Butchness & The Watermelon Woman

Something the Watermelon Woman is making me think a lot about is masculinity and gender presentation especially in the cis lesbian community. A lot of the content we have watched recently have focussed on cis women who are masculine of center. Rhea Butcher in Take My Wife, as well as Tamra and Cheryl from the Watermelon Woman. These three women talk about their womanhood with pride at the same time as presenting in a way that often gets them mistaken for men or boys. In The Watermelon Woman there is a brief scene where Cheryl is harassed by the police and called a boy, and Rhea Butcher (who has said in interviews that she identifies as cis-gender-queer) makes jokes about being perceived as a boy sometimes as well. I find the border wars that are created when I watch these butch women as a non-binary trans person interesting. What does it mean for me to relate so intensely for some of these women? What does it mean for these people to break down gender roles while at the same time definitively claiming womanhood and often violently ignoring the existence of tranwomen and transfemine people?

I have a lot of questions about the Watermelon Woman and Q.U.E.E.N.  The question Conrad brought up in class has stuck with me this week and I’m wondering if there is such a thing as “positive representation” and if so can representation ever be more that a tool that distracts us from the real and pressing problems of White Supremacy. I’m still trying to figure out my thoughts on this and it is definitely something I want to discuss more as a class.

Names in The Watermelon Woman and Q.U.E.E.N

 

I think a lot about names!  About my name, why I was named that, what it carries for me, how it makes me feel, how I feel when different people say it, what other people think of my name, what feels like the right/wrong way to say my name.  Other’s peoples names, how I pronounce them, what I infer from them about others, what they mean for those people.  I think names are really, really important. And I think for queer people, names carry really specific meaning.

In The Watermelon Woman, the title is also the name that Cheryl calls Fae Richards.  Fae was credited in the movie she was in as “the watermelon woman.”  The white director stripped Fae of her name and gave her an identity that upholds racist notions of Black womanhood.  Fae didn’t have the basic right to name herself, to claim her name—an experience shared by many people of color and queer people, especially Trans* and GNC people.  Does a name hold identity?  In the film, Cheryl eventually finds June Walker, Fae’s longtime partner and a queer Black woman.  She is angry with Cheryl for even using the name “watermelon woman.”  When we name those in history, especially queer people, what do we decide about how they are represented?  I want to connect this (mis)naming to Heather Love’s “Feeling Backwards,” and the potential hurt to be uncovered but also created when Cheryl looks backwards for a queer Black woman in film.

In Janelle Monae’s “Q.U.E.E.N”, she starts by asking “I can’t believe all of the things they say about me,” and throughout the song she describes when others name her as “dirty,” “freak,” “weird,” “insane,” “sinner,” “rude,” and more—and she names herself in the title and throughout the song as a queen.  All of the names others call her are racialized and queered names, that queer people and Black woman are called to delegitimate, marginalize, and harm.  She claims instead that she is a queen!

But she also distances herself in real life from being labelled as gay, so I’m not exactly sure where to go with that…  I think that the names we are called, choose to call ourselves, and more are really crucial.

Ethics of the Archive; WOC Activism

This is the first year that I have started to think critically about queer archives. I watched Watermelon Woman last semester in my Intro to Queer Studies class, and it was great to watch it again for this class though a different lens. I am really interested in why queer people have such a attraction to the archive. From Watermelon Woman and Q.U.E.E.N., Celluloid Closet, to much of Susan Stryker’s work including Screaming Queens and a podcast I have recently stated listening to, One from the Vaults which talks about Western trans historical figures, queer people do a lot of thinking about, exploring of, and living in the archives. What is it about the queer archive, or our current queer moment, that draws queer people to the archive? What is the importance of remembering histories—often times ones that are filled with violence and pain? I think we have touched upon this a little bit in class already, but I would love to continue this conversation.

