ALT-CONCLUDE. Breaking: New study shows LGBT historians live longer
Before putting pen to paper, or hands to keyboard, it occurred to me that the phrase ‘to conclude LGBT+ History Month’ is a form of oxymoron – one that reveals within it all the paradoxes, perils and indeed the problematics of LGBT history. The ‘underdevelopment’ of this field of history would suggest a beginning, not an end, and to ‘conclude…history’ is in itself a logical fallacy. We are also all well aware by now of the difficulties of beginning and concluding ‘LGBT’ history in the Foucauldian sense. This is rendered doubly insistent within the political bounds of ‘LGBT+ History Month’. Without ‘month’ there would be no need to ‘conclude’. Moreover, the praiseworthy celebration may inexorably lead to a false conclusion for the uninitiated or those who can afford to put it to one side – ‘that’s LGBT history over with then. Same time next year? On to the next ‘minority’?’
What is striking about the series of articles published this month is that their form, function and context precede and exceed ‘conclusion’ in the above sense. In this, the oxymoron achieves its fullest and original meaning of ‘paradox with a point’. The depth, breadth and intersectionality of the articles brilliantly confirm and affirm what we already know – that neither the ‘month’, nor LGBT+ history can be concluded, but perpetually begun. Sam’s article is such a beginning in that it breaks the double silence of HIV/AIDS/homosexuality and allows Simonin a voice once more within the ‘canon’. I am also reminded of the beginnings of Queer Theory which emerged (in the Anglo-American world at least) in the wake of beginnings of the HIV/AIDS crisis.
The politics that began in those two decades and the intellectual force that arose may also not be lost if ‘Queering the Museum’ from Holly’s article is any indication. Reclaiming the past and reclaiming space, through direct intervention, transcends (queers) space-time – to begin histories again. Cherish’s article also ‘queers’ time in that it artfully melds the language and the politics of the ‘sex-scandal’, so familiar to us, with the unfamiliar of the nineteenth century. ‘A history of the present’ as Foucault might say. Lest we also not forget that queer theorist par excellence – Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick – and her work on homosociality.
I would like to end on a more personal and political note. This being not only LGBT+ History Month, but what also might be termed the ‘season of love’, and as a G in that LGBT+ continuum, I went to buy a gift for my partner in a well-known (high-street) chocolatier in the town in Lincolnshire in which I live. ‘I hope she likes them’ came the reply to my purchase. Whilst this is far from homophobic, the pronominal slippage or maladroitness hardly convinced me to ‘pass the love on’ as the chain requests. ‘Passing’ in this case becomes ‘passing as straight’ – still a daily reality for most as one negotiates multiple ‘comings out’ in public and in private – and ‘passing the love on’ becomes ‘passing on [skip/decline] love’ for those forced to keep their identity a more permanent secret. With another well-known chain proposing same-sex Valentine’s Day cards for the first time, ‘we’ might nevertheless claim a small historic victory. Or, we might be charged with pink capitalism and homonormativity for buying them.
Can we have our cake and eat it though? Is assimilation, resignation? And what of the heterosexism and homophobia that remains? Dan’s article reminded me of the permanent tension in recent LGBT+ history between revolution and evolution (of rights). The Front homosexuel d’action révolutionnaire (Homosexual Front for Revolutionary Action) was certainly revolutionary. One of its ‘leaders’, Françoise d’Eaubonne, once said: ‘[y]ou say that society should integrate homosexuals, I say homosexuals must disintegrate society’ and Guy Hocquenghem famously once uttered the immortal, ‘our arseholes are revolutionary’ (quoted in Translation mine). Later French gays would go on to build what Scott Gunther calls a ‘more stately closet’ through the acquisition of legal rights, and this seems to have been matched globally.
Now, however, the seeming loss of common sense, tolerance and downright decency on an international level is challenging these gains in rights. We live with ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’, for there’s an oxymoron in the White House. Thus, in crafting our own alternative paradox of closing the un-closable ‘month’, we might pause for a moment to consider how we might conclude as we mean to go on. Finally, as the so-called ‘most powerful man in the world’ and his cronies invent history that never happened, we need every month to be LGBT+ History Month, Black History Month, Women’s History Month; to transpose the real (hi)stories of the likes of Hocquenghem, Simonin and those ‘unheard voices’ (back) to the streets!