Archive for July, 2011

I have recently been explaining how I see ‘metrosexuality’ as a contested site where people are struggling over its meaning. The concept of metrosexuality, and metrosexuals, is not based in academia, but in the media, and people’s everyday usage. The originator of the concept, Mark Simpson, is a journalist himself, and this is significant because he was immersed in contemporary media (including media marketed specifically to ‘men’) when he coined the phrase in 1994.  As Simpson has demonstrated so effectively, metrosexuality, men’s desire to be desired (within consumer culture)  is mediated masculinities. It cannot be separated from representation.

But now, in 2011, it is not just Simpson who feels he has an understanding of what ‘metrosexual’ means. People who discuss gender online use it, people who work in the fashion industry, ‘male grooming’ experts use it, as do other journalists, a few academics and others. There is not one agreed definition of ‘metrosexual’ though. Its meaning is created through usage. And the more people use it, the more meanings it will accrue.

Or rather, the more struggle there will be over its meaning. Because ‘metrosexual’ relates to gender/sexuality identities, and they are always contested within certain limits of our understanding. One of these limits is the ‘gender binary’- our concept of the difference between man/woman, masculine/feminine. In fact, metrosexuality is a direct challenge to our understanding of the gender binary, but it probably also reinforces it in some ways.

A great example of the ‘struggle’ over the meanings  of metrosexuality is a comment from my  Good Men Project piece:

‘Actually, why not make “gender roles” a *pair* of dualities? Instead of Real Man / Real Woman, why not Metro Person (Male or Female varieties available) / Retro Perrson (comes in the same two flavours)? This will allow for both tradition and innovation to co-exist, and who wouldn’t prefer to co-exist, considering the alternative?

You can’t go from male to female with too much ease, so why not allow for Metro/Retro to be two well-defined territories with porous borders? Fluidity doesn’t need to mean total fluidity, and a small amount of rigidity allows for a level of certainty that fosters a feeling of security. Best of both worlds? Maybe.’

The commenter is trying desperately to stay within the gender binary. And s/he can’t say ‘metros are girly’ and ‘retros are real men’ because that’s the myth I have just pulled apart.  My piece argues, as influenced by Simpson’s analysis, that the concept of the ‘retrosexual’, ‘real man’, who rejects the girly, unmanly metrosexual identity, is actually just a display of metro-anxiety and denial.

So the commenter comes up with a Metro/Retro binary that both men and women can fit into! S/he says you can have retro men and women, and metro men and women. S/he has embraced the idea of ‘fluidity’ but can only cope with it up to a point. Which could be an aspect of metrosexuality itself – fluidity up to a point. And the ‘best of both worlds’ s/he wants is not just the best of metro and retro, but the best of the worlds of binary essentialism and constructed/changing identities. Where people can be ‘porous’ in their identities but they still fit into two sets of ‘well-defined territories’.

My point is that whilst I do not think you can have two separate binaries of Retro Man/Retro Woman and Metro Man/Metro Woman, the fact that somebody else does, is interesting and important in contributing to the meanings of ‘metrosexuality’ in culture.

A note on ‘discourse analysis’: my academic training, and my PHD on gender, involved using a form of discourse analysis that interrogates how people form and contest identities in language. I was in part influenced by researchers and writers such as Widdicombe and Atari:

I always used to find writers kind of ridiculous, self-regarding, vain and over-sensitive in their receptions of reviews of their books. Until I got some myself. And then I became ridiculous, self-regarding, vain, and over-sensitive.

So I am not sure how to even begin to give a fair account of the three reviews my debut novella has received.

They are all from people who I know personally, as online friends. One, Mark Simpson, is also a writer who I have read avidly and not a little critically. Not to mention including him as a subject in the fiction itself. So he would have had more right than most to lay into my little girl. He didn’t. He wrote a generous review, but it is what he doesn’t say that I am sure is more true and more meaningful than what he does. What he doesn’t say, is what made him a subject of my writing. If there is a space, I am always inclined to fill it. And now what Mark Simpson doesn’t say grows and expands and stretches over space. So to me, his review looks like a blank. I can’t see anything in it.

Elise Moore took my book and used it as a starting point for a discussion on the themes it refers to-homosexuality, and women’s relationships with homo-men. She also acknowledged how reading a piece by someone she knew, about someone she knew was disconcerting. I know she liked the book, but again, what she doesn’t say stands out to me more than what she does.

Fenner Pearson I think actually says what he actually thought when he read the book. And I found his words easiest to digest as a result. I don’t think he leaves anything out. And, like Elise, he acknowledges the weirdness of reading fiction by someone you kind of know, but kind of don’t, via the internet. My favourite bits  of his review were where he referred to being a Dad himself, and feeling bad when he is ‘absent’ from his kids, not physically, but by being off somewhere in his head.  And also when he mentioned the final scene of the book, where a ‘man’ and a ‘woman’ have a conversation on a clifftop.

Maybe that is the scene that caused the most trouble, as it is where someone who tends not to say things, actually speaks. It is the truest but also the most ‘fictional’ scene in the story. Because I know full well it will never happen in a million years. Which is why I had to make it happen. That’s what writers do. They turn that awful, crippling, dull, depressing inability that humans have to communicate with each other, and they transform it into meaningful language. Thank goodness.

Amir Khan is the latest sports star to join the Sporno ranks. (The photo is dark, sorry!)

Sporno is a very important aspect of ‘macho metrosexuality’ which I am beginning to examine.

