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Gender Aestheses, Part 1: Searching

Posted 9 Months ago by galbraith

This series of threads is an incomplete lexicon of music that provokes gender aestheses in me - songs that prompt me to feel my gender. No one of them can be interpreted as a sophisticated delineation of my gender, but the constellation that they comprise can help guide a person at least around the periphery of it. Generally speaking, this includes two categories: the first being music which presents ideas which I interpret in ways relating to my gender, the second being music that I relate to my experience of my gender purely on emotional or stylistic grounds. While some of these are more important or less important, the thing which is most important is the image which they create together. Some of the most innocuous things, even the momentary lilt of a voice, have been profoundly important to my experience and cannot be downplayed or even necessarily arrayed as inferior to another experience merely on the basis of explicitness. As such, no particular hierarchy can be established and I will not present these in any order other than my personal whim.
Searching for the way
Try to brighten up my day
Searching for the gold
Inside the rainbow
Looking through rose-coloured glasses won't work
It won't change anything

My body's not a temple
It is a vessel
And a blank slate
An empty hard drive
Doctor please, I'll do anything
Alter me, let me see
Give me more
I want to see the world differently

Searching, searching
Searching, searching

I've been born again
I see the light
It's in my face
I'm analyzing information
Now I am a god

The song "Searching" from Polygondwanaland by King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard is the most imminently suited to a trans reading of all of my planned sources, and this is probably why it is the first example. Much of KG's music is about transhumanism, which is inherently linked to transgender experience, even if it nominally appears to be it's own subject. The link between them (and between both of those subjects and the subjects of material conditions, bodily autonomy and human wellbeing in general) becomes much more obvious in their album Infest the Rat's Nest, which I will discuss later on.

The first verse describes looking for something not known to be real, but established by other parts of the album as being a peculiar color accessed only by a secret power called tetrachromacy. The narrator seeks "a color under blue" - something in the ultraviolet portion of the spectrum. Given that both red and blue (the simplified binary endpoints of the spectrum of visible light) can easily be interpreted as "masculine" colors, this can relate to the experience of someone realizing that both a destructive/active masculinity and a creative/passive masculinity are incapable of providing the personal enlightenment that the narrator seeks. (See a future post about "Wheels Within Wheels" by Cynic for further representation of intramasculine divisions.)

The reference of rose-colored glasses indicates an attempt to use ideological mechanisms to cope with the inability of the narrator to access the enlightenment that they require to achieve transcendence. It is altering the viewpoint of the person in the course of denying that colors other than red even exist - the narrator has attempted to flee their predicament by adopting a specious and dissonant understanding of their experiences and by "correcting" their experiences by forcing themselves away from blue - and whatever is beyond it. As noted, this does not actually change the underlying reality; it is simply an illusion, and not even a comforting one, just a brutally simplified regression from the complexity of pursuing something beyond arbitrarily established boundaries.

Alternative to the interpretation of both colors as masculine, either one may represent femininity, in which case the metaphor of the red glasses may represent either fleeing into stereotypical masculinity (denial) or of denying masculinity entirely and subsequently suffering entrapment by rigid gender binary into stereotypical femininity (abasement). In this case, both are dehumanizing. It is worth noting that an earlier song on the album describes the ocean (typically blue, typically feminine) as being "muscular, prodigious, immortal". Either way, the colors are intentional themes - they even feature in stark contrast on the cover of the album. (Also see my future essay on color and semiotics in Alan Resnick's filmography, particularly "This House Has People In It".)

The second verse addresses a holistic and realistic (and honest) desire for personal meaning. The body is not constructed as an archetypal Temple of Abrahamic tradition might be, with exact ratios and exact rituals and exact symbols that somehow grant it the abstract perfection of Heaven on Earth - gender essentialism, the immaterial and therefore inherently unsubstantiated possession of meaning by a body... which necessarily means the possession of one's body by absurd and arbitrary meaning in turn. It reflects that arbitrary material circumstances are given meaning by experiences. The narrator's body is a blank slate, but this does not mean that it is featureless; it means that they do not ascribe to it information about the self which it would not actually bear. The body does not possess the function which the narrator requires in order to gain the fulfillment of meaningful experiences, and therefore it is tells us nothing.

The narrator does not seek merely an idealistic denial of their experiences or even of a greedy and brash disbursement of meaning from an outside source in order to bring their experiences to a close, but for their investigation of these experiences to be facilitated - for they themselves to see, and subsequently not to end the quest, but to live out a new life with this understanding. When they are granted this by the alteration of their meaningless, incongruous body to a meaningful, congruous one, they are born again. They now possess the enlightenment that guides them through transcendence into the life of a god - one in which all parts and possessions of the self (body, experience, ideology, desire, etc.) are themselves perfect representations of the other elements, recursive and therefore provoking a sense of the infinite. Their voice becomes multifarious, the pitches they sing become microtonal. They are finally, indivisibly, whole.

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