Author Archives: lexijwhite

Lexi WhiteExtra CreditQueer Media Activism SeriesOn Saturday April

Lexi White

Extra Credit

Queer Media Activism Series

On Saturday April 20th, I attended the final event of the Queer Media Activism Series at Giovanni’s Room Bookstore located on South12th Street in downtown Philadelphia. The event entitled Archives, Affects, and Activism was held in the upstairs reading lounge area of Giovanni’s room.  All seats at the event were full both in the room where the panelists were located and the adjacent room on the other side of the stairs.  When I arrived at the event, the second floor was so packed that some guests were sitting on the floor.  I found myself standing against the wall closest to the staircase.  I enjoyed this location however, because it gave me the opportunity to not only see the panelists but also the expressions, appearances, and reactions of the diverse audience members that this event attracted.  Through mediated discussion, personal anecdotes and a question and answer segment, this event addressed the many ways media artists, libraries, community centers and bookstores are preserving queer and transgender histories in Philadelphia as well as the creativity and politics involved with making these histories available to the public.

One of the panelists was a self-identified gender queer dyke named Helyx Chase who explained her methodology for making media creation and media tools available to individuals and bodies often excluded from media representation.  Chase does this for the purpose of telling histories, and she referenced her work with the Trans Oral History Project in Philadelphia.  I appreciated Chase’s call to action for audience members and their transgender peers to take the reigns on their own representations and historical portrayals.  Also on the panel was gender queer media activist and writer, Che Gossett whose work is featured in the Transgender Studies Reader as well as in the book Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex.  I found it interesting that during the question and answer period, Che hesitated to take credit as a filmmaker despite having recently collaborated with Luce-Lincoln in directing a short film about AIDS activist, Kiyoshi Kuromiya.  I do not think one has to be an adept filmmaker to be a media activist, and would argue that Che’s archival work as a writer manifests itself through media when those who read Che’s work are inspired to tell their own oral histories through film and other modes of media.  I found myself questioning what my own criteria is for who can be deemed a true “filmmaker,” how my own understanding of this role compares with others, and whether or not this is relevant to how queer film and media activism are received by the public.  When I reflect upon the work I have been doing in Queer and Feminist Film, I already consider myself a media activist, and a filmmaker, even though I am only just beginning to test my hand and some of the basic conventions and editing tools of film.

My favorite panelist was a man named Bob Skiba, a queer male archivist at the William Way LGBT Center in Philadelphia.  Skiba gave the extensive history of LGBT community centers and archives in Philadelphia.  Like Chase, Skiba urged us to “Take responsibility for our own history.  Take responsibility for archiving it and making sure it’s secure and shared.”  Bob Skiba also engaged the audience and panelists in a discussion about the politics of archive access and distribution.  I found myself struggling with the debate of whether or not it is better to protect LGBT histories and archives in “safe space” community centers, or to disseminate projects and histories in more public access spaces.  These are questions I have never wrestled with or thought about with regards to queer history and the violences and potential censorship that pervade the very telling and sharing of these histories.  Surely the question of community-based archives vs. more public, transparent archives is a difficult one.

Bob Skiba also spoke on the digitization of the archiving process and joked about how he can now sort through histories and archives with his computer and a beer in hand from the comfort of his home, rather than being “bitched at for hours by some librarian.”  It was obvious that a woman in the crowd took offense to this statement as her next question was prefaced by, “Let me begin by saying librarians are great” so as to suggest that Skiba’s use of the phrase “bitch” was inappropriate, though perhaps used in gesture.  This moment reminded me of a moment of tension in the film “Chocolate Babies” when Larva makes an anti-feminist remark to fellow queer ally, Jameela.  Assuming from her questions and engagement with the event that this woman at the event was at the very least an ally to the queer movement, I was reminded that sometimes even while we build-coalition with individuals who stand for our cause, we can still have moments of dispute and/or misunderstanding.  Likewise, even when our social and political visions  somewhat align with others, there can still be room for more listening and learning.

