The term "Bodies and Material Experiences" can be described as the intersection of bodies, including everything from physical body structures to psychological experiences contained within our bodies, with external, societal structures, policies, ways of living, norms, and more that produces an individualized material experience (of or relating to the outside world, respective to our individual bodies) for each of us. In order to understand this term and how it applies to each of us, one must ask questions such as
+What laws and policies affect my body and life, and how?
+What social norms affect my body and life, and how?
+How does the construction of my body, as an entity, interact with the greater world, and what experience does that bring me to living in/through?
and more. Subsequently, it is easy to see how individualized this term can become, and why it's important to take into consideration in queering theory--a theory based on understanding minority experiences, frames of mind, points of view and more and how the larger society can be queered based on those such things would only be responsibly explored if it were actively exploring and understanding such individualized experiences.
The brilliant part about this term is that it has the potential to be so comprehensive that you can really explore a lot with it. You can explore everything from how an identity (queer or not) interacts with laws and policies that proclaim to protect people by looking at how "the system" fails queer bodies, as I have done in looking at Kate Moennig's My Address, to how the medical world seeks to normalize queer bodies and how that inevitable failure to do so affects both directly affected individuals and everyone else, as Judith Butler explored in her discussion of the case of David Reimer, to how the mass media assesses and deals with queer bodies and their experiences/representation, as I have done in looking at Adam Lambert and Nip/Tuck, and an endless number of additional options.
That sort of comprehensive outlook is integral to asking what queering is (and legitimately exploring it), as well. While one could argue that discussions of gender, sexuality and rejection/refusal are the most important parts of discussing queering (and I won't deny that they are required parts of such a discussion) simply because they are the first to come to mind, it seems to me that queering is not necessarily doing or looking at things differently, but it is doing things with a raw and inconsiderate point of view that forces you to be completely honest. Too often queering is a reactionary practice to what is interpreted as "the norm" or heteronormativity or heterosexuality, but is such a blanket approach really that unpredictable? Not at all; in fact, if queering is to be constantly posited (as it often is) as the polar opposite of the norm, it's not really as creative and outlandish as it's supposed to be.
In a world where we take so much time and give so much effort to understanding ourselves in relation to others (perfectly epitomized by the negative connotation too often given to words such as "inconsiderate" or "selfish"), I propose that the queer thing to do (or the proper way to perform queering) isn't something that can be prescribed, and the only prerequisites are that whatever it is must be raw, inconsiderate, and selfish, with no consideration given to anyone else but the performer. Queering is along the lines of giving the complete amount of deserved credence to individual desires in a way that both understands and acknowledges others and/or society without letting anything other than pure, raw, personal desire influence actions and decisions.
In terms of tracking my term and using this blog, I have to wonder if I would've been as successful at tracking my term if I didn't have the opportunity to see what everyone else was thinking and how they were engaging with their own terms. While I could objectively define what the term "bodies and material experiences" meant, I had a very hard time connecting it to our materials and the idea of queer/queering itself. Being able to see how others (including the instructor) were using course materials to understand their own terms made things easier for me, and the blog became an increasingly regular resource for me.
Additionally, having the blog here allowed me to learn an immeasurable amount more about class subjects (queering, overall) than I would've in a more traditional class because it allowed for both constant and casual contact with both my peers and course content in a manner that wasn't at all forceful or overbearing. I learned that queer theory can take an infinite amount of directions--it just depends on the players involved, which is a very exciting prospect. And while writing on the blog seemed a little intimidating at times, I soon realized that having the blog as a tool and resource created a sort of safer space for learning--because we weren't so pressured with academic tones or styles and were allowed to discuss whatever we wanted in whatever style we wanted (basically), we took those freedoms and ran with them, and I think it soon became apparent that the blog would end up being what we made it, and that created a welcome sense of responsibility, I feel. All of this created a definitely queer space for us to learn in a way that I hadn't encountered before.
As for future students, my biggest recommendation with using a course blog would be to not be so intimidated by it--it is a space that you make your own, and if you don't participate in that creation it'll be even harder to use as time goes on. If you get rid of that fear of doing something wrong and just go for it, you'll probably learn more about both the course and the blogging experience itself than you would to just sit and watch others post.
