February 15, 2015

Return to the blogosphere

As is the fate of many blogs, this PhD blog has unfortunately been neglected! However, I think it might be useful to resurrect it - as it were - and use it as a space to discuss my research and current thoughts.

I haven't been idle in the time since I last posted here. I've unfortunately had to deal with some disability related problems, but I've also happily progressed with my thesis and other academic work. When I last posted, I was revising my paper for the Queer London Conference, which took place at the University of Westminster. It was a vibrant and exciting conference, and my thanks are due to Simon Avery and Kate Graham who organized it. As well as enjoying papers on queer spaces in historical London, I encountered contemporary queer activists and ethnographers, including a queer sex worker and activist, and an academic working to explore and improve the conditions experienced by older LGBT people in London. Simon and Kate were also kind enough to invite me to take part in the anthology arising from the conference, now tentatively entitled Sex, Time and Place: Queer Histories of London, c.1850 to the Present. The anthology will be published by Bloomsbury Academic, and I look forward to finalizing my chapter 'Are Drag Kings Still Too Queer for London: From the 19th Century Male Impersonator to the Drag King of Today'. My thanks also go to Drag King Adam All, Jen Powell, and her partner in crime, Apple Derrieres, Elly Burke. I've had the pleasure of interviewing Jen for the project, and have carried out much of my research into drag king performance at her gigs. London based people should check out Boi Box, the regular Drag King Cabaret Night at SheSoho, which you can check out via facebook here:


Kate and Simon have also set up a Queer London Forum, which hosts a variety of queer speakers. Their next event will be a screening of award winning film Brace(2014, dir Alicia Eyo and Sophy Holland) which will be followed by a Q & A with writer and star of the film Jake Graf. This will be co-organized by the University of Westminster LGBT Staff Network, and will take place on Saturday the 28th of February at 4pm at the University of Westminster (room TBC). Places are free but must be booked: follow https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/brace-film-screening-plus-qa-with-jake-graf-tickets-15665442761

In terms of my other work, I'm currently working on my literary chapter, examining drag at work in Rachilde's Monsieur Vénus (1884), Virginia Woolf's Orlando (1929), and Monique Wittig's Le Corps Lesbien (1973). One key strand of this chapter is to explore the protoqueer literary and stylistic techniques at work in these texts, demonstrating how these techniques resonate with queer theoretical approaches to drag performance. I'm thrilled to be presenting a paper relating to this chapter at Lesbian Lives 2015; Professor Lisa Downing kindly invited me to be on a panel with her and with Dr Lara Cox. The panel will be devoted to Anglo-French Protoqueer feminisms, with each paper engaging with Wittig's work among other perspectives. My paper is entitled 'Fucking the Body, Rewriting the Text: Protoqueer Gender Expression through Textual Drag in Wittig's Le Corps Lesbien and Woolf's Orlando'. I'm so excited to present with Lisa and Lara, as well as looking forward to the conference as a whole.

Hoping to post again soon.


November 19, 2012

A winter of discontent?

Although the light is fading earlier, and the nights are becoming chilly, this winter promises to be a positive one, as opposed to a winter of discontent.

My main focuses over the last few weeks have been the abstract I've been preparing for submission to the Queer London Conference which takes place next year, my continuing research, and my French language skills.

