Hvorfor feminisme?

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
Heterosexual Matrix, Sense8, tv-series

What is normal? // Nomi

Sense8 tries to eliminate the label-thinking that surrounds gender and sexuality, whereas Transparent investigates these labels and in connection to that try to change the meanings sticking to those (this is especially evident when it comes to the label woman).

In the following analysis we will, firstly, look at a character from Sense8, Nomi, and two from Transparent, Maura and Ali (post about this is already cooking) in order to investigate how they each represent a more diverse understanding of gender and what it means to be ‘woman’ – and how they are limited by the heterosexual matrix. Nomi, Maura, and Ali are all part of creating a more diverse understanding of gender and sex as categories and challenge a cis-gendered conceptual universe in different ways. They make up three different ‘stages’ in the transition towards an ‘intelligible’ woman.

Next, we will look at Lito, Sense8, and Sarah, Transparent, to understand in which ways the series transgress the boundaries of the heterosexual matrix, including how they challenge traditional ideas on relationship constellations as part of breaking with the matrix.

Nomi

We don’t have to wait long to be introduced to a non heterosexual (queer) couple that consists of a cisgendered- and a transwoman. In fact, it is one of the very first things introduced in the pilot. In this way, Sense8 breaks with most other (even newer) tv- as well as streaming series – especially since they represent a great number of non-normative identities that challenge the heterosexual matrix (and its predominance in the medias)

Nomi Marks (Jamie Clayton) is introduced through a close-up of two hands holding a needle while extracting an undefinable fluid from a little, clear bottle:

(3:48 in Limbic Resonance)

With this, the reader is introduced to Nomi through her reflection, which is interesting when considering Foucault’s theory on the function of the mirror as the place where utopia (non-existing place that reflects society in its perfect form) and heterotopia (existing counter-place) meet. The mirror both challenges and depicts the real world. Heterotopia is represented through the hormone treatment (injection) and the fact that the mirror only shows a woman, not the needle.
Nb. The mirror metaphor is recurring for both streaming series, which underlines the series’ intention of creating a heterotopia, where queer identities and cisgendered-, binary-, hetero- identities are equal.

In the following frame, Nomi lifts the towel exposing her butt, whereafter she injects the fluid.

Next, we see the bathroom that Nomi uses. In the foreground of the frame, we see a naked woman lying in a bathtub:


In this, rather short, opening scene, we are able to decode a lot of information about Nomi, which requires an invested viewer who might have gained knowledge and information about the series (and thereby know about paratextual elements) (Mittell 2015: 194). This knowledge can forinstants be acquired by seeking out knowledge about the actresses. Mittell describes that this can be part of creating further engagement with the characters since the actresses’ off screen role can open up for other, more in-depth understandings of the character since the boundaries between private and professional life as well as facts and fiction become blurred. This, through a mixture of former roles, and/or the persons visibility on social media. In this way, the actress life outside of the series functions as an intertextual reference:


In all of these instances and many more, viewers approach a character with a wealth of star-connected contexts from both on- and offscreen references that help shape storytelling practices, highlighting the centrality of actors in constituting characters within serial television

(Mittell 2015: 122)

The paratextual knowledge (prior knowledge) ensures that the viewer quickly knows that Nomi is a transwoman just like the actress. Clayton is very open about her life as transgender on social media:



(Clayton 2017)

The series appeal to an audience with paratextual knowledge (that has more knowledge than usual about the subject matter), who shares a desire for transgression.

It is worth noting, that Nomi is presented with her girlfriend, Amanita (Freema Agyeman), who is cis-gendered and seems relaxed and comfortable with her (naked) body. Nomi, on the other hand, wears a towel that covers her ‘female traits’, which might be a reference to society at hand, where it is easier to accept a biological determined female body than a non-cisgendered (despite the fact that Nomi, when accepting the mainstream terms, ‘passes’ as a ‘real’ woman).

