A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to See “Get Out”.

la-et-hc-get-out-horror-peele-20161004-snapI have been wanting to see Get Out, Jordan Peele’s foray into horror/race relations cinema, for some time. It was my fortune that my best friend suggested we see it, on what is becoming “our day” to hang out.  I arrived at the theatre (St. Anthony Main), where I purchased the tickets, and—at the suggestion of my bestie—sauntered into the neighborhood bar to order drinks. As I waited for my friend, I picked up on an interesting conversation at 3:00 (to my right). What appeared to be a couple on a date, a white man and a black woman, immersed in conversation about the film they were about to see, which happenstancely happened to be Get Out. At the same theatre, James Baldwin’s I Am Not Your Negro was playing, and the discussion eventually centered around the subject.

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James Baldwin. Have we met?

“What?! You don’t know about James Baldwin?” the young white man exclaimed. The black woman admitted her ignorance, wherein the white dude went off on a veritable lecture on the merits of James Baldwin. “You know, the film does good about James’ works on race, but it doesn’t really focus in on him as a homosexual (sic),” and so on and so forth.  As I sat there in horror over the conversation, I was rescued by my friend. Thus, we ordered our beverages and retired to the theatre, which was packed by a rainbow of diversity, yet all gathered in one mission to watch a film. Touching.

Now, the horror I felt while sitting at the bar—this I must explain. Namely, anytime I pick up a conversation between people on a date is a terrifyingly awkward encounter. Why—in fact—a couple next to me (at 9:00), where in deep discussion about the man’s new “entry level job” at a charity foundation associated with a certain fast-food joint. Horrors upon horrors. If it wasn’t the awkwardness of being a single person forced to listen in on conversations that contribute to my detestation of dating, it was the subject matter that was engrossingly trivial. But no, the conversation at 3:00 was much more intriguingly disconcerting.

As I am wont to do, I post about this circumstance to Facebook, and go on my merry way into the theater. I join in with the audience to watch the film. It’s a wonderful film, as many—especially white folk—would agree, because of the paradoxically subtle and blatant exploration into race relations. An interracial couple travel to meet the white girlfriend’s family, where at first the awkwardness of meeting the parents descends into the offensiveness of stereotypes, and finally crashes into the horror of racism and general ‘evil.’

After the film, the encounter at the bar enmeshed with my experience of the film, and to the replies I received on Facebook about my post, I felt moved to expound on the experience.

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A wild SJW appears

An archetype that I have long struggled against is that of the social-justice-warrior (SJWs), and particularly from the entitled perspective. What is an SJW?  An SJW is ardently vocal about social justice issues to the point of ad nauseum. Now, I suppose we all should be ardently vocal about social justice issues, but a problem I have is what I suppose to be the subconscious (or perhaps more aptly, the unconscious) motive for a SJW to identify as such.

Let’s parse this out through psychoanalysis and speech-act theory.  On a conscious level, an SJW makes it known that they are for social justice by vocally demonstrating: “I am for social justice.” This is the locution; it’s what the SJW says.

On a subconscious level, there is an intent for the SJW to make known their “for-ness” for social justice. It can also be their intent for themselves to identify as a person who is ‘for social justice.’ Or, it can be—as I am oft to witness—the need for the individual to identify as corresponding to a certain category of their desire. This is the illocution.

But my suspicion lies within the unconscious intent for the utterance of “I am for social justice.” What is the person ‘really’ trying to explain by exclaiming that they are for social justice? Or, more aptly, what is the response the SJW desires from the recipient of the locution “I am for social justice,” (the perlocution)?

It is my belief that the perlocutionary intent of the utterance is the problem. As I’ve witnessed, interpreted, and intuited—time and time again—is that the intent is the need for the utterer to have the listener view the utterer as someone who is relatable/desirable because of an affinity that they are attempting to make, however authentic or inauthentic it may be. Thus, here is what I perceive some SJW speech-acts to be:

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So, in the event at the bar, when the white man evoked his knowledge of James Baldwin to the black woman, here could be the speech-act he was creating:

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Now, let’s talk about bias. Biases become explicit through the locution, but they remain implicit through not only the illocution, but especially the perlocution. In the example above, the bias is the inconceivability that a black woman would not know about another black person. Parsed out, the bias becomes a knowledge disparity:

“I know more about black people than you do, even though you’re black.”

But the bias becomes explicitly implicit (or is it implicitly explicit) in the perlocution:

“Because of your lack of knowledge about this black figure, I need to educate you in your culture, and by doing so, I’m demonstrating value and relatability to you as a white person who likes black people. So, I’m safe. I’m cool. Sleep with me.”

This kind of speech act is the heart of the white consciousness. As the dominant white consciousness engages with the other (any other race), whitefolk may go through different stages of engagement.

On one end of the spectrum, they may engage in an outright antagonism (“White Power! White Power!). A little down the gamut, they may engage at arm’s length (“Yeah, you’re black and I’m white; let’s leave it there.”).

Even further down the gamut, they may attempt to universalize as a means towards some relationality (“You know, I don’t see color. To me, we’re all human”). This minimization of the differences between whitefolk and not does nothing to address seeing the persons of color as culturally significant; it blends POC significance into the already confirmed significance of whitefolk.

