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.


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