Through Geschwitz’s Lorgnette: Trouser Role Politics

Vagaus PG 1.png

[Latin Oratorio Problems: When you are in love with your army commander who keeps ogling the enemy instead. –  Paola Gardina (Vagaus) in Vivaldi’s “Juditha Triumphans”, Venice 2015.]

On the heels of last week’s “Juditha Triumphans” Liveblogging, we ended up talking about trouser roles (as if we ever did much else), which in this case is to blame on Paola Gardina’s Vagaus (see above), which led to thadieu digging up an August 2014 interview with Gardina from a local Rovigo (Gardina’s hometown) news outlet. It’s a small feature on Gardina’s career, in which, upon being asked which roles she prefers, she answers, „I like the roles of young men, barely more than adolescents, who arrive on the stage of life with all their anxieties and insecurities, their enthusiasm and their wish to get to know love.“

It is a lovely interview, and a lovely answer – much more about a phase in life than about gender – and as I pointed this out in commenting, it made me realize how this answer stood out as something rare to me. I examined my own relief and happiness at reading the statement, and then I turned disgruntled because it should not be a rare occurrence to find a singer who enjoys singing trouser roles and says so.

Since this post is built on a slew of comments, let me point out that it is more personal and emotional than my usual fare. And I am aware that there are many singers (mezzos and others) who sing trouser role repertory and make no fuss about it at all, or have positive things to say about it. That is wonderful, and that is not my focus here.

My focus is an attitude to the contrary, of singers distancing themselves from trouser role repertory, generally as something that they *are* singing, but that is framed with comments along the lines of how difficult it is to get into those roles, how they require a different physique, how it is such a challenge to play cross-gender.

This post is not about giving names and pointing fingers (singers are under constraints, and audiences and press can be impertinent), it is about examining my reaction to an attitude at large that we all know from the press (including social media) in some form or other, and that I have also encountered frequently in my decade of active work in opera, from singers and managements alike. My perspective here is not that of a singer, it is that of a cultural historian who is trained to look at social contexts.

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[Here, have another screenshot because I have a feeling that this is going to be a lengthy rant. With far better impulse control: Paola Gardina (Vagaus) in Vivaldi’s “Juditha Triumphans”, Venice 2015.]

After smiling at that Gardina interview, I asked myself: „Why do I take so much note of this answer? Why do I feel grateful?“ And then I asked: „Why do I feel disproportionally disgruntled when I hear a female singer remark ‚oh, it’s such a relief that I don’t have to play a man in this production’, or when a management announces a show in which ‚all the male roles are cast with men!’, as if that would be a special merit?“

Those are remarks that will make me spend or not spend money on a show, on a singer’s recital, or a recording. Simply put for the managements: Those are remarks that can cost you money. My money.

And there are remarks that can make you money.

Did I look up Gardina on Facebook after reading that interview? You bet I did. Did I check out her upcoming shows on OperaBase? Yes again. Am I more likely to buy a ticket for one of her performances from here on out or recommend them to others? Yes, I am.

Singers enjoying building roles regardless of gender, and being relaxed about that fact, is an aspect that will make me be more interested in their work overall. It will motivate me to make more of an effort to follow their careers.

And it is not because I am thinking “Oh, they do queer stuff!”. Not even “Oh, this person might be an ally!” (though that might be a nice secondary effect – look at someone like Joyce DiDonato who sings all of her repertory with gusto and is vocal about queer rights).

I don’t think „oh, queer!“ because it is not about that. And that is precisely the issue I have with people who are vocally distancing themselves from (their) trouser roles, citing difficulty of connection (you play scheming murderers or sociopaths or abusers or airheads, and that’s something you won’t comment on, but you have issues with playing a young chap in love? Give me a break) or costumes or overall discomfort. Because what does a role have to do with one’s private gender identity? (here’s a clue: nothing.)

It’s one thing if people like von Otter say “I am growing out of the motivations of the very *young* men”: that puts age before gender (also von Otter is von Otter and she can do no wrong in my book. And I think if she were offered an interesting role of a sixty-year-old man written for her, she would not reject it on grounds of gender).

But the all-too-frequent pattern in distancing oneself from a trouser role is not that, it is another thing. It is (and I am paraphrasing in hyperbole because I am on a roll): “Ah, no, guys, sigh, such a drag” (only without the pun), followed by “*high giggles* look how pretty I look in this dress!”

