the body

Rise Like a Pheonix

In 2014 the Eurovision Song Contest was won by Conchita Wurst from Austria.  Conchita Wurst is the drag persona of Tom Neuwirth.  “Conchita” is Spanish slang for vulva / vagina and “Wurst” is German slang for penis.

The Eurovision Contest is known for its eccentricity and gay representations are not new, but Wurst’s performance was particularly unique.  Though wearing long, curled hair, full makeup, and a beautiful gown all culturally signifying female, she also had a full beard, a secondary sex characteristic associated with males.

The song “Rise Like a Phoenix” holds additional meaning when sung by Wurst.  The lyrics “Peering from the mirror  No, that isn’t me  Stranger getting nearer  Who can this person be  You wouldn’t know me at all today” and “Once I’m transformed  Once I’m reborn I rise up to the sky  You threw me down but I’m gonna fly  And rise like a phoenix” can all be read as referencing gender ambiguity or transformation.  Neuwirth has stated “Conchita Wurst” is his drag persona and he does not identify as transgender, though, like many drag queens, uses ‘she’ pronouns when in character.  Wurst’s genderqueer performance was attacked by the Russian Orthodox church as an “abomination” and Vladimir Putin as “aggressive” because non traditional gender identity was “put…up for show”.

In her acceptance speech, Wurst stated “This night is dedicated to everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom.  You know who you are.  We are unity and we are unstoppable.”

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Having ‘Juice’ and Being ‘Hard’

In Code of the Streets, Elijah Anderson discusses how poverty, racism, fallout from drugs, and a lack of faith in the criminal justice system in inner cities have resulted in alienation.  The code of the street is a set of informal rules governing interpersonal behavior that act as a framework for obtaining and maintaining respect or “juice.”  The code creates an alternative status system whereby respect is hard won and easily lost.  The presentation of self, such as facial expressions, body language, manner of dress, and word use can signal intentions.  Ignorance of the rules are no excuse; everyone is expected to know the code and behave in the prescribed manner.  

In Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, Byron Hurt talks to academics and rappers about representations of masculinity and violence in rap music.  Though the documentary is a bit older (2006), the content is still relevant.  In an interview, rapper Fat Joe talks about how even at music industry events and in night clubs, everyone feels the need to present themselves as “hard.”  Later, rapper Mos Def talks about growing up as a black man you “don’t want nobody taking you for short…but when shit got critical, you can’t be no punk…and you will get tested.”  Hurt also includes discussion of the need for poor men who lack financial power to have control over their bodies and be able to present themselves as deserving of respect.

The Risk podcast, episode 510 “Impulsive,” featured a story called “Judgment Day” by J.J. about his experience coming from inner city poverty, going to college, and returning home to visit.  The storyteller gets in an altercation with a man from the neighborhood and comes very close to killing the man as retaliation for hurting his pride.

Kink Camp

The most notorious episodes of the Risk podcast are probably the ones where host, Kevin Allison, talks about kink camp.  

In number 229 “Kevin Goes to Kink Camp 1” and number 230 “Kevin Goes to Kink Camp 2” Kevin walks the listener through his first experience of kink camp and what it is like to be a gay man at a primarily heterosexual orgy.

In episode number 828 “Make Believe,” Kevin tells a story called “The Whiz Kid” about his return to kink camp where he participated in “water sports” or urine play.  

Don’t Touch My Hair

Don’t Touch My Hair by Solange featuring Sampha, addressing complexities around black hair.

lyrics from azlyrics.com

Don’t touch my hair
When it’s the feelings I wear
Don’t touch my soul
When it’s the rhythm I know
Don’t touch my crown
They say the vision I’ve found
Don’t touch what’s there
When it’s the feelings I wear

They don’t understand
What it means to me
Where we chose to go
Where we’ve been to know
They don’t understand
What it means to me
Where we chose to go
Where we’ve been to know

You know this hair is my shit,
rode the ride, I gave it time
But this here is mine
You know this hair is my shit,
rode the ride, I gave it time
But this here is mine

[Solange & Sampha:]
What you say, oh
What you say to me [x8]

Don’t touch my pride
They say the glory’s all mine
Don’t test my mouth
They say the truth is my sound

They don’t understand
What it means to me
Where we chose to go
Where we’ve been to know
They don’t understand
What it means to me
Where we chose to go
Where we’ve been to know

You know this hair is my shit,
rode the ride, I gave it time
But this here is mine
You know this hair is my shit,
rode the ride, I gave it time
But this here is mine

[Solange & Sampha:]
What you say, oh
What you say to me [x8]

[Solange & Sampha:]
What you say to me [x16]

Paris Burning and/or Burnt

The documentary Paris is Burning is a particularly important record of LGTQ people of color in New York in the 1980s.  More specifically, the film is about the ballroom subculture, made up primarily of young, disenfranchised LGTQ POC gathering to “walk” and dance (where “voguing” comes from) in costume.  The film has had a lasting impact on current vernacular, such as “shade,” “kiki,” and “realness.”

There was controversy after the documentary around compensation and how the project was represented by Jennie Livingston.  The subjects of the documentary lived difficult lives in poverty and the film ended with the murder of Venus Xtravaganza.  The resulting question is for documentary film makers as it is for ethnographers – When your career is based in the lives of your subjects, what do you owe them?  How might you change their lives by making them famous while they still live in poverty?

The discord around the film reoccured around the 2015 Celebrate Brooklyn screening of Paris is Burning, which was to be accompanied by Jennie Livingston and DJ’ed by JD Samson, both of whom are white queer people.  No people of color or representatives from the continuing ballroom scene were invited.  Attention was quickly drawn to the silencing of people of color around their own stories and parallels to ongoing gentrification in Brooklyn.  A change.org petition declaring “#ParisIsBurnt” was started calling for canceling the event.  Ultimately Samson dropped out and ballroom participants who appeared in the documentary were invited to participate.

This year the documentary Kiki was released and has drawn parallels to Paris is Burning, though the director seems to have taken a more collaborative approach and learned from Livingston’s mistakes.  It looks at the contemporary ballroom subculture, the importance of DIY, and activism.

Contraception & Sex Education

Though adolescent fertility rates have declined in the United States as well as nearly all western countries, the US rate is notably higher than most other western countries.  These changes are not due to how early and how frequently teenagers have sex.  Instead studies show contraception use and sex education have a significantly greater impact.

Unlike some other countries, the United States currently requires women to have an exam and receive a prescription before going to a pharmacy to get birth control pills.  In addition, conservative politicians and companies have pushed to not require coverage of contraception, with some arguing it will entice sexual activity.  Amy Schumer has parodied this process here as well as the following clip.

As to sex education, it is inconsistently offered and when available parents are able to opt out.