Cultural Appropriation: Dangerous Intersections

In her article, âpihtawikosisân explains what cultural appropriation consists of, along with the apparent harms of appropriating the native headdress. Perhaps what is most interesting about cultural appropriation is how it often intersects with other systems of oppression (notably racism and sexism), and how it reinforces structural and systematic forms of oppression.

At its core, cultural appropriation is the act of taking intellectual property (this can be a physical object or not), stripping it of its meaning, and then assigning it a new meaning. These can be objects of both high and low cultural value, and it does not necessarily need to be the objects of marginalized groups. Although marginalized groups are harmed by appropriation the most as they tend to reinforce existing systems of power. Appropriation also typically occurs for either financial (selling native headdresses when you are not native to make money) or social (to seem “cool” or “edgy”) gain. Ultimately, cultural appropriation commodifies a cultural and suggests that it exists to be used for some sort of gain as opposed to a unifying sense of social cohesion through cultural identity.

In most acts of cultural appropriation, it is often seen as a subtle form of mockery. This act of appropriation often neglects the understanding of historical contexts, and more modern perceptions. The headdress is an excellent example as indigenous Plains people in Canada (and those in the United States) were forced to assimilate into the white colonial settler country. In Canada this was done through aggressive and brutal legislation that included the creation of Residential Schools whose ultimate goal was to “kill the Indian in the Child” (Fleras, 2015). These brutal policies included violent punishment for even speaking their languages. The culture of indigenous people of Canada was often seen as “barbaric” and had to be extinguished. The irony in white people and non-Native people of colour to wear a headdress not only out of its context – as it is similar to our own medals of honour – but also conveniently forgets the oppressive history of forced cultural assimilation. These histories have huge impacts on indigenous people today, and manifest themselves systematically. It is no secret that indigenous people have the highest death rates, lowest education rates, nearly dead languages, high rates of abuse, and much more as a result of these horrific policies (Fleras, 2015). Wearing the headdress is inherently a sign of mockery as it chooses to ignore this legacy.

It is also important to remember who benefits the most out of wearing these objects. While social gain is an important factor of cultural appropriation, the people who benefit the most are often those in positions of power. These types of power are often situated in privilege but those who benefit are not exclusively white, or CIS, or heterosexual – although they often are. Take Forever 21’s controversial “Straight out of Compton” t-shirts which appropriate black culture through commodification (Kleinman, 2015). Most of the residents of Compton are black, yet the models (and people who benefit) were clearly not. Forever 21, owned by Korean American Don Chang, does not necessarily directly benefit white, CIS, heterosexual men but it does reinforce existing power structures that work against people of colour – specifically black people (Forever 21, 2015). By commodifying their culture, Forever 21 suggests that they love black culture, but not necessarily black people. Black people become objectified in these type of anti-blackness. In this example of horizontal oppression – when one oppressed group works against another oppressed group to reinforce existing power structures – people like Chang may gain financial benefits (Social Justice Terminology, 2015). However, there are other people such as stockholders, workers, and other executive members of Forever 21 are likely to be white, cis, heterosexual men who will also benefit and benefit more from the oppression of people of colour than people like Chang.

The normalization of commodifying black culture implies that all cultures are also “free” to commodify. This has dire consequences as cultural appropriation can also reinforce existing stereotypes. For example, in Katy Perry’s orientalist “geisha” costume at the American Music Awards in 2013. Not only did her dress actually resemble more the Chinese cheongsam than Japanese kimono, but her entire performance and costume was only a step away from yellowface. While white women like Perry can take off a kimono and become white and “normal” again, Asian (specifically East Asian) women cannot. Instead, these images of the “exotic geisha” actively harm them. It fetishizes, objectifies, and dehumanizes them to sexual objects. This then plays a crucial role in sexual assault rates, where in which Asian women are targeted for specifically because of these images (Kim, 2009).This applies not only to Asian women, but to all women of colour. First Nations women are also sexualized, objectified, and reduced to a fetish often in an “exotic” sort of “savage” way with feathers and leather skins like in No Doubt’s music video (Charleyboy, 2012). It is not surprise to see that Aboriginal women in Canada and the United States have some of the highest rates of sexual assault. Cultural appropriation also creates a dangerous intersection of race and sex.

