Fillip 16 — Spring 2012

The Masculine Mystique
Jon Davies

The bourgeoisie invented the notion of homosexuality and made it into a ghetto. We must not forget this. There are two sexes on earth, but this is only to hide the fact that there are three, four, ten, thousands, once you throw that old hag of the idea of nature overboard.
 —Guy Hocquenghem1

The 2011 book Queer Spirits documents a performance project in which Canadian artists AA Bronson and Peter Hobbs conducted a series of invitation-only seances under the banner Invocation of the Queer Spirits. “Documents” does not, however, accurately reflect the actual proceedings of the five seances, which remain a secret kept by the two to seven male participants involved. Taking place at night, the seances sought to reach out to the “queer spirits”—marginalized individuals with effaced histories to communicate—haunting the various sites Bronson and Hobbs selected to inhabit. With no division between “performer” and “audience,” the men present during these events related experiencing altered states of consciousness and a warped sense of time as they opened themselves up to visitation from the queer spirits. The publication’s omission of visual representation of the rituals and the spirits invoked offers a fertile gap between the men’s firsthand experiences, knowledge, and emotions and we outsiders curious about those mysterious sessions. Driven by this curiosity, we have to use our imaginations to reassemble what took place those magical evenings by following the book’s “trail of proverbial breadcrumbs.”2 However, the dominant elision evident throughout Queer Spirits is the real and potential presence and value of women within the conceptualization of “queer” that the project puts forward, which compels critical questions such as what are the different meanings of “queer” in our current historical moment, and is there anything the term can’t include under its umbrella? If the central tenet of “queer” is the malleability of all identity and desire, can it accurately—and ethically—describe a project that adheres to gender essentialism? I intend here to poke, prod, and trouble what appears to be an anachronistic and limiting male exclusivity operating within the Queer Spirits project, which ultimately channels spirits originating more in a pre-“queer” era of gendered boundaries and homosocial segregation than from the radical destabilizing of gender and sexuality identity that “queer” represented in the context of the 1980s and early 1990s, as well as during the AIDS crisis.

The Queer Spirits publication is a handsome one: printed on an assortment of stocks and beautifully designed, the entire book is an unquestionably gorgeous record and extension of the project and the ideas behind it. It brings together a preface and an “About This Book” by Bronson with dossiers on the different Queer Spirits manifestations in Banff, Alberta; New Orleans, Louisiana; Winnipeg, Manitoba; and Governors Island and Fire Island, New York. Each dossier lists the participants, the invocations and vows made, and includes supplementary material.3 Each dossier compiles photos of the participants and the sites taken before and after the invocations, as well as charming pencil crayon drawings by Governors Island participant Elijah Burgher that, coyly, may or may not be evidence of what took place during that seance. There are also show-and-tell-style spreads identifying various key readings, props, talismans, and research into the sites visited. The book’s primary piece of writing unfolds in an episodic, anecdotal manifesto by Hobbs entitled “The Art of Drifting: 43 Lessons from a Naked Cocktail Party,” which charts the theory and practice of the invocations while referencing sexual, ecological, financial, colonial, and other contexts for the rituals. Lessons 9 through 37 link back to particular seances, framing the Queer Spirits book as a pedagogical project, in which Hobbs reflects on what the participants had been through before offering the public his findings and attendant insights. The book also includes two photographic folios that act in an invocatory fashion like visitations from past historical moments or from sites that carry a certain historical gravitas. The first consists of spiritualist photography by Dr. T. G. Hamilton, a president of the Manitoba Medical Association who began investigating psychic and paranormal phenomena in 1918.4 The second set of plates reproduces Bronson’s photos of the Magic Forest, the legendary wooded area on Fire Island (where Bronson has a home) that acts as a well-travelled gay cruising “meat market” linking the communities of Cherry Grove and the Pines. (The authors note that a group of volunteer “survivors from the ’80s and ’90s” lovingly tend the forest, pruning its trees and distributing condoms.)5 Hobbs claims that the Queer Spirits book is not meant as an explanation of what took place in the invocations; instead, “the inspiration was to make art for ghosts.”6 The book invokes the past seances and key referents and phenomena in order to learn from them and to ultimately advocate for the value of spiritualist and magic practices to queer people in the present and future.

