<Book Review>
Queer Praxis: Questions for LGBTQ Worldmaking
Dustin B. Goltz & Jason Zingsheim, eds.
[New York: Peter Lang, 2015. 274 pp.]

Queer Praxis: Questions for LGBTQ Worldmaking is in turn many things rather than one consistent text throughout, and that seems to be by design. The beginning of the text holds the brunt of a kind of formal experiment, offering one example of how we might represent conversation in textual forms. The rest of the text unfolds as a conversation in a different sense, inviting different voices and different scholars to weigh in on aspects of the conversations that arise in the early sections of the book.

The conversations that open the book are taken from presentations that were part of the “In the Name of Queer Love” panel at the National Communication Association’s annual convention across seven years (1). These presentations are mostly adapted into multi-authored chapters, presented similarly to a kind of scripted layered account; one author’s name appears denoting their “lines,” presents a section of their narrative, analysis, or discussion, and may be interrupted for a layered section of another through-line of thought. At its best, this shifting format allows me to feel as if I was listening in to a conversation that was happening. I could imagine my head whipping back and forth between speakers, feel myself lean forward in my seat, my eyes and ears perk up.

At other times, the form functions less optimally; I felt myself favoring one speaker, rushing through paragraphs just to get back to whatever narrative grabbed me at the moment. I think specifically of Meredith Bagley’s narratives of becoming ordained in order to help plan and perform a wedding ceremony (124-139). I was interested in both what she was doing and how she was narratizing and theorizing that experience. In her discussion, she points to normatives and the confusion that may arise when those cultural and ritual scripts are transgressed. This narrative also allowed a seemingly tangible praxis to the problems that may arise when we “queer” pre-existing rituals. Specifically, Bagley seems to join the chorus of voices within the text that addresses the queer “marriage question” effectively actualizing the book’s ideological task of interrogating mainstream LGBTQ platforms through her own reflected experiences. At the times during the conversations that my own investments became unbalanced, I found myself less interested in the “queer listening” (187-191) that should be facilitated by the form and more interested in getting more of the narratives that had grabbed me in such a way.

In spite of these occasional desires to get to the next story, the conversations and layered sections offer a wealth of useful terms for understanding and enacting the queer theory offered, sometimes implicitly, throughout the text. Tiffe, citing Carillo-Rowe (2005), offers us a discussion of becoming queer and/or belonging to a queer community (9), engaging a frame of what constitutes queerness. This frame of becoming allows us new ways to make sense of queerness as process in a way that picks up the mantle of “praxis” offered in the title. If queerness is a process, then it becomes something that can be done in order to become—a performance of queerness, then, facilitates this process of becoming. Within the same section, Tiffe discusses the notion of belonging as integral to understanding her own queer identifications. To frame belonging and community as an integral part of an understanding of queerness, then seems to double down on the communal aspects of the book, those conversations that allow multiple voices interacting, building a community of (queer) scholarly discussion upon the page.

This citation and discussion of Carillo-Rowe’s immediately follows a discussion offered by Carillo-Rowe (who in turn cites Kathryn Bond Stockton [2009]). Carillo-Rowe offers an articulation of “growing sideways” from Stockton—a phrase that seems so filled with queer potentialities that I feel myself grow in space as I consider it. Here, Carillo-Rowe offers the metaphor of a tree growing constantly in all directions as a kind of metaphor for understanding growing sideways. The tree may grow diagonally, sideways, vertically and simultaneously into the sky via branches and into the ground via roots. This offers a kind of both/and mentality towards queerness, queer performance, and queer growth. While we initially think of a tree growing towards the sky (representative of normativity), the reality is that while we may perform cultural normativity in some ways, we are simultaneously “growing” or performing in other non-normative directions as well. The natural focus inherent in the metaphor is simultaneously of value for how it functions as affirmation of queer performance, debunking rhetorical choices that may paint the “other” or queerness as “unnatural”—a rhetoric often used to disparage queer identifications.

