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Who Owns Queer Culture? Not Exclusively Cis Gay Dudes.

14 Apr

queerculture1

I will admit to a difficult, but not entirely negative, relationship to the nihilistic queer media of my youth in the 90s.

It’s what I grew up on, and what I reciprocated in my own writings of the time. Despite the progressive, laid-back image, the 90s still had a lot to feel hopeless and pessimistic about as queer youth. My formative young adult sexual experiences began under both the continuing spectre of AIDS as well as under Texas sodomy laws. Not to mention, um, Texas. Matthew Sheppard was only a bit older than me, and a year later a drag queen/trans lady (like myself) in the same scene I performed in that was saving money for transition was stabbed 60 times and dumped in a ditch.

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So, I mean, I get the appeal of the medium. I also get the cheeky “scribble an anarchy symbol on your high school notebook and call it politics” attitude fuelling writer(?) Tomas Allende’s recent screed in some neo-reactionary buzzword factory imaginatively named “Trigger Warning”. Yawn. It’s a rambling, premise-less manifesto basically insisting that transgressive art, and thus “queer culture” is exclusively the realm of angry edgy gay boys that jerk off to anime. Double yawn.

That said, the article opens up promisingly enough. Allende describes the struggles of his closeted youth in Chile, a story I can deeply sympathise with, along with his awakening through discovering the Greg Araki film The Living End. A damn fine movie.

He then states:

“Queer cinema was not about married same-sex couples with a furry pet in the suburbs. It was the disenfranchised, the freaks, and the non-apologetic crowd of queers that served no purpose other than to be themselves. It was nihilistic, pointless, and fucking fabulous.”

And I’m inclined to agree.

I’m quite familiar with the films of Araki and Todd Haynes, as well as similarly bleak works like the short stories of Dennis Cooper and darkly humorous romps like I Shot Andy Warhol. I have a soft spot in my heart for all those tragic transsexual movies that I’m supposed to hate. If the story involved some nervous twenty-something trying butt stuff for the first time in the second act and then dying tragically in the third, I was probably all about it in the 90s.

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Strangely enough, this protest by Allende against banal gay assimilation just sort of hangs in the air, and is never elaborated on. In fact, things he says paragraphs later completely negate it.

Allende then begins gibbering the same sort of tired knee-jerk incomprehensible MRGay boilerplate about “third-wave feminism” you’d expect from the sort of chronic masturbator that would still have the Gamergate hashtag in his Twitter bio in 2016. Wait, holy shit he actually does. You can’t make this up.

It’s interesting, because second-wave feminism wasn’t exactly friendly to or inclusive of gay folks at the time. It took the intervention of a lot of folks now considered part of the core of the third-wave movement to reconcile the archaic racism and homophobia of the second wave.

Bringing up real history hardly means anything in this context, because Allende isn’t actually talking about culture. He talks about movies. He believes video games are a political movement. He admits the wild bareback fucking hard-partying boys in his cinema daydreams bear no reflection on his actual life. He exists in some reactionary simulacrum of the radical queer life he both idealizes and loathes.

I find it interesting that, despite claiming to be a fan of Greg Araki he spends two paragraphs railing against formation of sexual identity. Araki made A GODDAMN TRILOGY of movies about literally that. Totally Fucked Up is about exploring the boundaries of homosexuality, The Doom Generation is about exploring the boundaries of heterosexuality (literally billed as “A Heterosexual Movie by Greg Araki“), and Nowhere explores a sexual landscape akin to pansexuality. If you don’t believe that term existed back then, here’s queer actor Alan Cumming describing himself as such in gay magazine OUT in 1999.

Allende: “The characters in those films… would never attempt to garner pity”

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Even after denying that queer folks experience oppression (or something), Allende laments how “being gay meant abuse, rejection, and the possibility of contracting an incurable disease which could lead to a horrendous death”… in the past tense.

Newsflash: HIV is still around. It would take more fingers than I have to count off the number of folks I consider reasonably close that have to deal with it as an immediate medical reality. There are still a staggering amount of homeless queer youth, due to rejection and abuse at home.