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Monica Enriquez-Enriquez, Media Activism and the Politics of Representation

Lexi White

Queer and Feminist Film

Group 4 Post

In dealing with the complex narratives of citizenship, sexuality, and migration, Monica Enriquez-Enriquez’s work provides essential representations for queer asylum, but also highlights the important function of digital technologies, communities, and arts with regards to creating visibility and representation for historically silenced and marginalized populations, particularly queer migrants and asylum seekers.  Her installation fragments of migration, a Spanish-English video project, combines video and audio in depicting interviews with four transgender women from Mexico and one from El Salvador who are seeking asylum.    This project in particular, questions the asylum as a United States institution largely based on gender identity and sexual identity. It depicts the normative narratives that characterize the asylum process which yield violence and exclusion for queer migrants.  Further, it creates what Enriquez calls a “collective counter-narrative” to the institutionalized narrative produced the Department of Homeland Security.

In an online interview Enriquez-Enriquez discusses how this project and her work in general allow for very real and personal emotions to be made public.  Enriquez-Enriquez suggests that when this happens, representations can “serve as a common point to resist oppression, racism, state violence, xenophobia, and queer phobia as a community or as a set of communities coming together.” While reading this, I am particularly interested in thinking about documentary and other media representations as creative tools of activism.  In “The Cultural Politics of Lesbian Asylum,” author Rachel Lewis claims, “to be visible is to be in the realm of popular culture” (Lewis 428).  Lewis engages with the relationship between LGBT human discourses and rights, and more broadly, media advocacy.  I would agree with Lewis in that media is increasingly being used as a tool for human rights activism and globalizing social justice movements.  Lewis suggests, “Human rights organizations are repeatedly turning towards global communication networks in order to obtain and promote visible human rights victories” (Lewis 427). NGOs, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and the NCLR all have used mini-documentaries to both document and distribute queer asylum cases in the United States.

While on the one hand, I recognize the manner by which documentary serves as a vehicle for enhancing representation, visibility as well as creating space where the personal can become political, I question whether or not there is a politics of exclusion present within the realm of documentary advocacy, distribution, and representation itself.  If the claim that to be visible is to be in the realm of popular culture is true, it is important to consider how documentary advocacy for queer asylum seekers can become more visible.  Who has access to these films?  Who gets represented? Is language itself a barrier in terms of terms of accurately representing and depicting the identities and needs of queer migrants and asylum seekers in a globalizing world?  How do we avoid universalizing certain identities and experiences while depicting them?  While more cinematic films like “Unveiled” enhance visual representation in the realm of popular culture, they do not always “build communities in the flesh” as Enriquez-Enriquez aims to do through real representation.  Likewise, advocacy documentaries do not always pervade “mainstream” audiences and venues.  Enriquez-Enriquez expresses recognition of the limits of certain types of media advocacy.  In an online interview, she admits having struggled and continuing to struggle with the concept of digital technologies, New Media, interactivity, and online communities because of issues of access and marginalization.  I question whether or not some of these mini-documentary video projects actually have enough of a following and platform to yield palpable political change.  According to Timothy Randazzo in “Social and Legal Barriers” Sexuality Orientation and Asylum in the United States,” to some extent, they do.  Randazzo argues that documentary work by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and its Asylum Program have recently been the deciding factor in several successful asylum cases and in combating anti-immigrant sentiments in the United States. I do, however, believe many of these organizations have extremely limited resources in addition to limits in their capacity to reach out to and represent a diverse range of queer asylum seekers and allies both nationwide and globally.

Crossing Borders in the Digital and Flesh: Monica Enriquez-Enriquez!” Interview. Weblog post. Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory. Margaret Rhee, Apr. 2010. Web. Apr. 2013.

Lewis, Rachel (2010).  “The Cultural Politics of Lesbian Asylum.”  International Feminist Journal of Politics, 12:3, 424-443.

Randazzo, Timothy.  “Social and Legal Barriers: Sexuality Orientation and Asylum in the United States.”  Queer Migrations: Sexuality, U.S. Citizenship, and Border Crossings.  Eds. Eithne Luibheid and Lionel Cantú Jr.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.

