Learning to Cook: Awakening Queer Tastes

Learning to Cook: Awakening Queer Tastes

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Learning to Cook: Awakening Queer Tastes

The initial stages of vegetarian desire are characterized by what may be termed 'epicuriosity' on the part of the food consumer -- an inclination towards food pleasures beyond the meat-centred menus favoured by North Americans -- but often, the transition to a vegan or vegetarian diet is made difficult by the centrality of omnivorism within popular culture. From frozen TV dinners to foie gras, meat's accessibility as a convenient pre-packaged commodity means that animal products are the accepted norm. And, since popular adherence to the principles of omnivorist consumption culture dictates that the rejection of meat-eating be viewed as a cultural transgression, the choice to adopt a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle is often met with hostility (not surprising given that aggression and defensiveness seem to be standard responses to the suggestion of difference within western social orders). However, this hostility is especially evident towards young vegetarians for whom the choice to adopt an alternate diet is interpreted as an affront to the 'compulsory carnivorism' that is the social and parental expectation of the adolescent. Therefore, the challenge facing the bold vegetarian is one of articulating her appetites to a meat-oriented populace.

Queer Subjectivities in formation

A similar obstacle faces the adolescent subjects in Leontine Sagan's Machden in Uniform and Sadie Benning's Me and Rubyfruit, who are forced to express their sexual identities and desires from positions defined as marginal in relation to the normative paradigm of heterosexuality. What these characters are faced with is the supremacy of one model of sexuality that pathologizes all other forms of sexual preference as deviance. The importance of these films is that not only do they represent characters whose expressed desires destabilize dominant expectations of adolescent sexuality but that further, by performing such challenges they offer the potential to contest the very system of socialized heterocentrism which impedes the acceptance of queer sexualities.

In Machden in Uniform we are offered a peek into the bourgeoning of such illicit desires amongst a group of girls sharing a dormitory at a German boarding school. The girls are represented as exploring a number of erotic fantasies -- some revolving around male film stars but others centred around their teacher, Fraulein von Bernburg. Within the closed environment of the school, the expression of any type of desire is considered a sinful indulgence but it is the expression of homosexual affection that is the least tolerated transgression.

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While the students' fondness for von Bernburg is allowed full expression within the private domain of the dormitory, the public mention of the students' collective yearning remains inadmissible. For, to speak of their desire for von Bernburg would be to threaten the atmosphere of discipline and sobriety that is enforced in order to limit their sexual agency in accordance with the conventions of heterosexual femininity. While most of the school mistresses dedicate themselves to the task of ensuring the traditional function of an all-girls school -- the institutionalized preservation of female chastity, -- von Bernburg is seen to subvert this doctrine of restraint by refusing to endorse complete abstention from pleasure. Her opposition to this prescribed asceticism is evidenced in her tender interchanges with her students. The girls' choice of von Bernburg as an object of desire has in part to do with von Bernburg's willingness to demonstrate her affection for the children -- a response that the other teachers actively suppress. Instead, von Bernburg's defiance of school convention becomes crucial to the formulation of the transgressive sexual subjectivity assumed by the central character, Manuela, who performs the boldest rebellion against her expected socialized female role by publicly declaring her desire for von Bernburg.

Queer Pronouncements, Private Domains

The regulation and policing of adolescent tastes is a central theme in both Sagan and Benning's films. In Machden in Uniform, the dormitory is a realm in which intimate revelations can be exchanged. It is in this location that the girls can most easily explore the possibility of their sexual subjectivity since their nocturnal fantasies are exempt from external regulation. Within the privacy of their sleeping quarters, school code can be disregarded in favour of sexual agency in the form of fantasies that allow the girls to entertain sexual scenarios that would otherwise be forbidden.

Similarly in Sadie Benning's earliest Pixel Vision works collected in the Me and Rubyfruit programme, the bedroom also operates as the primary site of the adolescent's coming into queer subjectivity. Skipping school, Benning frees herself from the bounds of an institution that would seek to place limits on the expression of her sexuality. Instead she performs from the privacy of the only domain that properly belongs to her -- her own bedroom. Within this space, ambiguous revelations are offered in exchange for the spectator's concession that she or he has stepped into Benning's personal territory (and history). In return for the invitation to inhabit her world for a few moments and for the sincerity and naivete with which her declarations are articulated, the viewer can only offer, in exchange, his or her respect for Benning's particular mode of self-expression. In effect, the shorts are equivalent to a sampling of diary entries in both their intimate texture and bold resonance. Benning's self-representation, simultaneously combining both defiance and trust, renders visibility and voice to an embodied queer teenager who displays what Laura Kipnis has referred to as a 'sex-rebel utopianism' that displaces dominant heterosexual economies of desire. While Benning's exploration of her queer subjectivity may be read as introspective activity in comparison to Manuela's public expression of lesbian love, Benning's performance still operates as a 'coming out' because of the extent to which she openly reveals her personal desires to all those viewing her.

