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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: 2010-06-17 03:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nvanonmom.livejournal.com
Oh, I love this! I don't know when all of these hard & fast "rules of gay" came into being, but they're sure there, aren't they?
Though my son loved dressing up, makeup, Tori Amos, singing, dancing and had all girl friends - it honestly never occurred to me that he was gay until he came out. I've never necessarily believed the stereotypes.
Had no clue that Adam was gay till I saw the Bradam pics.

Excellent post!

about the guys in musicals thing

Date: 2010-06-17 03:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rationalflake.livejournal.com
OK - I thought about how in the Golden Age of cinema Hollywood and Bollywood had one thing in common.


Lots of them.

With Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Frank Sinatra. I wasn't there, but I bet nobody assumed those guys were gay. There was, in fact, no public conversation about what gay meant. Then the liberalization of the sixties came along and mentioning homosexuality was no longer taboo. And my guess is, some people were afraid of this new thing that they could not ignore as they used to. They reached for ways to easily identify it, so it would be less this scary amorphous thing. So it wouldn't be their next door neighbour or the mailman being this thing they were told was supposed to be sinful and repulsive. They took things like singing that weren't 'manly' and recategorised them. Latched on to rock, etc as more ~preferable. Searched for labels and applied them stringently.

Date: 2010-06-17 03:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jadis11.livejournal.com
I think it's fascinating that Adam has embraced these "feminine" signifiers, but is still being seen as a sex symbol -- not a GAY sex symbol, necessarily, just SEXY. Posters-in-teen-mags SEXY. Scream-worthy. Seeing him strut his stuff and be accepted in this way is something new in US pop culture. (a change is gonna come)

Date: 2010-06-17 05:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mistresscurvy.livejournal.com
OMG YOU KNOW HOW MUCH I LOVE THIS, RIGHT? <3333333333333333333

(also, those gifs are made of WIN! \o/)

One of the paradoxes this points out about the U.S. is that our unofficial motto is basically "America! Where we are individualists! IN EXACTLY THE SAME WAY! And if you deviate too much from that, we might just kill you, sorry." Like, we have such this vested interest in spouting off about diversity, but most people want it easily categorized so they can dismiss it better, honestly. It's part of what makes me love Adam so much - he breaks people's brains by not fitting into the boxes they have AND I LOVE IT.

I'm also thinking about all of this, the different presentations of masculinitiy and femininity across different cultures, as a result of the World Cup and the emotions that men display over it and how touchy feeling the players are and the way that makes some American men deeply, deeply uncomfortable. We're all one fandom!

Man, that Matthew Morrison interview is made of SO MUCH FAIL, and I certainly don't blame him for any of it, I think he handled it about as well as he could without just slapping the idiot, but this just makes me ANGRY:

ELLE: I had indeed read in various places that you’re straight, but in light of the circumstantial evidence, I wasn’t sure.

Jesus Fucking Christ. One of the whole points about visibility and openness and queer people actually being out is that when someone says 'hey, this is my sexual identity,' we have a responsibility to believe them. I'm not saying that we can't call out closeted male Republican politicians who vote against gay rights and then have sex with men at truck stops, but for fuck's sake - not everyone who says they're straight is a lying liar who lies. Matthew Morrison is a fucking Broadway actor - those bitches ain't closeted any more, if he says he straight, he's fucking straight - and if that changes, if he grows an appreciation for the cock, GREAT. He can inform us (or not!) of said change. CHRIST.

(also bb, for whatever reason this post thinks it was made on May 15, so it didn't come up on my friends list, which made me sad!)

Date: 2010-06-17 06:04 pm (UTC)
ext_79345: (Default)
From: [identity profile] scratchbook.livejournal.com
I'm not sure if I can give you an intelligent or relevant response right now, seeing as it's midnight, I haven't had dinner, am barely awake, and not really good at writing srs bsns comments, but I have to tell you what an interesting read this was. I never thought to connect the Bollywood with Adam, even though we also have our share of Bollywood in our daytime TV (I don't even watch these films, but I recognize the lead male dancing in the first gif right away. Yes, we have THAT much Bollywood in our TV, lol. Or we used to, before the Korean and South American soaps took over).

