Precarious and Performative Play
2001 NR 90 minutes
This moving documentary chronicles the last year in the life of Robert Eads, a female-to-male transsexual dying of ovarian cancer. We're introduced to several prominent figures in Robert's life -- most importantly, his life partner, Lola Cola. Lola is a transsexual who's become Robert's life partner and caretaker. The two prepare to lead a panel at the annual Southern Comfort conference, a yearly event created for transgendered individuals.
Southern Comfort is available for delivery via Netflix.
In our discussion of Mimi Swartz’s “Living the Good Lie,” we talked about what resulted in, for these men, the inability for the coexistence of homosexuality and devotion to religion. Judith Glassgold, the chair of a taskforce on LGBT issues from the American Psychological Association, stated in an interview for the article, “Among therapists — both among gay activists and the religious — we can have a discussion. We all agree that arousal and orientation are not under someone’s volition. What we can work on is self-acceptance, integration identity and reducing stigma.” I continued to think about whether homosexuality and religion are necessarily mutually exclusive, or rather if there are ways in which the two can coexist within an individuals’ identity. I kept thinking back to interviews that I’ve conducted with scholars in Argentina regarding their passage of same-sex marriage legislation. One of them, Daniel Jones, explained to me that evangelicals weren’t ubiquitously opposed to the bill. I found a paper he recently wrote where he lays out some of the tactics used by various evangelical groups to approach homosexuality. One strategy in particular stood out to me; the Evangelical Church of the Río de la Plata published a document in 2000 stating that the sexual orientation of a person is fixed and predetermined; homosexuality is a concept from the nineteenth century that, as a word, never appears in the original words of the Bible.
In reading through the notes for the “Cripping Sex and Gender” disability panel, I came across class notes from when Kristin taught the course that included images of Aimee Mullins (http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/courses/gas/f09/archive/15). I was struck by these images, and reminded of Wilchin’s discussion of the gender in relation to sexuality and the gay movement- how the gay rights movement has tried to “normalize” homosexuality by presenting with the idea that gays and lesbians are just like everyone else (i.e. the image of the monogamous, masculine (but not too masculine) gay couple with two dogs and a house with a white picket fence.) Wilchins argues that though these images have had success in bringing homosexuality into mainstream culture, they ultimately fail to challenge the underlying issue- gender. Creating this new, more “palatable” gay failed to challenge the underlying gender stereotypes that form the foundation of sexual-based discrimination.
Clare, Wilchins, Swartz, Barard…when trying to make sense of all of the authors swirling around in my head, the idea I keep coming back to is that of self versus identity. I’m concurrently taking a psych course that deals with this distinction, and we’ve read the works of researchers who claim that while an idea of the self is present in even the youngest of humans because it denotes the acknowledgement of an “I,” an individual being with unique likes and dislikes, the idea of an identity only develops around adolescence when one separates oneself as an individual in society, finds a social niche, and establishes a set of morals and a life philosophy. If one commits to these things during adolescence, he or she has achieved an identity. If one does not, he or she is in some sort of limbo, ranging from a state of moratorium (having gone through a period of self-exploration but not having committed to an identity) to foreclosure (commitment to a certain identity without any self-exploration) to the worst of all, diffusion (no self-exploration and no identity commitment). *
As an English major, I keep thinking of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in which the main character Stephen Dedalus lists his mortal presence as the following:
Class of Elements
Clongowes Wood College
I am struck by the expansion of self to include countries, continents, and all that is known to exist (and even that which is not, as we do not know everything about The Universe). Eli Clare writes in Exile and Pride that “The body is home, but only if it is understood that place and community and culture burrow deep into our bones. (Clare 11). I am a product of my community, my roots stretch across the depths of the Atlantic to New England, the Garden State, and Philadelphia. Each of these places has contributed to my identity, with the people who have walked into my life each bringing something for and taking something from. I am more than my physical self, more than my physical womanhood and my decision to identify as a woman. It is just that: my decision. I choose how to present myself, but I cannot deny my roots and the places I have rested my head at night.