In these films, the characters' self-identifications are at least partially generated within the comfort and safety of private domains. However, these modes of representing the developing stages of adolescent sexuality stand in contrast to Chantal Akerman's representation of the same process in J'ai faim, j'ai froid, a film in which the two lead characters explore appetites through public experimentation. They travel to the city in expectation of the the experiential sensations that can be sampled within the expansive urban geography. Their search can be interpreted as driven by their determination to identify and fulfill cravings and thus, what the film seems to suggest is that adolescents determine their tastes by trial. The unrestricted indulgences which allow the women to experiment and gain sexual awareness in J'ai faim, j'ai froid can be compared to the importance of debauchery in Manuela's coming out in Madchen in Uniform. It is, after all, an evening of excess -- ranging from her cross-dressing as Don Carlos in the school play (an elaborate masquerade that has her peers stroking her stockinged legs) to the excitement brought on by the spiked punch at the after-party -- that precipitates Manuela's declaration.

The films by Sagan, Benning and Akerman all offer representations of adolescent women who entertain sexual desires which disrupt the established order of hetero- normativity. In Madchen in uniform, Manuela's open proclamation of her homosexual love for her teacher destabilizes and subverts the imperative of self-denial advocated by the institutional setting. But, as an 'appetite' that is judged unacceptable to the school, her expressed desire is treated as an unhealthy choice that results in first her medicalization (she is initially isolated in the infirmiry) and later her suicide attempt. However, the triumph of this film is that it resists the common tragic lesbian ending, by representing a female community that ultimately shows its support for Manuela's expression of desire. In J'ai faim, j'ai froid, the consumptive patterns displayed by Akerman's characters reveal adolescent sexuality to be an unrestricted sort of appetite -- flexible and changing in its desire. However, it is only through Sadie Benning's shorts that the visibility of the queer adolescent subject portrayed is made a central issue. In contrast to the works by Akerman and Sagan, Benning's early Pixel Vision works offer us self-representations that express her yearning to become visually recognizable as a queer subject. As she admits in one of the shorts, she would like for people to see her walking down the street and declare: "there goes a dyke".

Fundamentally, what Benning grapples with is the difficulty of displaying queer subjectivity on the body given that as Richard Dyer points out in The Matter of Images, "There is nothing about gay people's physiognomy that declare them gay, no equivalents to the biological markers of sex and race. There are signs of gayness, a repertoire of gestures, expressions, stances, clothing, and even environments that bespeak gayness, but these are cultural forms designed to show what the person's person alone does not show: that he or she is gay." (19) While Benning's desire to render herself recognizable as lesbian is indicative of both dominant and subcultural forces pressuring her to make visible her sexual identity, the shorts of the Me and Rubyfruit programme still amount to a triumphant rebellion that sophisticatedly approaches a representation of the experience of queer adolescence by rendering voice and visibility to a fifteen-year-old in the process of forming her sexual identity.


Second Course: Soupe

Potage Esau
8 oz red lentils
6 oz onion, finely chopped
3 oz carrot, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch fresh root ginger, minced
8 chillies, dried or fresh
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp ground cumin
2 pints water
juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp vegetable oil
black pepper to taste

In a large saucepan, fry the onion, garlic, carrot, and ginger until golden. Add the cumin, chilli powder and dried chillies and saute for 2 to 3 minutes. Add water, bring to a boil, and add pre-washed lentils. Simmer. Squeeze in the lemon juice just before serving.

Coming Out for Dinner: You Are What You Eat. Article on its way.


Third Course: Salade

Avocado Salad
1 avocado diced into cubes
3 plum tomatoes diced
1/4 red onion diced
2 tbsp raspberry flavoured vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Toss ingredients first five ingredients; serve on a plate decorated with greens.
Acquiring expertise: Queer theory in the kitchen

Many believe that vegan and vegetarian food should be simple, easy to prepare and healthful. This is the food that ordinary folk tend to cook and eat at the end of a long day; it's honest food, palatable and comforting. There are others who long for more gourmet fare. They want their food to be complex and challenging -- they eat as though appreciating art, careful to note the subtleties of the spices, and the aesthetics of the arrangement of the food on their plates. Unsurprisingly, each group often denounces the tastes of the other.

