My latest article, “Sensing America: Yoko Tawada’s Synesthetic Meditation on Linguistic Spaces in Foreign Tongues” is now available in the book German Women Writers and the Spatial Turn: New Perspectives, edited by Carola Daffner and Beth Muellner. Below is a description of the collection.
My new article “Crafting Hermaphroditism: Gale Wilhelm’s Lesbian Modernism inWe Too Are Drifting” has been published in the Summer 2014 edition of College Literature. Below are an abstract for the article and a link to Project Muse where the full article can be accessed through most college library subscriptions.
This article argues for a renewed interest in forgotten modernist lesbian author Gale Wilhelm through an examination of her 1935 novel We Too Are Drifting. Aimed at a wide readership, Wilhelm’s novel differs from the work of high-modernist lesbians like Gertrude Stein and Djuna Barnes with its middlebrow sensibilities. Furthermore, it presents the hermaphrodite as a new metaphor for conceptualizing lesbian identity in contrast to the dominant model of the invert espoused by Radclyffe Hall’s famous The Well of Loneliness. Without engaging in explicit politics, entering into clinical considerations of sexual psychology, or including gratuitously titillating scenes that the public had come to expect with the subject of lesbianism, Wilhelm’s revolutionary gesture needs to be gauged differently: it assumes the lesbian’s right to define her own existence as the a priori condition for writing about lesbian love by focusing on how lesbian artists use visual media to express their identities and desires.
(Full Article Available at Project Muse)
For most of the lgbt community, knowledge of Ballroom culture in America begins and ends with Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary Paris is Burning. While the film’s release was one of the defining moments of lgbt culture with its masterful (though not unproblematic) depiction of the genius and spectacle of Ballroom performers balanced with the reality of urban poverty, racism, and the AIDS epidemic they faced, its subject matter has largely been frozen in time as 80s nostalgia and aestheticized in the lgbt imaginary. The snarky quotes, over the top fashions, and Madonna’s appropriation of Voguing have stuck in lgbt culture, but the film’s messages about black lgbt life seem to have faded from memory.
Although Marlon M. Bailey’s Butch Queens Up in Pumps is more than just an update on the last three decades of Ballroom culture, the mere fact that the lgbt community would need to be reminded that these same issues of racism, poverty, and public health remain as pressing today as they were 25 years ago is evidence for the importance of this book. It is not written as a companion or a correction to Paris is Burning, but as a fan of the film, I was struck by how the book reframed they way we view Ballroom culture. As a work of scholarship, Butch Queens Up in Pumps meticulously details how racism, poverty, homophobia and AIDS still challenge the black lgbt community and how Ballroom culture in Detroit provides a space of resistance, yet as a combination of ethnography and memoir, the book reads personally and emotionally in a way that few academic studies achieve.
(Full Article Available at The Lambda Literary Review)
The gay community has always had a contradictory relationship with the notion of authenticity. We have delighted in the camp spectacles of drag on stage and marveled at the “realness” of ball culture in Paris is Burning, yet we maintain that to be “straight acting” is the pinnacle of masculine attractiveness and many lgbt rights groups preach assimilation and highlight our “normality” as a political tactic. In Camp Sites, Michael Trask traces some of the origins of this contemporary obsession with authenticity in the lgbt world and its cultural politics to a shift in the culture of leftist politics and American academia from the 50s to the 60s.
Charging that the New Left of the 60s “drew with surprising frequency on the Cold War culture’s wide repertoire of homophobic suppositions,” Trask argues that “the New Social Movements had such difficulty with the queers” because “the equation radicals forged between authenticity and a meaningful life rendered gay culture’s uncommitted and artificial persons beyond redemption, even if such figures would serve a role in defining countercultural commitment by their negative example.” (1) Trask contends that the Left of the 60s saw the hallmarks of gay existence such as camp culture, male effeminacy, and closetedness as vestiges of the inauthenticity they sought to dismantle as they posited more utopian visions of cultural revolution. As Trask puts it “in the liberal mind, camp followers became so hopelessly beholden to surfaces that they were incapable of taking advantage of the opportunistic gap between appearance and depth, the gap in which realpolitik unfolded.” (8)
(Full Article Available at The Lambda Literary Review)
The following is a reading of Robert Duncan’s poem “My Mother Would be a Falconress” that situates the poem within lgbt history and the author’s fraught relationship with gay identity. The full poem itself can be found here on Poets.org.
