Naughty Girls and Gay Male Romance/Porn: Slash Fiction, Boys’ Love Manga, and Other Works by Female “Cross-Voyeurs” in the U.S. Academic Discourses
Masterarbeit 2011 130 Seiten
Table of Contents
1. Introduction: John Donne and “American Girl-on-girl Action” vs. the Strange Case of Female “Cross-voyeurs”
2. Theoretical Framework: Queer Theory Meets Feminism Meets Foucauldian Discourse Analysis
2.1 A “Deliberately Disruptive” Challenge to Heterosexism: Queer Theory and Its Key Concepts
2.2 Troubling Gender & Sexuality: Judith Butler “in the Interstices” of Feminist and Queer Theory
2.3 Technologies of Power/Knowledge: Using Foucauldian Discourse Analysis
3. “Cross-writing” Female Novelists under Scrutiny: Mary Renault & Co. in the U.S. Academic Discourses (1969 - Today)
3.1 Gay Male Fiction by Women - An Inventory
3.2 From Victims of “Misfortune” to “Fag Hags” and the “New Couple”: Speaking about (Heterosexual) Women and Gay Men since 1969
3.3 About the Three Ways to Conceptualize Your “Faghagging” Novelist: Interpretations of “Cross- Writing” Women and Their Works in U.S. Academia
3.3.1 The (Heterosexual) Woman as Empathic Outsider and Mediator - Mary Renault and Patricia Nell Warren in Traditional Literary Criticism around 1970
3.3.2 About “ Fag Hags ” on “ Power Trips ” and Their Fake “ Ersatz Works ” - Bradley & Co. in the Writings of Gay Male Intellectuals and Academics since the 1970s
3.3.3 The Feminist and the Lesbian “ Factor ” : Interpreting Mary Renault & Marguerite Yourcenar from a Third Point of View in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s
3.4 Heresies, Girlfags, and “Faghagging” Novelists - A Conclusion Regarding the “Do’s and Don’ts” of the Academic Discourse(s) about Renault & Co
4. Female “Cross-readers”: Talking about “Textual Poachers” and Slash Fiction in American Fan Fiction Studies since the 1980s
4.1 Snape and Harry Sitting in a Tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G: Defining the Genre of Slash Fiction
4.2 A Fateful Encounter: Feminist Theory and Media Studies Meet Slash Fiction - The Beginnings of an Academic Debate (1985-1992)
4.2.1 “ Pornography by Women for Women, with Love ” : The Pornography Wars, Joanna Russ, Patricia Frazer Lamb, Diana Veith, and K/S Fiction in the 1980s
4.2.2 The “ Guerilla Tactics ” of “ Textual Poachers ” : Slash Fiction Fandom Meets Media Studies - Henry Jenkins, Constance Penley, and Camille Bacon-Smith (1988-1992)
4.3 “Let’s Talk about Slash, Baby.” Characteristics of an Academic Debate (1985-Today)
4.3.1 Shrieking Teens, Divorced Housewives, and Their Mediocre Fiction: Slash Writers/Readers as the “ Other ” Fans in Scholarly Accounts
4.3.2 Women ’ s “ All-too-often Purple (Gay) Prose ” - Genre and Gender Essentialism in the Academic Discourse about Slash Fiction
4.3.3 Subversive/Queer Pleasures? Explaining “ Normal Female Interest in Men Bonking ”
4.4 A Tale of Two Academic Discourses: Slash Fiction Fans versus “Cross-writing” Novelists
5. Boys’ Love for Women, Made in Japan: Yaoi and Shounen-ai Manga in the U.S. Academic Discourse (1983-2011)
5.1 Beautiful Men and “Rotten Girls”: Boys’ Love Manga in Japan and the USA
5.2 Female “Cross-voyeurism,” an Intrinsically Japanese Phenomenon? Yaoi and Shounen-ai in U.S. Scholarly Accounts since 1983
5.2.1 Robots, Samurai, and Pok é mon: North America, Japan, and (Techno-) Orientalism
5.2.2 The Threat of “ Tentacle Rape ” and Those Poor, Oppressed Geishas: The Portrayal of BL as a Medium of Empowerment for Japanese Women
5.2.3 Queer Japan: Conceptualizing a “ Strange ” Sexual Culture, or the Benefits of Exoticism
5.3 An Exciting “Import” and Its American Counterpart - Discussing Boys’ Love and Slash Fiction in the U.S. Academic Discourses
6. Conclusion: Theorizing Female “Cross-voyeurism” in U.S. Academia - A “Vicious Circle”
7. Works Cited
1. Introduction: John Donne and “American Girl-on-girl Action” vs. the Strange Case of Female “Cross-voyeurs”
“Chandler: I was just watching regular porn.
Monica: [Relieved] Really?
Chandler: Yes, just some old fashioned, American, girl-on-girl action.
Monica: You have no idea how happy that makes me! ” 1
In the Friends episode “The One with the Sharks,” aired in October 2002, one of the sitcom’s main characters, Monica Geller, catches her husband, Chandler, masturbating - apparently, while watching a shark documentary. Convinced that her partner is secretly into “shark porn,” Monica tries to accept and even re-enact his “perverse” desires - only to discover with quite some relief that Chandler just changed the channel when she came into the room and that he originally was getting off on “some regular […] old fashioned, American, girl-on-girl action.” The feminist theorist Rebecca Whisnant has criticized this scene as being one of the “pop cultural references” teaching women “that men’s pornography use is inevitable and completely legitimate, and that the way to be a cool, modern, liberated woman is to not only tolerate it, but to join in” (Whisnant 16) - a harsh judgment which can be partly explained by the radical feminist, anti-pornography stance Whisnant takes in her paper “Confronting Pornography.”
Whereas it is certainly true that women’s sexual needs and desires are not given much thought in this episode of Friends, it is not for this, but for another topic connected with sexuality and gender that this moment of U.S. broadcasting has been selected to serve as the introduction for my master’s thesis: What I find particularly interesting in this scene is the naturalization of straight men watching “lesbian” porn. By contrasting the viewing of “girl-on-girl action” with the ridiculously obscene erotic fascination with murderous fishes, the U.S. sitcom advertises this particular pornographic subgenre not only as normal and “regular.” Chandler, in his function as the “sarcastic joker” of the series (Charney 599), even declares “lesbian” pornography to be at the heart of an “old fashioned” American culture of male erotica. And without question, this kind of male “cross-voyeurism”2 - a term which will be defined in this thesis as referring to men or women consuming/producing “homosexual” media texts about the opposite sex - has actually become one of the unquestioned clichés within U.S. popular and academic culture.
The platitude of “two playful lesbians” being part of every “straight guy- fantasy” is thus not only prevalent in mainstream Hollywood teen movies such as American Pie 2 (2001) (Pener 57), but also reappears in various scholarly accounts. Even though lesbian feminists like Adrienne Rich and Barbara Smith have criticized male-oriented “girl-on-girl” erotica in the 1980s, by pointing out that the majority of so- called “lesbian porn” was produced “for the male voyeuristic eye,” to the detriment of “real” homosexual women (Rich 234; Easton 83), the tendency to portray this potentially queer phenomenon as a part of a “regular” male heterosexuality has seldom been questioned. Only Linda Williams mentions the “strangeness” of this “widely accepted form” of “male heterosexual titillation” (Williams 206), but more often, the straight-male, erotic fascination for “lesbianism” in the 20th century is universalized and naturalized in an academic context. Regarding John Donne’s famous poem Sapho to Philaenis (1633), literary scholar Ronald Corthell even tries to project this specific kind of male “heterosexual” desire on the Renaissance writer. By suggesting in his overview of Donne’s oeuvre - Ideology and Desire in Renaissance Poetry (1997) - that Sappho’s allusion to her masturbatory fantasy about Philaenis serves to arouse the male reader/writer like a “pin-up” (Corthell 72) , Corthell equates the 17th century poem with “[l]ovemaking between women […] in [contemporary] pornography” (71) in a problematic and completely ahistorical fashion.
