Gender Trouble, Heterosexual Matrix, Queer Gaze, Queer Theory, Transparent

‘I’d love to try having sex without breasts’

Ali’s quest for her own identity reflects and embodies Soloway’s definition of ‘queer gaze’:


[the queer gaze is] changing the way the world feels when they move their bodies through the world – we’re back to the body. Feeling themselves as a subject. Women, ladies, girls, gender nonconforming people. And sometimes the first gasp of this awareness when you realize how much you haven’t been able to be in your body. Because you have been the object of the gaze. Your whole life. It’s this sort of paralysis

(Soloway 2016: 28:39)

Due to her newfound role as LGTBQ-activist she meets Lyfe (Folake Olowofoyeku) in Israel. A romance between the two quickly occurs and in a intimate scene between Ali and Lyfe, Ali is challenged since Lyfe does not want to take off her ‘binder’, which is something Ali never had to think about before (she never knew there was an option not to take it off). This goes perfectly well with Ali questioning her own gender identity:

(19:22 in Barabar the Borrible)

This is yet another interesting part of a fairly new world that is opening up to Ali:


Okay. It just never occurred to me that I could not take this off (…) and, I mean, yeah, I’d love to try having sex without breasts. But I don’t know what that means. How did you… um, figure this out?

(19:20 in Barbar the Borrible)
(19:26 in Barbar the Borrible)

A clearly surprised and curious Ali has so many questions since she is still ‘new’ to this whole ‘genderqueer’/ ‘gender non-conforming’ understanding of identity as well as sexuality – and she therefore has a lot questions for Lyfe.

Ali becomes, despite her own challenging of pinned down categories, an example of how pinned down those categories actually are, which is exactly the point Butler makes in Gender Trouble (2010). This means that we do not consciously choose to act ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine, ‘straight’ or ‘gay’, but are forced by existing regulations that are so deep within us that it does indeed seem ‘natural’ and ‘normal’. This is why it takes a constant awareness of the discourses that one (most often unwillingly) are subjected to in order to break with those discourses (see Forbruger-/valg-feminisme(which is underway)).

This is further underlined when Ali asks Lyfe about sex roles: “So what’s the dynamic for you? Are you always the guy, and you’re always having sex with the girl? (18:55 in Barbar the Borrible). Here, Ali falls into the same heteronormative understanding of the dominating binary understanding of gender, where you are either ‘man’ or ‘woman’ – even when it comes to two women or a woman and a gender neutral person or even two gender non-conforming people. Lyfe smiles at Ali, overbearingly, since Ali’s question is representative of how the majority of people think – and her response is fittingly: “I’m just a human person. And I just want to be a body. I can do what bodies do” (ibid.: 18:59).

Gender Trouble, Heterosexual Matrix, Performativity, Queer Theory, Sex & Gender, Soloway, Transparent, tv-series

From ‘I’m not a dyke’ to ‘Just be open and brave’

As Ali’s identity journey continues, she questions both her own understanding of gender as well as sexuality. This means she goes from being only attracted to: “dudes (…) dudely-dude, dude. The dudelier the better” (11:25 in The Wilderness):

12,58 I'm not a dyke i The Wilderness.png

(12:58 in The Wilderness)

to being queer and in a relationship with her best friend, Syd (Carrie Brownstein).

Ali goes from being heterosexual to queer in a fairly short amount of time, which brings her to question more than just her sexuality:

Ali: (…) I’m just saying, what if we didn’t just have this sort knee-jerk heteronormative…

Syd: (…) Listen to yourself, you’ve been queer for like 30 seconds?

A: See, that’s my point (…) What is being queer if not questioning everything, right? What it means to be… to be in a relationship it’s loving and trusting and generous… and we can do that however we want. We can make up our own rules (…) Just be open and brave

(03:31 in The Book of Life)

She starts questioning the idea of monogamy. This means that Ali throughout the series is a character that breaks with the classical idea of relationship constellations. This can be a way for the people behind Transparent to open up discussions on relationships by representing characters that seems to favor ‘open relationships’ as well as embodying queer identities.

This might be helpful to people who do not understand what queer is – here, Ali is the example of how much the term (according to herself) potentially entails (this is not to say that all queer agree with this definition (case in point)).

Despite the fact that Transparent does not define queer specifically, the series puts the term on the agenda and thereby shift the general understanding that you are either man or woman, straight or gay or that a relationship has to be monogamous.

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’

Elias, End of Male Gaze, Male Gaze, Queer Gaze, Queer Theory, Soloway

The Queer Gaze

As mentioned earlier, De Beauvoir talks about woman as ‘other’. ‘Woman’ was created and defined by the subject – the man. The woman has not always fought against this which means she has allowed herself to be defined as the object. In relation to this, De Beauvoir wonders why women are not objecting to male sovereignty (De Beauvoir(a) 1999: 16).