The term ‘queer' is undergoing a process of reclamation by the lesbigay community, and is quickly coming to denote any marginal, non-heterosexual identity. Although commonly used as a shorthand for ‘gay/lesbian/bisexual/trans-identified community,' a more precise definition of ‘queer' is necessary in order to understand the works which are classified as queer theory (rather than lesbian and gay studies.) Most basically, queer theory is concerned with the deconstruction of identity; with revealing and even encouraging the multiplicity and fragmentation of the self. Queer theorists point out that any label which one may claim is predicated on the denial of certain aspects of one's self, or the exclusion of other, differently-constructed subjectivities. The struggle for commonality and connection which one hopes to accomplish through the assertion of a common identity comes at the expense of an acknowledgement of difference; there are no universal experiences or traits that all members of a particular group will share, and thus the acceptance of a label is neither necessary nor particularly informative. Queer theory identifies heterosexuality as one of the fundamental ideologies of our society, and therefore much of the work deals with a deconstruction of heteronormativity (hence the association with the GLBT community.)

How, then, does queer theory relate to film? Kathleen McHugh, in her article "Irony and Dissembling: Queer Tactics for Experimental Documentary," outlines a number of techniques that various documentary filmmakers have utilized to explore the identities of queer individuals, which both affirm and call into question those identities. These documentaries highlight the inability of a film to fully represent an individual, and of a viewer to understand all of the strands that shape the subjectivity of another person. McHugh writes that a film which can be read as queer "presents the extreme complexities and contradictions involved in any construction of identity; taken together, they indicate the myriad possibilities of representational tactics available to apprehend, while not crudely defining or limiting, very elusive subjectivities" (1997, 225). Rather than uncritically representing the lives of queer individuals, allowing viewers to presume an ability to emphathize with the subjects, queer film denies viewers the pleasure of this type of identification by strategically avoiding the conventions of the ethnographic film (1997, 227).

Narrative films may also contain elements which can be read as queer; however, it is generally more experimental works which are clearly influenced by deconstructive philosophies. For instance, the films of Chantal Akerman highlight the role of experience in shaping subjectivity, thereby contesting notions of essentialized identity. In J'ai faim, j'ai froid, the two protagonists seem to find themselves engaging in sexual acts seemingly by chance, and do not define themselves through their sexual partners, nor by a gendered sexual desire. In fact, they do not identify in terms of sexuality at all; rather, their most defining characteristics seem to be one's perpetual hunger and the other's perpetual chill ("J'ai faim." "J'ai froid."). The protagonist of Je tu il elle also lacks a coherent sexual identity. The film is broken into three discrete sections, each of which seems to represents a particular phase or type of sexual identity. These sexualities are divided temporally yet connected through the subjectivity of the central character, who also seems to be without a clearly directed desire beyond a hunger for food (powdered sugar eaten directly from the bag, peanut butter sandwiches, and so on).

Many have claimed that postmodern queer theory is so abstract as to be meaningless, and that the films that are built on this foundation are for an academic crowd only. On the other hand, pandering to the lowest common denominator through an uncritical cinema based on "positive images" of queer identities presumes that the "masses" cannot comprehend deconstructive techniques -- clearly an elitist and condescending view of those outside of academia. Although avant-garde film can be difficult to interpret, this is exactly the point. These techniques and structures differ from dominant modes of representation, and exist to challenge accepted ways of understanding reality.

A less experimental film which is perhaps more accessible to a mainstream audience, and is also amenable to a queer reading is Heavenly Creatures, directed by Peter Jackson. Although the two main characters, Pauline and Juliet, certainly have an intense, sometimes sexual relationship, Jackson employs various techniques to preclude a facile assumption that they are lesbians. Most obviously, during the sex sequences, both girls are shown to be entertaining an overtly heterosexual fantasy. It is unclear whether these fantasies are a defence mechanism, allowing the girls to be intimate with each other without acknowledging the queerness of their desire, or if the characters would truly prefer to have a relationship with a man. Given the importance of fantasy for these two, their heterosexual reveries cannot easily be dismissed. Furthermore, Pauline does pursue a brief liaison with one of her mother's boarders, John; although it is not a particularly pleasurable experience for her, it does not put an end to her heterosexual imaginings.

Within the film, Jackson subtly (and not so subtly) mocks those who attempt to impose interpretations of the girls' relationship, further discouraging any categorization of Pauline and Juliet's identities. For instance, when Juliet's father confronts the Riepers with news of Pauline's "fixation" on Juliet, his announcement is punctuated with overly dramatic thunder and lightning effects which parody the conventions of B-grade horror films. Clearly, he sees Pauline as freakish, even horrifying -- and she hasn't even murdered her mother yet. Following this scene, there is a sequence set in a psychiatrist's office, in which Pauline is declared to be "ho-homosexual." Throughout this scene, the man's Freudian attempts to make sense of the dynamic between Pauline and Juliet ("Do you like your mother, Pauline?") are shown to be completely ridiculous. The audience is expected to laugh at any character who makes assumptions about Pauline and Juliet, and thus may come to question their own conceptions of the girls' relationship.


