Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"Is Paris Burning?", bell hooks

In her book, Reel to Real: Race, Sex, and Class at the Movies, bell hooks dedicates a chapter about the controversy of dressing in drag or cross-dressing. This chapter is titled, “Is Paris Burning?” Hooks starts off talking about the stigmatism of cross-dressing, appearing in drag, transvestism, and transsexualism. Oftentimes when one cross-dresses, one is questioned and seen as breaking gender norms. For example, if a man chooses to cross dress, others who have been strongly been influenced by society may feel that this man’s choice of outfit is inappropriate and does not fit his gender.

Hooks questions whether there is a difference of acceptance when a black man dresses in drag compared to when a white man dresses in drag. She provokes the idea that the stereotype of black men (e.g., highly sexual, manly, etc.) allows black males to cross gender more easily than white men. It is okay to accept that he may cross dress, because black men are perceived as ‘rapists’ and being overly sexual with women. However, in order to have black men taken seriously about cross-dressing or dressing in drag, he must oppose the stereotype of being heterosexual.

Another main topic hooks brings up in this chapter is about the film, Paris Is Burning. She comments on how the drag queens in the film have fantasies to act and feel like an upper-class white person. Although the video is about the struggles of how black men in Harlem who participate in drag queen balls, hooks argues that the film celebrates white privilege by glamorizing the white ruling-class. When critiques comment on the film as being “amazing,” “marvelous,” and “incredibly funny”, it shows that they did not see how the black people/people of color self-sacrificing themselves to fulfill their fantasies of being upper-class white people. The director of the film, Jennie Livingston indirectly does not recognize her white privilege in producing this film and hooks goes into explaining how.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

“Introduction: Queering Black Studies/’Quaring’ Queer Studies”, E. Patrick Johnson and Mae G. Henderson

In their introduction to Black Queer Studies, Johnson and Henderson identify that they seek to bridge a gap and create a space of inquiry between black studies and queer studies, while "sabotaging neither and enabling both." The term “black queer”, as employed in the text, distinguishes a very specific group: gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered (LGBT) people of color. Though the United States serves as the central context, the writers remain cognizant of diasporas and post-colonial studies relative to African American sexuality. Authors referenced in this anthology include critics, writers, scholars and cultural producers whose work links 20th century black studies and achievements to the still emergent field of queer studies. The ultimate and collective goal of the writers and editors of this book is to demonstrate how both black studies and queer studies can be dually studied for the progression of a larger project that imbricates race, class, gender and sexuality.

Johnson and Henderson delve into the histories of black studies and queer studies:

Black studies: The 1960’s and 1970’s mark a crucial time for African Americans in relation to academia; the efforts of black students and faculty (e.g. sit ins, petitions, protests, ect.) put enough pressure on white administrators of predominately white institutions to form departments of black studies. Because African American scholarship and theory most notably surfaced at this time, much of the historical backdrop and central focus of black studies is centered within the context in the Civil Rights Movement. This fact proves problematic because black heterosexual male leadership powered the Civil Rights Movement and other black liberation movements. Black male leadership and the priority of creating a “united black front” bred sexism and homophobia, as the intellectual and community work of black women were viewed as unimportant or ignored and homosexuality was effectively theorized as a “white disease that had infected the black community”.

Queer Studies: Queer studies also emerged in the academy as a result of an activist movement – that of ACT-UP, an AIDS activist group, and its off-shoot group, Queer Nation. Much like the “unified front” political strategy of the Civil Rights Movement, Queer Nation’s aim to represent and advocate for those oppressed on the basis of sexual identity consequently subordinated other identity markers.