Read within the contemporary context, the word “gay” in the second line “and I, her gay falcon treading her wrist” sticks out awkwardly and causes the line to stumble to its conclusion. To flat out declare that a character is gay in 2013 would violate the sacred creative writing principle of showing instead of telling. A mainstream audience from 1968 would have made no such pause. After all, the theme song from “The Flintstones” promised its 1960s audience that they would have “a gay old time”. But, queer men and women of the era, or those heterosexuals in the know, would have paused and wondered whether or not Duncan was sneaking in a double meaning, perhaps even making this one three-letter word the key to unlocking the troubled source of the complex relationship between mother and child depicted in the poem.
From Duncan’s notes on the genesis of the poem (marked above in MAPS as Virginia Wallace-Whitaker), we know that the association of the term “gay” with a sexual connotation was deliberate. Yet, Duncan stresses that with using “gay”, he wants to evoke the history of the term as a signifier of sexual liberation and being “free from any structure”, before it was attached specifically to homosexual men. Citing the French poet Baudelaire’s use of “gai” in his poetry as inspiration, Duncan declares, “Gai” could be taken over by the gay liberation because it originally meant you were sexually free, not paying attention to whether your sexual partner was male or female, not checking out the charge for it.” The Stonewall Riots launched the modern American gay liberation movement one year after the publication of this poem, and the term “gay” would be introduced to the public as the preferred term for a homosexual male. Promoting the term “gay” was a rhetorical tactic that sought to disassociate modern gays from the clinical history of the “homosexual” as a psychologically disturbed and genetically inferior being and to reinforce the pursuit of open happiness and pride, previously assumed to be unachievable to the melancholic, outcast homosexual.
(Full article at Modern American Poetry …scale to bottom of page)
When B. Ruby Rich coined the term “New Queer Cinema” in 1992, she was referring to an exciting moment in film when a wave of young queer filmmakers like Gus Van Sant, Isaac Julien, and Todd Haynes burst onto the film festival circuit with gritty, experimental films like My Own Private Idaho, Looking for Langston, and Poison that unflinchingly portrayed the provocative and uncomfortable realities of queer identity and existence. As Rich herself describes the movement:
“Emanating from a (mostly) new generation, the NQC embodied an evolution in thinking. It reinterpreted the link between the personal and the political envisioned by feminism, restaged the defiant activism pioneered at Stonewall, and recoded aesthetics to link the independent feature movement with the avant-garde and start afresh.”
Two decades later, Rich’s “Director’s Cut” revisits New Queer Cinema and the evolution of lgbt film through the turn of the century. Where Vito Russo’s work ends in The Celluloid Closet, B. Ruby Rich’s New Queer Cinema: The Director’s Cut takes up the mantle to document the last few decades of cinema when film itself came out of the closet.
Composed as a collection of essays, the book proves valuable as a resource on queer film history. Along with new essays that weigh in on the comprehensive history of the movement, argue for the international inclusion of Latin American, European, and Asian films, and forecast the future of queer fim, Rich also includes articles published decades ago that capture the political controversies and audience reactions to NQC as they happened. We get both the hindsight of 20/20 and the radical zeitgeist of the moment preserved as it was. Thus, Rich’s book is also a history of the past three decades queer culture and activism as it was projected on screen and debated among the audience. Rich takes us through “the arrival of AIDS, Reagan, camcorders, cheap rent, and the emergence of ‘queer’ as a concept and a community” that informed the politics of NQC. Along the way, Rich details the battles over the media representation of lgbt identity waged at the film festival circuit, from the censorship of external foes like Jesse Helms and the Moral Majority who branded NEA fellows like Haynes government-subsidized pornographers to the internal controversies dealing with stereotypes and queer narrative tropes: murderous lesbians, the man living with AIDS as “victim”, and images of cruising, drug abuse, and violence that many thought damaged the cause of lgbt rights.
(Read the full review at The Lambda Literary Review)
From the Flower Power protest songs of the 60s to the socially conscious hip hop of groups like Public Enemy, popular music has long had the capacity to voice the desire for social revolution in rhythm and melody. In Gaga Feminism (Beacon Press), J. Jack Halberstam makes a case for Lady Gaga to be considered in these terms for the potential of her masterful subversion of gender and sexual norms to bring about a possible “end of normal” altogether. Describing the project of gaga feminism, Halberstam explains, “Gaga feminism proposes to be a new kind of gender politics for a new generation, a generation less bound to the romance of permanence (in the form of marriage, for example), more committed to the potential of flexibility (in the form of desire, for example), more tuned in to the fixity of power relations (in the form of capitalism), and less likely to buy the broken ideologies of uniqueness, American dreams, inclusivity, and respectability.”
Now, what exactly does any of this have to do with a pop singer in a meat dress? For Halberstam, the popularity of a decidedly avant-garde performer devoted to surreal spectacles that blur the line between homo/hetero and male/female signals a moment of potential transformation, perhaps even revolution, in the way we conceive of gender and sexual politics;
(Read the rest at Lambda Literary)