Gender Trouble, heteronormativity, Heterosexual Matrix, Male Gaze, Performativity, Queer Gaze, Sex & Gender, Transparent

Strap-on, Strap-off

The relationship of Ali and Syd (as well as Ali’s relationship with Gender Studies professor, Leslie) represents the non-heterosexual queer relationship, where existing norms and discourses do not dictate how they live their lives as well as how they ‘do’ their relationship, gender, and sexuality.

Their relationship works as a place where Ali questions monogamy and as a safe space for her to experience with her gender identity as well as redefining phallus and what it can symbolize.

In the below mentioned scene, Ali walks in to the living room with a confident smile (as she is ‘in character’) and places herself in front of Syd. She is wearing a ‘wife-beater’, boxers (for men) and her long hair is done as if she has short hair, which makes her appear more ‘masculine’ than ‘feminine’. The entire scene appears comical and overacted – almost like a caricature. Her way of dressing is a way for her to challenge and play with the viewer’s understanding of gender while also reproducing the stereotypical understanding of a gay / queer relationship that consists of a female and a male part:

ali iført strap-on mens hun renser tænder.png

(09:40 i Mee-Maw)

Syd quickly points out that Ali is breaking the pagt (the strap-on belongs in the bedroom) and repeatedly asks her to take it off. Nevertheless, Ali continues to perform her role as a powerful (heterosexual) man, who in every way feels superior do to ‘his’ (erect) penis.

Ali puts the strap-on in front of Syd’s face to indicate that she must put it in her mouth next (this is obviously ironic):

Ali og strap-on i Syds ansigt.png

(10:41 in Mee-Maw)

Here, Ali and Syd represents a break with the heterosexual matrix and its claim to phallus (penetration), since it exemplifies how two women can have sex ‘with’ phallus, but without heterosexuality.

The way Ali parodies ‘a man’ underlines how one, by performing ‘the male gender’ almost automatically walks, talks, and acts differently according to the privileges given to you because you are born male in a society dominated by a patriarchal order.


I’m going to do everything with this on now. I’m going to do the New York Times crossword puzzle with a dick on (…) I’m going to make tea with a dick on (…) I’m going to throw pebbles in a pond with a dick on (…) I’d like to have some feelings and watch the rain with a dick on


(10:43 in Mee-Maw)

This is also a way of changing the meaning of phallus and its powerful position. This is done by placing it in other non-sexual correlations than what we are used to – doing crossword puzzle, drinking tea, being sensitive, and looking at the rain (‘with a dick on’). The mystery of phallus is hereby removed while its power is being taken away (a form of power men have defined themselves, which Transparent is trying to break with through queer gaze) by redefining it as something ‘safe’ and well known. The remarks ‘with a dick on’ underlines the fact that it is possible to perform one’s gender. The strap-on is something you can take on and off which means that phallus is redefined as something that belongs to everyone, not just men. With this, we witness another ‘fuck you’ – this time (in line with Lacan) aimed at ‘the big Other’ (phallus as the symbol of authority as well as potency (not a real organ)), whereby the series demonstrates exactly how hollow the idea of ‘the big Other’ (the flawless, metaphysical authority) is – both sexually and identity-wise (Rösing 2007: 36, 42, 49).

This is seen when Ali takes off the strap-on and throws it to the floor right before the mood goes from humorous and charictuarizing to intimate. Ali embraces Syd (without the strap-on):

ali med strap-on der ligeledes kan tages af efter behov.png

(10:53 in Mee-Maw)
syd og ali omfavner efter farvel til strapon.png

(10:59 in Mee-Maw)

‘Having a dick on’ is something you choose. It has no power in itself, but they, on the other hand, do. With this, it is clear that Transparent seeks to create a new and different societal structure when it comes to power: also in the bedroom. Ali takes on phallus (the power) in order to let it manifest itself in her, next she throws it to the floor, while still keeping the power – ‘female empowerment’ right there!


