Thursday, November 15, 2012

Alex Ross in The New Yorker

Alex Ross wrote a lengthy piece in The New Yorker this week that deconstructs the history of gay culture, including camp and the role of women:
The trickiest component of gay-male culture is the role of women in its midst. Feminist critics have long detected misogynist mockery in drag acts and in gay men’s howling response to melodramatic scenes that were not intended to be funny, such as Joan Crawford’s verbal annihilation of her aloof, ingrate daughter in “Mildred Pierce.” Halperin, like many before him, sees a more complex identification at work. Crawford maintains a flawlessly high pitch as she gyrates between “feminine glamour” and “feminine abjection,” and the typical gay male viewer may feel at home at both extremes: so many gay kids work at presenting a perfected surface to the world, and so many are hounded by the fear that some grotesque exposure will tear it down.
It's a great essay, touching briefly on his own coming out. He writes:
My primary political moment happened when I wrote long, lugubrious letters to my closest friends, finally revealing the rest of me. In one, I came out in a footnote on the seventh page, amid pompous but heartfelt quotations from Wallace Stevens: “The greatest poverty is not to live / In a physical world, to feel that one’s desire / Is too difficult to tell from despair.” Harvey Milk always said that this was how the revolution would happen: one lonely kid at a time.
As much as I can recommend reading the piece in its entirety --  especially if you want a sort of primer on LGBT history -- it's a pity that the history of gay culture is often a history of gay men's culture. Granted, Alex Ross is a gay man, and speaks from his own experience, it's sad that the accepted narrative of LGBT history is one that often excludes women and trans people.

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