Friday, December 30, 2011

Gay People Can Be Homophobic Too

As anyone who's read this blog for half a minute surely realizes, Kyrie and I are really not into the bigotry thing. I don't care who it's coming from. I don't give people passes on bigotry for any of the following reasons (or any other reasons):

1. I know them.
2. I like/love them.
3. I am related to them.
4. They're smart, professional, good at their jobs, famous, whatever.
5. They have friends/relatives belonging to the group against which they are bigoted.
6. They themselves belong to the group against which they are bigoted.

That last point is called "internalized [homophobia/racism/misogyny/whatever]." It happens all the time. Therefore, having gay friends or being gay is not an excuse to be homophobic.

Sidenote: If you know me IRL, and you've ever said that I'm your lesbian friend in order to seem cool for having a lesbian friend or to make yourself sound like less of a bigot, we're not really friends.

People who think or say things like visibly queer people are just trying to get attention really need to check themselves. For starters, they're trying to police other peoples' self-expression. There are a lot of gay people out there who want us to all just be more heteronormative because they think it will make things easier for them in some way. Like, if we can be just like straight people, everything will be fine. We won't piss off straight people, and we need them, or so this argument goes. We'll get to have marriage or whatever the fuck.

Break to remind you that I don't really care about gay marriage beyond "queer people should have access to institutions that exist." It isn't the end of the struggs. Aaaaaaand: fuck needing straight people to like us, and avoiding pissing them off. I'll piss off straight people all day and night if it will make things safer for one queer kid. That's why I posted the picture of my tattoo again.
My silences have not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.
That's Audre Lorde. Again. Always.

Some of us don't want to be just like straight people. Also also, not all straight people are the same [really!]. Plenty of straight people aren't into the normativity project either.

The idea that we should all be more normative and less visibly queer is super gross because it's upholding the idea that we should be a certain way, and that way is rooted in cis privilege and heteronormativity. My friend Kristen and I are having this conversation about good bodies and bad bodies, or heterocapitalistic bodies/rebellious bodies. She mentioned an old livejournal that basically criticized people for looking too dykey. Whatever that means. As she said, in her brilliant way with words [this was an IM conversation, you should read K's blog for other really interesting stuff]:
it was like you could be femme or androdynous but you had to be really skinny and well dressed, and people would get called like butch and bulldyke and stuff. which is homophobia, right, that you draw a line around skinny femme girls and skinny justin beiber girls and use homophobic language/policing to keep everyone else out. the same way LGB organizations want to keep out people who are trans and sex workers (good gay/bad queer) (bodies that conform to heterocap logic/bodies that rebel)

This idea that queer people should be less visibly queer is a way of telling us to get in line with the heteropatriarchy and I'm not having it. It also reifies the idea that there is a gender binary that exists, and men should look/act/be a certain way and women should look/act/be a certain way and there is a limited range of expression within that. You already know I think that's bullshit.

BUT there's also this whole other thing, which is that without visibly queer people - those of us who read super gay wherever we go or who work our asses off to raise queer visibility in all kinds of ways or who are "professional gays" or all of those things or lots of other things - without us? You don't get a movement, you don't get any progress at all. Conforming and limited- or in-visibility can work for some people, I guess, but Stonewall didn't happen because of people who tried to be under the radar. The people who have the most to lose are often the ones who suffer the most from heteronormativity/patriarchy/capitalism. If you think that that's just a way of "getting attention," you've got another think coming.

And all of this shit is stuff I've heard from gay people. There are gay people out there who want many of us to stop "trying to get attention" by "flaunting our sexual orientation." These people are not my people, I don't care if they're gay. They're homophobic. And they need to learn their history and open their eyes because their homophobia really hurts, and the people it hurts are often the people out there doing the most and/or taking the most shit because of the homophobia that these attitudes hold up.

And if any of them ever tell me I don't look gay again, I'm going to flip a table over and leave.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Financial Advice from a Laydee: Credit Cards and the Ethical Use Thereof

Hey, everyone, hope the holidays are treating you well. It's that time of year where we reflect and make resolutions and decompress, so, if you'll allow me, I shall continue with the money talk. Getting your money in order does a great deal for stress-reduction. Finance is self-care, y'all.

So, credit cards. They are capable of both great good and great evil ...


  • Credit cards are great for online purchases, because they have fraud protection. Are you using debit cards to buy things online? STOP IT. PayPal? They're the devil. In 12 years I've had fraudulent purchases made on my card twice, and in both instances my credit card company [A.] noticed it before I did and [B.] held me liable for none of it.

    I think they're also a better choice than debit cards for gas stations, because gas stations are notoriously rife with skimmers.

A skimmer
  • If you have a credit card, you should check out what protections you get from it. For instance, extra insurance on rental cars is pretty common. Some cards give you a few months' warranty on any expensive electronics you buy with them.

  • They can help you build a credit history, if that's important to you. There are other ways to live, but not having a decent credit history can limit your ability to borrow money or find an apartment to rent.

    If your credit history is bad or nonexistent, you can get a secured credit card. They're not so much "credit" because you give them money up front to hold. But if you demonstrate that you can use it within the company's parameters, then they'll eventually upgrade you to the usual type of credit card. A friend of mine used this approach when she moved to another country where her American credit rating had no clout.


  • Credit cards redistribute wealth from poor to wealthy. How? Every time you pay with a credit card, the seller has to pay a fee to your credit card company. The seller can't pass that fee along to you because their agreement with the credit card company expressly prohibits it. Folk with good credit (who are usually comparatively well-off) qualify for special rewards or cash back from their credit cards, which is funded from those fees everyone pays. It's like the opposite of how taxes should work in that we all pay more so that the least broke among us can pocket extra cash.

    It's hard to avoid credit cards for a lot of purchases, like plane flights or computers, but when it comes to things like groceries I try to pay with cash. It's a simple way for me to help keep food cheap for everyone. Another approach (one that applies more to gas than groceries) is to look for vendors who offer a cash discount, since that's one way around the prohibition against vendor-applied fees.

    It shocks me how many otherwise ethically-minded folk neglect this effect and advocate using a credit card for absolutely everything in order to rack up rewards.

  • What, not old enough for this?
  • Credit cards can be really, really bad for you if they're not compatible with your spending habits. I don't know whether they increase debt, but the average credit card debt in this country is something like $6k. J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly cut up his credit cards as a key part of getting out of debt, and recommends that others do the same.

Overall, it's like you have a tiny greedy bank CEO (or Viking, I guess that works, too) in your wallet, protecting you from fraud. That's a weird metaphor, but my point is that it's not always obvious how to use credit cards ethically. I've got a bit of a compromise going on ...


  • I try to use cash for most everything I can, especially groceries, medicine, household necessaries, and utilities (well, I use bill-pay for the latter). This dovetails nicely with my budgeting method, wherein I withdraw a set amount of cash weekly. Win-win.

  • I use my card for car rentals, online shopping, tickets, hotel rooms, and big cost items where I need the fraud protection and/or warranties and insurance.

Next topic will be debt reduction, I think, but I'm totally open to suggestion for ethical/feminist finance topics.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Letter to my Family

These days I'm a lot more prone to responding to the articles my family sends me now and then. Including this piece by Fake Andy Rooney (original by Frank Kaiser). I originally responded, with an, "Um, I'm in the group he's knocking here," being not yet 40 myself, but I was told I didn't get it. Well, then! Time to bust out the big guns!

... But seriously, folks, I object to this because it lumps all over-40 women into one group with the same characteristics. While there are no doubt many women over 40 that have and value these qualities (for instance, it sounds like Other Relative identifies with them), there are others that emphatically do not. I'd like to see you try to put bright red lipstick on Susan Herr, or tell Gloria Steinem that she's sexy because of her willingness to praise others!

