May 20, 2013
A ballad of sisterly love:
May 19, 2013
Parasite- A femmetervention of Paradise’s ridiculous gender policing dress code.
Note- I had originally planned to post this last weekend in the hopes of drawing a crowd for a public performative intervention of Paradise. Then I got shy. Because my personality is borderline shy/wild, I decided to post the text I had prepared anyway.
Have you ever been turned away from Paradise, in Cambridge cause of the shoes you were wearing?
The only time I’ve ever tried to dance at Paradise, my femme presentation caused the bouncer to scan me up and down with their flashlight, stopping at my floral print platform shoes and declaring them unfit for entrance.
If you’re a queer person looking to go out dancing you know how hard it is to find events/venues created for or by queer people. Queer dance events and spaces tend to solidify under the umbrella of gay (with the occasional lesbian/dyke night), and be mostly defined for and by cisgendered gay males. Queer events and spaces are an integral part of queer community building, as well as aiding in creating and fostering safe spaces for queer people to meet and express themselves. When what counts as “gay” is defined in large by cis gay male sexuality, lots of queers get left on the sidelines, and miss out on the fun involved in faggotry. Queer defined dance spaces should not be defining what queer looks like, and limiting the transgressive potential of the dance floor. Queer theorists like Jose Esteban Munoz and Jonathan Bollen have started to look at the dynamics of dance floor “as spaces(s) where relations between memory and content, self and other become inextricably intertwined.” In Cruising Utopia Munoz writes that the dance floor,
“…increases our tolerance for embodied practices. It may do so because it demands, in the openness and closeness of relations to others, an exchange and alteration of kinesthetic experience through which we become, in a sense, less like ourselves and more like each other.” (66)
Unfortunately, dance floors and clubs can also be spaces of extreme gender policing, limiting the potentiality of these experiences for various people. Paradise, located in Cambridge, is no exception. The club self-promotes itself on being “New England’s ONLY Gay Club Featuring Hot Male Dancers Six Nights a Week, Along with Gay Adult Films”. Their dress code, clearly demarcates who qualifies as “gay” at the door.
Their website bares the statement “Appropriate Footwear Required. No Heels or Wedges Allowed” followed by the mandatory “Always 21+ Drink responsibly”. Both conditions must be adhered to in order to gain entryway to Paradise. You must be of legal drinking age, and you cannot be wearing heels. Heels are worn with pleasure and pride by people identifying in all different places on the spectrums of gender, self-identifying femmes or not. Banning them from an establishment is invalidating to those who choose to don a pair of heels to express their gender.
As there are drag performances at Paradise, their position of femme becomes even more complicated. Heels become tolerable on a drag queen, if she’s performing. Viviane K. Namaste writes about gender policing at gay clubs in the introduction to her book, Invisible Lives which explores the various cultural and institutional practices that work to render trans-identified people invisible. She discusses gay clubs that seek to exclude women, yet commercialize and exploit femme presentation through ladies nights and drag shows:
“Indeed, relegating such gender performances to the stage implies that gay men do not ‘perform’ their identities: they just are. This containment of gender transgression can, in turn, work against transgendered people in a variety of ways. Drag queens are reduced to entertainment, coifed personalities whose only purpose is to titillate the gay male viewer. Framed as pure spectacle, this negates a variety of reasons why people might choose to cross-dress in a club: an exploration of one’s gender identity, a gesture of political intervention, a creative solution to boredom, and/or a way to pay the rent.” Namaste’s comments are situated in a critique of predominantly gay male spaces that police gender and add to an already intolerable climate of trans invisibility. “(11)
For me, femme has always been a fight. When I was younger I cried when my mother set my hair in hot rollers, and threw temper tantrums when forced to wear itchy white tights with my “cute” little dresses. I fought against my femininity hard and the passivity and patience it required. It’s not hard to notice growing up femme that femininity is constantly devalued in those who exemplify it. Even as I got older, and started to find my life reflected in queer theory and literature, discourse on queer femme, in and of itself was still hard to find.
