Friday, July 28, 2006

Friday Corral

All week I've been suffering from mental lethargy when trying to blog; I've been able to work on my creative projects, but for whatever reason, when I've tried to post even a poem, let alone type out a full paragraph, it's like my mind shifts into shutdown mode.... But things are clicking today, so here goes:

No Fats! No Fems!
Well over a month ago, Charles sent me an email about a post on "No Fats! No Fems!" at Kevin Bynes's Kaleidoscope blog. I responded with a simple post almost immediately after reading through what I thought was a provocative entry that compared the racist Jim Crow system to the exclusionary policies and politics of some folks in the Black gay community. (I specifically use the word "gay" here rather than LGBT, queer or sgl, since I see each of these terms marking out communities that are constitutively more accepting of various kinds of diversities and pluralities, particularly with regard to body size, and image (self-)representational norms, self-fashioning, and so on.) I checked to see if there were any responses after mine, saw none and unfortunately forgot to bookmark Kevin's site (which I'll add to my blogroll). Yesterday, C alerted me to the fact that a scintillating exchange (WORK!) involving Kevin, Charles, Herukhuti, Larry, and Frank Léon Roberts had opened up not only in the comments section, but also on Larry Lyons's blog (actually this was the earlier post.) Kevin has subsequently added a new post on his blog as well. While I abhor the personalized acidity of some of the discourse, I am also delighted to see these men conducting their arguments at such a fierce level. You could get a mini-quick course in current critical conversations around the politics of sexual desire from this exchange. To reformulate one of Heru's questions, what would a non-normative, disidentificatory politics and practice, particularly around body size, image and gender performance look like? Who is taking up the mantle and who's watching and listening? To point to Larry's arguments, what are the effects of his particular critical practice and how do they call into question the forms and modes of representation that are so common in our communities? Are we looking critically enough at what he's up to? To follow Frank, how can we present and practice critiques which escape the always lurking threat of essentialisms, and, I would ask, don't we all fall prey to essentialism and binarisms? Also, would we recognize an innovative, liberatory political practice around sexual desire and social empowerment if it didn't fit our preconceptions? To echo Charles, artists like Lyle Ashton Harris, Ajamu and others do offer models. (I know, I'm being pollyannaish and positing some sort of consensus here (or misrepresenting the whole damn thing, which is why I provided the links!) which the complexity and occasional enmity of the exchanges belie, but hey, it's my blog and this is how I see it.)

Marcellas's Queer Desire
MarcellasSpeaking of femmy men and representation, I've noticed an interesting thing occurring on a show that I'd vowed weeks ago not to watch but have been following somewhat nevertheless: CBS's mind-shredding, mechanical, voyeuristic spectacle Big Brother 7: "All Stars." (TV, TV, TV...if i have even 1/4th of a brain left down the road I'll be lucky.) Back on July 7 (the day of my initial post on LIFEbeat), I'd called attention to the addition of celebrity stylist Marcellas Reynolds (at left, from his site) to the cast; he is the out Black queer Chicagoan from season 3 who notoriously sacrificed himself for a fellow player (an obnoxious, cheese-obsessed Southern White woman if I recall) and was quickly voted off the show. It was one of those moments where you have to speak back to the TV screen and say, "What on earth are you thinking, chile???" Well, Marcellas is still in this new season's game, and he's been serving up his characteristic drama, which has included overemoting to the point of tears, while also praising, primping and pining over a fellow male cast member. Sometimes his behavior veers into minstrelsy--although on this show all of the houseguests are minstrels at times, which is the point--but one particular aspect of his performance caught my attention last night. Since the show began, Marcellas's chief object of desire has been Kaysar (below right), a gorgeous, ostensibly hetero Iraqi-American graphic designer from California who committed a game-ending tactical error similar to Marcellas's last season. Marcellas has sung Kaysar's praises openly more than once, and last week in the immunity challenge he even engaged in the very erotic (and for some folks fetishistic) act of shaving Kaysar's head of its lustrous black locks, after which he pronounced to Julie Chen, his housemates and America that Kaysar looked even better shorn. For his part, Kaysar, a practicing Muslim, seems to be taking it in stride and even enjoying the attention. KaysarI said to C that I thought it was pretty interesting first to see an out, fem Black queer man not only extolling but expressing sexual desire for another man of color, an Arab American no less (a man whose braininess, in addition to his physique, is one of his most appealing attributes), especially during this politically and socially fraught period, on a popular, national, non-cable TV program. Now, in the large scheme of cultural representations this is a minor thing, but I also thought that at the same time, it's pretty significant. How often are Black fem queer men--or queer people of color in general--afforded the opportunity not only to represent themselves (and yes, the show is heavily edited and edited, so I am talking about a mediated representation) on the national airwaves, but also to present and enact--to voice--narratives of desire that venture outside the sociopolitical norms which are reinforced every minute of every day? How often are Arabs--or Asians or Latinos or even dark-haired Caucasians, or older women, or overweight people (cf. above) etc.--the objects of that desire? Isn't it usually policed and left on the cutting floor? I say this because on the show there are many attractive people, including several fit straight White guys who would usually be the objects of what would be considered normative American gay male enthusiasm (and were I to check Big Brother's boards I'd probably find out that they are). In fact, Marcellas very well might be fiending for them as well. But he has singled out Kaysar, and to me, it marks an interesting moment that I think that has passed completely under (or over) the usual critical radar screens; Marcellas, I would imagine without even realizing it, is showing CBS and America what one version of Black/queer desire might look like.

