Monday, March 4, 2013

verona cowboy

The day after listening to Will Stockton's provocative talk I watched Midnight Cowboy (1969) for my queer theory class. The film follows Joe Buck (Jon Voight), a young man from Texas who moves to New York City and hopes to become a stud. Dressed in a brand-new cowboy costume, Joe assumes he will have his pick of female clients, but soon finds that he is far more interesting to gay men. As he grows increasingly more destitute, Joe forms a close bond with Enrico "Ratso" Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a conman with a bum leg and poor health. The film ends with Joe cradling Rico, who has died next to him on a bus to Florida.

I watched this film with Stockton's presentation very much on my mind. In his talk, "The Fierce Urgency of Now," Stockton responded to and resisted definitions of queerness that operate primarily in the negative. Paying particular attention to the play's much-dicussed haste, Stockton drew our attention to the characters--the nurse, the friar, and Mercutio--who resist this haste and who caution against Romeo and Juliet's rush to legitimate their (heterosexual) relationship through marriage. Reading these figures alongside SCTV's "Sassy Gay Friend," Stockton proposes caution and patience as queer values, necessary correctives to a gay politics that is too invested in rushing into gay marriage.

Although his speech is slow, Joe, too, sometimes acts with haste. This is especially evident in his only financially successful encounter with a women. At first Joe struggles to achieve an erection, and it is only after his client teasingly accuses him of being gay that he jumps into bed with her, a hasty legitimation of his heterosexuality. And yet, in spite of this and other moments of haste, the thing that most struck me about Joe was his frequent displays of attentiveness. Joe notices other bodies, from Rico/Ratso to horses, homeless people and dogs. In this kind attention, Joe inhabits a slowness, a willingness to linger, that marks him as visibly and performatively different than the New Yorkers that surround him. Joe's tenderness is a kind of queerness.

Although Stockton's talk was very specifically a response to an essay in Shakesqueer written by Carla Frecerro, "Romeo and Juliet Love Death," I thought it also resonated with another essay in that same volume. In a reading of Henry VI, Part 3, called, simply, "Stay," Cary Howie argues that

standing still might be one strategy of resistance among the many that have been ascribed to, and embraced by, people and objects variously described as queer . . . To stay with a text like Henry VI, Part 3 [and here, I would add texts like Romeo and Juliet and Midnight Cowboy as well] is . . . to stay with one another, to acknowledge patiently what happens in the middle of things, where we are reading and living, singularly and in common, but also writing and fighting and waiting and dying; where one of the hardest things to do, but also one of the most necessary, is to resist the impulse to say what we will or will not become. (150)

In drawing my attention to the queer valences of patience and caution, Stockton's presentation alerted me to how the choices of certain characters--Joe Buck or Mercutio, Ratso or the Friar--to "stay" engender unexpected, queer, and ultimately hopeful forms of gentleness.

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