by: Kara Crawford
Who are the snarkiest people you know? I’d be willing to bet that for most of us, the answer is queer folks, or the list at least includes some queer folks. A majority of folks in my inner circle are citizens of Queerville. I credit that not only to the fact that I identify as one such citizen, but also to the fact that many of us share a common comedic sensibility, one that I personally call snarkasm. Snarkasm goes above and beyond normal sarcasm; it includes the biting social critique of the snarky political humor which we know all so well this day and age, à la Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. While I find snarkasm to be a relatively common phenomenon, I find it to be most common among marginalized groups, and even more so in the queer community. And I have a couple of theories on why this is the case.
First, I see it as a sort of coping mechanism. As citizens of Queerville who live in a heterosexist society, the primary discourse that we are given access to is a very heteronormative one. Of course, we have our queer discourse, but that is not one that is particularly accessible to dominant culture. So what do we do to deal with this sticky situation in which we find ourselves? Use copious amounts of snarkasm, of course.
Take, for example, the political discussion around so-called “gay marriage.” The mere fact that this is a serious issue for consideration within the queer community says to me that we find ourselves trapped within a heteronormative discourse. The language of it says to dominant culture says that queer folks want nothing more than to assimilate to the arguably outdated model of the heteronormative nuclear family unit, with two parent partners, two kids, a dog, and all the saccharine happiness of the so-called “American dream.” This issue is often front-and-center in Queerville, and yet it is steeped in heteronormative discourse.
However, I see signs that the queer community is frustrated with circumnavigating the debate with “the opposition.” And our response to this frustration is employing the coping mechanism of snarkasm. For instance, all the talk around Kim Kardashian’s recent marriage-divorce combo pack, arguing that if she’s allowed to get married, so should queer folks. Or another case: the various images which have been popular online, reading: “The Gay Agenda: …put out trash…be treated equally…buy milk” or some variant thereof. Both of these are, I believe, snarkastic ways of saying, “We’re not a threat. Please give us the same rights as you [and give them to us in a way that linguistically and socially assimilates us to heteronormativity].”
While I don’t personally agree that we should necessarily allow our talk around the rights of long-term queer partnerships to be steeped in heteronormative discourse, I do see these as exemplary of the employment of snarkasm by the queer community as a coping mechanism for our frustration with such debates.
My second theory about the use of snarkasm within Queerville is that it acts as a response and a resistance to heteronormative discourse. Several months ago, I wrote a final paper based on Donna Goldstein’s book, Laughter out of Place: Race, Class, Violence, and Sexuality in a Rio Shantytown, about the ways that the women of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas use black humor to respond to the discursive closure of their identity construction. The way that the humor serves this purpose is that it acts from within the discourse as a way of speaking to the injustice of the conditions to which these women were bound by the discursive construction of their identities.
This is an imperfect parallel because I believe that the women in Rio’s favelas were discursively and materially bound enough to the point that they had to respond from within the discourse in order to resist it. On the other hand, I believe the queer community has proven itself capable of poking holes in heteronormative discourse in the past. It is critical to continue this work of subverting heteronormative discourse rather than legitimizing it, which I believe is more helpful to our communal purpose of ending heterosexism.
Drag performance is a great example of the ways that the queer community uses snarkasm to make a spectacle of heteronormativity and poke holes in the discourse thereof. Drag, both in theory and generally in practice, augments to the level of spectacle those traits that stereotypically fall into the heteronormative categories. In so doing, it acts as a subversive force against heteronormative discourse, metaphorically knocking its pedestal out from under it. It problematizes the simplicity and absoluteness of heteronormative discourse, which, in my opinion, proves more useful for the overarching goals and ideals of the queer community.
I think we can use our snarkasm as a positive force to challenge and subvert heteronormative discourse. While the examples of snarkasm in the case of the marriage debate make progress in the right direction, they don’t quite go far enough. Both are responses to heteronormative discourse from within that discourse; they speak to the inequalities that the queer community faces, but they still employ and thereby legitimize heteronormative discourse. So all they ultimately serve as is criticism, demonstrating the ways in which the heteronormative discourse and its effects are harmful to queer folks.
But there is another potential way that we can use our snarkasm, a way that is more subversive; Queerville employs this method sometimes, but it should really be at the forefront of our snarkasm. We need to continue building a subversive snarkasm, which pokes holes in heteronormative discourse and does not allow it to continue framing our reaction to it. I know we’re capable of finding other ways to poke holes in heteronormativity through snarkasm, so let’s search for them instead of falling back into the same patterns that legitimize it.
Kara Johansen Crawford is a graduate of DePaul University, with a BA in International Studies and Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies. Kara has been actively involved in activism and community service for much of her life and is particularly passionate about labor justice, LGBTQ issues and engaging faith communities on social issues. Kara is currently serving as a Mission Intern with the United Methodist Church at the Centro Popular para América Latina de Comunicación, based in Bogotá, Colombia. Follow Kara on Twitter @revolUMCionaria and on her blog.