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I feel like our readings could have easily tied in to the week where we studied RuPaul and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. The only difference with Queer Eye for the Straight Guy is that the gay men are helping straight guys sort out their lives rather than the show focusing on them and being queer.
In the reading, Doty talks about Queer theory: a lump sum of gay, lesbian, or transgender identities, and how only the word “gay” or “lesbian” is directed at specific studies. Yvonne Rainer addresses her point of view with a more intimate tale specifically talking about being a lesbian and sometimes it is unbelievable unless you are a man that is gay. She says with age, comes authority, and by then no one questions your sexuality. But, there is also a question that if you are fighting for rights on certain things but you yourself have never been in that situation, how can you really be supportive or understanding of someone that is or has been.
Lastly, when reading Saalfield I never really thought of spectatorship for the gay male gaze. We have been taught that throughout history and up until the 1970s, it is a man’s world and art is for his viewing pleasure, but never man looking at man with desire. I know these things happen, I just never thought of the gaze from this perspective mainly because it seems to be a avoided topic? I know that there are artist that have approached these themes such as Jasper Johns and Robert Mapplethorpe.
I was enthralled with this week’s readings because all of the authors interrogated the erasure, minimization and misrepresentation of the LGBT*Q community across the intersections of gender, gender performance and sexuality. Roughgarden (2009) provides fundamental blocks when she outlines the differences between gender and sex through her perspective as an evolutionary biologist. According to Roughgarden (2009), the constructs of “male” and “female” are based on the size of gametes; smaller gametes are referred to as eggs while larger gametes are considered sperm. However, all species with larger gametes aren’t considered male and vice versa. Furthermore, man and woman aren’t biological terms. Man and woman are social constructions based on false interpretations of evolutionary biology.
Western cultures are infamous for assigning “innate” characteristics to specific gender performances in order to protect the privilege and power associated with white malehood, according to Derrick Bell, the forefather of Critical Race Theory. So, Roughgarden’s (2009_ definition of gender as the “appearance, behavior and life history of a sexed body,” is crucial in providing an essential framework for viewing the presentation of gender through media. When I consider all of the films I’m familiar with that feature a LGBTQ (or perceived LGBTQ) character – Philadelphia, The Crying Game, The Birdcage, To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar, Rent, Mean Girls, Brokeback Mountain, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Set It Off and Revenge of the Nerds – I realize that Hollywood cinema has relied on specific, controlling and demeaning tropes of LGBTQ identities to “provide two points of entry for the gay spectator: a site for identification with the narrative subject, and a site for specular erotic pleasure in his subject” (Waugh, 1993, p. 144).
Limiting LGBTQ performance to either a feminized male or masculine female does little to highlight the nuances of those communities (Rainer, 1993). Media also facilitates the reinforcement of a male-female binary, since it is rare for accurate trans* narratives to emerge. Heyes (2003) places the onus to reframe trans* identity in the media on feminists that often don’t see trans* issues as essential conversation in feminist spaces. Also, Heyes (2003) articulates the reproducing of marginalization by feminists that focus on patriarchy without considering how Western constructions of gender have excluded those that outside of the female – male binary. I’d agree because I see that confusion in films featuring trans* characters.
For instance, Dil (Jaye Davidson) is a trans* woman character in The Crying Game. The film centers on her gender performance without ever humanizing her outside of her trans* identity. Flashes of her penis are designed to repulse the audience. This can be seen in Fergus’ (Stephen Rea) – her potential lover – response to her when he discovers her penis. Fergus hits Dil in the face and causes her nose to bleed before vomiting in the bathroom. Her biological sex literally sickens him. Though Dil and Fergus eventually fall in love, Fergus ends up in jail at the conclusion of the film. Fergus’ incarceration ties into the narrative of gay closures rarely having happy endings (Waugh, 1993). In the end, Dil is left without the man she loves. This isn’t coincidental. Tragic endings to films starring LGBTQ-identified characters are purposeful. We see it in Brokeback Mountain. It is true in Rent. It is true in Philadelphia. It is true in The Birdcage. Filmmakers construct LGBTQ characters as conflicted, confused and incapable of finding love and having a “happily ever after.” These tragic endings strip LGBTQ narratives of their humanity, and positions the characters as deviants e.g. the continual “gay man contracts HIV” narrative.
Accurate representation is crucial in media, and the LGBT*Q community deserves to have authentic images of their experiences presented. One of the ways to accomplish this is through queering the media. Doty (1995) advocates for incorporating queerness as a mass culture reception practice in order to focus on queer identity as a site of both spectatorship and resistance. I’d agree. I’d also advocate for more LGBT*Q filmmakers, film and television executives, producers, etc. that are invested in telling these stories, and telling them well.
