixed and matched, took punk and feminized it on their terms, ( etc. This anthology does not cover that range, in my humble estimation. But it seems that sensibility, or a nod towards it at least, was part of the project:

    Glenum wrote, “I happen to think that the Gurlesque is about performing gender in a way that causes gender binaries to fray, skew, collapse. It is absolutely about queerness (in the broader sense that Seth describes)”… I don’t know what Seth described, but in my book, queerness is not just about being in relationships with men — and ‘performing gender in a way that causes binaries to fray’ can and should extend beyond what I’ve written in my post above and have seen in this book (i.e. primarily reacting to those hetero-strictures/structures via A. fucking men and B. liberating girls from the sexualization for A). In fact, including the work that is (to me, glaringly) absent is imperative, as one can see via the Riot Grrrls example. Some of the boldness and the wildfire of that “moment” came from straight girls being inspired by what queer women had: some freedom to think beyond the hetero-normative.

    And yes, I agree, we all grow up being pushed into those “girl” subject-hood positions (the princess-soon-to-be-fuck-doll); but not all of us remain within its confines exclusively (though we are certainly aware of its maw constantly trying to consume us – two lesbians get it on for men, anyone?), but that’s not the point. The point gets at Cixious’ notion of writing the “feminine,” that it hasn’t happened yet and is only beginning to emerge because it has been suppressed/unarticulated/stuck-in-the-structures-that-be for so damn long. So how do we get at writing the feminine, the as-yet-unheard? How do we even begin to recognize it? Well, in my book, the queer is one route full of promise. What does it mean to live a daily life loving, and all that entails, another woman? Women? And all of the questions that fall in after… just as you point out at the end of your comment: what about relations between straight women and with queer women? I’m totally for exploring those! How do we feed off of each other, energize, etc. What do we end up creating together? Is it even fathomable to go past the patriarchal coding/discourse/positioning? What happens if we succeed? What then?

    But it’s five a.m. and I’m fading here. As I’ve slept only briefly, upon waking, I pondered who I might investigate to find if they, at some point, wrote anything fitting what I thought the “Gurlesque” might include that extends beyond the scope of what I’m seeing in this anthology– Off the top of my head, if I were going to spend an hour or two looking around, I’d check out work by Cynthia Sailers (Lake Systems is a damn fine book and likely would offer something akin to Gurlesque) (oh, here’re two tho they’re not from her book –, as well as work by Metta Sama, R. Erica Doyle, Michelle Tea, Daphne Gottlieb, Megan Volpert, Tisa Bryant, Rachel Zolf, Erika Kaufman, Staceyann Chin, and oh just a host of others that I can’t list as the true waking hour draws near (here – But among even just those short-listed, I know that some of them at some point (moment!) have enlisted that burlesque/grotesque and go beyond the framework of the cock.

    Danielle, you hit one of the nails on the head with your last paragraph – Gurlesque tactics must also be about exploring those (less valued?) relations and I just don’t see it in the anthology, though I know that exploration thrived and vibed among riot grrrls and that was thrilling. I wanted this book to similarly motivate/inspire me. But I admit, I was disappointed and bogged down by what seems to me to be a terrible omission. This anthologized strain of the Gurlesque is limited mostly to exploring relations only btwn men and women (& the conditioning of girls for men). That’s fine and certainly worth exploring, but as I said, limited in scope and that’s my gripe.

    xo, A

  4. Amy, I think this discussion raises the very relevant question of how the countercultural, grotesque, autre and queer intersect, where they overlap and borrow from each other and where they don’t. Can one queer language/imagination without queering life? There is an element of danger to being queer: to female lovers holding hands in a Southern diner, to hailing a cab or boarding the subway in drag, to a FTM trans boi in a gay-male bar — all open up the possibility of being not just sexually mocked and exploited but of physical harm. When the pressure/violence of that harm is deflected onto the language to the point where its muscles rip and then expand: that, in my mind, is when language is queered. And god/dog knows women are always in the danger of being harmed. Harmed as a somewhat known (though dangerous) Other — but is that the same as being Monster, part of no binary? (See Heather Cassils, above, again…) From Lara Glenum’s guest post on Johannes’s blog: “[Female burlesque performers] were utilizing their masculine attire as a sort of fetish object, in fact emphasizing their feminine sexuality by contrasting it with markers of masculinity. The effect of such ‘unladylike’ conduct led at least one critic to deem burlesque performers neither men nor women but “creatures of an alien sex, parodying both.” I want to read through the anthology to see where and if the poems wear that male attire–does it actually happen? (Nota bene: I’ve only glanced at the anthology so far.) A poet who achieves boy-drag to stellar effect in her poems is Stacy Szymaszek, see “Homo Sailor King in Emptied of All Ships,” JB’s review here: Or is the project of the anthology really to sing the “horrible prettiness” of the femme dentata who may or may not be venturing into the truly queer? All this is really wide open for discussion and I do hope people who talk and think about Gurlesque engage you without holding back. I’ve thought/read a lot about Gurlesque, its embrace of kitsch resonates with me (, and so I look forward to sitting down with the anthology this weekend and seeing (with my queer third eye) where it takes me.

  5. Just wanna give the link to that Glenum post on Gurlesque, as there is some use of ‘queer’ in the comments there. Seth Abramson comments:

    “I think [the post] emphasizes, even more than its implications for feminism, the relation of the gurlesque to (using the cultural and lit-crit sense of the word here) ‘queerness’ (as opposed to the more narrow category of homosexuality).”

    Totally valid, though as a queer woman, I admit it’s hard for me to forget that the momentum of queer theory draws heavily on LGBT studies & queer activism, and always hope to see the full range of the non-normative/deviant written through/about — not for representation’s sake, but to open doors.

