This article has been peer reviewed

The oeuvre of the Canadian icon and “reluctant pornographer”1 Bruce LaBruce is largely absent from both academic and popular discussions of queer cinema. I argue that it warrants inclusion because there are connections between LaBruce’s films and those of venerated queer directors and because they resonate with “queer negativity,” or the “anti-social turn” in queer theory.2 I pursue this argument with respect to LaBruce’s film Hustler White (1996), a crucible of concepts associated with negativity, specifically Lauren Berlant’s “cruel optimism”3 as well as Lee Edelman’s theory of “sinthomosexuality” and critique of “reproductive futurism.”4 I first examine the dearth of writing on LaBruce in view of his complicated politics and success on the festival circuit. I then perform an intertextual reading of Hustler White through the lens of negativity that evinces continuities and resonances with other films. Hustler White is not unlike canonical entries in queer film studies that have achieved recognition at queer and “mainstream” festivals. Why, then, has it retained such little scholarly attention? 

Refusing any ostensible boundary between art cinema and gay pornography, LaBruce’s guerrilla filmmaking is experimental and politically incorrect while retaining a degree of levity and ironized self-awareness.5 It is precisely because his films are difficult to comprehend and assimilate into extant categories that LaBruce remains absent from much work in queer theory and film studies, including books and articles that attend specifically to queer, Canadian, and pornographic cinemas. As Thomas Waugh notes in Romance of Transgression in Canada: Queering Sexualities, Nations, Cinemas (2006), LaBruce “makes the job of the critic especially hard, if not superfluous,” with his “anti-sentimental iconoclasm.”6 LaBruce’s first feature, No Skin Off My Ass (1991), premiered at the Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival in 1991 and features explicit sex scenes between a punk hairdresser (LaBruce) and a mute skinhead (Klaus von Brücker). A favourite of the late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, LaBruce states that the film was part of “the burgeoning gay and lesbian film festival circuit” and “just sort of became a cult film.”7 However, No Skin and the later Super 8½ (1994), a TIFF premiere about a failing pornographer and a lesbian filmmaker, went unacknowledged in queer cinema studies for years. Pointing to gaps in the work of senior scholars like Richard Dyer, film theorist Eugenie Brinkema remarks that it is “astonishing that so little has been written about the works—literary, cinematic, photographic, and otherwise—of Bruce LaBruce. He simply is not there—if you seek him in academic discourse, you will likely never find him.”8 While scholars such as Waugh, Dean Allbritton, Matthew Hays, and Jasmine McGowan have since risen LaBruce’s academic profile,9 his work has almost certainly been disregarded due to erotophobia, or because his films occupy an “otherwise” position between gay pornography and experimental film.10 Although Waugh was a pioneer of gay pornography studies in the 1980s,11 it was years after Linda Williams published Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible” (1989) that film studies began to take pornography seriously as a genre.12 

No Skin Off My Ass

To further complicate matters, LaBruce rejects academic film studies and the categories used to describe and organize his work. He notably refuses inclusion under the New Queer Cinema banner, preferring instead to be associated with the “Queercore” movement, which, as Brinkema notes, marked an effort to “introduce erotic anarchy into the sexually complacent (and not a little homophobic) punk movement.”13 Coined by B. Ruby Rich in 1992, New Queer Cinema refers to a constellation of independent festival films made by queer directors in the early 1990s that allegorize the AIDS epidemic, thematize criminality, and foreground marginal subcultures within the queer community.14 In a statement reprinted in Waugh’s book, LaBruce claims: “I don’t feel I have a lot in common with a bunch of rich kids who have degrees in semiotic theory, who make dry, academic films with overdetermined AIDS metaphors and Advocate men in them.”15 Moreover, LaBruce’s politics are less earnest that those of New Queer directors.16 Anecdotally, the “amputee sex” scene in Hustler White, which I later discuss, is notorious in queer and Canadian film circles because it is said to be a “bad” representation of persons with disabilities. While it is described by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) as “a complex exploration of how subculture is articulated through style, and a poignant study in erotic fascination,”17 No Skin is undoubtedly off-putting because of its skinhead character, or because LaBruce privileges the punk aesthetic regardless of what it might signify outside of this context. 