And my reaction to that tends to be, in the following order, a) “oh, someone has views on gender that are rather unreflected” and b) “oh, someone is struggling with gender/bordering on transphobia when – other than for marketing reasons, which is an issue I will get to below – taking on a cross-gender role (which is your job, just as it can be your job as a singer to play a fox or a fish in a pan) prompts them to repeatedly frame their offstage gender identity and call attention to it”.

In both cases, I will be less interested in a singer’s work overall and assume it to be less artistically challenging and thought-through.

If someone who sings trouser roles complains about them for being trouser roles (and, on a sidenote, that reason is almost never ‘I have to play someone who is having male privilege and disrespects women, and that is hard for me to get into as a woman’), my first thought is: “But why would you feel the need to distance yourself? Do you think your singing cross-gender onstage would influence, or have me make assumptions about, your offstage gender identity or sexuality? Which, by the way, is none of my f***ing business to begin with? – How do these two things even relate? Why do you link a professional fact to a private stance?”
And then my grumpy, sarcastic second thought tends to be, “Oh, right, and it would be SO horrible to be thought of as (gender)queer or be linked to anything other but heteronormativity for a moment, so *of course* anyone should hurry to distance themselves from that, and, no, that is not queerphobic or transphobic in a wider social context AT ALL.”

Because that is the underlying message of these ‘Look at our flagship singer finally in a dress again!’ or ‘I am so relieved I don’t have to sing a man this time!’ comments in a wider social context, beyond the personal scope: that it is shameful and negative to – even within a fiction upon a stage! – cross gender lines or, gasp, take a step away from heteronormativity.

As someone who is queer, and who loves opera (you may have noticed on both counts), I don’t pay money to have this kind of discrimination leveled at me, even implicitly. And again: I am not talking about individual attitudes or singers here. I am talking about the pattern such remarks form in a broader cultural context. Because private opinions are just that, but we enter a zone of “the private is political” when such comments are made to the press, or by the press: they do not exist without context.

I am aware that much of this attitude is owed to the market: Opera has conservative audiences to a large degree, and the opera market, for shows and recordings, is overwhelmingly heteronormative. And interviews are a tough species to begin with – they are a marketing tool for a largely conservative demographic, plus what you say and what someone will actually write up as a ‚story’ are two different things. But I admit, from my own experience, that I do take notice if I find someone repeatedly making distancing remarks even when not prompted for them, just as I take note of someone not hurrying to scream “heteronormativity forever!” from the magazine rooftops at every given chance.

There are a few more aspects to this, of course (it is politics. What did you think?). On a political level, I do of course not expect singers to change the market on their own time. It is never the job of the oppressed to stand up against the oppression, and much as I as a queer audience member may feel put off by some press releases, the same applies to singers who have to bow to a conservative marketing stance to earn their living.

Then there is the simple technical and physical level of singers aging out of roles and into others – both male and female. Kasarova retiring Romeo was about vocal demands, not about gender. What may be about gender is the physicality. Saying “I don’t feel up to this young male part any longer due to fading fitness” is a valid reason I would never take issue with.
I may still take issue with the framework for such an argument, however, which is a specific kind of sexism in how there is very much a standard of how female singers are expected to look and move in a male part (a lot of it ties back to youth, and that is a set of expectations that is very much gendered). In comparison: How many 50+ or even 60+ Isoldes say they don’t feel up to singing a supposedly 17-year-old princess anymore because of the role’s age and physical fitness?! (yes, I know it would be impossible to sing Isolde at age 17. Other interesting question: why did Wagner write it for such an age gap?) How many aging tenors retire the roles of young military leaders due to fitness concerns? And what does all this say about how Western culture frames women’s (not men’s) aging?

Then there is the cultural fact of onstage/offstage relation. I get irked at singers or press who feel the need to explicitly ‘balance’ a trouser role with extra-conventional femininity offstage, but I get downright mad at audience members and, most of all, press members who do that same kind of confounding and link a singer’s repertory to their private appearance, fitness, gender identity or sexuality. That is a) not related at all and b) NONE of their business in the first place. Project onto a singer’s performance all you like, but not onto a singer.

