A Response to “Moving Politics”

Talk Title: “Moving Politics: Emotion and ACT UP’s Fight Against AIDS” by Deborah B. Gould
Respondent: Heather Love

In her talk, Deborah Gould, discussed her book, Moving Politics: Emotion and ACT UP’s Fight Against AIDS, which focused on the affective dimensions of the ACT UP political movement. One of the central claims of her discussion was the notion of the emotional habitus, a term that Gould developed to describe the collective conscious and non-conscious emotions of a group, in this case ACT UP. Gould also explained that the emotional habitus functions as a template that dictates how members of a specific group can or should feel at a give time. In her discussion she explored the limitations and the benefits of the emotional habitus that existed amongst activists in ACT UP. One of Gould’s most compelling points was her description of the decline of ACT UP and the role that the emotional habitus played in it. Gould explained that the emotional habitus of ACT UP did not allow space for despair or hopelessness during the movement. Therefore when activists lost hope in the medical system, lost friends or fellow activists to AIDS, or were suffering from AIDS, they felt that they could not express their emotions, which resulted in many of them leaving the movement.

Another compelling aspect of Gould’s presentation, though not fleshed out completely, was her interest in the visceral, physical, intellectual, sexual, and spiritual aspects of ACT UP. According to her talk, it seems that her book focuses primarily on the affective aspects of ACT UP; however, she also acknowledged other aspects of political activism, which she stated came together and shaped the movement into something powerful and life changing as well as community changing. These notions, as well as her emphasis on collectives, seemed reminiscent of Audre Lorde’s essay “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.” Lorde’s emphasis on creating collectives and the union of the psychic, spiritual, emotional, physical, and political to create change, seems similar to Gould’s description of ACT UP.

This weeks readings focused predominantly on transgendered and intersexed persons. Recently, many queer activist groups have been criticized for transphobia, cissexism, or for not acknowledging the needs of transgendered and intersexed persons. Gould argues that ACT UP, a predominantly queer organization, was able to recognize and redefine queerness through creating a collective and radical activism. Gould argues ACT UP as a collective allowed for queer persons to create a new public identity and countered the shame they previously felt about being queer.  Do transgendered and intersexed persons need to create collectives in order for their voices to be heard and for their identities to be recreated in the public sphere? With regard to identity politics what is at stake if these collectives include cisgendered and non-intersexed persons (allies)?

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