Movie in the Real World Assignemtn

Lexi White

Queer and Feminist Film

 

Movie in the Real World Assignment

 

My “real world” film experience took place here on campus at a film screening of “Thick Relations,” in the Goodhand Room at the Penn LGBT Center.  The hour and a half-long screening drew an intimate crowd of sixteen and featured a post-film question and answer period with the film’s director Jules Roskam and writer, Alex Samets. I went to see this film on my own and while it was not screened in a traditional public theater, the setting of the LGBT center and the audience dynamics certainly had a significant impact on the film experience as a whole, and more specifically, how I experienced the characters in the film.

 I am particularly interested in the LGBT center as a space, its history, function, utility, and perhaps why this space was chosen as a location to screen “Thick Relations.” The LGBT Center has an important history and mission at Penn.  Founded in 1982 as the first LGBT Center in the Ivy League, and one of the first on any college campus in the nation, the center has historically served as a safe space for sexual and gender non-conforming individuals.  It is a cultural hub on campus that Lambda constituent groups, organizations from other Penn umbrella hubs, and local community groups and activists all have access to.  It is a space that celebrates education, community, diversity, non-conformity, support and mentorship, but it is not a space unmarked by violence or homophobia.  The center, after all, only formed and expanded in the aftermath of several homophobic incidents on campus including an incident when a gay sophomore was beaten up severely by a fellow Penn student.  The center is also a space that has had to fight hard for additional funding, staff support, and campus visibility over the years. 

In light of the fact that “Thick Relations” is a queer film, with a queer director and writer, that follows the intricate and intertwining lives of a diverse gender and sexual-nonconforming group of family friends in Chicago, it seems fitting that the LGBT center was the setting of choice for the film to be screened.  I coin the phrase “family friends” to signify that this group of queer friends depicted in the film served as each other’s family, sense of belonging and home away from home, a reality that was evident both in their interpersonal dynamics, embraces and interactions in the film itself, but also in the director’s anecdotal sharing of having acquired this “queer family” in Chicago with the individuals that he casted in the film.  This theme of family instantly reminded me of our class discussion of New Queer Cinema particularly, “By Hook or By Crook,” and the film’s similar theme of leaving home to find queer community elsewhere.  Director, Jules Roskam mentioned many of the common violences that his family friends had all overcome, violences and losses that characterized their everyday existence and queer identity in the city of Chicago, but also that brought them closer to each other and to the places that they deemed safe spaces, the same way the LGBT center serves as a save meeting space for queer students and allies at Penn; for many, a home away from home.    

One recurring theme throughout the film was the idea of gathering in the kitchen and finding family and friendship while cooking and breaking bread together.  The opening scene of the film, features seemingly real conversations as the four friends discuss work and relationships over dinner and wine.  In another scene, two queer female characters share intimate morning conversation while cooking and eating breakfast together before work.  The camera frequently zooms in on the food and beverages that they prepare and consume.  While watching the film, I kept thinking about times I have seen some of my own friends convene in the LGBT center’s kitchen just adjacent to the Goodhand Room and in the Goodhand Room itself.  I think about the role that food plays in fostering community and how the very space that I am sitting in has been used as a place for queer students to gather with food and drinks.  With this theme in mind, I find it interesting that the “Thick Relations” film-screening event did not provide food or beverages for the talk-back at the end of the film.  I think food and beverages would have been a strong addition to the experience that could have brought to life one of the major family themes in the film.

Another safe space for the friends in “Thick Relations” is the neighborhood queer bar that they frequent.  Jules Roskam shared how this bar in real life serves as a place where his friends can “happen to run into each other” on any given night of the week, a place where they find community, comfort, freedom of expression, and family.  While watching the bar scenes in the film and after hearing the director speak about his experiences in the bar, I thought about Halberstam’s account of the bar scene in “By Hook or By Crook.”  In Halberstam’s piece In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives, Halberstam writes, “Different key scenes from the film build, capture, and sustain this method of universalizing queerness” (Halberstam 95).  Halberstam describes the scene in “By Hook or By Crook” that is set in San Francisco’s notorious Lexington Bar, where the queer characters in the film and in real life find a sense of universal queerness and community, just as they do in “Thick Relations.” 

 In addition to thinking about the sense of inclusivity that I felt while watching a queer film in a queer-friendly space amongst a seemingly queer and allied audience, I think it is equally important to think about the politics of exclusivity that were present in my film experience as well.  For example, I think about the fact that even though the event was free for me as a student, reserving space at the LGBT Center does cost money, which could pose as a potential barrier for certain groups or individuals who lack the funds to accommodate reserving the space for their own communal gathering or activism.  Furthermore, I contemplate the “type” of audience that this event attracted.  In the small crowd of sixteen at the screening, I knew or recognized almost half of the crowd either as members of the queer and activist community at Penn, as fellow students from the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies department, or as professors whose courses largely engage with queer and feminist theory and themes.  While I think this recognizably well-read, queer-friendly crowd created an air of safe space for me while watching and discussing the film, I cannot help but wonder if there was an exclusion that took place in terms of who the event was marketed to.  I wonder if the same conversations would have taken place if there were more students in attendance who lacked a background in queer studies and identity politics, and I wonder what the advertising techniques and strategies were for this particular event.  Certainly, I think many of the conversations and themes that the film evoked are conversations that are most useful when they are not limited to the queer/allied community.  On the other hand, I feel certain conversations and observations are only made possible by safe space.  Perhaps art mediums such as film are the very vehicles that bring “outsiders” into certain spaces and bridge the gap between communities. 

A final observation about my “real world” film experience is that this film did not follow any particular storyline or timeline.  The focus of the film was always about the present, not the future, not the past.  In the talk-balk, the director spoke to the theme of present living and experiencing and the importance of applying this mentality to how we experience film and art. This means not being burdened by time and not comparing what we see to our own expectations of what should be or what conflicts should occur and/or be resolved.  The director addressed the anxieties and distortions that futuristic thinking can cause.  This reminds me of Robert McRuer’s assertion that the film “Bad Education” critiques the future by being “simultaneously futural and antifutural” (McRuer 18). “Thick Relations” director, Jules Roskam similarly claimed, “I could not be less interested in timelines and plots…time creates tension and that’s why the audience doesn’t grasp a sense of time in the film.”  While watching the film, I could sense that the audience was invited to feel a sense of ease about the queer community being depicted whose complete pasts, futures, and queer sexual and gender identities are never explicitly revealed.   

 

Halberstam, Jack. “Lovely and Confusing: By Hook or By Crook and the Transgender Look” excerpt from In a

 Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. New York: NYU Press, 2005. 92-6.

 

McRuer, Robert. “No Future for Crips: Disorderly Conduct in the New World Order; or, Disability Studies on

the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” Disorderly Conduct Conference. Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. 25 July 2009.

Lexi’s Project Proposal: Intersectionality through Black Queer Cinema

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Lexi White

March 17, 2013

Queer and Feminist Film

 

Final Project Proposal

In light of my interest in the genre of Black Queer Cinema and Black Queer Studies as a discipline, I would like for my final project to focus on analyzing how the politics of identity and intersectionality are portrayed through Black Queer Cinema.  I am particularly interested in two Black Queer Cinema films that I have seen in the past, films I hope to revisit so I can further research and analyze.

The first film is Marlon T. Rigg’s Classic Documentary entitled, Tongues Untied, a film produced in 1989 that largely addresses and portrays the culture of silence around black queer identity as well as the politics of exclusion in the white gay movement.  The second film is Looking for Langston, a British film also produced in 1989 by Isaac Julien.  This artsy memoriam to Langston Hughes similarly deals with themes of intersectionality between maleness, blackness, and queerness and the “othering” and violences that accompany this identity.  This film deals also with the theme of silenced identity due to celebrity and is set around the time of the Harlem Renaissance.

