November 2009 Archives

(Note: This is obviously an early engagement with text, seeing as it is assigned for Thursday, but I will be in San Diego on Thursday and wanted to put forth my engagement with the material we'll be discussing in order to make up for my absence from class that day as much as possible.)

In Judith Butler's "Sexual Politics, Torture and Secular Time" in Frames of War we find Butler putting forth a very basic argument that there are often-ignored yet extremely important dynamics of temporal and geopolitical understandings of "the now" that need to be understood before one can accurately assess and discuss sexual politics and Islam modernity, for example. While I undoubtedly appreciate what Butler suggests in this chapter, it definitely felt like, as we say, a chewy bagel to me, and so I want to take one of the most striking examples she gave in that chapter, those suggestions of temporal and geopolitical "now" and move in a somewhat different direction, still related to queerness.

On page 105, Butler writes (emphasis added),

"In the Netherlands, for instance, new applicants for immigration are asked to look at photos of two men kissing and to report on whether the photos are offensive, whether they are understood to express personal liberties, and whether the viewers are willing to live in a democracy that values the rights of gay people to free expression. Those who are in favor of this policy claim that the acceptance of homosexuality is the same as acceptance of modernity. We can see in such an instance how modernity is being defined as linked to sexual freedom, and the sexual freedom of gay people in particular is understood to exemplify a culturally advanced position, as opposed to one that would be deemed pre-modern.

I highlighted the emphasized parts in my course packet, and in the margins I have written, "WHAT?!" to explain how I feel about this notions, it's appropriations of modernity, the implications of such a practice, and similar practices we see in our own country.

Let me put this simply: such a practice (and all of the similar ones I will discuss later) is unbelievably backwards, oppressive, and so ridiculous that I almost have a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that the practice exists. It is nothing more than a feigned attempt at strictly male-homosexual inclusion, further veiled as all-GLBT(etc.)-inclusive that not only does gay males, but the GLBT "community" an unnecessary amount of disservice and can only serve to disconnect sexual politics and freedom with true modernity and justify a backwards manner of oppression that those fighting for true inclusion would strictly oppose.

I would not want to live in a country that forces every to citizen "accept" (in quotes because we all know that tons of people would lie just to gain citizenship) gay male (or otherwise GLBTetc.) individuals because, beyond the fact that such universal acceptance would be a complete lie, forced trains of thought are the ultimate tool for oppression. And while it's fine and dandy to imagine a world where queer people are completely included, if we are achieving that inclusion through oppressing the free speech and thought of those who oppose queerness, then it's just as awful as the oppression of queer individuals we see now. When it comes to politics, laws, and institutions that have effects on how the people in society are allowed to live their lives, I absolutely favor an "everyone deserves equal rights, no matter what you think personally, and personal opposition should stop at the limits of the person" approach, but when it comes to attempting to police personal opinion, I don't want a world where we suppress any kind of thought or speech--even if it completely disagrees with and disavows my existence. This practice in the Netherlands is, to me, the epitome of taking huge leaps backwards.

To connect to the good ol' US of A, it's not really hard for me to think of similar practices. Granted, it's a little more difficult to think of similar widespread, institutionalized practices, but socially we have TONS of attitudes and practices that we employ to force GLBTetc.- "inclusion" that is, of course, not any legitimate type of inclusion whatsoever. But hey, it's easier than actually working together to make true progress, right?!

Anyway...an example that comes to mind is the recent forced punishment of GLBTetc. hate speech in the workplace. On multiple levels, it really is a ludicrous practice to me. Now, I definitely see the value in forcing people to play nice in the workplace to (1) enhance productivity and (2) hope that that one element of forced inclusion changes ism-oriented individuals' minds, but really, how often does that happen on a scale that makes this practice...practical? I have to suggest that it doesn't work and really is a half-hearted way of attacking the problem. If someone wants to think of me as a disgusting faggot, they're going to do it, plain and simple, and whether they're verbalizing it or just thinking it, it's going to affect the workplace (not to mention there are plenty of other ways around keeping oppression going silently). And are those who are "protecting" my freedom by oppressing others' freedom of speech (which I wholly disagree with--I don't want freedom that's bred from telling others to shut up) really in line with what they're professing? It's a coin toss, and probably not. So not only are we producing a dollar-store version of inclusion and freedom, we're reproducing oppression in a new way that still traces back to group A being forced to shut up so group B can live freely. My solution? I don't know exactly how this would work out in a practical way, but I definitely favor a sort of natural selection approach that's guided by laws and institutions that demand truly equal rights--let other people think, say, and do what they feel as long as I can do the same, and let everything fall into its place.

(This entry doesn't directly relate to my term.)

Direct Engagement #4: Transubstantiation

So, the unveiling of this video really failed me when I lost most of my computer's data to a virus. Luckily, I wrote down this prose/poetry piece I shot in response to Prosser. Here's the text instead.

This has never been a transsexual body.

This has never been a homosexual body.

This has never been a straight body.

This body is not a beginning or an end.

But this body has always been stuck, in a way, between words like those.
And it is still hard be sure whether to read this body through Donna Haraway's Cyborg, Janice Raymond's Transsexual Menace, Kate Bornstein's Gender Outlaw, or one of Jay Prosser's transsexuals.

But even though this body has used testosterone and had surgery and though it seems more beautiful than I ever would have imagined growing up as a girl it still doesn't FEEL like a transsexual body, though it changed and it IS changing it doesn't feel like it has crossed sex but rather like it has transgressed the possibilities traditionally handed to it, and those inheritances of femininity haven't been crossed or lost but rather blended into some sort of whole desiring-machine that still isn't accounted for in Prosser's transsexual narrative, where jokingly or not the feeling of having a wrong body must be overcome.

But even though it has changed in expensive ways this still doesn't feel like it ever was the wrong body. This body can't just BE so how could it BE wrong or BE right it's still always becoming, constantly in transition because it has eyes and these eyes have seen and appropriated and seen and appropriated and seen and appropriated so many symbols that were and are always sort of right for their space and time and how this body felt and feels. It isn't Prosser's telos which exceeds performativity's grasp--more than Butler's queer transgender bodies it is the straight bodies and the normalizing transsexual bodies of Prosser which become, for me, the most useful examples of gender performativity. I know that I'm constructing this gender that is on display for you and I don't believe in any essence demanding that I do so--I believe in the limited choices available to me and the support structures behind me. Straight bodies and normalizing transsexual bodies should have to explain themselves and make me believe why they DON'T identify as trans or queer. Tell me why they don't feel this intense mix of melancholy and celebration when they look at the body in the mirror.

This is not a transsexual body.

This is not a homosexual body.

This is not a straight body.

This body is not a beginning or an end.

Adam Lambert at the AMAs

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As we discussed in class, here it is:

Don't be surprised if this link doesn't work after long! Of course "they" are editing things all over the place.

Visual Butler

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In reading the selection Bodies that Matter in Gender Trouble I thought about how to vsualize some of her ideas of performativity and bodily inscriptions, and also kept thinking of her explantion of gender as being a copy of a copy with out an original and I tried to do that with my representations as well.scan001001.jpgscan002001.jpg
roxyv.jpg

5th Annual Queer People of Color Conference

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FYI: Here is the QPOCC Call for Proposals for a great conference coming up this spring.

Annotated Bibliography #2 - Punishment/Consequences

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With this annotated bibliography I wanted to focus primarily on sources that dealt with the gender binary and children through the lens of punishment and consequences. I came across this first source because my sister had an issue of Elle magazine and said I really needed to read this article, it sparked my interest as far as the pressures put on children to comply to strict gender roles and how adults in the midst of child rearing get very caught up in it as well, so I shaped the rest of by bibliography around it. Most, if not all, children do not fit into these normative standards of gender but they are socially constructed into them over time and I think it could be hypothesized that it is the root for a lot of problems in our society, hence punishment and consequences.


Girl Crazy: Women who suffer from Gender Disappointment

Shalit Barrett, Ruth. "Girl Crazy." Elle Magazine 291 (2009): 242-46.

I couldn't find an actual direct link to this article but I have linked to another article by Barbara Kay at the National Post that responds to the article and outlines a lot of it, this article is problematic as well but whatever...it gives you an idea. So this article called "Girl Crazy" is a super disturbing recent segment in the Psychology section of Elle Magazine that is supposed to highlight a new made up condition called Gender Disappointment. The article is about women who have had only male children and are basically obsessed with trying to conceive a female child, hence Gender Disappointment. They try a variety of homeopathic and scientific methods (and some stuff that just sounds like a home science project) to try to achieve their ultimate goal of having a "little princess." Throughout the article the author proceeds to "discover" an underground nest of women who have met online to swap stories and techniques and to commiserate about their failed attempts at getting a girl (they talk about their sons as "failed sways"). As the writer interviews these women she finds stories of incredible disappointment and debilitating depression. The women go so far as to discuss aborting their male fetuses and giving their existing male children up for adoption because they can't love them the way they deserve to be loved. Then it goes on more about whether this is a real condition or not and then even further into the latest technology to specifically implant girl embryos and blah blah blah. Never...at any time...does the writer indicate how god dam off kilter this all is.
So I'm going to try to keep my temper cool with analyzing this, but it's a doozy and I knowingly cannot look at this from all the angles possible...you could write a dissertation on this one I think. It's a must read. I think articles like this are useful for analyzing the way the pink/blue culture has infiltrated our society and the consequences of focusing so heavily the binary gender framework, creating incredibly rigid stereotypes of what it means to be a "little boy" or a "little girl." These ideals of pretty in pink girls and rough'n'tumble boys are unrealistic (kids aren't that simple); they put an unreasonable amount of pressure on children and can have major consequences for families and individuals. At the end of the article one of the women interviewed that was able to conceive twin girls through scientific sorting and was STILL not happy:
"'In the end, my expectations of what it would be like to mother a daughter were not fully realized." Eliza and Jamisyn don't like to play with dolls, don't enjoy ballet. "Neither is really frilly," Lewis laments." (pg.322)


Middlesex
Eugenides, Jeffrey. Middlesex. New York: Picador, 2002.

Middlesex is a fictional novel by Jeffery Eugenides that chronicles three generations of a Greek-American family to tell the story of Cal (Calliope) Stephanides (our narrator) who is an intersex individual. The story spans all the way from Cal's paternal grandparents fleeing their Greek village in the 1920's to Detroit, Michigan where their family grows over the course of fifty or sixty years. It is a coming of age story for the main character as they struggle to find themselves amidst immense family and societal pressures. I chose this book to add to my bibliography because I think it works in a couple of different ways. As Cal was raised female, even before his body began to change his mother was frenzied first about having a girl, then later about correct clothing, behavior, activities, and looks for a girl, none of which Cal necessarily wanted, embodied or even liked. When it came to the moment where Cal was faced with receiving sex assignment procedures and medical treatment he simply just ran away from his family at fourteen years old. A couple of things arise in terms of Punishment/Consequences: One being the frenzy surrounding "girl lust" on the part of the mother and the enculturation of "appropriate" behaviors according to gender, this can cause stress, tension, and anxiety amongst other things, its incredible pressure to comply to a strict binary. Also, the whole controversy surrounding "sex assignment" surgeries and medical treatments which are determined by some doctor whose goal is to categorize individuals as either male or female (in the book Cal lies a bit, out of fear, leading to a "mis-diagnoses," proving in just one of the many ways the problem with this), in the real world outside this book and as I have outlined in other direct engagements there is a lot of politics surrounding this very issue. And lastly, the issue of Cal running from his family completely removed from the only life he knows, Cal goes on to see the world and become successful but as we know from activists like Dean Spade, this is not usually the case for young runaway intersex individuals, they are often exposed to a barrage of violence. I don't know how this book was received by the intersex community, especially it's inciting of the "incest taboo," but I do think it can be helpful in some ways, even in just asking questions.


Gender Lessons for Adults by Barrie Thorne Pgs.254-57

Lorber, Judith, ed. Gender Inequality: Feminist Theories and Politics. 3rd ed. Los Angeles: Roxbury, 2005.

This is an excerpt essay from feminist theory book that was highlighted in a chapter called Social Construction Feminism. In keeping with my "theme" for this bibliography which centers around children this essay focuses on the some of the practices in schools that enhance a gender binary with children and encourages unhealthy competition, stereotypes and behavioral issues. The author, Barrie Thorne, is a professor of Sociology and Women's Studies that has spent time doing research regarding gender in a couple of schools and has highlighted several techniques that are regularly used in school settings that can be troublesome. Some examples are: Lining up children by "boys" and "girls," seating your classroom by the same standard or letting them seat themselves can cause a split as well (mostly because binaries have already been made habit), creating teams or classroom competitions by "boys" and "girls," blue nametags for boys and pink name tags for girls, stereotyped graphics displayed in classrooms, verbally separating them by scolding them in groups "you girls get busy!" So these types of practices used to maintain order in school settings often if not always perpetuate extreme polarization and the notion that they are opposites. It focuses on differences rather than similarities which encourages stereotyping and objectification of each other that often leads to teasing and fighting. The author highlights a few alternatives to these practices, like lining kids up according likes/dislikes or hot lunch/cold lunch, using gender neutral colors, nametags or classroom graphics, and assembling groups and teams according to ability. So in terms of consequences of this, I work in a public school and obviously was a kid myself once so I see how it creates environments prime for teasing, bullying and sexual harassment among other things, which is bad enough in itself but also causes anxiety, stress and low self-esteem (among other things) in children and into adolescence. Just a little personal story to highlight this, I actually spent my last couple of years of high school at a private boarding school which housed girls in "girls dorms" and boys in "boys dorms." Basically, the girls dorm was the only dorm with a security system on it to keep us in or keep people out (not sure which) but the boys dorm was not secured and they were allowed to roam free and sneak out etc. As well, the girl's dorm parent schooled us in proper hygiene and cleaning habits while the boy's dorm parent did not (his form of education came by way of telling the guys to "wrap it up" and "stay away from the sluts"). Needless to say, this created a lot of tensions and inequalities, ones that the headmaster oddly never felt the need to address.

This is...fun.

I just got a link to this article from a friend and thought I'd share it.

I'm way too tired to even begin commenting on it, but I thought you'd all be more than capable of having some fun with it.

Annotated Bib #2

The three sources that I chose for this bibliography focused on the social construction of gender and the gender norms that result from it. I chose two research studies regarding the socialization of masculinity and it;s affects and one regarding the socialization of femininity. All three articles go together in that they all deal with the affects that our culture and society have on creating one's gender and how that greatly affects one's life.

http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/cou/52/3/279.html
Examining Masculinity Norms, Problem Drinking, and Athletic Involvement as Predictors of Sexual Aggression in College Men

"In this study, college men's sexually aggressive behavior and rape myth acceptance were examined using conformity to 11 masculine norms and 2 variables previously linked to sexual aggression: problem drinking and athletic involvement. Results indicated that men who use alcohol problematically and conform to specific masculine norms (i.e., having power over women, being a playboy, disdaining gay men, being dominant, being violent, and taking risks) tended to endorse rape myths and report sexually aggressive behavior." This study was done, "because men account for the overwhelming majority of arrests for sexual violence against women, and because many of the rape myths contain assumptions about masculinity and men's power over women, it seems logical to examine how masculinity may contribute to these concerns." Since it is men who are committing a lot of these crimes, it only makes sense to see why it is mostly men and not women. The study found that "results from the first root of the canonical analysis supported the hypothesized relationships between masculinity norms and problematic alcohol use as predictive of sexually aggressive behavior toward women and rape myth acceptance."

http://www.springerlink.com/content/wr53352n5kp29308/
Development of the Conformity to Feminine Norms Inventory

"This article describes the construction of the Conformity to Feminine Norms Inventory (CFNI), which was designed to assess womenrsquos conformity to an array of feminine norms found in the dominant culture in the United States." Similar to the last study, this one found that socialization greatly affects gender norms of femininity. It found that, "gender role norms share the characteristics of social norms, which are described as 'rules and standards that are understood by members of a group, that guide and/or constrain social behavior without the force of laws.'" Furthermore, they also found that
"gender role norms are important in the lives of women and men in that they foster identity development."

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6VBF-3YMF6MH-4&_user=616288&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_searchStrId=1101189125&_rerunOrigin=scholar.google&_acct=C000032378&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=616288&md5=da170a95bb603acfd756945df7ddc716
Constructions of masculinity and their influence on men's well-being: a theory of gender and health

"Men in the United States suffer more severe chronic conditions, have higher death rates for all 15 leading causes of death, and die nearly 7 yr younger than women. Health-related beliefs and behaviours are important contributors to these differences. Men in the United States are more likely than women to adopt beliefs and behaviours that increase their risks, and are less likely to engage in behaviours that are linked with health and longevity. In an attempt to explain these differences, this paper proposes a relational theory of men's health from a social constructionist and feminist perspective. It suggests that health-related beliefs and behaviours, like other social practices that women and men engage in, are a means for demonstrating femininities and masculinities." Not only does the social construction of gender affect how one lives their life, it also can affect the quality of life that one has, in terms of health and behavior.
"It further proposes that the social practices that undermine men's health are often signifiers of masculinity and instruments that men use in the negotiation of social power and status. This paper explores how factors such as ethnicity, economic status, educational level, sexual orientation and social context influence the kind of masculinity that men construct and contribute to differential health risks among men in the United States."

Direct Engagement with Thaemlitz

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I have been thinking about air travel and the implications of the security systems in place in airports since I read "Trans-portation" by Terre Thaemlitz in Passing (173-185). Specifically I am thinking about the security checkpoints that everyone has to go through before being admitted into different terminals at the airport and subsequently admitted onto a plane. Now, these measures are in place to prevent "terrorists" from boarding a plane and then hijacking said plane, or blowing it up, or using it as a means for some destructive, anti-American, extremist goal. I see a lot of problems with the way that the US seems to view this "constant" terrorist threat, but for the purposes of my engagement here, I will just say that I do agree that keeping weapons and people carrying them off of planes is a pretty good idea. However, I think there is another reason that security is so strict in regard to air travel, and that is for the purpose of filtering people who are allowed/not allowed (wanted/not wanted) into and out of a country. So it's not necessarily just about the safety on board the plane itself, but there is also the customs aspect that serves as a filtration of desirable visitors and citizens. For a trans person, this plays out in the form of gender/sex intelligibility and matching up in the way that gender is displayed on the body with the "legal" gender on your passport or ID. There are a lot of issues within this:
First, the fact that in order to have a passport issued it is mandatory to choose a gender, along with race and other identifiers. Essentially, to be issued a document from the government confirming your legal citizenship status, it is necessary to ascribe to one gender. This says then, that to be a citizen belonging to any country, just exist as a legal resident somewhere, there must be the clarification of gender and then the display of that gender as well. This puts trans people outside of the realm of being able to claim/be granted citizenship as their true self. What does this say about nationality? Is having a nation to which you can belong appealing if this is the means to achieving that? What happens to those who refuse to assign themselves one or the other sex/gender, where do they fall?
The second issue I take with this international, airport security, customs issue is that this security measure of matching up a person to their ID is a "security" issue and yet at the same time it is a guise covering for interest into the unintelligible. The security measures ensure that there is nothing unknown about the people being let into a country, because only certain people are welcome in that country. Although we live in a time of complete globalization and diversity thanks to the internet, air travel and technology, there is still a fear of the unknown, the foreign. Clarifying the exact truth (or fruitlessly searching for an exact truth that may not exist) is the way to deal with that fear of the unknown. Security is set up for actual security and as a thinly veiled effort to control what sort of people are let into a country.
Another interesting part of this article is when Thaemlitz mentions that trans people or people in drag should be on the radar of security officials because of the possibility that they are terrorists who have cleverly found a disguise through gender altering. "In Oct 2003... the US Dept of Homeland Security issued an alert to law enforcement agencies, urging authorities to be on the lookout for al-Qaeda suicide bombers dressed in drag," (Passing, 174). This is a disturbing link between seeing someone in drag as foreign and a threat to the cultural norms of mainstream society and a terrorist, someone who is foreign and a threat to our physical well-being. This is a dangerous liaison between foreign (makes me uncomfortable) and foreign (makes me uncomfortable and so must be investigated, punished). What is the effect of this alert that warns to have a watchful eye on those in drag? What else does this say about our concept of acceptable citizen versus foreign threat?

