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Chase Dimock

Writer, Editor, and Researcher in Comparative Literature and LGBT Studies

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As It Ought To Be

Different From the Others: LGBT History Month and the Almost Century-Old Legacy of an Early Gay Rights Film

                                                   

October is LGBT History Month, and this year it is as important as ever to study our past. With all of our recently won civil rights and our dramatically increased visibility in society, the LGBT community sometimes assumes that the features of our culture and the values of our politics are recent inventions. Conversely, sometimes we make the opposite mistake and assume that LGBT people of the past (even before the terms gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender first came about) thought of themselves and the community exactly as we do today. These misconceptions are primarily due to the fact that American culture has closeted LGBT history for so long. We learned little to nothing about the history of the LGBT community in school and have thus been denied the benefit that comes with studying history or even being aware that we have a history. I remember, as a teenager, reading gay poet A E Housman in my English textbook, not knowing that his poems written about his male “friends” were actually addressed to the men he loved romantically. It was more important for those who created the curriculum and standards for our education to lead us into misunderstanding the material than to risk admitting to young people that men could love other men in the 19th century or today for that matter.

Having a history is an essential part of having a cultural identity. A history explains where we are in the present and allows us greater insight into the direction in which we are heading. It reminds us that ideas, values, and expressions do not materialize out of nothing; they are the product of the collective communal action of the people over time. This history is always evolving and our story is never finished being told because we are constantly discovering more about it. Finally, knowing our history cautions us against the uncritical belief in a progress narrative. It is easy to assume that we live in the most civilized and enlightened of times and that progress inevitably arcs toward justice. In reality, civil rights are often a cycle of advancement and blow back. Social action is usually greeted by an even greater and opposite repressive reaction. We cannot afford to presume that our current social standing is permanent or that it will naturally improve in the future. Continue reading “Different From the Others: LGBT History Month and the Almost Century-Old Legacy of an Early Gay Rights Film”

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Snuffleupagus as Depression: A Conversation with Poet Daniel Crocker

If you ask Daniel Crocker how to get to Sesame Street, he’d point you toward a twisting road of manic depression, frustrated desires, and existential malaise. In his latest book, Shit House Rat, Crocker’s poetry reimagines the furry childhood icons of Sesame Street embodying torments and foibles as adult and human as the people whose hands are lodged up their muppet behinds. Cookie Monster is an addict, Big Bird has mania, Snuffy is the haunting specter of depression, and Grover’s anxiety led to a hell of a divorce. But, Sesame Street is only the starting point. Shit House Rat takes the reader to Leadwood, Missouri, Crocker’s rural, predictably lead polluted hometown, where he engages themes from his childhood to his adulthood, including mental illness, queer sexuality, poverty, and small town conservativism. I got a chance to ask Crocker about the appeal of dark humor in poetry, the struggle of growing up bipolar and bisexual in rural America, and most importantly, what exactly a “shit house rat” is.

 

Chase Dimock: The first thing your readers will notice about your new book will obviously be the title, Shit House Rat. I know that as you were working on this collection, you had some trepidations about how the title might be perceived by your audience. Where did you get the idea for this title and why did you ultimately decide to use it?

 

Daniel Crocker: I have trepidation when it comes to just about anything, so I try not to let it worry me too much as a writer. I really put myself out there, especially in this new book, and there’s always a lot of anxiety that comes with that. I did have some specific concerns about the title though. I got the idea from the old saying, “Crazy as a shithouse rat.’ I don’t know if it’s a Midwestern or southern thing, but I’ve heard it a lot growing up and even now. It’s a nice turn of phrase, really. So, I just took the last half of  the saying (kind of like I did with Like a Fish) and used it. My worry is that it’s a real putdown to people, like me, with a mental illness. I don’t want anyone with a mental illness to think I’m making fun of them at all. My hope is to take the phrase and subvert it. Own it.

(Full Interview Available on As It Ought To Be)

As It Ought To Be Announces Chase Dimock as New Managing Editor

I am excited to announce that I will be serving as the Managing Editor of As It Ought To Be. My friend Okla Elliott co-founded this publication and managed it for years before his unexpected passing last spring. I want to keep Okla’s legacy alive by continuing to publish creative pieces and progressive works of social and political commentary. I hope that my friends and colleagues will help me in this endeavor by submitting their work for consideration (contact inquiries.asitoughttobe@gmail.com)and spreading the word about As It Ought To Be’s relaunch.

The full formal announcement can be read at As It Ought To Be.

