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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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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

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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“The Conference”: an excerpt from Gender’s Hourglass

In Gender Studies, Lacan, LGBT, Literature, Transgender on July 13, 2012 at 12:49 am

by Cybele Marcia Carter

Editor’s Introduction

        In her previous excerpt from Gender’s Hourglass, “The Institute”, Cybele Marcia Carter explored a fantasy that nearly all queer individuals share—the desire to go back in time to relive one’s adolescence armed with the knowledge of and security with our sexual and gender identity from the present. For Carter, this meant traveling back to a formative moment in time in 1972 when she was institutionalized for being transgendered. Carter writes in her introduction to the first installment:

 What I was (and still am) may have been diagnosed as a disease in 1972, but is accepted as (mostly) routine today – a transgendered female.  Neither my doctor, who recommended institutionalization, nor my parents or sisters at that time, understood what gender dysphoria (feeling born and trapped in the body of the wrong gender) or Gender Identity Disorder (GID) were.  They could not know that, while born as a boy, I had always lived with the certainty that I was female and should have been born and raised as a girl.

What fascinates me about Carter’s story is its testament to how gender and sexuality are discursively constructed. Most queer coming of age novels of the 20th century include some variation of a scene in which the character sees the word “homosexual”, “gay”, “lesbian”, or any term of queer identity in a novel, a dictionary, or encyclopedia and suddenly becomes transformed by access to textual authority. Just as an infant in Lacan’s mirror stage is born into the symbolic through the misrecognition of the self as a whole that must be maintained, I believe that this event of textual discovery for a queer youth is its own moment of misrecognition, an instance of being born into an identity category expected to wholly define the self that one must constantly strive to fit and resemble.

“Gay” is both a description of one’s self and an aspirational model to pursue for the self that subjects the individual to all of the expectations and limitations of that identity category. We are given language to inform the self, but it has an inherent, impersonal lack that can never satisfy the desire for psychic wholeness. A child born into the symbolic feels an inherent lack in themselves, and when a queer child first learns of a word for his/her gender or sexual feelings, they are deceived with a second moment of misrecognition that could make them believe that the feeling of lack was caused because they did not know they are this thing called “gay” and that by now knowing they are “gay” they have a wholly explanatory term for their self. Thus, part of maturing into a queer sexual or gender identity means realizing the inadequacy of all categories of identity, and developing strategies for signifying the self that use common terms and discourse to others in order to make one’s self legible without being reduced to a one-dimensional figure.

Carter’s story understands the importance of a queer youth to have access to language, knowledge, and discourse on gender and sexual identity. Yet, instead of having some enlightened clinician from the 70s to inform her teenage self, she supplies it herself from 2012. Her teenage self is not just given the message of “you are transgendered and that is okay”; she is granted all of the experience of growing into her gender identity over the course of the next 40 years. There is something in “queer experience” and living queerly between the lines of male and female–the lasting affect of navigating gender that informs gender identity in ways that the signifier/signified system of language excludes.

The Conference

The Gran mal conference would be, I felt, the make-or-break point of my efforts here at the Institute to form a new life; a new past, present, and future for myself.  If my explanations were convincing enough regarding my being born transsexual, and needing to live as a female being as important as breathing itself, then I would have the medical community here behind me.  And that was important in persuading my parents to let me remain Cybele and to begin taking female hormones.

But if I couldn’t persuade Kilroy’s colleagues to back me, I wondered if he would in turn back off from supporting me.  Nobody likes to swim against the tide or to go it alone, as I myself knew quite well.  Still, I knew I could count on Miss Williams’s support in any case; and perhaps she would convince the others on their own terms.

Miss Williams led me down the hall to the south side of the ward and used her elevator key to take us down to Level 1.  This was where a long hallway took us down into the actual hospital, with its own maze of corridors; until we found the conference room.  I was lost myself; but Emily had been there before, it seemed.

Now as for the room: perhaps you’ve seen, in old or classic movies such as Young Frankenstein, something called an “operating theater”.  This is a large room like an auditorium, or a small amphitheater: with banks of seats rising tier by tier so that all the attendees can get a good view of a platform, or stage, upon which a physician would perform an operation.  Or, in this case, introduce a rather unique patient.  As we entered through a set of double doors, I almost backed out.  Every one of the 50 or so seats in the theater were filled with white-coated physicians, psychologists and graduate students.  All eyes turned to me as I came in, blushing and flushed with my natural shyness.  Dr. Kilroy was standing beside a raised podium to my left, upon which a microphone was planted.

