Always: Be Unstoppable #LikeAGirl

Maties Marketing244

Ladies, how do you do things? Like a girl, or like a boss?

When did these two become mutually exclusive?

Always decided they would show girls that they didn’t have to choose between being a girl and being a bad*ss.

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The Nadammie Archive

Final Assignment: Assemble a queer archive

cover photo
Posing in the photobooth at Klara Malan’s 21st birthday party, 2 September 2012. Klara also attended the same primary and high school with us and we both developed a strong friendship with Klara at different times. I have been best friends with Klara since Grade 7 (2004). This is one of the iconic Nadammie portraits.

Introduction

I was struggling to come up with a good idea to do for the final project. I was wondering what I could archive and if I am even creative and talented enough to create my own queer media. Then, I suddenly had a spontaneous burst of motivation and inspiration as I thought of my relationship that I have with my best friend, Nadine. We have been friends since 2007. We knew of each other since pre-school and attended the same kindergarten, primary school and all girls high school – we were even in the same class from 2005 – 2009. It was only in Grade 10 that we became close through mutual friends. We immediately had a special connection and became instant best friends. Our friendship reached a peak in 2008 and it continues to strengthen and grow. We affectionately call ourselves Nadammie – a hybrid of not only our names (Nadine and Ammie), but also a hybrid of ourselves to create a concept that represents us as a whole. In the first few months of us becoming close, one of our friends’ brother mistakenly identified me as Nadine’s mother – probably due to my affectionate, motherly and caring nature towards her and her petite size in comparison to mine. From there we developed a Mommy and Child (sometimes Madonna and Child) archetype and even wrote a script for a TV series based on the backstory of our mother and daughter characters, Sarah and Jenny, called Sleeping With Roaches.

Early on in our friendship we formed a special bond that was deemed strange to people close to us and even to ourselves. It lead to a lot of rumours and jealousy, as this kind of connection between friends were unknown and weird . My mother has asked me several times if I am gay or bisexual, enquiring in a caring manner with the hopes of me being completely honest about my sexuality, and her father calls us Lessies in an affectionate and, often, comedic context. For years we struggled to define our relationship and started using the term friendbians. We knew we were more than friends, but not in a sexual or romantic way. In the past we have defined ourselves as soulmates, stating that we don’t want to grow old with anyone else – we want to live in a big mansion with all our friends and their families (if they so wish to pursue that in the future) – and basically have fun and eat pizza until we die. It is also our wishes to make music videos and movies together once I am a qualified cinematographer.

During this course I have been exposed to queer theory in a volume that I haven’t yet before and this made it helpful for me to explore the queer aspects of friendship. In class we have discussed the notion of homosociality, which refers to same-sex relationships that are not of a sexual or romantic nature. This term mainly refers to the bond between male friends. Female homosociality is also connected with feminism and lesbian desires. I felt that this term is not adequate enough to define our complex and intense bond.  Then, I came across a term that sums up our relationship perfectly: queerplatonic. It describes a relationship with an intense emotional connection that transcends the norms of what is perceived as a normal friendship, but the relationship is not romantic in nature and, thus, also does not fit the sexual-romantic couple model. The relationship is characterised by a strong bond, love and emotional commitment. There may or may not be elements or degrees of sexual desires, sometimes or never, and the partners involved don’t have to identify as queer. In this case there are none such desires. However, it does not matter, because the relationship is not organised around sexuality and/or sexual exclusivity, but rather defined by the intensity and significance of the emotional connection – it is so intense that sometimes it is difficult to comprehend how much we mean to each other. We consider ourselves life partners, which people in this kind of friendship often do. This implies that the relationship is meaningful, committed and intimate.

I was then intrigued by the idea of assembling an archive and documenting nine years of a queerplatonic relationship.

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This picture was taken after The Killers concert when we were stuck in traffic, 6 December 2009.