From the Same Source as Her Power: A Threnody for Adrienne Rich

How do we account for and preserve a writer’s power after she dies? At the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, any researcher who wants to access the lab books and notes of the legendary scientist Marie Curie must first sign a waiver acknowledging the danger of leafing through her papers. Over a hundred years after Curie’s discovery of radium and polonium, her lab book is still radioactive enough to set off a Geiger counter. Perhaps this is why when I heard of Adrienne Rich’s passing last month, I immediately thought of her 1974 poem “Power” about Marie Curie. Just as Curie’s words literally radiate from her pages with the physical properties of the power that she discovered, so too does Rich’s six decades of poetry continue to empower the reader with her social critique and introspection.

The Poetical is the Political

In the past few weeks, several obituaries and memorials have been written to commemorate the life of Adrienne Rich after she passed away from rheumatoid arthritis at age 82. In every remembrance, Rich’s status as a “feminist poet” comes to the forefront and in the process of assembling a biography, the age-old rift between politics and poetics, art for art’s sake versus art for raising social consciousness, is still being waged over Rich’s death. Most of Rich’s critics and detractors over the course of her career dismissed her work as overly polemical, accusing her of sacrificing poetics for politics, as if these are somehow mutually exclusive entities. As Rich herself once said, “One man said my politics trivialized my poetry…. I don’t think politics is trivial — it’s not trivial for me. And what is this thing called literature? It’s writing. It’s writing by all kinds of people. Including me.” For Rich and other feminists who came of age under the belief that “the personal is the political”, it was impossible for the deep introspection of poetry to not find the political oppression of gender and sexual non-conformists as inextricably determinative of one’s psyche and soul.  Rather, Rich would contend that to believe poetry could be written outside of the political is to naturalize one’s worldview and political privilege. Being “apolitical” is the privilege of those who have power.

(Full article available at As It Ought To Be)

The Surreal Sex of Beauty: Jean Cocteau and Man Ray’s “Le Numéro Barbette”


In 1923, the American acrobat Vander Clyde better known by his stage name “Barbette” made his theater debut in Paris at the famed Moulin Rouge and the Folies Bergère and captivated the French artistic community with his show. Yet, his success was not merely due to his death-defying high wire or trapeze acts. Rather, what built his reputation and fame was his uncanny female impersonation as he performed his stunts. Most who saw Barbette for the first time were completely unaware of his true sex, but as Barbette’s renown grew in Paris, audiences poured in knowing they were witnessing the feminine graces of a man, yet captivated by how willingly they bought into the artful deception. During his days on the American Vaudeville circuit, Barbette’s revelation of his male gender at the end of his show may have shocked the audience, perhaps with laughter and the occasional moral offense, but in Paris, his act transcended the carnival aesthetic of oddities and shock value and was appreciated more as an art akin to ballet.

This appreciation for Barbette’s artistic sensibilities came as his act was embraced by the Parisian avant-garde and explored in the works of two surrealist artists, the French writer Jean Cocteau and the American photographer Man Ray. In 1926, Cocteau commissioned Man Ray to take a set of photographs chronicling Vander Clyde’s physical transformation into Barbette before a performance. In these photos, Man Ray presents Barbette in a stage half-way between average man and the over the top show girl outfit that completed Barbette as a character. Barbette’s wig is on and his face is made up, but his chest is bare and unmistakably a man’s. For Jean Cocteau, this state in between genders, in between sexes constitutes the essence of Barbette as neither a man impersonating or transformed into a woman, but instead as a being that takes advantage of the fluidity of aesthetics and theatrics to render gender and sex amorphous, constantly in a state of movement. I examine how surrealism supplied a discourse for theorizing an aesthetics for visualizing the possibilities of Barbette’s play of gender and yet how Cocteau and Man Ray had to work against the conventions of this fundamentally masculinist movement by examining the long repressed queer dimensions of the unconscious that even surrealism feared to unleash.

(Full article available at The Qouch)

Robert McAlmon’s Psychoanalyzed Girl and the Popularization of Psychoanalysis in America

A writer, publisher, and a connoisseur of the Parisian nightlife, Robert McAlmon was a fixture of the Lost Generation’s expatriate community in Paris in the 20s and 30s. McAlmon took Hemingway out to the bullfights in Spain that he would immortalize in The Sun Also Rises and he typed proofs of James Joyce’s monumental novel Ulysses. Through his publishing company Contact Editions, he was the first to publish works by such luminaries of the modernist movement as Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, William Carlos Williams, Djuna Barnes, H.D., and Nathanael West. Yet, his own reputation as a writer never reached the heights of those that he helped.

As a bisexual man in what most presumed to be a marriage of convenience to lesbian poet Bryher (H.D.’s longtime partner), McAlmon was one of the first American writers to depict the queer subculture of American expatriates. In Distinguished Air: Grim Fairy Tales, he detailed the exploits of Berlin’s cabarets and in the recently rediscovered The Nightinghouls of Paris, he dished on the queer affairs of the writers that inhabited the bistros and bars of Montparnasse during the famed expatriate period. I have written on McAlmon’s biography and poetry in greater detail in this previous article.

