By moviesofmyself on December 15, 2009 12:34 PM
1. Gender. As cliché as it may sound, gender means so many things to me (I might get a little misty-eyed talking about this). I feel like I have a much clearer understanding of how I'll never be able to hold a comprehensive understanding of gender (and how to problematize myself if I ever think I do). However, I do know a few things about what gender does (or who does gender and who gender does) as well as how gender works. The latter connects me to all three sources I'm bearing in mind [Valentine's genitals (and through Valentine, Riki Anne Wilchins), Butler's performativity and/or citationality, and Puar's assemblage] and helps to clarify the implications of everyone in the former. Gender is a system of meanings read onto many combinations of bodies and symbols. Gender has in many contexts been tied to genitals, those relatively small and unheard of parts of bodies that bear the physical mark of conflated sex/gender/(heterosexual)desire. The citational functions of gender in fact always refer back to the mythical "right genitals" engaging in the "right behaviors/desires." In the ways that gender is continuously being constructed in relation to fading copies of copies (of the Law of the Father or any other), what emerges as the most intriguing place for further investigation is the gendering and queering that inherent in assemblage. And I think there's a very strong correlation here if we dig into how gender, like a film, like fucking, like assemblage (and the becoming/death moment of the terrorist), is an event that folds in the distinction between subject and reader (or my body and other body). Everyone does gender. Everyone is done and undone by gender. And these are not individual, but interconnected and always disciplined acts.
2. Queering, to me, does welcome all the definitions which you folks have generated both in class and in response to Sara's Queering Query. Queering is (or Queer Acts are) radically embodied in the activism and subversion of many queer-identified individuals and groups we've discussed as a class. These are "conscious" acts, for lack of better terms. I find myself pressed, though, by the arguments laid out by Jasbir Puar in particular and how they lead me to pull apart queer identity and queering, to look for the queer already in the terrorist, as she says. The best way I can talk about queering mostly aside from discussions of gender and sexuality (though not completely aside) is to look at queer as inextricably tied to processes of naming. That Butler shows us how so many performative speech acts create sexed and gendered subjects is relevant, but it is also true that in many more ways than these we are all struggling with naming (being read in order to be named) and reconciling being named with claiming a name for one's self. In the same ways that, as we've discussed, we all tend to fail gender and gender tends to fails us all, we're also failing to match the copied copies of so many ideals of whiteness, nationalism, success, and progress--sometimes we're hiding these failures in whatever "closet," or under the bed, or so many other metaphors for the places where queer shame goes--and it's in looking for that queer, talking about those fissures, and building coalitions based on shared needs, that there's a whole lot of queering always happening.
3. As I've said in many ways, gender and I have a long history together. We've been fighting and celebrating in many different ways and spaces, on and off, pretty hardcore and turbulent, for almost five years now. Throughout this semester I've learned to better articulate the ways I talk about gender. Notes of clarification and deeper readings have been a big help to the blended mess of gender which I think and embody. This may seem slightly off-topic, but I've also learned a bit more about what I'm going to continue calling my style: queering the businessman aesthetic (with props to RT Rodriguez and his project of Queering the Homeboy Aesthetic). Now, while I can at least be sure that gender and queer are not mutually exclusive areas of inquiry, I also need to explore how queer functions "aside from" gender and sexuality. I need to look at the queering of all sorts of troubling and subversion, and all sorts of passings and failures.
Blogging has been helpful as a means to get thoughts out in shorter form and to simultaneously feel less restricted by the formalities of essays and response papers. However, I would hesitate to say that it is helpful in creating a lighter workload because blogging actually requires quite a bit of contemplation. Since starting our blog, I've discovered many other academics using a blog as part of the process of writing a dissertation, and I think I'm inspired by using such small writings as building blocks to such a lengthy project--I'll definitely consider a dissertation (or maybe even senior project) blog for myself. I would tell future students to give the blog a little attention each day whenever possible as I found the weeks when I was well-versed in both our readings and the blog to provide the most stimulating class time for me. Aside from other vlog recommendations and the suggestion of blog time-consumption above, I'd also say that building connections through comment conversation threads is a great way to stick with the material outside of class and is actually sort of fun.
I believe that our blog/blogging is pretty queer, in at least in one aspect: We really got our shit out there! Seriously though, I think our blog did provide a space for queering--"uncensored" and through whatever means of expression we were feeling (that's subverting the Ivory Tower to me). The ways that it encouraged our engagement on our own queer time (12:00 am - 7:00 am), in our own queer ways (poetry, post-its, paintings, etc.), definitely allowed queer practices to come through and develop (Queer This! is but one example I'll carry with me and probably say out loud at least once in a while).