Cultural appropriation is very far from “appreciation”. These objects which were once seen as “foreign” and “strange” therefore qualified for mockery are now being used for financial or social gain. It is difficult for marginalized groups to forget the harsh, oppressive histories (whether recent or not). Appropriation also only benefits a small group of people, often people who are already in positions of power as they are typically CIS, white, male, heterosexual, are the ones who benefit from the commodification of culture (although not exclusively). It also often intersects sexism with racism, producing powerful stereotypes that have real world consequences.

Cornell West once said that “justice is what love looks like in public,”. Love is not mockery, or ignoring years of oppression. Love is not wearing objects of cultural significance out of ignorance. Love is not reinforcing harmful, intersecting forms of oppression. Love is respect and love is understanding.

Keep your headdresses and “geisha” costumes at home.

That is not love, nor does it do the people from those cultures any justice.

You may be able to take them off at the end of the day, but not everyone can.

Works Cited

“An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses.” Pihtawikosisn. 10 Feb. 2012. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

Charleyboy, Lisa. “No Doubt, Exploiting ‘hot’ Native American Stereotypes Is Never OK.” The Guardian. 6 Nov. 2012. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/nov/06/no-doubt-native-american-stereotypes&gt;.

Fleras, Augie, and Jean Leonard Elliot. “Aboriginal Peoples in Canada: Repairing the Relationship.” Unequal Relations: An Introduction to Race, Ethnic and Aboriginal Dynamics in Canada. 2nd ed. Scarborough, Ont.: Prentice Hall Canada ;, 1996. Print.

“Forever 21.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 1 Oct. 2014. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <http://www.forbes.com/companies/forever-21/&gt;.

“Hey, Can I Borrow That? – Why Cultural Appropriation Is Not Harmless.” Things Genny Loves. 19 Mar. 2014. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <https://nofrillsfox.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/hey-can-i-borrow-that-why-cultural-appropriation-is-not-harmless/&gt;.

Kim, Jaemin. “Asian Women: Rape And Hate Crimes.” The Huffington Post. 3 June 2009. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jaemin-kim/lets-call-it-what-it-is_b_163698.html&gt;.

Kleinman, Alexis. “Forever 21 Apparently Has Pulled Its Controversial Compton Shirts.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 25 Sept. 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

“Social Justice Terminology.” Suffolk University. Suffolk University. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <http://www.suffolk.edu/campuslife/27883.php&gt;.

The Intersection of Racism, Transphobia, and Misogyny

Cornel West once stated that “justice is what love looks like in public,” and when there is no justice, there is no love. Often in the LGBTQ community, people of all races, genders, and backgrounds are discriminated against and shown no justice. More specifically, there are certain combinations that are more acceptable than others. For example, black men and women who are gay are more likely to be subjected to discrimination than white men and women in the same position. Additionally, interracial couples in the LGBTQ community are also discriminated against more often that heterosexual interracial couples. Moreover, black trans women are the most targeted victims of violence within the LGBTQ community. This systemic discrimination is in part due to the gender binary that is taught to children, through different means of gender socialization.

Orange is the New Black’s Laverne Cox, spoke about the intersection of trans phobia, racism and misogyny (Cox 2014). In doing so, Cox recounts one of the countless times she has experienced harassment on the street by men who, upon realizing that she is a trans women, became very aggressive. She goes on to state that many trans women are in danger simply because of whom they are, and the gender that they choose to express (Cox 2014). Additionally, Cox argues that most of the street harassment she has experienced has come from black men. Although a generalization, Cox explains this phenomenon as a response to the collective trauma experienced by blacks in the past, as well as a result of the emasculation of black men. Finally, Laverne Cox states that when men or women harass others, it is an inner problem or issue they have with themselves, rather than the person whom they are targeting (Cox 2014).