During my romping about in the AI fandom for the past year, I found something that is so strange about the Americans. A lot of them seem to be surprisingly conservative (in general) and probably even backward (in terms of gender identity issues). I come from a country whose population is mostly Moslem and rigidly religious. We're even worse in our conservativeness than America or India. Homo/bi/transexuality is something to be publicly ridiculed and scorned here, and it's completely okay to do that because homo/bi/transexuality is a sin *rolls eyes*. Only last year, the government almost passed a bill that prohibits any appearance/activity that is even remotely homo/bi/transexual, even behind the closed doors of our private bedrooms. If that bill was passed, Adam could be thrown in jail up to 15 years or required to pay a ridiculous amount of fine for just being who he is here. But we're a third-world, (practically) moslem country in South East Asia. Most of our people are uneducated. Most of our various cultures is patriarchal and our religions misogynistic. This kind of fuckery tends to happen. America is supposed to be the total opposite. Right? Isn't it a much more advance, intellectual, free-thinking country than ours?

Sadly, that Matthew Morrison interview and Adam's goddamn AMA thing (among other things) tell me that they're probably not that far ahead of us... I still can't understand why, tho :/

On another note...

the answer to every question is Shahrukh Khan really


Date: 2010-06-17 09:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tanndell.livejournal.com
A+ Post luv. But before I go yay, let me point out a wee error
"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)"
What are you talking about? They just decriminalized it. In one state! Gay Marriage is about as far away from India as the invention of the time machine.

Now that we have that all cleared up, the larger point! You know I agree with you about how we blur the feminine and the masculine (culturally, historically and in Bollywood) with an ease that makes coding next to impossible. The number of Indians who went "WHAT REALLY?" when Ricky Martin came out, while the rest of the world went 'Ya, Duh' still makes me LOL! But I wonder (with trepidation) whether that will change with our determined importing of American cultural norms. The phenomenon of the Item Number (and its growing popularity) fuels those fears. It's ok if women do it (and we can't do without that musical number), but not real men may start permeating. And it's even more dangerous if it does happen, because we are not rooting it on our own cultural history. Thoughts?

Date: 2010-06-17 09:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nolechica.livejournal.com
If I ever figure out why the gender standards in the US are so fucked, I'll be a very rich woman. Guys aren't allowed to be feminine and likewise being a tomboy isn't a walk in the park either. I've always liked musicals, so effeminate guys were par for the course. And a good dancer is heaven. Adam has been a serious mindfuck here I think because so many people had gaydar fail, and as such thought him a liar of sorts post-AI. His conservative, for him, performances on AI made the AMAs a much bigger deal than it should've been. And may make his tour reviews ~interesting. However, I have no idea when the lines became like that as I was raised by liberals.

Date: 2010-06-18 07:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] no-detective.livejournal.com

(am stuck at work and don't have time to ~brain at you rn, but I'll be back)

♥ ♥ ♥

Date: 2010-06-20 05:23 pm (UTC)
ext_7700: (bitch please)
From: [identity profile] swatkat24.livejournal.com

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: 2010-06-20 07:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] scribblinlenore.livejournal.com
Such an interesting post! Thank you so much for sharing it. Also, I love Shahrukh Khan. I will think about him happily now... :)

Date: 2010-06-21 12:43 am (UTC)
ext_2541: (armed)
From: [identity profile] transtempts.livejournal.com

*nods* Yes, gender attitudes in America can be..interesting to say the least. And some of that is just the part of the country you're in - ie, not a big deal where I live.


Date: 2010-07-02 10:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dhobikikutti.livejournal.com
Hey there, Swatkat linked me to your journal, and I think this post is spot on (and also dazzling!). I'm trying to invite you to a couple of comms on dreamwidth, but since your email address there isn't validated yet, I can't. Could you let me know when you have stuff set up there, so I can PM you?
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