By moviesofmyself on December 10, 2009 7:12 PM
Let's be honest: beards have a lot of different gendered meanings. Does not the beard, as part of the body, play a part in the construction of masculine identity? Mustn't masculinity always maintain some relation to the beard, at all times not growing it, shaving it off, keeping it trim, or "letting it go"? There not only many different beard meaning, but many different beard styles with varied denotations and connotations. It was only recently I found out that, apparently, some folks consider at least some kinds of beards to be really queer. So I want to examine queering beardedness a bit more in this entry. First, in response to an ad my friend, Ethan, once placed on craigslist looking for donated instruments for a queer youth music program, he received this response [note: the sender's message has been faithfully preserved, unedited for spelling, etc.]:
Let me teel you why you and your cronies are depressed.
YOU LIVE A GODLESS SELFISH SEXUALLY INDULGED LIFE!!
YOU THINK THAT HOLE WAS MADE TO ABUSED?
BEARD ON BEARD
SACK ON SACK
FECIES ON FECIES
THIS IS EXACTLY WHY WHOLE CIVILIZATIONS COLLAPSE AND ARE GONE WITHOUT A TRACE... YOU THINK ROME WAS SMALLER OR LARGER THAN THE U.S.A.?
LARGER AND YOU WOULD NEVER KNOW.... COMPLETLY ANNIAHALATED!!!
SODOM AND GAMORAH?
YOU NEED TO QUIT ADVERTISING FOR DISGUSTING IMMORALITY AND REPENT AND GO REACH THESE LOST YOUTH!!
MAY CHRIST POUR HIS LOVE AND FORGIVENESS ON YOU AND SOFTEN YOUR HEART"
Beard on beard, sack on sack, fecies on fecies. Now, why is "beard on beard" the first image of queer conjured up here [see also Beard on Beard Star Trek clip on youtube]? What happened to the beard as symbol of rugged manliness? What of all the macho role models of bearded perfection? We could speculate all we want about queer meanings of hairyness in bear and trans-masculine communities but...
Right now, I find myself just really wanting to grow something a little fuzzier, to let the whiskers grow and spread beyond my chin. Is this a winter thing? I'm also growing (ha) really fond of checking out other beards, occasionally rubbing them against my own chin scruff or just admiring them in passing. I'm trying to examine what pressures are a part of these desires. Why do I think more hair would "look good" on my face? What other connotations do I have with beautiful beards?
There are of course these kinds of events/experiences. In this clip, public space is disrupted and giggles abound as "Bearded Ladies" converge. Here's another interesting movement where "bearded lady" (and this is what I think is happening) becomes trans becomes hazily queer-- in the only comment on this video, looneypride writes:
"haha that is funny! i am determined to wear a beard this halloween! haha maybe i will go as a man trying to be a female impersonator or a transvestite who hates shaving! or bearded lady! from the circus!"
The joke's on gender here, especially in the author's emphasis on failing-- trying to be, in the sense that one is not allowed to become. Is a beard/facial hair on a visibly female/feminine body the ultimate in poking fun at masculinity? Or simply a supposedly less threatening yet equally confusing event as the "man in a dress" figure in the eyes of society?
Then I discovered the following "Give it a ponder" ad campaign for LG's full-keyboard cell phones. Of this series of four, the following two shake me up the most when it comes to thinking about the functions of the beard.
Most obviously, James Lipton's beard works in these commercials as the power of thought-- when his beard is donned and stroked, one is thrust into rational masculine contemplation and eventually compelled to make the sensible decision (like a "real man"?). I still don't know how to talk about what's going on in the second video, other than to say that I cannot help but laugh at all the unicorns and try to picture them with the testosterone-driven power of beard growth as well. Is there something subversive about these ads suggesting that female/feminine bodies can wield these beard skills as well? Or, is this limited by Lipton's passing on of the beard? Who gets to grow beards and have them valued as aesthetically pleasing, and for whom is beard growth only a big joke? Is the beard in the second ad somewhat more hilarious in its juxtaposition with pink and unicorns, or is there "equal" amusement in the bearding of the seemingly geeky locker room boy who decides not to sext his junk?
Here's what I know: examining these strange images of beardedness doesn't really make me question wanting to try such a configuration out on this body. What does that have to do with gender? The marker of facial hair would, for me, carry with it a recognizability of maleness of a certain age, among other identities. But I'm not sure that this is something I want, even as tied as it seems to the symbol I seek to appropriate. I don't really buy into craiglist poster's ideas of uber queer beardedness (nor am I ready to be a bear just yet). I just want to see more of things this body can do-- and now it grows some hair on the face. So, I can show myself that many images are fueling my thoughts on beards and still say that I'm okay with desiring one, right?