This is why it’s important to create spaces of visibility for queer femme. As Tara Hardy says in her self-published book Dis-Course:
“I want to liberate femininity from its history- in my body and in my communities. I want to liberate it from the hands of the privileged who withhold access to it, and use it as an excuse to oppress others. I want to demolish its reputation as a cause for violation. And I want to take it from under the pestle of the dyke community and celebrate it as a radical expression of queerness”(181)
I want to propose a femme-tervention of Paradise. A call for the inclusion of femme into gay-male spaces, such as Paradise, as a valid form of identity and presentation for all who wish to fall under its umbrella, whatever shoes on their feet. As Ulrika Dahl says in the Introduction to Femmes of Power :
“In queering femininities you all go beyond the radical individualism of identity politics. Playing with, rather than fully rejecting the ‘dominant ideology’ of femininity, means engaging in what queer scholar Jose Esteban Munoz  calls a strategic act of Disidentification. By neither assimilating in its structure not strictly opposing it, femmes try to ‘transform a cultural logic from within, always laboring to enact permanent structural change while at the same time valuing the importance of local or everyday struggles of resistances’ [11-12]. In bodies marked, adorned, and adored, as a figuration, exploding femininities are always in relation, situated, but accountable for and speaking from more than our self-appointed positions; we each have our own location in worlds and histories, including those of feminisms and queer communities.”[25-26]
So wear your fiercest footwear (WHATEVER this means to you. Femme comes in all forms !) and come to Paradise on Saturday May 11th at midnight** and join us on the sidewalk of Paradise, where, due to some outrageously fabulous displays of femme height, we won’t be allowed in. Wear whatever you want on your feet as long as you support those who can’t go into Paradise based on what is on theirs! (Femmes in heels should always stand in support of femmes who can’t, won’t, or don’t wear heels.) We’ll be there till closing time (or we get let in!?!)
 Muñoz, José Esteban. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: New York UP, 2009. Print.
May 16, 2013
Certificate (20x23in) is the first in a series of drawings re-creating documents surrounding my fathers life and death. The circumstances around his death are hazy, and since he died alone, it wasn’t until the release of his death certificate that the causes of his death became known. My father lived hours away at the time of his death, and because of the distance, as well as the distance between my mother, sisters, and myself, his death became mediated through phone conversations. The release of his official death certificate, as official, impersonal, and cold as it was, became the closest any of us could get to understanding how and why my father died.
Long before I wanted to be a visual artist, I wanted to be a writer. I kept journals through most of my childhood, eventually destroying them all as a teenager. I lost the will I had to document my life. I did, however, retain my devotion to reading. Being perpetually shy, books became not only my friends, but a way to enter another reality. As I entered high school, I began to realize the language of visual art was a way in which I could begin to tell the story I had not been able to in words. When I entered college and accessed the privilege of higher education, the responsibility I had to the images I created changed. I utilized my education to study feminist and queer theory as well as art history in school, and used these as building blocks into research on trauma studies.
Surrounded by the dangers of language and the consequences of audiences interacting with my work, I spent my years at school developing a language in which to talk about the sexual and physical violence I experienced as a teenager. I’ve been forced to out myself as a survivor of rape to defend the images that I make. Nobody should be forced to do this. I do so, and continue to do so, because the invisibility and stigma surrounding survivors of sexual violence adds to the culture of violence where nearly 1 in every 5 women report experiencing a rape at some point in their lives.
Throughout my childhood I weaponized language as a shield from the world around me; as an adult it has became a dagger to cut through my pain. Finding my stories in the words of Dorothy Allison, and then critically engaged with again in texts like Ann Cvecovitch’s An Archive of Feelings became a way for me to not feel alienated in the aftermath of the trauma in my life. As a child in pain, it’s easy to feel alone and isolated. Reading the stories of survivors helped me realize that I wasn’t alone, that these stories were so many other people’s stories. But why tell them? Why pull at wounds from so long ago? Why divulge secrets so painful you couldn’t even tell yourself?
Because part of me will always be that little girl pushing her hands into her eyes so hard all she can see is swirling colors. And every time I say I am a survivor of rape it isn’t the whole story, and the colors start swirling back. I am a survivor of rape, but I am also a survivor of incest, and both have made me the person, artist, and scholar that I am today.
In school you are always asked what you’re work is pushing forth, what you’re accomplishing through the act of creating. What does it mean when you chose to make work dealing with trauma and its repercussions, with the intense feelings of shame and vulnerability that it can bring up in both viewers and artist? How do you create images that reference trauma without re-victimizing the survivor?
School is where I learned to present myself as a survivor. My high femme presentation had to become hyperbolical to defend my small frame against attacks of being “weak” or “vulnerable” and my queerness had to become a deafening screech to oppose the heterosexist assumptions about my body.