Source:

Rösing, Lilian Munk (2007): Autoritetens genkomst. Tiderne Skifter, Espergærde. ISBN: 978-87-7973-243-8


Butler, End of Male Gaze, Gender Trouble, heteronormativity, Heterosexual Matrix, Queer Gaze, Sex & Gender, Soloway, Transparent, tv-series

From ‘Mort’ to Maura

As shown in What is normal? // Nomi, Nomi represents an example of a transwoman, whose storyline isn’t based on the fact that she is not cisgendered. Maura (Jeffrey Tambor – buhu), on the other hand, is an example of how Transparent has embraced the fact that she is a transwoman, making it central to her storyline, since she starts transitioning late in life, and we, the audience, is invited to join her journey towards finding herself and becoming an ‘intelligible’ woman.

(21:15 in Pilot)

The first time we are introduced to the woman Maura, who was previously shown as the male ‘Mort’ is through an establishing shot of Los Angeles’ LGBT(Q)-center. After, we are further invited to participate in her life. We are presented with a big, more or less empty room. At the center, 10-15 people are gathered in a circle, which suggests they are all participating in a support group:

(21:19 in Pilot)

In the following shot, we see a close-up of some of the people at the meeting, which creates a feeling of actually being present and participating, not just looking at the people present. With this, we are in feeling with the characters via a subjective camera:

(21:23 in Pilot)
(21:27 in Pilot)

The camera continues to pan, shedding light to the very different faces of the participants who all make up a diverse group of individuals: young and old, different skin colors, men and women.

In relation to this, it is important to note, that Transparent portrays the LGBTQ-environment, and especially trans* people in a relatable and diverse way, and that all trans*, queer (people who belong under a much broader umbrella than the one provided by the heterosexual matrix) characters are played by people who lives these life in real life (the only cisgendered to play a transwoman is Tambor as Maura) This is definitely part of creating credibility in the storylines and stories that Transparent are portraying (Soloway in Moylan 2016).

Then we hear a rather deep, ‘maskuline’ voice telling us about an episode in Target, while the other people (and their reactions) are still in the frame:

                                                                  (21:29 in Pilot)                                                                (21:39 in Pilot)

While telling the story, the camera reaches the person talking. The viewer meets Maura for the first time (before her children):

(21:50 in Pilot)

Maura, who we were previously introduced to as ‘Mort’ has long, dark brown hair, earrings, make-up and a purple dress. In other words, she looks different from the first time we saw her. “Thank you for your share, Maura” (22:24 i Pilot), says the woman who is leading this support group. ‘Mort’ is Maura – and we have been invited to her support group for trans* people. This is a very welcomed first!

The fact that we, the viewers, are introduced to the Maura before her kids can be seen as a well planned strategy by the creator. This is a tool that, according to Mittell, creates a relation between the viewer and the protagonist/character since ‘we know something others don’t’. Furthermore, Maura opens up and talks about very personal feelings and experiences in a fragil (and realistic) situation, which underlines this potential character engagement that occurs when we are given access to her thoughts, feelings and conceptual universe (Mittell 2015: 129).

In relation to ‘queer gaze’, Soloway explains: 

I can tell a woman directed this because I feel held by something that is invested in my feelings. In my body. That my emotions are being prioritized over the actions” 

(Soloway 2016: 19:23)

This quote makes clear exactly what is happening in the abovementioned scene with Maura in the support group and her ‘self outing’ to the viewer. The subjective camera opens up a space for us to enter her thoughts in a brilliant way. This is an act of trust that trusts in ‘I see you seeing me’ and in this way the viewer becomes part of the journey that Mauras has just started. Which, among other things, includes ‘coming out’ (see our post on ‘Coming Out’ which is underway) to her children.