When I worked in opera and happened to be in productions that had trouser roles, I heard every sleazy comment directed at the singer – from colleagues, from artistic departments, and (my favorite!) from management and audiences at the premiere outings (I wasn’t kidding in “Stages”. Those were nearly all verbatim quotes.) – and people don’t even get how offensive that is, both for the singer, and also for the queer assistant with the coffee tray behind them.
It’s seemingly harmless remarks, starting with how good someone’s legs look in pants. Then there’s the low catcalls at a costume. The comments on how a female singer looks draped over a female colleague, up to suggestions whether they’d do that offstage, too. When the baritone says “Oh, can we do that scene again? If I watch that, I’ll have nice dreams tonight”, it’s not funny. It’s sexist, chauvinist crap. But there’s awkward laughter, and nobody calls it out – not the singer, who does not want to be difficult and still needs to work with that baritone, and not the closeted assistant, who also still needs to work with that baritone.

So, yes, I get that sometimes a “Oh, I am so happy I don’t have to sing a man this time!” comment may be a knee-jerk reaction to ward off all those comments that I know every trouser role singer has heard more than enough of.
But, beyond that, there are also audience members (and cast and crew members) who have had more than enough shade being tossed at their queerness, closeted or not, and who in turn are put off by the implications of those same protective remarks.

A few years ago, a singer came by these pages – we had talked about one of her performances where she had given a fantastic portrayal of masculinity, and we were lauding her for that – and frantically commented that she was straight. Not gay. NOT GAY.

Now Eye Bags is a fan space, not a professional music outlet, and I doubt that many singers ever end up here (which reminds me, I need to look up Natascha Petrinsky’s schedule and see if she is singing in the area next season. I would love to hear her again), so it was a single incident, but it rattled me. Because none of us had commented on anything else but the role portrayal, yet the singer felt the need to ascertain her heterosexuality. She apparently felt her gender identity was tainted or threatened by the fact that a few queer women were enthusiastic about how she had played a role, and found her attractive in that role.

It is an incident I still think about now and then because of course I do not want to make anyone uncomfortable (and, yes, I know one of my main tags is ‘hot mezzos in pants’, but surely every one gets that it is a joke? Right?!). But I do not want to feel guilty for looking at opera with a queer eye, either. I get told to be ashamed of whom and what I feel drawn to enough in other spaces.
I will not apologize for having built a queer space for queer people who are welcome to talk about performances and voices they love. Or for swooning at appealing trouser role portrayals. Fine, swooning at them *a lot*. I simply don’t think that that should feel like a threat or an insult to anyone.

On the other end of the scale: I don’t believe for a minute that journalists for classical music outlets, much less singers, think a lot about minority politics when there are interviews to be done (that minority thing is my job, not theirs), and I don’t expect them to do. But there are things that can so easily be done on a very simple level.

If I return to the sample remarks above of the “this will cost you my money” variety, it is easy to rephrase them in a way that is more inclusive and does not feel offensive: ‘Look at our flagship singer finally in a dress again!’ is easily amended to ‘Look at the range our flagship singer has! Having done trouser role X, now taking on role Y!’ And a ‘I am so relieved I don’t have to sing a man this time!’ in a quick sidestage interview could just as well be ‘After the trouser roles X and Y, it’s also great to work on a female role again’ (implied statement: Look at my impressive range. Feel free to book me. Get you a woman who can do both.)

Inclusiveness and awareness are a continuous learning process, for all of us, myself very much included. Yet at times, it is so very easy to make a difference (and to draw a few more people to shows or recordings or singers. Just sayin’).


17 thoughts on “Through Geschwitz’s Lorgnette: Trouser Role Politics”

  1. Well said, well worth saying, thank you. Agreed on all counts.

    Two underlying dynamics come to mind: opera as sexual experience, and mental rigidity in difficult times.

    Although the first has been long and widely recognized and described, I haven’t seen much writing about the reasons that music operates so effectively in this regard. The sexual excitement transfers to the performers, for whom it is part of their career trajectory. Difficult to moderate a force so fundamental to the form. Experience and sophistication allow pleasure in the consciousness of fiction, but those take time and work. Most people pay for the thrills.

    As for the second, you and Agathe have talked about the way that very early socialization is strongly categorized again now; one could but probably shouldn’t write an essay on sexism in the gay and trans communities; sports in the US identifies itself with the military to the point of wearing simulated uniforms; politics is growingly bipolar both in mood and in terms of thought. People with enough money to attend opera are less secure than before the last crash; the younger audience, students and artists, has reason to face the future with more concern than hope, and to feel itself insecurely privileged. Familiar forms of pleasure replace exploration–as the listings of online broadcasts show: the warhorses are back, relieved by occasional works by modern celebrity composers.

