Queering Burger Joints

I spend a substantial amount of time on Tumblr mostly avoiding thesis  but also because some amazing posts can be found there. The other day I was perusing my dashboard and this post and the commentary came up:




All over this burgers and hot dogs chain restaurant are signs saying they proudly do not have trans fats in their restaurant, as well as cork boards, paper, and crayons to tell em how much you just love their burgers and hot dogs (rolling my eyes hard). This incredible and gorgeous friend decided they needed to insert their own faggotry into the cork (lol) and that is how this wonderful GIF came to exist.

haha omg this is what i look like when i am eating fries with one of my favorite people on the whole planet

“no trans fats in your restaurant? UR WRONG THO”

This is delightful.

Just needed a lil feral-femme on my blog again ❤

There is so much that I love about this picture and the commentary that I will attempt to explain in the following blog post. As you can read in the above commentary, the chain of fast food restaruants that the person in the pictures is eating at has signs posted stating that they have no “trans fats” in their restaurant.  In this class I have learned of the many ways in which discrusive spaces and identity practices manifest themselves. The picture was taken then posted on the cork boards located in the restaraunt encouraging folks to tell them how much they love the food they were served. Well, the aforementioned words have multiple meanings, right? Trans fats are known as the fatty acids found in some food, particularly in processed foods and can cause one to have high cholesterol, however, the word has other meanings as well. As the commentary suggests, trans is the abbreviation for transgender and the fats is the plural for what is described as fat (there is a whole field of scholarship on fat politics of which I remain woefully ignorant so you’ll have to excuse me). As we have seen in Queer Latinidad, queering language is extremely significant in challenging normative ways of thinking and identification. The picture and commentary do just that!!! Much like the  Proyecto plays with language, so too does the person in this picture but it is more than just playing. In so doing, they are challenging normative ways of thinking and making people think twice about the use of the words “trans fats”. 

The space that they find themselves in is effectively queered because they end up posting the picture to the cork boards telling everyone who has the pleasure of seeing the wonderful picture that trans fats have multiple meanings. They queer the shit out of those cork boards in such an amazing and playful way that I cannot even handle it! This is the “y que?” way of responding to the “hail”; it becomes identity with a difference and is done so in a space that one might not expect it, in a fast food joint. As Jose Estaban Muñoz states, “Disidentifications is mean to offer a lens to eludcidate minoritarian politics that is not monocausal or monothematic, one tha tis calibrated to discern a multiplicity of interlocking identity components and the ways in which they affect the social” (1999, 8). Adding to theorists conceptualizations of interlocking identity components is the fat politics that is being addressed in both the picture and the commentary. The person is adding to discussions and conceptualizations of intersectionality by addressing fatness as part of an identity, one that is continuously under attack and scrutinized in the U.S. The person is making their presence known and felt in the fast food establishment by putting a non-normative picture on their board. Even the use of the word faggotry is reclaiming of a word that is typically pejorative and putting it all over the burger chain.

I would also like to draw attention to the heart drawn on the piece of paper and the use of gender inclusive symbols that come from it. Instead of being stuck in the binary, the heart becomes gender neutral, which is awesome. The commentary and the picture are so delightful because of the way in which they are queering the space using language and identity that they are gifted with. I don’t really know what else to say that I haven’t already said or that the picture doesn’t already say itself. Language becomes a tool with which spaces and the word themselves are effectively queered and often in ways that are humorous. This will make people think twice about the multiple meanings of the words trans and fat while also providing an outlet for the person in the picture to express themselves.


1 thought on “Queering Burger Joints

  1. The queering of mainstream language as a tool of disidentification is super fascinating – thanks for this tidy reference via user-made Tumblr gif! I have too many points that piqued my interest; I want to unpack disidentification a bit more as compared to the “trans fatties” gif, and somewhere along the way, offer a bit of my own appreciation for the myriad linguistic and visual elements of political discourse posited by this one snarky gif.

    I was also perusing Tumblr when I came across this South Park gifset and its accompanying sycophantic commentary, which praises a character for using “fag” as a synonym for any asshole who causes a ruckus, therefore retracting homosexuality as a key element in the unpleasant term; “fag” still retains a negative connotation, but the negativity is totally independent from the usual “gay = bad” subtext. (To preface my interpretation: I’ve seen the slur used in my lifetime to refer mostly but not exclusively to cis, homosexual men with some femme traits, so I’m assuming that’s also South Park’s associative scope.) (Aaand furthermore, I think we could easily pick apart the image of a loud, disruptive guy on a motorcycle for homophobic subtext…but for the sake of argument, let’s assume these Tumblr users are right in interpreting this scene’s absence of “gay” in the definition of “fag” as some kind of poignant LGBTQI* victory.)


