Queer Linguistics

Live Arts’ shared evening of premieres from Jen Rosenblit (In Mouth) and Vanessa Anspaugh (Armed Guard Garden) opens tonight, and we couldn’t be more excited!  Over the last week we’ve been thrilled to see great previews and listings for their show.  One listing in particular in the most recent New Yorker raised some questions among the artists and their collaborators.

On her tumblr Self and Other Cassie Peterson (conceptual collaborator to Vanessa Anspaugh and moderator of tonight’s Pre-Show Talk) addresses the Editors of The New Yorker, writing:

This morning, Vanessa and I noticed that in your brief preview of the show, you have changed the phrase “queer body” (from the original press release), to perhaps a more socially acceptable signifier, “gay body.”

First, I want to acknowledge and empathize with your hesitation to print the word “queer” for a more general public. However, your decision to change the word erases the ways in which queer has been linguistically re-appropriated and reclaimed by many sexual minorities as a source of great power and pride. The word queer represents a kind of pluralistic (un)identity that works to unsettle and undo fixed sexual and gender identifications. Queer understands all binary categorizations to be socially constructed and contextual. In this way, queer is underpinned by a radicalized politic that is more interested in challenging historically (hetero)normative expectations, power arrangements, and practices, rather than simply joining them…What I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t just belong to the master anymore. It’s ours and we want to use it.
(Read Cassie’s full letter to the editor here.)

After some back and forth with the magazine, we’ve learned that in the case of this performance listing, The New Yorker opted for the use of the term “gay” for the sake of editorial clarity, as readers might not be familiar with the specific theoretical underpinnings that inform the usage of “queer” and might misunderstand the word.

We’re interested to hear what you think, arts community. What are your thoughts as a queer-identified person, as a maker of gay and/or queer art, as an audience member, as a straight-identified person, as a New Yorker reader, as an artist?  Peterson argues that “This is not just some minor semantic quarrel” and that the use of queer as a signifier is an “incredibly political, conceptual, and aesthetic decision.” What do you see the appropriate balance being between a magazine’s reading of its readership versus an artist’s agency over their work’s language?  What is the importance or significance (political, artistic, human, economic, etc.) of this dialogue?  We welcome your thoughts below!