This question was asked in 1949, but it’s just now, with the use of new(er) streaming services and the arrival of social media’s, that something is done about it. One way of challenging sovereignty and the position as ‘other’, is through self-representation.

In feminist, psychoanalytic, queer, and postcolonial studies, the primary claim is that the subject is constituted by the gaze. You are that which others see you as, and not that which you see yourself as

(Elias 2009: 11)

A statement Elias emphasises by referring to Butler’s points in Gender Trouble where she demonstrates how our personality is formed through the repetition of our performative actions. In other words, identity is created through the repetition of social conventions (ibid.: 29).

It is therefore interesting to examine today’s media landscape in order to find out if and in what ways tv series today are breaking with ‘the male gaze’ – a term developed (in Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975)) by film theoretician and professor in Film & Media Studies Laura Mulvey. According to Mulvey, the term explains how a patriarchal society has structured the form of the film (Barding et al. 2015: 11). This is, among other things, important since film and tv-/streaming-series are structured around the intention of satisfying the voyeur. This, because it provides opportunities for identification with a powerful male hero and by offering an image of woman as object of the male gaze due to her ‘to-be-looked-at-ness’ (Mulvey 1991: 69).

Producer, creator, showrunner and manuscript writer, Jill Soloway, elaborates this further while developing the term ‘The Queer Gaze’, which she also calls ‘The Female Gaze’.

The [white] Male Gaze is the way in which visual arts and literature depict the world and women from a masculine point of view, presenting women as objects of male pleasure. Mulvey names three parts of this gaze: This gaze is conducted by the person behind the camera. The characters in the film and the spectator

(Soloway 2016: 02:24)

At a Master Class, Soloway defines the Queer Gaze as part of breaking with the Male Gaze. Soloway emphasises that this Gaze is more than just the opposite of the Male Gaze (Soloway 2016: 05:12). They (Soloway identifies as a “gender non-conforming queer person who prefers to be references with gender-neutral pronouns (Freeman 2017)) divide the Queer Gaze into three parts.

  1. Feeling seen, whereto a subjective camera is used – the image is thereby used to share a feeling of being ‘in feeling’ rather than just looking at the character (ibid.: 17:33).

So this first Female Gaze might be something that you watch where you can say, ‘I can tell a woman directed this because I feel held by something that is invested in my feeling, in my body. That my emotions are being prioritised over the actions

(Soloway 2016: 19:19)

2. ‘The Gazed Gaze’. The camera shows the viewer how it feels to be the object of ‘the gaze’ (how it feels to be seen). This is not just an emotion, but a story where an intense consciousness is unveiled in relation to the growing power of the protagonist (the protagonist talk about how they become what men see, and what kind of effect they have on the world when they are being seen).

3. Returning the Gaze. As a way of telling the viewer “I see you seeing me”. With this, it becomes a way for minorities to not only be feeling seen, or show how it feels to be seen, but a way in which it is demanded that we rewrite our culture in a way, so women (or other minorities) no longer is the object, but also the subject (Soloway 2016: 22:52).

The Queer Gaze is a political platform where it is possible to break with the idea, that women’s success is limited to ‘being seen’ (Soloway 2016: 31:40). One always writes from one’s own perspective, which is why everyone is writing propaganda for themselves. This is a way to normalise one’s own experience. The Queer Gaze, then, is: “(…) a privilege generator: it’s storytelling to get you on somebody’s side” (ibid.: 28:16) and thereby a very conscious attempt to create empathy as a political tool. Soloway points to the fact that it is important to be aware of how we are not able to talk about what meanings the male and female body are inscribed, but what we can talk about is what is ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ and what these categories allow (ibid.: 44:40).

With this, we look at Transparent and Sense8. How are the creators truth(s) being told through these series? How do they create a socially relevant fight for recognition of non-normative identities?

Sources:

Barding, Antonia, Kæregaard, Marlene Bjørn, Eliasen, Kristina Maria Danielsen, Matthiassen, Anja Falkner & Stassen, Christoffer Trosborg (2015): Orange Is the New Black – Markante kvinderoller i nyere, amerikanske tv-serier. RUC, Bachelorproject. Read here

De Beauvoir(a), Simone (1999): “Første bind: Kendsgerninger og myter” i Det Andet Køn. Tidernes skifte, Nørhaven A/S Viborg.

Elias, Camelia (2009) Between Gazes: Feminist, Queer, and ‘Other’ Films. EYECORNER PRESS.

Freeman, Hadley (2017): Transparent’s Jill Soloway: ‘The words male and female describe who we used to be’. The Guardian. Read here

Mulvey, Laura (1991): Skuelysten og den fortællende film. Oversættelse af Vibeke Pedersen i Tryllelygten, Tidsskrift for levende billeder. 1. årgang, nr. 1, redigeret af Palle Schantz Lauridsen, Steen Salomonsen, Flemming Søgaard Sørensen, Jens Toft.

Soloway, Jill (2016): The Female Gaze. Master Class, TIFF 2016. See here