The Try Guys Open Eyes

From Left to Right: Ned, Zach, Keith, Eugene

The Try Guys is a group of four guys that tries things most men have never considered or would never consider trying. Buzzfeed conceptualized The Try Guys in September of 2014 when Buzzfeed released “Guys Try On Ladies’ Underwear For The First Time // Try Guys.” Since then, The Try Guys have exploded on the internet gaining increasing popularity among Buzzfeed’s avid YouTube viewers. The group consists of a fairly standard circle of four guys: Eugene—the cool, talented, and pretty one; Ned—the cute, silly, and fatherly figure; Keith—the kooky, awkward, intellectual; and Zach—the nerdy, weird, omega of the wolf pack. Together, these four have experienced anything from trying drag to nude sushi modeling to pseudo-childbirth to BDSM, all while allowing the YouTube audience to vicariously experience such activities accompanied by the guys personal insight.

This group is an important addition to this archive not only because of their willingness to cover taboo topics publicly for anyone to see (such as drag, nude male modeling, and male stripping), but because of who the four guys are. Aside from the civil rights oriented Eugene (who happens to be the only non-white member of the group), the group consists of fairly normative, presumably straight, white guys. This makes the group have so much influential potential; the group reaches out to a demographic of people who are arguably a conservative and judgmental group of people—straight, white guys—and allows them to see that a lot of “gay” things to do may not be stupid, weird, or “gay,” but actually very interesting, fun, and even liberating. Additionally, it also gives out the message that, “if they did it, and they’re cool and normal, then I guess it isn’t weird.” More importantly, Buzzfeed also has other audiences of many different demographics that these videos are viewed by both in the U.S. and around the world; to these audiences, this can send out the message that not all straight, white guys are the stereotypical, closed-minded person that many think. All of this added together just creates a recipe destined for positive influences.

We can see The Try Guys’s influence to multiple demographics (including worldwide audiences) in this clip from a video posted November 21, 2015 (from 2:30-2:37).

In two specific videos, “The Try Guys Try Drag For The First Time” and “The Try Guys Try ‘Fifty Shades’ Style BDSM,” The Try Guys cover topics directly related to this class. In these videos, The Try Guys explore the topics by performing them personally; this allows the guys to ask the very common questions anyone unfamiliar with the topics has and also bust any myths or misconceptions about the topics.

As we experienced in the Gender Performativity unit, specifically RuPaul’s Drag Race, drag performance is not some crazy act by men to get into the pants of other men, nor is it strictly for the purpose of “being a woman.” Instead, we saw that drag is like a theater performance; the actors do it for their personal desires—whether it be to enact a persona, entertain an audience, or to be a queen for a day, etc.—and the audience watches for entertainment, for a unique experience performed with skill creativity, and heart. The Try Guys give us all of this and more; we get to see their personal journey of a day in drag along with how their closest family and friends felt about the experience. Throughout their journey we find that the experience was one of hesitation at first, but ended with a finish of satisfaction and liberation. We see this best when Zach says, “there’s a fear of compromising your masculinity, but who cares.”

The Try Guys and their endeavors continue in another video where we get to watch and learn about BDSM with a professional, The Try Guys, and few female Buzzfeed coworkers. We start off with the Buzzfeed employee’s personal misconceptions about BDSM followed by an explanation by the knowledgeable Buzzfeed workers. This parallels Pat Califia’s explanation of BDSM; Califia shares what many think of BDSM followed by her explanation of why these misconceptions are not accurate representation of what BDSM actually is. Just like for Califia, Buzzfeed and The Try Guys are trying to dismantle the taboo of BDSM and show its true inner workings, specifically that BDSM is not crazy and violent sexual assault, but rather a consensual role playing coupled with a power dynamic and strong physical sensations. Together, I think the video and Califia’s work exemplify that, as Califia explains, BDSM is a fantasy where participants are enhancing sexual experience, not impeding it.

Because of such progressive work reaching out to a vast and varying audience, I believe The Try Guys are just one step in the right direction to help thwart misconceptions of taboo topics in our world. Much of their content is enlightening and entertaining; I highly recommend that, if you haven’t already, check out the rest of their videos. They have done plenty to bring a little perspective to their audience, and it looks like they have just scratched the surface.

Pariah

Dee Rees’ 2011 award winning film Pariah   starring Adepero Oduye, Charles Parnell, and Kim Wayans   is about a young black girl accepting her lesbian identity. When the movie begins, Alike (Oduye) is shy and uncertain, but she slowly learns and comes to embrace all of herself.

Alike is a junior in high school whose only friend is the openly lesbian drop-out Laura (Pernell Walker). They hang out in lesbian clubs, in which Laura frequently pressures Alike to find a girl to have her first sexual experience with. Neither of Alike’s parents know about her sexuality, though her mother Audrey (Kim Wayans) has her     suspicions. Disapproving, Audrey forces Alike to wear more feminine clothes and spend less time with Laura. She pushes Alike to befriend Bina (Aasha Davis), a much more feminine girl from church.

