I am going to assert that hate crimes are committed against queers--and particularly against transgender people--because of the very same anxiety that makes us want to laugh at straight boys acting like girls. It is a profound, unsettling anxiety, a black-hole moment where our supposedly solid constructions of gender are revealed to be shams, rickety notions, two-dimensional edifices that work well on one façade but collapse and splinter the moment they're pushed from the side. It is the same anxiety. It is the same violence. To be empowered means you can make silly YouTube videos and laugh it off. To be divested of power means you get stabbed.
At first I thought his reaction to the video was way out of proportion. The guys are just having a little fun to alleviate boredom. They don't mean any harm, right? And a man in a dress is just funny, always has been. I looked up some old clips of Milton Berle doing his famous Aunt Mildred act, which comes right out of a vaudeville drag tradition. I used to think he was hilarious. This clip from I Love Lucy still made me laugh, but I felt very uncomfortable this time around, especially watching the reactions of Ricky and Fred, Lucy and Ethel, the horror and revulsion on their faces, which mirror the reaction of the audience. (Aunt Mildred makes her entrance at 3:55.)
After Waymon posted the Telephone video in yesterday's Sunday Funnies, I'm very curious to know what the Bilerico readers think about Alex Cho's take on it. Alex is an acquaintance and a Facebook friend, and we've corresponded a bit in the last couple days regarding his blog post. I also had a couple long conversations with my boyfriend, who is a very smart guy and helped me pinpoint my problems with Alex's essay.
I agree with his basic argument, that the anxiety that makes people laugh at army guys acting like women is the same anxiety that makes someone carve "IT" on the chest of a transgender man. And I feel strongly that it's an important point to make in light of how much the LGBT blogosphere is enjoying the soldiers' video. But my fear is that, if we look at the YouTube parody only through that lens, we're in danger of doing the same kind of symbolic violence to these men (the soldiers who made this video), to their histories, to their ambiguous and complicated relationship to their own sexuality, the same kind of violence that Alex Cho is saying they do to us in this video.