Recently in Bodies and Material Experience Category
The term "Bodies and Material Experiences" can be described as the intersection of bodies, including everything from physical body structures to psychological experiences contained within our bodies, with external, societal structures, policies, ways of living, norms, and more that produces an individualized material experience (of or relating to the outside world, respective to our individual bodies) for each of us. In order to understand this term and how it applies to each of us, one must ask questions such as
For this annotated bibliography I wanted to focus on the interaction of both queer bodies and their material experiences with mainstream culture (specifically the mass media) and the reactions that arise from the masses when that sort of interaction is forced and not feigned.
Adam Lambert - "For Your Entertainment" (live), The American Music Awards, CBS, November 22, 2009
Adam Lambert, runner-up on the most recent full season of American Idol, performs the title track (and first single) from his most recent album, "For Your Entertainment," on the American Music Awards, aired on ABC. During his performance (filled with leather and BDSM sex references), Adam strays from rehearsal scripts and (1) thrusts the head of one of his male dancers into his groin, simulating oral sex, (2) violently grabs and kisses one of his male band members, and (3) gives the audience the middle finger. All three of these acts (most outwardly, the kiss) were met with such scrutiny and high-level animosity that ABC cancelled his subsequently scheduled performance on Good Morning America, and, though he has yet to even hint at an apology, thousands of people have demanded he apologize and be reprimanded.
Before any additional analysis, let's understand one thing--when Adam first entered the mass media on the show American Idol, though he was outwardly flamboyant and theatrical, he never "came out" as homosexual; he only did so after the show ended.
Based on (admittedly) my personal opinion, this could very well go down as one of the most significant clashes of a queer body and (what the mainstream conservative culture views as) queer culture with the mainstream culture/media, for many reasons. One of the biggest reasons for this is because he refuses to be apologetic and has presented his critics with completely factual, logical arguments that they have yet to refute as to how he is being subjected to a double-standard for same-sex contact for no withstanding reason other than to placate the masses. Though he hasn't named names, one of the biggest references he seems to be making is in regards to the criticism he's receiving for the kiss--in 2003, Madonna, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera participated in a three-way, same sex kiss of the same nature when performing together at the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs), and they were met with little to no criticism and even praise for how "hot" their performance was (which would be the ultimate compliment).
This first reason works concurrently with the magnitude of his talent--he has proven multiple times that he is extremely talented, he has a huge fan base already, and it's very clear that he's not going away in the least anytime soon. His album is receiving reviews that suggest the same, as well.
A second reason I'd like to propose the significance of this event is that now there can be no more mistakes made about Adam Lambert's sexual preference, but yet the American public, in fact a show dubbed American Idol is (not to deny where his talent might have taken him) the biggest reason as to why he's become so popular at all. A public that hates and oppresses queer bodies pushed this queer body into stardom because they liked him--they made a mistake! He didn't have to work his way up the hard way, he received the same hetero-privileged treatment that anyone else of his American-Idol-kind received. He was treated as a member of the "in" group. I fail to recall any instances of a similar fashion or magnitude involving queer bodies that have stood the test of time.
So where do things go from here? How will the mass media and the American public proceed, now that it's been made clear that they let someone slip through the cracks, and contrary to what they'd like to profess, this person is of a great deal of value to the American public? As a relatively experienced individual in the world of music (especially considering performance and genre-/production-related quality), I would place a bet of a large sum of money on Adam Lambert only getting bigger and bigger--as stated, he's simply not going to go away, as the mass-conservative-media would normally have it (see: Clay Aiken). Will the media and public risk their credibility to directly oppose his progression? Will they kiss up (an effort that would surely be seen through) and support him while gritting their teeth all the while? Or will this event and the extreme, ignorant, and inflammatory subsequent reactions serve as a catalyst for true understanding and acceptance of queer bodies into the mainstream media and material culture? What ripple effects will this have? It will be interesting to see it unfold.
Now, let me transfer from a factual discussion of the intersection of queer bodies with the mainstream media to a fictional discussion.
Nip/Tuck, Alexis Stone (I & II), Ryan Murphy, FX Network, November 18 and 25, 2009
In these two episodes of the TV show Nip/Tuck, we see plastic surgeon Dr. Christian Troy (Julian McMahon), an epitome of what masculinity could hope to be (albeit only on the outside) interacting with a continuously post-operative male-to-female-to-male-to-female transsexual woman both sexually and professionally. Troy encounters Alexis first at a bar where she bar-tends; as he typically does with a woman he finds attractive, he gets her to sleep with him. Straying from his usual formula, not only does she take him back to her place, she asks him to penetrate her anally during intercourse (and then kicks him out). Christian, obviously dumbfounded by her lack of inhibition about that type of intercourse, happily obliges and follows the encounter with his typical bragging and boasting at the office.