Interestingly, both films strongly incorporate an element of poetry as a tool for telling traditionally “unspoken” truths and creating space for candid dialogue and broken silence.  Through my final project, I hope to analyze and tell how the use of poetry in both films breaks silences that surround the intersectionality of blackness and queerness and how this broken silence manifests itself through the techniques of film that we have discussed in class so far.  Why does the filmmaker choose the particular poems? What images accompany the poems in the film and why?  How does film bring poetry to life in ways that the poetry itself might not be able to do with words alone.  Are there times when words and language yield more power than visual representation?

Marlon T. Riggs, a gay African American filmmaker, poet, activist, and educator portrays both fiction and personal narrative in Tongues Untied while highlighting themes of racism, homophobia and the multitude of violence that characterizes identifying with both blackness and queerness.  Riggs also addresses the HIV/AIDS epidemic in his film.  In order to delve further into the themes portrayed in this documentary, I am interested in reading more of Riggs work, including interviews he has participated in that relate to the documentary and other academic and activist work that relates to his central themes.  I would also like to read more of Riggs poetry and textually locate and analyze some of the poems and stanzas that appear in the documentary.  Furthermore, I am interested in reading scholarship about Tongues Untied and incorporating this into my analysis.  I found an article by Northwestern scholar, Chuck Kleinhans entitled “Ethnic Notions: Tongues Untied Mainstreams and Margins” that offers insight into intersectional black, queer identity and how these representations are told through Tongues Untied, in particular.  Another book that will serve as a source to my investigation is a book entitled Slaves to Fashion: Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity by Monica L. Miller.  Miller has an entire chapter dedicated to Looking for Langston where she parcels out what black dandyism looks like culturally and how this expression is portrayed amidst other forms of intersectionality in the film.

For the video media component of the project, I’d like to perhaps try my hand at pairing poetry and visual representation myself, and/or offering my analysis verbally while recording myself.  I’ve also considered adding a component of interview and reaching out to friends of mine in the black queer community to gain their perceptions of how poetry and film techniques are used in Tongues Untied and Looking for Langston.

A poet myself, I have always deemed poetry to be a vehicle for breaking silences and creating room for dialogue and told truths that conversational language doesn’t always allow.  Likewise, a new scholar to film after my experience in Queer and Feminist Film this semester, I am beginning to see how film, like poetry, has the capacity to break silences and offer visual representations of identity categories that all to often to underrepresented, misrepresented or not represented at all.  In analyzing the intersectionality of queerness and blackness as portrayed through Tongues Untied and Looking for Langston, I will simultaneously be learning about the intersectionality of two creative art forms: poetry and film, and their potential to work cooperatively in addressing issues of representation and notions of subjectivity.  I am really excited to take on this project and want to make sure I do not completely bind myself with this initial idea, as I think there is room for lots of creativity and changes that might arise with additional research.

By Hook or By Crook- New Queer Cinema

By Hook or By Crook can be read as an example of New Queer Cinema mainly because of the way in which the film engages with unapologetic, seemingly defiant “queer” representations that encompass the theme of intersectionality and test the boundaries of how film tells stories of interlocking violences or marginal identities.  In Michelle Aaron’s introduction Aaron describes New Queer Cinema as a genre of film “no longer burdened by the approval seeking sackcloth of positive imagery or the relative obscurity of marginal production.”  (Aaron, 3) Aaron goes on to describe the way in which New Queer Cinema as a genre gave voice to marginal identities and characters not only by depicting queer sexual “minorities” but by also engaging with different sub-groups within these marginal communities and identities.  By Hook or By Crook fits this criteria of New Queer Cinema to say the least, particularly because of its engagement with disability, gender expression, and sexuality, all of which are constructed in the film in a very unapologetic way even amidst overtly portrayed hardship and violence.

