Friday, October 30, 2009

Muñoz and Halberstam

Did you see my tweet a few days ago that read: "Oh dear, Jose Muñoz and Judith Halberstam getting my critical eye today! I'm sure they'd be devastated if they knew, devastated! #yeahright"?  Well, this is what I was writing...

So last weekend I read the first chapter from Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics by Jose Muñoz and “Mackdaddy, Superfly, Rapper: Gender, Race, Masculinity in the Drag King Scene” by Judith Halberstam.

Basically and in brief, they both center on visual and performance art with a focus on gender, race, class and sexuality. Muñoz’ piece is an examination of the paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat, concentrating on what these works tell us about Black male gender roles and self-identity. Halberstam’s essay focuses on drag king performances, primarily in London and New York, with special regard for the history and unique aspects of male impersonation within Black lesbian communities. While each essay covers a number of potentially overlapping issues in practices of art, to me the topic they are especially speaking to each other about is Black masculinity. And while they both have some compelling points, they both also frustrated me in parts, which is, shockingly, what I'm writing about.

In the opening of his chapter, Muñoz talks about the “strategies and rituals that allow survival in such hostile cultural waters” and his “compulsion to try and articulate…these practices of survival” (37).  He acknowledges a hostile cultural environment, in which Black men (as the later discussion is about) must take on strategies to survive. Yet later on he brings up bell hooks’ analysis of Basquiat's paintings, seems to become quite defensive at her articulation of Basquiat’s work illustrating a “lack” for/in the Black cis male body. Now, I only have the quotes he provided to go by, however, in my view, hooks is saying pretty much what Muñoz himself is saying: a hostile culture creates a situation where survival is the paramount thing for Black men.


And survival often prevents self-actualization, does it not?  To me, this is the “lack” hooks is talking about regarding the half-formed lines of Black male bodies in Basquiat’s work. It is a lack of a wholistic identity.  A consquence of a kyriarchal belief system suspicious (when not down right afraid) of Black masculinity (embodied by men, or women).

Given this base misunderstanding, it is perhaps understandable that Muñoz then continues to misunderstand hooks' analysis, specifically revolving around the lack of the feminine in Basquiat’s paintings. The world of the female is that which must be rejected for masculinity to assert itself (so the kyriarchal narrative goes), sons must “cut the apron strings” and become independent, eradicating the devalued feminine traits which might label them as anything but "truly" masculine.

What I think hooks is trying to call attention to through pointing to the lack of “a world of blackness that is female or a world of influences and inspirations that are female” (55) is not, as Muñoz suggests, “the very same logic that Moynihan Report disseminated” (56), but instead a side-effect of survival in a culture which actively devalues blackness and femaleness. For Muñoz to acknowledge at the start of the chapter how in awe he is that (queer) children of color learn to survive in a world specifically hostile to them and at the end of the same deny that perhaps that survival comes at a personal cost seems naïve.

Similarly, I had some reservations about Halberstam’s analysis and theorizing, primarily around what I read as an almost outright dismissal of the resistance of many of her interviewees to her theorizing of their drag king performances (109). I find it extremely problematic that her response to the “frustration” of her interviewees at her questions is to defend her approach and not to consider the possibility that she might be doing something wrong. I do not think it is ok to take people’s lives out of their subjectivity and use them for one’s own purposes (as is a pattern in some feminist/gender theory, especially queer and trans gender theory), and sadly I read some of that in this article.

I was especially concerned with her assertion that “theory does not have to be beholden to subjective experience in any linear way” (109).  I interpret this to mean that she believe theory is, in the end, independent of subjective experience, thus she can feel ok making theory from the lives of others (in this case, from drag kings, both white and of color) and yet is not beholden to their opinions of her theorizing.  This especially rubbed me the wrong way as she characterized her interviewees blanketly as "lesbians" and "women."  Are we really to believe there was not one trans man in attendence?  If there wasn't, why not?  This seems a rather important issue to choose to leave entirely out of the discussion.

