Book Review: That's Revolting!

That’s Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation – Ed. Mattilda, AKA Matt Bernstein Sycamore (Soft Skull Press, Brooklyn 2004) 318 pages. paper $16.95

If this was a different era, say the 80’s, the reviews from establishment press of That’s Revolting would label it as a Politically Correct workbook. But the term PC is archaic and can hardly be useful as propaganda much longer. If any one thing these odd assortment of 27 or so contributors represent, its that they cut through the lies and misrepresentations of straight America and offer up a challenge to bigotry. Most of the writing is short-easy-to digest pieces. It’s ideal for getting acquainted with at a book store or keeping you occupied while waiting for a bus. Because the subject matter is dense with experience it is laborious to read right through for a lot is offered up to reflect on. The topics that surface are many although there’s a strong reverberating shoutout towards issues of queer people of color, youth, and the gay marriage question. There are also addresses on trans issues, inter sex experiences, guerrilla art and other things totally ignored in mainstream discussions. For example, what of queers in sex Ed class, much less encouraging youth to be acquainted with the skills of consent and pleasure. The writing is peppered with intelligence and humor. It is well placed considering the stark realities illuminated for us in pieces dealing with a murdered drag queen or a fag doing peace work in occupied Palestine.

True to the name of assimilation, the straight world does not want the outsider. Many of the authors are writing from an outsider perspective dealing with life ignored at best, but often under intense scrutiny. One piece suggests we consider why public displays of affection is acceptable to straights whereas queers are better off keeping it private. Another piece points to bathroom access for transpeople, how there’s a need to consider diverse needs and make safe access for all. Solutions are looked at: Create a clandestine queer cruising spot in a public park, form alliances with disability activists and scout out bathrooms on campus, hold meetings in them, survey them, and write up demands to give to the chancellor. Start a radio station, go on a sustainable living road show. Lots of what’s written is action based but the added bonus is that the participants (the authors) have reflected on their time spent pushing for change and wish to see us improve on their model.

The writing is a mix of styles most of it in a plaintive conversation like voice. A lot of them are concise and clear. Some pieces are rants, or like a personal zine where the surface of a topic is skimmed. There’s a dry academic type piece, transcripts from a panel discussion, an interview and memoirs. I really get the feeling that works were not heavily edited from the authors` original words. The variety of topics and styles and the fact that it comes across very relevant makes it read like a community paper. We hear from street fighters, a musician, a lawyer, a drug dealing homeless youth, activists but all in all, thinkers: thinkers in the ways that queers on popular TV would never represent. The introduction spends a few pages ripping at these programs with their white yuppie situations, lesbian characters played by straights. I found this part the most boring since I don’t keep up with the nonsense on TV, but still useful. But its not long before the book rips into passionate humor and pain. The first essay DR. LAURA SIT ON MY FACE got me laughing in the library, a crime no worse than the cell phone conversations people in there graze on.

Another recurring theme is the question of monied gays turning their backs on queer homeless youth. This is evident in NY with the West Village Piers being cleared of youth and the fights made for them to preserve it as a home. We also get a look at how the SF Castro community united together not to fight homelessness, but a homeless youth shelter. There is an account of the LGBT center hosting vampire gruesome Gavin Newsom, how they called police on his protesters, and their subsequent beating. There is a run through of Gay Shame’s growth by the book’s editor Mattilda, and the over the top tactics that makes them relevant. After a while I felt that some life changing events were brewing across the bridge from Oakland these past few years. In fact the majority of the voices represented are San Francisco/Bay Area in style. But the perspectives are ultimately from all over. Its good people are thinking and planning on changing this dreary American culture. Since Slingshot is not the establishment, I would categorize this book as a threat by example, a drive to stop the charade of normalcy and a bold challenge to assimilation. It is done repeatedly by linking issues beyond just queer topics. With people reading/writing books like this we will all have tools to dismantle that which oppresses us.