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34 posts tagged queer

you still haven't answered if you are dating a girl or guy and if you are gay or straight

Asked by

do i need to write, like, a DISSERTATION on this or a really long blog post which is the same blog post thousands of other people have written, my goodness 

i have dated both men and women seriously; i align myself very strongly with LGBTQIAsdfsjejweof politics; when asked about my ‘orientation’ i feel like a simple ‘queer’ should suffice. compartmentalize this information as you will. as for the actual details of my current personal/romantic/etc life, these are 1.) pretty easily obtained on a bare-bones level by browsing my blog/instagram/etc and 2.) freely discussed with non-anonymous humans having a personal conversation with me.

robin brontsema | reconceptualizing the debate over linguistic reclamation

do you guys know how many times i had to read this paper in college

it was a lot of times, and you should also read it, maybe also a lot of times

"Furthermore, the appearance of success or failure may be highly ambiguous and misleading. This ambiguity is perhaps best illustrated with dyke: although dyke continues to be used pejoratively, it is often used positively, with pride, by the in-group. Indeed, because of its very pejoration, dyke claims a political fierceness and anti-assimilationism that lesbian lacks, the latter seen to appeal to male, heterosexual, white, middle-class taste. Again, although they may share a common denotation, the connotations are extremely different. Has dyke failed as a reclaimed word since the out-group continues to use it as hate speech? Or does its in-group use alone testify to its success?”

To Bear, To Carry: Notes on “Faggot” by Ryan Van Meter

My friend Tom wears eye shadow. He also often pins brooches to his shirts, just a few inches to the left of his skinny antique neckties. Both of us are instructors at the same university. On the evening after our first day of classes of this semester, we drank some wine and he told me about his morning. 

“When I walked into the classroom,” he started, “And before I announced I was the teacher, one of my students called me a faggot.”

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How To Not Accidentally Be An Asshole On The Internet

Hi friends! I have gotten mad a lot lately about people being assholes on the internet and I want to talk about being an asshole on the internet.

I am not talking about people who are deliberately assholes on the internet. If you are deliberately an asshole on the internet, it’s okay. Troll is a feeling. I know. I forgive you. I am talking about Accidentally Being An Asshole On The Internet, especially when it relates to that dreaded P-word. 

So let’s all take a second to look at what’s in our individual privilege cocktails (‘cause sometimes we get good stuff and sometimes we get bad stuff, and sometimes it’s an entirely different thing depending on where we’re drinking, much like cheap white wine, which is horrifying 351 days of the year but occasionally just what you wanted.)  In one context one might have been arbitrarily given the social upper hand (things like “being white” or “being able-bodied” fit here) and in one we might find ourselves royally screwed over by society (things like “being queer” and even just “being born with a vagina” fit here.) Sometimes the same thing will work in our favor in some situations, and against us in others. Some issues we hear about often and some we don’t. Some issues we value more for our personal identity than others. Intersectionality. We all has it.  

HOWEVER. There are times when context is a little more obvious, and when it’s generally understood that one particular party is getting the short end of the stick thanks to the Evil Overlords of Societal Norms And Stereotypes Et Cetera.  This doesn’t mean that those of us with the long end of the stick are always doing great! We might be feeling shitty because secretly we are dealing with an invisible but debilitating illness or because we are gay or because we stubbed our toe. And then sometimes we feel shitty as a result of the other conversation going on, the one about how the Original Speaker kind of feels crappy due to their lack of privilege in the topic at hand.

Here are some examples of these sorts of feelings:

  • "I have a lot of gay friends but I don’t like it when people think I’m gay by default!"
  • "Why are you all talking about trans people, it sucks that I am invisible as a femme/bisexual/whatever!"
  • "But I don’t think we can talk about race because my depression and lower-middle-class upbringing also prevents me from getting good job opportunities so I don’t think I am winning the privilege olympics so this isn’t fair!"

