I started this direct engagement with Intimate Investments: Resituating the Homonormative Turn, but as I reread it before posting it, I think that I didn't fully understand what was happening with the gay, white male in contrast to the terrorist or other marginalized figure. After reading Jasbir Puar's article and understanding US exceptionalism a little more thoroughly, I can see that this exceptionalism as one of the issues intertwined with the figure of the gay, white male versus the terrorist. The US views itself as a progressive, enlightened nation and as the hallmark of that, the gay white man helps champion this "progressive" view of the US while really enforcing hetero norms at the same time. The hetero norms are enforced by the HRC ad in the article when the gay man has to justify his claim to marriage rights by positing himself as better than the terrorist figure (because he & his partner were fighting terrorism and his partner was a victim of 9/11). However, he is at the top rung of privileged society in every other way: white, male, wealthy. So he is really not such an icon of a progressive US, just a marker of what the US would like to use to claim its progressiveness. This is the constant and elusive problem for queer citizens; there are so many qualifiers that the nation is trying to pin down and use to choose ideal citizens. But where does the queer citizen fall in this system, especially considering that queer citizens often are marginalized, therefore living in the gray area and unintelligible spaces?
But after all that, here is the original post, I thought it was important at the time so I may as well post it now:
This article was really great, articulating perfectly the problem of campaigning for rights such as having gay marriage recognized and the problems inherent in ads like the HRC ad that it used as its example. I think that these problems are at the heart of the difficulty in looking at a nation/citizen term or trying to read from this perspective, because in relation to queer there are not a lot of positives to glean from its use. The positing that this sexually identified person should be included and recognized under the law is always in contrast to the other sexually identified person that will remain unrecognized and unrecognizable. In the article this is pointed out: "...this is a bargain brokered in exchange for closing his eyes to other kinds of violence committed daily on bodies of other queers, indigenous, black and other people of color," (126). This occurs because of competition of marginalized groups fighting for recognition, acceptance, visibility and equal rights. According to the article, "the white gay male competes with the imagined terrorist and with job-stealing immigrants for limited recognition," (126). I think this is a key point to the article, but it raises the question of a solution; what should/could be done to end this competition? Will it end as long as there are marginalized groups in society?
Recently in Reading Reflections Category
In their text, "Queer Times, Queer Assemblages", Jasbir K. Puar discusses various terrorist corporealities through the lens of queerness; how the construction of these corporealities as queer positions them then as terrorist. In naming the terrorist, a picture of a backward, pathological, and perverse and emasculated, that have "femininity as their reference point of malfunction...Playing on this difference between the subject being queered versus queerness already being existing within the subject...allows for both the temporality of being and the temporality of always becoming" (Puar, 127). Puar goes on to discuss the terrorist corporeality in terms of a suicide bomber, in that "as one's body dies, one's body becomes the mask, the weapon, the suicide bomber, not before" (129). In this sense, the time-space, or temporality of the identity of a suicide bomber is queered because it does not follow normative sequence of self-proclamation/action = identity. The suicide bomber while alive is always becoming a terrorist, then after death is named a suicide bomber.
Puar takes issue with the feminist notion if intersectionality, stating that intersectional analysis of identity demands the knowing, naming, and stabilizing identities, versus an assemblage, which "is more attuned to interwoven forces that merge and dissipate time, space, and body against linearity, coherency, and permanency" (128).
I would like to critique these sentiments, in that yes, an intersectional analysis does operate on fixed categories, but from my understanding the aim of an intersectional analysis is to understand the historical realities of those terms which dictate how one's identity is read and performed through normative lenses. Intersectionality does not seek to stabilize identity categories, it seeks to understand those spaces where multiple identities merge or are at a crossroads within one persyn's identity. In those spaces of intersection is where an intersectional analysis attempts to queer identity categories as exclusive or separable, and take up the abjected space between the historical fixed categories of a persyn's identity as the place where lived experience happens. Gloria Anzaldúa and many other feminist writers take up this argument, saying for example, I may be read and categorized as these certain identity categories, but I always exist as all of them together, all of the time.
I feel that Puar's reading of assemblage to me seems a bit utopic, in the sense that assemblage seeks to account for "emotions, energies, affectivities, textures as they inhabit events, spatiality, and corporealities" (128). It may be true that assemblage can account for temporal and spatial reorderings of a body in a context like a suicide bomber or terrorist, but it is privileged to disregard the historical realities of certain identity categories that construct and name (power from above) certain identities, that thus underscores lives realities.
Puar, Jasbir K. "Queer Times, Queer Assemblages." In Social Text (2005), 23:3-4
This essay from Mattilda's Nobody Passes starts out with a brief history of the Battered Women's Movement, its emergence from the second wave of feminism and subsequent "victories" throughout the last forty years. What the author, Priya Kandaswamy, seeks to highlight is that in the process of trying to gain legitimacy and funding the movement kind of "sold out" from its original grassroots framework. In gaining government funding for social programs the movement has appropriated some the "language and goals of the state" therefore compromising some important factors. By creating campaign slogans like "domestic violence can happen to anyone" the movement reinforces the idea that domestic violence only matters when it starts happening to white middle and upper class women. Also, by portraying battered women as "innocent victims" it creates this ideal of the "good victim" that reinforces gender norms and creates an environment of having to pass and in turn marginalizes individuals on the bases of race, class, gender, and sexuality among other things. All in All, what the author aimed to point out is that the success of the Battered Women's Movement is due mostly to the fact that it no longer challenges "important principles of straight bourgeois society" but instead continues to perpetuate classist, racist, homophobic, and transphobic norms in dominate culture. I think this essay highlights the way the heteronormative structure can invade and continue to exact punishment on those outside of its form, even within one of the very programs that was initially intent on challenging those very norms. As well, in other essays by Dean Spade I've highlighted how the intersection of race, class and gender variant identities in folks leaves them incredibly vulnerable to domestic violence but they will more than likely be turned away from a shelter for the exact same reasons. I like this essay because it is a good example of how queer studies and feminist studies can lend themselves to each other to create a more inclusive understanding of an issue.
In Puar and Rai's article, "Monster, Terrorist, Fag: The War on Terrorism and the Production of Docile Patriots" the notion that "American retaliation promises to emasculate bin Laden and turn him into a fag. ...f you're not for the war, you're a fag" is explored through discussions of post-9/11 depictions of an anally penetrated bin Laden and more. However, I have to wonder if that explanation is all that there is to it.
While, as a country post 9/11, we definitely engaged in self-righteous violence and hatred that utilized power through sexual allusions in concordance with self-righteous assertions of supposed supremacy in relation to the liberation of Afghan women and I think that sort of basal hatred of queers is important in this dynamic, I don't think that's all it boils down to. That hatred we speak of, in relation to violence against queers, is too active, too projective, and too much of an independent, direct action to be applied here. I think the American retaliation centered on making bin Laden a fag is much more a product of fear, much more raw, dependent, and reactionary.
