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Contemporary Metrosexuality IV. Le Mort Chic: Epithalamion, Epitaph

In Art, film, Freud, Gender Studies, Lacan, LGBT, Literature, Masquerade, Performativity, Philosophy, Politics, Queer Theory, Sex, The End of Heterosexuality?, Transgender on January 1, 2015 at 11:31 am

The Final Article in our series: “The End of Heterosexuality?”                                         

Dixon Miller, New Orleans, 1996

Dixon Miller, New Orleans, 1996

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by Michael Angelo Tata

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If the edifying Versace Bildungsroman has taught us anything, it is that fashion evokes and invites death, that to be chic is to court death as the lusty courtesan flashes the inflamed King, that death is the ultimate reward for being fashionable, for being fashioned, for being able and willing to be made and remade time and time gain in the kinds of self-fashioning that epitomize the restless self of capital, eternal shopper looking to alienate his subjectivity in just the right foreign material, perhaps even arriving at the point when, as if emulating a pop princess whose psyche has circled back upon itself one too any times, he is finally able to claim he has renounced identity altogether in the pursuit of pure egolessness, the greatest illusion of territoriality.

Beverly Kills “Dee, when your gluten allergies act up, take out your nose ring!”  (Daily Mail)
Beverly Kills
“Dee, when your gluten allergies act up, take out your nose ring!”
(Daily Mail)

True, the death of Gianni Versace is a morality tale on almost every level, but the lesson to be learned from his demise is not a homophobic story about vulgarity and sexual favors in which demented gay men reap what they sow, as Maureen Orth presents in her facile exposé Vulgar Favors, but instead a larger and more genetic lesson about the implicit connection between fashion and death, the one tied inextricably to the other like a sparrow stapled to a shadow or a cinderblock roped to a cankle, the effect being that the more we embrace fashion, the louder we call out to death, who awaits the sound of our voices and finds us all the quicker simply by following the light reflecting from the embellishments of our surfaces (yes, this is also how the sun finds the moon). For it is only via the stuttering, chatterbox language of ephemerality that we may communicate with death and by embracing the transitory that we turn our bodies into so many transistor radios searching for just the right frequency to deliver a message that can never be recalled once its syllables achieve telepoetic status, radiating out into space along with every other radiowaved record of human civilization broadcast to the furthest reaches of the cosmos.

Maurice Blanchot has much to say about the chatterbox in the essays grouped joyously under the title Friendship: for him, the one who chatters paradoxically redeems the “idle talk” (Gerede) lamented by Heidegger in his Being and Time as discardable stage along the path to authentic Da-sein, at its best a productive social obstacle that must be superseded yet another trap put forward by the world to ensnare a being-there which is really a being-here-and-now (what I refer to as Spacetime Da_sein), preventing it from coming to a knowledge of itself through the simple, seductive ruse of distraction.

Little Miss Blanchot rawrzammm to infinity & beyond <3

Little Miss Blanchot
rawrzammm to infinity & beyond ❤

 Like Blanchot, I’ve always found a charm in idle talk, in particular as I discuss in my work on Existentialism at the Mall, myself unsure that discourses priding themselves on clarity, like logic or the philosophy of mathematics, ever go beyond the strange circularity of idle talk, this infinitely recursive yet clueless and a-discursive stammering that is first and foremost a playing for time, as in the title of Perf Art troublemakers Kiki and Herb’s smash 2000 show. In Blanchot’s words:

This is, as it were, the point of departure, an empty need to speak, made of this void and in order to fill it at all costs, and the void is himself having become this need and this desire that still treads only emptiness. A pure force of sorts, of melting snow, of drunken rupture, and often obtained under the cover of drunkenness, where the being who speaks find nothing to say but the flimsy affirmation of himself: A Me, Me, Me, mot vain, not glorious, but broken, unhappy, barely breathing, although appealing in the force of its weakness (“Battle with the Angel,” 131).

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Contemporary Metrosexuality III: Crimes of Fashion

In Gender Studies, Lacan, LGBT, Masquerade, Performativity, Queer Theory, Sex, The End of Heterosexuality? on September 4, 2014 at 7:39 am

The Fourth Article in our on-going Series: “The End of Heterosexuality?”

socks and sandals 1

by Michael Angelo Tata 

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Which is the history of the epicene, the eerie man-child who retains a certain softness which may be read as feminine, but which also might resist such a reading, as with the Mafioso prince, the Chicano figure of the Pachuco, or the Spanish Don — even when that don is Don Ed Hardy, as the designer’s studded t-shirts boldly used to announce down the boulevards of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills circa 2006, back when it really seemed that Southern California might inherit the earth?