One could expect things to be similar regarding female “cross-voyeurs” - i.e. women interested in media about gay men. Yet, as in most cases, gender proves to be of crucial importance: Despite the fact that there actually exists a large number of pornographic and romantic texts about male homosexuality consumed and produced by American women since the 1970s, the “abnormality” of these female “cross-voyeurs” is constantly underlined in U.S. popular and academic culture. As the astonished, public reactions in the face of a largely female (heterosexual) audience of Brokeback Mountain (2005) and Queer as Folk (2000-2005) have shown, a woman’s erotic/romantic interest in male homosexuality is definitely not as accepted as its male counterpart (Nobble 158- 9; Nayar 235). Even if it is occasionally made a topic in mainstream television series like Sex and the City, the exceptionality of this phenomenon is emphasized. In the 2002 episode , “All That Glitters,” Samantha, Miranda, Carrie and Charlotte are shown watching gay pornography. Yet, the fact that this incident is definitely not an everyday occurrence for the women is underlined, as they act surprised and start to laugh hysterically at the “show,” thus denying the possibility of (female) sexual arousal and erotic satisfaction though male homosexual erotica.3
In the academic publications on female “cross-voyeurs,” the application of “double standards” with regard to male/female “cross-voyeurism” is even more obvious. As Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse note in their “Introduction” to Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Internet (2006), slash fiction - fan fiction about male homosexual relationships mainly produced and consumed by women - has stood in the center of fan fiction studies so far, despite being merely a subgenre of it. The reason for this seems to be an urge to explain “the underlying motivations” for the fascination of women with m/m romance4 or pornography within the academic discourse (Busse and Hellekson 17) - a trend which differs completely from the extremely under-theorized complex of men interested in “lesbians.” Similar to those tendencies, a genre of Japanese manga called Boys ’ Love - also concerned with gay men and directed at females - has equally received a disproportionately large attention in U.S. research papers in reaction to its growing popularity in North America since the late 1990s in the context of the “Japanification” of U.S. culture (Levi, “North American” 147; McLelland and Yoo 3). By concentrating on possible reasons for Japanese and American women to read and write these manga, the Japanese and American papers (Kamm 45-66) once again emphasize the oddness of those female “cross-voyeurs” - suggesting a “Never-ending Story” of over-theorizing and over- analyzing them.
It is this obvious influence of conventional gender stereotypes on the perception of these phenomena that provokes me to examine the way in which the works of female “cross-voyeurism” and their consumers/producers are conceptualized in the U.S. scholarly accounts. In many ways, this thesis will explore “unknown territories” and respectively try to take a closer look at academic problems that have not been adequately conceptualized and addressed yet. Although parallels have been drawn between slash fiction, Boys ’ Love manga and novels about gay relationships by female writers such as Mary Renault’s Persian Boy (1972) and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Catch Trap (1979) (Woledge 101-2; Suzuki 261), no scholar has hitherto provided a thoroughly researched - chronological account outlining the history of American women as consumers and producers of gay romance/porn since the 1970s. Moreover, whereas several American researchers, like Busse and Hellekson or Wim Lunsing, have already pointed out at least some of the problematic tendencies of the academic discussions on slash fiction or Boys ’ Love manga (Busse and Hellekson 17; Lunsing, “Intersections”), my master’s thesis will be the first one to analyze the representations of these “faghagging […] women” (Decarnin, “Faghagging” 10), Boys ’ Love “fan girls” and “textual poachers” (Jenkins, Poachers 27) and their works in the U.S. academic discourses on a larger scale.5
As an attempt at a comprehensive historical analysis of these scholarly accounts on female “cross-voyeurism,” this thesis will be divided in three major parts: After a closer look on how “cross-writing” female novelists, like Patricia Nell Warren, Mary Renault or Marguerite Yourcenar, are portrayed in the intellectual and academic debates since the 1970s, the discourses about slash fiction - starting with Joanna Russ’ famous essay “Pornography by Women for Women, with Love” (1985) - are going to be analyzed by focusing on the continuities and discontinuities regarding the stereotypes surrounding the female “cross-voyeurs” in those primary sources. Last but not least, the third section of my master’s thesis deals with the depiction of Japanese Boys ’ Love manga in Western research since the late 1980s: This debate differs decisively from the discussions about slash fiction, even though both genres are quite similar - a disparity which can be, at least partly, explained by the Orientalist stereotypes about Japanese culture pervading this academic discourse.
With academic publications as primary texts, it is necessary for my master’s thesis to possess a sound theoretical perspective from which the scholarly accounts can be evaluated. As “cross-voyeurism” per se is a phenomenon transgressing the boundaries of conventional hetero- and homosexuality, queer theory will be one of the theoretical approaches important for my master’s thesis. Regarding the importance of gender conceptions for this topic mentioned in the introduction, postmodern branches of feminism, which are useful when thinking about conceptions of “femininity” and “women” - especially Judith Butler’s insightful approach developed in Gender Trouble (1990) and Bodies That Matter (1993) - should be included as well. With the Foucauldian discourse analysis as methodology - essential for an examination of a large amount of primary sources - a solid theoretical “fundament” is ensured, whose components are going to be explained in detail in the subsequent chapter. Other minor theoretical influences, such as Postcolonial Studies - a school of thought, which plays an important role in the analysis of the academic discourse about Boys ’ Love manga - will be discussed later, as they are only relevant with regard to certain parts of this thesis.
2. Theoretical Framework: Queer Theory Meets Feminism Meets Foucauldian Discourse Analysis
2.1 A “ Deliberately Disruptive ” Challenge to Heterosexism: Queer Theory and Its Key Concepts
“ Queer theory originally came into being as a joke. Teresa de Lauretis coined the phrase ‘ queer theory ’ to serve as the title of a conference that she held in February of 1990 at the University of California, Santa Cruz [ … ]. She had the courage, and the conviction, to pair that scurrilous term with the academic holy word ‘ theory. ’ Her usage was scandalously offensive. ” (Halperin, “Normalization” 340)
Thus David M. Halperin, an important figure in the field of queer theory, describes the “birth” of the term referring to a field of studies that became popular in the 1990s and initiated a “powerful refiguring” of gay and lesbian studies (Jagose 2-5). But just like in a traditional Christian “infant baptism” - where the “official” naming actually occurs some days after the delivery - the “child” called queer theory came into existence long before 1990: The founding mothers and fathers of this particular school of thought that was established in reaction to Teresa de Lauretis “deliberately disruptive” exclamation - Michel Foucault, Eve Sedgwick, and Judith Butler - had already written The History of Sexuality (1976-1984), Epistemology of the Closet (1990) and Gender Trouble (1990) “well before anyone had ever heard” of queer theory (Halperin, “Normalization” 341).
As the “referential slipperiness of queer” (Morland and Wilcox 4) and the refusal towards definitions in this field of studies in general (Walters 6-8) are actually part of queer theory’s allure, it seems wise to concentrate on these important theoretical influences first. For now, the preliminary definition by Nikki Sullivan, describing queer theory as an attempt to “make strange, to frustrate, to counteract, to delegitimize, to camp up […] heteronormative knowledge and institutions, and the subjectivities and socialities that are (in)formed by them and that (in)form them” (Sullivan iv) has to suffice - the implications and exact meaning of these words will become clearer as we get to the theoretical segments important for understanding the basic key concepts of queer theory.
The earliest one of these foundational texts is Michel Foucault’s three-volume series The History of Sexuality: Its first volume The Will to Knowledge (1976) has especially contributed to a process of denaturalizing and historicizing sexual identity, thus changing the field of gay and lesbian studies significantly (Jagose 77-79). Before Foucault, theorists influenced by the gay liberationist movement, starting with the Stonewall riots in 1969, saw marginal sexual identities such as homosexuals as simply being oppressed by a heterosexist society (Seidman 119-120). Propagating a logic of “coming out” and “gay pride,” liberationist intellectuals like Dennis Altman formulated the need to voice supposedly “silenced” gay and lesbian identities in order to transform American culture (Bredbeck 379-383).
However, in contrast to those older, essentialist models - believing in the existence of an ahistorical, universal, and natural difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality (Seidman 116) - Foucault’s Will to Knowledge introduced a constructionist conception of human sexuality to the debate. By criticizing the “repressive hypothesis” of the (hetero)sexual revolutionists of the 1960s, Foucault shows in this work that sexuality is something that is discursively produced and thus historically changeable (Foucault, Will 1-14). Whereas the “repressive hypothesis” of the 1960s claimed that the 17th century constituted “the beginning of an age of repression emblematic of what we call bourgeois societies,” The Will to Knowledge questions this hypothesis according to which sexuality has been censored, blocked and prohibited by powerful, prude “Victorians” since then and is therefore in need to be liberated (3-4, 15).
