“Details, Baby, Details”:
Identity as Performance in Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game

In his recent book, Bringing Out Barthes, D.A. Miller criticizes Barthes’ analysis of “Sarrasine” in S/Z by compelling Barthes to definitively prove the existence of the “gay material,” the “homosexual thematics,” within Balzac’s text. Yet, attempting to expose what he calls Barthes’ discretion or “disappearing act,” Miller argues that current reception of Barthes’ analysis makes the “social symbolic space allotted to gay men as impossible, impassable.”  Relating this type of “disappearing act” to current politics of the body, pornography, AIDS, and his own life/autobiography, Miller evidences the Barthesian neuter as a mode of repressing the “gay male gender bind” through Barthes’ “pseudo-linguistics” whereby the “male [gay] experience” is not defined by a barred access to the “feminine,” but instead is outlined by the blurring of the “double-binding” of the masculine and the feminine whereby “meaning and sex become the object of a free play.”   The neuter, therefore, is the sphere in which “mere reflection” is automatized into a self-conscious tactic — a tactic which discretely elides the “oppressive meaning” of the homosexual body, despecifying the gay experience in terms of the binary heterosexual paradigms of active/passive, in favor of a “paradise of indeterminacy”  (Miller, pp. 3-15).  More so, what Miller rejects most fervently is the reception of what he classifies as Barthes’ “happy sexuality”: the elision of the discrete gay specificity within his texts, whereby through the release of the “double-binding exigency,” the neuter obfuscates the “specificity of women” by retaining the trace of “a man’s barred access to ‘femininity’” (p. 15).  In other words, sex, gender, and sexuality seem ontologically to impose limits on one another, blocking certain experiences and desires in favor of what Miller names “discretion,” the act of guarding the “Open Secret.”

Miller’s project, although problematic, presents us with a sex-gender-sexuality paradigm in which the “gender aporia” of masculine/feminine services the double-bindings of current social discourse: homosexual/heterosexual, private/public, knowledge/passion, same/different, and secrecy/disclosure.  Throughout recent discussions of sex, gender, and sexuality, the issue of sex has been  relegated to the chromosomal or the reproductive (i.e. Foucault), gender to the behavioural, and sexuality to the behavioural in relation to the chromosomal, or as the behavioural relates to sex.  Yet, Sedgwick posits that indeed we might locate the sexual as a far more radical position of social construction that had previously been assessed to gender:

But to the extent that, as Freud argued and Foucault assumed, the distinctively sexual nature of human sexuality has to do precisely with its excess over or potential difference from the bare choreographies of procreation, “sexuality” might be the very opposite of what we originally referred to as (chromosomal-based) sex:  it could occupy, instead, even more than “gender” the polar position of the relational, the social/symbolic, the constructed, the variable, the representational (p. 29).

Through this analysis of sexuality, the Barthesian neuter could then be viewed as the possibility for the relativistic positions of sexuality and gender to move and shift, thus redefining the other.  In this way, sexuality sets into motion an amorphous symbolic identity of gender (and sometimes of sex) and likewise, sexuality would reciprocally be affected by these fluid reference points (signifiers) — hence the equally amorphous construction of sexuality.  It is this indeterminate structure, this dialogic fluidity between the denominations of “gender and sexuality” and “sex and sexuality” which I find neglected within current inquiries of sexuality:  gender and sex seem to occupy a static space upon which arguments of sexuality are then based.  Also, more recent inquiries into feminism attempt to conflate gender and sexuality into one cohesive unit, thus losing the affectual relationship between the two.  I would argue then that between the binaries of gender, masculine/feminine, and of sexuality, homosexual/heterosexual, lies a plethora of unspeculated possibilities, a plurality of identities upon which there is neither a formulaic pattern of signifying one gender based on a certain sexuality (and vice versa), nor a device for inscribing one identity, sexual or gender-specific, since in as much as sexuality is linked to gender, it is also linked to race or class.  Any attempt to explain the dichotomies of gender or sexuality usually end up reinforcing these paradigms without carefully examining their interfarious symbolic orders within culture.

To view sexuality within a purely dialectical rationale is to subsume any investigation of sex or gender within the matrix of sexuality, as both sex and gender are discursively relegated to the realm of the “given” — they are already established, assumed, and “known” — and thus  sexuality is necessarily correlative to these double binds.  Yet, much recent fiction and film has attempted to turn the  tables on this “gender bind” through the fantastic possibilities of a sexuality which are played out through a concealed, unknown, hermaphroditic, or altered sex and through various tactics which shift gender roles or confuse the double binding of masculine/feminine through androgynous identity.  Thus, through the obfuscation of knowing a gender or sex, the relationship that sexuality shares with these two reference points, although often oblique, is none the less challenged and decentered from the homo/hetero dichotomy.  While theorists such as  Irigaray  and Sedgwick note that it is often the heterosexual matrix which serves as the basis for male homosocial and homosexual bonds, the identity of homosexuality is none the less played out through these static dichotomies of masculine/feminine whereby the homosexual or homosocial moments are surrendered to the functions of gender and the needs/desires of men, what Irigaray terms “hom(m)o-sexual monopoly” (p. 169-172).

