Normativity and the June Bug

He may fly high and buzz about

And have a mighty fling

But after all he’s governed by

The one who holds the string.

Months after my last post, this seems random and a bit wrong. I’m currently in “year-three overtime,” but I guess being in year four of a PhD isn’t too bad, yet. However, I do feel in some ways like a “June Bug on a String.” In fact, that’s how I found the poem by chance in a Google search (full text below), and so I don’t have a proper reference to say where it came from.

“June Bug on a String” is a poem by Richard “Pek” Gunn, apparently. The last three stanzas are especially catchy and thought-provoking.

In days way back on Tumbling Creek

The latter part of Spring

‘Twas the sport for every boy to have

A June Bug on a String.


The bug would fly like all the rest

But what impressed me so

Was that the length of string controlled

Just how far he could go.


Some might have thought he was free

To go his way but still

I held the string that gauged his flight

And pulled him in at will.


A man can get entangled too

No matter when nor where;

And set a boundary upon

His freedom then and there.


He may fly high and buzz about

And have a mighty fling

But after all he’s governed by

The one who holds the string.

As I circle about social “theory” in order to articulate a “strategy” for particular social group-based asylum claims, I’ve found myself tied to normativity, or refugee law, or the boundary between the two – I’m not quite sure! So the poem took on a second meaning for me.

June Bug flies high and buzzes about “struggling for autonomy,” pushing the boundary of freedom, but is governed by the one who holds the string; “physically dependent” on the boy and, crucially, “physically vulnerable” to the one who pulls him in at will (Butler 2004, 21–22). Perhaps the boy is not free either, because in holding the string he plays a game based on “the sociality of norms that precede and exceed” him, the sport of every boy (Butler 2004, 32). The problem I’m finding is applying theory to practice in a lucid and coherent way.

I was struck by the different interpretation on the church website where I found the poem, and maybe the author was in fact alluding to God. But reading the poem against autonomy seems to create an interesting analogy for social norms (even if only for this blog). I can only hope that I am able to articulate theory/strategy in the thesis with enough clarity. To lift and tweak a joke from John Oliver: To be fair, the objective of the thesis was to do an impression of postmodernism in a washing machine. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that!



Butler, Judith. 2004. Undoing Gender. New York ; London : Routledge, 2004.

Right answers and values in teaching

True or false questions will be the end of me. Or, rather, the idea that anyone can and should know the “right” answer. Somewhat paradoxically, there’s usually a “wrong” answer. As I wrote in my first teaching blog, I find it difficult to communicate my interpretation of course material without “leading” to the answer in my head. And without giving direct answers a tutor runs the risk of coming across like they don’t actually know what they’re talking about. In short, some students seem to construe an indirect, pseudo-objective response that tiptoes around the tutor’s values and relative answer as a copout.

In my world, there is no true and false, per se, but wrong answers and well-supported opinions. A wrong answer fails to offer a critical point based on commonly held, though possibly contested, facts. The well-supported opinion, on the other hand, avoids overly speculative observations and instead speaks to some shared perspective. The well-supported opinion might cite rules, dates, literature or examples to support its observations but still isn’t the right answer.

Wrong answers and well supported opinions. Doesn’t exactly sound like a surefire grading rubric or, for that matter, way to judge the quality of professional research papers. However, you know a good essay when you read one. The highest mark I ever gave was to a dogmatic answer with which I completely disagreed, but the essay fulfilled the supporting criteria in its analysis. The key to fairness in teaching seems to be being aware of your own bias, to check your bias.

If a proper answer cannot be detached from your values, shouldn’t good practice acknowledge your bias? Personal opinions will influence any answer disguised as objective, and that can be harmful:

If sociologists ought not express their personal values in the academic setting, how then are students to be safeguarded against the unwitting influence of these values which shape the sociologist’s selection of problems, his preferences for certain hypotheses or conceptual schemes, and his neglect of others? For these are unavoidable and, in this sense, there is and can be no value-free sociology. [1]

Reflecting on the last semester makes me wonder if I was too shy with my opinions or too open. If open, wouldn’t students be tempted to adjust for the bias of the marker? If secretive, isn’t that a bit deceitful? My conclusion is that I should stop trying to hide my bias, and instead fully acknowledge that there are no value-free answers.

