Tuesday, December 29, 2009

three fags and a feminist

“He suddenly caught himself consciously doing something he had been doing for a long time, but that he had not noticed till that very moment.” -Dostoyevsky, The Idiot

My romantic rejection by fags has been so total and unanimous that I can no longer ignore it. It is not a case of “The Right One” not having yet appeared. No: it is me. It is rejection. But: it is OK.

I can’t believe that it has been almost a year since I actively tried to find a boyfriend through internet dating: the million little compromises one makes to the psyche and body to carve a groove that will accommodate that imaginary fag-prince of secret adolescent fantasies. Looking back at the winter twelve months ago, that person hunched over the match.com account and going to dates without eyeliner and lipstick seems like a totally different girl. Now I’m becoming a nun—but in the sense that Erica Jong imagines: a nun with knee-high suede boots, a nun with deep black-rimmed eyes.

It is winter, so I’ve switched from lipstick to eyeliner. I’ve been performing this seasonal ritual for almost a decade now, and it’s taken a decade to turn myself into a streamlined and muscular eyeliner. After experimenting with pencil brands (First: Wet-N-Wild: waxy yuckiness. Now: the recently discontinued Prescriptives Softlining Pencil in “Jet”: perfect balance of smudginess and clarity), line thickness (First: Courtney Love-meets-Baby Jane Hudson quarter-inch thickness: overdone. Now: a post-punk clean thin line, subtle but definite), setting (First: no powder: leading to splotchy sooting that turned “kohl” into “coal.” Now: one swipe of Nars cream-powder stick in “St. Barts”: slightest of sparkle, pink-brown pigment of a biracial beauty), and application method (First: treating the eyes as if it were paper: clumps. Now: stretching the eyes like I’m Kathryn Helmond in Brazil—I’m Asian with un-surgeried eyes and need to pull out the eyelid to line it), I’ve turned the artificial process into something akin to instinct. As you can see in the above video, a tidy minute per eye.

But this winter, I’ve started putting on my eyes even to just stay at home and read all day. I used to think that I put on the eye makeup because it made me look “good” for going out, but I now realize that I’ve been doing it for a much more internal and obvious reason. It makes me feel like the girl that I am. And today, something more: it makes me feel like the feminist that I am.

Thusfar this winter, I’ve seen three films by three fag directors: Broken Embraces (Los Abrazos Rotos) by Pedro Almodovar, Nine by Rob Marshall, and A Single Man by Tom Ford. Broken Embraces and Nine made my blood boil as no other films have done in a long time; A Single Man was my firefighter, though not without pyromaniac tendencies. Both Almodovar and Marshall are directors who profess great “love” for women: in interview after interview, they talk about how much they love their actress, and thus by extension, women in general. Almodovar made a career out of a obsessing over diva-actresses: Carmen Maura in the 80s, Marisa Paredes in the 90s, and now, Penelope Cruz. Marshall is often credited with reviving the genre of the movie musical with his water-retentive film of Chicago starring Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Queen Latifah (and a mean little Lucy Liu).

But loving actresses doesn’t necessarily translate into loving women. In their new films, (weirdly, both starring Penelope Cruz) they continue to show their “love” for women: Broken Embraces is about an actress who gets caught up in a film production that blurs into a love triangle, and Nine boasts a gazillion Oscar-winning actresses. Both films are about film-making with, seemingly, women at the center. But this is just a red herring, because they are really about the primacy of males. Both films sets up the figure of the film director as the ultimate male lover. Each film contains long and multiple scenes of male-director-adulation, in which people wax gooeyily about the greatness of the director-protagonists, who, by the way, make films that the faggot-directors actually made (in Broken Embraces, the director-protagonists is making a version of Almodovar’s own Women On the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown; in Nine, the director-protagonist abandons a bloated fantasy-pic called Italia for a “serious” film called...Nine).

But Almodovar’s and Marshall’s “love” for women gets played out as softcore misogyny. The structural premise for both films is the film director as ultimate male sublimator: men direct films as an extension of their libido, and women arrange themselves to fit male desire. Really, is this love?:

-a woman allows herself to be undressed and mauled and fucked by a paunchy (he’s sucking his gut in his scene) middle-aged blind man whom she’s helped across the street (opening scene of Broken Embraces)

-an ex-actress cries for most of the film about her husband’s infidelity and inattention then laments in song: “My husband makes films.” (Nine)

-two hours of women “performing” “songs” in butt-cheek and cleave-baring underwear that we’re supposed to accept as family (read: PG-13) entertainment (Nine)

-a female secretary becomes her casket-ready boss’s mistress to pay for her sick father’s convalescence without exploring any other work options(Broken Embraces)

-the same secretary leaves the old guy only when she meets another old guy who can help her become an actress (Broken Embraces)

-when things go wrong, this actress can’t do anything on her own—the only solution is to turn to and run away with her male-lover-director (Broken Embraces)

-a male director starts making “serious” films only when he can revive an annoying inner-child who learned about sex through a cave-dwelling prostitute who seems mildly retarded: he sits in the director’s chair with the embodiment of his inner-child (Nine)

In the immortal words of Tina Turner, “What’s love got to do with it?” These fag directors sexualize women in the simplest, most uncomplicated way: women become feminine to attract men, women are not complete without being sexually desired or “loved” by men. Paul Verhoeven, you are missed!

