Elevate Difference

Queer Youth Cultures

Queer youth are often absent from discussions about adolescents, popular culture, and even the queer community. Susan Driver, an advocate and expert on LGBTQ youth, puts together a thoughtful and diverse collection of work that gives voice to queer youth without pathologizing them. Queer Youth Cultures, edited by Driver, is broken down into three parts: selections about building queer youth cultures and community, the impact of popular culture on queer youth, and queer youth political advocacy. 

My favorite essay, by far, was Judith Halberstam’s “What’s That Smell?: Queer Temporalities and Subcultural Lives.” Halberstam, a rock star in the world of queer theory, presents various queer subcultures (dyke punk music, drag king performances, slam poetry, etc.) and discusses the importance of archiving these subcultures without exploitation. The reading also features some pieces of Halberstam’s theories found in her groundbreaking book-length work In a Queer Time and Place

Mark Lipton’s “Queer Readings of Popular Culture: Searching [To] Out the Subtext” is an in-depth study of how queer youth are capable of creating queer storylines and characters out of seemingly heterosexual popular culture. Since Lipton originally researched this topic in 1990 and again towards 2000, it is interesting to see the progression with the addition of Will and Grace and The L Word—texts that actually include LGBTQ characters. 

But not every reading in this collection is theoretical in nature, which makes Queer Youth Cultures that much more accessible and important. “Redefining Realities Through Self-Representational Performance,” by Jama Shelton, features best practices on how queer youth can harness their own experiences and individual voices to build their self-esteem. Shelton discusses the artistic programming at Houston-based LGBTQ youth organization H.A.T.C.H. (Houston Area Teen Coalition of Homosexuals), and shares powerful examples from works created by youth in the program.

Queer Youth Cultures is a beautiful photography collection by Cass Bird that gives visibility to queer youth. I particularly enjoyed “I Look Just Like My Daddy” and “I Look Just Like My Mommy”—two juxtaposed photographs of one youth displaying both typical feminine and masculine characteristics. Since queer youth are often judged based on their appearance, I appreciate the editor’s decision to include photography in this text.

Written by: Kerri Kanelos, March 22nd 2009