Reading Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Otherwise: A Reparative Reading on the Art of Enacting Middle
by Robert Summers — Otis College of Art
February 03, 2011 – 00:00
The story of Hedwig demonstrates a ‘queer’ love and strength in this patriarchical world. To ‘frame’ the story, Hansel (pre-Hedwig), which is his/her Mum’s name), had a sex-change operation. Opposed to Jordy Jones’s ‘paranoid reading,’ there is no ‘evidence’ in the film to state this operation was done ‘under coercion’ (Jones, 450), and perhaps Hansel was always already trans; and s/he did all of this because s/he fell in love with an African-American G.I., who also fell in love with Hansel, and he gave him/her an option to leave East Berlin for the US — but they would have to marry, and Hansel would have to have a full examination; hence, a sex-change, which, from the watching film, makes Hansel, who is donning a wig, all the more happy (Image 2). That stated, the African-American G.I. with his encounter with Hansel, can be read as a moving of the ‘queerness’ of the film; in a similar manner to Hansel, both marginalized.
As the story unfolds we see Hedwig change her relation to the world: she finds herself elsewhere; she swells with ‘queer’ (un-)acceptance,’ or in the words of Angela Davis, ‘just because something "is" does not mean that it "is". This is a refusal of absolutes and discrete categories. (We are (un-)following the (un-)contours of ‘middle’ [Ricco, 3]?) Hansel is now Hedwig, but the surgery went awry. Post-surgery Hansel-cum-Hedwig was left with a scare and a one-inch nub (an ‘angry inch,’ which will be routed into a positive anger; she has not yet recognized middle): in her words about the surgery, I was left ‘… where my penis used to be and my vagina never was.’ Middle. She leaves for the US with husband, but life happens, and the husband soon leaves her for a young, white boy; she is left alone — even her brief romance with a teenage boy, who eventually steals her songs and aspects of her style: Tommy Speck-cum-Tommy Gnosis.
Though this narrative can follow the ‘lonely, abused transsexual’ (and she is) — rather, we see how Hedwig transforms her life, into an ‘aesthetico-queer’ relation by making auto-biographical-mythological-stories-music. One may easily go down the well-trotted road of, what Sedgwick has called, ‘paranoid readings,’ but I would rather follow Sedgwick’s ‘reparative readings’ that looks at how ‘queers’ transform rejection, dejection, and depression into something ‘beautiful.’ Hedwig even sings a ‘reparative song’ (see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8Y-sZ2WrfA ). This is the first time we see Hedwig, not as a the ‘real’ Hedwig — there isn’t one — or even the finding of ‘wholeness,’ as Jordy Jones has argued — the whole is a myth . Clearly, with Hedwig singing in an outfit that confuses all genders and sexes (she explodes them) she is (un-)located in middle: nowhere but elsewhere (Ricco, 3). To be sure, there is much to theorize and explore about Hedwig — otherwise.