This very intimate insight into Maura’s thoughts (in the very first episode) is part of creating an understanding of as well as empathy with Maura as a person. We are part of her most vulnerable journey (‘transition’) away from a life dictated by the heteronorm. We see Maura. We are not looking at her. This is an extremely important difference. Maura continues:

(…) One more thing. I made a commitment here last week that I was going to come out to my kids and I didn’t do it… Because it just wasn’t time, you know? But I will and it will be soon, I promise  you. I promise you. I promise you [raises her right hand]

(23:07 in Pilot)


The same way Maura opens up to the viewer about her being Maura and not ‘Mort’ as her children wrongfully believe, she also promises the viewer that she will reveal her true self to her children and the rest of her family. We are therefore in on her secret. This effect (operational reflexivity  mixed with intertextual references) appeals to a:

(…) til et præeksisterende kulturelt fællesskab, hvor referencerne giver mening for tv-seeren, fordi de er genkendelige og har en funktion. Mittell opfatter den operationelle refleksivitet som selvbevidste virkemidler der indbyder seeren til både at engagere sig i og værdsætte fortællingens udformning

(Haastrup 2014)

Our translation:

(…) to a preexisting cultural community, where the references makes sense to the viewer, since they are recognisable and has a function. Mittel(l) sees the operational reflexivity as conscious tools that invites the viewer to engage in – and appreciate the way the story is being told

This means that the viewer engage with the series on a deeper level which works to make sure that we potentially feel ‘obligated’ to continue to follow the Pfeffermans and their lives to know what happens to them. At the same time, this means that the viewer feels compassion and empathy for Maura as a character (Mittell 2015: 50).

This scene helps the viewer to get an insight into the division Maura feels – both when it comes to family and society – who expect her to be ‘Mort’ (which means death in France). It is made clear here, that Maura lives two different lives – and has done for decades, which becomes more and more clear throughout the series.

Very early on in the show, Transparent portrays gender as being everything but pinned down- it is performative (as Butler talks about). The division Maura feels is further substantiated in the following frame:

(22:01 in Pilot)

The tiles in the background looks like bars and might therefore symbolize imprisonment (something the series continues to do throughout). This can be seen as a symbolic imprisonment of Maura and other trans* people caused by a cisgendered society that constantly punishes those who do not fit the frames of a heteronormative society. They become the opposite of ‘intelligible genders’.

Exactly because trans* people are forced to be aware of the necessity of performing ones gender a certain way according to which community/space they are in  (not to say, cisgender people don’t perform their gender – but they are under less societal pressure) – and the expectations towards gender of that space, the LGBT(Q)-center is an example of a safe space, where the frames are wider – and the tables have turned. In here, for a little while, they are not the minority.

This might also be a reason why some trans* people choose only to live ‘openly’ in closed spaces as fx in this support group.

Both Nomi and Maura are presented as complex characters who are not solemnly defined by the discrimination that is often used to portray trans* people in the medias. An examples is Boys Don’t Cry (1999) that is one of the most acknowledge film about a young trans man’s tragic destiny (based on true events). Hilary Swank’s oscar nominated portrayal of Brandon Teena’s fight for love and a life as the boy he is ends brutally when he is raped and killed by his girlfriend’s brothers.


Sources:

  • Soloway, Jill (2015-): Transparent. Pilot, Amazon
  • Moylan, Brian (2016): Transparent’s Jill Soloway: I was ignorant about trans politics.The Guardian. Found here
  • Haastrup, Helle Kannik (2014): Blog: De nye tv-serier. Udfordring og fordybelse. Rusk. Found here
  • Mittell, Jason (2015): Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling. New York University Press. ISBN: 978-0-8147-7135-8
  • Soloway, Jill (2016): The Female Gaze. Master Class, TIFF 2016. Listen here
End of Male Gaze, Gender Trouble, heteronormativity, Heterosexual Matrix, Performativity, Queer Gaze, Queer Theory, Sense8, Sex & Gender, tv-series

‘The beholder will always see what they want to see’

The reason we focus on the importance of a new and different form of representation in the media (‘queer gaze’) is articulated very precisely by Hernando Fuentes (Alfonso Hererra) – a supporting character in Sense8. During an art-lecture, he questions some of the things we normally accept as truths. One is that there are many different races, where he points to the fact that there is only one: the human race. Other examples are of so-called truths are: cisgenderness, heterosexuality, and patriarchy as the ‘normal’, as well as the structures that are part of otherising minorities.