What does this passage say about the national boundaries for transexuals and queer people versus hetero?
Queerness/Transsexuality as identifying travelers as possible terrorists= what does this mean?
What does the difficulty traveling say about nationality, gender and the need for visibility under the guise of security?

reading response #4

"Introduction: Performing Disidentification," written by Jose Esteban Munoz, focuses on current feminist politics and theory and how the two work together in today's age. In his work, Munoz focuses on discussing, "Feminist thinkers of the new symbolic type would appear to believe that the way to do feminist politics is to use words in a subversive way, in academic publications of lofty obscurity and disdainful abstractness. These symbolic gestures, it is believed, are themselves a form of political resistance; and so one need not engage with messy things such as legislatures and movements in order to act daringly. The new feminism, moreover, instructs its members that there is little room for large-scale social change, and maybe no room at all. We are all, more or less, prisoners of the structures of power that have defined our identity as women; we can never change those structures in a large-scale way, and we can never scape from them. All that we can hope to do is to find spaces within the structures of power in which to parody them, to poke fun at them, to transgress them in speech. And so symbolic verbal politics that is really possible." He then furthers his ideas about where feminism was and where it is now by analyzing what, "we wonder what has become of old-style feminist politics and the material realities to which it was committed, it seems necessary to reckon with Butler's work and influence, and to scrutinize the arguments that have led so many to adopt a stance that looks very much like quietism and retreat."
One of the theorists that Munoz spends significant time discussing is Judith Butler. In regards to her work, he states: It is difficult to come to grips with Butler's ideas, because it is difficult to figure out what they are. Furthermore, he believes that, "It would seem that she is addressing a group of young feminist theorists in the academy who are neither students of philosophy, caring about what Althusser and Freud and Kripke really said, nor outsiders, needing to be informed about the nature of their projects and persuaded of their worth." The target audience of Butler's work is unclear. Also, Munoz concludes that, "in this way obscurity creates an aura of importance. It also serves another related purpose. It bullies the reader into granting that, since one cannot figure out what is going on, there must be something significant going on, some complexity of thought, where in reality there are often familiar or even shopworn notions, addressed too simply and too casually to add any new dimension of understanding." To me, this appears to be the norm in current feminist theory. It seems as if the more confusing and less relatable a work is, the more highly it is praised. In my mind, this norm of feminist theory is hurting feminisms ability to appeal to the masses.

While Munoz makes good points throughout his article and back all of his claims with logical conclusions, I do not believe that he is hard enough on Judith Butler. My belief in this comes directly from the fact that I strongly do not like the way she write or believe that it is serves much of a purpose. In large, it seems to me that Butler is preaching to the choir and nothing more. While she may have good ideas, the way that she explains them, to me, feel like feminism without application and if one cannot apply it to the better good, I just do not see the point or what good could possibly come from it. As a result, I feel that her work turns the average person who does not know much about feminism away from feminism because her thought appear to be incoherent. T o sum it up, I think that her work would serve a better purpose if she spent more time attempting to connect and explain things to the masses better so her work can be better understood and more thoroughly circulated.

Direct Engagment: Undermining Gender Regulations

So this week we started reading in Nobody Passes edited by Mattilda. The concept behind this project for Mattilda was to really expose, undermine and/or dissect the idea of passing in whatever capacity that took place in. Within this text the first essay I read was this one (Undermining Gender Regulation) by Dean Spade who I discovered this semester as much of his work, for me, is tangible not to mention relevant to the term I have been tracking, punishment. Spade works quite specifically in trans-politics on the many different levels that is required of him (i.e. advocate, policy making, legal-aid, consciousness raising). In reference to my term his essays speak of the violence committed against gender transgressive people and who are placed in vulnerable positions because of the government's transphobic policies, only to be exposed to more potential violence in the system. In this essay specifically Spades writes about his own experiences and challenges surrounding passing that arise simply as someone who is a representative within the transgender community. He transitions this into a discussion about the government's regulations of gender and authenticity of gender. The rest of the essay reads kind of like a "what to know" cautionary tail to dealing with state policies that attempt to coerce people into assimilation. As someone who is a lawyer fighting against these policies Spade highlights that the overwhelming commonality between the cases he battles is that the state feels it is there job to determine peoples gender identity using binary gender as the model. Here are just a couple of highlights:

* Shelters often use what's called a "bigot's veto" when denying a trans women a space on the basis that it would make the other women uncomfortable.
* Prisons, foster cares, and shelters all place people based on legal documents, meaning trans women in men's facilities, trans men in women's facilities and gender nonconforming individuals in whatever facility their birth certificate indicates.
* Healthcare is focused on gender confirming. It's highly regulated and often not included in plans even though the same prescription and procedures are included for other conditions. (Spade says this is against federal law)
* Tans youth (under 18) has little to know access to hormones or "gender confirming" care based on the systems notion that they cannot make those decisions for themselves.

This is just a couple of the ways the government regulates gender and spade says that almost always these laws and policies are "made by people who know nothing about trans healthcare, and you can see that in the inconsistencies" (pg. 69). He confirms this by pointing out how in some state policies gender confirming is based on what body parts you take away and others are focused on what body parts you add.
Here is a great quote at the end of the essay that articulates what it was about and how it applies to my term better than I could:

"They punish you for not having medical authorization to be yourself, but then refuse to see that medical authorization as legitimate when you need help paying for the care. Yes, being trans is real enough to get you falsely arrested and beaten, raped, or killed in prison, but not real enough to get you access to a domestic violence shelter, a drug treatment program that provides an alternative to incarceration, or a homeless shelter that recognizes your gender." (pg.70)

So one of the reasons I really like Dean Spade (and now probably Mattilda too) is because his work is like theory vs. practice. As someone who is admittedly new to theory, especially queer theory, I struggle with seeing the practical application to a lot of the points of analysis we study. So in my eyes, Dean understands theory thoroughly and then shows me how it is affecting real people in the most oppressive ways, and how understanding it can help create individual and collaborative points of rejection and activism. Aside from the fact that Spade has really focused in on who is most affected and who will suffer the most severe consequences of the government's gender regulation and sex segregation, he is really helping individuals and groups of people navigate through the rhetoric. I also feel personally invested in what he is trying to accomplish within a really messed up system as I myself grew up on welfare, was considerably poor growing up, (although I know it gets much worse) there were times we didn't know where we would live, where the next meal was coming from and so on. And when you are in that position you are incredibly vulnerable to being put in the system, my sister did spend time in juvenile centers and foster care homes and I came incredibly close as well. So it dictated how I conducted myself, that fear debilitates you into coercion. But if you can't or won't do that then the racist, elitist and transphobic culture/government we live in punishes you even more severely. So any one who wants to change that is good in my book.

In Butlers chapter "Critically Queer" from the text Bodies That Matter(1993) bodies that matter cover.jpgis one of the few pieces by Butler that I've read and felt connected with. I have had a growing uneasiness with the current usage of the term Queer to encapsulate and define all that is sexually and politically 'radical'. In Butler's text, they question the ways that power and discourse precede notions of identity, or "I", where "there is no 'I' who stands behind discourse and executes its volition or will through discourse" (Butler, 225). It is through the citation and performance of cultural norms that one's identity becomes intelligible. Butler goes on to discuss the ways in which the term Queer has historically operated as a homophobic shaming term, which consisted of "producing a subject through that shaming interpellation" (Butler, 226). In current discourse and in efforts to recast queer agency, the term Queer has been taken up and reclaimed, and attempts to resignify sexual and gender identities which are abjected, radical political movements, and to become a "site of collective contestation" (Butler, 228). I agree with Butler's critique which describes the ways in which 'Queer' is meant to be expansive, but ends up enforcing "overlapping divisions" between who gets to use the term and with what meaning.
The reason that I felt especially connected to this piece as opposed to other Butler texts is that I feel Butler offers several positive and important suggestions for the future of the term Queer. Butler suggests that instead of understanding Queer as a fixed notion of identity, there should be an understanding and employment of the term Queer more as a verb that 'queers' stable identity categories, their formations and histories, and converging relations of power. To remain queer, the term Queer must constantly be resignified and reworked, and it is "necessary to affirm the contingency of the term" (Butler, 230).

In relation to my term PERFORMATIVITY, as I stated above, 'It is through the citation and performance of cultural norms that one's identity becomes intelligible.' Butler describes relations of power preceding identity, and it is through the citation and performance of norms that ones identity is formed. In this text Butler does not discuss the ways that identity is performed on us from outside power. Though we can understand through Foucault's "Method" (1978), that power exists everywhere, and not only do we cite certain norms and thus perform our identity, outside forces cite certain norms to read and make our identity intelligible, and perform identity upon us.

Direct reading #3

"Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film", written by Carol Clover discusses the "possibility that film theory, film criticism, cultural studies analysis, movie reviews, and popular political commentray seldom entertain: the possibility that male viewers are quite prepared to identify not just with screen females, but with screen females in horror-film world, screen females in fear and pain." To best sum up her article, Clover explaines how "horror movies spend a lot of time looking at women, and in first-person ways that do indeed seem well decribed by Mulvey's 'sadistic-voyeuristic' gaze." Furthermore, she states that "horror is far more victim-identified than the standard view would have it -- which raises questions about film theory's conventional assumption that the cinematic apparatus is organized around the experience of a mastering, voyeuristic gaze." It is her belief that in horror films, women (or femininity) are most often portrayed as the victims and men (or masculinity) are portrayed as the monsters. "The functions of monster and hero are far more frequently represented by males and the function of victim far more garishly by females. The fact that female
monsters and female heroes, when they do appear, are masculine in dress and
behavior (and often even name), and that male vicitms are shown in feminine postures at the moment of their extremity, would seem to suggest that gender inheres in the function itself -- that there is something about the victim funciton that wants-manifistation in a female, and something about the monster and hero functions that wants expression in a male. Sex, in this universe, proceeds from gender, no the other way around...And a figure is not a psychokiller because he is a man; he is a man because he is a psychokiller." Gender roles are given to characters not based on their sex, but based on how "evil" or "monstorous" they are. To go one step further with this idea, Clover states explains that, "If we assume, in line with one-sex logic, that the sex of a character proceeds from the gender of the function he or she represents, and that the gender of
the function proceeds from real-life perceptions of social and bodily differences, then it follows that when we observe a consistent change in the surface male-female configurations of a traditional story-complex, we are probably looking, however obliquely, at a deeper change in the culture." For this reason, culture plays a large role in the portrayals of men and women in horror films because it is the values and beliefs of the culture that , generally, are being produced. As our culture changes, so do the ways in which men and women characters in horror films are portrayed and reproduced. While horror-films influence the re-creation of our culture so does our culture re-create horror-films. They are intertwined.

While I agree with everything that the author of this article states about our culture and horror films, I would like to see more research done on the topic. I think it would be interesting to see if the idea of the male gaze and what men want to see in horror films is accurate to what the film directors believe it to be, and are therefore making horror films that way, or if it is merely an assumption based on nothing more than a stereotype about men and masculinity. Just because it is the norm of horror films to create their movies in such a way because it is the belief that they will sell better to a particular audience does not mean that their assumption about the group is accurate so I think it would be interesting to see how close to the mark they truly are and if there is any other way that horror films could be created, outside of the male gaze, that would maybe even sell more with the male audience.
One point that I really like about Clover's artile is that right off the bat she points out her own bias and states that it has influenced her research: "I want to stress, before I pass onto other matters, that the bias of my book is even more extreme than the bias of the overall horror audience. My interest in the male viewer's stake in horror spectatorship is such that I have consigned to virtual invisibility all other members of the audience." By stating the flaws in her work, I feel that she has more credibility than if she were to avoid mentioning her bias all together. It adds character to her article, which to me, gives her work more meaning and reliability.

Queering the system: is it possible?

One thing that has been an underlining issue I have had all semester in every class is this idea of working within the system to change the system. I just do not buy it. I find so many flaws in it. This is where I need everyone's ideas and thoughts on the issue. Here is my deal with it: Part of the problem (a lot of the problem) stems from the system itself. By system I mean SYSTEM... all capital letters. You know, the historical underpinning that makes this country so great (there is a hint of sarcasm here). Founded on christian morals, freedom for all, equality, hope, dreams, blah, blah, blah, blah.. The system that offers this for a certain select few and systematically disadvantages and oppress others. I digress, I wonder if this is why I like theory so much because it stays away from offering up answers or solutions to inequities. On the other hand, there are groups of people fighting to change the inequities that have been systematically put in place. Do not get me wrong, I think these groups are needed. I would be a fool to think otherwise but I have to believe there is another way possible for these groups to survive than to be a not for profit, non-government organizations or grant writing/grant funding groups. What got me thinking about this specifically, for this class was a reading in "Nobody Passes". Nobody Passes.jpg In the chapter, 'Undermining Gender Regulation' Dean Spade talks about his interaction with the state and how he was pushed into the politics of it all. He is interested in examining how the gender hierarchies operate within government policies and practice (66). He works at Sylvia Rivera Law Project were they have provided legal services to over 800 trans, intersex, and gender-nonconforming people (70). Spade, from what I can gather, is trying to not only change policy but is try to shift paradigms. He wants to 'weed out' discrimination that is affecting those who are at the margins. Although he never explicitly says that policies changes are the way to go, it seems to be the only tangible thing he offered, other than analyzing how operations of gender regulation affect those on the margins the most. To me one of the biggest question that is left out is, who is invested in these operations of gender regulation? Who gains to profit from them? These are question that lead to paradigm shifts. When one is able to get to the root of regulations and oppressions and the possessive investment they offer to certain groups of people, it is then when those who stand to invest from it without knowing, find it appalling. Now, who knows if they will change anything about how they move in the world but it is worth a try.

Obviously the government stands to profit from it; along with pharmaceutical companies, the prison industrial complex, anti-immigrant policies and in turn white, middle-class, straight people profit too. So getting back to what I originally started out with, can one work within the system to change the system? I would find it very difficult to do so especially if the funding is coming directly from those who stand to profit from the very thing one is fighting against.

There is a need for those working in the system but then there needs to be those who try to defy the system and dismantle the system. A new way has to be possible. And I am not sure it is going to be found in a book or around a table in the halls of academia.

A reading from death to life:

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I touched on this a little bit when I presented on my topic. Death or life, what sounds more desirable? Can I even claim that one is preferred over the other? I am not sure about that but I will take a stance. Here it goes: I prefer death that leads to life. In Martha Nussbaum's article "The Professor of Parody" she examines how the 'new feminism' looks at women's situation as "We (women) are all, more or less, prisoners of the structures of power that have defined our identity as women; we can never change those structures in a large-scale way, and we can never escape from them" (2). She blames French post-structuralist philosophers for this new-found political stance; that these young feminists subscribe to. She puts forth names like Michel Foucault and Judith Butler (not French). As some one who is a young 'feminist' and who subscribes to some of what Foucault and Butler say, I have to disagree with Nussbaum. The reason being, she chose to focus solely on death or the silence of their critiques of power. Learning to think about power in the Foucautian way did indeed lead me to a place of being overwhelmed and bogged down with the heaviness of his claims. However, after experiencing the 'death' of it I found life and liberation through it.

Nussbaum only thinks that life or change can occur through policy changing, picketing and mobilizing. What a limited view of change. I think it is safe to say that Nussbaum wants answer instead of more questions. She wants theorist like Butler to explain their stances of subjects instead of throwing up more questions. She states that explaining one's ideas alludes to uncertainty, as if asking more questions does not. Personally, I do not want the author to lay it out there on the table so plainly as if they know the answer or do not. Let us, the reader and author, experience it (the certainty or uncertainty) together.

After a second read of Nussbaum's article I had a entirely opposite reaction to what I first had. The first time I read it I was excited that someone was exposing Butler's limits and critiquing her. It was refreshing. After the second read, I found Nussbaum's text to be limiting to how change can occur. She discredits Butler's tactics altogether to just to offer her own and to claim that hers is better. Seems to be doing the thing she is critiquing.

How does this relate to my word: RESISTANCE (in my head I say it with a deep strong voice with my hands on my hips). Well I resist the idea that change can only happen in one way. I resist the idea that language can't be used as an effective tool of subversion. Resistance leads us or exposes us to death but it should not end there. It needs to lead us to life. If it doesn't then what do we as activist and social theorist have to offer and how can we possibly bring people who so desperately need to be in on the conversation in to it when all they hear is their own death?


Annotaited Biblography: A conversation

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Annotated Bibliography: a conversation


This time I wanted my annotate bibliography to revolve around a recent conversation I had with my roommate. First, allow me to set up my living situation. I live in North Minneapolis in an intentional community house. What this means is that we all decided to live to here because we wanted something more than just roommates. We do life together. We invest in each other. We come from all different backgrounds but have similar future goals. We compost, have a garden and getting a chicken coop... we are those people! Together, we are trying to make sense of this messed up world. Because of this we have many conversations and most of the time we do not meet eye to eye of them. I find this both inspiring and exhausting. One of the conversations I had with my roommate Steve revolved around language and the power, resistance and oppression it can have on groups of people. I will try to my best ability sum up the conversation I had with him. Along with the conversation I will offer up a critique of the word 'Bitch' (lot of the conversation revolve around the etymology of the word) by Patricia Hill Collins. Lastly I will offer various sources of how the word 'bitch' is used to show its power, subversiveness and oppression (I used these as examples in my conversation with Steve).

The conversation:

The conversation started because we have a family moving into the house. They have a one-year-old child and they asked us to limit our swearing when she is around. We all gladly accepted but my one roommate, Steve, likes to discuss the 'whys' of it. I proceed to tell him about a friend of mine who is a self proclaimed radical, queer, anarchist who doesn't use certain words like fuck or suck because of its oppressive, misogynistic, heteronormative connotations. He of course asked why and I tried to my best ability to explain but because of my limited knowledge I instead explained the etymology of bitch. We had a long heated conversation about how he thought it was ridiculous to not use that word even if it meant nothing towards a woman (which I wasn't arguing that he do so), for example saying son of bitch when you hit your foot on a table. I tried to get him to understand how it was first used to refer to a female dog, then how it got transformed into phrase to degrade women and finally how it is being reclaimed by some women. In the whole conversation I was trying to show language can be excluding, hurtful, oppressive but at the same time can be a form of resistance, subverting and claiming. I am not sure if I got anywhere in the conversation but he did claim that I was 'right' about the subject. During this conversation I was trying to get across to Steve how language can be used as a point of resistance. Was this conversation useful? Of course it is. I think we both learned from one another.

Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism by Patricia Hill CollinsBlack Sexual Politics.jpg

Patricia Hill Collins in her book, Black Sexual Politics, she has a chapter named, Get Your Freak On and within it there is a subsection called "Bitches" and Bad (Black) Mothers: Images of Working-Class Black Women. In this part of the chapter she looks at how the controlling image of bitch that "constitutes one representation that depicts Black women as aggressive, loud, rude, and pushy... When this is increasingly placed upon poor, working-class women the representation of 'bitch' creates a reworking of the image of the mule of chattel slavery" (123). She looks at how within the Black community the word bitch can be offensive but when combined with other words can be deadly. She also touches on how the Black community has resisted this negative stereotype and has used bitch with a capital 'B' to signify a strong, powerful and celebrated women. I believe that this discussion around language is important. Looking at the history of how a word has been used in terms of gender and race oppression is important. It allows for there to be knowledge and the ability to reclaim or reject.

Other sources (for lack of a better title):

Etymology of the word:

The only great resource I could find was on Wikipedia. :-) For purposed of not making the blog too long check out the link above to see the etymology.

With this last formal source I wanted to offer many sources to how the word bitch has been used and is being used. I want to do this to spark more discussion than to critique. Within these sources much could be said. Some are incredibly offensive and some are empowering. These are sources that should add to examples of oppression and resistance.

Hit the Bitch :

Interestingly enough, the site is now limited to only Danish people (where the PSA originated). I was able to check it out before it was taken down it was unreal. Actually it was very real. There was a male hand that you were able to control with your curser or via webcam with your actual hand to 'hit the bitch'. Here are a few photos I was able to find:
6a00d8341c51c053ef0120a6a78869970b-450wi.jpg

6a00d8341c51c053ef012875a9df9a970c-450wi.jpg


I'm a Bitch:

This was the first time I felt okay with saying bitch out loud! I remember thinking it was on the radio so it is okay for me to say it! My parents didn't think so but I had my little moment of claiming it...

Another video: Sexy Bitch

"I am trying to find a way to describe this girl without being disrespectful.... she's a sexy bitch..."

Watch if you want, I only made it through the first minute.

A Magazine:

Then there is a feminist magazine that claims the word and gives it power. Bitch_300.jpg


I hope this blog showed how one word can hold so much. It has a history of oppression but now in some spaces holds a position of empowerment, resistance and reclaiming. Whatever it is I believe it is worth being aware of it.

Annotated Bibliography #2

So, in writing and discussing the limitations, and problematic deployments of ambivilant drag in the subversion of gender norms I was thinking a lot about other ways in which drag is done. There are drag performers that utilize a sort of trash camp, not at all unlike Divine, aware within their performance that they are in fact queering gender. There is a drag troupe from Portland, Or called sissy boy. 5492_1178811000507_1535118539_30472296_379256_n.jpg Their shows are really an experience in the absolute celebration of the abject with like shit covered fairies ,lost of nudity, and punk drag outfits that have nothing to do with passing, or achieving class status through reproduction of heteronormative desires. I think Punk drag is Anti-capitalist not only because the performers self-identify as white trash, but because their shows are a lot more about encouraging the audience to disidentify than they are about making money. What they do make, they basically blow on the after party. A few of the performers talk about how drag is not about being a novelty to them, but dealing with the reality of their lives in the art of it. I really like the way they talk about their own auidence, "We have a large fan base of freaks geeks and fags, gender unidentified, raunchy, cum guzzling peeps... SISSYBOY is a punk rock, back-hand slap in the face, explosive reaction to the ever prevalent need to bend gender roles until they break. Taking the torch from our sisters before us,SISSYBOY has transcended traditional drag by welcoming all gender queer and radical thinkers into a world where anything and everything goes." That's right gender unidentified. Being at a Sissy Boy show is an open invitation to undo a little gender, to come unidentified in an atmosphere similar to a Rockey Horror Midnight showing. I like the interactivity of what they do, creating a transformative space that oozes for outside of the border of the body. Material/Queer Theory: Performativity, Subjectivity, and Affinity-Based Struggles in the Culture of Late Capitalism appears in the Journal Rethinking Marxism, 16: 3, 293, 310. The author Rob cover attempts to make epistemological connections between Marxian and Queer Theories, beyond their opposition to identity politics. He explains how Butler's explanation of performativity complicates the marxian model in which the fixity of identity stabilizes the homosexual identity to a site for marketing and commodification. He says that gay and lesbian identities were made coherent within capitalists structures. Intelligible sexual subjects are a necessary part of labor and consumption practices that strengthen the binary that privlidges heterosexuality over homosexuality. The heteronormative social organization of our capitalist society haswhat Cover calls a repressive tolerance, in wich subjecs are "free" to buy what you want, but only participate freely in certain sectors of labor, such as the exploitative sex and entertainment industries. The "queer bloc" style of antiglobalization protests and their critique of the "pink dollar" is built partially on the gay and lesbian liberation movements of the 1970s that theorized the only way to dismantle the hetero/homo binary was to overthrow the capitalist, industrial project wholly. Cover further argues that lesbian and gay identities and communities emerged from the capitalist project, and that the free labor market opened ontological space or gay and lesbian urban spaces and identification in ways that weren't possible in the family-oriented economy. The increase of open non normative sexual identification in the market also reestablished moral homophobia in the social order. Queer Theorists of the 1990s note the shift from industrial and production based economy to the current consumption and niche marketing modes, in which we now see queer as a commodifiable market. "Exploitative repression occurs also in the categorization of a market identity whereby subjects are encouraged to consume in order to ''fulfill'' their ostensible identity.(Cover 5)." He basically wants a materialist queer theoretical stance, which builds on the queer theories understanding of subjectivity not only in the social order, as Butler focuses on, but in the materiality of homophobia as employed by the late capitalist culture, The commodification of queer culture, in which the capitalist project target markets products, venues, and assimilationist lifestyles to gay consumers is in need of much 5205_bookpage.jpgqueering. A documentary called Market This!: Queer Radicals Respond to Gay Assimilation that began after the 1999 Queeruption gathering in New York tries to look at ways in which the queer community can support itself without supporting the structures that oppress. Cultural constructions of identity are so closely related now to branding, and this film urges queer people to be unsatisfied with popular representation as some form of liberation as it is in fact stratifying, diving the community.

Unqueer and Genderqueer

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In Jay Prosser's "Judith Butler: Queer Feminism, Transgender, and the Transubstantiation of Sex" he troubles the the centrality of transgender phenomena in queer theory, employed by Judith Butler to exemplify the performativity of gender, and subsequently iconized within the academic discipline. Given the Foucauldian denaturalization of categorical citations favored in Queer theory, the idea the copies, citations are in fact employed lacking a true original. Gender Trouble investigates transgendered bodies, like that of Venus Xtravaganza, for their potential to destabilize gender identity. What Prosser says gets lost in the queer deployment is a certian materiality of the bodies becoming a particular gender, transitioning, which he claims is oppositional to "the performative of effecting one."

"Gender Trouble cannot account for a transexual desire for sexed embodiment as telos. In this regard Gender Trouble serves to prompt reading of transsexual subjects whose bodily trajectories might exceed its framework of the theory of gender performativity.
If Gender Trouble enables the syllogism transgender= gender performativity=queer= subversive, it stabilizes this syllogism through suggesting as constant its antithesis nontransgender= gender= constativity=straight=naturalizing (Prosser p. 265)."

With the construction of this new binary demonstrated in the syllogism, it seems as though queer spaces could be demarcated another ring in the intelligibility doughnut, if this is indeed a regulatory operation. If the boundaries of what is considered queer and what is not are policed. I'm interested in the assumption of the first syllogism that says queer=subversive, an interesting place to delve into the investigative question of what is queer? Where Butler questions queer's ability to expand and be elastic enough to speak for all "sexual minorities," Prosser wonders if that inclusivity should be a goal at all. I think he is arguing that transgender is not necessarily queer, utilizing the example of Venus' ontological and heterosexual desires. She wants to become a woman, and to be married with all the material trappings of heteronormativity. Butler too is critical of what she termed ambivilant drag and its potential to simply reinforce the power structures by heeding existing identity categories, and reproducing the subjectivity of the the gender binary. In this reading of transgender it does not fit the syllogism, and therefore is not fully encompassed by the term queer according to Prosser; he also call "To resist queer's incorporation of trans identities." While I understand the call for a critical look at how trans bodies are deployed in order to study the failure of embodiment, and the complications implicit in the theoretical structuring of a binary subversive queer/ naturalizing straight under the surface of Judith Butler's arguments. While I appreciate the critique of Butler and the push to be critical of the academic co option of trans bodies, I still wonder if this heterosexual desire must necessarily exclude some transgendered people from queer inteligibility. If queer does in fact equal subversive (which I think it does), what then is Genderqueer, and is it not particularly unqueer to draw that boundary for others?

The Vlog Experience

As I wait for videos to export to files and files to upload to Youtube, I have to say that making this video annotated bibliography has been mighty difficult (video direct engagement: a little less time and energy consuming). And I fear that it may also be difficult to watch, because it is at least 30 minutes long and in four parts. Yikes. I'll let the entry go public once the videos are live on Youtube.

If anyone watches any part of them, it will be totally worth it.

ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY TWO

This annotated bibliography is a collection of things intersecting my path that I thought could pertain to the idea of rejection and refusal. I find applying this term to my life interesting because it demonstrates to me how I interact with these ideas and conflicts on a daily basis, whether or not it should be brought to my immediate attention.


boys-dont-cry.jpgBoys Don't Cry
. Dir. Kimberly Peirce. Perf. Hiliary Swank, Chloe Sevigny, Peter Sarsgaard, Brendan Sexton III, Alicia Goranson, Alison Follan, and Jeanetta Arnette. Fox Searchlight Pictures, 1999. Film.

This is a movie about Brandon Teena, a young transman who is trying to build a stable existence for himself as a man, while trying to escape his history as a deviant female. He wants a normal life but is challenged by fear of being revealed as a biological female. In the course of the film, he is discovered and the people Brandon called friends retort by humiliating, raping, and killing him. This is a violent example of how inexperience with gender deviants and other queer realities can result in a violent rejection of those who refuse to conform to the heterosexual existence bestowed upon one because of their biological sex. Brandon never felt he was a female and therefore would not live as one. He was successful until his untimely demise. What I hope can be derived from this movie is the horror of discrimination and the education that is necessary to prevent such violent reactions from occurring. It was a pointless display of how easily the heteronormative matrix is threatened by deviancy and makes one ask, how stable is it to begin with should it be so unstable? Why should refusal to conform to this matrix result in the immediate expulsion from society? And what can be done to prevent senseless violence because of queerness?


hist sex.jpgFoucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, vol. 1. Vintage Books, New York. 1990.

We read only one chapter, "Method", from this book, but having read it in its entirety; I know that the theme of rejection and refusal is prominent throughout. the History of Sexuality looks at the development of sexuality, the idea of which is relatively new to human history. The term sexuality was developed in the 1800s, and since its creation, Foucault has noted that there has been a war of context and definition pertaining to how to interpret sexuality, its implications, its consequences, and its revelations. Rejection of what is considered deviant sexuality, based on social and/or scientific interpretation, creates a certain heteronormativity to which one must conform. Yet there are always those who refuse to conform to these standards and it is through these people that the interpretation and definition of acceptable sexuality is changed.


the_average_american_male_a_novel.large.jpg.pngKultgen, Chad. The Average American Male. Harper Perennial, New York. 2007.

The Average American Male is not a book about rejection and refusal; what caught my attention is the reactions of rejection and refusal that are derived from reading it. Several of my roommates have read this book and I have seen their shocked reactions: their nervous and stunned laughs, their outraged outbursts, and the awkward readjustment of their bodies while they read. It is a satirical book journaling the thoughts of a male, chauvinist pig (and that is putting it politely!) whose only thought is about the objectivity of women (putting it lightly). This is an image of man that many men refuse to partake in and that is rejected by women, yet somehow remains the idolized image of a hyper-masculine man. Why is it this image exists and why is it emulated in the stories we read, the shows we watch, and the personalities we encounter? This book made me think about how this violent imagery is directed not only at women, but also at any other non-hyper-masculine male forms. Anything outside of this epitome of being is considered feminine and therefore, lesser and unimportant. How is it this behavior and thought process is learned? And how can it be reversed or prevented to avoid violent and abjective interactions with the feminine and with the queer?

Zack Johnson

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I found this to be extremely interesting to say the least. Found it problematic as well... Insensitive to transmen. Insensitive to women. It is loaded with good stuff. What do y'all think?

Critical Engagment: Compliance is Gendered

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Hopefully through my direct engagement of Dean Spade's essay "Compliance is Gendered: Struggling for Gender Self-Determination in a Hostile Economy" I will be able to better describe what it was about then I did in class. Dean spade is the founder of the non-profit collective Sylvia Rivera Law Project which provides free legal services to people within the transgender and intersex community that are confronting issues of poverty, racism and/or discrimination. So a great deal of his writing focuses on, especially in this piece, what kind of legal help is needed, why it's needed, why this type of work is necessary. In this essay it is explained how all of our governments social service programs, welfare systems, public school systems, correctional facilities, drug treatment centers, homeless shelters, public facilities...everything is rigidly mandated by the gender binary. This in combination with the fact that all of these things listed only recognize legal gender classification meaning they only acknowledge birth certificates and/or legal documents of gender identity in determining where in the system you belong, they do not acknowledge self-determination of gender identity. So with this essay Dean asks the question, "who is at the greatest risk for extreme consequences within this system?"

This is where he really critiques how the GLBT movement has missed the mark. Dean feels that it is transgender and intersex individuals whose identities intersect with race and class (in this case poor/low income) that are the most susceptible to the types of violence doled out by these institutions. And since there is much evidence to support that within the transgender community there are disproportionately high numbers of people whose identities would intersect this way it begs to ask the question...who says welfare reform and immigration reform aren't queer issues when it greatly effects those individuals lives? However, the GLB movements of the last how every many years have continued to ignore the T in GLBT by focusing mostly on marriage rights and assimilation to norms which Spade considers to only to be issues for people who already have a warm bed to sleep in at night, a job to by basic necessities or haven't been placed in the system simply for using a public restroom because they don't have their own (basically middle to upper-class among other things). So Spade chooses to focus on ways feminist, anti-capitalist and antiracist analysis can lend a hand to GLBT discourse and vice versa in an effort to better understand how the these systems strategically place people in the system and how their treated once they're there, and most importantly how our activism can be shaped around it.

To be honest, there was much more than this in the essay but I hope I cracked into it a little more clearly. I know for me personally one of the reasons I like Spade so much is because he's truly concerned with improving the quality of people's lives, fighting injustice and acting as a resource for people (in the trenches so to speak). What I think is really interesting and productive about this work though is that Dean Spade is really thinking outside the box. He explains to his audience that he, as the child of a single mother, spent his childhood on welfare and is all too familiar with the ways in which you have to comply with gender norms in order to receive assistance (hence: Compliance is Gendered) and the ways you are punished if you cannot. As well, having a good understanding of how capitalism, racism and the gender binary all work in overlapping ways to exclude, mark and create hierarchies is allowing him to see the issues surrounding the transgender community in a very helpful way. Not to be too pessimistic, but what I'm not sure about is whether or not it falls on deaf ears. Spades call is to work together on issues that apply to a variety different perspectives, the question is will they listen?

In relation to my term, Punishment, I have this overwhelming idea of how the hetero-normative matrix that we've discussed numerous times is just controlling and dictating everything around it. Just like the donut diagram I handed out in class, the matrix is in the center and everything orbits around it. If you can comply or pass than you may access some or all of the benefits, but if you cannot you are at risk for a barrage of punishments. And no matter how minimal or severe those punishments are, either the reality or the fear of them nonetheless shapes who we become, how we interpret our world, and how we conduct ourselves within society, hence social construction.

Direct Engagement #3: Assimilation

phallogocentrism
heteronormativity
sex negativity
anti-porn
racism
classism
ageism
ableism
homonormativity
anti-kink
emphasis on privacy

Mattilda really gets me going, and since I've got the intersection of queer/trans studies and disability studies on my mind I'm thinking of the ways in which the rift between these two activist camps hinges upon claims to normalcy and assimilation. When queer/trans and (dis)abled are set up as mutually exclusive categories, what happens?

Well, queer/trans people can't live with (dis)abilities and people with different ability sets can't be queer. That's too complex. That ruins any claims to assimilation within dominant norms. If you transgress these norms in more than one way, you're pretty fucked. And on the other hand, if you transgress these norms in more than one way you find yourself in a position to criticize the exclusionary moves of "both sides."

What emerges from all of this, for me, is something that we're always meaning to get to in class: what does all of this assimilationist rhetoric mean for BDSM and kink. It would seem that once again we're dealing with shame, and what to do with it when we work to normalize experiences by disassociating shame with our bodies.

It works like this: queer folks and folks with different ability sets are just as able to contribute to society as everyone else, and to prove this possibility, let us just say that our sex is totally vanilla. We're not like weird kinky folks: those folks are straight and have no visible disabilities. Those are just the weirdos of society. We really just want to be like the rest of the heteronormative, ableist world of capitalism and greed and to hell with shame! Let those other non-normative folks feel it! Fuck kink! There's no legitimacy about those desires and expressions because they aren't enough like the norm-- but please still expand the norm to include me, thank you.

So why do we have to push the shame somewhere else in order to grapple with our own experience? Must empowering myself inevitably involve shaming someone(s) else?

I've been struggling with these questions since first looking at Warner's "The Trouble With Normal" as well as Mattilda's work and I've got to say, it's not getting much better. As much as I like to "stay positive" and look at pleasure and desire, I find myself time and again returning to shame and especially where it figures into assimilationist activism.

Why does my normalcy (and why do I want to be "normal" in the first place) have to rely on calling someone else out for being "more/most deviant"? What does this say about how we construct our world with oppositions, the middles of which shall never touch or meet?

Queer, (dis)ability, and kink are totally holding hands and making out-- so why is this a set-back for some and a celebration for others?

Direct Engagement #4

In Public Sex, Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner discuss what heteronormativity is, the privatization of intimacy, and the construction of a counterintimacy through publicly visible queer culture.

In this entry I will engage primarily with the first part of the essay in which they establish heteronormativity, as there are questions I would like to ask about its perceived definition in the article. Berlant and Warner say that heteronormativity is far broader in scope than what most people think of as the heterosexual institution: the family. Though the family is a crucial center in which heteronormativity is deployed and which deploys heteronormativity, what is really at stake in this structure, the authors tell us, is a national heterosexuality. This places the sacredness of heterosexuality in the realm of law and politics, and not merely in the personal, although if one is to construct something as ordinary, one must push its political significance within the realm of the private. The authors use the example of "The New Face of America" from the cover of Time Magazine to illustrate their point. "... this crisis image of immigrants is also a racial mirage generated by white-dominated society, supplying a specific phobia to organize its public so that a more substantial discussion of exploitation in the United States can be avoided and then remaindered to the part of collective memory sanctified not by nostalgia but by mass aversion.... Central to the transfiguration of the immigrant into a nostalgic image to shore up core national culture and allay white fears of minoritization is something that cannot speak its name, though its signature is everywhere: national heterosexuality," (pg. 549). They proceed to recount the ways in which society is organized around sex and the family, citing ways in which heterosexual privilege is implicit in such things as joint banking, paying taxes, buying insurance, etc. giving an account of the processes by which heteronormativity operates by publicly mediating all that is deemed, in the minds of most Americans, private: intimacy and sex. "Intimate life is the endlessly cite elsewhere of political public discourse, a promised haven that distracts citizens from the unequal conditions of their political and economic lives, consoles them for the damaged humanity of mass society, and shames them for any divergence between their lives and the intimate sphere that is alleged to be simple personhood," (pg. 553). Of this phenomena, the authors say, "Indeed, one of the unforeseen paradoxes of national-capitalist privatization has been that citizens have been led through heterosexual culture to identify both themselves and their politics with privacy," (pg. 553-554).