The narratives that play with traditional notions of sex and gender do not, in fact, conclusively (or determinedly) bind sex and gender to sexuality, but rather they open up possibilities which offer new currents for examining the vincula which maintain the margins of sex, gender, sexuality through heterosexist-based discourse:  masculine/feminine, active/passive, public/private, and concealment/disclosure.  Through the displacement of gender or sex, these dichotomies no longer serve the mummifying purpose of preserving the symbolic structures of sexuality — that is, we can no longer speak of sexuality through traditional object-choice discourse when the “object” (or subject) is cross-gendered, transsexual, or androgynous.  More so, this paradigm becomes much more complex when the object-choice extends into the autoerotic/alloerotic, or when object-choice is completely disregarded for other themes such as: noncommercial/commercial, public/private, etc.  Reciprocally then, bisexuality would upset the binarisms inherent within sex and gender.  Thus, what I intend to examine is the way in which these binaried social structures are discursively utilized to interpret sex, gender, and sexuality (as well as the definitional links between each) and furthermore, to examine the modes of symbolic representation which form these stayed and carefully situated bases of analysis.  Through this inquiry of the symbolic, I want to unearth the relational positions which reveal not the virtual identities of sex, gender, and sexuality, but rather the “knowledge,” the construction of these identities, which reinforces not only the static binaries of identity, but perhaps more importantly, the dimensions which coextensively legitimate and form the empirical and epistemological structures of identity.

Thus, by uncovering these traces of identity-formation we can then begin to look at sexuality as an amorphous structure — as a bi-sexual (or poly-sexual) space.  Likewise, the double-bindings of gender and sex can be viewed as less inertly positioned to sexuality, as less determined by and determinant of sexuality.  This notion of the bi-sexual, then, would reflect Barthes’ notion of the neuter in such a way that we are not denied the ingrained dichotomies of sex, gender, and sexuality (not that we could ever do away with such binaries), but that the differences not accounted for by these dichotomies may be explored and understood as alternative, creative, and subjective spheres of identity.  In her introduction to Sexuality in the Field of Vision, Jacqueline Rose proposes that “[t]o understand subjectivity, sexual difference and fantasy in a way which neither entrenches the terms nor denies them still seems to me to be a crucial task for today” (p. 23).   Taking up Rose’s challenge, I intend to evoke the various “paradises of indeterminacy” which, contrary to Miller’s assertion, do not bar access to heterosexist paradigms of active/passive, fucker/fucked, homo/hetero, and masculine/feminine, but engage these dichotomies through the credible and fantastic, the real and the imaginary, by playing into a decisive critique of these very binarisms thus revealing their limitations within current feminist and queer theories.

Utilizing Neil Jordan’s film, The Crying Game, I will analyze the role of the sex, gender, and sexuality as socially inscribed onto the body and identity through the various determining categories of active/passive, secrecy/disclosure, visible/invisible, natural/unnatural, perception/misperception, attraction/repulsion, escape/return, and “reality”/performance.  Collectively, these binaries constitute the plateau of symbolic structures which tatoo the body and identity whereby subjectivity becomes pure identity based on details that are inextricably bound to traditionally-constructed meanings.   In this film, the body becomes the field of play, of creation, whereby performance determines and often alters the traditional identities of gender, sexuality, and sex.  As Judith Butler establishes a distinction between gender as identity and as performance, I shall take up her demarcation of these two manifestations by examining the correlative relationships that sex, gender, and sexuality share, both as cultural, legal, and biological identities and as individually created, consciousness-forming, self-realizing performances.  Ultimately, the performance of a sex, of a gender, or of a sexuality, as evidenced within this film causes a rupture between the clearly distinct Cartesian models of identity which society — Western and non-Western — abstrusely maintains and hence forces us to question the heterosexist  condition of “being” purely masculine or feminine, straight or gay, and even man or woman.

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In her book, Unmarked, Peggy Phelan examines the current discourse of knowing sexual difference — a discourse she claims synchronically stabilizes “difference” while repressing the “sexual” as a means for securing, reproducing, and marking self-identity.  Phelan writes:  “[C]ultural representation seeks both to conceal and reveal a real that will “prove” that sexual difference is a real difference” (p. 4).  Thus, in the tradition of Irigaray and Jardine among others, representing sexual difference for Phelan becomes a process of securing a hiatus between the “real and the representational”:

Representation functions to make gender, and sexual difference more generally, secure and securely singular — which is to say, masculine.  (She ghosts him.)  Representation tries to overlook the discontinuity between subjectivity and the gendered, sexual body, and attempts to suture the gap between subjectivity and the Real (p. 172).

Representing sexual difference therefore preserves the impossibility of representing the woman and hence marks her as Other, or rather as unmarked.  Reworking the contradictory narratives of representation from both “identity politics” of the Left which emphasize visibility and the psychoanalytic/deconstsructionist critiques which doubt the power of visibility, Phelan contends that the unmarked occupies a space of indeterminacy which maintains a certain power over the visible since it eludes fetishization, surveillance, reduction, or possession.

