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Saint Turing: A Few Reflections on Gay Iconography and Martyrdom on the Occasion of Alan Turing’s 100th Birthday

In film, Freud, Gender Studies, LGBT, Literature, Mythology, Politics, Queer Theory, Sex on February 19, 2015 at 2:47 pm

by Chase Dimock

(This essay was originally published in 2012 on The Qouch in honor of Turing’s 100th birthday. With the resurgence of interest in Turing’s life following the Oscar buzz surrounding The Imitation Game, we wanted to reprint this piece to focus more attention on what Turing’s career, philosophy, and iconic status means for Queer Studies and LGBT politics)

This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of British mathematician Alan Turing’s birth. In celebration of his enormous contributions to the fields of mathematics, computational science, cryptology, and artificial intelligence, the scientific community has dubbed 2012 the “Alan Turing Year”, commemorating the occasion with numerous conferences, museum exhibitions, a series of articles on his life in the Guardian and BBC, a Google doodle, and even a functional model of his famous Turing Machine made of Legos. By his mid 20s Turing developed his theory of the “Universal Machine”, thus ushering in the age of modern computer science. A decade later, Turing devoted his studies in cryptology toward cracking the German naval enigma. By developing machines known as “bombes” that could decrypt the messages the Nazis relayed to their U-boats, Turing’s intelligence gathering re-shaped World War II. Historians have argued that cracking the Nazi code shortened the war by two years and saved millions of lives.

Such accolades coming 58 years after his death evidence not only his importance as a historical figure, but also how his ideas continue to influence contemporary research and debate on computer science in our increasingly digitized society. As the “Father of Artificial Intelligence”, Turing’s 1950 article “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” foresaw how rapid advances in information science would produce a future in which the line between human intelligence and artificial intelligence would become blurred. Asking, “can machines think”, Turing postulated that ultimately the true mark of artificial intelligence would be whether or not one could tell the difference between communication with a human versus a machine. Turing’s standards for evaluating artificial intelligence have not only framed the scholarly and ethical debate in the scientific community for the past six decades, but they have also proven to be a prophesy of daily life in the 21st century. Living amongst automated phone banks, internet chatterboxes, GPS navigators, and Apple’s Siri app, everyday life has become a series of Turing tests as we increasingly rely upon forms of artificial intelligence and speak to it as if it were real.

Yet, less emphasis has been placed on the tragedy of his untimely death. In 1952, Turing was arrested and convicted of gross indecency for a consensual sexual relationship with another man, the same 1885 statute under which Oscar Wilde was imprisoned more than half a century earlier. Instead of serving prison time, Turing chose to undergo an experimental hormonal treatment prescribed by the British government. While this chemical castration via a synthetic oestrogen hormone curbed his sex-drive, it had dire side effects. Turing began to grow breasts and developed a deep depression. His conviction also caused him to lose his security clearance, thus barring him from continuing to work with the British intelligence agencies. The man who did as much from inside a laboratory to defeat the Nazis as any general did on the battlefield was now considered a threat to national security solely by virtue of his sexuality. Two years later, on June 8th, 1954, Turing took a few bites from a cyanide-laced apple–an elaborate end designed to let his mother believe that his suicide was actually an accident due to careless storage of laboratory chemicals. In 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an official apology for Turing’s “appalling” treatment, but a 2011 petition to pardon Turing’s conviction was officially denied by the British Government.

While infinitely more qualified scientific minds have written amazing tributes to Turing’s contributions to computer science and mathematics this year, I am interested in what Turing’s life and legacy mean to gay history and queer thought. I first heard of Alan Turing when I was 14 years old and just starting to reconcile my sexuality with the images and stereotypes of gay men in the media. He was mentioned in Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Persons of the Century” and with just a brief blurb on his life and death my concept of what a gay man could achieve and contribute to the world was forever changed. I came of age in an era of unprecedented gay visibility, but the Elton John and “Will and Grace” imagery of an ostentatious, campy gay world did not seem to fit my shy, nerdy bookishness. Although I never excelled in math and science, Turing became one of my first gay heroes because he proved to me that a gay man—a nerdy man, can change the world through the power of his intellect, invent the future, defeat the Nazis, and stand up for his rights. Read the rest of this entry »

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).