I think in order to really explore this we have to go back to the state of mind of many immediately after 9/11 occurred; many, if not most, people were reacting to misinformation and fear more than anything else. We didn't have the luxury of the time that allowed us to gain information and perspective--we were, as a country, in the fight-or-flight stage, essentially. Facts didn't necessarily matter as long as we had someone to blame and react to.
That's where bin Laden and that notion of fear I mentioned collide. This article seems to be suggesting that the U.S. Both engages in self-righteous queer violence/hate and promotion of such queer rights in order to criticize the treatment of Afghan women from objective points of view; we bash queers because we choose to ignore logic and we protect queers because it's the right thing to do. I have to disagree, especially when speaking of the notions of turning bin Laden into a fag.
It would seem to me that (1) we engage in queer violence/hate because it makes us feel self-righteous and allows us to suppress fear, (2) we promote queer rights because it elevates our egos, and (3) we chose to use faggotry as the ultimate form of torturing bin Laden because bin Laden provided us with a rare opportunity to completely express how much, as a country, we really hate and want to kill fags.
If you think about it, we really do promote a mindset of tolerance for fags in this country that centers on feigned acceptance; if you really are a fag, we still don't like you, and if you really, REALLY hate fags, you should just keep quiet, because that's too extreme, too. As long as there's no outward hate or violence, we're fine--we don't necessitate inclusion, acceptance, or love anything actively positive. If someone would've made an ad that featured Adam Lambert being anally penetrated by an AMA trophy with the words "You like that, bitch?" or something similar to how we treated bin Laden's likeness a few weeks ago there would've been outrage like no other, because that is actual promotion of violence against a gay person, and it wasn't something that scared us in a way we couldn't deal with otherwise.
However, such depictions of bin Laden seem to be accepted because it allows for the venting of a deep-seated fear of losing our power individually and as a country. The 9/11 attacks rattled us, as a country, in a way that many, if not most, of us had never experienced before, and because that created such a primal experience for us, we had to react in a primal, uncensored way. So we utilized one of the most suppressed fears (the fear of the unseating of our own sexualities) to exert what we view as one of the strongest powers (sexual dominance) over this person that seemed to prove capable of unseating our tremendous power as a country--we had to pull out all the stops in order to at least feel like we had a chance at conquering him.
So, I don't think the depictions of turning bin Laden into a fag and the subsequent sorts of queer violence and hate are necessarily a product of self-righteous violence, but a product of scared/fearful violence and hatred. It was simply our way of striking out in fear as soon as someone scared us--it didn't have the temporal prerequisite to be considered something as thoughtful and intellectual as "self-righteous."
(This article does not apply to my term.)
I found this article very interesting because it presented a new meaning to the word "punk" that I was not familiar with: a derogatory word for a black, gay man. Originally the word "punk" stirred up images of young boys/men dressed in dark clothes, listening to punk rock, and trying to identify with an alternative subculture of suburban rebellion. However, this article presented punk in, what I would consider, it's original, anti-authoritarian "fuck you form" and then in its African-Americanization of masculinzed and dominating "fuck you" form.
African-Americanization of words such as "beat" and "punk" have very negative, sexual connotations pertaining to the submissive and feminized party. "The core meaning of getting..."punked" - from at least the late 1950s to the early 2000s - appears to be be getting scapegoated within an erotic and masculinzied economy of society. In this economy, another's pleasure come at the cost of your pain." Nyong'o writes on page 22 (cp 262).
He later writes that "black style has come to dominate the network's offerings, and proscriptive markings of blackness appear only to whet the mainstream appetite." (24 (cp. 264) Nyong'o argues that African-American culture and attitudes is being popularized as a hyper masculine, tough, and powerful identity and with it come the meshing of terms such as "punk" so that it evolves into a new identity. Specifically he cites Richard Hell as a identifiable person who promoted this new "punk" and made it into an opposing force in comparison to the culture of glam rock, which was seen as a "queer" institution. in this way "punk" and "queer" faced each other as the polar opposite of the other.
What is interesting to see is how punk became a highly aggressive anti-authoritarian (especially pertaining to government) identity that when put opposite glam rock normalizes the queerness of it because this form of glamorized queer is popularized by mainstream culture with its softer and fantastical nature. Glam culture is more quickly identified as acceptable, yet queer (think Queen, David Bowie, Madonna, etc vs. Buzzcocks, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, The Ramones, The Velvet Underground, etc). Implying the resistance pertaining to anti-establishment and anti-authoritarian venues is greater than that of accepted queer existences, however the queerness that is found acceptable in glam generally pertains to relationships that appeal to heteronormative existence, such as committed gay or lesbian relationships without queer sexual practices.
For my supplemental reading as a part of tracking my term, youth, I read the introduction to Curiouser: On The Queerness Of Children. I also read The Future Is Kid Stuff, by Lee Edelman. Here, I would like to ask some questions about these texts I hope to address and discuss during my presentation.
The authors of the introduction, Bruhm and Hurley, say that the dominant narrative about children, that they are bereft of any real sexuality but that their childish ventures are mishaps on the way to mature heterosexuality. makes them into the bearers of heteronormativity. Here are three quotes from the text I find particularly interesting:
"If writing is an act of world making, writing about children is doubly so: not only do writers control the terms of the words they present, they also invent, over and over again, the very idea of inventing humanity, of training it and watching it evolve. This inscription makes the child into a metaphor, a kind of ground zero for the edifice that is adult life and around which narrative of sexuality get organized. . . Utopianism follows the child around like a family pet. The child exists as the site of almost limitless potential (its future not yet written and therefore unblemished). But because the utopian fantasy is the property of adults, not necessarily of children, it is accompanied by its doppelganger, nostalgia. . . Caught between these two worlds, one dead, the other helpless to be born, the child becomes the bearer of heteronormativity, appearing to render ideology invisible by cloaking it in simple stories, euphemisms, and platitudes," (pg. xiii).
"What is the effect of projecting the child into a heternormative future? One effect is that we accept the teleology of the child (and narrative itself) as heterosexually determined. . . The very effort to flatten the narrative of the child into a story of innocence has some queer effects. Childhood itself is afforded a modicum of queerness when the people worry more about how the child turns out than how the child exists as child," (pg. xiv).
"The modern-day queer is unthinkable without the modern child," (pg. xiv).
While Edelman says that the child is the anti-queer, and symbolizes, as it is invoked in the name of family values, that there is no future for queers, Bruhm and Hurley tell us that childhood queerness is oppressed by children's care takers as something that will only have been, but has no future in that child's adulthood. Again, I find Edelman's arguments dependent upon a magical boundary between straight and queer, since he neglects to make good account of queers with children and queer children. Here are some questions I would like to ask about these arguments:
1) What is the child? Does this term represent children themselves, or is it, as something we might take away from Edelman's writing, a symbol of adult heterosexuality, not really having anything to do with real children? If Edelman disavows the child, what shrines does he present for the queerness of boys and girls?