Fourth Course: Plat

Forbidden Fruit: A side-dish

Risotto with Asparagus and Pine Nuts
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 pound asparagus, trimmed
4-6 cups vegetable stock
1 cup dry white wine,
3 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Toast pine nuts in a medium skillet over medium heat, shaking pan frequently, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and reserve. Pare asparagus stalks up to tips with vegetable parer. Cut asparagus stalks into diagonal half inch pieces; leave tips whole. Reserve. Heat the stock and the wine in a medium saucepan over low heat to simmering.

Meanwhile, heat oil in second medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and sauté, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add rice and stir until coated with oil. Add just enough of the hot stock-wine mixture to cover rice. Simmer uncovered, stirring frequently, until liquid is almost absorbed. Gradually add remaining liquid, 1/2 cup at a time, until rice is tender but firm and mixture is thick and creamy, about 25 minutes. About 10 minutes before rice is finished, stir in asparagus. When rice is finished, remove from heat; stir in pine nuts and cheese (if desired). Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

A Queer Meal: Authorship and representation

If I were to invite a complete stranger over for dinner, would he or she notice the lack of meat and dairy in my food, or recognize that my vegan identity has shaped the meal by guiding my choice of ingredients? Probably not. It is only when my guests know about my veganism that they comment on the food, exclaim over its uniqueness, and marvel at how clever I must be to come up with a whole meal that contains no animal products. Does revealing my identity allow them to pay the right sort of attention to the food, illuminating the subtleties of the flavours and thus increase their appreciation of the meal? Or is it rather a method of further marginalizing my tastes? By overemphasizing the difficulty of preparing a vegan meal, they posit my cooking as radically different from their own; they enjoy the meal that I have prepared, but certainly they could never cook like this.

It would seem quite uncontentious to define a queer film as one which is amenable to a queer reading. The question then arises, however, as to whether knowing the sexual identity of the filmmaker contributes to one's reading of a film as queer. Does the knowledge that a filmmaker has had a same-sex partner lead one to interpret the work differently, to look more closely for hints of that subjectivity which may have been inscribed into the film? How does identity play out in the filmmaking process?

The concept of authorship is a fairly embattled one within feminist and queer film criticism circles. Many have argued that discussing a work in terms of authorship precludes discussion of the collaborative nature of film production, posits the author as self-made and transcendent, and leads to an ascribing of possibly incorrect intentions to the individual. Judith Mayne discusses the suspicious reputation that authorship has acquired "for harboring idealized, untheorized defenses of the fictions of identity" (1991, 177). It is feared that any discussion of female or queer authorship will ultimately degenerate into an upholding of essentialist philosophies which posit the uniqueness and sameness of female- or queer-authored texts. Instead, Mayne would like to define an auteur "less as a creative individual and more as a figure whose imprint on a film is measured by the repetition of sets of oppositions and the network of preoccupations, including unconscious ones" (1990, 95). Thus, knowing the identity of the filmmaker can help one to look for repetitions of theme or structure, which might be a product of that identity.

For instance, in several queer works the filmmaker represents herself visually in the text, rather than remaining a presence behind the camera. Thus, a purely textual analysis will not suffice to get a full grasp on the film ("Why is Barbra Hammer waving at me?"), as the theoretical underpinnings behind lesbian feminist self-representation must be taken into account in order to understand this device. Mayne discusses the ways in which the cinema operates as an arena both of patriarchal exploitation of women and of female self-representation (1990, 102). Female filmmakers who inscribe themselves into their works are foregrounding the self representational aspects of the cinematic endeavour, reinforcing for the audience that this is intended to be a feminist (non-exploitative) or queer project. The filmmaker's identity does have the capacity to change our reading of a film -- for instace, knowing if there is a feminist lesbian or a wealthy pornographer behind the camera alters the meaning of a butch-femme S/M scene. What could be read as a reinforcement of patriarchal modes of power may also be viewed as an exploration of role-playing and female desire.

Biographical information about Dorothy Arzner also changes one's reading of Dance, Girl, Dance and Christopher Strong. Mayne points out that most film critics "stop short of any recognition that sexual identity might have something to do with how [Arzner's] films function" (1990, 104), a denial which erases many meanings that her films might have. A lesbian reading, for instance, provides a whole new way of relating to the film by sexualizing the exchange of looks between female characters.