Though, like black studies, queer studies pride themselves on shaking people’s long held ideas and assumptions about identity by deconstructing binaries such as heterosexual/homosexual and gay/lesbian, theorists note the possible danger of “single-variable” politics – the deconstruction and “unmarking” of identities, especially of identities that add to the subordination of those already oppressed by their sexual identities. With this in mind, Johnson and Henderson anticipate that the dual examination of black studies and queer studies will illuminate how intersecting identities manifest to both oppress and privilege. Restating their goal, Johnson and Henderson claim their project is one that seeks individual rights in the interest of ensuring social justice inclusive of sexuality, which can only be enacted from recognition of other disenfranchised groups and coalition with them on the basis of intersecting identities.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Privilege - Devon Carbado

Carbado defines privilege as "those of us who unquestionably accept the racial, gender and heterosexual privileges we have - those who fail to acknowledge our victimless status with respect to racism, sexism, and homophobia are also perpetrators of discrimination.” The privileges that Carbado focuses on are Heterosexual, Male, and White, privilege. He first identifies the highest form of privilege, that of the White heterosexual male. Carbado then divides the remainder of his essay into two discussions: male privilege and heterosexual privilege (race is taken into account as a subtopic in each section).

The White heterosexual male is the template for mankind. "He is in a sense, the norm. (...) we are all defined with him in mind." (192)If one does not fit into the category of the white heterosexual male, they are then "othered" and began to lose privilege. White heterosexual women have less privilege than the white heterosexual male and a black heterosexual male has even less privilege. Whites are privileged because their race is the norm so much so that as Barbra Flagg states a "white person has an everyday option not to think about [them self] in racial terms at all." (193) the concept of not thinking about daily positioning or actions is called normatively. Normatively is created by the societies in which we live.

White Privilege

Carbado draws from the writings of Peggy MacIntosh who reflects on the unearned advantages she experiences as white women. "For example, precisely because she is white McIntosh did not have to educate her children to be aware of the systematic racism for their own daily physical protection." Carbado lists 40 ways in which white males experience privilege which include “Prospective employers will never ask me if I plan on having children. (…) I can walk in public alone, without the fear of being sexually violated.” Carbado uses the writings of Flagg and MacIntosh because they suggest that heterosexual white males could reflect on their own privilege. The ultimate goal is for both sides those who experience privilege and those who do not to understand that the discrimination they cause with their privileges.

Heterosexual Privilege

“Like maleness, heterosexuality operates as an identity norm, the “what is” or “what is supposed to be” of sexuality. (…) Scientists aren’t searching for a gay, not heterosexual or sexual orientation gene.” (198) Carbado argues that heterosexuals should fight this normativity and then discusses the struggles that arise when this is attempted. The challenging of heteronormativity by heterosexuals may result in being judged by society. This is because there is a stigma attached to people who support causes in social change; they are assumed to have a personal stake in the matter. So if a straight man starts to talk about the discrimination of homosexuals many people assume that he is in fact a homosexual himself.

Carbado then presents the new ways “coming out” has been tailored for heterosexuals. People are “coming out” as republicans, star trek fans, or stamp collectors. The term has begun to devalue the “economic, psychological, and physical harms that potentially [occur in] the gay and lesbian coming out (or outing) process.” Heterosexuals are also “coming out” as heterosexuals.
This can affect the homosexual “coming out” process in positively by undoing the assumption that one is heterosexual and thus does not need to establish their sexual orientation. However, this can also negatively affect the homosexual “coming out” process because it can be used as a tool to reestablish heteronormativity. For example, as heterosexuals who want to be advocates of homosexuality community may choose to “out” themselves as heterosexual allies first.

In this discussion on heterosexual privilege, Carbado also discusses race. When the notion of race is added to homosexuality it is at times harder to do away with the norms. This is because when people of color who are already “othered” by their race, try and stray from other forms in which they can be marginalized. Thus the stigma arises that a black man cannot be Gay because that would pull him even further from the norm of the white straight man.

Conclusion: Resisting Privileges

Carbado concludes his essay attempting to determine if the heterosexual men in fact become more aware of their privilege by listing “their social experiences on the privileged side of gender and sexual orientation.” He also speaks of the possible devaluing of the experienced of disadvantaged people by over valuing the experiences of those with privilege in which they are aware of their privilege.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Choose your words wisely

The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties, replacing them with menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge.
-Toni Morrison

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Heterosexuality in the Face of Whiteness: Divided Belief in M. Butterfly by David L. Eng

In his essay Eng offers the common belief that too often important narratives are left out of both feminist and queer theory when people of color are not considered. The importance, he says lies in the ways in which they are removed from the equation in hopes of creating a social norm from which they are said to deviate. Eng explores the ways in which people of color- in this case Asian American males- are subject to what he believes to be the social construction of whiteness and heterosexuality. He also argues that in M. Butterfly, a 1988 Broadway play based on Giacomo Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly, main character Rene Gallimard dangerously straddles the invisible lines between whiteness and heterosexuality and non-whiteness and homosexuality. In addition, the conflict between identities is augmented by Gallimard's love for Asian opera singer Song Liling, a man masquerading as a woman.

