Fugitive Faggotry: Queer Rage and the Limitations of Equality


To be gunned down in a club while sipping the drink that was paid for on the off chance that a conversation might offer connectivity in a world that hinges on extinguishing your connections or your ability to connect to someone maybe just anyone who rides the rhythm of this Latin house track deep enough and responds to you moving the same way, pulsing the same way, feeling many things all at once is deadening.[1]

To be gunned down in a space where briefly every Saturday evening between the hours of 10 PM and 2 AM you can blur the line between that part of your mind that uncrosses your legs on the metro or looks away when your eye contact hovers for too long with some man in public and that deprived part of your soul that seeks out the linger or the lure or the gesture long enough to explore a queer intimacy or to merely feel like yourself for a few moments is, yet again, deadening.

It is deadening in the literal life-taking way, but it exceeds this too as the atrocity contests even the ability to speak up, to speak out and turns a queer communal space honoring its Latinx and Afro-Latinx patrons into a mass grave intended to annihilate any and all sounds or echoes of queerness.



To be queer in the U.S. is to be an aberration. To exist in the U.S. as a queer person is to be death-trapped between buying into the heteronormativity of survival on one hand (if you can afford it) and stealing, on the other, the fleeting moments of a life never meant or made for you.

In the wake of a mass murder of forty-nine queer folks and the shooting of more than one-hundred on Latin night at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, I had no words, only feelings. Reeling from the pain, from the damage and desecration and anguish set into motion by one homophobic bigot with a big gun and a bigger ideology, I cannot dilute or resolve my pain into a hashtag or a broader message about the need for love. This sentiment is powerful, binding and collective and I appreciate everyone who can move directly between mourning and loving. At the moment of writing this, I cannot. All I can feel is rage.

This rage ricochets against all the ways of surviving that us queers and femmes and trans folks assemble in order to brace the daily task of living, of getting home safely or of escaping home safely. It grates against all the behavioral mediations and affective labors we devise in order to appear less gay, less faggy, less queer, less femme, more hetero, more passable or more normal in order to not offend or affront the national fantasy of (cis-)heteronormativity. I feel rage because this shooting does not stand out as an anomaly to daily life for queer people, especially queer people of color, in the United States; it is a horrific and familiar continuity of homophobia and discrimination that bedrocks hegemonic masculinity in the United States. I brim with rage because the methods of public integration and inclusivity, both individual and collective, seem futile and aimless in light of this act of genocide.

I want to use this defiant rage to question how this action of violence was even made thinkable, how it emerged from an ordinary realm of possibilities as the “worst” way to quell queerness, expression, liberation and, where most mainstream gay and lesbian cries of injustice have dwelled: equality.

While there are many brilliant radical queer activists and scholars who have delved into various problematics of equality, I here want to offer my own confusions around the term and some of the term’s unexamined aftershocks. I am dumbfounded as to how, after decades and generations of protests, actions and energies poured into gay liberation and equal rights, it could be so easy and so swift for one man to take it all away, so simple to re-open the wounds of homophobia and discrimination that every queer person, particularly every queer person of color, carries daily on their physical, spiritual and affective bodies. I am unconvinced that our current methods of reform will deliver any longstanding hope for queer people, particularly as that queerness intersects with and complicates Black, Latinx, Muslim, Puerto Rican, disabled, indigenous, trans, undocumented, Afro-Latinx, homeless, femme and/or poz identities that are currently being whitewashed and erased in mainstream media.