The story below comes from McAlmon’s first book of fiction, A Hasty Bunch. James Joyce himself suggested the title to McAlmon, commenting on the speed with which he wrote the stories and their roughness. By reading just a few sentences of the story, it is apparent that Joyce’s judgment is well justified. “The Psychoanalyzed Girl” should be considered part of McAlmon’s juvenilia as its awkward phrasings search for the more polished voice of ironic detachment and sardonic wit that would come with his later, more mature work.

Nonetheless what I find fascinating about this piece is its place as a cultural artifact of the influence of psychoanalysis on the Lost Generation of American writers. McAlmon’s opinion in this story is none too favorable. He satirizes the hyperawareness and self-centeredness that psychoanalytic therapy causes in his friend Dania, depicting her as perpetually self-analyzing and becoming progressively more alienated from her own reality as she obsesses over self-knowledge at the expense of self-experience.

(Full article available at The Qouch)

I Was a Male Chat-bot: The Turing Test, Artificial Intelligence, and Gender Online

Three summers ago, I made ten dollars an hour plus commission portraying “Jessica”, an online shopping assistant program designed by InQ serving the WhiteFence.com website. On WhiteFence.com, a customer can purchase phone, cable, internet service, and other products specific to their address. If any questions about the products or ordering procedure were to arise, the customer could initiate an online chat with Jessica simply by clicking on her picture in the upper right hand of the page. Jessica looked the part of an intelligent and congenial assistant with blond hair pulled back, a collared white shirt, and a pair of stylish librarian glasses. However, this image of Jessica rarely resembled the individual who answers questions as Jessica. In fact, in the first two months of the WhiteFence.com account, all of the agents working as Jessica were males of ages 20-40. The InQ office was filled with Jessicas working on different websites such as bellsouth.com, sprint.com and vonage.com, all corresponding to roughly similar pictures of the blond, attractive woman ready to answer all your questions. As agents, we were encouraged to maintain our “Jessica” identity at all times. Jessica provided a human face for the website, a form of branding which personalizes an online experience usually marked by anonymity. The overwhelming majority of customers fully bought into the Jessica masquerade, often typing personal testimonies of their trials and tribulations in trying to get their phone connected and appealing to Jessica’s implied sense of personal concern and warmth. Jessica was always sympathetic, but she was also a saleswoman, trained to guide customers to the latest long distance plans and rebates so she could make a fifty cent commission on each sale.

(Full article available on As It Ought To Be)

Removed from Society: The Prison System and the Geography of Nowhere

As the threat of Hurricane Irene loomed off the eastern coast last week, it was discovered mere hours before its arrival in New York that despite the city’s historic mandatory evacuation of hundreds of thousands of residents, there was no plan to evacuate the estimated 14,000 prisoners held on Rikers Island. With the swift and efficient evacuation of the free citizens of New York, Mayor Bloomberg and the city government were praised by the media for taking steps to avoid a possible Hurricane Katrina style catastrophe. Yet, by failing to evacuate the prisoners of Rikers Island, they set themselves up to the possibility of replicating one of the most egregious episodes of human rights abuses surrounding Hurricane Katrina: the abandonment of the prisoners of the Orleans Parish Prison. According to the ACLU, prisoners at the Orleans Parish Prison were left locked in their cells as the flood reached the prison and were left without food or water for days until they were evacuated.

(Full article available at As It Ought To Be)

The Problem With Gay Capital

It seems as though every week in the world of LGBT activism there is a new company that comes out as an enemy of the community. We immediately speak of boycotts, launch anti-company X groups on Facebook, and launch into personal declarations of “I’ll never shop there again” and “product X sucks anyway, product Y is much better”. The most recent corporation to be placed in the position of company X is Chick-Fil-A, which was exposed as having sponsored the Pennsylvania Family Institute’s “Art of Marriage” conference. Chick-Fil-A is a particularly transparent and accessible target for LGBT activists because they have made relatively no attempt to conceal the conservative Christian values of their founder S. Truitt Cathy or the conservative causes to which they have donated funds. Other corporations that have recently been the talk of an LGBT boycott include Target, Coors, and Domino’s for their donations to conservative lobbying organizations and think tanks. Yet, as we compile and edit our lists of boycotted companies versus “gay friendly” companies, the specific reasons why they merited their positions becomes obscured and ultimately they retain only the mere label of being good or bad for gays under the broad assumption that one political stance could be in the equal interest of all LGBT identifying individuals.

(Full article available on As It Ought To Be)

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