In any case, while dudes like Tomas are sitting at home watching 20+ year old movies and harboring political views less radical than my grandparents, there are people actually living in queer culture. Working to develop and upkeep sustainable communities of support. Making our own art to communicate with each other.

Maybe we don’t need you or your tired-ass homocon opinions.

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Sissy Killer: Silence Of The Lambs’ “Good/Bad Queer” Dynamic

24 Mar Sissy Killers Queer Coding

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It’s been 25 years since Silence Of The Lambs was released, and there have already been plenty of hot takes to go around. Recently, Jos Truitt over at Feministing posted an unflinching and thorough deconstruction of what the character “Buffalo Bill” represents to the trans community. Naturally, cis people completely lost their shit.

“How could anyone identify with a serial killer?” they lamented. Good point, it’s not like Hannibal Lecter wound up in four novels, five films, and a television series currently on it’s third season where he is the protagonist. Oh wait.

sissykillers2Dinner’s Ready.

Why is it considered ok to empathize with Lecter and not Jame Gumb? Both were brutal mass murderers known for short tempers and for mutilating their victims. Gumb was a gender dysphoric survivor of child abuse and neglect, and Hannibal Lecter was a calculating abusive manipulator that shut her off from medical care and murdered her boyfriend. So why do people root for Gumb getting gunned down yet also for Lecter’s escape and promise to kill again?

Seriously, check out the last couple minutes of Silence Of The Lambs again. Lecter all decked out like Truman Fuckin Capote bragging about “having an old friend for dinner”. He’s a triumphant anti-hero rather than a villain. And it gets worse with each subsequent film/tv depiction.

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The answer is simple: Lecter represents the “good kind” of queer, and Bill represents the “bad kind”.

While I don’t share Truitt’s particular tattoo choice (although I have seriously considered both the spear wound and the “LOVE” hand tattoo), I do have a tramp stamp of “In Voluptas Mors”, and yes it is a reference to Silence Of The Lambs. I, also, have a bit of a soft spot for the movie. A particularly fascinating element of the movie is that it features two queer codedsissy villains”, but coded in different ways and pitted against each other.

What’s that? Hannibal Lecter isn’t actually gay? That’s ok, because Jame Gumb “isn’t actually transgender”, right?

sissykillers3Meanwhile, the only definitely gay person in the movie is dead.

In the book, the infamous “tucking scene” also invites the reader to voyeuristically review Gumb’s hormone regimen, thinning body hair, voice training, electrolysis and even passing mention of breast development. This is presented with both a clinical air and a sense of disdain at the progress. But this is ok because Gumb is not “really transgender”, right?

Later in the book Agent Crawford threatens to have federal funding cut from the Johns Hopkins sex-reassignment wing and have the surgery re-classified as of non-medical necessity. There’s no telling how many transsexuals ongoing medical treatment were effectively being held hostage as an afterthought in this power-play. But this is ok because Gumb is not “really transgender”, right?

I’m sure there is also something to be said about namechecking the Johns Hopkins Trans Surgery wing as a plot point in the book, considering the actual one was shut down a decade before.

And even as Ted Levine’s lumbering, gangly tr*nny monster performance is frequently superimposed over depictions of the lives of trans folks, and the spectre of which haunts discussions of everything from “bathroom bills” to TSA clearances, Lecter represents the opposite of this stereotype. Lecter is theatrical without camp. He is effette but not effeminate. He drips with sarcasm and is impeccably refined and cultural and worldly.

The comparisons don’t stop there. In the novel, through Agent Starling’s feminist hero eyes she recognizes Lecter as “small, sleek, and in his hands and arms she saw wiry strength like her own” in contrast to Gumb’s frequently referenced large hefty frame. In the film, Lecter is depicted as deliberately clinical and meticulously clean, a contrast to the squalor of Gumb’s living area and poor hygiene and posture. Anthony Hopkins came up with the idea of having Lecter dressed in white in order to invoke imagery of doctors and dentists and peoples instinctive unease around them. But it also positions him yet again as an virtous-appearing authority figure. Perhaps this is why we are expected to continue to take Lecter’s gatekeeping of Gumb’s dysphoria at face value, despite the fact that it’s coming from a man restrained in a strait jacket and spitter’s mask.