By looking at various historical documents, Foucault notices that - instead of a “silencing” - there has been a “steady proliferation of discourses concerned with sex - […] a discursive ferment that gathered momentum from the eighteenth century onward” (18). He discovers that this multiplication of educational, political and legal discourses about sexuality since 1700 originally was caused by a wish to control and regulate sexuality, but nevertheless resulted in producing the behavior it tried to prohibit. Thus, The Will to Knowledge introduces a notion of power completely different from the traditional Western “jurisco-discursive”6 one - a power that is not only repressing and negative but also productive in a way (82-94). The advice manuals and regulating practices in order to prevent children from masturbating in the 19th century, for example, are revealed to contribute to the sexualization of the body of the infant - thus contradicting their original intent of eliminating this kind of perverse behavior in the domain of the family (Mills, Foucault 36-7).
But the passage in The Will to Knowledge about the “new specification of individuals” connected with the “persecution of […] peripheral sexualities” in the 19th century (Foucault, Will 42) refers to a more important effect of this power/knowledge system with regard to lesbian and gay studies - ultimately leading to the glorification of “Saint Foucault” within queer politics (Halperin, Saint 14). Based on the non-existence of a special category describing same-sex acts before, Foucault argues that the article “Die konträre Sexualempfindung (1870)” by the German psychiatrist Carl Westphal actually brought the new “species” of the modern homosexual into being (43). From 1870 onwards, the practicing of same-sex acts was no longer understood as some kind of “sodomy” which might be tempting for everyone (Jagose 11). Instead, people involved in sexual intercourse with someone belonging to their own gender were beginning to be portrayed as “sick” and theorized as essentially different, equipped with some “kind of interior androgyny, a hermaphroditism of the soul” (Foucault, Will 43). By showing that the “gay pride” movement actually was only made possible by the categorization of people into heterosexuals and homosexuals in the 19th century in those pejorative medical discourses, Foucault exemplifies his claim that the mechanisms of power are complex and inscrutable (Jagose 81-2).
While the exact time of “birth” of the “modern homosexual” has been disputed since the appearance of The Will to Knowledge in 1976 - with Alan Bray arguing for the first emergence of this sexual identity at the end of the 17th century in Renaissance England, for example (Bray) - Foucault’s re-conceptualization of same-sex and heterosexual desire as historically changeable and discursively produced has proved to be of tremendous influence on theoretical texts within gay and lesbian studies - such as Eve Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet (1990), another one of the foundational texts of queer theory. In an attempt to further denaturalize the existing categories of modern hetero- and homosexuality, Sedgwick underlines the narrow-mindedness of Western modern societies, visible in their insistence on defining sexual identities based on the “gender of [one’s] object-choice” (Sedgwick, Closet 35; Sullivan 38). By naming alternative classifications available - e.g., “human/animal, adult/child, autoerotic/alloerotic […] [or] in private/in public” - Epistemology of the Closet questions the obsession with the “heterosexual/homosexual binary,” underlining the diverse, complex and shifting nature of human sexuality (Sedgwick, Closet 35). To return to the problem of defining queer theory: In the face of its - very poststructuralist - rejection of a conception of the subject in the spirit of humanism, as some kind of exceptional, unified being with an essential core, it is no wonder that there is a “delight in inconsistency” (Walters 9) within queer theory, mirroring its rejection of fixed and stable identities (Sullivan 39-41). This rejection of exact definitions also can be observed in the manifold meanings of the term “queer” itself. Mainly used as pejorative term for gays and lesbians in the 20th century, to emphasize their supposed “oddness” and “abnormality” (Halperin, “Normalization” 1), the negative connotation of this designation was successfully replaced around 1990 when activist groups such as Queer Nation started their campaigns against homophobia and the discrimination against other sexual “deviants.” As it transcended the homosexual/heterosexual binary, the more inclusive term “queer” - also applicable to transgendered persons and bisexuals - in this context showed an awareness and acceptance of the diversity of non-normative sexual identities (Walters 7). Yet, radical groups like Queercore or QUASH (Queers United Against Straight Acting Homosexuals), which use “queer” for the means of an anarchist agenda, rejecting any assimilation into heteronormative society and even criticizing self-identified homosexuals for their fixation on categories of identity, underline the various meanings the term still possesses (Sullivan 45-6) - an ambiguity also noticeable in the academic discourses.
With “queer’s” multiple possible meanings in research papers - ranging from the noun used as an “umbrella term” for marginalized sexual identities of any kind (Doty, Flaming 6) to the understanding of “queer” as a verb, describing actions that deconstruct heteronormativity (Jakobsen) - my thesis makes use of the latter of those two very different connotations: To define “queering” as some kind of “doing” preserves the notion of identity as something provisionary, fragmented and constructed that permeates queer theory (Sullivan 50) and proves to be quite valuable for understanding and analyzing texts about female “cross-voyeurism.” Not only is the erotic or romantic involvement of gay men and women in any form something that transcends our conventional understandings of sexual identity and thus “queering” - as Annamarie Jagose implies, when she provocatively asks in her excellent introduction what category describes a woman currently in a sexual relationship with a gay man (Jagose 7). Queer theory can also be useful when analyzing scholarly accounts about these phenomena. By keeping an open mind about and accepting the complexity of human sexuality, thinking outside the restricting and restricted “boxes” of hetero- and homosexuality will equally enable this thesis to consider the various “queer” aspects of the concept of “cross-voyeurism.” But - as queer theory has been accused of neglecting gender issues, while concentrating on gay men (Walters 11-13) - it seems appropriate in a study concerned with representations of female sexuality to dedicate an extra chapter to a theorist like Judith Butler who describes herself as working “in the interstices of the relation between queer theory and feminism” (Butler, “Objects” 1).
2.2 Troubling Gender & Sexuality: Judith Butler “ in the Interstices ” of Feminist and Queer Theory
“ The story, alluded to above, goes something like this: once upon a time, there was this group of really boring, ugly women who never had sex, walked a lot in the woods, read bad poetry about goddesses, wore flannel shirts, and hated men (even their gay brother). They called themselves lesbians. Then thankfully, along came these guys named Foucault, Derrida and Lacan dressed in girls ’ clothes, riding some very large white horses. They told these silly women that they were politically correct, rigid, frigid, sex-hating prudes who just did not GET IT - it was all a game anyway, all about words and images, all about mimicry and imitation, a cacophony of signs leading back to nowhere. To have politics around gender was silly, they were told, because gender was just a performance anyway, a costume one put on and, in drag performance, wore backward. And everyone knew boys were better at dressing up. ”
In her polemic, witty and acerbic account about the way in which feminism is portrayed as an outdated theoretical model that has been overcome in academic retellings of the advent of queer theory, Suzanna Walters criticizes the neglect of queer theory’s roots in feminist theory common in most descriptions about its history (Walters 11-15), which would often render feminism “strangely unrecognizable” (Weed viii). And indeed: lesbian feminists such as Adrienne Rich - who rejected the “assumption ‘that most women are innately heterosexual’” in her landmark essay from 1980, thus making obvious the constructed nature of the patriarchal institution of heterosexuality (Rich 238) - are quite often forgotten as intellectual foremothers of queer theory.7
However, whereas Rich’s “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” might be disregarded, another feminist contribution certainly is not: Gender Trouble (1990) by Judith Butler is never missing in introductions to queer theory, ranking among its most seminal texts (e.g. Jagose 81-92). Part of the reason why those two theories nevertheless are mostly regarded as an “awkward pair” - as Elizabeth Weed describes it in her excellent introduction to Feminism Meets Queer Theory (1997)
(Weed viii) - is the common misconception that Butler is somehow too poststructuralist to be part of feminist theory - a problematic perspective fueled by critics such as Nancy Hartsock and Linda Alcoff (Sawicki, “Critical” 348-357).8
Contrary to this point of view, the following, brief recapitulation of Gender Trouble ’s theoretical innovations will show that Butler - who did not plan for her book to become “one of the founding texts of queer theory” - is essentially anchored in feminist theory and first of all conceptualized as “a ‘provocative’ intervention” in this field of studies (Butler, “Preface” vii). As I agree with Jana Sawicki who characterized Butler as the first scholar who successfully “develop[ed] a powerful argument against the idea that feminist theorists’ need to develop a unified account of feminine identity as a common ground for feminist politics” (Sawicki, “Critical” 364; Sawicki, “Identity” 296-301), Gender Trouble ’s notions about gender and sexuality - equally influenced by both poststructuralist/Foucauldian and feminist theory - will be important for my analysis of the discourses about female “cross-voyeurism” in academia.
