Monthly Archives: October 2013

Queering the Copy

In our reading of Butler’s “Imitation and Gender Insubordination” we confronted whether homosexuality can truly be considered a copy, when without the oppositional homosexuality there would be no need for the rigidly controlled heterosexual ideal. The texts we’ve worked with this quarter treat queer identities in two distinct ways; queerness is either presented as an inversion of heterosexuality or as its own distinct culture.

Early sexologists largely created the narrative of homosexuality (inversion) as a defective person unable to live as a heterosexual. Their stances exert a noticeable influence on early queer texts including Hall’s The Well of Loneliness. In The Well of Loneliness Stephen’s inversion is inseparable from her possession of her natural maleness. Her characteristically male traits allows her inversion to be better understood,  Stephen can only pursue these queer relationships with the understanding that she’s able to fulfill the ‘male’ role in heterosexual relationships. Even so Stephen is unable to remain in a relationship with Mary and defer her queer love to create a heterosexual relationship.

The father in Bechdel’s Fun Home similarly supports the idea that homosexuality must take a back seat to the heterosexual. On the surface he would read as a heterosexual man married with kids, yet even his personal life has been carefully created to portray a certain image. His queer desire can only be expressed through tightly controlled sexual affairs with young men. The homosexual can only exist when it’s able to fit into his heterosexual narrative. Whether they’re babysitters, gardeners, or students they all serve to affirm his constructed image.

Other works we’ve studied have represented thriving queer communities in numerous ways. Paris is Burning, All about My Mother, and Girls in Uniform each showcased a number of queer friendships, families, and loving relationships. But Chu T-ien-Wen’s “Bodhisattva Incarnate” and Annie Proulx’s “Brokeback Mountain” provide images of gay male sexual desire. Furthermore their sex isn’t judged in terms of heterosexuality rather it stands on its own merit.

In “Brokeback Mountain” Ennis and Jack’s relationship starts out purely sexual. It doesn’t matter that they’re “not no queer” (pg.7), the sexual attraction is strong enough to pull them together again and again throughout their first summer. Yet what separates Ennis and Jack from the father in Fun Home is the strong emotional connection they develop. Ennis and Jack love with an intent and force unseen in the story’s heterosexual relationships. Whereas those relationships are kept out of familial obligation and financial security their love is shown as the purest.

Little Tong in “Bodhisattva Incarnate” is a thirty year old gay man. His queerness is prevalent, and it is never defined as oppositional to heterosexual love. The only mentions of heterosexual relationships come from his sister’s implicitly odd relationship and Zhong Lin’s girlfriend. Little Tong’s sexuality is with Zhong Lin in the present as well as in his flashbacks. His first encounter with Jabbar is heavy with “narcotic scent[s] pine resin” (pg. 31), throughout his life sex is connected to his sense of smell and connected to the formation of his queer identity. In another previous encounter he befriends two young gay men and what follows is a extended stretch of feeding and eating before Little Tong eventually hooks up with the boys. The extensive use of smell and taste affirm the natural ease of Little Tong’s homosexuality, he never needed to explore and find an alternative to heterosexual love rather his instincts guided him.



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Privacy and the “Queer” Family of Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain creates an image of the queer family that differs drastically from the family presented in either Paris is Burning or All About My Mother. These two works show the queer family as a haven for the abused and oppressed, a community where members can find love and support. Brokeback Mountain, by contrast, presents an insular queer family (that is, the “family” of Jack and Ennis) that is totally disinterested in creating a relationship with the outside world, either as some part of a “queer” community or as part of society more generally.

Jack and Ennis’ meeting at Brokeback Mountain, itself, sets the stage for the insularity of their queer family. In this pastoral, seemingly unobserved place, they imagine that they exist entirely outside of the social norms and expectations that they would otherwise face them. Their conversation after their first sexual encounter shows this:

… Ennis said “I’m not no queer,” and Jack jumped in with “Me neither. A sone-shot thing. Nobody’s business but ours” (7).

What’s particularly interesting about Jack saying that it’s “nobody’s business but ours” is that it creates a direct connection between the idea of being queer and being observed as a queer. Thus the queer family changes from being about support in the face of adversity (as in Paris is Burning and All About My Mother) and becomes a separatist unit, founded in romantic love and aiming to hide or disguise itself from heteronormative society by invoking some right to privacy.

