Loud and Queer

By Kayla Burchuk

David Seitz (Political Science with an American Studies and WGSS heart, Wauwatosa, Wis., U.S.) studies feminist, queer, antiracist and post-Marxist approaches to political organizing and critique. David reflects on his hometown, his time in Paris, religion’s subversive potential, the Leonard Center, and appletinis.The Mac Weekly: Tell me about your life before Macalester. You grew up in the suburbs of Milwaukee? What was that like?

David Seitz: I grew up in this suburb called Wauwatosa. Wauwatosa is 94 percent white and Milwaukee is 45 percent black and 15 percent Latino. Wauwatosa is right next to Milwaukee; Milwaukee is a very segregated metro area. It some ways I grew up in very, sort of, Norman Rockwell kind of conditions. It wasn’t archconservative by U.S. liberal-conservative standards. It was interesting. The last few years in high school I was the only out – I wouldn’t have used the word “queer” then – but the only out gay person there. .It’s more complex to relate to my hometown now, especially in terms of its racial politics and how those politics informed my sense of being smart or being a good student or having earned something.

TMW: How is it more difficult to relate to it now?

DS: When I was in high school I was really embedded in the romance of the suburbs, because I needed to reconcile my sexual desires and my political desires with where I was. . So gay marriage activism was a really big way for me to reconcile the idea of desire the way I was experiencing it and the idea of social justice with the way of organizing desire that was most acceptable. So I was really invested in recuperating things like marriage and religion from their conservative readings. Now I have a much more complicated relationship with gay marriage activism.

TMW: You mentioned that you do a lot of work about the interactions between faith and other forms of identity-based oppression and coalition building. How did you become involved in that?

DS: Since my first year I’ve been going to this predominantly queer anti-war anti-racist church in Minneapolis called Spirit of the Lakes United Church of Christ. Part of what I like about that place, and what I appreciate about it, is that, on the one hand, I feel really affirmed there and unconditionally accepted, and I feel a sort of intimacy there that I think is really important and valuable. .I also felt like my desires for justice were inspired or challenged by the social theology of this church. .The mainstay of LGBT organizing in the church, at least Protestant churches in North America is really focused on [same-sex] marriage and ordination.these single identity based issues, And I think those issues are really important, but because of the way we live sexuality in our lives, with our identities, I think it’s really important for gay and lesbian activism in the church to work on a multiplicity of issues.

TMW: I know you worked with the Faith Branch of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

DS: .Those questions are what keep me up at night. If religion is still with us and has always been with us, and these narratives of secularism are a little bit overblown, then are there positive contributions critical Protestantisms can make to radical activism? That to me is a really interesting possibility and I feel like it’s one that’s not really addressed at all if you just focus on marriage and ordination. I just think it’s really cool and special that the Faith Branch of the National Gay and Lesbian task force would be in Minneapolis, of anywhere in the U.S. that it could be. There are a lot of progressive and queer-positive churches in the Twin Cities, and synagogues and other faith communities. Rather than indulging in a secular narrative, I wanted to explore the ways that spirituality actually informed and motivated people’s commitments to progressive politics . in a way that lets people speak for themselves in the fullness of who they are, and what inspires them and what their values are. So I talked to a lot of really cool people and ended up making a documentary based on what people said. I talked to . Keith Ellison, who is just fabulous . and has a really amazing political philosophy.

TMW: What was it like hanging out with other queer activists in Paris, in another culture?

DS: It was really complicated because I was interning there full-time and we are doing some social hanging out and then a lot of it was hanging out in the office, that sort of pace of life. The humor, I think, was really campy, so that was fun and hard at the same time because there was a lot of it that I couldn’t catch. What was nice was when people would joke with each other on the email employee list serve because then I could go to Wordreference.com and figure out what the jokes were, although some of them didn’t translate. It was very witty and very funny, and that’s what I remember most. These men like Hervé and Arlindo, I can see him in my mind, and their sort of wit and their sort of raunchy humor. Paris, I think, like the United States. gay culture does not mean any one thing. So you have the Marais which is this glossy gay neighborhood that is also super gentrified and very bound up in the neoliberalization of Paris, but then you also have these spaces of desire, like squats in the 13th and the 14th arrondissements where there are these queer all-night dance parties . so that’s present as well.

TMW: You were very active in the fight to reverse the decision to deny tenure to former WGSS Professor, Scott Morgensen. .Why was the decision made, what was the student response, and then what is your perspective now, two years after the ground zero of that struggle?