More Nonsense about LIFEbeat
You would think that the issues surrounding the LIFEbeat protests, which a group of Black and Latino LGBT bloggers led and which resulted in LIFEbeat's cancelation of its Reggae Gold 2006 concert to promote HIVAIDS awareness among Caribbean and Caribbean-Americans, would be fairly clear by now. But as the Caribbeat Magazine insert in Thursday's New York Daily News (which I wasn't able to access online) makes clear, this isn't the case.

Colin Robinson sent me the following email the other day about yet another statement of ignorance:

In "Caribbeat," the periodic Caribbean supplement to the New York Daily News. The lead piece in today's p. 24 supplement, that does not appear on the Daily News website and has no by line, is a 400-word piece headlined "Jamaican Americans React to Forced Cancellation of AIDS Benefit." On the one hand, it opens, "A gay rights effort that led to the recent forced cancellation of reggae concert -- aimed at combating HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean community -- has been met with surprise by members of New York's Jamaican-American community," and attributes to three Jamaicans statements like "says to me very clearly there is no value placed on the lives of Caribbean people" and a description of the protest as an attempt for gay activists to push their own agenda, as opposed to working with the reggae industry to create dialogue and fight...AIDS. On the other hand it does clearly identify Caribbean participation in the protest and our assertion that "the primary victims of dancehall homophobia are the same groups most hurt by...AIDS stigma."

Sadly, however, it concludes using a young Jamaican and WBAI personality, Ian Forrest, to trot out the increasingly popular denialist line on violence in Jamaica that "1,674 people were killed in Jamaica last year" and "contrary to what people would have us believe, half of them weren't homosexuals" and the conclusion that "Jamaican musicians and Jamaicans in general pose no threats to homosexuals."

And it misses the point, suggesting we "called for the cancellation," and ends with Beenie Man's publicist's line about "It's not a gay or straight thing..."

After reading the article, which hopefully one of you will post on your site, folks can e-mail
I agree and urge readers to let them know how off the tracks they are. The point--or at least one point, at I see it--is that homophobic lyrics and rhetoric in dancehall music and other popular musical forms contribute to an environment which fosters violence against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people or even those who are merely perceived to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender., in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean and across the globe. It also promotes ignorance about the ways in which HIV/AIDS is transmitted, and makes people less likely to address openly and thoroughly HIV/AIDS transmission or to treat those who are PWAs, especially LGBTs, with full equality. Rather than canceling the concert, LIFEbeat could have required Beenie Man and TOK to address their homophobic lyrics, acknowledge the terrible effects they've had, and denounce them, or simply dropped these artists altogether. Another move might have been to have the artists engage in a public dialogue with Caribbean LGBTs, including some who are PWAs, before the music began. Instead, they copped out by canceling the event and issuing a misguided press release that benefitted no one. Caribbeat Magazine would go a long way towards educating their readers, and those they so freely quote, if they could and would recognize these basic facts.

Face Transformer
I came across this site a while back and as with everything else, have been meaning to post about it for some time. Created by psychology researchers at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, it's called the Face Transformer and it allows you to roughly transform an uploaded image of your face by age, several large racial and ethnic categories, and even into a manga figure. I did it and am posting the result of the "Modigliani" image at left. It reminds me of a Kabuki mask. If you keep clicking the links, you'll access some pretty interesting online experiments.


  1. Echo on the mental lethargy.

    Even though I've written quite a bit on desire and race and embodiment on my blog, I'm more than a little disturbed by the exchange. It seems trivial. And I cringe as I write that.

    But it's part of a larger critique I have about the value of affirmative politics--politics as personal affirmation--and a related critique on the problems of marginality as a valued position.

    Is there something troubling about demanding "inclusion" as a measure of progress? Do we not betray a fundamental misunderstanding of desire by using the language of inclusion/exclusion?

    Is there a huge problem with basing politic claims around affective injury? More questions. Perhaps when I recover, I might post some kind of response.

  2. I agree with Keguro on most of these points, and thank you for delineating them so well, and posing some key questions. I began to wonder about an obvious note/query that no one was hitting: in unguarded moments or when sleeping what bodies populate a person's sexual and romantic fantasies/dreams and how does that person feel about the direction or markings of his desires? The authenticity (black is or black ain't, "thick" or "thin" is or ain't) question is a straw man if you will. I've never seen that argument play out where black folks win in any collective sense. One or the other definition of authenticity may prevail, but no path is ultimately carved out of the oppressive wilderness that initially spawned the debate (and its terms for that matter).