Queer as in fuck you

In Pride Month I learned the sad story about David Olio, who was forced out of his job for playing, not reading, an Allen Ginsberg poem ‘Please Master’ to 17-18 year old college bound kids. Was this in the 1960’s? 1970’s even? No, earlier this year, in Connecticut.

Several things annoy me about this from a queer aspect – the first being the self-censorship, the reticence of the people talking about the case to even quote or link to the poem – stuff like Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern with his slippery “Olio’s naive snap decision to play the video reflects bad judgment on his part. He deserves a reprimand, and his temporary suspension doesn’t strike me as grossly excessive. But so long as Olio understands where he went wrong, I don’t understand why he must permanently resign.” (emphasis mine) – and that’s on the LGBTQ section. Eh? Olio is not wrong, unless you think teaching what essentially are adults about a wider world is wrong, that consensual sex is wrong, unless you think LGBTQ narratives and sexual expression have no place in literature, unless you think we should close the closet door in case we scare the horses with our breathless fucking? Methinks the self-hate is strong in this one.

Or Clyde Selner “I cannot defend the poem; I find it a repulsive ode to sodomy, which is graphic in its imagery and disturbing in its message of sexual domination.”. Thanks for dropping that shit in my drink, you’re talking about an important part of my life, and many others. Which isn’t a lifestyle, btw. And what is poetry without reflecting our lives? To me, it’s not offensive at all, more an affirmation of something that indeed is seen as taboo but shouldn’t be (straight people after all have anal sex and dominate each other, you could quite easily read that poem in a straight sense apart from one line)…and to deny domination in sex and to never discuss the role of power, well that’s dumb. I agree like the Slate author on the rest of their article defending the teacher, shame it’s at the expense of the ‘shocking disgusting poem’ narrative, when to ‘college-level’ students that’s not a good critique at all.

Or the unnamed newscast quoted in the NCAC article as saying “too graphic to detail in almost any part” – this is dangerous territory, where the very words cannot be spoken, so people can’t judge for themselves. A classic tactic, used many a time, but listening to this aforementioned poem – embedded above, most of my reaction is ‘horny old devil!’ and that it’s beautiful yet erotic, but is it lesser for being the latter? The lesson by the way was about this very subject, about gratuitous language – and the poem was requested by a student. Yes, a student. I don’t see why older students need some warning about objectionable content, especially when the only ‘trigger’ would be that you’re a raging homophobe, unlike rape or some other issue (I have been ‘triggered’ by a discussion about divorce in a lesson, but I don’t blame the teacher for it).

The Daily Beast gets that describing it as a ‘tragic mistake’ is wrong…as Ginsberg is such a valued poet, radical and important – why can’t college credit courses with 17/18 year old adults on them study him?

And there is America’s strange infantilism, which doesn’t get commented on. What would be called adult here in the UK, 17/18, is called ‘kids’ there. They can depending on state – smoke, drink, drive a car, shoot or own guns (much younger than that actually with parent’s consent) and join the army and maybe even die for the country. But a poem by one of America’s most important poets about consensual sodomy? OH HELL NO. It’s a very strange set of affairs, really…that an age group can kill people with guns, cars, have sex and make important decisions about their bodies (apart from the really puritan states that retain the quaint 21 as majority) but LGBTQ poetry is right out?

Especially as this class at South Windsor High School was supposed to be one preparing them for college. I hope those who complained in David Olio’s class realised that they’ve failed that test, and should NOT go on to college, because not only does ‘running to mummy’ not work at that level, the faculty and students will just laugh at you for not being able to think or argue for yourself. Not grown up at all, and as this parent expressed, should’ve been resolved in the classroom (nice Whitman via Dead Poets ref, btw – it’s obvious to me that ‘Please Master’ is referencing Walt Whitman in it’s style, if not content). #FAIL. SMH.

As I said it’s Pride Month, and many battles have been won but something should be clear from Ginsberg and the beats and all those who fought (and sometimes died) for the LGBTQ cause – never give in, never apologise, and never give one ounce to those who want to censor, silence and erase us. Ever. Never assimilate, never become prudish, don’t kvetch at the naked protesters, don’t emulate the picket fence 2.4 children because you will never be them – celebrate your difference, your sexuality, not in ‘approved’ ways. As the famous saying goes – ‘Not gay as in happy, queer as in fuck you’. I live by that maxim.

Liberal hand-wringing as we know is a sport well-worn by even so-called allies, so I am not surprised, but yet…haven’t these battles been won? It’s sliding back to the 1950’s, as surely as those sweet vaselines. (original article via Boing Boing)


  1. June 7

    On-point about the America stuff, especially the note on infantilization. Have you read John Taylor Gatto’s “Against School”? He argues that American schools are a system designed to maintain and extend childishness for as long as possible.
    Also potentially relevant is Samuel R. Delany’s essay “Aversion/Perversion/Diversion” where he argues that certain elements of the homosexual experience–especially in regards to sex–may not, and in situations where there is no language for it can not, be spoken of. The essay also serves as a nice theoretical introduction to his latest novel Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders which is explicit, imagines a space where gay life outside of the “straight but with 2 men” model is valued if not elevated, and becomes a profoundly moving exploration of the function of memory and meaning in a life. I give it the highest recommendation, not only because of its own merits, but because of how much it speaks to this issue of what may not be said, discussed, or understood, the very issues at play in the situation this post focuses on.
    Literature, as an art, is about connecting people with other life experiences and perspectives, at heart an empathy-inducing process. By punishing Olio, the school is trying to teach the students a very specific lesson about not only what is “appropriate discourse,” but also whose experiences may be witnessed and, through that witnessing, valued.
    And so much more, and so much more. It’s even not just about silencing gay speech but modeling to the students that you may not express your personal desires. Regardless of straight or gay, there is what you desire and what you’re expected and thus allowed to desire. If you stray from the latter, even a bit, well, you see what happened to Mr. Olio.
    Sorry if this doesn’t make sense. It’s very late where I am.

    • June 7

      Oh it makes sense – not read those, although I suspect my partner might know the Delany. Not sure I agree that you cannot speak of alternate/homosexual/non-heteronorm desire – the question quite often is should you, since although transgression is liberating and radical, there’s that personal/private divide and the problem of analysing your own desires is a bit like crushing a butterfly to find out what it’s made of.

      Very Wittgenstein question too – he was queer, apparently – Tractatus, which I’ve read parts of, although I found out a while back the statement about “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” had a deeper more ironic reading, and not as simple as it first seems.

      And yes very aware that the school was punishing the students too – that expressions that divert from the norm must be silenced, and that pressure from right-wing social media can get results. The reason I zeroed in on this was that in 1970’s and 1980’s gay rights in the UK many of the early battles were over teachers, usually responding to questions from students or being ‘found out’ in some way. Of course faith schools and private school can still be like that, but a public school? That’s scary.

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