Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Glamazons: The Time Has Come

So, there I was. Watching the finale of RuPaul's Drag Race, Season Four and it had the usual: highly edited, over the top manufactured drama (Sharon Needles can't nail the dance moves, "She has to get it right and  she has to get it right now"); visits from the past (Tyra and Raja, former winners, looking dramatically done up and kind of awful--but, xoxox Raja); a "Wow, we're really sisters, we're family. I know we hated each other through every challenge depicted on every episode, but we do have big love for each other and we can do anything now" moment; tears/apologies, and "I can't believe this is over and one of us will be the winner" confessionals; praise, praise, and more praise for the show's creator: "RuPaul is the best thing ever, ever, ever"; and, finally the requisite meeting with RuPaul for a jellybean dinner (one jellybean, which is actually one of my favorite parts) where each finalist tells a deep secret about their childhood, Oprah-style. RuPaul actually said to Chad Micheals at one point: "How does it [your father's leaving and having another family] manifest?" and "I wonder if this is your breakthrough moment."

So, I'm not going to try and pull out a ton of meaning from this show, but here's the thing:

I cried.

Not once.

Not twice.


Three. Times.

I find it hard to believe that I'm writing this, given my last post, there are other things to cry about rather than the scripted, confessional-driven, campy show about men who, for a living, perform their (our) interpretations of womanhood and femininity. Emphasis on perform, cause they werq that sh*t out. But, back to crying. This is the second time I've admitted publicly to crying over RuPaul's Drag Race. The first time was when Dida Ritz turned out the strongest lip sync for your life I have ever seen to Natalie Cole's "This Will Be." Part of it was that Ms. Cole was sitting right there and, I'm just gonna say it again, queen nailed the verse:

so long as i'm livin'/true love i'll be givin'
to you i'll be servin'/cause you're so deservin'

That fierceness, or "high drag at its finest" as Latrice Royale called it, drew the kind of call and response it deserved and is rarely seen on the show. Watching, as I often do, still pulls chills and tears from my body (I have it saved on my DVR, you should really watch it now from the tumblr page here, if you haven't seen it). It was, fierce. Both the fierceness of performing not only an incredibly famous, never to be well interpreted song in front of the woman who made and perfected it, but also the Black womanhood that we've come to associate with songs like it and in our everyday lives. As Madison Moore describes in his discussion of fierceness, "fierceness embodies several contradictions all at once...fierceness is both ownership and the loss of control, simultaneously deliberateness and spontaneity" (Moore 2012: 73)--I was just turned on to Moore yesterday, but I read his work with ferocity and you should too. When RuPaul says that the time has come for your to lip sync for your life, in the majority of cases, fierceness, that deliberateness is brought. But, the ownership of that fierceness for many of them, including Ru, is there all along. It is performed and reiterated, in every utterance, every step.

Look, I understand that this is a reality television show and they get to be on television, and they know they're on television so how much of this can we really take "seriously" (these are the critiques I get from my students who are currently reading Jenn Pozner's Reality Bites Back), I know, but I will contend that realness is forever served. Every time I watch it I am reminded of where these loves have come from. What they've been through. And I don't ever want to prioritize the brutality of queer boys lives over queer girls of color--which Aishah Shahidah Simmons is really leading us on and chronicling so beautifully over at The Feminist Wire--in each performance, in every application of caked makeup, in every tuck, and in every lip sync I see that brutality. And I become protective. That experience of being ridiculed, cast away, beaten (physically or not), and the attempts to destroy.

And they're not the only ones, I'm protective because it resonates somewhere with my own experience. And, to quote the fabulous post, Reflections of a Black Queer Suicide Survivor, by Darnell L. Moore that attempt to (literally) destroy us left many of us--even if we can't bear to admit it now--to come "to the wrong conclusion that I needed to sacrifice myself, to die, to at once be free." That's how deep that brutality goes. That death is a viable option. And this is why fierceness is such an important tool. Such an effective way to challenge the hegemony of race, gender, masculinity, femininity, and hetero (and sometimes homo) normativity. We bring it, every time. Because we have to. There is no choice about it. You see it in the glamor of Latrice Royale (I'm going to say her name over and over cause she should've been in the top three, not Phi Phi), the not only polishedness, but skill of Chad Micheals, and the often gruesome spectacle of Sharon Needles.

So, for the win, I have to give it to...Michelle Visage.

