Forum: Sexuality in Middle-earth

Discussing: Queer discourse, gender politics, and fanfics

Queer discourse, gender politics, and fanfics

For the sake of our poor, abused dial-up lines (and certain DSL lines *kicks SBC Yahoo*), I'm opening a new thread. Please feel free to repost or link to old posts as needed in order to preserve some sense of continuity. There's a hyperlinks tutorial that will tell you how to link to specific posts--just click on the link when you hit "reply". This thread started in "What *is* slash?" with Queer Discourse and Gender Politics, allecto's response to a question of what kinds of connections might exist between slash and RL views about homosexuality, so those wanting to see the whole thing should start there.



Re: Queer discourse, gender politics, and fanfics

Spindle Berry wrote (in response to Gwynnyd, whose words are bolded): But even the most generous estimates still put it at under 20% and most surveys put it at under 10%. Given those figures, no more than one of the Fellowship should be gay. And in a truly 'real' situation, the probabilities are that none of them would be. Oh dear, please don't get me started on a discussion about 'reality'. Since I could go on for far too long, I'll just make a couple of points. 1) What we consider to be 'real' is always going to be subjective to some extent, defined by what our own experiences of reality have been and what we have been brought up to expect and accept of reality. 2) Our perceptions of reality are usually based on a huge number of submerged ideologies - religious beliefs, philosphical ideas, political agendas, ingrained sociological conditioning. I guess that all I can say in response to your comments is that my perceptions of reality are somewhat different, and that I would ask what or whose reality a figure like 10% is serving rather than accepting it as evidence of what is. I always get somewhat twitchy and suspicious about how we should react to claim two. Not in terms of the question of accepting or rejecting it—I think it has been definitively proved that it is true, and that most people accept this claim to a degree, even if inconsistently depending on our prior commitments and experience. It's more a question of how we are then to make good use of it in a manner that doesn't simply allow for *anything* to go. I keep having visions of monads dancing in my head, as we all spin in a frictionless vacuum--the very essence of ideology. So the basic question I would want to have answered is this: in this specific case of well-publicized statistics about the percentage of people who could be classed as homosexual on average, how do you negotiate between the statistical data itself and the ideological purpose towards which it is put? The important question, you claim, is the latter one concerning political agendas, and in one sense, I agree. In another, though, I would want a more substantive engagement with the statistics themselves, something that gives me reason to think that the political question prevails because the 'facts' themselves are significantly misleading. I'm not a queer theorist or well-versed in the literature, here, and am much more likely to have only such views as have filtered beyond academia and inflitrated popular perceptions. I suspect this is so for most of us. So can you point me towards some good references that might answer my question, as you did before? In other words, do go on.



Re: Queer discourse, gender politics, and fanfics

I'm not a queer theorist or well-versed in the literature, here, and am much more likely to have only such views as have filtered beyond academia and inflitrated popular perceptions. I suspect this is so for most of us. So can you point me towards some good references that might answer my question, as you did before? Well, I should probably start off by saying that I am in no way an expert on statistics, and that I'm usually always distrustful of them to some extent, regardless of whether I agree with what they're saying or not. As for some sources...there's a book by a R.W. Connell - a leading sociologist - called 'Masculinities' (1995). It's very well known. He interviews men across a range of economic, social and sexual backgrounds, and one thing that I found very interesting was that almost all of the men (regardless of how they defined their sexuality) admitted to having some same sex sexual experience at some point in their lives. Obviously the conclusion isn't that all of them are 'gay', it's more that human sexuality is capable of being quite fluid but is taught by social forces to focus its sexual energies in particular directions (i.e. towards people of the opposite sex). Most other books and articles I've read on the subject have been specifically about Australian masculinity, and probably wouldn't be readily available outside of my country, but I know that 'Masculinities' is a text often used and referenced worldwide. Since my research interests at the moment are focusing on masculinity, I can't point out a similar reference that explores the construction of female sexuality. The American author Shere Hite has published a number of famus reports, one of the more recent ones being on the Family (1994). That has some discussion of women's perceptions of lesbianism and their engagement (or lack thereof) with sexual experiences with other women. There's also a book which came out in 2004 called 'Intimate Friends: Women Who Loved Women (1778-192'. If focuses on European middle-class women, many of whom were married, who also developed emotional/sexual relationships with other women. I haven't gotten around to reading this yet, so I can't guarantee its critical worth. Judith Butler's 'Gender Trouble' (1990) is also worth reading for a discussion of the fluidity of sexual identities, though I'm inclined to disagree with her idea that queer relationships are the answer to the problem of heterosexual constructions of 'male' and 'female' since many queer relationships unfortunately fall into the habit of imitating heterosexual 'masculine' and 'feminine' behaviours. And getting back to the original claim that only one or none of the fellowship would be 'gay'...well, yes, it's likely that in the type of reality Tolkien constructed they wouldn't define themselves as 'gay'. Or more accurately, they wouldn't have defined themselves as being only sexually attracted to men, since the word 'gay' as we understand it now has only been in use since the 1970s. However, if you want to adhere to realism where you have a bunch of men together in a military situation then consider a condition the Australian Army has invented called 'emergency homosexuality' - i.e. men on the front lines having sex with each other because there are no women readily available, and the feminisation and rape of male prisoners of war that often happens. Men who commit these acts define themselves as heterosexual, and yet... On a related note, if academic texts aren't your thing I highly recommend reading 'Giovanni's Room' (1956) by James Baldwin. It's a novel, quite short, set in Paris in the 1950s that looks at how a sexual and emotional relationship between two men is ultimately destroyed by the pressures of heterosexual reality. Be warned: it's very sad.



