Directed by Judith Butler

     What if straight were gay and gay were straight? The short film Love is All You Need? directed by K. Rocco Shields makes us think: what if? One might stop and wonder all the possibilities and frantically press play to get the answers to such a question, but this parallel universe may not be as complicated as we thought. In the film we follow a young girl growing up in a society where homosexuality is the norm. She is made fun of, ridiculed, and bullied to the point of suicide. Boys dance and do theater, while girls play sports and be tough. Her two moms even sustain the stereotypical “masculine and feminine” roles. One works and wants her daughter to play football, the other stays home and is more “emotional”. While this film is powerful in terms of emotional content, the film is not really telling us anything we don’t know. Stereotypical behavior is still present. The film just swaps the bodies playing the roles of society. It would look a lot different if one of the theorists we studied, like Judith Butler, was sitting in the director’s chair.

     The switch is cut and dry in this film. The world basically looks the same as it does in real life, only gender is swapped. But is gender really swapped? Gender roles play a significant part in this film and by the looks of the script, they don’t really change as we might expect from an alternate world. If Butler were the writer, the gender presentation of this script would not look so familiar to us. Butler tells us that gender is performative. It is a regulatory regime created by the effect of discourse norms. Butler talks about gender as a repetitive performance which gives it authority. With this idea in mind, Butler directorial vision would look pretty different. These gender performances we see in the film would not hold up in this parallel world. The discourse in the film is completely changed in regards to whom it is being directed, therefore according to Butler, stereotypical gender performance would not have authority. Women would not necessarily still look feminine. They would be performing the discourse in which was directed to them, and the same for men: men are soft and women are hard, according to the film. Butler would make sure gender performance was done “correctly” based on the discourse, the script, of the film. Women would not still be presenting feminine nor men, masculine. Women in the film might wear suits and ties while men would wear dresses and heels; the classic gender performance in which the script is giving us. This would make the film a lot more realistic and it just shows how impactful gender performance is.

     While the film, in my opinion, achieved great success in appealing to the audience’s emotions, it did not really show anything unfamiliar to us. Gender stereotypes and a very clear binary was still present. Thinking about Butler as the director/writer instead, offers us a completely different outlook and probably much more realistic look into what this kind of world would look like. 

Becoming An Image by Heather Cassils

“It calls into question the roles of the witness, the aggressor and the documentor”

Heather Cassils is a performer/artist from Montreal, Canada who currently resides in Los Angeles, California. The goal of zir work is to challenge societal norms in terms of gender and its current perceived binary. Ze does this with multiple exhibits and projects but more uniquely, with zir own body and the bodies of other individuals. Through strict physical training and artistic brilliance, ze challenges bodily gender expectations with zir own body structure and the body structure of other gender non-conforming people.

In zir work, ze attempts to reinvent what it means to be transgender. Ze likes to express trans (and gender in general) as a continual state of being, not necessarily the transitioning from one sex to another through surgery and hormones. Although transition is one way to look at gender and trans identity, Cassils’ portrayal of gender and trans identity is extremely unique and thought provoking.

Zir projects reflect deep rooted themes of gender in our society. Zir work is captivating and challenges gender conformity and stereotypes of gender. Ze focuses greatly on body image and bodily expectations throughout zir exhibits. In all projects, ze uses physical bodies as canvas’, tools and other forms of art. Zir work is metaphorically genius, with interesting messages in every performance and work of art that get the audience thinking about gender and its current portrayal in society.

Of Cassils’ many projects, the one that is most relevant to this class and this unit is zir performance entitled “Becoming an Image” which came about in 2013. This is a show that takes Cassils, a photographer, a 1,500 pound block of clay and an audience and turns them into an extremely valuable lesson on gender in today’s world. The performance goes as follows – The audience is seated in a blacked out room facing, unbeknownst to them, Cassils and the 1,500 pound block of clay. Cassils begins the show and starts pounding and molding the block of clay solely with zir body. The audience hears zir grunts and pounding. As this continues, a blinded photographer intermittently take photos at which point Cassils and the clay are revealed to the audience, but only for the second that the flash illuminates the room.

This a wonderful archive that uniquely represents queer culture. It is an interesting way to think about gender. Often times, we analyze gender as male, female, unisex or in transition. All of these gender identities reinforce the gender binary. Even though transgender individuals challenge the concept of cisgender, it reinforces the notion that you can only be one gender or the other.  But, Cassils challenges this binary and the concept of gender which really makes zir audience think. Why is gender so salient in our society? Why can’t humans beings be just that? Cassils’ work makes zir audience evaluate the relevancy of gender in a beautiful and artistic way.

In class, we discussed how Trans* Identity may in fact reiterate the gender binary by saying “I don’t feel like I am X, I feel like I am Y.” Because of this, Cassils provides a unique view to trans* identity in a way that does not emphasis the dichotomy of gender. Similarly, while I analyzed my archive, our reading by Leslie Feinberg came to mind. Ze talks about how “unnerving” ze is to people because of zirs mix of masculine and feminine traits. Ze talks about how the root of this issue is that the norm is a gender binary. If the binary is eliminated and gender is reared irrelevant people would not have to rely so heavily on gender cues and a lack of gender cues would not trigger such confusion.

Quoted above, this archive calls into question many relevant roles that contribute to our perceptions of gender. Those who witness gender are a part of it, those who physically mold gender are a part of it and those who document gender are a part of it. These are all things to keep in mind for how we can eliminate such rigid definitions of gender and enforce a continuity of being human rather than being gendered.