Vintage Ed Hardy Meathead (RapGenius.com Photo Courtesy of lyricist Earl Sweatshirt)

Vintage Ed Hardy Meathead
(RapGenius.com. Photo Courtesy of lyricist Earl Sweatshirt)

The affiliation of these smooth criminals with beauty seems to indicate that even if no infraction has occurred, it is still a crime for men to be beautiful, that to be beautiful, they must steal beauty from women, who are the proper keepers of this phenomenon of sensuality, their murders and burglaries of a piece with the aesthetic softness and smoothness they pilfer from the other side of a gender divide they raid in a project of corporeal and sartorial upbuilding.[1] For them, the beautiful remains foreign to masculinity at the same time that it is most at home there, as we learn from ornithology, producing a certain exoticism, their delicate features arriving from another place, a different land, a foreign clime: that is, from the zone of the feminine, where to be beautiful is to present a curvy and unencumbered landscape giving vision and touch the power to proceed without the hindrance of physical obstacle (the scratchy hair follicle) or the failure to form a viable expectation of repeating form or pattern (epidermal roughness and its inherent patchiness).

The various suavités and smoothnesses of these men mark their gender as thoroughly steeped in crime, the softness of their actions and apparitions not necessarily detracting from their masculinity, which is in fact enhanced by the infusion of attitude and action with qualities more traditionally feminine. For these men, the beautiful, the exotic and the criminal all flow together, their turgid waters creating a violent and vicious swirl whose eddies wash away the ‘natural’ roughness cleanly disassociated from femininity by 18th-century European aesthetic theory. These déluges erode the awkwardness of traditional masculinity, a state famously lamented by psychoanalyst J.C. Flügel, as I will shortly discuss, evening it out in the fabrication of a beauty that would completely feminize, were it not for the presence of criminal misconduct and ethical misbehavior in the form of cultural appropriation — or at minimum the potential for such an action to break out within the realm of aesthetic judgment, where a theory of beauty is toppled, quietly and smoothly, glossy yellow tape cordoning off an area where the philosopher forensically collects clues, as if he were the Dominick Dunne of delectation. As I will also examine in the work of Edmund Burke, for these creatures, male smoothness is the core disruptive quality, in that it obscures the rough or uneven, the true masculine aesthetic heritage, covering it over with a slick, calming veneer that is a tempting lure for the unsuspecting, tantalizing honey trap for the beauty of confused Sunday girls the world over, some of whom have a Y chromosome, but all of whom have at least one X. Whitney Houston beware: Bobby gonna getchya. If only these words weren’t retroactive.

How Could She Know? Top Five Celebrity Cocaine Mistakes Gawker.com

How Could She Know?
(Top Five Celebrity Cocaine Mistakes. Gawker.com)

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Contemporary Metrosexuality II: Life after Gianni

In Art, Barthes, film, Freud, Gender Studies, Instinct for Research, Kant, Lacan, LGBT, Masquerade, Performativity, Queer Theory, The End of Heterosexuality? on July 17, 2014 at 7:48 am

The Third in our on-going Series on: “The End of Heterosexuality?”metrochest1

by Michael Angelo Tata 

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For Dixon Miller: Bless His Heart    

