Androgyny in pop culture continues to be hugely intriguing to audiences the world over; it inspires fascination, mystery, and release from the ordinary burdens of societal convention. In every day life those who possess certain androgynous characteristics are regarded as artistic, or freakish (depending on the crowd), however certainly never boring. There’s just something about breeching socially taboo boundaries that is both fascinating and frightening to us; the ever present love for the social rebel lives on.

It is the human condition to desire the unattainable, and androgyny represents something elusive and untamable as its very nature is considered by traditional western values to be inconsistent with human nature. However for some celebrated androgynes it is the very desire for a more natural existence unrestrained by societal naiveté which draws the intrepid to defy gender confines (if not for mere entertainment value), and in so doing inspire the timid masses to follow suit or celebrate vicariously. This undeniably seductive nature that androgyny wields in our society has been reincarnated in several celebrated figures throughout time comprising an infinitely long list of individuals such as: Oscar Wilde, Mick Jagger, Rudolph Valentino, George Sand, Johnny Depp, Marlene Dietrich, and David Bowie, just to name a few.

These iconoclastic masters have seduced an infinite number of people for their talents and their charm possessing an irrefutable androgynous and socially deviant nature in their respective times and cultures. To those receptive to such a defiant regard for gender norms, these figures are a source of inspiration offering encouragement to unleash socially taboo feelings that would otherwise be condemned to a mental prison. For those who fear such a radical disregard for convention, these figures inspire fear and hatred, for their flamboyant natures threaten to shatter the commonly accepted and socially constructed ideal of gender as a natural and clear cut binary.

These rock stars of pop culture eternally dazzle and seduce crowds with their cool and rebellious style, is it any wonder they are often adored as modern deities? We follow their forays into uncharted territory with watchful eyes in hopes of a voyeuristic escape from the dullness of social convention. Sometimes all it takes is a little guidance to help us release be unabashed social deviants we are at heart.

( the full post)

I'm a woman. I enjoy watching TV. But what the hell is up with television for women? I'm familiar with three stations aimed at women:

1. Lifetime: The station for women who have been abused or neglected or abducted or mistreated in some other way.

2. WE: Women's Entertainment: The place for brides-to-be to act batshit crazy or lose their "fat."

3. Oxygen: The place for vapid, mindless women to compete as bad girls, watch reruns of Tyra's talk show or modeling competition.

So great. If I want to find something to relate to on a TV network of which I am the target demographic, I have to be completely vain with an attitude problem, some variation of an out-of-control bride, or abused on some way.

It's not like television for me is so much better.

1. Spike: Like living at a frat house.

2. The Military Channel: At least you can learn something. About guns or historic battles or tanks.

So, death or the life of a frat boy.

Not that we can expect much from the boob tube. With our own TV stations, we are separated into neat little stereotypical viewing audiences, and it makes it much easier to sell advertising space for products like Axe Body spray, hair dye or Viagra-type products (I am amazed at how many enhancement commercials air on the Military Channel.)

What really confuses me is that Oprah was one of the founders of the Oxygen network. It has since been sold to NBC, which may explain the utterly vapid programming. However, is it so hard to provide smart programming that is aimed at a single gender? I see nothing wrong with creating a network specifically for one demographic, and perhaps for some networks that demographic isn't "all women" but rather "all shallow, emotionally immature women" which is why the programming on WE and Oxygen doesn't appeal to me, despite being a straight, white, middle class, 25-34 year-old woman. Perhaps my college education and general concern for others puts me in a different demographic than their target. Not that I should be surprised, most shiny magazines aimed at me aren't that much different (thank god for Bust, Bitch and Ms.).

One day it would be nice to turn on the TV and see a network aimed specifically at me that didn't make me feel like I wasn't wearing enough make-up or drinking enough martinis or generally acting like a brat enough. Sarah Haskins on current TV gives me hope. Unfortunately I miss her actual weekly segment on TV, thank god for the internet.