Re: Queer discourse, gender politics, and fanfics

My understanding of queer theory rest upon the firm belief that masculinity and femininity are socially constructed ideologies. That there is no essential difference between what it is to be male and what it is to be female other than the physical. If there is no essential difference between the two and if we accept that sexual relationships are based on more than just the physical then sexuality itself must be fluid. Most studies in sexual politics and queer theory undermine any idea that there is a firm line between straight and gay or male and female. In my own experience, the two are not able to be rigidly defined or oppositional. Spindle Berry pointed to the term 'emergency homosexuality'. This phenomenon exists in a variety of settings, not just the war zone. (Prisons, convict colonies etc.) It is also referred to as conditional homosexuality. This also exists between women. In countries like Saudi Arabia where women have absolutely no political or social power, many attempt to reject men and pursue homosexual relationships (Daughters of Arabia, Jean S. Sassoon). This obviously happens in Western countries as well. Women who are attracted to men, marry domestically violent parners and when they escape they begin to conduct relationships with female partners. Most people call this 'turning gay' but I thik it is proof of the fluid nature of sexuality. I would argue that if we operate with our present understanding of what it means to be straight, emergency homosexuality could not exist. However, the fact that 'heterosexual' men and women are able to practice homosexual acts problematises our nice neat little 10% box that we use to fence in our queers. Books? I love books. 'Sexual Politics' by Kate Millet is a book I have found useful in understanding how ond why our sexual perception is shaped to maintain the dominance of hegemonic masculinity. 'A Passion for Friends: towards a philosophy of female friendship' by Janice Raymond is an interesting book which examines homosocial bonds between women. (you have to be willing to ignore the separatist lesbian propaganda) Novels? I too love Giovanni's Room. Books by Jeanette Winterson are always interesting for their fluid portrayal of sexuality. Jean Genette was a French playwright and novelist who examined the destructive nature of the feminine and masculine constructions in his portrayal of homosexual male relationships. If you are Australian, try to get access to anything written by Christos Tsiolkas. (Loaded, The Jesus Man, Dead Europe) There are too many texts and novels that have helped to shape my understanding of the social construction of sex. The great majority of them are books like Lord of the Rings. In constructing a world in which women are powerless you must necessarily construct a world where things associated with the feminine are weak and inferior. In doing so homosocial bonds between men are a structural part of the patriarchal institution. These trends exist in so much of our pop culture that we tend to be blind to them. It's funny that homosocial sexuality is so common it's almost invisible.



Re: Queer discourse, gender politics, and fanfics

This post is in response to the entire what is slash/queer discourse thread.
The thing about fanfic that strikes me, a novice, is that its pleasure is not just from writing about characters you're already enamoured of, but that it imposes restrictions on what you can say about those characters. However, if you don't write something original, it is completely uninteresting. I haven't really enjoyed the fanfics I have read that just delved a little deeper into what we already knew the characters were thinking and relived those precious moments in slow motion.

Therefore, good fanfic is all about transgressing boundaries, and I think that provides a direct, though not necessary, link to portraying same-sex relationships. It's pleasurable to have good guys do something bad (and vice-versa), it's pleasurable to think "what if this one thing was different (but everything else was the same), and it's pleasurable to put the characters in a situation where they are sexual with someone they're not supposed to be sexual with. It's not just the thrill of the sexually forbidden, which also provides RL titillation, it is also the thrill transgressing the boundaries of the particular universe in a way that is convincing.

But the trick is to pick your boundaries, right? A story where you throw out too many of the restrictions of Tolkein's universe is also not interesting (some would say irritating!) because in part we rely on having some of those boundaries in place to establish a common definition of just what is going on. So if someone writes a story (parodies excepted) where everyone is homosexual, it's not much fun to read not just because it's implausible in that it doesn't reflect RL, but because it rejects too much of the common ground of the fanfic universe. It's cheating. It violates the form.

So I think that fanfic is inherently subversive, not just when it portrays same-sex eroticism, but in that it is based on playing with boundary transgressions within limits, and that is a form of queer politics (though not a radical one - here I'm thinking of an example such as the controversy within the GLBT community over supporting the legalization of gay marriage) because it asks us to see these boundaries as transgressible, without asking us to completely deconstruct our lives or take revolutionary action. I hope I'm not overstating the point!




Re: Queer discourse, gender politics, and fanfics

I think one of the problems in LotR is the fact that the world the characters live in would not tolerate homosexual behaviour. This influences the actions of the characters. They would never admit it to themselves and try to ignore it. They would marry and pretend to be happy even if they do not love their partner.

One of the points is that in admitting your feelings you would lose your honour, a very important thing especially for humans - who I think would be most likely to be affected.  You just do not want to lose it. I do not think it would be a problem for the Eldar or the Hobbits, but men are a fallen race.

I do not think you would ever see a man comming to another and saying: "Um, I have something to tell you, I love you." It is just not done. If it were to happen, it would most likely come spontaneously out of the situation the two characters find themselves in. Like e.g. on a long and otherwise lonely ranger patrol with none else around to see and point at them. They will want to make sure that none else find out about it. Because it is just not done.

I especially liked Dwim's to the point Rule of the Road: "Do not bring it home, where your families can see it, where your wife (or your lover's wife) might see it."




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