Artistic Practice and Other Rituals as Queer Becoming and Beyond
Jocelyn E. Marshall (Guest Editor)
Honesty and love are the answer.
—Aurora, Lesbian Love Signs (1991)
We will speak the truth with held hands.
We will uproot oppression from within us . . .
We will listen to our ancestors, and let our lives grow beyond
theirs . . .
We will expand our we beyond humanity—to all that lives . . .
We will call all of this love.
—adrienne maree brown, excerpted spell
for year 2023, Yes! Magazine (2022)
Celebrating the intersections of textuality, sexuality, and spirituality, this issue of Rejoinder highlights tools of resistance, social justice, and joy emerging across communities and media. By pairing political activism with a spiritually concerned queer feminism, we heed the call to carry knowledge from the mystical into concrete social action—affirming each other and fostering mutual support and political power (Gearhart & Rennie 1981, xviii).
The artists, writers, and scholars featured here explore rituals, erotics, and queer kinships. As a result, they turn to the oft unsaid and unseen, to silences, missing texts, and discursive exclusions. Their work reflects a feminist methodology that de-centers and de-prioritizes hegemonic narratives and modes of communication (Presser 2023, 133, 87). When we engage with physical and spiritual needs—and the concomitant energies that percolate and bubble up alongside them—we adopt different forms of listening and “voicing.” This work prompts us to reconsider how we understand “facts” and “histories”—or, more pointedly, allows us to tend to magical and mythical elements as we perpetually reevaluate ourselves, our needs, communities, desires, and (other)worlds.
Arthur Evans, author of the pivotal book Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture, reminds us that magic is “the art of communicating with the spiritual powers in nature and in ourselves.” Magic, he claims, is “one of our most powerful allies in the struggle against patriarchal industrialism,” as it “holds our work collectives together and gives us great inner power” (1978, 148, 149). Evans ultimately argues “spirits will speak again” through us as we free the spirit of art and re-establish our communication with nature—“the essential link between sex and the forces that hold the universe together” (1978, 149, 154). Emphasizing that there is no “authoritative Gay history,” Evans demonstrates how myths can be treated as historical sources and that “all historical works are one-sided, subjective, and arbitrary” (1978, 3). His claims foreshadow contemporary critiques, including assertions that researchers have acquired “a disproportionately larger amount of information on the ‘G’ of the LGBTQ+ community than any of the other letters” (Prower 2021, 5). In this context, a turn toward magic is a turn to the collective (i.e., a wider understanding of community, and its intersection with the natural world and spiritual elements), which subsequently supports our listening for and voicing herstories and hirstories previously excluded or unsaid.
One approach involves the potential of queer kinship theory, which intersects with trans theory and critical race theory, centering creative experimentation with relationality and writing from the nexus of fraying and tethered bonds (Bradway and Freeman 2022, 7). The goal is not to render the bonds legible or promote a certain kind of speech act or narrative. Instead, the aim is to register kincoherence—which “traces, theorizes, and engages kinship’s fraught and overdetermined nature”—seeking to “trouble who and what counts as bonded, as well as to ally with them affectively, politically, and theoretically” (Bradway and Freeman 2022, 3, 17). In this context, kinship is a way of doing and thinking relationality, an embodied, aesthetic, and erotic theory (Bradway and Freeman 2022, 18). The formal aspects, or the kin-aesthetics—the activities that “make and unmake the social field”—are the sites of kinship’s renewal, transformation, and extension beyond the present (Bradway and Freeman 2022, 4). By braiding scholarly, artistic, spiritual, and ritualistic works, the issue presents a navigation of feminist and queer kincoherence that reflects renewal, inspires transformation, and dreams the beyond. I invite readers to review with a critical eye for the making and unmaking of select sociocultural and political understandings, while also relaxing into states of satiation and delight when affect transcends (and at times, erupts!) past the political and theoretical.
Teasing out multiple waves of doing and thinking relationality, the contributions are organized thematically, from the camp and kinky to the erotic and joyful to, finally, those grappling with histories/herstories/hirstories. Opening the issue are Baevy’s sensual twists on the everyday, which invite intersectional critiques of healthcare, gender and sexual identities, family, and religion. While the camp qualities of this work may render it extremely palatable at first glance, several nods toward traumatic histories loom in the ether. Centering solidarity, reclamation, and humor, Baevy illustrates both a queer feminist reckoning with the past and present while positing a dream that extends beyond sociocultural and temporal constraints.
Moving from the domestic to the natural world, Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle’s Ecosex Wedding Project (2008-2014) both calls for and illustrates ways to make the world a more tolerant, sustainable, and peaceful place. As writers R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell maintain, “intimate kinky encounters . . . can help us interrogate and begin to re-script the larger cultural narratives around us” (2021, xi-xii). Stephens and Sprinkle’s art suggests the importance of mutual pleasure and ecological symbiosis as they hop in bed with coal and finger soil. We witness a similar attentiveness in Linda M. Montano’s 14 Years of Living Art (1984-1998), which influences Stephens and Sprinkle’s project. Mystical training, yogic chakra systems, and an interest in artistic rituals inspired Montano’s work. Stephens and Sprinkle weave Montano’s colors and themes of chakras into the structure of their performance series. Functioning across spaces and times, the vows of love committed during Ecosex Weddings are palpably rendered transnationally and transhistorically. Stephens and Sprinkle’s approach highlights the erotic and spiritual dimensions of activist work and art making, which are often excluded from discussions of the violence of war, the anti-gay marriage movement, and the prevailing culture of greed.
