300 & The History of Sexuality

 

Upon reading David Halperin’s Is There A History of Sexuality? I immediately connected it to the 2006 film 300, directed by Zack Snyder and starring Gerard Butler, which is based on the 1998 graphic novel of the same name. The film focuses on the historic Battle of Thermopylae in which a small contingent of Spartan warriors took on a vast Persian army. The film and novel are clear fictionalizations of these events, but are interesting to look at for their representations and misrepresentations of a central tenant of ancient Greek civilization: masculinity and sexuality.

The film is ripe with eroticism and hyper-masculinity as the warriors themselves are near naked, incredibly buff and constantly cast in a romantic light. Spartan culture was indeed focused on the ideal male form, to the point of instituting a ritual in which weakness is discarded even as early as birth. Shaved Spartan boys are then thrust into a world of violence enduring what they called the agōgē in which they are taken from their mother’s and raised by men.

What the film completely ignores is the pedagogic relationship boys were required to develop with an adult male Spartan who would be their tutor. There is some hint of this between the soldier Stelios and his younger friend Astinos but what homoerotic behavior might be inferred from this is overruled by the quote early on in the film where the main character King Leonidas refers to Athenians as “boy-lovers” with a tone of disdain. The Persians, meanwhile, are portrayed as much more sexually open, having orgies and presenting themselves effeminately with makeup, piercings and perfumes. They are also portrayed as the villain however, and their legion of inhuman monsters fighting for their lustful androgynous masters makes the film seem even more homophobic.

The monstrous Persian representation, as well as Leonidas’s remark against homosexuality (or potentially pedagogy), is in stark contrast to the rest of the films conception. In addition to worshipping the male form, the film is overflowing with imagery of penetration. This is mostly in the form of spears and swords bursting through Spartan enemies and spraying blood everywhere. Indeed the fighting is glorified at an erotic level, frequently being slowed down to highlight the Spartan prowess at an almost pornographic level. These visualizations fit better with Halperin’s exploration of Greek culture and its focus on male dominance and insertion. The films few sex scenes also revolve around penetration, represented in one scene by the involuntary gasps of air Leonidas’s Queen must release with each thrust of his spear. In another scene the Queen gives her body to a politician to help win support for her husband’s war, and the climax of the film culminates in her penetrating him back with a sword in the gut.

This brings us to the role of women in Sparta, which was unique even amongst the Greeks of this time period. When a Persian messenger challenges the Queen for speaking out of turn, asking, “what makes this woman think she can speak among men?” she retorts “Because only Spartan women give birth to real men.” Even having more rights than most women of their time is somehow still summed up by male dominance, in this case Spartan ego. Still the Queen plays an important role in the plot of the movie and in the war effort, speaking at the Senate to rally support for her husband. Despite this the film emphasizes that love is a weakness in the eyes of the military. This could have to due with the male superiority in Greek culture, as women were seen as inferiors and objects of desire alongside boys. Real Spartan men were not permitted to live with their wives and could only visit them secretly in the night, though leaving the barracks at all was discouraged.

To me, Halperin’s purpose was to display that while today’s society views sexuality as a binary that has existed since the days of Adam and Eve, it in fact has a much more vibrant history. Indeed it seems Greek and Spartan sexual cultures were so different from our own that we cannot completely understand what it was to live within them, let alone expect a movie audience to grasp the cultural differences as historical realities.

Mrs. Doubtfire

A movie loved by most, Mrs. Doubtfire, starring the late Robin Williams, as an actor who’s life is basically falling apart: he recently quit his job, he is just divorced, and because of said divorce, he his now homeless. In order to turn his life around, the main character Daniel, dresses up in granny drag as a 60-ish year old woman playing the part of a nanny in his ex-wife’s household.

Filmed in 1992, Mrs. Doubtfire was a prime example of what gender norms of the 90’s were supposed to be. The cultural panic about divorce and the decline of men’s roles at home lead to insecurity about masculinity. Playing on that, in Mrs. Doubtfire, the mother wears the pants in the family, so Daniel has to prove his worth by wearing a dress.