Looking for thematic continuity can also reveal a desire on the part of the filmmaker to challenge and deconstruct notions of identity. Authorship can serve "as a critical exploration of the very components of subjectivity -- self/other relations, desire, and -- where lesbianism provides the most crucial challenge to theories of the subject -- the relationship between the paradigms of gender and agency" (Mayne 1991, 177). For instance, although the work of Barbara Hammer appears to centre around a fairly essentialized lesbian subject -- most of her films deal with some variation of autobiographical exploration of coming out as a lesbian, reclaiming lesbian history, seeking or building a lesbian community, and celebrating female desire -- all of these preoccupations can be seen as a reflection of a concept of selfhood based on relations with others through time, rather than an idealized autonomy. Thus, a more subtle, queerer, viewing of Hammer's films reveals the deconstruction of the self that she has tucked away inside of her seemingly simple visibility projects.


Fifth Course: Salade Verte

Spinach and Two Tomato Salad
2 bunches of spinach
1 red onion, thinly sliced
3 plum tomatoes, quartered
4 artichoke hearts, quartered
8-10 sundried tomatoes packed in oil
1 tbsp capers

For vinaigrette:

4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp sugar
1 clove garlic, crushed
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Wash, stem, drain spinach and place in a bowl. Prepare vinaigrette. Combine remaining ingredients with spinach. Drizzle vinaigrette, toss and serve immediately.

Tastes of the World: Racing desires
Coming soon.


Sixth Course: Fruit

Optional Fromage

Simple Fruits
1 mango, peeled and sliced
2 pears, halved
slivered almonds

Cut fresh mangoes lengthwise, along the pit. The long, 1/2- to 3/4-inch-thick pit runs the length of the fruit between the two plump cheeks. Cup the mango in your palm, then peel the skin from the flesh with a small, sharp knife. After determining the pit's location, and allowing for its 1/2- to 3/4-inch thickness, cut through the mango lengthwise, down the side of pit, until fleshy cheek is cut off. Do the same for the other side. Cut the remaining fruit from the pit in thin slices.
Dress plate with almonds; arrange fruit on top.

Experimental Chefs: On activism, censorship and S/M Censored. Kidding. This article is on its way.


Seventh Course: Sorbet

Honeydew Granita
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups water
1-3 pounds honeydew melon, chopped
juice of one lime

In a small saucepan combine the sugar and the water and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring. In a blender puree the honeydew flesh with the sugar syrup and the lime juice. Transfer the mixture to a shallow pan and freeze it, stirring and crushing the lumps with a fork every 30 minutes, for two to three hours or until it is firm but not frozen solid. To serve, scrape the granita with a fork to lighten the texture.

On the Shopping List: Consuming pre-packaged representations. Article arriving shortly.


Eighth Course: Dessert


1 1/2 cups margarine
1 lb filo pastry
5 cups ground walnuts
1 cup ground almonds
2 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
3-4 whole cloves
1 stick cinnamon

Melt the margarine. Mix the walnuts, almonds, 1/2 cup of sugar and ground spices together. Grease a 9"x13" pan. Layer in five sheets of filo, coating each with melted margarine. Now alternate layering small handfuls of nuts with two sheets of filo, coating every other sheet. Cut into diamond shape pieces (carefully, with a sharp knife), and bake in a 350 degree (F) oven for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until golden brown.
In a heavy saucepan, heat 1 cup of water, and the remaining 2 cups of sugar, and the whole spices. Bring to a boil over low to medium heat, and then turn down and cook for 15 minutes. When the baklava is done, drizzle with sauce and let stand for a few minutes.

Eating Out, Eating In: Public Sex(ualities)

When the vegan goes out to dine, the public display of her non-normative appetites often provokes a variety of responses. Her tastes are generally taken too seriously ("That's so impressive! How do you manage?!"), too lightly ("Are you sure that you won't have just a little turkey? It's Christmas!"), or are treated as a threat ("You're not going to talk about animal rights while I eat this steak, are you?").
There is the additional headache of navigating often unaccommodating restaurant menus. This is especially problematic while travelling, for one is generally unaware of any local establishments which are sensitive to the needs of a vegan clientele. Sometimes, compromises must be made, and one eats the food which is least likely to contain overtly animal-based ingredients, consoling oneself with the knowledge that compulsory omnivorism can get the best of even the staunchest vegan once in a while. Those rare occasions when one discovers that there is nothing that one can eat without completely disgracing one's claim to vegan-ness can be profoundly traumatizing (I was once brought to tears when I found out that the airline had lost my request for a vegan meal, and was forced to endure a cross-Canada flight sustained by a single bag of peanuts.) Moments such as these are the strongest test of one's commitment to the lifestyle.

Of course, knowing that painful stomach cramps are a likely result of any transgression can be very helpful in maintaining self-control.

