Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Is RuPaul's Drag U Gender Essentialist?

Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I really love drag, and that I feel the need to have a television in my house primarily so that I can watch RuPaul's two shows on Logo, RuPaul's Drag Race and RuPaul's Drag U. The first is a traditional competitive reality show - start with 16ish contestants, eliminate one or maybe two a week until a finale between three or four contestants, with the winner being declared America's Next Drag Superstar and getting cash and other prizes. It's fun, entertaining, and I live for it when it's on.

Drag U, while also competitive, brings in three different women every week, and each will work with a previous contender from Drag Race to win a bio-drag competition. In other words, these cis women (at least, all have identified as such so far) will not be dressed as drag kings, but as drag queens.

Often, the storyline goes that these are women who need a confidence boost, which is tied with getting back in touch with their feminine side. Showing them that they can, in fact, walk in heels and pull off a look involving outrageous eye makeup is meant to push them out of their comfort zone. It looks like they have lots of fun, and they volunteer to go on the show, but there's something about it that I've been having to wrestle with: Is Drag U gender essentialist?

It all ties back into the performativity of gender, I guess - in most cases on the show, the women aren't really "performing" femininity before they get Dragulated (they aren't into makeup or fashion, they might work in traditionally masculine jobs like construction, maybe they're just tomboy-ish) and, presumably, they learn how to do so better after being made to look like drag queens. Not like feminine women - like drag queens. But drag was never meant to be a wholesale performance of femininity either. Drag is over-the-top, almost always humorous, and frequently an artistic expression. Men who perform as drag queens may or may not have feminine aspects to their out-of-drag personality, but while they're using cues of femininity in their drag performances, they aren't trying to "pass" as women most of the time (I say "most of the time" because I can't possibly know what's going on in any drag queen's head at all times).

So, Drag U is kind of confusing to me. As someone who really wants to learn to be a drag king, I totally understand the desire to engage in drag. And the over-the-top draggy-ness of the womens' presentation at the end - and the fact that they are put up in drag by cis male drag queens - doesn't read to me as prescriptive feminization the way many television makeover shows do it. In fact, I think this is a cheeky play on other makeover shows: there is no expectation that the women will hold onto the makeup and clothing they got in the show (unlike in What Not to Wear, which Kyrie has eviscerated here). Rather, it's the sense of confidence, that they can do something silly like wear enormous heels and head pieces and lip-synch to Diana Ross or whatever and come out of their shells, that is meant to be the take-home point. And I'm guessing that women who would find even the most playful and temporary performances of drag-type femininity oppressive would avoid going on this show, so there's certainly a selection bias here. Besides, they can go back to their everyday lives and be who they were before going on the show without the sense that they're letting people down by gaining weight back or not wearing clever little day-to-evening ensembles to work.

At the end of the day, these women are proving one of Judith Butler's points about gender: that all gender is performative, and therefore all gender is queer. And they got to hang out with a lot of fabulous drag queens while doing it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I Stopped Reading Jezebel, but I Miss the Commenters

One of the great things about the feminist blogosphere is that it seems to reverse the usual internet trend: the comments section is often the best part. I know we certainly get some great comments here :) And this seems to be especially true of Gawker daughter blog Jezebel.

Jezebel is aimed at women readers and is kinda feminist, though not explicitly so, if I recall correctly. Its comments section is heavily moderated so that you generally only get a comment published if it is germane, intelligent, and not redundant. Being funny helps as well. And I say this as someone who has attempted a couple times to comment without success; I appreciate the result of their moderation techniques to the point where it's hard to talk sour grapes.

The blog itself, though, has been problematic at times. They prioritize maximizing page views over consistency, and so occasionally betray their massive devoted readership in the attempt to bring in new readers; one such example, in which they published a guest post that criticized the value of consent, prompted me to stop reading the blog. But now and then other writers link to Jezebel, and I always scroll down to see what the commenters have to say.

For instance, check out the comments on the above post. (You may have to click "Featured" or "All" to view them.) There's a ton of good ones, so it's hard to pick one representative, but here's a comment I like from Hiroine Protagonist:

A woman's sexual autonomy is kind of the first principle of feminism. A Nice Guy who can't get laid and blames it on American puritanical attitudes is the first guy you meet as a feminist. You've really never heard this before? This is just ... circling the drain. Dude goes to Europe and projects his own wishful thinking on his ignorant interpretation of another culture? That women are so uptight and it's because of the semantic difference between consent and decision?

But there's a whole wall of awesome to go along with it; Jezebel posted a bullshit article, and the commenters totally call them out on it.

They did it again this weekend. Jezebel posted about an amateur comedian who related the tale of what sounds like a rape. (I initially wanted to post about how very tired I am of hearing sexual assault presented as zany hijinks, but I need a couple days to turn my incoherent rage into words.) People who maybe haven't thought about rape very much sometimes are confused when victims choose not to fight their assailants; if you're one of those people, it's a strategy rape victims sometimes adopt to minimize injury. It doesn't mean the victim wasn't raped. One of their commenters, Donovanesque, seems to suffer from this confusion:

[T]hat sounded like a really messed-up story to me, but not a rape story, since she had him pinned down, and later took off her pants and lay down.

In response, like, a bajillion other commenters straighten Donovanesque's ass out:

Judging from the inconsistencies in his intro and the story, I feel that he might have judiciously edited the story to sound less like "raperape". And he clearly lied to her in order to get into her room.

If anything in that story is fabricated, it's definitely the pinning down thing. He saw how awkward and uncomfortable people were getting, first he threw in the "she was bigger than me" thing so he didn't look like an overpowering male rapist and then he swooped in with the pinning down thing.

Just because a woman lays down or takes her pants off doesn't make it consensual. It could simply mean she's terrified for her life and is trying to minimize the physical damage she already knows she will suffer.