“I am my fathers daughter. And I am not afraid of anything.”(Queen Elizabeth I)
May 14, 2013
Ophelia is a character whose death is constantly re-imagined. Various painters , photographers,actresses and directors have all taken a stab at portraying one of the most beautiful suicides in the history of art and literature. She is repeatedly driven mad and killed off, leaving productions of Hamlet to flounder (I think) without her compelling character.
In Hamlet, Ophelia has been read by many as a plot device and pawn between the various men who claim ownership over her; she is Polonius’s daughter, Laertes’ sister, and Hamlet’s ‘lover’, her identity in the play relying solely on these associations. Besides Queen Gertrude she is the only female character in Hamlet; and she is without a mother or any sort of female community or history to rely on. Her brother, father, and lover use her as a means to an end. With her father dead, her brother out of the picture, and betrayed by her lover, Ophelia’s descent into madness is often analyzed as her reaction to her ‘loss of identity’ through the demise and betrayal of her male manipulators.
Her hysterical demise and suicide is too quickly cast as just another casualty of patriarchy.
The history of female “madness”, or hysteria, complicates the story more.
Utilizing cross research from Heather Love’s Feeling Backwards and Invention of Hysteria by Georges Didi-Huberman, the following video begins a series of performances for video interrogating Ophelia’s “madness”. In the project I will attempt to rethink Ophelia’s madness as a deliberate, intentional, purposeful escape from the veritable confines of patriarchy and the compulsory heterosexuality used to uphold it.
In Didi-Huberman’s book he traces the intimately connected histories of photography and psychiatry; focusing on the photography of the Salpêtrière hospital and Jean-Martin Charcot, overwhelminingly credited with the “re-invention” of hysteria. He interrogates the relationships between Charcot and his patients; illustrating the abuses and justifications of Charcot in his attempts to classify and create taxonomies of ‘hysteria’ aided and abetted by the new phallic and probing lens of the camera.
Hysteria has appeared in many manifestations in societies throughout history. In Ancient Egypt the behavior of “certain unstable females was attributed to peregrinations of a discontented womb.” [i] Hysteria gains its name in Ancient Greece,deriving from the Greek word for uterus, hystera. Although not only women were classified as hysterics, it was originally thought to be a disease affecting only woman. Its connection to the female reproduction systems underlies not only a deep-seated fear for both the reproductive power of women as well the dangerous affects of “disordered sexual activity’ [ii] Huberman writes:
Endowing the uterus with an ‘animalistic’ quality for movement became a catch-all diagnosis for hosts of various symptoms displayed by women.
Diagnosing women with hysteria became a way to Other them, quarantine them, and use them. Relationships of complicated power dynamics developed between the ‘hysterical’ women and the men who so desperately wanted to study them. They played out hysterical fits for cameras, and allowed themselves to be studied, in exchange for preferential treatment in a place described as a “feminine inferno” 
In this way, hysteria can begin to be read also as an escape. To be removed completely from the obligations and expectations of patriarchy on the ‘normal’ woman. The open-ended diagnosis of hysteria would have probably led to ones internment, in a hospital such as the Salpêtrière, but also provided an extrication from the shackles of marriage, children and the seemingly relentless forces of compulsory heterosexuality. Power is and was withheld from women and others labeled deviant by dominant ideologies surrounding race, gender, and sexuality. Those labeled hysterics by the 19th and early 20th century discourses on psychiatry and psychotherapy tried to use their diagnosis as much as it used them; a means to gain a conditional and somewhat compromised power.
Choosing to read Ophelia’s madness through the lens of hysteria enables me to explore her madness as a refusal /escape; living in her head as a means of withstanding the consequences of her fathers death and Hamlet’s treachery. Used as a pawn by everyone, Ophelia’s ‘mad scenes’ are the first moments in the play she is not acting, or being advised on how to act by her father, brother, or Hamlet. The songs she sings gain everyone’s full attention, and she becomes unstoppable, her identification as “madwoman” allotting her the power to become the truth-teller, her florally fused expository monologues cast at daggers exposing the corruption in the court. Her madness, cast as intrinsically connected with her femininity  becomes both her amour and weaponry against the misogynist patriarchy surrounding her. Read as an intentional, hyperbolical performance of femininity utilized and devised to undermine patriarchy, her performance of gender becomes perceivable to me as a form of radical femme.
