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.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The DADT Post You Probably Knew Was Coming

So, after a 17-year fight, Don't Ask, Don't Tell is over, and gay and lesbian service members can serve openly in the military for the first time.

It's 2011, by the way. We put a man on the moon 42 years ago, and we just got around to deciding that it's not worth freaking out if a dude says "I'm gay" or a laydee brings another laydee to an awards ceremony.

This is being received as good news amongst non-bigoted assholes everywhere, and a lot of gay and lesbian service members are probably extremely relieved and happy. Some people even got married or came out to their fathers in videos that made this Grinch cry.

I was touched by a lot of the coverage of this landmark event in the struggle for rights, thinking of how many of my queer brothers and sisters in the military must feel so much better. I'm very much anti-war, and I still think this is a tiny, stuttering step in the right direction to making queerness something that people aren't tortured over and discriminated against. Not because laws change stuff, but because I'm hoping that homophobia decreases when people realize they've been serving next to gays all along and nothing horrible happened.

However, I'm going to have to be a bummer and point out that there's still a long way to go. GetEqual held a bunch of protests yesterday to highlight the things that still need changing. Gays will still be denied the benefits and protections of straight, married service members because of the Defense of Marriage Act. Workplace discrimination, immigration laws, and all manner of other laws and customs still put queer people in a disadvantaged place in society.

Also, trans people are not included in the DADT repeal, so they can still be discharged for being out as trans. There is a long history of the gay and lesbian movement leaving trans and other genderqueer people behind in the fight for mainstream acceptance. So, I don't think the DADT repeal as it stands is acceptable, because it is still a discriminatory policy. I am not okay with anything that excludes or disadvantages our trans family members. Not womyn-only spaces, none of it. If they're not free, I'm not free, period.

Also, the way Amy Goodman covered the repeal on Democracy Now points out that there are other problems with the repeal and the way it happened. Here's some transcript from yesterday's show:

AMY GOODMAN: In October of 2010, Democracy Now! hosted a debate on whether the movement against "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" was helping to legitimize U.S. militarism at home and abroad. Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore is an antiwar queer activist and writer. She was debating Lieutenant Dan Choi, the discharged servicemember who was a leading voice opposing "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." This is what Mattilda had to say.

MATTILDA BERNSTEIN SYCAMORE: Dan Choi talks about all of America being a victim of the policy of excluding openly gay soldiers in the military, but all of the world is a victim of the U.S. military. So if we have to look at one culprit for all of the problems that are going on in the entire world, that would have to be the U.S. military. And as a queer movement, what we need is a movement for gender, sexual, social, political and cultural self-determination for queers in this country, for everyone in this country, and for everyone all over the world. We do not need to support the U.S. war machine, which is busy plundering indigenous resources and fighting at least three wars right now, you know, for corporate profiteers.

We need to be fighting for universal access to basic needs, things like housing and healthcare and the right to stay in this country or leave if you want to. We need to be fighting for comprehensive sex education, for AIDS healthcare, for senior care, for safe houses for queer youth to escape abusive families. And the problem with all this attention on the war machine, all this support for, you know, soldiers to serve openly in unjust wars, the problem is that the military is what’s taking away the ability to fund everything in this country that would actually benefit, you know, the people who need the most.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. Aaron Belkin, your response?

AARON BELKIN: Well, I would say that things are even worse than Mattilda suggested, because it’s not just a question of the focus on "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" diverting attention. And I say this as someone who has been fighting "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" for years and who believes passionately that "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" needed to end, and that’s been my professional struggle for all these years. But at the same time, it’s important to be honest and to note that not only did we divert attention away from more pressing problems, but our very rhetoric, as a gay and as a queer community, in the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" struggle reinforced militarism. What does that mean? It means that every time we talked about the importance of promoting unit cohesion and the loyal gay and lesbian servicemember, we reinforced the notion of the military as a noble institution. And that has a militarizing impact.

...Right. Just as discussions of gay marriage reinforce the idea that marriage is something we need to invest in as a society, discussions of DADT talk about how it's good for the military. I'm not at all convinced that the military keeps us safer. It seems to me that, as Aaron Belkin also says in this interview, excessive military strength undermines our security. This is the inherent tension in the queer rights movement, I think: do we want to be mainstream, or do we want to use queer rights as a way to talk about the inherent flaws in our heteronormative, pro-military society?

