Do You Remember House? Chicago’s Queer of Colour Undergrounds

Micah E. Salkind
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018
ISBN: 9780190698416 (hardcover)
RRP: £79 (hardcover)

Fabulous: The Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric

Maddison Moore
Yale: Yale University Press, 2018
ISBN: 9780300204704 (hardcover)
RRP: US$19.95 (hardcover)

Jacob Mallinson Bird

University of Oxford (UK)

In Do You Remember House? Chicago’s Queer of Colour Undergrounds and Fabulous: The Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric, Micah Salkind and Madison Moore each outline a sensitive history of what it means to carve one’s own place in the world. Whether embodying a fabulousness to counteract both the mundanity of everyday life and also systems of white supremacy and queerphobia, or creating a musical movement to empower queers of colour in a vast matrix of intergenerational connection, these authors chart historical and contemporaneous examples of queer tenacity, creativity and vibrancy. Moore offers a history of “fabulousness”, from effete, flâneur dandies to voguing superstars, with constant recourse to the fashion, music, dance and performance cultures that make up a fabulous ideal; and Salkind offers a history of Chicago’s house scene, from its disco origins to present day, always shedding light on the ways in which queers of colour propelled this now global music. Centring on mutual themes of race, queerness, temporality, glamour/fabulousness, space and, importantly, work/werk, Moore and Salkind depict the bittersweet utopia that fabulous embodiment can bring.

Both authors employ a poignant methodology, weaving at times complex theorising with oral histories, interviews, historical writing and autoethnographic vignettes. Where Moore’s theory of fabulousness emerges consistently across Fabulous, dipping in and out of historical context, contemporary interview and personal reverie, Salkind’s text more forcefully demarcates its theoretical drive, and moves from a linear history of house music in its first part to contemporary autoethnographic work in the second. What is most impressive in Salkind’s text are the ways in which they allow the music to begin their theorisations: whether the participatory discrepancies of the groove of house music leading to a theorisation of delayed pleasure, the non-teleological drive of the music reflecting intergenerational memory, or the remixed and sampled tracks offering a repertoire in motion being emblematic of shifting histories, Salkind’s musico-social theory is enlightening throughout. The joy in both Moore and Salkind, though, is that the subject matter is clearly inextricably personal: Salkind’s opening excitement of sneaking out as a 16-year-old to go to Deep Fix’s “Where the Wild Things Are” rave continues throughout the book, and reading Moore’s work clearly signals an inalienable intimacy with the subject matter: the places, the people, the music, the dance, the clothing, namely the sheer fabulousness of queer, eccentric life.

The temporality of such experiences is vitally important throughout each text and sits interestingly alongside current queer approaches. In conversation with queer theorists like Jack Halberstam (2005) and José Esteban Muñoz (2009), whose theories of queer time are well known — as sitting outside of a heteronormative system, and of existing in an over-the-rainbow “not yet here” — Moore and Salkind add interesting new dimensions. For Moore, while clearly agreeing that queer utopia is not yet here, as Muñoz would have it, they also remind us of the intensely present aspect of queerness, and of fabulousness. They write: “fabulous queer utopia is about living in the present but carrying an alternative possibility, a certain future, and yanking it into the here and now” (71), elsewhere stating that “fierceness, fabulousness, and all other visions of spectacular appearance are about imagining space and carving it out for yourself in the here and now, not waiting for the right time to do so” (109). While Muñoz and Halberstam certainly argue for the making-present of queer utopia, notable in the liminal space of the nightclub, Moore’s more quotidian fabulousness — dressing iconically down the street etc. — makes liminal de facto heteronormative space, affecting straight time and space, and rightly so. Moore is also attendant to, following Carolyn Dinshaw’s work, the importance of “queer histories” and how they create “affective relations” between past and present (71).

This is a key point for Salkind, who consistently makes reference to the intergenerational power and impetus of house music. Writing of “ancestral affiliations” (135) and the “intergenerational, cross-cultural mentorship” (176) that is so vital to house music’s growth, Salkind spends considerable time on a crucial concept: neostalgia. Neostalgia, the desire for a connection to the past that one may never have had personally to begin with, resonates beyond house music and to all queer experience. Those of us who never lived through, say, the genesis of house, the ballroom scene, the AIDS pandemic, or the like, still feel that connection, a connection that is made manifest every time, for Moore, we dress fabulously, or, for Salkind, we lose ourselves in the music.[1] Salkind writes beautifully of the heady mixture of past and present in these experiences: the unctuous affectivity of bodies, sound, time and place is felt throughout their work.

The joys that come with fabulousness and house music aren’t without their struggles, though, and the labour of queer people and queers of colour is foregrounded throughout. Moore’s analysis playfully riffs off a ludic linguistics of “work” versus “werk”, where “werk!”, the queer affirmation yelled at balls and drag bars (and sometimes even street corners), “is a type of aesthetic labour actually seen on the body, and it highlights the effort that goes into making memorable aesthetic moments that happen” (27). Creating a look is work, and that work, to extend Carol Hanisch (1969), is always political. Alok Vaid-Menon, trans non-binary activist and social media star, says in interview with Moore: “What keeps me going is there’s a long tradition of people doing this work, and it is work. It’s not just getting ready. It’s actual, political work. It’s strategy, it’s planning, it’s PR, it’s how we talk about it. Every walk I make is already a [protest] march” (51). And they are certainly right: to live fabulously is political, and to sashay down the street is a political act. This work, Salkind contends, is as much political as it is academic, writing that “queer people of colour are always already theorising, even before a scholar enters the club” (16). This is politics, theoria and praxis, in action, a symbiotically lived politic that effuses these texts. What is most bittersweet, and expressed by both authors, is how often this work goes unnoticed or, worse, stolen.