I’m always looking for interesting, well-supported opinions on the topics I post about. Any comments or reading suggestions will be much appreciated. Thanks for reading!


[1] Alvin W. Gouldner, “Anti-Minotaur: The Myth of a Value-Free Sociology,” Social Problems, Winter 1962, pp. 199-213 cited in Joyce A Ladner “Tomorrow’s Tomorrow: The Black Woman,” The Death of White Sociology (1998).

Migration & Citizenship Writing Workshops

This post is modified from a call for participants I recently sent out to postgraduate researchers in the School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh. Along with my partner in crime, Joanna Wiseman (as with the PhD workshop last year, when I posted the call and registration), I am helping to organise Migration & Citizenship Writing Workshops in Semester 2. There seems to be substantial interest, so the workshops will run, but we are keen to get a few more people on board.

This call for participants was prompted by suggestions from postgraduate members of the Migration & Citizenship Research Group that expressed interest in establishing an ongoing writing workshop. In Semester 2, we will be organising fortnightly sessions, each week constructively engaging and discussing individual participants’ written submissions, such as chapter drafts or research proposals.

If you are a PhD student researching issues of migration, broadly defined, please consider joining us. We hope to meet every other week from mid-January to early summer for hour-long sessions. The goal is to offer an informal yet productive space to discuss work with peers and receive comments on drafts. In a second (optional) hour we will have lunch, continued discussion, and those who are not actively participating in the written portion of the workshops are welcome to attend.

Prospective participants can email me to be added to the list. In your email, please tell us a bit about you and your research. We will host a meeting in early January to discuss dates that work for everyone. If you would like to be included on the list to attend the second hour, please highlight this in your response.

If you have any questions please feel free to get in contact.

Many thanks,


“Friends” at a Guesthouse: The way we are policing ourselves

Wednesday, the UK Supreme Court (UKSC) decided against the owners of a Christian Bed & Breakfast (B&B) in a case of LGBT discrimination. After briefly summarising the background and legal debate, I reflect on how we conceal our sexualities in hospitality settings, for example, by establishing “friendships” of convenience to avoid, for lack of a better word, awkwardness.

The case reported this week is Bull and another (Appellants) v Hall and another (Respondents) [2013] UKSC 73 (hereafter Bull). The UK Human Rights Blog (hereafter UKHRB) has published a number of informative pieces on Bull, related cases, and offers helpful analysis for understanding the legal issues (e.g. 20 Oct. 12, 23 Jul. 13, and 27 Nov. 13). In Bull, the B&B owners refused to provide double beds to unwed couples on religious grounds. The gay couple has a civil partnership, cannot be married (yet), and so discriminating on marital status effectively discriminates against their sexual orientation despite the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 providing “that there is no material difference between marriage and civil partnership” (UKHRB 20 Oct. 2012).

In brief, the courts were asked to negotiate protected religious freedom and freedom from discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.  In an interview with the BBC, the Bulls expressed disappointment that the UKSC didn’t make room for an “alternative” lifestyle and their own. The couple have been in the B&B business for almost three decades, long before this was an issue, in fact they said:

“Homosexuality never entered our thinking. And in a way, it still doesn’t […] It’s marriage that we were honouring.”

After losing the court fight, the Bulls implore Parliament to scrutinise the issue of religious freedom so there is a place for them in British society just like everyone else. At first it may seem absurd that “homosexuality” had never entered their thinking, not least due to the stated policy of their online booking form that double bedrooms were available to “heterosexual married couples” only – the gay couple in the case booked over the phone (UKHRB 27 Nov. 13). However, the following reflections (partially) implicate LGBT persons in their own erasure.

The hospitality industry challenges us to “out” ourselves in a particular setting, inviting hotel desk managers and guesthouse owners “into the bedroom.” We lose the privacy we might maintain elsewhere simply by asking for a single room with a double bed and, moreover, to a stranger.

Coincidentally, I recently had a discussion with two couples, one lesbian and one gay, about guesthouses. Their separate trips to Barra in the past year came up over dinner. Barra is a sparsely populated island in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland where most tourists stay in guesthouses – including my friends.

