In case you don’t obsessively read all of the professional gay blogs (they’re all listed in my blog roll in the middle of the page as “gay blogs”) then you may not be up on the controversy du jour among the fags online: Donnie Davies and his band Evening Service’s video “The Bible Says” and their ex-gay ministry Love God’s Way. Here’s the Technorati search.
Before I saw the video, I read a bunch of posts on how horrible and shocking and evil the song was. The refrain: “God hates a fag…” And how it proves how horrible and evil the Christian Right is. Then I saw the video. And the websites. It is so, so, so clearly satire. And brilliant satire at that. The night that I was Donnie Davies-obsessed was also the night that I was reading feminist theorizing on the body for my phenomenological anthropology class. It was sort like that old Reese’s advertisement when the chocolate bar and the peanut jar crash into each other. You got an ex-gay in my phenomenology! And so, I ended up writing my weekly 4 to 5 page paper (ugh) on the phenomenology of gaydar and the use of parody in feminist activist theory. Of course, I have posted the paper after the jump. I’m probably going to some sort of academic hell for writing it. (FYI: I did it very quickly.)
“So if you’re a fag, He hates you, too”:
Donnie Davies, the phenomenology of gaydar, and the feminist call for parody
Over the last several days, various gay bloggers have been linking to a music video of Donnie Davies and his band Evening Service performing their song “The Bible Says.” Filmed like a cross between a video of a run-of-the-mill country artist and a 1980s arena rock band like Night Ranger, it was full of images of Donnie praying, raising his arms like Jesus, and singing with a little too much gusto to appear to be “cool.” It looks like a Christian rock video. What most bloggers and their readers objected was the song’s refrain: “God hates a fag / God hates fags / God hates fags / So if you’re a fag, He hates you, too.” Before I saw the video, I read a number of posts about how deeply offensive the song and the Donnie were, how this proves how hateful the Religious Right could be. But then someone noticed that it was a little too over-the-top; it seemed like parody. Last night, there were nearly 200 comments on the popular gay blog JoeMyGod debating whether or not it was satire. Joe himself wrote, “I mean, COME ON, take a swishy bear [“bear” is gay slang for a husky, often hairy, gay man] in a PINK shirt and have him sing about fighting homo temptation? It’s GOLD, Jerry! And the line ‘To enter heaven, there’s no backdoor’? Priceless” (2007). For some the hints of satire were in the double entendre of the lyrics, but for others it was the way that Donnie moved, his gestures, his way-of-being that made him seem, well, gay. (Though this latter observance would not necessarily mean that he was joking, considering that he states on his website that he is a “reformed” homosexual.) Because I have been reading feminist theorizing on the body all week, I thought, well, yes, Donnie moves gay-ly; our interpretation, my interpretation that he is gay, that he cannot be anything but gay, arises out of culturally, historically embedded notions of the male and female body, notions that have only somewhat changed (even if they have been complicated) by the feminist intervention.
First, let’s look at a possible reason for why so many self-identified gay viewers—gay bloggers and their gay readers—would so readily identify “gay” behavior. If we take for granted Sheets-Johnstone’s belief that “movement forms the I that moves before the I that moves forms movement” (1999:138, italics in the original) as well as Foucault’s that “Discipline produces subjected and practiced bodies, ‘docile bodies'” (1975:138), then we can theorize that certain behaviors, certain ways-of-being can be unconsciously learned or appropriated before a conscious understanding of the cultural connotations of that behavior. Boys who grow up to self-identify as gay often over-identify with their mothers. (Freud thought that an overbearing mother and a distant father caused a child to become gay, but most psychologists now believe that it is a child’s inherent gayness, whatever that might be, that scares the father into withdrawal; the mother smothers as overcompensation.) Effeminacy, the “feminine” behavior of men, can then be taken as behavior that is appropriated by the child by copying the behavior of his mother. The mother is not deliberately disciplining him to behave as she does, but her constant presence is nevertheless de facto discipline. Sheets-Johnstone says that we move before we think we can move. Effeminacy, then, except when done deliberately as camp, as it often is in Western gay culture, is an unconscious habitus-like movement, mimicry of “feminine” behavior. Once they reach adulthood, most gay men are keenly aware of how their behavior is interpreted. In order to pass, we will consciously sublimate whatever seems to be feminine in our movement and our speech; we become “the I that moves forms movement.” This constant policing of our behavior makes us particularly observant of effeminacy in others. Hence “gaydar.”