Sometimes we call these feelings things like “small violins” and sometimes we want to tell the speaker to shove it, and sometimes it turns out that we are the people with these unsavory feelings.

It’s okay if you have these feelings.  Feelings are totally valid. I have crappy feelings all the time where I feel resentful because I wanted to do my favorite thing in the universe, which is to Talk About Myself, and somebody had to rain on my parade.  I also frequently have feelings which make me want to walk up to screaming babies on the train and punch them in the face and scream at their parents to make their despicable little worm SHUT UP BECAUSE I AM TRYING TO READ.  

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Questions of Misbehavior: "Failures" of Gender and Sexuality

Y’all, my (internet) friend Jenny who I’ve e-known since, like, the days of Livejournal is seriously one of the most amazing people I know (I mean, read this and poke around her blog/tumblr and all then tell me she isn’t fucking incredible as a queer feminist lady and survivor and organizer of awesome things and all around badass gorgeous babe.)  So I was crazy honored to have that rambly-ass essay I wrote about lady antiheroes a while back included in the zine she made for her thesis at UCSC, which she just finished, especially considering the awesomeness of so many of the other contributors and the variety of their experiences and my comparative ho-hum privileged little existence.  You can read a scan of the whole zine on her Tumblr or just download the whole thing here. Jenny, I’m so proud of you and so flattered that you let me be a part of this!


Lately I’ve been really into weird concepts of something like failed, desperate, self-conscious deliberate performative femininity? Part of this is evidenced by the fact that I’ve been doing my hair in big curls with my kinda-crappy-blonde-dye-job and wearing a ridiculous faux-leopard coat with ripped tights and messy eyeliner, and part of it comes together more in at least 47 different e-mail conversations about books and movies with “unrepentantly fucked up” lady characters that I’ve been having with at least 5 different people of late.  Some of these ideas have been written very eloquently by other folks already, and some of it is obvious and some of it is still vague, and all of it is definitely not “complete,” so, like, go at it in the comments, y’all, I wanna know what you’re thinking.

It begins, I think, with my ongoing frustration that when we are presented with male characters (or personas, or even real persons) who are basically bad people with one redeeming quality (still sleeps with a teddy bear, is a brilliant filmmaker) we let that one redeeming quality, you know, redeem them, and are collectively charmed by their fucked-up-ness.  But I have a really hard time coming up with similar female examples: all of the ones I can think of we have opted to either lambast or concern-troll instead.  And we always need to redeem them. They always need to learn something or be rescued, which we all know is basically the opposite of how the world really works.  Kids, I am a hot mess, and almost all of the women I admire and love and am fascinated by are also hot fucking messes, and I so rarely see that represented in a real, nuanced, and fascinating way.  To simplify: I am eternally tearing my hair out over the fact that I desperately want more female antiheroes. In books, film, pop culture personas, whatever.  And I’ve been seeing this idea come up again and again lately.

As a brief list of some of what I’m referencing: There’s this Lana Del Rey album review, which is kind of the most astute thing I’ve read on her yet, and which hit the nail on the head of my bizarre, obsessive preoccupation with her and her aesthetic — though it condemned her where I obviously am fascinated instead.  There was that Marie Calloway brouhaha, and the fantastic response to it all from Kate Zambreno, which also lead to The Rejectionist’s interview with her here.  There were a bunch of folks over at Emily Books who managed to somehow misread a lot of lesbian moralism into Eileen Myles’ Inferno, when I thought it was just a book about, like, someone very funny and intelligent and unapologetic, who also lived a life that reminds me an awful lot of my life now. There was Charlize Theron in Young Adult, who would have been way fascinating if not for Diablo Cody’s frustrating insistence on de-nuancing her characters in favor of twee trope-tastic banter.  There’s Cat Marnell at XOJane and the no-nonsense-it’s-okay-to-be-human writing at Rookie.   Sarah’s and my Rayanne Project (which sort of fizzled out probably partially because I am a little bit too much of a whacked-out womanchild to coordinate and motivate folks to write me things like that, but the stuff that’s up there is still amazeballs!)  The Amy-Winehouse-inspired couture collection that Gaultier showed yesterday.  Courtney Love, like, in general.