The Queer Spirits project came about in 2008 in a cabin in the woods near the Banff Centre, where Bronson and Hobbs sought refuge together as gay men from an unsatisfying artist residency.7 The invocations called out: To all the dispossessed and abandoned, to all those who have died but cannot leave this place, we invite each of you to join us in this queer community of the quick and the dead.8 The events involved a promiscuous bricolage of a wide range of rituals, including group therapy, ceremonial magic, sweat lodges, witches’ covens, heart circles, quilting bees, circle jerks, and nineteenth-century spiritualist seances.9 The artists forbade live documentation “out of respect for the dead, and to maintain a sense of mystery, which is all-important to works of magic and art.”10 Only the Governors Island seance had an explicitly public exhibition component, where visitors could peer through peepholes—evoking glory holes—that looked into the room of the historic officer’s house where the invocation had taken place earlier.11 (Of course, one could argue that visitors to the sites were and will be affected in myriad ways by the rituals that took place there.) It is worth highlighting that the secrecy around these seances produces a sense of mystique and glamour to those not involved in them: a lesson learned from the artistic strategies of General Idea.12 However, one could argue that the events’ clandestine quality also shields them from retrospective critical scrutiny, including by the “atheists” that Hobbs warns not to trust in Lesson 41.13

The rituals began with an invocation summoning the presence of the site’s queer dead. The artists extensively researched each site in order to be as specific to the location’s indigenous and settler spiritual practices as possible. For example, in New Orleans they reached out to “the French explorers, trappers, traders, pirates, and other adventurers of an all-male life,” as well as artists, gamblers, spiritualists, activists, Indians, “galley-slaves and prostitutes,” and “the thirty-two men and women killed in the 1972 fire at a gay nightclub in the French Quarter called the Upstairs Lounge.”14 The participants read queer history into the site by casting it as thoroughly marked and shaped by the queer people and spaces typically excluded from heterocentric narratives of place. Sharing similarities to Bronson’s other recent projects, the seances were highly intimate, open-ended, performative, and exclusive to a select group of people who ostensibly trust one another and are privy to a shared experience.15 Participants gathered naked in a protective circle, and as Hobbs describes it in Lesson 2, the seances were akin to “naked cocktail parties in which groups of gay men lounged on pillows, each with a butt plug in his bum, taking swigs from a bottle of whiskey that was passed around the circle. Eventually we would hit a groove—a queer spirit—and find ourselves engaged in deep gossip, chatting about death, community, ghost, history, and boyfriends.”16

Queer Spirits offers new insights related to recent theoretical considerations of queer time and temporality. For instance, queer theorist Elizabeth Freeman notes how queers are often constructed as without past or future: on the one hand, “no childhood, no origin or precedent in nature, no family traditions or legends, and, crucially, no history as a distinct people.”17 On the other, “no children, no succeeding generations, no meaningful way to contribute to society, no hope, no plans, and nothing to offer most political tomorrows.”18 Bronson and Hobbs’s efforts to expand queer community and kinship to include the dead are admirable and force a shift in thinking about generational legacies and cultural transmission that are specific to the queer community. The queer spirit is a potent metaphor for the way that queer artists from the past continue to have a presence in the here and now, in some cases haunting us with reminders of more radical and liberatory paths not taken for the queer movement, which has arguably descended into a hollow, consumer-capitalist shell of its former self.19 The figure of the spirit refuses to completely dematerialize after biological life has expired: neither quite dead nor fully alive, the figure shows evidence of open wounds, unfinished business, moving freely between the past and the present, confronting the living against our will. With the spectral past “placing a demand on the present in the form of an ethical imperative,”20 as queer theorist Carla Freccero puts it, the spirit or ghost has become a central figure in queer culture. In an audio discussion with Creative Time, Hobbs refers to this practice as a queer “lingering on death...lingering on the past...lingering on an identity that’s been stifled or lost, erased...that’s the psychic energy,” while Bronson proposes that “the dead have to be included in a queer community for the community to exist.”21 Bronson’s assertion is potent considering that AIDS in particular has eroded the boundaries between the living and the dead in the queer community, demanding that we make room for the spirits of figures like his partners in General Idea, Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal, whose deaths from AIDS in 1994 had an enormous impact on Bronson’s life and work.