In the process of trying to get the job of his ex-wife’s nanny, Daniel pretends to be a few different characters to throw her off. During one of the phone calls, his ex-wife informs the character that she has two daughters and a son. With this the character replies “oh, a boy. I don’t work with the males, ‘cause I used to be one.” His ex-wife immediately hangs up with a disgusted look on her face that implies “I could never have someone like that in my home!”

When looking at this joke from a perspective of audience members in 1992, it worked well. Now, it appears to be transphobic and insensitive. Although, during that time it was probably not intended to be offensive to transgender people, it did come out that way. In today’s society, especially, with famous transgender figures such as Lavern Cox and now Caitlyn Jenner make it difficult to make such gender-bending comedies without seriously offending someone. Some people even compare Caitlyn to Mrs. Doubtfire.

Later in the movie, Daniel goes to his brother and brother in-law’s house in order to transform into a 60+-year-old woman, introducing drag into the movie. Although they don’t outright call it drag in the movie, nor does Daniel go all out while doing his makeup like some drag queens we see such as Bianca Del Rio, we are able to get a taste of what drag queens might go through if they are going in and out of drag in a bathroom somewhere where it might not be accepted.

Towards the end of the movie, Mrs. Doubtfire agrees to go to dinner with his ex-wife’s family as well as meet a television producer at the same restaurant on the same night. At one point, Daniel forgets which table he’s going to in which costume, so he accidentally goes to the television producer’s table dressed as Mrs. Doubtfire. With this the television producer is surprised as questions why he’s dressed as a woman. Daniel, thinking on his feet, decides that it would be a good idea to make a television show about her, using his granny drag to help his career as an actor.

Tipping the Velvet: The Lesbian Underground

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Tipping the Velvet is a historical fiction novel written by Sarah Waters, and published in 1998. I chose to review the three-episode film adaptation released in 2002.

The story takes place in Victorian England during the 1890s and follows the life of Nan Astley as she starts to recognize her sexuality. She falls madly in love with a woman named Kitty Butler who poses as a man in theatre. They develop a close and fun love that goes sour. Nan is shattered, leaves their apartment and tries to make a life of her own. She encounters numerous situations that leave her worse off than the last (there is not much a woman in the 1890’s can do as an independent) until she has nothing left to sustain her – injured, homeless, and hungry. She finds a woman from two years prior that she was developing feelings for, asks to stay with her, and they fall in love.

I chose to add this to the archive because throughout Nan’s entire experience, not much judgment is placed on her. There are few short scenes which do serve to show the overall intolerance of female-female sexual relations of that era. She was completely rejected by her sister after revealing her love for Kitty Butler. A prominent man in Kitty’s life dismissed the idea that women could have real sex together, saying, “You need a man for that, I think you’ll find.” highlighting the idea that penile-vaginal intercourse is the only proper, and legitimate, act of sexual behavior. In another scene, a few drunken men in an alley tried to attack Nan and her girlfriend after Nan stood up to their crude remarks.

It’s important to highlight, however; that while the story in Tipping the Velvet is a created history, Nan found social environments that supported her own identity. She frequented spaces that were comprised of women dressed like men and accompanied by their “wives.” She was in a relationship (though abusive) with a woman that heavily centered her life around this social environment.
I draw a relation between the underground scene in Tipping the Velvet to that of the gay world mentioned in George Chauncey’s introduction to Gay New York. Though same sex sexual relationships were heavily frowned upon, individuals who identified with those interests were able to create a thriving counterculture that suited their needs of expression, search for partners, and validation. They weren’t forced into feeling that they must completely shut themselves away in isolation because of the harsh judgments and regulations of the dominant culture – one of the three “myths” Chauncey introduces in his text.