By moviesofmyself on December 10, 2009 12:11 AM
I'd like to invite you all to read an amazing piece written by my friend, Leah Matz...
it appears as though there are very few similarities between us.
as I walk up to the sink, you're bent over in sweatpants with the waist rolled down,
powdering pink on to your pretty white cheeks,
slicking eye liner on to your eyes that have only been opened to your immediate realities.
mostly where you are right now,
looking in the mirror,
back at yourself,
but not knowing why.
it appears as though there isn't much we have to talk about,
so I spout off some small talk and feel like a small persyn
as I lose a perfect opportunity to communicate my ideas to a new audience.
it appears as though there are very few similarities between us.
but here we are, in the same room,
through the same door,
with the same sign,
naturally, I reflect.
back to before I walked through the doors,
and I sat at a crossroads,
forced to make a decision between two,
with very little criteria
and very many assumptions,
making up the demographics of each.
this becomes particularly clear as I see a supposed sir walk into the room next door,
adorned in nearly the same exact threads caught on my back,
the same hairs hanging off my head,
and same accessories telling these people
in this building
what you see me as.
with nearly identical visuals,
we walk through differently identified doors
to see people who look nothing like me,
and look a lot like each other,
because we're just one big room
of differently looking people
but we're really
all the same.
so if we're really all the same,
why do we have these different doors,
when we maybe would find someone who looks a lot like us,
in that one over there.
why the need?
why do we section ourselves off
anyway we can find?
why do we spend the time implementing these
and checking 'em up,
to notice that we don't know what it means?
we could go a step further,
and notice that I only speak in my own places,
just happening to identify with the word on that door,
for whatever reason it may be.
but what about those who stand before you
at that sink
that think about that word every time they walk in there?
what about those people who think about the word
even though they identify with it?
those that don't really get whether to go into this one or the other one
but doesn't dare speak a word?
I'm just looking from a place it doesn't bother me,
cause those are the only places
where we can find the words to speak.
it's separation anxiety,
it's a chance for entitlement,
it's a scheme by the man,
it's only natural,
it ain't no thang.
there are many places that are rooted at the core of my thoughts,
as I look over at you,
look at you powdering and slicking
and I think
it appears as though there are very few similarities between us.
but here we are, in the same room,
through the same door,
with the same sign.
So, since we've been looking through Puar's queer assemblages and tearing apart queer time, how can we "find the queer" in these bathroom experiences? Leah's already queering the fuck out of the situation for sure, doing the wonderful flip from the ways in which the bodies in two bathrooms are different to the ways in which two bodies in one bathroom are perhaps even more different. Sweet, sweet queering. This brings up some messy thoughts for me just knowing that our gender neutral, multi-stall restroom in Ford was designated after a battle in which plenty of people said they didn't want to piss and shit with "different bodies" in the room. Some of these people are pretty big deals, as I understand it. Maybe I just can't get off this shit, but I see us (or at least M. and I in a delightful and shit-filled partnership) further developing some great arguments for why such reactions, while "understandable" on an individual level, really have a whole lot more to do with the subject resisting this "different bodies, one room" formation due to their own socially constructed and sustained self-restrictions than any possible deviant/dirty behavior of said "different bodies."
Chewy bagels. Just don't eat them IN the bathroom-- that's actually kind of unsanitary, especially if you're shitting.
So, the unveiling of this video really failed me when I lost most of my computer's data to a virus. Luckily, I wrote down this prose/poetry piece I shot in response to Prosser. Here's the text instead.
This has never been a transsexual body.
This has never been a homosexual body.
This has never been a straight body.
This body is not a beginning or an end.
But this body has always been stuck, in a way, between words like those.
And it is still hard be sure whether to read this body through Donna Haraway's Cyborg, Janice Raymond's Transsexual Menace, Kate Bornstein's Gender Outlaw, or one of Jay Prosser's transsexuals.
But even though this body has used testosterone and had surgery and though it seems more beautiful than I ever would have imagined growing up as a girl it still doesn't FEEL like a transsexual body, though it changed and it IS changing it doesn't feel like it has crossed sex but rather like it has transgressed the possibilities traditionally handed to it, and those inheritances of femininity haven't been crossed or lost but rather blended into some sort of whole desiring-machine that still isn't accounted for in Prosser's transsexual narrative, where jokingly or not the feeling of having a wrong body must be overcome.
But even though it has changed in expensive ways this still doesn't feel like it ever was the wrong body. This body can't just BE so how could it BE wrong or BE right it's still always becoming, constantly in transition because it has eyes and these eyes have seen and appropriated and seen and appropriated and seen and appropriated so many symbols that were and are always sort of right for their space and time and how this body felt and feels. It isn't Prosser's telos which exceeds performativity's grasp--more than Butler's queer transgender bodies it is the straight bodies and the normalizing transsexual bodies of Prosser which become, for me, the most useful examples of gender performativity. I know that I'm constructing this gender that is on display for you and I don't believe in any essence demanding that I do so--I believe in the limited choices available to me and the support structures behind me. Straight bodies and normalizing transsexual bodies should have to explain themselves and make me believe why they DON'T identify as trans or queer. Tell me why they don't feel this intense mix of melancholy and celebration when they look at the body in the mirror.