Now, just a step down the gamut is a reversal. Once encountered with the other, the dread of the whitefolk’s racist legacy against people of color is realized, and so the weeping and gnashing of teeth ensues (“I love your culture so much! I wish I were part of it. I’m not like other white people. White people are so cray! Yaaaaaass!”).[1] The appropriation of the other’s culture is enacted while—at the same time— one’s own culture is repressed for the sake of the appropriation.

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Don’t Tread on Me! I’m just celebrating cultures!

My contention is that this kind of reversal is exactly what is occurring in the speech act outlined above. In fact, we see reversal at its most extreme in Get Out. The white family’s fascination with the black man progresses from desiring to relate to him to (and without making any explicit spoilers) desiring to becoming like him.

The investment into the culture-other, as a means of reconciling the conflict of the white consciousness, wherein encounter with the other results in perlocutionary bombastic boasting against the perceived ignorance of the other, is the kind of sick shit I was upset about. There, I said it.

Now, was this exactly what was going on in the consciousness of the white man with the black woman? Fuck, I don’t know. I can’t know. But I can interpret. I can intuit. That’s about all I can do.

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Talking about these things is so hard!

Now now, why do I bother writing about this anyway? Could it be my own white consciousness working out its own conflicts? Is my perlocutionary intent for you, dear reader, to see me as a valuable and relatable voice, wherein I can teach you something you don’t know? Or is it to demonstrate that I, as a white person, have given serious thought to the issue of race, and I want you to see me as someone who thinks seriously about race, and as someone who would never, and I say NEVER, speak that way to a black woman? Even moreso, is my critique of SJWs simply coming from my place of privilege?Perhaps.

If it is any of these (or other unconscious biases) at play, then I guess I will leave you, dear reader, with one final thought. Regarding my perchance for disenchantment with SJWs, my sentiment is asking whether we can be and do social justice without invoking the words of social justice. Let the speech acts speak for themselves, and be left open for interpretation.


[1] Now, I’m not going to get into the topic of “Yas” as cultural appropriation, even though I would love to dive right into it. An illuminating yet aggressive conversation about this took place on the Queer Exchange of Minneapolis/St. Paul group on Facebook. At this time, I’m not sure to what degree the moderators have censored the conversation, so I won’t bother to link it here.

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Why God Why? A Brief Conclusion

We ended the previous post  introducing what queering religion can do to the problem of reconciling faith and gender/sexual identities. Now, a brief conclusion.

As you may have seen from the logic of my conversation, I like the idea of queering religion a lot.  However, a problem with queer theology is that it still remains inaccessible to many people.  It was born in academia, and people like to hide it there and hide in it there.

In fact, it seems that it’s necessary for queer theology itself to come out of the closet.

So, here are a few things to look for and a few questions that need to be addressed if queering religion is to actually happen:

  1. Because queering religion tackles religion as institution, what is the role of place and space in queering religion? Queer religion is going be less tied to institutions as physical and metaphorical structures.
  2. Because queering religion tackles religion as ideology, it will have to consciously avoid becoming systematized. This means that everyone comes to queer religion with their own truth and openness to other truths. Queer religion is going to be less tied to certainty of beliefs.
  3. Because queering religion is all about deconstructing cisheteronormativity in religion, what will it construct in its place? What is the importance even of this question?
  4. Because queering religion comes from the experience of queer persons, what is the role of cis and hetero folks in fostering and flourishing queer religion?

These questions as all open, but I hope that you, your family and friends, and organizations like PFLAG will help create opportunities for this to happen.

Thank you.

Liked this series? Start over at the beginning!

 

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Queer Studies is an ivory tower. It shouldn’t be.

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Why God Why? Queering Religion

We ended the previous post illustrating paths of reconciliation between faith and gender/sexual identities through developing good hermeneutics and good principles of faith. Now, let’s throw that all out and queer it!

I am going to make a radical assertion that I believe to be true and that I invite you to wrestle with: there is a difference between a faith in the closet and a faith out of the closet. And so the process of remaining in faith gets tricky when one comes out. So even what one thinks about the love of God in the closet is subject to change and adapt upon leaving the closet.

The closet just doesn’t have devastating impact on the gender/sexual identity of a person, but also to their faith (and really everything!). Even with exiting the closet— being free of the oppression of guilt and shame—if the door is left open, then the cisheteronormativity of the closet can still haunt the newly excloseted person.

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“Queer Christ” (http://assets.vice.com). An example of the transgressive act of queering religion.

This leads to a third option – queering religion. I make the distinction between gay theologies and queer theologies because the term itself can mean several things. In one sense, queer can be understood as an umbrella term for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or other persons who do not identify within the ‘norm’ of heterosexuality. However, queer can also be understood by its transgressive element, where it functions as a disruption of normative sexualities, which may include gay, lesbian, and otherwise homosexual identities. Finally, borrowing from its eponymous discourse, queer can be understood as the deconstruction of the boundaries of gender and sexuality themselves.

 

Queering religion comes from the experience of queer people of being at the margins and liminalities of gender and sexuality. It means critically reflecting on one’s faith and breaking down the boundaries cisheteronormativity has set up.

We’ve already begun this work with good hermeneutics, but we need a hermeneutics of faith to help us reflect on whether or not the whole belief system is working. And we’ve actually done that already, with the model of the hierarchy of ultimates.

However, in unmasking the cisheteronormativity, queering religion takes us a step further by even questioning the role of ultimates; the role of having to pick and choose an ultimate that explains everything. One of the most important insights queering religion has given us is that we don’t have to think monochromatically any longer.

