Leading by example : a queer critique of personalization and coercive community governance in Act Up-Paris's operation against the bareback writers

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Davis, Oliver (2015)

This article advances a queer historiographical critique of Act Up-Paris’s operation against Guillaume Dustan and Erik Rémès, two writers of semi-autobiographical fiction closely associated with bareback in France at the turn of the 21st century. It calls into question the group’s strategy of personalization, its insistence on exemplarity of conduct and its reliance on a problematic if widely accepted view of the necessity of community governance by ‘role model’. Without simply finding in favour of the writers, the article develops and contextualizes, both historically and theoretically (principally by reference to Foucault’s account of the ‘state of emergency’ and the ongoing work of Tim Dean), reservations voiced by some members of the community at the time about the latent ‘fascism’ in Act Up’s attempt to coercively police adherence to the norm of condom use. It argues that Act Up-Paris, alongside its intended objective to police the consensus around safe sex, unwittingly offered a collateral lesson in stigmatizing coercion, which constituted a performative contradiction of a nurturing function it had so effectively played for gay people in the preceding decade. The article concludes by resituating bareback within a continuity of ‘arse-sex-positive’ queer socio-sexual practices.\ud
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