This right to privacy, I think, is the main difference between Almadóvar’s queer family and the queer family of Brokeback Mountain. While Almodóvar, in keeping with the theme of transnationalism, seeks to broaden the queer family to promote general compassion and a sense of community, Jack and Ennis seek merely the privacy to do as they will, disassociating entirely with society (e.g., the suggestion of moving to Mexico and abandoning the country entirely) and seeming to desire an escape from human community entirely, instead opting for a monogamous and insular relationship.

One thing this analysis hasn’t taken into account is the fact that the society that Ennis and Jack wanted to leave was one that decidedly detested them for their love. The question, then, is this: Would they have desired their privacy if their society hadn’t been so oppressive? If we take as evidence the fact that modern gay marriages lead to the creation of private families, it would seem that the answer would be yes.

This story of a private and insular family leads to more precise questions about the “queer” family: Can private units like the one Jack and Ennis desire be considered “queer families?” If so, why? Merely because they have an atypical gender structure? How much privacy can be allowed in the queer family, and what kind of exclusivity is acceptable in it?


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Societal Constructions and “Bodhisattva Incarnate”

The clichéd advice to ‘write what you know’ is clichéd for a reason — writing what we know, or what we live, allows us to key into a story and voice that we live and practice every day.  But truly, are the experiences of any two people – no matter how alike they are – that similar?  And if they’re not, how different are the experiences of people who are different?  This is one question that is posed when Chu T’ien-Wen, a heterosexual woman, writes the stories of gay males.  In “Bodhisattva Incarnate,” T’ien-Wen embodies the voice and mind of a homosexual male – that which she most definitely is not.  The fact that T’ien-Wen can write a believable account of male homosexual love suggests that it is indeed a societal or cultural construction that makes us think that homosexual love and heterosexual love are so different and that perhaps, at their core, they are no different at all.

Several times when the author describes homosexual love in this story, substituting one of the he pronouns for ‘she’ as an exercise indicates how the love that is described is similar to heterosexual love.  I must state at the beginning that this is not to say that heterosexual love is the ‘standard’ or ‘correct’ kind of love, but it is the conception of love that is most common.  For example, when T’ien-Wen writes “He calmly prepared the tea; he looked on placidly.  Tenderness enfolded them like the intricate shadows of a fine bamboo screen.  He offered the tea to him, and their lowered gazes met, just like a respectful spouse bearing the serving tray courteously high” (44).  The second ‘he’ here could be easily replaced with a ‘she,’ and we would see this as a perfectly normal and sweet romantic heterosexual interaction.  I think it is a strength of the piece that moments like this exist, because they allow the perhaps prejudiced reader to understand the similarities between the love that they know and homosexual love. The question arises if T’ien-Wen is drawing on her own heterosexual experiences to write this scene of homosexual love — I would say that she is, at least in part because it comes across so authentically.  This ties into what we have been talking about this quarter in the sense that it suggests that many of the values and experiences of homo and heterosexual love are similar.  I also want to focus on the mundane nature of the action.  The fact that they are just making tea and gazing at each other paints a serene and normalized experience of homosexual love.  Some may argue that T’ien-Wen’s work could not possibly be authentic because she has not lived the experience of homosexual love — but if we say that, then we must limit all works of literature to the scope of experience of the author — and if we did that, how limited would our imaginations and cultural consciousnesses be?

The story also focuses on another element of societal constructions.  T’ien-Wen writes, “They chatted away an eternity…It was time to leave; Zhong Lin still had to take his girlfriend to the seven-twenty movie” (48).  Zhong Lin’s insistence that he must take his girlfriend to a movie highlights the social pressure to conform to the common form of sexual identification.  Much like what we saw in “Brokeback Mountain,” the true homosexual desire is abandoned for presumable social acceptance related to heterosexual ‘love.’ Zhong Lin would rather publically live a lie than experience the prejudice that he feels is associated with homosexual love.  [595]


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Melodrama and Masochism in Almodovar

(note: I apologize if parts of this post merely rehash what was already said in class!)

“I started writing when I was eight. I didn’t know that I had chained myself for live to a noble but merciless master. When G-d hands you a gift, he also hands you a whip; and the whip is intended only for self-flagellation.”