In another vein, questions like this one: “how do we explain the predominance of white drag kinds in urban scenes?” seemed naïve at best. That the answer “racism” does not explicitly follow at any point in the piece, but only vague and unexamined references to “social stratification” (128) or “complicated relations” between white drag kings and drag kings of color (107), earned her no cookies from me.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I'm feeling really shiny right now and I just want to take a moment to thank some people, because fuckin A you lot have made me smarter over the past months or years as the case may be. Like, seriously. I have been really, really, conscious especially over the past month how much I owe you all, for so many reasons.

I see other students in some of my classes struggling with concepts that I'm like, oh man, I totally get that (NOT ALWAYS THOUGH, I'm not THAT arrogant), and SO MUCH of that is thanks to all of you, who have already challenged me to think about things from so many different angles and introduced me to new ways of thinking about gender and sexuality and race and just being in the world.

And really, I have to take a second to just thank you for it. And to let you know that these words you're throwing out into the internets, yes, they are impacting people. Fuck the trolls and fuck the assholes who refuse to get it. I can tell you for sure, for absolute sure, that your words and stories and thoughts have impacted me. And I love you all for it.

Renee, Brandann, Cara, Voz, Bint, bfp, Monica, mamita mala, Cecelia, Lisa, Black Amazon, Slyvia... There are many this is addressed to, so many, but especially to you. Thank you.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Possible Serial Killer in North Carolina and the MSM Doesn't Care

I will admit I am woefully out of touch with what's going on in the blogosphere. I've not been under 500+ articles in my Google Reader for over a month and when I do have time to read I rarely feel the pull to write. I guess that's just the life of a student. But when I was emailed this story recently, and was able to read it, I knew it was something I wanted to highlight, so while I'm not going to add much commentary... do I need to? What's happening here seems pretty clear, and it's been commented on many times before (especially by blogs like What About Our Daughters?), but I'll say it again just in case it's new to you, dear reader: the media only jumps on stories of missing white women. If you're a woman of color, you are apparently not missed. The continued media silence on the possible serial killer(s) in Cuidad Juarez show this all too clearly; hundreds of woman disappearing or dead and almost nothing said. And here it is again, multiple murders, clearly connected, and not a peep.

Read the full story here, excerpts below.

Ten women have been found slain or have been declared missing in Rocky Mount, N.C., in recent years. But the rest of the country hasn't heard about a possible serial killer stalking the young women in this Southern town of 60,000. The latest victim, Elizabeth Jane Smallwood, was identified on Oct. 12. Why have the Rocky Mount homicides been largely ignored?

"When you think about the famous missing-person cases over the last few years it's Chandra Levy, Natalee Holloway, and Laci Peterson," notes Sam Sommers, associate professor of psychology at Tufts University. All these women had a few things in common—they were white, educated, and came from middle-class families. The victims in Rocky Mount—which residents describe as a "typical Southern town," and is about 40 percent white and more than 50 percent black—were different. They were all African-American, many were poor, and some had criminal histories including drug abuse and prostitution.

"If it was someone of a different race, things would have been dealt with the first time around; it wouldn't have taken the fifth or sixth person to be murdered," says Andre Knight, a city-council member and president of the local NAACP chapter. "All these women knew each other and lived in the same neighborhood; this is the sign of a potential serial killer. When it didn't get the kind of attention it needed, it made the African-American community frustrated."
But the national media did show some interest in the story after it was revealed that five women were murdered in or around the town. "Nancy Grace called and wanted to have some of us on her show, but before it aired there was a white woman from Georgia that went missing. The Nancy Grace show was canceled," Knight says. HLN network, which broadcasts Nancy Grace, confirmed that Knight was booked for the show, which was ultimately canceled to profile the disappearance of Kristi Cornwell, a white woman from Blairsville, Ga., who went missing during an evening walk.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mangos With Chili!

