Embodied resistance: a historiographic intervention into the performance of queer violence

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2007

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Dorsey, Zachary Adrian

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This dissertation compares select moments of violence in queer history to their theatrical counterparts to investigate how perceptions and representations of violence shape queer lives. Though many scholars have already written about the queer dramatic canon, few have focused on the ways that violence functions within these plays structurally, thematically, or as integral part of the theatre-going experience. In addition to considering how past productions have configured these acts, my project describes how violence can be staged in resistant, critical ways that can both contribute to historiography and affect society at large. These enactments of history have the potential to exceed and overturn stereotypes of mere victimhood, and instead illustrate how queer subjects can and do assert their claim on America’s past and present. In my first chapter, I examine As Time Goes By (1977), Street Theater (1982), Stonewall: Night Variations: (1994), and Harvey Milk (1995), all works that invoke the 1969 Stonewall riots, an incident that has become synonymous with the rise of the gay and lesbian movement in America. My second chapter explores gay martyrdom as a representational trope in Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi (1998), as well as in diverse works about Harvey Milk (The Harvey Milk Show [1991] and Harvey Milk [1995]) and Matthew Shepard (The Laramie Project [2000], Anatomy of a Hate Crime [2001], and The Matthew Shepard Story [2002]), men whose tragic deaths rendered them complex symbols for queer communities. In my third chapter, I detail the labor of queer street patrols and the Pink Pistols, real-life activist groups that have mobilized the threat of queer violence to combat anti-gay violence. I contrast their dynamic strategies to those imagined theatrically in The West Street Gang (1977) and Lesbians Who Kill (1992). Throughout this dissertation, I develop and offer a theory for staging these complicated moments of pain, protest, rage, and resistance, with the belief that (re)staging history is pivotal to the understanding and ongoing negotiation of these events and identities.

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