Gallimard uses the social acceptability of what playwright David Henry Hwang refers to as "Yellow Fever" in the heterosexual community and "Rice Queens" in the homosexual community. These phenomena describe the trend of white males who look to Asians, male or female, as the feminine, submissive object of their sexual desires. According to Eng, Gallimard uses this as the guise to distract from his homosexual desires that would rid him of his white privilege. It is here that the idea is presented that race and sexuality work together to define white status. Eng borrows from Kaja Silverman's writing The Threshold of the Visible World to support his claim. In her text she writes that Black male sexuality (in this case through direct reference to his penis) poses a threat to relation between the White male and the White female. She argues that this proves detrimental to the racial hierarchy that previously defined Black males as being "less" where now White males are comparatively "less" in the eyes of their female counterpart thus connecting sexuality and racial classification once more.

Essentially, Eng works to prove three basic points. The first, is the connection between socially constructed "whiteness" and heterosexuality. He argues that all of the privilege that comes with identifying as a white male is equally dependent on the adoption of heterosexual tendencies, be them honest or otherwise. By the same token, Eng states that whiteness itself becomes a mask to hide other differences. For example, Gallimard's whiteness in relation to Sing's Asian identity distracts outsiders from the possibility of homosexual relations between the two. In essence, the acceptance lies solely in the familiarity of the White fantasy that holds the Asian counterpart as submissive and ideal. The final and most important point Eng tries to make is that all of these various labels and classifications are too fluid to be reliable. While it is clear that the line between hetero and homosexuality is blurred, the construct of what is and is not "white" is also impossible to define.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

South Asian (Trans)nation(alism)s and Queer Diasporas by Jasbir K. Puar

When Puar submitted a panel entitled “Transnational Sexualities: Narrations of Normativity” which included her paper which bore the same title as her article, National Association for Ethical Studies asked for clarification about the relation of the panel topic to the theme of the conference which was “The Ethnic Experience in the United States: Changing Migrations, Changing Borders, and Changing Traditional Ethnic Communities.” The NAES specifically challenged her paper, the only paper about queer issues which raised many questions in her mind about why they would do such a thing. Puar, in this article, seeks to show how “queer” and “diaspora” relate to each other. She does by looking at A Lotus of Another Color: An Unfolding of the South Asian Gay and Lesbian Experience edited by Rakesh Ratti as well as other productions of South Asian queer diasporic culture.

In the section of her paper “Queering the Diaspora, Diasporicizing the Queer,” she shows us some of the ways the words interact with each other. Puar says “queer” has “presumed that its subjects have a fixed relation of inclusion within the nation-state, one that is rarely interrogated.” Being queer does not bring about questions of whether or not that person is a member of a nation. Diasporas are mobilized spaces of transcendence of the nation-state. People who have moved from one country to another are not fully members of each country. The terms, incorporated together, force particular redefinitions of the originals. Diasporic communities they can also be a source of various support for national movements. The people who have left their home countries still feel like they belong to their home countries and do things to show their belonging.

Puar says she has two main concerns, 1) that constructs of queer diaspora rests on cultural nationalism and 2) that queer diasporic discourses (conversation, discussion) show the West as a site of “sexual liberation, freedom, and visibility,” a place where it is more acceptable to be queer. The first concern is illustrated in Lotus because of the “recovery work.” In
Lotus, they try to show that homosexuality is nothing new to India, that it is there in the history. They reduce South Asia down to India, and India becomes Hindu culture and religion. The static Indian heritage they present has a supposed relevance to all South Asian queers without considering the diversity within the group. They “other” Sihks, Muslims and other groups with the focus on Hinduism. Lotus is a collection of coming out stories, and is in itself a coming out, that there are South Asian queers. This is problematic because coming out is a uniquely Western experience. Lotus was published in the United States, and South Asians in the US have a position of relative privilege compared to those of other Western diasporic locations. These coming out stories show India as a place of origin, but the West as a place of sexual freedom. South Asians living in the West sometimes portray India as a place where being queer is not good and that going to a Western country will liberate queers.

