I didn’t know how I was going to begin my review of Fray Baroque’s and Tegan Eanelli’s anthology, Queer Ultraviolence. I’ve read dozens of books on anarchism, but I admit my understanding of insurrection is limited to a few helpful tidbits from Wikipedia. So I’ll start with my initial impressions of the book.
The outward appearance of the book makes a profound statement. Its back is fixed with a quote that would excite any radical or anarchist, the all-pink cover with a silhouette of queers holding weapons. The reader can only imagine what lies within the covers. The funky seventies-styled font and the “BASH BACK” slogan proudly and boldly capitalized adds that last bit of emphasis to the radical queer narrative. The aesthetics are deceptive, however. The book leads with a fumbling and vague mission statement. By its end, I was left wondering what the book was actually about. Is it a statement on dismantling the “capitalist system”? Is it aimed at religious subversion? Is it just a “fuck you” to the “cistem”? I don’t know. I suppose that’s up to the reader to determine.
The shabby opening didn’t kill my enthusiasm completely. As a trans woman of color (TWOC) I let it slide and breezed past the first ten pages in no time, wherein Bash Back’s roots are explained. Bash Back was formed as a protest of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions of 2008 and of the pride movement in general. It was initially conceived as a demonstration aimed at those who refused to accept queers/trans people. It was also aimed at the more mainstream pride folks whom Bash Back saw as assimilationist sell-outs. Bash Back claims they sold us out for proverbial scraps from the dinner table. Being openly hostile to pride and political elites, this got me excited.
At page twenty, however, I hit a wall. The book’s clusters of random thought and poor attempts at connecting capitalism, state and religion left much to be desired. The book would have benefitted from more of the personal perspectives of Bash Backers. Instead, a large portion of the book was devoted to poetry, metaphor and generally abstract material.
It also suffers from extreme exclusivity. Early on, it pounds home a macho queer masculinity vibe that leaves no room for anything except fearless bullqueers. Anyone unwilling to be imprisoned for vandalism (which is “fun”) is an “assimilationist”. I agree that insurrection can serve a purpose; the criminal queer in me respects this. But to dismiss anyone unwilling to risk jail time as assimilationist is absurd. Additionally, the book’s constant drumbeat of “anarchism is communism” and “communism is anarchism” gets tiresome. In very typical anarcho-communist (ancom) fashion, the reader is told repeatedly that only a very specific type of anarchist need apply as ally. If you’re not an ancom, you may as well be the enemy.
I had also hoped for some new and fresh material. Instead, what I found was a book filled with stale, recycled themes from days of old. Amid all this are some poor attempts at poetry, frequent disdain for academia, and half-assed attempts at insurrection. Despite its “loudness,” it will likely be remembered as nothing more than a fleeting moment in radical history.
There were at least a few bright spots though. One particularly entertaining portion came in the form of an anonymous Bash Backer email. The emailer tells the story of a confrontation with police at a vandalism “party”. Amidst the chaos, the cops are hit with various “queer instruments of destruction” including, but not limited to, dildos, fairy toy wands, and, if memory serves, a high heel. This beautiful snippet brought me joy as I imagined police officers being hit in the face with phallic, glittering dongs.
Another high point was the moving story of a mass arrest. The arrestees, all adorned in black (pink) bloc, hid or refused to provide their gender to police making it impossible for them to be separated on that basis. It was a strategically brilliant move in the sense that it prevented the potential for violence and sexual assault by the police. But it also illustrated the caring and compassion of these brave crusaders, as they all protected one another in a moment of crisis. The imagery of trans people, queers and their allies engaging in this kind of righteous solidarity as they were loaded into police vans brought tears to my eyes.
Another tale recounted a group of queers surrounding a National Socialist and beating him senseless, breaking ribs, fracturing his face and covering him with glitter. The story was priceless. But these wonderful war stories were few and far between.
I enjoyed the brief history lessons of trans, pirates, renegades, thieves, whores and aboriginal-natives and their victories and infighting. The rest was just filler. And there seemed to be little concern about the movement’s failure to secure much in the way of results.
Despite its vague talk of insurrection and pseudo revolution, the book was little more than an autonomous anarchist’s attempt to achieve fifteen minutes of fame. For the sparks that they generated in that brief moment, they have my applause.
I applaud their attempt, as I applaud any attempt by trans people to fight back against oppression however they see fit. Insurrection is an important tactic in the arsenal of any anarchist, but it often accomplishes little. Maybe that’s the point of Queer Ultraviolence — to highlight the fun of the insurrectionist. Perhaps it was supposed to read as an empowering how-to manual. Regardless, I can’t help feeling that Queer Ultraviolence promotes the destructive masculinity present in so many radical queer spaces. It is a form of violence and elitism that keeps us separated. It’s a dog-eat-dog, ironically capitalist approach that condemns the weak queer and champions the heroic, masculine archetype.
Was it the best book on queer anarchism? Hardly. My recommendation: Buy it anyways, if for no other reason than the proceeds go to imprisoned trans women. They need our help. They are trapped in an extremely dangerous environment. Any money donated to them will go to good use. Consider the book a good way to relieve trans women from the horrors of a prison system that will leave most of them damaged or dead before they ever have a second chance at freedom. You’ll learn a thing or two from the book in the process.