As I wait for videos to export to files and files to upload to Youtube, I have to say that making this video annotated bibliography has been mighty difficult (video direct engagement: a little less time and energy consuming). And I fear that it may also be difficult to watch, because it is at least 30 minutes long and in four parts. Yikes. I'll let the entry go public once the videos are live on Youtube.
If anyone watches any part of them, it will be totally worth it.
emphasis on privacy
Mattilda really gets me going, and since I've got the intersection of queer/trans studies and disability studies on my mind I'm thinking of the ways in which the rift between these two activist camps hinges upon claims to normalcy and assimilation. When queer/trans and (dis)abled are set up as mutually exclusive categories, what happens?
Well, queer/trans people can't live with (dis)abilities and people with different ability sets can't be queer. That's too complex. That ruins any claims to assimilation within dominant norms. If you transgress these norms in more than one way, you're pretty fucked. And on the other hand, if you transgress these norms in more than one way you find yourself in a position to criticize the exclusionary moves of "both sides."
What emerges from all of this, for me, is something that we're always meaning to get to in class: what does all of this assimilationist rhetoric mean for BDSM and kink. It would seem that once again we're dealing with shame, and what to do with it when we work to normalize experiences by disassociating shame with our bodies.
It works like this: queer folks and folks with different ability sets are just as able to contribute to society as everyone else, and to prove this possibility, let us just say that our sex is totally vanilla. We're not like weird kinky folks: those folks are straight and have no visible disabilities. Those are just the weirdos of society. We really just want to be like the rest of the heteronormative, ableist world of capitalism and greed and to hell with shame! Let those other non-normative folks feel it! Fuck kink! There's no legitimacy about those desires and expressions because they aren't enough like the norm-- but please still expand the norm to include me, thank you.
So why do we have to push the shame somewhere else in order to grapple with our own experience? Must empowering myself inevitably involve shaming someone(s) else?
I've been struggling with these questions since first looking at Warner's "The Trouble With Normal" as well as Mattilda's work and I've got to say, it's not getting much better. As much as I like to "stay positive" and look at pleasure and desire, I find myself time and again returning to shame and especially where it figures into assimilationist activism.
Why does my normalcy (and why do I want to be "normal" in the first place) have to rely on calling someone else out for being "more/most deviant"? What does this say about how we construct our world with oppositions, the middles of which shall never touch or meet?
Queer, (dis)ability, and kink are totally holding hands and making out-- so why is this a set-back for some and a celebration for others?
By moviesofmyself on October 22, 2009 8:57 AM
Bornstein, Kate. My Gender Workbook. New York: Routledge, 2001.
This interactive book is one source I brought along to class when presenting on gender on 10/15. In it, Kate provides space and plenty of exercises for you to sit down, alone or with company, and deconstruct your gender and gendered perceptions a bit. I've been through the book twice and each time found it a fun resource for self-discovery and pushing my own edges in safe and entertaining ways. Kate also shares her personal stories and archived chats to thread along the feeling of the person behind the text (so, for what it's worth, Kate's a lot easier to get to know than Butler).
"Gender?" A Short Film. Dir. Sam Berliner. Subjects Rhodes, a 45 year old transman just beginning transition, Vincent, a young trans guy searching for community on youtube, the trans/genderqueer Vagina Monologues The Naked I, and Jack, a trans boy exploring his gender through drag. youtube: 2009.
Diclaimer: I may be a bit biased, because I'm in this short video. This is the beginning of a full-length project by my friend, Sam Berliner, a San Francisco based documentary filmmaker and member of various queer/trans/genderqueer youtube communities. This video represents a compact attempt to do some unpacking of gender in more "on the ground" terms.
Two people in my life, who shall remain unnamed, really like "Old Greg" right now (they quote it all the time, and one of the kittens I live with is temporarily named after "Old Greg"). Apparently this clip has been a youtube phenomenon for at least a couple of years, and I somehow missed it until recently. I've watched it three times and I'm still not sure where I sit with this process of laughing while still feeling slightly annoyed. Should I be offended by "Old Greg?" I mean, I'm trans, and beyond that I'm concerned with positive images of trans people. Is "Old Greg" a positive image? A negative one? Better than that, does "Old Greg" have agency? Here's what I think: maybe "Old Greg" is a positive image of self-identification. I empower "Old Greg" to identify with his vagina and go by masculine pronouns.The cult following of the video LOVES "Old Greg," and in fact I've seen very few instances (in comments) of "making fun" and way more cases of folks saying "OLD GREG IS AWESOME I LOVE OLD GREG" or making tribute videos. That sounds like a celebration. How queer!
By moviesofmyself on October 13, 2009 1:27 PM
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.