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FIERCE—Middle English: from Old French fiers ‘fierce, brave, proud,’ from Latin ferus ‘untamed.’ Compare with feral.
The word “fierce” is in danger of being defanged. Somewhere in between Tyra Banks throwing “fierce” around like used fake eyelashes and President Obama campaigning as a “fierce advocate” in spite of his galling ambiguity (and that’s a rather polite way of describing his passive-aggressive homophobia isn’t it?) on comprehensive LGBT rights, “fierce” has been sanitized—pink-washed if you will—and pushed to the brink of irrelevancy.
Perhaps being killed softly is the way of queer culture. After all, who could resist us—our flourishes, our intelligently crafted posture, our razor sharp punch lines, our tailoring? The Ballroom Culture of 1920s Harlem (yes, honey—and Langston Hughes was there snapping with the best of them) becomes “Paris Is Burning” becomes Madonna’s “Vogue” becomes Lady Gaga’s hilariously trite “Born This Way.” What once encapsulated a captivating, untamed and necessarily tough spirit has been turned into a synonym for “good,” or even “cute.” (While researching the etymology of fierce, I came across a dictionary entry that used the following sentence as an example of its meaning: “Wow, this coffee is fierce.” Essex Hemphill help us.)
Even still, I cannot let go of “fierce.” As the frequency of hate crimes against the LGBT community is currently at a decade high in New York City, as legislation regarding trans equality continues to be stalled, delayed and set aside, as queer book publishers and bookstores across the country are against the ropes, now more than ever we need the beauty and power of queer rage. Other definitions of fierce include “furiously eager or intense” and “menacingly wild.” That kind of ferocity is necessary—a means of demonstrating that we will not allow our selves, our rights or our words to be rendered mute or erased.
I cannot promise that you will be happy with what I write here, but my desire is to salvage ferocity and put it to werk (yes, baby—werk) in a critical, high-low culture approach to queer literature and life. I want to channel the ferocity of writers and artists who have taught us that even glitter can cut the skin. And so, to be absolutely clear, when I say “fierce,” here is what I mean:
Fierce is Helene Cixous demanding in The School of The Dead that, as we write, we ask ourselves honestly “Am I writing? Am I burning? Or am I pretending?” Fierce is the urgency in Essex Hemphill’s voice in “For My Own Protection” as he declares “All I want to know / for my own protection / is are we capable / of whatever, whenever?” Fierce is the look I imagine Zora Neale Hurston had on her face when she said “I love myself when I am laughing and then again when I am looking mean and impressive.” It is Audre Lorde taking her seat for her panel at the Second Sex Conference in 1979, adjusting the microphone in front of her and calmly stating “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Fierce is the work of bloggers like Rod McCollum, Pam Spaulding, and Andres Duque whose coverage of LGBT news relevant to queer people of color is absolutely brilliant and crucial. Fierce is Sarah Schulman’s Ties That Bind. Fierce is Kai Wright’s Drifting Toward Love. Fierce is Jericho Brown’s Please. Fierce is Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw. Fierce is the first queer Latino winner of the Yale Younger Poets Prize.
I hope to do right by all of your brilliance. We’re here. We’re queer. And we are ferocious