Blast reviews

Doing this stuff is hard when you’ve been doing a phd application, a funding proposal, conferences and also a full time job that’s an entirely different thing and exhausting.  That said, I’ve only read three books since my last summary/review. One was a Fucking Massive™ Reader and another was a slim, but very 90s Humanities Criticism© textually dense. They were Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet and Cleto’s (ed.) Camp: Queer Aesthetics and the Performing Subject – A Reader. I’ve also read Botting’s Gothic (2nd edn.), but I finished that this week, so should be able to recall a fuller reflection when I have time. For now, those two.


Epistemology of the Closet

This was a hard read. Sedgwick, like seemingly every other critic who wrote between 82 and 04, writes in this unnecessarily dense style that really does nothing but show off how polysyllabic you can be. That said, it’s a foundational text in queer studies and is important and blah blah blah, I would have to read it at some point, so I did.

What I liked:

It’s good to read an academic work that doesn’t just seem to be some pretentious wankery for the sake of it (though the writing style sure does make it seem that way). Sedgwick works to create a kind of academic/social justice model of thinking, where literary criticism can do something more than just kind of look at form and function and beauty and aesthetics. As far as I can tell, literary marxist and feminist criticism rarely accounted for real world and cultural object relations, but I think that’s more to my own ignorance and unwillingness to read most marxist and feminist criticism (see issue I have with opaqueness in writing). I bring these into place not to rag on them, but because they’re the only analytic system that would conceivably think about social justice issues in art, books, films, games and so on. I like that Sedgwick actually takes this (bold) step to consider the dimensions of how texts link to broader cultural phenomena, and how non-standard texts (texts queer in origin) can destabilise and begin to interrogate those phenomena.

What I loathed:

It’s a goddamn 90s humanities criticism work. It’s poorly written, opaque and I don’t have much patience for writing that is unnecessarily hard work. I also think Sedgwick’s textual choices were not really inspired, though this is likely because of the time the books was written in and the difference between that and now. There’s also mentions of Freud, which can honestly get fucked.

What I learnt:

I don’t really remember. There’s a lot of quotes I’ve typed up so I must have learnt. The inflection of academic criticism with social justice is interesting, but I’m not sure how useful that model is in terms of application. Social justice works to explain complex cultural phenomena into something more easily understandable and (more importantly) acceptable format for a general public that may not want to here it. Social justice that uses academic terms is quickly and aggressively disregarded from what I’ve seen, and academic work that tries to be more understandable/acceptable generally comes across as condescending. Maybe everyone has blending those two things incorrectly at this time, I don’t know, but it’s useful to consider the extents such a model can operate at. Anyway, next thing.


Camp: Queer Aesthetics and the Performing Subject

This one was a reader – an array of chapters that provide a broad survey and introduction to a specific topic area. It’s purpose is introductory, so I don’t have much to criticise it with. Its topic area was the development of camp as an academic concept, from about post-WW2 to the end of the C21.

What I liked:

I didn’t know anything about camp as a critical concept before I read this. I had an idea of what camp was from, you know, existing in the world, but no real grasp of it as an academic concept. I found some of the models presented more useful than others and I feel like I have some idea of what camp is. I’m not sure if I need to explore it further.

What I loathed:

People who write about camp can’t agree on what it is, so they’ve gone along with this idea about it being some kind of hard to define, fuzzy creature. I’m not sure I agree with this, mainly because it feels like a kind of cop-out when you don’t want to say ‘it’s culturally and historically specific in its manifestation.’ I don’t think that’s a hard concept to grasp. I also had a real problem with the understanding of camp as some kind of middle class phenomena as well. Considering that drag is considered inherently campy, I don’t really get why you would even entertain the idea that camp is the playground of a certain socio-economic groups. I know it’s pretty much because a lot of these people will be quite middle class and have had a quite middle class educational background, and the whole ‘camp’ thing started because of Christopher Isherwood and he wasn’t exactly working class… My point is that is fascinates me how certain predetermined biases are seen as foundational to camp, possibly just because that the people writing about it were coincidentally of the same class background, goes kind of unnoticed.

Also, a lot of the readings were mildly transphobic, antisemitic in places and kind of acknowledged the problems of the subject matter begrudgingly.

Also, Susan Sontag can get fucked and so can anyone else who thinks camp isn’t political.

What I learnt:

A lot of stuff about what people think about camp that I don’t entirely agree with. I liked Pamela Robertson’s entries and Jack Babuscio’s, so I’ll likely follow them up some more.


