DUE: This exercise is due Sunday, Feb. 3, before midnight.
This week and last, we have talked about prominent 19th-century views of gender and sexuality–especially regarding the gender binary and homosexuality, but also transgender issues. For this exercise, I’d like you to do two things:
1. Find and transcribe (or briefly describe) a moment or a scene in one of the following three primary texts that you found interesting, puzzling, provocative, or otherwise noteworthy for its view or representation of gender (cis or trans) and/or homosexuality: Havelock Ellis’s Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Edward Carpenter’s On Homogenic Love, or Rachilde’s novel Monsieur Venus. In no more than a paragraph, briefly say what you found interesting/noteworthy here, and why. Add your contribution under Part 1: 19th-Century Perspectives on Queer Genders and Sexualities below. (Don’t forget to “sign” with your pseudonym.)
2. Find and add under Part 2: Contemporary Perspectives on Queer Genders and Sexualities: one image, video, sound file, or a verbal comment (headline or brief quote) that seems to represent one important way in which our society views, embraces, or censors queerness today. This can be anything you find interesting, provocative, puzzling, or otherwise noteworthy. If you like, add brief explanation of why you picked this image (not required but encouraged). Again, please don’t forget to “sign” after your contribution with your pseudonym.
If you run into any technical problems with posting an image or sound file on WordPress, please let me know and just send me the link so I can help you with it.
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Part 1: 19th-Century Perspectives on Queer Genders and Sexualities
Please add your contributions here; don’t forget to “sign”:
“For once, they both played this comedy sincerely, and they had sinned against their love, which in order to live had to face the truth while fighting against it with all its strength” (Monsieur Venus, pp. 184).
I think the most interesting part of this quote is the fact that “they [Raoule and Jacques] both played this comedy sincerely.” Going back to Week One’s Butler reading on gender performativity, it is interesting to note that the performances of Raoule and Jacques’ genders (Raoule a masculine figure, Jacques a feminine one, as imposed by Raoule, just in case non-class readers are curious) are undermined by the presence of anatomy. Specifically, Raoule is forced to confront the mismatched sentiment of being in the wrongly gendered body through her nakedness and intimacy with Jacques. Physical actuality of gender trumps, in this rather intimate moment, artistry and artifice. This harkens back to our conversation in class about why we (in modern times) are still shocked or fascinated by the transgendered. Our expectations of a seemingly constant aspect of identity, as dictated by the physical presence of genitalia, is meddled and morphed into the inverse; gender is now hard to define on the basis of appearance. –BPS
“This is a condition which may be ameliorated, and it may be treated in much the same way as if no inversion existed, by physical and mental tonics, or, if necessary, sedatives”
I found it very interesting that the arguments made in the 19th century are much the same as the arguments made today. Even though we think of ourselves in the 21st century as nuanced and modern, we maintain these archaic views of the world and back them up with the same out of date reasoning. It is slightly more understandable in the 19th century when the LGBT social movements were starting, but now that it is such a large portion of the social movements taking place and there is so much information available, I find it hard to believe that people would revert back to this argument mentioned by Ellis of claiming homosexuality as a “condition”. Since this seems to be the reaction of many people both in the 19th century and today, it brings us back to the question of what about this idea is so shocking to people that they feel the need to label it as a “condition” and something that can be “treated” or “fixed”.
“Nor is it possible to view with satisfaction the prospects of inverts begetting or bearing children. Often, no doubt, the children turn out fairly well, but, for the most part, they bear witness that they belong to a neurotic and failing stock. Sometimes, indeed, the tendency to sexual inversion in eccentric and neurotic families seems merely to be Nature’s merciful method of winding up a concern which, from her point of view, has ceased to be profitable.”