In wiping out a generation of gay men in the 1980s and 1990s (and, of course, beyond), AIDS disrupted the pedagogical impulse so important to fostering a sense of identity and history among queer people; thirtysomethings like myself stood like wide-eyed and helpless children as our “parents” were buried by their friends and lovers. However, the queer pedagogical impulse flourishes on the streets, in the sheets, and in all facets of online life. As opposed to the heterosexual reproductive model, participating in queer genealogies is consensual and self-directed—in other words, we can pick and choose our queer ancestors and families according to our desires rather than a procreative obligation—making queers potentially less beholden to the imperative that theorist Lee Edelman has called “reproductive futurism.”22 Today, queer cultural transmission tends to happen primarily virtually, but Bronson and Hobbs’s practice is almost archaically about the experience of “being there.” As they state in their vow, “we resolve to be present in our bodies, present to ourselves, present to each other, and present to queer spirit. We resolve to claim our voices and our collective history as queers.”23 A key aspect of this need for bodily presence is arguably invoked in reaction to the dematerialization and the “being not there” of the Internet (and the transformation of gay male social and sexual kinship that it has engendered). Bodily presence easily slips into a retrenchment of the integrity of biology as an inescapable fact, exemplified by the exclusion of women’s bodies and identities. That this exclusion takes place under the auspices of an intergenerational queer communion that promises a kind of transcendence and healing is decidedly ungenerous. In short, why must a reductive view of the gendered body be so central to Bronson and Hobbs’s spiritual work in this project?

While the Queer Spirits project has a shared intergenerational authorship with Bronson having been born in 1946 and Hobbs in 1963 (and participants in the rituals varying widely in age), I am interested in contextualizing it here within the senior artist’s forty-year artistic, pedagogical, and spiritual practices.24 For instance, in Bronson’s post-1994 solo projects the artist has variously cast himself in the roles of “healer,” “guru,” and “shaman,” while simultaneously taking on the elder statesman position and role model for a younger generation of, specifically, gay men. Bronson has developed an extensive, self-conscious cosmology around himself and his work. Reading his extensive body of writing from this period, which consistently takes on a diaristic form, one feels great empathy for the trauma of the AIDS crisis that he suffered through and the transformation of mind, body, and spirit that it engendered. He writes extremely personally, vulnerably, and eloquently about his state of mind and his experiences. Bronson has made spiritualism and occult practices part of his life and work since his childhood, reading books on such topics as astrology and shamanism in his bedroom, which culminated in an ecstatic spiritual experience as a teenager. In the late 1960s, Bronson was a hippie; interested in radical education, he formed a commune, underground newspaper, and free school, and experimented with alternative therapies. He even met the Dalai Lama and practiced transcendental meditation. If General Idea was a master of irony, Bronson, Partz, and Zontal were also products of their time, the tumult of countercultural experimentation that surrounded their formation in 1969.

Emerging from the devastation of the AIDS crisis that stole his two lifelong collaborators, Bronson had to figure out how to live and work as a singular entity rather than one body among three. Reflecting a few years later on Felix, June 5, 1994 (1994/99), his shattering photographic portrait of Partz taken moments after his death, Bronson wrote: Felix and Jorge and I lived and worked together for 27 years: during that time we became one organism, one group mind, one nervous system; one set of habits, mannerisms and preferences. We presented ourselves as a “group” called General Idea and we pictured ourselves in doctored photographs as the ultimate artwork of our own design: we transformed our borrowed bodies into props, significations manipulated to create an image, a reality. We chose to inhabit the world of mass media and advertising. We made of ourselves the artists we wanted to be.

Since Jorge and Felix died I have been struggling to find the limits of my own body as an independent organism, as a being outside of General Idea. Over the last five years I have found myself, much like a stroke victim, learning again the limits of my nervous system, how to function without my extended body (no longer three heads, twelve limbs), how to create possibilities from my reduced physicality.

I have had to place Jorge and Felix and General Idea at a distance. This has been difficult, like escaping from my own skin.

Dear Felix, by the act of exhibiting this image I declare that we are no longer of one mind, one body. I return you to General Idea’s world of mass media, there to function without me.

We need to remember that the diseased, the disabled and, yes, even the dead walk among us. They are part of our community, our history, our continuity. They are our co-inhabitants in this dream city.25

It is worth recalling that daily life for those immersed in the AIDS crisis then and now consists of, among other things, visiting friends and lovers in the hospital, tending to failing bodies, living in fear of seroconverting and getting sick, being present when friends and lovers die, going to memorial services, and helping loved ones end their own lives.26 The psychic impact of such a routine is difficult to fully convey. Tracing Bronson’s writings over the past fifteen years or so, one notes a transformation from his preoccupation with death and shutting himself down to a resurgence of energy and engagement, seemingly timed with his burgeoning collaborations with younger artists and with the panoply of spiritual and healing practices he undertook.