2) Since Bruhm and Hurley assert that childhood queerness is oppressed by their caretakers as something that will only have been and does not have a place in the child's adult future, can we also say that the child has no future? That the purpose of child care is to expunge that child of their childhood forthwith?
3) If the modern-day queer is unthinkable without the modern-day child, how might these terms be used to deconstruct each other, and what alliances may be formed between them?
I look forward to discussing these questions in greater detail in my presentation.
Written by Chela Sandoval, Dissident Globalizations, Emancipatory Methods, Social Erotics explores the means, practices and goals of what she describes as dissident globalization. Introducing first the problematic aspects of nationalism, transnational capitalism and postmodern globalization, she offers dissident globalization as an option to counteract and resist these other forms of interacting on a national and international scale with other groups with similar goals. The primary quality dissident globalization would counteract is the ill effect of nationalism: "Nationalism thus exerts the true vanilla erotics: no transgressions permitted, border crossings monitored and militarized, and within these limits 'only our kind allowed,' a homogenization that disciplines the passions," (21). In response and contrast to this nationalism and its limitations on the erotics of its constituents, dissident globalization aims for change occurring in the social erotic. Also, a different understanding of citizen must take hold to carry out the actions a dissident globalization: "an internationalist citizen-warrior who is able to call upon the transformative capacities of consciousness and of the collective body," (21). This is a much different citizen than one inhabiting a nationalist perspective.
Explaining the history that led to the creation of this new global understanding, Sandoval describes the shift from a Marxist "proletariat" focused theory to what became "third world liberation" focused theory. Third world liberation was the term that "signified solidarity among new masses of peoples who were differentiated by nation, ethnicity, language, race, class, culture, sex, and gender demarcations but who were allied nevertheless by virtue of similar sociohistorical, racial, and colonial relations to dominant powers," (22). Basically this was a more global understanding of the principles of Marxism, and included colonization effects along with the understanding of social hierarchies and economic classes. Then, during the 1960s and 70s, feminists in the US incorporated this third world awareness into their politics and began the phrase "US third world feminism". In my opinion this term is problematic because of the tendency for feminist groups to use the momentum of another civil rights movement as a catalyst for its own means while simultaneously drawing support, attention, and means from the other movement. Also, the term is counterintuitive; the US is not considered a third world country and it seems very privileged for US feminists to assume a position of understanding and association with countries considered to be in the third world. However, Sandoval is less pessimistic and sees the name as a way of resisting national boundaries: "In a sense simply voicing this name enacted an untried revolution: a geopolitical upheaval of nation-state and its social imaginaries, and an innovative pulling together again of what leaders and visionaries of the movement hoped would become a trans-national, -gendered, -sexed, -cultured, -raced, and coalitional political site," (22). The group itself produced a lot of texts (also using the name "radical women of color" for themselves) that were aimed at "creating a social movement that would be capable of organizing on behalf of all people," (23). The US third world feminists worked to connect different people marginalized in different ways, less interested in bringing one specific group to the forefront and more interested in combining the powers of many different perspectives to counteract the social institutions within individual nations (especially the US) and change the understanding of trans-national politics. Between 1965 and 1990 it was decided by the US third world feminists and its associates that the changing and resisting and restructuring of the capital, nationalist culture had to be changed through use of a series of principles.
Different descriptions of what strategies and principles might be were offered, but they all centered on traveling between different discourses and theories to continually fight powers that oppressed and marginalized. The goal was to create a "new social-erotics- 'love' in the postmodern world" (24). Another way that I've understood the goals of the US third world feminists is through Jasbir Puar's Queer Times, Queer Assemblages. In the article, Puar discusses the replacement of the term "intersectionality" with "assemblage". I think that the reasons behind the switch in Puar's mind are the same as in the US third world feminists' collective minds. The term intersectionality in essences connotes a list of different groups to which a person belongs; assemblage describes more the experience of degrees, variations, fluidity, and times (temporalities) which a person actually experiences. In the same way, US third world feminists attempt to use the any experiences and attributes of any members as a catalyst for making connections within the group and on a larger scale; there is no attempt or description of being not quite in one group and not quite another that I associate with intersectionality, but rather of always belonging to a larger group. (US third world feminism is a very happy and positive concept.)
There are five different principles/strategies laid out by the US third world feminists and were chosen as ways through which social relations could be transformed. Using these principles, which could also be described as different modes that a person could employ, facilitated "movement through, over, and within any dominant system of resistance, identity, race, gender, sex, class or national meaning," (25). The revolutionary thinking of the US third world feminists came directly from this goal of traveling between and disrupting dominant powers for the purposes of creating a new globalization with less marginality. Deftly summarized by Sandoval, "This eccentric politics is a powerful paradigm for generating coalition between oppositional groups, for accessing horizontal comradeship, for carrying out effective collaborations between divided constituencies, for making interdisciplinary connections," (25).