Here, I think Amir makes up for that fact that he looks so pretty, and so ‘passive’ (we are used to seeing him in actual action fight scenes) by carrying his belt signifying the titles he has won in the ring. A phallic symbol of masculine, physical sporting prowess.  He also shows his slightly hairy chest, another sign of ‘manliness’ being asserted by a big-titted boy.  And, he seems to have a scar on his chest, a battle-wound. A symbol of endurance. He isn’t flexing his muscles though, or making a fist in this shot, as boxers tend to do in still poses. He is very much the lifeless object of the gaze.

In this ad, Khan does have his fists up, but he doesn’t look as if he is about to punch someone. He looks more like a boyband singer, holding his fists to his heart to display his emotion, or even someone’s bitch, waiting for the handcuffs to go on (or is that just my kinky imagination running riot)…

But then, when he is in the ring, triumphant at winning a title fight, wearing his belt and flexing his muscles, I think Amir actually looks even more pretty and certainly more camp than when he is modelling for Prada. That, my friends is the macho-metro paradox in action!

Boy #2

Posted: July 30, 2011 in homosexuality, Identity, Uncategorized, Writing

‘Oh, a sickness that can make you so ill,
Yet doesn’t have the decency to kill you.
A mad free-fall that never hits the ground,
Never knows even the relief of sudden shock;
Just endless medium-rare shock, half-firm, half-bloody all the time.
A long, slow learning curve.’

‘It is easy to find one dead thing and replace it with another; one grief for another. But it is much harder to tell which is which.

Is it you, or me, or Foucault that is dead?

Or maybe it is all three.

Writing this won’t bring any of us back to life.

But what is the point of writing through grief? Through death?’

I used to wake up talking to you. It didn’t matter where I was. Your voice was always in my head, and I always knew what you would say. It went on for years afterwards. Your voice in my head. Your words in my mouth that nobody else could swallow.  We were weird together, and weird apart. But at least when we were together we had eachother to talk to. I don’t think I ever once said anything you didn’t understand. I don’t think you ever said anything once I didn’t understand.

There was this man. I started to talk to him, a bit like how I would talk to you. I sometimes imagined he was you. But he wasn’t. But I could imagine him, sitting in the yard at the back of The Prince Of Wales, with you, and D______ and I________ and M_________ (and me, in the corner). I could imagine him saying the same kinds of words that you would say, drinking as much as you drank, and never missing a beat. He probably would have hated M________. I fucking hope he would. They would have been in competition I expect. I don’t think there is room for two pederast professors in one pub garden.

He helped me understand what happened. He helped me even feel some empathy for that cunt M______ Remember that day I didn’t know where you’d spent the night and I went to your house and I wanted to be angry but I saw your face, and how your body shrank into itself and how you didn’t have to say but I knew. That day hung over us forever didn’t it? I can still taste the air and see your living room and the exact position you sat in and how I didn’t hug you. I didn’t hug you! But it was too late.

So now I know why we carried on. Why we couldn’t talk about it without screaming or slamming the phone down. I know why I used to walk off in the night away from you, home to my own bed my own thoughts. I know why I hated you, hated him. Hated me.

Not that understanding helps us, me. I don’t think that man is glad he helped me understand.  I think he might hate me too, a bit now. Now he knows I am part of the whole thing. The boys and the men and the loneliness.

But I don’t regret it. You and your boy blue eyes and your old-man’s mind and all your literature and all that wine and the shouting over the music and my face in the pillow and waking up talking and…

I miss you.

‘ “Sissy Bounce” is the queer offshoot of bounce music, a genre of hip hop originating in New Orleans, perhaps most recognizable for it’s influence in tracks like the Ying Yang Twins “Shake it like a Salt Shaker”.

The queer version, per usual, is way more of a fucking party. This video is from a Williamsburg show where “Sissy Bounce” artist, Big Freedia performed. I so, so wish I were there.’

Now, I am all for shoving my figurative queer ass in people’s faces, and any other queer ass I can think of – the metrosexual ass, the ‘passive masculine’ ass, the woman-as-receiver ass, the macho-fag who needs a good going over ass. And ‘Sissy Bounce’ looks to be a very exciting and subversive thing. But I think, unlike Rachel Rabbit Write, I might actually be scared if I was confronted by all those pretty pert bouncing queer asses all at once!

Maybe I need some Sissy Bounce in my repressed, cerebral life…

Portions For Foxes

Posted: July 26, 2011 in Uncategorized

And it’s bad news, baby I’m bad news

I’m just bad news bad news bad news…

It’s just damage control

For a walking corpse like me, like you

‘Cos we’ll all be portions for foxes…

The Celluloid Prison

Posted: July 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

According to my most trusted queer pop culture critic, The Big Gay Movie is over. From Victim to Brokeback Mountain, the story of the man whose only identity was his gayness is old hat.

But in Beginners I see another Big Gay Movie. It tells the story of a man who comes out of the closet in his 70s, to ‘find himself’ and enjoy a Big Gay life including bonding with his son. Apparently his ex-wife is quite a ‘bitter’ woman. Well so would I be if my ex husband and father of my child negated our whole life together by declaring himself Gay with a capital G.

The documentary and book by Vitto Russo, The Celluloid Closet, complained about how gay people have been invisible in cinema. But most gay movies render many other people invisible– people like me who have had long , loving relationships with men who in many ways are homos,  but who happen to have invested something into being with and loving a woman.  I think the Gayist analysis of queerness in cinema has done more harm than traditional ‘heterosexual’ cinema in terms of denying the existence of sexual minorities. And I have a feeling Beginners is going to be more of the same.