I found it interesting that Ellis not only attacks the idea of children in non-heteronormative families, but also the idea that Nature, somehow, utilizes homosexuality as a way to prevent future generations from failing stock. In this, there’s the idea that homosexuality is a curse or a blight upon people for falling outside the acceptable boundaries of society. The idea that eccentric people may beget homosexual children merely because Nature deems them unprofitable surprised me, especially because eccentric is merely a term designated by societal norms and standards and not an inherent natural aspect of any personality. —KO
“‘… And what does the sex of our caresses matter to our frenzied passion? What matter the proofs of affection that can pass between our bodies? The memory of love throughout the ages, the censure of every living man and woman – do they signify …? You are a beautiful woman… I am a man, I adore you and you love me!’” – Monsieur Venus
This scene of Raoule and Jacques’ wedding night was interesting to me and provocative because of its portrayal of the relationship and distinction between sex and gender and its reinforcement of the gender binary. In this particular quote, Raoule seems to discount the idea that sex should come between their love for each other, but her identification of herself as a man and Jacques as a woman is confusing; it solidifies the gender binary and yet blurs the lines between sex and gender. Raoule’s masculinity makes her a “man”, and yet Jacques is revolted when his skin and her breast make contact, exclaiming “Raoule, you are not a man? You cannot be a man?”. Thus begs the question, “What makes a man?” Though it appears simple enough, texts like Monsieur Venus and Marjorie Garber’s “Spare Parts: The Surgical Construction of Gender” show it to be more complex than it seems. – HSK
“‘I’m a man in love with a man, not with a woman!’….I wanted the impossible…It’s mine…That’s to say, no, really…it’ll never mine!…” (Monsieur Venus, page 73)
I read this as an interesting moment within Raoule’s ongoing process of self-awareness and inner realization. Readers can observe her struggle with her identity and how her perceptions of her situation and circumstances darken as the novel moves along. This quote is derived from one of the first serious confrontational arguments Raittolbe has with Raoule and is perhaps one of the first times within the novel’s passages that Raoule consciously realizes she will never truly be a cisgendered man due to her anatomical nature. I wonder if her ultimate grotesque decision to turn Jacques into an inanimate object for sexual pleasure correlates with the increasingly hopeless view she has on the anatomical state that she cannot ever truly change.
– Martina Navratilova
“A spring hidden inside the flank connects with the mouth and animates it at the same time it spreads apart the thighs.” (pg. 210)
I found this sentence at the end of Monsieur Venus extremely complex and interesting for a variety of reasons. The first thing I noticed was how gender-neutral the sentence is: Rachilde avoids gendering the wax figure or its master. This is especially interesting when penetration is deeply gendered by society: men penetrate women. However, in the relationship between Raoule and Jacques, it is Raoule who penetrates Jacques. By refraining from gendering this penultimate sentence, Rachilde challenges the reader’s expectations of gender and sexuality by dismantling the socially constructed nexus between male/penetrator and female/penetrated. Furthermore, this sentence also challenges the reader’s conception of sexuality by asking the question: How can we define the relationship between Raoule and Jacques with our limited vocabulary and understanding of gender and sexuality? Is this a heterosexual relationship, because it’s between a man and a woman, is this a homosexual relationship because a man is being penetrated, or is it something entirely else that we do not have the framework to understand?
“If he is still young, and if the perversion does not appear to be deeply rooted in the organism, it is probable that — provided his own good will is aiding– general hygienic measures, together with removal to a favorable environment, may gradually lead to the development of the normal sexual impulse. ” – Ellis
I thought this passage was interesting because it reveals certain themes and ideas about homosexuality that were present in Ellis’ time, but that also still ring true today. Ellis asserts that a person’s homosexuality can be reversed through his own good will, hygienic measures, and a favorable environment. Though I have never heard the claim that good hygiene can reverse homosexuality, comments about the importance of environment and a strong will to change are common in anti-LGBT rhetoric and programs. For example, certain programs or camps that claim as their mission to “cure” people of homosexuality often cite personal conviction/will, as well as a “pure”/”healthy” environment as keys to change. It is both unfortunate and troubling that these messages from Ellis’ time are still very prevalent in conversation today. – LGT
“A man madly in love! Yes! Already I want to raise an alter to my idol, though I know I’ll never be understood!… Alas! Can an unnatural passion that is at the same time a real love ever become anything but dreadful madness?…” Monsieur Venus pg 73
It is interesting to consider this question which Roule posits. Here it is clear that the unnatural is referring to the love between her and Jaque. Clearly their love is unnatural by the standards of those days. Yet, was is interesting is the reason she would pursue such a love even if she knows it will be complete dreadful madness. Could the love between her and Jaque ever evolve into something that must be kept a secret and hidden? They did after all get married, but even in matrimony neither one was able to completely be in public what they were in private. Eventually, however, it was clear that their love was in fact a dreadful madness which Roule was not able to handle.
“He led the lazy existence of oriental women confined to the harem who know nothing except love and for whom everything comes back to love.” (p93, Monsieur Venus)
This portrayal of Jacques speaks to both his transformation into a “woman” during the novel, and further serves as an interesting reading of what a “woman” is — the image Rachilde paints here of the harem life seems almost luxurious, but is lacking in the purpose / freedom that men have.