The injection can be understood as a performative action, which underlines how the series follows Butler’s approach to biological as well as social gender as being performative and not biologically determined. The fact that she needs hormone treatment at all underlines how the boundaries of the body has to be crossed – by stopping the processes that would normally make sure, Nomi was not accepted as a woman (which proves just how caught up by the idea of binary genders we are – since one needs to look like a woman to be admitted into the ‘woman’s category’). With this, the intentions of the series are obvious – to break with the idea of a heteronormative, romantic relationship as the only kind of relationship. Sense8 is not a show that intend to follow the heterosexual matrix!

Later, still in Sense8’s first episode, we are presented with an establishing shot of an apartment, that seems to be split into two rooms: a bedroom and a living room. The colors are low-key and warm (candle lits and lanterns), which underlines the cozy and comfortable atmosphere in the rooms:


While the camera slowly moves towards two people that are barely visible in the back of the room, a woman moans, louder and louder. Considering the expected conceptual universe of the heterosexual, average viewer, it is supposingly a man and a woman having sex (an assumption based on dominating discourses and representations of gender and sexuality in the media: heterosexual men and women).

Next, we see a medium shot of the two people, still far too away to give away their identities. It is not until the third frame, we are able to determine who they are;  Nomi and Amanita, having sex:



(21:24 i Limbic Resonance)

This is, in every way, a break with the heterosexual matrix as being the only ‘right’ one. Nomi is a transwoman in a queer relationship with another woman.

In this frame, Amanitas wears a strap-on-dildo. Nomi who is penetrated by Amanita. The first important and interesting element in this scene that breaks with heteronormative discourses, is a trans woman (Nomi) with an active sexuality. This is a rare sight and breaks with tendencies to fetichise trans* people in tv-/streaming series. A more recent example of fetichising trans* characters is the character Sophia Burset in the award winning, inclusive and normally very diverse Netflix series Orange Is the New Black  (2013-) by Jenji Kohan that has been criticized (by gender researchers etc.) for desexualising Sophia and hypersexualising many of the other female characters (Householder & Trier-Bieniek 2016: 10).

At the end of Nomi’s very loud climax, the camera zooms to show  Amanita taking of the strap-on and letting it hit the ground. In the same instant the series cut to a close-up of a rainbow colored dildo where sperm, very explicitly, splashes to all sides as it hits the ground:  



(22:18 in Limbic Resonance)

By explicitly showing the sperm in this way, the series very clearly states that Nomi is a woman – a real woman. Period. It is even convenient to talk about a form of symbolic castration, where the series disassociate themselves from the idea of the fallos symbol as something belonging to a man (they thereby break with the power that penis normally represent). Choosing a rainbow colored dildo (rather than a more realistic color) is in no way a coincident, since it does not symbolise a penis and in this way, not a man either. With this, the series does not try to reproduce heterosexual sex (simply because of penetration) but a queer (homosexual) relationship that too has a right to penetration sex: the rainbow colored dildo can thereby be seen as an intertextual reference to, and a symbol of, Pride and LGBTQ identities.

The dropping of the rainbow colored dildo on the floor combined with the intertextual reference to Pride are important factors when it comes to introducing, and understanding, Nomi as a person: A woman who is not controlled by her ‘unintelligible’ sexuality or her non binary gender – who is not one to be limited by existing norms.
Everything that could connect Nomi to the male gender (the rainbow colored strap on as a symbol of fallos) is literally thrown to the ground with a bang. This can be seen a part of the series symbolic ‘fuck you’ to the heterosexual matrix as well as biological gender as being destiny.

The sex scene between Nomi and Amanita is uncompromising and has no intention of sparring the viewer. The use of unaccustomed, potentially transgressive elements such as a strap on dildo is definitely part of challenging the viewer’s heteronormative conceptual universe, which is exactly the intention of the series. The abovementioned scene is just one of many in which Sense8 portrays a ‘Butler approach’ when it comes to gender representation as well as sexuality. Heterosexuality as being the ‘natural’ and the biological ‘woman’ as being the only ‘right’ woman is simply non existing in Sense8’s universe. Instead, they encourage the viewers to throw away their existing (ignorant) ideas on sexuality, gender, and relationship.