Peering into the expediency of this catastrophe, we might come to understand how support functions reactively. One must be endangered in some way to engender support; otherwise, support would not be necessary. Thus, equality as a cry for equal measures of support operates in this reactionary way. Equality is limited by its own very nature: a built-in act of governing that relies on the claim of difference and the visibilization of that difference. In this act of recognition (and it is an act both in interplay and performativity), the excluded must demand inclusion on the terms always-already determined by the (already) included. More nearly, equality hinges on an ability to prove inequality. But here’s the catch: the excluded (or the oppressed) is not the judge, was never the judge and beyond that, the game of legitimacy was never made for the excluded or oppressed to participate. You must undergo and recount (in your most hetero-verbiage) an adversity in order to prove that you are in need of support: you must first experience an epidemic before being (semi-)legitimated by the CDC or related branches of the U.S. government; you must first experience a mass shooting (or hundreds) in order to generate concern for the ability of one person to use a firearm to expediently execute dozens and dozens of people; you must first bear witness to the horror of a child texting his mother that he wasn’t ever going to make it back home that night, that he wasn’t going to make it out of that club alive and that indeed his life would be ended, before you can realize how unthinkable any dream of liberation is when you cannot even imagine a future. Violence against the excluded begins to serve functionally as moments of learning for the included — our bodies become amendments to a grandstanding list of wrongs-turned-rights.

How is it that the world we inhabit is so inextricably mediated through violence? How is it that the world we inhabit has been allowed to form so that violence could become its predominant mode of mediation? In posing these questions, we cannot forget the presence of the U.S. as a settler-colonial state, founded on a conception of independence made possible through the mass genocide and ongoing (neo-)colonial erasure of the Native and indigenous peoples in North America on whose land we might dare to feel so free. There is a connection there. There is a (neo-)colonial legacy to this violence. There is a (neo-)colonial legacy to this terror. There is a (neo-)colonial legacy to these guns. As many mainstream news outlets attempt to pigeonhole this act of violence as “Islamic radicalism” through Islamophobia and xenophobia, we must acknowledge that for most U.S. citizens, inhabiting the land trapped between the U.S. borders requires ongoing acts of violence, acts that have permutated historically but are nonetheless instantiated by U.S. gun culture and colonial supremacy.

Our forms of public LGBT acceptance and equality (what was termed “tolerance” a few years ago) may have allowed the act of “coming out” to become a national pastime of mainstream, white, middle and upper class corporatized gay and lesbian politics but it has also resulted in a form of advocacy that on one hand can erupt into a massive sea of red equal sign profile pictures (what more could we possibly mean by visibility?!) while on the other do absolutely nothing in its international visibility to prevent one man with one gun on one night of the week to carry out one of the largest mass shootings of people since the massacre at Wounded Knee. I do not mean to reduce this act of genocide to a crime without a precedent; rather, I am given pause that years of advocating around visibility, tolerance and equality left a mainstream gay and lesbian politics with no provision for prevention alongside prayer.

Seven hours prior to the Pulse shooting, I meandered through Los Angeles’s Pride Festival. I was struck by the sheer amount of corporate sponsors: Delta, Allstate, Bud Light, Sprint, Johnson & Johnson, Wells Fargo, the list goes on and on. A friend of mine pointed out that sponsorship of this magnitude hardly accompanies most other social movements.[2] Why might this be? We may wonder, prior to the Pulse shooting, whether mainstream gay and lesbian activists believed that us queers were nearing “equality?” Had the mere attainment of marriage, outfitted with its coupledom, legality and monogamy, duped a queer politics that mere decades ago encompassed broad, radical public actions and protests in the era of AIDS, ACT UP and STAR? I do not mean to wax nostalgically for a mythic, utopian past state of queer politics; but I do want to note the neocolonialist and/or imperialist actions taken by some of the corporate sponsors in our current moment. Wells Fargo, for example, has significant financial holdings in private prisons, a constituent part of an ever-growing prison industrial complex that perpetuates devastating harm particularly on queer people of color in the U.S.[3] Sprint, Allstate and Johnson & Johnson are also known to benefit from unethical prison-industrial labor through a process often called insourcing. That these affiliations did not deter Los Angeles Pride from partnering with these corporations is one more reminder that any semblance of equality cultivated during the celebratory spectacle was specious or hollowed out at best.

