Wednesday, August 20, 2008

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...)


Pop Feminist said...

Definitely pursue research on this! Is there much written about straight male "genderqueers"? If not, you're tapping a goldmine! What's to differentiate from a metro-sexual and a genderqueer? What about hetero dandyism? I'd love read more on this in general, though if you can work out these ideas in popular culture, I'd be in love.

In any case, interesting take on Cobain!

ctrl+alt+del said...

hell yea ray! i totally want you to research this more to see what else you can find.

rayvan fox said...

this is just the tip of the iceburg, kids. promise.

jvclaire said...

Hey Rachel,

I read the blog when it was first posted and I've been thinking about it ever since. Last weekend I was taking students into and through the Tenderloin in San Francisco (remember our SGFMC Urban Plunge? I think it was both of us...) and the gender discussion slammed into me. There are so many transgendered homeless. I have to say it really made me angry. I know I am extremely late to this as a justice issue, but I wanted you to know that what you wrote moved me. I am going to keep thinking about it, and I'm excited to read more of what you write about it.