Sources:

Mittell, Jason (2015): Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling. New York University Press. ISBN: 978-0-8147-7135-8

Householder, April Kalogeropopulos & Trier-Bieniek, Adrienne (2016): Feminist Perspectives on Orange Is the New Black: Thirteen Critical Essays. McFarland & Company Inc. Publishers. ISBN: 978-1-4766-6392-0

Straczynski, J. Michael, Wachowski, Lana & Wachowski, Lilly (2015-): Sense8. Netflix: Limbic Resonance

End of Male Gaze, Feminism, Queer Gaze, Sex & Gender, Soloway, Transparent, tv-serier

Ali: “afvigende identitet”

Tredje eksempel på en ‘afvigende identitet’, på mere end et punkt, er Ali Pfefferman (Gaby Hoffmann) i Transparent. Hun er en karakter, der udvikler sig fra at identificere sig som ciskønnet, heteroseksuel kvinde, som er meget glad for mænd (og sex med dem) til at være i forhold med flere forskellige kvinder og ligefrem stille spørgsmålstegn ved sin kønsidentitet. Vi bliver serien igennem klar over, at hun lever op til det, Butler definerer som ‘queer’, da hun hverken lader sig diktere af den heteronormative matrice eller sit ‘tildelte’ køn som betegnende eller determinerende for sin identitet:

Ali

(00:50 i Pilot)

Ali ligger og sover, hvorefter hun vågner, forholdsvis brat, og gør sig klar til at stå ud af sengen, hvorefter kameraet drejer rundt om sig selv, væk fra Ali, for at ‘finde’ hende igen, og seeren bliver på den måde klar over, at første møde med Ali i virkeligheden var mødet med hendes spejlbillede. Vi møder altså Ali i en utopisk, perfekt verden, hvis glansbillede hurtigt bliver gjort jordnært (Alis queer-verden som mod-sted til forståelighedens matrice). Allerede her bliver Soloways ‘queer gaze’ manifesteret:

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: 41:40)

Vi er som seerer i høj grad ‘in feeling’ med Ali, da vi bevæger os med hende og oplever hende, som hun oplever sig selv. Der er tale om et subjektive kamera, der forsøger at få adgang til karakteren. Det har erstattet det ellers så dominerende ‘det mandlige blik’, hvor man i stedet ser en person – og ofte med et objektiviserende blik. Retten til subjektivitet er netop et af Soloways hovedformål med hendes intersektionelle, feministiske tilgang til skabelsen af blandt andet Transparent.

Vi ser dernæst Ali rejse sig fra sengen og gå ud af framet. På væggen ved siden af sengen hænger et billede af en nøgen kvinde, hvilket, allerede her, er med til at indikere, at Ali er en seksuelt frisindet og nysgerrig person. Et indtryk, der bliver underbygget gennem seriens (i skrivende stund) fire sæsoner.

Dernæst klippes til et halvtotal billede af Ali, som har vendt ryggen til seeren. Belysningen er meget afdæmpet og hård, hvilket skaber en blanding af en dramatisk og trist, samt spændende, stemning. Ali går søvndyssent væk fra seeren, mens vi får mulighed for at studere hendes værelse nærmere ved hjælp af en lampe, der sørger for, at seeren bliver opmærksom på skrivebordet, hvor blade og notesbøger er rodet sammen. På trods af den mørke belysning, er det alligevel tydeligt at se, at værelset er rodet og mangler struktur, hvilket viser sig senere at komme til at være et bærende element for Alis identitet. På den måde kan der argumenteres for, at rodet bliver et symbol på, hvor Ali står i sit liv, rent retningsmæssigt, idet hun gennem seriens fire sæsoner viser sig at gennemgå flere, større udviklingsfaser og være en meget identitetssøgende karakter.