Back at the office in the next scene, Alexis enters and informs Christian that she was born into a male body, had sex reassignment surgery to be female, and now wants him to perform another sex reassignment surgery to make her male again. Obviously still processing the situation and his connection to her, we see Christian offering his moral, sympathetic side to Alexis/Alex in private, and after processing and an initial refusal, he offers to perform the surgery (once he has done his hippocratic duty of assuring he (Alex) is aware of the risks).
In the second episode titled "Alexis Stone," Alexis returns and explains that she wishes to have her breasts back; since her most recent surgery with Dr. Troy and her subsequent sexual encounters she has realized that she's been a woman all along and is most attracted to straight men "on the down-low" about their same-sex desires, and so in order to live in a body that allows her to experience the maximum potential of her desires she must have both a penis and breasts. Once again, struggling with something he doesn't understand, Christian shows what regular viewers know to be his true heart, and performs the surgery.
However, a key theme I have purposely delayed mentioning is the stark difference in Christian's way of understanding and dealing with the situation between the private and public arenas--as mentioned, in private he is honest about his struggle to understand, but empathetic, sympathetic and true to his moral ideals in the end. Quite differently, in public he either completely disavows Alexis's existence as a transsexual (so he won't be seen as gay for sleeping with her) or casually tosses around typical transphobic rhetoric to uphold his masculinity. This is a recurring theme within the show, as well--the viewer is led to know that Christian, admittedly selfish and a sex-fiend, is a good-hearted individual who is the only consistently reliable source for doing what's right when times get tough, but when it comes to upholding his masculinity in public, in the face of those who threaten to take it away, it's no holds barred and he will do anything (except for blatantly hurt someone physically, I suspect) to keep his identity as the model man.
How does this reflect how queer bodies are handled in their interactions with "mainstream" individuals in real life? Christian's struggle to do what he knows is right and save his own identity is a struggle that I feel is all too common and commonly ignored. As a society, we operate in black-and-white mode; that person's either gay or straight, and they either hate me or like me because I'm queer. Additionally, once we view someone as one or the other--they are stuck in that mode and we may write them off as not worth our interest even though we've only done a surface examination of who they really are. This seems to be the main point of contention between the queer and mainstream communities and the biggest reason why both heterosexual/heternormative bodies are labeled as "the enemy" and queer bodies are denied legitimacy and an equitable material experience, and yet it is a point of commonality, perpetuated as a point of cleavage, that could be both easily understood and easily dissolved. If we could all understand that there is the same struggle Christian experiences going on in our own minds, maybe we would do a better job of legitimizing experiences like Alexis's (and Christian's, for that matter).
Beard, Drew. "Going Both Ways: Being Queer and Academic in Film and Media Studies." In GLQ: A Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies.(2009): 15(4) 624-625.
Drew Beard discusses his trial-and-error relationship with choosing to study mainstream media both through a queer lens and from a queer body and how that relationship collides with the heteronormative/academic judging of legitimacy by alluding to The Wizard of Oz, Days of Our Lives, and more.
This article really draws together the discussion I'm having here about mainstream media and previous discussions I've prompted regarding legitimacy for bodies and how it's allocated. Beard points out that there are more potential pitfalls for a queer individual who chooses to study mainstream media with a queer lens (without giving into heternormative culture, necessarily) in the realm of academia (highly regarded as a more than qualified allocator of legitimacy), and how this relates to the supposed real world.
In relation to the previous sources, we can draw this together by asking whether or not those sources, the individuals involved (fictional or not), and more would ever be granted legitimacy, and for what reasons (regardless of the verdict). Will Adam Lambert's forceful integration of his queer body with the mainstream media stand for long, let alone as legitimate? Or will he be written off as fantastical or something that doesn't happen in the real world, eventually? Will characters like Alexis Stone ever be integrated either in roles that are taken as legitimate, or into shows that are either watched by larger populations (and therefore are more legitimate) or by audiences that will be more prone to taking her as a legitimate character that undoubtedly exists in reality? How do people ranging from academics to those with roles in the media determine how (1) queer bodies are integrated into the media and (2) their legitimacy and subsequent reception? How will this change over time as individuals like Adam Lambert force their presence on "us" unapologetically?
