Performing Masculinity — On- and Off-stage

Though the entirety of Kasson’s account of Houdini’s career was pretty captivating, I found myself most intrigued by his exploration of how performance and the social arena of “the stage” allowed for Houdini and other performers to engage in activities that would have otherwise been deemed inappropriate and un-masculine. And it wasn’t just a cold welcome from the audience, either – Julian Eltinge, for example, found incredible success  in his cross-dressing act. Kasson is quick to point out, though, that Eltinge’s gender-bending, however popular, was only permissible in the limited space of the theater: “[his] power could only be accepted if his stage illusions were anchored in a thoroughly masculine demeanor offstage.” (95). It’s a pretty absurd phenomenon, considering that the stage/theater is more public than off-stage life. I recognize, though, that there is some invisible and magic line that divides the stage from the “real world,” and that the rules governing one realm often don’t apply to the other. Implicit in any type of performance is the assurance that the performer is, in fact, performing – that once the performance is over, the illusion ends and ‘real’ societal rules resume. And as I was reminded during the Super Bowl this weekend, the transgressive powers of the stage are still in full effect: football, after all, involves some pretty explicit displays of homoeroticism (it’s a game where men in tights throw a ball between their legs and then pile atop each other – need I say more?) yet is still heralded as the manliest of sports. How did that happen?

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *