Sunday, October 31, 2010

The futur is kid stuff

Before we get into the nitty gritty theorizing there are several concepts that must be understood.

: This word is untranslated french and the root of it comes from the french word for pleasure/joy. However there is a sexual connotation to the french that is absent from corresponding English words so it is left untranslated. Jouissance is a psychoanalytic concept set down by Lacan.
Jouissance inhabits that hazy place where the pleasure of something like an orgasm tips over the edge of supreme pleasure and enters the realm of pain.

more to come. . .

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wenshu Lee: "Kuaering Queer Theory: My Autocritography and a Race-Conscious, Womanist, Transnational Turn"

What would you do if I called you a kuaer? Say whaaaat? I bet you wouldn't really know what to do, or what to say, because, well, what exactly does that mean? Let me see if I can help.

Wenshu Lee has lives in both Taipei, Taiwan and San Jose, California in the U.S.; she speaks Chinese and English. She is currently a professor at Loyola Marymount in the College of Communication and Fine Arts and a scholar in communication studies and Asian studies. She focuses her scholarship in, among other things, queer/quare/kuaer studies. And she may just identify as kuaer, too. Or at least she did in 2003 when she published the article “Kuaering Queer Theory: My Autocritography and a Race-Conscious, Womanist, Transnational Turn,” the article which is the subject of this blog entry.

I'm sorry... autocritography? I suppose we need to break down her vocabulary. Vocabulary, in fact, is one of Lee's main topics of interest. Autocritography is a technique Lee found in the work of Michael Awkward which she uses to describe her writing style and rhetorical strategy. In each paragraph of this article, Lee divides her narrative voice into two visibly distinct pieces: one version of her voice is italicized, a self-reflective, dreamy, poetic, authentic voice that reads more like prose than 'academic writing.' This voice addresses the reader directly as 'you' and speaks critically and intuitively about herself. The second voice is an academic one, her scholarly voice, through which she presents her research and analysis. These two voices speak to and build on one another. Autocritography is Lee's attempt at “a concrete intercultural communication project” that integrates intersectionality rather than giving it lip service (163). She uses autocritography to act out her commitment to the poetic as well as the personal, political, professional, and scholarly; and she uses it to keep in focus the ways that she is marginalized and privileged because of her specific identity.

So what is Lee studying through this autocritographical essay? She introduces the article with a section titled “...My Nameless Everywhere....” This is the name she gives to a history of omission that she experiences as a Taiwanese woman-identified women who lives and works in the U.S. and China. She's talking about the way that lesbian women of color's real lives are not represented by mainstream culture, and the way she has thus been conditioned to identify herself with the dominant history, to a degree that she feels in many ways identified as a heterosexual white woman, even though she's not. Her whole article is the story of the way that she unburied and found names for her marginalized identities. She has a number of projects that play out from here:

  1. She traces the history of Taiwanese nu nu (female-female) connections and vocabularies from the 19th century to the present – in other words, the way that lesbians and woman-identified women performed their lesbianism and what they called themselves. She traces this history in three sections, each of which she calls an 'awakening' to describe the way that she experienced each discovery – as an awakening to a history she identified with. The first concerns itself with 19th century Chinese nu nu names and women, the second with those of the 1990s, and the third with a term she has invented that builds on these last two vocabularies and integrates it with womanist thought and quare theory.

  2. She integrates this history with womanist and radical women of color traditions and E. Patrick Johnson's quare theory (see Allison's blog entry below) from the United States which have also greatly informed her identity. She gives particular attention to the womanist focus on peoples' specific intersectional experiences of gender and race; she embraces E. Patrick Johnson's notion of quare theory for its critique of queer theory's tendency to erase the importance of race and class in its theory and politics. The integration of these U.S. traditions with her Taiwanese history make her project transnationalist, as does her commitment to formulate a critical praxis in a post-colonial globalized world. People who identify with this movement – these transnational, womanist, quare theory and politics – can now identify as 'kuaers,' the term Lee coins to label her new consciousness. She creates this term through wordplay, which I discuss below. Kuaer is a transliteration of two Chinese characters, kua, which can mean crossing, praised, or proud/boastful, and er which means child/children and “connotes vibrant energy, the ability to grow and to learn new things” (162). Thus kuaer connotes a variety of meanings:

    Children who cross horizons. Children who are praised. Children who are proud/boastful. Children who cross worlds and understand quare and womanist politics. Transnational womanist quare children who are proud and praised and whose critical consciousness is multi-racial, multi-sexual, multi-gendered, and multi-class-based (162).