Mangos With Chili: the floating cabaret of QTPOC bliss, dreams, sweat, sweets & nightmares
proudly presents the premiere of:
BELOVED: A Requiem for Our Dead
because we refuse to forget you
Nalo Hopkinson
Charleston Chu
E. Rose Sims
Nico Dacumos
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Ms. Cherry Galette
and more
With video by Storm Florez, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Kortney Ryan Ziegler, and more
November 6th and 7th, 8PM
The Lab
2948 16th St
San Francisco, CA 94103
$12-16, no one turned away for lack of funds
November 15th, 8PM
Hechos en Califas Festival
La Pena
3105 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA
$12-16, no one turned away for lack of funds
In this highly anticipated premiere of the newest Mangos With Chili production, we invite you to join us at the crossroads for a night of conjuring, memory, mourning and celebration. Through elegies of story, song, dance, drag and more, the Bay Area’s noted and notorious queer and trans people of color performance crew will honor our erased, fallen and slain queer and trans people of color family lost to hate crimes, war, colonization, and genocide. We will celebrate our queer legacies and the ways we’ve found to survive through the beautiful resistance of memory, and whisper stories about grief, loss, healing, sweet darkness, and walking between worlds towards rebirth.
Beloved: A Requiem for Our Dead will feature the brilliance and blaze of renowned Caribbean speculative fiction storycrafter Nalo Hopkinson; multimedia invocation performance art heart wrench by playwright and poet Nico Dacumos; In Memoriam, a new collaborative dance theater work by Charlston Chu and Cherry Galette; ancestral prayer/spoken love letter by writer and theater artist Rose E. Sims; a mixed media jazz dance cabaret extravaganza by Charleston Chu, an autobiographical musical journey traversing the Middle East and African Diaspora by virtuoso trio SoliRose; the powerful truth renderings of queer Sri Lankan writer and performer Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha; and the premiere of Moorish Salt a burlesque-dance theater/ritual performance art piece by fusion dance artist and theater-maker Cherry Galette.
Mangos With Chili is a Bay Area based arts organization committed to showcasing high quality performance of life saving importance by queer and trans artists of color to audiences in the Bay Area and beyond. Founded in 2006 by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha and Ms Cherry Galette, Mangos With Chili has performed to sold out houses across North America, wowing audiences in world class theaters, underground performance spaces, bars, and campus halls, with their high intensity, breathtaking performance, politics, and storytelling craft, reflecting the lives and stories of queer and trans people of color, while making art that speaks out in resistance to the daily struggles around silence, isolation, homophobia, and violence that QTPOC face. Mangos With Chili is a fiscally sponsored project of the San Francisco based arts organization CounterPULSE, which provides space and resources for emerging artists and cultural innovators: Mangos With Chili is supported by the Horizons Foundation, the Astraea Foundation, and the generous support of our community of donors.
Both venues are wheelchair accessible. The show contains material of adult nature. Parental discretion advised. Please refrain from wearing scented products to ensure that audience members and performers with multiple chemical sensitivity can attend.
For more information:

Thanks to: bfp

Friday, October 16, 2009

Change of Venue Allowed For Oscar Grant Murder Trial

San Francisco Chronicle
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson ruled Friday the murder trial of Johannes Mehserle will be moved out of Oakland.

The 27-year-old Mehserle is charged with the shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant at a Bay Area Rapid Transit station on New Year's Day.

Mehserle's attorney, Michael Rains, had argued for a change of venue in the case because of what he described as excessive media coverage and racial tensions.

This is not good news. Anyone who knows the history of this sort of thing knows what the defense team is now going to try and do is find a city more likely to view Oscar Grant as a criminal and more likely to believe Mehserle's testimony (to be blunt; a way more racist city than Oakland). "Racial tensions" as Medserle's attorney calls them basically means "holy fuck they think he's guilty here!"

Hopefully shooting a restrained and unarmed man in the back won't fool anyone into honestly thinking it's an accident, but you know, weirder things have happened in United States courts.