( the full post)

Until four months ago I hadn’t had cable since VH1 still aired episodes of Behind the Music, which isn’t to say that I’ve led a cable-free life, but that my viewing has been caught on other people’s TVs. In October I moved into a new apartment and waiting for me inside the closet was a cable box. What started that day was a love affair with The Food Network, but when my tastes drifted away from food I often found myself looking at TLC, mostly because it’s a low channel and a good point to start surfing from. TLC is a strange thing and like a number of different cable channels it is less about what it started as, The Learning Channel, and more about new and exciting reality TV programming. What I remember of TLC is the original Trading Spaces, which I watched a crazy amount of my freshman year of college, and shows like A Baby Story, which could make me flip channels faster than WWF wrestling. I’ve seen programming since then, heck I’m a fan of What Not to Wear, but I hadn’t spent any length of time watching it.

It was a Sunday night, I was unpacking boxes, or possibly pretending to fold laundry, but there wasn’t much on (even with all those cable channels) and while flipping through channels I saw a fat person on TV. Being a fat person with a critical eye for popular culture, if I see a fattie on TV I have to stop to watch. When that show ended another began this one titled The World’s Heaviest Man. After that wonderful program was Half Ton-Mom. Apparently that Sunday was fatties on TLC night.

Not long after that on another Sunday, I was home, again…doing just about the same thing, all the way down to watching TLC. This night’s lineup included a show about a woman whose legs are still growing, a show about folks who have a condition which makes them very tall and an hour on a young girl with a very rare form of dwarfism. That’s when I dubbed Sunday night “Freak Show Night” on TLC. According to Wikipedia the term freak show is dehumanizing and archaic and freak shows themselves are banned in a number of states. While there are still a few groups in the country who call what they do a “freak show”, most go by the more generic and less freak-ish term “sideshow”. I’ve seen the Sideshow at Coney Island a few times and it a glorious sight to behold, full of proud performers, balanced somewhere between tradition and self aware postmodernism.

I really wonder what went through the heads of the television executives during the meetings where these line-ups were conceived. Were “World’s Heaviest Man” and shows surrounding fat folks considered an eye opening story of one individual’s struggles with “morbid obesity”? Are three hours on different individuals with rare forms of dwarfism really supposed to highlight those who have different abilities? What is the public actually learning about the woman with the legs that won’t stop growing? Or is the TV simply putting distance between the freaks and the audience? Placing the gawking in the privacy of our own homes and attempting to save all parties from the reality of a freak show? TLC does the job right, even recreating some approximation of a ten-in-one show (ten shows in one tent for the price of one admission) by concentrating its content into one evening.

Two weeks ago amidst my heightening angst surrounding the L Word’s treatment of its trans character and their heavy handed way of ripping news from the headlines there was an ad on TLC for a new documentary about Thomas Beatie. The icing on the cake of this show was its title: Pregnant Man. Like Beatie was an ice age body found in Finland, or even the first man to ever be pregnant instead of just the first to admit it in the pages of The Advocate. I have to admit that while I watched a good deal of TLCs other freak show programming, I couldn’t bring myself to watch more than five minutes of Pregnant Man. In those five minutes they discussed Beatie’s attempts at privacy and the press he did for money, and that’s when I put The Food Network back on.

The freak show has changed. It still features unique and different individuals, but instead of barkers yelling over crowds of people there are commercials, medical terminology replaces the out and out of calling someone a freak of nature, and tents have become TVs. But it is alive and well, still parading about as entertainment, with a new connotation, one of learning and care (TLC), not just of spectacle. Instead of paying 10 cents to see some fantastic oddity, we are tuning in to purportedly gain understanding and knowledge.

( the full post)

I'm a little late on the bandwagon, but this deserves more commentary than is currently out there. Poor Rihanna. Stupid Chris Brown. The whole thing is a really sad, hot mess of a story. But I'm particularly interested in how the web gossip spiraled before more of the facts were revealed. Especially that whole part about herpes.

