Constructing the Shaman

The reading that most struck me this week was by Chris Straayer—the discussion of a construction of “glaringly bi-sexed” being seemed particularly relevant to my interest in discussing the construction of the shaman in Tropical Malady (2004) as a kind of third gender (263). While the details of Straayer’s analysis are likely not applicable to my work with Tropical Malady, the steps that they take can be extraordinarily informative. For starts, the identification of phallus and the penis as two divergent signifiers that can act in service of constructing a masculinized figure in film and video. The shaman spends the duration of their time on screen naked, covered in tattoos. The only time during which they have their penis (“hidden ‘nature’” in Straayer’s terms) covered is when they are fist being introduced, and are appearing to a hunter as a woman in an attempt to seduce the hunter (263). All seems to be going well until the hunter notices a tiger’s tail coming out of the shaman’s dress. This can be read as the shaman’s attempt to subvert their masculinity failing boldly—and of course it cannot be ignored that this failure results in an attempt on their life. I would argue that the shaman’s attempts to seduce the hunter in this way could be read as an attempt to slip into a heteronormative relationship—with the phallic tail being the inevitable downfall of the shaman. I at first struggled to position the shaman as fully male or female, due to the fact that they aren’t really human, but this essay has gifted me with a language and vocabulary that enables me to accurately describe the shaman’s state in relation to gender.

Works Cited

Straayer, Chris. “Chapter 4: The She-Man: Post-Modern Bi-Sexed Performance in Film and Video.” Deviant Eyes, Deviant Bodies: Sexual Re-Orientation in Film and Video. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996: p. 79 – p. 101.

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