    Natural, in present circumstances, to think in older simpler terms. Much of the world still thinks in pre-Enlightenment mode, coupled with modern technology, a weird and troubled combination. Disappointing and frustrating, to witness this retrograde development. The 1980s were a ghastly time for hopes formed in the 1960s, but improvements followed.

    All the more reason, and need, to raise your voice now so clearly and so forcefully, for which I and others thank you, again.

    In den finsteren Zeiten
    Wird da auch gesungen werden?
    Da wird auch gesungen werden.
    Von finsteren Zeiten.

    Defenceless under the night
    Our world in stupor lies;
    Yet, dotted everywhere,
    Ironic points of light
    Flash out wherever the Just
    Exchange their messages:
    May I, composed like them
    Of Eros and of dust,
    Beleaguered by the same
    Negation and despair,
    Show an affirming flame.


  2. Auden 1939 — the date enough to let my blood run cold at the comparison of times. God, I hope not. But whatever it will be, this will be beauty I will rely on. Thank you. Thank you for all of this.

    An important aspect, the link of operatic performance and sexual excitement. There have been various monographs on it in an uprise of reception research since the mid-90s, after Koestenbaum perhaps – and strongly following that example – Sam Abel with “With Opera In The Flesh”. It also reminds me of Margaret Reynold’s trouser role paper that starts, “People go to the opera for sex” (it is either the first line, or somewhere in the first paragraph – I don’t have access to it right now).
    And this, perhaps, lies at the root of my grudge here – how can I ask of performers to be mindful of gender conventions and the policing those carry with them, when a large part of audiences and press does not respect boundaries in return?
    Of course, music is a sensual experience, opera even more so (at some point, I will have to scan the Abel excerpt on ‘Operatic Orgasm’ for the interested White Shirt crowd), and it is not something I want to begrudge anyone. I heavily partake in it.
    Now I cannot judge this form a performer’s standpoint, but given with how we teach acting and music as immersion ever since the late 18th century, there is a logical thread of connection, depending on personal stances.
    But even if modern identity politics heavily suggest blurring these lines, there must – on the audience/press/management side foremost – always a clear distinction between engaging with a performance, and respecting performance and performer as separate entities.
    Yes, operatic performances can be overwhelmingly sensual, and that is a large part of their appeal, but this flawed post-Roussean concept of having to assume a ‘truth’ in a performer to validate the ‘truth’ of the performance is really shooting itself in the foot in this aspect. And it is so prevalent still, even in a more postmodern framework. It’s in the “is singer XY gay?” search terms I see spike in leading people to this site after a performer has given a convincing cross-gender performance and I always sit there and ask myself: “But what does that have to do with the performance?”


  3. Thank you for these blogs and it hits bit of a nerve with me right now because I told you about the audience reactions on the love scenes in Sunday’s Capuleti, and joked a bit about it, but in fact it is always a bit of a shock to experience how the way you see the world and which you kind of take for granted, is simply not the way most others see it.
    Regarding singers distancing themselves, I have also often seen the opposite, when singers very much remained in their role during curtain calls. Of course, it is still half performance, but I think there is quite a range of self-display possible in that situation and I have seen quite a few singers in trouser roles keeping a bit of galant behaviour toward their soprano partner. Still, this only tells me as the audience that they have a good connection with their role and their stage partner, not that they are necessarily gay, but also I think these singers just don’t mind possibly being connected with it.


    1. That’s a good example on contemporary acting stance – we navigate the border between “self” and “other” in a specific way that requires a time to get in, and to get out. Like how it takes a minute long to shake someone out of your body after having lent it to them for an evening!
      (Still no grounds for assumptions on anyone’s life – just as you say.)
      And the people nervously shifting in their seats – ugh. It is often the small things that hurt, I find. When at the end of the night, in a quiet moment on your own, you look back at the previous hours and realize, “Wait a moment. That was actually pretty homophobic.”


  4. Interesting rant + comments 🙂

    that reason is almost never ‘I have to play someone who is having male privilege and disrespects women, and that is hard for me to get into as a woman

    Hehe, very good point! Tancredi, I’m looking at you.