And yes, Sending Relative, it is ragging on young women; I'd say "get with it" yourself! When the writer says "women over 40 are x," (s)he's implying that women not over 40 are not x: i.e., whiny, not dignified, ugly in red lipstick. Implying that younger women can't have these qualities is just as shitty as saying all older women do. It's true that men are criticized in the piece, but it's for their taste in women; they're not viewed as an alternative target for the sexual impulses of old men (which is really heteronormative, by the way). You can tell from all the gendered compliments: do you really get the sense that the writer thinks men, unlike women, will watch a sports game they don't want to watch out of timidity or that they wear unflattering lipstick colors? (Also, if you read the original, un-plagiarized version, Kaiser makes it even clearer that he's drawing distinctions between older women and younger women. Who he appreciates for their "occasional innocence." Vomit.) You can arrive at the conclusion that young women are being implicitly criticized in this piece even without acknowledging the cultural context in which older and younger women are constantly pitted against each other, which, honestly, adds yet more weight to my argument.

Anyway, if you all think the article is awesome, then I'm glad you're enjoying yourselves. But if you send a sexist, ageist, heteronormative, and gender-essentialist article to a feminist blogger, you get a lecture in return :D Have a great holiday, folks.


PS: If you send me any more lists of tips on how to prevent getting raped, I will send you long discourses on rape culture. Consider yourselves warned :)

It's worth nothing that the post is also very cisnormative and gender-binary-enforcing, and the original post is also ableist; "I still appreciate the 20-year-old for her ... vigor."

The way this culture tends to bookmark older women as matronly and unattractive regardless of their individuality is a huge problem. But lumping them all into one group and fetishizing a set of characteristics you've arbitrarily projected onto them is certainly not the way to go about fixing it.

Fortunately in my case, Sending Relative seems to kind of like the occasions when I argue them into a corner, though I always forget this and automatically tense up for a counterattack. Note to self: do not underestimate family. Happy holidays, everyone, and best of luck to you if you end up arguing with your family :)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Except that some moms do. More on this in a moment.

First, a sidenote-style bit of business. I pulled my last blog, the one on Jane Ward's article about the relationships of trans men and femme ladies, because she wrote to me and said I mis-represented her. She offered, generously, to speak to me on the phone about it. I shall do that, once we set a time, and then revisit the topic.

Now, on to today's lesson. A person - Elizabeth, we shall call her, as that is her name - posted the link to this story on my Facebook wall. It's about a mom who objected to her school's solicitation of dads to help out with a construction project for a kids' activity. Go skim it, it's a quick read.

What follows is a summary of the conversation I had with Elizabeth. If I get her permission to quote her, I'll edit this and do so. Until then, I'll paraphrase.

I like the Penis Mom post all right until this part:
Ladies, this is not a situation of the men holding us back - we are holding ourselves back because we don't want to step forward if it is icky and muddy.
I think that's gross, and it's blaming women for hetero-patriarchal assumptions about gender norms, 100% of which are socialized. Some people like playing in the mud, and some don't, and the principal's assertion that SHE is a PROPER woman is ridic. But women aren't oppressed by the patriarchy because they don't like mud and to argue that they are is asinine.

Elizabeth pointed out that there's a lot of interesting stuff aside from that quote, including the fact that the word "penis" is somehow considered inappropriate for teenagers. She's right, I shouldn't just focus on that one sentence.
Parents who think 13 year olds are too delicate to hear the word "penis" (imagine if the word had been "vagina") are probably totally terrified of sex as a concept and refuse to believe that their kids will engage in it and are probably also really into regulating the sex lives of strangers. Such people include those who are anti-choice and those who think that gay people are sinners. All three concepts are equally silly/awful.

Her larger point that it's intensely retro for anyone to argue that dads and not moms are the ones who should be invited to this is a good one. The concept the school folks were working with excludes anyone who doesn't come from a hetero two-parent household, really. And it tells the boys that they'd better be ready to set up a trébuchet and girls that they'd better never be into that. [And that no other people exist besides boys and girls.] Ugh. Heteronormativity for the win, again, some more. This is all gender training.

Also: I find it's much easier for us to get all up in arms about this kind of thing than it would be when dads are excluded from shit dealing with baking or whatever. You know? It's more acceptable for the weak to mimic the powerful than the other way around. I want to see this level of outrage around men not getting invited to after-school sewing shit and boys who want to wear dresses and whatever.

Elizabeth said she's not sure what to do about that, and I said: "About what?
People who think that it's okay for women to, in at least some areas, tack to the more masculine activities, but it never appears to be okay for men to do things coded as feminine? Throw a fit about it. Like this lady did. And keep throwing fits about it."

There's also the issue that we can too easily erase people who are not male or female, or who are not men or women, or who are not masculine or feminine. If we can get rid of these ideas that people who were assigned one of only two options at birth must do certain things (and be with certain partners - again, homophobia alert) then we can more easily see, and accept, and cherish and admire and adore, the people who don't fit into our silly constructed gender binary in the first place.

Elizabeth made the argument that it's not really about "males and females," it's about power, and how, she says, Gloria Steinem argues that women should be looking for equal power, and that she (Elizabeth) is more interested in what as coded as weak or powerful.

Of course it has to do with "males and females." So many things are coded that way - almost everything, really. And things that are coded male/masculine are also coded as more powerful, and things that are coded as female/feminine are coded as weaker. And male/masculine and female/feminine don't even go together in nature, but in the cultural mind, they do.

It's an incomplete fight to say that women need access to the things coded as more powerful. That alone does nothing to upset the entirely constructed and fictional gender binary we live in. The trick to ending gender-based oppression isn't saying "women need to be invited to build machines in the mud," it's saying, "we need to stop coding things as masculine/powerful and feminine/weak." She's partly right that it's about power, but Steinem was working in a pretty limited second-wave context. I think we're beyond that now.

We need to do these things:
1. Realize that gender is constructed, and that there is nothing unnatural/aberrant/deviant/threatening about people not living up to the gender they were assigned at birth. Here's the thing: NO ONE lives up to the gender we were assigned at birth. Some people are just more obvious/visible about it, or disinterested in even trying.
2. Following from that, we can see that everything coded as masculine/powerful and feminine/weak is a lie based in bigotry and misogyny. And we can stop coding shit according to whether assigned-at-birth men or assigned-at-birth women do it.
3. AND THEN we can see that we're all just performing our genders (see #1 above), and I think life will get a lot easier for trans and genderqueer people, who get the shit kicked out of them in all kinds of literal and figurative ways for not conforming to the lie of the binary.
4. AND THEN we won't bat an eyelash if a girl comes to school in "boys' clothes" or a boy comes to school in "girls' clothes" and people will be free to be as masculine or feminine or whatever that they want, ANDDDDD masculine and feminine won't be the only choices. People will just be free to express themselves however they want and a lot of violence will end.
5. And we will, I fucking hope, stop having gay panic every five fucking seconds. I realize that a lot of comedians will be out of work, but that's a price I'm willing to pay.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Financial Advice from a Laydee: Bargaining

TreeYou guys, I am preeetty good at financial stuff. I am also perpetually bursting with financial advice and dying for an outlet. And since 'tis the season for it, I thought I'd start posting some of it.

What does this have to do with the rest of the blog? Plenty! For one, a lot of the financial advice out there is written by doodz. And, not to knock doodz, because they write tons of good stuff, but sometimes it doesn't translate. This is not because of our tiny math-allergic female brains, but because of society.

For example: bargaining. Every dood-written financial blog I've read eventually says something like, "You can get a discount on anything! Just ask for it!" Get Rich Slowly advocates doing this, as does Ramit Sethi. Once I decided to take Sethi's advice and try to negotiate a lower cable rate. I had in hand an advert for a low introductory rate that I did not qualify for, being an existing customer, and a set of suggested tactics from Sethi, including things like asking to speak with customer retention, that would supposedly help convince them to lower my rate. I stayed cool and friendly and I think I'm capable of sounding reasonably professional. And it did not work at all.

