Let me begin by stating that I love Bruce LaBruce, and his work. I first saw Raspberry Reich (2005) not long after it was released, and it was my favourite part of my undergraduate education in film theory. The subtle, clever and witty critiques and asides that his films include alongside radical interventions into politics, sexuality and genre have ensured that he is the successful political-pornography-comedy-art filmmaker. No one else would have dreamt that combination. I also have a “the revolution is my boyfriend” t-shirt, and the “obscenity” knuckle duster ring. #fangirl.
So when Bruce LaBruce announced that he was making The Misandrists, I was, needless to say, very excited. Gudrun is my (and everyone’s) favourite character in Raspberry Reich, and the prospect of a sequel where she runs a feminist lesbian separatist terrorist cell was particularly exciting. I have a soft spot for lesbian separatists, even though I don’t always agree with all of their politics, I love the gesture.
I also don’t think there’s a problem with LaBruce, self-identified (as we say in the gender studies land) as a gay man, making this film (I am aware that it has been rejected from several queer film festivals on the basis and that’s fucked). Insistence on authenticity of identity to the point of exclusion, and the silencing practice of “call-out culture” has damaged and undermined discussions of the politics of sexuality and gender in recent years.
We have a tension in all areas of identity politics where, on the one hand, we know that a lack of attention to the identity of the person who speaks or inhabits a point of authority leads to an erasure of voices of those who are effected by discrimination. This is how we get the former Australian prime minister, and current practising religiously-inflected sociopath Tony Abbott as the “Minister for women.” In federal government. That happened.
On the other hand, the observation of an individual’s authenticity in relation to an identity position is extremely complicated, and without getting into that complication in too much detail here (although I promise I’ll write something on it soon) the question becomes, who has the authority to affirm that identity? Our first response might be, “well, the person who experiences it” but examples like that of Rachel Dolezal complicates this significantly. And once that identity has been affirmed, in whichever way we decide to agree on, the boundaries and microcategories of identities become so rigid and policed that discussion is silenced, and we all find ourselves shouting into a void. Or to the wall of our own locked boxes?
What to do? Certainly, the tension between these two positions is the question of identity in our time, and there’s no single or simple solution. However, this tension is productive and creative and provokes us to constantly engage with it, and to think about the details of experiences and particularly how the individual can relate to the community, as well as how communities can be formed, while affirming differences, to enact political will.
Which means the worst thing to do is to ignore or dismiss it.
So, when LaBruce says this:
That’s not really good enough. Yes, there is, conceptually, room for lots of voices. But there are not a lot of lesbians making widely distributed, funded and commercially successful films about lesbians. As the interviewer points out these films about lesbians are being made by men, and this phenomenon should be given more than just a shrug from someone as politically engaged as LaBruce. So when he says “in the 80s when I made my punk fanzine it was me and a couple of other women who started that movement. One of our platforms was really to encourage solidarity between radical lesbians and gay men” my first question is where are those women now? What are their names? What have their successes been relative to opportunity?
So sure, it’s hard to make a lesbian film when you’re a (white) gay man, particularly when queer film festivals police the murky boundaries of identity with a rigid view to personal authenticity. But when asked, it’s important to acknowledge that to make a lesbian film (or any film) as a lesbian is even less likely, which is something that should be articulated and addressed. I don’t know what initiatives Bruce LaBruce may, or may not be involved in, but I hope he’s also working to change this as well, but if he is, it’s not something he’s mentioned.
(P.S. Despite having followed the development of The Misandrists since the project was announced, I have yet to see it, as it has not had a screening in Melbourne (or in Australia, as far as I know) and the distribution has been extremely limited. If… if… there was a way to stream it (legally, with money going to LaBruce) online, please let me know.)