“Behind the Make-Up…” Notes (Ella)

McNeal, Keith. “Behind the Make-Up: Gender Ambivalence and the Double-Bind of Gay Selfhood in Drag Performance.” Ethos, Sep., 1999, Vol. 27, No. 3, Body, Self, and Technology (Sep., 1999), pp. 344-378. Electronic.

  • “Indeed, one of the most notable patterned genres of interaction in drag performance is the playfully antagonistic one which occurs between drag queen emcee and heterosexual female audience members.” (McNeal 345)
  • “The notion of symbolic inversion derives from a series of papers (Babcock 1978b) that sought to elucidate the conflicted human experience of symbolic systems. In the introduction to The Reversible World, Babcock broadly defined symbolic inversion as “any act of expressive behavior which inverts, contradicts, abrogates, or in some fashion presents an alternative to commonly held cultural codes, values, and norms be they linguistic, literary or artistic, religious, or social and political.”” (McNeal 346)
  • “In this sense, drag is a domain of culturally mediated expressive action characterized by emotionally charged communicative exchange and catharsis. The crux for understanding the psychocultural dynamics of drag depends upon a subtle understanding of the cultural logic that predominates thought and practice in the United States about gender and sexuality, a dominant logic that Adrienne Rich (1993) has usefully dubbed “compulsory heterosexuality.”” (McNeal 346)
  • “I argue here that the genesis and maintenance of drag in U.S. gay male subculture is a ritually sanctioned performance genre in which gay men can safely gather to watch, explore, and participate in symbolic transformations of gender ambivalence in the psychocultural arena of the show.” (McNeal 346)
  • “This delicate relation between parody and self-parody is made possible, perhaps even necessary, because of the interconnection of homophobia and sexism, which has conspired to stigmatize gay men for what they are told they are; that is, gay male stigma derives not only from transgressing the hetero-normative bounds of masculinity, but also because femininity is considered inferior in sexist culture. Gay men have responded to this situation not only by poking fun at the world, but also by poking fun at themselves and at women who occupy a similar, though not equivalent, psychocultural position in relation to men concerning matters of desire. Humor is cathartic, so paying attention to what people laugh at-to the premises that make jokes funny-tells us something about their concerns, conflicts, anxieties, and ambivalences (Berger 1990; Dundes 1987; Freud 1905, 1927; Scheff 1979).” (McNeal 347)
  • “Drag performance, moreover, is rebellious because the drag queen, as a culturally prominent representative of stigmatized gay male gender, rules her court and retaliates against unsuspecting straight audience members. It is in this regard that the symbolic inversion of the drag show provides catharsis for those gay men present who enjoy and laugh as the personification of their own stigma takes undisputed control over her court.” (McNeal 347-8)
  • “Contemporary notions of gender are inextricably intertwined with concerns about sexual orientation and object-choice, thus important attributions of masculinity and femininity in the United States are made according to sexuality (Bolin 1996). Femininity is associated with desiring and attracting men (male erotic object choice), and masculinity is analogously associated with desiring and attracting women (female erotic object choice).” (McNeal 350)
    • “Compulsory heterosexuality”
  • “…gay men are consistently considered feminine in some sense, an association that is wellknown to both insiders and outsiders of the gay community. My favorite recent example of this comes from a Christian Coalition rally against Walt Disney Company’s alleged pro-homosexual policies. One of the rally’s leaders told the press: “We want Mickey Mouse to come home. We don’t want him to have a dress on when he gets here!” (Associated Press, New York, 9/6/97 emphasis added).” (McNeal 350)
  • “The male homosexual “queen” archetype is not new in Euro-American sociocultural life. Theories of homosexuality as a third sex-that is, as sexual or gender inversion-gained ground in the second half of the 19th century in Europe, and these theories are ancestors of today’s association between male homosexuality and femininity.” (McNeal 351)
  • “heterosexuality. As Hekma notes,
  • “As Hekma notes, the model of the homosexual as a third sex gained ground because it was a nonthreatening representation of homosexuals for heterosexuals” (1994:234).” (McNeal 351-2)
  • “Indeed, the entire structure of this analysis emphasizes the significance of culturally modeled compulsory heterosexuality in generating deeply gendered conflicts in the subjective experience of gay men. From this perspective, homosexually inclined males have difficulty experiencing themselves as unproblematically masculine because they have same-sex fantasies and desires in a heterosexually modeled behavioral environment.” (McNeal 352)
