Celluloid Closet

Saturday, June 6, 2009

I've spent the majority of the day sitting (okay, lounging and lying) on the couch watching TV. It feels terribly luxurious. I did get up for a while to go hunt for a new perfect tea-mug for work (which I didn't find, but I did indulge in some new Luminarc mixing bowls), and a non-carcinogenic foundation (turns out the brand I've been using for performances has totally dangerous chemicals...boo! I didn't find that either....indulged in 2 t-shirts from Old Navy instead).

My unnecessary shopping, however, is not the point.*

The point is that I did watch some non-trashy TV. For Pride Month, PBS showed "The Celluloid Closet," which is a documentary about LGBT characters in film, and the way that Hollywood has shown (and not shown) them. The history was interesting, though I suspect that I would have gotten more out of it if I were a film buff.

One point, about the difference in the way that homosexuality was depicted in early cinema for men and women, was exactly the same as a point that Julia Serano made in her book Whipping Girl.

I read Whipping Girl a few months ago, and at the time, I wanted to write a review/dissection of it. I didn't, though, because it was around the same time as the pro-trans/anti-trans blog kerfuffle, in which feminist blogs on both sides of the "issue" spat venom at each other. I really didn't want to get into it, especially since prior to reading the book, I really didn't know much about trans theory.

Serano's main hypothesis is that femininity has been demonized and scapegoated, and a feature of that is the way that gay and/or gender variant people are looked at: a woman wanting to be a man (or acting like one) is far more accepted than a man who wants to be (or "acts like") a woman, because men are considered superior to women.

This same point was made in "Celluloid Closet" in regards to gay characters. In the early days of Hollywood, up to about the 30's, male homosexuality was only referenced in terms of the "sissy" character who was ridiculed and derided. Lesbianism or masculinity in women was less stereotyped and more acceptable to audiences. The example was Marlene Dietrich dressed in a totally snazzy, perfectly tailored tuxedo, swaggering into a nightclub, tipping her top hat and knocking all the women AND all the men off their feet.

Interestingly, it was the 2nd time this weekend that I've thought about film in reference to Serrano's work.

Boyfriend is away again, which means that I've filled our Netflix** queue with all sorts of things that he won't like. Namely, costume dramas. This time, I'm on a steady diet of the showtime series "The Tudors."

The entire thing seems to be devised for the sole purpose of showing Jonathan Rhys Myers with his clothes off, which is something of a shame because the costumes are gorgeous. They are not always historically accurate (um, no, bare shoulders were not acceptable in the Tudor era), but beautiful nonetheless.

Anyhow, I kept thinking back to Serano's idea that femininity (or masculinity, for that matter) is to a certain extent ingrained, since some people develop affinities for its trappings at a very young age.

I know that I didn't quite agree at the time, but my counter-argument became much clearer as I watched "The Tudors." It just doesn't seem to fit in my head that the way one expresses gender is biological since the tools of expression have changed so drastically from one era to the next.

Whipping Girl is very interesting and thought provoking, even if I don't think that I quite agree with all of the theories in it. It taught me a lot about the history of the Trans movement, and the ways in which current trans issues are deeply tied to traditional sexism.

Incidentally, I think that I propose a change in vocabulary. Rather than "masculine" or "feminine," which claim a rightness or an essentialism to the way that some women and men act, I think we need new words that won't have a negative connotation, and can simply be descriptive.

I propose "froofy" instead of "feminine."

I'm still looking for a good word for "masculine."

Let me know...

*My income has gone up this spring, giving me a certain amount of disposable income the likes of which I've never seen. It's not much in the grand scheme of things, but it makes things like a weekend of reasonably priced, though not absolutely necessary items possible.

*Have I mentioned that I friggin' LOVE Netflix?? It's inexpensive, and lets me watch as many old PBS shows as I can manage!


Anonymous said...

For "masculine", how 'bout "tailored"?

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