This passage from Capote’s Music for Chameleons reminds us that creation is painful, and suggests that any art worth making is a mode of chastening ourselves. S&M has already come up a number of times in our discussions. In this post, I’d like to think about the relationship between melodrama and masochism in Todo Sobre Mi Madre—a title which the very opening scene of the movie declares to be ridiculous (as Esteban remarks that All About Eve has been translated incorrectly, and Manuela explains that a literal translation would sound awkward). The impropriety of the Spanish translation of  All About Eve is our first clue to the film’s preoccupation with trans issues; as the Linda Craig article makes clear, the movie concerns not only gender fluidity, but also national and cultural fluidity—it emphasizes both the awkwardness and the elegance of translations from one medium, gender, or locale to another, and vacillates on the question of whether we are meant to translate/duplicate/pay homage or to reinvent. But if repetition and variation thematically pervade the movie, we might take a moment to consider why it is that Almodovar opens the movie with a faithful and uncomfortable repetition—he uses the “todo sobre” format rather than its more elegant (in Manuela’s opinion) counterpart. We might expect that a movie concerned with shattering norms and blurring boundaries might favor a translation that embraces the idiosyncrasy of a language by eschewing the fetishization of “literal” translation. Instead, Almodovar realigns our aesthetic expectations; Almodovar has favored this title precisely because of its awkwardness. (Perhaps Rosa’s mother’s copying of Chagalls also points out deliberate awkwardness; Chagall was known for being the master of a childlike, unmasterful style, so the secrecy and skill required to copy him is ironic.) Not only, then, do we enter the movie expecting it to deliberately discomfit us; we also note that the movie criticizes itself, has preemptively wounded and undercut itself, as so many do. The movie appears both to perform masochism and to indulge it in its viewers.

Last Monday, the idea of catharsis came up; as Professor D-T explained in class, catharsis makes sense of our draw to the tragic by arguing that the second-hand experience of pain is actually a form of healing—we purge our emotions by letting them freely manifest themselves during the experience of art. For Aristotle, the tragedy is neither schadenfreude (sadism) nor didactic or sanctimonious pedantry (masochism); essentially it’s therapy, the identification of a story with oneself and the subsequent breaking of a cycle set in motion by one’s inability to articulate the fears, wishes, and traumas that a tragedy makes explicit. To my mind, Almodovar is re-queering (i.e., decommissioning, making “useless”) the genre of drama by casting its cathartic utility in doubt. The shocking, relentless unhappiness of Streetcar, the movie’s most obvious intertext, similarly seems to indulge tragedy for its own sake, with its impressive collection of dysfunctional protagonists and utter lack of resolution. In Almodovar, cleansing may ultimately be achieved—after all, the baby is miraculously cured, and in Almodovar’s version of the play the abused Stella finally escapes—but the number of repetitions of abuse and dysfunction required to complete that cleansing is unclear. Perpetuating and breaking the cycle are equally powerful forces, such that reliving a trauma may or may not result in a therapeutic acceptance thereof. In some cases, wallowing in misery—as, for example, in the case of Manuela tracking down the recipient of her son’s heart and attending Streetcar obsessively—might serve no cathartic purpose at all. Agrado explains the preference thus: “I like to say goodbye to the people I love, even if it’s only to cry my eyes out, bitch.”

Gender, of course, is one way of marking sadists and masochists. Traditionally, women are associated with the masochistic role (see: Stella), so the near-universal femininity in the film may be a commentary on the pervasive masochism. As Sylvia Plath famously wrote, “Every woman adores a fascist / The boot in the face, the brute / Brute heart of a brute like you” (“Daddy”). Stanely in Streetcar says something similar:

“Listen, baby, when we first met – you and me – you thought I was common. Well, how right you was. I was common as dirt. You showed me a snapshot of the place with them columns, and I pulled you down off them columns, and you loved it, having them colored lights goin’. And wasn’t we happy together? Wasn’t it all okay till she showed here? And wasn’t we happy together? Wasn’t it all OK? Till she showed here. Hoity-toity, describin’ me like a ape.”

The translation of this speech offered in Todo Sobre Mi Madre is, “Brute? I was a brute when we met. But I’d remind you that it was never a problem for you…” In both cases, Stanely points out that his commonness was attractive to Stella; but in Almodovar’s version, the emphasis is on his brutality rather than his socioeconomic lowliness. In the film, this moment in the play is more explicitly a moment of outed sadomasochism. And, after all, most of Almodovar’s characters do seem to deliberately put themselves in painful positions. Watching Todo Sobre, one is inclined to think that the women’s repeated choice of dangerous and selfish mates is deliberate. As Manuela yells at Rosa after she gets her test results back, “Why the hell did you screw Lola? Don’t you know she’s been shooting up for 15 years?” It’s a good question.