Although that was a short summary of the first part of the article, I believe it is rife with material from which to derive questions. As I was reading this article, I was struck by what I took to be a rather euro-centric analysis of heteronormativity. I do not believe that non-whites enter into this picture of national heterosexuality quite the way the authors construct it. Certainly, all cultural, political, and legal texts mentioned by the authors (joint checking, mortgages, insurence, etc.) that are so ordinary to the "heterosexual [white] couple" are not so ordinary and unproblematic to non-white heterosexual couples. The cost of living for non-whites is much higher, and heterosexual nuclear non-white families are not necessarily supported by the state. Stereotypes associated with how non-white families function (the strong black mother, the absent black father, or an entire extended Hispanic family living together under one roof) certainly place them outside of the "usual" heteronormative model. When dealing with legal and state services that provide aid to families and work to normalize the family, non-whites are disproportionately expected to be more responsible for themselves and are often denied aid because of punitive judgments made by social workers. This would certainly seem to force heterosexual intimacy under the scrutiny and scorn of the public sphere (a bit like homosexuality), afterwards thrusting it harshly back into the private realm of personal responsibility, where it is subject to the putative whims of police and other public officials to keep in check. For all of the authors talk about the proliferation of public discourse that mediates the constant failures of heteronormativity to deliver its promised bliss, there seems to be a different dynamic in play when a black couple show up on Maury's stage that doesn't exist with even what could be designated as a white-trash couple. I believe the state has a lot of interest in seeing non-white heterosexuals fail to live up to the example of their white counterparts. Looking at "The New Face of America," and thinking about the forced sterilization of non-white women and so forth, I cannot imagine that the message is really for whites to reproduce with non-whites, or that the image of national heterosexuality is all there is going on here. Perhaps it is only specifically a white national heterosexuality, because I see a genocidal image, in which the white has conquered the non-white, where white heterosexuality beat out the rest. I also do not think that symbolic femininity has nothing to do with this image as symbolic [white] femininity has long been used as a racist battle cry.

As far as youth are concerned, I am still thinking of Michael Warner's introduction, Fear of a Queer Planet, in which his seemingly sincere but only sentence long allusion to youth was quickly thrown aside. I am quite surprised that youth didn't really come up at all in an article about heteronormativity and with so much discussion of reprosexuality. After all, sex isn't an "adults only" subject. I can only say here that heteronormativity's concern with bringing up children to reach prescribed ends of "maturation" can be done taking something that is obviously queer and simply saying that it is not. If the sense of "rightness" is what heteronormativity is, childhood and childrearing certainly present excellent opportunities for dislodging that feeling and replacing it with a mixture of nausea and uncertainty (the bemoaning of parents and child care workers, "Did I do the right thing?"). Of course, they never do the right thing, because, try as we might to make our little girls play with pink castles, they may grow up to be a butch lesbian or a tranny. In a certain way, even though children are laden with tremendous heteronormative stress they inherit from the adult world, heteronormativity, remains for childhood, unintelligible.

Direct Engagement #3

In his introduction to Social Text, Fear of a Queer Planet, Michael Warner reviews the current state of the recognition of queer and gay politics in social theory. Not only does Warner point out instances of outright homophobia, but he asserts that social theory is hopelessly heterosexist. He outlines two goals for his introduction which are, "... first is to suggest that much social theory could be usefully revised by taking gay politics as a starting point. The second is to urge that lesbian and gay intellectuals find a new engagement with various traditions of social theory in order to articulate their aims. Both interventions have been made necessary by a new style of "queer" politics that, no longer content to carve out a buffer zone for a minoritized and protected subculture, has begun to challenge the pervasive and often invisible heteronormativity of modern societies," (pg. 3). Warner reviews the literature of social theory touching (if only barely) on sexuality as an issue in modern society. He maintains that the bitter language of "breeder" in its usage by queers, reflects a feeling of exclusion and denial of legitimacy queers feel from what Warner claims is a body of social theory centered on a heteronormative understanding of the proper functioning of society as reproductive. This obsession with reprosexuality is a part of how society functions on a growth based capitalistic economy. Because social literature is blanketed by a focus on the family and the reproductive couple, and simply because of authors and theorist's own homophobic tendencies, social theory's analysis of society is fundamentally lacking because of a negelect to examine the cultural climate of the homo/hetersexual divide. Warner discusses the problems that arise for queers attempting to grapple with sexual politics and the social order in the every day: "It means being able, more or less articulately, to challenge the common understanding of what gender difference means, or what the state is for, or what "health" entails, or what would define fairness, or what a good relation to the planet's environment would be... Social reflection carried out in such a manner tends to be reactive, fragmentary, and defensive, and leaves us perpetually at a disadvantage," (pg. 6). Political struggle can be especially difficult for people who identify as queer in the traditional sense, because "... queer struggles aim not just at toleration or equal status but at challenging those [heterosexist] institutions and accounts," (pg. 6). Warner also posits that the very language of gender itself has theoretical problems for queers because the logic of gender language places people and bodies on a heterosexist gender binary. Warner proposes some political strategies to help articulate queer political struggle. He asserts that "self-clarification" is important because queers as a group cannot be articulated as a class or social status or theorized in the ways identity politics has theorized other groups of people. He critisizes what he calls "Rainbow Theory," which he sees as guised in liberal civil rights rhetoric. "... it will be necessary to break this frame if we are to see the potential alliances with movements that do not thematize identity in the same way," (pg. 12), and highlights the need for comparative thinking, even within identity politics.

It is interesting to hear Warner talk about queers as a group. It is mainly this aspect of his essay that our class is concerned with and it is here that I draw my questions about his article from. What and who is queer? Here are some particularly interesting quotes:
"But because queer politics do not obey the member/nonmember logics of race and gender, alternative canons and traditions cannot be opposed to the dominant ones in the same way," (pg. 13),
"Queerness therefore bears a different relation to liberal logics of choice and will, in ways that continually pose problems both in everyday life and in contexts of civil rights," (pg. 14),
"Queer people are a kind of social group fundamentally unlike others, a status group only insofar as they are not a class," (pg. 15),
"The problem of finding an adequate description is a far from idle question, since the way a group is defined has consequences for how it will be mobilized, represented, legislated for, and addressed," (pg. 15),
"... and because dispersal rather than localization continues to be definitive of queer self-understanding... ," (pg. 15),
"The universalizing utopianism of queer theory does not entirely replace more minority-based versions of lesbian and gay theory - nor could it, since normal sexuality and the machinery of enforcing it do not bear down equally on everyone, as we are constantly reminded by pervasive forms of terror, coercion, violence, and devastation," (pg. 16),
"'Queer' therefore also suggests the difficulty in defining the population whose interests are at stake in queer politics," (pg. 16).

I feel there are many valuable questions to ask about this set of quotes. I will now pose them in a list:
1) What do you make of the tension in Warner's introduction between the process of weeding out who and who does not belong in the categories some queers have created and claimed such as gay and lesbian and his comment that queer is not governed by the same member/nonmember logics as are race and gender? How does this reflect on the idea that queer politics must be distinguished from identity politics? Are groups that are exclusively gay or lesbian but call themselves queer, not queer, and if so, what is queer's real proximity to gay and lesbian politics?
2) Is the "universalizing utopia" of queer necessarily euro/phallo-centric? What does it mean that queer theory is "universalizing"?
3) Are there issues of queer ecopolitics that Warner could have discussed in addition to his commentary of reprosexuality and a growth based capitalism?
4) If many other groups have also found that they have been lead astray by liberal civil rights based politics, is this something that necessarily sets queers apart from other identity based political struggles?
5) If Warner says that queers are not content to be labled a minority and instead are bent on dismantleing the very fabric of society as heterosexist, thus bringing queers out of minority status, what might be problematic about his use of the word minority to refer to other unnamed groups?
6) Is it necesarrily a realistic or useful goal to engage in the creation of any kind of unified queer identity, especially internationally? Why are people uncomfortable with a political movement that is characterized by local action? Even when political movements, such as the Women's Movement of the 70's, are characterized by anything but uniformity, why is there a push to articulate them as single mass movements, even as they make enormous political strides?
7) How do we think about the dispersion of queers as apposed to the dispersion of children, women, people of color, or people of diaspora?

As I did not explicitly discuss youth in this entry, I will now briefly relate what this article has to do with my term. Warner says that, "Heterosexual ideology, in combination with a potent ideology about gender and identity in maturation, therefore bears down in the heaviest and often deadliest way on those with the least resources to combat it: queer children and teens. In a culture dominated by talk of "family values," the outlook is grim for any hope that childrearing institutions of home and state can become less oppressive," (pg. 9). I was disappointed with how quickly he brushed this sort of damning and unsetteling comment aside. If Warner is having trouble identifying who is implicated in the concerns of a queer politics, he might start with the population he deems most at risk, but does not mention children again for the rest of the introduction. I would also say that if Warner wants to bring queers out of the shadows of minority status, he may begin with a reflection on how all children, especially very young ones, and not just some of them, are queer. Here is where I find that Warner sometimes uses the term queer when what he is really talking about are gay identified youth. I also wonder how he would respond to assertions that so-called "family values" liberal, neo-con politics in the US have not been at all beneficial for what are considered traditional, heteronormative families. Given that heteronormativity is not simply about providing straights the good life and making sure queers are living in the gutter, what could be said about the dynamics of "family values" politics and heteronormative families?

Direct Engagement #2 in cut up poetry: Disidentifications

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To put into conversation some of Disidentifications with Judith Butler's work around bodies and dissing gender, I present this image of a cut up poem which I "wrote":

disidentifications.JPG

For class tomorrow (11.19)

Remember that your blog folders are due tomorrow. Please include all entries and comments that you want graded. Only printed out items included in the folder will be awarded points.

Tomorrow we are discussing Mattilda's Nobody Passes. You are only required to read the introduction. Pick out a few essays from the book that you find especially compelling and read them closely. Come up with some passages from those essays that you want to discuss and bring some questions to ask the rest of the class.

Good luck finishing up your blog entries!

Reflection and Questions on Disidentification

In Disidentifications, Munoz asserts disidentification is challenging an institution by not identifying with it, and also not fruitlessly trying to reject it completely when it is inescapable, but by working against and on it to change that institution in a comprehensive way. If, as Munoz also asserts, "ideology is the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence. The location of ideology is always within an apparatus and its practice or practices, such as the state apparatus," (Munoz, 11) then I am curious to understand disidentification of the state apparatus. For instance, if there is an ideology within the state apparatus that is affecting peoples realities by prescribing or influencing an imaginary relationship with (or understanding of) that reality, then what are we to understand as the reality and what are we to understand as the imaginary?

Within this question there is the issue of intelligibility. The state apparatus (nation, country, the US, however you want to read it) uses systems of laws, naturalization, criminalization, education, taxation, etc to prescribe a set of codes onto citizens and non-citizens alike regarding the definition of both groups. Both groups also understand the implications of those terms. Citizen must find be able to fit in the classification of: gender, race, age, height, weight, etc in very specific terms. For a body outside of these terms, there is now a rift between the reality of the body and the ideology of the body. The ideology is not chosen, it is necessary for obtaining legal "rights" reserved for those members of the nation who are intelligible. For me, two very real examples of this are the Gender Recognition Act I cited in my second annotated bibliography, and also the debate surrounding face-veils and coverings in photo IDs and drivers' licenses, where some states still do not deem a person legitimate until they remove their veil and expose their physical characteristics for interpretation by the state.

If this system of identifiers of who is and is not eligible for inclusion into the legal benefits of the state apparatus is the ideology, and reality is the term for all aspects of a body that don't fit within these identifiers, then disidentification would be to understand the space between the two. What are the ways in which this space can be understood and what are ways that disidentification can tangibly change this system? Should the focus be instead to start conceptualizing the dissonance between the definable and indefinable in the body and use discourses as a starting point? Does it begin with trying to change the regulations regarding physical identification in gender, race, age, etc, terms? I also wonder then, if disidentification is realizing the all-encompassing nature of an institution, like a state apparatus, then does this refer to the fact that there is a state apparatus presiding over any physical place that a person can go, or rather, there is a nation claiming any given location on the planet? Or does this refer to the fact that, once given status (legal or illegal, citizen or non-citizen) i.e. put in a category into which a citizen must fit, then there is no undoing the mental effects of this ideological wiring?


"To be natural is such a very difficult pose to keep up."
-- Oscar Wilde; An Ideal Husband

Butler's discussion of legitimacy and bodies throughout "Doing Justice to Someone" in Undoing Gender intersects with and is relevant to abjection in that her explanation of David Reimer and his body reflects on many of the same principles and notions that concern the abject and the way in which people become abject.
I came across the Oscar Wilde quote in Susan Sontag's "Notes on Camp" -- the corresponding note under which she places this quotation discusses authentic versus staged camp. Her argument is that true camp does not know itself to be camp, it is excessive not because it finds its excess witty or parodic, but because it genuinely finds its excess necessary. To this, Sontag remarks: "Probably, intending to be campy is always harmful" (in Against Interpretation, 282). I make this connection to Sontag's "Notes" not due to any inherent connection between David Reimer's "unintelligible" body and camp taste, but because when I read these notes, by chance, in succession to Butler's discussion of the Reimer case, I drew a connection between "camping" and David's expressed knowledge of and subsequent adherence to what constitutes a normal or natural boy or girl. (This also seems to tie in with Butler's discussion of performance/performativity -- which I'll discuss in a minute). His knowledge of what determines intelligibility forces him to exaggerate recognizable male behavior, forces him to exhibit maleness in excess in order to convince others that he is not female. David's excessive exhibition of what makes one intelligible as a male body allows him to provide the corresponding evidence necessary to convince others of his maleness. I'm not arguing that his testimonies were not true or deeply felt, but I agree with Butler when she asserts that David is able to recognize "normal" male activity/desire and is then able to refute or expel any so-called "female" or "feminine" activities/desires he may naturally exhibit. He is able to display acceptable and legitimate male qualities in order to be accepted and legitimated as a male being. Each of David's self-descriptions relies on very superficial characteristics or tendencies of male-bodied individuals, and they are specifically formulated to convince legitimate persons (who hold the position of validating his legitimacy as a gendered body) that he is in fact legitimately male. He does this by asserting that he likes things that girls don't like, such as climbing trees -- something that many girls do in fact like to do, but that is typically associated with boys' behavior. He specifically states in one testimony that "girls don't like [hanging around with the guys and climbing trees and stuff like that]" (68), which is obviously a false statement. But David knows that according to the laws that govern acceptable gender, girls do not like these things and boys do. Therefore, he will be recognized as a boy if he says that he likes these things and does not like clothes designed for girls, etc. -- reminding the medical staff that these activities are exclusive to boys' behavior. It is entirely understandable that David would utilize his knowledge of what is intelligible in order to be allowed to comfortably inhabit his body -- to live. (To be natural is such a very difficult pose to keep up.)

When we ask, what are the conditions of intelligibility by which the human emerges, by which the human is recognized, by which some subject becomes the subject of human love, we are asking about conditions of intelligibility composed of norms, of practices that have become presuppositional, without which we cannot think the human at all. (Butler, 57)

David's doctors questioned the ease to which David would be able to function in and be accepted by normative society because the primary signifier of a male body was absent: a phallus. However, they were not dissuaded by the notion that David could not be female bodied either due to vaginal absence. This was never about what was in David's pants, but what was not in David's pants. Y chromosome, male hormones, masculine presentation and (male) heterosexual desires aside, the body in question was deemed unintelligible due to "lack". Why would David's transition from living as a boy to living as a girl be easier or more acceptable given the aforementioned information pertaining to his biological structure?
A simple answer would be -- owing to the one-sex model. David does not have a "complete" male body, therefore he must be its other, its opposite. Anything not wholly and unquestionably male must be other -- female. Recall Butler's example of Aretha Franklin's declared feelings of natural womanhood in Gender Trouble, she remarks, "One is one's gender to the extent that one is not the other gender, a formulation that presupposes and enforces the restriction of gender within that binary pair" (30). Thus, David's doctors and parents attempt to make David, or now Brenda, "feel like a natural woman" by denaturalizing his maleness. "Man" is defined here by what does not constitute a "man": lack of phallus constitutes a non-male body, and since male and female bodies are the only two intelligible and legitimate bodies, David must therefore have a female body, despite his "feeling" male: "The articulation 'I feel like a woman' by a female or 'I feel like a man' by a male presupposes that in neither case is the claim meaninglessly redundant" (GT, 30). What David actually has is an abject body -- a body that exists outside of intelligibility because of its deformity, a body in danger of societal revulsion and expulsion, as well as a body that attracts uninvited attention and study. I think it was Kate Bornstein (probably in Gender Outlaw) who compared attention given to trans-sexual and trans-gendered persons in the media to the attention given to "freaks" at carnivals. This speaks to undeniable pleasures derived from regarding beings excluded from the category of the human, and -- given the spectators are themselves legitimate -- scrutinizing malformations and making assessments about the bodies on display. The sense of superiority over the illegitimate body conjoined in varying proportions with the titillation of fear and aversion makes it possible for moral scruples to be lifted, for cruelty to be enjoyed. (I feel, in reading Butler's account, that the doctors involved in David's case did in fact enjoy humiliating David -- regardless of whether they viewed their methods of research "humiliation" -- I am sure they did not -- they seem to have been operating under the assumption that science trumps civility.) Consider the lengths David's doctors went to convince him that he was, or at least could be, female -- the countless occasions he was forced to strip naked to be gawked at and scrutinized by the eyes of strangers, and asked to simulate sexual acts with her brother. The methods used to conduct research and scientific study in this case were absolutely tantamount to sexual assault. We see in this example the way in which "Others become shit" -- the way in which Others' lives are negated by fascinations to novelty. Abjection, in this case is seen not in normative society's expulsion of David's body, but in the medical field's treatment of David as a non-human -- denying him common courtesy and respect in the name of scientific research.

... "what, given the contemporary order of being, can I be?" This question does not quite broach the question of what it is not to be, or what it is to occupy the place of not-being within the field of being. What it is to live, breathe, attempt to love neither as fully negated nor as fully acknowledged as being. (UG, 58)

David's body exists somewhere between normal and abject -- it resides in a "borderland", not fully expelled, not fully accepted.