  6. Thanks, Ana & Amy for this discussion! Very exciting! I want, actually, to address what you’re saying about Cixous, Amy. Have you read Monique Wittig’s The Warriors? It attempts to perform l’ecriture feminine. Its characters are living in this post-man feminist utopia. And it drives me batty! Because, of course, if you are writing in the same ol’ language, and the writing itself isn’t particularly experimental, how can you be even remotely in that place outside the phallogocentric? Ditch your characters’ surnames, but if you don’t ditch grammar, you’re still talking to Daddy. I think Cathy Park Hong actually comes a lot closer to sticking it to Big Daddy Language in her Dance, Dance, Revolution patois. Anyhow, that’s to say I don’t know about the other poets in the anth, but I do know that the whole feminine writing thing gives me the queasy. I don’t think it’s possible at this point in time/culture to write feminine. I do think it’s possible to bust some holes in the matrix (living queer, mangling language, etc.), but that doesn’t get us out of the culture that cultured us. And, of course if one lives the daily hetero (even if, ahem, her partner tattooed g-i-r-l on his knuckles), one’s getting constantly reformatted by heteronormativity.

    Also, with regard to Kristeva, yesssss, Gurlesque poets definitely owe her, but I think they recognize the abject as an opportunity for border crossing in a way that Kristeva’s work doesn’t. I say this a lot, but I’m gonna post it here, too: anthropologist Anna Tsing’s In the Realm of the Diamond Queen has a great passage on how Western Kristeva’s thesis is, and the value of maggots/flies/other abject properties as gateway between life and death in other cultures, shaman, etc.

    It’s problematic to characterize Gurlesque as queer. I wouldn’t call my own work queer, except maybe in that Judith Halberstam “queer time and space” fashion. I think Gurlesque does queer heterosexuality (that is, reveals all the elements of heterosexuality that run counter to its identity as “normal”), but I dunno… This is beautiful, Ana: “Or is the project of the anthology really to sing the “horrible prettiness” of the femme dentata who may or may not be venturing into the truly queer?” Maybe it is!

    At the end of the day, I think the Riot Grrrl that the Gurlesque draws on (if it does), is the trickle-down version. The Sassy magazine version. Which I don’t want to belittle, ’cause it meant a lot to suburban girls like me who weren’t able to get to clubs or zines or anything but the mall. The ones for whom Riot Grrrl bled into Ghost World geek-chic. I think Arielle’s talking more about the place where the daughters of the second wave feminists tumbled headlong into burgeoning third wave environs.

    Okay, I (clearly) haven’t had my coffee yet, and have to run teach, so apologies! Amy, I love your list of writers there! Sister Spit was here at UWyo in the fall, and they definitely had a burlesque vibe. Have you seen Ben McCoy perform? Swoon.

    And sorry for suggesting you found the Gurlesque “boring,” Amy. I think it was the “fired up” line that led me to think so. Anyhow, I see what you mean re: the Gurlesque anthology falling short on these points, but I also think that because it’s a descriptive project, it’s looking not just at the actual poems, but also where the entire zeitgeist can take us. I’ll be curious to hear what you think upon more thorough read (um, and I haven’t thoroughly read it either–in fact, I don’t have my hardcopy yet). And I’m going to go think about how my own work has/will address those other relationships that I think are indeed less valued (straight-to-straight girl, queer-to-straight girl, etc.).


    • Danielle,

      First, thanks for thoughtfully engaging my post – I’ve rec’d a very large number of backchannels (more than usual) confirming that several others felt similarly about the anthology, but I guess they don’t want to venture into public to say so because it might be perceived as some sort of betrayal… I’m guessing.

      But the short of it is (& I apologize for my hurry), if this project aligns itself with a movement that made efforts to include the queer, and the editors conjure the queer, then based on the content I’ve read, I’m wondering if Gurlesque “queer” now omits/leaves out actual queer women and content that I’ve long understood to be queer. Because this anthology feels quite exclusive in whose work it includes and what *kinds* of poems are within. What is being described from these inclusions is, well, limited.

      This is not to say anyone can’t employ queering, so to speak, but when content omits the queer/queer sensibility/efforts, it seems to be a disservice that does not actually describe what’s happening *fully*, except through a very exclusive lens. The suburbs house all sorts of women engaging/creating all sorts of writing, not just hets!

      And I don’t mean to be short with your post; I’ve got to run but will return to consider more of your ideas here shortly, esp on the “theory” end of things, which I am not very well-versed on. Thanks for your take on them!



  7. I am glad you wrote about this. I remember seeing bikini kill as a young’un and loving many a riot grrl band/zine. It just felt R.G was more all encompassing of many female perspectives vs. Gurlesque. There is a subversiveness in one that is not there in the other? If we are working from within the positing of heter-sexualized binaries then where is the pushing of language? The writing outside of the male gaze? As Cixous would say, writing out of the world of the male (symbolic) and creating a new space?

  8. Hey, wait, rushing here, I am big time ignorant I realize! Amy, can you say more about Riot Grrrl as queer culture/movement? I wouldn’t (from my great distance) have read it as queer. I was just asking my partner, who was way into music as a teen, and also he wasn’t really aware of the Riot Grrrl queer. Now I think I’ve been teaching Riot Grrrl very poorly (it’s even in the intro to gender & women’s studies textbook I use!). Do you suppose it got sanitized in the same fashion as The Runaways?

    @Erika–I wrote about Cixous in my rambly comments above–would love to hear your thoughts!

    Danielle (running ever so late!)

  9. Just wanna say Thanks! to Danielle for your awesome response. I totally dig what you say about how ecriture feminine can’t be performed w/out actively examining the Master’s Tools. Working & continuing to listen in…as far as Riot Grrrl queer, many of the bands associated with RG were queer/there was lots of overlap with queercore, instead of listing all I link to the ever-helpful Wiki:

  10. Oh god, a ton of the bands were queer or included queer members, the zines were all over the place with queer content, pushing the limits, etc. One big critique of Riot Grrrl was that it was predominantly white… and mostly classed as well, though I think there was more effort to include ‘working class’ as a product of punk than not-white folks.

    I’ll have to get back to you on that as well, but if you just do a search on Riot Grrrls queer, you’ll get a ton of hits that include zine info and bands (some under “queercore” but many of the female queer bands were just Riot Grrrl). But yes, a great number of the bands and members identified as queer, produced what was characterized as queer fucking and the like, I believe. I don’t think they specifically segregated, which is the point. I don’t see that kind of inclusion in this anthology, despite the parallel drawn…

  11. Danielle,

    I don’t think Riot Grrrl was characterized as a queer movement, but rather, was (mostly) inclusive and sought out the queer, not just in the sense of a “trickle-down” ‘queering’ relations with men. There was an alignment, in other words, that I don’t see in the anthology.

