obviously, i've been working on a chart of the interplay of gender, orientation, and aesthetics. in a positive moment in my aesthetic critique of girls and gay men, i said we love y'all anyway, in part because of the differences. now let me try to say a bit more about why, and how i'm thinking about this.
first you get the disclaimer: everything is at an absurdly general level; like, for example, david halperin, i'm trying to describe a cultural imaginary; no person occupies any point in the taxonomy with perfect centrality - and that goes for male and female as well as gay and straight and the various clusters of taste. also every interstice is occupied. i'm identifying an aesthetic coalition of straight women and gay men, and i'm saying that this alliance accounts for a lot of the way things look and sound in popular culture; i suppose one could sum it up like this: a celebration of artifice, an apotheosis of appearance, an orientation toward spectacle. but then just to portray the other side, where i was trying to pair lesbians and straight men, as the wholesale outlet of reality or sincerity or something would just be begging the question in favor of what i'm calling 'our side'. because, true, the appearance/reality split itself needs all sorts of examination. but one way it needs it is precisely as a gendered and orientated pair. it's a complementary system, a yin yang. you can't have one without the other. but i could also say: we're classical, you're baroque. you're rococo, we're neo-classical. you're impressionist, we're cubist. you're pop, we're minimalist.
look i think all these things arise in a system of complements, but then you've got to put them in action in time, like art movements, which they also literally are; they merge and diverge, divide within and coalesce across; the situation at a given time is complex and it's in the middle of reconfiguration. without touching the biology or genetics at all, the way male and female and straight and gay function makes them, i think obviously, interdependent and unstable. the center can be seen in all the sexual and erotic and aesthetic pairings, all the ways people in different groups are drawn to each other and repelled by each other, all the places and ways they merge and segregate themselves from each other, and each other from themselves: psychologically, linguistically, musically, visually, sexually.
the distinction between straight women and straight men - the immense venus/mars differences that supposedly make us incomprehensible to each other - are of course also the center of heterosexual erotics. right? we want to be incomprehensible to each other, and hence be ourselves. this really is actually symbolized in the yin yang, for example: it's a fucking cosmology of difference. and within heterosexuality, the differences become more and more intense because they are the center of the erotic lives of both sorts of people: men get manlier and drive trucks and watch sports, women get girlier and wear frills and makeup and stuff. they drink chardonnay and gossip or whatever. yo we despise that. we can't stand that shit. but what it means to be heterosexual is to emphasize the differentiation and want precisely people who drink creamy lattes and have closets full of incomprehensible grooming products. we are conniving to make ourselves so different that we can't communicate, and so different that we can't not want, can't not be for one another what the other lacks. then again, precisely because of wanting, we are drawn into proximity. we get to know each other. we want to be friends. we are frustrated that we can't communicate. we try. we oscillate toward similarity, and of course we are massively the same as embodied human beings and as part of the same culture or system of identities, even if our bodies and cultures are a bit different too. we try to approach our heterosexual relationships homosocially.
but and so, i don't think there's any objective normative weight in the eroticization of difference: sameness can also be eroticized (and every nuance in between). so we might call that homonormativity or, you know, yinyin or yangyang. well, guess what: heterosexual men and women are the same in that we are heterosexuals, and gay men and women are both gay. so this dimension is not just in play within gay and lesbian groups. now, as, say, lesbians emerge into a kind of erotic solidarity, straight men are migrating to similar symbol systems and erotic configurations, and vice versa: or as the hets push out they enter into an erotics of identification with the homos of the other gender, scattering outliers throughout the journey. one thing i'm trying not to do here is make the het categories fundamental; or to define the homo categories as parasitic on the het categories: i do think in their contemporary configuration they are mutually simultaneously caused, and inconceivable except as a whole system.
the thing is almost an erotic vortex or tornado, in which people are pulled in all sorts of directions by identifications and by disidentifications or disavowals. so the fact that i'm not female, and that i signal that with an entire repertoire - the way i move, the way i dress or groom, the way i adorn my environment, and so on - just is also the fact that i'm male: a complete aesthetic arsenal, but one that only makes sense in relation to its complements. and then the fact that i'm straight: well, that makes use of the same stuff. and so does the fact that you're not a straight woman. and then, with a tilde, that you're not a lesbian; then, that you're a gay man; then, with a tilde, that i'm a straight man, and so on, on each whirl picking up more debris, the whole thing changing shape as it spins.
pretty soon, you have, for example, the diva thing and all its doubly complex longings for the same and for the different. look one thing a diva is likely to be is a sex symbol among heterosexual men: the diva manifests various flavors of extreme femininity. and gay and straight men end up appreciating beyonce from different angles, but certainly erotically both ways round. if, say, lesbians at a certain point distinguish themselves from straight women by identifying with masculinity, then part of masculintiy is precisely eroticizing femininity: voila, lipstick. or if gay men are disavowing heterosexuality by disavowing masculinity or identifying as feminine, then part of being feminine is eroticizing masculinity: pretty soon you've got muscle-bound dudes with mustaches everywhere, more masculine than me by a ways.