In another class I am taking this semester, Critical History of Asian America, we are also doing a lot of thinking about the archive, and what I am learning in that class has informed how I interacted with this week’s texts. Since so much of the archive available today is about dominant hegemonic narratives, marginalized people and narratives are often erased. This often leads marginalized people to go back to try to find evidence of people who hold their identities within the archive and to “fill” the archive with personal accounts and histories that have been left untold. The issue with this, potentially, is that it erases the violence that the archive enacts onto marginalized people. How do marginalized people write their own histories, create their own archives, and work within the dominant hegemonic archives without forgetting about the violence within it? If we “fill” the archive with material that wouldn’t be there otherwise, do we forget about the violence of erasure? Furthermore, is the past safer than our present? Do we need the past to validate our present? I think that this is an important ethical conversation that we should engaging with, so that we are doing justice to those that have been erased through the archives and to those who are fighting to create change today.

Another piece that I am thinking about from this week’s texts is the importance of activism from people of color, specifically black women. Last night I read a tweet by writer Bill Werde (didn’t know of him before, Liv Bruce from PWR BTTM retweeted this): “Beyonce shifted a whole culture, IMO. Katy Perry isn’t putting out political pop if Beyonce doesn’t make it okay. No shade. #grammys” White women who have taken things from black women—Katy Perry’s “activism”, Adele’s entire musical genre and style—were celebrated by the Grammy’s last night. I think we can see a similarity in this week’s viewings. In Q.U.E.E.N., Janelle Monae raps, “She who writes the movie owns the script and the sequel./So why ain’t the stealing of my rights made illegal?/They keep us underground working hard for the greedy,/But when it’s time pay they turn around and call us needy.” Monae speaks to the slave labor industry that persists today to generate massive wealth for the 1%, and also to the intellectual and emotional work that black people, especially black women, have done without nearly enough credit or renumeration (the biggest understatement ever). The success of white artists such as Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and Adele is predicated on the genius of black woman artists like Janelle Monae, Erykah Badu, and Beyonce. In our conversation about archives, it is important to keep the women and femmes of color that have pioneered our ability to have these discussions— Cheryl Dunye, Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera— in the forefront of our collective mind.

The Watermelon Woman and Q.U.E.E.N.: my thoughts

Hi all,

I really liked the plot of “The Watermelon Woman”. The first 20 minutes were confusing for me because there is a lot of place- switching in this movie and I did not know what to expect. Cheryl makes a movie about Faye Richards because she thinks that something in the way she looks and moves is interesting. I liked how dedicated Cheryl was to finding information about the watermelon woman and how she started her research by asking different people on the street who the watermelon woman is. I think that the style in which “The Watermelon Woman” was made, makes it very authentic and it is easy for the audience to get emotionally involved with Cheryl’s but also Faye’s story.

Cheryl’s and Diana’s story reflects the lesbian relationship between Faye and Martha and I think this made Cheryl even more dedicated to find more information about Faye Richards. My favorite scene was in the video store: the boss is trying to flirt with Diana but Tamara calls him and says that there is a woman on the phone who claims to be his girlfriend. This gives Cheryl the chance to talk to Diana which leads to the sex scene in Diana’s apartment. Diana seems very confident, while Cheryl is a little intimidated because she has never kissed a woman before. I found that the film-within-a-film relationship between Diana and Cheryl and Faye and Martha is a smart concept.

When I watched “Q.U.E.E.N.” for the first time, I was so distracted by the costumes the dancers were wearing, that I did not pay attention to the lyrics. I found the woman in the gold/ white costume disturbing and also the red stripe on the woman’s face gave the video a special touch. I did not really know what to make out of it until I listened to the lyrics once more that ask “Am I a freak for dancing around? Am I a freak for getting down? Say will your God accept me in my black and white? Will he approve the way I’m made? Or should I reprogram, deprogram and get down?”. It turns out that the singer is self-confident and comfortable with being herself although it could “make others uncomfortable”. She also points out that she does not only like the way she is, but that she “will love who [she is]”. Another important fact is that she says that if others categorize her, she defies every label. While watching the video, the singers gave me the feeling that we as the audience should also accept ourselves for what we are and stop caring too much about things that other people think of us.