Although we have been given the option to deviate somewhat from our respective "terms" in the direct engagement category, I really would have no excuse to do so with the article Queer Times, Queer Assemblages by Jasbir Puar. This article closely relates to the idea of what a citizen or a nation is and what those terms represent, especially looking through our lens of US citizens in America. At the present moment, the buzzword is terror and the overwhelming sentiment encouraged by the media is that patriotism and citizenship means supporting a "war on terror". In this war on terror, the threat of terror and terrorist is constantly lurking. Puar helps clarify what the idea of a vague, racialized and sexualized terrorist does to the notion of what a US citizen is and what the US as a nation represents. In the first objective in the article, Puar "examine[s] discourses of queerness where problematic conceptualizations of queer corporealities, especially via Muslim sexualities, are reproduced in the service of discourses of US exceptionalisms," (121). US exceptionalism already has a head start because of the country's engagement in a war. Throughout the last century, any conflict into which the US inserted itself reinforced the idea that the US was the sole icon of Freedom in the world. The war on terror is different in that the idea of freedom not only refers to religious and economic freedom, but now sexual freedom as well. Although arguably these freedoms never have and still do not exist in the US, this strange pride of upholding these ideals while never truly experiencing them (or even really attempting to) is the very paradox that is US exceptionalism. Specifically in regard to sexual exceptionalism, Puar states that it is formed through "normative as well as nonnormative (queer) bodies," (122). Then, to help accentuate this exceptionalism is the contrast that is drawn between a "citizen of the US" and a "terrorist". So, here is the parallel. A "citizen" (i.e. hetero or homonormative, white, wealthy, law-abiding, taxpaying, patriotic, etc) is the normative body and the "terrorist" (i.e. deranged, not white, Islamic, Muslim, middle eastern, extremist, backward, etc) is the nonnormative. Even with the acceptance of one deviance from the heteronormative formula, a queer person would still have to fit within the framework of citizen: white, wealthy, male etc. This allowance of one deviation while still being recognized as a citizen is the way that the US can see itself as the tolerant, progressive, open-minded icon of freedom that it does. As Puar says, "queerness is proffered as a sexually exceptional form of American national sexuality through a rhetoric of sexual modernization that is simultaneously able to castigate the other as homophobic and perverse, and construct the imperialist center as 'tolerant' but sexually, racially, and gendered normal," (122). The US perspective of Islamic and Muslim cultures is that they are sexually conservative, private and modest. Puar takes issue when even Faisal Alam, the director of Al-Fatiha, encourages these ideas: "Islam places a high emphasis on modesty and sexual privacy. Iraq, much like the rest of the Arab world, places great importance on notions of masculinity," (124). Given the inflated view of American ideals held by "patriotic citizens", among these being tolerance and freedom, the values of the Arab world get perverted into a sense of backward prudishness and homophobia. This view of the Arab world then reinforces the exceptionalism of the US. Also, Puar points out why this view of the Arab world is false because "the production of 'homosexuality as taboo' is situated within the history of encounter with the Western gaze," (125). So, the US understands the Arab world to be homophobic because of the over-simplified understanding of Muslim and Islamic cultures, and also sees an irreconcilable distance between a Muslim identity and a homosexual or queer identity. Therefore, the homosexual or queer identity can find its place only within the US nation and within the white, US citizens as a group. The racialized terrorists are thus sexualized as heterosexual as a result of backward norms. As Puar concludes, "queer exceptionalism works to suture US nationalism through the perpetual fissuring of race from sexuality- the race of the (presumptively sexually repressed, perverse, or both) terrorist and the sexuality of the national (presumptively white, gender normative) queer: the two dare not converge," (126). Puar deftly articulates the problems that come into play when trying to conceptualize what a conceivable understanding of a US citizen might be in regard to queer and in this time of terrorist-obsessed fear. The paradox of sexual exceptionism is, like all problems that are cyclical and self-reinforcing, a trap that stops me from wanting to try and reconcile the term "citizen" with the term "queer".
Like Jasbir Puar's flying ballistic body parts and bits of bloody flesh, I only have fragments of words and questions to grab onto in continuing to reflect on her mind-blowing writing.
What do this (my?) body's moments of becoming look and feel like?
"white" flesh, burned, flesh, bound, flesh, cut, stitched, scabbed, oiled, stretched
"new" pains, itch, hairs, harder, growing, rubbing, celebrating
"Let's grow a beard together!"
"old" insecurity, shame, loss, gain, chubby, fat, skinny, chubby
resisting, hoping, shaping, saving, stealing, wishing, paying
How much money have I paid to become? And at what cost?
When does this body become transgender in the perception of "others"?
silence, passing, knowing, wondering, hiding, smiling, celebrating
Where's the queer in me?
Where's the queer in my Mom?
Where's the queer in the Grandma who disowns me for these becomings?
What will death mean for this body?
(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.)
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
"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?
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.
Butler, Judith. "Undiagnosing Gender." Undoing Gender. New York: Routledge, 2004. 75-101.
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.
Clover, Carol. Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. 1993
Saw. Dir. James Wan. Lacy Street Productions, 2004.
In the essay, "Whats Queer About Queer Studies Now?", the authors, "insist that considerations of empire, race, migration, geography, subaltern communities, activism, and class are central to the continuing critique of queerness, sexuality, sexual subcultures, desire, and recognition." In this reading they focus on several essays that confirm their belief that the demands for a "renewed queer studies is ever vigilant to the fact that sexuality is intersectional, not extraneous to other modes of difference, and calibrated to a firm understanding of queer as a political metaphor without a fixed referent." They state that "while queer studies in the past has rarely addressed such broad social concerns, queer studies in the present offers important insights." Furthermore, they state that a renewed queer studies should, "broadened consideration of the late-twentieth-century global crises that have configured historical relations among political economies, the geopolitics of war and terror, and national manifestations of sexual, racial, and gendered hierarchies." It is the belief of the authors that what queer studies in the past has focused on needs to be opened up to a broader context or umbrella which can fit more ideologies within it, which will make queer studies that much more rich and diverse in depth. This idea presented in the essay fits well with the term of norms because it deals with the dissection of a word whose very purpose is to "challenge the normalizing mechanisms of state power to name its sexual subjects: male or female, married or single, heterosexual or homosexual, natural or perverse." Therefore, as a result of the authors attempting to open up the term "queer" even more, they are attacking the normalizing mechanisms of state power even further. I agree with the authors that the term "queer", in the past, has been used in a limited fashion and that by opening it up further, some of the limits that go along with the term will disappear.
Lisa Duggan beings her essay "Making it Perfectly Queer" by advocating for the potential of Queer Nation and Queer Theory. Duggan says the best way she can discuss the new meaning of queer is through a process of storytelling, so the essay includes three stories demonstrating queer politics.
The first scene is focused on Mayor David Dinkins, who walked in an Irish parade with a gay and lesbian group, and was the target of violence and hostility by the spectators. Several days after the parade, Dinkins compared the "intolerance" he saw at the parade to the civil rights movement he had experienced in the past. Duggan argues that while the civil rights movement analogy is deeply moving, liberal tolerance has been met with very limited success and many political organizations still ignore lesbian and gay issues.
The second scene features posters of celebrities like Jodie Foster with captions that say "Absolutely Queer" or "Actress, Yalie, Dyke." These posters have been put up by groups like Outrage, engaged in the practice known as "outing," which is basically forcing someone to come out of the closet. Duggan says that many of these anti-assimilationist activists "reject the liberal value of privacy and the appeal to tolerance which dominate the agendas of more mainstream gay organizations." They instead favor direct action and public activism. Duggan cautions that practices such as outing and other nationalist strategies are still "fixing desire in a gendered direction" and still represent solely the "twentieth-century, Western, white, gay male."
The final scene that Duggan describes is at a lesbian and gay writer's conference in San Francisco which is actually comprised of all sorts of different kinds of people. Sloan, author of the article Duggan is quoting, says that the thing all these people seem to have in common with each other is that they are all different and she hopes that perhaps these gatherings can be used to "lay the groundwork for peaceful and productive futures."
Duggan concludes her essay by contrasting constructionist and essentialist theories and discussing the struggle to actually put queer theory to use. The only issue I have with these queer politics is the practice of outing. I can understand how it would be beneficial to publicly out prominent members of society, so that others can see the large number of queer people that are actually out there and important to society. However, I do still think people have a right to privacy and a right to decide to come out when they feel they are ready. Coming out may have serious consequences for people, such as Asian people who would be disowned and kicked out of their house if they came out. They could potentially be putting themselves in danger. So, I think people have the right to decide if it is worth it to them to come out or not.