but then these pairs might also put the eroticization of differences at an ironic distance, might put them in play, might be too conscious of them to regard them as natural, might see them as erotic resources rather than unbridgeable gaps. and that might be something you could teach us: to stop regarding our own sexuality as natural etc, or to not regard it as only natural, to see that it too is at least in part a performance, and put us in a position where performances of straightmaleness could be critiqued by straight males from different angles, or to see even paradigmatic enactments of masculinity as vulenrable to aesthetic and other sorts of critique. a muscley straight guy with a mustache might re-think his look and come to think of it as intentional. meanwhile, the hets are yearning across the gap and trying to keep the other side's interest or loyalty, and you've got straight women in business suits and metrosexuals. even in a very simplified picture of sameness difference/sameness sameness, there is a constantly volatile swirl of possibilities within all the groups and between them.
there are many oppressions in this unfolding situation, long histories of oppressions that are also eroticized, as dominance and submission, for example. alright? but still we do not want to be without the thing, because then we'd stop wanting, and also become incomprehensible to ourselves. and there are also many liberations, many zones of liberation, many stonewalls. all sorts of loves and all sorts of beauties are opened up as possibilities in the midst of the storm; it's the longings opening up within and across that make the beauty possible or give rise to it or even are it. the het male beauty of a michael jordan or a v-8 engine, the gay beauty of a judy garland or the exact right outfit. and it would not be crazy to look at these as both homo as well as hetero-erotic, as expressing solidarity and difference at once, or the erotics of identification and the erotics of distinction. there might even be transpositions over time as an expressions of yearnings-across.
what you actually want to do with these identities is not destroy or overcome them: no one really has that power even if they are sheer or mere cultural constructions. what you want to do is play with them. we need to try to reduce some of the weight, or some of the power of these systems to configure hatreds even as we try to hold on to the ways they configure loves: hatreds of the same and hatreds of the different. for these are also systems of exclusion, of course, or that's just to say the same thing again. what you want to try to do is increase the pleasure of them and decrease the pain, and i say the best place to focus and celebrate is the art, taking art at its broadest possible sweep, from body presentation to food to music to scent to interior design to cityscape. this is where the play of differences is relatively harmless, but profound. you can't have the identities without exclusions or at least judgments of taste that more or less condemn what is in contrast. but a question is: to what extent can you have these judgments without contemplating destruction? we often actually do pretty well at that, and straight guys in particular need to do it better without abandoning ourselves.
so one thing i am not going to do is just try to disown my male straightness. rather i am actually going to celebrate its aesthetic. we have given a lot of great stuff to the world, and we are, in our own way, extremely aesthetically oriented, or if you could take the oppression out, what you'd have left would be all kinds of interesting symbols and gestures, including all these signifiers of sincerity and authenticity and simplicity, hard work and self-discipline. you might think those are oppressive ideas; you don't actually want to be without them though. that's how we want to be seen, how we dress, how we want to think, how we want to talk.
i think the oppression has been taken out of this aesthetic repertoire at least to this extent: gay male/straight female aesthetics dominates our culture, even if it's still for the most part (apparently! straight men might always be gay men passing) straight men in congress or the board room. now, i say that our various aesthetic expressions and principles constitute a contribution and that you love us for it. and we don't want to lose it partly because of course you do want it. need it, i believe. and of course these categories play out in the tornado in a complex and equivocal way: we become self-deluded in our dedication to the simple truth, and y'all come out of the closet or delight to dress fashionably as an expression of the truth that should not be hidden. bruce springsteen - dressed simply, workin hard all night - might be as much of a gender/orientation re-enactor as rupaul, but might be less conscious of it.
and then i will say, albeit with some grudgingness because i do have the aesthetics i do have, that y'all have made all sorts of contributions too. and even if they were correctly described as frivolity or play or appearance or pop or hedonism or melodrama or spectacle: well, who the hell wants to live without those things in the world, right? anyway, even if i tried to withdraw from them, the withdrawal is defined by their presence. but i don't withdraw: i distinguish myself from them and i eroticize them, see? but looking at it the other way round: hedonism is not sufficient for anyone's liberation. liberation requires hard work, and you want to liberate yourself into something true or meaningful. on the other hand, folks like me seem to be somewhat pleasure or play-deprived. you need anger, but we're perhaps too angry. sheer insulation or ever-growing polarization are unfortunate, but they also intensify the yearnings that end up in new syntheses.
in short, we should really love each other. secretly or not, we do. we certainly need each other and depend on each other and want each other. we should stay different and we should yearn and try to appreciate. we should slum in each other's bars from time to time, and smile, etc. right? i think if you let these things play with you and play with them, the system might become more liquid or improvisational or multi-dimensional. but really who knows? it might even get more extremely differentiated or simplified, which could be interesting too if it doesn't freeze. but you want to start thinking of the gender/sexuality square as an immense set of aesthetic resources, which are also ways to be.
so, y'all think you can dance. could jerome robbins or rudolf nureyev improvise a great dance while you were trying to kick his ass? didn't have the stones, baby. but my people can do that. and we go a step further too: we dance while we kick your ass. we kick your ass by dancing.
oh yeah i forgot about race! oh well.