Though their relationship starts out rocky, Alike and Bina grow to like each other. Their indifference becomes deep discussion about music and sharing their love for writing, while Laura slowly fades out of the picture. One night after a concert, they end up kissing. Because she has not had any previous experience, Alike is reluctant. But eventually she opens up and it is assumed that they sleep together. The next morning, Alike tries to discuss their relationship but Bina responds by saying they don’t have one. She says she’s not actually gay, just “doing her thing” and urges Alike not to tell anyone. Alike leaves abruptly and, once she gets home, cries her eyes out.

Alike wakes up to her parent fighting. Her mother is screaming about Alike being a dyke while her father Arthur (Charles Parnell) is consistently denying it. Eventually Alike gets involved and finally comes out to her parents. Her mother attacks her, the punches only stopping when Arthur pulls her off. Alike flees to Laura’s house.

Some time later Alike’s father finally comes to visit. He urges her to come home, saying that things will be different. Alike doesn’t acknowledge his statements, instead telling him that she got accepted into an early college program for writing. Alike leaves for California, unable to reconnect with her mother. The film ends with one of Alike’s poems.

Heartbreak opens onto the sunrise
For even breaking is opening
And I am broken
I’m open
Broken to the new light without pushing in
Open to the possibilities within, pushing out
See the love shine in through my cracks?
See the light shine out through me?
I  am broken
I am open
I am broken open
See the love light shining through me
Shining through my cracks
Through the gaps
My spirit takes journey
My spirit takes flight
Could not have risen otherwise
And I am not running
I’m choosing
Running is not a choice from the breaking
Breaking is freeing
Broken is freedom
I am not broken
I’m free.
This storyline definitely has parallels to the narratives of many LGBTQ+ community members, regardless of race, gender, or class. The trauma of being abandoned and seen as a freak by the people closest to you is not something new.
Judith Butler’s concept of gender performativity is prevalent throughout this film. Butler argues that gender is not something we have, but something that we continually act out. In the beginning of the film, we see Alike on the way home from the club. While she is still on the bus, she slips out of her baggy clothes and into something more fitted and feminine. Audrey buys and makes Alike wear girly clothing, despite her daughter’s protests. During the scene where Alike comes out to her parents, Audrey tells her husband that Alike is turning into a man. This is what really emphasized the performance of gender. It is not her daughters gender identity or even sex that determines whether or not she is a girl, but how she is acting. And baggy clothes are not something that girls wear. Audrey’s motivations for buying Alike the clothing are so that she will become a “true woman”, and true women are always heterosexual. Of course, Monique Wittig would say that Alike never was and never will be a woman, and somehow I think her mother would agree.

Queering Racist Symbols

While watching the movie “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar”, I was so wrapped up in the plot that I did not notice the big details. One of the larger details that I missed that was brought up in class is the moment in the film when RuPaul dressed in the confederate flag at a drag ball. The ball occurs in the beginning of the film; the three main characters are in a competition to take the ball’s title. RuPaul is introduced as last year’s winner and makes her début donning the glamorous confederate flag gown. RuPaul is one of the most widely known drag queens. She is an actor, recording artist, television show host, and has been the face of drag queens for quite some time.

Not only is RuPaul’s dress made from the confederate flag, but also the dress is made to be very extravagant and glittered. RuPaul has taken the very negative symbol that goes against even aspect of her character – black male, queer, drag queen – and turned it into a freaking dress. If that is not a huge   to the confederate flag and its meaning, I do not know what is.

RuConfed

There has been a controversial debate around what the confederate flag represents. Some people believe it is a symbol of southern pride – while most recognize the confederate flag as a symbol of racism and a reference to the horrible acts perpetuated against black people during that time. The flag also represents white supremacy and the push that happened against the civil rights movement. In my opinion, if the confederate flag is considered a symbol of southern pride, we have to take into consideration the period in which this represents. The south openly embraced slavery and the lynching of black peoples during the time the confederate flag was embraced. It is also important to note that this era has not ended, these acts have just changed form and are still perpetrated in a different manner. Southern pride must include that history so if you are claiming to embrace racist ideals. During the time of the confederate flag, this was also southern pride:

The only difference between these two images is that this image cannot be put on a flag and be mainstream.

Why is RuPaul wearing this symbol of racism and white supremacy?

Elizabeth Freeman would describe this phenomenon in terms of “temporal drag”. According to Freeman’s piece “Time Binds”, “temporal drag is a productive obstacle to progress, a usefully distorting pull backward, and a necessary pressure on the present tense”. Temporal drag is when a specific object representing a certain culture is revamped. This remaking is meant to conjure memories of the past, but not continuing or mocking it; it is remodeled for a different reason.

I agree with partially with Freeman’s concept of temporal drag. I agree with the notion of an object of the past being created into a new entity, however, I do feel like RuPaul was mocking it. I believe she was showing that the flag meant absolutely nothing and was just another piece of fabric. Drag queens are known for two actions: performing and “reading”. Reading, in drag queen terms, is a form of publicly making fun of someone. I believe RuPaul was definitely reading those individuals who embrace that flag by making it into a dress and performing for those at the ball. She was demonstrating how much she did not care about the meaning of the confederate flag and showing the lack of respect for it. The flag means the world to some people and she was showing them that the flag and it meaning actually meant nothing.