Read the rest of this entry »

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)

Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Pride & Prejudatass

In Art, Feminism, film, Freud, Gender Studies, Performativity, Queer Theory, Sex on November 4, 2013 at 2:27 pm

The fifth in our on-going series of articles on “The Screen”

pandp

by Barbarism

In this spirited send-up of Pride & Prejudice, BARBARISM queers the classic! (which itself queered the classics–as Jane Austen queered femininity, the Barbs queer what has been queered before! With new and old results). By inserting the Thatcherian past into the Austenian past, Prejudatass connects new to old and upends the old, creating continuity as discontinuity, a constant inconsistency attesting that “there is no solid, objective reality… each of us experiences our reality subjectively”; it is rather for us to advocate what “encourages overlapping and sometimes contradictory realities… as opposed to essentialism’s quest for the One Truth” (Queen, 1997, p. 21).

Psychoanalytically, Prejudatass is a bacchanalia of defenses! This Darcy reincarnation relies on intellectualization and Otherizing to displace and combat his feelings of insecurity by scapegoating immigrants and dandies, thus divesting himself of responsibility and instead assigning blame to socially inferior parties. Psychologically self-soothing, this lack of honesty–as exhibited in his defense against enjoying performing femininity on The Old Stage–represents an egodystonic relationship with exhibitionism. He is finally able to integrate the multiple components of himself as he acknowledges his enjoyment, though with a discomfort that belies the complexity of emotions broiling underneath.

Further, this video is itself a defense against discomfort which “by finding a means of withdrawing the energy from the release of unpleasure that is already in preparation” is able to transform it “by discharge, into pleasure” (Freud, 1960, p. 290).

Works Cited

Freud, S. (1960). Jokes and their relation to the unconscious. New York & London: W.W. Norton & Company.

Queen, C., & Schimel, L. (1997). PoMoSexuals: Challenging assumptions about gender  and sexuality. San Francisco, CA: Cleis Press.

Read the rest of this entry »

One from the Other

In Art, film, Gender Studies, LGBT, Literature, Performativity, Politics, Queer Theory on August 25, 2013 at 11:18 pm

Picture 3(A still from David Wojnarowicz’s film, A Fire in My Belly)

by Kevin McLellan

Preface

Before the acronyms HIV and AIDS were established, there were these acronyms: the 4H disease (Haitians, homosexuals, hemophiliacs, and heroine users) and GRID (gay-related immune deficiency). Did this precursory nomenclature further contribute to the stigma for the gay community in the early 1980s? For those within the gay community not only diagnosed with what would be named HIV/AIDS? Were there other forces that divided the negative gay community, if you will, from the positive gay community? Was fear one of those forces?One from the other by no means directly addresses these substantial questions, but rather in its compression attempts to touch upon the underbelly of a post-breakup phone conversation between HIV+ Kris and HIV- Anthony in 1998, on the heels of breakthrough medicinal therapy. Yet the psychological and sociosexual impacts for those living with an HIV/AIDS diagnosis prior to 1996 had already been set into motion.

The title of this play, One from the other, correlates to something Kris says to Anthony, “It’s killing you. The alcohol and your relationship with your mother. I can’t determine one from the other.” The intention of this dialogue, and consequently the title, is by no means to demonize mothers/motherhood, but rather to use (this particular) mother as metaphor for HIV/AIDS and how the virus has control over the body like the mother has control over her son.

Kris mimics Anthony’s mother, “Why do you speak to me that way? You know that I’m not going to live for very much longer.” This language in conjunction with Kris’ claim, “You speak with her nearly every day and fall for her guilt” is not only an attempt to set the stage for Anthony and his compromised relationships (with his mother, an ex,  and alcohol), but alternatively to fashion germane language for those living with HIV/AIDS in 1998 if they were to address the virus itself.

So, ultimately, this play is attempting to support the creation of a metaphorical conceit (a mother lode, if you will) in order to address directly or indirectly various kinds of division: within the gay and straight communities, between a positive and a negative gay man, and between sons and mothers.

One from the Other

Picture 5A still from David Wojnarowicz’s film, A Fire in My Belly

 

Cast of Characters:

KRIS, a thirty-something gay man who is HIV+ and recently separated from Anthony.

ANTHONY, an alcoholic forty-something gay man still in love with Kris.

