Masculinity, Performativity, Queer Gaze, Sense8

A Break With Traditional relationship constellations

As part of breaking with the heterosexual matrix and its dominans, both series question our idea of marriage as the destination for a happy, fulfilling life. With this, both Sense8 and Transparent points to those structures (marriage and monogamist relationship constellations) that are part of making sure the idea of the heterosexual matrix is seen as natural and ‘right’ – this is challenged by the sexuality of the characters.


Sense8 portrays a break with the stereotypical portrayal of male homosexuality in the medias through the Mexican sensate, Lito. Beside this, Lito’s storyline is also part of challenging the idea of monogamy and ‘traditional’ relationship constellations. Lito is especially interesting, since he becomes the embodiment of just how much the heterosexual matrix can affect identities that break with this discourse. In the presentation of Lito, it is already indicated how torn he is. It is especially evident when he, during the shooting of his new movie (Lito is an actor), is alone in his trailer where he is talking to himself trying to get a grip and be able to finish the scene: “Who are you? Who am I? Blow your fucking brains out. Where’s that coming from?” (22:53 in Limbic Resonans). He punches himself in the head while repeating: “Who am I? I’m Tino El Caido. I’m the fallen one” (ibid.: 23:05) – and points to a picture of himself:

you're a liar Lito.png

You’re a liar!” (23:36 in Limbic Resonance)

The camera is placed behind Lito, depicting him looking at a picture of himself as ‘the actor Lito’, which is further underlined by the mirror, where we see his face. This over-the-shoulder frame makes sure that the viewer sees what he sees while at the same time looking at him from the outside, as an onlooker. The intention is clear: Lito is torn between being two people at the same time – the person his fans see, while Lito, and the viewer, have gained access to another, more private, side of him.

As a reaction to living this double life, he starts to hump the wall in a very ‘masculine’ way. As if he is trying to convince himself that he is a ‘real’ man who does not have trouble performing:

Lito humper væg.png

(23:47 i Limbic Resonance)

I’m a man! Bah – Bah-pah!”, he exclaims, while looking like someone who gradually starts doubting it. This is underlined by the scene pictured above where the venetian blind might insinuate bars. These bars become almost symbolically depicted in the mirror, which further underlines this feeling of being caved in, imprisoned. Not only is he imprisoned by society (the trailer could be understood as a symbolic prison), but also by ‘himself’ (the mirror as a reference to the fact that he can no longer see himself). With this in mind, Lito is imprisoned by the heteronormative discourses that dominates society and the media world. His repeated attempt to ‘out’ himself as a liar might insinuate that Lito’s hyper-masculine appearance is nothing more than a performance he too is captured by.

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).

Queer Gaze, Soloway, Transparent


A third example of a ‘diverging identity’ (on more than one level) is Ali Pfefferman (Gaby Hoffmann) in Transparent. She is a character that goes from identifying as a cisgendered, heterosexual woman to being in a relationship with different women as well as questioning her gender identity. It is made clear throughout the series that she most definitely embraces what Butler defines as ‘queer’, since she is not dictated by the heteronormative matrix or her ‘assigned’ gender as defining og determining for her identity:

ali spejlbillede intro 00,52 i pilot.png

(00:50 in Pilot)

Ali is asleep and then wakes up, rather suddenly, and gets ready to get out of bed. The camera turns around, away from Ali, only to find her again. With this, we don’t meet Ali as person, but rather her reflection in the mirror. This means that we meet Ali in a utopian, perfect world, which is quickly brought back down to earth (Ali’s queer world as a counter place to the heterosexual matrix). Here, Soloway’s ‘queer gaze’ is manifested:

The female gaze seeks to destroy all gazes. She is other gaze, queer gaze, trans gaze, intersectional gaze, she is the non gaze, emanating from the center of not a triangle but a circle – undivided, the feel with me gaze, the being seen, I see you gaze, truth gaze

(Soloway 2016: 41:45)

As viewer, we are ‘in feeling’ with Ali, since we move with her and experience her as she experiences herself. The camera is subjective. It tries to gain access to the character. This is a welcomed contrast to ‘the male gaze’, where we look at a person – often with an objectifying gaze. The right to subjectivity is one of Soloway’s main purposes with her intersectional, feminist approach to creating tv-/streaming series.

Next, we follow Ali as she gets up from her bed and leaves the frame. On the wall next to the bed, is a picture of a naked woman, which indicates that Ali is a woman who owns her sexuality. An impression that is constantly proven to be true throughout the seasons.

After, we cut to Ali who has turned her back to the viewer. The light is low key and hard which creates a dramatic and sad, yet exciting atmosphere.

While almost sleeping, Ali walks away from the viewer giving us an opportunity to study her room a little closer. Despite the low key light, the mess caused by magazines and notebooks is obvious. It is clear, that the room lacks structure, which proves to be symptomatic to Ali’s life in general. In this way, one could argue that the mess is a symbol of where Ali is in her life right now direction-wise, since she turns out to be the character that goes through the most developing stages in the four seasons. It is interesting to note, though, that despite the physical chaos, she seems relaxed. This is further underlined by the images, since we then cut to a close-up of two hands pouring water into a coffee machine. By shifting the focus, the mess we saw before is symbolically boxed out. After, we cut to Ali drinking her freshly made coffee, while thinkingly staring out into empty space:

Ali 01,15 i pilot.png

(01:13 in Pilot)

The lines in this setting creates a frame around Ali while also creating an expression of her state of mind. The vertical lines in the left side of the frame might indicate a form of courage, which we will later experience as the courage to explore her sexuality and starting out as an academic student. The tilted lines indicates both action and unease, which we, later in the series, come to experience both as curious and identity seeking, where Ali often looks for answers to questions like ‘who I am?’ and ‘what do I want’. The horizontal lines gives the impression of peace and harmony. Harmony is further underlined by the fact, that it is branches that make up the line, and not metal as is the case with the diagonal lines. The branches then becomes a symbol of nature, which again is a symbol of exactly peace and harmony, and also freedom. Later in the series, we will come to understand Ali as a person who is well-balanced and in many ways one who does not care about norms and societal expectations of what she should do or how she should look. It is interesting to note that the branches are placed behind the other lines, which can be interpreted as the fact that the harmony Ali contains is hidden behind the outer chaos she is in.

In her search for the answer to who she is and what she wants, she goes from being out of job and living off of her Moppas money to being a university student and then later follow in her Moppas footsteps by teaching at the university.

The way the series uses the camera along with a character that appears withdrawn underlines how Transparent uses ‘queer gaze’. The above mentioned frame projects a feeling of safety and ‘being held’ due the atmosphere of cosy domesticity. Despite the potentially trivial, rather normal, things she does, Transparent chooses to focus on exactly those feelings and moods Ali is surrounded by, which can, potentially, appeal to the viewer in a way where one feels like they see her (and might also feel seen) whereby one is invited to engaging with her. This is exactly why this rather intimate situation creates a feeling of ‘I see you seeing me’ due the relatableness occurring between viewer and the character.

Queer Gaze, Sense8, Sex & Gender, tv-serier

‘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.

unnamed (1)
(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 in 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.

unnamed (2)
(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 i 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, 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


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)


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)).


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