Faking It

Faking It is a television show that first premiered on MTV in April, 2014. The show takes place mostly at and around Hester High School which is located near Austin, Texas. Unlike every other high school in America, at Hester High School being weird or abnormal is what lands you a seat atop the schools hierarchy of popularity. The show follows a series of main characters, all of which are struggling to not only gain or keep their rank of popularity, but are also struggling to identify their own personal selves throughout the tough journey we all undergo through high school. Throughout the series, the characters display several aspects that pertain to a lot of what we discuss in class, which is queer culture.

When the show begins, we are introduced to two of the main characters, Karma and Amy. They are sophomores at Hester High School and are also best friends. The dynamic duo is portrayed as being willing to do anything to gain a spot amongst the popular crowd. This aspect is tested when Shane Harvey, who is also a main character, accidentally assumes Karma and Amy are a lesbian couple, when in reality they are just best friends. Initially the pair’s reaction was to state that they were not actually a couple; however, when the two of them realized how popular they became from being known as Hester High School’s first out lesbian couple, they decide to hide their true identities rather than losing their new found popularity. Shane Harvey, the boy who ‘outs’ Karma and Amy is one of Hester’s most popular students and plays the role of an out and proud male student who loves unveiling the skeletons hiding in the closets of his fellow classmates. Later on in the series another main character, Liam Booker, who is Shane’s best friend ends up falling for Karma and throwing kinks in Karma and Amy’s attempt to keep their popularity by prolonging their charade of being a lesbian couple. As the series goes on, the show displays many of the struggles faced by students in high school. From Amy falling for her best friend Karma, to Karma falling for Liam and likewise for Liam himself, the show depicts the main characters as finding out tremendous amounts about themselves through the relationships and friendships which they experience throughout their encounters with their classmates. The last main character that is really of relevance to the aspect of queer culture is Amy’s step sister, Lauren Cooper. Lauren is initially depicted as the new girl who is quickly very popular but soon faces her own demons when she is ‘outed’ as being intersex.

I first began watching Faking It when the series first premiered on MTV. I related to the show and even though I found myself constantly thinking, “Wow, this would never actually happen in high school.” I could not help but to fall in love with the show because of the fact that the show handles a lot of issues and is not afraid to throw awkward situations into the audience’s face. The show not only handles issues such as Amy struggling to determine her own sexuality, but it also shows the struggles of Amy’s sister Lauren who is intersex. In many ways the struggles Lauren is depicted to have resonates with our classroom discussions of the struggles which members of the transgender community face. Though Lauren is intersex and not transgender, I found it interesting that she was depicted to suffer from such similar circumstances as those who brave the ridicule that is associated with being a member of the transgender community. Another aspect of the series that I found to be quiet interesting was that many of the struggles the characters where shown to go through made me think back to when we read Martha Shelley’s. “Gay Is Good.” I recall that she spoke about how one of the worst parts about being a homosexual was not the way that they are punished by law enforcement or by society as a whole, but the fact that those who identify as being homosexuals often believed that the fact that they as individuals identified as being gay was something that was not to be revealed. Martha Shelly basically states that it is the general knowledge that being a homosexual means that you are something that is so bad that is should not even be revealed or shared, and I feel that many of the characters in this series show characteristics of identifying with Martha Shelley’s statement. All of the main characters have resentment towards themselves because in some way or another they do not feel that who they truly are is someone or something that can be openly discussed. I feel that many of the characters are shown to  believe that who they are as people is something that they are ashamed to show others which as stated, is how Shelley talks about how it feels to be a member of the homosexual community. I love the manner in which the show depicts the struggles members of the LGBTQ+ community face on a daily basis and how it affects them as people, and I also love how much it pertains to the day to day discussions and readings we have for class.