Both couples opted for two-bed accommodation. The lesbian couple had two rooms, and religiously ruffled the sheets of the unused bed every morning to avoid being discovered by their host. Similarly, the gay couple opted for an evasive “friendship.” While the bedroom in the trailer was more private, one could still peer in through the living room window when the blinds were drawn. Comically, the couple laid pillows under the duvet on the couch every night, creating the impression of the “friend,” literally, in case the owners stopped by unexpectedly.

After recounting the stories and joking about the “cautious” measures we take in our day-to-day lives, and on holiday, the dinner discussion quickly evolved into reflection on why we do these things, and should we. At first it was mentioned that the owners could have refused service upon discovery of the true relationships – the first major B&B case before Wednesday’s decision was cited to say that they could not have. But, of course, would you want to stay in a place you knew or could sense that you were unwelcome?

From there, it was mentioned that Barra was a “backward” place, where people are religious and may not have been exposed to LGBT people. In the end, one friend concluded the conversation by saying she would not accommodate like that in the future. In a related case to Bull, the UKHRB (20 Oct. 2012) reports a scenario where a gay couple with a reservation was refused:

“Whilst Mrs Wilkinson was firm in her refusal to offer a double bed to Messrs Black and Morgan, they confirmed that she was “polite and courteous” and said she would have offered them single rooms had any been available. Mr Black and Mr Morgan did not kick up any huge fuss, but simply had their deposit returned and left.”

Of course, they sought legal recourse in the end – but should they have kicked up a fuss in the moment? To avoid any fuss or awkwardness on holiday, we can be discreet, and become “friends.” I had been told that Barra was a parochial place that could take you back in time. What I had not expected was that it could take you back that way, into the closet, in 2013. But preventing the “homosexual invasion” of that Christian island is not an oppressive legal regime or militant homophobia. We conform, willingly, to avoid any conflict.

Bull and the B&B accounts of Barra remind me of another gay couple’s story of a very awkward conversation they once had with a front desk attendant at a major hotel chain around 2010 in the US. When they were checking in, the reservation was pulled up for one room with a double bed. Looking from the two men back to the computer, the attendant said blankly, “It says here a double bed, would you like two doubles?” In this case, the closet was burned; a major city, a commercial chain, clearly someone wasn’t paying attention in their mandatory public relations course. As Ash Beckham says, “All a closet is is a hard conversation.” We need to say, “One double bed, please.” In these situations, the “hard conversation” is often a simple confrontation with (in)hospitality.

As legal equalities come cascading down from higher powers, courts and governments, ironically our progress seems to be at risk of washing away. Instead of state sponsored discrimination, we experience hurdles in society, big and small, but the biggest threat to the realisation of equality may be the way we are policing ourselves.

The Big Pink Elephant

Queer clowns, comedic activism, and the harm of “progressive” humor

This blog seeks to take the big pink elephant head-on. The elephant in the room is homophobia in the media, but not your average, homophobic social conservatives. I argue that LGBT allies use “queer clowns” in their political circuses, and promote stereotypes with “progressive” humor. (*Please see the note at the end.)

Although this post generally overviews thoughts on “comedic activism,” the scope could be expanded. By “queer clown” in this context I mean the use of queer sexualities as the laughingstock in satire while at the same time, or elsewhere, supporting LGBT equality. For example, Brown (2012, 52) cites an episode of The Colbert Report where the host adopts “an exaggerated effeminate speech pattern” in saying “it is soooo ordered” to mock a judge over-turning California’s Prop 8 (anti-marriage equality). Similarly, “comedic activism” suggests the use of queer clowns by socially liberal comedians that are otherwise in favor of LGBT rights. [1] Whether or not comedic activism is good for rights, the more important question may be – at what cost?

Travelling circus

It seems to me there are, at least, three types of “progressive” statements that take advantage of the queer clown, dressing prejudice in arguments for equality elsewhere or even within a statement:

  1. Interpersonal – For example, politically incorrect jokes in social situations. Haven’t we all heard, “It’s OK because I have a gay friend/family member”?
  2. Media – Bias in favor of LGBT rights often expressed, somewhat paradoxically, through mocking queer people and social movements.
  3. Politics – Political and legal struggles in the “race” to be the most progressive.

With all three, there appear to be subtexts that could negatively impact sexual minorities. In the first interpersonal field, social acceptance is qualified by difference. In the media, the queer clown is a profitable tool for joke making in the appropriation and capitalization of identities and behaviors that deviate from norms. (I discussed a similar theme in another post about the music industry.) On the third point, politicians and governments use “progressive” agendas as bargaining tools that are both strategic and symbolic, and sometimes disingenuous.

On the other hand, there may be positive political and legal impacts on sexual minority rights to be explored. While interpersonal and media discourses deploy lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as objects of entertainment and difference, the queer clown may, in fact, be a tool for the advancement of LGBT rights – but at what cost?

“Social categories signify subordination and existence at once. In other words, within subjection the price of existence is subordination” (Butler 1997, 20).

I would speculate that the paradox of the queer clown is that it both benefits and degrades sexual minorities. Acceptance of equality is maintained by a “born this way” mantra (or an immutable or essentialist view) that seems to underlie passive-aggressive deployments of the queer clown. Many social liberals that support LGBT rights seem to do so only under the assumption there is no “choice” in the matter. Who, after all, would want to be queer? Armed with this view of sexual orientation and gender identity, the would-be satirist perpetuates stereotypes at the expense of self-determination.

Media ringmaster

The Daily Show and The Colbert Report appear to be staunch advocates for social liberalism through their satirical exposés of news, cultural and political life, primarily focusing on the United States. In one episode (1 October 2013), The Colbert Report plays a clip of Fox News on the “Adorable Care Act,” an online publicity campaign for US healthcare reform. While the Faux, excuse me, Fox commentator whimsically guesses about the species of rodent in the advertisement, the host, Colbert, responds to the clip, “Could be a mouse, could be a hamster, I don’t know. Thanks to Obamacare it could be a rat that had gerbil reassignment surgery. Who knows. Sick stuff [audience laughs].”

Colbert maintains a facade of conservatism while pushing apparently left-leaning views. But the burden of the writers’ critique of the absurdity that is Fox is dropped, unprovoked, onto a trans subject. A little later on the Adorable Care Act, Colbert quips, “I picked my own doctor, and he cut off my balls.” While the joke may reference the castration of an animal, the juxtaposition of this line against the “sick stuff” of confirmation surgeries only adds to the offensive content. In spite of socially liberal agendas, this “progressive” humor and the consumers who laughed are inherently transphobic.

The same week, The Daily Show (3 October 2013) brought on “Smokey the Bear” to talk about the US Government shutdown. Smokey says that he went on Craigslist and it turns out there are “a lot of guys on there looking for bears.” In the exchange, Stewart (host) acts as if Smokey does not understand and begins to explain that “there is a subculture of men out there,” but Smokey responds that it is the easiest money he has ever made in his life. Stewart says he does not need “details,” and Smokey proclaims that he, an American icon, has been giving “hand jobs for money.” In order to make a broader political statement, the satirists peddle a narrative of the promiscuous homosexual and, moreover, that an “American icon” is tarnished by that association in addition to sex work.

Similarly, Brown (2012) and Brown and Betz (2011) point out that while some comedy may be meant to target the audience that laughs at politically incorrect jokes, this humor actually reinforces stereotypes of minorities. Another study of The Daily Show concluded that, although the show advocates for LGBT rights, its humor often obscures the real issues and replicates the homophobia it criticizes (Buerkle 2011). Overall, it seems more attention could be given to how sexual minorities are used in humor to make broader political critiques at the expense of the clowns in the media circus.

Are media characterizations of queer identities the price we pay for existence, acceptance, and equal rights?

* These are personal reflections on a working draft that has haunted my desktop for the last couple months. Although this is well outside my current area, I would appreciate any suggestions of publications on similar topics or researchers who have or are considering these issues, as well as any “tips” on media sources and how to revise these arguments. Finally, many thanks to Kathy Dodworth for comments on the draft blog (find her on Twitter here). Cheers – PTO.


[1] Brown and Betz (2011) and Brown (2012), alternatively, use the term meta-homophobic humor in their studies, as jokes that target sexual minorities while implicitly ridiculing those that would laugh at the joke.