Apart from this example, there are many examples of the intersection of misogyny, racism and trans phobia, and this is due to gender socialization and the appearance of strict gender binaries. Misogyny is the explicit hatred or dislike of women or girls, and can be expressed in numerous ways, some of which include: sexual discrimination, violence, denigration and the sexual objectification of women. Misogyny intersects with both racism and trans phobia in the sense that black or coloured (trans) women have less privilege than white women and white trans women. Apart from being discriminated against for being a woman, many are additionally discriminated against for being black and trans as well. This is specifically due to gender socialization, which refers to the socially constructed roles and expectations of both men and women. Gender socialization is most often based on a strict gender binary where there is only two sides of the spectrum, boys and girls, and each have opposing characteristics.

In today’s society, racism, misogyny, and trans phobia have become institutionalized through socially constructed rules and regulations. Although not enforced by law, it a common understanding that in order to be “normal” you must be either male or female, or the sex to which you were assigned at birth. The problem with this is that many or most people do not fit into the strict gender binary set by society. Even if you are cisgendered, meaning that you identify with the sex assigned at birth, you are likely to not stick strictly to the characteristics of said gender. For example, some girls like sports and are powerful and outspoken: these are usually qualities typically associated with men. Furthermore, due to this, it is more inclusive to think of gender as a spectrum, rather than a binary.

There are many examples of this systemic discrimination against transgendered people in all societies. Recently, the Canadian parliament voted to make amendments to bill C-279; a federal Bill that seeks to bring rights and securities specifically to transgender Canadians (Wingrove 2014). The amendments senate wishes to make render the Bill completely useless, and the Bill has been highly contested by Parliament as well as the general public. More specifically, the senate wants the term ‘gender identity’ to be removed, and this would subsequently take away the right of trans people to identify as the gender they are, rather than the gender they were assigned at birth (Wingrove 2014). This Bill is a form of systemic discrimination against trans people as it provides legal regulations that take away the rights and services of trans women and men. Therefore, the amendments to the Bill are a form of misogyny and transmisogyny, as well as a form of state sanctioned violence against trans women and more so trans women of colour, who are already susceptible to violence and discrimination (Wingrove 2014).

Although many people in today’s society believe that men and women are equal, it is becoming abundantly clear that this is not the case. Discrimination against those associated with the LGBTQ community is still happening and is becoming more systemically implemented than ever before. This discrimination is due to the gender socialized norms and binaries we are taught as children, and that we see reinforced over and over again. Laverne Cox is one example of a trans woman who is popular in the media and often speaks out against certain indecencies she experiences first hand. It is important that trans women and men specifically get the justice they deserve, and in turn it is important to love and accept everyone for who they are.

 Works Cited

Cox, Laverne. “Laverne Cox Explains the Intersection of Transphobia, Racism, and Misogyny (And What to Do About It).” Everyday Feminism. Everyday Feminism, 07 Dec. 2014. Web. 07 Mar. 2015.

Wingrove, Josh. “Transgender Rights Bill Stirs Heated Debate in Senate.” The Globe and Mail. The Globe and Mail Inc., 02 Oct. 2014. Web. 09 Mar. 2015.

“Justice is What Love Looks Like in Public”

It is not easy living in a heteronormative society, where heterosexual individuals render privilege and all those who deviate from the norm encounter oppression as a result. Because the laws and policies that are meant to protect individuals are created within a heterosexist framework, the rights and freedoms of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer) community often go ignored or undermined.

This systemic and structural marginalization occurs at the everyday level, possibly in your own doctor’s office, and was experienced by a lesbian couple in Vermont. Dr. Roi, the physician Krista and Jami Contreras initially entrusted with their daughter’s health, refused to provide them with her services on the basis of religious and moral confliction. She claimed that she would never judge the couple’s choices in terms of the expression of their sexual identities, however this statement is intrinsically false. In reality, Dr. Roi’s judgments of the couple were homophobic, and institutional discrimination of homosexuals and other LGBTQ individuals within the realm of religion is not uncommon in the world we inhabit. Since humans with heteronormative perspectives founded religious institutions, it is arguable that some of their axioms perpetuate the privilege and power imbalances that persist in our society. Consequently, there is an undefined grey area between what is moral and what is not.

