30 Nov 2009

Being a gal who likes a bit of gender-bending filth...

I was grateful to Feministing for bringing this performance by US singer Adam Lambert to my attention. Apparently Mr Lambert's explicit onstage cavorting riled the ever-homophobic conservative element of the American media, and cost him an appearance on morning TV (because we all know that those gays have no sense of time and will hump anything, even at 8am). Personally, I loved it. Boys in eyeliner and feathers, man-on-man kissing, a celebration of S&M that didn't, for once, just focus on submissive females...what more could I want? The poster on Feministing echoed my thoughts, pointing out that the reaction to Lambert's performance highlighted the total hypocrisy of those who will let girl-on-girl kisses and sexually explicit performances by female artists go by in the blink of an eye. Why? Because girl-girl kisses are unthreatening since lesbianism was hijacked by patriarchy as 'just something you do to please men', and as the media gaze remains largely that of the male heterosexual, wimmin writhing around in stage and simulating sex acts is all fine and good. Make it a man pashing his male keyboardist or holding a male dancer's head to his crotch, and all hell breaks loose. I love Mr L for highlighting this alone. He himself pointed out that double standard when criticised for his performance - people stopped minding women rubbing their vulvas onstage in about 1992 (cheers, Madonna), but when it comes to being reminded that a man might want another man to administer oral sex or even just lay a stubbly kiss on his lips, we still screech 'think of the cheeeeldren!'.

What was more disappointing though, and less predictable, was how posters on Feministing joined in bashing the performance, but on different grounds. Commentators stated that the S&M-suggestive choreorography was still just the same ol' degrading hooey, whether it the submissives were male or female (oh, I forgot to mention - he also walked two men around on leashes onstage. You could almost hear right-wing heads exploding.) Quotes included "Adam Lambert's choreography came off as abusive and violent", and the even more extreme, "The fact that it involved a queerman doesn't lessen its contribution to Rape Culture". I guess it's no big news that many feminists have a BIG problem with any depiction of sex that is forceful/violent/coercive, but it still bugs me how quick they are to jump all over what I saw as one of the more positive representations of BDSM in the media. Yes, there is a problem with how the mainstream media and mainstream porn have co-opted elements of bondage and S&M without including the stringent rules and emphasis on consent that these cultures are built on. However, I think it's important as feminists to fight back and reclaim acts and images we find pleasurable instead of assuming they must be patriarchal and hence can't be touched. If we rejected every single sexual act or culture that has been used to oppress or beat down women, we'd all have to be celibate forever, face it. The majority of sexual violence takes place in arenas that are condoned as the sexual norm - nice, white picket fence, heterosexual marriages and couplings. The notion of active, enthusiastic consent from women is still relatively new in mainstream culture, where we're still too-often taught to be passive, dissembling, coy prick-teases who will always be blamed for sexual violence on the grounds 'well, she said no but she meant yes...'. Whereas consent, and getting it clearly before embarking upon any sexual act, is central to BDSM sex.

I suppose one poster put it best when they pointed out that we can't necessarily trust a mainstream audience to be sufficiently up on their BDSM background reading to get the message that if you're gonna whip/slap/gag/chain up someone, you need to ask first. Their concern was that all the performance really implied was that 'slaves are hot'. I dunno though, are we assuming everyone's that dumb and simplistic? Those of us analysing Mr Lambert's friskings to within an inch of their lives obviously aren't, so why do we distrust the rest of the public so badly? Yes, the religious right, and hardline conservatives in general, can't be trusted to understand any notion of sex beyond active men, passive females, baby making, and homosexuals burning in hell. But am I supposed to believe that other, more moderate folks, went away thinking 'oral rape's fine, gay men obviously can't control their sex drive, and I might just have to go put that foxy lad next door on a dog chain'? Personally, I went away thinking, 'that was rather hot, and it's about time gay male sexuality was explicitly celebrated, rather just camply hinted at'. Because I think it did take bravery for Adam Lambert to stand up and be counted as a randy, frisky gay man rather than just an emasculated camp caricature, which is what usually seems to be the 'acceptable' stereotype for gay men to live into. Put bluntly, by Boy George - 'people can handle gay when it's about being pink, fluffy and camp - what they can't handle is when it's about fucking people up the arse'. And I think that's what Lambert's performance proved more than anything - that whilst lesbianism may have been stripped of its potential to offend by some clever maneouvering, male homosexuality still makes a lot of people deeply uncomfortable. Especially when that gay male is obviously a sexual being, and is coming right at ya - pun so very intended.

Whilst I do get tired of being told that the constant sexualisation of women through lads' mags, page 3, music videos etck is some form of empowerment, I also tire of the flipside - that is, not being able to enjoy any clip of mildly diverting smut without a swathe of my sistas accusing me of conspiring with the patriarchy or rape culture (that last one really, really fucking offends me). This is where, sadly, I feel let down or left out in the cold by a lot of the sisterhood, insofar as many of them wish to dictate the ways in which I am allowed to be sexual, and seem to want to condemn many of the sexual acts and sexual cultures which I get great pleasure from. I don't want to have to sit up and make a speech about how enjoying x doesn't mean I'm brainwashed, before the sisterhood will permit me to have an orgasm. Wasn't that what the movement was about, or still is: the notion that we're tired of having our sexual behaviour dictated and limited, and told what is and what's not appropriate for a 'good girl'? If BDSM is the 'sexualisation of violence', which many commentators are claiming it is, then to participate in it is to be accused of participating in oppressing my fellow women. I just can't buy that from a movement that claims to defend my right to free expression and bodily autonomy. I also really don't buy that sexual violence comes from any one source as simple as media depictions of S&M-lite. But I remain troubled over the issue.

Still love the performance though. ;)

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