  • With the opening of queer sexualities, we no longer have the straight and gay binary any longer.
  • With the opening of queer genders, we don’t have the man and woman binary any longer.
  • With the opening of queer faith, we don’t have to rely on hierarchies (actually, a cisheteronormative construct) to explain what’s important to us.
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Did you know that quantum computing could allow a bit to be both a 0 and a 1 at the same time? Pretty queer, huh?!

All of this is to illustrate a problem of religion-as-ideology. A problem I’ve seen with LGBTQ persons of faith (in particular Christian) is that they invoke the hierarchy of ultimates in this way: it’s ok to be gay as long as your identity is solely and ultimately in Christ alone, and that your gender/sexual identity are subject to that.

Queering religion recognizes that identity is fluid and interconnected, not hierarchal. Because of this, this frees up religion to be dynamic and accessible to queer persons who don’t buy into the instructions of religion or the ideologies of theology. Queer faith is indeed liberating.

Next: Conclusions

 

 

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Why God Why? Repairing Bad Faith with Good Hermeneutics

We ended the previous post illustrating the scenario of atheism as a means of reconciling faith and gender/sexual identity. Now, we look at some another path of reconciliation.

For LGBTQ folks who find ways to reconcile the seemingly unseemly conflict between their faith and sexual/gender identity, they are the ones who find the bad links in the chain.

There are two strategies I want to present that help LGBTQ people of faith preserve the relationship between faith identity and sexual/gender identity. The first addresses these bad links in the chain. A lot of these bad links can be addressed through good hermeneutics.

Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation.  It’s basically the strategies we use to figure out what something means. Even though it’s a big word, everyone is a hemeneut. Here’s an example.

Consider the statement:

I will pay you back.

What does this say? What does this mean? I mean, it could mean all sorts of things. It could mean that a person has expressed the will of a good faith effort in creating a reciprocal transaction of funds wherein previously a transaction of funds was produced to the utterer of this statement.

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Or, it could mean this.

However, do we know in fact that there was a transaction of funds, or was it some other method of currency (like apples, or something)? All the more, it could also have a more malice meaning to it, as if the utterer intends ill will unto the receiver of the statement.

All of this is to illustrate that we have no idea what the statement means just from the words written/uttered. We need contexts to understand what is the intended meaning of the statement.

See? You just participated in hermeneutics. Now, here’s another example:

“Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin.” – Leviticus 18:22, New Living Translation

So, what does this say? What does this mean?

A few things about this passage.  First: It’s a horrible interpretation. A better translation is “And with a male you shall not lay [as the] lyings of a woman.”[i] The specific reference here is to sexual intercourse between males.

The Hebrew תּוֹעֵבָה (to’evah) is translated into “detestable sin.” According to the phenomenal resource that is the NET Bible, this “refers to the repugnant practices of foreigners, whether from the viewpoint of other peoples toward the Hebrews[ii] or of the Lord toward other peoples.[iii] It can also designate, as here, detestable acts that might be perpetrated by the native peoples.[iv]” So, assumptions were made concerning the meaning of the Hebrew term תּוֹעֵבָה.

Second, and this point may be a little difficult to grasp, but I’m going to try: homosexuality did not exist back then!  I refer to a previous post where I clarify this point:

“However, the anomaly of homosexuality (as we understand it today) only became abnormal at the earliest with the invention of sodomy as a category of sin within the medieval Roman Catholic Church or at the latest with the invention of heterosexual and homosexual categories in the late 19th century. Sure, men fucked men and women fucked women since time immemorial, and a lot of people thought it was weird or gross or wrong, but it wasn’t homosexuality.”

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The men of Sodom and Gomorrah most likely fucked each other, but it wasn’t gay. And it sure as hell wasn’t the reason the Bible gave for why God destroyed the cities…

So, LGTBQ folks who have integrated their faith identity and sexual/gender identity have been an invaluable resource for those coming out.  They have helped to rewrite and reinterpret the misbeliefs that have been reinforced from bad hermeneutics and bad consequently ‘bad faith.’

That piece about bad faith leads me to the second strategy: reframing and reasserting the ultimate. The most common manifestation I’ve seen is when LGBTQ folks of faith reassert the belief that the love of God is their ultimate. Even though there are theological machinations involved in the translating of holy texts, this is an explicitly theological strategy. To come to this conclusions [that the principle of the love of God is an ultimate], a person would have to synthesize multiple sources (including but not limited to Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience) to come to this systematic conclusion.

The resuscitation of the love of God as the defining ultimate interpretive principle for a theology is indeed a noble practice. I think this is a good strategy, but I don’t see it as an end point. I see it as part of a path in the reconciliation of faith and gender/sexual identity. In fact, I would question the need to reconcile itself. In order to do this, we need to reimagine the whole point of not only reconciling faith, but faith and religion itself.

Next: Queering Religion

 

[i] (see B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 123).

[ii] (e.g., Gen 43:32; 46:34; Exod 8:26)

[iii] (see esp. Lev 18:26-27, 29-30)

[iv] . (it is used again in reference to homosexuality in Lev 20:13; cf. also its use for unclean food, Deut 14:3; idol worship, Isa 41:24; remarriage to a former wife who has been married to someone else in between, Deut 24:4).

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Why God Why? Taking “God” Out of the Picture

We ended the previous post  with understanding the difficulty LGBTQ persons of faith have in the reconciliation of their gender/sexual identity with their faiths.  Now, we look at some paths of reconciliation.