I am really into this, you guys.

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For whatever reason I’ve been sort of not super jazzed up on fashion lately? Maybe it’s winter blues (no snow but I still have to wear tights and 47 layers every day!? what is this!?) or maybe it’s that I’ve been busy with 18 other projects — but the good ole “fashion blogging universe” has just sort of been not keeping my attention super well this past month or so.

But! Let’s not be depressing! So instead of talking about my irritation at this (lies, I’ll just talk about it parenthetically! check it out! a bunch of old white dudes and a few token black guys and a lady or two! how interesting! and by interesting I mean “god how depressing is everything ever” but ANYHOW) let’s feel enthusiastic about lady photographers and how much I love New York, right?! As if I don’t post about these things enough!  But these people seem obvious to me but maybe you have not encountered them before, so.  Berenice Abbott!

Berenice Abbott’s “Changing New York" — her exhaustive collection of photos of New York in the 1930’s, the archives of which now live over at the NYPL — is awesome for all of the reasons we always love photos of New York in ages past, right?  It’s part “Oh snap! That’s the Starrett Lehigh building! Once I totally bombed an interview at a studio there!” and part fascination at the things we don’t recognize; something both familiar and bittersweet about the things that are both the same despite the things that are different, like the persistent stark contrast of poverty and wealth, of new and old, that seems in so many ways to define this city.  

There’s also the fact that while Abbott was known primarily for her photographs of New York (and a bunch of boring science stuff, like photographing balls in motion yaawwwwnnnn) those of us in on the joke can deduce pretty quickly what “lived with Djuna Barnes in the Village for a while” probably means.  (Unsurprisingly, some of her photos are in that Hide/Seek show at the Brooklyn Museum that I still haven’t gone to because I suck but I’m going Thursday I swear!)  Abbott’s portraits — of herself, of Barnes, Janet Flanner, Gertrude Stein, Edna St Vincent Millay, Betty Parsons, and more — can be read also as a not-so-subtle but still-unspoken record of queer identities in her era in New York and Paris. Cool!


Let’s take a moment to get uncharacteristically personal and political and gratuitously emotional and also open myself up to a hell of a lot more nasty trolls than usual, shall we?

There’s about a third of you who are reading now who know me, either on the internet or in person, or who are here because we share similar politics, or who have already contacted me recently about gay marriage and pride month and whatnot. This isn’t really for those people; this is the most basic of obvious old news to them, presented in the least nuanced way possible.  No, this is for the other two thirds, who aren’t here for the long diatribes I’m, um, occasionally known to produce, and who aren’t here because we share the same politics (though we may) but who are here rather because we share an interest in fashion.  So while this started in response to those of you who recently asked me about these things, I think this is really more for those readers for whom things like “things gay people care about or whatever” might seem distant, or impersonal, or questionable, or who haven’t yet realized why this is a big deal to me, personally.

For those of you who don’t know, on Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced a marriage equality bill here in the state of New York.  Last night it passed in the state House, and currently, 31 out of 62 senators support the bill with 4 undecided votes. One of those four swing votes is all that is needed for the bill to pass, and it is likely to go up for vote on the Senate floor by the end of the week.  Today, Mayor Bloomberg travelled to Albany to speak with undecided house Republicans; aside from being the mayor of NYC, he’s also the largest contributor to the NYS GOP, and his recent backing of LGBTQ rights and marriage equality is kind of a big fucking deal, especially given his decidedly way-less-than-stellar-record on this kind of shit in the past.  For those of you that also don’t know, hey! I live in New York, and I have a girlfriend! Oh shit! So this is a big deal, you know. 

