Gender/Racial Realness… Notes (Ella)

Bailey, Marlon M. “Gender/Racial Realness: Theorizing the Gender System in Ballroom Culture.” Feminist Studies, Summer 2011, Vol. 37, No. 2, RACE AND TRANSGENDER STUDIES (Summer 2011), pp. 365-386. Electronic.

  • “However, throughout my nearly ten years of research within ballroom communities and based on my own experiences growing up in Detroit, Michigan, I have learned that incidents similar to the one KC Prestige described are common for Black lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer (LGBTQ) people, especially in urban spaces. Many of my ballroom interlocutors expressed feeling particularly vulnerable to race, gender, and sexual violence because their queer gender and sexualities signal to a would-be assailant that queers can be robbed and beaten, even murdered, with impunity.” (Bailey 365-6)
  • “Unmarking oneself through performance or “passing” is a necessary strategy by which to avoid discrimination and violence in the urban space.” (Bailey 366)
  • “The Black and Latina/o queer members of this community use performance to create an alternative discursive terrain and a kinship structure that critiques and revises dominant notions of gender, sexuality, family, and community.” (Bailey 367)
  • (On the film Paris is Burning) “More specifically, the film marked one of the first explorations of the lives of Black and Latina/o transgender people.” (Bailey 368)
  • “The gender system is made up of three inextricable dimensions: sex, gender, and sexuality. Sex is implicitly linked to gender, but these categories expand beyond the putative female/male binary in dominant culture. Community members view the category of sex as open and unfinished. Akin to their notions of gender and sexuality, the sex of a body is the result of an ongoing process or an activity as opposed to a biological end result. Ballroom members conceive of three categories of sex: female (one born with anatomical female sex characteristics), male (one born with male anatomical sex characteristics), and intersex or transsexual (one born with both female and male, or indeterminate anatomical sex characteristics).” (Bailey 369-70)
  • “The constant threat of gender and sexual violence that Black queer people endure in both public and private spheres should not be ignored.” (Bailey 374).
  • “Realness requires adherence to certain performances, self-presentations, and embodiments that are believed to capture the authenticity of particular gender and sexual identities. These criteria are established and function within a schema of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Racialized, classed, gendered and sexualized performances, self-presentations, and embodiments, to a large extent, give realness its discursive power in both the ballroom scene as well as in society at large.” (Bailey 377-8)
  • “This visual epistemology consists of convergent discourses of race, gender, and sexuality that undergird the performance and self presentation of gender and sexual subjects. And the range of the performative gender and sexual identities that are performed at the balls are framed within a discourse of Blackness. Mirroring some forms of Black gender and sexual performances by which members are largely oppressed, the ballroom community understands that the material realities of their lives (including their safety) are largely contingent upon how they are seen—how their bodies are read—and how they are seen by and within the optic lens of white supremacy and heteropatriarchy.” (Bailey 379)
    • Robyn Wiegman
  • “Ultimately, ballroom community members understand that they are seen through a racist and homophobic lens propagated and internalized by various sectors of society. Therefore, members seek greater agency in shaping how they are viewed by altering and performing their bodies in ways that disguise their gender and sexual nonconformity.” (Bailey 380)
  • “Performance undergirds the gender identity system, the criteria for the competitive categories, and the overall social interaction between members and the roles that they play. For these reasons, I see the function of performance in ballroom culture in somewhat different terms from those in which some critics have heretofore explained it. As one example, Butler asserts in her earlier work that she is ambivalent about drag largely because it reiterates and reinscribes the same norms that it purports to subvert,25 but I argue that the performance and the gender system that it undergirds in ballroom culture offer far more cultural import because they reflect the possibilities for reconstituting gender and sexual subjectivities, for reconfiguring gender and sexual roles and relations, and for creating ways to survive an often dangerously homophobic, transphobic, and femmephobic public sphere.” (Bailey 383)
  • “Conversely, in the ballroom community, members can be and often are openly queer in terms of sex, gender, and sexuality; but members are understandably reluctant to make those same claims in the world outside of the ballroom sphere. I argue that these malleable, contingent, and strategic deployments of identity should not be read, necessarily, as a sign of internalized racism, homophobia, or heterosexism. Instead, these practices are strategies used by these Black queer people to negotiate and survive a sometimes perilous and complex social terrain.” (Bailey 384)

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