Early last week, the prominent queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz died at the age of 46. An obituary was posted for him on Bully Bloggers, where Muñoz was a regular contributor and member of the self-described “queer word art group”. In the obituary, his fellow bloggers and collective members write “José would often quote Jack Smith’s barb about Maria Montez (or was it Allen Ginsburg?) that they were “walking careers”: this was a high ranking insult from José and it was reserved for people who could not remember why they were in academia – people who sought out the “stardom,” the attention and forgot the pleasure, the collaborative potential, the sheer joy of writing, thinking and being in proximity to performance – those people were ‘walking careers.’” In the midst of the stress and over-work of graduate school (especially at the end of the semester), I was particularly struck by these words. I felt that, over the years of studying, teaching, grading, researching, writing, and navigating the ever-stressful world of graduate studies, I had lost sight of “the pleasure, the collaborative potential, the sheer joy of writing, thinking” of scholarship. This unnerving insight brought me back here, to this blog, a blog of my own, that I had begun shortly after starting graduate studies many years ago. This blog is an archive of the feeling of pleasure and joy that motivated me to pursue a life in the academy in the first place. I am happy to have remembered this site. I am happy to be reminded of the pleasure that I feel for thinking and writing, a feeling that is far too often buried under the burden of stress and labor that graduate school inevitably entails. I am happy to have returned. Once again, the wisdom of Muñoz has brought clarity to the life of this gay scholar.
“I would like to beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far into the future, you will gradually, without ever noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
-Rainer Maria Rilke
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”
Judith Butler, the foremost thinker of queer theory, coined the concept of ‘performativity’ : The concept of performativity posits that there is no pyschic core to each individual. Judith Butler uses the example of drag in her book Gender Trouble to argue that acts with socially determined meaning produce a set of characteristics that define a person : Gender is performative because the appearance of maleness or femaleness is a product of acts which carry socially determined meaning (such as wearing pants versus wearing a dress to produce the effects of maleness and femaleness respectively for example). We can extend the concept of performativity to include defining characteristics other than just gender.
Social capital, parallelling the concept of performativity , can describe the origin of many characteristics that define a person on a social landscape. Social capital can be simply described as the concept that what a person does for a living, what kind of music they listen to, what establishments they frequent, etc.. provides an individual with social value to be employed on a social landscape: To be able to talk about current events, or the best new band or book or film, or to tell stories of exciting events that happen at your particularly exciting place of work, or tell give your opinion of such and such popular travel desitination etc… at a party can make an individual seem attractive, giving them social appeal, and therefore, in economic terms, social capital.
Considering these two ideas simultaneously, performativity and social capital, all the characteristics that define a person on the social landscape can be considered insincere: We don’t just wear a suit to work everyday because we want to, or we like to, but we wear a suit to work everyday in order to appear a certain way on the social landscape, be it so we can appear male, or professional, or display a level of wealth, etc…; We don’t just like Chopin because we really like romantic piano music, but there is a part of us that likes Chopin so we can talk about how much we like Chopin in order to appear cultured and intelligent. This list could go on.
If these two ideas do indeed describe why an individual is defined the way they are, from their gender, to their career, to what brand of toothpaste they use, can a person be truly genuine? Is it possible to be authentic in a society that considers all defining characteristics to be socially constructed?
There is an increasing amount of individuals who roam the streets of urban centers whom employ the concept of performativity and social capital with the greatest of ease and efficiency. Such individuals engage in the strategic deployment of identity: They are able to gage what social knowledge and performative acts they should execute in order to make the greatest gains in social capital in their personal social niche. Often, they deploy diverse forms of social capital, showing an indepth knowledge of indie bands while hinting at an intimate knowledge of classical music all in the same breath for example, in order to appear well-rounded.Facebook is a pure realm of the strategic deployment of identity in our cyber-obsessed culture: Through facebook, an individual is required to consider and state all their interests and personal preferences, granting them the ability to display their social capital wealth in the public sphere. In essence, Facebook requires an individual engage in the strategic deployment of identity. But the individuals who engage in the strategic deployment of identity are always conscious of the social value of their social capital and performative acts. They are the epitome of social insincerity.
In contrast, I argue, authenticity can only be achieved in a state of acknowledged ignorance. The paradox of acknowledged ignorance is achieved when an individual is able to appreciate and understand the systems of social capital and the identifying the effects of performative acts, but dismiss their value (and therefore their importance) on the social landscape. To say “I like X, or I do Y, and I don’t give a damn what it means to anyone!” is the mantra of acknowledged ignorance: It both acknowledges that social capital and performative acts produce the illusion of identity, but also that they ignore the value that social capital and performative acts have in our social-economic system.
So, to be sincere, we must merely adopt the rallying cry for homosexuals and drag queens that is triumphantly proclaimed in the musical “La Cage Aux Folles” : “I am what I am, and what I am needs no excuses!”
“You can’t live in the world without an idea of the world, but it’s the living that makes the ideas.”
-from Angels in America
Two men relaxing on the same couch, laid back with their legs spread before them, watching the Leafs game on TV.
Two men at the local pub, a pitcher of beer and two glasses between them, talking about the economic crisis.
Two men, sweaty from their rigorous work out, spotting each other as they finish their last reps.