Theory

We have a responsibility to archive. There is a relationship between queerness, documentation and evidence. History, in general, represents a straight timeline and present. This leads to the invalidation of historical facts regarding queer lives, according to Muñoz (in Newman 2015:20). History is not only stored in archives, but history is also created through it. Due to the construction of dominant histories, experiences of queerness and how it is remembered is minimized (Newman 2015:20). This also implicates how we imagine queer futurities and work towards their potential. “How we recall what has been will shape what can be.” (Newman 2015:20). Archiving and history has systematic patriarchal inequalities that marginalises queer identities further. Your experiences with archives, and also the process of archiving, is dependent on your privilege(s) (Newman 2015:22). Heteronormativity and homonationalism are ideals and normative queer histories that are favoured over more deviant identities by including some through excluding others. The stories that we tell about the past, inform the power and privilege of the present and future by making dominant ideologies natural and inherent.

Normative experiences of temporality are constructed to validate and maintain particular narratives and to naturalize a particular future.

Newman 2015:23

The archive in itself and the construction thereof is preoccupied with the linear life course (Newman 2015:23) – a straight timeline. The straight timeline is “a system of categorisation that celebrates the normal.” (Muñoz 2009). This timeline goes something like this: graduate high school, attend college, obtain a degree, get a job, find true love, get married, have kids, work until your retirement, become a grandparent, die. A queer temporality can not exist parallel to a normative heterosexual temporality (Newman 2015:23). “Within straight time the queer can only fail.” (Muñoz 2009). A queer narrative is out of place in a straight timeline. The way one documents and spreads the past and envisions the future changes.

To queer time is to mark one’s life with entirely different milestones (Halberstam in Dinshaw et al. 182); it is to feel strange within the timeline ascribed to you in childhood. A queer temporality challenges a false universal desire to follow social scripts by constantly recreating a past of oppression and silence in the present, while imagining a utopic future.

Newman 2015:23

Queer is essentially non-normative. Because it rejects normative ideas of value, queer is understood as failure (Muñoz 2009). Failure lies in the direct refusal of the normative. Within failure there lies potentiality. The future can never be realised, but the possibilities exist.

A queer restaging of the past helps us imagine new temporalities that interrupt the straight timeline.

Muñoz 2009

It is thus our responsibility to “[advocate] archival diversities that refuse singular narratives and opt for messy and tangled temporalities, never striving for coherence.” (Newman 2015:23). We need to challenge the limitations of the political and aesthetic imagination so that they and us will be able to see different worlds and realities, a queer utopia (Muñoz 2009). We need to critique the here and now to be in favour of a transformative then and there (Muñoz 2009). This queer fantasy, a utopian longing, is the conditions of a new possibility for political transformation. This utopianism represents failure as normal.

Gauntlett discusses an approach to sexuality and identity that is informed by the ideas of Michael Foucault and the work of Judith Butler in her book Gender Trouble – regarded as the most valuable version of queer theory (2002:134). He gives a simple summary of what queer theory is all about:

  • Identities are fluid, nothing within it is fixed.
  • Your identity is more than just a pile of (social and cultural) things.
  • There is no inner self, not really.
  • Gender is a performance reinforced through repetition and is not necessarily consciously chosen.
  • Thus, people can change.
  • Binaries are socially constructed, built on a binary divide informed by power relations.
  • We should challenge the traditional views of gender and sexuality by causing gender trouble

Gauntlett (2002:135)

We are constrained by the existing discourses circulating in our societies and culture, especially through the binary nature of sex, gender and sexuality that is perceived as a given, but is in itself a social construct and a way of viewing bodies. Gauntlett portrays Butler’s model of a heterosexual matrix in a form of a diagram, which caught my attention and interest.

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 12.24.59

from Gauntlett (2002:137)

The new model has no correlation or linear causality, even though they are loosely linked. The heterosexual matrix stems from the notion that your sex is a biological given, from there your gender identity is a cultural component based on your sex, which you are socialised into and that then determines your sexuality.

We should shatter the imagined connections.