It also didn't work when I tried to bargain for a lower price on a used car. I chose to remain carless because the seller would not budge by even the smallest amount on the price. That just offends my principles. Who refuses to bargain on a used car? Incidentally, the only time I successfully negotiated a lower price on a car was when I was co-buying it with a dood. I could give you a couple more examples but let's just say it's a pattern. And it's not just me. Laydeez everywhere run up against walls when they try to buy cars or negotiate raises.

In fact, the only time I can think of that I successfully negotiated for something was with my landlord. When I first moved in, the dining room contained a giant free-standing wardrobe so that they could market it as a two bedroom. It took up an annoying amount of space and they refused to remove it. That is, until it came time to renew. Then, it became more worthwhile to deal with the wardrobe than to find a new tenant, especially one that might not pay on time regularly or keep the place spotless. And so I got my way eventually, not by negotiating but by establishing myself as a valuable tenant. And a couple years later, I got them to agree to shorter leases in order to keep me on. It's the usual drill: I did more work for less reward.

Sorry if this isn't very encouraging, but I think it's useful to know. The realization that I acquire bargaining power by building financial relationships rather than through charm means that when I move someplace new I spend a LOT of time looking for a good apartment, one that I am more likely to stay a while in. And I'm delaying buying a car, and if/when I do get one, I will plan on driving it to death. I may even hire a dood to negotiate the price for me. Perhaps most importantly, it means that when I look for a job, I pay attention to what they say about women. My current boss hires a lot of women and promoted that in my first phone interview with him, and that kind of thing definitely factors into a job search when you know you've got the raise-negotiation-odds stacked against you in general.

I hope this sort of thing is helpful. I'd like to continue writing about finance now and then because I am so tired of all the bullshit you hear regarding laydeez and financial literacy, like that "women also prefer to learn about money in person or in groups with others in their situation, as opposed to curling up with a book" (ref). Could that be because most of those books are written by men? Who are giving naive advice like, "go ahead, ask for a raise!" If the advice doesn't work for women, then women will stop reading and seek advice from their peers. Cuz bitches be rational.

Also! Readers, I'd love to hear about your experiences with negotiation, especially if you got it to work for you, and if you have any thoughts on how that intersects with any aspects of your identity.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Queer Families, Part 2/infinity

So a couple weeks ago, I wrote a thing about my queer family and one small way in which we were creative. I also quoted a long chunk from a blog post by Leslie Feinberg, but I don't think I discussed it enough. So I'm going to quote it again right now and then talk about it more in depth. And then maybe next week I'll get into some other things. So here it is, you can read the whole thing here. I'm going to go paragraph by paragraph this time.

My estranged biological relatives know very little about the decades of my adult life. They are strangers, by my choice, because of their history of bigotry and abusive behaviors toward me.
This is so so so so common amongst people I know. You guys. This is why we need to declare safe spaces on our office doors and why we form our own families. And the thing about bigotry/abuse is that it can be perpetrated by people who would vehemently disagree with the label of "bigot," and often those people think of abuse as hitting and not as the constant requirement that their queer kid Just Not Be So Gay Because It's A Holiday And/Or There Are Children Present. Or as constantly refusing to use someone's preferred gender pronouns or acknowledge that person's gender identity. Cutting these people out of one's life to whatever degree and with whatever permanence is a completely legitimate choice.

Yet the capitalist state often cedes legal power to blood relatives by default. So, I’ve had to struggle to assert legal independence from the white, patriarchal, heterosexually-modeled nuclear family into which I was born.
Oh, the capitalist state. God. What a fucking nightmare. The capitalist state has privileged the nuclear family as a way of privatizing care for each other. Nuclear families are "legitimate" and intelligible. You need help? Ask your family. They have to help you, they're family. The sense of obligation this puts on people is intolerable. It's removing any legitimacy/social sanction for chosen families, and it makes community support optional. It makes community support questionable. It looks like socialism or communism and we have been taught that those are bad things because... I forget why. They're un-American or something? Whatever. I'm probably super un-American. I can live with that.

For four decades I have been forced to create and revise sets of legal forms for every state in the U.S. in which I’ve lived or sought medical care. These foundational documents state in clear language that I have been legally autonomous from my birth family since I reached the age of legal consent.
My documents state that Irving David Feinberg, Betty Vance Hyde, and Catherine Ryan Hyde have no legal rights in my life.

My legal papers also spell out clearly who does have the right to speak for me if I am unable to speak for myself.

Not everyone has to carry their papers around, just people The State considers questionable. Not having to carry one's papers around is a privilege. Having to constantly opt out of the state's preferred system is the particular duty of the oppressed. We shouldn't have to opt out of state-sanctioned relationships constantly.

Minnie Bruce Pratt has been my family, legally and in life, since 1992. As lovers, we have shared a home, life and struggle—in sickness and in health. We are domestic partners. We are civil union’d. Yet the state and federal government discriminate against our same-sex economic family unit by denying more than a thousand of the benefits that recognition of same-sex rights as a civil “marriage” certificate would provide.

Because I am female, and in a same-sex relationship, I have to live and travel with legal documents that expressly state who is, and who is not, my family.
This is the best argument I've heard for gay marriage, but it doesn't convince me to get on the marriage bandwagon. I want it for Feinburg if ze wants it. I don't think ze's looking to assimilate, anyway. I think ze's looking for relief from having to carry around a life's worth of papers with hir when ze goes to Publix or whatever they have in Syracuse. If marriage is an institution that exists, it's an institution gay people should be able to participate in, and this is why.

Even chosen family members who travel with their legal documents intact can find themselves barred from visiting their loved one in an emergency room, while vindictive relatives who are virtual strangers can proceed to the bedside to make life-and-death decisions. I carry a hospital visitation authorization, the new Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (MOLST), my domestic partnership and civil union papers, advanced directives, living will and last will & testament. In addition, I carry a copy of caregivers’ rights, and requests for secular-based care.
I have to legally state in paperwork that Minnie Bruce Pratt is my health care proxy, together with my attorney—who has taught issues of law and transgender. They have my powers of attorney. Based on legal documents that I’ve worked hard to prepare, my chosen family would speak for me if I were unable to advocate for myself.

Minnie Bruce and I both have to carry each other’s documents at all times, as well.
See? That's a lot of papers for anyone to manage all the time. I can't keep track of my pets' vaccination records. And it's a fundamental flaw in our social system that anyone has to do this just to be sure they can get the basics of respect.

Catherine Ryan Hyde is attempting to undermine all my painstaking documentation of chosen family relationships, by claiming blood ties give her intimate knowledge of my life and identity, and the right to re-write them.
Catherine Ryan Hyde sucks. Blood ties are useless, y'all. They don't mean anything. It's great if you love your blood family and they give you the support you need, but blood doesn't mean: respect, intimacy, love, understanding, care, communication, delight, home. Constantly having to identify your family through legal work-arounds, and at the expense of people who would like to see their blood status as privileged in your life and who accept no alternative, is a rough road to travel. We need to re-think the way we do everything, is what I'm saying.

The image of Leslie Feinberg is via hir site, which you should all go check out.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Open Thread: Apples to Apples

Anyone else not participating in Black Friday? Good. Cuz I need some help. Apples to Apples, you guys, is a seriously boring game. But! To fix it we only need to come up with 750 interesting nouns and 250 interesting adjectives. Help me out?

Here are some ideas to get us started:

Rage zombies
Chuck Norris

The new black
Right all the time

Okay, go. Because I don't want to be stuck at Christmas time, rolling my eyes when "Eleanor Roosevelt" gets paired with "Masculine." Urgh.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Time Has Come to Discuss Tim Tebow

Sometimes it feels like there is no opinion I hold that is socially acceptable. I know this is not true, but I often find myself profoundly at odds with many of the people in my life, especially those who hew close to the mainstream. My opinion on Tim Tebow is perhaps the one that is, at the moment, causing me the most stress to my jaw as I grind my teeth.