Going Forward

Okay, so I’ve been doing a PhD Proposal for the last two weeks and I finished the first draft yesterday. I’ve included this writing as my taking part in a #100daysofwriting that a former lecturer started. The rules are simple: be gentle, be kind to yourself, and write something every day for 100 days. I know these things exist in some form or another, but I’ve found most ‘challenges’ like this are much more aggressive. I’ve tried some, always failed at some point, and a gentler approach actually seems to be working. But now I’ve finished one major project–drafting a PhD proposal–I need to begin writing stuff in some capacity every day for the next 85 days (today is day 15 and this is my contribution to my #100daysofwriting). Take this as a plan for going forward then.

Queer Film Club

There are a lot of films I want to watch anyway, and preparing for this PhD has exposed me to even more. These ones will actually require me to do some thinking about them too, so I might as well write posts about them as an exercise for that. Formally, I’m setting up a ‘queer film club’ subset of posts, where I think about the queer dynamics of the films I’m watching. These films will fall broadly under the ‘cult’ category or ‘b movie’ category, but they’re also queer essentials from what I gather. Watching them will expand my knowledge of my own communities (sub)culture. Naturally, I will consider them using this ‘drag lens’ I think is necessary for understanding how gender and sexuality are explored in these films, with a particular focus on the destabilising tactics employed. This should enable me to manage and blend the Gothic and drag strands of thought going on in my prep head. Not all these films will fall into the categories, not all of them will be Gothic, as there is a range of queer films I want to watch and I might as well think about.

So that’s that. If you want to join my queer film club, feel free to make recommendations, comment, criticise, and just generally engage. I’m thinking of using my workplace’s LGBT+ network for staff and students as a way of setting this queer film club in a real space (and spreading the scraps of queer culture outwards), but the main focus will be watching, thinking, and posting about films I watch.

Doing drag readings

I touched on this in some of my very earliest posts. They aren’t great, but I think I need to really think about reading drag and using drag to read texts. I’ll be putting more thought and effort into this idea of ‘doing drag readings’ as I get an idea of just what I mean by that phrase. All of this is a work in progress, so we’ll see how it pans out when I try.


The only content I’ve been able to consistently put out, and that’s just fine. Reviews of critical work give me a back catalogue of criticisms to pull from when I start the PhD and I’ve long forgotten what I thought about a book I read over a two-week period a year ago. I’ll carry on doing that.


There’s going to be no set schedule for this content. It’ll come as I am able to write stuff that’s not completely half-baked. But I’m thinking of these as ongoing projects that I can put time into each day in a gentle and manageable fashion, allowing me to continue this #100daysofwriting and go beyond it. Habit formation is a good thing, and it doesn’t need arbitrary markers of achievement to become sustained. In theory, if I’m putting words together, content will come.

Wish me luck!


Queer sexualities and Gothic Drag – The Boulet Brothers

In my first blog post, I touched on how Queer, more specifically queerness embodied by drag, tends towards horror, the Gothic, and monstrosity. Well, I mentioned the Boulet Brothers and that I’d talk about them anyway, so this is that. The Boulet Brothers are fixtures of California’s underground punk/fetish scene, identifying themselves as ‘fetish queens’ on occasion. It makes sense. They met in a fetish club, their costumes always have latex and other fetishistic fabrics somewhere in them, and their drag nights (Beardo Weirdo, Dragula, and a third one I’ve forgotten right now) very much celebrate countercultural punk attitudes with a queer drag flair.

At the same time, every image of them that I see makes me think Gothic more than fetish. To some degree the two intersect, but I’d like to put forward my case as to why they make me think Gothic. First, their signature look is ‘creepy twins’ all over (‘the house down’ if you want to be draggy about it). Eerie twins abound in the Gothic. I don’t really feel the need to support that with evidence, when it is such a common trope. It becomes extra creepy when we factor in how their uncanny resemblance is achieved through the tools of drag. Skilled with makeup and costume symmetry, the Boulet Brothers become creepy twins. They also look hauntingly stunning (I hate using such stereotypical Gothic essay words like haunting), embellishing this eeriness further. They frequently feature a slit throat motif, either with makeup (below), necklaces (macabre and humorous pearl ones probably), and contacts that either black out their eyes totally or colour their irises unnatural shades.