It is this sphere of the unmarked that I wish to examine in terms of sex, gender, and sexuality, and their interrelated significations, for the power of their invisibility mystifies the traditional methods of naming, of marking a body with a specific identity in the same fashion that Barthes’ neuter evades specificity and determinacy.  The unmarked makes lucid the impossibility of “knowing” certain sexual identities, and thus reveals the aporia of representing static identities that are not empirically included or “established” within current discourse, no matter how hard both the Right and the Left work at attempting to bridge the space between “subjectivity and the Real.”  Thus, in order to extricate the bonds binding subjectivity to the sexed, gendered, and sexual body, we must scrutinize the limits of difference by interrogating the very designation of “sexual difference” — how sexual difference functions both to maintain a “singular” identity of the body as well as to efface subjectivity, assigning subjectivity a “ghost” which is contingent upon and subordinate to a heterosexist identity.  By freeing the body from a static identity of sex, gender, and sexuality, we might begin to view sexual difference not as a process of assimilation and adaptation but as a space of heterogeneity and creativity.

I should add here that what I am attempting to do is not to efface sexual difference in favor of a universal sexual androgyny, but instead I wish to inform the slippage between the visible and the invisible of difference and to disclose how the body is a vector traversed and policed by standards of the visible — a visible which is inherently male-centered and hetero-sexist.  Furthermore, I do not propose that examining the synapses between subjectivity and the body would consequently open up the field for everyone to realize a “happy sexuality” where all signification floats between identity and performance.  I do, however, intend this space of the unmarked, of a bi-sexuality of sorts, to offer the opportunity, the possibility, for such signification.  By discussing this body of the invisible, I necessarily reveal the unmarked — that is, I transiently mark the unmarked — in order to widen the scope of difference and expose the necessarily disparate, contradictory, and heteronomous possibilities of the difference within difference.  By making this move towards a theory of sexual heterogeneity, I expose the weaknesses and the misinformative nature of the bonds which maintain the connections between and identities of sex, gender, and sexuality by falsely constructing the body as pure identity rather than letting the body speak and perform itself.

Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game imparts a notion of sex, gender, and sexuality which demonstrates a dialogic interaction of: the body as marked and the body as unmarked, the body as identity and the body as performance, and the language of the self and the language of the other.  Within this film, subjective identity hinges on the interaction between heterosexist/phallocentric language within the realm of the self and the failure for this very language to function within the space of the other. The details that mark the body within the sphere of the self are rendered powerless once entering the realm of the other — these details that name the body, inscribing identities of sex, gender, and sexuality within the heterosexist sphere, lose their erectile tissue or their power of representation (and interpretation) once placed outside of this sphere.  Thus, the discourse of the self, when confronted with the other, realizes its colonizing potential as it attempts to assimilate, differentiate, label, and distance this other, creating the other as an integral process of creating and of being itself — of differentiating itself from the other while affirming its other.  By attempting to represent, the self ultimately realizes the aporia representing without taking into account the subjectivity of the other:

Identity cannot, then, reside in the name you can say or the body you can see — your own or your mother’s.  Identity emerges in the failure of the body to express being fully and the failure of the signifier to convey meaning exactly.  Identity is perceptible only through a relation to an other — which is to say, it is a form of both resisting and claiming the other, declaring the boundary where the self diverges from and merges with the other.  In that declaration of identity and identification, there is always loss, the loss of not-being the other and yet remaining dependent on that other for self-seeing, self-being (Phelan, p. 13).

Identity of the self or of the other hinges on its inability to represent itself by itself.  Identity, then, is the aporetic space of not being able to render “meaning exactly”, a domain of perpetual shifting between the self and the other and concurrent notions of “reality”/performance, natural/unnatural, visible/invisible, etcetera.  The markings, or as they are called in this film — the details — of identity-formation are the language which, in the sphere of the self, makes the other visible and the self invisible.  (For the other is always a colonized object within the space of the self).  As it is impossible for the self to exit its own subjectivity completely while being dependent upon its other for “declaring” its identity, the realization of simultaneously “not-being the other” and depending upon the other for being, is the device by which the self must maintain this persistent momentum or reverberation between the self and the other, between “not-being” and being, between male and female, between homosexual and heterosexual.    Therefore, within the dialogic space of the other, these details are unimportant — they are simply details — and identity becomes the process of performing the body rather than naming or marking it.  This arena of self-creation becomes a free-floating space wherein subjectivity has recourse or access to the both sexes, both genders, and both sexualities in performing identity.  Ultimately,  The Crying Game demonstrates the inadequacy of language and of the body to identify itself without mirroring its other whereby the details that maintain so much importance (power) within  heterosexist discourse must necessarily surrender this very importance in order to perform identity, subjectivity, within the interactive sphere of the other.

The use of names to signify certain socially correlative identities within The Crying Game is one of the many devices in which the signified is rendered incompatible with the traditional signifier.  For instance, the English’s use of the name “Paddy” to refer to Fergus as Irish, and likewise as Jody points out the Irish calling him “Nigger”, indicates the aporetic space between national and racial identities for being able to address the other without naming this other.  As we are introduced to Dil through Jody’s picture we learn of her as Jody’s “girlfriend.”  Of course, after the unveiling of Dil’s penis, Jody is hesitant to call her a girl:

COL:  When a girl runs out like that, she generally wants to be followed.
FERGUS:  She’s not a girl, Col.
COL:  Whatever you say.

