Timothy Stewart-Winter, Queer Clout: Chicago and the Rise of Gay Politics, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, PA, 2016, 305 pages, $45.00, ISBN 9780812247916.
This review forum stems from an author-meets-critics session on Timothy Stewart-Winter’s Queer Clout: Chicago and the Rise of Gay Politics, organized by David K. Seitz. The session was held at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers in San Francisco. Participants included Alex G. Papadopoulos, Larry Knopp, and Rinaldo Walcott, whose perspectives are featured here, and Heidi Nast and Rashad Shabazz, whose participation enriched the in-person conversation but who could not participate in the online one. The forum also includes a response from the author.
Queer Clout is a very welcome contribution to the extensive scholarship on Chicago politics, and an urgently needed and long overdue scholarly intervention on Chicago’s queer politics. It is quite astonishing that, compared to New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, Chicago’s queer politics (and queer geographies) have received relatively little attention. So, I start by remarking that this is a milestone of a book for addressing a lacuna in our knowing and understanding the “queer urban” in Chicago.
On June 26, 2015, Timothy Stewart-Winter published an op-ed in the New York Times titled “The price of gay marriage” (Stewart-Winter, 2015). It was a thoughtful and critical contemplation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision in light of the gay freedom movement’s more radical political origins… His book Queer Clout accomplishes much the same thing, in a substantially more comprehensive way, through an examination of “the rise of gay politics” (the book’s subtitle) in Chicago. The book is a fascinating discussion of the complex political, economic, and cultural machinations leading to the rise of a particular kind of influence in a particular kind of politics by a particular—and increasingly narrow—segment of the LGBT population. I enjoyed the book tremendously.
I will take up one aspect of Queer Clout’s contribution and turn it towards the city of Toronto to make sense of what I will call neoliberal white queer niche inclusion in the political machines of local politics. Stewart-Winter maps in great detailed the brokered politics enacted and practiced by Black Aldermen and gay activists in Chicago. This politics allowed for the emergence of gay politicians both in the backrooms and in the legislative bodies, a triumph of sorts. Queer Clout is curious about what this emergence might mean for the future of city politics. Let me just say, from my distance in Toronto, what is clear to me is that, as Stewart-Winter argues, queer emergence in Chicago’s city politics has clearly not worked to interdict police violence in black communities as the entire world knows only too well.
Space has long seemed to me an important concept in thinking about the past. While my field of study is political history, my approach to studying urban machine politics was shaped by William H. Sewell Jr. (2001), whose memorable graduate seminar on social space imparted an interest in space that shaped how I approached the writing of the book. Sewell’s concept of “spatial agency” articulated the way that insurgents “not only are shaped and constrained by the spatial environments in which they take place, but are significant agents in the production of new spatial structures and relations” (55). Also important was Gayle Rubin’s concept of sexual migration and her inquiries in “Thinking Sex” (1984) and elsewhere about how to think about urban political economy and sexual politics together. As an outsider to the field of geography, then, I was honored to be asked to discuss Queer Clout with a group of distinguished scholars in that field at the AAG annual meeting.