About That Art Party Whose Name The New York Times Won’t Print…


Special to The Clyde Fitch Report

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Pussy Faggot is an amazing, smarty-pants downtown party taking place a few times a year at The Delancey. It’s often hosted by national treasure Penny Arcade, and has featured performances by, among myriad others, Neal Medlyn, Clifton and the incomparable Narcissister. Attendees include art fags, demimonde glitter queers and pomo flâneurs. Pussy Faggot is, in short, avant-garde and delightful. You can read how the party got its name here. It’s a good story.

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On Jan. 7, Claudia La Rocco, in the New York Times’ theater section, wrote a frankly excellent article about Pussy Faggot and the party’s creator, Earl Dax (see above, and keep reading). La Rocco’s article is well informed and presents a sophisticated view of the party in its community context. What the article does not do is print the name of the party. The text is, in fact, so coy about it that someone I spoke with knew Pussy Faggot existed and read the article, but was unaware the article was about Pussy Faggot until I told him.

I haven’t spoken with La Rocco and this is pure speculation on my part, but I’m going to declare her on the side of the angels in this matter and instead blame her editors and the whole idea of an institutional Times Style for this omission. La Rocco attended the last party and talked to a lot of performers and Pussy Faggot habitués for her article, so I cannot imagine she is the source of any distance from the party’s name. I don’t have anything critical to say about her.

As for the Times, however, it certainly isn’t squeamish about using “pussy” or “faggot” in its pages — and in more controversial contexts. It’s “faggot” this and “faggot” that when they report on bullying, or on Ann Coulter’s shenanigans of 2007, or even part of a wholly incidental quote to add color to an opinion piece about, inexplicably, the city of Philadelphia. And it’s “pussy” galore as the paper literally spells out the name of the song “Pussy, Pussy, Pussy” and cheerfully links to a live version of it on YouTube in a concert review.

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When the Times frets over how horrible it is for kids to call each other “faggot” in school, the word leaps off the page.

When proudly self-proclaimed faggots play with the word and pretty it up into an art party, it becomes unprintable.

Ann Liv Young and Penny Arcade at Pussy Faggot, photo courtesy Christy Pessagno

Not for nothing, but the same week the Times found the name Pussy Faggot beyond the pale, the paper was awash in the word “nigger.” This was when “news” broke of the planned new edition of Huckleberry Finn replacing all of Twain’s uses of that word with “slave” (and, turning tragedy into farce, “injun” with “Indian”). The Times covered this breathlessly for days, and, while there was plenty of talk of “the n-word,” numerous writers — reporters, editorial panelists, reviewers and a collection of writers and academics — bandied “nigger” about liberally. I’m not saying they shouldn’t have or that anyone in the Times was careless with their use of the word. On the contrary, everyone writing about the issue was sensitive and eloquent. I’m saying the New York Times found discussion of the use of “nigger” reasonable but not so for the name of an artistic event they chose to cover positively and insightfully?

Among the articles written about the new edition of Huckleberry Finn was a well-reasoned, appropriately righteous essay on the matter by Michiko Kakutani on Jan. 6. Basically, she argues exactly what anyone would expect her to argue about the issue. (The Times called some of its Twain coverage a “debate.” But seriously, no one thinks it’s a good idea to change words in 19th century novels. There’s an easy answer; it’s just not that interesting a story.)

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Kakutani’s article is remarkable, though, for what seems an obvious editorial overreach, in a mode that’s relevant to Pussy Faggot. The sanitization of her prose actually subverts her argument and there are some silly inconsistencies in the text that makes it hard to believe Kakutani put them there herself. She characterizes the implicit effects of censoring individual words, as if those editors are saying,

“We, the censors, need to protect you, the naïve, delicate reader. We, the editors, need to police writers (even those from other eras), who might have penned something that might be offensive to someone sometime.”

She goes on to explain,

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Euphemisms are sometimes pushed on writers by their publishers. Rinehart & Company persuaded Norman Mailer to use ‘fug’ in his 1948 novel ‘The Naked and the Dead’ instead of the F-word.

The irony, of course, is that “F-word” is a euphemism for the same word as “fug.” Which was the point of her argument before she wasn’t allowed to use the word “fuck.” Not printing the word “fuck” is exactly what she had just described as the paternalistic censors foolishly protecting the innocence of the readers. So there’s no “fuck,” but “nigger” made it into the article four times? It’s hard to know whom the Times is protecting from what.

Readers of the New York Times don’t need to be protected from Pussy Faggot. Dax uses the term with demonstrative good humor and queer political élan. No one doesn’t know the difference between “pussy faggot” as hate speech and Pussy Faggot as the name of a kicky, fun, gay party. Well, not no one: there was also a contretemps between Dax and Facebook, where he tried to advertise the party. They refused to run the ad (though not always) because it violated their hate speech policy. Actually, it just proves that Pussy Faggot is smarter than Facebook’s policies.

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La Rocco’s article contains one more omission. In profiling Dax as the man behind the unnamed Pussy Faggot, she mentions his erstwhile “persona” as “The Drag Queen for Social and Economic Justice.” Indeed, this is absolutely how Dax describes his drag persona. The article, however, does not grace us with this persona’s actual name: Enya Buttox (pictured at top). Brilliant and hilarious, right? About this lacuna in the story, Dax quipped dryly, “even the mere suggestion of anal penetration is too much for the Times.”

I hate to let the Times off the hook, but as far as I can see, denying their readers the piquant pleasures of knowing that Pussy Faggot and Enya Buttox exist seems primarily an institutional failure of postmodern imagination. I don’t think they’re malicious or homophobic — well, certainly not more than general cultural standards of obliviousness set as a baseline. They are just unable to see past the actual words to what is genuinely a good-natured rhetorical gambit that produces, effectively, a sly queer inside joke. And who could ever expect the so-called paper of record to be in on a sly queer inside joke?