I am looking forward to our discussion on Tuesday!

Best,

Melanie

Not So Glee-ful Representations on “Glee”

Hi everyone!

I should probably start by saying that Glee used to be one of my favorite TV shows. I’m definitely excited to be the resident Glee semi-expert for the purposes of providing context during our upcoming class discussion. That being said, it’s a real task looking back on a show I wholeheartedly adored and learning to criticize it. Back in 2009, I was originally floored that the show represented minorities in the relatable setting of a public high school. But in retrospect, I’m beginning to realize why I needed the show in the past versus why I can’t be satisfied with it in the present.

A commonly expressed complaint about Glee’s format by critics and the general viewership is that it tries to accomplish too much. That is to say, its cast has a host of “token” characters that act as monolithic representations of their respective narratives. The main cast is an eclectic ensemble of identities, with one or two characters that are uniquely of a certain race, queer identity, or other disadvantaging characteristic (for example, there’s a boy in a wheelchair, a teacher with OCD, and a cheerleader who has to deal with her teen pregnancy). The show is flawed in attempting to flesh out every single character, instead of having less dimensional roles to support the multi-faceted principle storylines. Though the show offers representation for a lot of groups, it falls flat of satisfactorily developing any of the characters. That’s just what I’ve taken away from my own long-term experience with the show.

This connects to my thoughts after rewatching the episode, “The First Time”, which primarily follows Rachel and Blaine’s decisions to have their first sexual experiences with their respective partners. It’s problematic for Kurt and Blaine to be the only established gay couple in the show, who are strung along the more immoral path of the two narratives to get to the title “first time”. Leticia already pointed out this disparity between Rachel and Finn’s story and that of Kurt and Blaine. The fact that the sanctity Kurt and Blaine’s relationship was threatened by a competing gay, Sebastian, as well as by the “impurity” of the gay night club and nonconsensual advances, is especially scandalous when paralleled with Finn and Rachel’s less sinister misunderstanding. To see these two stories against one another strongly implies a difference in expectation of how *The Gay Relationship* and *The Straight Relationship* are meant to play out.

So, a little about queer comedy. One thing I found interesting about the comedy aspect of both the Glee episode was the tendency for humorous one-liners to be mere supplements to the overarching drama. It seems more necessary for the characters to be treated with serious storylines in this show, and much of the satisfaction in watching it comes from watching them overcome their unique problems. For example, I chuckled at Coach Beiste hastily evacuating the room when Artie suggested more sexual passion to his actors, but this comes back later as the key point that Beiste has never felt sexually attractive to anyone. The Take My Wife episode was a little more successful in providing comic relief separate from the main conflict; in this, it felt more natural in contributing a queer narrative to a mainstream genre.

I wish I could write more about Take My Wife but I feel like this is getting long, so I’ll save my other thoughts for the class discussion!

peace out,
Martina

Take My Wife… and My Financial Support

Despite being a show about two lesbians’ relationship, I felt that Take My Wife had a lot of heteronormative undercurrents, particularly in terms of marriage, support, and stability (a fact that is not actually that surprising). We see that Rhea and Cameron’s relationship is troubled by Rhea’s day job, which she clearly doesn’t enjoy but needs to continue working because $$$ (“Day job? You mean the thing that gets me money, medical insurance…”). Cameron, feeling ignored and alone, asks Rhea to quit her job and allow her to support Rhea financially: “You could quit your job and I could support us. I could totally afford this apartment.” Sounds familiar?

