Queer Literature

a study of sexuality in literature

Month: April, 2013

Drag Make-Up Tutorial

by katiejbateman

I thought that this was kind of an interesting look at drag makeup. The reason I like this video over a lot of the other ones is because the tutorial is being done by a woman. I think that this helps to show that drag is not just a man dressing like a woman, but that it is an exaggeration of female features. In this video, she is obviously a woman in the beginning, and by the end she looks very different with all of the exaggerated features. Overall, I thought that it was a good way to show how drag is not only for men, but that women can also emphasize their natural features to become a more drag version of themselves.

“Imitation and Gender Insubordination” and “Finite and Infinite Games”.

by Coyote Jones

(tl;dr: longwinded prattle about some book that helped me to understand and appreciate Butler’s essay.)

Judith Butler’s “Imitation and Gender Insubordination” was an exceedingly difficult read, but I found it rewarding to the same extent it was challenging. I want to deconstruct some of the concepts she refers to, but in so doing, compare it to a book that, on the surface, is quite unrelated. The starting point for this comparison is her use of the word “play” on page 311: “To say that I “play” at being [a lesbian] is not to say that I am not one “really”; rather, how and where I play at being one is the way in which that “being” gets established, instituted, circulated, and confirmed.”

In Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility, James P. Carse starts simply: “There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, and infinite game for the purpose of continuing play.” Setting aside momentarily what exactly Carse means by a game, already we have an immediately useful binary opposition here, applicable to Butler’s theses: heterosexuality, whatever its methods, has, as an implied intent, the eradication of competing theories of sexual identity. She argues that her reluctance to identify as a lesbian is to prevent imbuing terminology with credibility when the definitions of those terms is largely under heterosexual control, but the core issue, in her words: “There is a political necessity to use some signs now … but how to use it in such a way that its futural significations are not foreclosed?” [311-312]

Carse’s response to that is the assertion that the most critical distinction between finite and infinite games: in finite games, the rules are fixed and must remain so, as it is by these immutable rules we know what game it is that we are playing, but in infinite games, not only do the rules change in the course of play, they must change in the course of play. An illustrative example of the difference between finite and infinite might be the rules of the dead Latin language, used today almost exclusively to insulate existing rituals from change, and say, the chaotic “lolcat” language spoken by cats everywhere on the Internet.) If we can associate lesbianism with an infinite game, this essential mutability of rules provides precisely the escape clause Butler requires to establish declaiming as a feasible method of gender insubordination.

Carse posits another such finite/infinite dichotomy in society/culture, which returns us to Butler’s original thesis, but affords us a new perspective. The role of society is to establish a repeatable past through the use of property, titles, and history, all of which necessarily point backwards in time. In this respect we see heterosexuality’s self-centralized role in history as destiny, using the regulatory features of society to inhibit change. In some regard or another, we all benefit from this inhibitory feature of society.  Without it, for instance, a diploma or certification could not be guaranteed to retain its value in the future. Carse specifically mentions the validation of property rights as a central function of society. With respect to Butler’s argument, this argument takes on a kind of amusing twist: the proliferation of homosexuality does undermine the “property” value, if I may use the term in a truly barbarian sense, of “trophy” wives/girlfriends as well as those who demonstrate their “heterosexual credentials” via the conspicuous perfection of their family or domesticity, in the culturally-ensconced sense of “keeping up with the Joneses”. Society further serves heteronormative interests, Carse argues, in that finite sexuality is a particular game in which, the seduced becomes, in a real sense, the property of the seducer.

But what of culture ? “Deviancy,” writes Carse, ”is the very essence of culture.”  [§35] Furthermore, Carse provides us with another finite/infinite dichotomy that not only cuts to the heart of the matter, but also uses the same words as Butler: contradiction/paradox. Butler cites the contradiction of heterosexuality as its frenzied assertions of being an original when no such original can exist, but she herself embodies the paradox of homosexuality in that, in her words, “identity is not self-identical” and that disclosure, or “coming out of the closet”, reinscribes the closet. Carse explains the paradox of finite and infinite games succinctly and brilliantly: finite play is fundamentally play against itself, and infinite play is engaged in by players who accept that they cannot finish what they start — who, in Carse’s words, “continue the play in others.” [§24]  This, for me, is the closest description to the state of affairs of the GLBT community as I have seen it through the lens of this class: a lush, fertile, vibrant movement in an identity crisis insofar as it feels it needs an identity. It does not need to be so: Carse’s argument is that it is precisely because of our differences — because I do not know how you are going to reply to me when I speak to you — that we can truly communicate. Perhaps a less philosophical, but less accurate, analogy is that it is the silences between the notes that allow for us to create music and distinguish melodies, the spaces between words that harbor meaning.  To quote the only reference to homosexuality in the book: “One can never say, therefore, that an infinite player is homosexual, or heterosexual, or celibate, or adulterous, or faithful–because each of these definitions has to do with boundaries, with circumscribed areas and styles of play.  Infinite players do not play within sexual boundaries, but with sexual boundaries.” [§60]