In recent years, Bronson has completed extensive training in bodywork, including Body Electric’s “Sacred Intimate” workshops in California, which he described as “radical gay neo-tantric pseudo-psychological sex-positive retreats that were to spawn an international community of men seeking to be healers to their people, and seeking to be healed.”27 These wildly intense sessions would find primarily gay men emotionally testifying to past traumas and seeking transformation by healing themselves through ritual and sharing in a singular vision. Bronson explains: We had among us the talents of a thousand lifetimes. We had come to [the workshops to] learn and we had come to teach. We were hermits and healers, monks and wise men, psychics and mediums, priests and ecstatics, prostitutes and shamans, empaths and oracles. Sex was in the air. Death was in the air. Our ancestors were among us. And the great secret of America, the abused sons of abused fathers, the multitudinous dead of Russian River, fallen collectively to AIDS, who had gathered here in this transcendental gay resort, and gathered here to die, they were among us.28

From 2002 to 2005, in the persona of AA Bronson*Healer, Bronson offered one-on-one healing sessions to men only that included full-body, tantric, or butt massages. The butt massages became a bit of a phenomenon, with the New York gallery John Connelly Presents advertising them as “infamous” and organizing an event during Bronson’s exhibition there where “a select group of curators, collectors, artists and writers will witness a demonstration of the AA BRONSON*BUTT MASSAGE, featuring a live model. Canapés and cocktails will be served, including the AA BRONSON*ROSEBUD ELIXIR.”29 Attuned to advertising’s powers of persuasion, AA Bronson*Healer self-consciously played with the marketing-speak of the New Age industry: Bronson is fully aware that those who purport to heal, cure, or save are often hustlers and con men, but somehow to claim oneself as a “healer” invokes that potential ameliorative power into being.

Bronson is a magnet for young gay male artists who come across his work predominantly online. He devotes considerable time to fostering these mentoring relationships, which sometimes lead to collaborations. Bronson views this as a kind of extension of his healing work, with these intergenerational collaborations “conflating the role of the spectator with those of the participant and the collaborator,”30 as writer Steve Lafreniere put it in an interview with Bronson. It is telling that Bronson conceptualizes his extensive work with younger gay artists through the symbol of the mirror, particularly as he has produced self-portraits using mirrors for decades. As he describes it in an interview with Bill Arning: In each case, I find myself looking over their shoulders, as it were, and proposing ideas that utilize their methods of working, their “styles,” and their identities. The works are double self-portraits; a look, then, at the younger with the older. In each case there is a mirroring effect; we find the similarities and the differences in each other. We are not so unique, after all; we are each looking into the looking glass and finding each other....I am an empath, and my powers as an empath come into play in these pieces. I reflect, and thus acknowledge, the other’s presence, his identity as an artist, his way of being in this world. My idea is to reflect and amplify that which the other is. In this sense, yes, I am a shaman, or I occupy that role for these younger men (they might not agree, but I do think it is true).31

Similarly, in 2002, Bronson described his mentoring work in a letter to collaborator Nayland Blake: I came to this collaboration as I feel an older gay man must in coming to a younger, as a willing mirror and as an acknowledgement of the other man’s essential being. As gay men, we have too little acknowledgement in this world. We must bear witness for each other, and we do.32 The mirror reflects back at oneself, fostering an imaginative space for experiments in self-performance and self-actualization. But while the mirror can distort and refract, it ultimately produces self-sameness: looking into the mirror is not where one finds a difference that might challenge the self. Bronson’s collaborative spirit in art and in healing largely extends exclusively to men, premised inevitably on an erotic dimension.33 Fascinated by homosociality, Bronson has made many of his projects men-only, from Queer Spirits, to his butt massages, to his aborted School of Young Shamans residency at Banff, to curatorial efforts such as his “Queer Cinema from the Collection” series at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in March 2011. This androcentric orientation raises the question of what past is being “lingered on” and invoked in the seances. It is perhaps a nostalgia for a kind of “pure” gay male homosociality unbesieged by queer forces bent on collapsing the gender and sexual identity binaries that all-male formations rely on for their self-understanding and legibility.

