big project

hi everyone, 

i have been brainstorming over the last week about potential projects i could do for our classes final "big project." i realized this morning that almost certainly other people have also been thinking about this. so i wanted to start a thread on here where we could bounce our ideas off of each other and help each other brainstorm. i hope this is okay, and other people are interested...

here are a few ideas i have been thinking about for my final project: 
1. troubling drag: exploring the theoretical implications of "bio-drag" and transgendered performers. is it still drag? is it still queer? or a new level of queer? what elements must be present for it to be so? how do queer people feel about this new turn in queer space/performance? 

2. queering queer identities: last semester in the seminar i was taking, the professor made a dismissive (almost demeaning) comment about how "everyone, even straight people, are identifying as queer now." im interested in the notions of what counts as a queer identity, what that means, how that can be troubled, and if "straight" people are "allowed" to claim that identity despite their heteronomative privileges. to take it one step further, how can queerness look differently than is assumed: lesbians dating gay men, transcouples that appear straight, lesbians or gay men dating someone of the opposite gender yet still identifying as gay? 

thats enough for now. lol. any comments, questions, suggestions? please please feel free to put up your own brainstorming ideas for your project too! 


Thanks for starting this thread!

I think both of your ideas can and will prove to be very interesting. I've often thought about and debated some the questions you raise in #2, i.e. what constitutes a queer identity and who is "allowed" to claim a queer identity. As a result of these conversations, I have often found myself flip-flopping among positions and, almost inevitably, redefining the term "queer" in response to new possibilities and formulations of queer identities.

First off, I have to say that I have a love-hate relationship with the word queer. Mostly, I love it-- I use it-- and I use it to describe myself (I also use lesbian, gay, female, nerd, bad-TV-addict, etc). However, "queer" is still a label and I have a negative, knee-jerk reaction to labels. They are inherently limiting and divisive, even when they SEEM to be inclusive, umbrella terms like queer. Queer can only exist in opposition to that which is not queer, so there has to be a group of people who are included and a group of people who are excluded. And it is in figuring out who belongs where that we get to comments like the one you mention in your post.

Speaking only for myself, I tend to think it is up to each of us to self-identify. So, if we feel "queer," then we are queer and, certainly, queer can be expanded beyond the confines of a gender or sexual identity position. To me, being queer is a way of being "non-heteronormative," and we can be non-heteronormative in a vast number of ways-- not only in how we present our gender identities or in who we sleep with/ wish we were sleeping with.

But, at the same time (because there always is a but, isn't there?) there is a part of me that can't help but do a double-take when someone who presents themselves in a way what appears "heteronormative" to me self-identifies as queer. Certainly, I don't think I am "allowed" to decide what constitutes queer, or who is queer-- rather, I am curious to know (perhaps un-rightfully so) how they define queer and how they see themselves as queer and how these different understandings of the term could complicate my understanding of it and push me to consider new identities/questions/formulations-- and more.

Anyway... onto my own potential project that I am playing with at the moment.

I want to look at how the American body is troubling/troublesome/troubled in the film "Solider's Girl."

Detailing the "real" life of American soldier Barry Winchell who is murdered by his fellow troops for his relationship with former Navy medic and transgender performer Calpernia Addams, "Soldier's Girl" provokes in my mind questions about the connections among corporeality, subjectivity, nationality, and speech(lessness). By portraying both queer and non-queer bodies (again, a more difficult distinction than we may anticipate) as instruments of performance, sites of violence and vehicles of service, "Soldier's Girl" revises traditional notions of the American body as well as concepts of identity, sexuality and patriotism. Tying this into one of the themes of our course, is Calpernia's body a vehicle of American service, or is it the vehicle through which she becomes a "nation traitor" (in that she is transgressing "American family values")? And what about Barry's body? By being both members of the armed forces and members of the queer community, how are Calpernia and Barry troubling and, perhaps revising, what it means to be patriotic? What else are they troubling? Do they have agency over their bodies, or are their bodies being written or acted on by others? Finally, I am also interested in how filmic conventions participate in these processes-- i.e. how corporeality is formulated onscreen, the shifting positions of the gaze, and how color, mise-en-scene, and visually imposed boundaries are employed and to what effect. I have many more questions, but I think I will leave off there for now.

I would love to hear any thoughts/feedback/disagreements from anyone who has them!

Angela--Great idea to put this up. It's always good to get feedback! I think both of your options sound interesting--it seems that our class has a keen interest in corporeality! I've always been intrigued by the label "queer", and other labels that have, as Jessie said, negative connotations. I had a friend who would refer to himself as a “fag”, and it always shocked me and hit me hard, even though it had nothing to do with me. It was about him, taking a word that had been used to “describe” him negatively, and making it is own. Similarly, when I hear the "N" word, it's troubling, even/especially when it comes from African-Americans. At the same time, I recognize that I am "outside" of these identities, so I recognize that I can’t necessarily understand the situation. I do see a value in taking words that have been negative and appropriate them on yourself, but at the same time, I wonder if it encourages these negative terms to remain in the vocabulary of those who use them pejoratively.