The passage of the bill would not only be another much-needed milestone in the ongoing struggle for LQBTQ rights, but would be particularly symbolic in this state at this time of year: June is gay pride month, if you didn’t know, which originally commemorated the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which occurred 42 years ago this month here in New York City.  Bloomberg talked about this in his unexpected and unexpectedly touching speech about the issue in the end of May.  Did you guys read it or see it? Click that, it was good, I was surprised, he used to be not cool at all about this stuff.

In early 2010 I sat at work and watched the NJ senate debates about marriage equality and sat with fingers crossed as the votes came in and slowly stacked up in opposition of the bill: I was disappointed, especially just months after New York had witnessed a similar failure.  I do not want that to be the case again. Before I keep talking, if you live in New York, HRC provides information about your NYS representatives and how to call them or email them about this in particular. You could do that RTFN, if you wanted. You probably should.

And now on with our regularly scheduled programming:

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a love letter to planned parenthood

For the previously uninformed! Planned Parenthood is currently threatened with the loss of the $75 million they recieve each year in Federal funding.  (For perspective, we will also note that military marching bands recieve $500 million a year.) While it is unlikely to make it through the Senate and the chances of PP losing all funding and going under forever are slim, it’s still infinitely distressing that this is even being discussed.  Because I totally love Planned Parenthood, you guys, and I really need to talk about it.

Let’s first clear up one misunderstanding: PP isn’t motivated by some baby-murdering-agenda, and it does a lot more than dole out sinful contraceptives and abort every fetus it comes across. Yes, PP is an advocate of reproductive rights — but the services they provide go above and beyond that. Statistically, 90% of the care they offer is primary and preventative — which, come to think of it, is the only thing I’ve ever gone there for.  PP is a provider of reproductive healthcare, sex education and information — this means that you can go there, say, if you need any sort of healthcare relating to your vajayjay at all, or even if you have a penis and something seems wrong with it.  You can go there to get condoms if you need them, or to get a pap smear.    You can go there to get disconcerting lumps in your breasts checked out. You can go there if you find out that an ex has an STD and want a full screen of tests for yourself.  You can go there for information that your abstinence-only education did not provide, or for information relating to body image issues, or for referrals to folks to talk with if you are struggling with your sexuality.  You can go there to ask about LGBTQ-friendly healthcare.  You can go there because you don’t have insurance, or because you don’t like the doctor your insurance has told you to go to, or because you don’t know where else to go and you can’t afford a fancy private OB/GYN.  You can go there because you want to have a baby, because you don’t want to have one yet, or because your period has been off schedule lately.  You can go there because you are a victim of domestic abuse or rape and don’t know where else to turn. You can go there because you think you are dying of an extreme random immacuately contracted case of the herp or SOMETHING and then it will turn out that you are just horribly allergic to the new detergent you recently washed your underpants in, not that I would know anything about that experience.

SO. Now that that’s cleared up.  By now most of you know that I went to Vassar, and to this day I think that one of the best things I got out of four years there was that, for the first time in my life, I was no longer ashamed or embarrassed about being female.  And having my lady-specific healthcare not be an embarrassing, stressful, expensive journey into one of the lower regions of hell definitely was a part of that.   Women’s healthcare at Vassar was basically a gynecological utopia: the entire thing was run by this endearingly gruff old woman with awful dyed-red hair named Marlene who barked out words like “vaginal discharge” and “premature ejaculation” without batting an eyelash, and who despite her snippity exterior would dole out the morning after pill to weeping, terrified nineteen year olds with a grandmotherly hug and a reassurance that everything was going to be okay.  It was staffed with knowledgeable, compassionate, and nonjudgemental doctors who followed the “are you sexually active?” question with questions that no gynecologist has asked me since, such as “Are you being safe? Are you enjoying yourself, do you feel good about it? Do you want more information?”  You could get day-of appointments.  Sometimes they gave you cookies, or lube. 