For the history of metrosexuality — and yes, it is strange yet important to provide some kind of forward-oriented chronology for even a metaphysical entity like the Metro, despite the fact that, being metaphysical, there will necessarily be resistance to containment, overflow of boundaries and an almost total refusal of vitrinization — the fantastic but very real story of the death of Gianni Versace functioned as a morality tale casting an unflattering light on an unruly and overgrown homosexual narcissism. This glamorously ludicrous stance seemed to beg for its own eradication as it articulated its visual, behavioral and ethical excesses so vividly in the language of a mass producibility that magically retained reference to the exclusive despite the tacit, blasé populism underwriting its existence. As with Freud, a primary, post-autoerotic attachment to the self seemed to lead straight to the necropolis when that love was tested in that realtime which transcends the solipsism of minutes spent gazing into a mirror whose tain holds the secret to that fixation. This creature’s disappearance freed up the domain of self-beautification for a metrosexual culture which would never know these particular consolidated energies and indulgences of the flesh, because, not being homosexual, their drive or pulsation was always directed toward an alternate biological organization of physiological surfaces different from theirs: this tale is one version of what happened to make way for a straight takeover of the scene of a sartorial display into which the corporeal factored in equally, body and garment conversing with one another loudly, and in public, the two engaged in an endless dialogue, each blocking the other’s claims to primacy through friendly semiotic horseplay. In this version or fashion genealogy, the metrosexual was an aftereffect of the Chelsea Boy’s deterioration, a degradation marked by a fatal unidimensionality which no molt or pair of alligator loafers or iced double mocha sipped by the shores of a restless South Atlantic lost in the pondering of its own turquoise splendor could have saved: the ecstasy of communication, Baudrillard’s vision of what happens when semantic channels collapse into the singularity of one neon tube abuzz with residues of lost dimensionalities, took this uniquely Mediterranean historical superficiality as a victim, Grimm’s Fairy Tale meets Movie of the Week.

Being one myself — what a crime, to admit it, even all these years later — and totally devoted to the cause, I penned a gossip column by the title Chelsea Boy for New York City newspaper LGNY in 1997, finally posing for a strange and tasteless advertisement in which I took responsibility for Gianni’s shooting before Cunanan had emerged as a suspect: the perfect swan song. In general, I took the concept and pushed it up against it structural limits, making it performative, a mobile site where surface and depth came into controversy without it being clear who won or could win the skirmish, sublation alluded to, yet never completed as a process, Deleuze’s CSO (Corps Sans Organes) popping by the mall for a ride on the merry-go-round, round and round and round, all those Holden Caulfield circles masquerading as motion (yes: Post-structuralists kept feeding the machine quarters). And because it all came so naturally to me, I continued to espouse the aesthetic long after it ceased being acceptable to do so, driven by my own sumptuary demons — right up until the present moment (and every act of écriture has its unique present, as Barthes’ punctum grounds itself in the spaciotempral banalities of a studium it is loathe to admit it needs). Walking the streets of Miami in a circus of citrus colors and animal prints, I still cannot help but flinch at the memory of what it felt like to live through the aftermath of Cunanan’s bullet striking the fleshy target of an icon reminded he was after all only a man. Read the rest of this entry »

Bend It Like Bex, Flex It Like Barts: Contemporary Metrosexuality and Its Pursuit of the Fabulous

In Art, film, Gender Studies, Lacan, LGBT, Masquerade, Performativity, Politics, Queer Theory, The End of Heterosexuality? on May 28, 2014 at 8:59 am

The second in our on-going series on “The End of Heterosexuality?”
Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 11.35.47 PM

by Michael Angelo Tata 

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for 12 Pack

12 Pack Takes Over  (photo via vh1.com)

12 Pack Takes Over (photo via vh1.com)

Introduction: Narcissus Blinked (#sorrynotsorry)       

Selfie Wars take no prisoners: and so it is with vibrant male display in mind in the grand age of reality stardom that I offer the following series of reflections on what the metrosexual has done to interrupt a certain domination of the surface by homosexual culture in general, broken up into four installments, a tetraptych to be displayed at an impossible memorial ceremony where mourning and melancholia cross wires like so much spaghetti thrown against the wall just to see if it will stick, proof that the apartment was always a rental. In the first, printed here, immediately after this preface, and in direct physical contact with it, as if that matters (it might, actually), I trace out the rough contours of a fashion history that has left men in the dust in order clarify why exactly the metrosexual should arrive as such a surprise on the scene of display, where he seems to abjure both heterosexual and homosexual orthodoxies, making the future of each unclear, muddled and completely vulnerable to apocalypse. In the second, I gaze upon more recent history—and yet years that seem to have slipped so far and so quickly into oblivion, now that time has accelerated even beyond the spaciotemporal compression initially postulated by David Harvey in his analysis of postmodern culture and that Husserlian Internal Time Consciousness, a phenomenological mainstay, has become just another bone in the Pomo Reliquary—to examine what Gianni Versace has contributed to male efflorescence and in particular how he has clothed the whore so that his eventual disappearance will be more meaningful within the context of these struggles over aesthetic ownership (for in the end, not everyone owns male display—others are owned by it, or find themselves disowned completely, dissed and alone).

