Queering The Birdcage

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I think a fundamental mistake in assuming that butch/femme queer relationships are trying to mimic heterosexuality lies within the very fact that people in those relationships are in queer relationships. For example, if two female-bodied, female-identified women are in a relationship, it can be understood as a lesbian or queer relationship. The gender performance of these two women does not negate that, even if one dresses in a "masculine" manner and one dresses in a "feminine" manner. It is not that the "butch" woman is trying to be a man; she is just dressing in a way that make sense for her. Nor is she trying to perpetuate the idea that she is in a heterosexual(ish) relationship with another woman: they are in a lesbian/queer relationship. If anything, the play on heterosexuality is just that: play. It's showing off and even making fun, saying "look, we're just like you except we're both the same gender!"

Similarly, when we look at Armand and Albert, it is obvious that they are in a homosexual relationship, even though Albert dresses and acts in a "feminine" manner. They make no attempts to blend in, to act "normal", or to pass as heterosexual in their day-to-day lives. The idea is so absurd to the two characters that it is what the whole movie is based around! "Can these two homosexual men play it straight?" I believe that The Birdcage is a positive representation of queerness because it's such a playful look at homosexuality and heterosexuality as well at hetero- and homonormativity and gender/gender perfomativity. What does it mean to be a "stereotypical gay couple" as opposed to a "stereotypical straight couple"? And what happens if we mix that up and then play with gender a little? The fun really begins when the conservative father finds himself enamored with Albert- who is in drag as a house wife! It rarely gets more queer than The Birdcage.

4 Comments

I agree. It's the gender performance of the people within these queer relationships that is being discussed not whether or not they want to exist as a man or woman. More simply a butch lesbian does not want to be a man anymore than a femme lesbian wants to be a woman. So when the discussion is brought up about homosexual relationships mimicing heterosexual relationships it is important not to confuse the question of gender vs sex. I also agree that The Birdcage has the ability to portray a positive representation of queerness but I would say that it's not all fun. Since the dynamic of Armand and Albert's relationship mirrors a striaght one I do think it's important to recognize. If America didn't think of queer relationships as a reflection of straight ones and didn't want to edit the gay community (so to speak) with a lack of affection (they barely kiss in the movie) it wouldn't be represented in popular culture.

It's kind of unfortunate to me that in movies you only see gay couples pretending to be straight rather than straight couples pretending to be gay. The whole movie was centered around the senator and his wife not finding out that Val's parents are gay and then once it came out that they were it wasn't even a big deal. All the senator cared about was getting out of the club unspotted by the media. In one way I think The Birdcage was a negative representation of queerness because it displayed the gay couple as having to cover up their gayness and play it straight. As if their relationship was wrong and that if the media found out about it the senator's representation would be ruined. One would also think that a son raised by two fathers wouldn't try to hide it no matter who his fiance's parents were. The son would rather have his mother, a strange woman who hasn't been apart of his life for 20 years rather than the men that raised him meet his fiance's family. At the end of the movie I thought the son was going to apologize to both of his father's about the whole fiasco but he doesn't say anything! I get that the movie was pretty playful and not incredibly serious but it definitely sent out some negative vibes towards the queer community.

I did like to hear what you said about how no matter how you make it look, queer couples are queer couples, and there's no getting around it. They're not trying to be straight or pretend to be straight. For the most part, people try to be themselves in relationships, they don't attempt to put on this act of heterosexuality, at least not intentionally. Sure there are going to be couples where there's one person more masculine then the other, but that's not all couples. People need to watch critically to find stereotypes so they don't fall for them. I definitely agree though that it definitely brings a positive look to a homosexual couple though. They're both happy, no one's dying, they're doing financially well. They're just a happy couple, which is surprising for a lot of movies portrating homosexuality.

I love your comment of the "tongue-in-cheek" intent of cross dressing. I have never thought of it in that light and makes a lot of sense. It's not necessarily that one partner simply wants to embody or buy in to the heterosexual gender role of masculine/feminine, but instead with the completely opposite hope of making others question the whole idea of a binary of gender roles at all. I really liked your post!!

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This page contains a single entry by tayl0598 published on February 9, 2012 1:45 PM.

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