a cRITIcal reflection on the creation of ultramasculine
Growing up gay or queer in a strictly heteronormative nation is an identificatory path infused with negation and contempt, due to its long history of stigma and oppression. I wanted to undertake a project that would address this issue. It felt appropriate, if not truly necessary, especially due to the current state of political affairs and the systemic persecution of queers and queers of colour, that my project would be one of celebrating and advocating for queerness. I wanted to critically investigate institutionalized heterosexism and its effect upon the LGBTQ+ community, in an attempt to envisage ways of protesting against its dictatorial logics.
Additionally, I planned to devise and work with a methodology that would itself be a mode of resistance against the heteropatriarchal logics that push queerness aside. I found that queer, feminist and other politically enhanced zines have been doing that since the first gay liberation movements, to the Riot Grrrls and other underground punk scenes. Self-published and uncensored, zines provide the opportunity to minoritarian groups to be present and no longer ostracized from culture and social affairs. I decided to produce and publish my own zine to challenge and question heteronormativity.
To approach that effectively, I chose to construct a coming out narrative, to emphasize the significance of publicly declaring one’s queerness. In her essay regarding the cultural and linguistic functions of the act of coming out, Deborah Chirrey writes that such a phenomenon is “recognized by most self-identified lesbian or gay individuals as an experience they have in common: that moment of recognizing and asserting their gayness” (24). Although personal experiences vary and interlink with other facets of a whole identity such as race, ethnicity, and religion, it is safe to assume that the process of coming out is in fact something that any gay and lesbian subject will have to deal with in our existential journey to actualizing an identity. That is, of course, a consequence of experiencing gayness in a heteropatriarchal culture in which gays and lesbians are by default different, and often lesser than our straight ‘rivals’.
The LGBTQ+ community carries a long history of murders and persecutions, that manifests as constant mourning for those who were either penalized, or killed due to homophobia and heterosexism. For example, the devastating events taking place on June 12 at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, United States were noted down as the worst mass shooting in U.S history. The attack was aimed directly at queers and queers of colour, with one armed man killing 49 people and leaving many more wounded. Like the events of Stonewall, the Orlando massacre was a wake-up call; reminding the gay community that, under the stringent governance of heterosexuality, simply being in the world still equals a threat.
Since it is events such as these that politicize both my own queerness, as well as my project’s, the first pages of the zine reflect upon the blood-washed reality gays are faced with. The introduction to the coming out poem that makes up the whole zine, is a dream-like sequence that is left unresolved, due to the sound of gunshots. Through the text, I intended to portray the development of a gay – male – identity, that is now fragmented. I wanted to accentuate the fact that, within a heteronormative nation, a gay identity begins with death and turmoil, in an effort to examine possible alternatives.
In his book Cruising Utopia, José Esteban Muñoz makes the claim that queerness is not yet here, but instead “exists for us as an ideality that can be distilled from the past and used to imagine a future” that lies outside the constraints of the heteropatriarchal status quo (1). I chose to respond to that by having two distinct sections – or, timelines – making up the whole zine. The first section – Winter – reflects upon the disastrous effects produced by the dictatorial and heteronormative reality of the present. Winter, is meant to signify both the stigma carried by the LGBTQ+ community, as well as the inescapable heterosexual present in which gayness is not tolerated. Muñoz calls this present “straight time” and explains that, heteronormativity “tells us that there is no future but the here and now of our everyday life” and the only futurity promised “is that of reproductive majoritarian heterosexuality” (22). It is in this ‘straight winter’ that the subject is lost, constantly interrupted by voices that work to signify the systemic oppression, surveillance, and scrutiny of queers. As Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick claims in Queer Performativity, those who self-identify as queer “will be those whose subjectivity will be lodged in refusals or deflection of (or by) the heterosexual supplement” (4).
Throughout my research, it became evident that prior to coming out, it is crucial that one considers and examines shame as an affect that has become intrinsic to gayness, leaving the LGBTQ+ community closeted in fear and self-loathing. In their book Coming Out of Shame, Gershen Kaufman and Lev Raphael explain that “unexamined shame on either the individual or societal level becomes an almost insurmountable obstacle to the realization of inner wholeness and true connection with others” and gays and lesbians are “haunted by shame, not because of particular actions but, more profoundly, because of who they are” (7). I wished to focus on the fact that coming out might in fact counter the constant echo of gay shame, but it does not ultimately eliminate it. As Kaufman and Raphael explain, “[gays] have been bombarded by negative cultural stereotypes, loathing, and hatred all our lives, an onslaught that has left its mark in the form of internalized shame” (11). It was by working on and exploring my own personal shame that allowed me to understand that its presence is not always justified. That in fact, if one recognizes shame as merely a history of unjust oppression, one will naturally seek to edit and write a new history, “beyond the limited vista of the here and now” (Muñoz, 22).
In another one of his well-cited works, Disidentifications, Muñoz explains that the act of disidentifying “is meant to be descriptive of the survival strategies the minority subject practices in order to negotiate a phobic majoritarian public sphere” that regularly seeks to sustain “the phantasm of [hetero]normative citizenship” (4). Muñoz’s works have indeed been foundational components to my research, as well as throughout the process of devising and structuring the zine. Through his theory of disidentification and work on utopianism and queer futurity, Muñoz provides essential tools in order for queers to manage and counter living in a heteronormative nation: By disidentifying with the current state of affairs and by understanding that queerness belongs in the future, Ultramasculine ultimately becomes a performative title; both sarcastic and serious at the same time, it intends to disidentify with patriarchal “ultramasculine” assumptions, while calling upon a queer future. This idea is manifested in the zine through the reference to the dreams, the sound of music and reminiscences of dancing that seek to give a flipside ending to the nightmares and blood-washed reality of its first pages. It is this concept that the second chapter, Spring, intends to convey and has been devised upon.