    Other interesting question: why did Wagner write it for such an age gap?

    But he didn’t, did he? They could sing it younger back then. Isn’t this have more to do with the orchestra being louder etc.?

    How many aging tenors retire the roles of young military leaders due to fitness concerns?

    I think they’re starting to be forced to as well.

    you play scheming murderers or sociopaths or abusers or airheads, and that’s something you won’t comment on, but you have issues with playing a young chap in love?

    I don’t think it’s quite the same; even with sopranos and tenors audiences have a tendency (fuelled by the industry of romcoms and soap operas) to imagine liaisons anywhere two people as much as look at each other, so it’s probably a knee-jerk reaction. There’s on the other hand an interesting side discussion to be had about how difficult it is for people to imagine/accept that people they know personally can be sociopaths and/or abusers.

    I get irked at singers or press who feel the need to explicitly ‘balance’ a trouser role with extra-conventional femininity offstage

    To be fair you sometimes hear sopranos complain about very boring/conventionally feminine roles. Do you think many sopranos really really enjoy playing Mimi or Violetta these days? They like the music and the status these standard roles give them and they like the dresses (because we’re conditioned to think we look good in those frills – and perhaps we actually do) but the characters themselves…

    Because what does a role have to do with one’s private gender identity? (here’s a clue: nothing.)

    Hm, I don’t know if I agree – in the sense that you have to have thought about your gender identity and your relation to it before you act. Everyone encounters psychological blocks at some point.

    “heteronormativity forever!”

    😀 I can see an evil imp running around holding that banner.


    1. …WP just nixed my lengthy reply to you *curses* – so for tonight just thank you for your input, and I’ll give it a more aware try tomorrow.


      1. i’ve learned my lesson now: i hit ctrl-A and copy my entire response before hitting “send” because wp has eaten many of my lengthly replies.. i think it has to do (in my case) with having a tab opened for a long time and then several days later reply.. and in the meantimes things have evolved on the page and wp just booted the comment off entirely..


    2. Trying again, and this time I copied everything into a text document, so Ha and Double Ha and HA again, WP.

      1) When typed that bit about disprespecting women, my first thought was Tancredi, too. (generally, the very young men manage to escape this trap a bit because they are not on the heroic side of masculinity yet – so it might not be an issue we get as much in trouser roles/castrato parts designed to be very young)

      2) Wagner did not write for an age gap THAT huge, but he did write for an age gap, which is the fault of default 19th century bourgeois marriage being between a girl of not yet twenty and a man of about forty – the whole image of woman as a projection space in context of romance was tied to being very young. Not Wagner’s fault, but he nicely makes that gap visible (Mathilde Wesendonck sure wasn’t 17).
      And, yes, orchestra size played a huge role in the change of voice aesthetics in the early/mid-19th ctry, and you could sing things earlier then, but my beef here is with „why did culture at large think 17 was a good age for Isolde?!“ (which brings us back to the transaction known as bourgeois marriage.)

      3) Fitness and male singers: I see it from the other angle of younger male singers being cast much more for looks that 20 years ago, and with much more scrutiny of their bodies (sites like “Barihunks” are calling this into view quite well – both the demand on male singers to be fit, and the fixation on that). Still a lot less than women get scrutinized, but there is a shift.
      And one of the things I love about opera is – or used to be – that onstage, you could still escape the demands of size. You could just SING it. And it is my impression that we keep losing that. In the early 2000s, I got to work with a Butterfly who was a very big, statuesque woman. And she nailed the part of that 15-year-old girl (and don’t let me get into another rant on statuatory rape here) by singing, and being a very good actress – I remember the detail of how she moved her hands, and that was already half the story. (Hm. I am digressing again)

