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Historically, one of the first lines of attack for what we could term the liberal gay and lesbian movement in combating prejudice in the mainstream was targeting stereotypes in the media. And one of the most vigorously and consistently attacked stereotypes was the presentation of queer men as effeminate.
Those of us around at that time will remember the disgust directed at Jack from Will and Grace. Before him there was Jody of Soap, Harvey Fierstein and Scott Capurro’s characters in Mrs. Doubtfire, and Robin Williams and Nathan Lane’s characters in The Birdcage. Conversely, any gay character who isn’t femme is lauded for breaking stereotypes (as if masculinity weren’t itself a stereotype of men).
The reductio ad absurdum came when the boys of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy were accused of incarnating gay stereotypes. One of them in particular (I forget which one) reacted with irritation, because he wasn’t asked to portray any stereotype at all, but was simply being himself. Read the rest of this entry »
I already knew it was going to be amazing to be in San Francisco over the Solstice season, and the prospect of an unchained Pagan bonfire on Ocean Beach after two days of Radical Faerie space was already exciting enough. Let alone one, as a commenter pointed out, held while Mercury is in retrograde and there’s a lunar eclipse.
Even then, though, I certainly did not expect to abruptly decide to join the people who were taking all their clothes off and scampering into the Pacific Ocean. (The thought process basically went: “I live in freaking Montreal. How many chances am I going to run naked into the water on the Winter Solstice that don’t involve a hot tub?”)
Anyway, it’s a beautiful season of synchronicity in my life right now, and I’ve been taking advantage of it to think about the uses of gender and sacred androgyny in my Pagan practice, and a few issues arising from it. I won’t expand too much on that practice itself at present*. But here are a few recent things I had really interesting and valuable discussions of during those four days.
I’ve found that, as in all things, it’s super important to consider my cissexual privilege in doing sacred androgyny work. Two different trans friends made more or less the same observation within a few days, in slightly different contexts, that encouraging people to think outside the gender binary plays way differently if you’re speaking to cis or genderqueer people than if you’re speaking to trans people (particularly transsexual people who identify clearly as men or as women).
While in Ottawa on other business, I recently had the distinct pleasure of hanging out with my friend Ariel and the ladies of Femme Family Ottawa, a wonderful example of the communities that femmes build for ourselves. These femmes (all genders of femme are welcome, though all the other attendees at this particular meeting were women) meet every month for an informal chat at a cute café in Chinatown. I was a bit of a novelty, both as a boy and as a Montrealer, and I enjoyed the cross-pollination that went on.
One of the women brought up femme invisibility, a concept that comes up repeatedly in femme queer women’s thought. If I am characterizing it accurately, it is basically that femme queer women often feel that they are not being read as queer, owing to stereotypes of what queer women look like and do. They may feel not embraced, whether in queer women’s spaces or in the world in general, if they are read as ‘traditionally feminine’ and therefore as straight women. It’s a frustrating place to be, and not just because it makes it difficult to get laid.
A constant refrain over my journey to accepting, living, and celebrating my femmeness has been, “Why do you feel the need to” do whatever femme thing happens to be striking the person’s irritation at the time. The subtext is that it’s not possible I should just want to do these things, that they should just make me happy or agree with me. Since I’m a boy, I have to have some reason, I have to be able to account for them.
And the question itself is so odd, anyway; “need” suggests compulsion, that I must not have a choice in the matter, but the very question “why” suggests that I have some sort of ulterior motive, that I’m doing it just to be perverse and annoying.
This isn’t restricted to me, of course. There is a constant theme in our culture and kyriarchy that things considered to be feminine gender traits are regarded as fake, artificial, performed, or histrionic, and things coded as masculine are normal, natural, rational, artless, sincere, or direct. And those viewed as men are regarded as especially artificial when they behave femininely because they are disrupting gender assumptions.
While I stress over a prolonged bout of underemployment, here’s another quote for you.
54. […] The man who insists on high and serious pleasures is depriving himself of pleasure; he continually restricts what he can enjoy; in the constant exercise of his good taste he will eventually price himself out of the market, so to speak. Here Camp taste supervenes upon good taste as a daring and witty hedonism. It makes the man of good taste cheerful, where before he ran the risk of being chronically frustrated. It is good for the digestion.
55. Camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation – not judgment. Camp is generous. It wants to enjoy. It only seems like malice, cynicism. (Or, if it is cynicism, it’s not a ruthless but a sweet cynicism.) Camp taste doesn’t propose that it is in bad taste to be serious; it doesn’t sneer at someone who succeeds in being seriously dramatic. What it does is to find the success in certain passionate failures.