(unclockable, horror women demons from a Guillermo Del Toro Crimson Peak knock off B-movie. I LIVE)

What excites me about the Boulet Brothers particularly is that they excellently support my notion that queerness is monstrous to heteronormativity (and that that is used is a celebratory fashion in drag). Their identification as ‘fetish queens’, intersecting the taboos of fetish sexuality and queerness, manifests through monstrosity. The Boulet Brothers present an interesting amalgamation of sexuality that deviates from established social norms, using Gothic aesthetics. Their carnivalesque drag nights effectively become spaces to celebrate deviant sexuality, and their use of Gothic aesthetics highlights the inherent perception in heteronormative culture of deviant/queer sexualities as monstrous. Obviously, carnival is something of a double-edged sword as the celebratory space can quickly be demarcated outside the norm, blocked off and isolated to the realm of the carnival (or clubs in this case). That said, drag is more overtly becoming part of pop culture, primarily because of the appropriation of queer/black (in America at least the two have had a consistent relationship since at least the emergence of the ball scene in the 70/80s) language by predominantly white pop culture media outlets (a fancy way to say Buzzfeed uses RPDR gifs a lot and the term ‘Shade’ incorrectly). There is currently a competition show on YouTube hosted by the Boulet Brothers called ‘Dragula: The Search for the World’s First Drag Supermonster’. (I honestly can’t tell if the budget was very tight for the show, or if they’re deliberately evoking B-movie horror. Either way, it’s good). The internet is very much the best medium for queer carnival’s embodied by the Boulet Brothers to break the carnival’s isolationist tendencies.

(Watch this damn trailer and don’t for one second tell me that queer sexualities aren’t laced with the Gothic in the Boulet Brothers at the very least.)

Writing academic things like this is hard without scholarly material available to me to back up my thoughts, so forgive me if certain critics would work really well with these thoughts.

I guess what I’m trying to get at with all this is that gothic drag works often as a vehicle for queer and often deviant sexualities. The monstrousness highlights the otherness of queer/deviant sexualities, and drag works to celebrate that otherness. Creepy as all hell it may look, it demonstrates the positivity of drag and how monstrosity forms a very particular part of that positivity. As I mentioned in the first post, Sharon Needles’ songs often imbricate celebratory attitudes to queerness and queer sexuality, and then mix in Gothic horror motifs to challenge the perceptions of monstrousness that queer and so-called deviant sexualities permeate heteronormative culture. The Boulet Brothers demonstrate that well, because their drag intersects queerness with fetish and monstrousness, celebrating their monstrousness, and throwing it almost defiantly at a culture that would otherwise stigmatise queerness and fetishism.

Again, there is a lot to unpack in all of this, and I definitely would do better with some resources, but at least my ideas are stored somewhere other than in my head. What I want to think about with the Boulet Brothers is: What Gothic do they invoke in their drag? How does drag alter the Gothic? How does Gothic alter drag? And what is the result of all this?


“Legendary” and Gothic Drag

This is an idea I’ve been playing around with in my head for a while. “Legendary” and “Iconic” are words thrown around in drag seemingly all the time, and they’re both very flexible terms. It can reference certain drag performers, performances, looks, films, and so on. It seems to me, in some part, to be a way of establishing, for want of a better word, a canon of drag and to work to create referential cultural moments with drag/queer/LGBT (sub)cultures. I’m not sure. All I know is that the following are some prime examples of “legendary” drag things in action:


Obviously, the legendary films relating to drag are Paris is Burning and Pink Flamingos (though this may be because Divine herself is an icon). I don’t really know what makes them iconic beyond the fact that they achieved a mainstream level of success for a sub/counter cultural performance style that is drag, punk and the ballroom scene to varying degrees.

I’ll likely post about film at a later date when I’ve give it a little more though because there’s definitely more to these reference points than just them being queer films (and drag queens draw on traditionally heterosexual/normative film, tv and lit as well, so I’ll need to think about it more anyway).


Iconic and Legendary queens abound. James St. James makes a point in one of his ‘transformations’ episode on YouTube about queens being “legendary” in certain regions and for a limited time, so being truly “legendary” is something that is constantly worked on for queens to retain their relevance. That said, there are certainly “legendary” queens now, thanks to things like RuPaul”s Drag Race providing a platform for queens to generate an iconic, legendary status. If I were to cite “Legendary” queens, I would undoubtedly have to include breakout stars of RPDR like Raven and Jujubee, Raja, Latrice Royale, Ongina, Sharon Needles, Alaska Thunderfvck 5000, Jinkx Monsoon, BenDeLaCreme, Bob the Drag Queen, Violet Chachki, and so on. In addition, there are queens from RPDR and more general internet and television fame like Kim Chi and Willam to add to that list. Finally, there are the queens who have made a name for themselves and achieved a legendary kind of status like RuPaul, Lady Bunny, Bianca Del Rio (also a winner of RPDR), Lily Savage, Divine, and Dame Edna Everage. These queens are all so stunningly vibrant and excel in so many varied ways that comparison between them isn’t begged but may be necessary later on for investigative purposes. They are legendary for their impressions on audiences, their skills in certain facets of drag, and for other reasons I haven’t really thought about.