It’s the same heteronormative rhetoric that appoints one person as the breadwinner, typically the husband. In Take My Wife, that husband-breadwinner and housewife dynamic is queered on the basis of the genders and sexualities of Rhea and Cameron. While that may be a good thing in its own right, I am concerned with the episode’s perpetuation of static roles in marriage – “I could support us.” I want to believe that there were other ways that Rhea and Cameron could have patched up their relationship without turning to that economic/power dynamic and model of marriage and with both able to continue their comedy careers. On the other hand, I thought it was cool how the episode changed (~queered) the typical proposal narrative by Cameron spontaneously asking Rhea to marry her as they sat in the empty theatre after their show.

I think these ideas relate back to our discussions on Queer Liberalism and the act of buying into an inherently harmful institution in order to affirm rights and achieve equality for LGBTQ+ folks. In this case, Take My Wife as a show buys into the uneven power structures of the institution of marriage while simultaneously starring a non-stereotypical lesbian couple, as Leticia mentioned in her post. My thoughts here are kind of undeveloped, so I look forward to our discussion tomorrow to see if anyone else made similar connections.

Jenn

Take My Wife!!! (& Glee, I guess)

I don’t know what it was about Glee, but I was uncomfortable the entire time I was watching it, particularly because of the virginity narrative. The fact that Blaine wanted to rush into having sex because he was playing a character that went through a sexual awakening was really upsetting. I don’t watch the show, but it seemed like Rachel and Finn’s experience was aligned to a normative, non-deviant path, while Kurt and Blaine’s was not. Of course, the ~gays~ had to end up at a gay bar, with a figure causing a rift between them with the implication that Blaine might cheat. Of course one of them had to get drunk, and obviously it was impossible for them to not use fake IDs or do something illegal. Did Rachel and Finn go through any of this? No! They got a narrative of love and special moments, and what got in the way was Rachel’s “ambition” (which is kind of an iffy portrayal of women, but more on that some other time). Yes, there was the connection to sex and intimacy for both couples, but their path to that was clearly different, and I’m fairly certain sexuality had a lot to do with it.

Now for Take My Wife. I LOVED this episode, and it’s not just because they were cute lesbians and I’m biased. I appreciated that they didn’t fit exactly into the masc/femme binary, their relationship wasn’t cringe-worthy, and they seemed like two happy, fairly well-adjusted lesbians who were trying to figure life out. It wasn’t hypersexualized, the dick jokes were on point, and everything else was funny and light. Just the kind of queer television I’m looking for. I felt the discussion on women in comedy was important, and the components of social media on the show were a great reflection of our current culture. Since I liked this first episode so much (and will likely keep watching it, to be honest), I started thinking about what exactly makes a comedy show funny and successful.

In the last couple of years, the most popular comedies tend to portray “real life”, daily settings and situations with a comedic twist. These tropes are so popular, in my opinion, because people see themselves in these worlds, yet there is comic relief, there is “wackiness”, there is excitement, no matter how ridiculous. It is the normative world they know with a little laughter infused. So yes, I enjoyed watching Take My Wife, but clearly, these women are set on a path to domesticity, and this comedy follows lives that are not entirely normative, but not degenerate either. And while it is great that queer people are achieving some form of representation in these comedy tropes, the question of what is “positive representation” that we brought up in class applies once again. What would constitute positive representation of a non-heterosexual relationship? Can these representations be truly positive if they are still enforcing the heteronormative ideal of a family, and the “end-goal” of marriage and reproduction that we talked about when discussing Obergefell v. Hodges?

I want my happy gays. I want my gays that don’t die. But how can that be achieved without subscribing to the same values that oppress us?

Looking forward to the discussion!!!

Leticia

Glee

The episode, as the title suggests, is about having sex the first time. Virginity is depicted as something that is given or taken, with the individual with power doing the taking. Lea Michelle’s character even says something along the lines of “you’re going to get something that no one else can say they got,” reinforcing the idea that the man takes something that the woman has to give up. Since both these characters are depicted as being virgins, Lea Michelle is also ‘taking his virginity,’ not just the other way around.