"Kate Moennig My Address-A Look at Gay Youth Homelessness Ep 2." Kate Moennig. source: YouTube
Katherine Moennig (of "The L Word" fame) takes an invitation to learn more about the plight of homeless and highly mobile queer youth through a series called "My Address: A Look at Gay Youth Homelessness." In the second episode, she opens with a discussion about the statistics put forth that note that (1) 40% of the 1.6 million homeless youth in America self-identify as gay/GLBT and (2) 25% of GL youth are kicked out of their homes after coming out to their parents/guardians, asking those youth (albeit a select, small group in New York) why they think that is. They pose explanations such as it being a product of unsuspecting parents' reactions, due to a lack of acceptance, or a problem-solving technique employed under the guise that removing the person removes the problem. They then move onto discuss the ramifications of those dynamics and the "current state of affairs" in GLBT youth homelessness. The youth discuss how being moved through "the system" and being homeless (or at risk of being homeless) leads them to feeling a complete lack of trust for others, a lack of resources often seen as a given to others, fear, anger, a lack of support, a lack of safety, and a lack of social mobility despite personal dreams and desires due to a lack of instability in their living/etc. situation.
This video really speaks to bodies and material experiences because it epitomizes how bodies that lie or move beyond the limits of intelligibility (set by those in a legitimated position of power) lose their ability to be recognized as human and subsequently have (often taken for granted by most) resources taken away from them that are often vital to life, let alone the quality of life many of us assume is a right that cannot be taken away.
Cisgender Privilege Checklist (Older Version), author/date unknown
This short article has circulated on the internet and made it into print for many purposes over time, so while it is not at all new or unknown, it offers a blatant view of how "unintelligible" bodies experience their interactions with the world (on both a material and psychological level, the latter arguably capable of being transformed into material nonetheless). It explores the inadequacies of how American society deals with interactions with transgender individuals and how our system of what "counts" is ignorantly, arguably offensively, unprepared to deal with those who do not conform. Ranging from strictly material-in-nature experiences/statements (i.e. "When I go to the gym or a public pool, I can use the showers") to those that constitute inner consciousness (and ultimately affect interactions with the outside world for that person; i.e. "People do not use me as a scapegoat for their own unresolved gender issues"), it gives a short yet comprehensive view of what it's like to live both inside and outside of the bounds, and what happens to your experience based upon that social location.
Spade, Dean. "Compliance is Gendered: Struggling for Gender Self-Determination in a Hostile Economy." In Transgender Rights. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (2006): 217-241.
In this article, Dean Spade discusses "how public relief systems have also operated through moralistic understandings of sexuality and family structure to force recipients into compliance with sexist and heterosexist notions" of existing in today's society. He explores the highly rigid punitive/surveillance system used to monitor those receiving public assistance that assures their compliance with a heternormative binary, often in situations where reliance on such a system is bred out of relationships where such heteronormativity produced hostile environments (i.e. women fleeing abusive men and ending up on welfare). However, to keep from digressing, his real issue here is how these gender-binary systems eliminate access from being offered to gender minority or "gender transgressive" individuals. Homeless and highly mobile shelters are often sex segregated, discrimination based on gender identity is alive and well (especially through state/federal offices that rely so much on census data/sex-based gender descriptions), there is a significant lack of legal defense for these oppressed individuals, and so on. And, even still, if a "gender transgressive" individual were to somehow make it into any of these systems, based on the aforementioned notions, that individual would likely face humiliation, harassment, and additional unnecessary trauma. Finally, especially relevant to the discussion of bodies and material experiences, he hopes to illuminate the inequality both perpetuated by systems meant to exploit poor individuals and found in arenas where membership to a sex/gender category is based on the (respectively unlikely) access to expensive medical technologies.
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?
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.
"Kate Moennig My Address-A Look at Gay Youth Homelessness Ep1." Kate Moennig. source: YouTube
Katherine Moennig (of "The L Word" fame) takes an invitation to learn more about the plight of homeless and highly mobile queer youth through a series called "My Address: A Look at Gay Youth Homelessness." In this first episode, we get an introduction to her project through her own preface at the beginning, and an essential primer to all of the subjects she plans to cover in the series, as well as the avenues she plans to use to explore her project. Starting at the Hetrick-Martin Institute in New York, we see staff guiding us through the institute, where the "triage" process starts in assessing what services (i.e. medical, mental health, financial, legal, food, etc.) the youth are in need of, then leading us into what seems to be a stock room, describing that even the most essential items in life (brushes, underwear, etc.) that you and I would take for granted are things that the youth we're speaking of simply don't have.