Gauntlett (2002:137)

This notion of the heterosexual matrix is linked to the straight timeline. In a straight timeline a queerplatonic relationship is displaced. The desires of such a friendship is outside of the normative – the emotional connection is already transcending the norm and the life partner choice disrupts the heteronormative ideal and the straight timeline. Nadammie is a non-conformative relationship. It is a direct refusal of the heteronormative ideal and a rejection of the straight timeline. It is a gender failure, a messy and tangled temporality, and causes gender trouble. We interrupt straight time with our queer futurity – our idea of utopia includes us working together on movie sets, living in a big house with all our friends, adopting all the stray animals, have a room made completely out of pizza and growing old together – and dismantle the ideal of a heteronormative couple model.

The struggle to define the relationship was due to little or none exposure to such relationships and terms like queerplatonic. I am unaware of an archive dedicated to such a queer temporality. Jennifer’s Body  touches on the queer aspects of friendship through the horror genre and such themes are present once you do an extensive analysis of the film (like Nadine did for a film school assignment), however, there is not another pop culture text or archive – that I know of or consumed – that addresses such issues. I do believe our archive is one of the firsts that attempted to queerly archive a queerplatonic friendship. By queerly I mean our unconventional method and platform of archiving on a Tumblr blog. Blogs are in a sense a kind of archive – an archive of comments, reviews, analyses, recipes, photographs, performances, etc. – but in this case it is a queer genealogy of two friendbians: an unconventional family tree and history documented on a Tumblr blog through tags and evidence in multi forms of media.

Through our blog we not only wish to archive our friendship, but to create a platform for other people like us to also be able to archive queer and queerly, as well as to create possibilities for a queer futurity through providing physical evidence of queerplatonic. We want this to help create the possibility of a non conformative queer, messy and tangled life course, a queer futurity that celebrates failure through refusing the heteronormative ideal and straight timeline. This is a way to cause gender trouble, a way to dismantle the binaries and to shatter the normalised ideas of relationships and friendships.

After school shopping for our Z-day (first day of being seniors) dress up, 25 October 2008.
After school shopping for our Z-day (first day of being seniors) dress up, 25 October 2008.

Archiving

After I came up with the idea for my final project I FaceTimed Nadine to discuss this with her and to ask her consent, as this is a very personal issue that would be presented to my class and be publicly available. We were both excited about this project, really.

The next step was to find a platform for the archive. This was quite difficult at first, but during another FaceTime call we decided on Tumblr – to create a blog dedicated to two stupid friendbians. Nadine said that it would be like having a fansite. I then set up a new Tumblr blog and named it #Nadammie. We decided to work on it together: Nadine would be in charge of setting up the theme and I would do most of the research and posting. Once the blog was set up and a theme was installed, we started to collect archival material to post.

I remembered that there is a pack of notes that I keep in my drawer that we used to write in school and pass around in class to each other. I asked my sister to take the folder to Nadine. She then scanned in a few notes and forward them to me via WeTransfer along with the first few pages of Sleeping With Roaches which she kept. SWR originated through these class notes and the first season is approximately 140 handwritten pages. We continued to write the second season and stopped writing in 2009. I’m unsure how far we got, but we definitely want to rewrite our original work and continue the story as we would one day like to turn it into an actual TV series.

Nadine also sent me a few videos and photographs that are on her computer. Unfortunately I do not have my hard drive with all my photographs (stored neatly in chronological order) with me, so I could only use what I have on my laptop, Facebook, Instagram and cellphone. Luckily there was quite enough and I had to curate the special moments carefully.

I also turned to my good friend the Internet and searched for Nadammie content on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vine and YouTube. We sometimes use the hashtag #Nadammie when we post, but not all the time so I had to search for more posts manually by scrolling through timelines. I took screenshots of Tweets and Facebook posts, uploaded photos and videos and shared the URLs of YouTube and Vine videos. We also asked our family and friends to send pictures of them holding a poster saying ‘I ship #Nadammie’ and uploaded them to our blog. Some of our non-human friends also collaborated 🙂

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I added captions to some of the posts to give a bit of a context and tagged all the posts with the year and the type of event/interaction/artefact. I also changed the post date so it correlates with the date of the memory/event/original post. The captions are in such a nature as if we uploaded them on that day and in our way of speaking. The blog posts are thus in chronological order and archived by year and type. On the blog there are links to the years 2009-2016 and certain types of memories.

