Against the Grain
I like to think that my personal flirtations with monstrosity came honestly, the result of an entire childhood influenced by the possibilities of the demonic for corporeal intervention – interventions as common and inevitable as the redemptive spirit of church and family. Most importantly, holy war was not just a war for the domination of the spiritual realm, but found entry into the corporeal via the corruption of the body via the soul. Influences of the demonic (usually referred to by the generic term, the ‘enemy’) were ever present threats by which the innocence of adolescence was permanently removed. Human sexuality was the primary culprit to blame for these corruptions and as a result, I spent considerable time in student ministries and church services that repeatedly offered wild screeds against the dangers of masturbation, pornography, and sexuality outside the accepted designations of evangelical congregations. The body was to be policed by the soul and individual actors were the last front against corrupting elements of gender and sexual difference. The monstrous was found in the most intimate of places and its effects linger long past their introduction. Could I already be demonic? Are my desires the result of a lack of self discipline or personal dedication to the struggle of the soul against the body’s claims to same-sex attraction? So be it. At least I’ll always have horror movies.
I recently attended a film presentation that ambitiously presented itself as a manifesto of sorts, one meant to offer a countervailing corpus of principles for queer experience and living. The filmmakers made reference to the utopian qualities of a queer ontology, with special emphasis on a form of perpetual adolescence, a point perhaps not without its merits but certainly lost on me in that moment and many reflections since. Does the preservation rather than sublation of queer adolescence contain any measure of the utopian as purported by the film makers?
Without making claims to the universal experience of queer youth but taking into account the generative history of the systematic oppression and liquidation of queer populations by state apparatuses, I would have to strongly disagree with this particular manifest. Considering the recent sharp upturn in transpanic, an extremely troubling combination of anxious liberal hand wringing over the necessity of strict medical gatekeeping as paper-thinly veiled gender rigidity and bigotry and explicit christo fascism, the assertion of a preservation of queer adolescent experience registers not just as tone deaf, but removed from the political realities of our contemporary moment. And as history shows us, the combination of libidinal state bureaucracy and far right preservationist and reactionary ideological views of things like gender, race, religion, and sexuality is a recipe for total, abject disaster. Surely a manifesto for queer living is greatly needed in this time – to my disappointment, this film was not it by any measure of the term.
The necessity of performative joy for contemporary subjectivity is something I’ve discussed in the past, but not necessarily with specific reference to the political implications of the sexed body. A perpetual adolescence is, as a result, much less appealing than a return to some attitude by which these experiences and memories might be claimed for their authentic monstrosities. Might I, now a gay man rather than a sexually ‘confused’ boy, find a use for the resonances of these feelings of monstrosity without committing myself to an eternal return to these feelings of alienation and self-hatred? This is why perhaps the sublation of adolescence, rather than a perpetual return, rubs against this a discourse that necessitates subjects affect and perform joyful identity – might we face the dawning horizon rather than stare at the colors and shapes it reflects back on the surfaces behind us.
Queer adolescence is marked by the excesses of govermentality and constant group-direction of subjectivity, a chain of contingent experiences that guide formative selves along gendered linkages across epochs. Never fixed in content or target (modulations, to vulgarly borrow from Deleuze) and most useful for tracking subject-formed expressions of gender identity and sexuality, these genealogies of social construction directly involve themselves in all existing and emergent categories to constantly formulate new ways to place restraint on oneself and others. The subjecting-to and subject are more deeply embedded with one another by negotiating against the future for a gleefully-made disposable and ignorant present – affirming a better present by formulating a radical subject by, of, and for that same present. The necessity of our current state becomes not a confrontation with it, but its eternal affirmation via our explicit participation. To neglect political necessity outside of affirmation in our subjected-to state is the only way forward, and to do so we must pick a vicious fight. Already put best in ACT UP’s Queer Nation Manifesto, we have, again and again, “been carefully taught to hate ourselves.”
They told us we were girls so we claimed our female lives . . .
Now they tell us we aren’t girls
So begins the first verse of GLOSS’ unstoppable 4/4 sonic assault of a demo – a musical head-on collision with continuously (perhaps increasingly) relevant political struggle for the recognition and liberation of queer people under the excessive restraints and violence from liberal state governments and reactionary counter movements. Their short catalog is immersive and transportive, evident of struggle and tension as the disappearances of public spectacle in the disciplining and punishing of the body are replaced with new spectacle of our own making. As we’re perpetually grounded in a history that did not nor continues to belong to us, GLOSS are, as they tell us, from the future – but a future continuously rescinded.
GLOSS are most noteworthy for their use of the parlance and reference points of hardcore-punk as inventive means – the determinate claim to a life out of step is inverted in an act of radical confrontation. It is the world that is wrong, out of step with those forced to “live and die against its grain.” Hardcore edicts originally formulated as constraints and restrictions on personal behavior, means for preserving the body against are weaponized against those same bodies that betray dominant discourses of governmentality and control. Other generation defining hardcore-punk anthems properly diagnose contemporary malaise while GLOSS proposes ways to fight back. Their records are true manifesto for utopian futures wrought out of our shitty present, songs tell us to fight, live, and give violence a chance.
There is no return. Give violence a chance. It may be our only chance to become free.