Homosexuality, when one is attracted to the same sex that they identify with, has historically been deemed as unnatural because of heterosexist social constructions revolving around rigid sexual scripts that dictate how people must behave according to the gender binary, which separates sex and gender into two distinct classes, male and female, masculine and feminine.

This raises a controversial question: Do people use God as a scapegoat to maintain social hierarchies that privilege few and oppress many? Because particular religious institutions render homosexual relationships sinful, it creates an environment where it is justifiable to dominate others, dehumanize them, and thus have easier access to resources and job security, among other things. It induces the notion that it is unnecessary to critically consider the ways in which their convictions affect the physical, mental and socioeconomic prosperity of the ones they marginalize.

Furthermore, although there has been a substantial activism and legislation reform surrounding the rights of the LGBTQ community, governments of the West and the general public are not genuinely invested in them. The American Medical Association forbids the refusal of care based on sexual orientation, which is who one is attracted to, yet Dr. Roi’s practice was not subject to penalty by the AMA because caring for an infant with homosexual parents did not agree with her morals. Her personal and religious beliefs were given priority, despite their discriminatory, oppressive nature. Clearly, Krista and Jami Contreras did not win that battle, so who decides which party’s rights are respected and on what premises?

For most people, witnessing discrimination or becoming aware that they contribute to it systemically does not ignite a fire in them. If the problem does not hinder their invisible, unacknowledged privilege, they remain indifferent, apathetic and unconcerned. Why? In a culture where cisgendered heterosexuals have advantages over those of the sexual minority, surrendering these benefits is an enormous sacrifice. Though the public claims that they are sympathetic toward the needs of the LGBTQ community and women, sincere affinity for equality would involve dismantling the supremacy and immunities that inherently accompany privilege. It would mean relinquishing power and taking responsibility for the injustices that generate oppression.

Beyond doubt, the lesbian couple has endured obstacles that do not exist for heterosexuals, however the privileges that Krista and Jami Contreras do have cannot be disregarded. Because the couple is white, they did not experience apprehension about their race convoluting their message, or whether it would prevent their story from reaching a large audience. When broadcasting the prejudices they endured, their race granted them unquestioned credibility. When asking other doctors whether they would accept their child as a patient, they would not have to worry about race as a determining factor. The child the Contreras are raising does not have to learn methods of survival within racist structures, and she will grow up in a world where her race is widely represented in all aspects of everyday life. A lesbian couple of colour would face more institutional challenges when consulting adoption agencies or seeking employment, fuelling the lack of healthcare and poverty that plagues many Americans.

“Cornell West reminds us that justice is what love looks like public.” We, as individuals of society, as parts to a whole, possess the capacity to be agents of change, yet fail to generate it. Until our love for others is genuine enough to end indifference and shift the power dynamic toward equality, there will be no justice.

Works Cited:

Aulette, Judy R., and Judith Wittner. Gendered Worlds. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009-12. Print.

“Doctor refuses treatment of same-sex couple’s baby.” My Fox Detroit. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.

“White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Amptoon. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.

Laverne Cox on Street Harassment and Transphobia

“Justice is what love looks like in public.”
Cornel West’s profound statement from his Harvard University sermon could not have been said more perfectly. Equality can only be infiltrated by understanding the varying degrees of oppression and privileges that all individuals have. The point is not for a person to blame another or a certain group of individuals for the way social construction has shaped them, but to help them see the way things are for those who are oppressed. It is important for us as individuals in a diverse social system to see the maltreatment all people may experience to cause them to act a certain way. No one is without privilege, and everyone experiences discrimination in some form.

http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/laverne-cox-intersection-what-to-do/