    As for this particular Gurleseque, which is the only definitive one so far set forth by LG and AG, it seems to exclude the kind of queer found in Riot Grrrl, except perhaps that claim to queer the hetero-matrix, as you put it. Hence the “cock/cunt” focus. I’m getting redundant here, I know. But this is still where I’m hung up, and I’m not alone, except maybe in that I’m saying so ‘publicly.’ And this is not a betrayal – it’s a query and a hope that future efforts will range broader to match the scope outlined/implied…

    As for Wittig, I haven’t read her tho I took a peek once and wasn’t pulled in. I can’t imagine that hers, esp as you describe it, is the only decent attempt, or will be, to write the feminine. I buck against that bland characterization in fact. If you say it’s impossible, I guess I’ll sideways insert Ashbery here (after reading Stein), “And if, on laying the book aside, we feel that it is still impossible to accomplish the impossible, we are also left with the conviction that it is the only thing worth trying to do.” Or at least imagining and shooting for that impossible… starting it with very wide eyes (& far reaching).

    I don’t get the sense that Glenum and Greenberg are going for a “trickle down” version of Riot Grrrl. Greenberg’s intro pretty much attempts to own Riot Grrrl in direct relation to the Gurleseque, which in her version, again, omits actual queer inclusion. I mean, is the Gurlesque supposed to be only for straight women? It’s not blatantly stated but I understood it to be so based on the contents of the book. And that saddened me. What a way to leave out some seriously important work going on, an entire tradition/community that certainly has and does utilized camp, the burlesque, parody, etc , often borne out of sheer necessity – much of what they say they premise (or observe) the Gurlesque on (doing) — and I am still speculating as to why they left that stuff out. Is it because the Gurlesque will get more attention if it’s written in direct relation to men? Because straight women can be monstrously kawaii but still remain fuckable/desiring men? And queer women presumably aren’t in that camp so the Gurlesque isn’t for us? Is that the message I’m supposed to receive? And in turn, just what are Gurlesque practitioners really aiming for? Just to get out from under the man? Still wondering…

    A few miscellaneous grabs for ya, as requested—

    For “legitimacy’s sake”, CUNY ran a panel exploring that history:

    For decades, queer media has spanned everything from riot grrrl record labels to campy ‘zines. These mediums interact with mainstream media and capitalist business models in divergent ways, spawning different visions of the creative potential of avowedly queer media. —

    Though I don’t know what the end publications were…


    Memoir notes:

    “Her deep friendship with a very serious queer femme riot grrl, Lila. We talked about veganism, bands, racism, and pornography. (They had class differences. Lila and a lot of the other girls were richer.) Making mix tapes and trading them. Gina read ‘The Persistent Desire’. Traded zines with every girl I met and hundreds of others through the mail. Starstruck at meeting Kate Bornstein. The overwhelming joy of finally being taken seriously as a queer girl.”


    Kathleen Hanna explored/included the queer:

    “Besides being in Le Tigre [which included queer member JT], I am working on the theme song for Lori Singer and Laura Cottingham’s all lesbian remake of the Genet classic “Querelle” and just had an essay published in Robin Morgan’s third anthology Sisterhood Is Forever.”


    Again, including the queer:

    “In NYC, along with zine writer and artist Johanna Fateman and musician/video artist Sadie Benning, she started Le Tigre, a dance/punk band focused on feminist and queer-friendly issues.”


    “When Kathleen Hanna shouted out ‘we’ve got to show them we’re worse than queer’ it struck a chord in me despite the song being sung from one woman to any number of other women. There was anger and passion and defiance and politics all rolled together in that lyric and it blew my mind. From there I ran out and bought my own copy of the EP and continued to get any and all BK music as it was released. I also got into lots of other music that was categorized as “Riot Grrrl music” or queercore/queerpunk and all of it rocked my world and even got me into playing the drums, which I still do 16 years later. But Bikini Kill was the gateway to all of that for me.”


    Quick run down of a handful of queer bands associated with Riot Grrrl:

    Tribe 8, Team Dresch, Third Sex, Mr. Lady, Le Tigre, The Haggard, Slant 6, Huggy Bear, God Is My Co-Pilot, (1/2 of) Sleater Kinney, CWA (Cunts w Attitude), The Butchies, The Raincoats (tho I used to hang w a woman from that band and I don’t think she was queer), Au Pairs (not sure they were Riot Grrrl affiliated tho), Tracy and the Plastics (again, not sure RGrrrl affiliated), and Lunachicks (at minimum, content-wise queer), and more I’m leaving out/forgot/don’t know about.


    The grouping of riot grrrl with queer is common:

    “The book’s most successful chapter is its first, in which Julia Downes explores the birth of riot grrrl in Olympia, Washington DC, and even Britain. The PhD student and Ladyfest organizer discusses the founding of K Records, the forming of bands like Heavens To Betsy and Huggy Bear, community meetings, zine culture, and early feminist/queer/riot grrrl events.”


    More excerpts from the Susie Bright blog post:

    Everyone called themselves “bi,” although that was really code for: don’t tell me what to do…. [I remember a number of straight women doing the same when I was going to shows, because to do so was to get away from existing only for men – these women wanted to value the women they were hanging with and the things they were making together. If a cool dude came along who wasn’t threatened, then fine. But otherwise, they’d rather prioritize differently.]

    The mosh pit and the queer liberation scene were an organic ecstatic teenage wasteland, true compost, but no one knew how it was supposed to come together….

    Let me make something clear that the movie only hints at: The Runaways band would not have happened, could not have been conceived, without the Underground Dyke Punk Groupie Slut culture that stretched from the San Fernando Valley to the bowels of Orange County.

    What is wrong with saying that? Do dykes never get to claim anything? Is the historical lens going to stay coated with Vaseline and excuses FOREVER?


    Etc. Again, off to class. More soon. Again. xo, a

  12. The more I read about this, the more I’m finding “Gurlesque” – the term itself and concept originated and has been used for many years in relation to queer performance art. See below for a few of the many links available:

    Apparently Gurlesque started as some sort of Lesbian Strip Show/Performance Art thing pre-2000…

    “Once again GURLESQUE opens her doors for Queers of all gender persuasions & blends it up for an unofficial Mardi Gras show
    GURLESQUE presents…”Bee My Dirty Little Valentine” a mixed queer cabaret/burlesque”


    Chicago Pride, “Gurlesque Burlesque with Margaret Cho – ,” January 13, 2007



    I don’t know if there have already been posts about this so please direct me there if there is! How do people feel about so-called Lesbian Strip Shows such as Gurlesque?