    OH HOW CLEVAH. Like the “trans fatties” joke, here is another tongue-in-cheek method to try to reclaim a word; unlike the “trans fatties” joke, that shit isn’t working. (Shocking! For the crime of pretending to be actual humor, South Park can go rot in the eighth circle of hell with the Trojans, their horse, and all the other great frauds of humankind.)

    When I look at the “trans fatties” gif, my gut tells me that this is a “successful” performance of Muñoz’s strategic disidentification; the South Park gif, however, fails.

    Why? What qualifies “successful,” subversive disidentification?

    It’s easy to discredit South Park’s supposed reclamation of “fag” as an act disidentification because South Park is not explicitly produced by and for homosexual men. Disidentification and subversion require the insider’s participation in the performance – and according to Muñoz, that performance is less about specific criteria and more about successfully acting as a lens through which minoritarian political goals can be expressed on an everyday level; these subversive acts “work on and against” a majoritarian sphere that punishes deviance and dissent (11). Since South Park effectively represents mainstream/majoritarian culture, it isn’t also producing itself to negotiate mainstream culture as a survival technique. SP’s use of “fag” in this instance, however (or if at all) well-intended, therefore just perpetuates the mainstream oppressive power of the term by extending its use.

    The theory logically implies that, hypothetically, a minoritarian subject could use this scene to express disidentificatory sentiments. But even when the term “fag” is explicitly produced by/for homosexual men in an act of reclamation, is there something about the pre-established semiotic fixedness of the term that inhibits completely successful subversion/disidentification? When “fags” call each other/themselves “fags,” call their female friends “fag hags,” and so on, does this dislodge the oppressive power of the word or just reinstate and re-perform its negative connotations? Does a shitty word always need to die forever (some kind of linguistic equivalent to Hitler’s relatives’ oath to never procreate, thereby eliminating Hitler’s bloodline forevermore), or can some words be reappropriated for community-building and self-care like “trans fats”?

    The “trans fats” example is tricky because its first-level pun uses disidentification to queer a term not originally intended for humans – it is therefore not exactly syllogistic to reclaiming words like “fag” (vague mumblings about “a bundle of sticks” notwithstanding). Of course, trans fats in their first signified meaning – unsaturated fat with trans-isomer fatty acids – are also negatively connoted; the restaurant advertises “no trans fats” in their food. The very act of asserting that, in fact, there are “trans fatties” existing happily in the restaurant knocks over the negatively-charged justification for its erasure, literally swapping out a negation with an affirmation. In doing so, the language of the original “trans fat” is “queered” to include a second signification to accommodate for the affirmed presence of trans Tumblr user feral-femme, as well as a body-positive re-connotation of the word “fat.” Even this positive assertion of “trans” can be interpreted as subversive; it’s a fairly neutrally-connoted word, but it is still often used as a slur (and its derivative term “tranny” is almost ubiquitously used as a slur). I could go on.

    Let’s take a second to see how the subversion of the language itself is heightened by a few visual factors too:
    1) The background of the gif shows the universal décor of the In-n-Out Burger franchise, which is widely known to be owned by Mormons; Biblical verses as well as a list of largely conservative, religious, anti-gay organizations to whom In-n-Out donates adorn the food’s packaging – and the company is still privately owned and therefore reserves the right to refuse service to anyone. While the average In-n-Out employee probably isn’t invested in the same politics as the owners, it’s not a guaranteed safe space for “trans fatties” like feral-femme, who is dressed “femme” and also has facial hair – looking fabulous as hell while publicly flouting the normal masculine/feminine gender binary.
    2) On the napkin is a heart with several gender vectors simultaneously in play, riffing on the Mars/male/♂ and Venus/woman/♀ astrological symbols. I know I may be going overboard with an analysis of iconography, but it lends something powerful to my interpretation of the gif as a subversive, trans-positive political act because it acknowledges and even celebrates a trans, genderqueer body in a country and time that is still overwhelmingly puzzled by trans people and where they diverge from cis-gender norms of association. I think it’s not pure coincident that feral-femme chose to collapse those gender vectors onto a heart, not just the conventional circle, thereby taking the abstracted astrological symbols and placing them onto a representation of the human body.
    As a symbol of the actual organ, we see hearts in Western art to represent emotions of love around the 1200s, but always inverted, with the point facing upwards, even if disembodied. The organ flipped with the point facing the bottom around the 1400s, morphing from a depiction of the organ into the stylized, easily-replicated suggestion of the organ that we see in this gif and elsewhere: <3. Many art historians and anthropologists have located the ❤ symbol’s relationship with love and the heart in an expression of female sexuality, a theory made mainstream when Gloria Steinem in the “Vagina Monologues” said the heart was probably an ancient symbol for the vulva or the shape of a woman’s ass when bent over, citing Tanzer’s 1969 study of graffiti in ancient Pompeii. This study found that the heart symbol was used to identify brothels, likely in that expression of vulva/ass – either simultaneously or interchangeably, as the elegance of the symbol would have it. Whether the ❤ symbol as used today suggests the heart, the vulva, and/or the ass, it has always struck me as being quite a visceral symbol of one or all of those intimate parts of the body. Whereas many symbols attempt to euphemize and conceal the body, the heart symbol’s significance is predicated upon evoking the body.
    With those multi-origin stories in mind, I also interpret the heart symbol in a different way than you do – not as “gender-neutral,” but as inherently sexual and self-aware of its connotations with cisgendered femininity . These awarenesses uniquely play into feral-femme’s subversive, trans, gender-inclusive appropriation of the “womanly vulva” or “womanly ass,” asserting that vulvas and/or asses are elements of trans bodies too. Possibly the “ass” aspect (asspect for short…) of the heart also alludes to the sexual role of asses outside of cis and/or hetero relations?

