KHUSH, Queers and Multiculturalism

37:57) Jane Doe 11-OCT-94 0:12

I just saw KHUSH in a class I am taking. It is a short documentary about gay and lesbians in South Asia. We didn't get much of a chance to talk about it in class, and I am now wondering if we should have an item in Lambda that talks about "first" and "third" world queers (PLEASE do note the parentheses...) I hate "multi-culti" approaches to stuff, but it occurs to me suddenly that our beloved Lambda feels very ameeeerican and very white all of the sudden....

By the way, has anyone else seen KHUSH? Should I describe?

37:58) Donna Minkowitz 11-OCT-94 8:26

why do you hate multi-culti approaches to stuff?

37:59) Jane Doe 11-OCT-94 13:11

Too often, I see multi-culturalism as a new excuse to do more crappy white straight guy anthropology, under the rubric of "its a small world, after all." I am thinking of, for instance, Peter Brooks "Mahabarata". I am using performance examples because those are what I know best. Stuff that tries to emphasize universality, and world community, makes me nervous, as it invariably means the white guys are back in charge. I would love to have my mind changed about this, by the way...

37:60) Donna Minkowitz 11-OCT-94 19:34

that's interesting. but doesn't the fact that some people use multiculturalism as an excuse for patronizing projects not excuse ignoring nonwhite communities in the first place?

37:66) mocha jean 13-OCT-94 10:43

I saw KHUSH about 3 years ago. I think I didn't like it very much but I don't remember why.

37:68) Eric A. Hochman 13-OCT-94 13:06

Getting back to multi-culturalism, I see it as an intermediate stage between discrimination/ignorance and true acceptance of the foreign/minority culture(s) in question. The art may be multi-cultural, but the people behind it are part of the establishment, and have an almost fetishist relationship with the material. They get to play; to show off how with it and non-discriminatory they are, without in any way allowing their power of decision over what is/isn't presented to the audience to be challenged. A show by a non-white artist is a long step away from having non-white artists on the board of the museum or theater, and participating in the day to day process of whose voices are heard. It's the difference between being an object and being a subject.

Multi-culturalism limits art in a strange way, in that, usually, the only time minority artists get attention is when they produce art specifically about their culture. I'm not suggesting that art being about one's culture is a bad thing; just that the artists might have some other things to say. You'll never see anyone say "No one will be interested in this performance, because it's not about the experience of being white (or being straight)."

37:69) Jane Doe 13-OCT-94 15:08

Eric, those are some great observations.

I hope we can push this idea of what it means to "fetishize" another culture, a little further. By that, I mean, what is gained and what is lost, when we actively chose the role of fetishist? For one thing (maybe someone like Freud would argue) the fetishist gets to have a belief that s/he "controls the world" (even though that belief is phantasmatic, at best.) Secondly, by believing that the part (whether it is a woman's foot, or an other culture) stands in for the whole (the viewer's relationship to the woman--usually the fetishists mother) is troubling. For what WHOLE does the fetishized non-western culture stand in the mind of the western fetishist?

There is a very popular psychoanalytic argument that says women cannot be fetishists, because women ARE THEMSELVES the fetish of a straight male gaze. The popular example of this is when folks say: "If the most visibly prominent people were the ones who had power, half naked white women would rule the earth." But if a western white woman takes on a fetishistic enthusiasm for a certain (not all, Donna, not all!) brand of multiculturalism, this puts her in an odd space indeed.

I bring this up because it gets easy to think of our identities as fixed: like, as a queer, I am in a negative power relationship in regard to straights; as a woman, I am victimized by misogyny; as an American of color I must suffer racism; as a Jew, I experience a burden of anti-semitism that gentiles simply do not. And I think all those things are absolutely TRUE. But, identities are multiple and shifting, and (for myself, at least) I find my national identity as an American often to be an invisible and unspoken part of my thought patterns--I think my western frame is "not all that important", or that if other people from other cultures are grappling with issues of queerness or misogyny that they do it on western terms, or they must "not really be dealing with it." The debates over "third world" clitorectomies come to mind. Many American feminists were critiquing the practice for reasons of "sexual pleasure". Other people (primarily Marxists) were arguing that western feminism was another western "tool of the oppressor", and that "sexual pleasure" was a white bourgeois ideal. Because Marxism has so much left wing interest, and since American intellectuals fancy themselves "educable" in this way, women began arguing that perhaps clitorectomies were okay, because if we couldn't talk about sexual pleasure, maybe we couldn't talk about feminism (read: WESTERN feminism.)

The UN hearings on clitorectomies have been fascinating because they have brought out the writings of non-western feminists who (surprise!) have reconceptualized the clitorectomy debate in entirely non-western terms. These women are concerned about clitorectomy as a PUBLIC HEALTH RISK, and are trying to figure out ways to reconcile age-old practices to localized hopes for a feminist movement.

I bring this up to point out the ways that, for many western feminists, the fetishistic equation was going like this: non-western clitoris = UNIVERSAL female body = UNIVERSAL body politic. The UN hearings are a fascinating place to find out that all conversations about all things are not always the way Americans think they are.

37:70) Jane Doe 13-OCT-94 17:08

Oh, yeah, and mocha jean: I didn't really have strong feelings one way or the other about KHUSH. But it did point out to me that I haven't seen many films on Indian gays and lesbians trying to grapple with the idea that many people in India regard the identity "queer" as some western construction (which is NOT to say there is not acknowledged homosexuality in India--there is--there are also lots of other varieties of sexualized identities that fall neither within the common understandings of "straight" "queer" nor "bisexual.) I thought that part--negotiating what queer might mean in a non-US context--was very interesting.

37:71) mocha jean 14-OCT-94 19:42

yeah, i'd have to see it again . . . if i recall correctly, what i didn't like was the talking head style of the film; i think i was bored, but i may be confusing it with another film. i mean, i know i saw khush, with a bunch of other short films, and 'm having trouble distinguishing them all in my head.

37:75) Duo Damsel = Yvette 17-OCT-94 20:24

I saw KHUSH last year. I didn't like it technically for the same reasons mocha jean said. But it was one of the few films which featured gays/lesbians of color and there was something so sweet and compelling about their stories.

I have never been to a queer film festival that featured any films about bisexuals (of color or otherwise), had the word bisexual in the banner or featured any out bisexual filmmakers, god dammit.

I like seeing films of queers of color, even though I might not be from the same group, because I feel a sense of shared experiences that I don't feel when I see, what's the correct phrase, lesbians of non-color. However, I feel more of a connection to lesbian characters than to straight characters. (For the record, I am Puerto Rican/Cuban by way of the Bronx and Los Angeles).

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