Wednesday, August 27, 2008

i love my family

so, i just recently got on gmail. (finally, i know.)
and both of my brothers and my sister in law are already on gmail.
so last week i get a note from allison that tells me to watch out for the "vanek attack" which is when three vaneks are online and two of them simultaneously gchat the other one with the phrase "vanek attack!" so (for those of you who dont use gchat) when you are the one attacked, two chat windows pop up and two alert noises hit you at once. and then you have to try to 'fend off' (or converse with) two siblings at once. it hasnt happened to me yet, but i assume a lot of copy/pasting goes on...
so yesterday, seth and i attacked nate, our older brother, and he responded in what i felt i could hear as badly dubbed kung fu movie ninja-speak. it was great, but we were all at work, so it didnt last long.
however, later, nate and seth had this gchat conversation (seth just emailed it to me. oh yeah, they call me rach/rachel. heh.):

1:34 PM Nate: if you an rach are thinking about ninja attacking me
again you better forget it. I've learned 5 new kung fu styles
since our last encounter
[5 minutes pass]
1:39 PM Seth: uh oh
is one of them the one where you jump kick us both at the same time?
like chuck norris?
1:43 PM Nate: more like jet li, where i jump, bring my legs up to hit
you both in the chest and then back flip over in time to roll onto the
floor gracefully like I'm doing the centipede
Seth: ah yes...
in a chat style, of course
Nate: well yeah
the word version of that.
1:48 PM Seth: i must warn rachel
1:53 PM Nate: yes.
send your quickest messenger with the scroll telling of my power
1:56 PM Seth: will do. gotta go