    If I had a dollar every time some white guy told me about their clever plan to “save black people from themselves” and “reclaim the N-word” by “using it casually and robbing it of its significance,” I’d have enough money to employ an elite taskforce whose only goal would be to round these ignoramuses up and put them in a room for thousands of hours of privilege workshops (call it the “Prison Idiot Complex” or something). Whether I’m a member of Team Holier Than Thou (“No one, not even black people, should use the term because it’s rooted in a horrible history that is only being perpetuated with its use!”) or Team Wahhhhh (“But if black people can use the term, then so can I!”) OR WHATEVER, at the end of the day, I only believe that I and other non-black people shouldn’t use the N-word but also shouldn’t ever presume to tell black people what to do with it or how to feel about it.

    But I know the debate exists: Can the reclamation of the N-word be a “successfully” subversive form of disidentification, or are the historical/societal connotations too deep to be dislodged?

    This line between subversive and system-perpetuating is constantly being renegotiated. It’s an infinitely personal line as well because language systems are always constructing and reconstructing reality in an inherently political way. For example, theoretical critiques of “life on the hyphen” as methods of otherization and white supremacy have swayed me against using “Asian-American” and “African-American,” and so on. (Crash course line of thought: Why doesn’t “American” suffice? And what if you’re black but your ancestors aren’t directly African – who is invisibilized by the hyphen? Etc.) With those ideas in mind, I find myself using “black people” as an alternative…but this turn of phrase it not without its problems either; some prefer “African-American” for equally legitimate reasons. What can be done? ANGUISH WRAPPED IN GOOD INTENTIONS WRAPPED IN PRIVILEGE. I try to just respect each individual’s preference; it’s not my place to tell anyone else how to self-identify. But the complexity of plural, conflicting connotations for any one term remains problematic. The more I try to interrogate the scope and frame of disidentification, the more complicated the questions become.

    The “non-hyphenated movement” is similar in logic the political choice of some to self-identify as “fat.” (I’m doing my best to relay some general strains of thought that I’ve picked up – it will necessarily be oversimplified. I have to admit my thin privilege and apologize in advance if I’m bollocksing it all up – and I encourage anyone reading this to do some Googling and read what pro-“fat” advocates have to say on the matter; they’re doing awesome work.) Some activists in the self-named “fat body politics” movement settled on the term “fat” because it is purely descriptive and does not sidestep its own fact with euphemisms like “big boned” or “curvy.” These euphemisms can be misnomers, and their persisted use implies that even inaccurate misnomers are “better” than being called “fat.” Consequently, thin bodies are still defaulted as normal, preferable, more valuable, etc. For example, when someone is called “overweight,” as a polite alternative to the descriptive word “fat,” exactly WHAT imaginary weight do they exceed? Proponents also say that by being purely descriptive, “fat” sidesteps “obese,” a term laden with the medical industry’s creepy Foucaultian identification and subsequent vilification of fat bodies; “fat” is one casual adjective in an easier series of adjectives (“I am short, fat, smart, pretty, sexy” etc.); and so on. By shaking loose the first level of signification and reframing it to be neutral instead of negative, this seems like a successful example of disidentification. Deliberately disrupting how “fat” is interpreted by majoritarian spheres is a literal and immediate survival technique; adjusting the lens linguistically may have ramifications in quality of medical treatment, in wage and promotion potential, in a decrease in bullying and abuse, etc. But the same “inherently negative”(?) nature of the word can be argued here too – the word “fat” still rings with negative connotation and violent otherization.

    If “trans fatties ❤ your fries” can be like Proyecto ContraSIDA Por Vida’s impudent, self-affirming “Y que?” response to the Hail, can “fag,” the N-word, the R-word, or other terms with a lot of hateful history also be reformulated to do so? Is there some kind of line or threshold? Are the examples that I call “successful” vehicles of disidentification (the isolated case study of the “trans fatties” gif or the movement for the political, self-chosen use of “fat”) really that successful at all, or is it impossible to reroute and reclaim prior significations of hurtful language? When and for whom does it matter if a disidentificatory practice is problematic or self-destructive?

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