56. Camp taste is a kind of love, love for human nature. It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of “character.” . . . Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as “a camp,” they’re enjoying it. Camp is a tender feeling.
— Susan Sontag, “Notes on Camp“
(Slight divagation here: I’ve been thinking about this for the last little while. Maybe a way to express this is that camp is to irony or mockery as teasing is to taunting. Taunting is done out of a feeling of superiority or out of revulsion for the possibility that the taunter could be associated with the thing taunted. Teasing is done out of love, and so is camp. You don’t enjoy your derision of the campy thing; you enjoy the campy thing itself, in all its atrocious glory, in a very honest and direct way, even if that’s not what the creator intended (although it might be). Not to get too woolly here, but maybe it’s that instead of feeling superior to the creator of the campy thing, you identify with them, you have a delicious feeling of common humanity. ‘This is ridiculous, and I am just ridiculous enough myself to appreciate it, and that delights me.’)
“To me the important question—the important test for the political underpinnings of a policy or a theory—is, ‘Does it place a value on the lives of people of varying sexualities, on their experiences, on their survival, on their rights to dignity and expression and thought?’ I don’t think that there’s any way to guarantee that from either minoritizing or universalizing, or either essentialist or antiessentialist points of view. Any of those can offer fuel for homophobic and queer-eradicating forces and energies. Any of them can also be useful for projects that do value the survival of these people and acts and cultures and possibilities.
So I’m uncomfortable seeing the question of survival, support, and so forth being collapsed with any version of the essentialist-constructionist question. I see those as basically different questions. It’s time that people asked, for instance, politicians, ‘Do you value the survival and possibilities of these people and these potentials?’ Not ‘Do you believe X or Y about the hypothalamus and what would that lead to?’ That can lead to a lot of different things. The question of the value of people’s lives and contributions seems to me a different one, and a nonnegotiable one.”
— Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (in: Williams, Jeffrey. “Sedgwick Unplugged: An interview with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick.” Critics at work: interviews, 1993-2003. New York UP, 2004. p. 246.
This post will be kind of scattered and unpolished, because I’ve been neglecting my blog for like two weeks, disappointing my immense legions of followers who hang from every word that drops from my perfectly outlined, naturally full lips. (okay, I’ll just stop.) So I’m going to just post it, and if I want to add more later, I’ll do a different post.
I don’t like carrying too much stuff in my pockets (it ruins the line of skinny jeans), so throughout my undergraduate career I used one of those black, heavy-duty cotton messenger bags, which I covered with buttons with all kinds of subversive and inappropriate slogans. (Sadly, the bag bit the dust some time ago, but I still have all the buttons.) I also had a similar but smaller bag with a shoulder strap that I used for going out, and a couple of other messenger bags.
From time to time I offhandedly referred to whatever bag I had at that time as my purse. I mean, it had my wallet, my keys, my cell phone, and whatever other crap I was routinely hauling around. And frequently I would get someone (men and women alike) who would reflexively correct me. “Your bag.”
I’m not sure whether she coined it, but in her book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity (strongly recommended, BTW), author Julia Serano brings the word “transmisogyny” to greater attention. She defines transmisogyny separately from transphobia — hatred faced by any trans person as a result of their trans status — describing it as follows:
Transmisogyny: Sexism that specifically targets those on the trans female/trans feminine spectrums. It arises out of a synergetic interaction between oppositional and traditional sexism. It accounts for why MTF spectrum trans people tend to be more regularly demonized and ridiculed than their FTM spectrum counterparts, and why trans women face certain forms of sexualization and misogyny that are rarely (if ever) applied to non-trans women.
Here are some of the words I like to use for my gender, and why, and what they mean for me.
femme. I’ve recently gotten into some interesting discussions on this. After a radio show on femmes, a woman expressed surprise that I, as a cissexual male, identify in this way. At another time, a person called into question my use of the words “butch” and “femme.” What they were getting at was a belief that “butch” and “femme” are exclusively lesbian words. It’s true that they’ve been used in the queer women’s community for many decades, no doubt originated there, and denote well-developed systems of self-expression. However, queer men have been using the words “butch” and “femme” for ourselves and one another for decades, i.e. it’s not something I made up. I actually didn’t realize that my use of them could be surprising to others. (ETA: I go into more detail on this here.)
Anyway, I like the word “femme” in preference to “feminine” or “effeminate” for a couple of reasons (even though I sometimes use those words too). Read the rest of this entry »