Close friends. Best buds.
In each scenario, it is there. Sometimes you only have to squint your eyes and look ever so closely. Sometimes all that is required is to close your eyes and feel its presence. But it’s there. The pink elephant in the room.
Friendship, comradery, and bonding between men is a subject of curiosity in recent pop culture. The new movie “I Love You Man” and MTV’s hit reality show “Bromance” are inspired by a fascination with, and the conflict produced by, relationships between men that become emotional, rather than merely social. At the heart of the inherent conflict produced by the intimate relationships between men in these popular culture examples is the implicit threat of homosexual desire: If the modern heterosexual man is to have ‘feelings’ for someone else, those ‘feelings’ must, in part, be sexual. This equation of emotional=sexual, and therefore emotional=homosexual in terms of male bonding, is the “pink elephant” that haunts friendships between men.
“I Love You Man” and “Bromance” are not so subtle in referencing the implicit threat of homosexual desire. It would be very rare to find a woman who ever expressed her desire for another man using the phrase “I Love You Man”: The title is implicitly uttered by a male voice to another man. An online description of the movie employs the word ‘man-date’ once again implying the love, dating, and consequentially the sex that follows is always potentially a part of male-male friendships. “I Love You Man” is a euphemistic way of saying “I Love You So Therefore I Want To Fuck You Man”.
“Bromance” is equally as euphemistic. “Bromance” is one letter away from the word ‘romance’ evoking dating, love, and, again, consequentially the sex that follows. The print advertisements for MTV’s new show also not-so-subtly hint that love paves road to sex as well: By using the newly coined slang ‘brofriend’, ads for “Bromance” equate intimate relationships between men with heterosexual relationships. Between men who are would describe themselves as “very close” the term ‘brofriend’ is used, while a woman uses the term ‘boyfriend’ for the man she is intimate with. “Bromance” is one letter away from saying “I Do” in front of your parents to your gay husband at you gay wedding in Provincetown.
Sexuality as a part of male bonding is not a new phenomenon. In Ancient Greece, much research suggests sexual activity was integral to the relationship between master and student. In other cultures of the world, The Sambia tribe in Papa New Guinea for example, require that fellatio occur between a young man and an adult man as a rite of passage to manhood. Yet, Western civilization has done away with such ‘rites of passage’, and manhood is now colloquially achieved by having sex with a woman. Why then is there a revived interested in homosexual sex practices as part of conventional male-male social interaction?
When considering issues facing one particular gender, it is intuitive and often useful to consider the current dynamics of the opposite gender. Because this consideration of the threat of homosexuality in male bonding is contextualized by the realm of popular culture, let us look to pop culture in considering the social dynamics between women. Recently, the image of ‘(Post) modern woman’ was presented in pop culture in the successful phenomen “Sex and the City”. “Sex and the City” illustrated the ‘(Post) modern woman’ as being powerful, successful, wealthy while treating men as ultimately “disposeable”. If modern women don’t need men and can easily dispose of them, and if modern women can find emotional satisfaction in each other (the bonds of friendship in Sex in the City were sacred), then men must find emotional connections with other men to satisfy their emotional needs. The “pink elephant” magically appears in the room.
But what is so threatening about homosexuality anyway? Following from the logical syllogism we have derrived above, homosexuality threatens the end of humanity. If women have no need nor interest in men, and men grow fonder and fonder of each other to the point they feel compelled to express their love physically through acts of sex, then natural reproduction will end. No more children. No more families. No more suburbs. Oh Carrie Bradshaw! How would you have ever known you were the Harbinger of Death and Messenger of the End! Only will Manhattan survive!
Female bonding in pop culture does not incite the same fear as male bonding. As mentioned above, there was never the threat that Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha would give up men and start fucking each other (though Samantha did experiment with Lesbianism for a time, the audience was well aware it was merely a passing phase – Samantha is too slutty to settle for such finite sexual identity categories). The friendships between the women of Sex and the City were sacred in such a way that sex could never enter into the equation. In Paris Hilton’s reality television circus “My New BFF”, any girl-on-girl action would be considered ‘sexy’, but never threatening. Unlike male bonding, female bonding never includes the threat of homosexuality.
In direct contrasts to representations of female bonding, male bonding in popular culture is presented as some sort of threat. Though it is unlikely that “Sex and the City” and “My New BFF” alone are responsible for the renewed interest in male bonding and the threat of homosexuality, and though ancient and distant cultures that include homosexuality as part of social convention may be tangential, homosexuality remains to be a common conflict in pop culture. A conflict that must be resolved and once resolved, removed to make way for the reproductive power of heterosexuality and the continuance of the human race. A conflict, that if not removed, achieves the status of ‘threat’. Conventional social relationships must adhere to the strict categories of the platonic/social, and the emotional/sexual, for the modern man. The anxiety from the threat that accompanies homosexuality is produced by the fact that such an emotional connection between men does not fit into the two aforementioned available categories. And if the characters in “I Love You Man” and “Bromance” do find happiness through intimate relationships with other men, the Pink Elephant will follow them whereever they go, until their desire brings about the end of natural heterosexual reproduction and the annihilation of the human race.
I need to speak to you
but you are far away.
Online I am Everywhere
and we are close again.