Very explicit and boundary-crossing pictures of Lito Rodriguez (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) and Hernando having sex have been published. This means Lito has been ‘outet’ (forced to ‘come out of the closet’) as homosexual by the media. Hernando realizes what has happened during a lecturer because one of his students makes sure the image is casted on to the big screen.

hernando.jpg(13:55 in Happy F*cking New Year)

Rather than panicking, Hernando chooses to use this opportunity to point to some important issues when it comes to art, objectivisation, fetichising, and ‘the gaze’: “Art (…) is a language of seeing and being seen…” (12:59 in Happy F*cking New Year).

This means, Hernando, a homosexual man, gets a voice. He talks about how making art to make one’s own story heard is not necessary received with positivity by the receiver, since this person will always view the art from their own point of view.

(…) this is where the relationship between subject and object reverses. And what was seen… now reveals the seer. Because the eyes of the beholder find not just beauty where they want but also shallowness, ugliness, confusion… prejudices. Which is to say the beholder will always see what they want to see (…)

(14:27 i Happy F*cking New Year)

Otherizing isn’t just about the fact that there are people who fit the category “the Other” (Hall 2013: 247), but the fact that this way of ‘thinking inside of boxes’ (boxes we are all part of reproducing) makes them ‘the Other’, simply because the boxes are not wide enough.

hernando2.jpg

(14:54 in Happy F*cking New Year)

In this way, he doesn’t just get to defend himself and thereby receive a voice, he gets to expose the ones who are not able to look beyond prejudice created by the heterosexual discourse: the cisgendered, heterosexual man as the definition of human. Because of this discourse, other categories such as women, trans* people, homosexuals are produced in his image – and treated accordingly:

[w]hereas someone (…) with a set of eyes capable of seeing beyond societal conventions, beyond their defining biases, such a beholder might see an image of… two men caught in an act of pleasure. Erotic to be sure. But also… vulnerable. (…) both of them connected to the moment, to each other. To love. And as I have suggested before in this class… art is love made public

(14:13 in Happy F*cking New Year)

In this way, he address why art that breaks with the structures of heterosexual matrix is extremely important. A matrix that permeates society and defines us all – even the white, cisgendered, heterosexual man – and keeps us captive in those subject positions that patriarchal discourses offer. By doing that, we become able to embrace the collapse of society (and of the world as we know it). (For more examples of that check out the post on Pride, which is in production right now)

The above mentioned spells out why these progressive tv-/streaming series are so important to the social debate. They break with ‘naturalized truths’, that maintain peoples in stages of otherness. Through characters that represents this otherness an opportunity for engagement is created so that even a cisgendered, heterosexual, (white) male is able to get a glimpse of what those ‘dangerous’ lives that threatens us and ‘life as we know it’ are like.


Straczynski, J. Michael, Wachowski, Lana & Wachowski, Lilly (2015-): Sense8. Netflix.: Happy F*cking New Year

Hall, Stuart (2013): The Work of Representation. SAGE Publications. The Open University, London. ISBN: 978-1-8-84920-547-4

Butler, End of Male Gaze, Gender Trouble, heteronormativity, Heterosexual Matrix, Queer Gaze, Queer Theory, Sense8, Sex & Gender, Transparent

Challenging ‘the Heterosexual Matrix’

First part of our analysis of Sense8 and Transparent focuses on “the Heterosexual Matrix”, defined by Butler, and how this matrix dominates society. In this part of the analysis, we investigate how it is presented in both series and how each series is trying to break with it. In short, we look at to what extend both series represent a new and more inclusive understanding of gender and sex.

Read more:

‘The beholder will always see what they want to see’

Butler, Feminism, Gender Trouble, heteronormativity, Heterosexual Matrix, Performativity, Queer Theory, Sex & Gender

What Is Queer Theory?