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In the future South Park, atheist otters rule.

In the face of this seemingly unseemly conflict, there are two well-known responses people have when it comes to reevaluating the relationship between their faith and the gender/sexual identity. Namely, they are the choices whether to remain in faith or not to remain in faith.

A difficult task for the family and friends of LGBT folk is that they must accept the scenario that a person may ‘lose’ their faith when coming out.

Perhaps it is better that we reframe this situation. We want to avoid deficit language like “losing,” as if a person going through a faith transition results in a detriment to them. It may be a detriment to family and friends, but it may not be to the person coming out. I prefer using spatial metaphors such as “away” or “towards.” It recognizes that faith and non-faith are locations that have paths to each other, and often times the paths intersect.

However, the transition away from a faith tradition can be—and in my experience/observation is usually—a painful procedure. This is because faith communities expand the definition of family for its participants. Because such communities share a common faith tradition, the bonds of community are reinforced by faith. And when communities come together around an ultimate, the bonds of community are often prescribed by that ultimate.

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Shun the nonbeliever! Shhhhhhhuuuuuuuunnnnnnn-nuh!

All the more difficult is that the move away from faith is more often caused by the community of faith itself than the faith and theology of the person coming out. But why do communities of faith reject LGBT folk?

It would be easy to simply assign bigotry and chauvinism as the reasons, but reconsider this through the lens of religion as the organizing principle of that which we consider to be ultimate.

If anything were to threaten the integrity of that ultimate, it would be perceived as a legitimate danger. In particular evangelical communities, that ultimacy is tied up in the idea of the inherent inerrancy of the Bible. The absolute integrity of the truth statements in the Bible is a key to understanding an evangelical’s ultimate. The absolute trust and reliability in the church’s doctrine as truth is a key to understanding a catholic’s ultimate.

All of this is to illustrate a problem of religion-as-institution: are these really the ultimates that these faith communities unite around?  There is a problem with an ultimate when it means rejecting your own family or friends in its name.  This happens when there are bad links in the chains of ultimates.

Next: How to Repair those Bad Links in the Chains

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Why God Why? – Faith Coming Out

Regardless of whatever you believe or whether you believe in anything at all, I see ‘coming out’ as a religious experience.  To understand this, let me give you a framework of what I mean by religion. But first, I’ll explain what religion is not.

 

  • Copy-Nintey-Five-Thesis

    In a purely post-Protestant fashion, religion is neither the top picture nor the bottom picture

    Religion is not church, synagogue, mosque, gathering place, or any other space or
    institution. That “I” word is very important when understanding religion.

  • Religion is also not the set beliefs, tenets, ethics, rules, or any other ideologies. That other “I” word is also very important for understanding religion.

Religion—as a discourse, conversation, dialogue, or ideation—is a way we talk about things that we paradoxically consider to be of ultimate concern to us while also being beyond ourselves.

By ultimate concern, I mean that which is of the most importance to us. It is the thing that we consider to make sense of, account for, hold together, ground everything.

By beyond, I mean it as a metaphor. Religion is metaphor. It is a whole discourse situation of metaphors used to help us express that which is of ultimate concern.

In fact, faith, this thing of trust in something, is a metaphor of ultimate concern.

Think about what is most important to you. Then think about what is more important to that. Then think about what is most important to that. Keep going back and there you have your ultimate.

So, what’s your ultimate?  Here’s an example of this working out.  Let’s say right off the cuff that ‘family’ is the most important thing to you, whether or not you believe in a God that is responsible for it all.

D155-467Why is your family important?

You may say it’s because it’s important for people to be together.  Why is being together important? Well…

You may say it’s because security is important.

Or maybe you say it’s because a sense of belonging is important.

And this is important because…

You have a fear of dying.

Or of being alone.

And this is important because…

You recognize that mortality exists

or because you value the principle of love.

And this is important because…

You assume that life exists

Or you assume everyone feels and needs love.

And probably, at this point, you have reached an inexpressible ultimate for why it is important that existence is and that being loved is. You still following along?

But if you think about this hierarchy of ultimacies, at some point you will have expressed necessary needs, unbearable situations to avoid, and virtues to be exemplified.

And before you get to the end, you will usually make the claim that either everyone must feel or think this way or at least under some conditions people feel and think this way.

Now, if you’re still following along, I want you to think of theology as the conversation that makes sense of these ultimate concerns, and that religion structures them in such a way that they meet people’s necessary needs, prevent unbearable situations, and exemplify virtues as best as they can.

But how religions and some philosophies work sometimes is that they cut out the middle people, saying that what is of utmost importance to you is that there is or isn’t a reason for things to be important.

That brings us to talking about faith in the coming out experience.

Like I said earlier, I believe that the coming out experience is a religious experience. It is a moment (or series of moments) where we come to actualize a part of ourselves that we consider of utmost significance <<dare I say, ultimate>> to ourselves. So, you can understand why coming out can be difficult for LGBTQ persons who consider themselves people of faith: it’s a battle of ultimates!

The next few illustrate what happens in this battle royale, so stay tuned!

 

 

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Why God Why? Faith in Coming Out (A Series)

When someone comes out, it’s world-changing moment for them, their family, and their friends. No matter what level of support there is in the coming-out process, it requires everyone involved to reflect on their role and relationship to the person coming out. For families coming from faith perspectives, this includes reflecting on their relationship with their communities of faith, to the teaching and values they’ve held, and to the God or gods in which they believe.