“He’s not a transsexual, Clarice. He just thinks he is, and he’s puzzled and angry because they won’t help him.”

There’s almost definitely a “high/low functioning” mental illness dynamic going on as well that someone may choose to explore further down the line. How does nobody ever question Lecter’s capacity to make psychological diagnoses not only without clinical observation but while also himself deemed in a dangerous enough capacity mentally to warrant institutionalization?

sissykillers4Definitely someone with authority’s best interest in mind – Everyone Somehow

It’s not like positioning the audience to arbiter Lecter as a gatekeeper of queer sexuality is limited to his interaction with Jame Gumb. I mentioned earlier his murder of Gumb’s boyfriend, named after a leftist French intellectual. In the opening to the movie Red Dragon Lecter is literally shown in judgement of Raspail’s performativity, and Jesus Christ as Lecter scowls at Raspail’s unsatisfactory ability to blow the flute I’m sure Freud was doing cartwheels in his grave. And then, in the following scene, a bunch of progressive intellectuals giggle over Raspail’s missing status and subsequently nonperson him based on the same inadequate perfomativity Lecter judged him worthy of death over.

sissykillers5He’s either decided to kill a man or poop himself.

This sort of gatekeeping, this arbitration of judgement over folks less desirable is clearly the role the unexamined audience wants from Lecter. He returns to this role over and over and over, evolving from a useful monster to a justified protagonist in his own universe, while his gruesome body count silently grows.

Maybe y’all should re-evaluate what you consider so identifiable in Hannibal Lecter.

Is Kylo Ren Queer-Coded? Well, Yes And No.

14 Jan

kyloren0Image from this comic by Andi Espinosa.

Since finally getting to see the new Star Wars movie about a month after everyone else did, I’ve found myself immersed in the surrounding discussions of it. Like, why the fuck was Han so excited to use Chewbacca’s weapon for apparently the first time in the decades they’ve been friends? How come in 30 years has none of the computer tech advanced past 16 color raster graphics, blinking lights and LEDs? Also is Kylo Ren technically yet another Disney queer-coded villain, and how awful are you for empathizing with the Nazified little shit in a queer way?

kyloren5Okay maybe I’m participating in different conversations than y’all.

I’ve been seeing a lot of talk lately about how Kylo Ren is the modernized face of impotent nerd rage. He’s like a one-man Gamergate, without all the Nazi imagery… oh wait. And, honestly, many of the traits that could be read as queer have been gradually integrated into uneasy heteromasculine posturing the past few decades, as addressed by fans and critics thinking of him as “emo“. There is a lot to be said about imagery of nerdbro ego projection and predation in many of his actions as well.

kyloren8Above borrowed from this comic strip.

And yeah I get that. I’m sure even more can be said in that regard. I’ve personally been humoring the idea that Kylo Ren’s encounter w/Han Solo is a commentary on neo-masculinity. Like Han represents old-guard swagger and grit and “benevolent sexism” and is a masculinity relic… he’s literally a cowboy. An artefact of a different age of manhood. Kylo Ren represents the new face of such: internally tortured, confused, with wildly inappropriate idealizations and bad posture. Watch Kylo Ren walk around uneasily in his uniform next time you see the film, see how forced his movements are. Kylo’s nervous stilted gait represents the new guard carrying the torch for men’s advocacy. Kylo winds up doing what he does (SPOILER: murders his dad) cuz of his misplaced interpretation of how masculinity works: aka a compulsive desire to “prove himself”.

But we’re not actually suggesting that Kylo Ren is queer. Or at least I’m not. But we have to keep in mind what queer coding is. We also need to differentiate queer coding from queer-baiting, a more modern trope of hinted sexuality, which also appears in the film.

kyloren1And how.

