Friday, October 21, 2011

Undead Undone

So, I am in a basic sociology class that I really shouldn't be in, just because LMU won't accept my sociology of sex and gender credit from SMC. Very frustrating. I am doing a research project with two guys in the class on subcultures; I resigned to half ass it like a normal person and not get too personally invested. I checked out three books from the school library on Goth, which felt monumentally silly, and a little like I was in an after school special. But two of the books are really incredible. I am getting personally invested, but very little of it will actually be funneled into that project. One of the books, Goth: Undead Subculture by Lauren M.E. Goodlad and Michael Bibby is a compilation of many essays by different authors. I got caught up in the introduction alone, and that's what I'm going to quote from.

"On the other hand, it is possible to argue that the androgynous style of many goth men troubles the very foundations of straight sexuality, suggesting an all but inevitable queerness. Gender confusion– the inability to discern anatomical secrets beneath androgynous gothic display– is a prized effect within the subculture. Hence, in goth circles, it is not uncommon to find heterosexual men discussing their attraction to cross-dressers whom they initially mistook to be women. Conversely, many goth women deliberately seek out such 'pretty' male partners. If, at the end of the day (or night), the object of the goth woman's desire is anatomically, male, it is– one might argue– in every other sense androgynous or 'third.' Thus, when the cross-dressed goth reveals his male body to his female partner, the feminized surface remains a part of their coupling, challenging normative sexuality in some fashion."

It can be very validating to see oneself described accurately by someone one has never met; hence the call for representation of minorities in media. But that's what happened with me here. She describes here what I mean when I say that I don't identify as heterosexual, even though technically speaking, I pretty much am. It also provides a definition for Aesthetisexuality, the likes of which I have never heard from anyone but myself. I do think that Aesthetisexuality can be much broader than this, but this is a large part of my personal experience with it.

Goth male androgyny gets much more scholarly attention than female goth aesthetics, precisely because a female's femininity is not transgressive, whereas a man's is. And this has been at the heart of my desire to have a male body; not that I would be happier with that anatomy, but that it would lend more meaning to my femininity. Being female, I dislike that my femininity is taken for granted, or worse, seen as a compulsory result of my sex. But this little passage, though it didn't tell me anything new, opened up an entirely new train of thought bordering on revelation. It is this:

Heterosexual androgynous men are not actually any more transgressive than the heterosexual feminine women who are attracted to them. I keep looking to personal aesthetic expression as the site of transgression, while the act of attraction is somehow overlooked. The androgynous male who is attracted to the feminine female is conventional in his attraction to her; the female who is attracted to him is the one who is disrupting heteronormative expectation.

To some degree I have always been aware of this, but to draw my own sense of gender transgression from my attraction to others (rather than from my own physical body) seemed somehow less genuine. Or, so I somehow assumed, even though Aesthetisexuality itself is defined by attraction. Well, a combination of attraction, self-presentation, and philosophy. Really, it's beside the point to try to decide who is "more transgressive," because so much depends on the interaction. They are both subject and object, both possess the Gaze and receive it.

I should point out, I keep specifying "heterosexual," but I don't actually mean to exclude bi or pansexual people from the situation. I just mean to specify that the encounters I'm discussing are heterosexual ones, and didn't want to clog my sentences up with too many inclusive labels when the point I was making didn't really need them.

Similarly, a couple needn't be goth to embody the androgynous male and feminine female dynamic. However, goth is where you will find this most consistently, as a subcultural institution. There's a new oxymoron for you.

A third thing that I want to go back and point out is that the references to "cross-dressers" is not something that the authors take for granted throughout the book. They do go on to specify that this may not always be an appropriate term for gothic male androgyny.

One of several amoral-morals of this story is that I shouldn't have felt so silly checking these books out. Just because an academic account of a subculture has been published, that does not automatically mean that is by outsiders for outsiders, thus misrepresenting what it tries to define; I didn't consciously believe this before, but I do think it is a general impression that I and many others have. Especially in terms of goth, it makes sense that "critical insiders" would be academically productive, because goths are so likely to also be self-reflective, literary, "nerdy," and even academic. They (we) don't really need outsiders to cary the burden of doing the analysis.

That reminds me, I also found an essay titled "Gothic Scholars Don't Wear Black," about the divide between Gothic literature scholars and the goth subculture, and how the surprising lack of crossover has left a lot untapped. It was exciting to find, because I think I can be that guy- I can tap that, so to speak. Little known fact: I've written a couple (quite praised, ehem) of essays on nineteenth century gothic and will certainly do more. Perhaps it is ironic (or fitting) that I have never looked to school to find a social life, but use the tools taught in school to analyze my chosen social life.

P.S. I wrote the majority of this in the DJ booth at Sanctuary. \m/

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