Tuesday, June 22, 2010

inspiration: body, identity, disguise and performance

unity ball, montreal, 1996 by pierre dalpé

gender, drag and identity as performance/costume have been weighing heavily on my mind lately. i mentioned in a few earlier posts how the longer my hair gets the more uncomfortable i am with how my gender performance is read. sometimes i really love the subversion of high-femme dress juxtaposed with no makeup, hair fussing, or shaving, but sometimes i think i'd like to be a bit more "in your face" with genderfucking. shave my head. wear more menswear. it might have something to do with my loves, in real life, in film, photography, and of course in fashion.

just this past week i watched an old favourite, hedwig and the angry inch, with a friend, and nearly rounded off my consumption of everything almodovar when i finally got around to seeing la mala educacion. i think i prefer almodovar's films focused on women, but i really enjoyed the film overall.

gael garcia bernal in la mala educacion (almodovar, 2004)

on top of those films, i was recently introduced to montreal-based photographer Pierre Dalpé's work. this past year he has been working in mexico, taking portraits of actors, friends, children, and parades. but for our purposes, let us focus in on his prior work: projects like Personae, Backstage, and Clothes-Minded.
My work deals with the interconnected relationships between the body, identity, disguise, and performance.
his beautiful black and white series really strike me with their beauty and the personalities of his subjects contained within the frame. aside from the fact that they raise questions about gender, performativity, drag, and trans identities, they are simply amazingly beautiful.

here are a few more images from his website, as well as some quotes about gender.

from clothes-minded:

peter, 1990

alex, 1990

there is a real respect and appreciation for his subjects that i think really comes across strongly in these pieces. one wonders, does dalpé also do drag himself? who are peter, alex, manny, julie and colleen? are these his friends, lovers, brothers in arms? are these portraits necessarily deep deconstructions of what "gender" is, or are they just a simple homage to the beauty of these people and how they choose to present themselves? so many potential questions, all triggered by beautiful photographs.

from personae:

saul, sarah and joanne, 1998

jeffrey and ultra, 1998

the forrest twins, 2008

his series personae, on the other hand, clearly makes references to diane arbus and plays more with performance and costuming than his other portraits. the theatrical staged aspect of these portraits really make you wonder about how much our every day gender presentation is... well, staged. interesting food for thought.

There is no original or primary gender a drag imitates, but gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original. - Judith Butler, "Imitation and Gender Insubordination" in Inside/Out (1991) edited by Diana Fuss

Masculinity and femininity are like two dialects of the same language. Though we all understand both, most of us "speak" only one. - Esther Newton

Gender is not something that one is, it is something one does, an act… a “doing” rather than a “being.” - Judith Butler

to end things off, recently i have been poring over the pages of gender relations in global perspective, edited by nancy cook. one of my favourite readings so far has been leslie feinberg's "the giveaway," which focuses on how trans people have been treated by various native communities across north america, and the impact of colonization on those people (who are referred to as Two-Spirited). it is a really powerful text, i highly recommend reading it.

i think it is incredibly important for us to understand who benefits from imposing a rigid gender binary on bodies of all various presentations, especially in lieu of the news of recent medical interventions on young girls with "clitoris deemed too big" by doctors. once again we have to ask ourselves questions about why we are so obsessed with the idea that there are only two sexes, and in order to be socially accepted, we must fit into the very narrow definition of what is an acceptable woman or man.

but! that is another rant for another day, only slightly related to these wonderful images, films, and people. in the meantime, here are some of my favourite parts from leslie feinberg's piece, the giveaway. seeing as today is national aboriginal day, it's quite appropriate to talk about how much colonization sucks and how native people kick ass. reading the whole text really makes a powerful point about resistance and resilience.

The language used by the colonizers [steeped in hatred] to describe the acceptance of sex/gender diversity, and of same-sex love most accurately described the viewer, not the viewed. And these sensational reports about Two-Spirit people were used to further "justify" genocide, the theft of Native land and resources, and destruction of their cultures and religions.

What stunned me (about discovering the Two-Spirit tradition) was that such ancient and diverse cultues allowed people to choose more sex/gender paths, and this diversity of human expression was honored as sacred. I had to chart the complex geography of sex and gender with a compass needle that only pointed to north or south.

.... What was responsible for the imposition of the present-day rigid sex/gender system in North America? It is not correct to simply blame patriarchy, Chrystos stressed to me. "The real word is 'colonization' and what it has done to the world. Patriarchy is a tool of colonization and exploitation of people and their lands."

and of course, i wouldn't let you run away without more potential brain candy!

recommended readings:
Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity by Judith Butler
Gender Through the Prism of Difference, edited by Maxine Baca Zinn, Pierette Hondagneu-Sotelo and Michael A. Messner
Disciplining Foucault: Feminism, Power and the Body (Thinking Gender) by Jana Sawacki
Gender Relations in Global Perspective, edited by Nancy Cook

Genderbent #2, by Cherry Poppins (available for download at the link, thanks to the Queer Zine Archive Project)
Gender Trouble available in zine form (downloadable pdf)

gender and sexuality resource list

Paris is Burning (Jennie Livingston, 1990)
...And the rest is drag (King Crip Productions, 2009)
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell, 2001)

as always, i highly encourage people to support your local independent book dealers! and check with your library; if the books you are looking for aren't available, ask them to order them for you.


Kaeti said...

I loved reading this -- thanks for always posting such well thought-out content. It's refreshing to hear from stylish ladies who take an interest in discussing gender issues, colonialism, imperialism, etc...


Anonymous said...

Hi. I don't know if I've commented before, but I wanted to say that I adore your blog.

Good call on the Hedwig recommendation. It's my favourite movie - so I'm biased here - but it brings up so many interesting notions of gender and sex (the physical act and the category). My friends and I have talked about it at length. For me, one of the most interesting parts of the movie was pointed out to me when one of my friends mentioned that it was never indicated whether Hedwig/Hansel had any inking of being a transwoman before the operation. Ever since I never know whether to say Hansel or Hedwig, as the ending is somewhat ambiguous.

I also wanted to point out something about the genital mutilation story. I read an article about it that gave me the distinct impression that the victims were girls, but as was explained to me (and afterward was so obvious I felt stupid for not realising), the children were not girls per se, but intersex children. They were only deemed girls after their genitals passed the test.

olivia said...

have you read feinberg's 'transgender warriors?' it discusses gender transgressors throughout history. it's amazing.
gosh, i wish i had more time to respond to yr articles. i appreciate your blog nd viewpoints so much!

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