Just kidding, but really, why isn't her performance ever considered for the win? And, she's like 5 feet tall. Did y'all see that? When she was standing next to Santino--I'd never seen her stand up before--but she looked like she was standing in a trench, like they do for male actors who are shorter than their female counterparts in the movies.

Really, for me, it's always been Sharon Needles. I love her. I haven't really seen a Goth, scary queen serving realness in the way that she does, as others have pointed out. But, I also just love that she presents as, what we think of in popular discourse, 'poor, white, trash' out of drag. I have no idea what her class background is, but her (gap toothed) teeth are yellowed, her skin is sickly--not pasty--white, her bleached blond hair blends into said skin, and she has a body that exudes a long time emaciation. That could all be a performance that covers up a middle class upbringing that she discarded, but I feel it.  Partly because I know it pretty well. Those were the boys that lived in the trailer park up the street from our house, that were my play boyfriends sometimes, and they were also the boys we avoided because they were too poor, poorer than those of us who lived in houses, for instance.

I have a soft spot for that.

Plus she gives sharp answers to questions like, "Where is Phi Phi?" Answer:  "Disneying it up somewhere." Love. her. So, I give it up to Sharon Needles. But, really, I give it up to all of the queens. And to all of us. Because in the words of Natalie Cole, we're so deservin'. And this will be (or is) an everlasting love. Eternally.


From now on.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Trayvon Martin was a Good Boy


Let's not forget that.

In the five weeks since his murder, there have been many things said about Trayvon Martin, about his killer George Zimmerman, the neighborhood his father lived in, his mother's tears, pleas, and pain, how Obama feels about him, how millions of us remember him in our hoodies and marches, his academic record and suspensions, his girlfriend, and even Spike Lee's connection to him.

But, in all of this, in the various ways that we have immortalized him, pretended that he was the only Black boy this has ever happened to, and listened to every news anchor and journalist's take on him, we have not reiterated that he was, in fact, a good boy. And we should be saying that in every breath that we speak about him and on a daily basis.

He was a good boy.

A good Black boy.
A good son.
A good friend.
A good brother.

He was a good boy.

I don't care if he was suspended from school.
If he smoked pot.
If he confronted Zimmerman aggressively.
If he jumped on Zimmerman's back and smashed his head into the hood of his car.
If he broke his nose (which he didn't).

He was still a good boy.

And he would've grown up to be a good man. A good Black man. And we need to remember that. Because we assume otherwise. We assume that Black men as young as five are any number of things but not good. As Ann Arnett Ferguson brilliantly analyzed in her 2000 book, Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity (University of Michigan Press), teachers, administrators, counselors, parents, adults, other young people adultify young Black boys. Black boys don't really get to be boys, early on we assume that they are little men. And in the case of Black men that also equals: Thugs. Criminals. Ni**as. Predators. Dogs. Bad. Suspects until proven otherwise, even, as the media is demonstrating, when they have been murdered in their own neighborhood. Others have written more eloquently than I will here, but we cannot forget that Trayvon Martin was a good boy. Not because of what he did or didn't do, but simply because he was good. And we have to remember that about all of our Black boys and men. They are good. Good men. Good friends. Good husbands. Good boyfriends. Good play husbands. Good gay men. Good straight men. Good men. Period.

And I say this as someone who doubts. A couple of months ago, my younger brother went to jail. I won't write about why here, but he spent several weeks in jail until the charges against him were eventually dropped.

He maintained his innocence the entire time.

And, the entire time we questioned his innocence. I did. My mother did. His father did. Other folks directly involved did. Anyone I told the story to did. All of us. We questioned him. Now, my brother has been struggling with various things in life since he was 18. He's 35 now and he's been in "trouble" many times before, has went to jail once or twice before, has not always been truthful with his people, blames other folks for his transgressions, on and on and on.

But he's still a good man.

Since my brother was born, five years after me, I have been suspicious of him. Don't get me wrong, I loved my brother and I was very protective of him. But, he was diagnosed with epilepsy as a baby, heavily drugged as a child to keep it in check, which in turn made him super hyper. All. the. time.
Imagine that for a second: a super hyper little Black boy in predominantly white settings. In predominantly Black settings. Needless to say, he got in trouble a lot. He wasn't trusted. He lied about things. He threw things at folks. He got in trouble at school. He screamed and cursed. He got on my nerves.

But he was still a good boy.

Just because.

Just like my partner's little boy, who is seven.

Just like Trayvon Martin.

And just like the next Black or Brown boy (or girl) who gets shot because we thought they weren't where they were supposed to be.