Next, in the third panel, if I may be permitted to stick with the poltytych metaphor from classical devotional painting, which seems entirely apt, I examine seminal aesthetician Edmund Burke’s ideas about the external features of the beautiful and the sublime so that the stakes of metrosexual reversal as the sublime becomes beautiful in a species of metaphysical makeover are spelled out clearly: the shift is not benign, and might even be described as tactical, assuming aesthetics is a war, which it might very well be, if entomology and ornithology have taught us anything and if the human experience is not such a radical break with nature as we might initially have fancied back at the start of Enlightenment thinking (it’s no accident that the typical Sadean justification of sexual violence is always that nature is cruel). Lastly, the final section of my lyric evocation introduces future mourning into the discussion, as it attunes itself to the affinity of fashion for the corpse and looks at the strange friendship the two entities share on both runway and street: for if every fashion stance is a commentary or gloss on death, then the metrosexual, too, must die, and be glossed, perhaps still remaining glossy, a creature most at home on the pages of a magazine or the charmed quadrilateral of the billboard, much like the Armani one famously perched along the elevated High Line Park in New York City, a metrosexual anchor. Assigning a value to that/these death(s) is imperative, for not every disappearance counts, much as we might wish it did: for to end and to stop denote different modes of cessation, as Arthur Danto has taught us in his writings about the famous End of Art: not every stop is an end, although every end stops (the trick is for the disaster to be world-historical). Read the rest of this entry »

MATRICÍDIO, Diego Costa’s “Lacanian film” To Screen at Anthology Archives

In Art, film, Lacan, Masquerade, Performativity, Sex, Transgender, Transvestite Souls on August 23, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Brazilian filmmaker Diego Costa traces back (and forth) the sources of his femininity through provocative/perverse encounters with his Mother, Her sister, and Her drag doppelgängers in “Matricídio“. The film will be screened one night only, this Tuesday, August 27 at 9:30 p.m. at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City, as part of the NewFilmmakers series. Tickets are $6. “Matricídio” is at once an experimental cinematic love letter and letter of rupture, the Mother is here muse and monster, incorporated and exorcised from the son’s body. Watch the trailer above.

(Brazil, 2013, Dir. Diego Costa, 93 min., In Portuguese and French, with English subtitles)

Tuesday, August 27, at 9:30pm
Anthology Film Archives
32 Second Ave, New York, NY 10003
$6

for more info:
Facebook.com/Matricidio
Twitter.com/MatricidioFilm
http://www.NewFilmmakers.com

|BLACK BOX| the milk: /sweet 5

In Feminism, Gender Studies, Masquerade, Performativity, Queer Theory, Sex on December 6, 2012 at 8:43 pm

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     by Barbarism

In the spirit of Nancy Chodorow, BARBARISM presents the symbolic Breast! A physiological screen upon which one may project all one’s psychological terrors, desires and needs. Et, voila, the ultimate in Good Breast/Bad Breast splitting. It’s “…the almost dizzying continual activity involved in the projective and introjective management of inner objects and of hatred, aggression and envy that characterizes shifts in the transference–the doing and undoing, reversing good and bad, love and hate, and self and other, along with the rapid-fire shifting of affect and drive as the infant feels anger at the breast, feels the breast is angry, fears the angry breast, takes it in, fears the angry self, fears that the angry self will destroy the good breast, tries to get the good breast to soothe the angry self, worries that it has destroyed the breast, tries to restore it, and so on.”

-Nancy Chodorow, The Power of Feelings: Personal Meaning in Psychoanalysis, Gender, and Culture

About the Author:

BARBARISM  (https://vimeo.com/user4315393) is a multimedia project developed by Rebecca Katherine Hirsch and Sarah Secunda that agitates on messianic behalf of gender-implosion, identity-expansion and balls-out psycho-social analysis! Our videos and screeds aim to put forth a no-holds-barred bundle of art as activism.