      4) An important discussion on how abusers are most often people being given an opportunity, and opportunity is giving with familiarity, and then the unwillingness to see that leads to enabling abusers! (but that is perhaps a rant for another post. Also important in much of opera’s plots)
      I agree that the projection issue is not a trouser role problem. With how Western culture situates concepts of acting, identity, body and self, the improper crossing of boundaries is downright invited, and the film industry with their PR relationships is swapping over into opera perception, especially with opera being streamlined more to movie demands (I love HD streamings, but they do ruin the specifically operatic suspension of disbelief in imposing movie frames onto the stage). So, yes, soprano/tenor combos get speculation thrown at them, too. But it’s more a giggling “oh, did they hook up?” (I swear, the things people google about Jonas K….!) and less a derisive, “Oh, she must be a dyke” – which is a defensive way of trying to explain why something connects to you that is out of your comfort zone. Also, that is bad press that still can damage jobs, while the straight thing is not.
      Heteronormative mirror romance between plot and private life is a pattern enforced by actual samples that get framed with disproportionate attention (and I know I am guilty of writing a gay equivalent in “Stages”): look at the marketing use of Alagna/Gheorghiu (and to an interestingly lesser degree, Alagna/Kurzak), AN/Erwin vs. AN/Yusif, or the late Dessì and Armiliato. Another example, down a slightly different road that uses a lot of ugly tropes on femininity and submission in female artistry, is the press promotion of Rattle/Kozená. (more digressing. Sorry.)

      5) Complaining about roles: to be fair, I get mad in general when roles are being resented for their gender. A performer saying “I can’t play her because she is a woman, ugh, no thanks” would also make me mad – only that it happens very rarely with women who sing women. And when it happens with male singers, I roll my eyes, but I understand to a certain degree that by playing female as a man, you get so much homophobic and transphobic reactions thrown at you (which, in the end, can hurt your business) that you may not be up to it. So it’s more cause to flip off patriarchy and its models of masculinity. (I’ll still rolll my eyes, though)
      Complaining about female roles because the women in case are boring/submissive/conventional – that is a mixed bag. I commend an awareness of damaging gender tropes in female roles, but I also believe that with a staging and a performance that addresses those issues, you can often make a difference (even for Violetta – the central point being to get people to rethink the romanticized female sacrifice angle instead of giving them more of that opium). I admit I am guilty of disregarding some female roles, too, and I should not. Recent example: me sneering at Manon, and then Petibon suddenly making her interesting and compelling because of a very thought-out interpretation also in regards to gender.
      Yet the discussion on men having written/composed women in disparaging ways absolutely needs to be had, and there needs to be awareness of agency in the industry at large (not just on stage).

      Because what does a role have to do with one’s private gender identity? (here’s a clue: nothing.)

      Hm, I don’t know if I agree – in the sense that you have to have thought about your gender identity and your relation to it before you act. Everyone encounters psychological blocks at some point.

      True. The less rant-succinct version of this argument would have been, that it my be linked, but cannot be equated, and works a bit like a semipermeable membrane as in that of course a performer starts from their own vantage point (and the more reflected that point, the better) to get to an interpretation, so there is a link. But, in turn, from an interpretation, one must not project back and equate it to the singer (e.g. “Oh, with the way he looks at her, he must be into her for real” or “with how she plays that, she has to be gay/bi/pan”). It is acting, and it is some people’s job, but the issue of conflagrating the two to arrive at an increased sense of ‘truth’ of a performance is a cultural problem at large, rooted – I believe – in post-enlightenment construction of identity and authenticity.

      “heteronormativity forever!”

      I can see an evil imp running around holding that banner.

      So the solution would be to chase after that imp with an even bigger banner reading “sod off”? 😉 Hire me, I’d do that.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. …and they like the dresses (because we’re conditioned to think we look good in those frills – and perhaps we actually do).

      I think the „image“ of clothing/styling is an important point, also in relation to trouser roles. I guess the greatest problem people have with trouser roles is the fact that masculinity in a women is regarded extremely unattractive by most, and people get conditioned to that reception from a young age (just recently I zapped into an incredibly stupid teenage comedy where the ugly, mens’ shirt wearing girl is successfully transformed into a beautiful Barbie doll on heels to win the boy. Also, my niece refused to go to school after the hairdresser had accidentally cut off a bit too much).
      At least for the young generation, I guess the display of lesbian love wouldn’t be so much of a problem, but only as long as both wear nice dresses.
      In relation to the previous post on Rizzoli Romeo, maybe this production wasn’t progressive at all but just avoiding a negative masculine image to their Romeo?


      1. That is another interesting angle.

        Culturally conditioned (self-)perception is such an important point because girls get taught from such an early age that masculinity is, in or on them, unbecoming and ugly (implying also that they are supposed to style themselves with the goal of pleasing others, and being judged by prettiness). And the truly perfidious thing is that this way, girls get conditioned to find strength, independence and confidence unattractive in themselves. In short: to find positions of submission, and not of power, attractive. It makes me LIVID. Because what is subsumed under “masculine” traits that are supposedly ugly on a woman? The right to take up space, to be assertive,m, to proclaim a stance. To hold power. (Also: being in charge in a sexual and romantic context) The right to not having to be pretty, to not having to be ‘playful’ to appease anyone in power (…them frills. And trying to find something to wear that does NOT have frills).