What exactly is queer theory? Queer theory is hard to define! Tiina Rosenberg, queer scientist and Associate Professor in Theater Studies at Stockholm University writes:

[Our translation] In short, queer theory shifts gender discrimination from being about the exclusion of women by patriarchy to the exclusion of non-heterosexual by heterosexual norms.

(Rosenberg i Munk Rösing 2001)

[Original quote] “I kort begreb kan man sige, at queer-teorien forskyder kønsdiskrimination fra at handle om patriarkatets udelukkelse af kvinden til at handle om den heteroseksuelle norms udelukkelse af ikke-heteroseksuelle”

We have chosen to use Judith Butler who has paid the way for queer theory to be our main queer theorist since we find her understanding to be one of the most accurate and useful approaches to gender and sexuality – both how they affect each other, as well as what the categories ‘gender/sex’ contain.

Judith Butler

Butlers book Gender Trouble (1990) helped put queer studies on the agenda (within gender and feminist studies). Her critical analysis of feminist thinkers such as Julia Kristeva and Monique Wittig as well as Michel Foucault, Jacque Lacan and Sigmund Freud has helped shape her own philosophy (more than an actual theory) which is an attempt to de-neutralise existing discourses within gender and sexuality.

[Our translation] But which connection between gender and sexuality am I trying to emphasize? I am not trying to claim that one specific sexual practice produces specific genders but merely the fact that by controlling gender within the conditions of normative heterosexuality it is sometimes used as a way to secure heterosexuality.

(Butler: XXI)

[Original quote]
“Men hvilken sammenhæng mellem køn og seksualitet forsøger jeg at fremhæve? Jeg vil bestemt ikke hævde, at former for seksuel praksis producerer bestemte køn, men kun at kontrollen af køn under den normative heteroseksualitets betingelser undertiden bruges som et middel til at sikre heteroseksualiteten.”

Butler presents the idea of ‘biological gender’ (sex) as oppose to ‘social gender’ (gender) and the connection as well as the differences between these – with the fundamental understanding of gender as a performance.

In addition, she talks about the relation between the understanding of gender and sexual desire: A heterosexual ‘woman’ and a heterosexual ‘man’ make up ‘the Heterosexual Matrix’.

‘Woman’ as a Category

“Strictly speaking, “women” cannot be said to exist”

(Kristeva in Butler 2008: 1)

Inspired by Michel Foucault, Butler points to problematic, dominating tendencies when it comes to women (in society, language as well as politics), since all women are placed in just one shared category. Existing discourses which society is subjected to produces gendered (masculine and dominating) subjects, that excludes the category ‘women’ by placing all women in one category both politically and culturally, thereby creating just one identity. Butler criticizes this:

If one “is” a woman, that is surely not all one is; the term fails to be exhaustive (…) because gender is not always constituted coherently or consistently in different historical contexts (…)

(Butler: 4)

Another point of critic is the lack of: “(…) racial, class, ethnic, sexual, and regional modalities of discursively constituted identities” (Butler: 4).

Butler is, as mentioned, inspired by De Beauvoir who sees gender as more than something that is biological determined: you are not born a woman, you become a woman (which is not to say, that there are absolutely no biological differences between women and men), and because of this, one cannot assume that there is only one women’s category.

Sex & Gender

flexiblegenderidentity

By deconstructing binary understandings and truisms of gender and sexuality that are dominant in our current society, Butler questions some of the naturalized truths which determine the general understanding of gender. She argues that gender is culturally determined and that the biological body is connected to the categories of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ because society is subjected to cultural compulsion that teaches us how we should think about these (Butler: 8).

