The Gender Roles Prescribed in the Ballroom: Female Masculinity

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Realness is the state of things as they exist and being authentic. The term “realness, “comes from the gay world of the 1970′s and is defined as the ability to blend in as heterosexual or of the opposite sex. The possibility of self-affirmation among people of like minds is more subtle, and so realness is exhibited as being faithful to one’s inner person without considering what the world thinks (Bailey 378). For members of the ballroom community, two main functions are served by realness. First, it confirms the criteria upon which the group is judged. Secondly, it acts as a pointer through which the achievements of the members and self-presentation strive in the runway family at the ball events. Judging of the categories is done in groups based on criteria that are associated with realness, and the ballroom calls it realness categories or realness kids referring to members who walk them (Bailey 380). Common groups of realness kids include; schoolboy realness, femme queen realness, butch realness, and executive realness. The criteria of realness are enacted by how the body is revealed and executed within visual epistemology, as commonly referred to by Robyn Wiegman. Realness is, in part, established through tropes of masculinity and femininity. Levin illustrates this point by explaining the reason why she is not ready to walk the “femme queen body realness” group, because “all I got is my implants now; I got to get the rest” (Bailey 380). Levin later concluded that all she needed was a vagina in order to be successful in the realness body category. Ballroom culture offers further cultural significance because they consider the possibilities for constructing biological sex and sexual subjectivities. There is, therefore, room for a queer person to choose one of the few categories of sexuality, which includes lesbianism, bisexual and gayism.

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“In the late 19th century, ‘queer’ came to use in the spirit of gay pride as it was a term used to refer to ladylike men and men who were thought to have engaged in same-sex relationships”. Queer time has been used as an umbrella term for gender minorities to escape ill-treatment and discrimination. In Jack Halberstam’s book, “he sees Queerness as an outcome of strange temporalities, imaginative life schedules, and odd economic practices”. Furthermore, queer lives are evident for their lack of “homonormativity,” starting in early childhood. Since the 1920s, subculture has been an essential subject of study, as uncommon subcultures have a relationship to old subcultures such as punk. According to Birmingham University Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies subcultures can be categorized as class specific (Halberstam 322). Sexuality plays a vital role in the cultural expression of an individual. In most cases, the queer sub-cultural voiced together with their cultural products have been often used in heterosexual narratives. In Queer Time and Place: Halberstam book of Transgender Bodies and Sub-cultural Lives, it is against the Birmingham School’s approach to engage in sub-cultural synthesis. M.C. Robbie confronts the concept of “the possibility of escaping the oppressive aspect of adolescent heterosexuality in youth culture” (Halberstam 321). The boundaries between cultural producers and theorists may be least permeable since most sub-cultural theories are geared towards describing male adolescent heterosexual activity.

Halberstam suggests that in order to understand queer subculture, there should be new ways of thinking about subculture and study extended outside the heterosexuality limits. To be more specific, “she implies a lot still needs to be done to theorize the idea of the archive in queer subcultures. Because of their ephemeral artifacts and spaces, an archive of queer memory and history should account for this transitory quality”. Butch is a term used to refer to a lesbian who appears masculine or possesses an aggressive habit. “A stone butch has been battered by sexism and homophobia, and she does not know to express how she feels as her emotions have turned to stone”. She has all the reasons to feel the blues since she is terrified of the love others want from her (Feinberg 165). As far as she can remember, Jess Goldberg knew she was different from other girls as she always hated wearing dresses. Before her sixteenth birthday, she runs away from school and home. She finds a new family in New York (Feinberg 246).

Falling in love, working, making decisions, and finding a home in the world is difficult for her, especially when what she is doing is against the law. From the novel, homosexuality was illegal and considered a disorder in all the states. She learns she can get male hormones and pass as a man (Feinberg 158). She felt this was the only way she can stop feeling like an outsider. In the long run, Jesse learns that she can be herself and get her way by protecting her rights, which is not a walk in the park. Jesse finds her voice at a rally attended by gays and manages to stay as a 'he-she.” After reading Leslie Feinberg's novel Stone Butch Blues, there were passionate voices with genuine concerns and feelings about wanting to be true to oneself. The novel addressed concepts of politics, love, desire, and identity by giving us a firsthand insight into someone’s life that reveals the oppression and struggles involved in finding one’s self in terms of sexual identity while having to face the political backlash. Nevertheless, the meaning of the term ‘Butch’ was unknown to me until I read the book, furthering my understanding of correct terminology pertaining to sexuality identification. Jesse is driven by self-curiosity and is in search of her own identity. The reader is made aware of the search of identity from the start of the novel to the end where Jesse applies what she had learned from her experience in discovering her desires to be the person she wants to be.

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