Sunday, April 26, 2015

Setting the Record Straight

I didn't watch the Bruce Jenner interview. After the backlash from the horrendous questions they asked Janet Mock and Laverne Cox, mainstream media can probably handle a coming-out story.

But they can also stir one up.

On a Find Outing

I was outed to my high school friends because of the internet. One of my (male) friends sent me a personality quiz on AIM. I answered honestly, and he was sent the answers.

The next day, he told the kids at my lunch table.

I don't think it was any less terrifying than when I was outed to my parents. They were told by my friend/lover's mom. His mom caught us with his cock in my mouth. I don't know if I was more afraid of losing my parents or losing my friends.

In the end, my parents were chill, and my friends were chill, so I guess it didn't matter that much after all. But I don't think that made the process any easier. That same feeling walking home from my friend/lover's house reinscribed in an eternal silence before someone at the table said, "Okay, so?"

But the fact is, both my friend and my friend/lover's mom made the choice to out me. My friend could have kept that shit to himself. My friend/lover's mom could have kept that secret (she was too busy screaming "not normal" at us - she eventually came around).

The entertainment media chose to out Jenner to the public. The fact that everyone now knows the appropriate pronoun to use to refer to someone they will likely never meet and only rarely refer to doesn't change this. Bruce Jenner was publicly tormented into baring his gender identity - generating revenue for the self-same industry which had publicly tormented him in the first place.

The Queer Spectacle

Some commentators have chosen to highlight the privilege Bruce Jenner has relative to most LGBTQ communities. I think it's definitely important to remember the hardships that bigotry inflicts in a capitalist mode of distribution.

But this honestly had little to do with why I didn't watch the interview. At the end of the day, I didn't watch the interview because I don't care about Bruce Jenner. I don't care about the Olympics, and I don't care about the Kardashian family.

The only reason I could come up with to watch the interview was because he is a woman. Fundamentally, the appeal of that interview was the spectacle of queerness.

There is a compulsion in cishet culture to know "what" someone "is."* While the fact of someone's queerness elicits revulsion from cishet culture, the mystery of someone's queerness appears to be a far stronger and more widely held anxiety. To me, this is fundamentally what the Bruce Jenner interview represents.

After being outed to my high school friends, I was persistently granted the obnoxious opportunity to play the "Do you think he's hot?" game. It was certainly relatively more pleasant than the "Shove Mike into the lockers and call him a 'faggot'" game, which completely unrelated to my being outed and perpetuated by people I didn't like. But neither game was particularly fun.

I don't think anyone was genuinely interested in my romantic interests with the former game. To me, it seemed more a means of staking out the territory which defined my queer otherness. A coercive exercise whereby a refusal to participate was cast as shame about my identity rather than annoyance. If knowledge is power, then the slaking of this thirst for the boundaries of my queerness served to neutralize me as a threat to the heterosexual imaginary.

And this is how I see the Bruce Jenner interview. It's not about setting the record straight; it's about setting the straight record. It's about quenching the cisgender appetite for surveillance. Such can be seen in reactions to the interview on twitter announcing "It's official!" No one seemed particularly concerned that this implied that Bruce Jenner's gender was being officiated.

* Actually, this is crucial to most domination cultures, cf. imperialist culture, racist culture, etc.