So I heard about the Rihanna/Chris Brown debacle immediately after Rihanna and Chris Brown pulled out of their awards show, and I started Googling like crazy to find out more details. It seemed like, at that moment when the facts weren't so clear, all the gossip magazines were speculating that Rihanna had contracted herpes while cheating, and that's why Chris attacked her. The implication here, of course, is that Chris was on some level justified in his actions. Rihanna's silence about the issue wasn't reflective of the typical fear of violent retaliation many people feel in abusive relationships, it was apparently a silence because she deserved it.

But I think there's more here. I've recently been reading a lot about constructions of gender and sexual scripts among black men and women, and survey says that a situation like this evokes hints of racism and classism amid more obvious bouts of sexism.

Some theorists claim that music stars like Chris Brown and Rihanna fall into a category of success for black men and women that is acceptable by white society's standards; they are Disney-fied performers that have a huge white audience, they are a representation of blackness that does not threaten whites and white families. And to really cement themselves in the market, by being in a quiet, monogamous, and in a heterosexual relationship, they essentially avoid the myriad of racist allegations about black promiscuity and violence.

I guess I'm mostly wondering about what will happen from here on out. My guess, according to theory about black masculinity and sexuality, is that Chris Brown will fall from white, family-oriented grace, with whispered justification that he's simply another black man ascribing to poor black cultural tendencies of violence and abuse. He could bring his career back on track again, but not with Disney. He'd have to follow the other acceptable track society allows black music artists to follow -- the immature, irresponsible, undomesticated black man. Rihanna, on the other hand, could embody the strong black woman and keep her career going. But what's most important, here, I think, is that race and class will from here on out inevitably shape how they are perceived in the market. This may be a horrible case of domestic violence, a scenario that happens in many relationships all over the world, but it is a story that will be viewed through a much more complicated lens than most would think.

( the full post)

+ news +

More marriage protests nationwide,
Another gay black men + HIV report,
and CAMH v. Conway for the week.

New writers in the works. Stay tuned!


( the full post)




Happy Valentine's Day!

( the full post)

+ news +

C'mon, Vermont!,
Shaq attacked,
and Transpoofed! for the week.

And of course the biggest news of ALL is the relaunch of Below the Belt! Remember that we're always looking for new guest writers, so get in touch with us and we'll talk out your ideas.


( the full post)

RuPaul, easily America's most famous drag queen extraordinaire premiered her new reality program, RuPaul's Drag Race on LOGO. Move over Bravo! RuPaul has just cemented LOGO as the home of screaming queens and shade throwing fierce biotches, at least for the next few months as the show steams through this cycle.


When I heard about the pending release of this reality program, I was cautiously excited about the whole affair. Having been indoctrinated into my campus queer community via ad nauseum repetitions of But I'm a Cheerleader screenings, RuPaul was forever ingrained into my mind as a fabulous performer. But I wasn't sure how this incarnation of the famed drag performer would translate to reality television. My reaction and some recaps from monday's episode after the jump...

When I heard that RuPaul was doing a drag queen reality show, I became elated. When I heard it was produced for Logo, I was decidedly un-elated. I don't mean to bash on the one gay television channel widely available on cable television, but they haven't exactly been known for their consistency in production value. Aside from Rick & Steve and the occasional documentary, Logo for me has been the home of Queer as Folk reruns... which, frankly, I can do on my computer with no commercial breaks. Did anyone else see the New Now Next Awards? I was horrified by such categories as "Because You're Hot" award. There was really no explanation for the methodology in the selection of the winners, or even how the nominees were chosen. And the cramped setting of some tired bar in New York hardly oozed the glamor and elegance of an awards ceremony, that should really only be set in a large theatre space with a proscenium and everything.