(skip to 7:30 to see an example of social gatherings of the quest community, and to avoid spoilers)

Nan extensively challenged societal norms. She regularly passed as a man in her day-to-day life, or went on as a woman whenever she felt. While this idea ties into the concepts of gender (as we interpret it today), many people of the time would have labeled such a person an invert.  There are several mentions of the unnaturalness of the lives of women who love women. I think that the reverse gender presentation of many of the characters in the show highlight the idea that crossing gender boundaries is wrong, and contribute to thinking homosexual activity to be unnatural. Choosing to adorn oneself in men’s attire transgressed cultural expectations of females, and this sort of behavior was typical among the female homosexual community in Tipping the Velvet. Sigmund Freud (while his work appears later than the time of this story) considered inversion to be a deviation, but not innate – so essentially unnatural, and this show presents that idea.
The TV adaptation of Tipping the Velvet is a drama, based off of historical fiction, and produces a story of some seemingly unrealistic encounters. Yet, it offers a representation of the resilience of the female homosexual community, much like what is offered in George Chauncey’s true historical analysis of the gay male world in New York. Tipping the Velvet serves to create a history where one is lacking, and offers representation of a historical community to those that need one – the lesbian world.

A Marine Story- Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

A Marine Story, is a 2010 drama film about a female marine officer, Major Alexander Everett, who was honorably discharged from the military. She unexpectedly returns home (a southwestern desert town) from the Iraq War due to the charged filed against her for “Conduct Unbecoming of an Officer”. She accosted a young woman, Saffron Snow, and her boyfriend for illegal drug and theft at a convenience store. Saffron, a disturbed woman turned out to be her neighbor’s granddaughter, who requested her to prepare Saffron for boot camp as the Judge gave her one week to prepare or else she was going to jail. The film is set in 2008 and was filmed in Los Angeles in 2009. A Marine Story is directed by Ned Farr and was premiered at the Frameline Film Festival on 2010. It also won the “Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Feature in 2010.

I chose this film because the film is a good example of the United States “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy and the damage it does to the troops. The film focuses on Lesbian feminism and Native Concept of Gender and it targets audience of all gender and sexual orientation.

Lesbian Feminism: Everett reconnected with her old friends from past, Leo and Holly after returning. She could easily come out to Holly and explain why she was discharged and her sexuality and was accepted immediately with open arms. However, she couldn’t explain it to Leo until later and was surely not pleased to hear that. This shows she is not accepted anymore, because according to the society a “woman” has to be heterosexual. Also she is not a one dimensional soldier, even though she is tough she has a softer, maternal humorous side as well which is often seen when she is around Saffron or her close friends. This concept is also demonstrated by Monique Wittig’s “One is Not Born a Woman” where she says if someone if not heterosexual they refuse to be either a man or a woman and lesbians have to be something else, not-woman or not-man.

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Native Concept of Gender: J. Jack Halberstam said “In other words, female masculinity are framed as the rejected scraps of dominant masculinity in order that male masculinity may appear to be the real thing” in “An introduction to Female Masculinity: Masculinity without Men”. This concept focuses most part of the movie. There was a scene where Everett and Leo went to a bar with Leo’s friends. The egoistic males were criticizing women marines as ‘WM’ (waste of money). According to them they are only good for secretarial work. Someone then said, “Males are better at most jobs due to muscle mass and that females are only as strong as the weakest males”. Leo then suggested the weakest of them should arm wrestle with Everett, where she easily defeated him breaking the traditional norm of men being stronger and masculine.  Even Saffron, who was first shown as a disturbed, brooding woman proved herself to be a capable woman and endure all the pain and hardships to achieve her goal.