Preparing this abstract has been challenging - as it is the first abstract that I've ever written - but highly stimulating. As the relationship between Drag, London, and Queerness is a large and complex field, I have chosen to concentrate on Drag King performance, male impersonation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, two literary portrayals of masculine performance, and an appraisal of the contemporary London Drag King scene, as according to Drag King Adam All. The focus on the performance of masculinity not only creates a tightly linked body of research in a fruitful and exciting sphere, but also allows me to provide greater detail than would have been possible with a larger focus. In preparation for this abstract I spent some time researching the lives and experiences of male-impersonators at the fin du siecle. One personal favourite, who I will unfortunately be unable to discuss in the conference paper due to her lack of a connection with London's music hall stage is Gladys Bentley. Bentley, a Caribbean performer who lived and worked in the USA. Bentley remained a popular singer, both in Drag and out of Drag, and maintained an openly Gay identity for some time. However, as anti-gay sentiment grew, Bentley disavowed her sexuality and claimed to have been "cured" with the use of female hormones. Despite this sad ending to her story, Bentley's story remains one of my favourites. Firstly, Bentley had the courage to be an "Out" lesbian woman of colour in a time when both positions were particularly dangerous. Secondly, Bentley was a highly talented performer. Thirdly, and this is perhaps the most relevant point in terms of my project, Bentley's experiences illustrate the precarious line between Queer and "normal" which was traversed by male impersonators in the early 20th century. While the spectacle of a cheeky, androgynous stage presence clearly appealed to a heteronormative audience, these performers were expected to perform along straight lines in terms of their private lives. The important role played by an appearance of heterosexuality can partially explain the long standing public popularity of a performer who is to be included in my prospective paper for the London conference, Vesta Tilley. Tilley, whose legacy partially inspired Sarah Waters' Tipping the Velvet, admitted that she preferred the freedom of male performance. However, despite her liking for androgyny, Tilley dressed in a highly feminine manner offstage, and presented herself as a loving wife to her conservative husband. As well as towing the line in terms of ostensible heterosexuality, Tilley equally towed the line of patriotism; her mainstream popularity was further increased by her role in the publicity campaign encouraging young men to sign up for military service.

Aside from research on male impersonators, my preparation for the abstract can be placed into two categories. The first of these involves thinking about the depiction of Drag in Sarah Waters' Tipping the Velvetand Virginia Woolf's Orlando, and questioning the correlation between Drag and life in London in each text. This category involves examination of the texts, phrasing questions, and assumptions, about the text to be placed in the abstract, and also involves research into Woolf's private experiences with Drag. It is relatively widely known that Woolf's lover, Vita Sackville-West, frequently cross-dressed in one period of her life, and even presented herself as the husband of her then partner Violet Trefusis. Less widely discussed, however, is the one performance of Drag that Woolf herself took part in. I don't want to reveal much about this performance here, however, as I hope to upload a small section of my paper to this blog if I am successful in gaining a place at the conference. What I will say now, however, is that this performance has never been discussed in Academia in the light of Drag. The second prong of my preparation for the abstract has been to have a few brief conversations with Jen, the Drag King Adam All. Jen has kindly given me some information on her perspective about the London Drag scene, and I will be seeing her twice or three times over December. On one or two of these occasions, I will be watching Adam All host the Karaoke night at Soho's Candy Bar, while on the other occasion, Jen and I will have an informal interview about her experiences as a London Drag King.

My research and French work are also going really well. I hope to write more about these shortly; right now I need to turn my attention to some grammar exercises in preparation for my French mock exam on Wednesday.

A bientot!

November 02, 2012

New Beginnings

Welcome to my new academic blog. This blog is here for me to discuss my PhD project, entitled Life's a Drag, which will focus on previous literary and theoretical conceptions of Drag, and will also include interviews with Drag performers.

My first few weeks at the University of Warwick have been busy ones. I'm currently working on compiling a form of Literature Review, which will form the basis for my first chapter. I first analysed a really interesting article by theorist Luca Greco. I particularly liked the way in which Greco had added a practical dimension to his analysis by attending in the Drag King Workshops in Brussels, and by interviewing the participants. The main problem for me with Greco's article was his use of theory. While Greco discussed the works of Irving Goffman and Judith Butler, his article didn't make strong connections betwen this theoretical material and the conclusions he drew as a result of attending the workshops. Having discussed Greco's article, I then turned my attention to Butler's Gender Trouble. This text yields a great deal of material for analysis, and I'm really enjoying working on it.

As well as focusing on my first chapter, I've been working on improving my French language skills. I'm attending an intensive course with Warwick's Language Centre. As well as providing me with practical skills such as the ability to comprehend listening exercises, this class has given me the opportunity to take part in a Virtual-Exchange with French University Clemont-Feront.

I'm currently working on finishing my piece on Butler's Gender Trouble. I'll conclude my discussion of this text by analysisng some of the criticism Butler received on the analysis of Drag in the 1990 text, and whether Butler addresses this criticism in the 1999 preface to the text. I'm also working on compiling an abstract for the Queer Theory in London Conference. If this abstract is accepted, I intend to deliver a paper on the relationship between Drag and London, discussing the Drag scene of London today as well as the forms of Drag which occurred in the London of the Bloomsbury group, and the London depicted in Sarah Waters' Tipping the Velvet.

June 2021

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