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Jack Jen Gieseking’s A Queer New York: Geographies of Lesbians, Dykes, and Queers (NYU 2020) has much to offer to urban and queer studies. Among many of the book’s vital contributions is Gieseking’s introduction of what they call “constellations,” a method for documenting non-territorializing queer relationships to urban space. Gieseking describes constellations as “a production of space that queers fixed, property-owned, territorial models of traditional lgbtq space as the only or best path toward radical liberation" (3). (Note: Gieseking intentionally doesn’t capitalize the common acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and trans people in order to bring attention to their commonality and distinctions.) Constellations suggest a method with tremendous capacity for recording the complexity of lesbians’ and queers’ work toward spatial justice, and for contributing to the study of queer urban space while rejecting a premise that collapses making space with claiming it.
A Queer New York draws upon multigenerational group interviews that Gieseking conducted in 2008 and 2009 with 47 lesbians, queers, and tgncp (trans and gender non-conforming people). Across the book, he centers these interviews to produce a “lush historical geography” that focuses on the “range of ways that lesbians and queers produce everyday spatial belonging” (Knittle 2022: 427). Gieseking grounds his fieldwork in scholarship in geography, queer studies, and urban history. Additionally, A Queer New York includes not only interviewees’ spoken reflections, but also many of their mental maps, more of which are available on the website that accompanies the book.
In the book’s preface, Gieseking explains that a goal of the project is to document the political dynamics of the lives of his interlocutors, many of whom find themselves on both sides of the binary of gentrifier and gentrified. Gieseking seeks “to hold lgbtq people accountable for their role in gentrification while also celebrating the ways in which they have survived, thrived, and contributed to resisting the precarity enforced by heteropatriarchy" (xxiii). Gieseking is careful to describe their project as partial rather than comprehensive, making room for “the many stories of lesbian-queer New York City that are yet to be written" (xxiv). In doing so, Gieseking offers an interdisciplinary method useful to scholars seeking to document with care and representative complexity the spatial relationships of people by turns privileged and disenfranchised by expectations of white cis-heteronormativity.
A Queer New York also offers a remarkable model for how to do anti-metronormative work in queer urban studies. While Gieseking focuses on lesbian-queer relationships to Manhattan and Brooklyn from the early 1980s to the late 2000s, he shares the skepticism of Gray et. al. (2016), Herring (2010), Tongson (2011), Thomsen (2021), Forstie (2022), and other scholars who have long made a case for turning away from the city, and especially from large, coastal cities, to focus on marginalized rural and suburban lives. Gieseking hews to the city but shares this anti-metronormative orientation. He provides a method for documenting queer urban lives that critiques the concept of the gay or queer neighborhood as reproducing settler logics, such that “coastal urbanisms and settler colonialism all too often structure default queer imaginaries" (xxii). And yet, as A Queer New York persuasively demonstrates, to turn away entirely from the city as a subject for queer spatial studies is to miss the complexity of queer life in which cities are much more than the sum of their gayborhoods and fleeting and fragmented relationships to urban places are one important component of queer spatial intimacies.
The responses in this Forum are distilled from reflections during an “Author Meets Readers” session organized and introduced by Christian Anderson at the 2022 American Association of Geographers annual meeting. The responses all reflect with gratitude upon Gieseking’s contributions to methods for queer urban studies in the pursuit of spatial justice. Theodore Davenport notes that “one of the greatest strengths of A Queer New York is the sheer breadth of methods Gieseking utilizes in their project.” Anderson describes Gieseking’s approach as a “novel and explicitly partial” recounting of lesbian-queer life in New York. Anderson, too, reflects on how Gieseking’s accounting of his participants’ reflections at once serves as “a description of and a radical aspiration for lesbian, queer, and trans lives connected across spaces and rooted in extensive relationality.” LaToya Eaves also addresses the book’s commitment to partiality. Eaves focuses on the utility of how Gieseking addresses “what happens when collaborators don’t tell you everything,” an inquiry that Eaves argues is essential for “geographers and social scientists attempting to take on inclusive, anti-oppressive research in queer and trans geographies.”
The responses in the Forum address not only the methods Gieseking uses to engage with the material from his group interviews, but also how he positions the book in dialogue with histories of spatial studies scholarship. In her reflection, Gillian Rose comments on Gieseking’s citational method, noting that “the 'giants' of urban theory” are cited “in passing” and that “it is exhilarating to read a book which simply sidesteps those behemoths” and “instead draws on a very wide range of feminist, queer, Black, indigenous, other scholars speaking from and to marginal positionalities.” As Rose argues, Gieseking’s commitment to rethinking spatial justice inheres both in his attention to spatial intimacy beyond territoriality and to the critical interlocutors with whom he forms his argument.
Many of the Forum’s responses reflect additionally on the remarkable care evident in Gieseking’s writing – care for his interlocutors, for New York City, and for conversations in queer spatial studies. Rose comments on the model the book offers for “the value and beauty of long-term, committed, considered, slow scholarship” such that “the book not only informs but is full of feeling.” Eaves mentions how Gieseking negotiates their own positionality, writing that “the consistent reflexivity present in the book is refreshing, attentive, and with care.” Ghassan Moussawi, too, describes the book as “a prime example of how to write with such clarity, vulnerability, and care.” Davenport similarly notes that they were “particularly compelled by the care that Gieseking places in ensuring that their project was truly participatory, even when this process was uncomfortable or required critical reflexivity.”
The Forum responses express gratitude for how the book makes its grappling part of its analysis. Queer studies offers a bouquet of methods for representing and understanding chaos. In A Queer New York, Gieseking sets his fieldwork into conversation with scholarship from across and beyond queer studies to foreground the chaotic difficulty of studying queer space in ways that hold a tension between analytical precision and realistic complexity. How Gieseking turns chaos into method offers strategies for making impediments to accuracy in spatial studies scholarship into constitutive components of a version of precision designed to be both partial and complex in the pursuit of anti-oppressive critique.
Forstie C (2022) Queering the Midwest: Forging LGBTQ Community. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Gray M, C Johnson, and B Gilley (2016) Queering the Countryside: New Frontiers in Rural Queer Studies. New York: New York University Press.
Herring S (2010) Another Country: Queer Anti-Urbanism. New York: New York University Press.
Knittle D (2022) A queer New York: geographies of lesbians, dykes, and queers. Planning Perspectives. 37(2): 427-429.
Thomsen C (2021) Visibility Interrupted: Rural Queer Life and the Politics of Unbecoming. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Tongson K (2011) Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries. New York: New York University Press.
Davy Knittle (he/they) is assistant professor of English at the University of Delaware. Davy works at the intersection of queer and trans studies, urban studies, and the environmental humanities.