My main concern today is that the DADT repeal will be a reason to stop fighting for queer rights for awhile, that people will point to it and say "progress is inevitable" or "well we got that done, so now the gheys will vote for us in 2012, no questions asked!" Neither of those is true. We have to keep pushing for change, and this isn't going to make me vote for anyone, no matter how many tearful videos of coming-out stories I watch.

Image via.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Re-blogging: How to Help Trans* Kids?

This is from the lovely Nic Bravo:

If you had a large sum of money (let’s say somewhere around $100,000 to $500,000) and wanted to do something to help young, low-income trans* kids, what would you do?

(please reblog)

Ideas, NWFers?

Schedule Adjustment

Greetings, loyal readers. After an in-depth analysis of our blog stats (which consists of me looking at them a lot and going "hmmmmmm"), we've come to the conclusion that we might just be posting a little more than our dear readers have time to read. As a result, we are going to scale back a bit, giving you more time to read and us more time to write. You can look for posts by Jess on Wednesdays and posts by Kyrie on Fridays.

Happy procrastinating!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Class in America

There are three social classes in America: upper middle class, middle class and lower middle class. Miss Manners has never heard of an American's owning up to being in any other class.

-- Judith Martin, Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior

As usual, Miss Manners manages to condense my perceived reality into a couple of crystal-clear sentences.* I, too, have never heard anyone describe themselves as anything other than middle-class (possibly because Americans think of this country as a meritocracy), though we will occasionally talk about our "blue collar" forebears in oddly romanticized language. Those TV folk in particular speak as if they are addressing a country made up entirely of middle-class families.

This is completely at odds with reality; the truth is that our country is incredibly classist. The economic disparity between the rich and the poor in this country is more pronounced in the U.S. than it is for our international peers. Sociological Images has some great summaries of how we stack up internationally, and of how the gap between our rich and poor is growing rather than shrinking. If you move beyond simple economic classes, you find additional discrimination based on race, religion, gender expression, and sexuality.

I'm not quite sure, though, what language would be preferable. I hesitate to describe myself as "upper class" because I'm afraid of sounding like I think that's some sort of compliment, rather than an honest assessment of my economic privileges. (On the other hand, it also brings to mind debutantes and weekends in Martha's Vineyard, and it would be useful to stop equating wealth with these practices.) But we do need a better way of discussing class, because thinking of this country as filled with middle-class people sweeps real economic disparities under the rug.

And yeah, my references are all from Sociological Images. That is an amazing site, y'all.

*Then again, Martin and I seem to have led similarly privileged lives.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

If You Work For the Federal Government, You're Not a Real Patriot

The right wing in the US has some really screwy ideas. This is not breaking news. Some of them think that I'm more dangerous than a terrorist attack. Others are totes fine cheering about letting someone die if he doesn't have health insurance, or calling Social Security - an enormously popular program - a "Ponzi scheme."

But now they've decided that they get to have a say in whose coffins get draped in the flags after they die in service to our country. Federal employees who die in the line of duty but aren't in the military are, apparently, not sufficiently patriotic to have a flag draping ceremony. Which, by the way, costs almost nothing, especially compared to the enormous amount of money we spend on the military every year.

I have a friend stationed in Kandahar with the State Department. As he pointed out, the people who think he is unworthy of a flag probably don't spend all their days in a bunker while rockets and gunfire whiz into their place of employment or their homes. Some of them may be military veterans, but not all of them, and those who did serve in the military should be aware of the risks that people who are in dangerous places like Afghanistan are undertaking.

These are the same people who want to pour tons of money into the military because it makes them feel like big strong men, and who call the federal government "the nanny state." They don't want the government involved in their lives,* but they want the military to be as big as possible. It doesn't take a genius to realize that they have masculinized the military and feminized the government, and that they see masculine as superior to feminine.

These are also the people who don't want homoseckshuals to serve in the military, because in their minds, gay men (lesbians rarely come up in these "discussions," even though women - and minorities - are disproportionately discharged under DADT) are not masculine enough for the military. They make arguments about feminization, about fear for the security of the nation of gays are part of the armed services. Of course, there have always been gays in the military, but now they're able to serve openly.**

So it appears that the latest screwy idea of the Right is that federal employees, like gays, are not manly enough for the flag. They are insufficiently patriotic. This is how they want to re-define America, y'all: The only people who can be truly American are the ones who are truly masculine according to their definition, which is cis and straight (and, for the most part, white, and rich, and Protestant). They want their country back.