To sum up, then: there’s a punishing cyclicality at work in Todo Sobre that makes one wonder whether catharsis is a white lie, whether “catharsis,” like Foucault’s idea of confession or therapy, isn’t actually a way to repeat over and over the very thing it claims to cure. The three Estebans illustrate this strange desire to recreate tragedy. If Manuela is running away from Esteban, why did she name her child after him? Why does Rosa do the same? Manuela says, “A Streetcar Named Desire has marked my life.” But it’s just as much the other way around—she has marked her life with Streetcar. Why does Rosa want to live with another woman who has been mistreated by Lola, and why does Manuela accept Rosa into her home without explaining the connection? Indeed, why is Manuela on this hunt for Esteban’s father after Esteban’s death? Perhaps melodrama—and not “healing”—is the ultimate point. Perhaps the dramatic witnessing of pain is, in this trans universe in which authenticity and reality are endlessly confounded, pain itself. As Linda Williams explains in her article “Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess,” the “lowly” forms of art are those that inspire a mimetic reaction in their viewers: in melodrama, the perpetual weeping on-screen is mirrored by the viewer’s tears off-screen. If pints of silicone are authentic (and why not? Can’t we see them, feel them, taste them?), our vicarious tears are, too.


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Silent Mountains

I want to focus on the last scene of verbal confrontation between Jack and Ennis in Brokeback Mountain (both the short story and the movie). Weighed down by 20 years of irresolute silence, abscence, and separation Jack and Ennis question the feasibility of an alternate path to their story.  

Ennis asks: “You got a better idea?”

to hear Jack’s “bitter and accusatory” reply: “I did once.”

Jack points to a temporal space in which being together might have been possible. Ennis challenges this speculation and talks of a geographic space instead: “You been a Mexico, Jack?” 

The invocation of Mexico here seems puzzling. Of course, there is a threat involved in the ennunciation; Mexico is the “shoot-’em zone,” and “little boys” like Jack would get done there. The argument then runs: whatever idea you had once (when time was open to queerness), the place to inhabit was nonexistent.    

Still, something is off. Why would Ennis talk about Mexico, instead of spaces more likely to be declared “home”? Ennis was perfectly aware of violence against men that lived together in the ranches of Wyoming–he inherited that knowledge. If Wyoming and Brokeback Mountain are home, then Mexico is the “unhome”. As an unhome, you can do things [“all the things I don’t know”] that aren’t possible at home, but which also have repercussions that must be silenced: [in the movie: “the things they do to boys like you”]. For Ennis and Jack, it seems, Mexico is a place of desire, (in a Foucauldian sense) as it is defined by lack and created by repressive forces. Brokeback Mountain is, of course, also a place of desire, yet one that is encoded differently. In other words, the Mountain is know experientally and is attainable, Mexico is known obliquely and incompletely, and lies at a distance.  

Mexico, although only briefly mentioned, unveils a deeper conflict between Ennis and Jack; how to belong to the unhomed. After many migrations within normative and incompatible representations of home, they are still searching for a sense of belonging. Jack realizes that a break is needed, that his home can’t be a silent altitude fuck, while Ennis knows that the consummation of his desire in “the unhome” can only be met with violence as strong as his desire. 

In a film about cowboys, Mexico is yet again the final frontier; unknown, violent, and lascivious, it’s still waiting for them. 






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Man Talk: “Brokeback Mountain” and the Androgynous Mind

This seems a prime week to think about the (often problematic) implications of telling a story—in particular a queer story—that is not one’s own. Theoretically, all fiction must tell a story that hasn’t actually come to pass, but fiction also makes reality claims insofar as it claims to represent real categories of people: doctors, prisoners, Chicanas, lesbians, what have you. If someone starts flying in a book, we as readers gather that the book is fantasy; but if the subject in flight is Chinese, we nevertheless suspect that the author is referring to and somehow making a statement about real Chinese people, not their irrelevant fantasy equivalent. Professor D-T pointed out in the reading questions that Chu T’ien-Wen is a heterosexual woman writing about homosexual men, and Annie Proulx is in the same boat. The same sexual mismatch between author and subject was identified as the bugbear of, for example, The Autobiography of Red, which some critics claimed used the social alienation of the protagonist, a gay teenager, to stand in for Anne Carson’s (the poet) feelings of estrangement unrelated to sexual identity. It probably wouldn’t surprise us to learn that some women might identify their unease in a patriarchal world with gay men’s unease with oppressive and (in the case of “Brokeback”) violent heteronormativity, but is that identification, however well-intentioned, ethical? In whom do we have the right to see ourselves?