Despite his idiosyncratic politics and fraught relationship with academe, LaBruce is a cult figure at festivals, seeing attempts to ban his work as promotional opportunities. Dismissing it as “gay zombie porn,” the Australian Film Classification Board banned LaBruce’s L.A. Zombie (2010) from the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2010.18 LaBruce was “delighted,” pointing out the fundamental irony of censorship: “I’ll never understand how censors don’t see that the more they try to suppress a film, the more people will want to see it. It gives me a profile I didn’t have yesterday.”19 While festivals have historically contributed to the cultural capital of queer directors,20 LaBruce is ambivalent when it comes to normative modes of garnering critical recognition and acclaim, disrupting both the hetero- and “homonormativity” of queer and “mainstream” festivals. Defined by Lisa Duggan as a “politics that does not contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions but upholds and sustains them while promising the possibility of a demobilised gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption,”21 homonormativity took root in the late 1990s and early 2000s when causes such as marriage equality began to dominate the gay and lesbian political agenda. At that time, “queer” media entered the “post-queer” era, when films like John Schlessinger’s The Next Best Thing (2000) and television shows like Will & Grace (1998-2006) presented gay and lesbian subjectivities as anodyne and consumptive non-actors disinvested from the public and political spheres. For cultural theorist Dion Kagan, this was partly a disavowal of AIDS and the spectacle of abjection wrought by mainstream representations of the disease during its “crisis years” (1981-1996).22 As Stuart James Richards argues, queer film festivals are often beholden to the logic of “social enterprise,” where programmers secure popular films to financially sustain their festivals.23 Such films “adhere to homonormative identity politics, which works in the service of dominant contemporary economic and political systems” and “further marginalises those that challenge conventional kinship structures, the gender binary, and other dominant hegemonic manifestations.”24 Conversely, when his films are not banned, LaBruce is rewarded for breaking taboos. In 2004, his “terrorist chic” polemic The Raspberry Reich (2004) won the Special Jury Award at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival. In 2023, he received the Filmmaker on the Edge Award at the Provincetown International Film Festival and gushed about “trash” filmmaker John Waters selecting his film Saint-Narcisse (2021) as one of the best of 2021 for Artforum.25 

Queer negativity is perhaps the most contested term in the field of queer theory. In “Is the Rectum a Grave?” (1987), Leo Bersani negatively although un-moralistically links sex between gay men to the death drive—compulsive self-destruction untethered from the “drive for mastery and resolution.”26 Under this framework, sex is masochistic and “self-shattering”—so painful and pleasurable as to undo coherent selfhood and interrelationality.27 As Jack Halberstam writes, Bersani rejects “the comforting platitudes that we use to cushion our fall into mortality [and] incoherence,” replacing them with a “radically realistic recognition of both the selfishness of sex and its destructive power.”28 Following suit, anti-social queer theory posits queer sexuality’s negativity—its threat to community, self-sovereignty, and heteronormativity—as a site of political refusal. In No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (2004), Edelman argues that society is organized around reproductive futurism, the enduring rhetorical construction of the Child as the emblem of innocence in need of protection and the queer as a threat to both the Child and the future.29 The opposition of the Child and the “sinthomosexual”—the queer figure on whom the death drive is projected because they are seen as destructive to themselves and to society—“can never be acknowledged as the engine driving the reproduction of the social itself.”30 Just as the Child stands as the “fantasmatic beneficiary of every political intervention,” the only queerness to which we could aspire would have us abjure the logic of reproductive futurity and accede to the threat queerness poses to mainstream society through “meaningless eruptions of jouissance” that may well destroy us.31 Meaninglessness is key here as Edelman derives the sinthomosexual from the Lacanian “sinthome,” which “refuses the Symbolic logic that determines the exchange of signifiers” and “admits no translation of its singularity and therefore carries nothing of meaning.”32 For Bersani and Edelman, the negative and the anti-social refer to a range of politically threatening (sexual) behaviours and figurations. However, other conceptions of negativity have emerged in queer theory for various reasons. As Robyn Wiegman notes, the anti-social turn has not been wholly accepted within queer theory due to differing views on “self-shattering,” what many perceive as its overreliance on gay white male authors and archives, and its purported blind spots where race is concerned.33 José Esteban Muñoz famously critiqued the anti-social turn as the province of whiteness,34 while Halberstam moves to define queerness in more cooperative terms as a mode of “crafting alternatives with others.”35 As an amendment to negativity, Muñoz proposes “the performance of queer utopian memory,” a deferral to the archive of the queer past where utopia “understands its time as reaching beyond some nostalgic past that perhaps never was or some future whose arrival is continuously belated.”36 Put otherwise, Muñoz argues that we can look to the queer art of the past for alternative projections of a future that has not yet arrived, and thereby reimagine the present in utopian terms for a wide range of queer subjects. Similarly, Halberstam asks after a vision of negativity not tied to gay male aesthetics and experiences, reformulating negativity along the lines of equity and intersectionality.37 As Wiegman writes, those who revise negativity from more communitarian perspectives nevertheless “write the dissolution of the social as we have known it as the precondition of queer subjectivity and collectivity alike,” even if they frame negativity “in more affirmative, if not utopian, terms.”38 This is clearly evidenced in Berlant’s work. In Cruel Optimism (2011), Berlant writes that a relationship of cruel optimism appears “when the object/scene that ignites a sense of possibility actually makes it impossible to attain the expansive transformation for which a person or a people risks striving; and doubly, it is cruel insofar as the very pleasures of being inside a relation have become sustaining regardless of the content of the relation, such that a person or a world finds itself bound to a situation of profound threat that is, at the same time, profoundly confirming.”39 Put otherwise, cruel optimism occurs when one finds themselves attached to something—a job, an ideology, a fantasy—that seems liberating and affirming but forecloses on self-evolution and divergent becomings. While detaching from the object can be distressing, Berlant asks that we accept moments of “being incomplete, contradictory, and out of control” as rousing “different atmospheres and potentials.”40 Indeed, detaching from a cruel object, or at least accepting oneself as “non-sovereign,”41 can produce new ways of being. In my analysis of Hustler White, I take an expansive view of negativity as self-shattering, unbecoming, and the difficult project of detachment and reimagination. While the film gives rise to a Bersanian view of sexuality, its characters occupy a space “where survival and threats to it engender social forms that transform the habitation of negativity’s multiplicity.”42 Negativity is not one thing in Hustler White but exists along a spectrum of operations and interactions replete with utopian potentials. 