Cherry Smith's essay, "What is This Thing Called Queer?" opens with several definitions of queer from various sources. She then begins to discuss the group Queer Nation, an organization formed in 1990 that was concerned about the frequent bashings of gays and lesbians in New York. Outrage was formed around the same time as Queer Nation in London; they used similar confrontational tactics, such as KISS-INs and queer weddings. Several other groups sprouted up in the early nineties, such as SISSY, PUSSY, LABIA, and Whores of Babylon. These organizations all called for direct action, opposed to simply trying to assimilate and, according to Smith, are "not interested in seeking acceptance within an unchanged social system, but are setting out to 'fuck up the mainstream' as visibly as possible."
Smith explains how for many people queer marks a "growing lack of faith in the institutions of the state, in political procedures, in the press, the education system, policing and the law." Queer is used to question assumed norms surrounding culture, society, history, sexuality, and everything. Smith has several excerpts in her essay from various people about what "queer" means to them, and there are many different kinds of answers. Some people embrace the term, reclaim it, or feel that it describes them more than "gay" or "lesbian" ever could, and some see queer politics as more fitting for them than feminist movement, while others are still hurt by the homophobic ways "queer" has been used against them in the past. Smith continues to describe how queer organizations use their particular brand of activism to challenge systems of power, such as taking up the case of Jennifer Saunders who was sentenced to six years in prison for dressing as a man and seducing two seventeen year old women. One of the most controversial strategies that queer activists use is "outing," which is to publicly out someone as queer.
I see the queer tactics as being effective, not only that but they seem to make more people feel included than terms like "gay" or "lesbian" can. Smith says that for her "the taking back of words has been a survival strategy." There were no words to describe how she felt, gay, for instance was never an option because it was seen as a male word, but queer was a more all encompassing term that made her feel like she could reclaim who she was. If that is what queer activism does for people than I think it is useful.
I would like to engage here with Cherry Smith's essay: What Is This Thing Called Queer?
In this essay, Cherry Smith examines the meaning, identity, and application of the term "queer," mostly as it surrounds legal and activist issues in Britain. She discusses various activist groups in Britain, including OutRage, Stonewall, and PUSSY, and different arguments concerning the directions mainstream (assimilationist) activist groups vs those of queer (read antiassimilationist, in this case) activists and vs those gravitating around a more specific identity (like black lesbians). She also discusses the many uses of the word "queer" as it relates to people's identity. Interviewing a broad range of people on what word they used to identify themselves and what they thought of "queer," she received a broad range of responses from people who identified it with white, gay men to people who said that, as a "queer Power Now" pamphlet put it: "queer means to fuck with gender. There are straight queers, bi queers, tranny queers, fag queers, SM queers, fisting queers in every single street in this apathetic country of ours." Smith herself tends to use it as a survival strategy, helping to give her the freedom to, "call my cunt my cunt, to celebrate the pleasure of objectifying another body, to fucking women and admitting that I also love men and need their support. That is what queer is," (285).
After I read the article, I have been wondering about the existence of literature that discusses not the reclaiming of words, but the destruction or, specifically, creation of them. It is a question I would like feedback on from whoever reads this blog who knows if there is much to be read about it. My point is, though, that it may sometimes be easier or useful to create new categories and discourses than to reclaim existing ones. Certainly people in the article have created their own self-descriptions, mainly by different combinations but I do not believe that people are necessarily bound by anything to use only words that currently exist. I myself have never felt comfortable with any words referring to sexual identity, be they queer, bisexual, dyke, gay, or lesbian. But I am constantly being asked by people to explain myself - queers are no better than straights. On occasions when I refuse, I have been labeled by some as asexual, which I've found offensive. Why are people uncomfortable with simply not naming themselves? I understand why people do want to possess a certain identity, but I think that not having one should also be an option.
Today we will wrapping up our performativity section (although the topic, which is central to much of Butler's queering work, will come up throughout the semester). After discussing the revolutionary possibilities for gender failure, Realness vs. Fantasy, and performance versus performativity, we will discuss global performativity (and how it works in relation to gender, race, class, sexuality). We will focus our attention on revisiting the case of Caster Semenya, the South African runner whose gender was (very) publicly questioned last month at the Track and Field World Championships in Berlin.
How can we think about this case in relation to Butler's notion of performativity? In addition to looking at these images, we will be skimming a few articles on the subject, including: How not to solve a gender dispute, The Curious Case of Caster Semenya, Caster Semenya faces sex test and Family Speaks Out.
I originally posted this entry this summer on my trouble blog here. It seems very fitting for our current discussion of gender performativity.
What, you say, could Hannah Montana possibly have to do with Judith Butler and gender performativity? If you are asking, this must be your first visit to my blog. This kind of crazy, seemingly impossible connection is what I do and is, for lack of a better phrase, how I roll.
Anyway, my daughter RJP and son FWA have recently taken an interest in Hannah Montana. Perhaps they are a little too young for it, but they just want to be like their older cousin IIE (who incidentally now thinks Hannah Montana is "treated." Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato are much cooler). This week we were watching one of the two Hannah Montana DVDs they possess (at least, so far) when an episode entitled "Good Golly, Miss Dolly" came on.
Before launching into an analysis of how gender is performed and enforced in this episode, let me offer this disclaimer: I have watched less than a handful of HM episodes (and by a handful, I mean about 4. Okay, I just saw the Hannah Montana movie with my kids two night ago, but I don't think that counts. The tv formula is much different than the movie one). Because of my somewhat shallow knowledge of the show, I can't speak to how gender is discussed/performed/reinforced/joked about in the whole series. Instead, I can only speak to how it functions in this one, (gender) troubling, episode from the first season.
So, I'm sitting on the couch between RJP and FWA watching the episode. A couple of minutes in, Dolly Parton shows up as Miley Stewart's (aka Hannah Montana's) Aunt Dolly. What can I say--someone could write a book about Dolly Parton and her parodic (intentional or not) performance of gender. And I am sure someone has--link anyone? Anyway, the appearance of Parton didn't initially register as particularly gender troubling. Neither did the first mention by Miley's Dad (Robbie Ray) or her brother (Jackson) of how Aunt Dolly was "girling" up the house with frufru pillows. It wasn't until about 10 minutes in that I got really suspicious and started to think about and question how gender was working in this episode.
The troubling inspiration for this blog: (starts at 2:06) Hannah's friend Oliver is over at her house. He tells her that he has to go because his Mom is dropping him off at school early. Suddenly there is a very deep, very masculine voice in the background yelling to Oliver to hurry up. Then, the following exchange between Oliver and Miley's best friend, Lilly, occurs:
Lilly: I thought you said that was your mom.