 

Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology

In the published 1988 book the Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology coordinating editor Will Roscoe puts together a collection of modern writings from gay and lesbian Native Americans – poetry, short stories, essays – and historical studies of alternate sexuality in some of the tribes. A time when gays and lesbians were starting to be heard and experimented with their own sexuality and identity. This book begins with this empowering quote I found mesmerizing:

The day I saw a poster declaring the existence of an organization of Gay American Indians, I put my face into my hands and sobbed with relief. A huge burden, the burden of isolation and of being defined only by one’s enemies, left me on that enlightening day.
I understood that being Gay is a universal quality , like cooking, like decorating the body, like singing, like predicting the weather. Moreover, after learning about the social positions and special offices fulfilled by Indians whose tribes once picked them for the tasks of naming, healing, prediction, leadership, and teaching precisely because the displayed characteristics we call gay, I knew that Gayness goes far beyond simple sexual/emotional activity. What Americans call Gayness not only has distinct cultural characteristics, its participants have long held positions of social power in history and ritual among people all over the globe
.”- Judy Grahn,

Another Mother Tongue

In the second story “Tinselled Bucks: a Historical Study of Indian Homosexuality” by Maurice Kenny discusses the problems of lack of sources for original material, as well as deliberates between the berdaches – men who lived as women and women who lived as men – and men and women living their gender roles who preferred to be sexually and emotionally involved with others of their gender and gender roles. He discusses the different terms and customs of berdaches in various tribes, as well as the levels of importance that many berdaches held in certain cultures, where they were often respected as people of great magic.

Toleration of the berdache varied from tribe to tribe. Some tribes, such as the Illinois, actually trained young men to become homosexuals and concubines of men. The Cheyenne and the Sioux of the plains may not have purposely trained young men to become berdaches but certainly accepted homosexuals more readily than perhaps other tribes(Maurice Kenny, page 26).

This type of behavior also relates to our class discussion on Ancient Greece, and their pederasty affiliations. Relations in ancient Greece was between adult men and pubescent or adolescent boys, as well as homosexual relationships between adult men did existed. The age limit for the younger member of a pederastic relationship seems to have extended from 12 to about 17 years of age. This was a normal practice among men and was not frowned upon by anyone. In particular the Zuni tribe children were not referred to as girl or boy until around the age of five, before coming of that age, they were perceived as “child”. But as these young children began to grow older a “third gender” would soon be created as adolescents. The 130 North American Indians created a third gender defining as:

“If a cultures sex/gender system makes it possible for a biological female to become a social man, then “he” is not engaging in “cross dressing” when dressing as a male, or in “ross gender” behavior by assuming the culturally defined male role. Neither is “he” engaging in lesbian behavior by having sexual relations with women. Because he is a socially recognized man, such relations would be defined as “normal”(Anishnawbe, page 35).

(page 200)

As I read this poem by Anishnawbe, I felt his pain as a two spirit being afraid to embrace himself, this picture is so beautifully drawn and resembles a perfect unity in one person.

To reiterate discussion on Sigmund Freud, I would put the “two spirits” under the category of “superego”. Not only did these Native American tribes believe the two spirits had a duty to the village, but opened up a new civilization where they were welcomed and praised by past and future generations to come. I chose to write about this topic for the main fact that not much primary source material has been found nor discussed at larger scale even though it is incorporated in the LGBTQ scale. It is important in the Native American culture and should continue to be known In our Americanized culture today. It paved the way for gender identity, reforming outlooks on past history, and acceptance of the “third gender”. It belongs in queer culture as an inspirational embodiment to not only for the organization GAI (Gay American Indians) today, but to people of all ages and races nationwide.

Middlesex

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Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and author of The Virgin Suicides, which has since been adapted into a film, Jeffery Eugenides is an American novelist of Greek descent. He has been a finalist for various awards such as the National Book Critics Circle Award, the International Dublin Literary Award, and various others. He is a graduate from Brown University, and received an M.A in Creative Writing from Standford University.

Middlesex cover

Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Middlesex, published in 2002, is one of Eugenides’ bestselling novels, selling over three million copies. In 2007, Middlsex was the main feature of Oprah’s Book Club. This book follows the life of protagonist, Calliope Stephanides, an individual with 5-alpha-reductase deficiency. This is a recessive condition that causes genetically male infants, those with XY chromosomes, to be born with external genitalia that resembles that of a female. This is caused by a lack of the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT), an integral hormone during fetal sexual development. Children with 5-alpha-reductase deficiency, as we see in Middlesex with Calliope, are often mistaken for girls at birth and are raised as females. However, a big change for these individuals occurs at puberty. Due to an onrush of testosterone these biologically male individuals, who have been believed to be females all their lives, will start developing male secondary sex characteristics. These characteristics include increased muscle mass, deepening of the voice, and even enlargement of the penis and scrotum.

“I was born twice: first as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974….My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver’s license…records my first name simply as Cal.”