It seems that “Legendary” encompasses a kind of non-fame, or maybe anti-fame?. “Legendary” Queens are famous and revered in their very small circles. “Drag will never be mainstream” is something that I’m paraphrasing, but RuPaul says it often enough. “Legendary” status is memorable, culturally impactful, those regular famous this. But it is also inherently queer and countercultural. To be “legendary” is to be a queer kind of famous, both in the sense of actually being queer but also in the old use of queer as strange (if that makes any kind of sense). It speaks and appeals and becomes famous because of its queerness, and in heteronormative culture that also shuns it. I don’t  really know how to explain it, because “Legendary” things (in my experience) also bring up physical and mental reactions in me. Take the “Legendary” Tandi Iman Dupree performance below. This is a performance I have watched many times and it still makes my brain scream “yasssssss” very loudly. It makes my head move and my mouth drop. If I was partial to it, I would probably snap my fingers viciously and cheer every time it happened (and if I weren’t in public). It invokes a physical and emotional response that celebrates queerness and is queerness embodied in itself. A man in a wonder woman costume fell from the ceiling into a split, broke her heel and continued a performance of spins, kicks, dance moves and choreographed launching, all whilst perfectly lip-synching “Holding out for a Hero”. If that doesn’t make you go “yassssssss” and doesn’t evoke a physical and emotional response, you’re probably a happy heterosexual who’s never experienced a sudden release and celebration of their sexuality. But I think that’s what “Legendary” is, to some degree anyway. And it comes out in so many ways, so let’s get to the bit I want to talk about the most: when monsters are brought into drag…


So, if “Legendary” equates to queer in every sense of the word iconic/famous moment, then it makes perfect sense that monsters and monstrosity quickly become iconic looks. There are a plethora of looks and Queens I can draw on for this, but none really do this specifically as well as Sharon Needles. I could make reference to the Boulet Brother here or British Queens like Meth and Bruise, NYC Queens like Severely Mame, and more I probably don’t know, but Needles really does monstrous drag the best. The Boulet Brothers I’m gonna talk about in a different post when I’ve put more thought into monstrosity’s relationship to fetish in what I’m broadly labelling as Gothic Drag. Now, miss Needles.

Take this for example:

That runway is “Legendary” because of it’s spectacle, because nothing like this had been done before through a televisual medium (Drag Race has always had a difficult relationship with certain drag styles… Sharon kind of changed that).  It’s “Legendary” because it’s a moment that is so famous, and it is queerness in so many senses of the words. It’s a zombie, with blood pouring down its face, but there’s still drag makeup contouring, and heels. A zombie. In heels. It’s audacious and brilliant, beautiful, queer and uncanny. In a word, “Legendary”. Okay, I’ll try and be critical and not just gush over this look. Sharon does this constantly. Her aesthetic, in her words, is “beautiful, spooky, and stupid”. She has Lovecraftian looks, vampire looks, zombie looks. She’s dragged up Freddy Kreuger and Poltergeist.

Monstrosity, for Needles, lends itself well to “Legendary” status. I’m not fully sure why, but I think there are multiple reasons. Monstrous bodies are Other to “(hetero)normal” bodies, so they interpolate well with bodies indicted with queerness, as in drag queens. Does it create something new, smushing monsters with queerness? Yes, but I don’t think it’s as simple as Queer monsters, because LGBTQIA bodies are already queer monsters. I think it brings those anxieties to the surface by fully realising the monstrous and queer sexuality (more on that in fetish and gothic and the Boulet Brothers). And also, using iconic monsters in this way also takes them from their traditional heterosexual context. I’m not suggesting Bram Stoker was queer or anything… what I’m trying to get at is, gothic drag appropriates the queerness of monstrosity, intersects that with the existing monstrousness of non-heterosexuality, and compounds it into a body that celebrates its otherness (I think this is also why many queer music videos create spaces where gayness for want of a better word is on display and celebrated as well… Very few of Needles’ songs/videos don’t bring sex(uality) into it as well). In turn, this affords its “Legendary” status, because its queerness embodied, celebrated, and made famous (kind of). And by celebrating queer monstrosity, reappropriating it via dragged out monsters from heteronormative culture, the practice of Gothic Drag becomes inherently celebratory in a lot of ways. I’m not really sure where it goes beyond that and I definitely need to unpack all of these ideas more and research them more, but I think that’s the basis of my thoughts to do with “Legendary”/“Iconic” moments and the Gothic at the moment. So… yeah.

Also, I’ll do a proper post that provides more kinds of “Legendary” or “Iconic”, but I think you get at least the base idea from this short post.