  • “Isay notes: “I believe that [homosexual boys] develop these characteristics for the same reason that heterosexual boys may adopt certain of the father’s attributes in order to attract, first, the mother’s interest and, later, someone like the mother. These [cross-gendered] identifications in homosexual children appear to follow the manifestation of the sexual orientation and the erotic attachment to the father and not to precede them” (Isay 1989:19, emphasis added). It is crucial to point out that such “opposite gender characteristics” are socioculturally construed, thus culturalizing Isay’s view would go a long way in opening up the developmental psychoanalytic perspective to cross-cultural variation.” (McNeal 353)
  • “While I would not be comfortable with attributing gender ambivalence as the grand motivating factor for every single attendance of a drag show, I do contend that drag has evolved as an institutionalized performance genre in response to a core set of ambivalent conflicts in the culturally modeled subjectivities of gay men. And I further contend that it is this ambivalent posture which responds so well to the jokes and parodies of drag queen humor.” (McNeal 354)
  • “One of my female impersonator informants told me that he was “not a drag queen,” but a “female illusionist” or “impersonator,” although he did indicate that being “painted up” in full women’s personae is referred to as being “in drag.” He told me that his female impersonation is an “art” and “a job.”” (McNeal 354)
  • “As we shall see, this defensive gay male camp ethos is intimately tied to drag performance and the sometimes confrontational, almost always humorous symbolic interactions within drag shows.” (McNeal 356)
  • “Performers not infrequently strip down to a bikini or less, showing as much skin as possible, as it is more difficult to do so and sustain the female illusion. I once saw Raven throw off a long, gold lame cape, only to reveal herself as dressed in fake money pasted onto her body in the shape of a skimpy bikini. Raven also taunts straight female audience members who stare at her in disbelief. “You want my body? You can have it, but only if you give it back!”” (McNeal 358)
  • “According to the dominant model (Holland 1992a; Holland and Skinner 1987; Kaplan 1991; Margolis and Arnold 1993; Newton 1979), women must attract men through the artful deployment of feminine signifiers, but in the drag show it is the drag queen who out-performs women themselves. In this context, it is men who take control of the feminine Domain.” (McNeal 359)
  • “I highlight the drag queen-straight woman ritualized antagonism because it demonstrates one of the many axes of ambivalence and conflict that permeate drag performance arenas, and by extension, the ambivalence that permeates the lives of gay men coping in a world coded as heterosexual. Drag highlights the performative aspects of gender, and it is subversive and parodic by turns.” (McNeal 360)
  • “Thus, while I view some feminist critique of drag as missing the point about gay male subjectivity (e.g., hooks’s critique [1992] of the documentary Paris Is Burning; see Butler’s critique of hooks [1993a]), I believe that a feminist perspective is crucial in interpreting the topsy-turvy onslaught of gendered signifiers in the drag arena.” (McNeal 361)
  • “As Strauss puts it in her introductory essay to the volume, “cultural models can have motivational force because these models not only label and describe the world but also set forth goals (both conscious and unconscious) and elicit or include desires” (1992a:3). She continues:

“To understand why someone acts the way they do, it is not enough to know the discourses, objects, and events to which they have been exposed; we need to know the psychic structures that assimilate those things and render them a basis for meaningful action.” [Strauss 1992a:7]” (McNeal 362)

  • “By and large, longitudinal research strongly suggests that unconscious motives in adulthood are predictable from early childhood experiences, particularly nonverbal ones, whereas conscious motives are predictable from later, more verbally mediated experiences (Westen, in press).” (McNeal 364)
  • “I have argued that living in a world redundantly coded as heterosexual puts gay men in a double-bind that is capable of generating profound gender ambivalence, and that drag is an institutionalized set of practices and symbolic forms that resonate with and respond to the particular ambivalence of gay men.” (McNeal 365)
  • “In other words, motivation toward drag has to do with concern and anxiety about the models and their internal conflict or juxtaposition-ambivalence that is not necessarily conscious-rather than stemming from the directive content of the models themselves.” (McNeal 367)

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