For example:

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 15.24.06 Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 15.23.50 Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 15.22.38 Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 15.21.08 Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 15.20.35 Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 15.20.18

As you can see, below every post there is the date (which I entered to match the date of event) and the filed under categories. The posts are always tagged with Nadammie and then Nadammie +type, Nadammie +year and then sometimes Nadammie +inside joke. The video post above happened on 21 October 2012 (I found that date on the original YouTube upload) when we made videos for a contest hosted by a local radio station to see One Direction live in New York City. It is filed under Nadammie, Nadammie 1D, Nadammie Fangirl and Nadammie 2012. 

Due to time constraints I could not be very detailed in all the captions as I would have liked to. Most of the posts are only highlights of certain events and there are not a lot of our retellings and recollections of an event/memory. We would like to continue to archive our friendship, but we would also like to update the past events and posts as well as add more posts in the form of chat and quote that contain conversations between us to give readers a glimpse into our language. It is our desire to upload more detailed recollections of memories and make the archive more personal. Once we are reunited again we want to film ourselves telling stories and how we remembered events, for example the beginning of our friendship, what we thought of each other before we were friends and the start of the Mommy and Child theme. We hope that these videos will give the viewer a more intimate experience as they watch us interact with one another and retell our history. We also want to add videos and posts of our friends’ and families’ recollections of their experiences of Nadammie and their thoughts on our friendship.

It is quite difficult to archive a friendship. Yes, we have many objects and evidence that will take time to sort and document with care and detail. But, we also have memories and experiences, stories with no physical evidence that needs to be documented, like oral history. Most of all, there are feelings and emotions, abstract things that is even more difficult, if not impossible, to archive. I can upload all our memories, life events, memories and physical evidence to our Tumblr blog, but those things will never fully possess the ability to mediate our true friendship and how we experience one another and our relationship. You won’t be able to hack into us through this archive to get the full Nadammie experience like we do. Essentially we want it to be an archive of us, of Nadammie. An archive of Nadammie feels. 

#Nadammie is then an ongoing project that we look forward to work on.

Everything is Awesome
BUT NOTING IS AS AWESOME AS…
A picture of a polaroid taken of us at my 21st birthday party. I got a Fujifilm Instax camera from my close group of friends, including Nadine, as a combined gift. 14 October 2012.
A picture of a polaroid taken of us at my 21st birthday party. I got a Fujifilm Instax camera from my close group of friends, including Nadine, as a combined gift. 14 October 2012.

Bibliography

Gauntlett, D. 2002. Queer theory and fluid identities in Media, Gender and Identity. London and New York: Routledge. pp 134-151

Muñoz, J.E. 2009. After Jack: Queer failure, queer virtuosity in Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: NYU Press.

Newman, L.Z. 2015. Absent, Invisible and Incoherent: Archiving women’s performance futurities. Canadian Theatre Review 163, Summer: 19-24

We had a Christmas photoshoot. We sent our family and friends Christmas wishes as well as Tweeted our favourite celebrities. 23 December 2009.
We had a Christmas photoshoot. We sent our family and friends Christmas wishes as well as Tweeted our favourite celebrities using this photo. 23 December 2009.

Portfolio

The portfolio of archival material can be accessed on the Nadammie tumblr blog via a password that was sent out to friends, family members and my colleagues. Once you have the password you can explore on the blog as much as you like through the Nadammie Vault and tags of Nadammie years and Nadammie events and interactions that are categorised by type.

Sometime in the near future we plan to make the blog public once we have documented our memories and experiences in detail.