The history of, and connections between women and psychiatry are important to explore because ‘mental illness’ is still a way to diagnose and classify away the problems of certain people, particularly survivors of incest, rape, and physical/mental/psychological abuse and trauma.
 Didi-Huberman, Georges, and J. M. Charcot. Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpêtrière. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2003. Print
 See above citation.
 Hamlet’s ‘madness’- which includes killing someone and then sexually/physically/verbally/mentally abusing their daughter, because he is male, is usually read as a form of ‘melancholy’, not hysteria.
May 13, 2013
The footage from Ophelia was shot in the Spring of 2011 by Branden Paillant and re-edited in April 2013 by Hayley Morgenstern.
Text to Follow.
May 11, 2013
The Twinkie Defense is a group collaborative performance by Creighton Baxter, Sarah Hill and Hayley Morgenstern. As a wholesome family, we decided to commence a performative investigation into the ramifications and absurdities involved in “The Twinkie Defense” and its legacy. We actuate a queered family TV dinner scenario—in place of a television in this scene are three video cameras and our meal is a feast of Twinkies.
Thirty-four years ago today, the defense rested in the trial of The People vs. Dan White. He stood accused of murdering both San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk and mayor George Moscone. The trial, which remains an extremely public historical case of injustice in the United States often gets misread and subsumed by the spectacle of what has become known as “The Twinkie Defense”.
“The Twinkie Defense” was coined following the trial of Dan White. White’s lawyer’s defense rested on the defense of diminished capacity. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language defines diminished capacity as:
“Lack of ability to comprehend the nature of a crime one has committed or to restrain oneself from committing a crime.”
Arguing that a severe depression, and the problems White was having at City-Hall led to his inability to restrain from or comprehend his crime, the Twinkies became evidence that the once health-conscious White was severely depressed; that his overconsumption of junk food had caused a chemical imbalance in his brain and that combined with the stress of losing his job caused him to be in a mental state “lacking the ability to comprehend the nature of a crime.” Although White’s crime displayed many predetermined factors such as the window he climbed through to escape the metal detectors from catching his loaded gun and extra bullets. He shot both Milk and Moscone multiple times, reloading his gun prior to his second murder.[i]
As Aunt Ida says in Female Trouble (1974) from the notoriously family-oriented mind of John Waters. “I worry that you’ll work in an office, have children, celebrate wedding anniversaries, the world of heterosexuals is a sick and boring life.”
Accounts of the trial describe the scene as Dan White’s confession played. The recording recounts White framing his actions thorough a rhetoric of hetero-familial pressures and responsibilities; his actual shooting of both Milk and Moscone being almost a side note to his telling of a family drama. As the recording played, it was clear the jury was sympathizing with White’s plight, with more than a few jurors crying at his “anguish”.[ii] “A 1979 San Francisco Examiner story on the anatomy of the White defense, written by Jim Wood … cited the makeup of the conservative, mostly female jury, many with children the age of [the] defendant (there were no gays and no African Americans).[iii] After a thirty-six hour deliberation, the jury announced its verdict- not guilty on two murder counts, but guilty on two counts of voluntary manslaughter.
The verdict of the trial ignited the White Night Riots, in stark contrast to the candlelight vigil held the night that Moscone and Milk died. The verdict of the trial became sensationalized in the media through the defense’s use of junk food as evidence of depression. Not a major part of the defenses case, “The Twinkie Defense” was coined by journalists and caught on with fervor. The spectacle created by “The Twinkie Defense”, worked as a way to thinly veil and whitewash the integral stigma and hatred toward those symbolized as a threat to the “family values” that Dan White held dearly and used to frame his confession. The flattening of this case through the catch-phrase “The Twinkie Defense” works to hide, trivialize, and perpetuate the various systems of oppression that were activated simultaneously in the murder of Moscone and Milk and the resulting trial.
The Twinkie Defense was performed utilizing the framework of disidentifactory camp as means to process and come to terms with queer historical trauma and invisibility. The action of eating an absurd amount of Twinkies attempts to activate a form of queer protest- that seeks to expose historical injustices and inaccuracies.
May 10, 2013
The Twinkie Defense was performed by Creighton Baxter, Sarah Hill, and Hayley Morgenstern as a family project. The video was edited by Sarah Hill.
Text to follow.