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It seems inevitable that my first actualfax post on what has been a lurker/creeper/reader LJ should be about Adam Lambert, since he represents pretty much everything that has attracted me to fandom and kept me engaged with it ever since I first watched Weiss Kreuz (see icon). I love Adam for his bravery and his honesty and that motherfucking voice of course, but the reason I have stanned him quite as hard as I do is that he makes me have thinky thoughts all the damn time.

A while ago you may remember that a certain Mr. Setoodeh decided to decree that gay actors could not play straight roles "convincingly" (read about the whole fail here) which prompted one of my favourite websites, autostraddle, to come up with their take, picking out Adam in particular as someone who isn't afraid to fuck with gender stereotypes in his performances/photoshoots etc. Its a great article that I thoroughly agree with, but it got me thinking, tangentially, about something that I've encountered in the American Idol fandom a lot i.e the characterisation of certain aspects of performance/presentation as "clearly gay" which from a non-western context is, quite frankly, puzzling.

That femininity has been progressively devalued in western philosophy and society is not a particularly new idea, but it is depressing that it seems to have become increasingly ingrained over the years (and has indeed also morphed into Setoodeh's brand of self-loathing yay!). But even though I've been a consumer of American media for years I still did not realise that the classification of which actions/behaviour/hobbies/what-have-you are "clearly gay" had become quite so stratified. To give some context to my puzzlement, I came upon Adam Lambert purely coincidently on my flist. It was his Top 36 performance of Satisfaction and I was well, utterly blown away. (I had followed American Idol in an idle fashion (heh cwidt) for a few seasons but really couldn't be bothered with it after the show ended.))

I did follow the season from that moment, but mostly through my flist and the glories of youtube, utterly unaware that the phenomenon of ontd_ai was unfolding at the same time. I came to his performances then in a vacuum of information about him. I had no clue about his personal life, or that the bradam pictures had leaked, or Bill O'Reilly or like ANYTHING (no SERIOUSLY I know how the internet works but college was tough around that time ok and I had very limited access to it :p). So in that vacuum I saw his performances as brilliantly crafted and sung and strategic. I really did not see them as indicative of who he liked in his bed. I've often circled back to why this happened and why I had such a different experience from the people who knew he was gay from the minute he stepped onto their screens. In the end I think the answer is Shahrukh Khan (the answer to every question is Shahrukh Khan really).

For those of you unfamiliar with Shahrukh Khan, he is one of the most popular actors on the Bollywood (the Indian movie industry) scene today. The good news is that you don't need to know much about Shahrukh Khan except that I'm using him as an example to make a larger point about cultural perceptions of performance styles. Basically Bollywood thrives on people who do this

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and also this (this is not Shahrukh Khan btw, but you know larger point and all that)

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These are both moments that are utterly standard on a billion Indian televisions every day and are not seen as even vaguely disruptive to our (heteronormative) codes of performance (Indian attitudes towards homosexuality are at best mideval so this is important to note. We are not in the least yay!gay and that is something that is only changing (though painfully slowly) now). To be very clear, I am not trying to say that the acceptance and popularity of performances that integrate the feminine (atleast what is classified as such in an American context) means either that a) women and their rights are given more respect or b) that gay rights are in any way a priority in Indian society. BUT the feminine is still an influence that is seen as largely positive and is not queried with the degree of suspicion that someone like Setoodeh levels on popular culture in America. We sing, we dance and the ability to move one's hips to the beat of a song is not indicative of much else, except perhaps having rhythm and thus ensuring your popularity at parties and if you get the right break, in the movie industry (see it always comes back to Shahrukh Khan).

What I'm trying to say is that in America a liking of musicals seems to be A SIGN, and liking to dance seems to be A SIGN, and wearing pink seems to be A SIGN, while in India one of our most popular road-trip/slumber-party pastimes is testing who has a more encyclopedic memory of songs from our movies and well the gifs kind of explain where we are on the latter two issues. I don't know what it says about the world that Adam Lambert probably couldn't get married in India (though certain legal steps that have been taken probably allow that now), or really most of Asia, but he would probably sell out stadiums here without much of a problem, because our love for theatrics and performers is strong and we seem to be content to see them as performances , and oh yes we really don't care about eyeliner either (its called kajal or surma here and a lot of men, gay and straight, wear it without it being A SIGN). And to be honest I do feel that America has gotten a lot more rigid about THE SIGNS in the last 20 or so years. I remember reading an interview with Matthew Morrison which quite frankly, appalled me (I don't know whether this was in seriousness or meant to be satire but the underlying attitudes are true enough)

ELLE: So, Matt, you’re a musical theater star who’s been interviewed by The Advocate and much discussed on Manhunt.com, and you star in Glee, a program that’s referred to as “the gayest show on TV.” You must feel particularly proud being the first gay man to grace this page.
ELLE: I had indeed read in various places that you’re straight, but in light of the circumstantial evidence, I wasn’t sure.
MM: I grew up singing and dancing, so people have been calling me gay since fifth grade. I’ve heard everything you could possibly hear about it. But I do love gay people, so I’m not going to act like I was insulted or angry about it.
ELLE: But do you ever do anything to suppress your gayest traits? Like, on a club dance floor, will you keep a lid on your best moves in order not to look too much like Tommy Tune out there?
MM: Oh, yeah. I’ll do what I refer to as “the shoulder dance,” just, you know, move my shoulders and do a little head bobbing.

I MEAN WHAT!!!! When did the lines become so strictly drawn America and why are you so paranoid about whether little boys like to sing showtunes or whose hips don't wanna lie? Because I have to tell you, much of the east completely missed that memo (as did Shahrukh Khan thank god).