A screenshot of the home page of nadammie.tumblr.com
A screenshot of the home page of nadammie.tumblr.com

Queering Prince Charming

Assignment: Speedy Analysis – Cultural Artefact

  • Choose a cultural artefact to explain a concept from the course

Photographer Michael Becker Models Meghan Camarena, Joey Graceffa, Evelina Barry, David Camarena Makeup and Hair by Daisy Dennis Styling by David Camarena

Joey Graceffa is an American YouTuber with over 6 million subscribers on his main channel. He joined YouTube in 2009 and has been documenting his life for the past seven years through vlogs. But, he kept a big part of his life hidden. Just before the release of his memoir titled In Real Life: My Journey to a Pixelated World, Joey released his song Don’t Wait on 16 May 2015 and posted the music video on the same day. The music video also serves as his coming out video. The video has over 20 million views.

A few days later, Joey uploaded another video confirming that he is gay and reacts to the positive responses from fans and the YouTube community.

My cultural artefact is thus the video Don’t Wait.

In the video Joey discusses his childhood experience with bullying, dealing with his mom’s alcoholism and his sexuality – the darker version of him represents his struggle to accept his sexuality and the fear of being different.

The main concept I used for the speedy analysis is the notion of queering as well as Connell’s hegemonic masculinity and the Habermasian public sphere.

Queering is when queer theory is used as a tool for thinking about identity and when it is applied to reinterpret a text with the focus on gender and sexuality. The main aim of queering, I would say, is to disrupt the heteronormative ideal, to displace norms that enable repetition of the gender order as constructed by society and culture, to expose the unnaturalness of that order and essentially to reinvent gender and sexuality in the here and now. This is done through challenging and transforming normalised ideas of gender, by dismantling the binaries, shattering the idea of gender and by causing gender trouble, as coined by Judith Butler. It does not only apply to gender and sexuality, but in this case it is my focus.

Connell’s social constructivist understanding of gender accounts for what she terms as ‘hegemonic masculinity’ and ‘emphasised femininity’. The global dominance of men over women is the central interrelation between the two concepts and provides an essential basis for differentiation. The hegemonic form of masculinity features in society as a whole and subordinate masculinities and the female other is constructed in relation to this, oriented to accommodate the interests and desires of men. It is embedded in religion, mass media, popular culture, wages and salaries, consumer products, architectual design, politics and economics. There are different forms of masculinities, but they all strive to the ideal type which is strong, powerful, authoritative, heterosexual, bread winners, heads of houselholds and are active in the public sphere.

Not all men can conform to the above, but nevertheless because they are men, they enjoy the ‘patriarchal divident’. Subordinate masculinities do not comply to these valued forms. The gay community, regardless of different nuances, can not be seen as hegemonic, because, just like emphasised femininity, it is in contrast to the norms of masculinity and is in support of it. Hegemonic masculinity disrupts the gay masculinity. One of the ways in which hegemonic masculinity functions is by preventing alternatives, or subordinates, from gaining cultural definition and recognition and thus confining them to unconsciousness.

Prince-Eric-Prince-Philip

Joey is a gamer and he is a big fan of fantasy adventure pop culture. He queers the fantasy adventure genre which is typically associated with a hegemonic male and heteronormativity. Prince Charming as a trope is usually seen as a boring character without depth and also representing the bad qualities of masculinity – like violence, entitlement and lack of emotions or the expression thereof. This hegemonic masculinity trope is queered by Joey as the prince or hero adopting feminine qualities (normally associated with femininity) – for example when he is confronted by the witch he does not retaliate with violence, but rather with love and embraces her. He then also adopts the role of caregiver to look after and nourish his alcoholic mother. The love interest is then a handsome prince, not a princess. The prince is not helpless, but locked away by Joey’s fears and struggles and can then only be free once Joey accepts himself.

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The co-star is Joey’s boyfriend in real life. On Valentine’s Day this year Joey posted a video called OUR LOVE STORY, announcing that he and Daniel Preda have been dating since July 2014.

By dismantling the binaries of a typical fantasy love story, Joey is causing gender trouble and disrupts the heteronormative ideal.