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

johnny depp's eyeliner

been listening to nirvana and hole and the soundtrack to 'about a son' all day. been talking to saunia about how much kurt and courtney queered gender roles and what it means for a man take on the trappings of beauty usually reserved for women...and yes, johnny depps hot self and his penchant for wearing eyeliner came up.
it started with the question (by saunia) of whether i felt the queer gender performance by kurt (and courtney) was more an expression of themselves, or their desire to say 'fuck you' to the dominant paradigm in every way and so they destroyed gender norms as well as sobriety and cock rock and all sorts of things. i thought this was a very insightful question and said that i could really only speak from my understanding of kurt (as i havent studied courtney as much) but i feel she might have been operating from more of a fuck-you-to-everyone sort of place. that i felt maybe kurts actions (more so than his art, but that too) started out as dealing with his own gender expression, but possibly due to being in the spotlight it became more of a 'fuck you'.
that you start out understanding your gender and understanding that its not what people want from you, so you repress it. then you realize its who you are and no one has a right to tell you to repress it, so you let it out. and when you do that, the feeling of defiance that comes from going against what others wants can get you high and so you go really far with it and say 'fuck you' to anyone who cant handle your (albeit in-your-face) expression. hence kurts defensive tone, but his insistence on doing things like wearing a pink ball dress to the 'headbangers ball' [for those of you too young to remember this, it was this weird show in the 80s and early 90s on MTV about music and musicians moderated by this weird (kinda effeminate) long-haired headbanger type who was totally into heavy metal (cuz wasnt everyone back then?)]
but male expression of feminine beauty is much more acceptable in the mainstream now than it was then. if it werent for kurt, antony couldnt exist in the mainstream. and [this is where i need saunias help with reconstructing the conversation] somehow, this led her to mention johnny depp and his fantastic eyeliner. how its subverting gender stuff, but definitely making him super-hot. i think the point was that his visual appeal is tied up with his androgyny. that his cheekbones lend themselves to something really femininely beautiful and his use of eyeliner can accentuate this. the thing about JD is that his form of hotness is also really tied up with a tim burton-esque aesthetic, so its kinda dark and either depressing or smoldering, or both. and that has a sense of danger in a not very effeminate sort of way. well, i guess it depends on the character. edward scissorhands was kinda effeminate, he was even a hair-stylist...
saunia was using the word ambiguous to describe the use of traditionally feminine beauty products to up the hotness of a male. that subverting the dominant gender-role was hot because it wasnt clear what the purpose was, whether it was necessarily to make the male person look feminine. i had a hard time with the word ambiguous. i felt like this action is sort of obvious in its queering of gender and still showing how fucking gorgeous someone is, no matter if they are male or female, no matter if they are performing masculinity or femininity or something in between. i think we were arguing semantics about 'ambiguity' and 'androgyny' and 'queering gender', but i also think there are distinctions that we couldnt really articulate to each others satisfaction.
and its funny we even went to johnny depp cuz we could have stayed with kurt in this argument. he wore eyeliner a lot. and changed his hair color and length all the time (even got extensions). and was always kinda defensive when people brought it up. and a lot of times was beautiful, but also (i think he worked at this) at times was scary. not so much in the tim burton way, just in the 'i dont fucking care what you think, im gonna have 3 day old stubble and eyeliner and keep my hair in my face.' and that could be super-hot. and it could be grotesque. and i think he wanted to have both of those affects. i think sometimes he specifically wore a dress with a beard to highlight peoples belief in the absurdity of men wearing dresses and i think at other times he wore a dress to look beautiful, with spaghetti straps on those thin, muscled shoulders. (im thinking of the footage from the concert in brazil very late in their career. sure, he stuffed, and you could tell, but hell...lots of drag queens make quite a bit of the difficulty of keeping up the facade...)
speaking of drag queens, saunia brought that up in her defense of the word 'ambiguous'. that when drag queens put on their eyeliner, they arent trying to queer anything, they are specifically working to perform the feminine gender. i am assuming she was saying this is as a shorthand to say that drag queens go all the way to be specifically not ambiguous by adding all the other trappings of feminine beauty so that there is no doubt as to what they are doing. and when johnny depp and kurt cobain put on eyeliner and dont do anything else to specify feminine beauty, they are being much more ambiguous with their choice of gender expression. and i guess in some ways i agree with this, but i think i still dont like the word. i think they are very specifically and unambiguously showing their gender performed as they want it to be seen. as not fully masculine, and not fully feminine, but with an androgyny that they (or at least i) dont want to be thought of as synonymous with vague. who knows what they think, really.
i also have a problem with the word androgyny, by the way. prolly cuz the dictionary has multiple definitions that i feel are very different. therefore its confusing to use the same word to describe 'having both masculine and feminine characteristics' and 'neither clearly masculine nor clearly feminine in appearance'. i dont think having both cancels out either and it kinda disturbs me when people make that leap. i have striven hard in my life to imagine what genderless would look like. and maybe to figure out how to portray it. but i dont know that that is healthy for anyone, cuz im starting to believe its impossible and unnecessary (no matter how much i might still want it). at this point i might be getting into another whole set of things that this blog wasnt supposed to hold, so i think ill quit.
quick post script: i am not, in any way, against ambiguity when talking about or performing gender. i think its awesome, and as much as possible, i try to take advantage of it in my own life. its partially why i love michael stipe so much. he stayed within the ambiguous, even vague sometimes, in his descriptions of himself and his gender identity and sexuality. i appreciate people who dont feel the need to be specific in their choices to all and sundry. and most of the time, i dont fucking care who you are fucking. okay, maybe i do, not cuz i want insight into your psyche, but cuz i might know them...(at least in this town, sheesh!)

kurt's a girl

[this is the first draft of my first time writing about something that i kinda, not so secretly, think about writing a thesis on....gimme yer thoughts, but be generous. its written more like an inflammatory stranger article than a thesis prospectus.]