This — not the cathedral-esque library, not the campus, not the infinite access to the most obscure useless publications of academia on JStor — this is probably what I miss most about college:  having easy, quick, affordable access to a women’s healthcare center which, you know, didn’t suck.  It was like living in a bubble where (fancy that!) I wasn’t, you know, somehow inconveniencing everyone by having the nerve to be female.  It was decidedly unsettling to be spat back out into the real world where safe sex supplies aren’t free and gynecologists give you their two cents about abstinence and loose women and, um, conservatives act out their personal vendetta against an infinitely useful and helpful organization in the guise of fiscal concerns. 

So by now I’ve come to terms with the fact that my four years of insta-access to a paradise of healthcare and information for my ladybits will never, ever happen again.  But Planned Parenthood is the next best thing.  I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am for its existence — even with the eternal three-hour line at the Spring Street location here in New York. My health insurance has bounced around more times than I can remember since college — Planned Parenthood has, literally, been the only medical establishment that I have been able to attend regularly thanks to that.

Let us first note that thanks to my sinful, profligate homosexual lifestyle, pregnancy isn’t exactly a huge concern of mine, so I am not really down there aborting babies every few months for fun or anything.  Let us also note that while I have spent a significant portion of my adult life near the poverty line thanks to, again, my artsy liberal lifestyle and insistence upon working in artsy liberal industries, I am a white educated middle-class able-bodied healthy woman, and if I had some sort of huge medical crisis, I am lucky enough to have family who could help.  So if finding women’s healthcare that doesn’t blow is that difficult for me, I can only imagine how difficult it is when you are, say, an impoverished teenage woman of colour with a family unable to support you financially or emotionally and an abusive boyfriend and no money or healthcare who recently moved to a new city.  Where the hell do you start? The phone book under “cheap doctors who aren’t douchebags?” The ubiquity of Planned Parenthood is what makes it so useful: the comfort of  “I have somewhere to go” cannot be underestimated, whether the concern is a yeast infection, a yearly pelvic, an AIDS test, or a pregnancy scare.  Do you know five people with vaginas? Statistically, one of them has at some point in her life relied on a Planned Parenthood.  That is a lot of ladies getting a lot of help, folks.  That is a lot of ladies who thought of the same place to get that help.  

I could go on for another nine pages — rambling! I does it bestest! — but instead will leave you with this:

The U.S. House of Representatives has just voted to bar Planned Parenthood health centers from all federal funding for birth control, cancer screenings, HIV testing, and other lifesaving care. 

It is the most dangerous legislative assault in our history, and it cannot go unanswered. We — Planned Parenthood and the three million women, men, and teens who are at risk of losing access to basic care — need you to stand united with us now. 

Join me in signing this open letter to the reps who voted to bar Planned Parenthood from federal funding — including funding for birth control, lifesaving cancer screenings, and HIV testing — and to the senators who still have chance to stop it.

NYT | the man-repeller: deflecting the male gaze

Quite a few of you sent or mentioned this NYT article about Leandra Medine’s blog The Man Repeller to me this past week.  I have to admit I was initially baffled — particularly by the NYT's raving assessment of it as something radical, feminist, and extreme. I've apparently so succeeded in isolating myself into a little circle of assholes who are all to some extent at least partially pretentious/feminist/queer/weird/arty/I don't know what else that I think I'd forgotten that popular opinion dictates that women are interested in fashion for the sake of being more attractive to men. The concept of fashion-without-boys-watching seems hardly newsworthy to me due to the self-imposed blinders of, uh, my Googlereader and expensive-foreign-arty-fashion-magazine-budget, and I thought most of us left that mentality behind halfway through puberty.  I don't remember the last time i looked at a major women's/fashion magazine, and of the multitude of women I know who love and follow fashion, while they to some extent still want to appear generally attractive, absolutely none of them seem to dress themselves with sexiness as their foremost concern. (God, doesn't that sound boring?) Thanks to the internet and my post-college Brooklyn bubble, I’d somehow forgotten that mainstream fashion media is still primarily about how what haircut is best for your face and how to rock the latest trends even if you’re apple/pear/brick/hourglass/banana/whatever shaped and if you can wear a miniskirt at age 30 and what, pray tell, you should do with your pubic hair, and if you should put rhinestones there instead.  Cosmo is still informing women from supermarket checkout stations worldwide that men are looking, and it’s our job to make sure that what they’re looking at is nice.  