This seems precisely the condition that Butler is looking for lesbianism to embody: the freedom to generate an undefinable but distinct culture which offers, rather than a linguistic straitjacket, a horizon unburdened by the need for self-definition. I return to one final open question: what, precisely, Carse means by “game”. Whatever this infinite game is, it is the object of Butler’s pointed use of the word “play” in the critical sense that Carse opens the book on: “Whoever must play, cannot play.”  [§2]  The only requirement to play, in both Carse’s and Butler’s cosmologies, is that one must do it freely.

Carse is not writing with an explicitly GLBT viewpoint, or indeed with any particular viewpoint, and this is one of the elements of genius in his book. It is written simply, with little ornamentation, and with maximal accessibility and applicability: 101 chapters, some of which are comprised of a single sentence, in total spanning 140-odd pages. Each chapter builds slowly upon the previous one, offering new perspectives as it does so, and very frequently a chapter says something profound that would require a diligent reader to re-read every previous chapter in light of a new perspective. It took me more than a year to read the book the first time, though it could easily be finished in an afternoon.  Despite being a voracious reader, there are very few books I can say have changed my life.  This is one that has.

TED Talk: A humorous talk about the “Gay Agenda” and “Gay Lifestyle”

by jolleym

I really enjoyed this specific TED talk. I think that the idea of the “gay lifestyle” is a very overused term in politics and the media. However, I also appreciate that he brings up that oppression is the only gay-specific part of a “gay lifestyle.” Aside from the abnormalities that the oppressors throw at the Queer community, the gay lifestyle is just a lifestyle.

A reminder…

by Kelly Magee

I want to remind everyone that the things you post on the blog should relate to the topic “GLBT Literature” in some way. It’s okay if the connection is loose, but this shouldn’t be a forum for general GLBT issues. Instead, post things that relate specifically to literature, writing, and education. If the connection isn’t immediately obvious but you still think your post is appropriate to the class or the course readings, please contextualize it in a brief note that accompanies the post. Thanks everyone!

First active player on a major american sports team comes out.

by samwest13


Kind of an interesting current event and it certainly says something about the levels of homophobia in professional sports in America. Do you think there will be more players coming out now that this has happened?

Trying to understand

by samwest13

How does a person who benefits from many of the unearned benefits our society gives out express sincere interest to people who are in less privileged groups? I’m not sure if that really makes sense but I had to start this somewhere. Basically I’m writing this as a white, straight male who comes from a wealthy and stable family and I want to know I can talk to some like a woman or a queer person about issues caused by the same society that gives me such advantages without sounding condescending.

a poem to the b…

by ryancain7

a poem to the black man who called me an arab and told me not to bomb the train like we did in boston
thank you for your honesty
the way it spilled out of your lips more potent than the stench of vodka in your breath
it has been years since someone has had the bravery to look at me in the face
and tell me what they are actually thinking

you see
i just came from a dance party
what i mean to say is that i started shaving every night before i went to the club
so white men would look at me and translate the contours of my face into english
and hope that brown found a synonym for beautiful somewhere in the creases around my hazel eyes
‘cause hazel is brown standing at the corner of a bar smiling with all his teeth
hazel is brown being asked to dance

i shaved
so i could look at myself in the mirror and not be afraid:
the way i will button up my shirt all the way in the cab to the airport
the way i will ask the white security guards to pat me down, save them
the awkward glance,
the excuse me sir,
the travesty of two dancers fumbling through a routine that has
been choreographed for years –
hold your hand steady —
i promise you will know how to hold me still,
like the way your finger knows how to pull the trigger when are running

the entire flight will stare at me as i walk down the aisle as if i am marching to my own death

i am used to this –
the resounding silence of an entire cabin moving

the truth is
had it been another night
i would have tried my best to ignore you, too

i have read books about you and your struggle and i have used words
like color and race to pretend that i am a part of it
but that does mean that i would not have felt my pulse tango with the sweat on my back when you looked at me
wondered why your hands were in your pockets
hoped that you would not jump me like the mug shots on the television screens
like the rappers on the radio:
your black designed to kill my queer
the scripts have already been written
hope that you forget your lines