Later, when Fergus’ boss asks him about his Dil, calling her a tart he replies: “She’s not a tart.”  Then the boss alters his language:  “No, of course not, she’s a lady,” to which Fergus replies, “She’s not that either.”  The use of the word, “Paddy” as a reference to Fergus’ accent, and “Nigger” to refer to Jody’s skin color, are coextensive with the use of the word “tart,” “girl,” or “lady” in that these words have a very direct reference to both sex and gender.   However, once the sex is demystified for Fergus, the language must reflect this demystification — the word “girl” cannot function within Fergus’ conception of what constitutes a girl.   Although to those who work with Fergus, whistling at Dil as she goes up the lift, she is, in fact a woman, a “tart.”  The knowledge that Fergus has of what is between Dil’s legs temporarily destroys his perception of Dil’s performance of a gender which, in Fergus’ mind, contradicts her sex.  The rigid parallels that are assumed about sex and gender are necessarily broken down as we see a bartender, Col, who knows what Fergus didn’t, and yet he still regards Dil as a woman whereas Fergus, who later learns the truth about Dil, cannot immediately regard Dil as a “woman.”  Ironically, it is at the end of the movie when Dil must learn Fergus’ real identity, his real name, since she had previously known him as Jimmy and she readily makes the adjustment:

DIL: What am I supposed to call you then, Jimmy?
FERGUS:  Fergus.
DIL:  Fergus.  Fergus my love, light of my life —
FERGUS:  Please, Dil.

Again, it is Dil as other who can easily adapt to the new discourse and Fergus who still cannot tolerate her constant endearments, for these names, “darling,” “honey,” and “love,” all signify a role that Fergus cannot yet fill.  Thes endearments make a specific social connection for Fergus that he cannot engage since he still places such imortance on the traditional signifying value of Dil’s penis.  Fergus is not able to accept or return Dil’s affection except when prompted by her, when forced to enter into her discourse in order to communicate to her, and also to be communicated to by her:

FERGUS:  Don’t ask me in.
DIL:  Please, Jimmy.
FERGUS:  No. Can’t pretend that much.
DIL:  I miss you, Jimmy.
FERGUS:  Should have stayed a girl.
DIL:  Don’t be cruel
FERGUS:  Okay.  Be a good girl and go inside.
DIL:   Only if you kiss me.

Slowly, Fergus comes to realize that Dil is a girl simply because she calls, identifies, and performs herself as a “girl,” just as Fergus reveals his identity at the end of the film, performing who he really is.  The names play one of two roles in this film:  they are imposed from the outside based on details of color, accent, femininity or they are written by the subject, for the subject, as an attempt to work around, to escape, the details which would otherwise legitimate a heterosexist imposition of a name and hence, identity on the subject.  Thus, the importance of names, like details, lies only in the ability to name oneself and likewise, to name a sex, gender, or sexuality based on, not what the viewer sees or inscribes onto the other’s body and identity, but what the performer performs, what the other choses to identify as.

The play of perception and misperception within this film also works to legitimate the ability of the senses while simultaneously demystifying these very abilities of sight, smell, and sound.  For instance, Jody can smell Jude’s perfume and knows exactly when she is in the room despite the hood on his head.  Likewise, although Jody only caught a glimpse of Fergus, he knows what Fergus looks like:  “You’re the one about five ten with the killer smile and the baby face…And the brown eyes…You’re the handsome one.”  Of course, once his hood is removed, Jody quickly informs Fergus that he was wrong about one part of his evaluation, stating:  “You’re no pinup.”  Thus, we see how the senses can be trusted, relied upon — but only up to a point.  Likewise, when Dil first meets Fergus and hears his accent she thinks that he’s American and then decides he is Scottish.  Yet, everyone else who calls Fergus “Paddy” assumes he’s Irish.  His accent seems obvious to everyone but Dill just as Dill’s “identity” is obvious to everyone but Fergus.  By the moment when Dil cuts Fergus’ hair, the viewer has already been set up with the play between perception and misperception, but the two greatest misperceptions still await the audience.  For after his haircut, Fergus follows Dil to the Metro for a drink and enters into this English, middle-class pub with heterosexual men and women talking to one another.  however, after learning of Dil’s penis, Fergus re-enters the bar and, instead of seeing it as he did before, the bar is filled with gay men, lesbians, and transvestites.  As the screen play describes:

The place is hopping.  Fergus enters.  He now sees it as he should have seen it the first night — as a transvestite bar.  He makes his way through the crowds.  All the women too-heavily made-up.  Some beautifully sleek young things he realizes are young men….(p. 231)

Fergus is now fine-tuning his perception, seeking out the details that he missed before in order to render visible this world that he had before been unable to see.  Of course, Fergus’ perception of Dil as a woman originates from Jody who shows Fergus the photograph of Dil:  Fergus assumes Jody to be heterosexual, and hence Dil to be a woman.  The assumption of sexuality and sex are inextricably linked.  Likewise, gender, the performance of Dil as a social being (woman), strengthens the link between Jody’s sexuality and Dil’s sex. Had Dil’s demeanor been masculine, would not the status of her sex, of Jody’s sexuality, been questioned without having to see Dil’s penis?  More so, this film begs the question:  Is there one monolithic perception and representation of femininity and masculinity, maleness and femaleness, that we can identify and know?