One of the primary issues with discussing how to subvert the male gaze is that, without major cultural shifts, woman is often understood to have little direct autonomy over whether she is seen as object or not.  Leandra Medine, for all her capes and sculptural footwear, is still a model-esque 21-year-old brunette, and probably still does get gazed at a great deal by men — pretty girls are still pretty girls, even if they’re wearing drop-crotch pants which their boyfriends “don’t understand.”  But the NYT seems to suggest that to the refusal to take it into consideration when selecting her clothes somehow effectively negates it — ideas which echo much of the familiar conversation about the male gaze started by Laura Mulvey and other feminist film critics, and if we consider fashion as performance, the comparisons between the two seem more clear.  How does our understanding of audience affect whether we are subject or object, or is understanding it as such even necessary? 

(I’m going to take a parenthetical side to note that issues of queer visibility could and should also be addressed here — which in turn raises interesting questions about attractiveness versus visibility and which takes precedent, and the ways in which style and fashion relate to that, but that’s another conversation entirely.  I think it’s pretty obvious that appearing sexually attractive to men isn’t exactly my number one interest or priority, and while my girlfriend is a fan of those near-obscene Alex Wang hotpants of mine, the fact remains that technically, if I was dressing for the ladies to notice me or at least approach me on the street in non-queer-environments, I’d probably have a foot less of hair and there’d probably be a lot more carabeaner keychains and plaid on this blog — I don’t participate in the system of sartorial indicators of queerness as much I could be. So who am I dressing for?  It’s a hard question to answer, because it’s such a complex one.)

But back to audience and their gaze, and the relation to fashion blogging — I think it’s a fair estimate that heterosexual men do not make up the large majority of fashion blog readers, which further perpetuates notions of fashion being able to exist outside the male gaze, as well as supporting the notion that female fashion bloggers are not doing so specifically to be looked at and admired by men. (Julia over at A La Garconniere mentioned similar ideas a few weeks back when she suggested that we could envision fashion blogging as a feminist act in and of itself.)  If we approach online fashion media (and fashion in general) with the same mindset as we would approach film, we can understand mainstream fashion media as parallel to Hollywood, noting that it a.) produces sexy images of women who appeal to the male gaze while b.) instructing women that they need to make themselves more sexually appealing to men which c.) reenforces female self-doubt in order to ensure that they continue to subscribe (both ideologically and literally, to the magazines.)  In this case the fashion blogger can be construed as a sort of counter-media (a la Claire Johnston’s counter-cinema) which both opposes and questions what is considered to be mainstream. was founded deliberately as such counter-media (though I know a lot of us question many of its recent features) — but in a way, much of the female-oriented blogosphere could be seen in a similar way.  I’d argue that this has been happening both on a deliberate (I’m one of dozens upon dozens of ladies posting photos of shoes and babbling about being an self-righteous homo or whatever, to the point where I’ve been interviewed about feminism as the new “trend” for fashion blogs, no seriously.) and unconscious-but-more-widespread level (let’s compare some traffic numbers between Vogue and Jezebel shall we?) So it’s not an uncommon concept lately — Medine’s blog just goes to the extent of focusing itself specifically around the irony at the root of all of it, while also pointing out one more important point: if fashion blogging is understood to be an extension of the self-expression and performativity which our day-to-day style naturally involves, then not only the production of individual/personal digital fashion-related media but the very act of dressing itself could be seen as somehow subversive.