As mentioned previously, Calliope, nickname Callie, is born with this intersex condition. Unaware of “her” biological maleness, “she” is raised as a girl. While growing up Callie felt different from how a normal girl should feel. At the age of 14 Callie falls in love with her female friend who she simply refers to as the “Obscure Object.” On vacation with the Obscure Object’s family many events unfold that lead to Callie realizing her intersex condition. In an attempt to appear like a normal fourteen year old girl, she engages in a sexual act with the Obscure Object’s brother, Jerome. As Jerome enters her for the first time, she experiences an immense pain and her condition starts becoming transparent to her.

“Jerome knew what I was, as suddenly I did, too, for the first time clearly understood that I wasn’t a girl but something in between”

This is just the first stepping stone in Callie’s realization. In an accident, Callie is injured and is taken to the doctors. It is here that her intersex condition is fully discovered. She is taken to a special clinic in New York where she is poked and prodded. Sex reassignment surgery is suggested to make her body match the female identity she was raised with. After much thought, Callie decides she wants to start living life as the boy her chromosomes say she is. In a letter to her parents she declares that she is not a girl, and that she is a boy. She runs away to San Francisco to assume her male identity as Cal.

“Despite its content, I signed this declaration to my parents: “Callie.” It was the last time I was ever their daughter.”

In the end, Cal returns with his brother to his family home and lives out the rest of his life as a man.

This book questions what it means to be a male or a female. Is gender biological and innate or is it a product of our environment, or perhaps a mixture of both. Intersex conditions are an important part of queer culture because they bend the gender binary.

“Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind.”

No longer is gender either one or the other, if that were the case, how come Cal’s doctor, much to Judith Butler’s chagrin, declared “It’s a girl” rather than “It looks like a girl now, but in fourteen years your daughter will become a man!” This sets up a role in which the child has to “act” in order to achieve gender normativity. According to gender performativity, Callie, before 14 is reiterating the act of being a girl. Her gender comes from her wearing the outfits, having the long hair, the whole theatrics of being her parents’ daughter. Finally when the time came for a decision to be made, Callie gave up the charade, her performance as female, and became Cal, the man he was meant to be. Cal’s decision was her putting on drag and finally starting the performative ritual of becoming “he.” As Judith Butler points out gender performativity is “not a matter of choosing which gender on will be today” but rather the repetition of gender norms which will in turn qualify maleness vs. femaleness.

“There have been hermaphrodites around forever, Cal. Forever. Plato said that the original human being was a hermaphrodite. Did you know that? The original person was two halves, one male, one female. Then these got separated. That’s why everybody’s always searching for their other half. Except for us. We’ve got both halves already.”

“Del LaGrace Volcano: A Mid-Career Retrospective”

Del LaGrace Volcano is a visual producer and cultural producer born in California, but based in Sweden. Del LaGrace was born with male and female characteristics and was raised as a girl, but now Del lives life as a man and a woman. Though Volcano is not as well known in the United States as they are in Europe, they came back to the United States with the intention of broadening our horizons and exploring the nature of gender and different sexual identities. Volcano’s art exhibit “Del LaGrace Volcano: A Mid-Career Retrospective” in particular is what I aim to explore because it makes the viewer think about what gender and sexual identities are and how they relate to race and other social constructs. This exhibit began in September of 2012 and ended in November of 2012 in the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, located in New York.

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Del LaGrace’s exhibit explored many aspects of what gender is and how it is portrayed in today’s society. One of the portraits on display, entitled “Del LaGrace Volcano, Self-Portrait Collaboration with Gerard Rancinan I, Paris, 2004” is of him/herself wearing a skirt while still maintaining his/her sense of masculinity. This piece is meant to display how masculinity and femininity do not have to take turns being displayed; rather they can be displayed at the same time and can still be beautiful and empowering. Del LaGrace is also holding a body-building pose which plays more into the masculine aspect of this piece, like they are saying “skirts do not make me anymore feminine or masculine, and neither does this pose.” Volcano wants to defy the norm and show that normality is what is weird.