Det er her interessant at bemærke, at på trods af det fysiske rod omkring hende, virker hun egentlig rolig selv. Dette indtryk forstærkes billedmæssigt, da der i efterfølgende indstilling klippes til et nærbillede af to hænder, der er ved at hælde vand på en kaffemaskine. Ved fokusskift til kaffemaskinen lukkes alt rodet symbolsk ude. Derefter klippes til et halvnært billede af Ali, der drikker sin frisklavede kaffe, mens hun tænkende kigger ud i luften:

Ali2

(01:13  i Pilot)

Linjerne i denne indstilling er med til at indramme Ali og samtidig skabe et indtryk af hendes sindstilstand. De lodrette linjer til venstre i billedet kan indikere en form for mod, som vi senere i serien vil opleve både som modet til at udforske sin seksualitet, springe ud i studielivet. De skrå linjer kan samtidig indikere både action og uro, som vi senere i serien vil opleve både som en nysgerrig og ‘fri identitetssøgen’, hvor Ali hyppigt søger efter svar på, ‘hvem er jeg?’ og ‘hvad vil jeg’?. De vandrette linjer i baggrunden kan være med til at give et indtryk af ro og harmoni. Sidstnævnte understreges yderligere af, at det er grene, der udgør linjerne, og ikke metal som med de skrå. Grenene bliver symbol på naturen, som igen er et symbol på netop ro og harmoni, og ligeledes frihed. Som vi serien igennem vil få indblik i, hviler Ali i sig selv og er på mange måder så ligeglad med normer og samfundets forventninger til, hvad hun bør gøre, eller hvordan hun bør se ud, at hun har både modet og friheden til at gøre, lige hvad der passer hende. Det er interessant, at grenene befinder sig bag de andre linjer i billedet, da dette kan tolkes som, at den harmoni, Ali rummer i sig, er gemt bag det ydre kaos, hun befinder sig i.

I jagten efter svaret på, hvem hun selv er, og hvad hun ønsker, bevæger hun sig gennem seriens fire sæsoner fra at være arbejdsløs og leve af sin fars penge, til at være universitetsstuderende, og senere hen gå i sin fars fodspor ved selv at undervise på universitetet (dog som løstansat).

Kameraføringen sammenholdt med en karakter, der fremstår meget ‘indelukket’ og tænkende understreger, hvordan Transparent benytter sig af ‘queer gaze’. Ovenstående frame udstråler en følelse af tryghed og at ‘blive holdt om’, grundet den genkendelige, hjemlige atmosfære. På trods de potentielt banale, ganske almindelige, rutineprægede ting, hun foretager sig, fokuserer Transparent netop på de følelser og stemninger Ali er omgivet af, hvilket potentielt ‘taler til’ seeren på en måde, hvor man netop føler at man ser hende (og muligvis føler sig set – især som ikke-mand) og inviteres til engagement med hende. Præcis derfor er denne ret intime situation med til at skabe følelsen af ‘I see you seeing me’ i form af den relaterbarhed, der opstår mellem seer og karakteren.


Kilder:

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

Queer Theory, Gender Trouble, Heterosexual Matrix, Performativity, heteronormativity, Sex & Gender, Queer Gaze, End of Male Gaze, Sense8, 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’

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.


Kilder:

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

End of Male Gaze, Sex & Gender, Trans* teori, Transparent

Fra ‘Mort’ til Maura

Hvor Nomi repræsenterer et eksempel på en transkvinde, hvis storyline ikke udgøres af, at hun ikke er ciskønnet, ses det helt anderledes i Transparent. Mauras (Jeffrey Tambor) storyline udgøres i høj grad af det faktum, at hun er en transkvinde, der først sent i livet er gået i gang med sin ‘transition’, hvorfor vi som seerer følger netop overgangen og hendes nye liv som ‘forståelig’ kvinde.

losangeleslgbtcenter.png

(21:15 i Pilot)

Den første gang vi præsenteres for kvinden Maura, som forinden kun er præsenteret som manden ‘Mort’, er gennem et totalbillede af Los Angeles LGBT(Q)-center. Gennem et ‘supertotalbillede’ befinder vi os i et stort, forholdsvist tomt, lokale. Der sidder 10-15 mennesker i en rundkreds midt inde i rummet, hvilket indikerer, at der er tale om en form for støtte-gruppe:

LGBTstttegruppe.png

Efterfølgende klippes der til ‘close-up’ af de forskellige deltagere, hvilket skaber en følelse af at seeren sidder med til mødet (og dermed ikke blot iagttager dem udefra), og vi er derfor ‘in feeling’ med disse gennem blandt andet den subjektive kameraføring, der netop er i øjenhøjde med personerne:

Kameraet panorerer fortsat og fokuserer skiftevis på de tilsyneladende meget forskellige medlemmers ansigter, der tilsammen udgør en meget divers fordeling af individer: både unge og ældre, hvide og farvede, mænd og kvinder.