    I found myself at such a show without really knowing what I was going to. (It was a women’s only event as part of a festival I went to and a great bunch of women I was hanging out with were going for a night out and I joined them).

    I think your experience was tainted by the audience members, not Gurlesque or the actual performances. I haven’t experienced the type of leering and sexist comments you mention when I’ve attended Gurlesque performances in Sydney. I’ve always found the audience supportive and receptive.

    As for Gurlesque itself, while the nudity and themes covered in some of the performances may not be everybody’s cup of tea, Gurlesque as a women’s event is necessary and much welcomed.

    Gurlesque is the most progressive event our community has. Gurlesque allows women to be themselves; where else would you find size 20 women stripping along side size 8s? Where else would you find a women comfortable enough to strip when she has her period and her tampon string is exposed? Where else would you see a breast cancer survivor feel comfortable enough to strip and show her mastectomy scar? Where else would you find an intersex person comfortable enough strip and detail the invasive surgery s/he was subjected to as a child?

    As for objectification of women by women, I think it comes down to consent. Personally, I don’t appreciate being objectified by men – it happens without my consent on a daily basis with comments and leers when I’m going about my daily routine – but when it comes to a place like Gurlesque or other lesbian venues, I give my consent to being objectified. I think the same goes with the performers at Gurlesque; by stripping for a group of women they are consenting to being objectified and that is their choice. It can be quite empowering to create a sexy show, allowing the crowd to desire you, yet knowing you’re in full control. It’s all part of the show.

    Gurlesque creates a safe and sex-positive place for women to explore and exhibit their sexuality in a consentual environment. And that, in my opinion, can only be a good thing.

    I remember when Gurlesque was starting out, and the audience was WAY different than it is now- it was much more suburban and sleazy. A lot of audience behaviour was pretty inappropriate, as the idea of a strip show was so new. I went because friends of friends had organised it, so I went along. But the feminist ideas of the performers was different than the anti-feminist crowd at the time. Or at least, there was a group of women who made the most noise and showed the most disrespect. It was pretty cringey.

    Now, the audience is more arty and “performative”- more like the performers themselves- a lot of leather people and people who are more used to avant-garde stuff.


    When we saw the modified for general public gurlesque performance at chill out however, we both enjoyed it for different reasons. i loved the feminist aspect of it – the women (as far as I know) own the show and thus earn their income from it.

    Each of the women is markedly physically different and when they got women from the audience they encouraged them to explore and be comfortable with their bodies but were at the same time entirely respectful of the women’s boundaries. I have never seen the full show but i liked what i saw and i would say I’m a fairly rigid kinda feminist in many ways – some might say i’m one of those doctrinaire types who they might expect to can Gurlesque. It does, as others have said, seem to have stemmed from the audience.

    Re: “Lesbian” strip shows

    I have seen Gurlesque shows maybe four times now and each time has been brilliant, very creative, well run for women by women.
    The shows have always shown a strong political and sex positive base that held no comparison to any male-owned and run strip club. The two who started Gurlesque used to strip for men till they got jack of it and started a group for women.

    From what I’d heard some of the strippers/dancers work in (mostly) male frequented strip joints and loved doin’ it for women because they enjoy female appreciation more.

    When you take the ‘man’ out of your head and just appreciate it for what it is rather than what it reminds you of your view just might be something more positive than it is now.

    For those who like to deconstruct, here’s a link to a queer theory analysis of Gurlesque. Perhaps kismet, you might see the avant-garde notions at play in this article.



    “On the one hand it makes sense, right? I mean, the Chicago Kings–the fathership of kinging in Chicago–has disbanded, and Gurlesque Burlesgue–the mothership of queer burlesque is inactive. Both rose in popularity with great force and were vital catalysts of the queer performance world in Chicago for quite a while. But are these art forms dead? I say, Hell, no! They are just evolving, shapeshifting. Some performers are taking a break, some are pushing forward down new avenues of gender performance.”


    10. Favourite Live Australian Act: Gurlesque

    Formed by duo Sex Intents and Glitta Supernova in…THE YEAR 2000, Gurlesque is a favourite in the queer scene. With shows that feature a fantastic host of performances, dancing and side-splitting comedy, these monthly acts aren’t to be missed. I’ve been to two of these shows now and have had a spectacular time at both.


    Gurlesque originated in queer culture… I still hope to discover more about this updated anthologized Gurlesque in relation to the origins of the term and the queer work that seems to be missing…


  13. Wow, Amy, treasuretrove! Really helpful to my understanding of the Riot Grrrl scene. I’m gonna be a better fem theory teacher!

    This is the most thoughtful and interesting critique of the Gurlesque I’ve heard (if not as hilariously & revealingly ill-put as the one in the comments box at HTMLGiant: Eye. Roll). I wish others would speak up. Maybe I am being to much of a comments box hog? Apologies! I cannot still my enthusiasm.

    Okay, trying to make sense of things, I see two different criticisms:
    1. The Gurlesque as described by AG & LG purports an allegiance to &/or co-opts the queer, but then omits queer poems.
    2. There are a number of queer women poets performing the type of Gurlesque that LG outlines in her introductory essay who haven’t been included in the anthology.

    So, one problem is that queer sexuality fits under the Gurlesque rubric, but then there’s no room for it in the anthology. The other problem is that there are queer women doing just what Lara outlines in that passage on the burlesque who weren’t included in the anthology. Am I getting this right? I’m beginning to confuse myself…

    Re: writing the feminine, prove me wrong humans! Send me books! Write it! I try/tried/try to write NOT phallogo, and feel I have only minor, brief successes, if any. And then sometimes I think it is big fatty success to put on Ezra Pound’s bones & make ’em dance around as I choose. Gimme that phallogo & I’ll make it sing, I’ll bastardize it *wink*.

    Oh, and here’s Greenberg’s first go at “gurlesque” in a review of Chelsey Minnis, 2002: I’d be surprised if she was referencing the Sydney lesbian strip show–the Gurlesque strip show hadn’t hit the states in 2002 had it? But I dunno, you’d have to ask Arielle.