Out of the three fags, Tom Ford does best with this theme of women’s need to attract men—but only because in the grand tradition of fag director Vincente Minnelli, Ford seems more interested in the sets, costumes, and make up than in the acting. (Good for him!) Thus, what becomes violent sexualization in the other two films only becomes a non-committal aestheticization in this film. On paper, A Single Man seems like the film with the least feminist potential of the trio. It’s not about women, but about a gay man mourning the death of his longtime lover. The source material, Christopher Isherwood’s novel of the same name, is a book I hate—it treats women and racial minorities with stilted, smug tolerance that ultimately accumulates into an impenetrable wall between them and the white gay male. But the film changes up some crucial elements of the book, in a way that seems purely superficial but actually has some serious feminist consequences. Its only major woman character is a fag hag so fag haggy she has a male name: Charley (short for “Charlotte”). Ford sets up the scenes of his film simply, but stylishly and gently, and allows the actress who plays Charley, Julianne Moore, to take full charge of her surroundings.

In her only big scene, Julianne Moore as Charley parades about in a chic post-Mod dress and thick black eyeliner, pink cigarette (!!) in fingers, trying to (re)seduce her longtime fag pal, the protagonist George. This scene isn’t so exciting or enlightening, except that in the novel, Isherwood describes Charley as a run-down frump, whereas Ford transforms Charley into a sleek black-eyelined femme right out of his breakthrough Fall 1995 Gucci collection. To me, the most moving scene in the film involves Charley, but one that is not in the novel: one in which she is making up one eye with a deft eyeliner while chair-dancing to some swingy music blasting in the background.

Which is why I recorded myself putting on my own eyes this morning while turning up Mariah’s “Up Out of My Face.” (The vocal slurring in the chorus makes it sound like she’s saying “I found my FACE, boy”) Charley makes up her face for the fag she loves—and in this, she is following in the grand anti-feminist tradition of women arranging themselves around men. But the fact that this was the character who moved this fag most in a film about fags reaffirms the feminist idiosyncrasy of my homosexuality: I love boys as fag hags love fags. I thought that I’d been making up with seduction on my subconscious, but all along, it’s been an homage to fag hags.

So getting back to fags’ rejecting me: yes, it is rejection. They are rejecting me, my femininity, just as George is compelled to reject Charley, even with her beautifully lined eyes, because Charley is a (female) femme. My eyeliner homage is not an homage to Charley but to the woman who plays her. Julianne Moore, too, is a fag hag in her work as actress. Starting with Todd Haynes’s Safe in 1995, Moore has actively worked with gay directors and in gay films and as gay characters regardless of the cultural climate or possibility of career advancement. I’m a fag who loves Julianne Moore more than I love boys because she gives me template for being the difficult thing that is a male fag hag.

Like Moore, my femininity encompasses, rather than overlap, feminism. Femininity and feminism are not contradictory elements that get juxtaposed as a kind of novelty (I hate declarations like: “I can be a girly girl and STILL be feminist!” as if being “feminist” meant being more masculine). For me, feminism is a subset of femininity. It is crucial that women realize that they are females in a male-oriented world in order for them to come into feminism as a method of resistance and revolution. In this way, I owned up to, became, feminine, and my femininity led me into feminism. I am the kind of fag who wears black eyeliner but is a second-wave feminism underneath the powder. I think that the tyranny of the male gaze (whatever its sexual orientation) is alive and well. I wear my black eyeliner knowing that fags are turned off by it, because it makes me feel more authentically me—it makes me feel like a feminist playing a fag hag in a film directed by a fag.


Zadie Xa said...

i love your blog!

joony schecter said...

thanks for the love!!!xoxo

Anonymous said...

Charley's dress isn't post-mod, the movie takes place in 1962 it's pre-mod.

Ju said...

I just found this blog, and I'm completely infatuated! Plus I love that someone else was giving the treatment of women in Broken Embraces the side-eye... I'm a fan of Almodovar but watching Cruz made me think of that John Berger quote - "A woman appears, a man acts."

Audi said...

So happy I found your blog today! I'm also in SF, a fellow Virgo, and proud to be a fag hag. Thank you for the homage, darling -- it reminds me that I need to write an ode to gay men on my blog.

joony schecter said...

ju and audi--i'm so happy you've found me! incidentally, tom ford is also a virgo. but audi, i think "virgo" and "fag hag" is a very lovely and unpaved road..."aries" and "fag hag" is the most common astrological combo....