Oliver: It is. [audience laughs] When she's mad, she uses her man voice (said in a deep voice). [ha ha ha ha ha]
So, what's so funny here? Is it just that we find it funny to hear a woman sound like a man? Wait, why is that funny? My immediate reaction was that it was just another example of how it is okay to make fun of trans folk (ha ha--his mom isn't really a woman, but a man!) or women-who-are-really-lesbians (ha ha--his mom is soooo butch). While I think there is definitely some anti-trans/anti-gay sentiment lurking in this joke about the mannish Mom, I think there is something deeper (albeit connected) going on here. This joke, when placed in the larger context of this entire episode--with its persistent jokes about how Miley's Dad and brother are being femininized by Dolly the uber femme Barbie--is about enforcing and regulating certain gender (more specifically heterosexual masculinity) roles. The threat of men acting like and then, gasp, possibly turning into women is the punchline of countless jokes throughout the episode.
You don't talk about The G Word on the front page of the blog-- you put it behind the cut.
This is the second time that I have seen the film "Paris Is Burning". The first time I saw it, I remember enjoying it for its ethnographic value; I have never lived in New York, nor am I a black, gay, male, so the film provided a view into the black, gay, male drag ball subculture. After seeing it a second time, it was not unenjoyable, but it was less of a spectacle to me because I am more aware of my position of privilege as a white, female-bodied viewer, and filmmaker Livingston's position as a white, female-bodied spectator. This understanding of my privilege position gave me a more critical lens which to understand my reactions to the film.
I do not quite understand what Judith Butler is trying to convey in her response article, "Ambivalent Drag". I understand that she unpacks the notion of a neutral gaze as being unmarked white gaze. I also understand the ways that the film being made by an "innocent" white woman produce an unintentional colonizing gesture, using her privilege as a white woman filmmaker to be benefactor to underground black, gay, male drag ball culture are problematic. Though, I think that Butler borrows their central arguments from bell hooks text, "Is Paris Burning?", and does not convey a clear direction from those borrowed ideas. I also do not understand what Butler means by the term "phantasmatic", which is used often in the article.
I feel that bell hooks' article, "Is Paris Burning?" offers a better understanding of the problematic ways in which the film produces a colonizing view of black, gay, male drag balls, through the scene choices by white filmmaker Livingston, and her avoidance of her role as spectator. hooks writes, the "reality that a young white filmmaker, offering a progressive vision of "blackness" from the standpoint of "whiteness"..." clarified my uneasiness with the film. Also, the ways in which hooks explores the testimony of Dorian Carey allows the viewer of the film/reader of their article to understand the realities of the persons who participate in the drag balls. hooks' exploration of Carey's testimony also leaves the reader with a spring board from which to confront and challenge the realities presented in the film, in other films, texts, and in our own realities.
Butler mentions nothing of Carey.
How does "realness" function in the film? How does understanding "realness" as a standard (or goal to acheive) reinforce and/or subvert notions of what it means to be normal/acceptable/intelligible/proper?
Think about these questions in relation to this quotation from Butler:
The rules that regulate and legitimate realness constitute the mechanism by which certain sanctioned fantasies, sanctioned imaginaries, are insidiously elevated as the parameters of realness (130).
What is realness?
In order to think about how to describe the mess of what exactly realness is, I'm trying a little exercise of unraveling *ahem* real gender, relatively citation free. Here goes.
Doing this real gender is a process infatuated with what it means to be "normal/acceptable/intelligible/proper." And the irreducible fact seems to be that in order to perform, to pass as a real gender, everything (or every appearance, at least) must align (one must do strictly feminine or strictly masculine, though there may become multiple ways of doing so). In effect, this means an erasure of all disruptions, all things contrary; if some aspect will not be "erased" or pushed to the background (ie. a woman who wears pants), then this fissure must be sealed by its reinforced relation to the more important reality (she is still a woman), that birthright of a marker of sex/gender.
In the balls of Paris Is Burning, realness seems to be judged and prized in precisely this way: by the neat balance of signals sent by the sum of all (predominantly white, predominantly middle to upper class) gendered cues, down to the very last detail (note: one's coat must button on the "proper" side). Though there may be multiple ways of doing so, there is also only one way. How can there be only one, you ask? The way must radiate white middle to upper class heterosexuality and heterosexual desire. The way doesn't have room for mixing signals.
Let's take for example the adoption of military dress/uniforms, pre-appropriation already a site of restriction and its own one way system, and in the context of the ball just as serious. The folks dressed, walking, performing as military (army, navy, they all run together for me) officers must follow all the rules to pass as real, to not be read. Already we have a problem: how does one go about passing as the reality of one's being? Or, if not how, why? Why does this reality concern itself with audience perception? For it is somewhat clear that the genders performed in the ball setting most certainly carry through to other situations for at least some performers. Further, the film presents no images of folks in military regalia mixing in symbols of liberation or gay/queer/trans identities: no pink, no piercings, no rainbows, no flagging hankies. Those would throw their realness into question.
What seems to emerge is a process in which what is real (gender) is in fact the suppression, the denial, the fear of anything that throws off the alignment with a real heteronormative femininity or masculinity. A point for more prodding here is perhaps that this process necessitates a reiterated performance, a covering up, an act sometimes viewed as a deception.The very hierarchical, white, heteronormative realness so awarded in the balls of Paris is Burning produces very different scenarios on the streets.
I'll close with this open-ended bit on perceived deception (which is also in the spoken/unspoken history of Venus Xtravaganza in Paris is Burning). Some of you probably know that in the early history of Leslie Feinberg's health struggles, ze was refused medical treatment in a very transphobic way. What I learned only recently is that this series of events occurred during hir speaking engagement at the U of M in 1995 (VHS recording on hand in the GLBTA Programs Office in Appleby Hall). According to my secondhand source, when Leslie sought treatment at a local hospital ze initially passed as male. When the reportedly masculine -identified and -presenting doctor learned the real reality of Leslie's body, however, Leslie was asked to leave and refused any diagnosis or treatment on the basis of hir "deception" of the doctor. Is there a price that comes with doing a real gender which runs the risk of being undone by perception?
For Venus there was.
Rather than what realness is, I want to know what it does.