“The yokel waltzed well, and his supple body, with its feminine undulations, seemed made for this graceful exercise. He did not try to hold his partner, but made himself part of her, one waist, one torso, one being. To see them pressed together turning round and round melting in an embrace where their flesh, despite their clothes, molded together, one could picture the single divinity of love in two people, that complete individual spoken of in the fabulous tales of Brahmins, two distinct sexes in one monster.” (Monsieur Venus, pg. 155)
I found this excerpt very interesting because not only does it express the feminine features that correlate with Jacques, but emphasizes the way the two of them are seen as one. One true love and two bodies meshed together as one “monster”. Their views upon themselves may seem unnatural to some, but their love is beyond natural. The “single divinity of love” that was portrayed in this scene forgets about a man being a woman and a woman being a man and sees them as two people folded together as one and moving in perfect harmony. However, the very last word in this quote, “monster” struck me as very interesting. The whole scene they are portrayed as this beautiful image, seemless, and then the word monster created this automatic negative connotation. Is this relationship between the two creating a monster?
“In the studio, Jacques Silvert let himself fall back on the couch, bewildered. He looked like a small child surprised by a big storm. So, he was set up in a home of his own, with brushes, paints, carpets, curtains, furniture, velvet, a lot of gilt, a lot of lace…” (29) In class we discussed many of the ways Rachilde compares Jacques to a child. Here he is like a scared child, and Rachilde juxtaposes that comparison with her list of the objects Raoule has arranged in his studio. This combination fuses his childishness with her control over his environment, a control that only mounts in her “Temple of Love” later in the novel. This control over a domestic space and its translation into sexual power interests me because it subverts the expectation of the aristocratic late 19th century woman to take care of her home. Raoule twists the traditional link between women and the domestic sphere by linking such control to her domination (and penetration) of Jacques, who plays not the role of a husband but that of a child. This mix of interior design and S&M charges Raoule’s power over her own home due to gender and class with a sexual and subversive power. -EE
“I’m a man in love with a man, not with a woman!” – (Monsieur Venus, Page 73)
I feel that this is a telling depiction of how Raoule officially defines herself within the story. For her to officially state and mark that she is a man, when obviously she was born a woman, signifies the strength in her sense of masculinity and taking up the ‘role’ of a man. It is sad, for Raoule, that no matter how strongly she seems to identify with her male identity, she can never quite complete such a transformation without the appendage that she will never be able to attain. It’s strange as the more that I have read and thought about such topics as transgender I have come to think that gender is its own stage performance with all those that identify with one gender or another, simply are just acting out its script. It makes gender seem something that is ‘played’ rather than something that is inherent.
“There is no obscurity in the principles of healthy morality involved; that there is no exception here to the law that sensuality apart from love is degrading and less than human” (Carpenter 336).
What I find particularly striking about this passage is the phrase, “less than human.” It seems to suggest that the only proper form of expression between a man and woman/man and man/woman and woman, etc. is through the faculty of love. But, how does one fall in love? It’s it a sensuous experience? A development of feeling that, at its core, stems from a type of sensual attraction? There are all different types of relationships, many of which do not involve love, but this passage argues that these relationships are immoral, and I have to wonder if this much attention was devoted to heterosexual relationships during the authorship of this piece, because it seems like this notion of “healthy morality” is only brought about in discussions of homosexual relationships. –MGA
“It is for us primarily a disgusting abomination, i.e., a matter of taste, of esthetics; and, while unspeakably ugly to the majority, it is proclaimed as beautiful by a small minority.” From Havelock Ellis, “Studies in the Psychology of Sex,” 335.
