T-t-t-tip on the Tightrope- Janelle Monae meets Jamison Green

Both of the pieces written by Patrick Califa and Jamison Green center around documenting the shifts in perspective their decision to transition caused especially in regards to their feminist political roots. Both discuss how transitioning into a male embodiment, and primarily male psyche raised questions for them on what they find to be intrinsically tied to masculinity as a gender identity. For Califa it is a discussion that involves a re-working of his understanding of masculinity through his personal relationship to his father; his primary archetype of masculinity when he was growing up. For Green his transition marked an understanding that in general a male patriarchal system allows for a wide ranging breadth of masculine variation as long as one is “passing”, which becomes ammunition and targetable once one is spot-lighted as an out-ly proud transman.

It is Green’s bravery and honesty that stands out in his willing choice to accept the uncomfortable position of a gender liminal body in our extremely oppressive social structure which works to erase, constrict, reduce and dis-empower any body that troubles this corporeal binary. I am humbled by the honesty through which he writes of the painful realization that his entire identity category is most validated when trans* people cease to be marked as trans* (Green 501). I had never considered how the identity politics of trans* peoples is doubly complicated as the idea of passing reeify’s a patriarchal work in the erasure of liminal bodies; Green speaks directly too this and calls for the further “outing” of the trans community. If trans* persons engage publically in their presentation of their identity as trans* only then can the divide that stands between masculine and feminine corporealities begin to be deconstructed. “Seeking acceptance within the system of ‘normal’ and denying our transsexual status is an acquiescence to the prevailing binary gender paradigm that will never let us fit in, and will never accept as equal members of society” (Green 503).

Green is calling to arms expressions of gender that walk the tightrope between genders, that do not seek to hide their gender liminality but instead ‘out’ the body as a creative space to incorporate the entire worlds of feminine and masculine and all that lies between.

Janelle Monae does not identify as trans*. She self-identifies when pressed as an agent in gender bending. It is important for me to clarify that I am not seeking to lump her gender-bending practices in with the important political category of trans* persons, or even line up a logical jump that might seem to suggest that I find Janelle Monae’s creative work as a parallel to the work I see transgender theory actively engaging in to deconstruct our binary understandings of sex, gender, and sexuality. But I do see Janelle Monae as a public figure and specifically her creative work of “Tightrope” speaking to Green’s belief that trans* persons should be outing themselves as trans* as a means of multiplying a unique space between the gender binary as a means to deconstruct it. Monae speaks directly to this in the lyrics, “See I’m not walkin’ on it/ Or tryin to run around it/ This ain’t no acrobatics/ You either follow or you lead, yeah I’m talkin’ bout you, I’ll keep on blaming the machine/ yeah I’m talkin’ bout it.” Monae is undoubtedly speaking about gender, the mechanics of our patriarchal system in creating gendered prototypes, a capitalistic/patriarchal production of gendered beings. Monae is gonna talk about it, make you question bout it, and ultimately make you dance so hard you forget all about it: your own body and the politics that attempt to mute it out.

-Sophia Koehler-Derrick


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