  14. Good morning, Danielle!

    Okay, I’m going to try to make my contention clearer. Let’s start with a Glenum quote from Johannes blog:

    “And Riot Grrr. Think zombified Courtney Love in her babydoll nightie, who somehow managed able to make female nudity threatening and aggressive rather than erotic.”

    Two anecdotes now & then my explanation in relation to the Gurlesque anthology:

    I loved Love’s music. Once, I was at one of her shows, pretty intimate, maybe a hundred people or so. (Drew Barrymore was even there, backstage, taking care of Francis Bean) Love rocked out; she spoke aggressively, wore her babydoll dress, combat boots, said lots of pro-women things, etc. Late in the show, she decided to stage dive, just like any guy singer would who could feel the energy from the crowd. But this crowd, especially the pit-as-usual, was more than half guys. And when she got carried across that pit, those men began ripping her clothes, feeling her up, etc. It was all security could do to get her back, a total struggle. Onstage again, she was pissed, frustrated, and could only scream into the mic angrily, “I test every crowd in every city, and you FAILED!” and stormed off stage. For all of her aggression, all of her posturing, all of her proclamations, her nudity was *not* threatening, as Glenum claims; she remained most certainly an erotic object to grab and fuck and disrespect. I’ve never seen a man experience a stage dive even remotely similar.

    Moving on to Tribe 8, Riot Grrrl band made up of all openly-queer women. This was one of the first shows to shock me. These women got on stage, they had hot bods that fit ‘sexy’ stereotypes. Several of them took off their shirts and began rocking out. Many of the men didn’t know what the fuck to do. They just gaped, though some got into the music, moshing a bit, especially as the shock wore off and the show went on. More women were in the pit than usual too. But the initial problem for the men and those of us attuned to seeing women through the male gaze, despite the hardcore energy of the music (which is what we presumably paid for), was that these women became grotesque, they were parodies incarnate because these were women’s bodies with true bare breasts, those sexy orbs (the site of symbolic sex/sexiness), attached to real monsters: women who were publicly queer and therefore by default anomalies, performing this killer music but not as a site for masturbation or fucking. They were truly threatening, scary and not to be fucked with. Not one guy tried to touch them, though I’m sure a few had trouble processing/reconciling that female nudity with being there to rock out.

    Glenum and Greenberg say they’re “describing what they’ve seen”, but based on the anthology, they seem to have only seen hetero-women performing gender in grotesque/hybrid/paradoxical ways. Even if they didn’t try to seek out the work of queer women, I know that Glenum is aware of Dodie Bellamy’s poetry, which would lead one to imagine that, even if they didn’t include Bellamy’s work, they would have made a conscious attempt to seek out and include work by queer-identified women that includes representations/perspectives of queer women, especially as sites of resistance /grotesqueness / parody – not just hetero-women and girls in the making. The “queer woman” certainly falls under the category of “representations of women” in the public eye that Glenum and Greenberg define the anthology by.

    To omit any work of this sort from this anthology is not only a glaring omission, it’s exclusionary and does a disservice to the project of the Gurlesque; the anthology narrows the Gurlesque at great cost. Considering that the kind of performance the editors describe has long been the staple, almost inherently necessary work of a queer woman as soon as she owns her queerness out loud, it’s shocking to exclude any work by those women. I mean, Glenum founds the basis of her definition on Judith Butler, who obviously “described” gender as performance – & it’s no coincidence that the first theorist to publicly introduce that concept was a lesbian.

    To make a poor parallel, this anthology would be akin to editing an anthology of Experimental American Poetries and only including selections by Language Poets or Black Mountain poets. You can say it’s “descriptive” and “only” what you “noticed” all you want, but the editors of such an anthology must have been wearing blinders if that’s all they include.

    I remain frustrated because the more I read from discussions online, the more I see that Glenum keeps conjuring “queerness” and Greenberg claims to have “coined” the term “Gurlesque” while also aligning it with Riot Grrrl, but to see no inclusion of the queer roots of such performance, to not acknowledge the ongoing work of confounding the notion of “woman” via queer perversion / queer women’s burlesque – gurlesque is incredible. They may as well mark the exclusiveness of this project as defined/narrowed through this anthology and say “queering the hetero-woman and girl concept by hetero-women”, which really only smacks of efforts to subvert, not “queer” when you don’t actually include the queer.

    Just one more note and I’ll stop, let my frustration go the way of the mostly-silence on this issue: A whole lot happens when a queer woman frustrates the male gaze that inspires a very different awareness, which emerges over time for queer women. This awareness births ideas and performances that are certainly co-opted and appropriated by hetero-women, and that’s absolutely fine. From the most basic of signifiers like dykes wearing combat boots and punking out/shearing their hair to larger behaviors that I will not go into right now, we have created and given permissions that may not have happened for a long time for straight women. I’m not trying to own all of the subversive stuff straight women have tried on or done for themselves, at all. But I haven’t read anything in all of Glenum’s and Greenberg’s descriptions that queer women as poets, performers, mothers, etc, haven’t also been doing/dealing with and adding to the conversation/culture.

    Just yesterday, a guy didn’t like what I had to say about Bukowski on a friggin’ throw-away Facebook post and, knowing I’m queer, told me to get my “head out of my cunt”, made lewd claims about my relations with my “partner” (his quotes) in an effort to delegitimize my relationship, and other shit – and that was only one tiny fraction of my experience with men reacting to the queer grotesque monster woman that I am daily. So yes, the queer existence does have a leg up experientially when it comes to understanding what it means to perform for that male gaze while simultaneously and paradoxically excising one’s self from it just by default of primarily loving and being for and in relation to women – and that kind of performance certainly does make its way into queer women’s poetry. I just can’t believe these editors, two smart well-versed and theoretically-inclined women, didn’t come across any writing that fit that bill or give a single nod to it, though they unabashedly have no problem referencing the type of work queer women have historically done and continue to do. Here, have some poems by JB and tell me how these don’t fit the Gurlesque –

    Or Brenda Iijima and Stacy Szymaszek —

    Or any number of queer poets I don’t have time right now to sift through but would have if I were an editor of an anthology such as this…

    Sorry to be insistent; I’m still just emotional and pissed. But moreover, I appreciate your bravery and how constructively you continue to engage me on this matter, Danielle – I know you’re tons busy! I think you hit the nail on the head in your efforts in the last comment to note / outline what you see me reacting to. I wonder if others who see it will speak up (quite a few have backchannled, as noted), or if those involved will acknowledge this gap.

    Thanks lots, A

  15. Hey, Amy,

    Thanks for this response. I’m in the middle of some work stuff, so will be a bit brief, but some things I think it important to remember about Gurlesque:

    1. It’s a microclimate of gender performativity. Not all gender-bending is Gurlesque. Men/boy speakers playing with masculinity, for instance, aren’t Gurlesque (to my thinking, anyhow–they’re mantastic, or mantasia, or something :)). The other half of the equation, and the part I don’t really see you speaking to in this conversation, so I guess I’m not sure what you think of it: the speaker is situated as a girl. Girl speaker, playing with girl gender performativity. It’s important to have a space where girl *can* be subversive without also adopting another subversive characteristic, or without gaining the authority of *woman* or *mother* (both big fatty patriarchal constructions themselves). That’s quite important. “Girl” doing what we expect grown “women,” “mothers,” “feminists” to take on. Also, would love to hear your thoughts on what the anthology is doing with class/race/disability (since I think it does a lot along those lines).

    2. That said, the first JB poem reads pretty Gurlesque to me (plus I love it! thanks for sharing!), and maybe the second. The third, not so much. Brenda & Stacy’s collab, yes, has Gurlesque qualities, but would you say either poet on the whole is Gurlesque? I definitely see the value in extending the term to fit all Gurlesque poetry, but not in extending it to fit poets whose body of work is overwhelming driven by other engines. I’ve been reading through the list of folks in your first comment, and so far not really seeing the Gurlesque in them, but then I’m just reading online, so maybe a whole book would make it clear?

    3. Yeah, of course, and definitely Lara & Arielle considered queer poets, and of course they came across individual poems that might’ve fit the bill. Here are some of the requirements of the anthology, far as I know (and I wasn’t in on any of their discussions, so this is just gleaned from casual conversation): poets who have a book, poets whose work is LARGELY Gurlesque (not just a stray poem or two), poets who were displaying the most pungent versions of Gurlesque in the work. I know Lara chatted with Eileen Myles about all this when Myles blurbed the book. Also, you should know that some women declined to be included in the anthology. But, ultimately, the question is, should they have stretched to include individual poems to make sure they were getting queer women in the anthology, or is it interesting and worth talking about that there isn’t an obviously pungently Gurlesque queer woman poet? (To my knowledge; if you know of one who’s explicitly overwhelmingly Gurlesque? I haven’t read the Sailer’s book yet, though her work I’ve seen online doesn’t yell it out to me…and I’m sure if there were a glaring ommission, Lara & Arielle would be thrilled to find her.)

    3. Okay, isn’t that Hole/Tribe 8 anecdote part of the point? If one has to present as queer to actually threaten the male gaze, then a lot of us are, in all ways, fucked. How do hetero women/girls adapt those subversive behaviors? How do we borrow from queer? What can queer women teach us? Also, since lesbian sexuality is always/already received by heteronormative patriarchal culture as grotesque/deviant/threatening, presenting it as such in the poem doesn’t really play with the gaze in the same way as presenting hetero girls as grotesque/deviant/threatening. Perhaps part of the dynamic, in a Plath-like dignity-via-denigration fashion, is that the hetero girl’s nudity begins as threat travels through attack (being put in her place) and returns to threaten the gaze post-attack in that moment when one’s city fails the test? And we know in this sad messed up world that the Tribe 8 approach can end in sexualized violence for the queer women as well. (Related, there’s some pretty fascinating work by Deepti Misri on naked protest in India–by largely hetero women, drawing from an incident wherein a woman repeatedly raped by the military refuses to wash or dress, and terrifies the commanding officer with her raw nudity).

    Here are the poems/art works in the anthology that I think explicitly embody queer subjectivity:

    Brenda Coultas: DREAM LIFE IN A CASE OF TRANSVESTISM Chelsey Minnis: FIFI,NO,NO Danielle Pafunda: SALON (my poem about Herculine Barbin! so maybe I just think it embodies queer because it’s mine) Lauren Kalman: Pursed and Puckered Dorothea Lasky: THE MOSS PLAY*

    Those are very few. I don’t know. You can see I’m musing aloud a bit here. I hope I’m not coming off defensive or difficult. One thing I worry about here, and I don’t think you mean to suggest this, but it’s perhaps a by-product of the argument: to be a “girl” in a poem is not enough. There are women of color in the anthology, and women with illness or disability. There are mothers, there are women from radically different class backgrounds, but the works are are “girl” first.

    Thanks for your patience with me and thoughtful responses, Amy. Yikes! That wasn’t brief! No time to proofread! Hope I haven’t said anything dreadful! And I’ve got a nasty headache and don’t think the spell-checker is working, so please forgive any addled typos.


  16. Hey D,

    I love your posts – you push the limits of thinking about this in a great way.

    But I’m seriously on my way out the door here too and want to reply! So I’ll be short and likely abrupt.

    First, I know much of the work of many of the poets included; their primary projects are not Gurlesque. Also:

    Arielle said…
    “But also, just as I have some pretty Gurlesque poems and other not Gurlesque poems, some of the folks Lara and I talk about in our antho are Gurlesque in one project and not in another…Just a note to say it seems a little silly to completely define any one artist by any one work–and this was never my intention by coining the Gurlesque term, nor was it my intention to limit the term to one gender or one nationality or anything like that.'”

    I feel like there’s a dismissive response (or silence) to valid questions:

    Johannes said…
    “Drag kings etc is totally beside the point. Of course men and martians etc can all exhibit elements of the gurlesque. All this talk about who can do it and who can’t is trying to police the concept. Not interesting.”

    Whereas Brighton hits the crux of the problem, and receives no reply:

    Ross Brighton said…
    “yes Johannes, I agree – I think that’s the point i’m trying to make – maybe the framework doesn’t work work for me – that saying that G is for (x) is a form of policing – an policing leads to exclusion.

    Prescriptive ideas of who is/not entitled to use or be described by the term it think goes against the idea that Arielle put forth in her essay that G is a framework, not a movement – and thus something to be explored, not policed.

