introduction
A truck with a spray-­ p ainted “Genet” tag in mauve is spotted in
New York City, a queer British pop-­punk duo takes the name
“Jean Genet” (2004), the U.S. artist David Woynarowitz pro-
duces a lithograph in which angels carry weapons, Jesus Christ
is shooting up, and a haloed Genet occupies the foreground
(1978 – 79), the Canadian band CocoRosie writes a song nar-
rating Genet’s mythic life story with, as its melancholy chorus,
“Oh those beautiful boyz / pimps and queens and criminal
queers / Oh those beautiful boyz / tattoos of ships and tattoos
of tears” (2004), a queer/transgender couple, one of them a
sex worker, gets tattoos representing the street queen Divine
and her pimp Darling from Genet’s 1946 novel Our Lady of
the Flowers to commemorate their love (2009).1 These anec-
dotes are suggestive not only of French author and activist
Jean Genet’s (1910 – 86) contemporary subcultural iconicity,2
but also of the impassioned identification he inspires in many
of his queer admirers. Genet is capable of sparking such pas-
sionate attachment because he resonates, more than any other
canonical queer author from the pre-­gay liberation past, with
contemporary queer sensibilities attuned to a defiant nonnor-
mativity. Genet, after all, was not only sexually queer; he was
also a criminal, hated France, and therefore, all nationalisms,
famously “chose” abjection, taking up the position of the so-
cial pariah by begging, tramping, and prostituting himself, and
allied himself, late in life, with the revolutionary anticolonial
movements of the Black Panthers and the Palestinian Liber-
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