Libby Leshgold Gallery

Please join us at READ Books for the book launch of I Know You Are, but What Am I?, by Cait McKinney. This launch will include a reading from the book, a conversation with Mckinney and writer Lindsey Freeman, and a screening of selected clips from episodes of the iconic Pee-wee's Playhouse which aired from 1986-1990.

An exploration of the cultural legacy of Pee-wee Herman, I Know You Are, but What Am I? shows how the television show Pee-wee’s Playhouse (1986–90) informs our present moment. McKinney explores how lessons learned from the iconic Playhouse of the past can help us refute anti-trans and anti-queer political movements organized today.

From the University of Minnesota Press I Know You Are, but What Am I? explores the cultural legacy of Pee-wee Herman, the cult television star of Pee-wee’s Playhouse. This children’s show—that was also for adults—ran on network TV from 1986 to 1990 and starred comedian Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman, a queer man-boy whose playhouse, the set for the show, was tricked out with a profusion of animate computational toys and technologies.

Cait McKinney shows how three defining scenes from the show inform, and even foretell and challenge, our present moment: the playhouse as an alternative precursor to networked smart homes that foregrounds caring and ethical relationships between humans and technologies; a reparative retelling of Reubens’s career-wrecking 1991 arrest for indecent exposure inside a Florida adult film theater as part of an AIDS-phobic, antigay sting operation; and worn-out, Talking Pee-wee dolls and their broken afterlives on eBay and YouTube

McKinney looks at how queer people who were children in the 1980s remember and relate to Pee-wee now, showing that the moral panic about sexuality, gender, and children from the past can help us refute anti-trans and anti-queer political movements organized today.

Cait McKinney is the the author of Information Activism: A Queer History of Lesbian Media Technologies (Duke 2020), winner of the Gertrude Robinson Best Book Prize from the Canadian Communication Association and a Lambda Literary Award Finalist for LGBTQ studies. They co-edited Inside Killjoy's Kastle: Dykey Ghosts, Feminist Monsters, and other Lesbian Hauntings (UBC, 2019). Their new book on the legacies of Pee-wee Herman, I know you are, but what am I?, came out in 2024 from University of Minnesota Press. McKinney's collaborations with the artist Hazel Meyer explore shared attachments to queer histories through writing, performance, video, and other archival interventions. Recent activations of their collaborative work include Glasgow International Art Biennial (SCT) 2018, VIVO Media Arts Centre (CA) 2022, and the Art Museum at the University of Toronto (CA) 2023. McKinney is Assistant Professor in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University.

Lindsey A. Freeman is a writer and sociologist interested in endurance, hapticality, atomic + nuclear cultures, and poetics. Her most recent book, Running, is about practice, love, queerness, and long distance running (Duke University Press).

Freeman is now working on two books: one about soccer, queer joy, and how hard it is to care about things, and another book about running cultures, crews, and collectives.

She also continues to write and think about atomic places and things.



Portait of Cait Mckinney