Historically, there has been a clear distinction between gender and sex. Gender was seen as ‘destiny’ and sex as a cultural construction, which is to say it is changeable. Thus, Butler doesn’t think you can separate sex and gender since they depend on each other:

Gender ought not to be conceived merely as the cultural inscription of meaning on a pregiven sex (a juridical conception); gender must also designate the very apparatus of production whereby the sexes themselves are established. As a result, gender is not to culture as sex is to nature (…)

(Butler: 10)

With this in mind, the physical (biological) body is nothing but an ‘instrument’, a ‘construction’, without meaning until it has been ‘assigned’ a gender at (or even before) birth (boy or girl), predetermined by culture and existing discourses. This means that a person born with what is acknowledged as a biological ‘male’ body is also able to embody the female category the same way women born in a body acknowledged as ‘female’ can (De Beauvoir in Butler: 11).

Butler points out, that it is not just about choosing freely when it comes to one’s understanding of gender since gender identity is influenced by existing, powerful discourses.

Butler’s frame of understanding is thereby based on interpellation, where gender identity as a social construction is displayed: a subject becomes part of a gender discourse at birth since it is assigned the label: boy or girl.

The Heterosexual Matrix and heteronormativity

Butler explains that “”Intelligible” genders are those which in some sense institute and maintain relations of coherence and continuity among sex, gender, sexual practice, and desire” (Butler: 23). This definition constitute the Heterosexual Matrix. The matrix is to be understood as a structure that creates norms in which one (because of one’s sex) has a heterosexual desire that produces a heterosexual practice. Since this heteronormative understanding is dictating how vi think about sex, gender, and desire, identities that differ from the norm (gays, bisexuals, and trans*) are tabooed. As a result, these identities are viewed as evolutionary failures. Since the understanding of gender is based on a heterosexual construction regulated by its reproductive sexuality, a false stabilization of gender emerges.

Butler points out that it is problematic (in more than one way) to equate gender and sex with desire in modern queer theory since a given sex does not necessarily presuppose a certain desire and vice versa. She elaborates by saying:

The second and related move within queer theory is to argue that gender is not reducible to hierarchical heterosexuality, that it takes different forms when contextualized by queer sexualities, indeed, that its binariness cannot be taken for granted outside the heterosexual frame, that gender itself is internally unstable, that transgendered lives are evidence of the breakdown of any lines of causal determinism between sexuality and gender

(Butler 2004: 54)

Performativity

The many identities that are placed outside of the Heterosexual Matrix are proof that the matrix is constructed and constantly controlled and upheld by repetition, language, and representation. Butler thinks that it is necessary to recognize that rather than viewing gender/sex as a cause of sexual experience, behavior, and desire, it is important to acknowledge that the cause must be understood as an effect of the heteronormative discourse that creates certain subject positions. Which is to say, gender/sex is a label created performatively by hegemonic discourses.

It may seem, however, that there is a difference between the embodying or performing of gender norms and the performative use of discourse. Are these two different senses of “performativity”, or do the converge as modes of citationality in which the compulsory character of certain social imperatives becomes subject to a more promising deregulation? Gender norms operate by requiring the embodiment of certain ideals of femininity and masculinity, ones that almost always related to the idealization of the heterosexual bond

(Butler 1993: 231)

Butler views gender/sex as fluent. To become one’s gender/sex, one is forced to perform in order to live up to the social and public discourse on “intelligible” genders. Gender is thereby produced in order to create stabile, primary, and recognizable identities. These identities can be interpreted as performative, since being placed outside the norm has negative consequences. Those who does not perform their gender/sex in accordance with the norm are challenging the political construction and our way of understanding gender/sex (Butler: 192) (note: This is not to say, that gender/sex is merely a performance (Serano 2016: 336)).


Sources

Butler, Judith: Gender Trouble – Feminism and the subversion of identity

Butler, Judith (2004) Undoing Gender. Routledge. ISBN: 978-0415969239

Butler, Judith (1993): “Critically Queer” i Bodies That Matter – On The Discursive Limits of “Sex”. pp. 223-283. Routledge.

Ravn, Flemming (2014): HVAD ER HETERONORMATIVITET? Læs her

Munk Rösing, Lilian (2001): De skæve kønsidentiteter. Information. Læs her