Jessie—I’ve always been interested in questions of body and subjectivity, and I especially like the idea of tying it in with questions of patriotism, as that is/was such a big issue in the US. This whole idea of “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” that was pushed on to the American people can absolutely be linked to personal issues that go against what is considered acceptable by the majority of the people in our country. Since these issues have been put into some laws, it’s especially relevant and urgent. This whole question of questioning someone patriotism bothers me intensely, especially given that this country was conceived through treason! It could be argued that to question the norm, as the founding fathers did in saying “no” to England, is patriotic.

For my project, I was thinking about a film class that I’m taking in the French department. The professor on the first day pointed out that unfortunately, the films that we’d be looking at in the class, the films that were most important to the history of French cinema, were all made by white men. I don’t blame him for this, of course, there’s nothing he can do about it, but as soon as he said it, I wondered how I could trouble this. So I’m thinking about doing a portfolio type of project where I “review” the films from a feminist, troublemaking perspective. Now, I use the word “review” loosely here, I’m not sure what kind of format I want to take to examine these films, and I’d love to hear suggestions. There are about thirty films in the class, and since I’m sure that not all of them will be conducive to an analysis from this perspective, I was thinking I’d use at least half of them, more of it could, and write about 1-2 pages about each one. I plan on taking a look at what people on the internet are writing about films to get some ideas about how I want to go about this project.

I find film as a scholarly medium incredibly daunting. I have no background in the subject, and this is why I’d like to use this project to examine the films more closely, and to make them my own, seeing them from my own perspective. This hopefully will make me more comfortable with film studies. I hope that in the future, should I want or need to teach these films, I will have a nice portfolio of my thoughts on these important films that aren’t limited to the traditional masculine academic interpretation.

Like Becky (well, like most of us, I imagine!), I've also been troubled by the Dead White Guy phenomenon - but from another angle. I'm taking two classes right now that are engaged with questions involving the 18th century, Enlightenment thought, and modernity. One of my classes covered some of the "greatest hits" of ideas of what it means to be "modern" (Kant, Hegel, Weber, Marx, Baudelaire, Mill, and Simmel), and at the end of the discussion, we wondered as a class whether it was possible - despite attempts at relativism, orientations toward the Other, etc - to truly escape the yoke of the "modern," with all the methodology and ideology that implies. What would it mean to trouble the Enlightenment paradigm of universal rationality and historical progress from a feminist or queer perspective?

I'm thinking of ways that this could be turned into a manageable project, and I'd really appreciate suggestions. I'm sure there have been direct feminist/queer responses to the Dead White Guys (and I'd also be curious about other "troubling" perspectives), and I could probably write a research paper about them, but I'm not convinced that's the best approach - maybe a portfolio would be of more use as a future reference tool.

As I articulate this, I'm thinking maybe I should just go talk to Sara in person about potentially compiling a list of sources... but if you have ideas of more creative ways to approach the topic, or people/works I should be thinking about, I would love the feedback.

Sophie, it would be great to talk with you about this project. There are so many different ways to approach it. If you want a creative project, one thing you could do is take one particular aspect of the Enlightenment paradigm (like historical progress which is taken up by queer and feminist thinkers in a lot of different ways) and do a series of vlogs about it--these vlogs could be video lectures/chats about your different sources or about the different approaches to troubling the paradigm. Here is an example of Reese Kelly doing a video about Susan Stryker's book, Transgender History. You could also do a video/audio podcast (has anyone done podcasts before?).

Are we going to maybe have time to share some of these in class? I unfortunately don't have time to respond to all of the comments on here, but I really wish I did, because there are some really amazing ideas being posited! I hope we can share/work through some of these ideas in person. I will give a brief blurb about my thoughts:

As I mentioned in class, I'm really committed to making the revolutionary radical Left more cohesive, so we (the Left) actually have a shot at building a better world. As someone who has been involved with a great deal of labor-activism, and believes very much in teh importance of an organized working-class, I have also been entirely disheartened by the dismissal of any form of identities/modalities other than class-identification by a good deal of the masculinist Marxian Left. I am particularly interested in the way that labor organizers (with whom I've had a lot of contact) will often articulate identity-based struggles as "distractions" from "the real struggle [capitalism]."

Fortunately, there have been signs of occassional efforts at coalition-building between labor and identity; race is more and more accepted as a legitimate center for organizing, and sex-worker union drives are built on a sex-positive politics, and the recent "Sleep With The Right People" ( campaign (a merger between "the LGBT community" (words on the website) and UNITE HERE (labor union) also shows signs of progress. However, I think that queer and sexual identity politics need an ever bigger space in labor organizing. I want to spend time (and maybe so much time it could be a dissertation!) talking to working/working-class queer and sex-positive-identified folk about their struggle/negotiation within working for economic structural change, and also talking to queer labor organizers about how they negotiate their multifaceted positionality in an often hyper-masculine, class-reductionist Left.

On a more theoretical level, it will also be important to bring in post-structuralist critiques of identity, but I am a big fan of the "strategic essentialism" card (Spivak, Butler), and I think that needs to be brought into the intellectual left more often.

That's a lot, but for the purpose of this class, I thought maybe I could start ethnographic work and do some interviews with queer workers and organizers? I have some experience with audio documentary and could attempt to create some cohesive narrative?

I was also inspired to start a blog the first week of class; if I end up having enough relevant critical insight about troublemaking, perhaps this could be part of my final project too:

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