        Which tend to be qualities that queer women – away from a heteronormative playing field – often strive for, and find attractive in other women (or people overall).



      2. I guess the greatest problem people have with trouser roles is the fact that masculinity in a women is regarded extremely unattractive by most

        definitely. When I realised I liked girls as a kid, ending up looking like a(n ugly) man was my #1 fear. At Uni I started worrying that I looked too girly even in jeans and a t-shirt let alone in something remotely frilly 😉

        this thread has made me think about how far lesbian visibility has come. I’ve grown up in a very traditional small town, then went to Uni in what seemed to me a very untraditional environment – but in hindsight it seems to me was less than I thought, “fresh out of the ’50s” as one of the friends from that period put it – then I went to work in some traditional environments so at this point I’m a bit confused as to how far Western society has really come. It seems highly uneven, certain environments (the specifically gay/lesbian ones, other sexually liberated ones, some arty ones) being very foward looking, others on the contrary. I was very surprised to hear theatre world – of all places – can be so stuck up and disrespectful.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Now that you mention it, one of my biggest hurdle in coming out to myself was seeing two “classic” lesbians in one of my choirs – who, for their own reasons and life experiences, had arrived at a self-presentation that to me looked awkward, unsenusal and utterly unappealing. I still remember thinking “but I cannot be gay because I am not like that. I do not want to look like that. I am not attracted to these women.” (I was, on the other hand, very much attractive to one of the second sopranos, unbeknownst. Different story.)
          Today, I would be less judgmental, but I was 18 and scared and did not know any queers (or so I thought.)

          I think one aspect about the art worlds, that you made me think about now, is one of misogyny in queer contexts, and usually gets swept under the rainbow parade rug. Theatre is a gay world, no doubt, but it is a gay MALE world for the most part, and you’ve often got the same machinations of male privilege in place as in straight environments – at times even more so because gay men do not necessarily intersect with women as much in their lives privately and perhaps do not have to rethink male privilege as much.

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          1. it’s weird, right, trying not to look too much like a classic lesbian and then ending up worried that no interested women will know you’re available? I’m quite good at reading people otherwise but my lesbian sensor has always been poor.

            I think it’s very hard not ot be judgmental looks-wise, because it comes down to what is and what is not appealing (which, of course, isn’t just personal preference, but self awareness is a very long road).

            definitely about the gay world being male-oriented. I remember several occasions (aside from but I guess in addition to the whole issue of fashion) where gay men have lectured (straight) women on how to be feminine and have in so many words called lesbians lesser women. Also the trans-world, if you think about the role models, it’s mostly male-to-female, which is another interesting (and often frustrating) take on male/female attitudes on feminism.


            1. Oh God yes, those days of trying find a compromise between broadcasting in established codes, but also broadcasting one’s own aesthetics… Rollercoaster!

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  5. i’d like to reply to this post since the last 3 days.. but every time here i got mesmerized by that 2nd picture.. and kept staring at it..

    But i wanted to say during our discussion there was indeed one point you discuss here that i haven’t thought of: that the nature of staging already implying young men role = must be energetic/macho–hence my comment regarding physical fitness (not vocal).. For example, back to Paris Mitridate, i think this type of staging, focusing on the emotional state, puts the focus on something basic and important yet doesn’t call out for attention of physical fitness (though climbing up the table and tap-dancing to Aspasia is a (very much welcome) option!)


    1. yes, that really comes back to society’s damaging ideas of heroic masculinity, and that you need to be an energetic macho to get the point across (and moreso, perhaps, when you are not working from a male body?).

      And that is one aspect that connected so much with us over that Paris Mitridate, and I know we pointed it out several times in discussion: that you can create a portrayal of masculinity, and a male hero, that does NOT start with a testosterone overload.


  6. Brilliant, Anik and commenters.

    “(you play scheming murderers or sociopaths or abusers or airheads, and that’s something you won’t comment on, but you have issues with playing a young chap in love? Give me a break)” — ha, let’s have THAT question in the next Met HD intermission interview!


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