  3. She examines and practices wordplay as a subversive, creative rhetorical activity. In her second awakening, she discusses the first officially registered lesbian publication in Taiwain, Ai Fu Hao Zi Zai Bao, or Ai Bao, which means “the Love Newspaper/Magazine.” This title in its long version can be read in five different ways using homophonic and homonymic wordplay. She breaks down these five ways of reading it. The first is a reading in which the title is a collection of traditional and gendered Chinese values – “Love, Luck, Good, Self at Ease Newspaper” (155). “Love, Luck, Good” are feminine and selfless values, while “Self at Ease” is masculine and self-oriented (155). Other readings subvert these traditional and gender-appropriate values into phrases which would not be appropriate to talk about in public, let alone publish as a magazine title, such as “Caress/Foreplay, U.S. Sanitary Napkins/So Very Great/Free Newspaper/Magazine” (157). These wordplays are discursively creative and defiant in that they remake traditional values into something new and fresh, and thereby identify the traditional values (which are heteropatriarchal) as cliché by comparison (157). The implication then is that women loving other women are performing acts that are original, creative, and good, thus creating a self-affirming discourse for nu nu women (158). This conception of the usefulness of wordplay as a creative and deviant act becomes relevant for her specific purposes because it underlies the way she has created her new name, kuaer.

So, what do you think? If I call you a kuaer, am I right? And do you like it? As Lee puts it, “do you find kuaer yo yi ci (meaningful; interesting/intriguing; romantically engaging)?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Real Life Situation: Prisons Face Dilemma With Transgender Inmates

I came across this article and thought it was relatable to our class.

As a class, we reiterated over and over again that gender is NOT a binary system. So, it made me think about systems that force a person to be placed in a gender box, such as the prison system. This article was about how transgender women are place in all-male prison cells. Many are faced with sexual harassment and authority figures fail to do something about it. Supposedly, Sgt. Lou Fatur, of the Sacramento's Sheriff department claims that transgender people are separated and protected. This obviously is not the case if there have been cases of transgender people suing the state because they were not protected. The article claims,

Most prisons have some form of "administrative segregation" for some inmates, but the facilities typically involve reduced privileges and are more expensive to runs

O.K.? I will fully admit that I'm not knowledgeable about the prison system, but is it possible for every cell in the whole prison to be filled, or couldn't you at lease move people around to protect a transgender person? ...or maybe authority figures are just being jerks and could careless.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

"Quare" Studies, or (Almost) Everything I Know About Queer Studies I Learned from my Grandmother

E. Patrick Johnson is the chair of the Performance Studies department at Northwestern University, and a faculty member of the African American Studies department. In addition to co-editing our class textbook, he has also written Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of Authenticity, and an oral history of southern black gay men entitled "Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South". He also tours the country as a performance artist, and has done so since 1999.

In his essay, "Quare" Studies, or (Almost) Everything I know about Queer Studies I Learned from My Grandmother, E. Patrick Johnson explains the word "Quare", telling us that it means queer, "slightly off kilter", or odd, and that it comes from the African American vernacular for "queer". As a noun, for example, this means a person whose sexual and gender identities intersects with their racial subjectivity.

Johnson tells us that "Quare" studies is a theory of and for GLBT folks of color, and that it is a position that values the experiences of GLBT folks of color, and takes into account the fact that the unfair treatment they receive as members of the GLBT community and their racial communities affects the way they view the world, and therefore how they theorize about it. Quare studies is necessary, says Johnson, because there is a lack of understanding about these issues in the general queer theory. The problem that Johnson sees with queer theory is that it does not, as a general rule, take other factors like race and class (which have a large influence in creating identity) into account when theorizing about queer life. This means that the queer narrative is missing a big chunk of people's experience.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The article entitled "Latino Cultures, Imperial Sexualities" was interesting in the way that it organizes the different identities that an individual has to juggle. Although the author’s focus was the multiple identities that a queer Latina/o must balance, this automatically reminded me of code-switching or any other form of arranging one’s identity to bring out the component that best suits or gives them privilege in that given situation.

Recently there was an immigration panel at Agnes Scott College about the Dream Act and other factors that affect the situation with immigration. During the discussion, several students in the audience spoke about their experiences growing up as a first generation American in their family. I was reminded of the tactic of code switching, picking up slang from both cultures, or making sure to be “American” enough or being "insert nationality" enough when discussing this article. Switching between the identities of the two cultures, classes or other contrasting social settings is a tool of survival.