 

Why Don’t You Come Up Sometime and Queer Me?: Reclaiming Mae West as Author and Sexual Philosopher

In Feminism, Foucault, Freud, Gender Studies, LGBT, Literature, Masquerade, Performativity, Politics, Queer Theory, Transvestite Souls, Uncategorized on November 5, 2012 at 11:57 pm

  by Chase Dimock

  

We know Mae West as an actress, a sex symbol, a cultural icon, a comedienne, a master of the one liner and the double entendre. What we don’t think of Mae West as is an author. It has been largely forgotten that Mae West got her start on stage, in a series of salacious plays she wrote for herself in the late 20s. West was by then a veteran of the Vaudeville circuit appearing mostly chorus line gigs and bit parts. But when she grew tired of waiting for the right part and her big break to come around, she decided to write her own roles. With early plays such as “Sex” and “Diamond Lil”, West invented the vamp persona that defined her career over the next five decades. If we think of Mae West as playwright and an author that wrote the character that she ultimately became, then we can view her iconography as its own meticulously plotted text and her careful crafting of figure and image as a finely formulated semiotics of the body. If we think of Mae West as an author, then her pithy one-liners and double entendres transcend the ephemera of comic relief and reveal her as one of the most astute observers of sexual and gender politics of the modernist era. If we think of Mae West as an author, a quote like “I’m no model lady. A model’s just an imitation of the real thing”, becomes an insight into gender performativity. Her quote “Marriage is a fine institution, but I’m not ready for an institution”, becomes a critique of the state’s power to enforce heteronormativity through marriage. And finally her quote “If I asked for a cup of coffee, someone would search for the double meaning” becomes a post-modernist play on the endless veils of irony and metaphor that obscure and inflate every day speech. It is this Mae West as author and sexual philosopher who put her text into her curves, that I want to recover and illuminate.

While West marketed herself as an object of heterosexual desire, she not only understood her appeal to a gay audience, but she also engaged with the newly emerging gay community in her plays. Thus, I want to also think about Mae West as queer theorist—as an interpreter of queer sexuality who saw the newly visible figure of the homosexual in society as a product of power relations—a figure determined by the interplay of institutional powers, medicine and the law, and his own creative power to define himself. For this, I turn to her 1927 play, “The Drag”, a text centered on the question of the male homosexual’s position in society. Unlike her previous play, “Sex”, which launched her into notoriety and stardom on Broadway, “The Drag” was not a vehicle for self-promotion as an actress. Mae West did not write a role for herself. Instead, “The Drag” sought to cash in on what contemporary scholars have called “The Pansy Craze”, a period in the 1920s when female impersonators appeared in mainstream stage shows and the Jazz age youth went slumming at gay bars and drag balls. The “pansy”, often known as the “fairy”, was a figure that created gender confusion; a male that interwove signifiers of masculinity and femininity on his body. He paraded feminine mannerisms, walked in high heels with a swish, and even used feminine pronouns, but he was not a trans-woman. The fairy became the dominant image of what was termed the “invert”, before “gay” hit wide usage two decades later; a biological male with the soul of a woman on the inside.

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Psychoanalysis and Feminism: The Bathetic Sorrow of One Woman’s Attempt at Commingling!

In Feminism, Freud, Gender Studies, Masquerade, Mythology, Politics on May 21, 2012 at 9:33 am

by Rebecca Katherine Hirsch

It’s true! I am that woman! A woman with a dream… a dream that has been realized so many times before… of combining my two favorite philosophical frameworks: feminism and psychoanalysis. Who has yet realized this dream? Nancy Chodorow, Laura S. Brown, the good people at York University, that lady who wrote Feminism and its Discontents: A Century of Struggle With Psychoanalysis (I really should read that already) and all those on-top-of-the-game social psychologists. Still, in my humdrum daily life, I find the attempt at synthesis terribly demoralizing.

I wrote a note to self during my Gender Studies course this year: “Under the necessary guise of social inquiry and challenge to gender essentialism, my ultimate interest is in personalities.”

I mean, really. People interest me in a way ‘movements’ and ‘masses’ do not, but movements and masses create the “reality” that people accept and I don’t like what passes for “reality” (when it’s male-or-female, us-or-them dichotomies and arrogant non-relativism) so I have to fight my little fight to change it. Meanwhile, my interest in individual psychologies lays low on the sidelines, waiting for the world to get some better sex ed., empathetic humility and stop displacing all its shame and self-hatred onto countless innocents and grow up already! Down with the oppression! So I can psychoanalyze without guilt that I should have been agitating for revolution!