Most astonishing, in a way, is the mutilated state that these bodies are left in, mutiliations performed and then paradoxically rationalized in the name of "looking normal" ... it would be better for the child to look normal, even when such surgery may deprive the person permanently of sexual function and pleasure. (UG, 63)

The initial argument for David's sex-change was that he would be able to function more naturally in society as a female than as a male -- however, the truth of the matter is that he would only appear as a normally functioning female in a normative society, despite all of his (normative) "male" impulses suggesting the opposite. See, it makes no difference what exists inside a person, for a person to be intelligible as a human being, all relevant information about that person is determined from what is written on the body: the unrecognizability of one's gender = the unrecognizability of one's personhood (UG, 58).

[David] is the anonymous -- and critical -- condition of the human as it speaks itself at the limits of what we think we know. (74)

Knowledge stops where the skin begins.

Direct Engagement #2

Here, I would like to engage with Judith Butler's discussion of the abject in her book, Undoing Gender.

Butler focuses a lot on instances in which the "someness" of the human assemblage, or when the fact that our existence is contingent on other's existence is revealed. She says that through the process of grieving our interdependence on each other is revealed. She says that, "I might try to tell a story about what 'I' am feeling, but it would have to be a story in which the very 'I' who seeks to tell the story is stopped in the midst of the telling. The very 'I' is called into question by its relation to the one to whom I address myself... We're undone by each other. And if we're not, we're missing something," (pg. 19). Of course, this all comes back to the body as a construction which "does" and also has things "done to" it. The way in which the "I" in any sentence is always contingent upon another "I" in another body is what leads Butler to ponder the state of bodies in proximity to other bodies, DNA exchange with bodies, the idea of one's sexuality being dependent upon other's bodies, and, of course, what bodies are human and what bodies are non-human or unreal. She claims grief as a tool for political projects, saying that it's our grief over what happens to bodies and thus what happens to ourselves that highlight the need for non-violent discussions and behavior that consider the needs and sustenance of bodies across the globe. Of course, this is complicated by the question Butler poses at the beginning of the chapter, "I would like to start, and to end, with the question of human, of who counts as the human, and the related question of whose lives count as lives, and with a question that has occupied many of us for years: what makes for a grievable life?" (pg. 18). She discusses what it means when the unreal claims the real (or non-human claims the human), introducing possibilities for resignification of dominant norms and inviting fantasy to participate in opening up myriad possibilities of being and being bodied (among other things), specifically in the context of various groups of adult humans. Discussing the human, humanization and dehumanization, the process of becoming "real," and the state of dependence we are born into and remain in, Butler is ultimately theorizing on what is human, what the process of becoming or being human is, and what a "grievable" life is. She says, "When we ask what makes a life livable, we are asking about certain normative conditions that must be fulfilled for life to become life. And so there are at least two senses of life, the one that refers to the minimum biological form of living, and another that intervenes at the start, which establishes minimum conditions for a livable life with regard to human life. And this does not imply that we can disregard the merely living in favor of the livable life, but that we ask, as we asked about gender violence, what humans require in order to maintain and reproduce the conditions of our own livability," (pg. 39).

There is much that isn't said in this chapter, and that I can truly only guess that Butler implies by the language she uses. I like where Butler was going at first with her cyborgian, posthuman commentary on the "someness" and dependency of any subject, "I," or assemblage. But after that, I'm disappointed by the direction she chose to move in, a direction that is decidedly devoid of anything that Butler herself would designate as "non-human." I would have liked her to discuss the heritage of her terms. Perhaps this revolving around the "human" is our problem in the first place. The word "human" is of euro/phallo-centric origin, as are ideas Butler cites of what is not "human." Though it's hard to point fingers at Butler for something she did not explicitly say, I also have the sneaking suspicion that Butler's sense of "livability" is probably more tied to bourgeoisie lifestyle cloaked in the liberal rhetoric of "standard of living," than she would care to admit. Butler is awfully prescriptive in stressing a politics that focuses on bringing the non-human into the human and one that focuses on what humans need to have a livable life. She says that the realization that life is precarious because of violence has the potential to unite humans in non-violent political action that provides for human social goods. But so much is left out in this formula. Butler says that she is not ready to stop with an argument that says that understandings of what is livable and human are based upon local ideas and histories but does not specify what she considers a livable standard of life. I know that the standard of living Butler enjoys, simply by virtue of living in the Western world, is dependent upon violence not just against other people, whether they are considered grievable or not, but on non-humans in the sense of plants and animals. If Butler makes much of the fact that our lives are contingent upon the lives of other people, she certainly does not make much of the fact that the existence of the human species is dependent upon non-humans, or that humans themselves are mostly non-human. The human genome can only be found in about 10% of the cells that make up my body, for example. The rest is "non-human" bacterium and other things, many of which allow me my survival and the "consciousness" that I believe to be so "human." Butler asks of people who would suggest a concrete definition of the fundamentals of human life, "But what if the very categories of the human have excluded those who should be described and sheltered within its terms?" (pg. 36). It seems to me Butler dangerously excludes the well being of the non-human in order to preserve the human, which would spell disaster for both groups. I love Donna Haraway's talk of companion species and how humans are not human, but are in a process of multi-species becoming. Awareness and response to pain, grief, and violence are not essentially human characteristics. I judge from her behavior that my guinea pig knows as well as I do that she is sick and dying, and that her other companion pig is dead and no more. I believe she also knows that her survival is dependent upon my making the conscious decisions to feed and care for her, and that she is well aware that she has no power to return to her cozy and solitary Pigloo until I am done poking and kissing her fat, fluffy thighs. How is my friend's cat demand for recognition and attention is less human than my friend's desire? Any presumptuous statement that animals do not experience outside of themselves and are therefore not human will be dashed by an utter ignorance of what, say cat consciousness is like in the lived experience of the cat. There is much research that shows that plants and even bacterium possess a consciousness. Should these be included in the category human, too? Or should we just be real with ourselves and admit that we were never 'human' in the sense of there being any definable whole, either as individuals or a species, that future human survival will be about a politics that rejects the central importance of the human in place of the non-human. If we go in this direction, we may have to deal with a definition of a livable life that is unrecognizable to Butler, one in which we will not be able to depend on our stores being full of food on command, or anyone being "sufficiantly" protected from non-human violence or catastrophe. Butlers comment that some are born into the world without adequate resources for survival has not always been a history of oppression, but a history of sustainable, human subsistence. If we consider what is good for non-humans and the earth and thus what is good for humans, "human" desires, whatever they may be, may not (and, I think will seldom) come out at the top of what is important for the future existence of the species as a whole and other life forms. Ultimately I think that we will have to adjust our definition of what is livable to bring it far closer to what we think of as "bare" biological survival. This is not to say that people will be subjected to human-inflicted violence, but Butler's definition of a livable, non-violent life has far broader implications than just ending human violence against each other. I would like Butler to talk about how people's livable lives are not just dependent upon other people, but other people's violence, and how this complicates simply making the "non-human," "human." And what about the blatant animalisation that takes place in racist, sexist, and other wise nasty discourses? What does it mean that we desire to reclaim these groups from the animal, only to leave the animal itself to suffer under the yoke of human definitions of what is and isn't worthwhile, even as we depend upon the animal for subsistence, becoming with it in the process? When we place animals in the abject, we necessarily place ourselves in the abject anyway, for humans are, in the end, just another animal. I would even be quite prepared to say that there is nothing special about people whatsoever, and that the interests of everything on earth rely on us getting over ourselves. I agree with Butler that this will mean accepting a broad range of possibilities for being and becoming, but hopefully this will not be solely centered around the "human" subject. If we are to truly bring our fellows out of the abject, we must abolish both sides of that philosophical coin.

Since I ended up talking more about non-humans than children, I will briefly relate what all of this has to do with my term. Butler herself, while humanly bringing the non-human into the human, inherently places "infancy" (dependency) as a condition of humanity. She says, "Given over from the start to the world of others, bearing their imprint, formed within the crucible of social life, the body is only later, and with some uncertainty, that to which I lay claim as my own," (pg. 21). If "... the very sense of personhood is linked to the desire for recognition...," (pg. 33), how is it that children, who, according to Butler, as yet possess no "I," demand recognition? Of course, Butler does not say at what age she claimed her body as her own, but her labored uncertainties as to whether she can correctly claim this body as her own suggests that she was at an age where he was able to think rather abstractly about her situation. Of course, I will not hold Butler to this ridiculous standard, but many of her statements may lean towards excluding rather than including children into the human. What if someone's sense of personhood is linked not to recognition, but to a wish to be alone, or to claim the identity that they are, in fact, non-human? Is Butler, by laying out these conditions for "personhood" recreating the abjected human she sought to deconstruct? And what of the hegemonic narrative that exists of childhood being a time of "becoming," "growing," and "coming of age?" Does this mean that children are "becoming human?" What of the common assertion that young children do not understand this, are not interested in that, or have no personality? Are there not many adults to which these statements could be applied? Are we not marking, animalising, and relegating children to the abject and the not real, or, the more legitimate, not yet real? What does it mean that Butler specifically characterizes dependency, a constant human condition, as infancy?


Annotated Bibliography 2

This time for my annotated bibliography I focused less on the process of obtaining citizenship and the social ramifications of citizenship and more on the way that identity politics works through national systems to enforce hetero norms. Identity politics basically categorize different groups and, when faced with an individual, force that individual into one of the existing groups. This includes groups defining sexuality. Identity politics are produced by and produce the heterosexual norms that marginalize queer citizens, in essence disenfranchising them. My three sources here explore different ways this happens, through laws passed with the best intentions and through surveys designed to help solve this very problem.

Paper on Queer & Identity Politics

This is a paper describing a social experiment of surveying queer community members in hopes of reaching some understandings of political and demographic information on queer members of the community. The goal of this survey was to understand how to give queer and other marginalized citizens a voice in the political process that works to keep them marginalized. The survey was distributed to various large metro areas around the US, including the twin cities here in Minnesota. The paper also discusses the enormous amount of obstacles facing this task ; it was in some ways impossible to get outside of the white, male perspective which surrounds so many social systems, such as the mail system, the government, and the form of surveying itself.

I think the task described by this article- of trying to survey a queer population- is problematic, but also could be positive. It is problematic because of the identity politics invloved with categorizing a queer population. Who, how, why are the people defined as such ? As altruistic and well-meaning as the executors of the survey were in trying to approach the subject, the identification of someone as queer as a means of political categorization seems counter-intuitive considering the term queer. However, the goal of political representation for queer citizens as a means of ending or ameliorating marginalization is simply one way to acheive a goal that to me seems commendable.

Rollins, Joe. and Hirsch, Harry. "Queer Citizenship?" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston Marriott Copley Place, Sheraton Boston & Hynes Convention Center, Boston, Massachusetts, Aug 28, 2002 Online <.PDF>. 2009-11-16


2004 Parliament Act in the UK

This is a copy of the Gender Recognition Act passed in the UK in 2004. This law basically outlines the legal path that a person in the UK can follow to change their gender. This person applies for and is then granted a gender recognition certificate, which changes the gender on their birth certificate and other legal documents. The act also outlines the evidence necessary before recieving a gender recognition certificate.

Like my first source, this act is wrought with issues and in dire need of queer analysis. First, the point of the act is clearly as a means of helping people gain the ability to choose their gender versus being ascribed a gender at birth with no way to go about changing it later in life. This can be helpful to someone who wishes to change gender, but remain within a system of binary male/female gender. Second, this act perhaps works more towards enforcing heterosexual dominance than helping those outside of heterosexual norms. Although there is a choice of which gender to be, every person is still forced to choose between these two genders. Third, evidence is needed as proof of a person's gender prior to recieving a gender recognition certificate. There are various rules delineating how much evidence is necessary given certain factors. However, the neccessity of evidence contributes to thoughts that there are certain indicators of how gender is decided. These are all social and cultural problems that are woven into this government act which legally affects the sexuality of citizens.

United Kingdom. Office of Public Sector Information. Gender Recognition Act 2004. 2004 Chapter 7.


Gender Outlaws Meet the Law

My third source is a paper outlining court decisions which have surrounded transsexuals involved in relationships later being accused of hiding their gender from their partner, impersonating a person of another gender or raping their partner. The article also highlights the conflict between the ways that different groups viewed these rulings; lesbian feminist groups and queer groups both saw the rulings as an infringement on rights in different ways. Queer groups saw this as a gender issue, a person's ability to choose gender, feminist groups saw it as a partner choice, a person's ability to choose their partner. Also the paper shows the ways that these rulings really control through legal ways how a person's sexuality can be expressed and that is typically only through heterosexual norms.

This article was really interesting to me in the sense that it contrasts these differences in the way that two groups fighting against the criminalization of sexual acts by marginalized groups can be fighting each other at the same time. The difference in the goals between feminist aims and queer aims is very large and yet, they are both just fighting a heteronormative society in different ways. These rulings are very disturbing and they are sometimes overturned later. However, this is a perfect example of how a transgender person does not have a voice or a safe place within the government system of a hetero based society. I think also that the feminist way of fighting this ruling, while resisting hetero norms, is still enforcing a belief in identity politics because it is defining gay versus straight, which is just as limited as straight.


Gross, Aeyal. "Gender Outlaws Meet the Law: Feminism and Queer Theory at the Borderlands" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The Law and Society Association, TBA, Berlin, Germany, Jul 25, 2007. Accessed Nov 16, 2009.

Syllabus Revised

Here is the latest revision to the syllabus. I will also distribute and discuss it in class tomorrow.

Annotated Bib. #2

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My first source is:

Spade, Dean. "Fighting to Win." That's Revolting: Queer Strategies for Resisting
Assimilation. Ed. Alia, Matilda, and Bernstein, Matt. Soft Shires Press. 2004. 31-37.

Here, Dean Spade discusses the current state of what he terms the GLBfakeT movement. He talks about the vast differences between high-wage earning queers and low-income, disabled, young, old, and otherwise disenfranchised trans-identified folks. He asserts that the queer movement has been put into a "white liberal civil rights" framework that has, in many cases, had devastating effects on trans folks, if it hasn't simply ignored them altogether. He proposes a strategy for political action that focuses on the needs of those who face the most dire consequences from the gender binary: trans-identified people of color, youth, the poor, the elderly, and the disabled.

This source is relevant to my term as Spade spends a significant portion of his essay discussing trans youth of color. He describes the effects of recent legislation pushed through by mainstream LGBfakeT activists in the neighborhood of the Stonewall Inn, where local gays are trying to rid their streets of these youth, who, for decades, have come together and found each other in this area. This has led to increased incarceration of youth and police brutality. Spade also mentions that the public nets and services off of which he survived his own youth are all but extinct, and that trans people have virtually no other services available to them because they do not fit gendered prerequisites established by the state and other locally run shelters and services. He then discusses the development of trans people and the way in which they become in this world: "Many trans people start out their lives with the obstacle of abuse or harassment at home, or are kicked out of their homes by their parents on the basis of their gender identity or expression. Some turn to foster care, but often end up homeless when they experience harassment and violence at the hands of staff and other residents in foster care facilities... Similarly, harassment and violence against trans and gender-different students is rampant in schools, and many drop out before finishing or are kicked out. Many trans people also do not pursue higher education due to fears of applying to schools and being required to reveal their birth name and birth sex, having not been able to change these on their documents," (pg. 33).

I have been thinking about our conversation in class the other day about discipline and punishment, and I think that is the very question to ask here, in regards to the treatment of poor, trans youth of color. In what ways do we (me, you, the state, etc.) discipline and punish people who are culturally illegible? The way Spade says, "Most trans people start out their lives...," (pg. 33), for me, brings all of these issues back to children and those who are infantilized by disenfranchisement. For that is, in many ways, what Spade is talking about here. The legitimized discipline and punishment of children for perfectly legal infractions on social codes provides a foundation for how we treat those who are perceived as of in need of control, aid, or punishment. The big difference of these apparatuses of biopower in people's lives is based on who we are perceived to be when we are born or by the circumstances into which we are born, and this will decide whether these institutions are geared towards producing us as those who profit from capitalism and serve as the face of the "public" and those who are designated to the under crust upon which society is dependent but which depends on them being damaged humans. So the abuses of the foster care system never end, even in adulthood. They are sublimated by the prison and, more explicity, what is termed "adult housing alternatives." People who are in need of social services and nets are infantilized by the state (though aided), and people who complain of the "Nanny State," are closer to expressing the nature of biopower than they suspect. The big reasons I think the needs of poor trans youth of color (and youth in general) are so important as a central focus of political action are 1) in many ways, they have been rejected by the mainstream LGBfakeT movement, many of whom locate themselves outside of the reproductive world and thus designate reproduction and its result as "straight," (although the mainstream movement pushes for access to many normative reproductive institutions like marriage), 2) the way we begin our lives as children and the establishment of the hegemonic that this entails lays a foundation and is inextricably intertwined with everything else and the way we perceive others and infantilize them, and 3) because the apparatuses that surround the domestic and its desired products are a rich source from which to examine the tangled mishmash of discipline and punishment which dictate all of our lives.

Moving on to my next source, I will take the offer made by Sara to push at what is considered a legitimate academic source by using an incident that happened with my mother and myself. Here, I will examine the apparatuses of discipline and punishment that operated in this event. One night a few years ago, my mother and I walked into Value Thrift in the Sun Ray chain mall off of the McKnight exit on 94. This is a large consignment store run mostly by Latino employees. We took our items to the fitting rooms. There, my mother had a heated encounter with the youth running the rooms. Rather, I should say, the heat was all my mother's. She was angry that you were only allowed to bring four items into the fitting room at a time and she thought the youth was lying about it. While the Latino, gender-ambiguous teen stood patiently before my mother, eyes downcast, she went on a rip about how this was a ridiculous policy, that she would not comply until the manager was consulted, and, that sentence that made me cringe when it passed her lips," I would never receive this kind of treatment from Herberger's!" Sorry, mom, this isn't Herberger's. I know my mother, and believe I know from the way she riled at this downcast youth (from the way she riles at me, when I cause trouble) that this person made her deeply uncomfortable, and that she was put off by the power dynamic she found herself in, that this youth had jurisdiction over the area in a way she did not and that she was not used to. As I gently conveyed to my mother that I disapproved of her actions in the store as we walked to her car, she was ready to tell me that that "gender-confused" youth at the fitting rooms was lying to us about the policy, and that "people like that" will do anything to assert power over "people like me." Afterwards, she asked me if she really had been "a little too hard" on this person, and that she felt she should have been more lenient with someone whom she considered to be mentally and culturally ill, not to mention economically undesirable. I think this is an excellent example of the extent to which discipline and punishment is a perfectly acceptable part of our everyday lives, not just by the state but by singular individuals. My mother felt threatened, and found herself in a position to retaliate. Of course, she never asked herself questions about her own empowerment to chastise this person who had done her no harm whatsoever, or how her middle class lifestyle is made possible by their oppression and expropriated labor. I feel I know she would not have behaved the same way to an adult, and certainly not with someone of her own socioeconomic standing. This youth got a reaming because they were out of line with gendered, racial, and socioeconomic norms, not because they posed a real threat to her.

My last source is a video from youtube.com. You can watch the video at the address below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMrohHHdXd4

The video is called "Fenced Out" and is about the harassment and abuse of GLBT youth of color on the piers and city efforts to run them out of their stomping grounds, making it into a public park for "everyone" to enjoy. This video wraps up my blog entry nicely, but it also points to where this discussion has just begun. This is exactly the kind of political activity Dean Spade is talking about: alternative media that brings poor trans youth of color into the dialogue. The fact that this is an initiative by poor trans youth of color for themselves highlights Spade's assertion that the Stonewall Rebellion and all of its subsequent gains were made possible and owe a tremendous debt to the very people who have been excluded from their own movement to make room for the rich, white, gay man's concerns and people like him. We also see here poor trans youth of color speaking directly about discipline and punishment as it manifests itself in their own lives at home, at school, in their neighborhoods, and on the pier. Clearly, issues of discipline and punishment are central to political action put forth by these youth.