Patricia Rozema's film When Night is Falling is structured around two sharply divided realities: that of the queer utopia of the circus, and that of the heterosexual, everyday world of the laundromat, university, and domestic life. The storyline centres around Camille, a professor of mythology at a Calvinist college, who escapes her restrictive job and her engagement to an ambitious theology professor, choosing instead to follow her new lover, Petra, on the road with a circus troupe. The circus (think Cirque du Soleil, not Barnum & Bailey) is represented as a dark, fantastic, and fluidly erotic realm, whereas the straight world is shown to be rigid, bound by custom, and relentlessly anti-sensual. Because of the clear division between queer space and heteronormative space, Camille's decision to retreat from the soullessness of her rather conventional life is not transformative for anyone but herself -- the circus acts as a haven for those who are "different," allowing them to find happiness without demanding that straight society become more accepting. Moreover, the existence of the circus is constantly in jeopardy because of real world concerns such as financial debt; eventually, heteronormativity prevails entirely and the circus is driven out of the city. When the pressure from the outside world becomes too great, the freaks simply move on. The message here is that queers should be satisfied with their precarious, marginalized spaces and communities, but should not expect any drastic alteration of the broader public reality.

In the real "real" world, queers must negotiate public spaces day after day. The division between queer identities and heterosexual identities cannot be neatly drawn, allowing the world to be subdivided into appropriate spaces. This fact is quite distressing for those who would like to preserve their heterosexual privilege, and who really wish that all queer folk would just keep to themselves. For those who are threatened by queerly performed identities, the intrusion of these subjectivities into domestic spaces is the most alarming act of all. Institutions such as the home and the family are seen as so fundamental to one's sense of self that any destabilization of these structures presents a challenge to one's very being -- one cannot even retreat into personal spaces to avoid the onslaught of queer identity. Thus, the public washroom, "a domestic space beyond the home which comes to represent domestic order, or a parody of it, out in the world" (Halberstam 1997, 185) has become a key area of regulation of identity boundaries. This is a very public private space which is particularly accessible to "invasion" by queers (we just have to walk in the door), in a way that a bathroom in a home is not. For men, the regulation of identity in washrooms occurs mainly through police crackdowns on gay bathroom sex, whereas for women the sex-segregated public washroom has become a tool for enforcing sex/gender continuity.

John Greyson's film Urinal is an examination of the practice of gay washroom sex. Greyson examines the long history of this activity, as well as its recent targeting by the state through measures such as police video surveillance and mass arrests. Clearly, allowing queer sexuality to inhabit this public/private space is thought to be a threat to societal good, despite the fact that washroom sex is a particularly victimless crime (I don't think a handjob under the stall divider ever did anyone any harm.) The moral outrage that inevitably accompanies the publicization of a police bust on a public washroom -- outrage that men would perform such "despicable" acts, not outrage over the police's actions, of course -- is particularly strong when so-called "pillars of the community" (for instance, the minister interviewed in Urinal who was busted in small-town Ontario) are caught with their pants down (so to speak.) That seemingly straight men frequently engage in homosex is deeply upsetting to the majority of the public, and thus the surveillance of restrooms is applauded -- as though minimizing the opportunity for transgressing heterosexual identities through anonymous acts of homosex will prevent the social disease of queerness from infecting any more naturally straight men.

Public washrooms have a different meaning for queer women. Judith "Jack" Halberstam writes that

"while men's rest rooms tend to operate as a highly charged sexual space in which sexual interactions can take place, women's rest rooms tend to operate as a arena for the enforcement of gender conformity. In fact, the reason we maintain sex-segregated rest rooms, one might argue, has little to do with a sexual modesty and everything to do with preserving male-only sexual space" (1997, 184)

Thus, while men face regulation of desire in public washrooms, women face enforcement of femininity. The seemingly simple act of using the women's washroom is a source of great frustration for many masculine or androgynous women. Whispers, stares, and even calls to security can be a result of the appearance of gender-bending or -blending women in this sex-segregated space. According to Halberstam, the enforcement of gender norms is even more frequent when people are in transit, especially in airports. She theorizes that this is a result of being in a space "where people are literally moving through space and time in ways that cause them to want to stabilize some boundaries (gender) even as they traverse others (national)" (1997, 184). Because the self is defined in part through one's physical context, when one is separated from familiar, stabilizing structures, one's sense of self too has the potential to become disconcertingly mobile. Those who seek unity within their identities often resort to policing gender boundaries more strictly in order to reassure themselves that their own subjectivities will not suffer a complete breakdown. Since the division of male/female is a primary system of identification for most people, it, above all else, must be defended. The notion that a change of context can act to destablize and deconstruct the biological or natural character of gender and desire is a theme of much queer work. It is particularly important to any reading of Midi Onodera's film Ten Cents a Dance. The images in this film are slightly divided, as though split screened, showing one character in each frame. In each of the three sections -- the first featuring two women, the second two men, and the third a woman and man -- this displacement subtly shifts our view of the encounters between the characters, disrupting the connections that seem to exist between them. The split screen acts to reveal the fictions of identity by highlighting the disjunction between subjects, foregrounding their distance from each other despite their physical proximity. As Judith Mayne writes, "the interplay of screen and frame makes the film's representation of sexuality more a question of what is screened, in both sense of that term, than what is unproblematically visible" (1991, 180).