Authorial transvestitism seems to me to be especially at issue in “Brokeback Mountain.” Masculinity arguably functions as the aesthetic and thematic core of Proulx’s story, so that the gruff “voice” of the author becomes an obstreperous contributor to the story’s meaning. From the opening images of the story, the frank, masculine narrator cathects candor with sex: “[Ennis] gets up, scratching the grey wedge of belly and pubic hair…He turns on the tap and urinates in the sink, pulls on his shirt and jeans, his worn boots” (1). Already we have an image of our protagonist’s naked body, and specifically his pubis hair; we also imagine him getting dressed, as if the scene were post-coital—and in a sense it is, as “Jack Twist was in his dream” (1). Later in the story we learn to associate urination, also on display in this brief prologue, with sexual shaming—Jack’s father punishes him for his incontinence by peeing on him, and Jack associates the trauma with the Freudian threat of castration (via circumcision): Jack feels he has been “marked” and “branded” by his father by urine and by the knife. The story’s opening moment, then, in which Ennis moves through an apparently woman-free space with the freedom to scratch himself and pee in the sink, hits us with frank behavior, frank writing, and frank desire all at once, and associates all three with the absence of the feminine.

Of course, Proulx’s (feminine) specter looms—and the form of the prologue, if not its content, firmly establishes the story in the traditionally feminine form of the flashback. Virginia Woolf writes in A Room of One’s Own of the necessity of having an “androgynous mind” in order to write; for her, the (psychic) genders must coexist in the artist in order to allow for a kind of self-pollination:

“And I went on amateurishly to sketch a plan of the soul so that in each of us two powers preside, one male, one female…The normal and comfortable state of being is that when the two live in harmony together, spiritually co-operating….Coleridge perhaps meant this when he said that a great mind is androgynous. It is when this fusion takes place that the mind is fully fertilized and uses all its faculties. Perhaps a mind that is purely masculine cannot create, any more than a mind that is purely feminine.”

Perhaps imagining oneself in a different body is a prerequisite for writing any fiction; but it seems Woolf is pointing to a less concrete gender-bending. Specifically, it seems she’s interested in genre-breaking as an essential component of true creation. To be “fully fertilized” is to incorporate both masculine and feminine elements, which essentially means true art can fall neither into a neatly feminine nor into a neatly masculine genre. (Woolf’s use of Coleridge as an example seems deliberate in this regard; romantic poetry is noted for its identification of “masculine” egoism with “feminine” fantasy, romance, and indulgence in emotion.) The genre of “Brokeback Mountain” is classically “feminine”—it’s essentially a love story, with no action, a heavy emphasis on relationships, and few focal characters. It’s the story of deep time, of lives unfolding, and the obligations of family. This is not an adventure tale, not a bildungsroman, not a novel. If the cowboy motif and bare (and often brutal) descriptions are masculine, the form and emotional content are pointedly feminine—and indeed Woolf writes in A Room of One’s Own that interruption and brevity characterize female writing.

Perhaps it’s useful to consider why, in Proulx’s story, the climactic moment is a “silent embrace satisfying some shared and sexless hunger.” The story seems fundamentally to wonder whether an androgynous mind can ever be “sexless,” or whether it must vacillate between the masculine and feminine—whether the “silent embrace” is the only locus of sexlessness. What would it mean to make a sexless text rather than a sexful one? Is speech fundamentally gendered? In any case, it’s apparent that Proulx’s characters themselves struggle with gender ambivalence, in all their manliness. Jack’s circumcision makes literal the issues of emasculation: “I seen they’d cut me different like you’d crop a ear or scorch a brand.” He is marked territory, too—some other author’s text—as maybe we all are.