Whenever I’m with lay (non-psych) folks whose conversations lead me to believe they’re unconsciously buying in to all the mainstream media defamation of that weird, “unknowable” category ‘woman,’ (atop gay, black, old, what have you) I find it a political, staving-off-killing-myself necessity to talk about feminism. But whenever I’m with cool, collected, hip-to-the-jive feminists with their unassailably agenda-justifying facts and stats, all I want to talk about is their childhood traumas and unrealized dreams. It’s so much more interesting… If only I lived in an utterly equitable world, then I would have the luxury to do what I really want to do: Psychoanalyze! To the extent that I have the ability!

But psychologically plumbing the depths is so dissatisfying on its own. Divorced from social context, without accounting for institutionalized sexism, homophobia, elitism, etc. inherited from Freud-era psychoanalysis, the psychoanalysis we get (and the psychoanalysis recognized as such by my feminist colleagues) is your basic benighted biological reductionism. No wonder so many modern young politicos think psychoanalysis is oppressive. There aren’t enough visibly politically engaged psychoanalysts (though Ken Corbett comes to mind: So Awesome) to upend the regressive stereotype.

But I hate because I care. I love the tenets of psychoanalytic theory so much that my disappointment with little lapses of investigative integrity accumulate easily into intense anger! If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t expend the energy to hate. But I hate because I love its potential and realization (when Freud + his successors stick to focusing on internal processes, defenses and coping mechanisms, the many variations on secure and insecure attachment, childhood development and its innumerable roadblocks, sexual fixations unrelieved) that all the stupid pockets of egregiously unrecognized sexism/heterosexism/racism/classism/entitled thoughtlessness boils my blood! How could you, psychoanalysis! When you’re great, you’re great! When you’re stupid, you’re like a brainlessly unquestioning (though potentially well-meaning) right-winger!

I just wish I could focus all of my energy on grilling my brain and exploring my fantasies but it’s hard to justify when I think of how little access the vast majority of the population has to this kind of luxurious self-inquiry. But this is a bad world and feminism problematizes simplistic hierarchies and essentialistic dualisms of power. I need feminism because it verbalizes the wordless frustration of injustice, but I don’t love it—it’s necessary. It shouldn’t be. I wish I lived in a world where it wasn’t.

I tell myself psychoanalysis is a much weightier endeavor, a much more frightening, fascinating and noble exercise—to have the guts to look into the hypocrisies, desires, needs and hatreds within your own psyche. What ho! But I can’t sensuously revel in it guiltlessly for long as so many people who need it either have no way of accessing it, are afraid of self-examination or aren’t even aware such a discipline exists (and as we know, so many assholes in power need psychoanalysis to ideally stop their killing/raping/enacting blindly hypocritical legislation/insert your oppression here).

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Madonna Is Dead; Long Live Madonna

In Butler, Counter-transferences, Freud, Lacan, Masquerade, Performativity, Queer Theory on April 4, 2012 at 5:46 pm


by Diego Costa

I remember watching this short video at an LGBT film festival several years ago that established a kind of viral kinship to Madonna. The experimental essay film juxtaposed images of the icon to the filmmaker’s melancholy voice-over narration, in which he told us how he had mapped his anxieties about being a horny gay man in the 80s to Madonna’s oeuvre. He would only allow himself to finally purchase her “True Blue” album once he got tested for HIV and the results came out negative. Unfortunately, then, he was never able to buy the album. A Madonna-less HIV-positive man in the early 90s trying to make do with only the accidental encounters with the diva’s music, when he happened to tune in to a radio station precisely when they were playing one of her songs. Of course, he could never have exercised such self-control when it came to channeling his own sex drive. Leaving it up to happenstance for pleasurable encounters to occur would, in the 80s, 90s and today, probably leave many a gay man on the verge of a very dry nervous breakdown. So why Madonna masochism? What is it about Madonna that inspired the filmmaker to elect her as the ultimate reward for a fantasized sexuality that doesn’t come back to haunt the queer “male” body in the ass?

