13 November 2010

Write here, write now.

To writers (& all artists): don't ever wait to begin. There is no time, ever, that you will be so prepared and inspired as to immediately birth the perfect, complete piece. I just allowed myself to write five incoherent pages and realized that, while I already had the support of my advisor to insert my own narrative into my thesis, to write truthfully about drag, I must totally radicalize the form of scholarly writing. In this moment of artistic & scholastic liberty, I realized that I am writing both a thesis and a one-(wo/hu)man performance piece.  

Drag in the post modern age is about transcending barriers; I cannot tell a new truth inside an old structure. Liberate yourself.  Be spherical instead of linear.  Hold contradictions in your mind and wait for the truth of the paradox to reveal itself.  Be brave.  Be brave with me.  Help me be brave, when I doubt my own voice and think this was all a grandiose, terrible, very bad, very scary idea.  

It probably helps to endlessly re-read the Tao Te Ching.

My friend Mel and I, with props provided by Kings n' Things from Austin, TX, posing in their hotel room at the twelfth annual International Drag King Extravaganza.  After an amazing series of interviews for my thesis (and the upcoming documentary being produced which gave rise to my own studies) they wanted to dress us up and have a photo shoot.  Clearly, we happily obliged.

09 November 2010

The Thrill of Queer Scholarship

There is something extremely thrilling about the research I am currently undertaking on drag kings for my thesis, which is the capstone experience of my baccalaureate education in gender studies.  Since returning to school to complete my B.A., all of my research has been relatively trying, primarily because I have consistently chosen to examine the largely unexamined, ie, LGBTQ, non-white, and/or anti-capitalist individuals and communities.

Angela Davis' autobiography is out of print; I had to buy it.  The library didn't have a copy of The Transgender Studies Reader; I borrowed it from a friend.  One of the best queer scholarly journals is British; I've begged access from professors who are also gracious friends and who have access to better resourced libraries than I do.  In other words, my research on queer subjects has necessarily reflected attributes of many queer communities: communal pooling of resources, resilience in the face of frustration, crafting a voice for myself and my communities from a little of this and a dash of that and heaping scoops of moxy, audacity, and pride.

Somehow, this research on drag kings has been easier.  In fact, it's ben so much easier that it's harder:  I have a bumper crop of scholarly articles and theoretical frameworks, so much so that I have to be extremely specific in my focus in order to keep to twenty five to thirty pages.  This is before I have begun logging and transcribing the footage that I captured, with the tireless efforts of my wonderful friend Mel, at the twelfth annual International Drag King Extravaganza.  I have yet to set foot in an archive to unearth historical artifacts; time constraints will not allow me to do so.

In addition, the relatively small of queer communities puts lots of people within my reach whose straight counterparts I would be unlikely to have access to.  What do I mean by unusual access?  I mean that my phone buzzes at a half past midnight and one of the theorists upon whom my work is based has texted me to say we should make a date to discuss my work.  Similarly, the relative youth of a (vaguely) cohesive set of LGBT cultures in America, essentially post-Stonewall, means that many of the founders are still alive or, at least on film and very much remembered by the adults and elders of my communities.

There is another dimension of joy in my scholarship, and that is style in which I am finding some of the articles written.  There is an infusion of personal narrative directly into scholarly examination.  Indeed, it was a suggestion in the feminist research book that accompanied the course that it can be a feminist project to assert new feminist epistemologies and methodologies, including the location of the scholar in the scholarship, rather than posing as an objective observer as in modern scientific experimentation.  I had jokingly asked my Twitter followers whether I could refer to a theorist by first name in my thesis since I knew her personally; the answer was a clear "no."  I further challenged that this was a thesis on drag, that irreverence should reflect in the style of the writing as well as the subject, and that I could turn the paper in with glitter in the cover to make this clear.  Indeed, I believe that a queering of the academic style could be valuable to its overall purpose, which is to amplify the voices of those who are often culturally, and especially legally, voiceless in society.

One final joy: reading about people that I have seen perform as formative in drag communities and culture.  I can take or leave Hollywood stars; boutique celebrities who perform on small stages and are written up in scholarly journals make me swoon.

My photo taken at IDKE XII: Gender Justice by Puppet L'Artist.

05 November 2010

In which Judith Butler's semantic brilliance leads to a mantra for uppity activists

"To make trouble was, within the reigning discourse of my childhood, something one should never do precisely because that would get one in trouble.  The rebellion and its reprimand seemed to be caught up in the same terms, a phenomenon that gave rise to my first critical insight into the subtle ruse of power: the prevailing law threatened one with trouble, even put one in trouble, all to keep one out of trouble.  Hence, I concluded that trouble is inevitable and the task, how best to make it, what best way to be in it." Judith Butler, preface to the 1st edition of Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity

Well there you go.  We're all in trouble anyway, we might as well make trouble for all of the right reasons.  This is a call for subversion, and for civil disobedience.  

Civil disobedience is stating, through actions, that laws do not define what is just, and certainly not what is real.  Civil disobedience says, "this law that denies me my full humanity is not real.  I am real.  I am only an outlaw as defined against your oppressive system.  It is oppression, and not me, that needs doing away with."  Laws are merely a reflection of the current state of progress, or lack thereof, in a culture's social contract and the resultant legal code and associated judiciary and penal systems. 

Another way I often think about the unnecessary deference we pay to the law is when people, upon discovering that I go by a chosen name and not my legal/father-given name, often ask, "oh, well what's your real name then."  My real name is whatever I tell you it is.  My legal name is James Paul Flesher.  It's on a birth certificate and a driver's license and a passport as well.  All of them were issued by agencies of a government that has deemed me a second class citizen.  I am real.  It is not.  My name is Rudy.  I am an outlaw, not because I live outside of what is just, but because I refuse to let an arbitrarily oppressive system define my reality.

Let's cause some trouble.  Clearly we're in for it anyway.  Let's caucus on how best to make it and what best way to be in it.