I'm sure the judge justified it to himself by taking into account the violence that erupted in the wake of the shooting, but honestly? Where the trial takes place won't determine that, the verdict will.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Columbus Day

So, Columbus Day was on Monday. Almost missed it, as SFSU does not celebrate it and so I was going to school like usual, until my dad reminded me. If you're curious how I (and my dad) feel about this particular holiday, I though I'd share this picture care of Cara):

Friday, October 09, 2009

American Idiot: The Review

So I finally got to go and see this production a couple weeks ago and overall it just made me so happy, I can't even tell you. Michael Mayer really managed to pull out a fairly coherent storyline to pull the songs of American Idiot together, and I was truly impressed. The first number (of course, the song American Idiot) I was a little stunned by the whole thing and not sure if I was going to cheer or laugh because it was just so ODD hearing the familiar music but in such a different context. But that feeling basically subsided and I got into the story after that, wondering how it would all come together. And come together it did.

I don't want to give too much away, as they are talking about the show traveling, so hopefully you'll all get a chance to see it! But there are a couple things I want to talk about. One, "my" portrayal (aka the character "Whatsername") was absolutely fabulous. A take no shit punk rock chick who I felt proud to share a chosen name with (and I was SO GLAD that she kicked Johnny to the curb after he acted a complete self-centered violent asshole). Honestly everyone had a great voice on stage but I was blown away by her (Rebecca Naomi Jones). St. Jimmy (Tony Vincent), Tunny (Matt Caplan) and Heather (Mary Faber) were especially amazing as well.

The more in depth thing I wanted to discuss was this really interesting sequence with totally Orientalist themes. The play follows three men as the protagonists, and one goes off to war. He is injured and while he is in the hospital he has a dream sequence featuring an "Extraordinary Girl" (live version of the song below).

This Extraordinary Girl is lowered from the ceiling in a full Afghan style blue burqa and is then revealed to be in an "I Dream of Jeannie" sort of outfit. Naturally, right there I was going, "um, what's going on here?" But as the scene evolved and I realized this was a dream the soldier was having I actually rather liked it's inclusion. It just seemed to SO ACCURATELY capture the fantasy that men are presented with to justify our being in Afghanistan, and to entice them to go. Those poor helpless women, "so sick of crying" who are perfect and beautiful if only their repressive men would let them take off their veils. And those manly American men, must rescue them! It was a REALLY interesting sequence, with so much going on with race and religion and gender and nationalism that I think I'd want to see it a couple more times and really dissect it in the context of the rest of the play.

This isn't the only time race and gender are present in the story, there is a lot that goes on with Whatsername and Johnny, as I already mentioned, as well. And there is sort of an over-arching theme of the alienation of white youth in suburbia, I think. Because all three of the protagonists are cast as white men, by the way. But there was a real sense to me that, conscious or not, there is a lot being discussed, both in the album and the play, about the cultural loneliness that many white teens feel. I know I felt that way for a long time, that I had "no culture", because all the markers of "culture" seemed to be retained by specific ethnic communities (both white ethnics and people of color) and I was "just white".

Well, that "just white" is not some crazy random happenstance. The first thing demanded of white ethnic peoples when they landed in this country is to try and destroy anything that made them different from the normative. If you couldn't "fit in" you were exploited and marginalized. And anyone with the right features (that is: Anglo features) had the potential to avoid this, if they conformed. And so our ancestors did. And I think white youth have been rather lost without that ever since. I saw a lot of this in the subtext of the play as well.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Oh my!

I have a home all to myself again!

If you know by "myself" I mean with my husband and cat. But hey.

I'm currently sitting on the floor sort of propped up by some pillows with half unpacked boxes all around.

In the coming weeks I plan to get back into some sort of a routine, and hope to be blogging regularly again. Though just how much I do might very well stay reduced.

One post I definitely have in mind regards the American Idiot musical, which I saw on Sunday. It was fabulous and there were some very interesting things with race and gender going on that I want to discuss.

Hope everyone else is well, I start trying to catch up on my Google Reader tonight, but I will most likely be skimming, everyone's been so busy while I was gone! :P