Weekend Reading

All performed femininity — like all performed masculinity — is a drag race. Cinderella was a drag queen. Margaret Thatcher was a drag queen. Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj and most especially Lady Gaga are drag queens, and doing drag well and self-­consciously is always an exercise in queering, no matter what you’ve got between your legs. That kind of drag is what the beauty-industrial complex of advertising, magazines, makeover shows, and music videos are terrified by, and yes, it is queer, and yes, it is feminist.

Drag queens of all genders know that performing femininity is always contingent, always within the context of a world where beauty means disguise, means conformity and misogyny and racism and self-erasure — but that one can always take those tropes and remake them joyfully, with choreography and courage and a handful of glitter. The woman game doesn’t have to be played by the rules. It doesn’t have to be played to win or to please your partner or to keep your job. It doesn’t have to be played at all, but if you play with a wink in your eye and some sequins up your sleeve, you can still spoil the game a little for the bigots.

In the USA, it may very well be safe to wear a red square for a while – it doesn’t mean much here yet – but it has a potential for resonance that could shift the symbolic terrain. And we don’t know how many chances like this we’ll get. “Occupy” was one and it has done important work, both intended and unintended by its early advocates. But the State’s move to isolate The Black Bloc ups the urgency of a conceptual and stylistic jostling of the terms in play. Tiqqun was right in their call to reappropriate in advance the terms that will necessarily be applied to us, but they should know better than most that we won’t get “civil war,” at least not soon. We will be a movement or we will be terrorists. If only for each other’s near-term safety, let us choose the former.

The Quebecois drew the shape from a pun which, happily, works the same in English. The carré rougesignified that they were carrément dans le rouge – squarely in the red of debt. Students are fighting against the imposition of a costly regime of debt through tuition, which has also been the single largest issue-cause of the occupations in the US and UK.

Adopting it as a badge of identity here would distill another potent slogan from the Occupy sequence: “We Are the Crisis” – we are multitudes of unemployable debtors, threatening to capsize the system by our presence alone. It also points to clear affinities with the “Movement of the Squares” whose appearance last summer directly inspired the organizers who led the first General Assemblies to plan Occupy Wall Street. Hell, let it stand for the red cube looming over Zuccotti Park, as good as a symbol as any for that strange dear place where many people saw their lives change. And as always, the red stands for blood, and should remind us that the heaviest payments are extracted first and foremost from the already vulnerable.

Because this is part of a larger paradigm, the one that people gathered in Montreal, Chicago and Frankfurt are protesting. It reflects a political consensus in which there is an unlimited budget for the police, and the real purveyors of violence in this society, unlimited tax cuts for the rich and corporate citizens, while universities, schools, libraries, sanitation systems, roadways, public transit, welfare and food stamps, counseling and free clinics all must close to meet budget targets.


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