Puar is hoping this piece will serve as a counter to an “overabundance of celebratory discourses on queer subjectivities.” She does not mean to demean them, but she wants to caution that things like
Lotus, which was done to help, can actually be oppressive through problematic politics. Diaspora may add to queer politics. Diasporic queers have this problem of belonging to a nation without being a part of the nation. It's a paradox highlighted in the problem of visibility where some welcome it and others see it as dangerous. It is important to question how and why certain queer subjectivities are highlighted over others.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Toxic Bodies? ACT UP’s Disruption of the Heteronormative Landscape of the Nation" by Beth Berila

Berila begins by initiating a discussion regarding the relative “purity” or “toxicity” of bodies and the ways in which certain bodies are constructed as “impure.” She creates a link between environmental justice activism (and the rhetoric surrounding it) and this dichotomous pure/impure frame of reference. Berila argues that the hegemonic “American way of life” is defined and upheld by high volumes of consumption and waste. This waste is inevitably funneled into poor communities and communities of color, and as a result of the high cost of this “Americanness” (by which I imply that our ethics of consumption has been so fully integrated into our national psyche as to become inseparable from our ideals of ourselves), the physicality of both the landscapes of the communities which suffer from this and the bodies residing within said landscapes become compromised. This dumping of waste into poor communities is telling because 1. it highlights what communities and people must bear the brunt of the “American” way of life (despite the fact that usually, the communities which receive the detriment of rampaging “Americanness” are not the same ones living this “American dream”); and 2. it shows which communities and bodies are deemed valuable within structures of American hegemonic ideals.

Basically, what the author of this article is arguing is that there is a certain
idealogical notion of the “American people” and the “American lifestyle” that is often perpetuated through a dependence upon members of communities and bodies not considered a part of this “Americanness.” Thus, bodies and communities become “toxic” because they are forced to pay for this “lifestyle” and are simultaneously deemed valueless because of their status as outside of said lifestyle.

Similarly, Berila focuses on the ways certain bodies, specifically those of individuals living with AIDS, are rendered “impure” and are viewed as “
contaminating” to the “purity” of national hegemony. She draws parallels between environmental justice activism’s work to make visible the high cost being paid by members of certain communities and with certain bodies, and the ways in which the bodies of people who have AIDS are constructed as “toxic” and threatening to the “purity” of the “American” lifestyle. Thus, both movements are interested in who (what types of people, bodies, and communities) counts towards national conceptions of “Americanness,” as well as underlining who (what types of people, bodies, and communities) pays for this “American” lifestyle so dependent upon consumerism.

In a parallel fashion, the construction of the “toxic” bodies of those who have AIDS is not a static work, but a continuously shifting process. The bodies of people living with AIDS are surrounded by perceptions of being “toxic” to public health, similar to the poor communities who become (literally, in some instances) toxic as a result of the massive consumption of the “pure” of the nation. In both cases, there is a stark divide between those viewed as “pure” and “uncontaminated,” and those who are “toxic” and threatening, as well as a power structure that necessitates the exploitation of the one for the sake of the other
. However, it is through the construction of the “contaminated” that the “uncontaminated” is also created.

ACT UP, or the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, then, works to trouble this construction of the bodies of those with AIDS as “toxic” to public health. Members of ACT UP challenge these constructions of “toxic” bodies by infiltrating public spaces, often through a manipulation of the privileges (being white, financially well-off, etc.) available to them, and “passing” for a member of America’s heteronormative landscape. Berila writes that, via ACT UP, “passersby are implicated in the production of some bodies (usually those who are healthy, white, not poor, and straight) as the ‘general population’ of the nation precisely by marking others (usually those who are queer, poor, HIV positive, or people of color) as stained and toxic, and therefore as ‘contaminants’ of the nation.” This, again, focuses on Berila’s point that there can be no “purity” without first rendering others “impure,” and that it is through this construction of “toxicity” that national ideals of hegemony are upheld.

