Freaks Talk Back

In 1999, Joshua Gamson’s book Freaks Talk Back was published.

Here’s a quote:

middle-class activists are moving toward the demonstration that gay people are regular, civilized, unthreatening, reasonable, conforming folks (186)

Here are some thoughts on that:

REGULAR: This is just another word for “appropriate” or “acceptable”, and by being “not straight” as defined by default as being against the norm and living outside everything defined as “normal” or “regular”, queer people can never be “regular” and all claims to be such are quite pointless.

CIVILIZED: what the hell does this mean?


1. having an advanced or humane culture, society, etc.
2. polite; well-bred; refined.
3. of or pertaining to civilized people: The civilized world must fight ignorance.
4. easy to manage or control; well organized or ordered: The car is quiet and civilized, even in sharp turns.


Hmmm… at first glance, I thought the word was classist, racist, and eurocentric. The definition of the word proves my point.

UNTHREATENING: anything that stands dissident against “appropriate” is threatening, and I’m not sure I ever want to be “unthreatening” even if that classification is available to me. And besides that, I think the point of the queer project is to threaten the binaries and dichotomies that people hold so dear – to threaten the traditional way of thought, because it’s a default programming. If queer is to deconstruct and de-compose, even, then it must, in some ways, threaten the mainstream. Most scholars use the word “challenge,” but isn’t a challenge essentially a threat. The dictionary says “challenge” means: (1) a call or summons to engage in any contest, as of skill, strength, etc.; (2) something that by its nature or character serves as a call to battle, contest, special effort, etc.; and (3) a call to fight, as a battle, a duel, etc. I don’t know about y’all, but the definition of “challenge” sounds very threatening, indeed.

REASONABLE: there are some spaces where being reasonable is accommodating and assimilationist. Case in point: It was “reasonable” for LGB activists to call the passage of ENDA a success even when it passed without the inclusion of transgender and transsexual people. This move also made accommodations for the interests of straight people – in seeing “regular” queers get rights while “queer queers” got thrown under the bus. This was also an assimilationist move for the same reason, just read it this way: “It’s okay for you to not approve of those queers, they’re different from us – see, we’re just like you!”

CONFORMING: Any efforts at actually conforming to what’s “appropriate” as defined by the mainstream may receive minor rewards, but what’s the point? And, since the mainstream world is defined by heteronormative rules, conformity for LGBTQ people is actually impossible, both physically, mentally, and emotionally.



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