In each of the works we’ve discussed I’ve been fascinated by the connection between aesthetics, sexuality, and death. The links between these themes have emerged in both the fixation on art and beauty materialized (sometimes to the point of art replacing life, as in Wilde, or rendering life material, as in Rachilde) in our literary texts as well as in discourses of revulsion in reaction to non-normative sexual practices. We’ve seen death eroticized in queer narratives on the one hand, and queer sexualities condemned as deserving the death penalty on the other (such as by the judge evoked by Ellis who “regretted…that ‘gross indecency’ [sodomy] is not punishable by death”—Ellis, 335). The quotation above highlights the role of aesthetics in judgments on sexuality, and the tension or contradiction between the lofty aesthetic ideals espoused by the sexually non-normative characters in our texts as opposed to attacks on their non-normativity precisely for the fact that it is deemed aesthetically displeasing. Today, gay men in particular are often stereotypically associated with a heightened aesthetic sensibility (as in Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp,” shows such as “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” or “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” etc.). Is there a link between the “unnaturalness” of which homophobic discourse accuses queer sexualities and the artificial—implying both artfully constructed and non-alive—of aesthetic impulses? -AMU
“The more he forgot his sex, the more she created around him multiple opportunities to feminize himself, and, so as not to frighten too much of the male inside him that she wanted to smother, she treated each degrading idea at first as a joke, content to make him accept it seriously only later. Thus, one morning she sent him via her footman an enormous bouquet of white flowers […] Jacques turned very red when the flowers arrived, then he solemnly placed the flowers in pots around the studio, playing out the game himself, catching himself being a woman for the pleasure of art.” (Rachilde, 94)
For me, this passage particularly brought to mind Judith Butler’s article, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution.” In the Rachilde passage, the small opportunities that Raoule sets out for Jacques to feminize himself through start as some sort of comedic acts. As though it is appropriate for him to take on a womanly role because the performance did not disturb his maleness. Calling this process “a joke” reminds the reader of a section that a previous student wrote about when Raoule and Jacques are described as sincerely taking part in a “comedy.” (As a side note, the historical symbolism of the white flowers is fascinatingly interesting as it indicates that white flowers are always appropriate because neither Raoule nor Jacques ever menstruate.) Jacques’ reaction to Raoule’s bouquet further shows how his sexual character is developed through the art of performance. Once he receives the flowers, Jacques takes on the role of being a woman into the private setting of his own studio. By “playing out the game himself,” the “joke” of roleplaying becomes a sincere act. When Jacques takes on the role of a woman without the presence of Raoule in the studio, it becomes clear—his gender is a personal performance.
In Haverlock Ellis’ Studies in the Psychology of Sex, the author takes a transgressive and progressive stance defending and accounting for the subject known as the homosexual. However, what I found particularly interesting was the author’s reasoning for why homosexuality was not only an acceptable component of sexuality but one that was essential to natural section and the survival of heterosexual reproduction. When explaining why he believes homosexuality to be essential to the human species, Ellis writes that the “cure” of inversion is both unnecessary and destructive to human reproduction. He writes, “The success is unlikely to be either permanent or complete, in the case of a decided invert; and in the most successful cases we have simply put into the invert’s hands a power of reproduction which it is undesirable he should possess.” (P. 332) For Ellis, reproduction makes up the future of humanity and this reproduction cannot and should not happen in homosexual relations. And if the homosexual does in fact manage to reproduce, Ellis implies that this would be undesirable because the homosexual would genetically reproduce his inversion to his offspring. This viewpoint can be argued to be one of the earliest examples of queer futurity. That is, Ellis seeks to bring up the possibility that homosexuality and inversion can be eradicated through heterosexual reproduction, thereby preventing the future existence of queerness and homosexual. As such, homosexuality becomes a historical subject that only exists in a particular time period; it has the potential to be eradicated or removed from human existence. It is not permanent, only a subject that is exists within a set and fixed period. As such, heterosexuality only exists because it is pitted against homosexuality and the existence of the former is predicated on the destruction of the latter. –VCA
“While there is, no doubt, a temptation to aid those who are anxious for aid to get rid of their abnormality, it is not possible to look upon the results of such aid, even if successful, much satisfaction. Not only is the acquisition of the normal instinct by an invert very much on a level with the acquisition of a vice, but probably it seldom succeeds in eradicating the original inverted instinct.” -Studies in the Psychology of Sex, 328, Havelock Ellis
When I was first reading Ellis, this passage caused me to raise my eyebrows. It reminded me of the “Cure the Gay” industry that exists in modern day-wherein people offer “those who are anxious for aid” so-called cures in the form of camps, “therapies” books and other materials. Havelock Ellis knew this and wrote about it over a century ago-and told readers that trying to overcome homosexuality “seldom succeeds.” How interesting, that this is something still debated in courtrooms and homes across the world.
