By Tavia Nyong’o
Ironically, the very reasons I gave Berlin Pride a pass this year — rampant commercialism, body fascism, and apolitical torpor — are the reasons I wish I had now been there to see Judith Butler turn down the organizer’s Prize for Civil Courage. Delivered in German to a surprised but delighted crowd, Butler’s scathingly political remarks rained on the parade of complacency with her pointed barbs against anti-immigrant and anti-muslim racism.
While the press focused on her critique of commercialism (which, truth be told, can hardly hold a candle to the corporate crassness of your average Pride event in the US nowadays), they had a much harder time bringing into focus her critique of homonationalism, which she also delivered in a longer talk at the Volksbuhne on Friday evening. They also neglected to mention the organizations she cited as deserving the recognition she declined (Gays and Lesbians from Turkey, lesbische Migrantinnen und Schwarze Lesben, Reach Out and SUSPECT) in what might be the new definition of a politically efficacious speech-act from an intellectual: ceding the platform granted you by the celebrity system and professorial authority in an act of humility and solidarity with those whose work is ignored and scapegoated rather than rewarded and encouraged. In a sense, declining an award for civil courage was the only way of possibly displaying such courage under these circumstances.
The drone of vuvulezas and eery recrudescence of German flag-waving occasioned by the World Cup may quickly drown out this strategic strike against Pride-as-usual. But, due to the exigencies of Pride’s coincidence with that other spectacle of homoerotic nationalism (watch men watching the games and you will see what I mean), there is an opportunity to build momentum through the breach Butler opened has up.
Mainstream Pride was moved a week earlier because of the all-powerful World Cup schedule, but the alternative Transgeniale march — anti-commercial, filled with trans- and feminist politics and at least aspirationally anti-racist and inclusive of queers of color — stayed on the traditional “last weekend in June.” Next weekend also sees a big conference on queer studies and anti-capitalism at the ICI, a sort of anti-Ladies Auxiliary to the Big Boys doing Real Theory at the Volksbuhne the same weekend.
So it seems like the spirit of queer discontent is not going down without a fight. Pride avoiders of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your rainbow chains!