Published in 1990, Gender Trouble is in particular a critique of the identity categories prevalent in contemporary political and theoretical discussions about gender, sex and sexuality (Kirby 19). Starting with a skeptical analysis of feminist theory, Butler questions especially its essentialist and heterosexist tendencies: By portraying themselves in the tradition of identity politics, as representing “women,” she argues, feminist theory and feminism inevitably assume some kind of essence shared by all its represented female subjects - thus discursively producing a normative, gendered, natural unit of “womanhood,” similar to the one they originally tried to abolish (Butler, Trouble 2-4). In order to completely denaturalize conceptions of sex and gender, Gender Trouble is designed as a “feminist genealogy of the category of woman” (8). Influenced by Foucault’s “genealogy” as described in his later works - a methodology not looking for a pre-discursive “truth” but analyzing the rules inherent in discourses (Mills, Discourse 24-5) - Butler tries to reveal and thus deconstruct discursive mechanisms responsible for “the production of discrete and asymmetrical oppositions between feminine and masculine” (Butler, Trouble 24). Whereas feminist theorists like Gayle Rubin differentiated between the sex - the “natural” differences between men and women - and gender as “a socially imposed division of the sexes” before, Gender Trouble ’s claims in 1990 are far more radical than Rubin’s model of the “sex/gender system” in 1975 (Rubin, “Traffic” 28, 40): According to Butler, it “would make no sense […] to define gender as the cultural interpretation of sex,” as “sex itself is a gendered category” (Butler, Trouble 10). She argues that even the seemingly natural distinction between male and female bodies i.e. the interpretation of anatomical differences is already part of a socio-historical “signifying order,” influenced by the expectations and meanings existing within each culture (Leitch 2465). Of great relevance to queer theory is Gender Trouble insofar as it uses these revelations to “uproot […] pervasive assumptions about natural or presumptive heterosexuality” as well (Butler, “Preface” xix). Inspired, amongst others, by Monique Wittig’s essays - which often deal with the complicity of gender in the maintenance of heterosexism (Jagose 54-55; Salih 1) - Butler relates conceptions of “men” and “women” as “polar opposites” to a “compulsory heterosexuality” prevalent in our society (Butler, Trouble 24). In the “heterosexual matrix” influencing modern discourses and practices, sexual intercourse or desire is only regarded as “natural” if it occurs between “male” and “female” bodies, thus relying heavily on notions about sex/gender (6). By radically denaturalizing these categories - and by reading Freud’s psychoanalytic texts The Ego and the Id (1923) and Mourning and Melancholia (1917) in a way that suggests that stable heterosexual identities are always “melancholic” i.e. connected with a loss as they are based on a disavowal/prohibition of same-sex desire (Butler, Trouble 78-97; Salih 52-56) - Butler does her share in destabilizing supposedly fixed sexual identities.
With her theories on “performativity” and “performance,” Butler even points out another way in which a “subversion” of sex/gender might be possible (Lloyd 205-7) - beyond her own deconstructionist academic musings. Rejecting terms connected with “construction” as too rigid and deterministic, Gender Trouble introduces the model of “performativity” to describe the workings of gender norms in everyday life (Butler, Trouble 11-12, 34). Instead of imagining gender identity as something that is “constructed” and thus stable and fixed, Butler starts out from Beauvoir’s famous assumption that “On ne naît pas femme: on le devient”9 in Le deuxi è me sex (Beauvoir 285-6) and describes gender as something that is a “doing” rather than a natural “being,” with no essence “that preexists the deed” (Butler, Trouble 34). In order to completely annihilate notions of an ontological status of gender/sex, Gender Trouble defines gender as “performative” i.e. as something that only comes into existence through “the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance” (45).
The doctor defining a baby as either “boy” or “girl,” the 10-year-old “wannabe- princess” dressing up in pink, the young male beer-drinking insensitive “brute” - by citing existing norms how to be “feminine” or “masculine,” we participate in creating seemingly fixed gender identities.
In reaction to this concept, critics such as Elspeth Probyn accused Gender Trouble of participating in a “feel-good gender discourse,” by suggesting that “we can have any kind of gender we want” (Probyn 79). But Butler’s performative practices and discourses by which we constantly are producing “men” and “women” are not really voluntaristic i.e. a matter of choice: As she elaborates in 1993, in the context of Bodies That Matter, “performativity” is “neither free play nor theatrical self-presentation; nor can it be simply equated with performance” (Butler, Bodies 94). Rather, “doing” gender has to be regarded as a “forcible citation” - as Salih describes it in her excellent introduction to Butler’s work (Salih 90). Nevertheless, subversive actions questioning the naturalness of gender are possible according to Gender Trouble and Bodies That Matter: In this context, Butler especially mentions “drag performances” as instances where the exaggerated re-citation of conventions regarding “how to be a woman” may reveal the imitative i.e. parodist nature of gender in general (Butler, Trouble 187-189; Lloyd 198-207; Bublitz 70).
To draw a short conclusion on the usefulness of Judith Butler’s theories about sex/gender and performativity for my master thesis: Butler’s text is one decisively influenced by feminist theory, alluding to its most important thinkers such as Simone de Beauvoir. Whereas other “queer theorists” like Foucault and Sedgwick already questioned the stability of sexual identities, Gender Trouble challenges existing notions about sexuality further: The model of a “natural” heterosexuality is revealed as dependent on the supposed naturalness of two opposites “men” and “women” - categories whose ontological, pre-discursive existence is completely rejected by Butler. Regarding female “cross-voyeurs,” the radical stance of Gender Trouble - defining gender as some kind of “regulatory fiction” producing the sexed body (Butler, Trouble 33) - will be the role model for my analysis of the debates about women writing/reading about gay men. By denying the existence of a “true nature” of female sexuality, the awareness of the performatively constituted character of sex/gender will allow me to regard any kind of generalizing statement about “women” and “men” with caution. Equally important is Butler’s conception of the “heterosexual matrix” for my thesis, mainly because it emphasizes the interdependence of the categories of sex/gender with the “compulsory heterosexuality” existent in modern societies.
As the desire of female “cross-voyeurs” is one that does not conform with the norm, notions about their “femininity” or “womanhood” are likely to be affected - something that will be discussed in detail in the main part of my thesis. But while the theoretical framework of my thesis is set with this combination of queer theory with feminist theory, the methodology still needs to be discussed: Having collected a large body of primary sources discussing the phenomenon of “cross-voyeurism” in the U.S. academic context, a short subchapter on Foucauldian discourse analysis is needed in order to adequately apply this approach - especially since its interpretation varies widely within cultural studies and is in need of clarification (Mills, Discourse 7, 9).
2.3 Technologies of Power/Knowledge: Using Foucauldian Discourse Analysis
“ [A]ccording to Foucault ’ s analysis, civil society, scientific research, intellectual activity and personal life are not in fact free zones from which power has progressively retreated since the Enlightenment but colonized spaces into which it has steadily expanded, proliferated, and diffused itself. ” (Halperin, Saint 19)
Thus, David Halperin summarizes Foucault’s notion that “power is everywhere” (Foucault, Will 93) - a concept which has been already mentioned in the discussion of The History of Sexuality. Instead of adapting older models of power - supposing a dichotomy between a “powerful” oppressor and the “powerless” oppressed - Foucault conceptualizes power not simply as something that can be possessed, but as something that is “employed and exercised through a netlike organization” (Foucault, Power/Knowledge 98). Power according to the French philosopher and historian therefore is rather a “verb” than a “noun” (Mills, Foucault 35-6); informing relations and describing mechanisms that are “multiple,” can “have different forms” and “can be at play in family relations, or within an institution, or an administration” (Foucault, “Critical Theory” 38). Intent on deciphering and unraveling those complex “power relations,” Foucault uses a special methodology. In his historiographical approach, which he himself calls “archaeology” and later “genealogy” (Mills, Discourse 24-5), “discourse analysis” is applied in order to analyze the large quantity of primary sources - a methodology which will be explained in this subchapter.
As early as 1969, in his Archaeology of Knowledge, Foucault defines “discourse” or a “discursive formation” as “a group of statements,” made in a historically specific period of time and characterized by “certain rules” (Foucault, Archaeology 131, 155). In contrast to traditional historiography - which usually works with one text at length, considering its genesis as well as its author’s biography and intention - a Foucauldian discourse analysis thus concentrates on a large quantity of primary sources (Winko 467). Regularly connected by a common topic or discipline, those primary texts out of a specific historical context are compared to one another in order to discover similarities and differences in the way they formulate and conceptualize knowledge (Olssen 12-3). As Foucault rejects the exaggerated status of “the author” in Western thought - theorized as someone whose life is inevitably linked to his work and vice versa - he focuses on the primary sources themselves instead of recounting their writer’s biography (Schößler 40; Foucault, “Author” 115). Especially in his inaugural lecture “The Order of Discourse” at the Coll è ge de France in 1970, Foucault specifies what is important when dealing with “discourse,” now defined more precisely as a system of rules informing its statements and practices (Schößler 38).