My friend handed her rapist a condom as she didn't want to get pregnant or infected with any STDs. She also wanted to ensure she had his DNA.

Things get a little heated and some people get a little rude, but in the end Donovanesque changes hir mind and some warm fuzzies are exchanged. It's an ... unusual form for a comments section to take.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Elmhurst College: Giving Queer Kids Money

I write a lot about higher education around here - I'm a grad student, after all, and if that weren't enough, I study the history of higher ed for a living. More specifically, I study the queer history of higher ed. So when I learned - thanks to Facebook buddy Damon - that Elmhurst College in Illinois has become the first to ask students whether they identify with the LGBTQ community, my ears perked up.

Elmhurst phrased the question as, "Would you consider yourself to be a member of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) community?” and answering the question is optional. The answer doesn't play a role in whether the students are admitted, but a "yes" could put them in line for a scholarship (and given that this is a small private school, that's a big deal) and help the school direct the queer students toward resources available to them on campus.

Of course, the Illinois Family Institute is up in arms about it, because they think sexual orientation and gender identity are choices, such that anyone who identifies as queer is bringing persecution on themselves. But I don't expect this will be the only controversy surrounding the decision. Queerty asks whether poor students will identify as queer on the application to help pay for their education. Autostraddle points out that it might be unsafe for some students to answer "yes," although they certainly wouldn't be forced to.

I don't think I need to address the Illinois Family Institute's concern here. We all know that they're bigoted jerks with an interest in maintaining the hetero-patriarchy. I think Queerty was being somewhat tongue in cheek in their post, and Autostraddle doesn't think the question is a bad idea overall.

Queerty's point is interesting, though - there's no way to really verify sexual orientation or gender identity, and we shouldn't be going on missions to try to come up with a way to do so. I don't feel particularly concerned about high school students claiming to be gay who aren't, and Elmhurst probably has financial aid opportunities for students who come from low-income families. But colleges that have offered scholarships to minority groups have traditionally done so for groups who tend to be coming from a socioeconomically disadvantaged community: Native Americans, Black people, and other racial groups who have faced oppression at the hands of the white patriarchy. Queer people come from these groups, of course, but they come from everywhere. That's the thing: queer people aren't born into communities of other queer people the way Black people are born into communities of other Black people. This has a couple of implications: First, queer people tend to be born to straight people, so they don't necessarily have the community support from the beginning of their lives. Black people don't have to come out as Black to their families and face disapproval, rejection, eviction, or a host of other things that queer people sometimes do. Second, however, is that queer people are born all up and down the socioeconomic spectrum of society - queerness knows no class or race. So queer kids could come from extremely privileged households and not need one third of their college tuition paid for, or they could come from low-income households and require all kinds of financial aid if they want to pursue higher education.

This is not to say that I think that Elmhurst shouldn't offer this scholarship, or ask this question. I like both ideas, though I do hope that the already-privileged queer kids aren't the ones getting all the moneys. I think that the question itself is more important for the kids who can afford college without this scholarship, and may be just as important for those who do need the assistance. It signals that Elmhurst is a queer-friendly school, and that's no small thing. As the Campus Climate Index shows, not all institutions of higher education (even the public ones) are queer-friendly. Some, including my own institution, could use some work in these areas. Kids who are looking for a college where they can feel safe - and who isn't? - can take this into account, even if they check "no" or "prefer not to answer" on the application because they feel they can't be out at home. And given that institutions of higher education can too often be behind the times in dealing with diversity, instead of on the cutting edge, I think this is a really good shift toward remedying institutional queerphobia.

Friday, August 26, 2011

What is Up With the Blogosphere This Morning?

I'm just criticizing everybody this week. Wednesday it was MRAs, the dregs of the humanity barrel (and I got my very own enraged would-be commenter, I feel so special). Today I'm going the opposite route, because I've got a bit of an issue with some feminist blogging.

Feminism is not a monolith, of course; you'll find a fair amount of disagreement on a wide variety of topics within the movement. At the same time, it's hard to be a feminist if you're not for equal pay. Or if you're anti-choice. Being opposed to the practice of slut-shaming is pretty par for the course as well.

In case you're unfamiliar with the term, slut-shaming is when you attempt to take a person (usually a woman) down a peg by implying that they're too sexual in some way, or sexual in the wrong kind of way. Most feminists agree that it is a bad thing to do, and that's the impetus behind the SlutWalk movement. It's definitely something I don't expect to encounter in the "Feminism" folder of my Google Reader account.

But this morning it's happened twice. First, we have Amanda Marcotte over at Pandagon saying:

Suck it, Zooey Deschanel. (Though you probably were sucking something already, chin pointed downwards, and eyes cast upwards as if you're ingratiating yourself with someone three feet taller.)

Is it me, or did she just imply that Zooey Deschanel exchanges blow jobs for favors of some kind, for no reason other than Marcotte doesn't like the roles Deschanel plays? (And, for the record, wear a damn Hello Kitty shirt if you want. It doesn't make you less of an adult woman. For Christ's sake.)

Then I headed over to Feministing, and read this (about PETA creating a porn site):

They’ll lose the remainder of little respect they have left by the general public.

ARGH. This sounds JUST LIKE the things we say about women who perform porn. To my knowledge, Feministing does not take an anti-porn stance, so I find this rather hypocritical. And no, throwing in a "it’s not like sex-hating is okay either, but come on" doesn't negate the sex negativity you just engaged in. You can criticize PETA for all the sexist shit they do, you can discuss the ways in which you find porn problematic, but it's not cool to celebrate the disrespect that usually accompanies sex work.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Newsflash: Your High School History Book Might Have Left Out Women, Gays

History is full of untold stories, which is probably what I love most about it, and why I want to study it for a living. And often, stories that are told are told from a certain privileged vantage point. On Tuesday, when I met my undergrads for the first time, we talked about how there is a lot of information out there for those interested in the stories of middle to upper-class white Protestant straight men. I try to spend as little time as possible on those stories, because there are so many others to talk about.

