Symposium Introduction


Natasha Zaretksy
Olivia Polk
Vivian Huang
Michael Hardt
Victoria Hesford





In Queer Forms, Ramzi Fawaz explores how the central values of 1970s movements for women’s and gay liberation—including consciousness-raising, separatism, and coming out of the closet—were translated into a range of American popular culture forms. Throughout this period, feminist and gay activists fought social and political battles to expand, transform, or wholly explode definitions of so-called “normal” gender and sexuality. In doing so, they inspired artists, writers, and filmmakers to invent new ways of formally representing, or giving shape to, non-normative genders and sexualities. This included placing women, queers, and gender outlaws of all stripes into exhilarating new environments—from the streets of an increasingly gay San Francisco to a post-apocalyptic commune, from an Upper East Side New York City apartment to an all-female version of Earth—and finding new ways to formally render queer genders and sexualities by articulating them to figures, outlines, or icons that could be imagined in the mind’s eye and interpreted by diverse publics.

Surprisingly, such creative attempts to represent queer gender and sexuality often appeared in a range of traditional, or seemingly generic, popular forms, including the sequential format of comic strip serials, the stock figures or character-types of science fiction genre, the narrative conventions of film melodrama, and the serialized rhythm of installment fiction. Through studies of queer and feminist film, literature, and visual culture including Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band (1970), Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City (1976–1983), Lizzy Borden’s Born in Flames (1983), and Tony Kushner’s Angels in America (1989–1991), Fawaz shows how artists innovated in many popular mediums and genres to make the experience of gender and sexual non-conformity recognizable to mass audiences in the modern United States.

Against the ideal of ceaseless gender and sexual fluidity and attachments to rigidly defined identities, Queer Forms argues for the value of shapeshifting as the imaginative transformation of genders and sexualities across time. By taking many shapes of gender and sexual divergence we can grant one another the opportunity to appear and be perceived as an evolving form, not only to claim our visibility, but to be better understood in all our dimensions.​​


Reviews and Endorsements


“This is the book I have been waiting for: fearless, brilliant, and filled with love for feminist and queer cultural forms. Rather than fetishizing formlessness as the pinnacle of freedom, Ramzi Fawaz assembles and mines a rich and moving archive of feminist and queer cultural forms that have given us tools to practice intimacy, radical vulnerability, friendship, and worldmaking. Queer Forms was written out of a deep affection for the visionary work of feminist and queer cultural producers, offering us a blueprint for allowing feminist and queer worlds to take shape.” ~Jennifer C. Nash, author of Birthing Black Mothers

“An invigorating work of queer feminist political theory and imagination. Defying the received demand that instances of nonnormative gender identity remain fluid and formless, Ramzi Fawaz dares to present subversive examples of gender and sexual outlaws whose actions track an unfinished project of freedom. In a range of brilliant readings across political movements and cultural texts, he advances new figures of the thinkable and democratic worldmaking that inspire free action in the present.” ~Linda Zerilli, University of Chicago

“Parting ways with queer theory’s preference for the ephemeral, Queer Forms feels the touch and re-touch of shapeshifting forms as it sets queer studies in new and dynamic relation to its objects in the world. In one of his signal claims, Fawaz uses the materiality of form to rethink the pervasive and privileged association of queerness with formlessness and fluidity. Thus, he argues that feminist and queer ideas become meaningful as they take material shape within the realm of popular cultural production, where they change audiences in ways that neither a pedantic politics nor a moralizing theory can.” ~Matt Brim, author of Poor Queer Studies: Confronting Elitism in the University

“An inspirational history of queer and feminist cultural politics forged in the 1970s and extending to the 1990s. Ramzi Fawaz brilliantly maps the forms of relationality that feminist, lesbian, and gay communities invented to visualize themselves and their futures. In an argument that is both crystalline and capacious, he has discerned patterns across a wide range of popular cultural texts, objects, and images, and he demonstrates how radical change has been—and can be—imagined and enacted. Queer Forms is generously both history and manifesto. It calls on us to ask with each other how we want to see our future take shape.” ~David J. Getsy, author of Abstract Bodies: Sixties Sculpture in the Expanded Field of Gender

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