Conceptualisation of the public sphere are based on the ideas of Jürgen Habermas. It is a spatial concept which refers to social arenas where individuals of the public come together to discuss, negotiate and distribute meanings and issues with the aim to influence political action.

joey-graceffa-gay

Coming out videos are a large and important part of the YouTube culture. As of July 2015 there are more than 36 000 videos related to this subject with a total combined 300 million views. This creates a space to promote LGBT activism and creates a safe space to discuss queer issues. I say it is a queer public sphere because the Habermasian public sphere is associated with the bourgeois which is a white upper middle class male arena. YouTube becomes a neo-liberal arena to advocate change and to normalise homosexuality. The process of coming out as a private matter is made public and discussed in this queer space. YouTube becomes a sphere for the queer public to discuss and distribute issues of the LGBTQ community with the hopes of influencing political and social action. It is thus both a digital and queer public sphere.

Joey’s second video confirming he is gay, reacting to positive responses and answering questions about Don’t Wait.

Check out the Prezi I made, Queering Prince Charming, to present to my class!

Boys Don’t Cry – Across the gender divide

Learning Journal Entry: Response to Boys Don’t Cry

boys_don_t_cry

We need more portrayals of sexual minorities to transform the media, and not only transgressive gender boundaries in a comedic context to cushion heteronormativity, but in aggressive ways that defy and deny blindness of heterosexism and homophobia. This is wast the mainstream media needs to do: privilege the tolerance and acceptance of gender fluidity. We need to be able to question the privileged sexual definitions and what is perceived as normal in regards to masculinity and sexuality, i.e. heteronormativity. We should shatter the idea that genitals outweigh agency – there is no linear correlation between sex, gender and sexuality. It is all socially constructed and reinforced to maintain the heteronormative ideal. The film Boys Don’t Cry queers the centres of heteronormativity and hegemonic masculinity through privileging female masculinity and by celebrating its differences from heterosexual norms. It queers the centre of heteronormativity through centring the queer.

After reading about the Humboldt Murders and watching the film Boys Don’t Cry we were given a few things to think about and today I would like to focus on naming, female and non-binary masculinity and heteronormative masculinity.

Naming is a big part of our daily lives and it is an issue portrayed in the film as Brandon struggles to name himself and how he is named by others, especially by John and Tom before and then after they find out he is transsexual. There is a kind of history stuck to a name – your formal name but also names that you are being called upon and addressed as by people you may know or don’t know. In language there are certain limitations when it comes to naming, maybe not so much anymore as there are new terms that help people to name themselves and for others to name accurately to minimise hurtful language. Of course bigotry won’t disappear so easily and hurtful naming still occurs, as we see in the film. When interpellation occurs it is important to identify who is doing the naming and who is being named. Naming is a process and power relations take place when it is being done: we name and we are named by others. The process of ‘hailing’ someone in social interactions is charged with ideology as the interpellation moment constitutes the nature of someone’s identity. Your sexual identity resides in others and through them naming you your identity is reinforced or challenged. In the film Brandon’s acts of self-definition is privileged. Passing for him is when he has to be Teena – when he has to perform a female identity.

Female masculinity and gender fluidity are privileged and normalised in the film. Brandon is centred in the film as the focus is on him and his gender identity. Brandon as a person and his female masculinity is celebrated as it differs from heterosexual norms and contrasts the hegemonic masculinity portrayed by John and Tom. Female masculinity is a queer masculinity and is usually framed in the mainstream media as a spectacle. The focus of the film is on a girl who wants to be a boy – and really believes she is, as that is Brandon’s gender identity – which makes us understand why he wants to pass. In order to do so there can’t be masculinity without men. The queer often operates within the non-queer. Queer is not to be associated with a particular identity, but a positioning that resists heteronormative practices. In this case it is a transgressive masculinity that is disrupting the norm and contradicting popular media depictions. Brandon’s female/queer masculinity trespasses the masculine domain which frames the strangeness and challenges heteronormativity. It is disrupting the normative assumptions. The film destabilizes binary gender systems when Brandon’s masculinity is contrasted with John and Tom’s.