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On being uncomfortable with drag

A few days ago I had breakfast with a friend of mine, also from New Mexico, who identifies as genderfluid. We met as first-years on our second day at Stanford, both feeling utterly unprepared for grad school and pretty dumbfounded by California culture, and we roamed hither and yon gathering free food from grad events for two years. All that stopped when ze moved off campus. On this particular morning we were doing breakfast because ze was at school early after zir two-hour commute from the city; ze only comes to Stanford twice a week now, so ze makes it an all-day affair, tiptoeing out of the apartment ze shares with two gay introverts in Haight-Ashbury long before the sun comes up and returning late at night to face-plant on zir bed. Ze moved to the city because ze felt stifled at Stanford, felt judged for zir inability to fit into the waspy gay community here, felt belittled and infantilized for zir interest in Goth performance.

But as it turned out, the city was no cakewalk. It had been extremely difficult for zir to find housing in San Francisco because ze insisted on being open about zir gender flexibility and zir penchant for makeup and heels; ze didn’t want to live anywhere ze’d have to hide zir extremely elaborate costumes, and, besides, even if ze wanted to ze hide all the glitter ze doubted ze would be able to. Ze was tired of hiding. It was hard enough at Stanford, ze said, being Hispanic, and from a low-income home, and sexually non-normative, and culturally isolated because of zir tastes (in music, fashion, etc); it was simply unbearable to also have to deal with wanting to present as a woman on some days and not on others when even the male gay community seemed so bent on shoring up its masculinity.

Knowing all these reasons for zir moving off campus, I was somewhat surprised to see zir arrive in zir male-presenting uniform: black pants, black t-shirt, black cap, Buddy Holly glasses.

When we sat down I commented that ze was dressed as ze had usually dressed at school. “Oh, yes,” ze said, “presenting as a male has its perks. When I’m dressed as a woman I feel more powerful, more creative, more—alive. But as a man I have all the privileges of being a man, privileges I grew up with. Those are real, you know. And it’s also more comfortable. Physically, for one. But also emotionally.”

“But do you ever dress in drag for school now? I thought that was why you left—so you wouldn’t have to dress this way?”

“That’s just the problem, that people would see it as drag. I’m not looking for attention. I’m not seeing this as a performance. Gender is performative, blah blah blah, but, you know, it isn’t a performance. I just want to be authentic, to be authentically performative. To perform what I feel, in the way my music does.”

We talked for a while about what had changed. For zir, it was largely zir determination to talk about zir gender flexibility apart from zir sexuality. “I feel like it’s my responsibility to be loud,” ze said.

A paradox: how to be loud about being authentic? How to perform non-performance?

Judith Butler’s piece has been broadly criticized for two major reasons (in my experience): 1) she pays insufficient attention to bodies and “natural” expression of gender (i.e. the relationship between sex and gender) and 2) her prose is insufferably opaque. The two seem pretty intimately related; she’s performing the academic in her prose in a way that’s supposed to be alienating and challenging. On some level, we’re supposed to suffer, to feel ill at ease, and thereby to learn. But the fetishization of difficulty has its ideological drawbacks as well as its practical ones. Judith Butler can adequately describe one aspect of gender, but what about the rest of it? What about the part that feels warm, comfortable, and/or expressive—less instrumental and more simply integrated? And what about my friend’s sometimes-prioritization of physical and social comfort over gender expression? Do we have to be ill at ease, not at home, to be really queer? Is true nostos a betrayal of queer ideals, and, if so, do the expectations we have of queer people oppress them as surely as does heteronormativity?

Paris is Burning has a “realness” competition and boasts that it has “something for everyone.” But the format of a competition with outlandishly tall trophies inherently undercuts the attempt at actual authenticity, of how it feels. The competitions draw a bright line between the cruel world and the oneiric ballroom. What do we do with drag performance that takes pleasure neither in “passing” nor in “drag” parody, a performance that legitimately feels itself to be inward-facing rather than outward-facing? What do we do with expression as discrete from performance? Neither Butler nor Paris is Burning seem to know quite what to do with that, but perhaps that’s because they as artworks and critical commentaries are performances themselves. In a sense, my friend’s political move is precisely zir apoliticality. Zir point is that ze isn’t making a point. Ze doesn’t use this or quote that—ze really feels that the looks ze “quotes” are zir own, which is one reason why crafting costumes is so near and dear to zir heart. Can you have performativity without performance? All speech is determined by the codes of language we have already set in place, but isn’t there a difference between scripted and unscripted language, even if they blur?

For now, my friend will wear jeans to school. But even if ze doesn’t have time to do zir makeup, ze’s considering throwing some short skirts into the mix. “I want to be comfortable,” ze said. “But I don’t want anyone to be too comfortable with me.”


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