Co-directed by photographer Rick Castro, Hustler White premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 1996. It tracks the eccentric anthropologist Jürgen Anger (LaBruce) as he explores Santa Monica Boulevard to write an exposé on male hustlers. Chronologically, we begin with the titular hustler, Monti (Tony Ward), face down in Anger’s jacuzzi—a nod to Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950). Voices loom over the film to create a chilling, sibylline effect. The first is Monti’s, setting the stage for the game of cat and mouse that led him to Anger. Another is that of an unknown interviewer probing the future Monti about his sexuality and relationship to Anger. The film refuses the conventions of form and narrative, presenting one abstractive sex scene after another punctuated by quick dialogues and point-of-view shots from Anger’s perspective. As Teresa de Lauretis would say, Hustler White resists the “generic pressure of all narrative toward closure and the fulfilment of meaning.”43 Anger first sees Monti on the street through a car window. Their gazes meet as Monti titillates the wide-eyed Anger with a devilish smile. Anger then sees Monti doing shirtless pull-ups on the street. He develops a crush and begins to pursue him relentlessly. We are given unexpurgated access to the handsome rent-boy and his unconventional life, like when he cripples fellow hustler Eigil (Kevin P. Scott) by accidentally running over his foot. Anger regularly shows Monti the shirt he used to wipe Eigil’s blood from his car, which he found at the site of Monti’s pull-ups. “I think I might have something of yours,” Anger says, before Monti, thinking Anger is a cop, takes off. As Anger continues to pursue Monti, the film shows the young hustler’s quotidian routine of lurid sexual encounters with johns, porn directors, and other hustlers, including his job as a “fluffer” on the site of a porn flick. We are privy to Eigil’s encounters, too, inclusive of the film’s notorious amputee sex scene in which Eigil removes his prosthetic leg and penetrates a client with his stump. In one of the film’s most shocking encounters, the real-life porn star Kevin Kramer, playing his buff self, goes in for a supposed job interview, where he is gang-banged by several African American men as an “exercise of Black Power.” This scene is a clear illustration of queer negativity and Bersani’s theory of sex as both a “self-shattering jouissance” and “a tautology for masochism.”44 He writes that masochism arises when “the opposition between pleasure and pain becomes irrelevant, in which the sexual emerges as the jouissance of exploded limits, as the ecstatic suffering into which the human organism momentarily plunges when it is ‘pressed’ beyond a certain threshold of endurance.”45 As the Black Power figures run a train on Kramer, shot-reverse-shot editing establishes a connection between his face and those of his “interviewers,” between their sadism and the double-edged sword of his pleasure and pain. In this moment, Kramer expresses a collapse of joy and agony and of the self, while those fucking him embody an extreme sinthomosexuality. As Edelman writes, the sinthomosexual, through his accession to the “meaninglessness associated with the sinthome,” figures an “unregenerate” sexuality “whose singular insistence on jouissance [rejects] every constraint imposed by sentimental futurism.”46 

Kevin Kramer learning of his “interview”