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Del LaGrace also explores drag in black culture. Their piece “Dred: BigDaddyMomma, New York City, 1997” is a picture of a woman dressed as a man, which shows that these things go both ways. It is not always a man who wants to be a woman, but rather women want to be men too. Another thing that is so prominent in this piece is the fact that, whether she wanted to keep them intentionally or not, she still has breasts and utilizes them with her drag. She still exudes a confident masculinity. Volcano wants to display that even in black culture—which tends to be stereotyped as a culture in which women are overly sexual and feminine and men are overly masculine and dominant—there are people who deviate from a perceived norm.

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The last piece that I looked at was Del LaGrace’s “Liminality (Self-Portrait), 2004” the symbolism in this piece is much more prominent than the other pieces that I have looked at. In the first one, it was more a display of confidence and acceptance. In the second one, it was more a display of the act that there are exceptions to the norm in different cultures and amongst different races that may not get as much representation as they should—and it was important to see it displayed. This final piece is another self-portrait and he/she is pressed up against a piece of glass and he/she is absolutely covered in shaving cream. The thing that draws the most attention is the fact the Volcano is pressed up against this piece of glass, almost as if being pressed into society and symbolic of being almost forced into societal roles. This piece is so indicative of how Del LaGrace feels about the norms that dictate society. It also looks like he/she is pushing away, as if he/she is trying to become his/person. This is supposed to be symbolic of what it is like and what it was like for him/her to accept the intersex aspect of his/her life and adjusting to it to become his/her own person.

These pieces on their own and as a collection display the differences in intersex and transgender culture and portray them in a way that they would feel and look beautiful and symbolize something on a deeper level. This art exhibit pushed the limit of how people think about people and this community in general. Del LaGrace knows what he/she is about and knows that pushing people to realize that there is now such thing as a normal gender, or even a normal sense of gender, brings attention and representation to intersexuality, drag, and transgender culture.

Intersexion

“The first question any new parent asks… “Is it a boy or a girl?”

But what happens when doctors cannot answer that question?

1 baby in 2,000 is born with genitalia that is so ambiguous that no one can tell if the child is male or female.”

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As New Zealand’s first “out” intersex person, Mani “Bruce” Mitchell was determined to bring positive attention to those who identified as intersex, a variation in sex characteristics which currently encompasses over 30 prenatal conditions. With the assistance of award winning filmmaker Grant Lahood, “Intersexion” was created, now an award winning documentary that acknowledges intersex as a condition that is part of people, not what defines them. This heart wrenching documentary, which you can watch here,  inserts us in to the personal stories of people and how they have faced the tale of adversity. Many stories revolve around the secrecy and interventions suggested by medical professionals as set out by Dr. John Money, who thought that nurture could shape gender which we now know to be false. Other stories exude happiness, stemming from the parent’s choice of not taking the doctors advice and simply loving their child as they are; a person. “Intersex” provides us with a plethora of emotions, introducing us to the condition of intersex, a term that is not uncommon but simply unheard of because the public is still uncomfortable discussing it.

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Queer culture because is exemplified in the film by showing the lives of those who are living outside of the heteronormative and gender binary world. Judith Butler stated that gender performativity is at the root of this problem due to the repetition of gender roles and the expectation of the heteronormative life narrative. Those who don’t fill the molds of those expectations are considered queer; they are straying from the norm. This encompasses exactly what intersex people exemplify; a group of people proud to be away from the norm. Proud to be representing their people, their family, their condition.

Les Feinberg stated that “each person should have the right to choose between pink or blue…” At birth, most intersex infants are not even given a choice of sex, let alone gender. For this reason, “Intersex” is a strong contender for both the gender and sex categories. We live in a world where society dictates and drives the moving force towards “normal.” Why is that? We give doctors the power to decide if our infant is male or female. But what if they child is neither? Can’t we just look at the child and be glad that it is healthy and alive? People are so used to routine, to pattern, to comfort, that when something deviates from that role, catastrophe happens. People are unsure what to do. This film is stupendous in plentiful ways, but I adore that it gives people an introduction in to the lives of intersex people to show that they truly are just people who want to known for their intelligence, love, and integrity not just their condition.

On a lighter note, Germany became the first country to have “intersex” as a category on the birth certificate. Hida Viloria, an intersex woman who told her story in Intersexion, was interviewed with other activists about their response. Slowly, but surely, intersex is gaining a voice.

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“I hope this documentary will show everyone that the ‘shame and secrecy’ model hasn’t worked – and that intersex children can grow up to make informed choices about their own bodies.”- Mani Mitchell.