Linked above is a speech done by Laverne Cox, where she takes her own approach to the topic of street harassment and incorporates Cornel West’s ideals. She is an American actress best known for her role as Sophia Burset in Orange Is The New Black. She is an LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual queer or questioning) community advocate. Laverne Cox has experienced discrimination in many forms; she is black and she is also transsexual. Transsexual and transgender people challenge the biological gender they were assigned at birth, believing that they have been assigned incorrectly (Aulette and Wittner 45). In this video, she speaks of her street-harassment experience with two males who had catcalled her while she was crossing the street. She, among many transsexual women, is victim to the street harassment that many transwomen experience. Although cisgender women – cisgenders being individuals who identify with their assigned gender — also frequently experience street harassment, statistics show that trans people are more likely to be harassed and to a more violent degree (“What Is Street Harassment?”). Laverne says, and I quote “Our lives are often in danger, simply for being who we are when we are transwomen.” She also mentions how she is harassed for being black, on top of the hate she has experienced for being transsexual.

Laverne Cox, being a coloured transwoman in America, represents a large group of trans people whose voices often go unheard, even within the LGBTQ community. I agree tremendously with the unique approach she takes in explaining the intersectionality between racism and transphobia. Intersectionality is the crosscutting and connection between different identities such as race, class, sexuality, and gender (Aulette and Wittner 9-10). With reference to her own experience, Laverne acknowledges how many of her harassment encounters have been men of colour, and why that might have been so. Laverne explains how the post-traumatic stress from the history of slavery and Jim Crowe laws that many black people endured in America could be a contributing factor to the way black men have acted towards her, noting that they see her as the embodiment of the oppression and emasculation that most black men work to overcome today. Oppression is the exercise of inequality through domination of one supposedly more superior or privileged group over another (Aulette and Wittner 9-10) and is experienced by all people, as Laverne has proven. What I appreciated most from Laverne’s story is how she has learned to see past peoples’ antagonistic ways and acknowledged that everyone experiences privileges and oppressions at their own varying degrees.

Laverne also addresses the topic of bullying in schools, and how children who do not conform to society’s gender binary are thought of as different and often marginalized for this. Gender binary is the traditional ideology of there being only two definite and distinct genders, male (male-masculinity) and female (female-femininity) with no in-between (“Gender Socialization”). Views on social concepts, especially gender and sexuality, are social constructions, which are taught to all of us from an early age. “There is no gender or sexuality – just bodies – before they are socially constructed” by power systems to maintain social norms (Aulette and Wittner 3). It is obvious that these gender binaries intersect with other forms of hate crime such as homophobia, which is the devaluation of anything feminine, such as being a stereotyped gay male or a stereotyped “butch” lesbian (Aulette and Wittner 117).

Intersectionality is proof that prejudice on the streets, in school systems and any other social environment does not only affect one group of people. Everyone that can identify with any social group can be both a victim to discrimination and directly or indirectly the oppressor to another group, a systemic conflict that is very hard to fix because people continue to be violent towards one another for differences they cannot control.

Now, going back to Laverne’s interpretation of justice and love. How can we achieve justice until we learn to love one another beyond our differences? This in no way justifies discrimination that one may face, but it is important to consider this mentality. Blaming and reciprocated hate may be just as damaging as prejudice itself. The aim should be for people to educate one another and for individuals to continually acknowledge where they stand with their privileges, advantages and disadvantages. It is true that the past can never be erased, and I don’t think it should be. The racism and sexism that our relatives and friends of the yesterday have experienced should always be acknowledged and learned from. However, it is up to us as individuals to be part of something bigger than ourselves, and actively work together to make sure that the past does not repeat itself.

Works Cited

Aulette, Judy R., and Judith Wittner. Gendered Worlds. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009-12. Print.

“Gender Socialization.” 20 Jan 2014. Web. Mar 8 2015.

“What is Street harassment?” Stop Street Harassment. Web. 6 Mar 2015.

Blackbird by Patrik-Ian Polk

The Reelout Film Festival took place January 30th-February 7th, with a variety of films being previewed in Kinston. The unique aspect of Reelout is that it is a queer film festival, where each and every film reflects at least one aspect of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) community.