It's hard for me to give an super critical analysis of the film "Paris is Burning" right out of the gate having just seen it for the first time. I definitely think it is one of those movies you need to watch over again to really piece out some of the underlying happenings that are going on. That is not to say that I didn't pick up on some things the first time through but after readings Hooks and Butler's analysis it's like a "oh yeah, I can see that" kind of thing and makes me want to watch it again. Hooks analysis definitely pulled out some critiques that I would have never been able to put into words, but through her eyes I see them. She discusses how the overall "vision of femininity" portrayed in this documentary is a white vision, which I definitely saw. And this is how capitalism and everything that supports it shapes/influences the performances of gender. It's an overwhelming saturation throughout the media, culture, and politics of examples of "white femininity" that shape it. She continued to strategically piece out the things she saw wrong with the film, especially it's tendency to focus on the "spectacle" of the Balls themselves and maybe not enough on the how and why. She especially notes her distaste for the lack of full character development and that Livingston allowed these individuals to be viewed as outside the "real World" and not include what "their connections to a world of family and community beyond the drag ball" were. I imagine it would have been different for each of the men interviewed. I have to agree with Hooks here, on the one hand I cannot presume to know what Livingston's vision was while editing this documentary, but on the other hand I would have selfishly loved to know more about the characters lives outside the balls, especially the feelings surrounding Venus's death. As my other interests lie in Anthropology I love to observe peoples stories, so the personal commentary was my favorite part. As for Butler, I followed her critique and at times really liked what she was saying but I fell short and didn't fully grasp her theory of ambivalent drag. So I look forward to what others have to say and see if it helps.
In this blog I would mainly like to address the criticisms made by bell hooks about misogynist drag.
Certainly Paris is Burning is a film full of tremendous conflicts, crossroads, and contradictions of power and identity. The socioeconomic status of all film participants was in constant flux, depending on whether they were on the street, at the ball, or at a mall or fashion show. Within the ball it is especially complicated, as it is the one place where many of those interviewed expressed that they felt accepted, beautiful, worthwhile, or safe but it was a place acknowledged also to be sometime violent and hierarchical. Within the ball area, power operates in complicated ways, simultaneously normative and subversive. I feel that neither hooks nor Butler engaged with what it means to occupy a space in which "negative" forces like poverty, racism, misogyny, self-hatred, hierarchy, and disillusionment coexist with and are often co-dependent on "positive" forces such as getting what one wants, feeling loved and accepted, and feeling free and beautiful on the level I was hoping they would. To what extent can we pin drag to just being an expression of misogyny born out of a twisted manifestation of white supremacist patriarchy or of feeling uncomfortable in one's own embodiment? Why can drag not simply be a way for someone to express their preferred state of being, or in some way getting a chance to live as another for a time, as many of those interviewed stated? I also think, as Butler points out in her article, that hooks tends to simplify all male to female gendered expressions as "drag," ignoring differences between drag, cross-dressing, passing, and transsexualism. Hooks quotes Frye when she says that male drag is nothing but the power of men to play with and control the feminine in their own selfish attempt to be sexually and relationally nearer other non-gay men. In any 'appropriative' identification I feel that there is always at least a small question of the privileged position of those who appropriate from others, however, the idealization of white femininity present in the film, while also having to do with a colonized and colonizer consciousness, is also, I think, about the idealization of simply not having to occupy a marginalized space. The desire to wear $500 dresses and not have to struggle or work for a living that is part of the idealization of ruling class white femininity is also a simple desire to not have to worry about food, money, and violence. To be valued and secure is something anyone wants and because we live in, as hooks says, a white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal world, that desire is bound up in the supremacy of some of the only people who are institutionally valued and secure: white, rich, heteronormative women.
After watching the documentary and reading the associated readings, most of my thoughts surrounded questions brought up by Sara about the introduction to both the film and the article on Butler in the Chronicle for Higher Education about the label of "troublemaker" during childhood. I think the connection to trouble-making as a child and during adulthood could have many different interpretations. My interpretation was that, mainly, the vague references to Butler's childhood don't seem to me to have any applicable connections to her writing and work now. It seemed that the trouble Butler caused as a child had less to do with a purposeful reaction to the institution of education (and if that was the case, it should be stated because then the introduction would have more validity in both cases, or maybe we are meant to infer that) and more just a youth that didn't want to be in school. Whatever the reason, I think the connection served to diminish the message of her important work in the film and the article.
Maybe the purpose of the introduction in both cases was to show an objection to/ alternative perspective on the institution of education and hierarchical institutions in general, and all of the oppressive implications they carry. I suppose if the creators of both film and article aimed the productions specifically at Butler fans and people familiar with her work, then they would have the tools to infer these meanings from the connection from childhood to adulthood trouble-making. To me, though, it seemed like neither the documentary nor the article really gave us a very personal or intimate portrait of Butler, and she has spoken on her desire to keep it that way. If that's the case, then I think the reminiscing on childhood memories just seems out of place, and out of proportion to the level of trouble-making she has achieved through her writing!
As I sat watching the documentary on Butler and why reading the articles and the pervious blogs, I cannot help but wonder about our desire to know the author. I mean, I get--we want to connect, to understand, to complicate, to judge, to humanize, etc... I hesitate to think i one second that by understanding Butler's background and her being a 'troublemaker' that I will be able to understand or connect to her readings any better than I have before. Do I need to know who she is to legitimize my understanding of her work? And can an okay documentary really explain who Butler is?
One thing is for certain, by removing the mystical vail of authorship from the text does allow for me to demystify Butler. In my experience Butler has been lifted to this place of god-like proportions in academia. Do not misunderstand me, she is and has been one of the leading thinkers in gender and queer theory--she deserves much respect. The film exposes that she is like many of us--trying to make sense of the world around us and how do I/we fit into or out of it.
Butler, like all of us, has a story that has brought her to where she is. It isn't linear and it ebbs and flows. Will this understanding lend to a more amazing reading of her? I do not think so. Why should it? That knowing has always been there... that we are all trying to figure it out. I am just hoping she quickens the process for me! :-)
Judith Butler is a figure of many labels ---"theorist", "scholar", "celebrity", "disciplinary problem", "writer", "feminist", "lesbian" --- which are all addressed in this documentary. The purpose of the documentary seems to be to either juxtapose or merge Judith Butler the Figure with Judith Butler the Person, and , if so, is only mildly successful in its execution. Butler tells us a story about her early adolescence in which she is forced to see a rabbi who tells her it is time to "get serious". I found this story to be the only successful link between who Butler is as a person and who she is as a theorist --- the trouble-making nature she displayed as a child was her way of "getting serious". Trouble-making is a form of confrontation, and her thoughts and ambitions at age 14 speak of her inherent compulsion to make trouble, to be difficult, and to do it with the utmost seriousness. However, it was not until reading this week's selection of articles that I made this connection --- especially after reading her essay, "Values of Difficulty," which addresses the importance and ethical factors of difficult language, language that transcends the known, allowing for new ways of knowing and understanding. For Butler, trouble-making is an impulse, a necessity, a responsibility. Liz McMillen sums up Butler's scholarly career nicely: "marked by extreme diligence -- and a knack for making trouble" --- a contradiction that Butler has made a definitive niche, one that I think is neither a marketing ploy, nor a discrediting flaw, but one that becomes somehow cohesive and relatable --- I tend to be drawn to contrasts and contradictions, and find Butler's approach to writing, her ability to be so forward in her work, yet so withdrawn from the public arena, quite attractive.
"It's not the [queer is not my] only identity."
"...we might think that to be a certain gender is to have a certain sexuality."