In her essay The Dignity of Queer Shame, Margaret Morrison suggests that queers can “make creative use of [their] shame, as many writers, artists, and performers of non-normative sexualities (and/or genders) … have done for centuries” (18). Spring opens on this precise notion; the ‘boy hero’ insists on having dreams of dancing figures, of coming out and being outside with them. I argue that through our shared shame, queers disidentify with notions that have deemed us immoral to collectively appreciate and defend our stigma, as pride; as a new imagining of what is, and what could be. I decided the best way to carry this message through the zine medium was by producing an introductory poetry-zine, using the ‘coming out of shame’ allegory. By working on this project, I came to realize that the speech act of coming out is a performative – like queerness – as it has the ability to define and reclaim identities.
During the last winters, the queer community has faced numerous tragedies, with the rise of a political agenda that seeks to reinforce our oppression. Spring insists upon a nonheteronormative rendering of reality, in a glorious attempt to encourage the queer community to come out of the stigma and manipulated history that haunts us; and to come out smelling of roses. Morrison explains that “coming out” had reached a critical mass since the HIV/AIDS epidemic, when activists “argued that by leaving the closet, however temporarily, queers would show straights that we are everywhere and not the rare, stigmatized outlaws most thought we were” (22).
By the end of Spring, the ‘boy hero’ finds himself in a ‘utopian universe of dancing bodies’, which signifies the potential for a new order that celebrates, rather than punish queerness. Through the ‘dance scene’, I am paying tribute to the Orlando events; the narrative moves to the present tense, suggesting that there is space for queerness to grow, without being hunted down by heteropatriarchal restrictions. This ephemeral experience of dancing uninterruptedly, becomes fixed in time through a kiss between two men. Omar Mateen, the man who brutally opened fire, killing and injuring gay men and women at Pulse, Orlando, was said to have been upset earlier that day, after seeing two men kissing each other in front of his wife and kid. Like the ‘two men kissing’ movement that followed the attack, with thousands of people worldwide posting photos of two men kissing, I wanted the zine to also exist as a form of resistance. The kiss becomes a piece of evidence, solidifying that memory, as the ‘boy hero’ insists that this is no longer a dream; it is rather a proof that queerness is not only a subject matter of fictional past stories, but a potential reality of what could be and, indeed, what should be.
Stephen Duncombe, in his book Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture, explains that putting out a “radical zine – no matter how irreverent, expressive, and fun”, might seem as an inadequate response in the face of all this political disaster – in this case, the disastrous effects of heterosexism. I argue however, that there is something explicitly queer and powerful about zines. Taking the time to create a product that exists outside capitalist modes of production, as well as investing time in a product that will not provide much financial profit, is almost a practice of queering the western notions of labor and productivity. In addition, the zine ultimately becomes a manifesto and, like the kiss, a proof that queerness indeed exists, and it is up to anyone to manifest and insist upon it. Choosing the zine format has been a conscious decision, as it confirms that persons from any class, race, or sexual orientation can express themselves and build a culture that is not in line with heterosexism, homophobia and ultimately, patriarchal essentialisms.
Setting up to devise and design a zine for the first time has been a life-changing experience. Looking back on the process, I understand now that the outcome transcends the physical object – the zine. As this is a ‘coming out of shame’ allegory, the zine represents my coming out/debut into culture, manifesting as myself creating and distributing that culture. Zines, in constructing a new mode of culture, also create queer counterpublics. Duncombe writes that “Culture is a space where radically different ways of seeing, thinking, and being can be experimented with and developed. Zines are one means for creating this space” (175). Ultramasculine will hopefully grow to become a zine that advocates for queer masculinities/sexualities, politicizing them and placing them in the centre of culture, instead of encouraging their marginality.
Since mainstream media is still obsessed with manufacturing a hegemonic culture of compulsory heterosexuality and reproductive efficiency, stepping outside of it with the zine medium is a form of rebellion. The project I took upon, after all, aimed to do precisely that: to stand up to western heteropatriarchy.
Chirrey, Deborah A. "'I Hereby Come Out': What Sort of Speech Act Is Coming Out?"Journal of Sociolinguistics 7.1 (2003): 24-37. Web.
Duncombe, Stephen. Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture. New York: Microcosm, 2014. Print.
Kaufman, Gershen, and Lev Raphael. Coming out of Shame: Transforming Gay and Lesbian Lives. New York: Main Street /Doubleday, 1997. Print.
Morrison, M. "“Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid”: The “Dignity of Queer Shame”." Mosaic: a journal for the interdisciplinary study of literature, vol. 48 no. 1, 2015, pp. 17-32.
Muñoz, José Esteban. Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 1999. Print.
Muñoz, José Esteban. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. N.p.: NYU, 2009. Print.
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. "Queer Performativity: Henry James's The Art of the Novel." GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. N.p., 01 Jan. 1993. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.