The film that I had the pleasure of viewing at this year’s Reelout Film Festival is Patrik-Ian Polk’s Blackbird (2014), staring Julian Walker as 17-year-old Randy Rousseau. This film focuses on the struggles that Randy has to face as he gets older and is forced to take on a vast amount of responsibilities. Randy’s sister, Chrissy (Nikki Jane), went missing 6 years ago and his mother, Claire (Mo’Nique), has become mentally ill due to the disappearance of her daughter. With the leave of his father (Isaiah Washington), Randy is now the primary caregiver and support system for his mother who continues to hold on to the hope of Chrissy’s return. In the film Claire states “I may not be a wife or a woman anymore, but I’ll never stop being a mother”

Aside from his observable struggles, Randy is also dealing with some personal struggles in his life. Night after night Randy has the same dream that causes him much distress every time he wakes up in the morning. Randy finds that he is having dreams involving himself and one of his male friends engaging in various sexual activities. Randy is a very religious individual who comes from an equally religious family, therefore Randy has been taught heteronormativity– the assumption that heterosexuality is the only correct form of sexuality, and that living and feeling otherwise is a sin (Aulette and Wittner 121) for his whole life. Due to his beliefs, Randy wakes up every morning visibly distressed because of his unconscious thoughts and pleads to God to take his dreams away. Randy is a firm believer in sexual scripts, which outlines how an individual is supposed to behave based on their gender (Aulette and Wittner 120-124). Randy is not afraid of being an individual of the sexual minority seeing as his friends and schoolmate seem to be generally accepting of the LGBTQ community, and some are involved in it themselves. Rather, due to his belief in God and Christianity, and the dreams that Randy has, he is extremely confused about his sexual orientation.

As Randy continues to have these dreams, he gradually starts to understand that he is gay and that there is nothing anyone can do about it. Randy is persuaded by his co-worker at the time, Marshall (Kevin Allesse), who is an openly gay male. Marshall explains to Randy that God told him it’s okay if he’s gay. Randy soon learns the importance of accepting his homosexual feelings and is then able to truly express himself as an individual.

Randy’s acceptance of his sexuality is what leads into the scene that I found stood out the most in the film. I found that the distinct moment when Randy accepts his feelings is when he kisses Marshall after a night out together. They were in Marshall’s car and little did they know that Randy’s mom was still up waiting for Randy’s return. Claire walked outside and caught Marshall and Randy kissing in Marshall’s car. Because of their family’s strict religious practice that leads Claire to believe firmly in heterosexuality, she is extremely disturbed by the idea of her son being a sexual minority. At this time Claire yells at Randy, expressing that he is the reason God took away her daughter. As can be imagined, having his mother express that God is punishing them because Randy is gay took an extreme toll on Randy’s emotional state.

Sometime down the road Chrissy was found living with another family who abducted her for 6 years. When Chrissy returned to her family, I found it strange that everything seemed normal after 6 years of being absent. I think that the portrayal of this aspect could have been improved, because it is likely that Chrissy would have has some psychological damage after being separated from her family for so long and then returned like nothing ever happened. However, one of the largest aspects of character development is portrayed through this scene when Claire realizes that since Chrissy was brought back home, it must mean that Randy’s homosexuality is an acceptable aspect of who he is.

I think that Reelout is an amazing opportunity for people, especially today’s students, in the sense that it is a very eye-opening experience. Blackbird is the only film I attended, and I wish now that I had have gone to see a couple more so I could have gotten greater knowledge in other areas of the queer community that were not represented in Blackbird. In addition, being able to see the passion radiating off of the people who make it possible for this festival to happen is a truly rewarding experience because I was able to tell that they just want to make a difference in the world and help people feel like they can be themselves.

Work Cited

 Aulette, Judy R., and Judith Wittner. Gendered Worlds. Third ed. New York: Oxford Universty Press. 2015. Print

Blackbird 2014 Film review by Aba

Attending the Reelout 2015 film festival was quite an experience. All the films presented for viewing seemed to have interesting plots. I chose to watch Blackbird, a 2014 film directed by Patrik-Ian Polk. The trek through the treacherous snow to find the library in downtown Kingston was definitely worth it!