Katie Brown and Diana Betz (2011) “That’s so gay: (Meta-) homophobic humor and support for gay rights” (abstract). [Last accessed 14 November 2013:]

Caitlin Joline Brown (2012) “Irony of ironies?:‘Meta-disparagement’ humor and its impact          on prejudice.” [Last accessed 14 November 2013:]

C. Wesley Buerkle (2011) “Gaywatch: A Burkean Frame Analysis of the Daily Show’s Treatment of Queer Topics” in Trischa Goodnow (ed) The Daily Show and Rhetoric: Arguments, Issues, and Strategies. Lexington Books.

Judith Butler (1997) The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection. Stanford University Press.

Ur So Gay

I want to steer this site back towards research blogs, but this topic is a perfect follow-up to my last post (“Oh, Mykki, you’re so fine”). In the last blog, I argue there is an increasingly pervasive trend in pop music of the appropriation of “LGBT culture for its newfound profitability.”

If only Katy Perry’s record company had released the video for “Unconditionally” two weeks ago this would not have required a part two. A good friend commented on an After Ellen Facebook post yesterday which brought the video, story, and insightful social media comments to my attention.

After Ellen makes the bold claim that “Katy Perry’s always been a great LGBT ally.” The new video for “Unconditionally” features a “lesbian couple.” The “LGBT ally” label ruffled some feathers. Here is a selection of my favorite comments on the Facebook thread:

Her first two singles were pointedly anti-gay. For the love of G-d, the first words to “Ur So Gay” are “I hope you hang yourself with your H&M scarf” for being “so gay”. Always a great LGBT ally? Offensive.

Ahem…since when? Since she realized there was $$ to be made…when she came to Oz a couple of years ago after the song I kissed a Girl debacle, she had her publicists bending over backwards to find a Lesbian club where she could appear at to appear pro gay. Absolute mockery. Totally insulting. She is NOT an advocate, learn some history!!

Since when? By using gay as an insult or suggesting that kissing girls is dirty and wrong?

Nope. “I kissed a girl and I liked it. I hope my boyfriend don’t mind.” How is that not an attention whore using bisexualality [sic] for profit?

Of course, there are other more positive thoughts on the tread about “Unconditionally (Lyric Video),” embedded below:


Trish Bendix on the After Ellen blog says it best (for the wrong reasons):

Katy Perry has had her ups and downs with the lesbian community but she’s trying to appeal to our senses with hew [sic] lyric video for “Unconditionally.” It’s two women as the focus of the whole thing, and what a beautiful couple they make.

I’m not sure if the intent of hiring a very androgynous looking woman is to be a “surprise” ending when she turns and you can see she she [sic] has a chest below the camera line. I’ll just take it for what it is and enjoy the video.

I appreciate Trish Bendix’s observations here. I have to admit that I would not have noted that one of the models appears androgynous. However, if Katy Perry’s other hits are taken into account, this video is not about love or acceptance. Although “Unconditionally” will likely prove to be a successful LGBT marketing strategy, androgyny is deployed for shock value in which the viewer is kept wondering on one character’s gender and later discovers that the video (apparently) depicts a lesbian couple. Capitalizing on the queer community and being “an ally” with a strong backhand has paradoxically served Katy Perry very well indeed.

The Facebook commenters quoted above hit the mark. If you are not familiar, Katy Perry found fame with “I Kissed A Girl” (lyrics here). Here are some pertinent lines from another Katy Perry hit, “Ur So Gay”:

I hope you hang yourself with your H&M scarf

You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys; No you don’t even like; No you don’t even like; No you don’t even like boys

Secretly you’re so amused; That nobody understands you

I can’t believe I fell in love with someone that wears more makeup than…

And finally, the conclusion rings out:

You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys; No you don’t even like; No you don’t even like; No you don’t even like… PENIS

Katy Perry has ironically used and abused LGBT stereotypes while at the same time creating an “LGBT ally” image. To focus on the quoted lyrics above, there are obvious stereotypes on fashion (H&M being more trendy outside Europe), being an outsider that is little understood, and men wearing makeup. I included the last line because I find this to be a gibe against gay men just as abusive as the negative use of stereotypes.

With this latest gender-bending lesbian love story, the figure of Katy Perry seems to cover all the topics of the last blog in exploiting the LGBT community. In the process of capitalizing on pride, the branding of Katy Perry has proved even more obviously abusive than the other divas. Beware, LGBT and ally consumers, of the double edge of “acceptance” (or assimilation) in popular culture.