Hertil er det vigtigt at understrege, at Transparent fremstiller LGBTQ-miljøet, og især trans* personer, på en relaterbar og mangfoldig måde, og at alle trans*, queer med videre (afvigere fra heteronormen/forståelighedens matrice), som ‘optræder’ og repræsenteres i serien, også alle er det i deres virkelige liv. Dette er også gældende i støttegruppen i LGBT(Q)-centeret (den eneste ciskønnede person er Tambor, som lægger krop til Maura). Dette er i høj grad med til at troværdiggøre de storylines og fortællinger, som Transparent belyser (Soloway i Moylan 2016).
Der høres efterfælgende en forholdsvis dyb, maskulin stemme udenfor framet, som fortæller om en oplevelse denne person har haft i indkøbscentret Target, mens de andre personer (og deres reaktioner) til stadighed er i fokus:

 

Kameraet når nu hen til personen, der taler, og seeren får for første gang sat ansigt på:

Maura, fængsel
(21:50 i Pilot)

Det er Pfefferman-børnenes far, ‘Mort’ – med langt, mørkebrunt hår, øreringe, smykker, makeup og iført en mørklilla kjole. ‘Han’ ser noget anderledes ud end første gang, vi blev introduceret for ‘ham’ tidligere i episoden under middag med børnene, hvor ‘han’ havde en nyhed at fortælle, som dog mislykkedes:

Indsæt billede (11:06 i Pilot)

Den tvivl der måtte være om, hvad ‘hans’ nyhed præcist indebar, bliver opklaret i denne scene, hvor en kvindestemme siger: Thank you for your share, Maura” (22:24 i Pilot). Maura. Faderen vi er blevet præsenteret for som ‘Mort’, tiltales for første gang som Maura. Dette af den kvinde, der ‘styrer’ støttegruppen – en støttegruppe vi nu erfarer er for trans* personer.

Maura introduceres altså for seeren, før hun introduceres for sine egne børn, hvilket må anses som en velvalgt strategi fra skaberens side. Dette er et virkemiddel, der, ifølge Mittel, blandt andet kan være med til at skabe tilknytning mellem seeren og protagonisten/karakteren, idet vi ‘ved noget, de andre ikke ved’. Yderligere fortæller Maura seeren om hendes inderste følelser og oplevelser i en meget sårbar (og realistisk) situation, hvilket er med til at underbygge dette potentielle karakter-engagement, som opstår for seeren, idét Mauras karakter bliver ‘levende’ og relaterbar i form af adgang til hendes tanker, følelser og erfaringsunivers (Mittell 2015: 129).

Soloway forklarer i forbindelse med ‘the queer gaze’: “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). Dette citat tydeliggør netop, hvad der finder sted i ovenstående scene med Maura i støttegruppen og hendes ‘outing’ af sig selv, for seeren. Brugen af det subjektive kamera, der forsøger at lukke os ind i protagonistens hoved og tanker, er formidabel. Det er en tillidserklæring, der netop tør tro på ‘I see you seeing me’, og på den måde er vi som seerer en del af den rejse, Maura er på. Blandt andet i det ‘at springe ud som Maura’ (jf. ‘Coming Out’) for børnene og resten af familien. Det meget intime indblik vi får i Mauras tanker (allerede i Transparents første episode) er et led i forsøget på at skabe forståelse for, såvel som indlevelse og empati med, Maura som en person, der lukker os ind i den mest sårbare del af hendes rejse (‘transition’) fra et liv dikteret af heteronormen. Vi ser Maura – vi ser ikkehende. Det er en umådelig vigtig forskel.