"But Jess! You do not give a shit about football, or celebrities. Why does Tim Tebow even enter into your consciousness?"

Because I'm a grad student at the University of Florida, is why, and have been since forever. I was here for his entire football career and I have personally witnessed dozens of my friends (and tens of thousands of people) become Denver Broncos fans overnight because he went there after he graduated from UF. Tebow was a superstar quarterback for UF, as I'm sure you already know (if you didn't already know that, we're probably BFFs, or we should be).

Here are two other facts about Tebow:

1. He was a missionary in the Philippines, Thailand, and Croatia. He continues to embrace missionary work through his foundation.

As a friend said on my Facebook wall:
The missionary work he is so beloved for (not that he likes to talk about it) always feels like borderline colonization to me. Here starving child, if you believe in Jesus you can have this yummy food. I mean it works (both in feeding the needy and as a recruiting tactic for extremist and/or terrorist group), and feeding the poor is great but talking to missionaries (including those in my family), oftentimes their help feels conditional and self-congratulatory. That, to me, feels like colonialism.
Another friend pointed out that "it feels like colonialism because it ABSOLUTELY IS." I agree with both of these folks. The missionary work skeeves me out.

2. He works with Focus on the Family. Focus on the Family is a Southern Poverty Law Center-classified hate group. The people they hate the most seem to be queer people (though they reserve quite a bit of ire for people who've had abortions). As I said on Facebook,
his work with FOTF means that I can never like the dude as long as he's not actively recanting and working against whatever contribution he has made to a known hate group consisting of homophobes who want me incarcerated/institutionalized/fired/invisible. I don't care how soft-spoken and handsome the dude is - neither of those things really does it for me anyway - he does not treat his fellow human beings with respect. Good football playing and not being a steroid user or whatever isn't going to override that for me.

Since beginning writing this post, I've been de-friended by someone to whom I expressed, in a way I believe was polite and respectful, the feelings I articulated above about Tebow's work with Focus on the Family. I said to her almost exactly what I said here. People feel intensely strongly about this dude, and I can't even begin to relate to that. There are apparently people in the world who would rather cut off contact with someone than re-evaluate their feelings about a football player they don't even know personally. She didn't even argue with me. I'm not offended, but I'm really confused! What kind of cult of personality issues are going on here?

Anyway. I await the day that Tim Tebow gets over his bigotry and I can like him, too. Until then, I'll be persistent in pointing out that he's homophobic. And don't give me any of that, "I'm sure he doesn't hate gay people himself" thing. He could disassociate from a group that was classified as a hate group because of its work against queer people. He doesn't have to have said the words. His actions speak for themselves.

Tim, we are not speaking.

Image via.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Outrage (and a Warm Fuzzy)

My old friend Kenny Ketner, who writes at Lubbock Left, posted a picture this morning of a protester getting pepper sprayed in the face at point blank range by a Portland cop. There is no evidence in the picture that she or the people around her were being violent in any way. From what I can tell, they may or may not have been blocking the road and/or the MAX railroad tracks.

Call me radical but I don't think it's appropriate to respond to civil disobedience with violence. In no other aspect of our lives do we find it reasonable to bend others to our will with physical force. Now, I realize that the police are tasked with keeping order. Which is why we grant them the ability to arrest people, using force only when arrest is being resisted, or when the arrestee (is that a word?) is being violent.

When there are too many people to arrest, that's a sign that there's some underlying problem, not that it's time to start using weaponry against the populace. Sheesh.

So, now that I've got everyone outraged (I hope), let me make up for it by also offering warm fuzzies! Another friend posted this article (it's a good day on the Facebook) about sex-positive sex education in a Quaker prep school in Philadelphia. If only we could get this kind of sex ed for all teenagers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Queer Families

I was raised by a [mostly] nice group of people who instilled the idea in me that family is really important. I still believe this, although my definition of family has changed somewhat. While I'm lucky to have a birth family I love,* I also have a family I chose for myself, and they chose me.

Last night two members of my queer family came with me to get a tattoo. That's it, in the picture! I already had the star - the words are new. It was a group endeavor. That quote - "Your silence will not protect you" - is by Audre Lorde, one of my favorite writers of all time. It reminds me to be brave, and not hide who I am, ever, for anyone. Her silences have not protected her, and mine will not protect me.

I am deeply honored to have Nic Bravo do the lettering for the tattoo. She's changed my life and I can't imagine having anyone else's handwriting on my arm for the rest of my life. Amanda, my best friend, came with us. Together, we placed the letters on my arm and rearranged it a half-dozen times until it looked exactly right. The tattoo artist said he's never seen a tattoo be a group project like that, but I couldn't have done it any other way. It was this little vignette of what queer family is about for me: support, expression, creativity, love, endurance.

Amanda and Nic are two really important members of my queer family, but there are lots of you - if I love you and you're reading this, you're part of it, even if you're straight. Kyrie is a member of my queer family. I am so lucky to have all of you. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, especially since going to the Chicago History Museum's queer history exhibit. It was amazing, y'all. So many queer people were represented, and they even examined heteronormativity and capitalism. The part that really got me, though, was a 25 minute movie about 12 queer families in Chicago. One was about a man who started a drag ballroom in Chicago for kids. This was how he was defining his family. I'm getting emotional just thinking about it now.

Leslie Feinberg, the author of Stone Butch Blues, wrote a blog post about this recently. I want you to go read the whole thing. Please go read it. It's too brilliant, and I don't know how much longer we'll have new writing from hir to read. The time might have already passed. Anyway, Feinberg has disowned hir family, for very good reasons, and desires no further contact with them. That must be challenging, but because ze's a brilliant person and writer, ze writes about the importance of chosen family really beautifully.

For instance, it is very difficult to give legal power to one's chosen family:
My estranged biological relatives know very little about the decades of my adult life. They are strangers, by my choice, because of their history of bigotry and abusive behaviors toward me.

Yet the capitalist state often cedes legal power to blood relatives by default. So, I’ve had to struggle to assert legal independence from the white, patriarchal, heterosexually-modeled nuclear family into which I was born.

For four decades I have been forced to create and revise sets of legal forms for every state in the U.S. in which I’ve lived or sought medical care. These foundational documents state in clear language that I have been legally autonomous from my birth family since I reached the age of legal consent.

My documents state that Irving David Feinberg, Betty Vance Hyde, and Catherine Ryan Hyde have no legal rights in my life.

My legal papers also spell out clearly who does have the right to speak for me if I am unable to speak for myself.

Minnie Bruce Pratt has been my family, legally and in life, since 1992. As lovers, we have shared a home, life and struggle—in sickness and in health. We are domestic partners. We are civil union’d. Yet the state and federal government discriminate against our same-sex economic family unit by denying more than a thousand of the benefits that recognition of same-sex rights as a civil “marriage” certificate would provide.

Because I am female, and in a same-sex relationship, I have to live and travel with legal documents that expressly state who is, and who is not, my family.

Even chosen family members who travel with their legal documents intact can find themselves barred from visiting their loved one in an emergency room, while vindictive relatives who are virtual strangers can proceed to the bedside to make life-and-death decisions.I carry a hospital visitation authorization, the new Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (MOLST), my domestic partnership and civil union papers, advanced directives, living will and last will & testament. In addition, I carry a copy of caregivers’ rights, and requests for secular-based care.

I have to legally state in paperwork that Minnie Bruce Pratt is my health care proxy, together with my attorney—who has taught issues of law and transgender. They have my powers of attorney. Based on legal documents that I’ve worked hard to prepare, my chosen family would speak for me if I were unable to advocate for myself.

Minnie Bruce and I both have to carry each other’s documents at all times, as well.

Catherine Ryan Hyde is attempting to undermine all my painstaking documentation of chosen family relationships, by claiming blood ties give her intimate knowledge of my life and identity, and the right to re-write them.
There are other aspects of Feinberg's post here that I really want to talk about, in terms of voice and representation and authority, but those are topics for another day. For now, though, in the spirit of the holiday season that's fast arriving, I just want to thank all of my beloveds. I couldn't do anything without you, and this tattoo that some of you helped me get will remind me that you're the people I'm being brave for. Some of us have birth families who support us to varying degrees and some of us don't, but I'm so glad we're here for each other.