Anger finally convinces Monti to show him around Hollywood’s gay hustling scene. He returns his shirt to him. They end up at Anger’s apartment. Anger goes inside to make margaritas. Monti slips on a bar of soap, hits his head, and lies unconscious in the jacuzzi. Anger concludes that he is dead, drives his body to the beach, and prepares to dump it in the ocean. To his surprise, Monti wakes up. They enjoy a steamy make out session before running wild. Innocence plays a significant role in subverting our expectations in Hustler White. At the beginning of the film, as Monti lies in the water, we are led to believe something has gone wrong—that he has been harmed by a john or fallen victim to drugs. But all along, he had only slipped and fallen. While clients are presented as pursuing gigolos for their own unsavoury purposes, Anger’s interest in Monti is largely academic. Moreover, in one of the film’s earliest sex scenes, another hustler, Piglet (Iver Johnson), just wants Eigil to kiss him, but Eigil doesn’t kiss as a matter of policy. Piglet asphyxiates himself, forcing Eigil to resuscitate and therefore kiss him. Eigil is angered and leaves, only to have Monti run over his foot. Piglet was searching not for sex but connection and intimacy, the same things Anger and Monti find at film’s end. His face when he later learns of Eigil’s death tells us all we need to know about his sense of longing—about the difficulty of having feelings tied up in carnal knowledge. Despite the sordid onslaught of sex in Hustler White, the unusual group of men we are presented with are deeply complex both emotionally and spiritually. As Berlant would argue, they remain caught between fantasy and reality, optimism for and refusal of the future. Anger’s interest in Monti is projective as his attachment stems from an investment in hustlers as totemic symbols of sexual liberation, while Piglet is struck by cruel optimism, or an investment in a particular mode of living that stifles him. Hustling does not work for Piglet, but he remains stuck in that world because he is convinced he will find meaning there—a fling, a boyfriend, or just a kiss. As per Berlant, Piglet wants more in this life but can neither detach from a world that negates him nor imagine a more expansive “field of affective potentialities, latent and explicit fantasies, and infrastructures for how to live beyond survival, toward flourishing not later but in the ongoing now.”47 Conversely, Monti’s relationship to sex work is distant. It is a means to an end, a way of supporting his infant son, or “cool baby.” In Hustler White’s most jarring sequence, we cut from a sex scene to Monti bathing his son. The juxtaposition of explicit sexuality and pure innocence points to an investment in reproductive futurism that at first seems incongruent with the film’s ethos until we remember that the film is above all about people making space in a world that uses and then rejects them.48

Hustler White asks what we can bear to know about sex and intimacy, and what remains unseen and unknowable in the most forthright and seemingly dispassionate sexual encounters. In this sense, it is like David Cronenberg’s Crash (1996), in which a cabal of symphorophiliacs repeatedly stage car crashes for their own gratification as “the body is invaded by the sexual as a drive with no reachable aim or object choice, beyond gender and beyond desire.”49 Thematically, it is also like Atom Egoyan’s Exotica (1994), which centres on a Toronto strip club where “characters suffer from reminiscences and forgetting, return compulsively to the primal scene, [and] act out fundamentally narcissistic behaviours.”50 Much like Anger’s semi-erotic fascination with the hustlers, the Exotica club owner, Zoe (Arsinée Khanjian), its host, Eric (Elias Koteas), and an emotionally damaged regular, Francis (Bruce Greenwood), similarly cannot shake their bizarre obsessions with the young exotic dancer Christina (Mia Kirshner). They neurotically return to the club to keep their desires alive—to watch Christina, (re)live sexual fantasies, and in the case of Francis, project the loss of a child onto her. Moreover, despite his vexed relationship to New Queer Cinema, LaBruce’s films bear more than a passing resemblance to the movement. Like Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho (1992), Hustler White is about male sex workers, but it more closely resembles Gregg Araki’s The Living End (1992), where two HIV-positive gay men—a muscular Advocate man, Luke (Mike Dytri), and a nerdy film critic, Jon (Craig Gilmore)—evade police after the former kills a homophobic police officer. Their passionate trysts in vehicles and motel rooms do not measure up to the graphicness of LaBruce’s sex scenes, but both films similarly shatter time and narrative as a means of formalising sexual ecstasy and masochism. In an article on Gaspar Noé’s films Irréversible (2002) and Seul Contre Tous (1998),51 Brinkema connects Bersani’s “self-shattering” motif to the Deleuzian “time-image”—the moment in post-World War II cinema in which the “sensory-motor schema” of classical narrative cinema collapses and is subordinated to time as a series of “pure optical, sound (and tactile) image[s]” where “time is no longer the measure of movement but movement is the perspective of time.”52 For Brinkema, there is continuity between self-shattering and the breakdown of time and space that inheres in the controversial rape scene in Irréversible.53 As Julianne Pidduck similarly argues, the time-image in the surrealist New Queer videography of Canadian artist Mike Hoolboom manifested in the “splicing together of incommensurable fragments” gives rise to “unexpected articulations of memory, causality and meaning” and “a disintegration of corporeal and biographical boundaries.”54 The prismatic audiovisual landscape of Tom (2002), for instance, combines home movies, pop culture ephemera, and historical documentary footage to establish an indeterminate connection between the demolition of old Lower East Side buildings and the destruction of filmmaker Tom Chomont’s life and ego.55 The time-images of Araki and LaBruce are like those of Hoolboom and Noé, although unlike Hoolboom’s, there is no interspersing of archival or video footage, and unlike Noé’s, they are considerably less violent. In The Living End, the sex between Luke and Jon manifests in various “temporal loops, drifts and stalls”56 that work against narrative coherence while establishing both the dissolution of self and the repudiation of futurity. In one scene, Jon is shown giving “road head” to Luke. As the car moves along the highway to the place where it is implied they will die, the camera pans left to show Luke’s ecstatic face as if to signify a concomitant pleasure between sex and death. In the opening sequence of Hustler White, an image of Monti masturbating is crosscut with him being fucked by a client in what Gilles Deleuze terms an “any-space-whatever,” an indeterminate milieu “extracted from a given state of things.”57 This sequence establishes the disavowal of narrative and the negation of self that will follow in the rest of the film, as Monti’s ego will be shattered, at least temporarily, by another dose of “rough trade.”