One thing that happens a lot is that history is sanitized and co-opted to fit into a conservative message. Martin Luther King Jr., for instance, has been used by conservatives to oppose gay marriage and promote a kind of color-blind ideology that deliberately obscures the fact that the wealth gap between white people and people of color is widening. His anti-war messages are swept under the rug, and the fact that he was working on an anti-poverty campaign because he could see that poor people regardless of color needed to band together to work against the inhumane functions of US capitalism was so terrifying to people at the time that many historians suspect it led to his assassination.

This week, the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial opened on the National Mall in Washington, DC. This is significant in that it is the first memorial that isn't to a white man or a war. He is the first black person to be honored on the National Mall. Teachers are using this as an opportunity to talk about Dr. King in a time outside of Black History Month and to try to drive home his anti-racism messages.

The story of Dr. King has become almost iconographic, but there are other people whose stories are just as important. Ella Baker, for instance, who differed from King in many important ways. She was a grassroots organizer, not an orator, and she thought that putting so much of the power of the movement in one person's hands was troubling. She wanted power more evenly disbursed, and she believed in radical pedagogy. She wanted to empower dispossessed black people and believed that they could interpret and navigate the world without formal education. The tensions between Baker and King - its most effective grassroots organizer and its most charismatic spokesperson - revealed fundamental disagreements over the roles of leadership, the importance of democracy, and the pathways toward social change.

Fannie Lou Hamer and Josephine Baker are two important women that my students have typically never heard of in the context of the civil rights movement. Hamer (that's her pictured above) was actually quite the engaging speaker, and was crucial to the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which challenged the supremacy of the whites-only Democratic Party. She in particular so enraged candidate Lyndon B. Johnson that he referred to her as "illiterate" and planned a speech to air on television at the same time as her speech to the Democratic Party's Credentials Committee meeting. Fortunately for America, most news programs ran her speech unedited later in the evening. She made a difference in gaining political attention for black people. She worked for Head Start, Dr. King's Poor Peoples' Campaign, and sat as a delegate for the Democratic National Convention in 1968. Hamer is a hero.

Josephine Baker, as the link above discusses, was part of the Million Man March and gave a moving 20 minute speech at the rally - the only woman to do so. She was a performer, which is the role most people seem to know her in, and she used her platform to oppose segregation. She wouldn't perform in segregated clubs, and she was an active member of the NAACP.

Bayard Rustin
is another overlooked member of the civil rights movement, though he was the organizer of the Million Man March, keeping track of even the smallest details. He was important to Dr. King and to the movement in general thanks to his capacity to organize. He was also openly gay. John D'Emilio wrote a really great biography of Rustin if you want to know more about him. But some people wrote him off at the time, and used his homosexuality to threaten the movement.

So, I think Dr. King should be memorialized on the Mall, and I'm looking forward to seeing the monument for myself the next time I'm in DC. But these other people should not just be footnotes in the story - they were just as important as King, if not as famous. But they weren't straight men, and therefore had a lower public profile and are left out of history curricula that barely include black people at all. It's important to talk about them, though, because they represent the diversity necessary to any movement: diversity of gender, sexuality, class, literacy, region, and focus. Without this representation, it's too easy to think that the civil rights movement happened because of one man - a characterization even Dr. King himself would surely have disagreed with.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Masculism =/= Men's Rights Activism

So, this patriarchy thing. In order to maintain it, we have to distinguish between "men" and "women." And then we have to maintain that distinction, keeping a wide a separation as possible between the two classes, so that people don't question why we treat two groups of people so differently. Voila, gender.

Power is generally reserved for the "male" group, hence the need for feminism, but yes, the iron-clad and arbitrary distinctions between genders does, in fact, hurt men too. This fact does not mitigate the need for feminism in any way; on the contrary, granting people the same legal, economic, medical, and social rights regardless of gender is good for everyone. Of the people who are concerned with how our culture hurts men, there are those who understand this, and those who don't. The first group usually call themselves something like masculists, the second group usually call themselves Men's Rights Activists.

I think I've mentioned the Good Men Project before (I'm a big, big fan of Hugo Schwyzer, who writes for them often); another good source for masculist writing is available at No, Seriously, What About Teh Menz? If you check these sites out, you'll find that it is entirely possible to talk about men and the patriarchy without being whiny and misogynistic. Obvsly.

But there also seems to be a large online showing of men who think all their problems are not, in fact, the result of the patriarchy, but the direct result of the work of a large conspiracy of evil FemiNazis™ who have decided to RUIN EVERYTHING. You guys, I'm not kidding. It gets pretty wretched. Instead of linking directly to any of these sites, I'll just link you to this post by Thomas MacAulay Millar, in which he has concatenated a list of popular comments from The Spearhead. Warning: these comments are vile and will likely ruin your whole day.

This post basically serves as a PSA: Men's Rights Activists exist, and watch out, because they are nowhere near as innocuous as their name might suggest. These guys make me very afraid, mostly because it makes me wonder how many people out there carry slightly less vitriolic versions of MRA views. It's a scary thought.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Women's Health is a Big Mistake

We all knew that most Republican politicians these days are questionable on the whole women's health thing. Republican presidential contenders - the ones with a chance, anyway - are uniformly anti-choice and tend to oppose things like universal health care, paid maternity leave, and comprehensive sex education, all of which have serious ramifications for women's health. So it should be no surprise that the very idea that women and girls should have a vaccine that prevents cervical cancer is verboten in the GOP.

Rick Perry is proving this point. In 2007, he mandated that all young girls be given the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, through their schools, and that it should also be made free to girls between the ages of 11-18 who did not attend public school. Religious conservatives were stunned, and now that Rick Perry is running for governor, he has had to reverse himself and call his decision - one intended to prevent cancer, remember - a mistake.