Bronson and Hobbs are drawn to spaces where women are verboten. Whether wilderness or city, the sites of all the Queer Spirits seances “have histories of all-male communities in various forms: sweat and hunting lodges, fishing camps, trading post, frontier towns, pirate colonies, military bases, major sea ports, railroad hubs, stockyards, mining and logging camps, major public work projects, and prison camps.”34 While clearly generating and fostering homosexual relationships, such homosocial male enclaves have historically been hostile to overt expressions of homosexual love or lust and to gender-role transgressions like male effeminacy. For Bronson and Hobbs, men-only spaces, particularly sexualized ones like bathhouses and the Queer Spirits seances, are magical. On walking into a bathhouse for the first time, Hobbs claims, “That night I openly declared my desire for other men and found the same desires and fears reflected back in the faces of strangers. In this declaration, I joined the brotherhood of the anus and found some peace.”35 He goes on to compare this experience to the feeling he received from the brotherhood of the queer seances. Sex creates community, but can one associate only with the objects of one’s desire and still claim to be engaged in a queer practice, let alone be attuned to a world where gender, sexuality, desire, and power are increasingly more complex? The pull of solidarity to one’s own gender is strong, but is ultimately limiting: excluding “women” fixes both “men” and “women” into essential categories that refuse individuals the opportunity to manifest the myriad and complex gender identities that we are all capable of imagining, of being. It is also limiting for those who are doing the excluding in that they shut themselves off from a particular difference, and the knowledge and emotions that come with it. It is unclear what role, if any, women might play in the masculinist societies the artists seek not only to reference and honour, but to emulate and manifest in the here and now through the seances.

In a transcribed interview with Anne Pasternak of Creative Time, Bronson and Hobbs articulate their interpretation of “queer” as such: The concept of gayness is of course a modernist invention, and the word “queer” is an attempt to escape the limitations of that word. In the history of the world, magicians, shamans, mediums, priests, adventurers, and healers have always been more sexually ambiguous. We are particularly interested in the presence of all-male societies, like pirates, explorers, traders and trappers, and the military....In the end, we have used the word queer to include all kinds of marginal and disenfranchised communities.36

Bronson and Hobbs’s definition displays a lacklustre understanding of the potential threat “queer” poses to traditional identity categories like “man” and “woman,” “straight” and “gay,” and of its value as a worldview that embraces process, fluidity, and indeterminacy rather than the supposedly self-evident “facts” of bodies, identities, and desires poised in a fixed constellation. Beyond stating their yen for all-male societies, Bronson and Hobbs evasively try not to draw too much attention to the gendered exclusivity of their project. While occasional references to women are included in the invocations, it is, frankly, stingy that the artists did not invite any women to invoke the Queer Spirits themselves. In Hobbs’s text, a manifesto of sorts, he proclaims, “The brotherhood of the anus is open to anyone with a lubed bum,”37 clearly unaware of the irony that a “brotherhood” cannot possibly be open to “anyone,” bum lubed or not. They proclaim to invoke a queer ancestry that transcends the limitations of time and space, history and geography. In this way, we practice what in postcolonial theory is referred to as strategic essentialism. For the participants of the Invocation, this involves adopting a group identity that supersedes the differences informing our individual lives. In other words, by invoking a queer ancestry we encourage participants to embrace the fiction of a queer family: one big, happy organism that transcends the equally fictive markers of life, such as race, class, age, nationality, ethnicity, species, and death.38

Bronson and Hobbs cannot declare gender to be as fictive a marker of life as the others in their list because if it were, then their queer ancestry and family would have to broaden to include a panoply of genders real and imagined outside their own. Instead the artists maintain gender as some sort of “truth.” Elsewhere, Bronson and Hobbs’s queerness purports to transcend gender, as if acknowledging that the feminine is still vital to include, but as an adornment to the male body: With my cap, sweetgrass, and rooster feathers, I am a hybrid of shaman, leather daddy, and Voodoo priestess. Gender has vanished. I am AA Bronson, gay priestess of Winnipeg, shaman daddy, trans medicine woman, man on the street.39