I recently led a conversation at PFLAG Twin Cities about the role of faith and religion in the coming our process. Here’s a little bit about PFLAG:

pflag_4c_nsFounded in 1972 with the simple act of a mother publicly supporting her gay son, PFLAG is the nation’s largest family and ally organization. Uniting people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) with families, friends, and allies, PFLAG is committed to advancing equality and full societal affirmation of LGBTQ people through its threefold mission of support, education, and advocacy.[1]

While the Twin Cities chapter of PFLAG is not affiliated with any religious organization they do believe that people can make a difference and that treating others with kindness and patience are great virtues.

It was an open and respectful discussion about how religious beliefs change, adapt, or disappear in the face of coming out. To kick off the talk, I wanted to give the audience a different framework on how to look at religion. This was necessary to do before we delved into the way faith impacts the coming out process. I talked about three paths that the role of faith can take in the coming out process:

  1. Atheism – It was important for the people attending this talk to know that leaving faith is a natural, expected, and valid option of coming out. With this, we talked about the reasons why people leave faith and how to view it with the new framework I provided.
  2. Open, Affirming, Accepting, Embracing Faith – While some leave faith after coming out, others find it as a new source of transformation. These folks have reconciled various beliefs with their sexual/gender identity and found ways of integration.
  3. Queering Religion – I assumed that this would be new to my audience, so I took time to explain what I was offering. Basically, queering religion means that the fact of being queer means something for religion; it means a uniquely new way of looking at religion that comes ‘straight’ from the experience of queer folk. I offered questions to be considered if queering religion is really showing up in congregations, communities, and families.

So, I invite you along in this series of exploring the impact of faith in the coming out process!!!

 

[1] http://home.pflag.org/pagee8a0.html?pid=191

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On Being Queer – Part 2

In the last post, I looked at the first article in a terrifically intriguing series of articles that came out over the course of the last few weeks.  The first was a piece from Vice, wherein Dora Mortimer provides a view of their own in posing the question “Can Straight People Be Queer?” In response, Chloë of After Ellen wrote a rebuttal aptly titled “No, Straight People Can’t Be Queer.”

Chloë begins by describing Mortimer’s article as “an analytical abortion that grasps at the incorrect answer to an obvious question” (ouch!). In response, Chloë gives the obvious answer to an incorrect question. Again, the dialectics of the internet can be, in this case, refreshingly simple, no? Following the dialectical path, I will just outright say that I agree with Chloë’s argument; it’s just a matter of formal and material principles (now I’m really getting theological).

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The dialectics of abortion advertisements.

That being said, I’m going to make my analytical case: (1) ‘Straight’ being ‘queer’ is a linguistic fallacy. To understand this, we need to move past ‘straight people’ and ‘queer people’ and just examine straight and queer. The term ‘straight’ is used to differentiate straight people from things that are queer (redundant, I know).  Why would straight people produce an identifier for themselves unless it is a means of differentiation from something other than themselves?

But that is the ‘essence’ of heteronormativity: to differentiate a population from a difference as a means of solidifying power over and against that difference. I have explained this in The Ocean, the Boat, and the Wind, particularly the third act ‘From On High.’ So, by linguistic fallacy I mean that straight wanting to be queer defies its own language; straight cannot be something other than what it has named as itself against something different from itself (still following me? good).

In the preceding article, Mortimer writes that the definition of queer “defies any meaning that is pinned to it.” This I agree with, but I would go further to say that by definition, queer defies any meaning that is pinned to it. But how can something that defies definition have a definition?

This is an example of a paradox, a suspension of certain categories of rationality. Paradoxes seem absurd or self-contradictory, but that’s the point of paradoxes; they are propositions that regardless of their veracity are uttered as correlating to some truth claims, however objective or subjective it may be. So, in my view, I see queer as not only the embrace of paradox but its exercise (more on that in point two).

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death [deth] noun

However, Chloë’s insistence on the literal meaning of words (i.e. queer) defies what queer is about. “Words have meanings,” Chloë writes, “These meanings are real. You can’t just say ‘words can mean whatever I want WOOHOO KITTENS ARE SHARKS AND HABERDASHERY MEAN DEATH.”

Oh but you can, Chloë, and that’s what we do with words; that’s what words do.  In fact, we would not have words like homosexual or heterosexual unless someone back in the mid-to-late 19th century decided that as a means of differentiating classes of people they would define them based on their sexual preference.[1]  After that, we see an increase in both the self-identification of homosexuals and the visible discrimination of homosexuals because of the power of naming. The creation of terms for sexual identity is a ploy of heteronormativity. In fact, sexual identity itself is a ploy of heteronormativity.

Which brings me to my second point: (2) Queer is not an identity. It is a speech-act. The linguistic turn in philosophy has helped us out tremendously to dethrone systems of oppression. This is done through critically examining the role of language in creating these systems.

Take for instance the speech-act of the coming-out experience: “I am gay.” This utterance does less to confirm an epistemological assent (“Through my rational faculties, I think of myself as belonging to a category of being known as ‘gay’”) but does more to create an action (“By uttering this phrase, I am making a commitment of living publically and privately as belonging to a category of being known as ‘gay’”).

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Queer-tessential indeed!