* We all have struggles with our people, right? What I mean is, we're working on stuff, which I think is an endless project under just about any circumstances. I consider myself fortunate.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"But I'm A Good Person" I can't be homophobic or racist or a little sexist. Right? Because I'm a good person and good people aren't those things.

It doesn't work that way, guys. I have people in my life who seem to think that their being good people means they aren't homophobic, but they've got it backwards. You have to not be homophobic first, and then you get to be a good person. It sounds similar, but it's not: The first construct allows you to avoid any kind of honest self-evaluation. The second absolutely requires honest - and perpetual - self-evaluation. Works the same way with racism and any other kind of prejudice. You don't get to just declare yourself not homophobic and expect me to buy it. You have to do the hard work first.

I'm bringing this up because people suck sometimes. And those people can be really super important in your life. Maybe they're your parents, or your best friend, or your partner. And you want them to hear you and understand you and not just patch it all over with wallpaper. That shit won't fix the cracks in the walls.

It kind of leads back to the whole "culture of politeness" thing I've written about before. If we privilege politeness and getting along over anyone's individual needs, someone's going to get hurt. So now queer kids all over the country are having to figure out how they're going to deal with Thanksgiving, for instance, when their family's official line is "We completely accept you as gay" but they keep doing things to hurt you. It's no good. But when you point out to them that they might not BE homophobic, but in some ways they're ACTING homophobic, or saying homophobic things, the whole thing goes to hell.

I think we all need to be able to be honest about ourselves and who we are with the people in our lives. If we can't do that, because they "aren't ready to hear it" even if they "completely accept you," then those people have not done the hard work of perpetual and honest self-evaluation. How do we convince them to do that?

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Number

I was reading this conversation between Nicole Rodgers and Hugo Schwyzer in which they discuss the concept of a "number" (i.e., the number of people one has had sex with), and came across an odd statement. In the course of discussing the Kinsey Institute's statistics on said number, Schwyzer states that "the skewed Kinsey numbers suggest that some people are lying." I think he's being nice. I think the numbers show that people are almost definitely lying.

What are these statistics?
  • Males 30-44 report an average of 6-8 female sexual partners in their lifetime
  • Females 30-44 report an average of 4 male sexual partners in their lifetime

If you take two distinct groups of people and count up the number of times sex occurs between members of each group ... well, that's one number. So if the size of the two groups is the same, the average should be the same. There might be 1 percent difference in the male vs. female population on the planet, but we need 50 to 100% more women than men to explain that difference above. Alternative explanations:

  • The study is at fault. The smaller the number of participants, the less representative the reults are, and the larger the uncertainties are. Additionally, there can be selection effects; you can't just round up a thousand people on the street and force them to participate in your survey.
  • Men have had more sex by age 30-44 than their female peers because they are getting busy with older ladies. If this phenomenon is more or less uniform with age, that means the typical male participant has had sex with 2-4 women that are at least 7 years older than him. And that's assuming the female participants never do -- if one out of four of those sexual encounters are between a female participant and a male sex partner 7 years older, then fully half of the male participants' sexual encounters are with a female partner at least 7 years older. If this is true, this would be amazing because it is totally opposite what our culture pressures us to do (i.e., sleep with older men/younger women). But I don't think it's true.
  • A large fraction of people are non-binary-identified or fluid gender identification. That would be awesome, you guys, but I don't think that's currently true, either.
  • People are lying liars. Or, to put it more kindly, men round up to seem virile and women round down to seem virginal. A related explanation is that men are counting oral and/or manual sex as sex and women aren't. But I think the motivation for counting this way is probably the same.

Like I said before, I totally think it's the "lying liars" explanation. I think this is a pretty neat statistic, actually, because this question is basically a way to calibrate your study. The answer should be 1:1, and how far you are from that tells you something about the quality of your study, whether it arises from your participant selection methods or your participants' willingness to provide honest answers.

I also wonder how many people don't realize that these two numbers should really be identical, and take it at face value that men sleep with more women than women sleep with men, period. There is just no way for that to be true, you guys. No way.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Dark Angel and Disability

I really like science fiction, you guys. And, fortunately, there's a lot of kick-ass science fiction out there. I've never been much of a Trekkie (or Trekker), but Firefly and Battlestar Galactica are two of the best shows EVER.

When it comes to TV shows in particular, I get really attached. Following plot arcs and character development for a couple of years induces a raging sense of entitlement in me, I must confess. So that when BSG is like, "Hey, angels!," I'm all, "HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME." It's ... disproportionate.

Sometimes, though, I feel my rage is justified! Like with Dark Angel. I'm not even going to talk about the second season. I'm going to pretend that doesn't exist. No, I'm gonna carp about the first season, Logan Cale, and the depiction of disability. There will be some minor spoilers.

In the pilot episode, Logan gets shot trying to help someone (dude is seriously into being the White Knight/hero type) and it puts him in a wheelchair. Also in the pilot episode, it is clear that the show is going for a romance between Logan and the female superhero. And they made the injury permanent enough, and the romance compelling enough, that I got hopeful. I thought we might actually get to see two characters have a steamy, sex-having romance punctuated by the fighting of crime and corruption whilst one of them is in a wheelchair. Wouldn't that be nice, to acknowledge that differently-abled folk, too, engage in exciting sex and topple corrupt dystopian governments.

And for a while, it seemed like that might happen. Granted, Logan was rather preoccupied with regaining the use of his legs, but, you know, big shift in life circumstances, a struggle to adjust is a (but not the only) realistic reaction. He was also hesitant to pursue the heroine sexually while wheelchair-bound, but people can be insecure for all sorts of reasons, so again, realistic. But, unfortunately, the show was also obsessed with "curing" Logan, and threw robotic legs and temporary miracle cures his way until I was ready to scream.

The result was that paraplegia was treated as a temporary problem rather than a permanent feature of a person's life. And a good opportunity to feature a disabled character in TV storytelling and to quash some myths (like that people in wheelchairs never get any) was squandered. Science fiction, I expect better of you.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Disney: Teaching Girls To Live With Violence Since 1923

A buddy of mine sent me a message with this picture, put together by the incomparable George Takei. Take a minute, read the captions, and then let's talk about this stuff.

I live two hours north of Disney World in Florida. I've been there a couple times as an adult, and went a few times as a little kid. There's something about Disney World that can be kind of intoxicating at first - the way every detail is considered, the fun roller coasters, the quick availability of ice cream - but I've come to see it as essentially a giant mall. Disney World exists to sell Disney products, and Disney movies are basically commercials for toys at this point, even if they didn't start out that way. I'm uncomfortable with that consumerism aspect. It's not just a general anti-capitalism thing for me, it's also about how we're training kids to think that they can introduce magic and fantasy into their lives through buying plush toys. The "magic of Disney" is really "the magic of thinking we can buy our way to a better life."

But Disney isn't just selling Lady and the Tramp dolls. It's also selling gender norms that fit right into the patriarchal power structure, as the picture above illustrates. Instead of elaborating on the captions in that picture, because they speak for themselves, I'd like to spend a minute focusing specifically on the relationship of women and violence in these films.

Beauty and the Beast is an easy starting point. Belle is in an abusive relationship. The Beast is terrifying and violent, and is very much of the "If you don't burn my waffles I won't hit you" line of thinking that many of us have encountered far too often in our lives. But the audience is meant to be rooting for her to win him over, and if she can do so convincingly, he will turn into a handsome prince and they will live happily ever after. She just has to figure out how to change him, is all! No big deal, guys!

But in real life, abusers like him can't be changed like that, no matter how perfect/beautiful/charming their victim. Any change they can manage has to be done on their own, internally, and probably with the help of a good therapist. Being a better victim is not going to end the abuse you're suffering.