This then transitions nicely into discussions by the Executive and Assistant directors of the institute as to why these youth are so at risk for homelessness--ranging from letting them slip through the cracks because we assume the ever-elusive "someone else," or society, will take care of them, to the blatant denial of resources because of their minority status(es).
Finally, we are presented with complimentary (but necessary) thoughts given by youth staying in the institute on their experiences in the situation they are in. We see an acute understanding of the differentiation between putting oneself at risk and being put at risk by the "powers that be," as well as the overly significant risk of violence, disease, oppression, and homelessness simply because "[people] don't like who you are."
Some further research that may be elicited by this video would be (of course) to watch more of the series, as well as seeking out information as to what concrete forms of oppression there are in society for both queer AND youthful individuals, if it's available. If not, it would become a matter of sifting through legislation or similar sources to see what sort of institutions are not singular or clear in their oppression, but clandestine and reinforced by multiple "backbones."
Cincotta, Katie. "Queer Eye for the Pink Buy." B&T Weekly 16 Nov. 2007: 16-20.
This article starts by discussing the somewhat random outrage/mass misunderstanding communicated by audiences of the Harry Potter series when JK Rowling "outed" her character Dumbledore, and uses that as a segue into how marketing stereotyped gay characters, at the end of the day, just doesn't work as well as one might think it would because as gay and lesbian acceptance into general society has been rising, the presence of those bodies on corporate "gaydars" has also been rising.
Additionally, it discusses the more salient presence queer bodies on the internet, in comparison to print. While print and other "hard-copy" sources are more sluggish on the trail to inclusion of queer bodies in their output, online sources have "always" been more frequented by queer bodies than the aforementioned sources, and so they are quicker to jump on opportunities to cater to those queer customers. Ultimately, if you're queer, you'll find much more material experiences that you can relate to online at this point in time.
Finally, the article discusses the increasing importance of material looks to queer bodies (more in relation to lesbian-identified individuals). The image of stereotypically drab dykes rejecting makeup and "looking nice" is becoming more and more dim on its way to disappearing, and whether you're a femme lesbian or a butch dyke, these days, you're more likely to wanting, seeking, and acquiring the perfect material items (clothing, hairstyles, etc.) to communicate your queer style.
A main point for further research based on this article would be finding research that discerns between materialized ideals in queer culture based purely on the desire to be materialistic, or the desire to conform to a heteronormative ideal of being materially-concerned.
Kimmel, Michael. "Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity." The Social Construction of Difference and Inequality Ed. Tracy E. Ore. Boston: McGraw-Hill (2009): 132-149.
This article is rare in that it discusses the social, psychological, and other experiences of male-gendered individuals in a capitalist society where men are socially at the top of the power hierarchy through many lenses without projecting itself as an anti-feminist/-queer/-anything viewpoint. It simply aims to state "This is how it actually is for males; take it or leave it."
The article uses discussions of masculinity, feminism, power, capitalism, sexuality, gender, as expansion points to discuss how what the majority of "others" (i.e. non-males) assert about the experience of a male-gendered individual isn't necessarily congruent with the psychological (or individual) experience of those individuals, and, subsequently, how the power dynamics, especially in a material economy, affect those who are universally believed to be in power ("the feelings of men who were raised to believe themselves entitled to feel that power, but do not feel it.").
By using these discussions (and the questions raised by them), there is a valid and comprehensive discussion of how those power dynamics and individual, internal experiences translate easily into homophobia and other forms of oppression. All of this is then easily translated into the experiences of those "bodies" as lived in a material culture such as ours.
A huge discussion point raised by this article for further research is one that asks whether men are actually silent about their actual individual experience because they are afraid of being de-masculinized or because they simply enjoy the fruits of the labor. Is there statistical evidence for either side?