The role of the natural and the unnatural are also tropes within this film since “nature” takes on two meanings:  natural as “real” and  as  personal “character.”   We are first given the story of the scorpion and frog by Jody:

Scorpion wants to cross a river, but he can’t swim.  Goes to the frog, who can, and asks for a ride.  Frog says, “If I give you a ride on my back, you’ll go and sting me.”  Scorpion replies, “It would not be in my interest to sting you since as I’ll be on your back we both would drown.”  Frog thinks about this logic for a while and accepts the deal.  Takes the scorpion on his back.  Braves the waters.  Halfway over feels a burning spear in his side and realizes the scorpion has stung him after all.  As they both sink beneath the waves the frog cries out, “Why did you sting me, Mr Scorpion, for now we both will drown?”  Scorpion replies, “I can’t help it, it’s in my nature.”

This story serves as vehicle for Jody to convince Fergus to take the hood off his head since Jody believed it to be in Fergus’ nature — not, of course, in Jude’s.  This idea of nature and the natural fits into the perceptive qualities of discerning a real woman from a “pretend” or parodied woman.  This idea is particularly interesting in the bar scene between Jude and Dil:

JUDE: Young love, as they say.
DIL: Absolutely.  The younger the better.  Doesn’t come your way much, I suppose.
JUDE: Don’t go looking for it, Dil.
DIL:  Well, maybe you’ll get lucky.  Someday.
JUDE:  A bit heavy on the powder isn’t she, Jimmy?
DIL: A girl has to have a bit of glamour.
JUDE: Absolutely.  Long as she can keep it.  Isn’t that right, James….

Here we see how the ideas of youth and glamour are linked to the sexual woman, and how Dil and Jude play the game of proving their natural abilities of femininity, their innate femininity.  But which one is the “natural, ” the real woman?  As Jody had decided earlier, Jude does not have it in her nature to be kind and now Dil, feeling jealous, decides that Jude is less of a woman than she.  Moreover, in order to save her life Fergus cuts off Dil’s hair, making Dil resemble Jody, making Dil into the man that Fergus contends that she is.  From that moment on we see Dil unable to walk properly in men’s clothing, detached from what she identifies with as a woman.  We see Dill in an unnatural state as a man, for she cannot assume this identity any more than Fergus could keep Jody hooded.  Thus, the competition for feminine status in the bar between Jude and Dil is retrospectively all the more “natural” since we later learn that Dil is not naturally a man. The state of nature is a trope in the film for the inability for certain characters to behave or act in any other fashion that is not intrinsic to the identities that they themselves have created.

Another device used throughout the film which establishes the “sexual secret” as not a secret after all, is the ironic use of secrecy and the disclosure of secrets, the masking of “truths” and the uncovering of such truths.  For example, the story of the scorpion and the frog as told by Jody seems to indicate to Fergus that there was, in fact, a deeper, secret meaning to this.  Similarly, Jody believes there to be secret explanation to the short proverb that Fergus tells.  After each story, the listener asks: “What’s that supposed to mean?”  It is obvious that each story has a deeper meaning within the context of its telling, yet there is yet another level of story-telling:  that is, what do these stories signify within the plot of the film as a whole?  Do these stories have details embedded with truths that might help resolve the plot?  Then, taking off the hood and unmasking Jody’s face is Fergus’ attempt to prove his nature, his truth, and thus the unmasking reciprocally reaffirms the meaning of the scorpion story.  In addition, Fergus proves his nature by telling Dil the truth of his involvement in the I.R.A. even at the risk of losing her.  He again reaffirms the story within the story.  The disclosure of Dil’s penis works somewhat differently since Dil assumes that Fergus “knew” only because she also assumes that Dil knew what kind of pub the Metro was, stating:  “What were you doing in the bar if you didn’t know?”  Thus the secret that the viewer realizes about Dil’s penis, is not really a secret at all within the plot.  The secret, twist, that everyone who had seen the film and went home saying, “You have to see The Crying Game, but I can’t tell you the secret since it would ruin the movie…” was only a secret to the viewer.  For Fergus, this revelation of Dil’s penis is only considered a secret after he learns the truth.  It is only then that everything Fergus has experienced takes on a secret quality and that he realizes and creates the truths about:  Dil’s sex, Jody’s sexuality, and, of course, the Metro as a transvestite bar.  The unveiling of Dil’s body serves to unveil and retroactively make secret all prior references within the movie — everything previous to the exposure of Dil’s body is now considered as secret, false, and performed and every action following is assumed to be a disclosure, an unmasking of “truth.”  The revelation of the body unfolds the various “truths” of sex, gender, and sexuality that Fergus must now re-view, restructure, and rename.   He becomes obsessed in knowing who knew what he did not know prior:  the detail that makes Dil no longer a “girl.” Likewise, when Fergus cuts Dil’s hair and she asks why he is doing it, he tells her that it is a “secret.”  The unveiling of Fergus’ secret is what triggers the dénouement of the plot, as the details of Dil’s secret are not even comparable to the details of Fergus’.