The film was a touching story of a young African American boy named Randy, finishing his final year of high school in a small Mississippi state town. It is obvious from the start that he comes from a religious family, and he gives back to his church by singing in their choir. Most of his close friends seem to be religious, too. He devotes a lot of time to taking care of his mother Claire. Throughout most of the movie, Claire spends her days worrying over Chrissy, Randy’s younger sister, who had gone missing many years before. Randy struggles with opening up about his sexuality to his parents and friends, especially when he starts to develop feelings for one of his schoolmates, Ty. Fortunately, Randy’s father makes an effort to show Randy his love and support when he realizes Randy is conflicted. Later in the movie, Randy meets a young aspiring actor named Marshall, and an instant connection seems to form between them— although Randy is not quick to acknowledge it. Randy eventually accepts his sexuality and introduces his family and friends to Marshall. At the end of the movie, Randy says, ‘whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love’, realizing that it does not matter who you love, but that you love at all.

The first thing that really stood out to me was the racial representation in this film. A lot of the time, you will see casts dominated by white actors and actresses with perhaps a few roles done by individuals of colour. In this film, white people were the minority. A lot of the media that we absorb everyday may also portray homosexuality with a homo-normative stereotype. This film, however, did not represent this typical homo-normativity, since Randy was African- American and Marshall was Caucasian.

To me, the most important scene was the part where Claire finds out about Randy’s homosexuality. Randy and Marshall are parked in front of Randy’s house, kissing for the first time. Claire, who stayed up worrying when Randy did not come home on time, sees them and becomes livid. She forces Randy into the house and proceeds to yell at him for what his actions. Claire blames Randy for the disappearance of Chrissy, saying ‘God was testing them’ and it was Randy’s fault for being gay. Foreshadowing from early on in the movie suggests that Randy knew his mother would react like this. I was impacted and empathetic towards Randy’s character when he felt that he had disappointed his mother; disappointing a loved one is every person’s fear.

Claire’s angry outburst was immediately followed with their church pastor suggesting that Randy should go through Deliverance in other to stop his ‘unnatural desires’. The pastor expressed a very hetero-normative perspective, enforcing the ideals that men should love women and there is no other normal way. Although Randy later accepts his sexuality, he agrees to go through with Deliverance, saying that he wanted to be ‘normal’. A large conflict within the Christian church is the unwillingness to accept homosexuality, saying that it is a sin. This sheds some light on an essentialist point of view, stating that people are born with predetermined characteristics— including sexual preference—based on their biological sex (“Essentialism, Social Constructionism and Sexual Identity”). Essentialism is a large spectrum of traditional ideals that are taught to be the way things should be, for lack of a better explanation. The pastor’s words made it apparent that Randy’s struggle was made harder by the binary thinking he was raised in, teaching people to act according to their gender with no in-between. All throughout the movie, Randy struggles with his feelings, and it seems as though his biggest fear was of disappointing Claire, his church, and God because he didn’t feel the heterosexual desire that men should allegedly feel.

The heterosexual matrix that constructs popular culture’s view of sexuality and gender is so hard to escape because of the norms that are taught to many of us (“Gender Trouble”), even within the homes of people like Randy. This can be seen in the way Claire lashes out at Randy, condemning him for his ‘sins’. Although not all religious people think like this, I would argue that the traditional values of the Christian church play a huge role in the social constructs of how men and women should act. I am certain that there are many teens that experience a similar treatment to what Randy went through.

This movie opened my eyes to how the social construction of sexuality and gender is so present in today’s society, especially within tight-knit communities like Randy’s. Everyone is influencing each other and being influenced (Aulette and Wittner 92-93). Although this movie is fiction, the story behind it is real for many individuals growing up in our predominantly hetero-normative society and I am happy to see films like this in the media. I am glad that we have festivals like Reelout in smaller cities like Kingston, because it contributes to the social progress our society is slowly making with the LGBTQ movement.

Trailer to Blackbird 2014 film:

Works Cited

“Essentialism, Social Constructionism and Sexual Identity.” Ludicrous Palaver. 27 Mar 2006. Web. Feb 5 2015.

“Gender Trouble: Prohibition, Psychoanalysis, and the Production of Heterosexual Matrix.” Sophie Moet. 29 Jan 2014. Web. Feb 5 2015.