The title of the film in itself, which translates to “By any means necessary,” exemplifies an air of unapologetic marginal existence, a gritty proclamation that seems to suggest, “I don’t need your pity or approval.”  And this is exactly how the two main characters in the film carry themselves and behave.  Both Shy and Valentine display palpable burdens.  The movie begins with Shy fleeing or leaving behind her small hometown in what seems like a search for community and sense of acceptance that perhaps San Francisco has to offer. Likewise, Valentine is in search of her mother and shows evidence of severe disability.  Both Shy and Valentine have “butch” gender expression and are portrayed as being queer in terms of their sexuality.  Both are affected by violence in the film.

None of these “burdens” however are pitied or even explained throughout the film.  Herein lies what makes By Hook or By Crook a perfect fit for the New Queer Cinema genre.  As an audience we watch a very real, very gritty livelihood play out in an unsettling way.  We receive no neatly packaged explanation about the aspects of Shy and Valentine’s intersecting “marginal” identities and we receive no resolution to the interlocking violences that both Shy and Valentine face, violences that as an audience we have been largely trained to pity and “other,” as we search for an imminent solution to make our own discomfort with Shy and Valentine’s reality dissipate.  Judith Halberstam perhaps illustrates this best in describing By Hook or By Crook as a film that “…resists the seduction of crying games and the lure of sentiment.” (Halberstam, 93).  In other words, the queerness of this film is very much set in a queer world where there is little room for tears, apologetic existence or for any storyline or plot to grow out of pity.

In addition to being characterized as a New Queer Cinema film because of its “air of defiance,” By Hook or By Crook also fits other New Queer Cinema technical criteria.  As Halberstam outlines, the film was very low-budget, low-tech, and shot in mini digital video with pans that bluntly “universalize queerness.”  One seen that Halberstam focuses on that largely stood out to me during the film is the scene at the well-known Lexington Bar.  Halberstam writes, “The camera lovingly pans a scene of punky, pierced, tattooed, perverted young queers. The montage lasts longer than necessary signaling that the beauty and intrinsic worth of this world transcends its diegetic purpose.” (Halberstam 95)  This eloquent description synthesizes my own reaction to the scene, a scene that I can remember feeling intimately apart of rather than merely exposed to while watching.  Halberstam contrasts this bar scene with a bar scene in the film, The Crying Game, a film that positions the bar as “a place of perversion and a primal sense of deception,” rather than “an alternative vision of community, space, time, and identity,” as directors Dodge and Howard accomplish in By Hook or By Crook.  I think it would be interesting to contrast the genre conventions of The Crying Game with By Hook or By Crook to further analyze what sets New Queer Cinema apart from other genres in terms of dealing with both queer representations and unapologetic intersectionality.  Below is a link that features a trailer for the film The Crying Game, a more mainstream cinema film that deals with intersectionality in a very different way than By Hook or By Crook.  The trailer in itself features contrasting elements of higher budget filmmaking, dramatic music and seemingly boxing identity portrayals.  Check it out!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vs_4-QQACo

 

Work Cited

Judith Halberstam.  In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives.  NY: NYU Press, 2005. 92-96.

New Queer Cinema: A Critical Reader Ed. Michele Aaron. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2004. 3-14.

Introductory Post

Hi all. My name is Lexi White.  I am a junior in the College studying Political Science and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies.  I self-identify as a feminist and usually approach my studies with a feminist lens and critical perspective when it comes to assessing culturally constructed gender binaries and norms.  I also view sexuality as a fluid entity through a constructivist lens, and am very interested in how contemporary representations of sexuality, or lack thereof have pervasive cultural effects that limit our understanding and tolerance for “non-normative” sexualities and postures.  I am especially interested in this course, because I imagine it will delve further into this issue of “representation” by exploring queer and feminist representations in film.

Politically, I am an interested in women’s issues and the politics of queer communities.  I canvassed last summer for Grassroots Campaigns’ local office here in Philadelphia, on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, and quickly realized the stark reality of homophobia that runs rampant in our society. I think tools such as film and other forms of creative expression will be vehicles for political and social change going forward, and so I look forward to seeing and assessing more of what “queer” and feminist film representations already exist.  I look forward to learning from all of you and hearing your perspectives throughout the semester.

peace,

-Lexi