*photo credits unknown

Friday, September 10, 2010

"A Queer Time and Place" by Judith Halberstam

A Queer Time and Place opens with this quote from Michael Foucoult, the author of Friendship as a Way of Life, “…To be “gay,” I think, is not to identify with the psychological traits and the visible masks of the homosexual, but to try to define and develop a way of life.” Halberstam makes it clear with the opening of this quote that the concept of attempting to look at homosexuality as not only a marking or a trait, but as an ever changing aspect of what homosexuality means to the person’s life and to the person’s society, is worth doing. Halberstam again brings up Foucault, citing when he wrote “homosexuality threaten people as a ‘way of life’ rather than as a way of having sex.” Halberstam states that many gay, lesbian, and transgendered people live lives comparable to that of heterosexual people but that part of “…what has made queerness compelling as a form of self-description in the past decade or so has to do with the way it has potential to open up new life narratives and alternative relations to time and space.” Halberstam delves into why living in either a rural or urban area of the country can have a major impact on the way people live and are treated. She states that her theory “both confirms that queer subcultures thrive in urban areas and contests the essential characterizations of queer life as urban. Halberstam is also also curious about “gays and lesbians who attended candlelit vigils for Brandon [a transgender murder victim], and even more so for Matthew Shepard, were indeed people who would not be organizing on behalf of gender–variant queers of color. The varied responses to the tragic murders of these two young, white, rural queers have much to tell us about…political activism, space and sexual identity, and the mobilization of trauma.” Halberstam concludes by stating that numerous younger white urban gay and lesbians have grown to dislike labeling, “even as those same identity categories represent the activist labors of previous generations that brought us to the brink of “liberation” in the first place.”

Thursday, September 9, 2010

“Race-ing Homonormativity: Citizenship, Sociology, and Gay Identity” by Roderick A. Ferguson

In “Race-ing Homonormativity: Citizenship, Sociology, and Gay Identity,” Roderick Ferguson explores how sociology identified sexuality as being a social construction and how the social construction of homosexuality privileges white gays and lesbians in the United States. Ferguson says that by examining sociological arguments about the social construction of sexuality, you can see how white gays and lesbians became increasingly more accepted as American citizens. The author also believes that this white gay and lesbian acceptance into American citizenship is due to the race and class of that particular group of people. Most importantly, Ferguson believes that this acceptance has led to homosexuality being socially constructed as white, middle-class, and adhering to so-called traditional gender roles so much so that it has resulted in “homonormativity.” This homonormativity is viewed as being close to the heterosexual norm; however, this homonormativity is not inclusive of LGBTQ people who are people of color, working-class, and/or do not adhere to the usual social construction(s) of gender.

Ferguson discusses how, historically, white American society was very concerned about immigration of ethnic people (both white and nonwhite) because of fears that immigrants would contaminate white racial “purity” in America through sexual reproduction. However, eventually, white Americans accepted the immigrant ethnic whites as American racial whites, which shows that race is a social construction that can be adjusted to fit the needs of the social and historical context at the time. Ferguson states that now that ethnic whites were considered racial whites who were culturally a part of white America, black people and other racial non-whites were still culturally un-American. The author also states that white came to be associated with heteronormativity while non-white was associated with nonheteronormativity. Ferguson says that once this occurred, culture became the determining factor in whether or not you were seen as a “normal” American citizen.

Ferguson agrees with Epstein, who is another author, that once white, middle-class gays and lesbians were viewed by other white, middle-class Americans as being “the ‘same’ as straights to the extent that they are ‘different,’” then they became American. Ferguson uses Marx to say that for white, middle-class lesbian and gays, homosexuality is viewed as being a difference that is a private matter, and not one that affects their ability to be American citizens in public matters. Ferguson goes on to discuss other writers’ examinations of marriage, hate crimes protection, military inclusion, and the focus on the need to “come out of the closet” as proof that contemporary gay rights and the construction of homosexuality is centered on white, middle-class gays and lesbians who adhere to traditional gender roles. Ferguson says that this homonormative social construction leaves out LGBTQ people who are immigrants, people of color, and/or working-class since its goals are centered on helping white, middle-class, gay and lesbian Americans become more integrated into white, middle-class, heterosexual America.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mini-Analysis of Gender Troubles

In this article, the author Judith Butler first presents the ideas of gender construction that have been formulated by Simone de Beauvoir. She then presents her own interpretation of Monique Wittig’s gender and sex analyses that are responses to de Beauvoir’s ideas of gender construction.