Aulette, Judy R., and Judith Wittner. Gendered Worlds. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009-12. Print.

Before the Last Curtain Falls

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Thomas Wallner’s inspiring documentary Before the Last Curtain Falls is one that captures the hearts of audiences using the powerful themes of love, struggle, triumph and courage, while delivering them with refreshing originality. Through the two-year tour of the contemporary dance piece entitled Gardenia, queer and transgender performers, who do not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth, in their sixties and seventies received the opportunity to conclude their careers in the entertainment industry by taking the stage for a final time. The film skillfully alternates between excerpts from Gardenia and interviews with each cast member, where they share intimate stories of their own challenges and celebrations.

In a hetero-normative culture, where those who deviate from the standard societal norms are marginalized, it is rare to see a film that realistically documents the lives of transgender and queer individuals, as audiences glimpse into the performers’ households, romantic lives and jobs. Moreover, during the actors’ youths, little social progress toward inclusivity of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, Two-Spirit, and queer) community was made, and the accounts of their experiences then and now allows viewers to appreciate the advancements that have been made thus far, while acknowledging the need to continue with the movement.rainbow_flag

The movie was highly successful for a number of reasons, including its brilliant pacing and organization, as well as the strategic use of music and imagery to set the atmosphere of each scene. As the initial tone of film is set with light, playful instrumentals, Before the Last Curtain Falls begins with an introduction of each actor as they are applying make up and preparing for their final performance of Gardenia. A darker mood is created with haunting, deeper sounds, and the onstage spectacle reveals the performers in suits, a portrayal of the socially constructed masculine man; he is one that must adhere to society’s guidelines of the ways in which a man should dress. This scene reoccurs as the actors are interviewed about their lives before transitioning or coming out as homosexual. The film paces itself beautifully this way, as common themes from the interviews correlate with themes from Gardenia. In addition, the emotional response evoked through a scene involving an actor named Rudy was largely induced by the use of music and imagery. As melancholy acoustics played, he narrated his thoughts of suicide with an image of him in a bathtub. This elicited in the viewer a sense of despair and empathy for Rudy, and possibly an altered perspective on the consequences of societal expectations of gender and sex roles, the heterosexual matrix.

A scene that was especially distinct was one with Richard, a man who shared his experiences prior to identifying as homosexual. For wearing tight clothing, while biking around his neighbourhood, he recalled people yelling profanities and derogatory slurs at him, such as “faggot” or “homo.” He would often be the target of physical violence, and shrugged it off, saying, “you just accept that,” as if being gay naturally came with constant torment and anguish. The treatment Richard received is not unique to only him, as many homosexual individuals are regularly subjected to homophobic behaviour, which is irrational hatred and discrimination of homosexuals, because of binary and hetero-normative ways of thinking.

In the same scene, Richard takes the audience to work, where he is a nurse in a delivery room. Since he cannot have children of his own, his career is significantly meaningful to him and he makes a compelling comment saying, “men can take care of babies too.” It demonstrates how powerfully gender roles and stereotypes permeate our thoughts and behaviours, including our career choices, at the most micro levels of culture. So what if a man is a nurse or a woman is a construction worker? Why is it deemed strange or unnatural? As society dissolves the notions of hegemonic masculinity, where men cannot be anything but dominant, aggressive and heterosexual, gendered barriers in all aspects of life will not hold us back.

Attending Reelout was definitely a unique experience to me, as I frequently go to the movies to see films that cooperate with the standard story. With more people becoming exposed to media that deviates from this, we can become more conscious of the issues facing the LGBTQ community, and thus more critical of popular culture. As members of society increase their awareness of the problems with cultural norms in media, politics will change as well as our overall perspectives on inclusivity.

Check out the Before the Last Curtain Falls trailer!

Works Cited:

Aulette, Judy R., and Judith Wittner. Gendered Worlds. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009-12. Print.

“Before the Last Curtain Falls.” Reelout. Web.11 Feb. 2015. http://www.reelout.com/event/before-the-last-curtain-falls.