Kate Thomas responds to Shannon Draucker

Shannon rightly directs our attention to one of the most exciting chapters of Exquisite Materials: “Jane Furneaux and the Social Lives of Fraud.”  Joseph’s discovery of this scandal is a huge gift to scholars, as Furneaux’s identifications complicate our theorizations of drag and shame.  Furneaux was a lesbian who impersonated an aristocratic gay man who had, a dozen years earlier, been publicly disgraced for his sexuality.  Joseph’s interest is the way in which Furneaux’s hoax salvaged queer notoriety, and did so with the kind of success and “good feeling” that reveals how eager “’ordinary’ Victorians” were to be consumers of – and even participants in – the “extraordinary” (82).  Ordinary is the key term here.  Furneaux made co-conspirators out of these ordinary readers of ordinary newspapers and also, Joseph emphasizes, “material objects already in circulation” (16).  That is to say, objects whose commonplaceness and mobility made them easily adopted and adapted to furnish queer significations.  The very normalcy of cigarettes, walking sticks or mourning stationery, aided and abetted Jane Furneaux in her public flouting of norms.  As someone who has written about how the civic banality of the Victorian postal system engendered queer encounters and relations, I cheer for Joseph’s contribution to our understanding of the category of what Heather Love calls the “queer ordinary.” [1]  In the beginning, queer theory sometimes felt like it was animated only by operatic feelings, extraordinary energies, elite subjectivities.  This wasn’t actually the case; Biddy Martin published her essay on feminism’s challenge to queer theory’s preference for the extraordinary back in 1994 and Gayle Rubin reminds us that it was Esther Newton’s 1972 Mother Camp study of “ordinary activities” that laid the ground for queer theory’s later work on performativity. [2]  But – women’s work is never done? – it has taken a couple of decades for this thinking to more substantively reorient the field.  The work on queer theory without antinormativity that Shannon cites (Wiegman, Freeman) stands alongside that of Sianne Ngai on quotidian and non-cathartic affects, and Mel Y.Chen’s interanimations of queerness, race and disability.

[1] Heather Love, “Doing Being Deviant: Deviance Studies, Description, and the Queer Ordinary.” Differences 26:1 (2015), 74–95.

[2] Biddy Martin, “Extraordinary Homosexuals and the Fear of Being Ordinary.” Differences 6:2+3 (1994), 100-125.  Gayle Rubin, Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader (Durham: Duke UP, 2011), 340.

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