The Grit and Glamour of Queer LA Subculture

About Queer LA Punk

"Punk is just dirty glitter." -Rodney Bingenheimer 

Was the Los Angeles punk scene homophobic or consummately queer? Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons, in their pivotal book Gay L.A., situate 1970s and early 80s punk as a multi-ethnic subculture with a “gay sensibility” and “gay infrastructure.”  While Faderman and Timmons locate sexual ambiguity and a rejection of the "straight world" that expanded "the very word 'straight' to signify 'bourgeois conformity'," they also acknowledge that the punk scene was not always so inclusive.[1] Gay men may have remained closet in the face of the scene's valuation of machismo, but LA punk's theatricality of offensiveness often manifested itself in coded, overt, or arguably ironic homophobic performances that radically challenge the idea of the "closet" and queerness as an "open secret" of late twentieth-century.  By contrast, female punks were expected to be pansexual, yet very few overtly embraced lesbian identification, at least at the time. This famous closing footage of the band FEAR from Penelope Spheeris's film The Decline of Western Civilization gets at the ambiguous crossings of gender, sexuality, and (indeed) violence in punk LA.

While the early LA scene featured a cross-racial, "coed" ethos that thrived between the hustler bars and punk clubs on pre-gentrification Hollywood Blvd., Southern California punk's reputation was arguably sealed by its mutation into the more white, male, and straight "hardcore" that relocated to the South Bay area and Orange County. While a refusal of categories defined the global punk ethos, the LA scene seemed particularly resistant to taking on anything as sincere as identity politics. According to Bomp Records founder Greg Shaw, "if New York punk was about art, and London punk was about politics, L.A. punk was about pop culture, TV, and absurdity."[2] 

To address the absurdity and anti/non identity politics of LA punk, students of CTSj 337's zine workshop with UCLA archivist Kelly Besser were inspired to think through the overlaps between the mutli-functional aspects of Scalar and the analog "DIY" (do-it-yourself) ethos of zine and early "cyberpunk" communities. Our following "Archive" section offers a future platform for developing this design thesis.

We hope that this chapter will also mine a wealth of recent oral histories about LA punk for anecdotal accounts from queer punk artists and fans before the transition of the scene into a suburban, arguably homophobic, and white-male dominated one. We also hope that this chapter will address queer theoretical engagements with punk, including the work of J. Jack Halberstam, Tavia Nyong'o, and José Estaban Muñoz. We also want future developers to take advantage of the newly opened punk archive at UCLA.

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