The suppression of the female masculinity and transsexuality allows for the male masculinity to stand unchallenged and to represent gender stability and to identify the gender deviance through it. Media narratives’ representation of sexual minorities appear to embrace the queerness, but in reality the queer is being dehumanised, marginalised and tamed as heteronormativity is reinforced through stereotypical characterization. The mainstream narratives are heterosexed, lined with heteroideology and heterocentric with a rigid structure. Boys Don’t Cry does the opposite as it privileges gender diversity and exposes the inherent sexual bigotry of heteroideology. John and Tom’s hegemonic masculinities are being threatened by Brandon’s female masculinity. To reinforce their entitlement and to soothe their threatened privilege and masculine ego they retaliate with sexual violence and rape to assert their masculinity.

The privileged subjectivities of heterosexuality and hegemonic masculinity are dismantled in Boys Don’t Cry as female masculinity is centred and heteromasculinity problematised. The gender outlaw is brought into the mainstream media with the intention to spread the tolerance and acceptance of gender fluidity.

Fun Home – There’s Something Queer Here

Learning Journal Entry: Response to Fun Home prompt questions

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Fun Homeby Alison Bechdel, is a queer mediation of a personal history. It functions as a queer archive in the way that it documents a personal history through mixing media, like text, illustrations and comics. This is a creative and different way of archiving. Not only is it in a form of a graphic memoir, but there is also a musical adaptation that has received numerous awards, including  Best Musical at the Tony Awards last year and Best Musical Theatre Album at this year’s Grammy Awards. Although I was intrigued by the significance of queering an archive and assembling an archive of a queer temporality in the form of a graphic novel, I was even more intrigued by the musical adaptation. We discussed Fun Home quite extensively in class, for example the ways in which Bechdel queers not only her own history, but also her father’s, the artistic side of the comics and Bechdel’s achievements as a queer cartoonist. I would thus like to talk more about the musical for this learning journal entry.

From a young age I have always adored theatre and musicals. It was my mother’s influence of taking us to every ballet, dance performance, musical and theatre production at Artscape, formerly known as the Nico Malan (the name I grew up with), in Cape Town. Her utter determination to expose my sister and I to culture in various forms rooted a deep love for travel, food and the performance arts in me. From all the musicals I have seen, I have never come across a musical as queer as Fun Home. The stage adaption of Fun Home was developed by Obie Award-winning playwright Lisa Kron (book and lyrics) and the music composed by Tony Award-nominated Jeanine Tesori. They won Best Original Score together at last year’s Tony Awards for Fun Home.

I am in love with the fact that the main protagonist in the musical is an openly gay female and she is portrayed by three different characters: successful middle-aged cartoonist Alison Bechdel, Small Alison at the age of 10 who struggles against her father’s obsessive demands and begins to identify her unformed sexuality and Middle Alison attending her first year of college who comes out as gay and experiences her first relationship. This is the first mainstream musical about a young lesbian. The musical is a queer production.

The musical jumps between three different timelines as middle-aged Allison works on her memoir in the present day and recalls two time periods in her – the ones of Small Allison and Middle Alison. The fragmented narrative structure is incomplete and the jumping in between timelines and the recollection of memories in a non linear way is in itself quite queer. The lyrics and the issues that are addressed in the performance of the songs are unique, quirky and yes, queer. The graphic novel and the musical addresses the queer relations within (a) family. It becomes a facade because of ideology and the people within the family have become part of the structure, like the house that plays such a big part in this story. It is a production about a personal story that is in fact universal in many ways. It is a typical and stereotypical reconstruction of life in a fragmented manner.

When an audience engages with mass culture it is a fragmented and complex moment. With the ever-shifting and unpredictable nature of cultural circulation and consumption it becomes more and more difficult (yet interesting!) to theorise and examine moments of consumption and media engagement when you focus on the dense patterns and practices of every day life and the ways in which media is integrated into daily routines and implicated within it. The definition(s) and uses of gender remain an important aspect when examining the ways in which queerness influences mass culture production and reception. Queerness and queering should become the main tool for mass culture reception practices to account the existence and expression of positions within culture that are queer. Queer should represent unity and also suggest diversity.