The movie goes back and forth between Everett’s present and future leaving the audience in suspense. The flashbacks were about her deployments, her drills and her pride for being an American Soldier. The present was mostly about how she trained Saffron to be tough and pushed her off of her limits to make Saffron like her and the about the conflict she had to face for not being enough feminine. When her Commanding Officer interrogated her, Everett lied the whole time by referring to her marriage (which was basically a sham marriage) to hide her identity. This shows how dedicated she is towards her country. Throughout her life Everett tried to hide her sexual preference in order to be a marine. Her commanding officer advised her to resign before they can find something solid against her, in order to be honorably discharged. This whole situation was horrible to me because for any soldier, regardless of their gender, goes through inhuman training at boot camp to serve the country are advised to leave their passion based on their sexual preference. She was an officer, a drill instructor and Amphibious Warfare School graduate, yet she was looked down as someone weak who could be a potential threat to the military family when it came down to her sexual orientation. The Commanding officer also asked whether she had an affair with any ‘male’ soldier. She replied adultery is also forbidden in military, however, her commanding officer replied it was lesser of the two evils. One of Leo’s friend Dyke was so angry at her that he secretly took pictures of her being intimate with other girls and posted flyers all over the town which jeopardize Saffron’s future of getting into the boot camp. As people assumed she was having an affair with Everett.

The script writer’s main point was we should support troops regardless whether they are homosexual or heterosexual. Everett was punished under the United States Military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy for who she was. She lived a closeted life with secrecy throughout her life. The movie portrays what other queer soldiers have to endure unfortunately. The following statement was posted at the end of the movie which represents discrimination to a whole new different level. Discrimination against queer soldiers and further more discrimination against ‘women’.

“Women are far more likely than men to be kicked out of the military under the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” Policy against gay personnel, according to government figures of 2010. Gender aside, more than 13,500 service members have been fired under the law since 1994”.

 

Steven Universe

Steven Universe is an animated television show currently running on Cartoon Network. The show features Steven Universe, a young boy growing up with the “Crystal Gems”; three alien rebels who protect the earth from the other extraterrestrial Gems. Through missions, battles, and interactions with the Gems and his human friends, this coming-of-age story follows Steven while he discovers his abilities and learns about who he is. This show is groundbreaking in its representation of gender roles and its queer-positive message.

The show was created by Rebecca Sugar and is Cartoon Network’s first show solely created by a woman.

“My goal with the show was to really tear down and play with the semiotics of gender in cartoons for children” -Rebecca Sugar

Steven, being half-gem and half-human, is the first and only male Gem. The Crystal Gems whom he lives with are all female and assume a motherly role for Steven. He looks up to and learns from these heroines, a big twist on the normally male-dominated hero role in young boy’s cartoons. It’s through this sort of gender-role shifting that Steven Universe shows boys that it’s okay to look up to women as role models.

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Even though all of the characters that Steven learns from are female, they all embody different elements of femininity and masculinity. In her book “Female Masculinity,” Judith Halberstam sought to identify what constitutes masculinity. In one example in her book, she talks about the James bond classic Goldeneye. Halberstam claims that though she is female, M is the most masculine character in the movie. In Steven Universe, Garnet is perhaps the most masculine of the Gems. She is strong, intelligent and is the new leader of the Crystal Gems. Many of the Gems also appear tomboy-ish, exhibiting more masculine qualities. Amethyst is one such tomboy. She is bad-mannered, loud, messy, and impulsive, lacking most traditionally feminine qualities.

In addition to its strong and diverse female cast, there are not-so-subtle queer overtones in Steven Universe. Their former leader and Steven’s mother Rose Quartz, gave up her physical form to create Steven. The Crystal Gems all looked up to Rose Quartz, and Pearl had a particularly close relationship with her. When reminiscing about Rose Quartz, Pearl is very loving and even calls Rose Quartz “beautiful.”  Emotional connections and relationships of all kinds are major themes in the cartoon.

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One major power of the Gems is “fusion.” By joining together, two gems are able to create one entirely different entity, sharing features of each individual gem and growing in power. The writers of the show use this ability to explore emotional connections. In one episode Steven accidentally fuses with his female friend and romantic interest Connie. Together, they become the androgynous ‘Stevonnie‘ who is never referred to using gendered pronouns. In this body, Steven has a gender-bending experience where everyone in the city sees Stevonnie as a very beautiful person. This exploration of gender for Steven shows the viewer his more feminine side in a fun way.

