Friday, January 6, 2012

Carrie Brownstein and historical denial of queers

Did you happen to catch the Carrie Brownstein interview on Fresh Air the other day? I made a point of tuning in because, you know, Carrie Brownstein was in Sleater-Kinney and, hence, she's an important figure in the lesbian community. I also happened to be unloading the dishwasher and listening to NPR, which is how I spend a good deal of my day.

Okay, but bear with me. This is important. I'm not very knowledgeable about queercore and riot grrrl music, but even I know that Brownstein was influential in those movements. I also saw Sleater-Kinney in that L Word episode. Therefore I was stunned while sorting the flatware and listening to Terry Gross that there was no mention of Brownstein's iconic status in the lesbian community. Terry Gross did refer to Brownstein as a "feminist icon," but that's not really the same thing, is it? It's not really the same thing at all. I mean, it's not even really true. Does Carrie Brownstein come to mind as a feminist icon? Not that she does not deserve to be a feminist icon. But it bothered me because the F-word just seemed to be a way to avoid the L-word in the interview. It's not as if there weren't opportunities. They talked about the Portlandia skit making fun of women's bookstores, they talked about tattoos. Terry Gross even went so far as to ask Brownstein about the experience of seeing her own image tattooed on a Sleater-Kinney fan. And the lesbian icon thing still did not come up! Who other than a queer girl would tattoo an image of Carrie Brownstein on her body? Or am I not grasping the fanatical heterosexual scope of the Sleater-Kinney fan base?

I know, I know. Carrie Brownstein identifies as bi, and that's all fine and good. But it's also quite well known that she was in a lesbian relationship with Sleater-Kinney bandmate Corin Tucker. And they have a huge following in the queer community. So all I'm saying is it would've been nice — and journalistically accurate — to acknowledge the undeniably queer component of Carrie Brownstein's career, rather than offer up a sad 21st century example of what historian Blanche Wiesen Cook has called "the historical denial of lesbianism."

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Stumbled, as one does, onto your blog. Enjoy your writing and your interests.

As to Carrie Brownstein and the peculiar absence of the term "lesbian" in her conversation with Terry Gross (which I confess I missed on NPR)...sigh...sometimes I think it's because "lesbian" becomes synonymous with "angry rash in a personal place" in some polite society or, alternately, I have been told by some younger (I am definitely older than Ms Brownstein) women that claiming an identity (however transitory) is constricting or "limiting" (personally, politically, professionally) and therefore to be rejected. But I am an old boring dinosaur of middle years and would disagree, but then, there it is.

Sapphist Gazetteer said...

Thank you for finding my blog, and thanks for your thoughts on this! I do find it interesting that the younger set wants the freedom of no labels, yet does not see how oppressive it is to refuse to acknowledge the difference — in rights, in power, in culture —between straight and queer. Damn right it can be limiting to be lesbian. But until there actually is no discrimination, I think it's best to keep embracing our identity and promoting our existence.

ellen said...

Well said Gazetteer.

Anonymous said...

Carrie and Corin did not like talking about their relationship to the press because they felt it was a personal thing and were very wary of the press' interest in that relationship, so I don't blame her a all for not talking about it all the time. As a heterosexual fan of Sleater-Kinney I have always been struck by their strident feminism. They did not strike me as queer activists so much as feminists. God they were great though, right? Sad I never got to see them.

Sapphist Gazetteer said...

Thanks for your perspective as a straight fan of Sleater-Kinney. However, I can't help but think your explanation of the disconfirmation of the band's queer history is actually evidence for, not against, the historical denial of queers. It could be enlightening to ponder why Carrie and Corin wanted to be private about their relationship. In general it seems Brownstein is really quite open about her life and certainly not shy of the spotlight.

Anonymous said...

Would her sexuality have been brought up if she were straight? Probably not. I admire Terry Gross for focusing on Brownstein's work and ideas rather than her sexuality.
I see Carrie as a feminist icon much more than a lesbian (or bi) icon. If you read her interviews, she often talks of being a proud feminist. She rarely talks about her sexuality except for the one time she was upset when Rolling Stone outed her relationship with Corin. You can be much of an icon for something you don't want to talk about.
Either way, Carrie is an awesome human being and the world is a better place because she's in it.
P.S. I'm one of those straight Sleater-Kinney fans. There are actually a lot of us, we just don't like to talk about our sexuality. ;)

Sapphist Gazetteer said...

All good points. But let me also point out that majority populations don't tend to talk about their identities as much as minority populations because there is no shortage of confirmation of the majority identity in mainstream culture. Yes, it is true: Straight people probably don't tend to sit around talking about their experience of "being straight," and Terry Gross isn't likely to ask about a person's straight experience. But it's important to understand why those things are true.

Anonymous said...

I would love to hear more of your thoughts on the historical denial of queers related to Sleater-Kinney & Carrie Brownstein. Particularly on how her image has changed during her time on Portlandia as well as the recent mainstream/ straight media coverage of Sleater-Kinney's new album. These articles usually mention Corin & Carrie's relationship and sometimes discuss their contribution to feminism-- but there's really no discussion of their contribution to lesbian/ queer/ LGBT history, music, & visibility. I just watched the Broad City interview, and there was no mention of LGBT anything. But feminism was actively discussed. Reminded me of what you said in your original post about Fresh Air.

Anonymous said...

But Carrie has struggled to even identify as bisexual to the general public. The bisexual experience is different than the straight or gay experience. We constantly have one foot in each world, not fully normal or accepted in either. Our identites are constantly defined by who we're with and the only time we can truly be our whole selves without people defining us is when we're with no one at all. How does an individual truly speak to their role in a movement when you might not fully understand it yourself? Partially in it, partially not. Maybe feminist is just the label that truly reflects her. I label myself as a feminist more easily than queer though I gladly use that label also (Though I have no fan base judging me.. Yet). In some ways it'd probably be easier for Carrie to take up the torch if she were straight or gay.

Sapphist Gazetteer said...

Thank you to the anonymous writer above for commenting on the difficulty of being bi in culture that often wants individuals to choose straight or gay. I wonder: Is the historical denial of queers greater when it comes to those who are bi? Decades ago, it seemed that bi was an identity more tolerated in the mainstream, but maybe that has changed.

Sapphist Gazetteer said...

Thank you to the anonymous writer who posted on Jan. 21, 2015. I'm happy for Carrie Brownstein and her success in television since my original post three years ago. I'm glad such a strong and creative woman is out there taking up space and expressing herself. But it is still disappointing that Sleater-Kinney's historical context in the queer community seems to remain an unspoken fact. It's also a puzzling fact, considering the remarkable advances the LGBT community has made in recent years.