The Little Mermaid deals with another kind of violence: the destruction of one's own identity in order to better fit into the mold that mainstream white culture tells us laydeez will land us some menfolk.* Ariel literally loses her voice. She loses her identity - as a mermaid, as a beautiful singer, as someone interested in collection random crap - in order to be something this man wants. And he is captivated by her, and intrigued by her voicelessness. It's working for him until he's put under the spell of a witch. Not only did Ariel lose her voice, she lost what made her a mermaid: her tail, her swimming ability, the capacity to live underwater. She distanced herself from her friends (a classic sign of abuse, by the way). This is a violence that is just as terrifying and real as the kind that was enacted on Belle, and in both cases, the women in question were forced to sacrifice themselves in order to get a guy. And I, at least, was never sure why even Prince Eric was worth attaining (The Beast is a clear loser). He was handsome? Rich? Is that what we're supposed to be telling our daughters is more important than their ability to express themselves in even the most basic ways?

Sleeping Beauty and Snow White both show the ways that violence can work on [conventionally attractive] women who then need to be rescued by [conventionally attractive and also void of personality] men. These women are considered worthy of rescuing because they are not challenging hegemonic femininity in any way, although their persecutors often are. Be thin, clear-skinned, [usually] white, vulnerable, and gentle, and some dude will come fix your shit up for you. So, we have men as the causes or perpetrators of violence as well as the protectors from violence. Not good.

Our kids, regardless of gender, are being sold these messages in big bad ways. This is education in consumerism, in gender, in body image, in relationships, and in power. The men have the power, the women just have to be worthy of having it used in their favor instead of against them. It's in considering things like this that I become enormously relieved that I am unlikely to have small kids of my own, because I'm not sure I could stomach dealing with their inevitable interactions with Disney. I know some of you are parents: how do you deal with this stuff?

*And of course, a significant number of us aren't at all interested in landing menfolk anyway.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Small Blow Against Rape Culture

Good news, everyone! The FBI has updated its woefully archaic definition of rape ("the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will") to something a little more realistic:

Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.

This is good news for a bunch of reasons:

  • The FBI now recognizes that men can be raped.
  • "Carnal knowledge" was a bit ambiguous, and could be interpreted to mean vaginal rape only. This new definition explicitly recognizes anal and oral rape.
  • Most importantly (in my opinion), this new definition identifies the absence of consent as the key element in rape rather than force. Now victims who were drugged, blackmailed, threatened, or otherwise coerced are also recognized by the FBI as rape victims.

While this update in definition is a huge step forward for the reasons I cited above, it is not without some remaining problems. The most glaring issue is that this definition only recognizes penetrative rape. If an aggressor envelopes the penis of an unconscious person with their vagina, that would not be considered rape under the above definition. There are a number of other non-penetrative sexual acts that should be considered rape when perpetrated on a non-consenting individual, none of which will be recognized by the FBI's new definition.

So, good on you, FBI, for recognizing that it's consent that matters. Now let's work on recognizing non-consensual, non-penetrative sexual acts as rape, too.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Knowing When to Shut Up

I've been in a lot of spaces and meetings lately that are meant to talk about issues like privilege and queerness and that sort of thing. Inevitably, these gatherings draw a mixed crowd: Queer people, people of color, all kinds of gender identities and occupations and education levels. It's one of the best things about them. But there always seem to be people who have no idea what privilege means, even if they're talking about it.

A few weeks ago, Nic and I went to the TransCon Justice Summit in Miami. I would say that overall it was a good experience, and I met some pretty amazing people there. But there were also some folks who weren't so awesome. For instance, one cis straight-identified woman seemed to want a cookie for being able to be in a space with so many queer people and not freak out. She seemed quite invested in the idea that we'd all love her, but she struck me as disingenuous - as though she cared more that everyone thought she was a hero than about learning from the people around her. At one point, she and I were in a small group with a few other people and she, the only straight person in the group, immediately took it over and started planning our presentation. When other people spoke up, she was quite dismissive. It was gross. She had no idea that she is precisely the type of person who doesn't have to struggle to have her voice heard, in comparison with everyone else in the group, and she deliberately silenced the very people the conference was for.

So when I read this in the Bilerico Project, I was especially excited by this quote:

With a proper amount of decolinization, [sic] these two [straight white men] would have shut the hell up at some point and allowed someone else to speak. We cannot demand that others (Republicans, Tea Party peeps or whoever the "big bad" is this week) treat us with respect and then refuse to look at how race/class/gender privilege derails even the most progressive and well meaning attempts to institute change and determines whose voice gets to be heard.

Yes. This. One thousand times this. I have seen this happen so many times: in a critical pedagogy class this summer, which I helped facilitate and which focused on critical race theory and queer theory, the straight white people were either bent on talking about how they are oppressed, or actually pointed to the queer people and people of color in the room and accused us of oppressing them when we spoke our truths. I have rarely been so angry in an academic setting. Academia encourages this, though, and rewards the straight white people for talking about the experiences of marginalized people through the lens of peer-reviewed articles on oppression, in abstract academic language, and then telling the people who live the experiences that they're wrong, or not thinking about it the right way.

Another example: the head of Save Dade, an LGBTQ rights organization in South Florida, is a cis straight man. I've met him, and he's perfectly lovely. But I am unconvinced that having a straight person as the head of a queer advocacy group is a great idea. While I grasp the concept of straight people who are interested in seeing systematic oppression of queer people end, I'm not sure why any of them would think they have the right to be the head of a group for a community they are not part of.* Furthermore, it contributes to the problem of queer invisibility. We need more, not fewer, opportunities for queer people to be vocal. And it reinforces the idea that queer people are unacceptable to the mainstream and so we need straight people to speak for us. Fuck that. I'm way too radical to go along with that idea (although, to be frank, I don't really care if the mainstream accepts me).

So: Straight people, when you're in a queer space, let the queer people do the talking, okay? And when I, as a white person, am in a place with people of color in which we are talking about racial oppression, I'm not going to speak much unless specifically asked for my opinion. I think that if we can be aware of our own privilege and not wield it over other people in spaces that aren't ours, we'll actually be doing something to resist oppression. This is a step I believe we can take.

* Kyrie is extraordinarily sensitive about this, by the way. I would be interested in reading more about their feelings about these issues if they ever feel like sharing.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Review of Drive: UGH

Drive currently has 93% on the tomatometer, you guys. And I have no idea why. Spoilers ahead: skip to the second set of asterisks if you don't want the spoilers.

*** begin spoilers ***

It is just full of senseless violence. And I mean that like, the violence makes no sense. Now, I am not categorically opposed to violent movies. I enjoyed Kill Bill. I thought A History of Violence was pretty interesting. But this movie ... okay, look, the main character at one point states that he doesn't use guns. You might have a character do this because they are reluctant to kill, or because the find a knife quieter or more humane, or something like that. But in this case it's simply an excuse to have him kill people in grisly, hands-on ways. It's gross and disturbing. And you're supposed to kind of like this character, I guess because he's played by Ryan Gosling?

The utterly bizarre violence is not confined to the titular driver, though. Another character, who is supposed to be a ruthless businessman type, stabs his victim in the eye with a fork before cutting his throat. WHY MOVIE WHY THIS MAKES NO SENSE. Is it easier to cut someone's throat while they're thrashing around in agony? My guess is no.

*** end spoilers ***

Oh, and this movie has the least character development of possibly any movie I've ever seen.

