Rolequeers Write Bad Books

Posted: July 10, 2015 in Uncategorized


I don’t think many people understand how much rolequeer theorizing is intentionally inchoate personal processing in public and just throwing ideas at the wall. Detractors have claimed that rolequeer theory is hypocritical, inconsistent, “an ideological trainwreck,” that we reference outside material that we have only a cursory understanding of, etc. There’s some truth to all of this. What these folks don’t seem to have picked up on — because they don’t understand rolequeerness and because, to a great degree, they don’t really understand the Internet — is that, in and of itself, this is a consciously rolequeer methodology.

All ideas, or at least all good ones, go through a kind of neonatal, bisociative, “see what sticks” stage in which the thinker is just lumping random shit together because it sounds good, or they’re curious what will happen if they try this chord instead of that one, or if they add cumin and bananas to this stir-fry. This is often thought of as a sort of drafting/note-taking/raw processing/experimental stage and it’s fine to do, and to do messily and poorly, as long as you mostly do it in private and don’t go serving your paying customers banana and cumin stir-fry.

What rolequeers do, however, is that we tend to “publish” our work (aka be like, “You have to try this thing I made!”) at a MUCH earlier stage of development than is generally considered “professional.” This is because we are not professionals. We’re not professional academics, not professional activists, not professional writers, nothing – nor do we aspire to any of those positions of authority. We are kids on the Internet trying to make the world better ASA fucking P. And this means getting our ideas out of our heads, and into the hands of more people who might be able to use and improve them, as fast as we can. Even if we don’t look good doing it. Our priority is to be memetic, not to be impressive. This is an explicitly rolequeer ethic.

Since I started writing about rolequeerness, I have attached an immense amount of awkward, fumbling, ill-conceived, incomplete, offensive, and just plain incorrect work to my name. Am I embarrassed about it? Absolutely. Hell, I’m embarrassed practically every time I post something. I’ll probably be embarrassed when I post this. I came up in an academic milieu where my intellect (and self-esteem) were defined by my ability to make a logically-sound philosophical argument, extra bonus points if it was painstakingly articulated and rhetorically elegant, even if that meant moving the conversation forward so fractionally as to be effectively meaningless, or even just reiterating stuff other people already said 300 years ago. It’s been HARD work for me to unlearn the deeply-internalized programming that tells me publishing ideas before they’re perfected makes me “intellectually lazy.” I’m still working on it.

But, as I said above, this is an explicitly rolequeer ethic. Behaving in a maximally transparent and generative way, if doing so has even the tiniest potential to shift our collective theoretical consciousness towards disrupting oppression, has a clear ethical priority over appearing smart, cool, consistent, or even correct. And even though I go back and read old Bandana Blog entries and facepalm the fuck out my rambling inarticulate language, my half-assed integration of other theorists, my mortifying tendency to center white experience constantly and unconsciously, etc., it feels so worth it to me every time I get an ask or comment from someone who says discovering rolequeer theory has made their intimate relationships concretely healthier and safer, or helped them feel more sane and at home in their own skin.

This is not to say that rolequeer thinkers never do any pre-processing. Maymay and I have hours of conversation that never make it to paper. We try out ideas, throw away bad ones, and even (gasp!) disagree. There are a handful of private threads and other little forums scattered about the Internet where various rolequeer folks are working through concepts that are still a bit too unarticulated (or incendiary) for public consumption…yet. But our threshold for releasing idea-seeds into the wild is FAR lower than almost any other strain of political theory I’m aware of. (Except maybe “GamerGate.” #selfdeprecatingjokeisselfdeprecating) And we do this on purpose, because we believe that the Internet as a collective effort is infinitely more intelligent, creative, and visionary than even the brightest individual one of us could possibly be.

Furthermore, there is some strategy around packaging these probably-mostly-wrong proto-ideas in rhetoric that invites people to really argue with us about them i.e. by stating them as if they are simply factual rather than just wrapping them in, “Oh, I’m just thinking aloud here. I’m probably wrong. Don’t mind me.” Because we tend to engage quite politely with ideas sandwiched between caveats but, ultimately, people who tell me I’m fucking wrong and then tell me exactly why are going to move my intellectual process forward much faster than people who give me polite “constructive criticism” or none at all — even though receiving the former genuinely hurts WAY worse than receiving the latter. (Part of what makes me, personally, so rolequeer is that I’m kind of an emotional masochist.)

And finally, the thing about being consistently, embarrassingly wrong in public is that it is fantastic insurance against becoming an authority figure. I never want people to consider me an authority on rolequeerness, because with authority comes the power to coercively impose your ideas on others’ minds. With that power comes the responsibility to slow way down and be much more careful about where, when, how, and with what degree of completeness you share your thoughts. And with that slowness comes the continued rape, violence, and oppression of vulnerable people who might’ve otherwise been protected from or avoided a dangerous situation if they’d only just seen the word “rolequeer” come across their dash a little earlier and had the opportunity to think for themselves about what it might mean.

TL;DR: I believe in the power of my own ideas and in the brilliance of others’ minds. Enough, apparently, that I’m willing to embarrass the crap out of myself and ruin my own reputation as an “intellectual” in order to messily offer up my thoughts qua tenderest seedlings, having faith that together we can grow them into much more beautiful vegetation than whatever might’ve flowered in the isolated hothouse of my individual mind, or even in the protected little walled garden of those with whom I already agree.

Also, this is scary and sometimes doing it makes me feel sick to my stomach. I’ve learned how (and am still learning) from watching other rolequeers who are braver and more confident and more vulnerable than I. So, like, thanks guys.

  1. lya says:

    My comment-type thing on this was more suitable for a tumblr post than, well, a comment, so pointing to it to preserve the link:

  2. oystr__ says:

    Woah. Just woah. This approach moves ideas to the forefront, not reputation or authority, and it is bound to generate better ideas faster. Now I get why there’s always an air of freshness about the ideas I read in this neighbourhood. Invigorating! I’ll try to incorporate that process into what I do, ’cause I think this method helps to leverage Internet’s strength like no other can.

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