Gabrielle (Rosanna Arquette) has fun in a car dealership in Crash

Christina (Mia Kirshner) performs onstage in Exotica

Luke (Mike Dytri) and Jon (Craig Gilmore) have shower sex in The Living End

Hustler White foregrounds the complexities of sex and desire, demonstrating, as Shannon Bell argues in Reading, Writing and Rewriting the Prostitute Body (1994), that the sex worker “has no inherent meaning and is signified differently in different discourses.”58 Moreover, the film plunges into the depths of incoherence where everything and nothing make sense, where no one is the master of their domain. As Heather Love would say, this world “makes evident the value of refusal, of negativity, and of engagement with difference as a project without a limit.”59 And yet, the world of Hustler White is also innocent, lovely, and full of longing. It impels us never to consign to oblivion those from whom we derive pleasure or might otherwise relegate to the messy but never dull realm of hustling. Beyond Hustler White, LaBruce has seen remarkable success on the film festival circuit both in North America and internationally. This is due in part to a voyeuristic audience waiting to see what he will do next—an attachment to LaBruce as being like a sinthomosexual, or a figure who delights in the disruption of sexual conservatism. We live vicariously through LaBruce and the abject sexuality of his films. We enjoy the self-shattering on screen partly because we, too, are shattered. However, LaBruce also remains popular because, as my reading of Hustler White demonstrates, he is a talented filmmaker whose work is legitimate. Yet, there is no academic monograph on LaBruce as there are Cronenberg and Egoyan.60 He remains absent from or simply glossed over in countless volumes on queer cinema. Even his retrospective at the MoMA and supposed move to the mainstream with Saint-Narcisse have not yielded more academic attention.61 With few exceptions, our knowledge of LaBruce’s filmography generally but Hustler White specifically is quite trivial.62

While LaBruce’s films are thorny and difficult to comprehend, I maintain that it is academia’s overwhelming erotophobia that has generated an intellectual near embargo on them. Unfortunately, contemporary queer theories and spaces do not help matters. As “queer” is now used to refer to a stable identity rather than a social formation that challenges identity politics, and “queer studies” is now so often devoid of sexuality,63 it does not appear as though LaBruce will soon be welcomed onto the glossy pages of academic exegesis or into queer theory classes. As Edelman brilliantly puts it, “critical discourse” remains focused on “questions of rights (civil, natural, and human), of sovereign power and states of exception, of the definition and limits of the human, and of the distribution and control of populations through the categories of citizen and noncitizen. Sex, in this context, can carry the odour of anachronism, narcissism, or something irreducibly and disconcertingly personal, and any impulse to linger on its place in the social, cultural, and political fields can suggest a stubbornly narrow gaze or a refusal to move on.”64


