Punk has become a common term these days, often tagged onto the end of some aesthetic. Steampunk, cyberpunk, solarpunk—it feels like these usages point more to a visual theme or technology rather than an underground. Queercore takes us back to the early days of punk through a queer lens. How did queer folks find a sense of place in punk scenes? Beyond music, what other punk media brought us together? How did gender, sexuality, and other queer subjectivities form in and around punk? Through a collection of interviews, a rich oral history of queer punk from coast to coast takes shape, under-underground, as full of love as with aggression, and wholly handmade.
One thing you’ll notice pretty quickly is that many of the interviewees name-drop each other. The punk scene was so thoroughly interconnected, not only by sharing records or attending shows, but also through mutual friends, sharing and writing for zines, and collaborative projects. Everyone seems to be one or two degrees away from G.B. Jones and Bruce LaBruce; who hasn’t met Vaginal Creme Davis? The sense of community through the arts of punk really brought these accounts to life. And there were many arts involved: music, movies, theatre, zines, clothes, and visual art were all co-opted for homocore and (later) queercore. Rather than one distinct aesthetic, queercore is unique in its nebulosity: there are collages advertising concerts, fans with mohawks and chains, drawings in Tom of Finland style but lesbians (Tom Girl 🥰). Queercore did not have any aesthetic requirements but being queer and being here, which shows through the wide variety of folks who contributed to the movement.
Queercore’s oral history also acknowledges the gay mainstream of the time. Chapter 18, “Manufacturing Gay,” focuses on the struggle of queercore against the assimilation movement from the AIDS crisis to the present day. Many of the interviewees deride contemporary trends of making queer people “acceptable” and “normal” through TV shows like Glee. They acknowledge the difficulties still posed by visibility, but assert that the queer liberation of punk still requires revolution and sexual-political-social liberation that are not provided under assimilation. I found myself nodding at a line from Deke Nihilson: “You demand the right to serve in the military and you’re going to end up dropping phosphorous bombs on Afghani kids. And really, is that liberation? Is that freedom? Is having a seat at a table of empire really liberation?”
I’ll be the first to say that I’m not much of a traditional punk. I’m sort of quiet. I stand in the front at concerts because crowds make me nervous, and I don’t want to remember all the people behind me. Headbanging and jumping around makes me feel faint. But I’ve always appreciated the scene, and I have an even deeper understanding of and love for it after reading Queercore. It reminds me that queerness and queer communities have always been everywhere. The queercore scenes of Toronto, of Chicago, of San Francisco were a powerful cultural undercurrent that continue to influence queer culture. I can’t wait to dig into the vast bibliography this book provides of films, zines, music, and more, and uncover further insights about the continuing legacy of queer punk.