But there's one scene in the movie that absolutely made me blind with rage (don't worry, this isn't too spoiler-y.) Blah blah, tough guys confronting each other in their places of business. One such place is a strip club, surprise, surprise. Which is, of course, an excuse to have a violent confrontation framed by a background of bare boobs. ARGHWOMENSBODIESARENOTPROPS!!! >:( :( The actresses playing the strippers just sit there completely motionless, expressionless, and reactionless. Now, I'm sure some will argue that the characters do so to show that they are used to seeing such things and that they stay still out of wariness. But you guys. Subtle facial expressions and some eye movement would convey this very well. This would, however, involve giving the actresses some direction other than, "just pretend to be statues," and would be more effective if you did a close up of one of the women's faces. You know, the face, Hollywood. That part of a woman's body that is sans boobs but shows expression? You know? No?

Seriously, don't bother with this movie. It's terrible on many levels.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Misogyny in a Can

It's been a long time since I was a regular consumer of soda, and now I can barely stand the idea of drinking it. I used to be kind of addicted, and I don't like being addicted to things, so I quit. I was a real bitch for a couple of weeks, I'm sure.

For some reason - and I'm sure someone out there has done an analysis of this - soda companies seem to be marketing diet sodas to men more. Pepsi One started it off, taking the word "diet" out of the name - diets are for ladies, after all - presumably to attract a wider customer base. We can't have men feeling emasculated by their beverages, after all.

Now Dr. Pepper is in the game, with this ten-calorie can of soda that we all need to be aware contains BOLD FLAVORS. No wussy flavors for dudes. On the Facebook fan page, you can - if you want to add the app - learn what the Ten MANMENTS are. I did not do this. I cannot handle giving my information to Dr. Pepper, but Google helped:

Dr Pepper’s 10 Man’Ments

1. Thou shalt not OMG. If it’s not exploding, it’s not exciting.

2. Thou shalt not pucker up. Kissy faces are never manly.

3. Thou shalt not post pics of your outfit. Unless it’s battle armor and you have a giant sword and/or small bazooka.

4. Thou shalt not post furry animal videos. Exceptions made for beasts fighting to the death and bears destroying idyllic picnic scenes.

5. Thou shalt not make a “man-gagement” album. That is all.

6. Thou shalt not share your horoscope. Daily.

7. Thou shalt not Instagram your lunch. Real men each lunch, not tweet it.

8. Thou shalt not untag unflattering pics. We know you were there.

9. Thou shalt not end a comment with a =).

10. Thou shalt not make a Facbeook profile for your pet, baby and/or imaginary friend.

So... men - the men Dr. Pepper wants to market to - have no feelings, have a really conflicted relationship with photography, and only like animals if they're destroying each other. Sounds healthy!

We already know how much I hate this prescriptive bullshit. It's coaching men to be more "masculine," and in the process commenting on what women can and should be. It is also putting femininity down as clearly inferior. It's gross.

As Nic Bravo said, "Don't forget to never drink this again."

Friday, October 7, 2011

Again with the Pronouns

I've written several posts already about pronouns. Obviously it's a subject I care a lot about. In fact, I've written so much on the topic that one might expect me to have thought about what pronoun I prefer people to use to refer to me. And yet, when asked in a group setting last week this very question (it was one of those introduce-yourself things), I was uncertain enough to avoid the question.

I was near the end of the group, so I had a few minutes to think about it. But I kept thinking, "If I got to choose ... wait, don't I get to choose?" Hence, confusion.

I have since decided two things: I like the singular "they" for myself. So if you want to be fancy, go ahead and use that for me. But here's the second thing: I just don't care all that much. Call me "she" all you want, too. Heck, call me "he" if you want; I get sirred all the time what with the short hair, and it does not bother me one whit.

I think pronoun preference and degree of caring about that preference are two orthogonal quantities, and I end up in the "whatever" zone. (Though I care a lot about calling other people by their preferred pronoun!)

How about you, dear readers? Ever been called upon to pick a pronoun?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Femininity and Masculinity in Television

Linda Holmes at NPR's Monkey See is pretty brilliant, y'all. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I totally have a crush on her. Call me, Linda.

The story that prompted this particular outburst of hearts is her dissection of masculinity in television. While allowing for the idea that there are extremely problematic representations of women and femininity on television, she argues that the current crop of television sitcoms might be even worse for men. She discusses How To Be A Gentleman, Last Man Standing, Man Up, and Work It in particular.

Sarah Haskins, the brilliant person who brought us Target Women, has pointed this out before in her skit on doofy husbands.

Holmes makes a whole bunch of good points, and you should just go read her column. I'll wait!

Back? Okay. So one of the things Holmes talks about here is the concept of "realness." These horrid new shows are talking about what it means to be a "real" man. It's my sense that we've been in a crisis-of-masculinity moment for awhile now. If not, we wouldn't be panicking about a mom painting her very young son's toenails pink in a J. Crew ad. We wouldn't have to be aware that Tim Allen still exists. So these shows seem to be about showing their male characters how to be Men. And, because I'm an educator and think everything has pedagogical implications, they're probably teaching American men how to be "real," too. But they're not looking at masculinity through any kind of queer lens, so they have a defined vision of manhood that is based in a straight and cis view of it. Best not be too dapper, or one might be associated with femininity (which is bad) (I mean, duh).

So, the fact that women might be getting better representation on the screen doesn't strike me as a triumph of feminism. I'm thinking that instead of the power dynamic shifting in women's favor, there's a (perhaps subconscious) attempt at asking for a reassertion of the culture of masculinity, which is defined in clearly specific ways. Now, I don't think that all the men involved in these shows behave in the way men are portrayed on screen, and I think that a lot of the times they're probably saying something about how idiotic these men are. But there's something going on, and I don't think they shows are trying to make a point about how we've been too rigid about gender norms in our cultural history. You know?

Here's the thing: Even if the people involved in the show aren't endorsing this view of masculinity, they're still putting it out there, and there are going to be plenty of people who watch it and laugh knowingly and incorporate it - again, perhaps subconsciously - in their ideas about gender and how to properly perform it.

I don't think I can even get into how repulsive I find the concept of Work It, the show in which men dress in drag because they feel it is the only way to get ahead in the work force. I'll just say this: It's a fucking disaster. I know they're not presenting as trans people, they're dressing in drag, but in real life people who crossdress or are known to be drag performers often face a certain amount of revulsion from their bigoted cis straight colleagues. And I've talked about it before, but it bears repeating: trans people are underprivileged in the work force, get mistreated by the police, and generally have a harder time dealing with institutions like the health care industry than cis people do. To say that men should just "dress like women" and then they'll get ahead in the work force is to erase any discussion of trans issues. It's also making a pointed case for the fact that men feel so very disadvantaged that they'll do something horrifyingly misogynistic just to get a job they seem to feel entitled to. Which they are not.

These shows leave no room for a discussion of queerness, or the idea that being a feminine man (regardless of sexual orientation or trans status) is awesome. They are making life harder for people with non-normative expression because they are reifying gender normativity. Trans people, gender queer people, butch lesbians, etc., are also harmed by this. If there is a limited idea of what is acceptable for a man, it also limits what is acceptable for a woman, because if women are masculine, then what happens to masculine men? They can't stake out their ground on a constantly shifting landscape.

These television shows are being gender police, is what I'm saying. I advise against watching them. Does anyone have any shows they'd like to suggest as having less problematic views of gender, for those of us who do occasionally enjoy watching the teevee?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Nancy Upton and Plus-Size Modeling

Earlier this year American Apparel decided to expand their line of clothes to larger sizes, and publicized the plan with an open competition to be their new plus-sized model. It's exciting that they're expanding their size selection a bit (though they could certainly expand it much more), but at the same time they announced the change and the competition in terms that one woman, at least, justifiably found condescending:

"Wow, they really have zero respect for plus-sized women. They're going to line them up like cattle and make puns about them until they're blue in the face" -- Nancy Upton, via Jezebel

In response, Upton and photographer Shannon Skloss created a series of photographs of Upton eating and/or covered in food that are both clearly satirical and utterly beautiful. To her surprise, American Apparel accepted her entry, and her photographs were voted to the top by viewers, technically winning her the competition.