One of the projects of the original gay rights movement (not the current, mainstreaming assimilationist movement) was the de-tabooing of effeminacy and the deconstruction of the hostility to the effeminacy of gay men. Effeminacy is upsetting and taboo because it is a merging of female behavior with the male body. As Mary Douglas theorized 40 years ago in Purity and Danger (1966), “uncleanness is matter out of place” (40). Thus: Homosexuality (re: effeminacy) is disgusting. This attitude is based on a highly essentialist view of the innateness of the male and female, a Cartesian dualism embedded in modern philosophy and belief. As Grosz writes, “Dichotomous thinking necessarily hierarchizes and ranks the two polarized terms so that one becomes the privileged term and the other its suppressed, subordinated, negative counterpart” (1994:4). Male behavior is considered rational, while female behavior is emotional. Mixing the male body with female behavior is disconcerting. (And as Irigary says in “Any Theory of the ‘Subject,’ it is this disconcerting-ness that can be revolutionary. It is “better to speak only in riddles…” she writes. And she does. (143)) These attitudes are not only used against homosexuals and homosexual behavior but also against men who show themselves as “feminine.” Men who are nurturing (like women), who cry (like women), who react emotionally (like women) are seen a weak, unfit, unmanly. Grosz explains,
Relying on essentialism, naturalism and biologism, misogynist thought confines women to the biological requirements of reproduction…women are somehow more biological, more corporeal, and more natural than men. The coding of femininity with corporeality in effect leaves men free to inhabit what they (falsely) believe is a purely conceptual order while at the same time enabling them to satisfy their (sometimes disavowed) need for corporeal contact through their access to women’s bodies and services. (14)
And from where do our notions of femininity come? Kristeva shows that at least some (if not most) come from the Christian idolatry of Mary, of the belief that women must be Mary, the virgin mother. Maternal behavior is what is correct for women.
Irigaray’s call for an ethics of sexual difference, for a renewed sense of “wonder” of the other sex (“Sexual Difference,” 13), would not solve the problem. It keeps the binary that, as Grosz writes, “hierarchizes and ranks.” As Weiss explains, “What Grosz is calling for… is more of an ethics of sexual differences rather than an Irigarayan ethics of sexual difference. The former suggest that there are an infinite number of ways for sexual difference to be establish and express, the latter invokes (however unintentionally) a more monolithic, binary conception of sexual difference” (1999:84). Weiss later contends that we need “new morphological fantasies in order to combat self-imposed as well as socially imposed limitations on our own body images” (86). This is reminiscent of Judith Butler’s call for making gender trouble (in Gender Trouble), for disrupting notions of gender performance (and therefore gendered being), through drag (1990). It is the disconcerting-ness that causes people to question, to become “the I that moves forms movement.” She advocates parody of gender performance as activism. Donnie Davies is, probably unknowingly, taking up Weiss and Butler’s call. Just this morning, the busy bloggers found a picture of someone who looks exactly like Davies on the website of a talent agency. “Davies” is a professional comedic actor. His parody of a “reformed homosexual” and Christian bigot, possibly unknowingly, does exactly what Weiss and Butler desire: subversion, disruption of performance, a “[recognition and affirmation of] the power of individual agency in the construction of, deconstruction, and reconstruction of the very terms of corporeality” (ibid).
- Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge.
- Davies, Donnie and Evening Standard. 2007. “The Bible Says.” Music video. www.eveningservice.com.
- Douglas, Mary. 1966. Purity and Danger: An analysis of the concepts of pollution and taboo. New York: Routledge.
- Grosz, Elizabeth. 1994. Volatile Bodies: Toward a corporeal feminism. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University.
- Irigaray, Luce. 1985 (1974). ”Any Theory of the ’Subject’ Has Always Been Appropriated by the ’Masculine.’” In Speculum: Of the other woman, trans. Gilllian C. Gill, 133-146. Cornell, NY: Cornell University.
- Irigaray, Luce. 1991 (1984). ”Sexual Difference.” In The Irigaray Reader, ed. M. Whitford, 165-177. Oxford: Blackwell.
- Jervis, Joe. 2007. “God Hates Fags: The Musical.” Joe. My. God. January 23. http://joemygod.blogspot.com/2007/01/god-hates-fags-musical_23.html.
- Sheets-Johnstone, Maxine. 1990. The Primacy of Movement. Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
- Weiss, Gail. 1998. Body Images: Embodiment as intercorporeality. New York: Routledge.