To Wong Foo: Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar is one of the theatrical releases that reinforces stereotypes about trans* identities. The film stars Wesley Snipes (Noxeema Jackson), Patrick Swayze (Vida Boheme) and John Leguizamo (Chi-Chi Rodriguez) as three trans* women participating in New York’s “Drag Queen of the Year” contest. It is problematic to conflate trans* identity with drag performance because all drag queens aren’t trans* women and all trans* women don’t perform drag. Also, positioning trans* women as drag queens signifies that their identity is a costume they remove after performing in a pageant or a nightclub. It strips trans* women of their authenticity.
Doty, A. (1995). There’s something queer here. In C. Creekmur, A. Doty (Eds.), Out in Culture: Gay, Lesbian, and Queer Essays on Popular Culture (pp. 71-90). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Heyes, C. J. (2003). Feminist solidarity after queer theory: The case of transgender. Signs, (4), p. 1093—1120.
Rainer, Y. (1993). Working round the l-word. In M. Gever, J. Greyson, P. Parmar (Eds.), Queer Looks: Perspectives on Lesbian and Gay Film and Video (pp. 12-20). New York: Routledge.
Roughgarden, J. (2009). Evolution’s rainbow: Diversity, gender, and sexuality in nature and people. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press. (CH. 11 “Sex and diversity, sex versus gender, and sexed bodies”)
Waugh, T. (1993). The third body: Patterns in the construction of the subject in gay male narrative film. In M. Gever, J. Greyson, P. Parmar (Eds.), Queer Looks: Perspectives on Lesbian and Gay Film and Video (pp. 141-161). New York: Routledge.
In response to Doty’s critique that Queer theory is not sufficiently interested in the understanding and analysis of how the transgender community is presented in media and in turn elucidated upon by the scholarly community, I must persist and ask why that might be.
Through my analysis of this subject thus far, I have come to understand that great leaps have been made in the last 2 decades in regard to gay presentation in the media. That being said of course there are going to be areas which are overlooked or not given enough inspection. The reason for this is that, social change happens relatively slowly, although we have seen it speed up considerably in the modern era. Transgender individuals are scarcely accepted in most culture, I by no means endorse this lack of acceptance, but transgender communities are finally being given more support than in past eras and so more transgender individuals feel brave enough to come out of their closet (another step just as or even more constraining than the gay closet). And thus because society has finally come to this place in change, now is the time when more transgender characters will be presented in media. In essence, there has just not been enough time for positive portrayals to come about.
Or is this a cop out?
Joan Roughgarden, in ‘Sex and Diversity, Sex Versus Gender, and Sexed Bodies’, states:
“Feminists of all stripes share the political goal of weakening the rip of oppressive send and gender dimorphism’s in Western Cultures, with their concomitant devaluing of the lesser terms “female” and feminine”.” – pg 202.
What really bothered me about this statement is the irony of it, in the context of an article on transgender. If we are striving for a less gendered society, should we be mentioning feminine and female? By mentioning the two distinct genders, and putting people who do not adhere to these genders under another umbrella term (‘transgender’), we seem to be confirming societies two gender identities, and not addressing that there are a whole range and diversity of identities, not merely two opposites and one ‘range’ in-between those.
I found Yvonne Rainer’s reading, titled “Working Round the L-word”, really self-involved. By constantly referring to herself, and her personal experiences in ‘coming out’ (I’m not even sure if that is an appropriate term to use in this context!), it seemed to be a personal ‘rant’ about how she felt accepted by the lesbian community, and has dealt with the realization of her sexuality, rather than saying anything in particular about identifying as a lesbian. All her references about her new ‘identity’ seemed to be plagued with sarcasm, rather than discussing societies reaction/ acceptance to it. A sentence that really bothered me in her paper was:
“I still see it as off that the gender of the person one has sex with is a determining factor in public recognition” – pg 14.
I found this troubling for a number of reasons. The first being that in the context of this article, it seems to serve a snider comment on a select area of society, and how they categorize peoples sexuality; she completely fails to mention people that do not define sexuality in such a way. Secondly, she reduces sexual identity to who one sleeps with. To me, who someone sleeps with is part of ones sexual identity, but only one aspect (of many) that make up this identity. She completely omits that who one falls in love with is also a part of ones sexual identity. For example, a lesbian (using this phrase in a very straight forward way) does not simply sleep with women, she falls in love with women, too.
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