  1. Bruce LaBruce, “The Wild, Wild World of Fanzines: Notes from a Reluctant Pornographer.” A Queer Romance: Lesbians, Gay Men, and Popular Culture, eds. Paul Burston and Colin Richardson, (London, New York: Routledge, 1995), p. 197.
  2. Robert L. Caserio, Lee Edelman, Jack Halberstam, José Esteban Muñoz, and Tim Dean, “The Anti-Social Turn in Queer Theory.” PMLA 121, no. 3 (2006): 819-828. At least for the purposes of this essay, the “anti-social turn” refers to the barrage of academic work published in the wake of Lee Edelman’s book, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (2004), and the considerable commentary surrounding it, while “queer negativity” refers to the wide range of ideas that appear under the anti-social turn or what I call “anti-social queer theory.”
  3. Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism (Durham, London: Duke University Press, 2011), p. 1.
  4. Lee Edelman, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (Durham, London: Duke University Press, 2004), pp. 1-66.
  5. While I do not possess the space here to do justice to Hustler White’s comedic aspects, one scene stands out as a clever satire of academia and the porn industry: when Anger (LaBruce) infiltrates Monti’s (Tony Ward) porn shoot, he refers to one actor’s loss of an erection as a failure to observe contractual obligations. The contrast of formal jargon and sexual explicitness not only serves as an amusing digression from the intensity of the film but reveals both pornography and academic speech to be similarly performative. Moreover, as Jasmine McGowan argues, the “practice of ethnography, evoked so self-consciously in (Hustler White), foregrounds the way in which the observational sciences have historically been implicated in the production of minority sexual categories through processes of definition and description.” Jasmine McGowan, “Making Revolutionary Love: Radical Sex and Cooptation in the Films of Bruce LaBruce.” Senses of Cinema 80 (September 2016), https://www.sensesofcinema.com/2016/american-extreme/bruce-labruce/#fnref-27983-16
  6. Thomas Waugh, Romance of Transgression in Canada: Queering Sexualities, Nations, Cinemas (Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006), p. 221.
  7. Michael-Oliver Harding, “When a Radical Gets a Retrospective: Bruce LaBruce on the Future of His Subversive Cinema,” Slate (May 04, 2015), https://slate.com/human-interest/2015/05/can-bruce-labruce-remain-subversive-now-that-his-queer-films-are-taken-seriously.html.
  8. Eugenie Brinkema, “A Title Does Not Ask, but Demands That You Make a Choice: On the Otherwise Films of Bruce LaBruce.” Criticism 48, no. 1 (Winter 2006), p. 104.
  9. Dean Allbritton, “The Spanish Obscenities of Bruce LaBruce.” Porn Studies (2022), https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/epdf/10.1080/23268743.2022.2101508?needAccess=true&role=button; Matthew Hays, “Gay Guerrilla Filmmaking and Terrorist Chic: Toronto Filmmaker Bruce LaBruce Discusses His Latest Art/Porn Feature, The Raspberry Reich.” CineAction 65 (2005), pp. 20-25; Jasmine McGowan, “The Thinking Queer’s Pornographer: Bruce LaBruce, Art/Porn and the Politics of Co-Optation.” CineAction 88 (2012), pp. 66-70.
  10. Brinkema, 2006, p. 104.
  11. See, for example, Thomas Waugh, “Men’s Pornography: Gay Vs. Straight.” Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media 30 (Spring 1985), pp. 30-35.
  12. Linda Williams, Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible” (Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999(1989)).
  13. Brinkema, 2006, p. 103.
  14. B. Ruby Rich, “New Queer Cinema.” New Queer Cinema: A Critical Reader, ed. Michele Aaron, (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004), pp. 15-22. For more on AIDS and New Queer Cinema, see José Arroyo, “Death, Desire and Identity: The Political Unconscious of ‘New Queer Cinema.’” Activating Theory: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Politics, eds. Joseph Bristow and Angelia R. Wilson, (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1993), pp. 70-96; Monica B. Pearl, “AIDS and New Queer Cinema.” New Queer Cinema: A Critical Reader, ed. Michele Aaron, (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004), pp. 23-35. Films from New Queer Cinema “proper” (1990-1992) include The Living End (dir. Gregg Araki, 1992), Poison (dir. Todd Haynes, 1991), Swoon (dir. Tom Kalin, 1992), Paris Is Burning (dir. Jennie Livingston, 1991), and The Hours and Times (dir. Christopher Münch, 1991). Other directors whose films are often included as part of the movement are Cheryl Dunye, John Greyson, and Mike Hoolboom. Granted, one of the reasons why LaBruce has “refused” inclusion under the New Queer banner is that Rich has never included him in her writing on the subject. See Kyler Chittick, “ReelOut Q&A Bruce LaBruce,” YouTube (February 5, 2021), https://youtu.be/bpFyQXnue3Q.
  15. Waugh, 2006, p. 229.