But he knew it wasn't a mistake. Check out what he said at the time, courtesy of the story linked to above:
I challenge legislators to look these women in the eyes and tell them, "We could have prevented this disease for your daughters and granddaughters, but we just didn’t have the gumption to address all the misguided and misleading political rhetoric."

But now Perry has fallen to this rhetoric himself. The HPV vaccine is good for boys' and men's health as well - and can be given to boys and men to help prevent its spread - but that isn't part of the dialogue here. It is clearly more important to Republicans to be sure that women are firmly under their control and that they are punished for having sex. At least, punished for having sex without any given Republican dude present. The number of sex scandals Republican men get involved in demonstrates that they aren't completely anti-sex, just anti-sex that they aren't personally benefiting from.

HPV is extraordinarily common. According to the CDC,
Approximately 20 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. Another 6 million people become newly infected each year. HPV is so common that at least 50% of sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives.
Fifty. Percent. Furthermore, 12,000 women get cervical cancer each year in the US. The vaccine prevents cervical cancer the way the measles vaccine prevents measles, but because only certain women have cervixes, and most men don't [and the men who do have cervixes present a whole other set of issues to queerphobic Republicans], then anything having to do with preventive treatment for this particular STI is taboo. The assumption is that women who don't have sex don't get STIs (or pregnant), so the sluts have it coming.

This is reprehensible. Perry actually did the right thing four years ago in encouraging vaccinations for public health. Schools require all kinds of other vaccines in order to prevent diseases like meningitis and measles from tearing through a school district and wreaking havoc on communities. This is no different. The fact that Perry has backed off means not only that he has no spine, but that there is a concerted effort on the part of Republicans to undermine women's health. I don't know about you, but I find this terrifying.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Welcome Back to School, Sorta

It's the start of a new semester at my university; welcome back, fellow collegians. I don't know if you read your university-related spam, but our Assistant Vice-President of Public and Environmental Safety has decided to welcome us back with this admonishment: "Today, I ask all of you to start thinking about safety as a shared responsibility." A list of safety-related advice follows. Oy.

"But Kyrie," I am imagining you saying, "shouldn't you look after your own safety? Isn't that common sense?" To answer your second imaginary question first, I am not a fan of so-called "common sense." I see that term as an excuse to go by one's gut instead of thinking things through, which, though sometimes useful, definitely has its limitations. To answer the main question, though, if you want to do things to make yourself feel safer, by all means. But it's not your responsibility to render yourself as safe as possible at all times. We all have differing priorities and lifestyles. We can't all "avoid using ATM machines at night," and sometimes we want to turn off the AC rather than "lock[ing] the windows and doors of your car, apartment and residence hall."

What we do have an obligation to do is not commit crimes.* And, if crime prevention is the job of anyone, it's the job of the law enforcement and security personnel on campus. Any rational person, however, will realize that the police cannot anticipate and stop every crime from being committed. That's pretty obvious.

So what is the point of that email? To me, it reads as a pretty transparent attempt to preemptively deflect responsibility to those crimes are committed against, aka, victim blaming. Perhaps they hope that if more students believe that having their bike stolen is their own fault, the police will have to do less paperwork. Perhaps they hope that if a student is hurt or killed on campus, they can save face by pointing out that the student was walking alone after dark.

We've all seen these tactics used frequently and forcefully against rape victims: what was she wearing, how much did she drink, why was she alone with him. As a result accused rapists are rarely arrested and convictions occur at the rate of 13%. And that's just for the rapes that are reported, which are only 40% of rapes. This is what you get from heavy victim blaming. Do we really want all campus crime to be treated this way?

If the university really wants to help students be safer, it can provide statistics about the most common crimes committed on campus and where and when they occur. It can provide info about safety resources available on campus. And it can provide info about how to report and prosecute a crime if and when one occurs.

*In all fairness one of the "tips" in the email is about reporting suspicious activity, which, okay.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Today's Shocking Headline: Corporate News Media Suck!

Remember a couple weeks ago when Newsweek published a batshit crazy picture of Michele Bachmann and called her "Queen of Rage"? Both the Washington Post and Slate called it sexist and in bad form. Bachmann is a legitimate presidential candidate (!!!!), they argued, and should be treated as such.

I suppose they have a point. Newsweek editor Tina Brown approved an unusually unflattering picture of the presidential hopeful. They could have done like they did to Sarah Palin and put a cute picture of her in her running shorts - a picture also called sexist by some people - or! A novel concept! They could have treated her the way they treat dudes like John McCain, Mike Huckabee, and Bill O'Reilly, and made her look neither insane nor sexualized. But that'd be cray-cray, y'all.

I mean, Bachmann IS nuts. And as Cher pointed out, Michele may be the queen of rage, but her husband may be a raging queen. [Yes, I'm okay with making fun of people who read as really gay when they're trying to discipline the barbarians. It is a controversial statement, I realize. I'm with Dan Savage and Jon Stewart on this one, though.] So while I'm not unwilling to say that sexism is at play here on some level, I also had a big old snort at this cover. Not that I read Newsweek, let me be clear. Autostraddle has already demonstrated that they hate the gays. Just like Michele Bachmann! So I'm surprised they don't get along better.

ANYway. We shouldn't have much hope that Newsweek will treat its subjects fairly or its audience like adults. Where is the truly fair and balanced news? NPR, beloved home of Prairie Home Companion and Wait Wait Don't Tell Me?

Not so fast there, grrls and bois.

Turns out that NPR can try so hard to be "balanced" that it circles back into insanity. In this piece on whether gays can be cured through reparative therapy, they basically take the "here are two positions on this point! Who is right? WE'LL NEVER KNOW."