This conversation of citationality is undoubtedly no mistake, as it bolsters the perceived academic worth of these layered sections and further makes the case that these thoughts are a conversation, responding and building upon one another in the service of a queer becoming of community. Perhaps this is indicative of the aforementioned “queer listening” (187-191) that comes later in the book courtesy of Timothy Oleksiak and Raechel Tiffe. Oleksiak posits that a queer mode of listening resists “evaluations of judgments” as it attends to negotiation and difference. Consistently throughout the text, it seems that the voices in this book attend to each other in that spirit; across differences in identity or experience, they all listen queerly (and in turn respond) in ways that reach for connection so that they can grow, perhaps sideways, and become the queer community offered throughout the book.

Throughout the book, Goltz and Zingsheim assemble a through-line of contemporary queerness, centering discussions on what the book calls the mainstream LGBTQ platforms at the time of these discussions. In doing so, they view the interruptions and transgressions claimed in a queer theory praxis through the lens of everyday life. As such, in some ways the book is inherently going to be dated in ways by the content of these conversations—which is not inherently a bad thing. As we know in performance, discussions of archiving can be fraught with disagreements on method, but as academic discipline, archiving the paths that take us from one historical station to the next is incredibly important as we chart a path forward for, in this case, queer studies.

Early sections of the book seem to be contained within the potentiality for this dating; much of the text and conversation relies on interrogating the LGBTQ community’s relationship to mainstream marriage. Many of the authors offer a discussion of what it means to be a queer person performing the ritual of marriage (Dillard, Bagley, et. al.) or even the political ramifications of “officially” entering a marriage in the wake of the state’s affirmation of LGBTQ marriages (Gingrich-Philbrook and Gray); the editors themselves, and by attendance many participants in this conversation (Pérez, Gutierrez-Perez, et. al.), discuss the gayla held in place of a wedding by Goltz and Zingsheim. This gayla is posited as a resistant act to the normativity offered by the pre-existing rituals, but finds the pressure of those rituals inescapable (42).

Similarly, it seems, the LGBTQ community finds the pressures of the marriage question equally inescapable as reflected in the text. It is fitting; the omnipresence of marriage is maybe indicative of the time of the book, but does not stop at marriage. Instead, the idea of LGBTQ marriage becomes a useful metaphor for examining a question that seems to be historically situated at the center of any queer praxis: resistance or assimilation? The text seems to ask, as many LGBTQ people have likely queried themselves, is embracing marriage equality assimilation? It’s a crisis of queerness that seems to seep even into popular representations of LGBTQ communities such as Andrew Haigh’s Looking. So much of the equal rights discussion for LGBTQ individuals has been focused on marriage, it seems fitting that the tone during the latter sections of the book seems to shift into a kind of “where do we go from here?” mentality.

Of course, looking towards a queer future builds a conversation from outside the text—Muñoz’s theorization of queer horizons or Edelman’s No Future (249), but perhaps Ragan Fox offers the most intriguing articulation of our queer potentialities in the poem “FraseF” about coping with the loss of a necessary key on a typewriter:

“B3caus3 wh6n hF los3s th6 v6ry things h6 thinks h3 n33ds to g6t by,
h6 finds mak6shift ways to 3mbrac3 Fmpty spac3” (260).
While I am not sure that the text itself, in its multi-voiced nature, ever lands on a definitive decision for queer futures, the resourcefulness and resilience referenced in “FrasF” speak not to political climate or specific event, but rather to the nature of the community discussed and created within Queer Praxis. The poem speaks of things that have brought the queer community the progress gained to this point, those same qualities that will hopefully create more progress as we move from the marriage question into the queer potentiality of the future. Queer Praxis works as a conversation, as a community, and as an archival tool; as the title suggests, it moves the ideas it interrogates beyond the theoretical and either finds them in our everyday performances or applies them to the text itself. While parts of it are temporally emplotted by time, it offers us not only the possibility of conversational archive, but thoughts on what it means to move forward—to become a queer community.

     — Reviewed by Colin Whitworth, Southern Illinois University

Colin Whitworth is a performance studies PhD student at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale where he teaches classes in both the Communication Studies and Theatre departments. Selected for top performance panels at both regional and national conferences, his research often contends with questions about the intersections and performances of queer and Southern identities as well as the challenges and potentialities inherent in autoethnographic and auto-performance work.

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