  16. Greyson’s films, for example, often carry a strong if didactic left-wing political message. His musical Zero Patience (1993), for example, exposes the myth of “patient zero” that proliferated during the early years of the AIDS pandemic—that of flight attendant Gaëtan Dugas, who was accused of “introducing” AIDS to North America. For more on Zero Patience and Greyson’s queer politics, see Kay Armatage, “Zero Patience, The Musical.” The Perils of Pedagogy: The Works of John Greyson, eds. Brenda Longfellow, Scott MacKenzie, and Thomas Waugh (Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2013), pp. 408-424. For more on Dugas, see Ryan Conrad, “Looking for Gaëtan.” Between Certain Death and a Possible Future: Queer Writing on Growing Up with the AIDS Crisis, ed. Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2021), pp. 209-217.
  17. Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) (n.d.), https://www.moma.org/calendar/events/996.
  18. CBC Arts, “Bruce LaBruce Zombie Film Banned in Australia,” CBC (July 21, 2010), https://www.cbc.ca/news/entertainment/bruce-labruce-zombie-film-banned-in-australia-1.948211. For more on “zombie porn” in LaBruce’s films, see Shaka McGlotten, “Zombie Porn: Necropolitics, Sex, and Queer Socialities.” Porn Studies 1, no. 4 (2014): 360-377.
  19. CBC Arts, 2010.
  20. Stuart James Richards, The Queer Film Festival: Popcorn and Politics (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), pp. 39-87.
  21. Lisa Duggan, The Twilight of Equality?: Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy (Boston: Beacon Press, 2003), p. 50.
  22. Dion Kagan, Positive Images: Gay Men & HIV/AIDS in the Culture of “Post-Crisis” (London, New York: I.B. Taurus, 2018), pp. 47-88.
  23. Richards, 2016, p. 143.
  24. Richards, 2016, p. 143.
  25. G.W. Mercure, “Bruce LaBruce: Queercore Auteur,” Provincetown Magazine (June 15, 2023), https://provincetownmagazine.com/index.php/2023/06/15/bruce-labruce-queercore-auteur/#:~:text=It%20should%20be%20called%20the,the%20Provincetown%20International%20Film%20Festival.
  26. Leo Bersani, “Is the Rectum a Grave?.” October 43 (Winter 1987), p. 217; Jack Halberstam, “The Anti-Social Turn in Queer Studies.” Graduate Journal of Social Science 5, no. 8 (Fall 2008), p. 140.
  27. Bersani, 1987, p. 217.
  28. Halberstam, 2008, p. 140.
  29. Edelman, 2004, p. 11.
  30. Edelman, 2004, p. 45.
  31. Edelman, 2004, pp. 3, 75. I operationalize a broad, Lacanian-inflected definition of jouissance as transgressive pleasure that moves beyond the pleasure principle and toward pain.
  32. Edelman, 2004, p. 35. Broadly, the sinthome refers to modes of creative identification with one’s “neurotic symptom” that are immune from the pressures of the Symbolic realm.
  33. Robyn Wiegman, “Sex and Negativity; or, What Queer Theory Has For You.” Cultural Critique 95 (Winter 2017), p. 229.
  34. José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (New York: NYU Press, 2009), 11.
  35. Halberstam, 2008, p. 154.
  36. Muñoz, 2009, p. 37. For more recent (and nuanced) treatments of queer negativity in the context of race, see Bobby Benedicto, “Agents and Objects of Death: Gay Murder, Boyfriend Twins, and Queer of Color Negativity.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 25, no. 2 (Spring 2019): 273-296; James Bliss, “Hope Against Hope: Queer Negativity, Black Feminist Theorizing, and Reproduction Without Futurity.” Mosaic: a journal for the interdisciplinary study of literature 48, no. 1 (Winter 2015): 83-98.
  37. For instance, following the postcolonial feminist theory of Gayatri Chakravarty Spivak, the work of novelist Jamaica Kincaid, and the performance art of musician Yoko Ono, Halberstam proposes “unbecoming,” or “radical passivity” as an “anarchic refusal of coherence and proscriptive forms of agency” that disrupts liberal and individualist frameworks and “allows for the inhabiting of femininity with a difference.” Moreover, animated children’s films like the Nick Park and Peter Lord film Chicken Run (2000) demonstrate the possibility for “a shadow archive of resistance, one that does not speak in the language of action and momentum but instead articulates itself in terms of evacuation, refusal, passivity, unbecoming, unbeing.” These frameworks and examples gesture to a form of negativity that encompasses a more diverse set of political commitments than those of Bersani or Edelman. Jack Halberstam, “Unbecoming: Radical Passivity/Queer Negativity.” Sex, Gender and Time in Fiction and Culture, eds. Ben Davies and Jane Funke (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), pp. 173-194. See, as well, Jack Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure (Durham, London: Duke University Press, 2011).
  38. Wiegman, 2017, p. 229.
  39. Berlant, 2011, p. 2.
  40. Lauren Berlant and Lee Edelman, Sex, or the Unbearable (Durham, London: Duke University Press, 2013), p. 67.
  41. Berlant and Edelman define “nonsovereignty” as the “psychoanalytic notion of the subject’s constitutive division that keeps us, as subjects, from fully knowing or being in control of ourselves and that prompts our own misrecognition of our own motives and desires.” Berlant and Edelman, 2013, p. viii.
  42. Berlant and Edelman, 2013, p. 10.
