by Matt Sheedy
I recently came across a blog post entitled, “How About Some Oregon Militia Homoerotic Fan Fiction?” and promptly shared it with a friend, who I assumed would get a kick out of what I took, on first blush, to be a playful subversion of the sexual sensibilities of the armed Oregon occupiers led by Ammon Bundy, whose professed Mormon identity and, it would seem, right wing libertarian politics, are stereotypically aligned with socially conservative views.
The hashtag behind this idea, #bundyeroticfanfic, was started by the lead singer of The Decemberists, Colin Meloy, and includes tweets such as the following (arguably the cleanest on offer):
“It ain’t snacks I’m hungry for, Trevor.’ Ryan’s heart was beating wildly beneath the quilted flannel of his shirt.” #bundyeroticfanfic.
After sharing the article, however, my friend immediately pointed out one problem that had not occurred to me; that homoerotics was being used here as a comic trope, where, it could be interpreted, queer intimacy is cast in a negative light in order to denigrate these men.
My own initial reaction to the post and to the hashtag #bundyeroticfanfic had been much different. I had assumed that since the article appeared on a queer-friendly and queer-focused site, Joe.My.God., that it was (naturally) uncontroversial for those of a liberal disposition. After all, why would a site whose categories include: LGBT News, LGBT Culture, Marriage Equality, Politics, 2016 Election, and Entertainment (listed in that order) fall prey to a narrative that could be construed as homophobic?
Discussing these questions further, my friend and I opened up a rather interesting conversation that revolved around two main points: first, that the hashtag and articles about it were being shared exclusively by liberal-minded folk and on liberal-friendly websites, signalling the production of a type of pleasure, where their presumptive political rivals were being put in a position that we assume would make them uncomfortable (pun intended!), while drawing on queer sex as both an insult and a point of humor. Second, despite the problems with this hashtag as it relates to queer identities, and despite the (presumably) “good” intentions of its author, professed or otherwise, it is caught up within what Sara Ahmed terms “affective economies,” that are moved in multiple directions by the various sentiments they evoke, assembling and re-assembling in different configurations. As Ahmed writes:
Rather than seeing emotions as psychological dispositions, we need to consider how they work, in concrete and particular ways, to mediate the relationship between the psychic and the social, and between the individual and the collective. … My economic model of emotions suggests that while emotions do not positively reside in a subject or figure, they still work to bind subjects together. Indeed, to put it more strongly, the non-residence of emotions is what makes them ‘binding’ (“Affective Economies,” 119).
Considered on the plane of the “non-residence of emotions” that help to bind groups together, #bundyeroticfanfic is perhaps best understood not so much as a reflected proposition, presented with conscious disregard for what it may suggest about queer sex, but more as an emotional response to a chain of symbols, ideas, and sentiments—unstable and always shifting—that come together in unreflected ways to demarcate boundaries between “us” and “them.” Donovan Schaefer touches on this idea in relation to Ahmed’s work in his new book, Religious Affects: Animality, Evolution, and Power (2015), when he writes:
Affective economies are queer economies that are driven by the uneven circulation of pleasures and desires rather than a disembodied logos (165).
In this sense, the queering of the Oregon occupiers is not so much a logical proposition as it is an “uneven circulation of pleasures and desires” where what we do know about them—their anti-government stance, their (white male) Christian identity, and their association with an extreme version of gun-culture—connects up with a much broader affective economy, including, in this case, the idea that they must be homophobic by virtue of their other, professed beliefs and practices. To put it differently, we presume to “know,” unreflectively, that this will bother them, and if not them, then some of their supporters, while providing a point of solidarity (and laughter) for “us.”
One crucial point here, I would argue, is that this presumption is not an evidence-based claim, nor is it one that is principally concerned with the potential effects on perceptions of queer sex (and thus homophobia), but instead circulates within particular contemporary formations of American nationalism and political/cultural identity that attempt to demarcate boundaries based on what “we” proclaim we are comfortable with (e.g., talking about homoerotic love) and what “they” are not.
All of this called to mind ideas presented in Schaefer’s new book, where he discusses the documentary Jesus Camp (2006) in order to think through the relationship between globalization, media, and religion. Here he notes, for example, how the children at the camp, who are:
… embedded in particular formations of nation, race, and gender teach one another how to feel, and in the process produce political subjectivities made up of reticulated affective forms. This allows for new ways of examining the intersection of religion with global mediascapes and new ways of typologizing religion according to their affective configurations, rather than their propositional beliefs (14).
Much like with the hashtag #bundyeroticfanfic, this theoretical approach argues that understanding group formations, (religious or otherwise) in a complex media landscape, requires that we move beyond mere analysis of propositional beliefs, and their rhetorical relation to systems of power, toward theories that consider the connection between identity, symbols, and the affective economies they are caught up in, which can have the effect of moving bodies and sentiments without them even knowing it, as it did with me.
Matt Sheedy recently defended his Ph.D in religious studies at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, and is associate editor of the Bulletin for the Study of Religion. His research interests include critical social theory, theories of secularism, as well as representations of Christianity, Islam, and Native traditions in popular and political culture. His dissertation offers a critical look at Jürgen Habermas’s theory of religion in the public sphere.