This is extremely dangerous, because it is an attempt to define who is worthy of respect in this country, an extension of their views on who is worthy of citizenship. Anyone who isn't worth having a flag draped on hir coffin is not worthy of the rights and benefits of American citizenship. This kind of fight is so hard to counteract, because the connections aren't necessarily clear to someone who hasn't spent tons of time thinking about the way gender and privilege co-function in society.

So, now what? I think we need to keep working to call out idiots like the politicians who oppose flag-draping ceremonies for federal employees and gay rights and abortion access, and not let them define citizenship for us. What form do you think that takes?

* Although they do want the government involved in any and all uteri!
** Yes, I am anti-war. I still think DADT should be repealed.

Featured Webcomic: SMBC

Humor is a tricky thing. It's impossible to quantify what's funny, of course. Not only does it vary from person to person, but even if I only attempt to explain what I find funny the task is still impossible.

When the humor addresses topics like gender, race, disability, age, or size, there's the additional, also hard-to-quantify factor of fucked-uppedness. Tackling a controversial issue can result in an uproariously funny joke (ex: almost all of Archer) or one that falls completely flat, and that'll depend on your own prejudices. This is why it is so easy to accuse feminists of having no sense of humor, and so hard to explain that, no really, the problem with a joke is that the comic in question doesn't "get it."

Instead, I usually like to proffer examples of comedians who do "get it." Today's example is Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, written by Zach Weiner. It's not always perfect, but Weiner seems to more-or-less "get" important issues. Such as:

Enjoy. You're welcome.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dissecting the Straight Agenda: Pictures of Your Kids That Don't Embarrass the Family

You guys, I was not a photogenic kid. I would argue that I am not a photogenic adult, either. But as a kid, I always looked like a bug-eyed weirdo in my photos. If I were someone who had pictures of myself as a child around, I would share them with you. Alas, I don't, and my parents aren't the types to digitize old family albums. So you're just going to have to take my word for it, and enjoy the silly picture here of me and two of my BFFs in which I am making a face that has been described as this: 8D

Fortunately, my parents weren't hung up on making sure that all pictures of their kids could qualify them for magazine ads. They just let us be the dorktastic weirdos we were* and captured that on film. Never once did my parents coach us in posing, except maybe to tell us to stop being goofy for one second so they could get a "serious" picture. Which: Mom? Do we have any of those?**

But not every parent has the same philosophy on pictures of their kids, as this guide for photographing children - located by Alert Reader Andrew Who Really Needs To Write a Post For Us Soon - makes clear. As he says: "Normative gender performance must be created, enhanced, and enforced at all times."

Exactly. Let's look at Point 3: "Feminine vs. Masculine."

Posing is all about body language. Watch that the poses you’re employing are gender suitable.

She is assuming that male = masculine and female = feminine. Even within the limited construct of binary genders, she is mistaken. This assumption is not based in reality, but in what I am going to call The Straight Agenda. Everyone knows that there are feminine men and masculine women and people who fit none of those labels. (Well, maybe people need more education on that last point.) So The Straight Agenda holds that all men should be masculine and all women should be feminine because that will halt the terrifying specter of queerness (#NoItWon't) and keep the patriarchy nice and comfy. There is no such thing as a "gender suitable" pose. I don't even understand what that means. Am I only supposed to like pictures of myself in which I look feminine? Are there poses that are neither masculine nor feminine?

Hands – open for a girl, closed for a boy
Be...cause... boys punch things and girls don't? I don't get this. Can't we all have open or closed hands at, like, any given fucking second? Whaaaaat is she talking about?

Position – A cute little side glance is adorable for a girl but a bit delicate or vulnerable for a boy. For boys, I love getting them straight-on.

Ahem. Delicacy and vulnerability are adorable in girls but unacceptable in boys. Pardon me, I seem to have eaten something rotten. Oh wait. Actually, this is just an intensely nauseating point to make, and it goes right back to Andrew's point. We have to teach girls to be delicate and vulnerable, and we have to teach boys not to be. Some people might naturally be delicate slash vulnerable, and some people might not be, but if what you really want out of a photograph is to capture who your kid really is, and your son is delicate but your daughter is not, can't you just get pictures of them being who they are? Or is this about a) making you feel better about your kid's gender presentation because b) you don't want to face the prospect that your kid might be kind of gender queer? And here's the thing: if this woman had to write this shit down, she probably sees it all the time. So even for baby straighties, there is probably GASP an element of gender non-normativity. Which: gender is queer, y'all. We're all performing it.

Also, is there something rape-culturey about promoting vulnerability in women but quashing it in men? I can't decide.