But RuPaul's Drag Race broke through all of my doubts and merged everything I love about reality television into one fabulous streak of genius. This, my friends, is event television.

We are introduced to the contestants, 9 lucky ladies who will be competing for the title of America's top drag queen. It is refreshing that the producers mixed in a little diversity in the drag queens, but it does feel a bit repetitive sometimes. I definitely confused Shannel and Jade several times during the show. I also was sorely disappointed that no one's name seemed to be particularly pun-y. Something like Ida Nevaseyneva would have just made me leap for joy. My current favorites are easily Ongina, Nina Flowers and Tammie.

Ongina is wonderful in her andro-drag Asian betch-fest. Although I agree with the judges that their needs to be more of a transformation and illusion in her drag persona.

I love Nina Flowers because she goes from his hard-core tat whore dude in a muscle shirt into this super fab punk-rock drag diva.

And finally, Tammie... just because watching a train wreck rubs me in a schadenfreude kinda way. But I do like that her drag persona is this time-displaced Betty Boop meets Blanche DuBois on speed. What's not to love?

I'm not entirely sure what these queens are competing for... there's a title, they get to be in a parade, and there's a cash prize somewhere in that hurried grab bag of cross-promotion swag. But I'm pretty sure that the contestants could be competing for a pastrami on rye and they'd still wanna be there, just for bragging rights.

I'm also a little unclear on the format of the show. RuPaul and her producers seem to have crafted a skillful amalgam of America's Next Top Model and Project Runway. I believe the polite word is "homage," but the judges table at the end of the episode was so radically similar to Tyra's Top Model set up it's a little eerie. And someone needs to tell the director of photography to cut it with the soft lens. Get that vaseline off that camera! It's just distracting and makes the whole show scream 90s high school glamor shot, shoulder pads and all. Exhibit A:

But I did immensely enjoy the "Drag on a Dime" challenge. These bitches can sew, strut, and best of all lipsynch. Oh, this wouldn't be a Drag reality program with out the "Lip Synch for your Life" segment. I just hope they switch up the song every episode. While I love RuPaul's new single... the shameless cross-promotion is a touch desperate.

Nina Flowers rightfully won with her delightfully re

tro floral punk ensemble. The hair is flawless, and definitely partied like it was 1999. Victoria's sorry 

unflattering dress got her booted. I was sad to see the only lady of size get the first axe, but grrrl. You gotta bring it if you want to survive in this fish pond.

I thoroughly look forward to next week's installment. I hope you 

are too! What did y'all think?

( the full post)

I would like to be the first to welcome everyone to the new Below the Belt! While our old layout served us well for nearly two years, we strongly believe that the new image gives us a really terrific edge we've been craving. That and, well, we really like stick-figures with pink superhero capes.

I'd like to take a minute and do something completely unique to BTB history -- lift the veil of anonymity on two major forces behind the operation of this forum. Jason Tseng is the Director of Advancement here, responsible for many of the blog's administrative matters, development and public relations (basically, everything). And then there's me, Matt Rafalow, the Executive Editor. I work with new and continuing writers and manage content on a daily basis. You can find out more about us and the other contributors on our Contributors page.

While we largely see ourselves as a service-oriented organization (providing a safe space for critical commentary and dialogue), we are planning to take on a number of really terrific projects in the coming months that will aim at taking more of a leadership role in how we all approach our topics. Most notable will be an e-zine called the Below the Belt Reader. Stay tuned for more details about that soon.

Although the readers and writers of Below the Belt represent an interesting, semi-anonymous mix of intellectuals, genderbenders, and more, our resolution for the New Year is to strive to create a stronger sense of community. Yes, the internet can be posed as a disconnected means by which to engage, but we also recognize its powers to organize and build camaraderie.

So put on that cape and join us for the ride. We're all gendery superheroes in our own right, but put those forces together and we can really push the boundaries.

( the full post)

Creative Commons License