Saturday, October 02, 2010

Some Like It Androgynous

I believe gender is %99.9999 social construct. By that I mean it is all culturally created. I am willing to negotiate that a tiny bit of gender is differentiated by hormonal activity but not much. And I will also qualify that I am not saying social constructs are something to be taken as lightly and therefore aren't powerful forces upon behaviour. I think they are extremely powerful forces upon our perceptions of each other and prevent us from even believing that gender is a social construct.

The movie Some Like It Hot plays with the stereotypes of gender, and the mixture of popular culture, as jazz music, and it's comparison to sexuality. Some like it hot refers to jazz being "hot" and wild and that sex is also something that runs hot and cold. When we love hot we become whole and our selves better people.

How could a country who made a movie with some of the funniest and most endearing sexual personas and escapades also be the same country that is against marriage equality? One of my earliest posts here was about marriage equality, and it's a topic dear to my heart.

Isn't Tony Curtis gorgeous? One of the interesting things about Curtis's looks is the swirl of his hair and all the product he used enhancing his androgyny. Androgyny is a suspicious and desired quality in rock stars and actors. Some of the most popular stars have androgynous looks. Interestingly, that same kind of androgyny created an urban myth about Jamie Lee Curtis, his daughter. For decades there has been the urban myth that Jamie Lee Curtis was born with a penis. This sick, intolerant attitude towards homosexuals and sexuality maliciously applied to public figures who are often very very good looking has occurred to many women stars including Mae West, Greta Garbo then Grace Jones and today Lady Gaga. All of them had rumours during the height of their popularity as being hermaphrodites.

Several male actors have had rumours about them surface when they reach mainstream popularity. Brad Pitt, Keanu Reeves, Tom Cruise and Richard Gere have all been the recipients of verbal hate crimes. All have been labeled as gay even so far as to suggest as in Tom Cruises case there is a massive conspiracy and his wives have been "beards" hired by movie studios to protect his box office clout. The most cruel urban myths have surrounded Richard Gere, claiming he had squirrels climb up his pants. The hatred towards gays is so cruel cultivating the idea that anyone would have sex with a gerbil is outrageous (no one has ever had any documentation of gerbil sex) Perpetrated to promote that gays are so depraved they would even do this...and when Richard Gere became very popular this gay defamation was applied to him.

Watching the delightful Some Like It Hot movie makes me really wonder how could this hatred and bigotry continue. I know people who so hate Brad Pitt, or Keanu Reeves, or Richard Gere they will avoid their movies or make big hissy fits about how they ruined such and such a movie. They even try to perpetrate that these guys are bad actors. I happen to be a big fan of Richard Gere, despite his being in the saccarin Pretty Woman. I love The Cotton Club, Days Of Heaven, I'm Not There, and Breathless. It's always been so strange to me how one ol' actor could garner so much maliciousness from homophobics and cynical men. A lot of men hate Pitt, Reeves, Cruise and Gere. Not because they are homophobic but I suspect because these actors have appealled to a lot of viewers by the feminine sexuality in their androgynous good looks that threatens our changing perceptions of our social constructs and demands. Especially for men who feel not only do they have to have good jobs and make money now they are also expected to be "sensitive".

This ties into Marilyn Monroe surprisingly. Molly Haskell said that "women (of the fifties) hated Marylyn Monroe for catering so shamelessly to a false, regressive, childish, and detached idea of sexuality" And Pauline Kael said the typical role for Monroe was "charming and embarassing".

Billy Wilder often had characters who were victims in his movies. In Some Like It Hot Monroe plays such a character. She has always been used by men and left "with the fuzzy end of the lolipop". Monroe is soft and a litle heavy in this movie making her very appealing, both sexually and emotionally. I can't imagine what it must have been like to see this movie when it was released. I've heard it was very popular and made people laugh out loud. Of course, i've only seen it since Monroe died and I knew always of her sad life story, being raped at 9 years old and her first attempt at autonomy was to get married at 14. Somehow this movie I forget all about that as it evolves. To escape Chicago gangsters Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis decide to dress as women and join an all-girl band. At first they adopt mannerisms and clothes and stereotypes of what we believe defines a woman. They are priceless. But what begins as a sight gag in a screwball comedy turns into something else...rather quickly. These "women" are also victims because their lives are in danger from the gangsters. In order to survive in their disguises they must dig deeper to convince us and the bad guys and their fellow female bandmates they are women. These two guys make great strong, funny and supportive women friends. It's really amazing to see how they become more of themselves as they adopt their disguises. Their feminine sides give them a transformation.

Everything about this movie is in disguise...the whole movie seems to be saying all this world and our ideas about it, literally and truly are constructions and illusions. A hearse is actually a liquor smuggling truck. Monroe pretends to be "high class" but she is actually low class. A funeral home is actually a speakeasy. The gangsters pretend to be Italian diplomats. Curtis pretends to be rich and Monroe pretends to be educated. And gender is a disguise.

There is a recurring joke about Type O blood that really hit me this last viewing of the movie. Lemmon and Curtis's characters are both Type O blood. Type O blood is considered universal and common. I think this is am recurring joke as its a recurring metaphor for what is really more critical about us. Gender is the suppression of natural similarities like our blood. We watch the external details of this movie as disguise and we watch all the internal and emotional aspects of the characters as being more and more similar. Monroe has to become the "man" manifested as the aggressor sexually to try to seduce Curtis. Curtis we see to be a major cad as a man...but by the end of the movie he has become a much more thoughtful man to women (Monroe) by being female. A seduction scene of Curtis pretending to be a frigid man in order to get Monroe to seduce him is intercut with Jack lemmon in drag doing the tango with his date...who says to Lemmon "You're leading again" is a fantastic example of role reversals, and these role reversals being the key to unlocking compassion and love.