“All that I desire – and I claim it as my right, is the freedom to exercise this divine gift of loving, which is not a menace to society nor a disgrace to me. Let it once be understood that the average invert is no a moral degenerate nor a mental degenerate, but simply a man or a woman who is less highly specialized, less completely differentiated, than other men and women” (Ellis 334)
This quote from Ellis’s so-called American lady correspondent surprised me at first because it seems incredibly progressive for the times. I felt that, in a society where judges openly claim that homosexuals should be put to death, this women (if she really exists and is not Ellis in disguise) must be magnificently brave to write such an unapolagetic letter. It’s interesting because the quote itself both refers to the dominant views on “sexual inversion” and also soundly rejects them. I love the idea that, no matter what the common view of society, there will be people who are unashamed, even proud, of their identities. It also struck me because of the reference to an “invert” being less highly specialized. I think that, today, this idea persists that people attracted to their own gender are also less likely to follow dominant gender norms, that homosexuality and genderbending are linked and sometimes even interchangeable. – Ash
The man seated on her right in the clouds of some imaginary heaven has relegated his female companion to the second rung in the scale of beings. … The inferior role that her form imposes on women in the generative act evidently gives rise to an idea of the yoke of slavery. … Man is matter; pleasure is woman, the eternally unappeased. (90-1)
This passage illustrates the immense power over life that sovereign distinctions, when they are operative, possess. Rachilde here reverses Aristotle’s hierarchical distinction between form (eidos) and matter (hylē) in order to subvert traditional views regarding male and female gender roles. She does so not in favor of a new, more egalitarian relation between ‘the sexes’—she does not render the distinction inoperative—but rather preserves the violent operativity of the distinction, simply inverting the direction in which power flows. Aristotle’s supreme accomplishment in Metaphysics Θ is to establish being-in-energeia (actuality, activity) as absolutely prior in being (ousia) to being-in-dunamis (potentiality, capacity). He shows how this distinction maps analogously onto the distinction between form and matter; form, then, has absolute priority in being (or ‘substance’) to matter. In the reproductive act, Aristotle thought, the male donated his form (via his seed) to the matter of the female body, which took on that form, thereby produced a new human. The female form, then, is material—and, as such, absolutely posterior to the male form, which is more closely connected with the formed, rational part of the soul than the body. This is the context in which to understand Rachilde’s reference to the “inferior role that her form imposes on women in the generative act”; and, even more significantly, to understand her/his declaration that “[m]an is matter”. We can, indeed, understand why this chapter might have been cut from certain early editions of the book. Rachilde here does nothing less than turn the history of metaphysics against itself—but, we must note, without yet destroying it (by rendering it inoperative). We will have to wait to see if any of the other books in this class might provide us a paradigm with which we might attempt to think inoperativity.
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Part 2: Contemporary Perspectives on Queer Genders and Sexualities
Please add your contributions here; don’t forget to “sign”:
“Origin of Love” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch–BPS
“When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”
by Tombstone of Leonard Matlovich (1943–1988)
MJ intern Gavin Aronsen reports:
A landmark survey of 6,450 trans and gender non-conforming people released in February by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force revealed some disturbing numbers:
- Ninety percent of responders reported facing discrimination at work.
- Unemployment rates were double the national average.
- More than a quarter said they had been fired due to their gender identity.
- Those who had lost their jobs were four times as likely to be homeless and 70 percent more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.
And, perhaps most remarkably (and most related to Monday’s post), a full 41 percent of responders admitted to having attempted suicide.
I find it heartbreaking and mind-boggling that marginalized populations like the transgender community still face so much discrimination because of the need to fit into the model of capitalism (in order to obtain work) and the expectations of “appropriate behavior” embedded in our culture.
Here is a very interesting video on Casey Legler, an up-and-coming model who identifies as female but works as a model in men’s fashion. Really interesting look into someone who seems very comfortable as a cisgendered person who is willing to mend gender binaries regardless:
Casey Legler, a model who identifies as female but works as a male model – Martin Navratilova
I found this music video interesting because the artist really dismantles the gender binary that society is so keen on perpetuating by combining both masculinity and femininity in their gender presentation. The juxtaposition of lipstick and a mustache I think really upsets people because they want things to be “either” masculine or feminine, not both.
Male model Andrej Pejic
A picture from the Seattle Times of marriage ceremonies on the first day of legal same sex marriage in Washington — speaks to the celebration as a group, not just as a couple, of love.
This image is the headline and main photo of a Huffington Post article, which illustrates the growing conversation about the intersectionality of queer issues with other social issues, including immigration reform. – LGT
In this video, drag queen Sharon Needles acts as an example of the intersection many people inhabit between sexually queer identities and other alternative subcultures, as well as providing a critique of “mainstream” drag performance and telling an interesting queer coming-of-age story: http://youtu.be/7uLPmHDXf_c -EE
Sharon Needles has already made an appearance with EE’s post of Sharon’s video about “how death gave her an edge,” but I wanted to include the music video for her new song “This Club is a Haunted House” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YHgmcvyVoAA), which unites some of the questions of how sexuality, aesthetics, and death can be linked. Sharon plays the boundaries of aesthetically appealing and evokes the aesthetics of death in her looks and her newly released album, which features songs like “Let’s all die,” “Call me on the Ouija Board,” “Dressed to Kill,” and “Dead Girls Never Say No” (which of course reminded me of Raoule’s play with the Jacques-mannequin at the end of Monsieur Venus). In the “This Club is a Haunted House” video, the song begins at 1:51 and the true blood orgy begins around 4:55. -AMU