One of the most valuable legacies from the first decade of the AIDS crisis—one that, crucially, Bronson and Hobbs seem to be neglecting—was the radical cross-gender cooperation and solidarity that saw gay men and lesbians socializing and working together in groups like ACT UP, becoming friends and political allies through care work and direct action activism. This cooperation came after many decades of rebelling and revelling apart in the gay liberation and women’s movements. As Deborah Gould states in her Moving Politics: Emotion and ACT UP’s Fight Against AIDS, “ACT UP...unleashed a queer coming together of lesbians and gay men, dykes and fags, and that made the movement enormously compelling.”40 Even if they were being infected and were dying in fewer numbers than gay men, lesbians saw AIDS as their issue for a number of reasons. In particular, the AIDS epidemic brought with it a tide of governmental, media, and social homophobia that impacted all queer people, and that discrimination became officially sanctioned when the highest court in the land upheld the notorious 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick ruling, enshrining states’ rights to enforce sodomy laws. Gould summarizes: ACT UP queers opened up ways of being gay and of being political that had been foreclosed by the more mainstream-oriented lesbian and gay establishment, paving the way for new identity and political formations among sexual and gender outlaws of all ages.41

“Queer” developed its own body of theory roughly in parallel to the first decade of the AIDS crisis. Here “queer” represented a constant questioning and unsettling of gender and sexual identity categories (whether homosexual, heterosexual, or otherwise), a rhetoric of difference and opposition to the prevailing order, and an embrace of indeterminacy over fixity and performativity over essentialism. Queer theory originated in the crossroads of theoretical and political streams including gay liberation, lesbian-feminism, and postcolonial, poststructuralist, and feminist thought, and was forged in the trauma of the AIDS crisis. The feminist thought that was so foundational to queer theory has ended up marginalized from the definition of queer, and the word queer now connotes a vague, “alternative” manifestation of gay or lesbian identity and community. The boom in post-political, style-conscious gay men’s zines that emerged in the 2000s with BUTT magazine and its dozens of similar-looking spawn—and now the multitudes of gay men’s Tumblrs—is paradigmatic of how, in many ways, “queer” has come to mean “gay” again, marking off and celebrating a gender-segregated space for men who desire men.42 One could argue that Bronson is lionized in this gay male subculture by virtue of his offering a kind of permission to surround oneself with men, a longstanding legacy of homosocial bonding that excludes the involvement and contributions of women. However, I would suggest a male-only enterprise that is not constantly troubling what being a “man” actually is, cannot in good faith take on the queer moniker.

It is easier to glean in retrospect examples of the breaking down of gender binaries that were so radically visible in the middle of the AIDS crisis and in its intellectual and cultural impact, and no one should be scolded for not learning a lesson in the middle of a pandemic. I could not possibly overstate the scale of the grief and trauma generated by the AIDS crisis, and the men like Bronson who buried their dead and survived do not owe us anything, least of all political correctness. Desire respects no politics. Art, however, offers us a vision of what the world could be, and in leaving out more than half the story, the Queer Spirits project invokes a poorer world into being than what we should be capable of imagining.