Speech-acts create realities. Let’s use the queer-tessential The Wizard of Oz as an allusion. Consider the sepia-tinted world of Kansas to be the world of the proverbial ‘Dorothy’ in the closet. Through the speech-act of “I am gay,” Dorothy emerges into a world of color.

 

The utterance is irrevocable in that the reality it creates for the utterer and the listener remains. However, another speech-act could alter the reality; for instance, someone retreating back into the closet with “I am not gay.” And so, with three clicks of one’s heels, one is returned to the oppressive Kansas Kloset.

Furthermore, we only make utterances with the language that we inherit (or more like subjugated to). The system of heteronormativity makes it a reality that one can only choose to be ‘straight’ or ‘gay.’ Moreover, the system of heteronormativity gives the burden of this choice only to ‘gay’ folk.

Straight people have no need to utter the speech-act of “I am straight” because the reality of the world is shaped by and benefited by those who are ‘not gay’ (i.e. straight). It is the ‘gay’ who wrestles with the angst of living in a straight world where it is expected to be straight because there ought to be nothing else.

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The speech-act of coming-out

This is what makes the speech-act of coming-out so powerful. It is a disruption in the world of heteronormativity. It speaks into existence another reality apart from the dominant (and dominating) system. It is a daring-to-be-in-spite-of a system that does not recognize its legitimate existence.

But here’s the problem: the system of heteronormativity does not view these utterances as speech-acts; they are viewed as epistemological assents. This is the nature of the category of sexual identity.  Sexual identity has less to do with who people really are and more to do with making a category based on a characteristic of a person.

By forming sexual identity as a category of being, heteronormativity disarms the speech-act as being disruptive and reframes it as a way for heteronormativity to understand difference. Heteronormativity creates the categories of sexual identity as a means of differentiating itself from those very categories.

Why is this a problem, you ask? Perhaps it’s not for some, but that leads to my third point: (3) Chloë embarks on the sort of identity politics that queer would likely abandon. Sexual identity politics emerged as the collective consciousness of LGBT folk began to actualize itself through liberation. From under the oppression of heteronormativity, LGBT folk rose up and demanded to be recognized and to have access to equal rights. This is a good thing, no doubt.

However, the liberation came up from within the system of heteronormativity and not outside of it. This is not a bad thing, as most revolutions emerge from within the system it revolts against. The problem is that the revolution inherited the form of that which it was rejecting: it inherited the system of categorization of sexual identity as a means of satisfying heteronormativity’s penchant for differentiation. By playing this identity game, LGBT liberation movements kept sexual identity as the category for their emancipation, all the while not realizing it was created to keep LGBT folk in their place.

This is the point of queer. Queer deconstructs identity as a means of disarming heteronormativity. Queer also emerges when gay and lesbian systems reject other modes of being (I’m thinking specifically of bisexual and transgender persons), but it only emerges as a means of rejecting the categorization of sexuality (that phrase is oxymoronic-sexuality is categorization).

This is why queer is so difficult to comprehend: it is proposing a new way of thinking about ourselves, counterintuitive to the ways we have been taught to view ourselves. Queer proposes a new being without identity. Queer moves beyond identity politics by envisioning a wholly different politic.

Thus, while I agree with Chloë that straight folk wanting to be considered ‘queer’ to be disconcerting, I do not agree with Chloë invoking heteronormative identity politics to make the case. I think it is sad to see queer folk co-opted by identity politics to the point of perpetuating the us-and-them dialectic of heteronormativity.

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This is not a paradox; this is just absurd.

I will end with this methodological piece. In my work ‘doing queer theology,’ primarily from a Christian starting-point, I approach it with these three axioms:

1. To be queer means to be deconstructive.
2. To be Christian means to be deconstructive.
3. The preceding axioms are neither queer, nor Christian, nor deconstructive.

This is the paradox of queer. In my queer theology, it is a task of mine to correlating the paradox of queer with the paradox of Christianity. A difficult task, sure; but not impossible. But what I’ve found beneficial with the study of religion is its impact on our ethics (our being of doing and doing of being). Religion does not have to impact ethics in an authoritarian manner (as it is especially wont to do); that is not how I approach religion. A good religion helps navigate within paradox, not to remove oneself from it. Queer is an embrace of the paradox of sex and gender. Together, the paradoxes of identity and ethics are a virtuous pursuit in coming to grasp what it is to be human.

 

[1] Or even earlier when the Roman Catholic Church “invented” sodomy as a category of sin.

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On Being Queer – Part 1

A terrifically intriguing series of articles came out over the course of the last few weeks.  The first was a piece from Vice, wherein Dora Mortimer provides a view of their own in posing the question “Can Straight People Be Queer?” In response, Chloë of After Ellen wrote a rebuttal aptly titled “No, Straight People Can’t Be Queer.” The dialectics of the internet can be, in this case, refreshingly simple, no?

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If I really cared about a celebrity’s offspring’s sexuality, I’d put a picture here.

Using the recent phenomenon of younger celebrities (or more aptly, the offspring of stars) coming out as “genderfluid” or in other cases simple not wanting their sexuality to be labeled, Mortimer explores what exactly it means to be queer. Queer, being a catchall term for the phenomena listed above, is also a precariously elusive term where, as Mortimer writes, “it is a political persuasion as well as a sexual one.”

In the article, however, Mortimer interviews David Selley (who performs as Dianne Chorley), and inquires into the politics of him as a straight man performing in drag.  His sentiment, according to Mortimer, is that the “theater gives him the license to become someone else and politics has little to do with it.” The problem with this is simple: [I assert] politics is everything.

