Heteroqueer ladies: some performative transactions between gay men and heterosexual women

abstract

As theories of performativity struggle to disentangle and reconfigure the relationships between act and identity, a heterowoman who relishes the performance of femininity is still aware that she can be read as reactionary. Her choice of sexual partners seems to undermine the efficacy of similar strategies constructed by femme lesbians. One queer option for a heterosexual woman is to ‘act’ like a gay man. As more than one cultural commentator has pointed out, it appears that only a male drag queen can be a ‘lady’ these days. This particular woman does not want to change her biological sex to ‘be’ a gay man. She has learned how to be a ‘lady’ from the ‘feminized fags’ who may have learned from her mother. Their ironic distancing, camp connoiseurship, and parodic appropriation of the notion of a stable gender identity came as part of the package. As a result of this transaction, she acts as if she has balls under her dress. Such mimetic masquerades can be most easily recognized as resistant when performativity is ‘bound’ into a formalized performance. It is implicit that this artifice is not sustainable, nor is this desirable. ‘Doing’ queer means possessing the agency to defy and destabilize gendered behaviours, sexes, and sexualities through continuing and conscious decisions. This article explores the efficacy of heterosexual femme performances that attempt to challenge and subvert ideological normativities through their transactions with gay men.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    My comments here are not based on any formal scientific study or survey; they derive from many hours of discussion and tutorial supervision.

  2. 2.

    I am reminded of a wine&cheese reception for Marxist theorists at an MLA conference; I discovered that I was the only ‘out’ marxist in attendance.

  3. 3.

    I will return to the concept of ‘normal’ briefly later in this paper, but here I mean non-actors. Women who are professional performers (i.e. not ‘normal’) have used camp strategies for at least a century. If Oscar Wilde can be considered ‘queer as fuck’, so can Sarah Bernhardt.

  4. 4.

    It is possible that this could logically be interpreted as meaning a kind of theoretical bisexuality, as articulated by Brett Anderson of the band Suede when he described himself as a bisexual who's never had a homosexual experience. The relationship between ‘bisexual’ and ‘queer’ has traditionally been a strained one, especially when each is considered in terms of practical ‘positions’ rather than the practice of people. Each seems to accuse the other of an ideological ‘straightness’.

  5. 5.

    A third series was broadcast in November and December 2001, after this essay was first written. Additionally, the first series of Gimme Gimme Gimme has been released on video.

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Acknowledgements

The original version of this essay was written as a paper delivered at the International Federation for Theatre Research annual conference, ‘Trans-actions: Culture and Performance’, University of New South Wales, Australia (July 2001). A revised version was delivered as a staff/student research seminar at the University of Plymouth (October 2002). Thank you to all who offered valuable feedback and suggestions at these presentations, as well as to the anonymous readers at Feminist Review for their constructive comments.

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Mock, R. Heteroqueer ladies: some performative transactions between gay men and heterosexual women. Fem Rev 75, 20–37 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1057/palgrave.fr.9400117

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Keywords

  • performance practice
  • femme performativity
  • queer theory
  • feminist camp
  • representations of heterosexuality
  • Bette Midler
  • Gimme Gimme Gimme