“Why Be Something That You’re Not?” Punk Performance and the Epistemology of Queer Minstrelsy

This essay examines the phenomenon of “queer minstrelsy”—roughly, straight performers pretending onstage and in their lyrics to be gay, here exemplified by the Meatmen, the Frogs, and Zeigenbock Kopf—as a means for thinking about performance as both a catalyst for, and a solvent of, queer identity. Queer minstrels are compellingly slippery subjects because they both ruin and rely upon the criteria of the “fake” and the “real,” and in the process their performances reveal malingering ontological and epistemological commitments from queer counterpublics, drive wedges between and within punk, hardcore, and indie music audiences, and make a productive mess of identity and community in the process. At a time when there is a widespread shift within queer theory away from epistemological concerns and vocabularies—exemplified in a founding text such as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet—toward the consideration of affective and sociological registers as replacements or correctives, the practice of queer minstrelsy presses us to reconsider the utility of epistemological orientations anew.

Drew Daniel