    You can’t have your cake both ways – they’re “just noticing” but very selectively… they also said no one in the book is over forty, which isn’t true either. They’re locking down a definition that is very much exclusive and hetero.

    Queer women are “women” – if Glenum and Greenberg include only hetero-women, then they need to write “hetero-women” — not “women” — because they are limiting the project (while appropriating a load of queer speak/theory/tactics).

    You wrote, “I think explicitly embody queer subjectivity:” — again this feels to me like “outsider” status – Queer women aren’t actually women; we’re outside of womanhood, as though we don’t have to contend with the implications of womanhood, which we do. And that is why I characterized Tribe 8 in my anecdote as the paradoxical that Glenum likes to refer to. Queer women ARE women but at the same time, paradoxical because we don’t fit well, are askew, in that male gaze. So we are omitted because …what? Not according to the claims Greenberg/Glenum make: anyone can do the gurlesque they say! But they didn’t “observe” queer women writing anything fitting? Please.

    In other words, if they omit, they’re shaping a group/creating a club, not representing a framework.

    Finally, it’s not really my job (I’m not the editor) to locate queer women writers who have written the gurlesque as they’ve described it, but I find it difficult to believe there are no women doing so, esp as it’s roots are located in the queer community.

    Truck Darling (Jeni Olin) writes tons of poems that are gurlesque. Stacy Szymaszek’s book, Emptied of All Ships, is certainly one to contend with.

    Another v quick search online:

    Some of Betsy Wheeler’s poems here:

    Kathryn Pringle:

    I’m certain Megan Volpert has poems that fit, a lot!

    Maybe even Ana’s poem here:

    I’m just betting that Michelle Tea or Daphne Gottlieb or any number of queer women have done as much —

    I don’t know – I’m not buying that they couldn’t find queer poets’ work that doesn’t fit – and what is the reason to exclude queer women? It is a project for hetero-women, and that is becoming clear. Lara acknowledged in a post that Dodie’s work fit, but I guess she was too old, though it was okay for another over-forty woman to be included.

    Sigh. Seriously running now but will re-visit your reply shortly.


  17. Amy, I wish I had the anthology so I could respond to it directly, but I feel the need to engage the discussion here, as I see it develop. You’ve made your case well, and I have to say that I’m saddened the editors truly seem to have co-opted a movement and energy that could have served to further both relations between straight and queer women and, perhaps more importantly, the place of Woman in relation to patriarchy and the male gaze. Having just read this morning Bhanu Kapil’s somewhat heartbreaking piece in Critiphoria (thanks Ana) on Advancing Feminist Poetics, which opens with oblique and haunting imagery of a young woman being raped and slaughtered by soldiers in the jungle, I think it’s good to remember that there’s more at stake here than having our feelings hurt about being objectified.

    Hopefully the editors will consider a more-inclusive second edition. And maybe an apology.

    As a side note, this discussion as it references raising our girls to be (or not to be) primed for use as sex toys, I’m happy to report that mine, while I was taking a break from reading this to let the dogs outside, told me what she’s named the trees in the back yard: Amelia Earhart, Abigail Adams, Simone de Beauvoir, and Margaret Sanger. Something tells me she expects something more from herself than to please a man. (It may help that we don’t watch TV, and that we talk a lot about these issues.)

  18. Amy, Ana, everyone, this is really interesting and engaging, and gets to the root of some of the discomfort the Gurlesque at times evokes for me, a sense of inwardness, of the privately defined space of a discrete community. There seems to me a strange private-public quality: meant to be heard but not meant to be shared in the making. And of course I immediately wondered about those discomforts, first inclining to suspect a sense that being a middle-aged woman simply left me out, a ride I came too late to catch or get or know. And perhaps it does leave me out, “middle-aged woman” being inherently other, ‘queer’ in its own way. This discussion helps me track my way through that sense of exclusiveness/exclusion, not to mention mapping better onto my own sense of the Riot Grrls. Yeah, Amy, we contain multitudes: girls, boys, women, men, queer, straight, each and every permutation.

  19. Hey, Amy,

    I don’t agree with Lara, Arielle, Johannes, or Ross in that thread. I think Johannes’s & Ross’s arguments are wonky (as my comments in that thread probably suggest–I should go back and look at what I wrote! Oh, and actually, I’ll say one of the reasons I didn’t respond to Ross there is that I’d already responded to him several times on that point on various posts and on my own blog.) I’m also wary of men calling “cop” when an aesthetic or project takes girl/woman as its focus.

    I might be the odd one out on this point. I think the “girl” is central to Gurlesque. I don’t care who’s writing it–he/she/ze, LGBTQ, cisgender, or hetero–I think the speaker must definitely perform “girl” in a kitschy/campy/grotesque fashion. “Girls” aren’t women, either. “Girl” is the way that you keep a woman in outsider status. Perhaps I phrased that badly about “explicitly queer subjectivity.” I was looking for poems in the anthology that performed Gurlesque without the hetero girl-to-man dynamic. I don’t think of them as outsider poems–I think of them as insider poems, central to the aesthetic. That Brenda Coultas poem rocks my world, btw.

    I’m still unclear on this point: the roots of Gurlesque are located in the queer community. This statement seems to edit out a lot of the roots, the art and pop culture that feed into Gurlesque strategies. What about all the hetero-girlhood stuff that feeds into the Gurlesque? And the relationship between female form and male gaze? Flipping male gaze back on itself (that is, turning it on, and then repulsing it) seems a more hetero strategy to me, with roots in Mina Loy or Sylvia Plath… Wouldn’t it be a totally different aesthetic if it were primarily rooted strategies that come out of the way queer women perform gender or address male gaze? I mean, a delicious aesthetic, but a really different constellation of effects.

    Were it my anthology, I probably would’ve chosen rather differently, and yeah, Truck Darling, that’d be a good place for me to start re: queer women who Gurlesque. And, no, it’s not your job. It’s not my job either. But I’m trying to do it–find queer women writing Gurlesque–and I need help, so thanks for the help.

    I’m glad we’re having this discussion! I also want to say that if the anthology is indeed flawed, it is also valuable. I hope it won’t be written off. I do worry that an anthology chock-full of dudes that failed to incorporate queer women would (for creeptastic reasons) weather a lot better that valid criticism. Which is not to say don’t criticize, but just to say that I’d like to note some of the good, too. I just got my hard copy today! That raccoon tongue is FREAKING ME OUT.


