Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Queer Objects: Some Brief Notes


Guest Post by D Gilson


So I’ve been thinking about underwear since seventh grade. Since the days when Mark K. was the star pitcher of the Nixa Junior High Eagles. When my days went something like this:

  • Second period — Ms. Matlock, our pre-algebra teacher, is the object of lust for Mark and all the boys in our class. Mark sits in front of me and when he constantly calls her to his desk, Ms. Matlock leans down and Mark leans forward to look down the front of her neon cardigan sets. When Mark leans forward, I can see the waistband of his underwear—usually a gray elasticity printed Hanes again and again—and I slouch down to hide my excitement. 
  • Sixth period — In Coach Creed’s gym class my locker is next to Mark’s and as we change into our Umbro shorts, I get to see what he wears that is connected to the waistband I spied earlier. It is the excitement of a secret revealed. Are they briefs? Or boxers? Or boxerbriefs, my favorite then? It is a daily surprise, an obsession I begin tallying in my journal, a weird cultural material in and of itself: a hardback notebook with a cover of the St. Louis Cardinals and inside, pages plastered with magazine cutouts of Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Hillary Clinton. And now, of course, a daily tally of Mark’s underwear. 
  • Baseball practice — We’re always in close proximity, Mark and I, he our school’s pitcher and I the team’s catcher (haha). The lockerroom for baseball practice is decidedly different than that of gym class, a space literally transformed. It is marked by, in my revisions of memory at least, jockstraps and cups. Jockstraps being like picture frames for art that does not need such adornment. I have never cared for them, though many men do, it seems. Mark snaps the band that bisects my ass, as a joke, and I burn in shame. I don’t know why. 

So yes, in short: 

I’ve been thinking about underwear for some time now, and in some detail. And now I’m thinking about the public nature of our underwear, its transformative and representative powers. Cultural critic Wayne Koestenbaum explains, “Underwear used to be one’s own business. Now it is a defining (hence public) element of a masculine wardrobe.”


The transformation of my own undergarments: 

In childhood I wear briefs in primary colors with white piping from OshKosh B'gosh; in middle school, caught by the visual culture of Eminem and Boyz II Men, I demand to wear boxers, though wear briefs underneath to conceal a constant pubescent arousal; in high school I wear boxer-briefs, boring and plain & a different type of concealment; in college I return to briefs and in graduate school, American Apparel briefs almost exclusively, the queer object I am trying to think about now.

My current research focuses on hipsters—those people who are easy to pick on and self-righteous, often, in their adherence to strange codes of aesthetics and politics, or pseudo politics, many would have us believe. 

If the ‘80s & ‘90s gave us fashion obsessed with the outward label that announces itself as a brand—the flag of Tommy Hilfiger or the polo horse of Ralph Lauren, to name only two—then the millennium and time since, the age of the hipster and his fashion, gives us the unbranded fashion identity. At the center of this may well be American Apparel and for queer hipsters, I’d argue, their briefs specifically. 


As seen in the image above, these briefs are unmarked, seemingly un-braded, though they also seem to denote membership in a certain hipster club. The largest clothier that continues to manufacture clothing solely in the United States under fair wage practices—though this is arguable, certainly — American Apparel may represent the hipster’s conflicted relationship with mass consumerism, aligning the group writ large with theories of post-Marxism. 

Underneath the skinny jeans of many a hipster—a group, I argue, that is largely fucking with gendered fashion in their everyday choices—lies a pair of these briefs, plain brightly colored things which harken back to a strange conglomerate of Americana: ‘70s gay porn, the underwear of childhood, and athletic gear, par exemple.

What I hope to do in my research, which I’ve only begun to briefly examine here in some probably nonsensical notes, is to both probelamtize and explore the possibility of hipster fashion as denoting a queer body of protest, a body that might resign itself (problematically) to live in the high capitalist mindset of neoliberalism, but also a body that protests that in small, perhaps queer ways, a protest which opens up possibilities not seriously considered by the academy yet. These briefs may do many a thing for the individual who wears them: blur the lines between boy and girl, between consumer and Marxist, between hipster and yuppie. Are they a queer object in this way? Perhaps.


D Gilson is a doctoral student of English
at the George Washington University,
in the American Literature concentration;
w/a focus on Queer & Hipster Culture

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