When Tony Curtis's character hears Monroes character singing a sexy bittersweet song, he is still dressed as a woman when he realizes how much he loves her...and he goes up to her, in drag, and kisses her. What had been a source of comedy previously in the movie is now a profound moment of love. It's so stunning and brilliant especially because Monroe has no idea until she recognizes the kiss that she is really in love with a woman! (who is a man, dressed as a woman, dressed as a man)

When it comes to love, the movies worldview is that gender is something we apply externally and doesn't ultimately "matter". Not only is the happy ending that the victim finds happiness, and the personal transformation of a cad to compassionate loving human, but all parties love each other regardless of their genders...even to the point that delivers possibly one of the greatest last lines in any movie. Period.

The people who want to prevent others from having marriage equality might want to take a lesson from this, nobody's perfect. And love is bigger and more meaningful than our external differences. Gender is the suppression of natural similarities, and that applies to straights as well as gays.

The transformation for the main character occurs when he surrenders to his feminine side and attains compassion for that opposite gender by walking in their shoes high heels. If we could apply that surrender to open our hearts to people we believe are different, or look different, or act different...we might also experience a transformation.

The androgyny of the stars that have international appeal triggers the potential to recognize similarities between us and then feel compassion. And the movie Some Like It Hot captures an American potential for compassion that has charmed people for 50 years. I believe it's a bit of evidence there is some hope for the U.S. Surely a country that could help harbour a European Jewish artist like Billy Wilder from pre-Nazi Germany could learn to allow people to get married and protect their families.

Save the world and watch Some Like It Hot soon!

I've had this photo on my fridge for about ten years. Maybe more. And it's fading a little bit over time and sunlight exposure. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis posed for this photo for Vanity Fair in the 90's. This is the photo folks were looking for when they were googling "tony curtis vanity fair" yesterday and hopefully this post will be easier for them to find.


mister anchovy said...

Geez, I never heard the myth about Jamie Lee Curtis having a penis. I've long considered her very attractive.

You mean Tom Cruise isn't gay and his wives aren't highly paid beards? I'm so easily taken in by that celeb gossip.

anivad said...

1. There was never a myth that Jamie Lee Curtis had a penis. The rumour was that she has Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, which is an intersex condition in which a person has XY chromosomes but develops a fully female (though infertile) body in the womb due to the body's inability to process testosterone.

2. Regardless of the truth, WTF does that have to do with homosexuality? It's an intersex matter and has nothing at all to do with sexual orientation.

3. If gender is 99.9999% socially constructed, what's your explanation for transgendered people?

Candy Minx said...

Mister Anchovy, yes, heh is easy to get taken in by all that celebrity gossip. For me, its not an issue about it being true or not, its about wat does it mean when people use "being gay" as an insult. It's not an insult to be gay and to use someones sexuality as an insult is what is sad to me.

Anivad, Thank you for your very insightful comments. I also lread several of the posts at your blog and you and I share some similar feelings about Keanu Reeves, only I was humbled by your dedication. You can find my defenses of Reeves here at my blog too like this one:

but if you do a search at the top of this page, you will find I have about half a dozen posts dedicated to how much I love Keanu Reeves.

One of the fascinating thing about urban myths, and gossip, is that the stories often have their own unique twists depending upon what circle of society the story is being told. My husbands best friend learned about Jamie Lee Curtis alledgedly being born with Androgen Insensitvity Syndrome at university. In nightclubs and bars, one will almost always have heard the rumour that Jamie Lee was born hermaphrodite or with a penis.

I don't think either AIS or hermaphrodite has anything to do with homosexuality and I didn't say it did. I was, perhaps feebly, trying to make the examples that very popular stars have always had rumours about their sexuality, in general, circulate to cast suspicion or to weaken their popularity and sexual personas power. If my examples upset you in any way, I am sorry but my intent is to explore how our society looks at sexuality and human rights. In my own way and by reading others thoughts on the topic.

I also wanted to treat these rumours at times during my post with a tiny bit of levity. one of the challenges I find on the internet is that my sense of humour doesn't transmit very well. But I was attempting to inject some humour. Sometimes when trying to write humour you have to ask your self "What is funnier?" And saying Jamie Lee Curtis was born with a penis is funnier than say she was born with Androgen insensitivity Syndrome. And Richard Gere having squirrels run up his pants is funnier than saying he inserted gerbils into an orifice. Oh, wait, both those are funny.

The reason I wanted to use a tone of humour was because I think these rumours are ludicrous...but they are worth discussing and analyzing. I believe we can step outside the social constructs to some small degree when analyzing and questioning authority. Even if that "authority" is an urban myth.

And thirdly, i don't think transgender needs "explaining". I don't believe homosexuality, or intersex, or bisexuality or hetrosexuality needs explaining either. That tiny %.0000000001 is what makes life wonderful and interesting and gives us the opportunity to accept and embrace our small differences among the human race. We have the opportunity to practice compassion and try to walk in each others shoes and help each other lives good, safe, comfortable lives without bullies and bigots judging us for our sexuality.

My experience has been that even when scientists explain why we do what we do and what our drives are , most people are not convinced by scientific innovations. Those people have to die off and then children are raised accepted the new idea or ideal or innovation fresh.

In the meantime, humans have the capacity for personal transformation and compassion. We don't need explanations or science for that.

mister anchovy said...

"In the meantime, humans have the capacity for personal transformation and compassion. We don't need explanations or science for that".

True, that.

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