  20. Oh, sorry, I’m migrainey; that should read:

    “Were it my anthology, I probably would’ve chosen to set it up rather differently,” I mean, I would’ve probably gone overboard jamming stuff in.


  21. Danielle,

    I’m not ignoring you – just a very busy day today. But this response…

    No Queer Inclusion = [wait for it…] “a new category of gender identity that is neither heterosexual nor homosexual.”

    I don’t have time to truly respond but with incredulity at the evasive tactics here… does he mean trans-folk were included in the Gurlesque? Or a category as yet unnamed? I think I know a good number of folks in that book and they (and their work) don’t strike me as “neither heterosexual nor homosexual”. Pretty much hetero-content (male/female intercourse, pun intended) all the way. I’ll have to provide examples later…

    The answer, so far, boils down to the conjuring now known as “the emergence of an aesthetic sensibility that suggests an alternative way of performing gender, one that is neither heterosexual nor homosexual.”

    Because, you know, that aesthetic sensibility hasn’t existed before in those “subaltern” groups (only Goransson gives a reluctantly obligatory nod to) until Glenum and Greenberg DEFINED it.

  22. And oh, to lay claim to Lady Gaga is, excuse me, NOT right on – the Gaga does nothing but spread her *content* all over the sexual rainbow spectrum (hetero as well as queer) as well as give constant accolades and props to the gay culture she appropriates in nearly every interview, speech, song, award reception, etc. Glenum and Greenberg have SO NOT done anything like the Gaga.

  23. Just want to note, it wasn’t Johannes who posted the note on his blog, it was Lara. So I guess that IS the official word from the editor.

  24. I too find Lara’s answer problematic. As I commented on J’s blog, it seems to me that “queering heterosexuality” and “trying to identify a new category of gender identity that is neither heterosexual nor homosexual” are two different projects. The anthology may possibly succeed at the first, if we take “queering” at its lit-crit definition, but I still don’t think it succeeds at the second. Most of these poems read to me as hetero performance. To put it bluntly, lady Gaga makes out with girls and boys equally; the ‘gurls’ performing in this anthology mostly make out with boys. And including more queer poets, at the very least those performing the queer femme, might have brought the book closer to its goal as the editors now posit it.

    And yes, ahem, that “new category of gender identity” has been around looong before lady Gaga (Claude Cahun, anyone? ancient Greece?). Only Gaga, bless her soul, popularized it to the 21st century millions. And never fails to thank her queer fans — her “little monsters.”

  25. PS: I’m responding to this statement:

    “I have previously referred to the Gurlesque as queering heterosexuality. The anthology is trying to identify a new category of gender identity that is neither heterosexual nor homosexual.”

  26. Amy–reading your critique and these responses to the gurlesque with love and admiration. I feel nervous writing this — I am missing so much of the conversation b/c didn’t read the anthology. I turned off it years ago after reading the initial articles. It read as kind of academic and well-healed and even hygienic like tattoos. I’m sure the poems and performances are great. I like a lot of what the contributors do. And I get that this issue focuses on daily gender performance and not political action. Queer bodies don’t have the advantage of splitting this hair.

    Generally, what gets me is that in this conversation — and by this conversation I mean the one in which we are all either queer or so queer positive we are just like queer, now all part of the transgressive. in our showy daily lives and our outrageous poems, that there is no real critique of normative social formations. Like marriage for example, which so far as I know has never reflected the way queers and radicals actually conjoin romantically/socially. My main partner who I put down for beneficiary etc has never been who i fuck. When I ask people why they get married they say “because I love” “because it feels so right” all of which seems to sign onto the notion of this magical religico-institutional bond that will be brought to bear and make love better. (Meanwhile to retain the smoke and mirrors of this magic feeling, secretive liaisons abound, because we all do after all need to get on our own bit of transgressive). I’m fascinated that the answer is not “because I want to be legally tied to this person,” “because I need the health insurance,” “because I want this person to get my things when I die,” “because I want to stay in the country.” Why not actually take a cue from real queer history and bring back conversations about the true variety of arrangements that lovers will have. Why not come out politically as being not so monogamous and willing to eschew categories (straight marriage) that assert this is the way love is. That would begin convince me of the queer in the straight.

  27. Thank you Amy! In spite of the fact that I love many of these poems, I’ve found myself thinking the same thing: where is the space for queers in gurlesque? Granted, the idea of the performative femininity owes much to queer theory, but beyond that, in what ways are these poems queer, or about queer experience? I was extra perplexed at AWP when Arielle Greenberg was talking about the queerdom of gurlesque while juggling her fussy toddler onstage. Maybe there is no good answer to this one, but I’m glad to see that someone else has notice that gurlesque is all about the girly in its relationship to heterosexual norms. Whew. I thought it was just me.

  28. From D Pafunda: “But even beyond the literal cunt-to-cock, doesn’t male gaze construct our cultural understanding of (life inside) the female form no matter who we have sex with? It’s not just the hetero lover that constructs the girl/woman. It’s the parents, the doctors, the teachers,”

    I’d argue that to have male be the only modifier of the gaze is problematic; isn’t this gaze at-least as thoroughly heterosexual? Doesn’t male, virtually by default, mean heterosexual? Is there any status less marked/more assumed than heterosexuality?

    In the quote above socialization seems to be largely equated to the male gaze, and my big question is–is the homosexual socialized, or by not being a genuine part of that gaze-economy, are they actually denied significant access to that process? This then leads to me wondering–is this a good thing, a blessing so to speak, or is this a crucial site of just how ridiculous being homosexual is.

    In response to the anthology–I’m not sure of the politics of queering heterosexuality: I’d vote for work which illustrates just how extremely stable/hegemonic it is. Queering heterosexuality strikes me as perhaps being primarily a flaunting of mobility rather than a thorough destabilization.

    I definitely do believe The Gurlesque is full of worth–anything which begs for critique of heterosexuality becomes, I’d argue, a site of great potential.

    One other note, again centered around D Pafunda: if the Gurlesque is a “microclime,” why use a variant of the word girl, which is not micro in its scope at-all.

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