(deep breath) Hi, my name is Ray Vanek, and I'm obsessed with Kurt Cobain. (there, I said it.) Maybe that's not so weird. What's weird is that this all just started a year and a half ago. Very notably not 17 years ago. Or even 14. Nope, this obsession started the spring I was 28 years old. Not 14. not 17. or even 27, for that matter. You might wonder how a disaffected and angsty sophomore in high school could get away with not becoming obsessed. I do. I can't remember why he didn't grab me and pin me to the floor back then. I think he was too angry. And I was too goody-goody. Listening to the Beatles and (gulp) Phish and (double gulp) Dave Matthews Band. His snide interviews and violent performances did not amuse me. I was much more into decorum and innocent fun.
I was in the closet and not really even aware of it. I was bound by the strictures of society's gender role for me and had somehow managed to turn a blind eye on the chafing. I think I resented his showing the burns.
Because this is the premise of my obsession: I think Kurt's a girl. Okay, lemme rephrase. I feel like there is quite a bit of evidence, from his life and his work, to theorize that his gender identity was quite feminine. (is that blasphemy?)
There is the story about 'Kurt smells like teen spirit'. This doesn't bring up images of pep rallies, like the music video, but scents of the girlie deodorant 'teen spirit' that came out the same time as Bleach. Kurt smelled like a girl.
And how about the commercial that played on Mtv when In Utero came out? (how about the name 'in utero' and all the fetuses in his music videos and the babies on the back of the album?) Do you remember this video? You can youtube it, but you have to sign in to make sure you are 18 or over in order to view it. Its the three of them in dresses, lying on a classroom floor with their legs in the air, giving birth to copies of the cd. Popping them out like seahorses do. Yep. Kurt giving birth.
Speaking of which, he loved the seahorse image. Which by the way, is the only animal that the male 'gives birth' to the young. Its really an incubation thing, but the image of a male seahorse popping little seahorses out its protruding belly is really striking. And Kurt drew it in his notebook and used it as a t-shirts design.
Okay, how about songs he wrote? Rape me. Heart-shaped box. Penny-royal tea. On a plain. Been a son. Dive. Listen to the lyrics of these songs. For reals. 'Dive in me.' 'She should have been a son.' 'I love myself more than you' (masculine) 'I know its wrong but what can I do' (feminine). 'I drink pennyroyal tea to still the life thats inside of me.' (you know that shit is a natural abortion inducer? And dont tell me those are courtneys lyrics. he still sang them.) 'umbilical noose?' lets be real here. He was always talking about birth. How is it no one is talking about this? I know it wasnt a big thing to talk about back then, but for pete's sake.
I mean, im not trying to move to the northwest and tell you I know more about your dear boy than you do, but maybe it takes an outside perspective? I mean, im not saying, im just saying...
He was so fucking excited to have a baby. So excited. He said it gave his life purpose. I mean, come on. Why do you think the media were so freaked out by him and courtney? Cuz it was a beautiful example of gender role reversal that I feel fit their identities really well. He is actually smiling in the photo shoot where they had him sitting on her lap. He liked it. I mean, im sure they had their share of dominant-culture-stereotypical-gendered situations and fights and whatever, but who was wearing the pants in that relationship? Kurts been quoted as wearing a dress around the house all the time cuz it was comfortable...
yes, fine. He also said that he wasnt gay. That he wished he were gay. That he stood in solidarity with gays. There has been endless supposition around this. Fine. Im not saying he was gay, im saying he was genderqueer. Which has very little to do with who he wants to sleep with. Tho, if he identified more as a woman, and was sleeping with women, then, actually, he was stealth-gay.
Dont tell me that no one who identified as a woman would write such heavy, intense, violent music. Dont make me laugh in your face. (and please dont make me mention courtney again.) He wrote about pain. Deep, personal pain. He got angry at his lot in life. He threw tantrums when people wouldnt listen to him how he wanted them to. Ladies, sound familiar?
okay, okay, have I pissed you off yet? Well good. Kurt was pissed off most of the time. Im pissed off most of the time. Oh, and please dont even pretend to give me a 'youre queer, you were looking for this kind of thing'. Cuz I wasnt. Its been since coming to this realization about someone like Kurt that I have been able to come to a lot of realizations about myself. Maybe it took someone who has felt his specific kind of pain (albeit in reverse) to hear it. Someone who didn't have every nanosecond of In Utero memorized before this sort of analysis was possible for them. And yes, im defensive, of course im defensive. This hits really close to home. And sounds kinda crazy. And im writing this in seattle, of all places. Jesus christ, who wouldnt be?
Certainly not Kurt. He was always defensive. If you listen to some of the things he says, you wonder why he sounds so annoyed/passive- aggressive/pissy. But if you think about a response being something that he would say as a girl, but is misinterpreted as being a boy, it makes more sense. There is a great example on the unplugged album. I think its after penny-royal tea. He plays it by himself, which he was obviously nervous about doing, and when he's done krist (I think) says 'that sounded good' and kurt responds by saying 'shut up' in what sounds like an aggressive, bullying kind of way. But imagine it was a shy female up there, one who cant figure out how to take a compliment and so goes kinda coy on you. You would know she doesnt mean 'shut up' but a grudging 'thank you'. Thats what kurt did there. See it? am i right or am i right? (Im not crazy, I swear...)