The attempt on Fergus’ part to recast and rethink the events prior to his seeing Dil’s body is part of a conscious tactic within the film to play with notions of reality and performance.  Before Dil’s body is “known,” Fergus is operating along a line of perceptions, names, and reality that he believes to be true.  Once Fergus confronts the detail, the penis, he must reshape his perceptions, identities, and past-reality as misperceptions, mistaken identities, and performances rather than the “real” woman.  Like Fergus, the viewer watching this film is caught up in the same space, understanding what images and language we are given.  Many viewers, of course, “knew” that Dil was not quite the woman that Fergus saw, while others were simply shocked to learn the “truth.”  Yet, for everyone watching this film, we realize that we are in the space of the other, whether or not we knew.  Once Fergus starts to recast the past events in the film he exits the space of interaction with the other an enters the world of imposing names, identities, and histories.  Fergus must review the past interactions he has had with people, he must come to understand the implications of his actions, and in so doing he steps out of the sphere of the other in order to create his own set of truths, his reality.  His reality, nonetheless, necessarily effaces the subjectivity of those around him.  By recreating Dil as a man, Fergus objectifies the “Dil-as-woman” identity, marking it as a performance, a parody of the real.  Within the sphere of the self, however, Fergus’ language fails to communicate with Dil — he can no longer know her if he continues to insist upon his language which excludes her identity:

FERGUS:  Do they know?
DIL:  Know what, honey?
FERGUS:  Know what I didn’t know.  And don’t call me that.
DIL:  Can’t help it, Jimmy. A girl has feelings.
FERGUS:  Thing is, Dil, you’re not a girl.
DIL:  Details, baby, details…
FERGUS:  I should have known, shouldn’t I?
DIL:  Probably.
FERGUS:  Kind of wish I didn’t.
DIL:  You can always pretend.
FERGUS:  True….

In order for Fergus to communicate with Dil, he must “pretend” or rather, he must re-enter the discourse of the other since his own language is inadequate in dealing with the world he has entered.  The details of Dil not being a girl are what bind Fergus to the language he uses in order to rename Dil’s body and reclaim his “misperceived” past.  Yet, these very details are what must be surrendered in order for Fergus to stay with Dil — these details in the space of the other are incapable of signifying anything additional than what they literally are.  This disregard for detail is what allows Dil to create her identity, to structure herself as a woman, and is what makes way, ultimately,  for Fergus to perform, or “pretend,” his identity anew with Dil.  The attempt to reinscribe the past as false, or as performance, fails and the operation of identity formation must shift back into the language of the other in order to perform the present and render the past as an integral experience of two people interacting rather than a homogenizing execution of one person acting, renaming, and reformulating the other.  When Fergus “pretends” for Dil, allowing her to call him “honey,” to kiss him, and eventually to go to jail for her, Fergus is performing his identity not as a falsifying move of appeasement, but as an interactive performance between the world he comes from and the one he has entered.  The language of the other is confirmed as the only language whereby Dil and Fergus can understand one another.

This play between “reality” and performance, however, is taken much further as the plethora of performances within performances forces the viewer to mistrust eventually every assumed “reality” as true and every performance as false.  In this way, reality becomes a process of self-creation rather than a demarcation of “truth” imposed from outside.  The basis of the film is an I.R.A. member escaping Ireland, moving to England, and pretending he is a man named Jimmy whose co-worker told him about going to Dil for a haircut in order that he can deliver a message for the prisoner he was,  in part, responsible for killing.  Yet, everything else about Fergus, we are to assume, takes place within the space of a reality that he has entered, a world introduced, and in part created, by Jody and then of course, Dil.  However, Fergus was set up by Jody to deliver a message should Jody die — Fergus had to perform for Jody and then for Dil. Within this performance we see Fergus constantly asking questions about the cricket player he sees in the photographs in Dil’s apartment.  Fergus’ identity begins to resemble the role that Jody had in Dil’s life:  Fergus wants to know how Jody kissed Dil, if she misses him, how Jody was different from other men.  Moreso, the erotic tension that existed between Fergus and Jody gets re-played with the romance between Fergus and Dil.  Fergus begins to take on the role of Dil’s lover, of a construction worker, of someone who allegedly knew about Dil (even when he did not), and through realizing these roles, Fergus and Jody are, in a sense, lovers as they share the love for the same woman.   It is when Fergus learns the “truth” that everything else in the film falls apart for him:  Jude returns to his apartment to inform Fergus that he has a job to finish and Dil refuses to speak to him after he hit her and left her apartment.  With the return of certain “truths,” Fergus must confront them and construct a plan that deals with each new, or returning, reality.  This is where the new set of performances come into play:  Fergus cuts Dil’s hair, responding to her questions stating that he would like her better as a man, that he would not leave her if she became a man.  The performance of Dil as a man, however, is the most shocking, if not the most horrific, image in this film.  For the skeptical spectator must even acknowledge the “unnaturalness,” the “unreal,” within Dil’s identity as a man.  Ultimately, we must accept that Dil is not a man and that the previously conceived performance of Dil-as-woman, was simply Dil as herself.

After Fergus tells Dil about his involvement in the I.R.A. and the death of Jody and awakens to find himself tied up with Dil aiming a gun at his head, we are given a re-performance of Fergus’ relationship to Jody from the opening moments of the film.  Just in the same way that the “true nature” of Jody comes through when he charm Fergus into unhooding him while creating a bond of friendship between them, Fergus makes a similar attempt to free himself from the restrainst that Dil has tied as he lies helpless, tied to the bed:

DIL:  You like me now, Jimmy?
FERGUS:  I like you, Dil
DIL:  Giver me a bit more, baby, a bit more.
FERGUS:  More what?
DIL:  More endearments.
FERGUS:  I like you, Dil.
DIL:  Love me.
DIL:  Tell me you love me.
FERGUS:  Whatever you say, Dil.
DIL:  Then say it.
FERGUS:  Love you, Dil…
DIL:  And you’ll never leave me
FERGUS: Never.
DIL:  I know you’re lying, Jimmy, but it’s nice to hear it.

