Saturday, April 14, 2007

16. Strong Shoulders, Manly Beard

At Splash Bar on Moulin Rouge Night,
it is easy to believe
that gender is a performance
when drag queens fight tooth and nail for the prize of $200.

Big hair, outsized breasts, cocks strapped down,
they sing and dance and make us cheer
for the acrobatic siren, the hip-hop princess, the soul diva, the mousy schoolmarm.
The school-spinster often takes the prize. The audience likes self-reflexive parodies.

But when I listen to my friend G, a transgendered activist,
play the Goldberg aria,
each note crying at the passing of the one before, and at the birth of the next,
it is hard to believe she is not a woman.

Plan for this poem-in-progress


monkey said...

Hi Jee Leong,

From my amateur point of view, your sequence/poem-in-progress is very impressive, both on its own and as a walk on the Whitmanesque wild side. :-)

I don't know if you mean for the speaker to sound knowledgeable about music, but ...

Your last two lines sound more likely to be describing the Goldberg Variations' Aria (theme), not the first variation. But also, for many Bach lovers, the words GV bring to mind Glenn Gould. I'm sure you know that, but I don't know if you meant for the speaker's ideas about music and femininity to sound unconvincing.

If you keep the GV, I wonder if it would help to say something about the location where G is playing the piano, if it's not the bar.

You could consider using a pop music reference instead, such as Tori Amos. This might help with both the femininity and location issues.

It's an interesting question to me how we associate instrumental music performance with gender. I do use the word "effeminate" to describe some piano recordings I don't like (the pianists I'm thinking of happen to be male). And when I introduced a friend of mine to Murray Perahia's Mozart, she described his playing as "almost feminine". I like the "feminine" qualities of Perahia's playing.

monkey said...

Or you could call it an aria or theme without referring to the Goldbergs explicitly ...

Jee Leong Koh said...

Hi monkey,
I'm glad you like the sequence. Thanks for the great suggestions and thoughtful comment on gender and music. When I think of GV, I think of Glenn Gould too. I guess, in my description, I am trying to describe the friend's emotional style of playing GV1, rather than the music itself (if there is such a thing!) In doing so, I locate his femininity with death and birth, a connection that is not without problems (e.g. what about women who choose not to be mothers?) Your point about making the location clear is well-taken. I must listen to Perahia again; I've not thought of his playing as feminine before. Thanks again!

monkey said...

Thanks, Jee Leong. I tend to think that all of us have both "masculine" and "feminine" qualities, and any good musician will display both. (Perahia's style is said to have gotten more macho recently, but I haven't been keeping up.) I've never felt that female musicians were likely to be more tender, delicate, or genteel in their playing, or that one could guess an instrumental musician's gender from the sound alone. So the speaker's statement feels funny to me. But I realize the speaker needn't be a musical connoisseur.

The clause "she is not a woman" would presumably offend the speaker's friend.


Jee Leong Koh said...

Hi monkey,
thanks for coming back to this again. I do hope the speaker's friend will appreciate the speaker's honesty when no offense is intended.