Oh, Mykki, you’re so fine

The marketization of pride is nothing new, but the music business has become especially effective at tapping into so-called “pink cash.” Pop divas have been propelled to fame and in part kept there by LGBT followings. What is new to the scene is Mykki Blanco.

It seems the music business has reached a “tipping point” where it has become acceptable and even desirable in the mainstream to market minority sexualities and exploit queer bodies. Throughout “Western” markets, across a variety of products, services, and communities, there has been a notable shift over the last decade towards targeting LGBTs in advertising and/or at least presenting as businesses to be in favor of equal rights. What is more malicious about the marketing of music is that it is coupled with the exploitation of stereotypical gay men, but also gender-bending and drag, and general sexual deviance, and the appropriation of, for lack of a better term, “LGBT culture.”

Kylie, long a gay scene staple, has used feminized and yet Adonis-like men in music videos. Madonna brought on Kazaky. And then, of course, there is the ever-present Lady Gaga. Before the release of the official music video “Applause,” the marketing team let loose the drag version to pave the way. The move from niche to mainstream in the images of these artists will be discussed in turn below.

This (long) blog concludes with a consideration of Mykki Blanco who, like other counterculture figures, is publicly condemning cultural exploitation by the music business. Following the apparent tipping point of a general mainstream “acceptance” of non-conforming sexualities and genders, I wonder if there will be a growing queer awareness of the nexus between popular media and our own exploitation.

Work, Bitch

Brittany Spanos writes in LA Weekly that Britney Spears has “reinforced her status as a gay icon. Move over Cher.” Spanos cites Robert Copsey from Digital Spy of speculation that the new Britney single would sample RuPaul’s earlier hit “Supermodel.” Copsey writes, “Singer and drag queen RuPaul released ‘Supermodel’ in 1992, with the track peaking at number 39 in the UK and topping the US dance chart.” While RuPaul’s one-time chart success is notable, the impact of RuPaul’s music has been largely limited to a sub-genre in addition to the self-proclaimed status of “drag superstar” on Logo TV. In taking up the “Work Bitch” signature from RuPaul, Spears will not be so limited. This is just one example in which an industry has capitalized on the LGBT community.

The popularity of Britney Spears and other divas is not threatened by cynical ploys. In fact, the music industry has practically been handed the tools to tap the market by LGBT clubs, media, and consumer preferences. However, queer consumers should be aware of the double edge of “acceptance” (or assimilation) in poplar culture.

While you might be interested in reading for yourself the lyrics to “Work Bitch” and “Supermodel,” there are significant similarities. The most obvious “You better work bitch” directly comes from RuPaul’s “You better work it, girl” and concluding “you better work, bitch.” For those that are unfamiliar with the program RuPaul’s Drag Race, this sentiment in various incantations has become Ru’s signature. I argue the similarities in the songs are not trivial but reflect a much broader, abusive trend.

In the end, the Spears single does not “sample” RuPaul, at least explicitly, as had been rumored before the release. In a very positive tone, Spanos observes some of the key points I would refer to more critically:

Britney does repeat the iconic parenthetical of Ru’s song throughout her track. And it wouldn’t have been much of a stretch for her to appropriate a little bit of drag history and culture into her song. She has a history of playing gay clubs and has become a well-known figure to emulate in drag. Even the VMA kiss with Madonna helped bind some ties for Brit and the LGBT community.

The new trend in pop music is moving away from merely nurturing a healthy “gay following” towards the actual cooption of LGBT culture for its newfound profitability. While it is easy to get sidetracked on offensive and ill-spoken sound bites more suited to tabloids, Empress Spears took off her clothes in an interview. When a San Francisco radio station asked about “her gay following” and whether she has a “group of gay people that [influence] her work,” Spears responded:

A lot of my hair stylists and my beauty team that I work with are gay so I hang out with gays a lot and I just think they’re adorable and hilarious.

I am sure the “gays” think they are adorable and hilarious too, Miss Spears, but probably not for the same reasons. At least, this makes the pop star’s LGBT authenticity questionable.

