[OP-ED] Grimes Kills Masculinity, Loves Queer Bodies In Kill V Maim Video
MASCULINITY IS TOXIC.
Well, let’s correct that. Hypermasculinity. Unchecked male privilege. Those are toxic. Grimes would say even vampiric. Queer masculinities, these days, don’t get a pass either. But we’ll get into that later. Lost in all the talk about cyberpunk and blood orgies and ah, shit, man, this track is a banger for Grimes’ new video for Kill V Maim is how it’s one of the broadest, most innovative assaults on masculinity to come out in years.
Grimes’ gendered troubles in the music industry are no secret. Men assuming she doesn’t know what the fuck she’s doing. Men muscling into her career trajectory when untalented, unwanted, and–most importantly–unsolicited. Male privilege rears its ugly head when men assume they have access to her. get pissy over rejection. assert dominance. claim they know what’s best for her. And it happens all the fucking time. To women. To trans people. To genderqueer people. To non-normative queer bodies. It sucks you dry. And, troll prophylactic here, Grimes does not hate men. I do not hate men. But one of my favorite aspects about the entire Art Angels LP, and particularly Kill V Maim, is its unapologetic exploration of what unchecked male privilege looks like. Each Art Angel is a persona Grimes adopts and Kill V Maim’s is all about the increasingly problematic gendered nature of how we pretty much do everything. But it also explores the failure of the gay movement. And you can’t understand the Art Angels LP, or this video, unless you leave your male privilege or male privilege enabling ways at the door. So please do.
YOU GAVE UP BEING GOOD
WHEN YOU DECLARED A STATE OF WAR
Masculinity is in crisis and it’s gotten worse since a good chunk of the gay male community decided to throw their lot in with straight dudes and start policing how everyone (but especially) queer bodies can act. But that’s the post-gay marriage, post-Obergefell world for you: homonormative as fuck. Homonormativity is a concept in queer theory that says certain exhibitions of sexuality, of gender are valued over others. And it’s always the most normal, most like the traditional aspects of straight society. So we get rampant slut shaming. transphobia. femme-shaming. sexism. a hard right conservative turn towards the de-sexualizing of the gay community and a singular focus on marriage. By gay men. No one’s doing that for them, it’s coming from within the community.
The point is to protect traditional masculinity like it’s something that needs protecting. It’s appalling and embarrassing. And you see it everywhere. Check out a comment thread on NewNowNext (Logo Channel’s social site), Pink News, or Attitude magazine–all traditionally gay centered sites—to see gay men viciously terrorizing each other and shaming each other for deviating even the slightest from having traditionally masculine, monogamous, unsexual lifestyles. It’s either conform or get the fuck out. Gay men got some rights and suddenly are rah rah patriarchy. This is not the progress we fought for. And I hate it. I don’t identify as gay anymore, only queer.
Grimes’ Kill V Maim titular Art Angel is a genderqueer Italian mobster in the style of Al Pacino who switches between both genders at will. I think that’s why I identify so strongly with them. I’ve always identified internally as a woman but externally I love a hypermasculine appearance. In my day to day life I interact with the world as a woman (I even took a genderfucking name) but am seen, at least on first sight, as a rugged dude. It’s rough. What I like about the Kill V Maim’s Art Angel is that it inhabits a world that’s completely genderqueer. Note, most notably, the genderfluid individual dancing with Grimes’ Art Angel. But also the use of cyberpunk, drag, and make-up to signal a society not controlled by the gender performative nature of clothing. In the Kill V Maim world everyone moves in severely masculine and femme dance moves.
Kill V Maim owes some to FKA twigs (Glass n’ Patron) and Lady Gaga (Alejandro). Like those videos it creates a queer space minus toxic masculinity. Alejandro pays respect to the haunting signifier of toxic masculinity by having it watch from the outside. Watch Alejandro and notice the man standing in fire and peering in from the outside. He’s meant to be a symbol of masculinity in crisis who’s threatened by the way queer bodies move and interact in Gaga’s world. His reaction to this world is violence. To kill Gaga before his world crumbles.
Both FKA twigs’ and Grimes’ work is an extension of Gaga’s (who is an extension of Madonna); but that’s also the nature of a woman/queer-centered, collaborative understanding of the world/art. A woman/queer-centered approach builds on the work done before them, it doesn’t try to supersede or replace. It’s about interconnectedness, not separation. But while FKA twigs explored the birth of a queer space/art in Glass n’ Patron, Grimes’ Kill V Maim is primarily about the way all of our bodies, minds and spirits are connected and the freedom that comes from it.
Look at Grimes’ use of blood in both Flesh Without Blood and Kill V Maim. Blood is connection. It hearkens back to two understandings of the body, the modernist and poststructuralist. The modernist take looks at bodies as closed systems. Our blood runs in a circuit of veins and arteries. One never ending loop. Our lifeblood, self-contained. Everything that interacts with us invades us. It’s traditionally how we understand disease but can be used as a metaphor for interactions with people.
In a phallocratic society, where toxic masculinity is king, it has usefulness in establishing consent and agency. My body is not your body because even when women/queer bodies freely give consent (yeah, we want the same as you sometimes), the power/knowledge complex that makes up society’s backbone inherently favors hetero/homonormative males. And, really that’s a sad way to live, as we all live. Flesh Without Blood explores that savagery. Grimes’ Art Angel holds a knife. The masculinist world makes mincemeat of her when she tries to meet it with earnestness. It sees her as meat, and she bleeds out for interacting with it. Notice ze’s the only one bleeding. In Flesh Without Blood Art Angel’s world I can’t share my blood with you. I can’t consent to you seeing me, knowing me; because you turn me to flesh without blood. And it leaves this Art Angel almost always alone.
AND YOU HAD EVERY CHANCE
YOU DESTROY EVERYTHING YOU KNOW
Kill V Maim‘s video is the poststructuralist body having a helluva of a time in a blood orgy. An explosion of bodies and jubilation. Because that’s how poststructuralism understands the body. Not as closed systems but as connected. Your blood is my blood is our blood. Kill V Maim‘s Art Angel isn’t bleeding because hir exposure to the world doesn’t rip anything from hir. Ze’s more of an archangel who oversees a world where people believe divisions are asinine. In this world, repression of the feminine/queer is gone and so is the assumption of biological sex. Notice Grimes’ prominent use of genderqueer bodies here The point of this kind of world is not to erase men, but to highlight the inherent sadness of all the energy that goes into asserting what it means to be properly masculine–and by extension, properly Other. All the mansplainin. Slut shaming. Trans panic. Kill V Maim Art Angel’s world isn’t paradise. But to everyone tired of fighting toxic masculinity at every step, it seems like it. Grimes says:
DANCE IT ALL OUT, MY ART ANGELS
BECAUSE HERE YOU CAN