While Stevonnie was present only once in a light-hearted episode, the season one finale was perhaps the most serious demonstration of a romantic fusion. It is revealed at the end of season one that Garnet, the current leader of the Crystal Gems, actually exists as a near-permanent fusion of the gems Ruby and Sapphire. These two Gems are deeply in love and decided to stay fused forever a a sign of their strong bond. This perceived homosexual relationship between Ruby and Sapphire is portrayed beautifully in the show. Parallels can be drawn between their fusion and marriage, where two people join to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts. This clip shows the reunion of Ruby and Sapphire after they were captured and forcibly separated. It’s clear that there is a deep emotional connection between these female gems and Steven takes it completely in stride.

Representation in television shows has a great effect on children. Studies show that when kids see people like them portrayed positively in media they are positively impacted. Steven Universe’s queer-positive and heroic female message reaches kids at a critical time in development, when children are still discovering and exploring gender and identity. Because of the cartoon’s unique perspective on feminine role models and queer-positivity I feel that Steven Universe deserves a spot in this digital archive.

Gender Roles in “But I’m a Cheerleader”

The 1999 satirical romantic-comedy film “But I’m a Cheerleader” is directed by Jamie Babbit and stars Natasha Lyonne, Clea DuVall, and RuPall to name a few. The movie focuses on a teenage girl, Megan Bloomfield (Lyonne), who is sent to a conversion therapy camp, True Directions, because her parents and friends suspect she is a lesbian. There Megan soon comes to embrace her sexual orientation, despite the therapy, and falls in love with Graham (DuVall). The movie uses the theme of socially constructed gender roles to “cure” homosexuality.

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The production and costume design of the movie was meant to reflect the idea of gender roles. There is a progression from the organic world of Megan’s hometown, where the main colors are orange and brown, to the fake world of True Directions, dominated by intense blues and pinks, which show the artificiality of gender roles. In the camp, the male campers wear only dark blue shorts, shirts, and ties, whereas the female campers wear only bright pink skirts and blouses. By having the campers wear clothes that are typically associated with the standard male outfit and the standard female outfit, it tries to show the campers how normal straight people dress.

Besides making the campers wear gender specific clothes, they make the campers perform a series of tasks associated with each gender. For example girls are taught how to clean a house, change aBut_I'm_a_Cheerleader_BLUE baby, how to sew, specifically a wedding dress, how to wear make-up and look like a “pretty young woman”. Guys are taught how to change a tire and fix a car’s engine, how to play football, and how to chop wood and spit. The idea is if the campers realize and practice their intended role in society then their homosexuality will be cured.

Along with performing gender specific tasks, the campers are also given cards with images of their gender doing the typical gender roles the campers should be emulating. Megan and Graham are going over the cards, and Megan shows Graham a card of a but-im-a-cheerleaderwoman taking out the trash. Graham responds with “I see a woman” and Megan frustratedly says “ It’s a mother. Women have roles. After you learn that you’ll stop objectifying them.” The concept that is being taught at the camp is that homosexuality is caused by not conforming to the socially constructed gender roles. In order to cure this homosexuality, you have to act and dress like an ideal man or woman performing the gender roles given to you by society.

The idea that performing gender specific tasks and wearing gender specific clothes will change who someone loves is just ridiculous and ignorant. The movie showcases this in a funny light-hearted way but still gets the message across: love is love, and it cannot be cured.

Timeless love — Love is Strange

Love is strange. It is strange because it can make two totally unrelated people become the most important one in each other’s life. It is strange because people can be bonded together no matter their sex, and no matter their age. The reason why I chose to write about this movie is that it is about a very unique kind of homosexual relationship.