All of these sources address issues of discipline and punishment in society and how a focus on youth should be placed as a top priority to any political endeavor. To Lee Edelman, author of The Future Is Kid Stuff, I would assert that the fact that children are the future is not a bad thing in and of itself, and that it is not inherently "not queer," either. Anyone concerned with any political movement, especially a queer political movement, would do well to reexamine their attitudes towards children and include them as the worthwhile human beings that they are.


Gender: Annotated Bibliography #2 in Moving Images!

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Sara, I've got a new internet euphemism for you: the International Network of Worldwide Computers.

The INoWwC Presents
Gender: An Annotated Bibliography in Moving Images!

Works Cited (full citations in video):
Butler, Judith. "Undiagnosing Gender."
Chess, Simone et al. "Calling All Restroom Revolutionaries!"
Clare, Eli. "Stolen Bodies, Reclaimed Bodies."

So, yesterday I mentioned that I had written about the connections between disciplining children, punishment/consequences, the time-out chair, and the prison industrial complex. If you want to know more, here is the entry. The title of the entry is: The time out as a liminal space of possibility?

Liminal = an in between space, between cultures/identities, boundary, threshold, transitional space, from Victor Turner. For more, see here.

Here is a blurb:

I am not suggesting that there is a simple (and direct) connection between children who are sent to the time out chair and prisoners who are sentenced to a prison cell. It is much more complicated than that. What I am suggesting is that the implicit and explicit connections we make between improper/out-of-control behavior, punitive consequences, and moral lessons begin in the time out chair and help to produce a society that becomes too dependent on prisons as the answer for "solving" crime and too dependent on punishment (or the threat of punishment) for developing morals and/or ethical codes of conduct. Troubling the time out chair and how it should/does function, could open up some new ways of thinking about how to deal with and understand disruptive, improper behavior. And it could open news way of thinking about how to develop and practice moral education for children.

Now I wrote this entry over the summer. I would like to revisit it and think more about in terms of the consequences for queer children (and the policing of queer practices).

What do you think?

Query #7: What is queer or queering?

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Yesterday in class, I wanted you all to think about your own definition of queer. I asked the question: (in the midst of our discussion of punishment and discipline) Is queer--as an action or an identity or something else--necessarily undisciplined? What is the relationship between queer and discipline or being disciplined?

Drawing upon your experiences tracking your term, the class readings, our discussions, and any other sources, what is your definition of queer?

Annotated Bibliography #2

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"Kate Moennig My Address-A Look at Gay Youth Homelessness Ep 2." Kate Moennig. source: YouTube .

Katherine Moennig (of "The L Word" fame) takes an invitation to learn more about the plight of homeless and highly mobile queer youth through a series called "My Address: A Look at Gay Youth Homelessness." In the second episode, she opens with a discussion about the statistics put forth that note that (1) 40% of the 1.6 million homeless youth in America self-identify as gay/GLBT and (2) 25% of GL youth are kicked out of their homes after coming out to their parents/guardians, asking those youth (albeit a select, small group in New York) why they think that is. They pose explanations such as it being a product of unsuspecting parents' reactions, due to a lack of acceptance, or a problem-solving technique employed under the guise that removing the person removes the problem. They then move onto discuss the ramifications of those dynamics and the "current state of affairs" in GLBT youth homelessness. The youth discuss how being moved through "the system" and being homeless (or at risk of being homeless) leads them to feeling a complete lack of trust for others, a lack of resources often seen as a given to others, fear, anger, a lack of support, a lack of safety, and a lack of social mobility despite personal dreams and desires due to a lack of instability in their living/etc. situation.

This video really speaks to bodies and material experiences because it epitomizes how bodies that lie or move beyond the limits of intelligibility (set by those in a legitimated position of power) lose their ability to be recognized as human and subsequently have (often taken for granted by most) resources taken away from them that are often vital to life, let alone the quality of life many of us assume is a right that cannot be taken away.


Cisgender Privilege Checklist (Older Version), author/date unknown
http://t-vox.org/index.php?title=Cisgender_Privilege#Older_version

This short article has circulated on the internet and made it into print for many purposes over time, so while it is not at all new or unknown, it offers a blatant view of how "unintelligible" bodies experience their interactions with the world (on both a material and psychological level, the latter arguably capable of being transformed into material nonetheless). It explores the inadequacies of how American society deals with interactions with transgender individuals and how our system of what "counts" is ignorantly, arguably offensively, unprepared to deal with those who do not conform. Ranging from strictly material-in-nature experiences/statements (i.e. "When I go to the gym or a public pool, I can use the showers") to those that constitute inner consciousness (and ultimately affect interactions with the outside world for that person; i.e. "People do not use me as a scapegoat for their own unresolved gender issues"), it gives a short yet comprehensive view of what it's like to live both inside and outside of the bounds, and what happens to your experience based upon that social location.


Spade, Dean. "Compliance is Gendered: Struggling for Gender Self-Determination in a Hostile Economy." In Transgender Rights. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (2006): 217-241.
In this article, Dean Spade discusses "how public relief systems have also operated through moralistic understandings of sexuality and family structure to force recipients into compliance with sexist and heterosexist notions" of existing in today's society. He explores the highly rigid punitive/surveillance system used to monitor those receiving public assistance that assures their compliance with a heternormative binary, often in situations where reliance on such a system is bred out of relationships where such heteronormativity produced hostile environments (i.e. women fleeing abusive men and ending up on welfare). However, to keep from digressing, his real issue here is how these gender-binary systems eliminate access from being offered to gender minority or "gender transgressive" individuals. Homeless and highly mobile shelters are often sex segregated, discrimination based on gender identity is alive and well (especially through state/federal offices that rely so much on census data/sex-based gender descriptions), there is a significant lack of legal defense for these oppressed individuals, and so on. And, even still, if a "gender transgressive" individual were to somehow make it into any of these systems, based on the aforementioned notions, that individual would likely face humiliation, harassment, and additional unnecessary trauma. Finally, especially relevant to the discussion of bodies and material experiences, he hopes to illuminate the inequality both perpetuated by systems meant to exploit poor individuals and found in arenas where membership to a sex/gender category is based on the (respectively unlikely) access to expensive medical technologies.

Dissecting Bodies

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In the chapter of Undoing Gender dubbed "Doing Justice to Someone: Sex Reassignment and Allegories of Transsexuality" Butler uses the semi-famous case of David Reimer, a man born a man, forced to spend his childhood as a girl due to a mistake made (and covered up by) medical professionals, and subsequently scarred in more ways than one while making his way through the strict "disciplinary framework" we have in society for bodies and sexes and genders to explain her thoughts on how power, truth, justice, and intelligibility (among others) all have an immeasurable effect on the material experiences we live through the medium of our bodies.

I really loved that Butler used Reimer's story as the basis for her discussion, because, as I see it (and one may disagree--that's fine), David Reimer was not a queer body. This is not to say I am actively eliminating him from "queer" space (whatever that can be defined as), but if we speak of "queer" as we often do in referring to GLBTQIAAetc. bodies and spaces, that doesn't apply to him. David was not intersexed, transgender, transsexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.; he was born into a healthy male body that was disfigured by the irresponsibility of a medical professional, and was THEN forced into living in a (female) body and life that was not only forced upon him but the complete opposite of what he wanted just so that that mistake (that was not at all his own) could be covered up (presumably to keep one's power status--doctor's don't make mistakes, you know). So, David was David all along, he was just powerless and made unintelligible by legitimate, powerful sources who refused to let their own status as powerful and legitimate potentially slip; thus they had to force his body back into intelligibility (by their own presumption that because David lacked a "typical" penis, he could never be a man) by forcing David to be Brenda.

I also really love the terms Butler uses, among them disciplinary framework, justice, truth, power, humanness, intelligibility, etc. They're all very objective and cold-cut, speaking to the manner in which the assessment of a body as legitimate and worthy of a certain material experience is carried out.

I have to wonder (and pose the question to all of you) as to how these disciplinary frameworks of truth and intelligibility play out in concrete, material items and experiences. Butler cites accounts of David speaking to this--he knew he wasn't a girl because he wanted to play with toy guns. What does this say about the legitimacy of our bodies and how it's tied to the possession of an object or experience? Can there be legitimacy without a physical, inanimate object or materially-grounded story to tell it? Do we need that kind of proof to be real? If so, is that in order to relate to others, or to ourselves? Can we be real to ourselves and/or others without a legitimate material experience? What if legitimized bodies in positions of power refuse to allow us to be recognized as human anyway? Is there a way around that kind of direct oppression that's done just because it can be?

Queer This: "Wife Swap" TV Show

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I was flipping through the channels recently and saw an ad for the show Wife Swap (I believe it's an ABC network show, but I saw the ad on Lifetime). This raises a lot of issues in my opinion and I think it is good material and an easy target for queering. For instance, this show completely ascribes to the heterosexual matrix in the sense that it is assuming the status quo of the viewing families as being heterosexual wife-husband scenarios. Also, why is this emphasis on the term "wife", why not partner or another term that doesn't connote marriage as a prerequisite? Also after watching only a small part of an episode, you'll immediately notice the really specific gender roles shown- the "swapped" wives have to stay at the other's house for two weeks, living with that family and husband, and acting out the normal role of the original wife. It is all daily chores, cooking & cleaning, etc. I also find it frustrating that the Lifetime network aired this, you'd think they would be more sensitive to gender-role-enforcing stereotypes.

Finally, the weirdest thing to me about the show is the obvious allusion to swinging in the title! In fact, when I searched for the show on google so I could link to it, a whole lot of swinging websites came up. Is there a hidden meaning within the show..?

For Tomorrow's Reading on Prosser (11.12)

Tomorrow we will begin discussing the Jay Prosser article (we will also discuss it next Tuesday). In our discussion, we will focus on the following pages (page numbers refer to the actual Prosser text, not the course packet): 257-265 and 272-280. So, you can skip the section on melancholy (265-272).

As you are reading it, think about this question:
How does Prosser define "queer", "queer theory," "queering"?

Also, think about what terms or concepts don't make sense to you. Make a list and bring them to class.

Undiagonsing Gender

Autonomy - independence/freedom as of one's actions, the condition of being autonomous; self-government of the right of self government. Synonyms: freedom, liberty, self-determination, self-government, self-rule, sovereignty

"autonomy." Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 11 Nov. 2009. .


Gender Identity Disorder


Paternal control; fixation on gender binary - society's reversion to strict divisions between men and women heterosexuality


A theme throughout Butler's chapter "Undiagnosing Gender" is autonomy, what it is and how it is attained. While she never defines it, autonomy is to be understood as the freedom one has to express self in matters of gender identity, and that "...no one achieves autonomy without the assistance or support of a community..." (76). She argues this point in consideration of gender identity disorder (GID) as defined in the (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV) and the transsexual community; should GID be kept as a diagnosis because ..."it offers certification for a condition and facilitates access to a variety of medical and technological means for transitioning." or should it be eliminated because "transexuality is not a disorder and ought not to be conceived of as one, and that trans people ought to be understood as engaged in a practice of self-determination, an exercise of autonomy" (75-76).

If autonomy is dependent on community, then what is an individual's identity? Can we be recognized without approval? How rebellious is ones refusal to conform if we need permission? This policing of identity does not come into view until it is taken up by gender deviants who blur the lines of heteronormativity; in response, society tries to find some way to normalize the deviation. Butler considers the GID diagnosis as "...language of correction, adaptation, and normalization" ( 77) meaning that transsexuals are born in the wrong body, but can undergo efforts to live as the other gender and be considered normal by society; it rejects any blurring of gender, but will accept an entity that resembles one or the other gender.

This is a round-about way for society to accept its previous rejection for gender deviation based on the idea that it is a disorder that must be corrected, but the condition of acceptance is that the transperson must conform to the confines of the specific gender of transition. If a man becomes a woman he must transform as close to female anatomy as possible, conduct themselves in a feminine manner, and love as a woman would love (meaning she would have male partners). "One has to submit to labels and names to incursions, to invasions; one has to be gauged against measures of normalcy, and one has to pass the test" (91). Essentially, a transperson is expected to conform to the heterosexual matrix to be accepted.

However, conformity is not reality; there are people who refuse to conform to the matrix because it is not the reality of a person's existence. One is not confined to the realms of femininity or masculinity because of their born or transformed sex; one is free to practice a unique form of gender that refuses to assimilate to male or female characteristics or practices because that is the expression of their self. Perhaps "other genders" might be realized despite society's continuation to reject abnormality, to whatever degree it is accepted. Can autonomy be accomplished without society's approval?

The Queer Child: Some Sources

In case you are interested, I just posted an entry on my trouble blog about the queer child. Check it out!

Carol Clover and Children

Carol Clover's essay on horror and the female victim-hero was so fun I found myself reading it over and over! In this essay, Clover is obsessed with examining the relationship between adolescent males (the primary audience of horror) and female victim-heroes of horror films. What is the draw of the female victim-hero for these audience members and what process of identification is at play here? Can this relationship be summed up by dismissing it as the marketing of female suffering to men, or is something larger and more complicated at work here also? These are some of the questions Clover addresses in this piece. She meticulously traces the pattern of what characters the audience is made to identify with through several films. Simply by utilization of "I-filming" we are made to identify with the killer at the start of the film. We view what (presumably) "he" views, we breath with "him" and our hearts beat with "his." Gradually, however, as the main character (the last girl) is developed throughout the film and we are made to "register her terror," we change our alliance to be in line with the winning side (inevitably the "good" side). Yes, in the end what is glorified seems to be the violent act itself, whoever does it, and by virtue of one-sex model thinking (which Clover claims horror as the main depository of today), whoever commits that act is read as the male hero who defeats that which is weak and feminine. Clover does not dispute the reality of violent sexual fantasies supplied by horror, but stresses the existence of cross gender identification governed by the actions, not the genitals, of characters. While this essay did a thorough job of covering its topic of female victim-heroes and the male gaze, it left me with questions about relationships between the male gaze and other sorts of horror characters: namely, children. It seems to me that there is at least an equal preponderance of horror movies centered around children as there are centered around women. In recent memory, all three of The Ring movies, all three of the Omen movies, and of course The Children of the Corn. The children in these movies are usually the vessel or literal incarnation of Satan or ghosts, and are often placed in contrast to other "real' children, demonstrating their "removedness" from normalcy but at the same time oddly creating all children as the vessels of evil. In the Omen movies, Damien is not stopped by his parents but grows up to become president of the US. Does this demonstrate the inherent goal of children to push the old off the edge of the earth as they grow to inherit it? Is this anxiety about "children as blank slates" who can be indoctrinated into any depraved practice they are not shielded from? As mellow-dramatic as the question is, what does this idea about children mean for adults who are raising and becoming with children? In the Ring, a child is eventually at least partly responsible for the defeat of the little girl's ghost, but it is unclear whether or not this child really is a "child" after this is done. Does he make like a female victim-hero and become a man through his actions? Clover starts out her essay with an examination of the movie Carrie and the Boys, focusing on Carrie as the female victim-hero, but never as a child. While I don't disagree with her analysis of Carrie as a female victim-hero, it seems that her essay lacks in some ways from a failure to examine the "child variable." We could ask much the same questions about the relationship of horror audiences to these children. What is the draw of child centered horror for the male gaze and what sorts of identification are going on? What does it mean to place children as the abject? What would it mean for Clover's analysis if she had talked about Carrie's positioning as a child, as well? Since, like the transition from one-sex to two-sex model thinking which created women, childhood and adolescence can be said to have been created in relatively recent history, what would it mean to examine cross age identification with film and audience and the slippages between distinguished age groups? What does this mean in terms of how Clover defines the primary audience of horror films (adolescent males)? What is at stake in talking about children as non-citizens in horror films? Why are children (and childlike things - evil dolls and puppets) convenient containers and actors of evil and the abject? What does it mean for horror that women and children are often conflated in the same group (what social processes are at work when we see Lauri and the children ending up stuck together in Halloween)? What would it mean to talk about how women and hence children have been characterized by vice, sin, and Satan in euro-Christian lore? What does horror tell us about children's sexuality and how children are sexualized by people other than themselves? Does children's sexuality necessarily occupy the space of the abject? Why?

Of course, this direct engagement fits into my term very nicely. I have been pleasantly surprised by the myriad ways in which children are deeply implicated in material deemed inappropriate for children. Through tracking this term, I have been pushed to look at ways that people like children are connoted through discussions about other people, like women, whom they are inextricably attached to. Though I do not have any answers to the river of questions I've asked in this blog, tracking this term has lead me to look for more creative ways to find "youth" everywhere.

Annotated Bibliography!

As I've been thinking of ways to engage with nationalism, citizenship, or relations between these categories through the lens of queer theory, I had a hard time clarifying which issues to engage with and how to do it. I thought the best way to start would be the actual government-issued material on the subject, so I started by reading through the Guide to Naturalization put out by the Dept. of Homeland Security. The ways it inscribes nationalism and patriotism into the process of naturalization are disturbing to me. So next I found this great article dealing with the ways that legal status can act as a purely functional tool for getting a passport, drivers license, etc and then the way legal status can act as a social mechanism, either positioning a person in an illegal, foreign space, or a legal, yet still foreign space, or the hetero-nromative ultimate goal of legal, not foreign space. "Foreign" here can be substituted with "abject" "stranger" "invisible" and many other choices, but I really want to explore the aspect of foreignness. And who is better to do that with than Kristeva? I know that Kristeva has a big presence in the abjection category, but the interview I used as my last source really deals with issues confronted through foreignness and individuality within a group, nation or collective. So this is my start to streamlining and exploring my term and am open to any and all comments.


A Guide To Naturalization
US Citizenship and Immigration Services, US Department of Homeland Security

This is the official source straight from the government, and it is scary! Basically, this book is just what it says it is: a guide to becoming the exact citizen that the Department of Homeland Security wants you to be. There are a lot of forms that a prospective citizen might need, there is an extensive question-and-answer section, and there are also the requirements of what it takes to be a citizen. In the introduction, there is also a really helpful list of benefits of becoming a US citizen, of which my favorite is patriotism.

This source I cited mainly because I think it is important to look at the actual literature the government sends out to any prospective citizens, and also to know the process that immigrants go through. The term "naturalization" really bothers me, and I am trying to clarify my thoughts about it for myself, but am still working on it. It really did help to sit down and go through this guidebook. Part of the reason I have such a problem with the term naturalization is that it is so close to the way that bodies, sex and gender have this hetero-normative discourse positing one specific body, sex, or gender as "natural". I think that the process of legal naturalization, or becoming an American citizen so thoroughly there is nothing distinguishing you from anyone else, therefore positing that there is one type of ideal citizen, is the same as how culturally there are expectations of one natural way to exist as well.

United States. Department of Homeland Security. A Guide to Naturalization. Washington: GPO, 2009.