Spoiler alert, but I’m gonna be hammering on and on about this sort of thing over the course of several upcoming articles (not about Star Wars tho). In this case, I believe whether Kylo Ren is queer-coded or not may mean different things between folks older or younger than 30. Folks like us grew up with less media representation. Some of us may be a bit more sensitive or in-tune with the “nod-nod wink wink” aspects of this than folks growing up in an era where a character can actually be queer without also having to be a mass-murderer to satisfy some garbage moral clause.

To me Kylo’s unmasking scene in the torture chamber more than a little bit resembled when Ra unmasks himself in the first Stargate movie. The hard, cruel gray and black immobile feature-obscuring mask giving way to reveal a soft androgynous face and sensitive eyes. In the case of Stargate, particularly, strategically revealing the face of the actor that played a trans woman in The Crying Game just a couple years before, one of the most iconic and recognizable trans characters in film (for good or for bad).

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And it’s not like we haven’t seen the “prissy evil son in the shadow of an impossibly badass father whose shoes he may never fill” dynamic before.

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Also, this is Disney we are talking about. The company that pretty much wrote the book on queering up their baddies.

kyloren4Coincidence? I think… actually yeah probably coincidence.

The thing about Star Wars movies, however, is that just by existing they change the face of  everything they touch. While doing so, they completely reinvent the visual language surrounding such, from fashion to archetypes and of course special effects. These changes become so widespread because damn near everyone winds up seeing them.

kyloren7Well everyone that matters, anyway.

Perhaps this really is a calculated narrative side-step to replace tired Hollywood Golden Age homophobia with biting commentary on evolving male ego. If so I have to admit I’m impressed.

Seriously, I’m #NotYourRayon, And You Can’t Recast Me As One.

12 Mar

In contrast to the “decievers,” who wield their feminine wiles with success, the “pathetic transsexual” characters aren’t deluding anyone. Despite her masculine mannerisms and five-o-clock shadow, the “pathetic transsexual” will inevitably insist that she is a woman trapped in a man’s body… Unlike “deceivers” whose ability to “pass” is a serious threat to our culture’s ideas about gender and sexuality, “pathetic transsexuals” -who barely resemble women at all- are generally considered harmless. Perhaps for this reason, some of the most endearing portrayals of trans women fall into the “pathetic” category.  – Julia Serano, Whipping Girl

FULL DISCLOSURE: I still haven’t seen Dallas Buyer’s Club, but I do intend to see it. Truth is, I’ll probably even like it. I have a soft spot in my heart for sad sack “pathetic transsexual” stories. Hell, the Christmas after I began transition my dad made a clumsy shitty joke about a certain character from Priscilla Queen Of The Desert f0r obvious reasons in order to make the most hamfisted shitty jab at me or whatever, so like I know certain stereotypes I may never escape so I might as well sit back and enjoy?

So like in the whole aftermath of Leto winning an Oscar from this whole mess been seeing two common responses that I feel the need to jump in on, and how they curiously intersect in my own experience. The first is the WHARBLGARBL WELL MAYBE RAYON WAS JUST A GAY MALE CROSSDRESSER TRANSVESTITE AND NOT TRANS AT ALL DID YOU THINK OF THAT GOSH THE TRANS UMBRELLA DIDN’T EXIST BACK THEN (The following are assorted responses to Parker Marie Malloy’s recent Advocate articles on the subject)

dallas2Except in the real world:
Heterosexual trans women are heavily impacted by AIDS, frequently due to lack of healthcare and/or discrimination/stigma by healthcare professionals regarding testing and treatment.

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Except in the real world:
1) Christine Jourgenson, one of the most well known trans women of the past 50 years, frequently referred to herself as “transgender” since the late 1970s.
2) The movie takes place in 1985, the same year Richard Ulster founded the first Transgender Literature Archive at Ulster University. Also at least a year after this 1984 article by sexologist Roger E Peo.
3)Virginia (Charles) Prince didn’t invent the word, but she did help popularize it. The word appears in the psychology reference manual “Sexual Hygiene and Pathology” a full five years before the first issue of Prince’s magazine “Transvestia”.