Like rachelr, I've been getting a little frustrated with Eli Clare. I haven't read enough of his book to feel like he is being overly repetitive; rather, my frustrations lie with his attitude. He consistently makes remarks where I just stop, put the book down, and think, "Really?" I can't stop thinking about and really being bothered by the following passage:
"At an anti-war protest not long ago, I saw a placard announcing 'An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.' This slogan is one of many that turns disability into a metaphor, reinforces that disability means broken and is fundamentally undesirable, and ignores the multitude of actual lived disability experiences connected to war. For folks who know blindness/disability as a consequence of crushing military force, the 'eye for an eye' slogan offers a superficial rationale for nonviolence but no lasting justice. In response, I'd like to stand next to those anti-war activists and hold a placard that reads 'Another crip for peace,' or maybe, 'Blindness is sexy; military force is not'" (xii-xiii).
While reading the mountain, I was reminded of a puzzling thought that occurred to me while doing a problem set for my Introduction to Linguistics course in the fall of 2010. Though most of the specific terms I learned oh-so-long-ago are fuzzy, I remember working on a syntax unit in which my professor asked us to examine a particular sentence and determine which words seemed naturally related to one another. A small example would be: A big, red balloon. I will not pretend that I can teach any of you reading my post about the syntactic rules we learn and practice, but basically, there is something about the relationship between 'red' and 'balloon' that draws our attention. One might associate 'big' and 'red' together before associating 'balloon' with 'red', but it would seem unusual to assume an immediate relationship between 'big' and 'balloon.' I'm not as interested in the reasons behind these associations we are linguistically socialized to believe and practice as much as I am interested in how these kinds of relationships impact our perceptions of language as they refer to disability and impairment.
This is something that Aybala50 said as we popped outside English House for a quick breath of fresh air. We think of things in boxes, or categories. It's difficult to imagine a world without them.
But what is it about categorizing that provokes such negative responses? I feel that it's the connotations that we associate with the categories. I honestly don't believe that we can live in a world that has no categories - it takes away from who and what we are individually. If there is no way to describe in words what we are, then who are we?
However, is the category system flawed? Sure. We've seen various examples of this. Our modern day definitions of categories in terms of race, gender and religion have evolved over time. What may have been something at one point in history is now something else. Those that may "cross barriers" at this point in time may find a specific category to fill in the future.
But it categorization necessarily bad? I don't think so. I feel we dislike categorizing people because of the connotations that each category holds. To say that we should eradicate all categories for the sake of social justice and equality seems to be a little extreme. What we should be working on instead is to make these categories seem less negative.
In class we started to discuss Wilchin's question (one of many): Why do a gender at all? However, we didn't get very far in our answer. I noticed that many of us were focusing on potential individual actions, and kept getting stuck on the fact that any of our actions, no matter how unique or transgressive, would inevitably be read through the “slits” of the gender binary. This seemed to mean that none of our actions could lead to the option to not do a gender at all.
Thinking about this topic later, I was struck by a huge misunderstanding in my approach to the question. I think the foundation of not “doing” a gender has nothing at all to do with individual actions, and everything to do with observation. To not “do” a gender, I don't have to change my way of behaving-- in fact, I could change my way of walking, my way of speaking, my way of dressing and it wouldn't make the slightest difference. To not do gender, and to allow others to not do gender, I have to change my way of seeing.
The issue of gender is fundamentally an issue of the observer. If none of us observed gender, it wouldn't exist. I look at the pink, dresses, dolls and lipstick and see symbols. After learning to instantaneously recognize and interpret these symbols, it's nearly impossible for me to step back and see only a color, a piece of fabric, a toy and a red paste. Trying to unsee gender is like looking at a typed page and trying to see abstract art instead of language. I'm not even sure that I can.
Hello, Anne, Kaye, classmates, & web browsers,
Greetings. My name is Joshua. At this particular moment, I’m sitting on my very comfortable bed, very proud of myself for successfully logging onto my account.
I am very much looking forward to this semester with all of you. After reading through “Listening To Understand,” I want to share, briefly, a few swimming thoughts.