Queer (-/and) Feminist DIY Practices in Punk and the “Sexual Turn” in Human Rights

Lene Annette Karpp, Freie Universität Berlin:

This article addresses queer (-/and) feminist – i.e. queer, feminist and queer-feminist – Do-It-Yourself (DIY) practices as performed in punk since the 1970s, arguing that these practices helped to stimulate a “sexual turn” in human rights activism and discourse in the United States over the course of the subsequent decades. Punk opened up a new space for self-empowerment and self-expression in the 1970s when the sexual liberation movement of the previous decade started to lose its ground and, consequently, went partially back “underground.” It is argued here that punk – through its cultural DIY production and aesthetics as performed in music, performances, style and ‘zines – created a counterpublic sphere allowing for an ongoing struggle for sexual rights led by (cis-)women and people with trans- and gender non-conforming identities. This took place in the context of the rise of neoconservative U.S. politics of the 1980s, which sought to repress those allegedly “amoral” rights claims. Influenced by both feminist and gay and lesbian movements, individuals expressed a plurality of complementary, overlapping and conflicting visions of sexuality and related rights. Against this backdrop, this article studies two “movements” in punk that were particularly interested in negotiating sexuality and gender identities: first, the queer- or homocore movement that began in the mid-1980s, and second, the feminist riot grrrl movement that emerged in the early 1990s. Even though punk was by no means the only space where these struggles took place, it delivers an interesting case study of changing social and sexual mores in the United States in the late twentieth century. Punk’s anti-assimilationist and anti-authoritarian tendencies, DIY practices, its unceasing attractiveness to youth (and older) generations, as well as the growing interplay with academic discourses, contributed to changes in the perception of sexuality and related rights claims not only in the U.S., but also on a transnational level.

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