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^the above was screencapped from the excellent Trans Hollywood blog, which has been swarmed by persistent assclowns of every flavor over their stance on this issue.

And, like fucking seriously y’all? Gay men don’t get sexual reassignment surgery. That’s like the shittiest laziest most homophobic stereotype out there, and it’s suddenly a better alternative than just saying the character is a sad inaccurate stereotype of a trans woman? The difference between gay men and trans women was already a well-known enough phenomenon in the real world half a decade before this movie takes place that, when the late-70s/early-80s tv show Soap suggested that the gay character would desire a sex change it faced protests from both gay and trans activists for trying to conflate the two. How easy motherfuckers forget history.

I mean, this isn’t 1975, and this isn’t Dog Day Afternoon, even though the scriptwriters (and anti-trans bloggers/commenters) apparently can’t tell the difference.

And it’s like, Rayon was a 100% fictional character unbound by any sort of narrative convention; why exactly does the character seem more and more like one that wouldn’t even fly in the 1990s?

In any case, it’s a game of semantics to pretend that people aren’t going to associate this character with the lived experience of trans women. It straight up says multiple times in the movie (as well as the book) Silence Of The Lambs that Buffalo Bill doesn’t exhibit any of the traits of trans identity, yet he’s a consistent go-to trope, a cognitive bias horror reflection of the insistence that the lived experience of trans women are a figurative/symbolic theft of women’s flesh somehow. Body autonomy? What the fuck is that? And it’s just one of dozens of similar movies pushing the same image.

leatherfaceindragOh hey look, another movie with a timely, sensitive transfeminine portrayal starring Matthew McConaughey

Anyway, enough of that.

The other point being made I take contention with (perhaps even more so) is this assertion Calpernia Adams makes in her recent Advocate piece regarding the controversy.

But I have known people like Rayon. She is not a made-up grab bag of random hateful attributes. She’s a portrayal of an uncomfortable segment of the trans experience that a few TLGB folks would rather be erased rather than discussed. I think many of the haters hate Rayon because she isn’t beautiful, she isn’t passable, she isn’t gender-binary, she isn’t 2014-political. And when I see that elitist hypocrisy, I’m inclined to push back.

It’s hard being trans, even more so in the era and circumstances of Dallas Buyers Club. I’ve known plenty of trans sex workers, self-medicators, wise teachers, hilarious weirdos, and people taken before their time due to violence and lack of health care. I’ve known trans people very much like Rayon, and maybe if some people got up from their remote activism -devices (computer screens and smartphones) and left their ivory towers and privilege bubbles, they’d meet a few people like Rayon face-to-face too.

Excuse the fuck out of me? Where in the actual fuck do you get the gall to recast all concerns about this character into some tired gross archaic “transsexual vs transgender” elitism?

I’m *from* Texas. I’ve self-medicated. I’ve done drugs. Like, a *lot* of drugs. I haven’t done sex work, but I can’t say I haven’t considered it. I’m not HIV+, but I’ve dated people who were. I spent the latter part of the 1990s getting sneered at by older transsexuals in “support” groups during a time when I was young and lost and really could have used some guidance. I frequented gay bars, and often slept with gay men (slept with an awful lot of straight guys too, for the record).

krossover1Me, literally standing in the doorway of the infamous, frequently cop-raided, Harker Heights,Tx gay/drag bar Krossover, in 1999(?).

And being concerned about passability? Christ. I’m the tallest, gangliest, most shittily-tattooed, donkey-faced thing out there. And apparently I dress like a Hot Topic threw up. So lets just say it isn’t high on my concerns.

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So like, when Leto talks about “the Rayons of the world” or whatever, he’s talking about people like me. Except fuck you no he isn’t.

And it’s like, maybe I don’t really want to be spoken for in this gross pandering “No Homo” way and romanticized as some sort of “impossible creature” and yet again have my narrative, a path and experience I’ve fought for and struggled with for a lifetime, repackaged in a cynical fashion by people with no understanding of it.