"There are people who would argue that we should all have a gendered place..."
"...gender always fails, and it's a good thing."
"If we knew always what we would become then we would be finished, over..."
Constructed and constrained with possible goals of making personally known "Judith Butler, the person" and with time constraints in shooting and editing, Philosophical Encounters of the Third Kind is certainly a tricky little piece of filmmaking with an intended audience that may best be described as "groupies." That's my soundbite. I agree with Keagan and the Feminist Review that the above "theorybites" are almost without question reductive and their tenuous connections to Butler's personal reflections strung throughout the film must leave many a spectator still unsatisfied, hungry to know who "Judy!" really is. So, whose intentions are behind this text? Who, or what, controls the ideological content of a film?
Different strands of film theory of course have vastly different takes, no singular one of which I can completely subscribe to and still sleep at night. Instead, I want to present an overview of some film theories in order to show elements of production which may in part contribute to the themes and meanings derived from a given film, using the text in question as an example.
Auteur theory generally speaking holds that the central producer of meaning in a film is the director. Ideally, this director interprets the script/plan/whatever else in ways that radically transform the object (script, actors, situations, locations, weather) into fine art. But only sometimes does the director have final say over the cohesion of a film, when shooting is finished, which shots go where, how long they last, what the film will convey overall through these aesthetic arrangements. Sometimes a producer, an editor, a studio, funding sources, the MPAA, the FCC, or whoever else has partial/"complete" control over the final product has different demands. Is the goal to produce this work of art, or to make money? And of course, there are always different goals on the horizon for different subjects of the production team. In the text at hand, it is notable that shots of Butler telling the camera to go away are included in the final product, rather than cast away to look for a "better shot," perhaps one where she picks up on something or leads into something she was saying another time, allowing the construction of the narrative that was in mind when this whole documentary was envisioned. You get the idea.
Building on this, Structuralism looks to linguistics, society, and institutions as systems which contribute also to products of meaning. Basically, this strand seeks to put films into historical context and results in the categorization of genres (documentary, western, sci-fi, etc.) and thus common themes (isolation, paranoia, individualism) of film art. There is a definite construction of the character of Butler in opposition to systems of power, the troublemaker. Stories of the times that Butler was a model citizen are not included because this is not "that kind of movie." Themes of trouble, difference, and the resulting personal consequences abound.
Finally, Poststructuralism looks also to semiotics, psychoanalysis, feminist theory, and deconstructionism and seeks to make visible not the cohesion but the disunion of films. Rather than looking to back-up theoretical assumptions about the general theme or meaning of a film text, Poststructuralism shows where these assumptions have their gaps and where the spectator is key in constructing (or being a beacon through which shines) the ideology of a particular film. As we each watched the text in question, we interpreted it in our own ways, based on the connections and intelligibilities which we made within such an intricate network of symbols and meanings. Some would say that a work of art does not exist except in this relation between it and the spectator.
I guess I just wanted to call into question the authorship of Philosophical Encounters of the Third Kind as a means of employing a little non-resolute argument in a similar style to that of Butler's "Values of Difficulty." I highly recommend a little deconstruction with your next afternoon dose of caffeine.
I will have to confess my ignorance when it comes to Judith Butler. Although I have heard her name circulating around in the department, this semester will be my first time reading her. I know it's awful. So, for me, reading articles and critiques about her and watching a documentary focused on her has really peaked my interest. However, does knowing her make her theories more authentic? Is it important to know who Butler is as a person in order to understand her work? I would have to say no to both of these questions mostly because I just don't think it should always matter but also because often times I know nothing of the author before I read something and it makes no less of an impact. But for me personally, knowing a little something about the author does help me take more interest in the writing, or vice versa when the writing is so interesting that it makes me want to know more about the author. Which I think is why this alleged "superstardom" has arisen around her. I think these questions of authenticity and "knowing" Judith Butler speaks more to people's inquiry about WHO has the "authority" to speak on certain subjects, hence the call to her identity as "troublemaker." All in all, I felt that in the case of this documentary our level of knowing was very limited and controlled by Butler. She seemed guarded and aware of the effects her words and actions would have on both her work and public personae. Like Butler said herself she is not her theories, she is not the embodiment of her theories. So this would just be a reflection of that, I felt the message was that the details of her life shouldn't matter; her work should be taken for what it is.
For this blog, I would like to engage more with the reading we did by Gary Olson and Lynn Worsham: Changing the Subject: Judith Butler's Politics of Radical Resignification, and bring it in conversation with the documentary.
For me, this documentary highlighted the problems I have with Judith Butler's writing more than it clarified or supported her writing. While the director indeed often placed Butler's ideas in an over-simplified manner, as Sara commented on in her review of the movie, I was surprised by the oversimplified nature of Butler's own responses to prompts posed by her interviewer and the simple structure of her lecturing. I found that not only were Butler's lectures, comments, and responses far simpler than her work, but that she also sometimes seemed to have trouble articulating herself. Especially in her French lecture and in the last interview session, there were quite a few moments of stuttering, pausing, and asides. Whether this is because she was trying to be an accessible "human" character for the film, as the Feminist Review suggested was the goal of the film, I did not find this convincing.
While I agree that simple language is not an automatic reflection of reality and that complicated language has much potential and importance, I think Butler goes well beyond its useful applications. I seems to me that Butler does not pose a good defense in the face of the criticism leveled against her. She dismisses the critique of the inaccessibility of her writing as anti-intellectual, but does not acknowledge the privilege she has to dismiss that criticism, to do the things she does without fear of brutal retaliation, and the exclusive and often colonial traditions of the continental philosophy that influenced her and how that plays out in her writing.
In regards to the representation of Judith Butler "as a person" in the film, I tended to favor the comments made in the Feminist Review that the accessibility of academic theorists now-a-days lays in their ranking as superstars and publicly visible "people." While certainly Judith Butler is in respects, a "trouble maker" I also cannot help but feel that this documentary was an attempt to market Butler as a theorist. The idea of knowing "who she is" as a person making her theory "more authentic" has more to do with peoples' obsession with authenticity and legibility than anything else. Judith Butler herself states that she is more at home in the realms of instability, fluidity, change, and ambiguity. Understanding her "as a person" on her own terms in this way, for me, doesn't say much of anything about her theory other than that it could at times be reflective of her own experiences.
The Colu.mn blog posted pictures from Another Bash Back event protesting the HRC (Human Rights Campaign) gala, and expressing the marginalization of queer issues by the groups agenda of assimilation, and reinforcing of the dominant institutions, like marriage. I love that the protesters drew attention to it in this way, but I wonder what kind of coalition building could exist between the queer and gay politics in Minneapolis. I am trying to imagine how the HRC could begin to destabilize their collective identity. http://thecolu.mn/381/minneapolis-human-rights-campaign-gala-protested-by-queers