The play takes place in their respective apartments, opens with a phone conversation in progress, one evening in the year 1998. Read the rest of this entry »

Tea

In Art, film, LGBT, Performativity, Queer Theory, Sex on May 21, 2013 at 8:46 pm

The third in our on-going series of articles on “The Screen”

TEA By Matthew Terrell

by Matthew Terrell

Picture 11

Pre-TEA:

When I was a kid I had the feeling that the world—those around me—perceived me as off. Not that I was a bad kid—I was a fantastic, smart, active boy. But a little something was off kilter about me. Something was wrong. Something about me was a bit queer.

Today, I know what others saw in me. I was clearly gay.

Children are quite perceptive, and I grew up convinced I was not normal. I was that little boy who steadfastly watched the Mary Tyler Moore Show. I claimed to really identify with Mary. My body, my voice, my interests—every detail betrayed me to others. At age 8, I knew I was marked.

I knew I was marked even when I was too young to grasp what made me different. I knew I would never be what adults wanted of me. I would never become a man.

This is why so many people struggle to come out of the closet. Despite how freeing the act is, you know you are marked as different, lesser than the rest of the world. Before I realized what gay was, I

knew I was bad—bad in a way I could never change. Gay people have been marked for generations— we are the weirdoes, the sissies, the ones who will never be able to recreate the nuclear family.

I don’t know where flounce comes from, but it’s the fabulous little demon that has followed me since my Mary Tyler Moore days. My wrists are limp, my voice is high-pitched, and my style is garish. This is my tea, and I’m ashamed of it. I believe that nobody respects a mincing queer, and I struggle to accept who I am, love what makes me different, and live a life free of the expectations of others.

I struggle because I know I am still marked. When you are gay, you are always cognizant of who you portray. We all want so desperately to pass. I ask myself: How gay do you seem today? Is your level of gayness audience appropriate? Gay men fight to be neutral in the eyes of others. Some of us revel in being “straight acting.” We are convinced people outside our community judge us on how gay we act. How queer we are.

I carry this with me every day. Read the rest of this entry »

Thoughts on the Assassination of Judy Garland (Series of Paintings 2008-2012)

In Art, Gender Studies, LGBT, Performativity, Politics, Queer Theory on April 16, 2013 at 9:03 pm

The second in our on-going series of articles on “The Screen”

duke_Killshot 2 Judys Gopalkrishnan 2013-1

by Carl Gopalkrishnan

Between 2008-2012, I created paintings with an ‘old school’ queer cultural affinity with vintage Broadway and Hollywood musicals. I used the life of Judy Garland as an internal narrative arc, a reflective tool, as part of my personal response to the 9/11 consciousness we inhabit today.  It became a metaphorical exploration of American politics from the period of the Obama/Clinton primaries, through further conflict in the Middle East amid the background of drones and the war on terror.  I think Judy kept asking the same question too, but kept singing the whole time, so keeping her fucked up life beside me as I painted was oddly grounding.

To me, Garland is more than a gay icon. She represents the best and worst of America – and their inevitable interoperability. The flipside of her talent helped me to understand the American partisan split personality in a more sympathetic way. I also had no difficulty with being sympathetic because I can’t not be sympathetic to one side of Judy without acknowledging the damage on the other side. And this ‘otherness’ in my paintings is how I conceive what is queer in this series of paintings.  This led me to looking at Hollywood movies and musicals as metaphors for the political intransigence of both Bush and Obama’s foreign policies. I call the series The Assassination of Judy Garland, because I feel that we are now separated into those that see Judy in 2 dimensional tragic terms; and those that see how tragedy shaped her genius in glorious 3D.

I also used French medieval epic poetry – chansons de geste – roughly translated as songs of heroic deeds because they were used at that time to support the political narratives of the Crusades in ways that reminded me of how many Hollywood products supports the War on Terror.  So the queer lens I created for these paintings is a prescription lens made for a specific time and place. And this lens acts as a screen to both hide and reveal motivations and desires, as much the screen icons I reference.  So the modern political stage I see is through recent history (Judy Garland’s life) and medieval history (chansons de geste).

As a queer-identifying man of colour with multiple geopolitical and sexual identities, I found myself directly affected by the political climate of the last decade.  It was the first time as a painter that I was looking outside to constructively use what was inside me to create an alternative to the narrative War on Terror, which always insists that I use my cultural heritage to position my loyalties in a dangerous time.  When I looked around to find how I could use my queer identity, I found that it was so busy trying on clothes that it had gone way beyond the body it was made to clothe. It had changed as I had aged.

