Queer utopias, hope and future
Updated: Apr 13, 2021
After over a year of the pandemic and lockdowns, there might be at least one thing we can all agree on - it has been a very strange year, perhaps the strangest ever.
And yet, in many ways it has also been a year of seeing things anew, fresh perspectives, brand new light shone on all aspects of life, from the most mundane to the most profound. Books have been a big part of that for me - and a huge part of not going crazy in this year of maddening change, but also holding onto hope and developing new ways of seeing things. I discovered my love for poetry. Queer writing has helped me discover new parts of myself, which I did not know existed before.
Here I bring together a few titles which have helped me stay sane through this year - books, articles and conversations centering around hope, change, queerness and thinking about the future through a queer, feminist lens.
Queering Space: A working draft - a truly amazing piece. It blew my mind. It broke my heart. It's one of those pieces I know I will come back to again and again, it's so rich. Imagine living in a world in which you would not even be able to envision the possibility of a queer space... Can you? How does it make you feel? It made me realise just how incredibly lucky I was to live in a place where, despite the continuous struggle to keep it alive, such a space was not just thinkable to me, but a reality. It made me count my blessings again and anew. And check my privilege from a new perspective. I'd recommend it to anyone. (And the whole Kohl journal is incredibly thought-provoking. There was also a launch event not long ago, which provided even more powerful food for thought.)
"Perhaps we could be excused for believing such a space is unthinkable."
(kawthar and jaha, Queering Space)
Revising ‘Re-vision’: Documenting 1970s Feminisms and the Queer Potentiality of Digital Feminist Archives - another great (free access, as is the one above) queer feminist journal article I came across recently. Offers a rethinking of the divisions between generations of feminists, and perhaps a new way of approaching intergenerational working and looking at our past - in a way that helps us envision a better future, enriched, rather than divided by our differences. Generational divisions have been such huge thing in feminism (and beyond), fracturing it into separate 'waves', which all too often still define the historiography of the movement (despite much and long established criticism). It seems to me we need a better way of seeing and defining the movement in order for us to progress towards a feminist world beyond the fracturing. Samer proposes that queer feminist archives can be key spaces for this crucial revision.
"As Alexandra Juhasz points out in a recent essay on Woman's Building videos now housed in the Getty Archives, we are not who they imagined us to be (Juhasz, 2011: 109). I would add to this that, should gender, sexuality, and desire be completely restructured in a feminist and queer future, the surviving subjects will not be us either. However, if we understand that we have allies in 1970s feminisms in this process of imagination, we can begin to revise 're-vision and read, watch, and listen to this history differently. With an eye and ear to potentiality and a queer commitment to repurposing, feminist historiography becomes no longer a matter of self-knowledge, self-birth or self-awakening but more a collective un-becoming, as what was ad what is - both of which are imperfect and historically limited - think together what could be."
(Samer, Revising 'Re-vision')
Cruising Utopia: The then and there of queer futurity - thinking about and imagining queer futures is something that has helped me get through some really difficult times in lockdown. As soon as this book arrived, I knew it was one of those moments of light shining through the darkness. Not unlike Queering Space, helping create mindspace where we can begin to imagine perspectives and worlds that seem yet unimaginable. "Queerness is not yet here. Queerness is an ideality. Put another way, we are not yet queer"... reads the introduction, blowing my mind as soon as I open the book - daring to imagine is a revolutionary act, even more so when we envision spaces which outside our stereotypical imaginary. And then, in a powerful redefinition of hope (in what precedes the quote in the image above):
"In part we must take on a kind of abstract hope [that] is not much more than merely wishing and instead we need to participate in a more concrete hope, what Ernst Bloch would call an educated hope, the kind that is grounded and consequential a mode of hoping that is cognizant of exactly what obstacles present themselves in the face of obstacles that so often feel insurmountable [or this hoping]."
(José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia)
The Feminist Utopia Project: Fifty-seven visions of a wildly better future - thinking about what a feminist world might look like is a rare treat. Most of the time, mostly out of necessity, we focus on what's wrong with the world as it is and how we fight it. 'Firefighting', we call it. And so finding this book in the midst of the pandemic seemed like the perfect coincidence to me. 57 stories, 57 feminist visions, 57 different perspectives thinking about what a feminist utopia might look like... I might not actually agree with more than one of them, but it provides a much needed source of inspiration for thinking about feminist futures, rather than patriarchal realities, nonetheless. Refreshing.
“Places like rock camp help us dream, while we also create and put into practice the values that many of us would like to see reflected more often in the world."
(Karla Schickele, The Feminist Utopia Project)
Misunderstanding Utopia - the one story from The Feminist Utopia Project which has really resonated with me is the Noisy Utopia by Karla Schickele, describing a rock camp for girls - a real space, already taking place, perhaps imperfect, but real, giving us a glimpse into what a feminist world might actually look like. This is also the key premise of Misunderstanding Utopia by Rhiannon Firth, which I have been going on about everywhere I can since I read it. Utopia has been misunderstood to mean something perfect - and thus impossible (and by implication, not worth pursuing) - and in the future. In reality, Firth proposes, utopias - spaces which envision and try to put into practice a better world - are all around us. This perspective is something I found most helpful and a major source of hope and revisioning - to help get me through the dark times of the pandemic, but also to my thinking about feminist, queer and other radical spaces (which I have had a bit of an obsession about for some time), feminist/queer futures and the movements more broadly. I think it's a thread that connects all these texts - trying not just to figure out what a queer/feminist future might look like, but also how we might try and put it into practice, and actually practicing doing so!
“Utopias include political programmes, speculative fiction and lived communities, where people attempt to live their ideals in the here-and-now."
(Rhiannon Firth, Misunderstanding Utopia)
I have written more about reads for hope and feminist spaces on my blog Angels & Witches.