My question, then, is where were the actors of these corporations when Orlando needed them?[4] Where is the financial support for the dozens of victims undergoing surgeries or for LGBTQI+ youth who face disproportionately high rates of homelessness? Where was the outpour of support and legislation for queer people before the massacre? (This is not to say that legislation holds all the answers to issues effecting queer people, though.) There are dozens of pieces that call out the politicos who tweeted support and prayers for victims while backing ever-more-violent anti-LGBT bills in Congress, banning trans folks from using restrooms and ignoring public health issues facing queer people like the criminalization of HIV or the looming rates of infection particularly among gay Black youth. These facts contextualize a hypocrisy of the national histrionics that followed the massacre at Pulse nightclub — and attest that 1) our queer politics cannot afford another mass shooting and 2) in no way does equality offer an escape from the multitude of homegrown ideologies, oppressions and policies that wreak havoc onto bodies that do not fit the whitewashed, (cis-)heteronormative mold and mind. The connections between G4S, militarization of police, privatized security, surveillance and U.S. gun culture are only beginning to be unteased; but in this collision of institutions, ideologies and weaponry, Mateen channeled a terrorism that has been incubated and nourished for quite some time here in our own backyards.



In this unbridled queer rage, I refuse to treat this violence as the unavoidable mortgage for queer living in a country that builds its neocolonial house out of the very heteronormativity and homophobia that suffocates us, that coalesces with racism and trans/misogyny to commit gruesome acts and hateful violence against queer bodies through assault, suicide, homicide, and genocide. I refuse to let this attack become a bullet point in the litany of unconscionable events used for some reformist politics or for some greater takeaway about how we are failing the mission of equality. In this anger, I am beginning to understand more fully that it is a politics of equality that is failing us.

It is this unapologetic rage that guides me not only to deplore the mass atrocities committed against queer people and queer people of color every day but also to abolish a society in which such an atrocity would even be possible, to borrow a frame of analysis developed by Fred Moten and Stefano Harney (2013). While reformist politics may accomplish things, I am not interested in things that will only make my life easier. I am motivated rather to prevent the lives of future generations from death at the hands of the state (or its militarized and privatized phantom limbs) and the deeply engrained ideologies of U.S. hegemonic masculinity, white supremacy, surveillance and weaponry, citizenship, racism, homophobia and trans/misogyny. And it is the helplessness I feel with our current modes of reform, with #ItGetsBetter, with visibility and with equality that drives me to seek out new methods of revolution and demolition when another fagbash or person of color or Black trans woman or school shooting or hate crime becomes a hashtag that becomes a scroll that becomes one more component of ordinary life in the United States of America.

We must listen to this queer rage. We must let this powerful surge of fugitive faggotry guide us to seek out new forms of living and loving in our worlds, where being out will not jeopardize being alive — because forty-nine deaths are no more or less important than the murder of one when you fiercely love them all.



Bayly, Lucy. 2016. "As Donations Flood in for Orlando Victims, Where's the Money Going?" NBC Newshttp://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/orlando-nightclub-massacre/donations-flood-orlando-victims-where-s-money-going-n593876. Accessed November 7, 2016. 

Moten, Fred, and Stefano Harney. 2013. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. New York: Minor Compmositions. 

National People's Action. 2012. "Jails Fargo Banking on Immigrant Detention: Wells Fargo’s Ties to the Private Prison Industry." Public Accountability Iniciativehttp://public-accountability.org/wp-content/uploads/wells_fargo_-_banking_on_immigrant_detention.pdf. Accessed November 7, 2016.



[1] This article was originally published on www.medium.com on June 6, 2016.

[2] I thank Aliza Khan for raising this vital question.

[3] For more information on Wells Fargo’s practices, see National People's Action (2012). 

[4] Since the time of writing, several corporations, including Disney and JPMorgan, have donated to various funds. To my knowledge, the companies listed here have not contributed. My question aims to illustrate the commercialized way that corporate industry supports LGBT communities, or more specifically, LGBT events. See Lucy Bayly (2016).



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