The criticism of this piece is that it presents two positions here - one that reparative therapy works, and one that it doesn't - and gives them equal weight, treating the matter as unresolved. It is not. The American Psychiatric Association, which has over 154,000 members, has said that reparative therapy is harmful. If you've gone through it or know someone who has, you're probably well aware of that. Interestingly, Marcus Bachmann has a clinic that offers to "cure" the homos of our fabulousity.

Sidenote: A friend (and fellow queermo) and I were at a bar talking to a strange dude whom we both read as straight. This NPR story came up, and he was like, "Listen. Everyone has different views. Some people like toe shoes, but they are harmful to the feet!" My friend and I looked at each other, finished our drinks, and split, rather than throwing the drinks on the dude and glitter bombing him. I don't care about toe shoes or whether you wear them, but I care a lot about whether gay people are being told there's a cure for their gayness. Gayness is awesome, you guys. It needs no cure. And that is a false equivalency if I ever heard one. Toe shoes? Really?

So if the news media isn't supposed to post batshit pictures of batshit politicians and it isn't supposed to act as though all opinions are equally valid, what IS a struggling form of journalism supposed to do? Well, I'm glad you asked. I have an idea that I think is pretty revolutionary: Don't be a douche.

Not being a douche can be achieved in a few easy steps.

1. Don't take corporate money. It makes you look like a tool of our corporate overlords. Which, um, you are. Try the Democracy Now! approach of listener/viewer support. It works wonders. The news is trustworthy, nuanced, intelligent, and covers things that GE doesn't want you to know about.

2. Consider whether it makes more sense to cover things like whether toast can save your diet or
the Verizon labor struggle or the increased violence in Iraq as the US tries to extend its December deadline. I have an idea about which is more important for citizens in a democracy to understand. There are lots of protests all over the place all the time, but mainstream media doesn't cover them. See point 1.

3. Don't act like all sides of a debate are equal. They are not, and that is a silly position to take. You can't have a "debate" about whether, say, reparative therapy is okay, or whether the poor people have enough stuff because they can microwave Hot Pockets if you have one mainstream Democrat and one foaming-at-the-mouth Tea Partier. Get people with interesting and informed views who can behave like adults. This right here is why I don't watch TV news anymore. The discourse has shifted too much for it to make any sense anymore.

4. Using batshit crazy pictures of people is okay, I think, in certain circumstances. Like, you are a tabloid. Or, that person routinely looks like a lunatic so you don't have to go digging to find a photo of an otherwise photogenic person. Or, they are actually engaged in something weird at the moment the photo was taken, and didn't just get caught with a weird facial expression.

5. It's also okay to talk about things like reparative therapy, but don't present it as though there are two equally valid sides to something that no one with any credibility can possibly support.

6. Don't take corporate money. Just don't. That means shutting down all cable news, and I am COMPLETELY fine with that. We'll find Sir Don Lemon another job. I'll bet Amy Goodman would hire him.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

That's "Dr. Sweetie" To You

Okay, I don't consider myself old-fashioned in any way, shape, or form. But you guys, what the hell is wrong with showing people a little respect? I mean, it's not hard. We have all sorts of social conventions for doing so. Some of them are not even terribly sexist! (Though many are gendered.) So wtf is up with every woman over the age of 30 calling me "sweetie?"

Unless you're related to me, you don't get to call me sweetie. Sorry. It's a grossly overfamiliar term for, say, a flight attendant to address me by. I wouldn't disrespect you with diminutives. Don't do it to me.

And yeah, blah blah blah, southern culture, I don't give a fuck. There's another term that's widely used in the south: "ma'am." That'll do just fine. It's a perfectly respectful term for a female-presenting person whose name you don't know. There's no need to resort to epithets that should really only be applied to children under the age of 5.

Unfortunately I am undermined in this by a culture that values youth over, like, everything else. And so you have hordes of people who resent being called ma'am because it implies they're old. Point one: no, it doesn't. Point two: wtf is wrong with being old? Please examine your ageism. Then, preferably, get rid of it.

Anyway, I keep resolving to make a fuss the next time a perfect stranger calls me "sweetie," and I keep forgetting to do it, because I am so used to a lifetime of complete lack of respect that it just kind of seamlessly blends in. But next time, you guys. Next time.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Yes, We Should Care About Those People

All right, kids. I'm sick unto death of celebrities saying anti-queer stuff and then fake-apologizing for it while GLAAD is all, "Nice career you've got there. It would be a real shame if something happened to it." Tracy Morgan just did this, remember? From the same realm of dumbass dude comics comes Adam Corolla, for whom I have never had one iota of patience. And now he's bashing trans people, and so I will hate him forever.

I'm just going to quote him, with major thanks to Queerty for the transcript:

“When did everybody get fuckin’ lumped in with the gays? Really, I mean what percentage is transgendered, y’know what I mean? I mean, let’s just say I was a politician and I was like, ‘Hey transgendered folks, I don’t need your vote.’ I don’t think I could get elected? What do they make up, thirty percent of the population? Sure. ‘I went to school with a bunch of transgendered guys and now I work with a bunch of ‘em.’ What the fuck? When did we start giving a shit about this? About these people?

We gotta work it out with the—and now there’s all these variations where like, ‘I’m a pre-op, transgender, trans-neutral, trans-fat.’ Shut the fuck up! No. ‘I’m having hormone replacement therapy, but I still have my penis, but I’m not gay, but I’m attracted to men.’ It’s like what the fuck? I can’t do the math. I even, every time I see Chaz Bono I don’t know what, my cock looks at me and goes, ‘Uhh??! What do I do?’ I’m like, “I dunno, hide behind the balls. They’ll protect you.” They’re just a giant trampoline, they deflect anything that comes at you; the balls are very, they’re scrappy. Mm-hmm.

[At this point, Carolla spends a long time talking about how “old-school” and tough his balls are, saying that his balls used to “walk twenty miles in the snow just to beat off” and that his generation’s balls “stormed the beach at Normandy.” We’d find all the testicle talk odd, except that he once hosted a show regularly featuring “The Juggy Girls” jumping on trampolines and a game where losers could get a “Sumo Wrestler Tea-bag.” But we digress.]