In carrying out this performative reading, I believe RuPaul is concurrently reaching for something else, something deeper. As Jose Munoz said in his novel “Cruising Utopia”, “Turning to the aesthetic in the case of queerness is nothing like an escape from the social realm, insofar as queer aesthetics map future social relations. Queerness is also a performative because it is not simply a being but a doing for and toward the future. Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality or concrete possibility for another world.” In a way, I believe RuPaul was performing the acceptance of all people. By making that flag into an extravagant gown, she is rejecting white supremacy and the systems that are created by that supremacy which oppress groups of people.

I believe there are many reasons why RuPaul decided to wear that dress instead of verbalizing her opinion. However, the main reason could be that she did not want to spend time explaining how she felt to those who would questioned her.

Audre Lorde said it best, “Black and Third World people are expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world. The oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions. There is a constant drain of energy which might be better used in redefining ourselves and devising realistic scenarios for altering the present and constructing the future.” Why should those that are oppressed explain their plights and their feelings to the oppressors? In order to avoid that explanation, RuPaul decided to wear that gown instead of speaking her feelings. If the oppressors want to understand the oppressed, they need to do research of their own instead expecting the oppressed to explain everything.

Middlesex

cara

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.”

The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs

AlbertNobbs

The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs is a novella published by the writer George Moore in 1927. It, and its 1980’s adapted stage play, is the genesis behind the 2011 film Albert Nobbs. Directed by Rodrigo Garcia, the movie includes a cast of Glenn Close, Aaron Johnson, Mia Wasikowska, and Janet McTeer. Glenn Close plays the title character, Albert, who is a woman masquerading as a butler in a mid 1920’s Ireland Hotel. Her role is shaken when she must share a bed with a visiting painter, Hubert (played by McTeer), and her identity is discovered. What is more confusing to Albert than having her gender known is that Hubert is as well a woman living as a man. The two form a friendship that cumulates with Hubert suggesting to Albert he ask a woman to marry him so he can have a companion. He chooses the maid Helen (Wasikowska) who is already embroiled in an affair with the boiler man (Johnson). The two scuffle and Albert is hit in the head, tragically dying through internal injury and thus ending the dream of marriage and independence.

This story needs to be represented in the archives because it is a commentary on the queer theory of What is visible and What is invisible. Albert can get no work as a young woman; so she steals a butler’s uniform and enters the profession for the safety and security of the male domain. That first move is already laden with symbolic questioning, because why a butler position? Where wait-staff is seen and not heard, it seems to already be a focus on the visible invisibility of queerdom and drag. Where it is known but it is not acknowledged by mainstream society. The returning theme of hidden and known is aptly summarized during the party scene where the owner of the hotel addresses both himself and Albert, “We are both disguised as ourselves”. There is no more fitting description for the constant conscious struggle of gender-queer in their everyday interactions as the unfamiliarly familiar. Albert is the quantifiable notion of suppression, a woman living as a man working as a butler constantly in fear of losing place and purpose. She cannot reveal her secret because that is actually all she is. What is most intriguing is that even as he saves to own his own shop and gain a measure of freedom, he no longer wishes to run it as a woman. Instead he wishes to marry and have a companion throughout his (drag) career.

Albert embodies himself, he is a butler for thirty years, she is a man for a lifetime, and he no longer identifies with any other name. It calls to *Butler’s thoughts on ‘gender performativity;’ it is a personal example of a constant citation, a sedimentation of repetition. She so continuously plays and believes the role of ‘male’ that given the chance to change, she would not take it. A moment emphasized during her day of ‘reverse drag’ where she walks to the beach in a dress. It is uncomfortable, a caricature of a person who does not exist. He does not want to be a woman in the heteronormative definition of the word; he just wants to create a world where there is neither fear nor threat of discovery. This fear is demonstrated when Albert’s panic of an outside flea accidentally brought in by Hubert leads to exposure. ‘Normal Societal Expectations’ is the flea and Albert “cannot abide fleas”.  There is parallelism drawn from outside forces and how they hinder and damage Albert—for it is the outside force of head trauma that ends his life. What others do to Albert is constantly at odds with what Albert wishes to do for himself. Society is against what Albert is within.

To quote Les Finberg about the fluidity of Gender, it “is the poetry each of us makes out of the language that we are taught”. Albert taught himself to live as a ‘he’, but the nearly universal indiscrimination faced if he were to be found out, discrimination even if she lived as a ‘she,’ is what creates her language of reservation and seperativeness. She suffers under the invisibleness of her biological sex, suffers under the weight of maintaining its invisibility, and the visible invisibility of her chosen profession. Albert lived a quiet, lonesome life, and died a quiet, lonesome death. His life is the theory of what must remain invisible even as the visible creates lasting damage. The constraints placed upon gender, of what is allowed to be known and what is not, is ultimately what killed her. He needed freedom of movement, and that is not possible in a dress. Society’s view of Albert as an ‘impossibility’ created the dichotomy that made her lead such “a miserable life”.