To some extent, the marketization of pride in music has been spotlighted in LGBT media. For example, under this headline, “Britney Spears Accused of Exploiting Gays For Her Big Comeback.” While this article discusses that Spears is obviously wanting to “get gay people on board” with the new album, the idea that Spears would be alienating gay fans by launching the album in San Francisco’s iconic Castro is summarily dismissed. At least it should be noted that in these culture circles there is an active discussion over whether Lady Gaga’s antics are part of another elaborate marketing ploy – which we will visit briefly below.

Before leaving Britney Spears for other artists I want to highlight the use of sexual deviance in the music video. I recently tweeted about the use of BDSM product placement at 2:08 in “Work Bitch.” The image is embedded below.


In the rush to be the most edgy, and sexy, production has gone beyond “sex sells” towards lesser-known fringes of sexual deviance. The BDSM image of the woman with a brand name stereo in her mouth demonstrates the deployment of deviant sexualities for profit. It is not about acceptance or awareness but instead a crude marketing ploy – 50 Shades of Stereos.


“Artpop” is the title of Lady Gaga’s forthcoming album, and we’ll get to that. This section attempts to draw together some themes from screenshots of music videos. First, I want to start with Kylie Minogue as the archetype of playing to a loyal gay male fan base.3_Kylie

The two images on the right are from Kylie Minogue’s “Get Outta My Way” (2010). While this is a tenuous way to put it at best, the video is full of stereotypically gay men. The dancers are feminized and flamboyant in their 4_Kyliemovements and dress. In my subjective opinion, in the picture of Kylie and the two dancers she treats them as objects in a condescending way. Knowing that Kylie is straight, the fact that she is not seen to be “lusting” after them makes them her “gays.”

The next screenshots, below, are from Madonna’s “Girl Gone Wild” (2012). Again, going on stereotypes but also actions, the video is highly homoerotic. More attention could be paid to the interplay of the lyrics and the images than I have space to give here. The dancers from LGBT-famous Kazaky (see “Love” from 2011) feature in this video – heels and all.

1_Madonna 2_Madonna

Because I do not find there are any defining images in the “Applause (Official Lyric Video)” to illustrate the point, I have posted it here. In short, it features some famous US drag queens performing for the VIP, Lady Gaga.

The drag queens and king as well as other people in the bar obviously appear to worship Lady Gaga in the music video. Of course, the performance includes mimicry of the “Applause” pop art look, which is carried forward into the actual, official music video. The video above was posted days before the “Official” one. I cannot help but think this is a sideshow paving the way for “the real deal.” Drag is used as a joke and advertising ploy, throwing a bone to loyal LGBT and allied fans while promoting the final product.  Lady Gaga is trying to sell albums with clever “pop art” tricks, but the appropriation of drag in the process should not be condoned.

I suppose it is worth noting that I am not trying to (intentionally) invoke the works of queer theory that explore things such as why gay men prefer pop divas, drag, and other topics. In fact, I think the topics of this blog suggest the “camp” paradigm is being turned on its head. Whereas in the past “gay culture” might have gravitated towards camp performance and socially provocative female artists, here instead the divas are commoditizing deviant sexualities. Naturally, there must be some element of attraction and consent for sexual minorities to be actively consuming, promoting, and identifying with the media. However, it seems to me that the relationship is far more exploitative on the part of the music giants who have taken up the “gay” banner and packaged it for mass consumption.

Back to Blanco

Perhaps the single best piece I have read on Mykki Blanco is by Jenna Sauers of The Village Voice.

Mykki Blanco is the rap alias of Michael Quattlebaum, Jr. Quattlebaum should be identified by male pronouns while Mykki Blanco should have female pronouns, according to the rapper. The young Quattlebaum was influenced by queer theory including works by Audre Lorde, Judith Halberstam, and Leslie Feinberg. According to the story by Sauers this gave “Quattlebaum a vocabulary for his feelings just as he was trying…to define his place in the world.” Quattlebaum dressed as a woman on and off, and came to realize sexuality and gender were fluid. The rest of Sauers article is illuminating, including Quattlebaum’s ideas on “queer” and language. But to take up one more detail – “Quattlebaum is not, as some have described him, a “trans rapper,” he is a gay man who sometimes dresses as a woman.”

Mykki Blanco’s particular position in the music industry and challenging of cultural norms makes her criticisms all the more pertinent and cutting. Mykki recently went off on a short Twitter crusade against Britney Spears. While some tweets have since been taken down, here is a screenshot from OMG Blog:

Mykki Tweets

Although it is obvious why some of the comments have since been retracted, I hope Mykki continues to challenge orthodoxy and that her fame continues to grow. She gets it. Mykki is authentic.

