Posts Tagged ‘kate bornstein’
I have been so busy telling you all about Say Please that I have barely even mentioned some of the other recent notable books I’ve picked up. All are fantastic reads and have plenty to offer for the novice or the very experienced kinkster.
Ecstasy is Necessary by Barbara Carrellas I’ve already mentioned on Sugarbutch, but it’s worth mentioning again if you haven’t read it yet. If you’re interested in exploring your own sexuality, getting closer to your own desires, having a lovely introduction to some tantric explorations, or taking a good, long reflective look at your sex life and relationship/s, this is an incredible place to start.
Queer & Pleasant Danger by Kate Bornstein is a beautiful, stunning memoir about Kate’s time as a scientologist (!), then being excommunicated and losing her family, then transitioning and coming out as a kinkster on the West coast, and finally moving to New York. It’s an incredible story and I loved every page.
The Ultimate Guide to Kink by Tristan Taormino really is the Ultimate Guide to Kink. There are essays in here from all sorts of mentors and experienced authoritative kinksters, and the book covers all kinds of fascinating topics. I’m especially excited about Barbara Carrellas’s chapter on kinky tantra, the age play chapter, and the “inside the mind of a sadist” chapter. I haven’t finished it yet (I’ve barely started it, actually) but I’m already thrilled. Cleis Press is contributing amazing things to the kink and sexualities worlds and I’ll read anything they put out.
Mind-Blowing Sex: A Woman’s Guide by Diana Cage might look like some basic women’s sexuality book, but it isn’t. It’s a complex commentary on our sexual culture and includes tons of ideas, exercises, and prompts to get you digging into your own sexual self. Kristen read it cover to cover and pronounced, “I’m going to send a copy to my sister.” It’s the kind of book that all our younger sisters should have (after we finish reading it).
There have been so many great books released this spring! I’m also really looking forward to Are You My Mother by Alison Bechdel and Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson. I haven’t been all the way through the Lambda Literary finalists, though I like to pick through that list because they are often the best of the best. And of course I’ll be at the Lammys this year! Very excited to continue attending and being involved.
What have you been reading lately? Anything good?
Thanks for all the comments and discussion on that last post, y’all. I wish I’ve had time to reply to each one, but this week has been nuts, mostly because of the Best Lesbian Erotica 2012 release reading last night, for which I have a few friends in town. And this was the week I decided to start a more strict training program at the gym to improve my running times, too. And the anniversary.
I have lots more to say and I’m still formulating thoughts. Meanwhile, thank you.
(If you want to read it, you can get the password here. Basically I request that you sign up for my mailing list in exchange—you give me something personal (your email address), I’ll give you something personal (access to my more personal entries). I do expect that when you comment on the password protected posts that you leave your actual email address so that I can get in touch with you and converse with you. Anonymous comments on the password protected posts are just rude—I’m giving you access to very personal thoughts of mine, so if you want to comment, you have got to own your comment and be accountable to it. I’m working on a comment policy, actually, because it’s way past time for that. More on that later.)
And now for something completely different!
“A Queer and Pleasant Danger by Kate Bornstein is a stunningly original memoir of a nice Jewish boy who joined the Church of Scientology and left twelve years later, ultimately transitioning to a woman. A few years later, she stopped calling herself a woman and became famous as a gender outlaw. A Queer and Pleasant Danger will be published by Beacon Press on May 1, 2012.”
I am a little in love with Kate Bornstein. I mean every genderqueer binary-gender-smashing person out there probably is, I realize this is not really news, but oh mmm. I can’t wait for Kate’s new book.
Because there isn’t much else to do, I am working.
Reading books, going through to do lists. I’m webmastering for both Butch Voices national conference and Cialis online orderingcgi?CA=929655-0003&PA=1694067&html=http://femme-cash.com/affiliates/feminist-porn-network/1514″>Perversions of Lesbian Lust, and I’m working on some freelance projects. I’m keeping my inbox as emptied out as possible (sometimes I use it as a place to hold information. I know, the GTD and time management people would not like that. But sometimes it really helps me find that info quick).
I have a lot of reviews to do. There are a lot of products on my desk waiting patiently for me to get ‘em out and play with them. A lot of DVDs, quite a few books, some toys, especially from the new “Gender Expression” category at Babeland. I’m excited about these products, but it doesn’t make much sense to toss in a random review post now. I don’t even like that that piercing & body mod post is in the last page of updates. It doesn’t make sense here, not part of the narrative of the last week.
Has it really only been a week? Only barely.
I picked up and finished Live Through This: On Creativity and Self-Destruction edited by Sabrina Chapadjiev this week. It’s not quite the same as coping with grief and loss, but it was interesting to think about how creativity can be a tool. In a conversation with my tantra teacher recently, she said some of her most creative growth periods have come out of profound grief.
I picked up Live Through This—or rather, the fine folks at Seven Stories Press sent me Live Through This when they sent me Rose—but I was drawn to it because of the amazing writers included. Seriously, look at that lineup: bell hooks, Patricia Smith, Cristy C. Road, Carol Queen, Annie Sprinkle, Elizabeth Stephens, Carolyn Gage, Eileen Myles, Diane DiMassa, Bonfire Madigan Shive, Inga Muscio, Kate Bornstein, Nicole Blackman, Silas Howard, Daphne Gottleib—and more. I loved Inga Muscio’s piece, but I’ve loved her style and voice and words for ages now and that’s no surprise. I had no idea that Kate Bornstein draws, and I loved the insight into her life that she opened up in her very personal essay. Eileen Myles’s essay freaked me out because it was about teeth, shudder, but it sure was effective. I love Nicole Blackman’s poetry and her piece was incredibly moving.
I’ve also been reading It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living edited by Dan Savage & Terry Miller. I’m supposed to review it for Lambda Literary, but I don’t even know what to say about it; so many people have said so many things. It is such a stunningly successful campaign, and I love what it has done and what it has inspired. I’ve been watching It Gets Better videos this week, reminding myself that it does get better, even when sometimes it doesn’t seem like it will.
I didn’t realize what a stellar line-up the It Gets Better book had in it, either. Ivan Coyote! Kate Bornstein. President Obama. It’s amazing, the list goes on and on. And sometimes the ones that are the most moving aren’t from anybody in particular, just someone who happens to be articulate about their gay experience and what it was like for them to make it better, or how it got better.
I’ve also been mulling over Kate Bornstein’s Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suidcide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws, and over Kate’s addition to It Gets Better, which is the essay that closes the book. It’s still one of my favorites.
So I’m trying to remember to take care of myself, to do whatever I need to stay alive, to keep going. This weekend, I think that’s going to involve cherry picking and watching a movie or two and hanging out with good friends, going outside to feel connected to the earth, reading some more books, eating strawberry shortcake made with our very fresh, very ripe CSA strawberries. And continuing to breathe, one more breath at a time.
I was a judge this year (can I reveal that yet?—I won’t tell you what for until I know for sure) so I’ve been reading reading reading many books in the past few months. I read a lot anyway, but this has been a crunch. It was exciting to have a part in choosing the best ones.
The Lammys award ceremony will be held Thursday, May 26, 2011 at the School of Visual Arts Theater in New York City (333 W. 23rd St), followed by a private after-party nearby. I’ve attended the last two years (and wrote about them both for CarnalNation.com), and I’ll be attending again this year. It’s such a pleasure to show up and be familiar with so many of the books and authors, so many of the presenters and judges, and to feel like I’m really part of the queer literary community.
(And next year, I’ll have my own book out!)
I encourage you to look through these great lists and pick a couple to read, even if you don’t usually read queer stuff, even if you don’t care about the awards, just to show your support. I still have quite a lot more I would love to read, I haven’t read any of the poetry this year, and there are many that I haven’t Here’s a couple of my favorites—out of the ones that I’ve read, anyway—that I highly recommend.
Today is the last day on The Great Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation Blog Tour, and I’m closing it out. Thanks, Kate and Bear. Thanks, Seal Press.
It’s a fantastic book. I laughed, I cried. Would you expect anything less?
There were a lot of pieces about trans experiences, not as in one singular trans experience, but people writing about their lives and what it’s been like to have the experience being gendered like they are in the world. A few other pieces were by cisgender femmes—but I have yet to read a piece in there talking about butch experiences. Now, it is a book focusing on trans identity, primarily, so maybe stories and essays about butch experiences don’t even belong here. That’s okay, I don’t have to see myself reflected in every single book about gender, sometimes it might not fit.
But it got me thinking: what’s my relationship to the term and identity “trans?” Is butch a trans identity? And what are the ways that I am a gender outlaw?
I do see butch as falling under the trans umbrella, as a sort of trans identity, because butch is a masculine identity on a woman (or, should I say, “woman”), and that is not what our culture defines as what a woman does. I am trans in that I transcend the binary, I transform the binary. I believe in more than the binary, and partly because of that I also believe that a masculine expression on a female body is a completely legitimate expression of “woman,” and that therefore it may not be a trans identity.
However … that’s not the dominant cultural acceptance of the way woman-ness can be expressed, that’s for sure. And I have learned more about gender—both mine and cultural systems of gender—from the trans movements than anywhere else. I find my gender has more in common with many trans folks than it does with anybody else, in part because of the intentionality and thoughtfulness behind it. So I still have an identification with trans. Though not without hesitation—which is why I say “a sort of trans identity” whenever I’m talking about it. I do understand how it could be, and I understand how it could not be. I guess I fall somewhere in the middle, sometimes feeling more trans than not, sometimes feeling not trans.
Regardless, though, a butch identity is outside the law, and is an outlaw. In this case, it’s not necessarily that I’m outside of the actual legal law, though we could talk about the ways that we still haven’t passed an ERA (wtf?) and that my sexuality in this country makes me a second-class citizen, but we’re not talking about sexuality here: we’re talking about gender.
And my gender, though perhaps not outside of the legal law, as it is no longer dictated that I wear at least five pieces of women’s clothing (can you imagine!? It was not so long ago), is outside of social law. Society has certain laws that I break all the time, by crossing back and forth between “male” space and “female” space, by presenting masculine in this world, by passing sometimes and not passing other times, by dating women, by being a feminist, by challenging misandry and misogyny and other ways that masculinity is constructed.
Here’s some other ways I’ve been thinking about that make me a Gender Outlaw:
10. I shop in the men’s department. I know this seems both like a given (duh) and like not a big deal, it actually can be. Getting a salesperson to help me is pretty difficult. Making a decision to either use the dressing room in the men’s department, or carry everything back to the women’s department, or not try on anything and make my shopping trip twice as long when I need to come back to return the things that don’t fit, can take up more space in my head than it needs to. Sometimes I get shoo’d out of the women’s dressing room, or at the very least I get disapproving and confused glances by other shoppers—both in the men’s department, women’s dressing rooms, and at the check-out. It’s more complicated than one would expect to keep shopping for men’s clothes, to crossdress, basically. And at this point, the only thing I don’t buy in the men’s department is binders (bras).
9. I visit a barber once a month. Inserting myself into traditionally men’s spaces is tricky, sometimes dangerous. Though I live in a very tolerant city, I still come across plenty of men in these spaces who are skeptical, giving me shifty sideways eyes, at best, and outright homophobic at worst. I continue to walk in there like I belong and request the same services (at the same price—which is also sometimes a problem) that any of the guys get. Aside from the barber, I get my shoes shined, I sometimes get my nails done or my eyebrows waxed—yes, I admit to a certain level of metrosexuality that goes with my masculinity. But it’s all for sex, people. I do it for the sex. And the pure joy that comes with a dapper presentation.
8. I disrupt the assumption that misogyny comes standard with masculinity. I treat women well, and I take that seriously. I do not believe femininity is any easier (or harder) than masculinity, and I do not believe it should be in a hierarchy of any time. I strive to not only believe that, but to live that belief.
7. I like what I like—I don’t let my gender dictate my interests, hobbies, or personality. I enjoy cooking, yoga, reading books, amateur astronomy, meditation, the psychotheraputic process, building community, and I don’t really like sports, or monster trucks, or remote control cars, or many of those “typical” masculine hobbies. I challenge the idea that any hobby belongs to any gender. These are human experiences, and human expressions, and human things to do, and I can choose from any one of them.
6. I research the butches and genderqueers and other masculine-of-center folks who came before me. I know I’m not alone in this lineage, this way that I walk the world, and even though sometimes it feels like I made it all, I only made myself in a long context of many others, and I pay homage as often as I can with respect and props.
5. I read everything I can about gender, keeping up with the latest books (like Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation!) I (try to) keep up with the myriad of butch and masculine-of-center blogs online, to keep hearing people’s stories, to watch as they unfold, to keep up with the conversations. I feel lucky that I have so many stories to read!
4. I see a gender identity as a beginning, not an end. As with any identity, the minute someone tells me they identify as a certain thing—femme, butch, genderqueer, gender-fluid, trans, male, female, whatever—I take that as a starting point, and I am curious to know more, not as the end point, where I fill in my own assumptions about what that means. I keep my assumptions in check. I keep my inner gender police in check, and instead of expressing anything like, “Whut? You don’t seem x to me,” I ask, “Oh? What does that mean to you?” It’s a starting place, a jumping off point, not something to close down the conversation.
3. I make friends with straight men—or at least, I’m friendly with them—to challenge their assumptions about masculinity (and butch dykes). I don’t see them as the enemy. I don’t assume they’re all the same. I challenge misandry in the queer circles. Marginalized communities, especially those who have come up from the lesbian and feminist histories, have a lot of man-hating built in to them. (I know, I’m not supposed to say that, but it can be true.) There is a difference between challenging a system of patriarchy vs challenging an individual man, who may or may not be as much of a subscriber to feminist beliefs as any of us are. Aside that, many queers are skeptical of masculinity—I have seen that as I get further into my identity as butch, and I’ve seen it happen to many of my trans guy friends. I do my best to challenge it when I see it, and ask what’s behind that comment, jab, or joke. Gently, and kindly, but still, to challenge.
2. I am a fierce feminist, and see the intersectionality of many different kinds of oppression and do my best to analyze and check my own privileges while standing up for those that are marginalized and oppressed. I think most homophobia and transphobia is still about a basic, fundamental sexism that believes men are better than women and therefore masculine-identified people are better than feminine-identified people, and I think the feminist theories can be a way to untangle those underlying cultural beliefs systematically.
1. I love my body. I just heard Tobi Hill-Meyer read a piece at the spoken word performance at Butch Voices Portland about how much of woman-ness is tied to hating one’s own body, and it really resonated for me. Despite being raised a bit non-traditionally, despite growing up into a butch gender, most of us are taught by this culture to hate our bodies, and I continue to treat myself with care, respect, and love, in the face of a culture which would have me buff, pluck, shave, cut, dye, powder, or hide the skin, stretch marks, and “flaws” of my body.
What do you think, y’all? Did I forget something? What are the ways that YOU are a gender outlaw?
Don’t forget to pick up Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation at your local queer feminist bookstore.
You’ve probably read Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us by Kate Bornstein, published in 1995. (If you haven’t, you should.)
Kate’s premise in the original Gender Outlaw is that ze is neither a man nor a woman, and discusses hir stories in forming a trans identity. It was one of those books that sunk into my stomach like a stone, that I gobbled up in a weekend, thinking, oh my god there are people like me out there. Not only that, but there are mentors on this path, there are people who have been deconstructing these identities—and building them back up in our own ways, let’s not forget that part—and changing the ways we perceive gender to work in this culture. That book was a revelation, for sure—it is widely used in college classes and read by all sorts of gender outlaws.
But now, Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation picks up the premise of the original Gender Outlaw and runs with it, telling stories of the many, many ways that gender outlaws struggle, celebrate, and live.
I could write something about each individual piece, what it meant to me, what I thought about it, how meaningful it was, what I liked or (occasionally) didn’t like. I could mention Katie Diamond and Johnny Blazes’s graphic essay about the many meanings of “trans,” like transgress, transcend, transpire, transform, translate. I’d love to mention pieces by Sassafras Lowery and Tamiko Beyer (both of whom have read at Sideshow), and my friend Fran Varian’s piece about gender and class and respect. I could say something about every piece in this book—even the introduction, a smart and sassy IM exchange between Bear and Kate about the contents of the book, what it’s been like for them to edit it, and the state of gender outlaws in general.
Julia Serano’s piece has been sitting in my head for days as I chew over it. She’s such a genius, I am seriously crushed out on her brain. In her piece, she takes that entirely too commonly heard phrase, “all gender is performance,” and explodes it:
Instead of trying to fictionalize gender, let’s talk about the moments in life when gender feels all too real. Because gender doesn’t feel like drag when you’re a young trans child begging your parents not to cut your hair or not to force you to wear that dress. And gender doesn’t feel like a performance when, for the first time in your life, you feel safe and empowered enough to express yourself in ways that resonate with you, rather than remaining closeted for the benefit of others. And gender doesn’t feel like a construct when you finally find that special person whose body, personality, identity, and energy feels like a perfect fit with yours. Let’s stop trying to deconstruct gender into nonexistence, and instead start celebrating it as inexplicable, varied, profound, and intricate. —Julia Serano, from Performance Piece, published in Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation and reprinted in full by Jezebel
Just, chills. I love what she’s saying here. I feel like I have my own piece in conjunction or response to that one. In fact, I feel like I have twenty pieces about gender that I’m itching to write, after reading this book.
I’m so glad I had the chance to check out this book, it’s definitely going to be something I recommend all over the place and mail as gifts. It belongs on my essential reading list, for sure. I’m excited to contribute to the virtual blog tour, as well! It has been amazing—just check out Riot Nrrd Comics’ graphic review, as a great example, and read through the rest of them if you like.
Just in case you haven’t seen it, and if you can’t wait to pick up this book and you want more Kate right now, check out Kate’s contribution to the It Gets Better Project. And you can always follow @katebornstein & @sbearbergman on Twitter. If you’re in the New York City area, you can also come in to Bluestockings Bookstore tonight, Friday October 8th, for a reading from Gender Outlaws!
Pick up a copy of Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation direct from the publisher, Seal Press, from your local independent feminist queer bookstore (if you want them to stick around), or, if you must, from Amazon.
- September 9th: Billy Lucas, 15, in Indiana, killled himself over anti-gay bullying.
- September 13th: Cody Barker, 17, in Wisconsin, killed himself over anti-gay bullying.
- September 18th: Seth Walsh, 13, in California, hanged himself over to anti-gay bullying, then spent ten days on life support before being pronounced dead on September 28th.
- September 23rd: Asher Brown, 13, in Houston, TX, killed himself over to anti-gay bullying.
- September 29th: Tyler Clementi, 18, of Ridgewood, NJ is presumed dead after jumping from the George Washington Bridge after being humiliated online for his sexual orientation.
That’s five. Five people, five boys, who could have grown up to be part of our world, part of our community, part of gay activism, or who could have, at the very least, grown up. Five boys since school started less than a month ago.
This isn’t new, of course. That’s On July 9th, Justin Aaberg, 15, in Minnesota killed himself over to anti-gay bullying. His mom is attempting some activism in dealing with her grief, but clearly we need more.
Whatever we’ve been doing isn’t working well enough yet, because this keeps happening.
I don’t really know what to say about it, I’m just moved by these stories rolling in, and Kristen, a former middle school teacher, has been upset about it all day, and we’ve been thinking.
Here’s some resources I found, places working on specifically this issue.. If you’ve got money to throw their way, and if you’re moved and shocked and outraged and sad like I am, I’m sure they would not mind your support.
- I’m From Driftwood: true stories by gay people from all over
- The Trevor Project: help prevent teen suicide by promoting mental health and positive self-esteem. Nationwide 24/7 online chat or phone hotline 866-488-7386 for gay youth.
- The brilliant book, Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws by Kate Bornstein (aka Auntie Kate). Read it, if you haven’t. Give it to a teacher you know. Send it to your high school’s librarian. Put it in the hands of those who need it. See also hellocruelworld.net and #stayalive.
- Dan Savage and his partner Terry have launched the It Gets Better project, which is a fancy way to say they have a YouTube channel asking for video submissions to gay youth telling them that it gets better. I know things don’t just magically “get better,” and that there are many, many factors keeping people oppressed, but it is so important that kids hear that life goes on, gets better, changes, that there is support out there for us. Below is Dan & Terry’s kickoff video.
What else? What can we do? What are you doing?
The Butch Voices Regional Conference in New York City (and then in Portland and LA) is coming up in just three weeks. And in honor, I’m counting down the Fridays with classic and modern butch book titles that I highly recommend.
Butch Is A Noun, S. Bear Bergman’s first book, has been re-released by Arsenal Pulp Press just in time for the fall series of regional Butch Voices conferences. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it. It’s a personal collection of essays about what it’s like to live outside the binary gender system, in more ways than one, and what the identity, word, noun, verb, and adjective “butch” means to Bear.
The first chapter of Butch Is A Noun, “I Know What Butch Is,” is one of my favorite essays that I think I have ever read. Bear has a PDF of it over on hir website, if you’d like to read it as a preview to perhaps buying the book, and there’s also a great video of Bear reading the first chapter (that I have posted before, but it’s time to post again):
(Just ignore the girls in the background. Seriously.)
One of my favorite comments about the book comes from Kate Bornstein, who says: “Butch Is A Noun is a book that… a) should be required reading in any gender studies curriculum, b) femmes should read whenever they’re feeling unloved, lonely or misunderstood, c) butches should read, d) all of the above. The answer, of course, is d. Thank you, dear Bear.”
There’s lots in there for not just butch-identified folks, but also for folks who love butches, regardless of your gender.
Here’s the description of the book from Arsenal Pulp Press:
Butch is a Noun, the first book by activist, gender-jammer, and performer S. Bear Bergman,won wide acclaim when published by Suspect Thoughts in 2006: a funny, insightful, and purposely unsettling manifesto on what it means to be butch (and not). In thirty-four deeply personal essays, Bear makes butchness accessible to those who are new to the concept, and makes gender outlaws of all stripes feel as though they have come home. From girls’ clothes to men’s haircuts, from walking with girls to hanging with young men, Butch is a Noun chronicles the perplexities, dangers, and pleasures of living lifeoutside the gender binary.
This new edition includes a new afterword by the author.
In case you don’t know about it, Bear also has a new anthology, co-edited with Kate Bornstein, Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation just released from Seal press. Pick that up directly from Seal Press, at your local independent queer feminist bookstore, or, if you must, from Amazon.
Pick up a copy of Butch Is A Noun directly from Arsenal Pulp Press, or head out to your local independent queer feminist bookstore, or, as usual, if you must, from Amazon.
Part one of three of my review of Spanked
I’m reading erotica and watching porn differently these days. For years – since before I came out – I’ve been an, uh, active reader of erotica and smut collections, with almost exclusively lesbian content.
Lately I’ve had the opportunity to review various things through this site, things I wouldn’t have otherwise picked up, like Crossdressing and Chemistry 3. Books and films which include various orientations; straight, bi, gay men, lesbians, threesomes.
In the past, I would probably not have even considered reading these collections or watching these films. My brain would think, ewwww, flesh-and-blood penises. That’s the “ick factor” right there (more on that in part two). But since I was doing it for research, and for review, I figured I’d give it a go … and it turns out that some of it really turned me on. Sometimes completely unexpectedly.
That was a bit uncomfortable for me, really.
It wasn’t until I read Kate Bornstein’s excellent article on the film WALL-E that I placed it: especially with erotica, I am able to suspend my reading of biological sex and only read gender. Male pronouns and male body parts don’t bother me, even though my orientation is pretty strictly lesbian, because I can get so deeply into the play of gender, I can “suspend heterosexual belief.”
Back to that in a moment. First, more about the film WALL-E and Kate’s (did I say brilliant? brilliant!) analysis of gender presentation, WALL-E: A Butch/Femme Love Story … or, Silly Rabbit! Robots Have No Gender.
… [A] pair of lesbian robots who fall madly in love with each other. WALL•E is nothing short of hot, dyke Sci Fi action romance, some seven hundred years in the future! Woo-hoo! Isn’t that what you saw? No? What movie were you watching? Did you see a heterosexual boy robot fall in love with a heterosexual girl robot? I did… at first. [...] [W]hen I first saw the film, I saw a boy robot and girl robot. My question is this: how and why did most of us jump to that conclusion?
Kate goes on to examine the different ways that we determine both “biological” sex and the robot’s heterosexuality:
Is it because of their names? … both names are acronyms for each robot’s prime directive and function. Nothing to do with boy or girl there. … Is it simply by looking at the robots, we can tell? … We’ve got no way to spot those robots as male or female by using secondary sex characteristics. … neither robot has a DNA strand, so there is no way to type them by XX or XY. … Barring hormones – which I didn’t get a whiff of during the entire film – that just about exhausts the physiological basis for determining gender.
Examining some of the ways that we determine sex and orientation – hormones, chromosomes, secondary sex characteristics. And there’s the whole obsession with Hello, Dolly as the only model WALL-E has for romance; it is a campy presentation of sweet courtship, and a classic musical.
So, Kate keeps asking, what is it that is tipping us off? How can they be portraying these very human, very gendered, characteristics, yet still be robots?
