Jennie Livingston Spirit Possession

1054 Words5 Pages
Jennie Livingston, director of the 1990 documentary film, Paris is Burning, challenges the public to revisit their judgments on race, gender, and sexuality as she provocatively attempts to unravel the dynamic world of “ball culture” in New York City “and the African-American, Latino, gay, and transgender communities involved in it.” It was Livingston’s investigation that affirmed the link I was uncovering between the gender performance popularly described as “Drag” and spirit possession. The act of men embodying women through physical appearances and gendered behaviors, traces back to Ancient Rome and “classical Chinese theatre,” where women were prohibited from performing on stage. In Native American culture, cross-dressing “berdaches” - individuals,…show more content…
Though varying in the form that it appears, spirit possession can be traced back in the history of all major religious and cultural tradition from the very beginning of civilization. In ancient Mesopotamia, “all forms of sickness, both physical and psychological, were attributed to possessing spirits.” The “variations, degrees and meaning of possession,” has been connected (amongst anthropologists) to the “social and cultural background of a civilization” through historical observation and analysis. In anthropological literature, spirit possession is typically portrayed as being “incompatible with common cultural assumptions and biases guiding Western notions of ‘self’ and ‘personhood.’” However, holistic practitioner, Mark Bancroft, succinctly combats the latter: “Due to societal variables, ‘It is not for us to judge who is and who is not really possessed.’ If someone is, in his own cultural milieu, generally considered to be in a state of spirit possession, then he (or she) is possessed.” Most commonly in spirit possession, “the host is represented as withdrawing from the body or assuming a passive role in relation to the control of the body, which” is occupied by the possessing entity. Although the presence of queer subjects precedes the existence of the human species, mankind has struggled to recognize the parallel…show more content…
Butler argues, “gender identity is a performative accomplishment compelled by social sanction and taboo,” and that gender itself is unstable. Gender identity is the product of actions and behaviors - gestures, dress codes, and language - that constitute a performance, which is ultimately perceived as masculine or feminine. This end result is due to an outdated, inappropriate binary gender system, which I will discuss later on. It becomes clear that gender is not based on internal identity, so called “self-definition” or biological sex, but rather reflective perceptions of performance by the individual. Butler criticizes the public for creating a “social fiction,” through which gender is isolated into concrete vessels; she maintains gender is constantly shifting and reproducing itself. Gender does not come into existence until the performance

    More about Jennie Livingston Spirit Possession

      Open Document