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

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

Butler, Femininity, Gender Trouble, Queer Theory, Sex & Gender, Trans theory

Queer Theory

(Link)

We want to look at what women’s liberation really means, as well as working towards an understanding of what gender as a category is. This, we believe can open up towards a different and new understanding of the category ‘woman’ as well as ‘man’.

As mentioned earlier, second-wave feminism in academic circles developed into various disciplines that each focused on equal rights. An example of a discipline that has developed a few of the points of criticism surrounding feminism further, is queer theory. Judith Butler states that queer is an expansion within feminism:

As I wrote [Gender Trouble], I understood myself to be in an embattled and oppositional relation to certain forms of feminism, even as I understood the text to be part of feminism itself (…) I sought to counter those views that made presumptions about the limits and propriety of gender and restricted the meaning of gender to received notions of masculinity and femininity. It was and remains my view that any feminist theory that restricts the meaning of gender in the presuppositions of its own practice sets up exclusionary gender norms within feminism, often with homophobic consequences

(Butler: VII)

We’re using Butler to achieve a better understanding of what ‘sex/gender’ as a category actually is and/or connotes. Inspired by a queer-theoretical approach towards media representation surrounding (as well as within) new american streaming-series, we want to account for the ground principals within queer theory – which will lead to a short exposition of trans* theory.

In addition, we include femininity in order to understand how it is represented in the media and which subject-positions this understanding of femininity has created, as well as masculinity – how has masculinity shaped our understanding of femininity and vice versa? By bringing these fields of study together, we investigate which limitations this categorical thinking creates when it comes to which subject-positions we are offered.

butler.jpg.preset.sixteen-nine

(Link)


Sources:
Butler, Judith : Gender Trouble – Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.