Carolla’s co-host Emily Rosen continues reading from the stated aims of the Ernie and Bert petition and Carolla pipes back up:

Can the gays shut up? Just get married and please shut up? You’re ruining my life and what’s the, what does the ‘BLT’ stand for again? Oh, OK. They’re not “gonna save many worthy lives” [by marrying Bert and Ernie]. Yeah, Bert and Ernie butt-fucking are gonna save a lot of lives; it’s gonna be awesome. ‘Can you spell felch?’ What are we doing?! What is going on?

[His co-host says that the folks at Sesame Street "fired back" by stating that Bert and Ernie are not gay, they're just puppets]

Well sure, they’ve got their fist up guy’s asses. Literally up felt asses all day long. Of course. Can I say this? What’s with all the fucking training that’s going on? Like, I don’t feel like I had any training and I’m fine. Y’know what I’m saying?

[His co-hosts both agree that that's debatable] …

I want an apology from all the Asians and all the transgendered and the gay, the lesbian, bisexual, transgender community. Shouldn’t [the LGBT acronym] be something that like spells ‘YUCK’ or something? Y’know what I mean? Y’know like an acronym?… It’s important that I teach my kids about guys who wanna have their cocks cut off and a vagina put in their place. Alright. I’ll get to that as soon as I get home. ‘Hey kids, wake up. Y’know, there’s a small percentage of Americans who are really angry at their cocks. And they like them surgically removed and, uh, a hole put in their place. And it’s very important that you treat them with a certain amount of respect. It’s 1:30. And yes, I’ve been drinking. Natalia, sorry for peeing on you, but it was dark.’

Soooooooooooooo. It just so happens that the New York Times published an op-ed about how the marriage equality movement is leaving out trans people, so it isn't as though the queer community couldn't stand to get its own house in order here. But my goodness. I think the best way for me to deal with my incoherent rage is to write a letter that I'll never send. Isn't that what advice columnists are always telling people to do?

Dear Mr. Corolla,

You are an unspeakable douche.


Okay. Lemme try that again.

Dear Mr. Corolla,

You are an unspeakable douche, and I have certainly never listened to your show and never plan to, but damn, dude. It's not that I'm surprised that you're such a monster, it's that I'm really over listening to transphobic ranting.

Of course we should care about "these people." You know why? Because they're human beings. And in my experience, they tend to be creative, thoughtful, and brilliant. I love queer people and genderqueer people because there is such a long tradition of strength, resilience, and creativity in the face of survival because of assholes like you. One trans person a month is murdered in America, and your hateful ranting is going to fuel those fires. You have blood on your hands.

Your point about your cock's response to Chaz Bono is kind of interesting, though. We only know what to do with bodies if we know how to eroticize them, right? So you can't tell of Chaz Bono is someone you're "supposed" to be into or not, because you are a Really Really Straight Dude, so if Chaz is a man, you're not supposed to be attracted, but if Chaz is a woman, you are. Here's the cool thing about queerness: you can, if you want to, start to let that go. Find that person, regardless of gender, attractive? Go for it. Find someone you want to wrap yourself around and wrap yourself around them. But I'm not sure you get that, because it jeopardizes your adamant heterosexuality. The thing is, if we can get to the point that we realize gender is as incidental as hair color to who a person is, we can realize that everyone's gender is different, and if everyone's gender is different, there's no heterosexuality for you to cling to as though it is your only life raft.

Also: There is such a thing as people who were assigned female at birth transitioning to a more male or masculine-identified gender, but in your "my dick is my whole life" panic, you forgot them. Also also, as Riki Wilchins put it, why does it have to be about losing a dick? Why can't it be about gaining a vagina? It seems pretty clear to me that in your worldview, one of those things is better than the other. You've got a long, long way to go towards more fully recognizing other peoples' humanity, yo. Call me sometime. I'll bring a brown paper bag to breathe into and maybe we can talk about why it would be good for you to open your mind a little. For starters, you might find yourself with the best friends you could ever hope for.


PS: And as to the TLBG (why not?) acronym being distasteful to you as it doesn't spell YUCK or something... go fuck yourself.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Shark Week

I don't care what copyranter says, I think this ad is awesome. This is EXACTLY what I think about when I go to the beach while menstruating. Who hasn't heard those factoids about sharks' amazing blood-detection abilities? Throw that beaker of blue fluid away: what better measure of blood-stoppage could there be?

I appreciate it when ads acknowledge the diversity of female experience. Our menstruation concerns do not all revolve around white clothing. They can also revolve around logistics (primitive camping on heavy flow days? No thanks.), fiction (again with the vampires), or health (still not pregnant WOOOOHOOOOO). So yeah, pretty awesome that this ad addresses the "can predators smell my period?" question.

Suggestion for the next such ad: Komodo dragons. Go.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Maybe We Can Live With Some Segregation

Faithful reader Boston Dreamer asks:

What are your thoughts on places like Harvey Milk High School in New York? Part of me sees the need for such an affirming institution, and the other side of me sees it as a cop out of sorts, allowing a school district to send 'those students' elsewhere rather than reforming the culture of the traditional school.

Just for some background, the Harvey Milk School is designed for, but not limited to, queer students. It is a fully accredited high school that is now run by the New York Department of Education. It has faced controversy since it opened in 1985, mostly from conservatives who want think that is an indoctrination process, or that it is somehow discriminatory. Some progressives have also criticized it, saying that it is a form of segregation to separate the queer kids from the straighties.

