Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Venus Boyz

During the opening scene of Venus Boyz, the audience immediately can see what Judith Butler says when she writes about gender being performative. Bridge Markland tells the cab driver, "I play man, but I also play woman." The interesting discourse between ze and the cab driver, when he asks if ze "plays husband or boyfriend" further reminds us that society believes in binaries and traditional gender roles, while others believe gender can be fluid and is a broad spectrum with more than male/female. Bridge also states that ze believes doing drag is political for hir, which honestly is something I never thought of. Sure, I always enjoyed drag and found it to be funny but also amazing to see people playing with gender in that way, but political? After viewing Venus Boyz, I definitely see it that way -- subverting gender roles, making people think, bordering between the feminine man and masculine woman and everything in between is absolutely making a political statement.

Halfway through the film, Judith Halberstam discusses the butch/femme dichotomy, and how some folks can turn it on or off. In her essay "Transgender Butch: Butch/FTM Border Wars and the Masculine Continuum", she writes that "masculinity is [seen] as a limited resource, available to only afew in ever-decreasing quantities. Or else, we see masculinity as a set of protocols that should be agreed upon in advance." Halberstam continues by saying "there are a variety of gender-outlaw bodies under the sign of nonnormative masculinities and femininities." I think Venus Boyz accurately displays that: many of the people interviewed stated that they fall somewhere in between, or even outside, the wide, ever-expanding spectrum of gender, and some folks don't consider themselves either masculine or feminine -- like Storme Weather, and don't feel the need to categorize themselves. Society constantly wants to place people in two checkboxes -- male or female -- and it leaves little space for the in between. This documentary proves that gender (and the performance) doesn't have to be either/or, that it can be fluid or a constant state of flux or neither or both all at once.

5 comments:

Adam-Scott Green said...

In the beginning of the film Mildred is literally “putting on” Dred to perform as “drag king” identity. Drag King entertainment highlights the malleability of gender. Gender takes form, places us into male or female constructs, when we perform masculine and feminine differences. We can perform with costume and presence.
The film really illustrates the freedom between social constructions and biological implications of identity. Gender is fluid. Boys will be boys and girls will be girls, is just not an adequate analysis of the human experience. Especially when we see a diverse group of biological women who do not comply with traditional femininity. The drag king concept in this film gave me new insights into how biology and identity is negotiated- when a person is flip flopping in and out of socialized male or female characters. “Many of the mainstream media commentators on Drag Kings wanted to emphasize the idea that a very pretty feminine woman could be transformed through props and costumes and a little bit of facial hair into a very convincing man. The performance of gender is more than the clothes, and more than biology.-Judith Halberstram” I agree Heather. Doing drag emphasizes that gender is more than a check box. It is even more than one lifestyle can handle. When Ze performs Mildred, the masculine and the feminine is being challenge. When Ze is performing Dred, the masculine and feminine is being challenged. Her true identity is not compromised. Ze responds to stimuli. It would be foolish to think that either of ze performances is limited to the confines of fiction and reality. What is clear, is that the “audience” is more fit to cater to a more male or female identity. The audience is perfoming too. This film helps expand the script for gender. I don’t think anybody was surprised that Mildred/Dred was treated differently on the basis of performing as black woman or black man. Or that different existences, more androgynous performances, could emphasize the variations on the gender continuum. Can the audience handle the "is it a boy? is it a girl?" concept off the drag king stage too. Venus Boys is definitely bringing the “other” to the center of attention.

Adam-Scott Green said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wendy Lee said...

I agree that I never thought of drag as something political. But when she explained it by saying te drag king's view is any art form that creates controversy is political I started to think about it in that way. By having drag kings and queens they are saying "we can do what we want no matter what your societal 'views' and acceptance may be." They are saying that if I want to be a man today, I can. Or if I want to be girly I can, it does not matter what society tells you to do or be like, it's truly up to you.

In that same scene as the drag king expressing his/her political take on drag, she/he also talks about the idea we have discussed in class about fitting inside the box. It is explained that there are girls who are programmed to be girly and feminine, but there are also girls who are more manly and masculine but the box, or society's pressures pressure the girly to be feminine and only feminine. The idea of the drag kings and queens take that idea of living in the box and throw it in the trash. They are saying I am me both masculine or feminine and you are not going to tell me I should be some other way.

Yourmercurymouth said...

The "putting on" of the identity was one of the most interesting aspects to me. milDRED, as ze stylizes hir own name, has two completely different personas, and inhabits both with equal believability, not only the dress, but also hir entire carriage, which changes so quickly when ze dons Dred's attire. I was honestly a bit shocked that someone so incredibly beautiful and in a way, very traditionally feminine, could be so convincingly male, almost as though to act as a case study for gender fluidity. Someone, I can't remember whom, mentioned that the drag part isn't an act, as much as a different side of oneself. This is not always the case, of course, as sometimes, as Heather mentioned, it is very specifically used to make a statement about a side of masculinity that is generally cartoonish and undesirable, as with Diane Torr's characters, Jack Spratt and Danny King. Diane seems to identify much more with the masculine than the concepts of "maleness" introduced in "Part of the Package," and expresses it as just another way of navigating hir life, dressing as Danny King when going out in public, as though to play with the differences in perception, as "Diane" is obviously the most dominant part of Diane and the multiple other personas are just that. Drag kings seem to play with gender in ways that fits into our most ready conceptions of gender difference, not a trace of femininity remaining. One interesting part of "Part of the Package" is that the men (biological and trans) surveyed believed that "maleness" is not solely the province of the masculine, but an amalgam of gendered behaviors, including the feminine. As Adam mentioned, I believe that androgyny would add a very interesting dimension to drag king shows. However, the performance might be compromised because the entire point is to exaggerate gendered behaviors to make a statement about their silliness.

Patricia said...

The above comment is mine. Google said there was a comment error, so it ended up getting posted four times and I even attempted to use OpenID, which just looks stupid now. Sorry.