Out of the awareness that people of a certain time actually interpret the world in very similar ways, constantly repeating themselves even though they theoretically have “an infinite variety of sentences” at hand (Mills, Foucault 56-7), “The Order of Discourse” logically deduces the existence of certain “procedures” controlling these statements (Foucault, “Order” 52). Foucault differentiates between “systems of exclusion” - operating from the exterior - and “internal procedures” - working within the discourses themselves (56). As “internal procedures,” which regulate and categorize statements from the inside, Foucault names the “author,” the “academic discipline” and the “commentary,” which contributes to the circulation of an academic text (56-61). As “systems of exclusion” influencing discourses, the French philosopher mentions the “forbidden speech” i.e. taboos, the difference between “reason and madness,” and the “opposition between true and false” (52-55).
While the “internal procedures” and the first two “systems of exclusion” might be pretty much self-explanatory, the third exclusionary mechanism, the “opposition between true and false” - also called “will to truth” (55) - is of greater importance for this thesis. By emphasizing that “truth” is historically changing and, more importantly, dependent on institutions such as universities, publishing houses and governmental education politics, Foucault underlines the relativity of knowledge and its dependency on and contribution to power structures - a topic especially important within his later writing. In his collection of essays called Power/Knowledge, published in 1980, the French theorist explores the complex relationship between power and knowledge and emphasizes that the processes, which lead to the establishment of certain facts as the “truth,” are part of a “struggle over power” (Mills, Foucault 58).
His deeper insight in the fact that even academic and intellectual texts are (in)formed by power mechanisms as well - discrediting “Enlightenment-era values such as […] truth and rationality” (Halperin, Saint 19) - is definitely useful for a work such as mine, concentrated on the U.S. academic discourses. In the spirit of Foucauldian discourse analysis, I will thus analyze the three different academic discourses about “cross-writing” novelists, Boys ’ Love manga “fan girls”/writers and slash fiction writers/readers with the awareness that there is no such thing as one definite “truth” - especially with regard to the much-debated question as to why female “cross-voyeurs” consume and produce gay fiction in the first place. Rather, I want to expose the rules and controlling “systems” at work within these academic and intellectual statements - mechanisms of power that change over time and differ from discourse to discourse. As intertextuality is a decisive feature of academic writing in general, the third of the “internal procedures” mentioned by Foucault in “The Order of Discourse” - the “commentary” - is especially useful as well. By focusing on the way in which some of the academic texts about “cross-voyeurs” are “recounted, repeated and varied”, whereas others “vanish as soon they have been pronounced” (Foucault, “Order” 56), the internal mechanisms of the specific academic discourses about women reading/writing about gay men will become obvious. And as the various works discussed in this paper belong to several different disciplines - from literary criticism to media studies - giving consideration to their particular “set of methods” and “theoretical horizon” is necessary as well (59-60). However, despite these subtleties, the thematic focus of this thesis is on the portrayal of female (and, to some extent, male) sexuality, especially with regard to matters of heterosexism and phallocentrism.
Regarding the compatibility of discourse analysis with queer theory and feminist theory, there is no cause for concern. Whereas Halperin underlines the fruitfulness of “Saint Foucault” for queer politics and studies in his Gay Hagiography (Halperin, Saint 3, 14), discourse analysis has equally proved to be quite applicable to feminist theory, although there were/are some objections. Especially critics of a postmodern feminism are generally more skeptical towards Foucault’s theories and methods - e.g. Lois McNay in Foucault and Feminism (McNay 6-8). Yet, as my point of reference is the poststructuralist branch of feminist theory anyway, an alliance between feminism and discourse analysis does not seem too problematic: After all, Judith Butler herself “recommends Foucauldian-style critical genealogies of the domination relations involved in the mechanisms of identity production as a way of bringing […] liminal identities into play” (Sawicki, “Identity” 301) - an instruction which will be followed in the main part of my thesis, starting with the analysis of scholarly accounts dealing with novels about gay men by “cross-writing” women.
3. “Cross-writing” Female Novelists under Scrutiny: Mary Renault & Co. in the U.S. Academic Discourses (1969 - Today)
3.1 Gay Male Fiction by Women - An Inventory
“ Much of the literature that has been discussed in connection with homosexuality has not been written by writers who would identify themselves as gay. ” (Stephens 2)
Thus, Hugh Stephens discusses the definition of “gay male literature” in the introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Gay and Lesbian Writing (2011), and simultaneously reveals one basic characteristic usually associated with this genre: the autobiographical component (Bergman 309). As Sneja Gunew mentions in Framing Marginality (1994) “minority writing” in general is often “characterized by offering the authority and authenticity of the marginal experience” (Gunew 53): Whereas Gunew makes this statement with feminist literature and ethnic minority writing in mind, the same can be said about gay and lesbian literature - something that becomes even more obvious when looking more closely at Stephens’ “Homosexuality and Literature: An Introduction.” One might deduce from the quotation cited above that Stephens wants to base his definition of “gay literature” on the same-sex content alone in order to circumvent the “autobiographical prerequisite.” But this impression is deceptive: Stephens just refers to the Foucauldian realization that the identification with “homosexuality” is a modern phenomenon - meaning that writers of “homoerotic” literature such as Shakespeare or Plato could definitely not be gay-identified - while still upholding the condition that an author of “gay male literature” has to have personal experience with male same-sex desire. (Stephens 3-5)
That such an restriction of the “gay canon” is problematic, becomes particularly evident when noticing the - not to be underestimated - number of women involved in the writing of male homosexual fiction. In French literature, it is especially Marguerite Yourcenar that springs to mind: With her novella Alexis - a story about a man leaving his wife in order to live out his homosexual tendencies - she celebrated her first literary success in 1929. And this is not her only work about same-sex desire between men: In Memoirs of Hadrian (1951), which is written in the form of testamentary letters from the Roman emperor to his successor Marcus Aurelius, the love relationship between Hadrian and a Bithynian youth called Antinuous forms an important part of the novel (Griffin 221-222; Kiebuzinski 160-1). But Yourcenar is by no means an exception. In Anglophone literature, there are plenty of female novelists in the 20th century writing about gay men as well: Mary Renault constitutes an example of a British female author whose homoerotic novels were “enormously popular with the general public” in England and the U.S. of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, even “though they contained explicit and positive representations of same-sex love” (Bergman 311). Partly, this success might be attributed to something the gay liberationist scholar Roger Austen calls the “historical remove” in his groundbreaking study about the American homosexual novel, Playing the Game (Austen 91). Set in the antique world, literary works such as The Last of the Wine (1956), describing Athenian pederasty, and The Persian Boy (1972) - a novel about the love between Alexander the Great and his Persian eunuch called Bagoas - may have been less problematic for “middle-class novel readers” because of their historical and geographical distance to “real” homosexuality in the U.S., which was still considered to be an illness by the American Psychiatric Association in the 1950s (Ritter and Terndrup 29; Austen 91-2).
Whereas the number of historical novels about same-sex love by female novelists might be attributed to the importance of female writers as writers of historical fiction in the 20th century (Wallace 3-4), there are also many novels about “modern” male homosexuality by Anglophone women: Renault chooses a more contemporary setting in The Charioteer (1953), published in the U.S. in 1959, in which the injured soldier Laurie Odell comes to terms with his own homosexuality in a hospital in Britain during World War II (Dick, Hellenism 30-1). The American fantasy author, Marion Zimmer Bradley, mostly remembered for her Darkover series (which also contains LGBT themes), equally wrote a novel about gay men in the middle of the 20th century (Smith 99-100): In The Catch Trap (1979), set in the circus milieu of the 1940s and 1950s, the trapeze artists of an aerial troupe, Mario Santelli and Tommy Zane, manage to build a healthy, stable love relationship, despite the difficulties stemming from living in a homophobic society (Tait 111).
Above all, the popularity of some of these novels within gay American subculture is an especially valid argument for the inclusion of female writers into the “gay canon,” i.e. a re-definition of gay male literature emphasizing also the content, not only the sexual orientation of the author. Robert Drake’s definition of a “gay book […] as a book that addresses issues of same-sex love or a book written by an author who enjoys the same gender for sexual fulfillment and/or relief” therefore seems quite adequate (Haggerty, “Canon” 286-7). Renault’s books in particular managed to gain a large following within the gay community, as her biographer David Sweetman emphasizes when he writes that “The Last of the Wine was a rite of passage, The Persian Boy a gift for young male lovers. Gay bookshops in San Francisco had prominent ‘Renault’ sections” (Sweetman 273).