The term of queer emerges from the context of sexuality, wherefrom a politic (simply put, an ethic of community) emerges as those whose sexuality is deemed queer from the norm now exercise their presence and begin to self-identify.

This is the basis of identity politics: the critical study and its application of the oppressive systems that enforce identity as a means of solidifying power among a particular class of people over and against another class of people.  In the case of sexuality, the oppressive system is heteronormativity, wherein self-identified heterosexual persons with power oppress non-heterosexual persons.

The missed-mark with David/Dianne’s sentiment against any sort of political implications to him performing in drag is this: as a straight man, David/Dianne benefits from the system of heteronormativity, wherein performing in drag is seen as a cultural (mis)appropriation of the gay male community.

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Something like this.

Last night I attended a show in downtown Minneapolis, where one of the singers in one of the bands wore a dress throughout the performance.  The poor lad–the dress certainly did not suit him. While the red floodlights made it difficult to ascertain the color and fabric of the dress, it seemed to be the kind of sundress your stepfather’s mother would have worn in the late 1960s. The cut of the dress did not do justice for the man’s figure, with the hem rising far enough above the knee to make anyone, Catholic or Protestant, gasp in horror. However, if he incorporated a belt, perhaps it could have really pulled it all together…

…But I digress. Now, I cannot say whether the man was straight or gay or whatever (nor should I presume that this person identifies as a man), but I think my bet is safe saying he’s a straight man being that he was performing in a predominantly hipster band in a predominantly hipster venue (don’t get me started on hipsters and sexuality…).  But what did him wearing the dress mean? Was he even performing in drag?

In several ways, the first question is illegitimate (what’s the point), but the second one begs an answer, and in fact provides a glimpse at a redeeming reframing of the first question. In Gender Trouble, Judith Butler uses the case of drag performances to frame her theory of the performativity of gender: identity is not inherent or fixed, but rather constructed through actions. The problem is that sexual identities are created by heteronormative systems ‘writing the script’ of what it is to be straight or gay.

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The Queens of Paris is Burning

So, a reframed critical question would be “are the performances performative?” Take for instance the documentary Paris is Burning, a glimpse into the lives of gay black men performing drag at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis in New York. The documentary does an excellent work in capturing the performativity of the drag queens. Each queen has drafted an extensive narrative and world in her performance, from the Houses they belong too (drag cliques, for lack of a better term…) to the day to day life (such as spending all one’s money on gowns for the balls).

But even after the ball (drag performance), there is a tenuous relationship between the day to day lived experience of the men and then their drag personas. However, this gap is bridged by the commonality of their sexuality. The performance of gender in their drag shows and the performance of their sexuality in day-to-day life are merged.

Is this the same for David/Dianne?  Is this the same for the man in the band with the dress?  While not wanting to make rash judgments, I would assume not. Thus, this is the first (of many problems) with Mortimer’s articles posing the question of “Can Straight People Be Queer?”

However, while agreeing on principle with Chloë’s argument that “No, Straight People Can’t Be Queer,” I do so for different reasons and in fact blatantly disagree with some of Chloë’s assumptions. But in the words of Michael Ende in his novel The Neverending Story, “but that is another story and shall be told another time.”  Good news is that the ‘another time’ is tomorrow.  Stay tuned!

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Jfou’s A-Z Movie Guide for Valentine’s Day!

I was inspired by several lists of “A-Z Movies for Valentine’s Day that I decided to make my own. However, these are not your top Rom-Coms. These movies are the ones that make you lose all hope in romance…and maybe in humanity itself.

So come stare into the abyss as it stares back at you and enjoy your A-Z Movies for Valentine’s Day!!!

atonementA         Atonement      What happens when you find your crush having sex with your sister and then you frame him for sexually assaulting your best friend resulting in him being sent to prison and then to war? You get vascular dementia and try and justify your actions by rewriting the narrative.

bartonfinkB         Barton Fink   Waking up next to a disemboweled woman only got better with John Goodman interrupting every waking moment of you trying to write a screenplay. Is it getting warm in here, or is that just the erotic tension of the wrestling scene? And what does that dripping wallpaper glue mean?

clockworkC         A Clockwork Orange   My mom actually walked out on this movie when it was first in theaters, and I wouldn’t blame her! Ultraviolence, the old “in-out, in-out,” Ludwig Van, and tits for days! This movie is not for any eunuch jelly thou’s.

deerhunterD         The Deer Hunter       It is amazing how the evil and suffering of the Vietnam War captured the imagination of screenwriters and directors for years to come. The Russian Roulette sequence marks the climax of the film, a scene hauntingly burned into the cinematic psyche of Vietnam era productions.

elephantmanE         The Elephant Man    “I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I … am … a … man!”  This is a perfect movie to cuddle up with your honey, lie back in bed, and suffocate to death from the weight of your head asphyxiating you.