  1. Guy Hocquenghem, The Screwball Asses, trans. Noura Wedell (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2010), 69.
  2. AA Bronson, preface to Queer Spirits, ed. AA Bronson and Peter Hobbs (New York: Creative Time; Winnipeg: Plug In Editions, 2011), 4.
  3. However, the authors do not note the dates that the seances took place.
  4. In Queer Spirits, the authors have playfully treated the ectoplasm pictured in Hamilton’s photographs—the gauzy substance that enfolds spirits when channeled by a medium—with a glow-in-the-dark substance.
  5. Bronson and Hobbs, Queer Spirits, 113.
  6. Peter Hobbs quoted in Michael Slenske, “AA Bronson and Peter Hobbs, On Butt Plugs, Magic,” Art in America, March 23, 2011,
  7. Bronson, preface to Queer Spirits, 4. Only the opening seance in Banff and the concluding one on Fire Island were attended exclusively by Bronson and Hobbs.
  8. Bronson and Hobbs, Queer Spirits, 26.
  9. “AA Bronson: We Are the Revolution,” Plug In ICA, accessed October 23, 2011,
  10. Peter Hobbs, “The Art of Drifting: 43 Lessons from a Naked Cocktail Party,” in Queer Spirits, 132.
  11. I found no evidence in the book or in my other research of other public exhibition components to the project beyond the aftermath of the invocation on Governors Island.
  12. General Idea is the pioneering conceptual artists’ group that Bronson formed with Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal in 1969.
  13. Hobbs, “The Art of Drifting,” 171.
  14. Bronson and Hobbs, Queer Spirits, 26.
  15. Examples include his work as a healer and the School for Young Shamans project.
  16. Hobbs, “The Art of Drifting,” 132.
  17. Elizabeth Freeman, introduction to “Queer Temporalities,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 13, nos. 2–3 (2007), 165.
  18. Ibid.
  19. A fate by no means exclusive to the queer movement.
  20. Carla Freccero et al., “Theorizing Queer Temporalities: A Roundtable Discussion,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 13, nos. 2–3 (2007), 184.
  21. “AA Bronson and Peter Hobbs talk about Invocation of the Queer Spirits,” audio recording of a conversation with Anne Pasternak, Invocation of the Queer Spirits, Creative Time, 2008, Both Creative Time, New York, and Plug In ICA, Winnipeg, supported the Invocation of the Queer Spirits project and co-published the book.
  22. Lee Edelman, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004). In a (very crude) nutshell, “reproductive futurism” refers to Edelman’s influential theory that every politic is ultimately about enshrining a future Child (and therefore the ongoing reproduction of the species), and that non-procreative queerness is the site of a “death drive” that places us in a position to resist this ultimate heteronormativity: [The] Child remains the perpetual horizon of every acknowledged politics, the fantasmatic beneficiary of every political intervention….Queerness names the side of those not “fighting for the children,” the side outside the consensus by which all politics confirms the absolute value of reproductive futurism (3).
  23. Bronson and Hobbs, Queer 
Spirits, 26.
  24. I am interested in this in part because Bronson meticulously documents his work, which is the object of decades of critical discourse on which I can draw.
  25. AA Bronson, “Felix, June 5, 1994,” Looking Glass, Vienna Secession, 2000,
  26. Deborah Gould, Moving Politics: Emotion and ACT UP’s Fight Against AIDS (University of Chicago Press, 2009), 421–22.
  27. AA Bronson, “Part 2: HIV-Negative,” Negative Thoughts, MCA Chicago, 2001,
  28. Ibid.
  29. “Introducing Butt Massage at John Connelly Presents,” John Connelly Presents, March 31, 2004,
  30. Steve Lafreniere, “AA Bronson: Shaman,” Things That Fall, accessed October 23, 2011,
  31. “On Looking in the Mirror and Finding AA Looking Back: Bill Arning Interviews AA Bronson,” AA Bronson: The Quick and the Dead (Toronto: Power Plant; Vancouver: Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, 2003), 22.
  32. AA Bronson, “Nayland and AA,” MIRROR MIRROR, MIT List Visual Arts Center, 2002,
  33. Bronson has collaborated with women in his projects, especially more recently; for example, he co-founded the Institute for Art, Religion, and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary in New York with Kathryn Reklis, and the Institute’s first exhibition, Compassion (2009–10), curated by Bronson, included several women artists. Bronson was also a juror and visiting artist in 2011 for the inaugural Fire Island Artist Residency, which is open to applications from any GLBTQ artist, and to any artist working on queer themes.
  34. AA Bronson, “About This Book,” in Queer Spirits, 6.
  35. Hobbs, “The Art of Drifting,” 134.
  36. “Interview with Anne Pasternak and AA Bronson,” Invocation of the Queer Spirits, Creative Time, 2008,
  37. Hobbs, “The Art of Drifting,” 133.
  38. Ibid., 162.
  39. Bronson and Hobbs, Queer Spirits, 47.
  40. Deborah Gould, Moving Politics: Emotion and ACT UP’s Fight Against AIDS (Chicago:University of Chicago Press, 2009), 258.
  41. Ibid., 5.
  42. Bronson also literally wrote the book on queer zines: Phillip Aarons and AA Bronson, eds., Queer Zines (New York: Printed Matter, 2008). The publication traces a distinctly multi-gender queer zine history—acknowledging the impact of feminism in the process—as compared to the recent, more fashion- and design-oriented, men’s-interest wave I refer to here.
About the Author

Jon Davies is a Toronto-based writer and Assistant Curator at the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, where he has organized the exhibitions Ryan Trecartin: Any Ever (with Helena Reckitt, 2010), To What Earth Does This Sweet Cold Belong? (2011), and Coming After (2011–12). In addition to numerous magazine and journal articles, his publications include Trash: A Queer Film Classic (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2009) and The Gossip of Colin Campbell (Oakville Galleries, 2008), which accompanied the touring retrospective of Campbell’s work he curated.

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