In Judith Butler's discussion of ambivalent drag in Bodies that Matter, a key concept she attempts to outline is the need for differentiation between drag that actually, genuinely subverts gender normativity (and all that goes along with it--which is a loaded task) and drag that, in an attempt to subvert gender norms, actually reinforces and recreates them. As she states, "I want to underscore that there is no necessary relation between drag and subversion, and that drag may well be used in the service of both the denaturalization and reidealization of hyperbolic heterosexual gender norms" (Butler 125).
I definitely appreciate this section of Bodies that Matter because Butler articulates much of what I have felt and tried to articulate over time about the practice of drag (but, in my own eyes, failed, due to one thing or another). She successfully manages to recognize the legitimacy of the practice of drag both in relation to its audience and those who perform it while actively discussing its pros and cons. This is often a line that is impossible to walk, whether it is due to an audience that's unfamiliar with the gender ambiguity often aiding in the production of drag and subsequently not accepting of the "alternative-ness" of the practice, or an audience that has such deep emotional, social, psychological, and identity-related roots in drag that they explode at the though of deconstructing it as a practice.
The primary axis of my argument (and both the point at which I whole-heartedly agree with Butler and officially begin to depart from her recognizing of its legitimacy) can be found in Butler's stating, "drag is subversive to the extent that it reflects on the imitative structure by which hegemonic gender is itself produced and disputes heterosexuality's claim on naturalness and originality" (Butler 125) and "the drag we see... is one which both appropriates and subverts racist, misogynist, and homophobic norms of oppression" (Butler 128).
Drag is absolutely a practice that further appropriates gender norms and gender-minority-based oppression, but it is not a practice that successfully subverts them. It has a large capacity to do so, and often engages in the practice of subversion exactly in the way in which successful subversion would need to happen, but does not reach the trigger point. Subsequently, if anyone notices the effort, it gets tossed into the "appropriation" bin, rather than the subversion bin it was aching to be in all along.
This is most likely due to the disconnect in logic and understanding that takes place between individuals that are ready to look at, process and understand (not necessarily accept) gender subversion and the individuals in our society that are so unconsciously tied to the constant recognition of their own gender performance as a measure of their own social (and individual) worth that, almost like a defense mechanism, they either completely ignore misled efforts at drag (those that don't reach that "trigger point") or they write off the efforts as pathological, pathetic, and/or problematic. Unfortunately, the latter individuals are those that are in possession of the power necessary to successfully jump that hurdle separating "re-appropriation" and "subversion," and they aren't letting anyone jump just because they want to jump. I would say you'd have to be a part of their "club," but even then it's more likely that you would be kicked back to the "other" side if you displayed any sort of lack of congruence with their ideals, especially about a facet of life so integral to their integrity as dichotomized gender performances.
Butler, Judith. "Ambivalent Drag." In Bodies that Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993. 123-137.
One of the things that really changed my viewpoint on the film Paris is Burning was the realization, due to reading bell hooks's article "Is Paris Burning?" that the filmmaker was an odd presence in the process of making the film in comparison to the subjects being filmed. While I had seen the film before we watched it in class, I had never done much outside research on the who/what/when/where/how of the film itself.
I thought hooks was being a little ornery, at first, while I was reading her article. However, the moment that it was brought to my attention that this film was a white, middle (?) class lesbian filming (mostly) black/latino (presumably) gay men or transwomen (or other gender/sexuality minorities) I completely understood the anger I felt seething through hooks's article.
While it is certainly unfair to judge Livingston simply because she was different than the majority of the film (and if we were to legitimately judge her it would be a huge amount of hypocrisy) and assert that she is a privileged white girl using the black gay guys as props for her own academic (other) progression, I don't think it's at all unfair to assert that it was irresponsible of Livingston to make this film from such a position and not at least publicly recognize the discontinuity that arises between her social location and those of the individuals she's filming. Whenever there are such stark differences between groups and we are being subjected to the view of a singular filmmaker, we need to understand the dynamics of the relationships created by the film in order to be responsible viewers, and take away a responsible message from the film.
While I don't want to comment on the race position simply because I am in a position of racial privilege, I can sympathize with the notion put forward by hooks that, no, I don't want someone of a different gender or sexuality commenting on my own gender or sexuality without recognizing how we relate to each other as individuals using those lenses. As a transguy, I experience this frustration a lot--the assumption that I must be able to relate to all gender/sexuality minorities simply because I am one. No, not necessarily (and, in fact, a large minority of the time), and I don't want to have those discussions without a valid recognition of the vast differences between [you] and me.