The musical adaptation of Fun Home is a queer mediation and an interesting example of queerness that is currently circulating in mass culture, definitely worthy of its praise and for the issues that are addressed in the performance.

I have not seen the musical yet, but I watched a few performances of the songs on YouTube. I would love to see it in real life one day.

Below are some of the videos that I watched:

The Pain & Empowerment of Choosing Your Own Gender

queerlymediated

The Pain & Empowerment of Choosing Your Own Gender: Alok Vaid-Menon

Hi guys,
I wanted to share this episode of The What’s Underneath Project with Alok Vaid-Menon with the class, because I think Alok has a very interesting approach to ‘queer’and the act of ‘queering’ things.
In the video, they talk about subverting gender norms, inhabiting a queer body and the intersection between race and gender. Alok also touches upon their identity in the context of being (southern) American.

(Heads up: the video contains mentions of suicide, transmisogynistic violence and slurs.)

Let me know what you think in the comments!

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Queer for Ruby Rose

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I first heard of Ruby Rose when the internet went bonkers after the release of Orange is the New Black Season 3 last year. Suddenly all the die hard OISTNB straight girls ‘went gay’ for Ruby and her character, Stella. I will openly admit that she evoked feelings in me too. But, I refuse to say I suddenly turned gay and then went back to being straight. That’s not a thing.

Ruby Rose is an Australian model, DJ, TV presenter and actress. She is gender fluid and gender neutral, however prefers female pronouns. She is an incredibly beautiful human – well, this is quite subjective, but she basically has a perfect face so don’t lie to yourself. It’s easier for the world to accept an openly gay TV star than a woman who secretly wants to be a boy. Her story is fascinating and I admire her immensely. You can read more about her struggle with gender identity here.

In the video below, Break Free, Ruby transforms from a very feminine woman into a heavily tattooed man. The personal short film tells Ruby’s story and serves as a gender fluid tribute. The video also portrays the performativity of gender. Gender is performed in various ways through our body, clothes, language, gestures, etc. Society and culture construct our idea of what femininity and masculinity ought to be. I like to think of our bodies as signs that function as a signifier and also signifies, to bring in semiotics and de Saussure. I would also like to refer to Stuart Hall’s encoding and decoding of texts and apply it to our bodies. The performance of your various identities are encoded by you (and perhaps the norms and expectations of society and culture) onto your body through clothing, speech and actions which can then be decoded by others. We decode Ruby’s body first as female and feminine. When she encodes her body by washing off the make-up, cutting her hair short, cleaning her nails, dressing in a suit and performing aggressive gestures and language we then read her identity as male, but not a hegemonic masculinity. Instead she is a boyish feminine male as our understanding of masculinity is quite the opposite – I mean, think Brad Pitt or George Clooney or something. 

Now to get back to those feelings evoked by this beautiful being that no one quite understands. It irks me that straight people say that they would ‘go gay’ for someone or that Ruby Rose ‘turned’ you gay. So when straight women have ‘girl crushes’ it’s like a safe word as you want to reside peacefully in your heteronormative bubble and having actual feelings is TABOO. Confession: I’ve had many girl crushes and I am currently crushing on Ariana Grande. My attraction to Ruby is real, and I’m pretty sure every other straight girl willing to ‘go gay’ for her share these feelings. I won’t necessarily act upon my attraction towards any of my ‘girl crushes’ as I am very comfortable with my heterosexual identity. But, there is definitely something queer here. We’ve been so brainwashed into thinking in binaries that being attracted, as a straight person, to someone of the same sex is wrong and we brush it off with ‘girl crush’.  There is nothing wrong with finding a beautiful person attractive. I think these feelings are weird and we have no idea how to deal, like we can’t even. So they merely become a crush that can be easily brushed off.

The thing is, honestly, fuck binaries. And fuck ‘girl crushes’. It’s a crush. It’s queer. And it’s okay.