I should have first admitted in the introduction that I am one for pop divas. I have playlists full of top chart dance tunes that smack of the exploitation I bash here. So I am at least as much a part of the hypocrisy as the next person. Maybe the idealist in me has taken over, but I would like to think that at least an awareness of the issues highlighted above might contribute to a broader conversation and queer awareness of what are increasingly pervasive and perverse marketing trends.

To conclude with an excerpt from Mykki Blanco’s interview in The Village Voice:

There is a very safe gay attitude toward entertainment…Which is: Make noise! But not too much noise. Make waves! But don’t offend the wrong people. And if you want to really be accepted, you’re going to have to tailor your image a little bit to a homogenized, heterosexual mainstream. I am not willing to do any of those things…I’m not going to be some sort of gay political dress-up doll.

The Chelsea Dagger

Somebody out there will have undoubtedly made these or similar and better articulated points already. But this is a critical case and conversation to which I wanted to add my own words and support for Chelsea Manning. However, being consumed by the current draft chapter I’m working on I honestly have not had the time to properly research this piece – so take that as a disclaimer before you continue reading (I hope!).

The case of Chelsea Manning is a dubious test for transgender recognition in the media and society. The backstory is that Bradley Manning has been convicted of the largest leak of classified information in US history. What should not be overlooked is that transgender people must share in the scorn of public ridicule of Chelsea.

Yesterday, Chelsea released a statement through her lawyer that she would like to be identified by female pronouns – born and always identifying as female, and ready to brave social transition in this new chapter of her life. Chelsea would also like to begin hormone therapy while in prison. This is partially old news since it has been widely reported Manning wrestled with gender identity, and a military psychiatrist testified to the court that Manning wanted to live as a woman at the time of the leak. Post-trial, Chelsea said in her statement that she didn’t want this issue to overshadow the case.

Although I would very much hope that, as one tweeter put it, we accept Chelsea regardless of whether we agree or disagree with her past actions, I fear a more sinister standard has been applied. The divide appears to be:

  1. Sympathizers, whether grateful to the former soldier for political reasons or simply out of the obvious due respect owed to her stated gender identity, will adopt the appropriate pronouns per her actual gender.
  2. Opponents of the actions of the former soldier and the bigots will alternatively continue to not only refer to Bradley Manning but also drive their spiteful daggers into the hearts of Chelsea and trans people everywhere with male pronouns. It might also be that commentators simply adopting feminine pronouns because of political sympathies but with indifference to trans rights also fall into this category.

The implications of the latter (2) are a grotesque form of discipline and abuse. A continuing use of male pronouns represents at once a politically divisive reprimand for Manning’s actions but also serves to disrespect the whole, beautifully diverse and geographically dispersed, transgender community.

After drafting this blog, I woke up this morning and saw that a good friend in the US posted an article on this story to Facebook. Without even reading more widely across news sources or going into the abyss of social media for popular commentary, I stumbled upon and was shocked to see these comments on the thread: “just trying to win supporters… idiot.. hate that guy…” and “He is gonna be a female in prison.. gonna get raped!” I dread to imagine the trash being circulated by some news outlets and readers’ comments. I won’t be looking into it further – far too disheartening – and, anyway, as the quotes above suggest, such nonsense will be unavoidable.

The US Today Show initially broke the story in an interview with Chelsea’s lawyer. Although the interviewer’s question relating to narcissism is based on widespread and longstanding speculation about Manning and her actions, I was surprised to hear this referenced in the interview. The “liberal media” should take heed of the repercussions of pedaling such narratives as the message conveyed presumably equates transgender people to narcissistic attention-seekers. More broadly, the conflation of mental instability (commonly leveled, whether true or false, against Chelsea) with transgender identity is very concerning. Many themes are toxically concentrated in the trial and now gender identification of Chelsea Manning.

On a final note, Fort Leavenworth should do the right thing and provide Chelsea the proper medical attention (hormones) without taking this to court. I suppose we can only hope those in charge of the military prison have watched Orange is the New Black. To conclude with an appeal from the ever-incisive Janet Mock: