“So Long, Chaps and Spurs, and Howdy—er,
Bon Jour—to the Wounded Songbird”
k.d. lang, Ambiguity, and the Politics of Genre/Gender
By the early 1980s, [k.d. lang] was belting country music, first as affectionate parody and then with less and less irony; her voice, with its leisurely swoops and its aching vibrato, was made for ballads. “I always thought I was delivering emotion, ” she said. “But as I grow older I see deeper and more intense ways to deliver emotion and truth. ” Jon Pareles, “k.d. lang Leaves Metaphor Behind”
In a section of Female Masculinity in which she investigates a “postmodern butch” aesthetic, Judith Halberstam provides a short critique of Percy Adlon's film Salmonberries. Halberstam puts her most intense focus on the Alaskan orphan character Kotz, played by k.d. lang. In the midst of a revealing critique of the film, she notes that when Kotz is silent, especially in the early portions of the narrative, the character is complex in ways that bolster and complicate her masculinity, while later in the film, the character's gender and sexuality become far less complicated, easier to interpret through received or “commonsense” categories. As Halberstam puts it, early in the movie lang's Kotz “is brooding, moody, melancholic, violent, sexy, and extremely intense. As you might imagine, things go downhill once lang begins to speak, ” and the character is simultaneously transformed into a less complicated, more traditional love-stricken girl dyke (224).
While reading this section of Halberstam's argument in the context of working through a number of mass mediated articles dealing with k.d. lang as a recording artist, I could not help but be struck by the ways Halberstam's claim about the character was, and is, to some degree reflected in the public discourse surrounding k.d. lang's sexuality, gen-