Text by Jonathan Kemp

Euphoria
Noun


1. A state of intense happiness and self-confidence.
2. Psychology. A feeling of happiness, confidence, or well-being sometimes exaggerated in pathological states as mania.

“Womanhood does not depend on reproductive biology… ‘woman’ remains a useful shorthand for the entanglement of femininity and social status regardless of biology—not as an identity, but as the name for an imagined community that honors the female, enacts the feminine and exceeds the limitations of a sexist society.”
– Susan Stryker

In her book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1991), Judith Butler argues that the drag queen reveals the radical instability of the relationship between sex and gender and dramatizes the performative nature of gender identity. For Butler, the construction of gender identities is produced through repetitive performance of gestures without which the man/woman distinction has no sense. By removing those gestures from the sexed body with which they’re associated – femininity performed by a ‘male’ body - drag exposes gender as a cultural code which relies on imitation and reappearance, devoid of any originary, essential truth. The parodic nature of drag accentuates the norms of gender performance: there is no doer behind the deed, only the illusion of one. All identity is mimicry, in thrall to unattainable ideals that oppress us. The drag queen is the lie that tells the truth, exposing the social coercion at the base of the performative nature of identity. For Butler, drag’s parody points to the fact that, if there’s no essential origin of gender identity, it is open to disruption, subversion, intervention, recongfiguration. Drag troubles gender in useful and fruitful ways.

For me, these intimate portraits by Prisca Lobjoy of drag queens in situ, at work and off guard, suggest Emily Dickinson’s plea to “Tell all the truth but tell it slant”, for so many of them show the body from behind, turned or turning away, the camera slanting towards their subject in ways that seem to give us greater insight into the queer spaces these bodies occupy and move through. A private moment with one’s reflection becomes a public event through the act of photography. The refusal of the subject to catch the viewer’s gaze becomes the purpose of the viewer’s gaze, a fixing that is an unfixing, identity refused or unravelled. These are performing bodies refusing to perform, resisting capture. These frozen moments of bodies in motion give us the broken arc of an incomplete gesture, the repetition or reiteration of which supports the illusions of gender, and the suspension of which disrupts.

The euphoria on display in Lobjoy’s euphoric portraits is the vertiginous, destabilising euphoria of subversion and parody; the amplification of the ruse of gender. It’s the euphoria that comes with expanding the concept of womanhood to include those bodies rendered unintelligible by the old rules, that heterosexual matrix within which these female or feminine bodies battle confidently, euphorically, knowing that the gestures by which they signify are up for grabs, available to all who have the confidence to turn away from the old ways and embrace a new order of things.

Jonathan Kemp,

London, April 2020

Jonathan Kemp’s debut novel London Triptych (Myriad, 2010) was acclaimed by The Guardian as an “ambitious, fast-moving, and sharply written work” and by Time Out as “a thoroughly absorbing and pacy read.” It was shortlisted for the inaugural Green Carnation Prize and won the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award in 2011. A story collection, Twentysix was published by Myriad in November 2011, followed by a second novel, Ghosting, in March 2015. His first book of non-fiction, The Penetrated Male, was published by Punctum Books in 2012, with a second, Homotopia? Gay Identity, Sameness & the Politics of Desire in 2016. He has been teaching creative writing for twenty years and is currently at Middlesex University.

Playlist imaginée par Patrick Vidal en échos au texte de Chici Valenti et aux photographies de la série "Euphoria":


Johnny Dynell & New York 88 "Jam Hot (Rhumba Rock)” 

https://youtu.be/A8ipWOLCAzM


Whitney Houston "It's Not Right But It's Ok (KCC's Release The Love Groove Mix)” 

https://youtu.be/bsGVKDnzuTg


Sylvester "I Need You" 

https://youtu.be/JajJN7uCp34


Cheryl Lynn "Got To Be Real" 

https://youtu.be/54HSk7-q960


Kevin Aviance "Cunty" 

https://youtu.be/hYTuzFNZftY


Inner Life featuring Jocelyn Brown "Make It Last Forever" 

https://youtu.be/aE_aHJnpcSM


Johnny Vicious featuring Loleatta Holloway "Stand Up"

https://youtu.be/52Q9-5Vg090




EUPHORIA


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