Maura fortsætter:

(…) 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 [løfter højre hånd]

(23:07 i Pilot)

På samme måde som Maura lukker seeren ind i hemmeligheden om, at hun i virkeligheden er Maura og ikke ‘Mort’, lover hun ligeledes seeren, at hun vil afsløre sin sande identitet for børnene og de øvrige familiemedlemmer. Vi er derfor medsammensvorne i Mauras hemmelighed og venter spændt på, hvornår og hvordan afsløringen sker. Dette virkemiddel (operationel refleksivitet sammenblandet med intertekstuelle referencer) appellerer:

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

(Haastrup 2014)

Dette skaber yderligere engagement hos os som seerer og bevirker, at vi potentielt føler os ‘nødsaget’ til at fortsætte med at følge med i familien Pfeffermans liv for at finde ud af, hvad der sker fremadrettet. Ligeledes skabes der grundlag for, at seeren får medfølelse og empati for Maura som karakter (Mittell 2015: 50).

Scenen giver en tidlig indsigt i den splittelse, som Maura/’Mort’ står i, både i forhold til familien og samfundet. Man kan tale om, at Maura lever to forskellige liv – og rent faktisk har gjort det i flere årtier, hvilket tydeliggøres og udpensles jo længere man kommer ind i serien. Transparents fremstilling af køn som værende alt andet end fastlåst, men netop performativt (som Butler fremstiller det) tydeliggøres derfor allerede tidligt i serien. Mauras splittede tilværelse underbygges yderligere i nedenstående frame:

 

maura i fængsel (1)
(22:01 i Pilot)

Fliserne i baggrunden af lokalet, hvor Maura og de andre gruppedeltagere sidder, kan til forveksling insinuere tremmer og dermed ‘fængsling’, hvilket er et virkemiddel, der flere gange benyttes i seriens første afsnit. Det kan dermed antages, at der er en form for symbolsk betydning, hvor Maura og de andre trans* personer befinder sig i en form for fængsel, i et samfund hvor non-ciskønnede personer konstant straffes for ikke at gøre deres køn rigtigt og for ikke at passe ind i de heteronormative rammer, samfundet er bygget op omkring. De bliver det, Butler kalder ‘uforståelige identiteter’.

Netop fordi trans* personer tvinges til konstant (modsat ciskønnede, der dog ligeledes performer, men ikke er under samme pres) at være bevidste om nødvendigheden for at performe sit køn på en bestemt måde, alt efter hvilket fællesskab/rum, de befinder sig i (og hvilke forventninger der er til stede for, hvordan dette ‘bør’ gøres), er LGBT(Q)-centeret et eksempel på et ‘trygt’ rum, hvor rammerne er mere frie (da de netop selv er normen i dette fællesskab) end ude i samfundet, hvor de er minoriteter. Formentlig af samme årsag vælger en stor andel af trans* personer kun at leve ‘åbent’ i lukkede ‘rum’, som eksempelvis i en sådan støttegruppe, og ikke ude i det ‘virkelige’ liv – ligesom Maura på dette tidspunkt stadigvæk gør det.

Både Nomi og Maura bliver præsenteret som komplekse karakterer, der ikke udelukkende er defineret af den diskrimination, der ofte er til stede i repræsentationen af trans* personer i mediebilledet. Herunder kan nævnes en af de mest anerkendte film der skildrer en ung transmands tragiske skæbne (baseret på virkelige hændelser): Boys Don’t Cry (1999). Hilary Swanks oscarvindende portrættering af Brandon Teenas kamp for kærligheden og et liv som den dreng, han altid har følt sig som, ender med at han brutalt bliver voldtaget og efterfølgende myrdet efter at kæresten Lanas (Chloë Sevigny) brødre opdager, at han blev fejldelt kønsanmærkningen ‘kvinde’ ved fødslen.

I både Sense8 og Transparent får vi altså et sjældent og realistisk indblik i livet som transkvinde og i den splittelse og modstand der følger med, når det underbevidste køn ikke stemmer overens med det biologisk tildelte køn.