Ninth Course: Coffee & Digestif

Cranberry Biscotti

4 tbsp Cointreau
1/2 cup margarine
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup dried cranberries
2/3 cup whole almonds

Cream margarine and sugar. Beat in the water, Cointreau, baking powder, and salt. Add flour, cranberries and nuts. On a greased baking sheet shape the dough into a loaf 3/4 inch high and 3 inches wide. Bake in a 325 F oven for 35 minutes. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then remove loaf from baking sheet and cut 3/4 inch slices. Place slices on a cookie sheet. Return to oven for 20 minutes or until just starting to turn golden. Cool and store in air tight container.
Serve with coffee or espresso.

Sweet Seductions: Afterthoughts

The shifting of appetites over the course of a life -- from childhood omnivorism to adult vegetarianism -- is often taken as evidence that vegetarianism, like those inclinations that preceded it, is "only a phase." In order to justify one's vegetarian tastes, both to oneself and to disapproving omnivores, a story of origins is necessary. One's memories are reorganized and reinterpreted in order to produce the effect of an inescapable vegetarianism -- for instance, a former love for double quarter-pounders with cheese becomes only a memory of fatty satiation, a disgusting greasiness that lingered in the mouth and belly. Favourite vegetable dishes shine like beacons through the darkness of youthful omnivorism, while late night snacks of frozen hotdogs and turkey sandwiches dipped in gravy are dismissed as laughably inconsequential. One is reassured that vegetarianism is an essential part of one's self; that it was always lurking behind the imposed facade of meat-eating, awaiting recognition and embrace.
An exploration of personal history, or the history of an identified-with group, has always been an important task for marginalized subjects who seek to vaunt their liminality rather than pursue mainstream acceptance. After uncovering historical events and cultural forces that may have shaped one's sense of self or social position, the magic of cause and effect may be enlisted to demonstrate the inevitability of one's current identity. A sense of certainty and stability is produced through this recreation of the past; a mystical sense of fated subjectivity is constructed to counter any disapproving attitudes that one might encounter. Identity is not stable, however, and as subjectivity shifts and fragments in response to various experiences, one's story about the past must be revised so that it continues to "explain" and justify the present. This search for a personal history of identity is the central focus of Su Friedrich's Hide and Seek.

Following the opening credits, a head-and-shoulders shot of a woman -- presumably an interview subject -- fills the screen. She begins speaking to the camera, and her words are clearly meant to inform the rest of the tape. "After I found out that it was wrong," she says, "there had to be a reason to do it then. We had to develop a story around it, because you couldn't just do it anymore and it couldn't just happen. We had to develop a story." In this case the story had to do with explaining her sexual play with a young friend when they were children -- at the time, the girls would pretend to be Davy Jones (of Monkees fame) and one of his girlfriends, taking a weekend vacation. This heterosexual narrative allowed the girls to justify in their own minds their transgressive behaviour -- hidden behind this blandly acceptable disguise, the girls' desire flourished, unnoticed by parental figures or their own consciences. A story not only acts to conceal undesirable motivations, but can also reveal or even produce motivations that connect fragmented memories into a coherent sequence. The story of origins is particularly important in this regard. In Hide and Seek, several of the voiceover sections consist of interviewees reflecting on various theories of the cause of lesbianism/homosexuality/queerness/what-have-you, such as the gay gene theory, which would confer the status of scientific inevitability on queerness; being treated or acting like a boy; fantasies about or crushes on other girls; and so on. These voices are accompanied by black and white montages of various film clips and photographs, include old, presumably scientific, footage of chimpanzees dressed in baby clothes, psychology videos from the 1940s and 50s about childhood development, educational videos about sexuality from the same time period, and snapshots of young girls. The reminisces are grouped roughly by theme in order to highlight their fragmentation; the participants are not allowed to present their life stories as narratives, only as bits that work with and against the words of others, producing a complex and unsynthesized record of dissimilar childhoods and subjectivities. These musings are interspersed within a fictionalized depiction of a young girl's life (perhaps Friedrich's), and both illuminate and obfuscate the girl's experiences as a not-yet-lesbian. Lou's vague awareness of her sexuality is delicately handled by Friedrich, and the confusion and formless anguish she evinces juxtaposes nicely with the self-assurance of the interviewees.

