My name is Cassie Peterson and I am a conceptual collaborator for Vanessa Anspaugh’s new dance piece, entitled Armed Guard Garden, which is premiering at New York Live Arts on February 15th. 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.
Additionally, Queer Theory/Queer Studies has become a very well-known and legitimate theoretical framework within the Academy and supports critical thinker and writers like Judith Butler, Judith “Jack” Halberstam, and Jose Esteban Munoz, just to name a few. It is no longer just some pejorative hate speech. 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.
Moreover, your decision to replace the word queer with gay is also just very inaccurate. There is nothing about Vanessa’s piece that is “about” gay bodies. This is a far too literal and specific summary of her work. Whereas, queer in this context is not referring to LGBTQ-specific content per say, but is rather a meditation on a kind of embodied resistance and transgression. It is more of a strategy than a total personhood. Queer is more a reference to process and practice than content.
This is not just some minor semantic quarrel. Your choice has bigger implications. To conflate “gay” with “queer” and vice versa is to do neither one of these signifiers justice. Though they are related, these identities have different political connotations and agendas. Queer is an anti-normative framework(s) and consciousness that is a purposeful departure from a more mainstream, assimilationist gay and lesbian agenda. In the thinking, writing, and creating of the project, Armed Guard Garden, we have very deliberately chosen to use the word queer to communicate and represent a set of principles and way(s) of knowing. The choice to use the word queer was an incredibly political, conceptual, and aesthetic decision. I request that you please change it back to restore our original intentions and the integrity of our disruptive and transgressive queer vision(s).
**Post Script: The editor replied, apologized, but still refused to change the words back to the ways we had written them. They also refused to publish my letter so I have done it here, myself.