This dialogue unhinges the previous performances, revealing them as lies, while ingraining a new performance of “trust” that overtly seems to be staged but, nonetheless, proves to embody the “truth” of Fergus’ and Dil’s feelings for each other.  After Dil kills Jude, saving Fergus’ life, Fergus in turn takes the punishment for Jude’s death by telling Dill to return to the Metro, wiping the gun clean of her fingerprints, and carefully placing his own prints on the gun.  Fergus has repositioned himself within the role of the guilty, paying penitence for the death of Jody, proving his love for Dil.  Furthermore, Fergus is performing the role of his previous guilt and also the role of chivalrous lover.  This performance is in fact an affirmation of his original reality from which he had escaped, and to which he now returns.  More so, as the camera pulls away from the glass window that separates Dil from Fergus in the visitor’s room of the prison in the final scene, we hear Fergus’ reciting, re-performing the story that Jody had told him:  the scorpion and the frog.  These re-performances of the hostage and captor motif and the storytelling motif of the frog and the scorpion advance the realities inherent within the original performances as well as the authenticity of the re-performance.  The re-performance, therefore, is not at all a performance then, but is a reality that is replayed for the characters and the viewer in such a way that we must acknowledge the “true nature” of the players involved.  Likewise, Dil’s identity as a woman must also be recognized, not as a parody or a performance of a woman, but as a woman.

The complexity of the twisting and turning between the dichotomies of secrecy/disclosure, perception/misperception, name/identity, natural/unnatural, and reality/performance all function to reciprocally recast “truth” as a construction, and often as a misconstruction, of the senses which are wholly based on the (heterosexist) validity of the details given to the characters and the viewer.  The primary detail within the film is, of course, Dil’s penis and it is only through understanding Dil’s construction and performance of her identity that we can understand the unimportance of this very detail in relation to her subjectivity — her sex, gender, and sexuality as she performs them.  In other words, by entering the discourse of the other, we necessarily accept the other’s auto-construction, the other’s identity that, because of this one detail, would otherwise have a specific meaning in the heterosexist world of the sexed, gendered, and sexualized body.  By entering Dil’s discourse then, we acknowledge her identity as she has constructed it rather than imposing an identity on her based on the one detail that would destroy her subjectivity, that would recast her as a man.  Through understanding the way in which these “small details” maintain their importance, their signifying power within a heterosexist matrix, we can untwist the colonizing forces of the self that base identities, names, realities, and values of “normal” or “natural” onto the body.  By comprehending that these details are constructions of heterosexist language which works to bind the body to identity, ultimately eliding subjectivity, we can then free ourselves to see that these details are not always so important, that these details are simply details.  The signifying power of the details,  once within the discourse of the other, has absolutely no weight. The discourse of the other necessarily makes room for heterosexist identity (not that it could completely escape such structures), but also allows for difference —  it allows for self-creating identities in which the details do not  maintain any importance whatsoever since it is not the detail which forms subjectivity, but the performance of the subject, of the body, that names and that creates identity.  In this way then, Butler’s notion of gender as performance and Sedgwick’s notion of sexuality as performance can be applied to sex as performance since the identity of sex within this film is performative and not chromosomal or reproductive as Foucault and Freud would contend.

When Jody urinates, barely able to wait for Fergus to take out his penis, he states:  “It’s amazing how these small details take on such importance…”.  Jody foretells the irony of the film:  the concurrent importance and unimportance of details which are capable of either destroying or creating subjectivity.  For Fergus must overcome his anxiety of pulling out Jody’s penis:  he must acknowledge that Jody’s penis is, after all, “just a piece of meat” just as he must recognize Dil’s.  This film is about the “amazement” that society places on these “small details” and the oppressive function that society upholds by determining identity based on their importance.  By rendering significant the “piece of meat,” we would undeniably identify Dil as a man and cause Jody to “piss” in his pants.  It is only through realizing the ironies of heterosexist details, assumptions, of sex, gender, and sexuality that we can hear the other speak, that we can accept the other’s identity as the other performs it, that we can allow the other the same space that the self assumes within the world:  a space of self-identification — the ability not to piss on oneself.

Furthermore, this film turns the tables on the heterosexist condition (assumption) of being, making uncomfortable certain spectator who falls into the traps of their  perceptions, the reality, the natural, and their desire by forcing them (perhaps), after the “unveiling”, to reinscribe their perceptions as misperceptions, the reality as performance, the natural as unnatural, and their desire as abjection.  Then, the spectator is pushed to the limit, in being made aware that their first perceptions — their view of reality and the natural, and their feeling of desire before seeing Dil’s body — of the filmed world were, in fact, within the interactive space of the self and other and that the second re-perception, recreation of the “truth” was a misrepresentation, a suffocation of the other as subject.  The attempt of those viewers who reinscribe the identity of themselves and the characters within the film are, in fact, false and based on trust of the heterosexist details which, when representing the world, actually elide the subjectivity of the characters presented.   This film purposefully causes many viewers of the film (those who are shocked by Dil’s body) to reevaluate his/her condition of being in the world, repositioning his/her identity in relation to the other in the same way that marginalized groups historically have had to reposition themselves in relation to these types of spectators.