De Beauvoir’s perception of gender states that it is something that is acquired because of the social conditioning brought about by society. She argues that for an individual who does not fall into the category of either boy or girl, they are automatically dehumanized because they do not fit the standard binary of gender. A “ sexed” individual is someone who is born with analytical attributes of the human body, this sex however is not something that causes the gender since the gender is a mentality constructed by society. Monique Wittig responds to de Beauvoir’s analysis by reusing one of Beauvoir’s ideas and by presenting her own additional claim. The first claim states that sex is neither invariant nor natural, but it is a political category that is used to keep social norms under the control of heterosexuality which also lets the institution of heterosexuality unfairly determine what is natural. Wittig also argues that there is no difference between sex and gender in the sense that sex is also gendered. Her second claim which is her own is that a lesbian is not a woman. When first reading this, I admit that I was a bit thrown off but waited to read further before I jumped to any conclusions. Wittig argues that woman is simply a label that has been created to oppose the binary label of a man. Therefore, because the lesbian is refusing heterosexuality, she also has no sex because she is essentially trying to fight off the binary norms of gender and sex. The same way that gender is something that both Wittig and de Beauvoir believe is constructed by society, Wittig argues that sex is also fabricated by society in order to make the female sex subordinate. The only time that something is “sexed” is when it is in reference to the individual female persona. When referring to the female sex, there is no other sex such as the male sex that exists. The male sex is something that is universalized. Beavoir calls this the circle of immanence.

Wittig discusses power of language and how it can oppress through repeated acts that eventually become political institutions. There is an imbalance in language where a general group of people are referred to by the masculine pronoun and the individual speaker by the feminine pronoun. Wittig argues that there is no need for gendered pronouns in any language; it is simply a way of giving leverage to one class of people over another to help destroy identities in favor of heterosexual institutions.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

"Queer Theory." by Annamarie Jagose and “Who is that Queer Queer? Exploring Norms around Sexuality, Race, and Class in Queer Theory.” by Ruth Goldman

In her article Queer Theory, Annamarie Jagose discusses the meaning of the term. She talks about queer theory being used to disrupt beliefs about "natural" heterosexual desire, two gender system (man/woman), and two sex system (male female). Queer theory asks questions about the assumption that heterosexuality and all that we associate with it is natural and normal (heteronormativity). She also warns against queer theory being used to mean lesbian and gay studies and queer being used as an umbrella term for lesbian and gay identified people. The tension between gay and lesbian identity and "queer" questions around the stability of identity is a really important tension that needs to continue to be explored.

Similarly, Ruth Goldman explores what queer means in her article "Who is that Queer Queer? Exploring norms around sexuality, race and class in queer theory." Goldman explains how queer was used initially to get away from identity categories but how the term has still come to mean white gay male and middle class. In particular she talks about how queer is used as an umbrella term for gays and lesbians and often excludes bisexuals. Bisexuals have a unique experience to bring to queer conversation as their desires are not built on a single track of desire. She even discusses the limits of a term like bisexual to talk about the real ways that bisexual desire does not necessarily focus on gender as a way of choosing partners. Goldman also discusses the ways that "queer" is generally used by white and middle class folks. While there is in interest in other perspectives, because queer theory is so closely tied to the academy and people of color are invited in to an already existing conversation as opposed to allowed to center themselves, queer theory reproduces its own norms even as it tries to challenge others. She asks that queer theorists not just think about sexual oppression but also about racial, class, and gender oppression as well as they all work to maintain each other.

These two works explain where queer theory is and offer suggestions about where it should go. It's important to think about how sexuality is connected to other systems of oppression. Queer theory is not an identity but a way of looking at and examining hierarchy in our world. A big piece of undoing oppression is going to be making queer theory accessible outside of academic places like colleges and universities. We have to meet people where they are and not just talk abstractly all the time. This is what "making accessible theory" means.