Considering similar queer feminist needs and desires, Carisa Showden and María DeGuzmán use photo-haiku to experiment with scale and light to make intersectional and decolonial critiques. As we sit with figures, hazy warm orbs, and gripping words, we can imagine future possibilities and dream anew. It is in this critical-creative spirit that I invite us to engage with Laura Gelsomini’s work and then with Allison Fradkin’s. Gelsomini’s paintings offer bite, pleasure, and humor, while Fradkin’s one-act play nourishes us with a whimsical take on our queer kinship dreams. Afterward, we engage with the erotic drawings of Dmitry Borshch, who uses line and shading to allegorize truth as existing-in-absence.
Tahmidal Zami and Debadrita Saha provide us with a literal example of a text that seems to exist-in-absence, as they navigate 18th-century Bengali erotica in “Naṣṭāmo kathā ebang strīloker barnanā” (1785) and create/share the first ever publication on this work. Liss LaFleur and Katherine Sobering’s The Queer Birth Project features an art installation and a poem, “They Can’t Steal My Joy,” that offers new representations of queer childbirth and family formation from the perspective of lesbian women and gender non-conforming bodies. Parsing past and future, Gail Thacker’s photographs of the Gene Frankel Theatre and her accompanying short essay generate a kind of queer feminist historicism of both craft and care—reiterating the significance of memory as a political strategy in challenging dominant narratives.
The final three pieces in this issue of Rejoinder offer heterogenous perspectives on care and trauma. We feature some of Conrad Ventur’s photographs along with a personal essay crafted specifically for this issue, which offers a kind of embodied performative experience. I recommend sitting with the essay first and then reviewing the images to allow for some time-based play with the unfolding narrative. With Ventur’s work, we might find ourselves thinking about time slips, those trauma affected, queer experiences of time where the ontology of a performance can exceed “the present by calling past (and sometimes future) histories into being” (Pryor 2017, 9). In contemplating the radical potential of the time slip, we might be inspired to dream about how healing can arise from being a habit breaker, an alternative historian, or, from never “straightening up.”
From this deep reckoning, we can cozy into Christine DeVuono’s Grandma’s Tattoos inflatable sculpture, reading her accompanying personal essay while imagining ourselves lying on one of her fuzzy rugs. DeVuono’s work gives a needed warm hug while inviting us to cheer alongside Grandma and reflect upon the “seasons of the soul” that stories, art, and memory activate (Estés 1992, 14). We conclude with Kini Sosa’s powerful multilingual, intertextual two-voice poem. By listening closely and tracing the silhouettes, dynamics of dislocation, assimilation, and fragmentation emerge, and we are reminded of the way in which relational bonds can fray and tether. Afterwards, we might join with Sosa in a final chorus to cast our own spells for the possible presents/presence and futures of if
if ✨ if
if if if ✨ if if
if if ✨
Aurora. 1991. Lesbian Love Signs: An Astrological Guide to Women Loving Women. Freedom: The Crossing Press.
Bradway, Tyler and Elizabeth Freeman. 2022. “Introduction: Kincoherence / Kin-aesthetics / Kinematics.” In Queer Kinship: Race, Sex, Belonging, edited by Tyler Bradway and Elizabeth Freeman, 1-22. Durham: Duke University Press.
brown, adrienne maree. 2022. “Murmurations: Grow the Chorus.” Yes! Magazine, December 28, 2022. https://www.yesmagazine.org/opinion/2022/12/28/murmurations-forward-reflection
Estés, Clarissa Pinkola. 1992. Women Who Run with the Wolves. New York: Ballantine Books.
Evans, Arthur. 1978. Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture: A Radical View of Western Civilization and Some of the People it has Tried to Destroy. Boston: Fag Rag Books.
Gearhart, Sally and Susan Rennie. 1981. A Feminist Tarot. Watertown: Persephone Press.
Kwon, R.O. and Garth Greenwell. 2021. “Introduction.” In Kink: Stories, edited by R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell, xi-xii. New York: Simon & Schuster.
McCallum, E. L. and Mikko Tuhkanen. 2011. “Becoming Unbecoming: Untimely Mediations.” In Queer Times, Queer Becomes edited by E. L. McCallum and Mikko Tuhkanen, 1-21. New York: SUNY Press.
Presser, Lois. 2023. Unsaid: Analyzing Harmful Silences. Oakland: University of California Press.
Prower, Tomás. 2021. Queer Magic: LGBTQ+ Spirituality and Culture from Around the World. Woodbury: Llewellyn Publications.
Pryor, Jac I. 2017. Time Slips: Queer Temporalities, Contemporary Performance, and the Hole of History. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.