i am sitting on the train home refusing to cry
because it is so quiet that i can hear my own heart beating and it sounds like a bomb and i wonder if you were right:

that the terrorist got inside of me:
told me i was beautiful at a bar
snuck inside that crease of my eye
while i was watching the news
dressed up in a tux
and called himself president and tortured people whose faces looked just like mine –
but i couldn’t hear their screams
because we drowned them out with our applause –
i pledge allegiance is a standing ovation for the biggest charade
and we have all been fooled

the terrorist
tip-toed in through my ear while i was listening to the speech
called himself safety as he sent drones across the ocean – they say that the Sirens’ song is so beautiful that we do not hear the crash until we can taste our own blood from our wilting lips and recognize that we are not being kissed

and it wasn’t long before he took out the knife
and disguised the pain as patriotism
and took control of my body – steered me to a neighborhood far away from yours and taught us how to hate one another:
democracy is another way of saying
divide and conquer slowly

and i didn’t even notice until tonight:
the way we are running around using our tongues as whips
mistaking our puppet strings as spines
too busy fighting one another to recognize that we are being used

i have written you a poem and i suppose it works something like a bomb,
i have strapped it to my chest like a bulletproof vest
so maybe you are right:
let it tear you apart
let it make you remember your blood
let it force you to see me from a distance
listen to the crash
how it sometimes sounds like honesty:
that the true terrorists are sitting in boardrooms sipping champagne in suits,
and sometimes their skin seduces us to think that that they are saints, and sometimes we believe them

but maybe we don’t have to:
maybe we can cut off the puppet strings
use them as ropes to tie ourselves together
in struggle, in justice
and fight back with all of our love
and fight back with all of our love

and they will think that our hugs are hand grenades
and they will mistake our revolution as terrorism
but we will keep writing, and singing, and dancing and sometimes we will be drunk and sometimes we will be lonely and sometimes we will cry on trains and planes but we will keep going,
like our ancestors before us

brother i have written you a poem
and i suppose it works something like a dove taking flight from my throat —
let me help you remember what they refuse to let us see:

we are not the terrorists,
it is them

Following the Boston Marathon bombings, unique perspectives like these can act to highlight intersections of race, gender and sexuality present in life. The “interlocking opressions” laid bare after an unspeakable tragedy strips the sense of normalcy from an increasingly (slash arguably) complacent American populous  Catalysts of many shapes and forms have built the world as we know it today, tragedy has the power to motivate humans to previously ‘outrageous’ lengths – and so i have come to observe all nation-wide American mourning with bated breath and crossed-fingers. The impact of 9/11 upon world (and American) politics and economy is irrefutably substantial, and its shadow still falls over Washington D.C. and the Oval Office. Just as the loss of any American life weighs heavily upon countless men and women, so do the consequences of hasty, reactive foreign policy.


NOTE: I do not mean to imply this piece of poetry alludes to any of the claims i have made above. I am merely recording my response to a piece of art that moved me, hoping to elicit thoughtful conversation connecting the themes of our class with current events.

I Do

by combss3

I Came across this Video and thought it was worth sharing, What do you all think?

Transgender Mayor

by elysiagemora

This happened back in 2008, so it’s kind of old news, but I just heard about it and thought that it might be new to some of you too.

A small town in Oregon elected an openly trans mayor, the first in the U.S.. The town and Stu Rasmussen (the mayor) talk about Stu’s life and how being trans effected his town in this clip from RadioLab.They consider what the implications are of a small, conservative town accepting and electing a life long resident who is trans. Is it truly them being open minded about trans people, or is Stu the exception?    

One thing that I’m wondering about is the towns member who expressed his dislike in Stu’s revealing clothing choices. Would he still have problems if Stu dressed more conservatively or had smaller implants? Would the towns member just have come up with another problem?


by kvistac

So while we are talking about sexuality I think it is important to also bring asexuality into the conversation. Some parts of this remind me of playing with sexuality or playing with gender, but now applying that thought to playing sexual or playing asexual. The film (A)sexual is quite good, and it challenges traditional relationships. It focuses on the stories of white cisgender asexual people though, which is problematic. Part of the film shows the AVEN (Asexuality Visibility and Educational Network) group being hated on at San Francisco pride. Which is something that does need to be seen and not erased.

I guess why I wanted to bring this up is to point out there are marginalizations within the queer community. Each point of oppression needs to be talked about as they are interlocking within the “umbrella” of queer as they are in heteronormative society. There is still an adoption of the dominant narrative which polices gender, race, sexuality (including being sexual and non-sexual), ability, and class.