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Handsome Women: SoMA Drag and Performative Legibility

Date and Time: 
Monday, February 13, 2017. 06:00 PM - 08:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Stanford Humanities Center Board Room
Feminisms & Queerings
Meeting Description: 

Presenter: Jeremy Calder, PhD Candidate in Linguistics

This talk explores the legibility of non-normative gender performances (in the Butlerian sense) among a community of drag queens and queer performance artists in SoMa, San Francisco. I focus on the pronunciation of /s/ forward in the mouth (the “gay lisp”) which results in a higher acoustic frequency and has been shown in linguistic literature to be associated with femininity, both in speech production and perception. Using ethnographic and sociophonetic methods, I argue that visual presentation serves to enhance or restrict performative legibility. When embedded in visual male presentation, feminine performances like fronted /s/ may result in performative failure (i.e., they are read as inadequately masculine rather than positively feminine). SoMa queens therefore dress such performances in visual drag to index and constitute positive femininities like “fierce” and “sickening”. “Fierce” fronted /s/ becomes available as a performative resource, with tokens in displays of wit and cutting speech acts (e.g., “reading”) being even more dramatically fronted. Through the use of multi-modal drag constructions, the stigmatized /s/ is repurposed as social capital, used to perform powerful femininities that challenge binary conventions.

Please RSVP here.