People seem to forget that queer theory breathes within a time of terror that smashes lenses and burns books. It fancies itself immune. But I could not find a queer framework that helped me to paint what I saw.  I no longer understood what I call the new normative queer, and so I returned to what I knew was ‘naff’ and old school.  I allowed myself to visually languor in the Hollywood of the 1930s and 1950s. I felt quite alienated from the new normative queer climate influenced by a hyper-masculinized LGBTI culture that was becoming increasingly nationalistic in it’s desire to go beyond its backroom history into the light of mainstream acceptance.  Part of that process seems to relegate our screen culture history into the domain of soft power forever, which I really resist.  Screen culture has a power equal to that of the chansons de geste, which could inspire entire populations to lay down their lives through songs orally memorised and sung from village to village in the time of The Crusades. So I painted within that retrospective space, choosing sense over sensibility, perhaps.

I have taken away from these paintings a deeper appreciation for how our queer histories have become silent pictures that sit patiently and move slowly behind the interactive and hyperactive edges of this new normative queer. So while I reference moving pictures, the surreality in my paintings is happening on the silent screen inside us. Applied to the bigger stage, this screen can affect momentous change. We should respect that power. Read the rest of this entry »

How Fashion is Queer

In Feminism, Freud, Gender Studies, Lacan, LGBT, Performativity, Queer Theory, Transgender on March 14, 2013 at 3:04 pm
Leigh Bowery

Photo by Leigh Bowery

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by Alison Bancroft

There are a number of popular ideas about fashion: That it demeans and oppresses women, or that it is a capitalist plot to extract money – either that they do not have, or that they do have but do not appreciate – from the gullible and the credulous. Attached to both of these is the idea that fashion is vacuous fluff, something trivial that is only of interest to women and gay men and thus pointless by virtue of those who are interested in it. If it were serious, significant, relevant in any way, shape or form, then straight men would take an interest in it. The fact that, on the whole, they don’t take an interest in it, and the people that do are, on the whole, marginalized and discriminated against, is enough to move fashion to the back of the queue for cultural and political importance.

In this short essay I would like to propose another way of looking at fashion, one that will emphasize the ways in which it reframes notions of gender and sexuality. What makes fashion so remarkable is that it has zero regard for heteronormative ideas about men and women, masculine and feminine. In fact, it offers one of the only cultural spaces there is for variant models of sexed subjectivities. In fashion, the usual categories of man and woman do not apply.

Also, before this essay continues, it should be said that fashion here refers to creativity in dress and bodily ornamentation. It is a branch of the avant-garde that makes people say “but you can’t wear that” as if a garment’s unsuitability for everyday life is a problem when, actually, it is the whole point. Fashion is not about shopping, and if you think it is, you have missed a trick. Fashion is not going to change the world, of course. It is never going be truly revolutionary. It is seditious though, it subverts from within, offering challenges to the presumed naturalness of existing hierarchies within the terms that are available to it.

Sheila Jeffreys is the most vocal exponent of the standard criticism that fashion reflects and serves to maintain female subordination. In her book Beauty and Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices in the West she argues that the appearance of the drag queen Ru Paul in adverts for MAC cosmetics and on the runway for the designer Thierry Mugler is a testament to how much fashion hates women. By Jeffreys’ logic, using a drag queen as a model tells the world that fashion thinks women are irrelevant.[i]

Unfortunately for Jeffreys, anatomy is not destiny. It is not the case that fashion hates women so much it makes them redundant by using a man in their place. Instead, fashion ignores the very idea of men and women from the outset, and it puts men in the place of women, women in the place of men, and trans becomes the default, the norm, rather than an oddity or an abasement. This disregard for the usual categories of man and woman is evidence firstly that gender binaries are irrelevant in fashion, and more generally that gender identity is not located in the anatomical body anyway. For anyone familiar with the development of Queer Theory in the last twenty years, this second point is no surprise. Queer Theory, though, is a bit niche, and beyond the confines of the humanities and liberal arts departments of Western universities where it is researched and taught, no-one has really heard of it. For people outside of universities, the ideas of Queer Theory are communicated differently – and fashion is one of the ways in which queer ideas become culturally active. Indeed, it could be said that fashion was queer avant la lettre.

Andrej Pejic, on the cover of Schon magazine

Andrej Pejic, on the cover of Schon magazine

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