 

femaletroubleF          Female Trouble         If one were to pick a John Waters film for this list, one would assume it would be Pink Flamingos.  To do so, however, would be real melvin. Eating dog shit aside, I think Female Trouble may be the most debauched of Waters’ films. In this movie, “crime and beauty are the same,” and the depravity reaches a level of divinity through the apotheosis of Divine as Dawn Davenport on the electric chair.

graduateG         The Graduate    You may say the movie ends well with Dustin Hoffman and his girl getting together, but there are two things wrong with this. First, this only happened because of statutory rape. Second, does the movie really end well? What’s that whole “Sound of Silence” on the bus about then? They’re doomed.

hoursH         The Hours      Your feel-good lesbian romance with all of the hopelessness of Virginia Woolf’s depressing spectre permeating throughout all of women’s history. Perhaps my favorite soundtrack of all time (by the eternal Phillip Glass), I listen to it ad nauseum on my best days and my worst days.

invasionofthebodysnatchersI          Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)         Movies in the 70s and 80s followed an Altmannian formula where minutia dialogue drove much of the film. In concert with this mundanity, no one wins in this remake. Best part of the film is this screenshot of Donald Sutherland shrieking.

jackiebrownJ          Jackie Brown     This may actually be my favorite Quentin Tarantino movie. The romance between Pam Grier and Robert Forster might be one of the most human romances ever in that it is unresolved. Still, in the end Jackie is a free woman; but free from what? Free from Ordell, yes. But is free from the stereotypical life of the blaxsploitated woman she represents? Perhaps not.

kissofthespiderwomanK         Kiss of the Spider Woman    Your feel-good homosexual romance with all of the hopelessness of the corrupt Brazilian military prison system. Stellar performances by Raul Julia and William Hurt make you wish you were either a leftist revolutionary or a sex offender just to share a cell with these two.  Woof!

landbeforetimeL         The Land Before Time         Watching this movie at such a young age messed me up for the rest of my life. Like so many, I had to wrestle through the complex of knowing that my mother could die at any moment and I would be left alone to wander the post-Cambrian wilderness. Hug your moms extra tight today.

madmenM        Mad Men Seasons 1,2,3,4,5,6 and 7   Ok, I’m breaking the rule here, but the problem with movies like Mulholland Drive or Memento or Melancholia or Magnolia is that they can only cram so much hopelessness into 120+ minutes. Mad Men did it innumerably, capturing the misogyny and heteronormative insecurity our grandparents lived with and our parents inevitably inherited.

nocountryN         No Country for Old Men      A Western turned inside out and upside down. The failure of the ‘Old Man’ (represented by Tommy Lee Jones playing Sheriff Ed Tom Bell) to enact justice in the American wilderness stabs deeply into the manifest heart of destiny like a captive bolt pistol.

oneflewO         One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest   The work that may very well have birthed the psychiatric survivor’s moment; one is constantly reminded of the psychic slavery in this institution. The subversive sexuality of Jack Nicholson is pitted against the sadistic sexuality of Nurse Ratched. As though this is a fight between lovers much akin to “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” (runner up for ‘W’), the psychosexual tension of this psychiatric ward erupts with the mental castration of its protagonist.

preciousP          Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire            Ugh, can I take a pass on writing a synopsis? Physical, mental, sexual abuse, incest, rape…ugh. The worst part about this is that unlike other films on this list, Precious’ story is but another day in the life of many who suffer the iniquities of inequity within our system of white supremacy.

queenQ         The Queen     After watching this biopic of Queen Elizabeth (played brilliantly by bombshell Helen Mirren) and her reactions to the death of Princess Diana, you’ll ask yourself “why do we care about this again?” The answer is simple: we the pestilent peons are forever fascinated by the aristocracy we have been conditionally tempted into believing we deserve.

requiemR         Requiem for a Dream    Everyone loses in this hopeless portrait of drug addiction. Vignettes of each character’s path towards destruction culminate in a brilliant finale that will leave you wishing you never saw the film. Still, you’ll keep coming back to it because, like drugs, you can’t shake it.

sophieschoiceS          Sophie’s Choice         I’m going to get this right out of the way: I hate this movie, and it’s not because of the eponymous choice that our protagonist is forced to make. It’s the bullshit romancing. And darling of the 80s Peter MacNicol stars. Who gives a hoot about Peter MacNicol? Also, why does Meryl Streep have to get Best Actress for all of her crappy movies? Ugh, if you want to get upset, watch this movie.

terrenceT         Any Terrance Malick Film   Badlands? Days of Heaven? The Thin Red Line? The New World? The Tree of Life? Need I say anymore? Ugh, I’m feeling insignificant just thinking about it…

 

unterU         Der Untergang          Ooh! A foreign language film? Hitler’s last 10 days in his bunker? Tale as old as time.

 

 

vieenroseV         La vie en rose             Another foreign language film! The tragic and the pathetic are pitted against each other in this biopic of French singer Edith Piaf. This may be too Valentines’y of a movie for this list, but if you do watch it, try to deconstruct the figure of La Môme from her apogee of romantic idealism to her utter insignificance as a mundane existent. Trust me, it is fun.

weneedtotalkaboutkevinW        We Need to Talk About Kevin         Valentine’s Day is for all relationships, and which is more important than that of mother and son? Especially so in this movie, with the painfully emotionally unavailable Tilda Swinton attempting to connect with evil-incarnate Ezra Miller, all while John C Reilly obliviously attempts to parent around them. A wrecking ball sort of a movie. Hug your moms extra tight today.

xX         American History X              Just because there are so few movies beginning with X and so few movies with a curb-stomping scene. That’s all.

 

yearlingY         The Yearling              It’s like We Need to Talk About Kevin, but with a baby deer.

 

 

zeroZ         Zero Dark Thirty       Your Valentine’s Day will be a “Mission Accomplished” with this flick.

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