Personally, code switching was something that I felt guilty to utilize because of its stigmatized connotation of being "fake" , however I realize that we code-switch or switch identies all the time. It often reminds me of the pharse "There is a time and place for everything." I wouldn't wear a prom dress to go grocery shopping the same way that I would not bring out a certain identity that no one around me can relate to or understand. In the case of the latino guy in the coffee shop who brings out the homonormative, white, upperclass, gay identity and downplays his latino identity, this is a tool used to fit in.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

"A Comparative Analysis of Hijras and Drag Queens" by Sandeep Bakshi

In his article "A Comparative Analysis of Hijras and Drag Queens" Sandeep Bakshi explores the ability of hijras and drag queens to question heteronormative culture. He begins his article by explaining hijras. Hijras are men who voluntarily go through castration and penectomy and thus, are neither men nor women. They perform as women at important Indian ceremonies, such as weddings and birth ceremonies, as "perceived guarantors of fertility" (213). Though they are culturally sanctioned, they are not regarded as full citizens either and have few political rights. Their community structure is very religious (each hijra has guru) and hierarchical, mirroring normative society. Their motivation for castration is part of a religious ritual to a goddess and their history is shrouded in myth. Hijras are similar to drag queens, by virtue that they parade as women, but they are not the same.

Bakshi compares and contrasts the ability of hijras and drag queens to subvert the gender binary and common conceptions of gender roles. Hijras perform in a public space and "enjoy religious and cultural legitimacy" (216), while drag queens perform in a private or alternative space. Hijras interact with the public who tend not to question heteronormative culture, while in most cases drag queens are performing to an audience that is already questioning society. One problem during the performance of hijras is that the gender roles of the audience members are reinforced, because women are passive observers and men are active participants, "controlling" the show. Drag queens also seem to reinforce gender roles because "female impersonators almost universally present stereotypical and exaggerated images of females" (218). Not only that, but power is a fundamental part of current gender dynamics and in one sense male drag queens are proving that they are "'better' women than women themselves" (218), reinforcing male power. A drag queen's performance relies on the audience's preconceived perceptions of gender and gender roles, instead of calling them into question. While both hijras and drag queens perform as women, hijras reveal their sex (or lack thereof) at the end of the show by lifting up their saris. This shocks the audience are destabilizes their experience.

Bakshi finishes his article by reminding the reader to keep national context in mind when comparing and contrasting cultural practices of the Orient and the West. Both hijras and drag queens "are subcultural byproducts of Western and Indian societies and have developed in relation to their respective mainstream cultures" (221). And they both have their limits and abilities to question the gender binary within their respective cultures. In conclusion "reading the hijra alongside the drag queen means broadening and enriching the discursive elements of identity (in)congruity and revealing the fiction of all gendering and sexualizing processes of any dominant culture" (221).

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Latino Cultures, Imperial Sexualities By Jose Quiroga

Latino Cultures, Imperial Sexualities By Jose Quiroga focuses on the separation of culture and sexuality from a Latino perspective. He begins with introducing to his readers the concept of the American mainstream gay and lesbian culture. This culture has become a standard “homonormativity”. The acceptable norms of being a homosexual are sadly based on “whiteness”. This white majoritarian version of lesbian and gay pride excludes the ethnic and queer minority unless one can be accepted as white. Within this Americanized idea of gay and lesbian pride it seems to be moving towards a "gradual assimilation” (to change or become similar to the majority) of difference within a society to homonormativity rather than “a celebration of [actual] difference itself" (Quiroga 192). America’s concept of "the melting pot" is a perfect example of taking multiple groups with many differences and melting them together into an American vision of normalcy. The politics of assimilation marginalizes (place in a position of lower importance) some members of a community to make room for others to become assimilated. The American concept homonormativity makes sexuality seem rigid and clear cut in definition locking individuals into certain available spaces and/or forcing them to make themselves fit. Even organizations that are meant to give a voice to queer minorities for example, inevitably assimilate themselves into U.S politics and become similar to white lesbian and gay organizations. This ends up pushing certain issues that they should be discussing to the side. This also creates a disconnection between the organization and the people they are supposed to be representing. Some queer Latino activists however feel that the "spectacle" produced by a organization who tries to fit the mainstream national organization concept makes room for "real" action to take place.

Even though this article can come off as a bit anti-American or anti-western influence in the beginning, I believe it is merely expressing the consequences of this mainstream gay concept. It was interesting for Quiroga to include how this American concept has been packaged in such a way that if its image was to be projected globally it gives off the intention of making the world “just like us" (Quiroga 193). He also included how a non American perspective or sexual identity disrupts U.S homonormativity and is usually marginalized. This leads to the exclusion of the ethnic and queer minority because they just don't fit. (Personally, I find it ironic how sexual identities that were and are still outside of the truest norm, have been shaped into secondary norm of acceptable homosexuality which forces others to mold themselves into this image or face exclusion.)

Historically, rights movements would focus on one identity only. For example the feminist movement focused only on the identity of being a woman. These movements would push for the rights and acceptance for that singular identity excluding others that may be connected to that identity. Those embodying multiple identities will in one way or another feel partially or fully excluded from their different identifying communities. For example a queer Latino would feel alienated from the Latino community because there is no queer safe space and in the queer community the relationship between sexuality and culture is usually ignored. The Latino movement is a good example of the separation of cultural identity and sexual identity. The separation between cultural identity and sexual identity forces people to choose only one identity to represent at a time. This leaves the queer minority “othered” when combining culture and sexuality together.

Latinos are examples of people who sometimes juggle multiple identities. This not only shows the fluidity of identity but it is also a prime example of what Quiroga calls positionality. Socially one has to continuously reposition themselves according to their environment and situation in order to represent the identity that would be most beneficial. Depending on what identity they express they can either gain or loose certain social privileges. The separation of culture and sexuality also leads to a kind of identity hierarchy where one is more important than the other. This creates the options of an individual keeping culture and sexuality apart or negotiating in a way they can work together. However negotiation simply can not cancel out the social conflicts derived from the blending of multiple identities. Many voluntarily assimilate themselves into the homonormative structure and separation between culture and identity because of self-interest and self-benefit in an identity structured society.

Quiroga also expresses how through the use of films, Latino directors have created a broader space for identity and identification (how others identity others) with room to explore the relation between the two and the relation between sexuality, ethnicity and race. While maintaining individuality and not falling into the melting pot (in other words gay pride and acceptance without assimilation) these films give identity back a sense of mobility. "They are not interested in defining sexual behavior according to cultural models but in broadening the space of intervention by focusing on" the grey areas where classification cannot be applied (Quiroga 194). Grey zones are what make room for other spaces. Their movies reiterate the concept of how all kinds of identities, racial, ethnic, religion or sexuality bleed into each other. This mobility through different worlds of identity illustrates how being Latino or expressing homosexuality for example does not have to be in opposition or threatening to the construction of another identity. Latino, American, Homosexuality, Heterosexuality all "coexist for the sake of multiple definitions that will in turn dismantle the normative definitions society has imposed."

In my opinion the author of this article believes that the current narrow politics of identity need to be dismantled because identity is fluid and culture and sexuality are intertwined. Sexuality and ethnicity often overlap each other naturally and by not separating the two it can broaden the current definitions of sexuality. The destabilization (break down) of current identity categories will create new ways of relating across cultures, races and ethnicities which will in return target and create dialogue on aspects and issues over looked by the traditional white gay and lesbian politics. The point is not to create new singular categories but understand the connection between existing ones.

[Included are two flags that have combined differing cultural and sexual identities. One is of the Puerto Rican Gay Flag and the other is the American Gay Flag]

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Disidentifications by Jose Muñoz

In the Introductory chapter of his book Disidentifications, Jose Muñoz explains this term and introduces readers to the performance artists who inspired his thinking about it. He begins by introducing reader's to Margo Gomez, a queer performance artist who's work is really personal and about her own relationship to her queer identity as well as her identity as a Cuban/Puerto Rican Latina. It is through her memories, performed on stage that we see "disidentification" take place.

Muñoz describes disidentification as the third way of relating to identity. While folks may opt to identify with a mainstream concept like whiteness or straightness, others may choose to counteridentify by claiming blackness or queerness as their preferred location. These two choices of identifying or counteridentifying create problems. When you identify, you have to throw out all the parts of you that don't fit into the box you are identifying with. Counteridentification seems cool because it works against assimilation, asking folks to be who they are in spite of what the mainstream dictates. But in defining oneself against the mainstream, a power dynamic remains and it can turn into the same old hierarchy just with the previously marginalized folks on top.

Disidentification is a third option that isn't apolitical that allows folks to embrace all parts of who they are, even the parts that don't fit into a narrowly defined box of identity. To return to the example of Gomez, Latina lesbians are unique in that they don't quite fit into the straight box of Latino identity or the white box of queer identity. By living her life she is disidentifying a little bit with each identity category that she inhabits.