But here's the thing: Like it says on the front page of the school's website,
In an ideal world, all students who are considered at-risk would be safely integrated into all NYC public schools, but in the real world, at-risk students need a place like the Harvey Milk High School. HMHS is one of the many NYC small schools that provide safety, community, and high achievement for students not able to benefit from more traditional school environments.
That's... basically it, really. If the Harvey Milk School is helping kids get through high school and have a safer, healthier adolescence, I'm all for it. I think that sometimes we assume integration is always the best thing, but that's an oversimplification. Historians have long talked about the ways that integration was harmful to black communities, for instance: community schools closed, black teachers and administrators lost their jobs, black parents were made to feel unwelcome in their children's new schools, the kids were not necessarily better served, schools became internally segregated, etc. There is something to be said for having a school built by and serving your community. Not, of course, that segregation should ever be the law. It's just that it's not so simple as "integration is always a good thing for everyone forever." Some people benefit from these situations. And it's hard for me to see who loses in this particular case.

Queer communities have to form themselves, they aren't crowds we're born into. Consider that these kids might have parents, families, churches, and communities that think homosexuality is a sin or that gay people are fine as long as they stay in Chelsea or whatever. If they can go to a school that affirms their identity, they're going to be so much better off. I realize that they'd have to be out to their parents to go to the school, and that that could be a source of drama too. But I would rather this place exist than not exist.

Schools should be safe. They aren't always, and having zero-tolerance policies on queer bashing isn't always going to solve the problem. At Harvey Milk, kids are safer, more likely to graduate, and able to be open about who they are. I wouldn't throw that over for some "good liberal" hand-wringing about segregation, to be honest.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Feats of Strength

My parents used to buy 40 pound bags of salt pellets for the water softener. My dad could simply have carried these bags in himself, but he let us kids take a crack at them instead. Being the oldest by three years, I was also the biggest and the strongest and the most successful at lifting the bags. And it made me feel AWESOME.

Feats of strength: you do not have to be a hulking bodybuilder to enjoy performing them. You can be a scrawny 12-year-old girl. Or an adult woman of thoroughly average musculature. It doesn't matter. It's still fun to test your limits from time to time.

Not that anyone indulges me these days. If someone needs help moving, they usually put out a call for a bunch of guys to help. I'm no Chyna, granted, but heck, I can generally lift half a couch. So it's disappointing to be overlooked, and it can be kinda enraging when it happens at work. In grad school, my old Sun work computer was due to be replaced with a fancy Mac. I waited ... and waited. I finally went down to pester our Mac support person about it, and she told me that my shiny new computer had been sitting in the computer support office for a week but could not be delivered until she could get a couple of guys to move it. Yeah.

Of course, I had my old Sun computer dismantled and in her office in a hot second, much to her surprise, and whisked away the new computer my damn self. I'm still annoyed that she decided for me that I could not lift a computer monitor.

So, public service announcement. Women are not always incapable of and uninterested in lifting heavy things. So don't assume we are. You just might get twice as many people to help you move next time.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Your Partner(s)'s Health

I promised that argument I had on Facebook would prompt a series of posts, and here's the first of them! In this post, I'd like to discuss whether we have the responsibility to monitor and/or manage the health of our partners. (Note, I am specifically not talking about managing the health of, say, your kids. That is completely different.)

So. Many people enter into long-term romantic relationships with each other. Sometimes these relationships last whole lifetimes; more often, they last years or decades. However, our bodies can also change substantially over years or decades. So it is entirely possible for partner #1 to physically change in such a way that partner #2 now finds it difficult to eroticize them. Which poses a great challenge for the two if they wish to maintain a sexual component to their relationship. (This can apply to any two people within a poly relationship as well, of course.)

According to the internet, the most common way that this happens is when a partner gains weight. Not surprising, since the overall trend is to put on weight as you age, and since we have a cultural aversion to fat. I tend to agree with both Kate Harding and Dan Savage that, in this scenario, partner #2 has one of two options: [1.] learn to love partner #1's new, fatter body, or [2.] end the relationship.

This is by no means the majority opinion, though. Most people (and this includes friends of mine, friends of friends, advice columnists, bloggers, and TV personalities) are of the opinion that you are justified in encouraging/manipulating/coercing your partner into modifying their body back into a shape you find attractive. Did I say attractive? I meant to say "healthy." This is where the conversation veers off in a new direction, in which everybody claims responsibility for monitoring the health of their partners.

You guys, I object to this concept. I assert that I retain complete autonomy in my health care decisions regardless of my relationship status. Whether those decisions increase or decrease my health, they are mine alone to make.

Now, other relationships may function differently. Some couples prefer to completely share the responsibility for both partners' health. Here's the thing, though. Entering into such an arrangement is also a health care decision you make. And you have the right to rethink that decision any time you like. Furthermore, the fact that you have such an arrangement does not mean that any other two people on Earth are obligated to do things the same way. Furtherfurthermore, we shouldn't assume that other couples have the ability to make health decisions for each other.* If a man shows up in a doctor's office seeking a vasectomy, you don't get to quiz him about his wife's opinions. If a woman's lifestyle leads to her gaining weight, don't give her girlfriend tips on how to induce her to lose weight. That shit is problematic.

*I'm not talking about when one partner is incapacitated by illness. Obviously that's a different situation, in which you have to get someone else to make the decisions.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Queer on the Job

I've talked before about how I'm open with my students about my queer identity. I mentioned that this is a dangerous position to a certain extent, and that the idea of whether to be open on the job is contested amongst queer people. I think it is an entirely personal decision, and I would never, ever fault anyone for not being out at work or anywhere else. We all have to navigate our own lives the way we see fit. But the person I am is not someone who's good at hiding stuff, or playing the game, or pretending to mainstream-ness, or whatever. It's not about me hitting peoples' gaydar as much as it is just not being good at keeping my mouth closed or my identity secret. And there is certainly an element of choice, too. As I said in my previous post, it's about creating space for people to be comfortable in my classroom with being queer. And I teach in a college of education, so I feel these issues are especially pressing, considering how hard it is to be out in a K-12 setting.