‘Plain but touching’ is what I will use to describe this movie. It does not have a climax, nor a dramatic twist in the story line. Love is Strange directed by Ira Sachs is about two old gay couple, Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina), who have been together for 39 years and just got married. After they get married, George get fired by the christian school which he has been teaching for many years. The couple cannot afford their apartment in Manhattan anymore so they have to rely on their family and friends for support.

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The first scene of the movie filmed the two old man’s feet side by side on the bed. We can see their rough skin and saggy belly exposing to each other without any discomfort. Everything seems to move so smoothly as they shower, change, and get ready for their big day. The many little details in their life show how they have accepted each other’s flaws. Their relationship is just like any other couples, except that they do not have the particular ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ that straight couple have. Halderstam’s article about female masculinity discussed about the heronic masculinity and the alternative masculinities, but I am wondering after watching this movie, does a relationship must have a “muscular” and “feminine” side? In Ben and George’s relationship, we really cannot tell who is more muscular who is not. Society give people these classifications which I found really useless sometime because many people just can not be included in these classifications. Many people believe that there must be a more ‘man’ or ‘girly’ side in a relationship but Ben and George disproved this view. 

The movie also touches upon the society’s view toward homosexual. During Ben and George’s wedding, everyone is blessing the couple. However, the scene turns to George being fired. It shows the contrast between acceptance and resistance. In the scene when Joey (Eliot’s son)’s friend is posing for Ben’s painting, Joey said, ‘This is so gay!’ and then apologized to Ben. This reflects that people still use ‘gay’ as a negative word, although the society seems to accept gay marriage. Also, when Eliot and his wife Kate realized that their son was hanging out with his friend everyday, they start to worry about their son being homosexual. Kate talked about how Ben and George influenced her during their wedding ceremony, but when it comes to her son, she is still resists this sexual orientation. However, this make us wonder how Ben and George strive through all those years together and finally being able to get married.

The scene I loved the most is when they are walking in an alley after having their little drink in a bar. The two old man walk side by side but not holding hands. It seems like they are the only ones in the busy Manhattan. George walk Ben to the subway and gaze fixedly at Ben as he walk down the stair and until he disappear. The director always uses long shots to give the audience a lot of space to wonder, and to think deeply.

The death of Ben also went very smoothly without any tears shown. Joey brings Ben’s unfinished painting to George. I think it may symbolizes that their love is still not finished.

 

Gender in Avatar: the Last Airbender

Gender is explored in many ways in the Nickelodeon show Avatar: the Last Airbender. The show was created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko and ran from 2005 to 2008. It is an animated series that was created in the U.S. but draws inspiration from anime styles. The show is set in a fictional world where certain people, called benders, can control an element; water, fire, earth, or air. In this world each “nation” of bending ability co-exists with the others peacefully until one nation, the Fire Nation, goes to war with the other nations to dominate the world. The Avatar is one person who can control all four elements at once. When the Fire Nation goes to war with all other nations the main character Aang is only 12 years old and is told that he is the avatar. Due to the pressure he runs away and gets caught in a storm and is frozen for 100 years while the Fire Nation wipes out the Air Nation, a nomadic people who embrace nonviolence. Aang is awakened by Katara and Sokka, who are from the Southern Water Tribe. I will focus on Aang, Katara, Zuko, and Toph as representative of prominent male and female characters depicting gender differently.

In the show gender is explored in a way that queers normative culture by challenging gender roles, prominent depictions of gender, and traits that typically correspond to gender. Through its diverse cast of characters the show depicts female characters that embrace masculine traits and feminine traits, and femininity is not depicted as submissive to masculinity. There are also male characters that embrace more feminine traits and defy the idea of heroic masculinity.