The episode also suggests that intimacy is a prerequisite to losing your virginity, in both the heterosexual and homosexual sexual encounters. From our discussions, we know that intimacy is closely tied to ‘the end’ goal of marriage and children. This implies that you must lose your virginity to ‘the one’ that you end up with, which almost always is never the case. The fact that society frames these broken relationships as ‘failures’ shapes its citizens’ belief system as well.

In addition, this episode reminded me of the conversation we had in class about innocence and losing innocence. Virginity in our society is synonymous with innocence, and you are no longer ‘pure’ once you lose it. Yet this ‘purity’ is only applied to women. Would like to interrogate this idea more.

Queering Narrative

As I am beginning to read Judith Roof’s Come As You Are I am thinking about the Eng reading we did, and some of the discussion we had in class around heteronormativity and homonormativity. Something that stuck with me from last class was our discussion around the narrative that sexual encounters are predicated on the assumption that people are looking for a relationship that leads to marriage/children, and how this leads to the idea that a relationship is considered a failure when those things don’t happen. It seems like Roof’s piece ties into this when it talks about narrative needing an ending to make sense. Roof writes “without the expectation of an ending, we have difficulty discerning a story, its pleasures, terrors, lessons, its making sense of things,” I think that radical queerness that critiques marriage disrupts the expected narrative arc, making the lives of queer people (their ‘pleasures, terrors, ways of making sense of things’) more difficult to be read and controlled by the patriarchy.  I’m also thinking about my own approach to intimacy, and the things that I have been taught to value in my relationships. I am really interested in thinking more about the ways that we talk about and value different kinds of relationships, and the language we use around relationships and intimacy. I think it is useful to think about narrative to do this, and I’m excited to read more of the Roof piece.

The Little Mermaid and Reinforcing Binaried Logics of Bodies

Watching “Poor Unfortunate Souls” made me consider how relationships of power are constructed and reified in narratives meant for children. In “Poor Unfortunate Souls” we see Ursula show how bodies that are marked as deviant can be changed to inhabit normative definitions of attraction. Ariel is coerced into subscribing to these ideals— trading her voice for a pair of legs. Thinking in terms of the title for Tuesday’s class “Narrative Expectations”—The Little Mermaid is reifying the expectations that a narrative goes from undesirability to desirability and from deviant to normal. The snippet of Ariel’s narrative in “Poor Unfortunate Souls” made me think about the relationship between trans bodies and the state. Ariel is manipulated by Ursula, who holds an uneven power relationship over her, into changing her body and giving up her voice (which can be read as giving up her agency and her “voice” in the broader sense— her ability to speak out against oppression). The state, which is committed to reinforcing normative binaried expectations for bodies, continually coerces trans people into undergoing sexual reassignment surgery (SRS).

Reinforcing binaried logics of bodies assists the state in the creation and reinforcement of gendered, raced, and class hierarchies. Writer Andrea Smith outlines in her work, Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy, that the reinforcement of heteropatriarchy as the basis for the home structure reifies hierarchies of power in the intimate setting of the home so that racial oppression and hierarchy goes uncontested within our larger political, cultural, and social institutions. Judith Roof echoes this concept in Come as You Are, when she write about Freud’s binary premise, “The binarism of these life dynamics exists not only at the expense of other possibilities…but also as a result of a narrative of completion and wholeness that can result only from having all the of the parts and none too many” (Roof, 29). The state needs the narrative of completion and wholeness, as Roof writes, in order to create the fallacy that there are no other possibilities outside of a binaried model of gender and no possibilities outside of the US nation state and its gender, raced, and classed hierarchies. It is fascinating to think of just how important the materiality of our physical bodies is to upholding racialized cisheteropatriarchy– how can we give freedom for trans and gnc people to have agency over their bodies while also refusing and resisting the narrative of a “whole” and “correct” body? The state’s apparent anxieties over order and completion are played out on trans bodies, and the successful upholding of such structures is contingent on policing deviant bodies into binaries.

Conrad