12.17.2012

The homosexual in the text: V. S. Brodie as Ely in “Go Fish” (1994)


Judith Halberstam writes that, in addition to functioning as a lesbian romance, Go Fish (dir. Rose Troche, 1994) concerns itself with acts of “butch self-fashioning” such as the transformation of dowdy, hippieish Ely (V. S. Brodie, pictured right) into a masculinized fashion plate—she trades in her long hair and ’70s clothes for a buzz cut and men’s shirts with suspenders, attracting a new girlfriend (played by co-screenwriter Guinevere Turner) and putting an end to her sexual dry spell in the process.  Go Fish is finely attuned to the politics of queer style, in particular to the ways in which queer women use such seemingly innocuous markers of personal appearance (hairstyles, clothes, accessories, makeup) as sites of self-expression, and how these markers are read and interpreted by other members of their community (Ely’s radical changes in haircut and clothing do not go unremarked-upon by the other women who make up her social circle).  Ely’s love interest Max (Turner) similarly undergoes a transformation, albeit a fantastical one, into a hyper-feminine seductress, complete with heavy make-up and lingerie, in an alternate version of her seduction of Ely, imagined by a mutual friend (seen above). 


Like Bruce LaBruce’s No Skin Off My Ass (1993), in which hairstyles become synecdoches for various gay male “types,” Go Fish understands the ritualistic function of hair and clothes in establishing one’s place within queer subculture.  For such films to make such statements requires first of all that they present us with a wide enough variety of queer characters that we are able to identify them as various in the first place.  In these films and in Parting Glances (1986), all of which came out of the so-called New Queer Cinema of the late 1980s and early 1990s, we see a structural shift from the mostly straight-authored gay films of previous decades, in which a single figure is often made to emblematize homosexuality.  By contrast, the New Queer films—many of which are embedded within gay and lesbian subcultural communities—present us with so many variations on the theme of homosexuality that “the homosexual” as a single, identifiable, generic figure threatens to disappear altogether.  Acts of queer self-fashioning thus become something more epistemologically significant than mere expressions of individual taste or personality—a gravitation toward metal jewelry, perhaps, or a preference for long hair over short, fitted clothes over loose: namely, an assertion that, through style, one has control over one’s own homosexual body; it is no longer (if it ever had been to begin with) the property of a dominant culture determined to see and to know it.

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