Hips – Hands on hips for a girl, hands in pockets for a boy (with the thumbs sticking out – I love that!)
You know who else likes hands in pockets? Lesbians. So she's probably right about this one. If you keep the girls from putting their hands in their pockets, they won't turn out to be homos. That's the way it works, right? And we can't have boys putting their hands on their hips like some stressed-out RuPaul's Drag Race contestant, can we now? If you put your hands on your hips and you were assigned male at birth, there is something grievously wrong with you that might lead you to being cast on my favorite TV show of all time.

As a final blow to our collective morale, let's have a look at one of the pictures she uses to illustrate her point:

Ugh. This poor kid. The lady taking this picture has qualitatively defined which is better for hir because of the gender presentation of the child as she reads it. She'd probably be okay with someone she sees as a girl putting her hand awkwardly under her chin like that, because something in our cultural coding assigns "feminine" to that particular posture. No parent should ever have to see their son posed like this! Sad trombone!

Now that I've written myself into a deep blue funk, I'm going to leave you with a posed photograph I really like:

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Posing Guide Lady.

* This is a test to see if my siblings are reading the blog. Smart money's on "no." If you ARE reading the blog, dear J2 and J3, rest assured that I don't think you're dorktastic weirdos. I am only really describing myself. I think you are silly-face knuckleheads.

** My mom is definitely not reading the blog. This is not a test. But should someone link her to this because of this footnote: Jordan definitely looks better with the bunny ears I saddled him with in every picture taken during our primary school years, and you know it's true.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Marriage Could Do With Some Retooling

I am tired of hearing about how teh gayz are ruining the concept of marriage. One, because that's homophobic. But also because there are a whole bunch of things about marriage that we are better off without.

For example, in France, "a judge has now ruled that ... 'sexual relations must form part of a marriage.'" This is in the context of a law suit in which a Frenchwoman, having already been granted a divorce from her husband, and whose husband had been found solely responsible for the breakdown of their marriage, demanded compensation from him for not having sex with her during said marriage, and was granted it. (Via The Gloss.)

This concept that marriage somehow negates the need for consent is an ongoing problem. In 2/3 of the United States, husbands are granted various exemptions from prosecution for marital rape; it seems that in many states, for instance, you can totally rape your sleeping wife, no problem. And France, the devaluation of consent has been made explicit by a 1992 ruling that consent to sex is presumed to exist in marriage until it is provably revoked.

If this is what marriage means, then yes please, let's rethink the whole thing. Now, I'm not laying this all on the shoulders of the first generation of legally married same-sex spouses; the above legal precedents for devaluing consent is a problem for all marriages, queer or straight. I'm saying that anything that prompts us to think about what marriage means is good for us, and not just because we can then be more inclusive in our social traditions.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Femme Invisibility

In my professional life, I write about issues of queer visibility in higher education history. It has, over time, led me to think a lot about my own visibility as a queer person. I present as somewhat femme of center (#Idon'tbelieveinspectrums) because I have long hair, I dig eyeliner, and I sometimes wear skirts or dresses. I feel no need to apologize for this, as there is something sneakily sexist in assuming we should all ditch girly stuff and embrace boyish stuff no matter what we feel in our hearts. And, just for the record, I don't identify with femme anymore necessarily. I don't NOT identify with it either. I just don't think it really describes me, just like I don't think butch describes me, and one of the things I really like about queerness is seeing identities evolve over time. But I don't want to distance myself from a femme identity either, as though it is somehow less valid. It isn't, and because I get read as femme, I feel as though I can identify with the struggle for visibility.

But, looking a little femme means that people don't take one look at me and think "There's a gaywad!" unless I'm, you know, being decorated in rainbows for Pride. And according to the internet, a lot of people are talking about this. And clearly, it's something we need to be talking about.

There are ways in which I've made myself more visible, I think. I have a rainbow nautical star tattoo on my wrist. I have a nose ring and a purple streak in my hair, and the bag I usually carry has a bunch of gay pride buttons on it. And, as has been noted repeatedly, I plaster rainbows all over everything.*

It's been noted before that there's something easier about being femme, because you aren't as likely to be a victim of homophobia. This is probably true! But I don't want to sink into that comfortable place, for several reasons. First of all, I want my fellow queermos to know I'm part of the family. Second, visibility is my area of study. I think it's incredibly important for me to put myself out there - I've written about this before. I can't make space for other queer people if I'm not out there pushing boundaries. (And, as I have also said before, but it bears repeating: This is a personal choice. People should only ever be as out as they feel safe being, and I don't judge people who stay closeted, ever, unless they are Republican politicians.)