Pixar and Disney … knew we’d see WALL•E as boy and EVE as girl. Both of ‘em are gosh-darned CUTE, right? Oh, come on. You know they’re SO adorable, right? How can they be that in nearly everyone’s eyes… gay or straight? I think the answer is that we shift our mind’s criteria for gender when we watch a film or listen to a love song or read a novel. We all blithely switch genders in our minds, the better to identify with the vocalist or character. [Emphasis added]
This is the genius part, in case you missed it. This is the part in the article where I exclaimed aloud, “Dammit, why didn’t I write this!”
There are, sometimes, and especially in art – love songs, films, novels – things that trump gender. When art begins speaking the language of emotion, that can transcend orientation or gender presentation and instead we just get the character’s attraction to each other, their courtship, their surges of emotion and desire for connection. I think this may be especially true for queers, who often do not see ourselves represented in popular media, so we learn to “suspend heterosexual belief” and instead see only the presentation and language of gender.
Kate gives some examples of other media – a Tegan & Sara song, Marlene Dietrich, Justin Bond. But wait, Kate’s not done:
Gender ambiguity — when it’s safely positioned onstage or up on a movie screen — is and always has been sexy to damn near all of us, no matter what our gender might be. … What is it that’s signaling sexual attraction to an audience with such a wide range of gender identities and sexual desires? I think the answer is that WALL•E is butch, and EVE is femme, two genders defined by the expression of strong, respectful, sexual desire.
I just love butch/femme as “the expression of strong, respectful, sexual desire.” That’s beautiful.
Butch and Femme are sexy dance steps with unlimited variations. Butch is gallant, femme is gracious. Butch is hail and hardy, femme has wicked cool wiles. Butch is handsome. Femme is pretty. Butch/Femme is all about relating to each other like ladies and gentlemen—no matter our genitals. … Butches can be dominant or submissive, strong or weak, honorable, or complete rats. So can Femmes. Butch and Femme have nothing to do with who makes more money. … There’s no perfection in the dance, there’s only the totality of self-expression and how that self-expression dovetails with someone else’s self-expression.
Yes, EVE is pertly streamlined. EVE’s eyes literally sparkle and dance. EVE giggles, for heaven’s sake. EVE is kick-ass strong and powerful. EVE is performing Femme. WALL•E is rugged and protective and shy and loyal. WALL•E is a sensitive little thing, held together by sheer will and rubber bands. WALL•E is performing Butch.
… And this is the part that gets me teary. I love that butch is a “sensitive little thing, held together by sheer will and rubber bands.” and that femme is kick-ass strong with sparkly eyes. Oh if someone had given me that possible explanation years ago!
Once we begin to look at the characters as Butch and Femme — not male and female — we can assign to them any gender we like. Sure, the film can be about a boy robot and a girl robot. But how about EVE as a sweet femme boy robot, like performer/chanteuse extraordinaire, Justin Bond. And WALL•E is a sweet butch girl robot, with a heart of solid gold, like performer/chanteuse extraordinaire Lea Delaria?
How freakin great is that! I love this way of analyzing popular media. Kate writes, “You’re the audience. You get to decide.” and goes on to mention a few other Disney films – Mu-lan, Pinocchio, The Little Mermaid. I took a “Feminist Interpretations of Disney” class as a gender studies undergrad, I have watched these films and examined the gender in them in depth.
But I’ve never thought about it like this. And I love it. (Writing through this has made me really want to see WALL-E, and some of those others, again.)
As someone who has a background in academic gender studies and feminist theory, I do take a certain amount of pleasure in the reading of texts like Disney films as reproducing the heteronormative, gendernormative binary, so in some ways revisioning media this way makes me skeptical. I don’t think the critical analysis should be discounted entirely, especially when it has such an affect on girls (this calls to mind the Princess Collection and discussions with feminist/progressive parents of little girls who are close to disgusted in their daughter’s obsession with princesses). But I do think it’s another fascinating way to look at popular media through the lens of gender presentation and expression.
So: that’s how a little love story about two robots can be read as butch/femme. And that’s how we can – and already do – suspend heterosexual belief when consuming popular media.
But when we’re talking about representations within the sex industry … written erotica, visual porn, or any smut, there tends to be the aspect of sexual anatomy. And for queers especially, it seems, the reality of a wet vagina for gay boys or hard penis – or, worse, a coming penis – for the lesbians actually grosses us out. It’s much harder to suspend heterosexual belief when the physicality of the different biological sexes is so prevalent – and, indeed, part of the point.
What is this ick factor? How does it work, and how does it affect us? Also, how do we get over it?
That’s part two, coming tomorrow.