A new report by the Williams Institute (that's a PDF) shows that 38% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults have experienced harassment at work because of their sexual orientation, and around 1/3 of LGB adults are not out at work. This number is surely significantly higher for trans people.

As Queerty points out, there are plenty (plentyyyyyyyy) of people out there who would say "Just tone it down and stop being so... you know, GAY in PUBLIC and then you won't have any moar problemz!" Well, that isn't going to work. Asking people to tone it down to fit in is asking for assimilation, and that's not cool. I mean, if you're a mainstream type of person or assimilation is fun for you, rock on with your bad self. But it isn't for me, and it isn't for most of my friends (next time we have coffee I'll tell you about my 4th of July fireworks adventure with the Gender Mafia and you'll laugh and laugh and be jealous of the delicious kettle corn and of my awesome queer family).

For me, trying to pretend that I'm part of the white middle class straight protestant mainstream capitalist America stuff is just not going to happen. My friend Dierdre said once that if she were going to just go along to get along, she'd have to take out part of her humanity and shoot it, which is exactly it (D: I apologize if I'm misquoting you, please correct me in the comments if I am). You don't have to like who I am and the way I express myself, that's cool. But we should, at a minimum, be able to avoid persecuting each other for things that don't affect anyone else, really, right? I mean, laydee-types who like b00bz are not ruining your family or your ability to do your job or anything like that. So I'm not going to tone it down for you, that deliciously flamboyant gay dude isn't going to tone it down for you, the hottie gender outlaw who you just can't figure out isn't going to pick a gender and stick with it to make you more comfortable. Learn to live with being uncomfy, you know?

I wish I could wave a magic wand and make everyone more accepting of - and excited by! - nontraditional gender expression or out-and-proud queers or whatever. I can't. In the meantime, though, for me, the answer is not to try to hide anything. This might mean no academic job for me, but I'd rather shred my PhD by hand than pretend to be someone I'm not to get a job at Straight Doodz U. I can figure something else out. That's a privileged position I'm in, and I get that not everyone is. So what are we going to do to make workplaces safer for those of us who don't fit in and who can't just go find a job working at a place where it's Okay To Be Takei?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Anatomy of a Garden-Variety Anti-Feminist Troll

Facebook, y'all. The best/worst shit happens there. Not so much on my profile, because I ban anyone even slightly sexist/racist/homophobic in order to maintain a happy fun place for myself. But oh, my friends' friends. Some of them are seriously fucked up.

Last week I teamed up with one of my friends to argue with a fat-phobic anti-feminist. In case you're curious about the context, she had posted a link to this piece o' crap from AskMen with a comment about how it obviously sucked, not expecting much disagreement. And then this guy, who will henceforth be referred to as Douche,* crawled out of the woodwork. To be honest, he has inspired a whole series of posts from me, which you have to look forward to, but first let us examine his troll-ness, because it is fun.

The thing about trolls is that they are all very similar and none of them realize it. Here's a bunch of stuff you will come across again and again in the comments sections of unmoderated feminist blogs, as expressed by Douche:

  • "i didn't even bother to read ur comment at the top": What a good friend!
  • "I think u might be being a bit over-sensitive." Oh hey! Are we playing antifeminist bingo?
  • "Are u guys going to become those crazy feminists who give the rest of the rational group a bad rep??": We are playing anti-feminist bingo!
  • "I'm actually a feminist lol." Lol indeed, dude.
  • "Really you take everything here entirely too seriously." It's always charming when a guy (and a supposedly feminist guy, to boot) offers to dictate what women should get upset about or not.
  • "the way women obsess over their bodies nowadays, and the terrilbe things that happen to men if they imply that their woman has gained weight": Er, what?
  • "the article u posted is meant to be taken as a joke": Okay, I have that square already. I can't win this bingo game if you keep using the same approach.
  • "It also doesn't mean you need to get bothered by every 'wife in the kitchen' joke."
  • "I still think the article is worth a few giggles, not getting ur panties all bunched up lol"
  • "I think both of you are so high up on your high horse that ur head has gotten lost in the clouds."
  • "You're not seeing clearly anymore, ur just playing the victim." Finally, a new square. Unfortunately, I do not bingo. Sadface.

Perhaps you are wondering why on earth we would even bother arguing with this asshole. I shall tell you. First of all, this was not an anonymous commenter on a blog.** This was someone my friend knew personally. And now she and all their mutual friends now know exactly the kind of asshole he is. Which is valuable, if disappointing, information. Second, I think it's important to stand up to assholes, especially in one's personal life. And third, it's important to back up your friends when they're doing said standing up. Anyone who looks at her profile will see two coherent feminist viewpoints and one increasingly enraged and incoherent anti-feminist viewpoint. It sets an example.

Also, I like to post this stuff now and then because often one of my guy friends will respond with, "Wow, someone actually said that?" Yes, people "actually" say fucked-up, over-the-top sexist, racist, and homophobic stuff ALL THE TIME.*** Folk who are relatively privileged think they can just brush it off, but you actually can't just brush off a lifetime of this crap. And the bigots will likely assume your silence is tacit agreement. I don't think we changed Douche's mind about anything, but he has probably realized that this one tiny corner of the internet is, in fact, hostile to anti-feminism. If that happened more frequently, I do think we'd all have to hear less outrageous bigotry.

BONUS: More bingo.

* I specifically like to refer to anti-feminists as douches because it's so appropriate. Douches, after all, are terrible for women's health.

** I am generally in favor of banning trolls rather than feeding them. Which is what we do here.

*** And it's not "just trolling." Douche, after first denying it, then told us that he was trolling at first but really he's serious. And I bet that's the case for a lot of trolls.

Monday, August 1, 2011


Everyone needs a vacation! We're taking the first week of August off. See you next week, NWFers!

Hearts 'n unicorns,
Kyrie and Jess