Elevate Difference

Feminist and Queer Performance: Critical Strategies

Feminist and Queer Performance is a collection of eleven previously published essays by Sue-Ellen Case, a Professor of Theatre and Critical Studies at UCLA. Exploring topics as diverse as butch-femme aesthetics, cyber-minstrelsy, W.O.W. Café, and performance artists Kate Bornstein, Annie Sprinkle, and Split Britches; Feminist and Queer Performance illustrates the history and breadth of Case’s scholarship and sustained engagement with feminist politics and lesbian cultures. In her introduction Case describes the intellectual and political “climate changes” that influenced her thinking about identity and performance. This personal narrative also functions as a history lesson, tracing the evolution of Case’s writing from 1989-2007—when the essays were originally published in various journals and anthologies—and her emerging interest in self-representation, bodily knowledge, and new technologies. 

Case is invested in methodological forms that challenge the “objective” and universalizing voice of history–such as performative language and identificatory speech (“I” statements). She argues for writing practices that disrupt the unmarked, patriarchal voice of research, and embarks on a journey to find a “lesbian voice.” In fact, Case compares writing lesbian theory to hanging out in lesbian bars. In “Making Butch: An Historical Memoir of the 1970s,” she evokes the first-person to produce a campy critique of masculinity. Case foregrounds “everyday” performances like bar culture, clothing, and attitude to theorize lesbian culture and identity, especially butch-femme aesthetics. 

The voice of Feminist and Queer Performance is an inviting one–curious, self-reflexive, and hopeful. Case is no doubt committed to bridging the divide between theoretical language and political praxis, and easily mixes anecdote and activism into her scholarship. Although not exactly “jargon” free, Feminist and Queer Performance is accessible to a diverse readership. It’s essential reading for burlesque dancers, radical cheerleaders, drag kings, and anyone else interested in the performance of feminist and queer politics.

Written by: Jeanne Vaccaro, April 30th 2009