The Crying Game offers everyone — the characters and the viewer — an escape from the constricting boundaries of heterosexist identity whereby we, as spectators, are all free to recast the film, to review the directorial and narrative ploys, and to re-evaluate our subject position in relation to the one detail that  made many viewers uncomfortable.  This escape is, nonetheless, not flawless, since some viewers will tell their friends that the film is “sick,” others will say it’s “contrived,” and then, of course, some will even deny the attraction that they felt to the character of Dil by insisting that they could tell that “there was something not quite right about her.”  Hopefully, this discomfort, even if subconscious, will impress those secretly repulsed or in denial of their desire since the act of denying desire and identity implies a fundamental acknowledgment of the mechanisms that maintain society’s legitimation of identity.  In repressing desire then, just as in acknowledging desire, one must release the importance of the details — one must be able to accept them as physical marks that essentially have no importance, no meaning, within of the subjective sphere of identity-formation.  The details, therefore, within the space of the other,  serve as the signifiers of simultaneously “not-being the other” while depending upon the other for being.  By relinquishing our hold on the details — the already sexed, gendered, sexualized body — we relinquish our power to impose identity, to construct, to suffocate, the other.  Within this space, however, we gain access to the other in that we necessarily interact with the other (as the other already interacts with the self) in order to create ourselves,  weaving our bodies and performances between the poles of self and other. The Crying Game envisions an interactive sphere of the self and the other in which everyone who enters this world can create their own identity — a space in which the self and the other are equally free to perform their identity, to create their “truths,” by eluding, or not acknowledging, the “importance” of the undertowing, heterosexist restraint of details. Yet, the final scene of the film demonstrates the self-consciousness and limitations to such freedom in that the glass window, the ability to see through the divisions and interact with the other, nonetheless separates the two as lovers since both Fergus and Dil have created quite different sexual identities.  But, as Jordan writes: “[F]or the lovers, it was the irony of what divided them that allowed them to smile.  So, perhaps there is hope for our divisions yet” (p. xiii).


1 See Eve Kosofsky Sedgewick’s text,  Epistemology of the Closet, in which she discusses the various analysesof biological versus cultural construction of sex, gender, and sexuality.

2 See Gayle Rubin’s article entitle “Thinking Sex” in  Pleasure and Danger:  Exploring Female Sexuality.  Ed. Carole S. Vance.  London:  Pandora, 1989.

3 See Rubin’s “Thinking Sex.”

4 Implicit within my use of the social as the terrain for my analysis is, of course, the biological.  However, I do not explicitly name biology as an independent epistemological construct of sexuality since I maintain that the biological is contingent upon, or rather, it is a physical construction of the social.  Thus, any discussion of biological sex would necessarily embrace the social and biological rather than purely rely on the chromosonal or reproductive features.

5 See Butler’s Gender Trouble — especially the chapter entitled “Subversive Bodliy Acts.”

6 My use of the word “being” is meant both in a Heidegerian way and also as “being” relates to performance.

7 Although Phelan limits her argument to visual representation, I am borrowing from her performative theory and transposing it to the linguistic sphere since what I am examining within literary texts is the representation of visibility/invisiblity as related to sexual difference and the inscription onto the body that sexual difference attempts to make singularily whole, monolithic, or same.

8 Although androgyny is one of the many marginalized, unmarked sexual identities.

9 See De Lauretis (pp. 1-26) where she examines the movement between gender as ideological representation and what this representation elides.

10 I take this term from Kristeva’s Powers of Horror:  An Essay on Abjection (1982).


Works Cited

Barthes, Roland.  Incidents.  Trans.  Richard Howard.  Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1992.

Butler, Judith.  Gender Trouble:  Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.  New York:  Routledge, 1990.

The Crying Game.  Dir. Neil Jordan. 1992.

De Lauretis, Teresa.  Technologies of Gender:  Essays on Theory, Film, and Fiction.  Bloomington:  Indiana University Press, 1987.

Irigaray, Luce.  This Sex Which is not One.  Trans.  Catherine Porter.  Ithaca:  Cornell University Press, 1985.

Jardine, Alice A.  Gynesis:  Configurations of Woman and Modernity.  Ithaca:  Cornell University Press, 1985.

Jordan, Neil.  The Crying Game.  New York:  Vintage Books, 1993.

Kristeva, Julia.  Powers of Horror:  An Essay on Abjection.  Trans.  Leon S. Roudiez.  New York:  Columbia University Press, 1982.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude.  The Elementary Structures of Kinship.  Trans.  James Harle Bell and John Richard von Sturmer.  Boston:  Beacon Press, 1969.

Miller, D.A.  Bringing out Roland Barthes.  Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1992.

Phelan, Peggy.  Unmarked:  The Politics of Performance.  New York:  Routledge, 1993.

Rose, Jacqueline.  Sexuality in the Field of Vision.  London:  Verso, 1986.

Rubin, Gayle.  “Thinking Sex.”  Pleasure and Danger:  Exploring Female Sexuality.  Ed. Carole S. Vance.  London:  Pandora, 1989.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky.  Epistemology of the Closet.  Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1990.