The relationship between Madonna and gay men are, of course, as clichéd as her post-2005 lyrics. Following the narrative of the bad faghag who leads her fag to believe she will always be forever his (no matter how many times he drops her in the middle of the dancefloor ride-less for a hot trick, as Margaret Cho would have it), only to then drop him ride-less when her own trick comes along, her Guy Ritchie years allowed us to look elsewhere. We found comfort in the easy-to-digest liberal essentialism of Gaga, who told us our monstrosity was legitimate only because it was genetic. After the divorce, and we had a feeling that faghags, like fags, don’t do longevity very well, we were ready to be seduced by Madonna’s unapologetically unintellectual affect all over again. The video for “Girl Gone Wild” illustrates well one of the fundamental differences between Gaga and the Queen: the first is stuck in the politics of categorization of identity politics, the latter bypasses “language” altogether by inhabiting Desire itself. Madonna, most importantly, has always taken charge of her own objecthood. Like a bitter bottom queen, too well-seasoned to strive for some kind of impossible agency that only a very laborious masculinity could buy, she has taught us that there is pleasure in being a thing too. That one can both act and direct, one can cum without moving, one can script entire scenes from the comfort of one’s silk-covered bed. “Justify My Love,” one of Madonna’s many video masterpieces, transforms the walk of shame into a walk of victory. She begins the video as an anxiety-filled, migraine-suffering woman carrying her luggage through hallway, wishing to make love in Paris and hold hands in Rome, and ends with the post-coital smirk of the hungry liberated tourist fag who goes to Le Depot for the first time, blows every butch top in sight and leaves unrepentant. “Poor is the man whose pleasures depend on the permission of another” are the words she leaves us with, condensing pages and pages of much drier Queer Theory work that 1991, the year the video came out and was promptly banned by MTV, would inaugurate into one single (and sexy!) sentence.

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The Surreal Sex of Beauty: Jean Cocteau and Man Ray’s “Le Numéro Barbette”

In Freud, Kant, Lacan, LGBT, Masquerade, Performativity, Transvestite Souls on January 23, 2012 at 11:23 am

by Chase Dimock

In 1923, the American acrobat Vander Clyde better known by his stage name “Barbette” made his theater debut in Paris at the famed Moulin Rouge and the Folies Bergère and captivated the French artistic community with his show. Yet, his success was not merely due to his death-defying high wire or trapeze acts. Rather, what built his reputation and fame was his uncanny female impersonation as he performed his stunts. Most who saw Barbette for the first time were completely unaware of his true sex, but as Barbette’s renown grew in Paris, audiences poured in knowing they were witnessing the feminine graces of a man, yet captivated by how willingly they bought into the artful deception. During his days on the American Vaudeville circuit, Barbette’s revelation of his male gender at the end of his show may have shocked the audience, perhaps with laughter and the occasional moral offense, but in Paris, his act transcended the carnival aesthetic of oddities and shock value and was appreciated more as an art akin to ballet.

This appreciation for Barbette’s artistic sensibilities came as his act was embraced by the Parisian avant-garde and explored in the works of two surrealist artists, the French writer Jean Cocteau and the American photographer Man Ray. In 1926, Cocteau commissioned Man Ray to take a set of photographs chronicling Vander Clyde’s physical transformation into Barbette before a performance. In these photos, Man Ray presents Barbette in a stage half-way between average man and the over the top show girl outfit that completed Barbette as a character. Barbette’s wig is on and his face is made up, but his chest is bare and unmistakably a man’s. For Jean Cocteau, this state in between genders, in between sexes constitutes the essence of Barbette as neither a man impersonating or transformed into a woman, but instead as a being that takes advantage of the fluidity of aesthetics and theatrics to render gender and sex amorphous, constantly in a state of movement. I examine how surrealism supplied a discourse for theorizing an aesthetics for visualizing the possibilities of Barbette’s play of gender and yet how Cocteau and Man Ray had to work against the conventions of this fundamentally masculinist movement by examining the long repressed queer dimensions of the unconscious that even surrealism feared to unleash.

Vander Clyde was born in 1904 in Texas where he first saw trapeze artists in the circus and as an adolescent began to recreate their acts on his mother’s clothesline. By his teenage years, he was already touring with the circus, most notably as a replacement for one of the “World Famous Arial Queens”, the Alfaretta Sisters after one of them had died. It was as a member of this act that Vander Clyde first performed dressed as a woman. Later, as Vander Clyde developed his solo act, he chose the name “Barbette” because it sounded exotic and could be a first or a last name and thus also could signify both genders. By the time Barbette had achieved international fame and had taken his act to Paris in the 1920s, his performance appeared generally as Frank Cullen describes it in his entry on Barbette in his encyclopedia of Vaudeville:

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