To say that author Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore is a character would be a grand understatement. In her first return to USF in five years, she kicked off the promotion of her edited collection, “Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?: Flaming Challenges to Masculinity, Objectification, and the Desire to Conform” at USF on February 8.
After a brief introduction by her publicist, it was immediately clear that Sycamore’s ninety-minute event was likely to be highly inappropriate, and highly entertaining. The evening did not disappoint.
Of course, testing the boundaries of “appropriate” in all sorts of social circles is exactly what Mattilda aims to do.
As she explained at the beginning of her talk, “Shortly before the book went to print, we actually noticed that a lot of bookstores weren’t placing any orders, because they were afraid of the title!”
Laughing she continued, “I was actually debating a couple of other titles that might be slightly less dramatic… maybe, Why Are Fidgets So Afraid of Widgets? Or Why is George Michael so Afraid of Michael Jackson?”
But in the end, Sycamore deemed the original title the most appropriate. When asked why she made the decision to keep the bolder name, Sycamore said, “For me, ‘gay’ has become a consumer identity based on a narrow regimentation of society–it doesn’t speak to me. I wanted to reclaim the words that have been used against us for so long. It invokes the beauty of being outside the norm.”
Sycamore’s collection, an anthology of essays by many contributing authors is as much a personal reflection on life as it is a collective call for change in modern gay culture. As a writer, editor, activist and self-proclaimed queen, Sycamore writes in defense of gay culture and its countless sub factions, many of which she fears have been stifled by the hypocrisy of gay norms in the past decade.
“Current media,” she said, “Paints gay culture as a singular group, constantly pitted against the Christian church and striving only to win straight privileges like the right to get married, or join the military, or adopt children.”
Sycamore mostly blames the “mandatory masculinity” in mainstream society for the deteriorating flamboyancy of gay culture.
She quoted from her book: “The pro-gay military agenda promotes the idea that gays need to sacrifice to be accepted… and it also promotes the pro-gay military body. There are many different ways to be gay and a functional member of society, and not all of us want to join the army to be accepted.”
Covering an agenda of complex topics such as the mistreatment of women by gay and straight cultures, the suppression of gay pride, and flamboyancy and mainly how gay culture can be divided into many different groups depending on how people gender identify, Sycamore kept the presentation lighthearted.
Describing her book as an “emergency intervention” for a floundering gay community, Sycamore targeted aspects of gay culture that get lost in assimilation to a largely straight society. She also addressed her own personal hardships in life and love.
Sycamore described the fundamental loss in current gay culture as being “the idea of taking care of one another–everything now is based on state recognition.”
Sycamore argued that the “national gay movement now is obsessed with straight privilege.” She urged gay subcultures, including those who identify as transsexual, transgender, queer, lesbian, gay and bigender to hold the “mainstream gay movement” accountable for ignoring problems within its smaller divisions. She stressed the idea that not all members of the gay community are focused on obtaining rights to get married, adopt, and join the military. She said those issues are associated with straight privileges established by patriarchal society.
Interviews with members of the audience showed Sycamore’s opinions were well-reflected in her fans.
When asked what she had gleaned from the presentation sophomore McKenzie Mullen, International Studies major and Gender & Sexuality studies minor said, “[Sycamore] really confirmed a lot of beliefs I already had about the gay culture. Marriage, patriarchy, subservient women; they all extend from the focus on masculinity.”
Kevin Cowell, fellow International Studies major and sophomore, agreed.
When asked his opinions on the relationship between homophobia and the notions of masculinity, Cowell said, “Homophobia stems from masculinity because most people think if you’re not masculine, you’re not as good. It’s so ingrained in culture that you tend to overlook it, but the effects are damaging.”
Mattilda Sycamore’s book was released Valentine’s day at 7 p.m. at San Francisco Main Library. On February 16, she will be at the GLBT History Museum at 7 p.m.
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