Possibly because Upton made it clear during the competition that she would not model for AA, the company declined to award her the prize and instead sent her a chastising email telling her that she does not "exemplify the idea of beauty inside and out." Later they offered her a trip to tour their facilities in LA, which she accepted, and I think she's there now.

While I understand and support Upton's disinterest in modeling for American Apparel, I really would like to see her in a high profile modeling career. Not only is she both incredibly beautiful and modeling-industry "plus size," which I would like to see more of in fashion pubs, but the nature of her debut has given her a real voice.

I'm not much of an historian, but if you remember the 90's, you may remember "supermodels." They had actual names, names that we knew (Cindy Crawford! Christy Turlington!), and their public persona was an element of their modeling. And those elite few, at least, got paid enough to live on.

These supermodels were all fairly young, mostly white, and quite thin. I am not even remotely of the opinion that 90's era modeling was all that it could be. But it seems to have just gotten worse since then. The fashion industry has trended towards even younger, even thinner models, and a large number seem to be teen girls from Eastern Europe -- coincidentally, a population already hit hard by sex-trafficking. These models are nameless (they are almost never cited in fashion photos) and even faceless; eyebrow-bleaching may be interesting-looking as a style, but it essentially removes one of the most distinctive facial features on an individual. Most earn so little that they end their careers at the beginning of their adulthood actually indebted to their modeling agency.

Simultaneously, we have the problem that almost all fashion and most ready-to-wear clothing is made only for women size 10-12 or smaller. If you are larger than a size 12 (like about half the women in this country), you are limited to department stores and a few specialty retailers like Lane Bryant, and are effectively shut out of the fashion industry. And though I still have the luxury of fitting into "straight sizes," my clothes-shopping is hindered by the fact that there are almost no models of my size, and so I often have no idea how to make an article of clothing work for my body, because you guys, I am not a fashion genius.

Occasionally, though, there's a bit of a fuss and a small line of clothing is designed for a plus-size woman. Yes, lads and gentlewomen, I am referring to Beth Ditto, who is so fashion-y and punk-rock-y and connected-y that she was able to convince UK retailer Evans to create a plus-size fashion line. It wasn't for everyone, but it was pretty cool regardless, and I certainly got some ideas from it.

Similarly, recently plus-sized model Crystal Renn made a splash by not just being a fantastic model but by talking candidly about her experience in the modeling industry and how it triggered her disordered eating. She has since lost weight, but I still have this celluliterrific shot to treasure forever:

I am currently rooting SO HARD for plus-sized models with personalities because it seems these are the people who can succeed introducing larger sizes into the fashion industry, and because their success involves their names and personalities, which I would like to see much more of in modeling. So I was delighted when reader Karen alerted me to this post by Amanda Palmer who, tickled to see Upton's Dresden Dolls tattoo visible in some of her shots, is communicating with Upton about modeling her merchandise, and may possibly design something for her. YES PLEASE. The more plus-size clothing, the better, and I'm sure as hell not ready to see the last of Nancy Upton.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Gays: Are We Weird?

I've been following Gene Weingarten, a humor columnist for the Washington Post, for years and years. I've read nearly everything he's published that is accessible online. He writes books, magazine pieces, and hosts a monthly chat on the Post website. He's one of the smartest people online, and a treasure. I already live in dread of the day that I can't read new work from him anymore, and I hope that he keeps writing for decades.

Sometimes Gene is brilliant. For instance, he once gave me this bit of advice on dealing with homophobic "friends" who use their religion to justify their bigotry:
Gene would dislike these people intensely.

You happen to be treading on an area where I am uncommonly sure of myself and obnoxiouisly opinionated. (With food, I'm sort of kidding. Here, I'm not.)

Yeah, I'm an atheist, but I don't disrespect religion; we're all seekers of truth and understanding, and science and religion go about it in parallel ways. I'm most comfortable thinking about religion as a form of philosophy.

So far, so good. My problems with religion are when it is so reactionary that it institutionalizes bigotry. At that point, reason and faith no longer coexist, they are at war. At that point I feel it is the duty of the moral person to jettison the bigoted faith for another. Or for none.

"Love the sinner, hate the sin" is astonishingly patronizing, and duplicitous. It's a cop-out. Love the slave as though he weren't your property. Separate but equal.

I had a very close friend, a devout Christian, who told me that she worried about me because, as a nonbeliever in Jesus, I would be going to hell. What do you SAY to someone like that? I said nothing, but I never felt the same about her. She's chosen an interpretation of her religion that consigns Mathatma Gandhi to hell. I'm supposed to RESPECT this?

Here's the thing you need to remember: All those people who tell you that homosexuality is a sin, but they love you? They don't. They think you are a lesser form of life.

Act accordingly.
Yes, exactly. Gene (#ICallHimGene) has said some absolutely brilliant things about atheism, education, art, literature, and history. He can be, at times, a raging gender essentialist, however, and one time he copped to some transphobia that he has since turned around on. But his willingness to stick to "women are/like/hate x" and "men are all dumber than women" stuff really bugs me. So, I recognize that he can sometimes be problematic. In the poll for his chat this week, he asked whether his cartoon for the Washington Post's Style Invitational is homophobic. I really wasn't sure what to expect, but because I am a Professional Over-Thinker, I figured I'd probably think it was.

Here's the picture, and I've copied his limerick below it:
There was an old man with a beard
Who said, “It is just as I feared!
I thought I’d seem straight
With this pretty young date,
But I still hear them calling me ‘weird.’ ”

— Gene Weingarten, 2011

In the poll, I said that it wasn't homophobic. The truth is, there are still people calling us weird. I believe that Gene is being honest when he says in the chat that he doesn't endorse this view, but he thinks that bigots do. I agree! Lots of people think we're weird, and mean it in a bad way. That's why they're bigots, after all.

But I like being weird! I think it means that I go against the status quo and the mainstream and all that stuff, and that the very idea of queerness presents a counter-narrative to normative views of sex, gender, class, race - all kinds of things. That's why I feel, sometimes, as though the movement for marriage equality and the DADT repeal is perhaps focusing too many resources on trying to mainstream gay people, when we could be spending that money on AIDS research and grassroots community development.

One gay man wrote into the chat to say that the idea of "weirdness" for gay people is outdated. I disagree, and wonder what world he lives in. Perhaps he is white, upper- or middle-class, cis, and monogamous? In other words, the only thing that differentiates him from most white upper class cis men is that he's gay. I'm glad that the people who can mainstream want to, and that they aren't feeling oppressed. But I think perhaps he's a bit myopic in his perspective. Being queer is still weird in lots of places, for lots of people. Some of us embrace that, and I think that's really healthy, and leads to some of my favorite things about the queer community, like artistic expression and drag.

What do you think? Is there value in embracing weirdness?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Oh, Hetero Dudes

Hi, hetero dudes. Your lives are all the same, right? You meet a cute lady, spend a huge chunk of money on a ring, and, strangely, marry her despite having no motivation to do so whatsoever. It must be because she somehow manipulated you into asking. Yeah, that's it.

JK, marriage is awesome.* You will now likely live longer, and, outside work, are no longer expected to act like an adult. Which is good, because it's not like you know how to do, like, anything:**

But sometimes your shrewish wives ask you to go furniture shopping with them. OMG. It's not like you need things to sit on. Fortunately, Ikea now recognizes how horrible it is to expect men to shop for things for their own use in their own homes, and has kindly provided us with Manland, a daycare for adult men where you can eat snacks and watch TV until your mommy -- er, wife -- comes to pick you up:

In all seriousness, het men find this really insulting, right? I mean, those of you who aren't commenting on the Good Men Project about how women use marriage to dominate men or whatever. (BTW, I totally retract any previous endorsements of that site I may have made. Hugo Schwyzer's posts are still awesome, but the commenters are pretty much all MRA douchebags.)

This whole narrative is so illogical that it makes me want to scream. Or, ya know, write sarcastic ranting blog posts.

*for dudes

**How exactly do single men survive, anyways? NOBODY KNOWS.