Criticisms of this are obvious — deliberately denying the male gaze is, after all, still catering to a heterosexual matrix, and certainly nobody is saying that all fashion bloggers are inherently feminist and subversive, or that they don’t promote problematic norms (be those norms skinny white girls or Jeffrey Campbell shoes) in their own way.  But the mainstream media’s slow absorption of the fact that women do in fact enjoy fashion outside of the male gaze is interesting to say the least.  Is it too optimistic and naieve at this point to suggest that the rise of the fashion blog as a medium could be indicative not only of shifting trends in media and publishing, but also of changing ideas about women and their relation to fashion and style?

Oh, hi there, girlfriend showin’ up in my googlereader at Jezebel, SocImages, and Autostraddle. What’s up?  The original’s over at Dis Magazine with a lil’ blurb about haircuts and performativity and Judy B and an all-too-brief mention of my beloved CYBORG THEORY (don’t ever tell me feminism isn’t fun). You can also buy the poster there (though I’m not sure how I feel about you having a photo of my gay hair poster child sigoth on yr wall.)
Incidentally but also Dis- and hair-related, above aformentioned gay hair poster child and I went over to the New Museum last weekend for the Dis folks’ lil’ talk about hair scrunchies, which I also meant to post about here, but it took a few days to recover from the trauma of the involved X-files fanfic reading involving Scully’s hair scrunchie and Mulder alone in his office late at night. 

Oh, hi there, girlfriend showin’ up in my googlereader at JezebelSocImages, and Autostraddle. What’s up?  The original’s over at Dis Magazine with a lil’ blurb about haircuts and performativity and Judy B and an all-too-brief mention of my beloved CYBORG THEORY (don’t ever tell me feminism isn’t fun). You can also buy the poster there (though I’m not sure how I feel about you having a photo of my gay hair poster child sigoth on yr wall.)

Incidentally but also Dis- and hair-related, above aformentioned gay hair poster child and I went over to the New Museum last weekend for the Dis folks’ lil’ talk about hair scrunchies, which I also meant to post about here, but it took a few days to recover from the trauma of the involved X-files fanfic reading involving Scully’s hair scrunchie and Mulder alone in his office late at night. 

is a feminist + queer interest in fashion possible?

I guess that technically I’ve been working on this post for a while, partially as an addendum to that post I wrote nine months ago and partially in response to a seriously overwhelming number of emails, comments, Formspring questions, and Facebook messages on the topic, ranging from polite or genuinely curious to snarky or straight-up enraged.  And all of them boil down to one main question — “But wait, how are you a smart educated woman, a feminist, queer, and interested in fashion? How the hell is this possible? Is something wrong with you?” I was flattered to recently be included in Threadbared’s list of links addressing some of these topics, and that’s a great place to start for some of the other great writing (academic and bloggerly and in-between) on the topic, but there’s probably a bit more for me to say on my personal experience at the least.

It is an unfortunate and oft-discussed fact that feminism is often seen on a root level as being in conflict with queer issues — we’ll take this opportunity to  dig out one very old and at this point excruciatingly tiresome (though still frustratingly relevant) question.  Simone de Beauvoir admitted that she found it hackneyed and boring when she first posed it in the opening paragraphs of The Second Sex; Judith Butler admitted that it was worn out and problematic in Gender Trouble; every college sophomore at a liberal arts institution in this country has cranked out a caffeine-fueled mediocre eight-to-ten page paper on it.  And yet everyone has still struggled to answer, precisely,that extremely puzzling and, at the core, very queer question: What does it mean to be a woman?  What does it mean to be a woman? What does that even mean?