ETA: [Bad username or site: @ livejournal.com] has schooled me in the clusterfuck that is Indian marriage law and no Adam will definitely not be getting married in India anytime soon, though I did also say we were medieval in our attitude to it >.<. I stand by my point that he could sell out a concert tho :p

Date: 2010-06-20 05:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] no-detective.livejournal.com

That femininity has been progressively devalued in western philosophy and society is not a particularly new idea, but it is depressing that it seems to have become increasingly ingrained over the years

This is spot on, and there's been an especially strong cultural tendency in the US to push for easy-to-classify, non-ambiguous identity which dates back to the post-hippie Reagan era and it got more intense with Dubya. Overall, I'd like to think that social evolution is somewhat linear on the greater historical scale, but in actuality it's a pendulum going back and forth between progress and backlash. Adam is at the very front of the new push forward, and he manages to do so while being a MAINSTREAM artist, which is amazing! I can't even begin to tell you how happy this makes me, even though much of the media still tries to portray him as the "freaky" counterculture element as opposed to a contemporary mainstream representative - but the fans know. This is why I love that so much of his audience are middle-aged women, as opposed to tattooed and pierced 20-somethings.

It also makes me happy that Adam's "feminine" behaviors are individual stylistic choices and performances (makeup, fashion, dancing) but it is perfectly clear that he's not trying to "pass" for a woman, nor is he the American stereotype of what a gay man should be like. He mixes what is coded as masculine/feminine behaviors just by being himself, and that ambiguity is more difficult for a typical closed-minded US viewer to accept than if Adam could just fit into a recognizable category. I HEART HIM SO MUCH OMG. <3

(the answer to every question is Shahrukh Khan really)


So now I'm curious: how are gay men culturally coded in Indian society?

Date: 2010-06-21 10:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zorana84.livejournal.com
hey bb! Yeah I totally agree on Adam being so very important in like so many, many ways to the US mainstream rn and its a wonder my eyes haven't turned into perma-hearts for him lol. Just today I saw the Canadian interview in which he shot down the predatory-gay stereotype and just ♥____♥
He mixes what is coded as masculine/feminine behaviors just by being himself, and that ambiguity is more difficult for a typical closed-minded US viewer to accept than if Adam could just fit into a recognizable category.
YES! this so much and when ur in a culture that is obsessed with categorization, to be brave enough and capable enough to cause this confusion without being dismissed..*hands*

As to the coding of gay men in India..well, its complicated as the convos I've been having with my Indian fronds on this post show lol. While feminine behaviour is not coded as anything, effeminate behaviour is beginning to be (but as I said upthread you have to be pretty extreme for it to have an impact). This could of course be that it simply does not occur to people to classify anyone as gay because its so under wraps here (we only decriminalised it last year ffs). But otoh there has been a vocal and visible gay rights movement for quite some time now and the issue has been discussed extensively in the media, so one would expect more coding to happen which has not been the case.
What gives me hope that the coding will never become as rigid as in the west (regardless of the cultural baggage we import daily) is that our conception of the masculine is very fluid. We would have to devalue significant parts of our cultural and even religious heritage to alter that and that I really don't see happening. We are at the verge of a cultural shift in regards to our attitudes towards homosexuality and while I can't predict what will happen, I do believe Shahrukh will contiue to shake that booty till he needs a hip replacement ;)

p.s: I hope ur feeling better bb..have a great time at ur concerts and come back and write me epic recaps mmmkay <33333

Date: 2010-06-30 04:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] no-detective.livejournal.com
OMG my voice is still half-broken and I have no internet at home (*CRIES*) and this comment is embarrassingly late, but - THANK YOU for this post! It's been absolutely fascinating to read your thoughts and all the discussion in the comments, and I <3 your brain SFM. \o/

(Btw, I missed that Canadian interview with the predatory gay comment! Do you have the link handy??)

I come from a pretty conservative society in Eastern Europe in which gendered behavior is very specific, so I REALLY envy the fluidity of cultural representation you're describing. But we also have a distinction between feminine vs. effeminate, although I'm not sure they have the same meaning as what you're discussing here. For example, men appropriating feminine behaviors for comedy or entertainment is totally OK (you should see our male pop stars - they'd be declared gay in the US in a flat second!) and it is generally cool to see men in traditionally female roles of caretakers, for example, especially with the number of orphaned kids and displaced families after the Balkan wars; so we have a certain level of acceptance there. However, effeminate behaviors are generally not accepted because they look "biologically inherent" (that's a popular phrase) rather than performed with a certain socially entertaining purpose or whatever, as if the man who behaves "girly" can't help himself because it's part of his wiring (and the immediate judgment in most cases is that he's wired wrong). Homophobia's been on the rise too judging by the sheer volume of violence against gays reported by gay rights groups back home. The usual "justification" for homophobia is sort of stupidly rooted in this very old-fashioned socialist mentality too: that our country has shrunk, many young people have emigrated (guilty as charged, lol) and we need a heterosexual nation of barefoot and pregnant women giving birth to good patriots... funny how patriots tend to be assumed to be straight, too. Augh, this makes me very angry so I'll stop talking about it now.

ANYWAY, it's so interesting to see how different cultures develop attitudes and coding and overall response to the queer community and its social representations! I'm really fascinated to see what happens in the culture that has Bollywood + a religion full of spectacularly ambiguous figures. So you know, DONUT STOP SAYING POSTING WORDS, BB. :)


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