DS: I can’t really comment on how the decision was made, because I wasn’t there, I wasn’t a faculty member, and I know all of those proceedings are confidential. .What I can say about the decision is that I did and I still do disagree ardently with the decision insofar as I understand the criteria of a tenure decision to be scholarship, service, and teaching. There’s no real argument against Scott Morgensen on any of those grounds. It’s funny though because I think that was very much the consensus among students, whether they worked peripherally with Scott, whether they’d taken multiple classes from him. In my Transnational Sexual Politics class, shortly before the tenure decision was revealed, we had joked that we would burn cars, because we didn’t even think that it was even in the realm of possibility, do you know what I mean? That someone so qualified. Again, I’m not going to comment on the specificity of the decision, but that idea that we live in a meritocracy, or that the academy is outside of political considerations; that’s a na’ve view. .The student response was one of disappointment but also one of immediate mobilization. I think it was very much based on dialogue about what would be appropriate, what would be a show of solidarity, what would not speak for Scott, or inappropriately comment on that decision in a way that jeopardized his relationship with the college. I also think it was pretty amazing. You had so many alumni so many current students like 200 people. I’m really, grateful for the lessons I learned from Scott. He was a key person for challenging me in a really richly intersectional way both in terms of identity but also in terms of analysis.

TMW: Often times there are a lot of sarcastic jokes that circulate in the community about overt political correctness or overt self-consciousness that directly targets some of the approaches that you’re talking about, intersecting identities, acknowledging one’s whiteness.What do you think about that?

DS: I think a lot of things. I’ll say often that it’s coming from a place of reaction and coming from a place of privilege. I think it’s intellectually irresponsible, but I think the biggest mistake it makes is that it mistakes the place where many middle class students first encounter various forms of critique with the place that they originated, right? Ang
ela Davis didn’t just pop out of some book somewhere. She was engaged in multiple, simultaneous liberation struggles against white supremacy and against the prison industrial complex. She wasn’t just writing to twiddle her thumbs of the make some white middle class student feel bad about themselves or police their speech.

TMW: I’ve noticed that you enjoy dressing in drag as famous women from conservative America, such as Cyndi McCain, as a dominatrix, and Ann Coulter.

DS: Yeah, that’s been a thing and I’m not sure where that’s gonna go, but it’s definitely something that I’m interested in. I’ve also done Loretta Lynn.

TMW: What inspired you to embody or perform these conservative women?

DS: The first one had everything to do with the right cocktail dress at the right time and then just sort of physical resemblance to Ann Coulter, my hands and some other things. Then I was just like, “How can I top that?” and Cyndi McCain is fascinating, I think. She’s very intense. Katie Couric made some comment about her “wolverine eyes.” So I was just really fascinated with her and really taken with her affinity for black leather, so that just sort of spun off of that.

TMW: You were one of four seniors nominated for the global citizenship student award. What is global citizenship and what role does that play in this institution?

DS: I think the Global Citizenship panel was a really lovely opportunity, and everyone was lovely, and everyone was deserving. I think we had a great conversation and I was really happy to see Wes got it because he gave a really amazing and critical talk. But in terms of my own response. I feel like I have a really contradictory relationship to global citizenship.I see that citizenship has always been about place, and “us”, and locality, whether a city or nation, and that always requires exclusion. Any recourse to that “us”, that national citizenship also requires and institutes and installs a “them.” Part of the danger, even as it’s necessary for identity politics to proliferate, is they’re asking for that incorporation into the body politic . so you have that sort of inherent exclusivity. Amy Brandzel would say that a queer citizenry would refuse citizenship all together, and she is really onto something. On the other hand, I feel like I don’t think that I can will away positionality. I don’t think I can neglect to attend to how I have been formed as a subject, and I don’t think I can dance away from the fact that that’s really bound up in U.S. hegemony and to the extent that I experience the globe at all, U.S. hegemony facilitates that, both concretely and in countless other ways.

TMW: We used to run into each other all the time at the Leonard Center. What’s your relationship to that space?

DS: The Leonard Center! I am glad that Macalester has a bigger and better athletic facility. I think it’s interesting that the men’s locker room doesn’t have stalled showers and the women’s does. In fact I think it’s interesting that they’re gendered all together, although that is complicated and has to do with what you anticipate and who you anticipate will use it and how they’ll use it. Yeah, it’s complex, you know. I keep reminding myself that it’s probably the least intimidating gym that I’ll ever go to in my life, so I have to appreciate it for that. Even the athletes, I don’t want to say even the athletes, as if they’re separate from me some how. These big strong men that you should all be so intimidated by are talking about really smart things and really nerdy things and baking cookies for their classes. .This is the topic of conversation. Not that there isn’t also grunting and sort of really fearsome masculinity. It’s only gonna get worse, except maybe the YWCA because it’s a feminist anti racist gym. That might be the one thing that’s better. So I always try to remember that this is a Division-III nerd school. I go home to like the Wisconsin Athletic Club and it’s ter-if-fy-ing,! You know?

TMW: What do you most looking forward to doing after this academic pressure ceases? What do you imagine doing party-wise?

DS: I just have this mental picture of an appletini. It has to be the most decadent, bourgeois, Sex and the City. like a cosmopolitan or an appletini. It’s just that figure, other than that nothing else is really specified. I’ll definitely be moving to Minneapolis for the summer. I’m also excited about some of the politics and some of the vibes that I’ve already had gotten in Seward and Cedar Riverside. I also think the Blue Door will always be kind of everyone’s living room and I love that about it. And I also hope that more Macalester folk can go together to the Townhouse because that place is also really complicated and special and fun.