You might call me the accidental pussy faggot. An independent performance curator and producer based in Brooklyn, I have presented hundreds of events over the past 7 years, most with a queer sensibility. However, I never imagined that a performance-driven party called PUSSY FAGGOT! would end up being one of my signature projects. I didn’t realize the term would resonate so strongly with so many people, but I suppose I could have guessed it would put me at odds with Facebook.
The party started as something of an inside joke. As the Festival Director for the 2009 HOT! Festival I wanted to pimp out my birthday as a fundraiser. The most viable venue for the event proved to be The Delancey Lounge on New York’s Lower East Side. Having thrown a weekly party there a couple years prior I was intimately familiar with the club, but I hadn’t set foot in the joint since the party came to an abrupt end during a fabled bar fight with my co-promoter. Curled up in a fetal position on the floor of the bar I was kicked, spat upon and called “pussy faggot!” The assault ended when cabaret star Justin Bond and transgender performance artist Glenn Marla intervened. My assailant protested, “But he threw a drink in my face!” to which the ever-unflappable Bond responded, “And you’ve kicked him three times. You’re even.”
Naming the benefit PUSSY FAGGOT! was a cheeky way of calling out the 800-pound elephant in the room. Since then the event has taken on a life of its own, becoming a periodic one night mini-festival of queer performance; I even presented an edition of the party in Manchester, England as part of the Queer Up North Festival in May. The response from participating artists, audiences and the media has been overwhelmingly supportive, doing much to remove the sting of that earlier attack.
Language evolves over time, and there are many precedents for reclaiming slurs, epithets and other words that have been used to verbally assault and demean people. These linguistic acts of defiance frequently help diminish the power these words have to hurt or inflict pain. The rehabilitation of the term for a female dog has progressed to the point that we have Bitch magazine and a singer/songwriter named Bitch (formerly of Bitch and Animal). This didn’t happen overnight. In 1990 performance artist Penny Arcade’s sex and censorship show “Bitch!Dyke!Faghag!Whore!” had some feminists so incensed they tore down posters advertising the piece. Arcade’s provocative embrace of terms she had been called throughout her life were an affront to the standard-bearers of political correctness.
Today plenty of queer folks embrace words like faggot, dyke and faggot, and they are a large part of the enthusiastic audience for PUSSY FAGGOT! It’s clear that whatever techniques being employed by Facebook to monitor violations are inadequate when it comes to understanding these nuances, but not everyone misses the point. Writing for the New York Press, Gerry Visco admits “‘Pussy Faggot’ is a catchy title for a party. It pairs male and female, straight and gay, and as an epithet it’s pleasantly jocular. It’s so extreme it’s funny.” With 500 million users, is it still possible for Facebook to have a sense of humor?
Actress, writer and performance artist Ann Magnuson had her personal profile removed from Facebook due to a clever send up of the album cover for Roxy Music’s “Country Life” by photographer Austin Young. Word of Magnuson’s removal spread quickly. A “Reinstate Ann Magnuson on Facebook” group was created, and Richard Metzger invited Ann to discuss the incident on his blog for Dangerous Minds. Eventually her profile was reinstated – minus the offending photo. On The Huffington Post Magnuson admitted slyly, “…I’d hate for innocent tots to be exposed to the ‘horrors’ of Seventies-era Roxy Music spoofs, the Kardashians are probably exposing them to worse daily.”
In our evolving digital landscape it’s hard to know what’s a technological “bug” and what is out and out censorship. Unlike physical or service oriented businesses, there’s rarely a live person with whom you can take up your grievances. More often you find “contact us” and “help” links that lead to forms that are then submitted to a faceless team of technicians. At least bureaucrats have phone lines and constituent offices. As more and more of what passes for civic discourse and political activism happens through social networking sites, the sudden removal of profiles, groups, images and other online content raises serious questions. It also creates opportunities. Rather than submitting a petition to have Facebook reinstate PUSSY FAGGOT!, I simply recreated the event under “The Party Censored By Facebook.”
For better and worse the landscape of our lives is shifting as we embrace new technologies and digital platforms for connecting and communicating. Frequently the real battle lines are at the policy level. On December 21, for instance, the FCC will vote on new regulations for internet providers, and media activists are pushing for a true commitment to “net neutrality” which would preserve the open nature of the internet. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has outlined a plan for net neutrality that leaves large loopholes for providers. In the coming week I’ll make calls and engage in other forms of real-time activism around the issue, but I’ll also take to my Facebook page to let people know what they can take to influence this important policy decision. I’ll do so as a proud member of a contingent of pussy faggots who are willing to take action on important issues even as we create our own vibrant queer culture.