Katara embraces feminine characteristics in the show by becoming a motherly figure to other characters. She dresses in a feminine way and is nurturing but she is also very strong. She defies patriarchal institutions as well, asserting herself to become the student of a master who only teaches men. Toph is the opposite of Katara, she is rough and aggressive and does not dress in a feminine way. She is smaller than Katara but equally as strong. She was introduced to the show as an earthbender fighting in an underground competition where she beat out many huge and aggressive men. She also defies her parents who only see her as a delicate little girl by running away. This clip shows her defying her father’s and master’s expectations of her by defeating multiple enemies and saving Aang.

Zuko and Aang, two main characters who are male, help to deconstruct the heroic masculinity ideal presented by Halberstam. Halberstam presents that the typical heroic masculine character is a straight white male who is very one dimensional and depends upon others to prop him up. Aang and Zuko are the exact opposite of this. Aang is the avatar and has to resolve the worldwide conflict but he comes from a nomadic culture and typically avoids violence when he sees another alternative. Zuko is a much more aggressive character and is initially the villain of the series, but throughout the series he becomes less violent and eventually helps Aang defeat his father Firelord Ozai. Zuko was banished from the Fire Nation by Ozai because he showed sympathy for Fire Nation troops. The empathy and sympathy shown by Aang and eventually Zuko as well defies the idea of heroic masculinity. They are both heroic characters who are masculine but are well developed and complex character who also embrace nonviolence and understanding, traits more often seen as feminine.

Stone Butch Blues

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In March of 1993, transgender activist Leslie Feinberg published a coming of age novel titled Stone Butch Blues. It is the fictional story of a young woman named Jess Goldberg and the many problems she faces growing up as a butch in the late1960’s.

The entirety of the novel revolves around the butch-femme subculture. In short, butch and femme are terms used to describe individual gender identities within the lesbian, gay, transgender and cross-dressing culture. Butch refers to a woman with very masculine traits and behaviors while femme refers to a person (usually a female) with overly feminine characteristics. It has been argued that this concept is solely a lesbian dyadic system where one cannot exist without the other and ultimately gave lesbians a clear way to identify. In fact, many gay women in the mid- 20th century, identified as butch or femme instead of identifying as gay, or homosexual. This seems to be the case not only in the novel but for the 20th century as well.

Within the lesbian bar culture for the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s butch-femme was the norm while butch-butch and femme-femme relationships were not. This was very true for the novel as well. Jess from the beginning of the novel allows the reader to dive into her relationship issues with femmes and the many mentors she had (usually older butches) to teach her what was and was not acceptable in these relationships. It was also very common back then for lesbians to feel like role distinctions needed to be sharply drawn because not being one or the other meant strong disapproval from both sides. Deviance from these identities were stigmatized.

Today many young people would argue that the classification of butch and femme are inadequate ways of describing an individual. Now a days, gender fluidity has become much more acceptable. In other words, the modern day gay community recognizes that labels, like such, are limiting in themselves. If people do chose to identify as butch or femme they often say the label is more of a representation of their gender identity rather than the role they play in a relationship. This notion has made way for the acceptance of butch-butch and femme-femme relationships. So it is safe to say that these labels and their meanings, as well as restrictions, have evolved over time.

Likewise, the violence towards these people who identify as butch or femme has changed. At its core, Jess’ character is greatly shaped by the experiences of violence hence the term ‘Stone Butch’. Many lesbians in the mid-20th century who identified as butch acquired a personality  that yearned for love but at the same time did not want to be touched. In the novel Jess is raped, beaten up by cops, set up to be injured and spoken to by doctors like she was something other than human.

“About an hour later the cops brought Mona back. My heart broke when I saw her. Two cops were dragging her; she could barely stand. Her hair was wet and stuck to her face. Her makeup was smeared. There was blood running down the back of her seamless stockings. They threw her in the cell next to mine. She stayed where she fell.”

 

As suspicion of communist and queers began to mount, violence was not uncommon during that time. Butch and femmes alike were commonly confronted with a need to defend their space.  Luckily, much of that has changed. With a rise in acceptance of the gay community, the extremely high rate of violence or dehumanization of gays has dropped significantly.