Here the double-turn of queer fabulousness, in all its forms, emerges. “You can’t understand fabulousness unless you get that it emerges from trauma, duress, exclusion, exhaustion and depression, and that in some ways being fabulous is the only thing that can get us out of bed in the morning”, Moore writes (21). It isn’t a halcyon, rose-tinted joie de vivre, but the only possible way of living. Add to this Salkind’s poignant discussions of “generational dissonance” and the decimation of queer communities through HIV and AIDS, and queer joy is soon seen to be wrapped, knotted even, with queer pain. This idea resonates with other queer theories, notably and touchingly Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s (2003) notion of queer shame. For Sedgwick, queer shame is not a by-product of being queer, but rather it is structurally integral to queerness: we are queer because of queer shame (see also Halperin and Traub 2009).. In a similar vein, Moore and Salkind don’t offer pain and trauma as contrasting elements of queer, fabulous joy— they see them as mutually constitutive.

The points the authors raise above are significantly informed by, and indeed are only intelligible in their fullness by attention to, race and racism. While queer temporality, for example, may be one thing, Moore reminds their reader that “brown people have to wait for things in a way that white folks don’t necessarily have to” (164), a poignant insertion of waiting into the radical nowness-cum-futurity of queer joy. Salkind, similarly, writes extensively of the erasure of queers of colour who worked/werked the cultural labour of house music, and their exclusion from the spaces that were once made for them. Clubs that purported inclusivity became “profoundly discouraging for Black gay men in particular” (43), an example of exclusionary door policies that are still hideously contemporary. Salkind offers a measured response to such issues; speaking of clubs that actively seek to promote inclusivity of all kinds, Salkind offers the term “safer”, rather than safe, spaces, foregrounding the fact that “the work of creating a safety is never done” (186). Throughout both texts, the doubly marginalised position of queers and women of colour is brought to the fore, and adds critical dimension to the werk undertaken.

Subtle moves like the above perhaps render Salkind’s text more acutely critical than Moore’s. Throughout, Salkind has a measured idea of utopia, one that is constantly in progress, and one that is malleable, multifarious. While Moore argues, after Muñoz, for a “critical idealism … a way of living that privileges hope and possibility instead of the suffocating anti-utopian negativism that is often de rigueur (186)”, sometimes this hope can be for a potentially untenable or uncritical utopia. I am thinking, for example, of the various calls to end gender that reappear throughout the book. At first reading, these desires to end gender seem justified, an end, surely, to the gender-based violence that befalls queer people on a daily basis. Considering the call further, I begin to think of certain trans friends, and the conversations we have about their gender: about how they are fighting for their gender and their right to express their gender, a gender that is so deeply important to them. For many, gender is joyful — “gender euphoria”, as it’s often called — and while gender must be opened up, its negative effects dismantled, its violence pacified, to end gender altogether would deny many people an important structuring point of their identity: certainly, people must be safe not to have a gender, and we must work to make this a reality, but we must also be attentive to those for whom gender is critical. Moore shows elsewhere that they are seemingly aware of this when they state for example that “not every queer person is a fabulous eccentric, not every queer person should be” (85). Here the difficulties of utopian thinking arise; if queerness is undefinable multiplicity, surely utopia is also.

Importantly, Moore consciously and effectively dismisses what one could imagine being a prevalent conservative or normative critique (and one that gets woefully bandied around the British press…): that fabulousness and the like is somehow frivolous, unimportant, or even selfishly narcissistic. To this Moore argues that, rather than flippant dressing, “our real selves [are] the ones wearing make-up and high heels” (45), an aesthetics of self that echoes my favourite Foucault quotation: “From the idea that the self is not given to us, I think that there is only one practical consequence: we have to create ourselves as a work of art” (Foucault 1991: 351). Parrying superficiality—in its negative affect—Moore adds that “we care about surfaces” (45) and the body, reminiscent of important aspects of Butlerian gender theory and spectrally unpicking a Cartesian dualism. In other words, embodied, performative identity isn’t an afterthought, it’s the real deal. This is certainly present in Salkind’s work also: for the DJs and performers at Queen!, dressing and makeup aren’t optional, but utterly integral.

What is perhaps most special about these texts, and what captivates so much, is a kind of queer reading that they encourage, and how their subject matters, historical and contemporary, reverberate with their readers. Reading both of these works, I felt—as I am sure many queer people will—the neostalgia of so many culture-shifting moments, the empathy and kinship of the joys and traumas of queer life, and my own memories of losing myself and finding myself in the sweaty underbellies of queer nightclubs. The texts mutually create a living archive of queer fabulousness; one that is very much needed, and one that sheds a light on the creative labour of communities too often overlooked.


Foucault, Michel. 1991. “On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress”. In The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow, 343-364. London: Penguin Books.

Halberstam, Jack. 2005. In A Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. New York: New York University Press.

Halperin, David. 2007. What Do Gay Men Want? An Essay on Sex, Risk, and Subjectivity. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press.

Halperin, David and Valerie Traub, ed. 2009. Gay Shame. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hanisch, Carol. “The Personal is Political”. February 1969. <>, (accessed 8.10.22).

Muñoz, José Esteban. 2009. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: New York University Press.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. 2003. Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Durham: Duke University Press.


[1] For interesting discussions of a different sort of neostalgia and desire for connection with queer past, see Halperin 2007.