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‘Queering” Heterosexuality

Women Gender and Sexuality Studies Course title: Queer Gender paper subject/title: ‘Queering’ Heterosexuality Heterosexuality is universally described as having a desire or sexual contact with someone of the opposite sex from one’s own. This particular definition of heterosexuality for the most part, has remained relatively unquestioned. In turn, this has allowed heteronormative cultures and beliefs to assume heterosexuality as the norm.

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Marginalizing people who do not fit within heterosexual norms perpetuates the exclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual individuals, as well as, heterosexual individuals that participate in sexual practices that are not in alliance with commonly held notion of heterosexuality. The focus of this paper will be to use Nikki Sullivan’s writing, A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory in order to identify the ways in which Lizzie Borden’s 1986 film Working Girls, ‘queers’ heterosexuality. Analyzing heterosexuality through Sullivan’s writings and Borden’s film, allows for the universal understanding of heterosexuality to be challenged.

Heterosexuality is consistent with dominant group membership and with beliefs, values, and institutions that support and are supported by that group. Therefore, the institution of heterosexuality constructs restrictions and allows for little element of real choice. Within heterosexuality, males are the only ones that are given the ability to choose. Males are in the dominant, profiting, and controlling position in heterosexual relationships, whereas females are understood to serve, pleasure, and assume females to abide by the decisions that males make for them.

Following the lives of a group of female sex workers, Lizzie Borden’s 1986 film, Working Girls juxtaposes paid “straight” sexuality with lesbianism. Molly, the main character in the film, is the only female who is known to be a lesbian. However, even though Molly is a lesbian and has sex with men, what she is doing is engaging in a performance of heterosexuality. This is just the same as her engaging in a performance of sexual service for money. Since money is being exchanged in response to sexual practices, this already ‘queers’ the notion of heterosexuality.

The concept of sex as a commodity that is sold by women and consumed by men is something that bears further feminist analysis. In her film, Borden illustrates that there is nothing “straight” about sex work. Selling sex is believed to be quite outside the normative codes of heterosexual conduct, whereby sex is privileged as something you do for love or reproduction. So therefore, the exchange of money for a sexual service is a defining characteristic that is believed to be a queer act.

This means that any sexual practices that are not done out of love or for reproduction are only done for pleasure, which is not in congruence with heterosexual practices. In the film Working Girls Borden illustrates that within the sex work industry, certain women come up with complex and provocative theories of femininity and sexuality when describing their jobs. Due to the jobs they have and the position they are placed in relevance to men, these women are given the ability to have real choice and choose their sexual partners.

These women make their own personal choices to engage or not engage in certain sexual acts with their clients. An example of this is seen in the film when a client of Molly’s commands her to suck his penis and she responds back to him that she will not do anything she does not want to do. Molly’s response challenges the social and sexual power of men dominating women, therefore deconstructing the heterosexual knowledge that men are in control. In heterosexuality, the male is always the victor, however in Borden’s film the females are the ones in the position of the victor because they are the ones in control of the men.

This can be seen in the film by having a woman, Lucy deal with all the money the women make. Lucy is in the dominant controlling position, which threatens the traditional understanding that the man is in charge of the house. Not to mention that, in the sex work industry females, sex workers and pimps, financially profiting from the sexual interactions they have with males, their clients. Christine Overall, a feminist theorist Sullivan refers to in her writings, aims to envision a more compatible relationship between heterosexuality and feminism.

By making a conscious and informed choice to partake in heterosexual practices without agreeing to endorse the heterosexual institution, this could be identified as a form of feminist praxis (Sullivan, 126). The sex workers in the film, may not voice that they are feminists, however they still make conscious and informed choices to participate or not in sexual practices with their cliental. Overall outlines a number of reasons as to why the choice to participate in heterosexual practices need to be observed as a justifiable option for feminists. Furthermore, Sullivan relates Overall’s thesis to a statement made by Segal, All feminists could, and strategically should, participate in attempting to subvert the meaning of ‘heterosexuality’, rather than simply trying to abolish its practice…to acknowledge that there are many ‘heterosexualities’…We need to explore them, both to affirm those which are based on safety, trust, and affection…and which therefore empower women” (Sullivan, 127). Both Overall and Segal, challenge the notion that there is only one definition of heterosexuality, by introducing the belief that there are various different forms of heterosexuality among us.

But rather than simply encouraging women to choose to participate in heterosexual practices on their own terms, Segal invites women to play an active role in subverting heterosexual norms by ‘queering’ traditional understanding of gender and sexuality. Throughout the film, sex workers interact in heterosexual practices that differ from commonly held notions of heterosexuality. At one point in the film, Molly must deal with a man that gets turned on by wearing women’s panties and getting smacked in the ass with a paddle. Sexual practices that are executed this way go outside of the box of what heterosexuality is widely described to be.

Pleasures produced by practices such as fisting, anonymous sex, bondage, and so on, functions to ‘shatter identity and dissolve the subject’ (Sullivan, 156). This is because such practices work against the logic of heteronormative sex, a practice that ultimately serves as an act of reproduction. These types of practices are non-reproductive and open up a sort of polymorphous perversity, enabling us to rethink pleasure and sexuality. After analyzing Nikki Sullivan’s writing, A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory in order to identify the ways in which Lizzie Borden’s 1986 film Working Girls, ‘queers’ heterosexuality.

Using Lizzie Borden’s film to analyze the sex work industry, has placed it at the crossroads of feminism and queer theory; thus, providing a unique vantage point to critique the regime of heterosexuality from various aspects. Various activists in a variety of social groups have fought to, and continue to challenge heteronormative behaviors and beliefs. Heterosexuality continues to be challenged daily in many different ways, some of which were previously discussed.

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