What has not changed over time is the desire. The lesbian community and gay community as a whole have always desired the same thing regardless of time, acceptance.

Like in Erica Jong’s poem Testament (Homage to Walt Whitman), there has been a long history of pain for the gay community.

“& three decades of pain

having cried for those that did not love me

those who loved me- but not enough

& those whom I did not love-“

Stone butches are notoriously known for not permitting themselves to be touched intimately, and consequently are also known for ‘being hard’. While many lesbians may not be that way today, both ways of identifying as a lesbian have yearned to “resolve now for joy.

“If that resolve means I must live alone,

I accept aloneness.”

Despite how much time passes, that is something that will never change. No one in the gay community will gave up a search for joy, happiness and acceptance. In the same manner, no lesbian, whether she be butch, femme or between the two, will stop believing in that notion or lose that hope.

“How to spin joy out of an empty heart?

The joy-egg germinates even in despair.

Orgasms of gloom convulse the world;

and the joy- seekers huddle together.”

 

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Yanis Marshall

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24 year old, Yanis Marshall became a sensation after a video titled “Spice Girls” went viral on Youtube on June 30th of 2013. But it was not the nature of the song that made him famous; it was his dance moves in several pairs of nine-inch heels. The video features the now famous Parisian choreographer, Yanis Marshall, fiercely dancing all over parts of Paris.

Yanis is originally from Vallauris, near Cannes. He is currently a choreaographer, teacher and dancer and has been dancing since an early age. At the age of eleven, with the help of his mother who was a director of a dance association, he passed the auditions for the Dance School called Rosella Hightower. It is here that Yanis began to train in Ballet, Contemporary, and Jazz.

Despite his artistic ability and love for dance, in an interview with Great Rhys Alexander, Yanis claimed to leave for Paris France in search of independence from modern contemporary dance.

At the age of 19, he left to New York City where he experienced his first class of a style of dance called Street Jazz, with Sheryl Murakami. She is an artist that he claims “gave him a wake up call” and continues to inspire him till the day. After years of unhappiness in many different styles of dance, Yanis found a home in the style of Street Jazz.

Much like Voguing, Street Jazz roots from stricter dance styles. It evolved from informal settings like nightclubs, schools and on the street. Street jazz dance was inspired by traditional dance performed outside of professional studios.Jazz dance, modern hip hop and funk make up this style of dance. Elements of the rigid robotic movements, the marked spins often found in breakdancing and the fluid movements of hip hop, like in Sheryl Murakami’s music video below, are key components of the Street Jazz dance.

As for the heels. Whenever Yanis is asked why he dances in heels his response is famously always “why not?” Despite the humor in his response, one thing is certain, men dancing in heels or simply wearing heels is not a first.

Men originally wore high- heeled shoes. As early as the 10th century, men wearing high heels became a trend amongst the upper class. At the time, high-heeled shoes were not a signifier of gender. It was not until the 18th century that men discontinued the trend and the high-heeled shoe was soon after established as a ladies shoe. Ever since then, high heels on men have not made a comeback.

The long standing societal acceptance that high heels are only for women are what have made seeing dancers like Yanis Marshall famous. He is an excellent advocate of the “social evolution” we speak of today. He can “werk” those heels better than most women can walk in them but unfortunately the world has long been a witness to the slow but sure consistency of gender binding norms.

Yanis says heels are his speciality. Since a young age he loved to wear his mothers heels. Dancing in heels for Yanis makes him different, and he admits to not being shy one bit about his heels nor the fact he is gay.

“Just be you and if people don’t like it, well F*ck Them”

But despite the use of heels whenever he dances, Yanis is not transgender nor seeks to become a women.The use of heels for men to dance in is simply sexy and artistic to Yanis and he encourages both men and women, straight or gay to dance in heels whenever he teaches a class.  He also has no plans to label men dancing in heels any sort of style of dancing because he hates labels or boxes.