The Functionality of Citizenship
Mark C. Fleming

This is an excellent paper that explores some of the issues (mostly political) surrounding citizenship and nationalism, and naturalization. The section that I found the most enlightening is the second section, about the duality of citizenship. It looks at the "functionality of citizenship" versus a "nationalism". Basically, the functionality of citizenship means the outright products of citizenship: right to vote, work, live, etc in a country. The nationalism aspect, however, is often required along with citizenship. The nationalism imprinted by the government on anyone who wants citizenship is what takes the process from simply attaining legal status to naturalization. Also, the article mentions in one area that Australia has abandoned the idea of trying to impart a nationalist, "naturalizing" mentality on people seeking citizenship. Fleming summed up the Australian governments thoughts that "being Australian carried no implications of homogeneity of language, culture, or religion."

This article was, for me, a great find. It was really interesting the way Fleming described the relation between a citizen and the nation in both a vertical and a horizontal manner. The vertical role of citizenship is the functional aspect; when getting a drivers license for instance, you need to go through official government workings. But the horizontal role, the affective role, of playing the part of patriot, nationalist, complete, visible, "naturalized" citizen is separate. The article argues for this separation as far as is possible.

The entire site that I got this source from seems like a really good way to go about finding really intelligent information about legal issues around the world. As I browsed through more of the articles, I was thinking that this would be a great site to learn more about the issue of citizenship and what it means in different countries.

Fleming, Mark C. The Functionality of Citizenship. Harvard Jean Monnet Working Paper no. 10/97. NYU. 6 Nov. 2009.


Cultural Strangeness and the Subject in Crisis
Interview of Julia Kristeva by Suzanne Clark and Kathleen Hulley

This is an interview with Julia Kristeva that mostly relates to her book Strangers to Ourselves. The interview starts with a discussion on the crisis of discourses that is a constant factor in this period of post-modernity. One of these crises is surrounding the discourse of foreigners/strangers. Kristeva talks about the issue of immigration in France and how the French are not yet ready to deal with foreigners or foreignness because of the phobia attached to the national identity. Kristeva also posits that this crisis can be good, because it opens up the possibility of analyzing and redefining the discourse. This same possibility exists within an individual, especially an individual that is an individual because they are marginalized for some reason. Also the American ideal of the autonomous individual and the positivist idea of woman is confronted by Kristeva, who again, thinks that this positivist notion of a person denies the possibility for marginalized individuality as a tool for analysis and change.

This article really works along with the Fleming article to show the ways that citizenship and individuality vs. collective identity work. Whereas Fleming contrasts the functionality of citizenship with the prescribed social role of the citizen, Kristeva analyzes the position of the individual citizen and their views on foreigners and the foreignness they see in themselves. Kristeva's points are really productive; she works to break through the notion that marginality is a bad thing in any discourse, and she acknowledges many discourses: sexuality, gender, medicine, citizenship. All of these discourses are in crisis right now and she is evaluating that crisis as a productive disorder because it serves as a starting point for the changes to be made in thought and practice, of how foreignness is viewed.

Guberman, Ross Mitchell, ed. Julia Kristeva Interviews. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

Disidentification

munoz_disidentification.gif

I thought it was about time to offer another reading reflection. I feel especially compelled to write about disidentification because I find this concept to be very exciting and helpful. 

So in class tomorrow (11.10), we will be discussing the introduction to Jose Esteban Munoz's Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. In this chapter, "Performing Disidentifications," Munoz examines how a wide range of cultural workers (as culture makers and theory producers) "imagine a world where queer lives, politics, and possibilities are representable in their complexity" (1). Disidentification--as a concept distinct from identification/assimilation and counteridentifical/anti-assimilation--is central to Munoz's understanding of how to imagine complex (and complicated) queer lives and practices.

So, what is disidentification? Here is what Munoz writes on page 4:

Disidentification is meant to be descriptive of the survival strategies the minority subject practices in order to negotiate a phobic majoritarian public sphere that continuously elides or punishes the existence of subjects who do not conform to the phantasm of normative citizenship.

Here are some more thoughts from the chapter:

  • Not always an adequate strategy (5)
  • About negotiating identity scripts/socially encoded rules that are available (6)
  • Influences: Chela Sandoval, Norma Alcaron, Cherie Moraga, Gloria Anzaldua (7), Crenshaw (8) and This Bridge Called My Back (22)
  • Involves deeply engaging with ideas/theories and using them, but not identifying with them (9)
  • Not good subjects or bad subjects, but dissing subjects who try to transform a cultural logic from within (11)
  • Being misrecognized, as standing under a sign (like human or normal) to which one (as queer) does/does not belong (12)
  • Not to pick and choose theories/ideas or to willfully reject, but to rework and invest them with new life (12)
  • Not an apolitical middle ground (between accepting or rejecting/fitting in or refusing to fit in) (18)
  • About negotiating strategies of resistance with discourses and counterdiscourses... shifting as quickly as power (a la Foucault) (19)
  • While it involves being hailed into existence--by answering the call from ideologies (interprellation), it also involves a reshaping of that call--a shared impulse and drive toward justice. It is the singing of a song that is not ours, but that we infuse/reshape with our own energy/passion (21).
  • Foundational text: This Bridge Called My Back (22)
  • Involves many different (often conflicting and positioned beside/against each other) scripts...not just heteronormativity, but also white normativity (22)
  • The remaking and rewriting of a dominant script and the public sphere in ways that minoritarian subject's eyes are no longer marginal (23)
  • Utopia...infused with humor and hope and camp sensibilities (25)
  • Resists, demystifies, deconstructs (26)
  • Short-circuiting (28)
  • About expanding and problematizing identity and identification, not abandoning any socially prescribed identity component (29)
  • Going against the grain and turning towards shadows and fissures (29)
  • Recycling and rethinking encoded meaning...not just cracking the code, but using the code as raw material for representing the disempowered (31)
  • Hybrid (31-32)
  • Failing to be fully hailed into existence (33)

Munoz introduces a number of different examples from the cultural work of queers of color: Marga's Bed, Baldwin's "fictional" novel, Hidaldgo's film Marginal Eyes, This Bridge Called My Back. Were any of those examples particularly helpful as you worked throught Munoz's ideas? Can you think of some examples of disidentification?

How do you understand disidentification in relation to resistance and rejection?

What sort of resistance is it and to what? Does it demand/discourage rejection?

How might disidentifcation relate to the term you are tracking?

"Disidentification is meant to be descriptive of the survival strategies the minority subjects practices in order to negotiate a phobic majoritarian public sphere that continuously elides or punishes the existence of subjects who do not conform to the phantasm of normative citizenship" - page 4(48)

Moving away from cultural self for easy passage into another culture, it is a form of survival.


Normative society creates freaks, people who are rejected by the norm, to reinforce what defines the normal.

Because of rejection these so called freak develop a sense of identity that is different from the norm, which essentially normalizes their "freakhood" into the context of a subculture. This subcultural development leads to the development of stereotypes and generalizations of what is normal for a subculture. For example, there is a development of lesbian community and society due to rejection by typical heteronormative society. The lesbian is typified as white, middle to lower-class female. Munoz describes this sort of characterization as normativizing protocols. He states that these protocols keep subjects from accessing identities, as in our example there are lesbians who obviously do not fit these norms. Women of color are alienated from the typical lesbian description and cannot assimilate into the lesbian identity. Their identity as a person of color hinders their sexual identity.

Rejection and refusal within queer society perpetuates not only as a refusal to assimilate to normative community, but perpetuates in the rejection and alienation felt within queerdom so that a hierarchy develops that prevents the unification of queer groups or a comprehensible queer identity. There are freaks within queerness and a hierarchy of culture and subcultures has developed. At the top of layering is the acceptable white gay, followed by white lesbians, men of color, women of color, and further subcultural divisions according to culture, gender, and sexuality. This hierarchy is reinforced by queer theory which speaks in contexts of white gay men and white lesbian women.

How can we as white students studying at a privileged academic institution really discuss what queer matters when we are exposed to a limited and biased view of queer existence? We have developed our own queer community that lacks great diversity and perpetuates its own rejection of queer freaks, such as religious queers or people experimenting with one's gender and sexuality. How can we consider queerness not only in terms of the accepted white gay/lesbian definition and consider race, religion, varied sexuality and gender, and culture as areas rejected and pushed into subcultural contexts, should they exist, within queer communities?

"Undiagnosing Gender"=Faulty Logic

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I realize we haven't discussed this in class yet and it wasn't an assigned reading for everyone, but I really am interested in the particular discussion of GID and the DSM and wanted to jump right into engaging with this. I have to admit that it's a long engagement (so I tried to keep it more casual and give more of my knee-jerk reactions than I normally would), but it's one I'm particularly passionate about and versed in; I've done most of my studies in getting my degree in the abnormal/clinical field of psychology (and more, beyond my required academic work), and have given guest lectures on GID, the DSM and diagnosing, among other things. Additionally, this was to be the subject of the directed study I was going to do with Sara, but ended up cancelling.

In the chapter "Undiagnosing Gender" in Undoing Gender, Judith Butler takes the typical route of assessing Gender Identity Disorder as an irresonsible, problematic, misguided, misinformed diagnosis made by big, evil, out of touch psychologists that pathologizes gender and supposedly goes as far to make the suicide problem among transgendered individuals worth (a more than daring suggestion, considering she has nothing to back it up). To be honest, though I had no logical reason to hope for this, I hoped that someone who seems as educated as Butler would've done a better job, but I was let down. Perhaps I need to take into consideration how old this text is (she's citing a non-current edition of the DSM) and maybe place more of my frustration on the current state of individuals who know next to nothing about psychology regurgitating this, dare I say ridiculous, point of view just because it's easier to shoot the messenger, but nevertheless, I was pretty disappointed in where Butler took herself with this discussion. I feel like, in my gut, I know she could've pushed herself farther, she just chose not to, and, because I think that's very irresponsible, maybe she should've just left the discussion alone.

Furthermore, this reading evoked a long-standing issue I have with a lot of queer and feminist theory that uses (or dares to critique) psychology. Now, let's be clear, I'm NOT discussing feminist psychology--that's an entirely different field and has nothing at all to do with what I'm saying. In fact, I've never seen it used in anything I've read from a feminist/queer point of view. This is both entirely ironic and precisely where my problem arises from. To be casual, if I could ask a question of anyone who is a feminist/queer theorist and has made the typical discussions I've seen regarding psychology, it would likely be something along the lines of "Where the HELL are you getting your texts/sources from, and who in the world told you what you are using is credible at all?!"

Let me clarify--typically, what I see is Freudian psychoanalysis, psychotherapy and theory being used, especially clandestinely in the discussion of GID, as a catalyst to address all of the field of psychology and critique it. But the problem is that, to put it bluntly, anyone who knows anything about psychology will tell you that Freud is nothing more than a figurehead, and while it's important that one understands how his work laid the foundation for current psychology, it's WAY more important to understand that none of his theories are given any credence or used by anyone credible these days, and it's been that way for quite some time. I think the perfect analogy for this is to say that using Freud to discuss psychology is like using Monopoly money to discuss the economy--go ahead and do whatever makes you happy, but anyone who lives in the real world will tell you that it just won't work.

While I would be content to launch into a discussion of all of the problems I see these lazy assumptions about psychology creating in feminist/queer theory's claims on how psychology affects a queer world (or a queer body), let me stop at saying what I've said above and transition into my direct engagement with selected passages from the reading I find particularly salient by saying that I think a lot of the problems I speak of (whether I've mentioned them or not) are captured fairly well in Butler's "Undiagnosing Gender".

On page 76, Butler writes:

"The 'diagnosis' can operate in several ways, but one way it can and does operate, especially in the hands of those who are transphobic, is as an instrument of pathologization."

Beyond the fact that this passage is salient with undertones stabbing at psychology from the get-go, I have a few problems here. I can absolutely understand the notion of a diagnosis (no quotes) turning into an agent of pathologization (and subsequent oppression), but there is a necessary link in the process here that almost everyone I've encountered conveniently chooses to ignore. A mental illness (with or without a diagnosis) ultimately translates into an agent of pathologization because the social construction of mental illness leads the majority of individuals in society to pathologize it, and that process and cycle has become so habituated and convenient that unless an individual is specifically trained or fairly versed in abnormal psychology it automatically proceeds, NOT because persons employed in the field of psychology are discriminating, pathologizing individuals. Psychologists don't used diagnoses for any other reason than to help the individual live a better life, end of story.
Furthermore, the assumption that this only happens with GID is absolutely preposterous; it happens with EVERY mental disorder because of the reasons I stated above. The assumption that (1) GID is this separate, black sheep disorder that's used purely as an agent of trans or homophobia, and (2) the stigmatization and oppression GID patients experience is unique and, therefore, that all other disorders enjoy social acceptance is entirely irresponsible and ignorant. Even worse, that point of view does a great deal to contribute to the harmful way in which all mental illnesses are viewed, treated, and understood as well as the subsequent low quality of life all individuals suffering from a mental illness.
Now, let me backtrack a little and make a note: I am not saying that everyone in psychology is a perfect angel, possessing no "-isms," and is completely accepting and impartial. I don't assume that, and I know that there will be "bad people" in any field of study. It is simply the ascribing of a pathologizing, seemingly evil status to anyone who has agency in the field that I have a problem with, especially considering the nature of our work.

On page 76, Butler goes on to posit:

"To be diagnosed with GID is to be found, in some way, to be ill, sick, wrong, out of order, abnormal, and to suffer a certain stigmatization as a consequence of the diagnosis being given at all."

Is she honestly arguing here that the diagnosis is what creates all the problems, and without it, transgender individuals are completely accepted? Come on.
Again, we see a necessary link in the process of understanding a diagnosis being ignored because it's convenient to shoot the messenger (psychologists) rather than understand and deal with the bigger problem of society needing to do an overhaul and change how it understands those suffering from any mental illness. The negative, destructive, awful manner in which Butler asserts that a diagnosis places a lens on an individual is significantly questionable, and any significance that remains is, again, due to a societal problem, and not a problem with the diagnosis itself or those in the field doing the diagnosing.
One last thing about diagnoses: they are not made in the manner that many, possibly most people assume they are. It is never a matter of the diagnosing official using their own subjective view of the person to diagnose. (While for the sake of not making you read as much I'm going to keep this short, please, if anyone wants me to expand on this, just ask, and I will. It's something that I don't want anyone to be mistaken on.) Diagnosing is, beyond the long process of psychiatric assessment and therapeutic assessment, a matter of (to put it extremely shortly), assessing the person's distress (is the person depressed/anxious/manic/etc?), disability (is the way society is constructed causing the person's functioning to be inhibited?) and deviance (whether or not they are inherently arbitrary, does the person deviate from social norms?) and making sure the individual possesses all three before even proceeding towards a diagnosis. Please note: this does not assume any personal responsibility in having a mental illness OR any "right" way to be, as many people would assume diagnosing does. It simply asks a pure series of questions, and if you do not elicit a "yes" from all three, you will not be diagnosed. This is why Butler's argument of how a diagnosis presents itself on an individual on the top of page 77 (starting with "It subscribes" and ending with "trans youth.") is entirely inflammatory, ill-informed, irresponsible, and wrong.

On page 91, Butler writes:

"One has to submit to labels and names, to incursions, to invasions; one has to be gauged against measures of normalcy; and one has to pass the test."

Again; a large problem in all of society being used arbitrarily to single out the field of psychology for no reason other than because it's convenient.

On page 95, Butler writes:

"But the diagnosis does not ask whether there is a problem with the gender norms that it takes as fixed and intransgient,"

Maybe, maybe not. But why is this a responsibility of psychology? Because it's an easy argument against a field you don't understand? Maybe it's because it's more important to the suffering individual's well-being to focus on how those problematic norms affect them instead of ignoring their suffering and focusing on the bigger picture.
"whether these norms produce distress and discomfort, whether they impede one's ability to function, or whether they generate sources of suffering for some people or for many people."

Completely wrong. Anyone who is licensed to make a diagnosis asks this question, as I stated above, and it's a prerequisite to everything that is preceded by a diagnosis. Where do people get their information about how diagnoses are performed? This is precisely why pop psychology and making assumptions about things one doesn't understand is problematic.

Finally, while I would love to talk about nearly everything in this chapter, I'd like to end with discussing Butler's assessment of the DSM's prerogative and how it employs itself toward the end of the chapter, especially considering the vast amount of misconceptions made about the DSM (again, by those who don't study psychology but presume they know enough to critique it). The DSM is meant to be a completely objective descriptive tool, and nothing more--not a subjective guide for explaining and guiding those in psychology through the process. The understanding is that one specializes in a particular branch of psychology (behavioral, cognitive, humanist, etc.), familiarizes themselves with disorders based upon that, and goes from there, using the DSM as a map. In fact, that's a great analogy--one would never expect a map to tell them which area of travel or interest is better than the next, they just go to it for information and to tell them where to proceed to, and how to get there. That's what the DSM is meant to do, and that's how it's constructed. So, based on that, nearly everything Butler (and many others) posits in her discussion of the supposed dysfunctions of the DSM is disbanded and meaningless, because it's based on faulty logic.

How this relates to my term:
The interaction I make with this chapter of Butler's book relates to bodies and material experiences because, as a transman and one pursuing and somewhat working in the field of psychology, I have unique experience of understanding how queer theory's ideas about how diagnoses work is actually more harmful to the bodies they're talking about than the field (psychology) and its agents they are attacking (not to suggest the latter were ever harmful in the first place). So, in terms of material experience as a transperson, it is extremely conflicting to feel drawn toward the social arena where solace, comfort, and often physical and emotional safety is found, and have that arena falsely tell you that the only manner in which you can transition is one that will supposedly oppress and hate you.

Source:
Butler, Judith. "Undiagnosing Gender." Undoing Gender. New York: Routledge, 2004. 75-101.

Carol Clover vs. Saw

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While I definitely enjoyed an analysis of the horror film using a queer lens in Carol Clover's Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film and undoubtedly appreciated the depth of her discussion (I often found myself reading one paragraph, thinking "Wait a minute, what about this?" and then, sure enough, in the next paragraph she stated exactly what I was thinking), I found myself wondering if her analysis is still as valid today.

I'm not necessarily suggesting that horror films still aren't as predictable as folklore or anything of the like, but in some large ways, I think things have changed, and it's worth considering. So, using Clover's analysis, I'd like to take some main ideas and discuss how I think they may or may not apply to one of the biggest horror films in recent history, Saw.

Now, let me be clear with the specific pretense I want to dissect this under: I want to go back to 2004 when the film was first released and none of the sequels have been released. This is not to say I don't love the sequels of the film (because I do--and no, I don't go for a good plot at all, anymore; I just love the ridiculous gore, plain and simple), I just know that there was a much different climate around the first film, and it really broke a lot of ground with what could happen in a modern horror film and changed things significantly for horror films to follow. Additionally, at this point in time, the impact that Saw first had has been lost with time, the lack of effort put into the sequels (which is both unfortunate and understandable--if I could make a movie in less than a week and make billions of dollars off of it, don't think I wouldn't do it every year!), and the movies that have followed in the footsteps of the original Saw.

All that said, let's get into it.