Equally famous among gay men was U.S. writer Patricia Nell Warren - scholar Eric Anderson, for example, names her as one of the influences that inspired him to write his own autobiography in his study In the Game: Gay Athletes and the Cult of Masculinity (2005) (E. Anderson xi). Her now mostly forgotten bestselling10 novel of the 1970s, The Front Runner (1974), has been influenced by the gay liberationist movement (Levin 265-6) and deals with discrimination against homosexuals in male- dominated sports by telling the story of a gay track coach falling in love with the young athlete Billy Sive. While there is also a sequel called Harlan ’ s Race (1994), Warren’s books do not only circle around sports, but gay male love always remains an important issue : Fancy Dancer (1976), for example, tells the story of the young priest Tom Meeker who comes to terms with his own homosexuality, thus problematizing the negative attitude of the Roman Catholic Church towards same-sex desire (Ridinger 3889).
Other, more recent female novelists writing stories with homoerotic content might easily be named. Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles (1976-2003) as well as Annie Proulx’s short story Brokeback Mountain (1997) are examples that instantly spring to mind (Haggerty, “Rice” 5-18; Miller 50-56). But - for reasons of practicability - the following analysis will concentrate on Marguerite Yourcenar, Patricia Nell Warren, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Mary Renault, i.e. on their portrayal in the U.S. academic papers and intellectual writing.11
With regard to the “autobiographical prerequisite” of gay male fiction - in gay studies and beyond - it is not surprising that the sex and sexual orientation of those “cross-writing” women constitute an important subtext, which influences the interpretations of those gay-themed novels considerably. Using the method of Foucauldian discourse analysis, the scholarly accounts about this topic are going to be analyzed in this chapter. On the basis of Judith Butler’s theory about the performative nature of sex/gender, the academic explanations for the women’s affinity to male homosexuality will be evaluated with special regard to the gender roles/conceptions of “women” re-cited in them. However, as the academic discourses about female “cross- writers” are partly influenced by the new perceptions of homosexuals - and the women associated with them - since the beginning of the gay liberationist movement in 1969, there will be a brief discussion of the new views on the pair “gay men and (heterosexual) women” emerging in the second half of the 20th century first - another development, which is in need of further research, as it has not been addressed sufficiently in academia, yet.
3.2 From Victims of “ Misfortune ” to “ Fag Hags ” and the “ New Couple ” : Speaking about (Heterosexual) Women and Gay Men since 1969
“ A homosexual man [ … ] has no right to marry. The wrong committed by a homosexual marrying is a double one: It is wrong to the mate, wrong to the children. ” (Robinson 828)
In this way, the article “Who May and Who May Not Marry,” published in The American Journal of Clinical Medicine in 1916, characterizes the relationship between heterosexual women and homosexual men - a depiction typical for the heteronormative discourses about this unusual “pair” before the 1960s and 1970s. Due to the low status of the male homosexual - who had been pathologized since works such as Psychopathia Sexualis (1886) by Richard von Krafft-Ebing (Hall 105) - heterosexual women married to them were preferably seen as passive victims of the attempt to build a “smokescreen” in order to appear heterosexual/“normal.” The best-case scenario for such a marriage was, according to this logic, to have it “happily dissolved” - as H. Senator describes it in Marriage and Diseases (1909) (Senator 393).
If anything was considered, it is the negative attitude of homosexual men towards heterosexual women - e.g. in theoretical writings such as Sigmund Freud’s Infantile Genital Organization (1924), who parallels misogyny and homosexuality by claiming that they both would originate in castration anxiety/horror of the female genitalia (Jonte-Pace 53; Speirs 601-2). Karl Heinrich Ulrich, a German attorney, suggested another interpretation in the 19th century, declaring homosexuals to be “Urnings” - that means inverts, females trapped in a male body - a perspective that was equally influential in later studies (Hall 105), which claimed that there were similarities between women and gay men.
A possible sexual attraction to (or even the platonic interest of “normal” females in) male homosexuals per se was unthinkable to most - particularly because of the imagination of “healthy” female sexuality as passive and vaginal (Gerhard 32, 41). The homophile sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld is the exception to the rule with his text Die Homosexualit ä t des Mannes und des Weibes (1914),12 when he speaks about a certain “type” of heterosexual women who always tended to fall in love with homosexual (or very effeminate heterosexual) men (Hirschfeld 229-230). Yet, by contrasting this kind of behavior with “normalsexuelle[m] [Verhalten]” and by describing it as a “Mißgeschick” that only happens to “berühmten Schauspielerinnen und Künstlerinnen,” Hirschfeld underlines the extraordinariness of this phenomenon, thus making it seem to be unimportant and rare (Hirschfeld 230).
But with the beginning of the gay liberationist movement, new ways of seeing gay men and thus the women associated with them began to emerge. The Stonewall riots in 1969 - when one of the police raids of a gay bar in New York was protested and fought against - proved to be a turning point in this process (Bredbeck 380). Whereas the homophile movement, in the U.S. represented by the Mattachine Society since 1951, strove to achieve social acceptance of homosexuals through assimilation - by showing that gay citizens where “just the same as everyone else” - the dissatisfaction of many with this strategy manifested in this “rebellion” around the Stonewall Inn (Corber 446). In the aftermath of the event and inspired by the protest culture of the New Left in the late 1960s, the gay liberation movement formed, whose primary goal was a more radical one: Associations such as the Gay Liberation Front emerged in order to change the conservatism and heterosexism of society, instead of simply submitting to it (Jagose 30- 40). By propagating slogans like “Gay is Good” (Shelley 31) and by postulating general consciousness-raising with mottos such as “Out of the Closets, into the Streets” (Young 6), new perceptions of male (and female) homosexuality developed.
Naturally, the “gay pride” movement also had consequences on how heterosexual women associated with homosexual men were portrayed. While some former medical articles and handbooks depicted the married, homosexual man as an intruder and impostor in the “sacred alliance,” now it was the women’s turn to be scrutinized and defamed as “straight infiltrators” of gay culture: Around 1970, a new “species” called the “fag hag” was “born” - a term developed in the male homosexual community that ambiguously oscillated between “Insult and Inclusion” since its first appearance (Moon 487, 493). Usually referring to heterosexual women sexually attracted to or simply interested in gay men or gay culture, the term was often used in a pejorative way, possessing two different negative connotations.
1) The “fag hag” as femme fatale
In a critical reconsideration of a certain heterosexist view that circulated throughout the 19th and 20th century - namely that homosexual men should be “cured” by marrying a “normal” woman (Hodann 57) - “fag hag” was a term used against females who acted towards gay men in a sexually aggressive way. In his publication The Gay Mystique (1972) - a book dealing with the Myth and Reality of Male Homosexuality, for which he received the Stonewall Award in 1972 - Peter Fisher thus describes a “fag hag” as a “woman [who] often operates under the assumption that the homosexual is gay only because he has not found the right woman” yet. This “fag hag” plans to “initiate [the gay man] into the glories of heterosexual sex” with “missionary zeal,” according to Fisher (Fisher 66) - an accusation obviously quite common at the beginning of the 1970s. A similar association of the “fag hag” with the negative stereotype of the femme fatale, can thus be found in Parker Tyler’s groundbreaking study about homosexuality in the movies, Screening the Sexes (1972), when the American scholar talks about Suddenly, Last Summer (1959). In this motion picture after a play by Tennessee Williams, Catherine, the female protagonist helps her gay brother seduce unwilling men by acting as a decoy: The “charade” ends in an act of cannibalism in which her brother dies, with the consequence of her becoming mad as a “victim” of homosexuality. Tyler, however, criticizes this homophobic tendency of the movie by claiming that Catherine actively tried to associate with gay men as a “fag hag,” thus being responsible for her “fate” according to this logic (Tyler 316) - an argumentation that once again connects the “fag hag” to the archetype of the “evil seductress.”
