Repetition and Difference: Julia Bryan-Wilson on LTTR

Article excerpt

"IT IS OUR PROMISCUITY that will save us," AIDS activist and art theorist Douglas Crimp asserted in 1988, defying the media's brutal vilification of gay sex--in which a devastating health crisis was portrayed as punishment for pleasure--by arguing that gay men's sexual flexibility would help them adapt to safer sex. While the AIDS crisis continues, albeit cushioned for some by the effects of life-extending drugs, it is nevertheless difficult to render Crimp's claim intelligible today. The value of promiscuity considered literally, as Crimp did, seems impossible to imagine given the profound conservatism of much of the contemporary gay and lesbian movement. (The terms of public discourse have changed, clearly, when debates focus on the participation of gays in the institutions of marriage and the military.) Gay couples have perhaps become more tolerated in US society, but other queer practices and community formations have arguably become more limited. Given the current narrow visions of queerness, though, there are still lessons to be learned from Crimp's promotion of flexibility, openness, and diverse encounters.

The embrace of a kind of promiscuity has driven the New York-based collective LTTR from the outset. LTTR is a shifting acronym; it started in 2001 as "Lesbians to the Rescue," a superhero slogan if ever there was one, and has since stood for phrases ranging from "Lacan Teaches to Repeat" to "Let's Take the Role." Just as the words behind its initials vary, so too do its membership and output. Founded by Ginger Brooks Takahashi and K8 Hardy, LTTR has been joined by Emily Roysdon and Ulrike Muller; all four have ongoing individual practices as artists, video makers, writers, and/or performers, and they frequently participate in other artistic and activist projects. While LTTR began as a collectively edited and produced journal, the group now also organizes screenings, exhibitions, performances, read-ins, and workshops. The original phrase "Lesbians to the Rescue" suggests that someone, or something, needs to be saved (the phrase is missing only an exclamation point to drive home its campy urgency)--and it is clear from the excited, even libidinal ethos of its projects that LTTR sees this redemption as rooted in desire.

In a political climate tinged by anger, defeatism, and the persistent shaming of unruly forms of queerness, LTTR's objective is a generosity based in exuberance. It is, in other words, with a purposeful critical promiscuity that LTTR puts itself forward. As Samuel R. Delany explains in Times Square Red, Times Square Blue (1999), a hybrid memoir/theoretical investigation of the effects of gentrification on gay public sex in New York, it is the small exchanges of goodwill, modeled for him in the practices of casual sex, that make life "rewarding, productive, and pleasant." The group's open calls for submissions and the multiple audiences of its live events exhibit its willingness to engage those with whom the artists might not otherwise come into contact. Promiscuity, whether sexual or--in the case of LTTR as an organization--curatorial, generates all-important moments of unexpected connection.

Brooks Takahashi wrote in an editorial note for the first issue of LTTR's journal that the project was generated out of eager curiosity, a way "to share our big love for the homos." The term homo is used in its loosest sense--LTTR explicitly refuses strict self-definitions--and this expanded meaning is quickly discerned in the journal's makeup: LTTR's critical promiscuity emphasizes bringing different bodies together across race, gender, and generation. Likewise, the contents of the journal do not conform easily to categories, and often blur the lines of art, criticism, and fiction. In the four issues produced to date (each printed in a limited edition of one thousand copies and distributed mostly in independent bookstores), contributors have included emerging artists, transgender activists, punk musicians, and established scholars. …