Not sure what I really expected from a movie that repackages it’s protagonist as a uber-heterosexual and homophobic (yay bisexual erasure) in order to learn some sort of hamfisted lesson, tho.

That said, I still intend to check the movie out. No homo.

No Homo: On Jared Leto And Destroying A Beautiful Creature.

16 Jan

A lesson I’m learning over and over in life is that pretty boys can’t be trusted. They’ll break your heart as soon as they open their big stupid mouths.

So remember that part in Fight Club where Edward Norton sees Brad Pitt and Jared Leto embrace tenderly and gives them both this look of utter jealousy and betrayal? Remember how the scene immediately shifts to Norton cheap-shotting Leto and pounding him into hamburger meat and later admitting to Pitt that he did so simply because he was beautiful? Remember how technically (spoiler) Edward Norton and Brad Pitt are the same person?

Have you ever *really* thought about that scene? No homo.

nohomo1In case you forgot this part, I’m totally not joking here.

Anyway…

I haven’t seen Dallas Buyer’s Club, but I intend to. I have a soft spot in my heart for what Julia Serano would call “sad trans” movies. So let’s get that out of the way.

And I’m not gonna get into the “should cis actors play trans women” argument in this article because that conversation has been done to death. Smarter people than I have tackled the subject better than I ever will. I am, however, eternally frustrated by how said actors spend their interviews screwing up and misrepresenting our lives even as they try to broadcast us into mainstream visibility out of the supposed goodness of their cis ally hearts. I mused about this frustration on my Facebook page while on the train a couple days ago:

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This post inspired my friend Diana Tourjee to do an expanded write-up for Original Plumbing magazine on the subject. She says it with far more nuance than I am willing to.

Cause really, it’s not even the terrible sexualized jokes which are honestly more boring and sadly predictable than offensive. What gets under my skin is Leto not only rhetorically separating himself from the character of Rayon, but also divorcing this character he brought to life from having any sypmathetic reality or social consequence. Referring to her as a “creature” and an “impossible person” at a time when the lives and experiences of actual trans  women are still considered up for debate, for instance.

I think we really get to the root of the problem, however, by noting how neither him or costar McConaughey mention AIDS once regarding their roles in a movie whose entire plot focuses on the AIDS crisis.

See, male privilege is a funny thing, and a lot more nuanced than people allow by simply equating penises with institutional social power. I swear, to hear some people talk you’d think you could post a dick pic on your resume or whatever. So much of it is conditional and hinged on gearing not only your presentation but your narrative towards patriarchal heteronormativity. And it’s not only among cishet dudebros like Leto and McConaughey. See also: LGBT assimilation movements, “straight acting” gay people (whatever the fuck those are), and femmephobia.

Considering how even certain feminists present the idea of masculine presentation as a social default and femininity as this socially constructed demeaning performance, it’s amazing how society treats masculinity as this fragile, breakable thing. Seriously, how many times are people gonna spout that tired idea that allowing boys to enjoy feminine things will “ruin” them with no irony? Yet the idea persists. Think back again to that scene in Fight Club, that paean to toxic masculinity, where the only time a man can tell another man (or really anyone) that they are beautiful is after they’ve destroyed them. Remember that whole story was written by a hypermasculine heavily-closeted gym bunny that frequently looked like he could grace the cover of a 50s gay muscle magazine before he finally got over it and was ok with being out.

nohomo3Totally wasn’t joking about that either.

Tell me again how masculinity isn’t performative.

So really,  it’s transparently obvious why a guylinered prissy metrosexual like Jared Leto would be so prone to blatant overcompensation after playing one of us Super Saiyan transfairy gaymosexuals on the big screen. He’s trying to bounce back, prove he wasn’t ruined by the experience. While Dustin Hoffman could realize women were people, realizing trans women are people is apparently way too much to ask for Leto.

I get it.

So why don’t you just shut the fuck up pretty boy and just admit you’re using us for Oscar bait. No homo.

I’ll go on living my beautiful impossible life and making better music then you ever will. *hair flip*