2) The “fag hag” as sexually confused
Another negative meaning of this term links it to a “confused” sexual orientation; emphasizing the notion that being too interested in gay men as a woman is a “displacement activity” through which a confrontation with repressed, unconscious desires is avoided. In George Birimisa’s episodic play Georgie Porgie (1971), for example - a piece about a gay man’s self-hatred due to society’s homophobia - the main character accuses his wife, Grace, to be a “fag hag,” because she is married to him and attracted to another “potential” homosexual, Tom Seymour. By associating this term with her alleged difficulty of being “with a real man” and by revealing her to be a “woman who really wants another woman,” while being “too frightened to admit” it, Georgie Porgie defines a “fag hag” as someone who is a closeted lesbian (Birimisa 87), i.e. as someone replacing her “real” desires. Other negative connotations of the term “fag hag” echo in Georgie’s reproach that Grace is too anxious to be with “real” i.e. heterosexual men: As Carol Warren’s sociological paper “Observing the Gay Community” (1972) elaborates, “[u]sual interpretations” were not only that the “fag hag” is a “latent homosexual,” but possible explanations for her behavior also included her depiction as an “asexual” person or as a female, who “is frightened of sexual relations with men” - all “explanations,” which implicitly suggest that a “fag hag” somehow has problems with her sexuality (C. Warren 152).
Nevertheless, the term “fag hag” did not only have a derogatory connotation, but also - at times - inclusionary character since its first appearance in the 1970s (Moon 494). It is thus no coincidence, that Carol Warren proposes the “fag hag disguise” as the perfect way for the female, heterosexual sociological researcher to actually infiltrate and observe gay male culture in a “Covert Research” operation (151-2). As an article in the New York Times Magazine in 1973 shows, the term “fag hag” also slowly spread into mainstream American culture in the early 1970s: In order to criticize the actress Hermione Gingold for being too “campy” in Sondheim’s operetta A Little Night Music, John Simon thus snidely remarks in “Grimaces of a Winter’s Night” that Gingold continued to be “our leading fag hag, senior division” (Simon 80).
While it is obvious that discourses about women associating with gay men multiplied in the 1970s, the discussion of strictly platonic friendships between these two parties did not necessarily have the same pejorative ring to it as the “fag hag” designation, but were theorized as positive and benefiting relationships instead. Fisher, for instance, talks about a “special rapport between homosexuals and women” in The Gay Mystique (Fisher 66). Even though he rejects the old “Urning”-stereotype according to which “[h]omosexuals are […] imitation women, expected to behave like women, share interests and emotions with them, and respond to men the way they do” (63), he names several reasons as to why gay men and heterosexuals of the opposite sex should get along just fine: As gay men, he argues, “have no real sexual interests” in women, they “probably do have a greater potential for understanding and sympathizing with them” (64). Meanwhile, the male heterosexual partners of these women would feel “no threat to their masculinity” and thus be able to allow contact without fear of being betrayed (64). Whereas Fisher’s argumentation is blatantly sexist - in neglecting the women’s point of view and in his inability to imagine a traditional friendship between a single woman and a gay man without insinuating “fag hag tendencies” - new perspectives regarding such relationships developed during the next decade.
The period around 1980 in particular constituted an important time span in this discourse: In 1979, Rebecca Nahas published The New Couple; in 1980 John Malone’s Straight Women/Gay Men appeared. Both publications are sociological studies for which the material has been collected by interviewing gay men and women engaged in an emotional or sexual relationship with each other. Clearly influenced by the second wave feminist movement, both texts present a more nuanced perspective on the heterosexual women involved. This is particularly the case with Rebecca Nahas, who rejects the misogynist stereotype of the “fag hag”, as it portrays a woman interested in gay men as “a social renegade who cannot fit into the conventional scene” (Nahas 3). By introducing the possibility that a man who identifies as a homosexual, nevertheless might be able to have sexual intercourse with a woman - something also suggested by the Kinsey Report (5-6) - Nahas recognizes the existence of more complex emotional and sexual relationships between a “self-proclaimed gay […] and a woman who understands and accepts the man’s homosexuality” (11). Like the novelist John Rechy in his documentary The Sexual Outlaw (1977), she sees the predicament for this “New Couple” in “the women’s conscious movement” out of which “a new figure, neither fag hag nor surrogate mother nor hostile competitor” emerged (Rechy 188). For such new feminists “seeking personal and professional equality with men,” Nahas argues, “a relationship with a gay man, not based on traditional male/female role divisions, may be an attractive option” (Nahas 212-3). John Malone’s Straight Women/Gay Men, in contrast, harkens back to notions of the early gay liberationist movement, when some circles wanted to include feminist ideas in the program, arguing that gay men were equally oppressed by patriarchy and constrained by gender roles, because of which they would not be seen as “real men” (Jagose 39). In a similar paralleling of the feminist and the gay liberationist movement, John Malone claims that “emancipated” women and male homosexuals constitute natural allies, as both are regarded as “twin threats to the family structure upon which American morality and the American economic system have long been predicated” (Malone 6). Like Nahas, John Malone notices that “sexual relationships between straight women and gay men […] are far more common than has generally been perceived” (7); but unlike her appraisal of the “New Couple,” he considers them to be “more problematic” (15).
In academic and popular culture, it is John Malone’s perspective that has evidently survived throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Various television series and movies celebrate the gay man as a woman’s best friend in the 1990s, while implying an emotional instead of some sort of sexual connection. Will and Grace (1998-2006) - “the first successful network prime-time series to feature gay characters in a gay milieu” (Cooper 513) - thus tells the story of a close emotional yet completely asexual relationship between a heterosexual woman and a gay man (Castiglia and Reed 171, 179),13 and My Best Friend ’ s Wedding (1997) as well as Sex and the City (1998-2004) are similar in this respect (Quimby 131).14 Some academic texts around 2000 still concentrate on this image of gay men as being perfect, sexually non-threatening, witty companions for the modern, stylish women as well: While scholar Scott Speirs considers this depiction of male homosexuals as a “stereotype” in Haggerty’s excellent encyclopedia Gay Histories and Cultures (2000) (Speirs 601), some studies in the field of neuroendocrinology try to “prove” this essentialist assumption by claiming a similarity between heterosexual women’s and gay men’s brain structures with dubious methods (Brookey 89-90). Thus, whereas the term “fag hag” has been rejected by academia for being “homophobic and misogynist” (Sedgwick, “Trust” 749; Van Leer 595) - and deservedly so! - its special connotation, i.e. women sexually desiring gay men, seems to have vanished as well. That “fag hags” - for the lack of a better term they will continue to be called this way - are mostly a “disruptive” and rarely considered existence in academic and popular texts becomes obvious when looking at the lack of research about this phenomenon. Carol Queen’s provocative essay “Beyond the Valley of the Fag Hags” in PoMoSexuals (1997) - a collection with the explicit goal of Challenging Assumption about Gender and Sexuality - is one of the few texts looking at this kind of sexual orientation (Queen 76-84).
Against the background of these developments in the perceptions of heterosexual women interested in gay men in American culture since the 1970s, the academic discourse about female novelists writing about male homosexual relationships will be evaluated in the subsequent subchapters - with special consideration of the similarities and differences between those two discourses. Just as important as the theorization of the “new couple,” will be the way the relationship between self-identified lesbians and male homosexuals is perceived - a pairing that has traditionally been conceptualized in a very different way.
Before 1969, a “connection” between lesbians and gay men was mainly considered with regard to a common “pathology” or “natural aberration” in medical and juridical texts - Karl Heinrich Ulrich and Carl Friedrich Westphal thus parallelized the male and female invert, “Urning” and “Uringin” as early as in the 1860s and 1870s (Sullivan 4-6, 10). Especially since Stonewall and the beginning of the gay liberationist movement - in which some lesbian women were equally important participants - both sexual minorities became “political allies” in their fight against heterosexism, even though women were clearly marginalized in the gay liberationist agenda (Jagose 44). Yet, different to the relationship between heterosexual women and gay men, the bonds between those two groups were clearly not interesting enough to be discussed in separate publications. Thus, the more complex characteristics of some gay-lesbian friendships or partnerships - the possibility of sexual interaction especially - have been completely disregarded. The provocative essay “Stroking My Inner Fag” by Jill Nagle - again published in PoMoSexuals (1997) - as well as Pat Califia’s “Gay Men, Lesbians and Sex: Doing It Together” (1983) are exceptions in so far, as they deal with S/M practices between lesbians and gay men, without conceptualizing them as “heterosexual” (Nagle 122-126; Califia 22-27). If and how the academic texts recognize the complexity of this “other couple,” when talking about “cross-writing” women who self-identify as lesbians, will be another important “focus point” of the ensuing analysis.