Friedrich's earlier work, Sink or Swim also deals with the theme of history, although a more specific one. Her aim is less a reinterpretive endeavour of narrative construction, and more an attempt to locate the pieces of a past that have shaped an individual. Various recollected experiences are presented, not as a story, but as fragments that relate (sometimes obliquely) to intertitles which proceed in reverse-alphabetical order. Although the voiceover is framed in third person pronouns, it is clear that this is a very personal history for Friedrich. The use of ‘she' rather than ‘I' allows viewers to identify with the sequences, and also gives Friedrich enough distance to view her own past with at least a modicum of dispassion. She says, in an interview, "the point of the film is not to have people know about me; it's to have them think about what we all experience during childhood, in differing degrees" (Friedrich in MacDonald 1992, 309). This would seem to include the casual brutality of the conventional nuclear family (MacDonald 1992, 288), the pain of divorce and absent, abusive fathers, and unequal power relations between parents and children, as well as husbands and wives. These individual vignettes (which are connected through the subjectivity of the filmmaker) are accompanied by black and white film clips which relate intuitively to the spoken and written words, lending them meanings that they alone would not be able to convey. No single message can be derived from the film as a whole; Friedrich refuses to impose a monolithic meaning on her past for the viewers' easy consumption. And yet, this is a deeply moving film.

Parent/child power relations are also examined in Julie Zando's Let's Play Prisoners. In this tape, Zando examines how the dynamic of (dominant) mother and (submissive) child continues to structure sexual relationships as an adult. Chris Straayer sees the basic argument of the film as: "dominance and submission originate in the mother-child relationship, in the mother's power over the child and the child's attempts to differentiate from her mother" (1996, 121). As Zando presents it, the maternal relationship can be seen to shape the ego of the individual, and engenders "a struggle between neediness and independence in the child that extends into adult intimacy" (Straayer 1996, 122). Still, one must ask oneself whether Zando's "exploration" of childhood is that of a detached, neutral observer (is there such a thing?), or if it is an attempt to centre and justify her current mode of interaction and/or psychological makeup. Would those unfamiliar with Freudian discourse necessarily remember their childhoods as embattled quests for individuality? I have seen in myself the way that exposure to a new theory of identity makes my self reformulate and reconfigure, and have noticed how my understanding of my past shifts concurrently. Memory is notoriously fickle, and the pieces that filter through one's consciousness are neither particularly coherent nor untainted by present viewpoints. How much trust should we put in any representation of the past, for does it not merely serve the interests of the present and future?



Dyer, Richard. 1993. The Matter of Images: Essays on Representation. New York : Routledge.

Halberstam, Judith. 1997. "Techno-homo: on bathrooms, butches, and sex with furniture." In Processed Lives: Gender and Technology in Everyday Life, Jennifer Terry and Melodie Calvert (eds). New York : Routledge, pp.184-193.

MacDonald, Scott. 1992. "Su Friedrich." In A Critical Cinema 2: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, pp. 283-318.

Mayne, Judith. 1991. "A Parallax View of Lesbian Authorship." In Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories. New York: Routledge, pp.173-185.

McHugh, Kathleen. 1997. "Irony and Dissembling: Queer Tactics for Experimental Documentary." In Between the Sheets, In the Streets: Queer, Lesbian, and Gay Documentary, Chris Holmlund and Cynthia Fuchs (eds). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp.224-240.

Straayer, Chris. 1996. "Queer Theory, feminist Theory: Grounds for Rhetorical Figures." In Deviant Eyes, Deviant Bodies: Sexual Re-orientations in Film and Video. New York: Columbia University Press, pp.102-159.


Christopher Strong (USA, 1993), Dorothy Arzner.

Damned if You Don't (USA, 1987), Su Friedrich.

Dance Girl, Dance (USA, 1940), Dorothy Arzner.

Heavenly Creatures (New Zealand, 1994) Peter Jackson.

Hide and Seek (USA, 1996), Su Friedrich.

J'ai Faim, J'ai Froid (Belgium, 1984), Chantal Akerman.

Je, tu, il, elle (Belgium, 1974), Chantal Akerman.

Let's Play Prisoners (USA, 1988), Julie Zando.

Madchen In Uniform (Germany, 1931), Leontine Sagan.

Me and Rubyfruit (USA, 1990), Sadie Benning.

Nitrate Kisses (USA, 1992), Barbara Hammer.

Sink or Swim (USA, 1990), Su Friedrich.

Ten Cents a Dance (Parallax) (Canada, 1986), Midi Onodera.

Urinal (Canada, 1988), John Greyson.

When Night Is Falling (Canada, 1995), Patricia Rozema.
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