  43. Teresa de Lauretis, “Queer Texts, Bad Habits, and the Issue of a Future.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 17, nos. 2-3 (Spring 2011), p. 245. Hustler White can be described as having a “queer temporality” insofar as it abrogates narrative chronology and resists what Elizabeth Freeman calls “chrononormativity,” those ostensible milestones and measures of success tied to capitalist production and straight coupledom. Elizabeth Freeman, Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories (Durham, London: Duke University Press, 2010), p. 3. See also Jack Halberstam, In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (New York: NYU Press, 2005); Carolyn Dinshaw, Lee Edelman, Roderick A. Ferguson, Carla Freccero, Elizabeth Freeman, Jack Halberstam, Annamarie Jagose, Christopher S. Nealon, and Tan Hoang Nguyen. “Theorizing Queer Temporalities: A Roundtable Discussion.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 13, no. 2 (Spring 2007): 177-195.
  44. Bersani, 1987, p. 217.
  45. Bersani, 1987, p. 217.
  46. Edelman, 2004, pp. 76, 44-45.
  47. Berlant and Edelman, 2013, p. 5.
  48. Regardless of what this scene may or may not mean, it was an enormous risk for a Canadian director to make in the 1990s, when the country saw one moral panic regarding children after another. For more on this, see Shannon Bell, “On Ne Peut Pas Voir L’Image (The Image Cannot Be Seen).” Bad Attitudes/ on Trial: Pornography, Feminism, and the Butler Decision, Brenda Cossman, Shannon Bell, Lise Gotell, and Becki. L. Ross (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017 (1997)), pp. 199-242.
  49. de Lauretis, 2011, p. 247.
  50. Monique Tschofen, “Repetition, Compulsion, and Representation in Atom Egoyan’s Films.” North of Everything: English-Canadian Cinema Since 1980, eds. William Beard and Jerry White (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2002), p. 168.
  51. Eugenie Brinkema, “Rape and the Rectum: Bersani, Deleuze, Noé.” Camera Obscura 20, no. 1 (Spring 2005), pp. 33-57.
  52. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989/1985), p. 23.
  53. Brinkema, 2005, pp. 39-41.
  54. Julianne Pidduck, “New Queer Cinema and Experimental Video.” New Queer Cinema: A Critical Reader, ed. Michele Aaron (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004), p. 84.
  55. Pidduck, 2004, p. 84.
  56. Nick Davis, The Desiring-Image: Gilles Deleuze and Contemporary Queer Cinema (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 75.
  57. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema I: The Movement-Image, Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986/1983), p. 111.
  58. Shannon Bell, Reading, Writing, and Rewriting the Prostitute Body (Bloomington, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994), pp. 1-2.
  59. Heather Love, “Queer Critique, Queer Refusal.” Radical Philosophy Review 16, no. 2 (2013), p. 435.
  60. There are several books on Egoyan, but the most notable scholarly essay collection is Monique Tschofen and Jennifer Burwell, eds. Image and Territory: Essays on Atom Egoyan (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2006). Again, many books on Cronenberg have been published but a notable contribution would be William Beard, The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001).
  61. Amber Dowling, “How Saint-Narcisse Brought Bruce LaBruce Into the Mainstream,” Playback (September 24, 2021), https://playbackonline.ca/2021/09/24/how-saint-narcisse-brought-bruce-labruce-to-the-mainstream/.
  62. For instance, Ward famously dated Madonna for a hot minute in 1990, having appeared in the music video for “Justify My Love” (1990), the singer’s bleak but sexy arthouse romp banned from MTV. Camille Paglia, “Madonna—Finally, A Real Feminist,” The New York Times (December 12, 1990), https://www.nytimes.com/1990/12/14/opinion/madonna-finally-a-real-feminist.html.
  63. For an incisive examination of these issues, see Oliver Davis and Tim Dean, Hatred of Sex (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2022). For an exploration of these issues as they concern the study of pornography (or “porn studies”), see Peter Alilunas, Ummni Khan, Laura Helen Marks, Thomas Waugh, and Kyler Chittick, “Porn and/as Pedagogy, Sexual Representation in the Classroom: A Curated Roundtable Discussion.” Synoptique: An Online Journal of Film and Moving Image Studies 9, no. 2 (Fall 2021), pp. 269-294.
  64. Berlant and Edelman, 2013, p. 63.

About The Author

Kyler Chittick is a Ph.D. student in political science at the University of Alberta (Edmonton, Canada), where he is a teaching assistant in women’s and gender studies and was awarded a 2022 Alberta Graduate Excellence Scholarship. Kyler completed doctoral coursework in the cultural studies program at Queen’s University, where he was an Ontario Graduate Scholar and a Douglas Sheppard Wilson Fellow in Film. He holds graduate degrees in cinema studies and politics from the University of Toronto and York University, respectively. His research interests fall at the intersections of queer theory and critical sexuality studies as they pertain to law, popular culture, film and media history and theory, continental philosophy, and contemporary political theory. His academic work appears in Synoptique: An Online Journal of Film and Moving Image Studies.

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