3.3 About the Three Ways to Conceptualize Your “ Faghagging ” Novelist:
Interpretations of “ Cross-Writing ” Women and Their Works in U.S. Academia
“ The author still reigns in histories of literature, biographies of writers, interviews, magazines, as in the very consciousness of men of letters anxious to unite their person and their work through diaries and memoirs: The image of literature to be found in ordinary culture is tyrannically centered on the author, his person, his life, his tastes, his passions, while criticism still consists for the most part in saying that Baudelaire ’ s work is the failure of Baudelaire, the man, Van Gogh ’ s his madness, Tchaikovsky ’ s his vice. The explanation of a work is always sought in the man or woman who produced it, as if it were always in the end, through the more or less transparent allegory of the fiction, the voice of a single person, the author ‘ confiding ’ in us. ” (Barthes 221)
In his famous essay “The Death of the Author” (1967), Roland Barthes criticizes traditional literary criticism for its exaggerated consideration of the supposed intentions of the author and his/her biographical context, when interpreting a text - Foucault utters a similar opinion one year later in his article “What Is an Author” (1968) (Pease 113). Yet, as it has already been mentioned before, these poststructuralist proclamations had relatively little impact on the academic discourses about women writing about gay men. As it will be shown in this chapter, the “author function” in gay male fiction has not only been an influential factor within intellectual writing and academic studies in the 1970s and 1980s influenced by the gay liberationist movement. Blatantly homophobic texts as well as papers more connected to ideas of the older homophile movements equally underline the fact that the novelist writing about gay men is female - an interpretational “move” that, for instance, provides a way to downplay or minimize the male homosexual content. Whereas these examples underline that it was politically necessary for seminal texts of gay and lesbian literature in the 1970s and 1980s to emphasize “personal experience” and “authenticity” in order to be taken seriously, the continuation of this tradition at the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century is seen in a more critical light in my master’s thesis.
The occasional “bashing” of heterosexual academics that have made important contributions to the field of queer theory and gay and lesbian studies is quite dubious. Eve Sedgwick, for instance - who was married to Hal Sedgwick, but continued to publish academic writings about gay male fiction such as Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985) - has been criticized for “cashing in on the trendiness of postmodernism” and queer theory, while not “knowing” about the “oppression” and “limits” that homosexuals face in everyday life (Walters 9-11). Notorious in particular became David van Leer’s review of Between Men entitled “The Beast of the Closet: Homosociality and the Pathology of Manhood” (1989), in which he accused Sedgwick of homophobia - an incrimination based primarily on Sedgwick’s “position as an outsider” (Van Leer 587; Edwards 138). Similarly disturbing are the “misinterpretations” of and “discriminations” against women’s novels about gay men in some academic and intellectual interpretations influenced by the gay liberationist movement, which are going to be analyzed in the second subchapter. And whereas the importance of the fact that - in the chosen examples - the novelist is not a gay man for the academic interpretations of the texts since 1969 will be discussed in the first two points, another perspective in research addresses the female sex of the writers in more detail. Just like Nahas and Malone, feminist interpretations of the novels since the 1970s problematize heterosexual and homosexual women’s interest in gay men - which makes altogether “Three Ways to Conceptualize Your ‘Faghagging’ novelist” in the U.S. academia, which are going to be discussed in the following subchapters.
3.3.1 The (Heterosexual) Woman as Empathic Outsider and Mediator - Mary Renault and Patricia Nell Warren in Traditional Literary Criticism around 1970
“ He put his arm with his cloak about my shoulders. ‘ Was it for this, ’ he said, ‘ that we made our offering to the god? ’ I said, ‘ Yes, Lysis. ’ We stood by the stream, for it was too cold and wet to sit, and I told him. The first birds woke, and the face of the opposite mountain showed grey through the haze; the dark thornthree wept with dew. At last the sun shone red on the peak, and we heard the others waking; so we went back to rub down our horses and make ready for the day. ” (Renault, Wine 150-1)
As this passage indicates, The Last of the Wine (1956) - a novel by Mary Renault about the relationship between the runner Alexias and the pankratiast (a Greek martial artist) Lysis, set in ancient Greece - presents intimacy and sexual contact between the two young male lovers with such subtlety and delicacy that one barely notices that it’s there at all. It was probably not only because of this merely “implied” homosexuality, but also because of the marketing campaigns of Renault’s U.S. publishers - who underlined the “serious historical and literary qualities” of her works (Sweetman 184-5) - that Mary Renault became the object of several “traditional” academic studies around 1970. Peter Wolfe’s Mary Renault in 1969 constitutes the “first critical study,” giving a general overview about the oeuvre of the writer so far. Further analyses concentrate on particular aspects of her work, such as Mary Roby, who focuses on The Significance of Sport (1971), or Bernard Dick, who writes about The Hellenism of Mary Renault (1974) (Wolfe; Dick, Hellenism xviii; Roby).
Most noteworthy about these studies is the way they deal with the topic of male homosexuality in Renault’s novels: Interestingly, Roby’s analysis - which is of questionable quality anyway, as it involves the dubious attempt to uncover the Significance of Sport in Ancient Greece through the interpretation of Renault’s historical novels - simply ignores it. While examining “the ‘inside’ accounts of [Athenian] athletic contests” in The Last of the Wine, for instance, Roby disregards the sexual and emotional closeness between the two “lover[s]” (Renault, Wine 122), Alexias and Lysis, by reducing them to mere “friends.” The only cryptic concession to the existence of same-sex desire in the novel is made, when she acknowledges a special “depth of their friendship” (Roby 3, 55-56). Whereas the heterosexist tendencies in Roby’s case are quite obvious, Wolfe’s and Dick’s treatment of the topic of “men- loving men” in Renault’s novels is more complex, but no less homophobic.
1 “The One with the Sharks.” Writ. Andrew Reich and Ted Cohen. Dir. Ben Weiss. Friends: The Complete Ninth Season. Warner Brothers, 2005. DVD.
2 Jacobs coined this term in her paper “Academic Cult Erotica.” She applies it to Internet porn users “who peruse selections beyond the boundaries of their niche sites and communities,” but also mentions female yaoi and shounen-a i readers as an example (Jacobs 128). For an explanation of those terms, see chap. 5.1.
3 “All That Glitters.” Writ. Darren Star and Cindy Chupack. Dir. Charles MacDougall. Sex and The City: The Complete Fourth Season. Home Box Office, 2003.DVD.
4 Terms containing the abbreviation m/m (male/male) like m/m romance, m/m fiction, and m/m novels are used in this thesis as neutral terms for literary works about gay male relationships. I am aware that m/m fiction has been frequently defined as referring to gay literature written by heterosexual women (Shramko). Yet, as this thesis argues for a definition of “gay fiction” that is not based on the gender or the sexual orientation of the writers, this seems at least problematic and is definitely not implied by the use of this term here.
5 This thesis will focus on scholarly accounts originally published in North America. If, occasionally, academic contributions from other Anglophone countries such as Australia or England prove to be important for the academic discourses described in this paper, they will be included and analyzed as well.
6 According to Foucault, the “jurisco-discursive” representation of power is the predominant model in the West. Power is regarded as something that a “legislative power” exercises over “an obedient subject on the other side.” Within this logic, power is conceptualized as something that has only negative effects on “sex” since the 18th century, as it is prohibited per law by methods like censorship (Foucault, Will 83).
7 Sullivan mentions Rich, for example, only as an after-thought, when talking about “Queering Straight Sex” at the end of his introduction to queer theory (Sullivan 119-120).
8 An excellent introduction into this debate is the anthology Feminist Contentions, where Butler and Hartsock engage in an interesting dialogue (Benhabib).
9 Trans. “One is not born, but becomes a woman.”
10 In the journal American libraries, the Front Runner is listed as one of the “Best Sellers” in 1974. (“Best Sellers” 549)
11 As the role of the homosexual academic in the 1970s was closely connected to the gay liberationist movement, some contributions were published outside the academia, while still maintaining the academic standards (Seidman 120). The same can be said for feminist theorists and the corresponding movement. This is why this and the second part of this thesis will also consider papers and books published outside of the academic context.
12 This text was translated into English in 1920.
13 One exception to the rule - in which the friendship between gay men and heterosexual women in the series becomes definitely erotic - is the scene, in which the Karen, Grace’s friend gets aroused by the gay erotica written by her homosexual friend, Jack. But this is definitely the only moment in the series in which a queer (sexual) desire of the woman towards the gay man is represented (Quimby 129).
14 The comic “How to Be a Fabulous Fag Hag!” (2003) by Ellen Forney this now strictly platonic understanding of the relationship between “fag” and “hag” (Forney).
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- Queer Theory transhomosexuality women reading/writing about gay romance/porn Boys' Love manga slash fiction Mary Renault Patricia Nell Warren Anne Rice Marguerite Yourcenar fan fiction Foucault Judith Butler fag hag