Feminist and queer discourses have traditionally always overlapped, but also mutually excluded and abused each other to no end — Being Queer and Being Feminist are, in a very obvious way, inherently at odds with each other because of this whole “What is a woman anyway?” question.  (For the time being, let’s keep the sticks away from the dead horses of the “What is feminism?” and “What is queer?” questions too.)  The fact remains that it is commonly understood that the identity politics necessary to understand a universal group as “women” (and to thereby assert the rights of that group) caters to and reinforces the very binary system which it in theory opposes.  On the basic academic level, Kristeva’s feminism is often read as a dismissal or even a condemnation of homosexuality while meanwhile Wittig decides that lesbians are, in fact, not actually women.  Irigaray kinda thinks that all penetrative sex is rape while our favourite activists these days are positive about ALL kinds of sex.  On the mainstream everyday level, pop culture feminism from the Spice Girls variety to the Sarah Palin variety pays no heed whatever to the lesbos; pop culture depictions of queerness often contain antifeminist or misogynistic undertones or, more commonly, fail to address feminine nonheterosexuality (in the absence of a male gaze) at all.  We basically can’t win here.  We Know These Things By Now. We Have Had This Conversation.

Fashion’s a little easier for most of us to deal with and requires, for most folks, less of a basic theory rehashing, since we all have pretty clear opinions on it. We can answer what that’s about in a much more concise fashion. It’s an epic shitshow of misogyny, female oppression, consumerism, body image distortion, racism, exclusionary and corrupt politics, and, oh, I don’t know, maybe even the root of all evil.  It’s the base of any number of humorous epithets and one-liners about the rich and shallow; it’s a central plot focus of Cathy, probably the worst comic in the history of the universe.  We get it.  Fa$hun is really messed up, you guys.

And yet I still identify vehemently as both feminist and queer.  And I love fashion.  How is this possible?

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woolf and winterson

“And since a novel has this correspondence to real life, its values are to some extent those of real life. But it is obvious that the values of women differ very often from the values which have been made by the other sex; naturally, this is so. Yet it is the masculine values that prevail. Speaking crudely, football and sport are ‘important’; the worship of fashion, the buying of clothes ‘trivial’. And these values are inevitably transferred from life to fiction. This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing room.”

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

 Just because my undying and near-pathological love for my girl Virginia has not come up lately, and because I thought it was brilliant and was so flattered that sylviawrath posted this and linked back to my blog!  (Here is a fun parenthetical tangentially related side story: one time in college I got in trouble for snapping at some imbecile who referred to A Room of One’s Own as a “dreadful tome” and got politely asked by the professor to leave and collect myself for a moment before returning to class, I am totally serious and yes I think I am bragging about this, please forgive me.)

In addition to the above lovely little quote we also must of course not forget my OTHER undying and near-pathological love for Jeanette Winterson, who COINCIDENTIALLY has written some very smart things about my girl Virginia, about her books, and about what other people say about her books, such as:

Woolf’s fiction has been overwhelmed by facts. Her diaries have given licence to a kind of perpetual commentary on every aspect of her being, who she knew, what she wore, how many times a week she washed her hair (I am not making this up), if a different Oxford Street would have meant a different Mrs Dalloway, whether or not she had sex with Vita Sackville West. Did she have sex with Leonard? Was she abused? And so on until a play on the facts warps into a documentary of factoids. Under the stress of this tabloid-style scholarship, her books disappear….

…Art into autobiography is bad enough but Critical Theory is worse. If you are very smart, like Ellmann or Julia Kristeva, you can summon up a hypertext that floats over the original like an astral body - connected, clear, unobscuring. If you are not smart - and Theory seems to attract the mentally challenged - then all we hear is a kind of intestinal groaning, length after length of tortured sentences coiled round a fugitive idea.

No one can read this rubbish except perhaps other academics squatting over the same pail. They sign to each other but they make no sense to us. If this was rocket science it might be excusable but the special knowledge needed for art is of the communicable kind. Art is communication.

I felt that while Virginia Woolf’s work needs nothing added, it does need some weight taken away. She has been hi-jacked by so many self-interest groups - feminists, theorists, modernists, historicists etc., that it is difficult to come to the work in its own right, on its own terms.