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“The Institute”: an excerpt from Gender’s Hourglass

In LGBT, Literature, Queer Theory, Transgender on May 8, 2012 at 9:24 am

by Cybele Marcia Carter

Author’s Introduction

When I was just 13 I had already seen my first psychiatrist and was committed to a private mental institution for six weeks in San Francisco.  I was not actually mentally ill, neither acutely neurotic nor psychotic.  What I was (and still am) may have been diagnosed as a disease in 1972, but is accepted as (mostly) routine today – a transgendered female.  Neither my doctor, who recommended institutionalization, nor my parents or sisters at that time, understood what gender dysphoria (feeling born and trapped in the body of the wrong gender) or Gender Identity Disorder (GID) were.  They could not know that, while born as a boy, I had always lived with the certainty that I was female and should have been born and raised as a girl.  As such, the “therapy” I received in the institute was misguided, focusing only on “male-bonding” with my father and improving my socialization skills with other adolescents on my ward.  The result was years – decades, actually – of misery, on my part; of trying, and failing, to either fit into the role in which I was cast, or to break free of convention and live true to myself.  I have lived, until now, a mostly hidden or “closeted” existence.

In my actual life, here in 2012, I am finally escaping the bonds of familial ties, guilt, and shame over being a transsexual.  But it occurred to me – what if I could travel back in time, to 1972, with the full knowledge and experience of the past 50 years, and change what was to what I wished it to be?  With the help of my clinic’s medical staff, could I have convinced my parents to allow me to begin living as a girl; as a daughter and sister; and even to help me take appropriate hormones and finance eventual sexual reassignment surgery (SRS)?  And if so, how different would my life have been up to now?  Would I be happier or filled with even more regret?

I have thus combined my actual memoirs of that critical year of 1972 – the year I first started high school, and met my first girlfriend, who would later bear my daughter – with a story of what could have (and should have) happened.  The settings and most of the characters are as real as I remember and speak and act as I believe they would have or do now.  The scientific and medical information I “bring back” with me in time is completely accurate and accepted as of the present.  Naturally, I also bring back “memories” and knowledge of my past future – that is, of the future I already lived for 50 years – which I refer to as my “first time around”.  But my story emphasis is the choices I make and the changes to my life in this, my “second time around” – in other words, a “do-over” of my adult life.

Mine is neither the first nor the last story of its kind.  I am indebted to my predecessors such as Daphne Scholinski and Susanna Kaysen for their inspiring memoirs of their experiences in private mental institutions.  Ms. Scholinski’s book, The Last Time I Wore a Dress, falls on the opposite end of the gender spectrum from my own, but my tale has some similarities.  My complete book, Gender’s Hourglass, could almost be considered a blend of truthful memoir and fiction.  I based it on my own real experiences and people I’ve known and loved, though I’ve changed their names and used artistic license in crafting composite characters and dialogue.  The opinions and convictions I, as protagonist, express are indeed my own.  I hope this story may inspire others to stand for themselves in expressing who they really are.

The Institute

It was 1972.  Late February or early March I think.  The place was San Francisco, California.  And the author, myself — Mark, at that time — was there.  There in a hospital.  A mental hospital (or institution, if you prefer).  Specifically, the McAllister Neuropsychiatric Institute, within a wing of St. Margaret’s Hospital (now Medical Center) located on the corner of Stanyan and Hayes Streets in the Haight-Asbury District.  Five years after the Summer of Love; and right across the street from Golden Gate Park.   At that time my home was in San Bruno and I was in my first years of high school.  My first year of madness.  But I’m getting ahead of myself — an easy thing for a time-traveler to do!

The McAllister Institute, which still exists but is in 2011physically separate from the old St. Margaret’s hospital – now a cancer center at 2250 Hayes St. – and the much newer and larger St. Margaret’s Medical Center, uphill along Stanyan past Fulton.  The building is drab; a light industrial shade of grey.  Near the Institute’s rear, or northwest side, the ward I was on – for children and adolescents – was at ground level; but as the adjacent Grove St. went downhill from there to Hayes St., part of my ward became Level 2 with a first level below. The adult ward was above us on Level 3, with its dreaded shock therapy room (which we were all shown at least once), and bars on the outside of all the windows that are still there in 2011.

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