On page 8, Clover begins to discuss simply primary and secondary identification, suggesting that our identification with characters in the film is fluid and will change based on our personal experiences and unconscious reactions to what happens in the film (note: I realize this is not exactly her analysis, but it is one that I think is more fitting, considering her misunderstanding of the current use of psychoanalytic theory--I will discuss this at a later point) (Clover 8). This is all fine, and sounds good, but mostly for typical horror films that follow the formula of primarily innocent victims being killed by a killer (usually a man) who has some interpretation (key word) of anti-social personality disorder, making him biologically a human, but nothing more--he has no conscience of personality.
How does this apply to Saw, if at all? In the film we are presented with victims that, while we undoubtedly end up identifying with, are not innocent at all--the film rides on their guilt as one of its main points. Dr. Gordon has been cheating on his wife, while Adam has been taking pictures of him cheating (exploiting another man's failing marriage) to pay his bills. Paul Leahy was punished for misguided suicide attempt(s), and Donnie Greco and Amanda Young are punished for being a drug dealer and drug addict (respectfully), among more. In Jigsaw's game, no one is a victim unless they are guilty in some way, and we are compelled to agree with their punishment through Jigsaw's constant narration that if they cannot appreciate the life they have, they shouldn't be allowed to have it. I contend that it's easier for us to identify with Jigsaw.
Jigsaw, a.k.a. John Kramer, was a successful engineer, expecting a son with a beautiful wife, and, following the miscarriage of his son, he learned he had a severe brain tumor, his marriage fell apart and he attempted suicide (and failed). Following the failed suicide attempt, John realized that life is precious and he had wasted much of his own focusing on what he didn't have, as do many others. He then makes it his life's work to teach those that don't appreciate the life they have to either fight for it, or lose it, from the bitter perspective of a man still losing his life to an aggressive cancer. How can we not sympathize with him, especially when you are led to realize that the man has never actually killed anyone? It's much easier, despite how extreme his approach is, to sympathize with the reborn cancer victim than it is to sympathize with a cheat, someone who exploits others' pain to live, a drug dealer, etc., and this is what we are led to do. So, in the case of Saw, I would learn that our identification is not so fluid--we really are compelled to identify with either the main protagonist (especially once we learn that he gains followers), or, sometimes more likely, no one at all. Either way, this leaves us in a very vulnerable position--with the former identification we are led to stir up some primal instincts in really believing another person deserves to die, and with the latter we are left in a nervous limbo, almost putting ourselves and our own guilt into the film, wondering how we would fit into Jigsaw's game, wondering if we, too, deserve to have to fight for our life like the people in front of us. This is one of the huge keys as to what made the movie so horrifying.


On page 9, Clover writes:

"...horror's system of sympathies transcends and preexists any given example."

For the most part, I can't argue with this--even as time go on and formulas change, horror is a genre known for sticking to the same, successful formula to get the dough (like I said, see Saw II through what will end up being Saw IX--yes, there will be nine of them). However, let's still pretend we're back in 2004 so that we can understand why Saw was such a big deal.

Did the sort of pre-movie empathetic gateways open for patrons? Most likely. Did Saw play along with what they expected? Absolutely not, as I've discussed above. So, beyond the confusion and the frantic state of terror you are put in by the film that I've already pointed out, you are also dealing with the jarring of expecting one thing to happen and having to completely readjust yourself--what emotional, empathetic, and other doors you've opened, etc. I think it's quite possible that the shock of having to reorganize your mind before you can even start a process of identification combined with how fast the movie carried you created for a perfect state of leaving every, if not all of the important, vulnerable emotional parts of you left open for hits, and one way or another, you got slugged in each one of them.

On page 13, Clover discusses the notion of gender being preceded by the actions of the character; thus, men are men because they don't scream and cry, and women are women because they run and flail and scream and cower. While I won't say that this isn't present at all in Saw (and let us not fault the movie for not denouncing the notion completely, as it's virtually impossible in everything in life, not just movie-making), I will say that many of the major ways Clover argues this happens in horror films are absent in this movie. Many, if not most, of the men found in traps are found completely helpless, terrified, and ineffective at escape because of their incapacitation as capable, able-to-escape-from-anything-because-I-have-testosterone men. In fact, we see more men crying, screaming for help, and giving up than we do women, and the only person to survive one of the traps, because of innovation with tools, determination, and desensitization to incapacitating feelings, is a woman. Additionally, the killer is a sick, frail, emasculated figure who has to use traps created by his brain's ability (not his brawn), which is undoubtedly less masculine, to assert his authority. Not only does this denounce the idea of gender being preceded by action, it also denies the validity of Clover's notion, on page 42, that:

"The killer is with few exceptions recognizably human and disctinctly male; his fury is unmistakably sexual in both roots and expression; his victims are mostly women, often sexually free and always young and beautiful."

Beyond my disagreeing with the notion of a killer being recognizably human (yes, s/he is human in body, but in mind? As I mentioned earlier, they are often portrayed as a body without a soul--not very human, if you ask me), the rest of this passage couldn't be more misaligned with Saw, again reinforcing why I believe the movie was so groundbreaking--it lured us in with the promise of regurgitating the same enjoyable formula, but completely knocked us down and scared the hell out of us. Jigsaw isn't distinctly male (his voice is, but as we come to learn, he is, as stated, frail and vulnerable--not male at all), his fury isn't sexual in any sense, and his victims are mostly male.

All of these reasons and more are why I think Saw is a great film to measure against the notions put forth by Clover and a great film, period--I distinctly remember the aura surrounding the film when it first came out to be one that reflects how amazing, groundbreaking, and absolutely terrifying (the only film I've ever seen that has made me unable to sleep completely the following night) the film was.

A quick note about a problem I had with this reading: Clover heavily uses Freudian psychoanalysis to reinforce her arguments, but as one that knows that Freudian psychoanalysis isn't seen as valid in any sense by anyone who knows anything about psychoanalysis or psychology it was frustrating to deal with--Clover had very good arguments, but she completely devalued them by using Freud at all. I see this a lot in queer studies, and I wonder--who is telling who that Freud is credible? Why is he being used? He is no more valid than Mickey Mouse, really, and his theories have been debunked and discredited so many times I would assume that anyone who seeks credibility would go nowhere near what he has to say. I've asked this question many times, and no one seems to have an answer for me.


How this relates to my term:
I think that being in a theater watching a horror film is a particularly queer state of being and a queer experience, whether or not it lasts. We are not supposed to talk about killing or maiming one another, after all. Considering everything I've stated above, I think the experience of viewing Saw and the state of being and state of mind it would put you in (especially, like I've repeated, in 2004, when nothing like this had been seen before on such a mainstream level) is an intensely queer experience, one that engages your mind and body unlike most other things are capable of doing.


Sources:
Clover, Carol. Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. 1993
Saw. Dir. James Wan. Lacy Street Productions, 2004.

Queer This: Lady Gaga's Paparazzi

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Yesterday in class, I mentioned this Lady Gaga video. Is this video an example of excessive, parodic resistance? What does that mean? Or, is it purely a spectacle that faithfully repeats (and is easily co-opted by) dominant ideologies? How do non-normative bodies and sexualities get (hyperbolically) represented in this video? [Note: This is the extended version of the video. The "actual" music video starts at 3 minutes in.

Blog Meetings

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As I mentioned in class yesterday, I would like to meet with each of you individually to discuss your blog assignments and how you think the class is going. Here are some times. Please post a comment to this entry with your chosen time. All meetings will take place this upcoming Tuesday before and after class.

TUESDAY, 11.10
12:00 12:10 12:20 12:30 12:40 12:50 1:00 1:10 1:20 1:30 1:40 1:50
3:30 3:40 3:50 4:00 4:10 4:20 4:30

Understanding Power (and nation) through Foucault

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I've encountered Foucault before, mainly in cultural studies classes, and so I had a little understanding prior to reading the Method section of The History of Sexuality. This time, though, I read it through a first time which helped me recall all of that great Foucauldian knowledge I have stored somewhere in my brain, and then again (and again) in attempt to pull out some coherent thoughts on my term, Nation/Citizen. With this specific section, the hardest part for me is trying to find any specific area or term that Foucault's analysis of power relations doesn't apply to. As we read in Chapter 2, Part 4: Method, Foucault outlines how power relations and discourses on power are misunderstood. He lists 5 different points which introduce the reality of power relations as Foucault sees them. For example (I know I can't possibly cover the entirety of Foucault's analysis, so this is merely one example), the misconception that power follows a top-down format, wherein power is exerted from a ruler, or government/nation, onto its subjects or citizens in order to reach an end goal. Foucault posits that, instead, power is exercised by at every point and in any relation without regard to social, economic or political distinction. Power essentially is inherent in any relation and often the seemingly very powerful Nation, which is seemingly wholly responsible for the subjugation and oppression of its citizens, in actuality is no more responsible than any person who unknowingly exerts power at a local and personal level.
This different understanding of power relations in respect to oppression, prejudice, and subjugation of different groups of people is what I am interested in. I find that Foucault's theories of power really resonate with me (as clumsy as my explanation was, I feel I have a solid grasp on Foucault's theories) but diverging from his issue of tracing the discourses and medicalization of sexuality, I wonder what these different discourses on power relations could mean in regard to looking at a single individual (citizen perhaps) versus looking at a gigantic enterprise (nation). If, as Foucault tells us, power relations at a local level influence and affect the power relations on a national level, then how can we understand our role in these power relations? How can we use this knowledge to change more positively the effects of these power relations when we were mostly unaware of them to begin with? I also wonder, do we use our position within a nation, larger and "more powerful" than us individually, to negate our influential role in our daily power relations?

Abject: an annotated bibliography, no. 2

Abject as disgust.

...refuse and corpses show me what I permanently thrust aside in order to live. These body fluids, this defilement, this shit are what life withstands, hardly and with difficulty, on the part of death. There, I am at the border of my condition as a living being. My body extricates itself, as being alive, from that border. Such wastes drop so that I might live, until, from loss to loss, nothing remains in me and my entire body falls beyond the limit -- cadere, cadaver. If dung signifies the other side of the border, the place where I am not and which permits me to be, the corpse, the most sickening of wastes, is a border that has encroached upon everything.It is no longer I who expel. "I" is expelled. (Kristeva, 3-4)


Kristeva, Julia. "Approaching Abjection." Powers of Horror. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982. 1-31.

View image

This book has been an invaluable asset for my research/though process around abjection. Although much of it is difficult at first to understand, once understood, it blows my mind -- over and over again. Notions of rejection, exile, filth -- it all consumes me. Much of my comprehension of this book is still only abstract fragments that resonate with me, but this chapter is one that I've read several times and have come to see concretely. Abjection is many things, all things -- there numerous branches and circles of abjection, and in this chapter, Kristeva explains several individuals' readings/experiences of abjection: Dostoyevsky, Proust, Joyce, Borges, and Artaud. Through each of these writers, abjection is discovered and uncovered in different forms. As Kristeva remarks, literature is the home of the abject, where the abject is revealed. In this opening introduction to this infinitely complex subject, Kristeva poses it in relation to various human enterprises: art, religion, politics, sex, history. Basically, this chapter is my launching pad for framing my further research and understanding of abjection.


Greenaway, Peter, writer/dir. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. Perfs. Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, Alan Howard, Richard Bohringer. 1989. Videocassette. Vidmark.


From the film's opening scene (in which a chef is stripped naked and brutally fed dog shit), humans are stripped of all substance and exposed for what they are: vile consumers of filth, food, sex and everything else. The film's title serves to describe the movie exactly and mislead entirely. Many critics at the time of its release drew these comparisons concerning the (satirically) descriptive title: Cook = civil servants and citizens; Thief = Margaret Thatcher's greed; Wife= Britannia; Lover= intellectual, leftist opposition. However, the simplicity of said allegory is somewhat insulting to the complexity of this film. Let me describe a few scenes: After the chef from the opening sequence has been humiliated to the thief's satisfaction, he is bathed by the cook. This sequence is beautifully filmed despite the close detail of dog shit being cleansed from the defeated man's skin -- accompanying this utterly vulgar visual is a boy singing a lovely operatic number, transforming this act of cleansing into a baptism. In fact, all the thief's victims are martyrs in their own right, and for his wife, martyrdom has become a lifestyle. Helen Mirren plays Georgia, the thief's (initially) submissive wife who is terrified of her dangerously disgusting husband, Albert. Every night is an exhibition of Georgia's humiliation as the thief showcases his wife for his friends, remarking on what a marvelous fuck she is, raucously groping her, squeezing her breasts and dumping various condiments and beverages in her food when she excuses herself from the table (all the while reprimanding his cohorts for their vulgarity, reminding them that ladies are present). While Albert preaches the importance of cleanliness and manners, he manages to be the filthiest, most ill-mannered person in the room. Georgia finds escape from the horror that is her life through Michael, a quiet intellectual -- who consumes books instead of food -- whom her husband despises and mocks. They have sex in the most uncomfortable and inappropriate of places: in a toilet stall, in the kitchen (where the cook is a jealous witness), in the meat room atop chicken feathers, in a freezer. At one point the lovers find themselves naked in a meat truck, full of rotting pig heads complete with maggots, where they lovingly embrace. Directly afterwards is their ritualistic cleansing, shot in the same manner as the chef in the beginning -- the music here is also beautifully scored, making it feel, again, as though we were witnessing a religious baptism. The sequences of events to follow are gloriously gut-wrenching and artistically grotesque. It ends with cannibalism.

Rather than reading this film as an allegory for Thatcher's England -- because it does, in fact, extend well beyond that -- I'm looking at it from the perspective of The Abject, being "what disturbs identity, system, or order. What does not respect borders, positions rules" (Kristeva (above), 4). Food, waste, and the corpse, the central domains of abjection, intersect in these films in a way that dissolves the border between the aesthetic and the unaesthetic, the normal and the abject. If pressed to remark on what this film is about I would have to say, consumption. Furthermore, eating and excreting. Further still, knowledge, shit and death. I'm interested in abjection in relation to all of these things. If you stripped Pink Flamingos from all its campy bad taste and made the same subject matter with the utmost seriousness, the result might look something like The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. John Waters serves us filth with a sly grin, Peter Greenaway with uncompromising rage. Sex and food are constantly juxtaposed, serving to signify, along with knowledge, three of our prime human appetites. Sex is what the thief desires and cannot possess. Knowledge is what the thief abhors. Food is what the thief loves and gorges himself on (everything in his world is equated to eating). Love and knowledge are inaccessible to the Powerful -- all Power knows is eating and excreting. The abject are those who experience love and knowledge (and through which are washed clean, renewed), and because they do are expelled. The tableau of the nicely decorated corpse, "the utmost of abjection," is at once fascinating and grotesque -- Albert has threatened to kill and eat Michael -- he's satisfied the first half of his threat, and Georgia makes sure he completes it. The metaphorical consumption is transformed into a literal one at the horror banquet, where the tyrant is compelled to eat his enemy. The patriarch's words are thus turned against him -- Eating that which has been "excreted" is what was threatened, what was asked for, and what is served. The thief delights in humiliating weaker persons -- this man of Power reduces people to shit and is now forced to consume it. And we've seen how much he likes to gorge himself.



Miller, Willam Ian. "Orifices and Bodily Wastes." The Anatomy of Disgust. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998. 89-108.

This chapter in what appears an utterly fascinating book, The Anatomy of Disgust, examines the grotesqueries of the body and explains why they are "disgusting." He distinguishes divisions of disgust by two variants: bodily invasion (the erogenous zones), and spiritual invasion (the sensory organs). Miller's first orifice for investigation is the eye -- discussing the horror of its penetrance and penetrability (its ability to see as well as be seen). Since the eye is the only portal through which the human soul can be probed, its penetrability is a frightening fact. He emphasizes that the eye is the only human orifice which emits a substance of non-disgust (ie, tears). It is also the only bodily emission that requires an explanation. Ears are discussed next, then the nose, but the mouth offers a turning point, a connection between the bodily and the spiritual. The mouth serves both visceral and sexual hungers. It also connects anatomically to its opposite primary function, and produces a substance, even before digestions, equal in disgust as its other end. Miller asserts that "chewed food has the capacity to be even more disgusting than feces." He goes on to discuss the disgust produced by the remaining human orifices, their gendered implications and their hierarchal order.

Miller's discussion of what constitutes disgust, why we find these things disgusting and how the inescapability of bodily disgust and the differences among bodies and their various disgusting secretions has been remarkably enlightening for my dissection of abjection. I read this right after watching and discussing Greenaway's film, and the parallels between the two were immediately, yet abstractly, understood. Miller draws attention to disgusts' reinforcement of misogyny, and I would posit that it serves to reinforce various other prejudices and phobias. This ties in with the figurative eating and excreting discussed above concerning Greenaway. Eating is selective, but all things are reduced to the same substance via the digestive process, and expelled as shit -- including the finest delicacies. The realm of the disgusting is remarkably inclusive. Abjection, suggests Kristeva, and the spasmic, gagging revulsion which marks it, is the impulse to "vomit up myself" ((above), 3) -- the body's rejections, excretions, emissions, are rejections of the abject self. Except tears.

Class canceled for today (11.3)

Due to illness, I am canceling class for today. We will push everything
back (including presentations) one day. So, we will be reading Foucault and
Butler for this Thursday.

Queering The Realms of the Unreal

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dargerpic2.jpg I used to be obsessed with these drawings. But the mystery of Henry Darger is even more peculiar, more haunting, than these little pictures. What has always fascinated me about them is the sheer volume of this collection, which consists of a 15,000 page novel about the tragedies of the Vivian Girls. You'll notice that, in the drawings, the girls are sexually ambiguous -- they're either hermaphrodites, girls with penises, or the naive invention of a man whose biological education never extended beyond the knowledge of his own body. Many art analysts do believe the latter. There is much speculation that the anatomy of the Vivian Girls is a result of naivete, rather than perversion, creativity or fantasy. Others, of course, thought he was perhaps a latent pedophile, or something else along those lines. I've read only a handful of pages from the epic Darger titled The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, and they truly are enigmatic, I know of nothing like them. The writing is not very good, either. Not engaging or as interesting as the artist's own life story might suggest. But it's what he lived for -- the Vivian Girls were his only friends, only family, only life. Nothing was simple in Henry's world. These many thousands of drawings range from pastoral images of little girls in yellow dresses, dancing around in a garden of butterflies, where everything is sensation, to being crucified by the dozen. Henry cast himself as their protector and Lord. To call him a recluse would be a sad understatement. No one knew he was an artist until his apartment had to be cleaned out by his landlords -- what it must have looked like in that little room; full of these eery little girls, landscapes of watercolor paintings depicting loneliness and fear. What would Judith Butler say about Henry Darger and the Vivian Girls? What do we think of the drawings in relation to abjection?

queer this: The Horror of the Hymen

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I shudder as I post this link to an article by a man who purchased... a hymen. When I came across this article I immediately thought of it in relation to our discussion of Halloween: Young women whose hymens are not safely in tact by the end of the movie, die. Girl with untouched hymen, lives. So are the stakes in many countries of the world. (Even some families or tight religious circles in the United States -- like those people who are into these highly incestuous rituals, performed under the presumed notion that "religion" negates perversion, wherein a daughter signs over her hymen to her father until he says when and to whom she can give it away.) But now, apparently, it's no big deal -- because you can just buy a new one when the old one breaks. (Actually, new advances in plastic surgery can recreate the "real thing" -- but this one's only $15, and you can buy it discretely, online.) I do actually think that this article exaggerates the absurdity of hymen-obsession in a way that could, hopefully, be productive. It raises the question of Why there is such an astronomical, life-threatening emphasis on something that can be bought the same way I regularly buy DVDs.