But what is it about girls with long hair and dresses that make people read us as straight? I think it comes back to this idea that sexual orientation and gender are intertwined, and this leads us to thinking that all gay men are swishy and feminine and all lesbians are softball-playing butches. Conservatives have used this against us, pointing out that our men are too feminine and our women too masculine, and therefore, we are somehow going to cause the downfall of the American patriarchy (we can only hope). I think that the people who transgress gender boundaries in bold, visible ways are brave (and often hot!). There isn't a right or wrong way to present or identify, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. We should all just do what we want. It's that simple. Kinda.

I might not have an Alternative Lifestyle Haircut, but I'm not trying to hide anything. Everyone is different, and until we get to the utopia in which sexual orientation is as incidental as hair color, I'm just going to go through life assuming everyone is queer until otherwise stated.

*No, not all gays are into rainbows, and that's cool. We've all got our thing.

Photo by Nic Bravo.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Read Heldman's "The Truths of Katrina" Right. Now.

Today the Hairpin directed me to "The Truths of Katrina", in which Caroline Heldman describes, in great detail and with many citations, how the 2005 flooding of New Orleans is less the result of a hurricane and more the result of rampant corruption and racism. It's a year old, so forgive me if you've already read it. I hadn't.

The first part of the article presents what is apparently an honest-to-god real-life government conspiracy. Put away your moon landing concerns and check this out:

The judge chided the Army Corps, noting that they "not only knew, but admitted by 1988, that the [Mississippi River Gulf Canal Outlet] threatened human life ... and yet it did not act in time to prevent the catastrophic disaster that ensued with the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina."

Mayor Nagin received nearly $20 million to establish a workable evacuation plan in plenty of time for Katrina, but it’s questionable whether it was ever developed, and it was never disseminated (Palast, 2006).

Prison officials deny that anyone died in the crisis, despite several reports of deaths from both police officers and prisoners (Onesto, 2006).

After the massacre, the NOPD actively covered up the shootings (Maggi & McCarthy, 2010), including falsifying reports, planting a gun, and recruiting phony witnesses (FBI, 2010).

That referenced article from Greg Palast is even more damning; I recommend reading it as well:

Funny thing about the murderously failed plan for the evacuation of New Orleans: no one can find it. That's right. It's missing. Maybe it got wet and sank in the flood. Whatever: No one can find it.

Heldman then discusses the racism that accompanied the disaster:

The "looting" frame was racially charged as evidenced with the now infamous AP photos of a black man described as “looting a grocery store” and a white couple described as “finding bread and soda from a local grocery story."

When those stranded at the Convention Center marched a long, hot three miles across the Gretna Bridge to get out of the City to a neighboring town, they were stopped by police officers with dogs who shot guns over their heads (Riccardi, 2005), called them racial slurs (Witt, 2008), and told them "we don’t want another Superdome."

At least eleven black men were shot, although some locals expect that the actual number is much higher ... Roland Bourgeois ... allegedly came back to the militia home base with a bloody baseball cap from Ronald Herrington, a man he shot, and told a witness that “Anything coming up this street darker than a paper bag is getting shot."

The judge in the case concluded that "on average, African-American homeowners received awards that fell farther short of the cost of repairing their homes than did white recipients." Nearly 20,000 Road Home Program grant claims that qualify for funding have yet to receive it, and these applicants are disproportionately black.

Overt acts of racial terrorism are also being employed: the letters "KKK" burned into the lawn of a young, black couple who moved to Gretna; the torching of a home in St. Bernard Parish that was to be rented to a black family.

The city has shifted from 67% black pre-Katrina to 58% black now (Jung, 2008), and, for the first time in two decades, the City Council is now majority white (Chappell, 2007).

It goes on and on, in amazing detail. It ruined my day, and, forgive me for saying so, but I hope it ruins yours too, because everyone should read this. The systematic neglect and violence that led to the deaths of so many black New Orleanians now has me wondering if this event might not be better labeled as the 2005 New Orleans Genocide.

If you're white, though, I hope you don't read Heldman's article thinking, "Oh, those poor black people." Because I agree with Helman that that's part of the problem:

"White people clearly understand Katrina as a racial issue. If we didn’t, whites would have experienced elevated anxiety about the possibility of it happening to us (as happened after 9/11)."

Those of us who are white need to start identifying with black Americans, not othering them.* Stories of 30,000 innocent people unconstitutionally and inhumanely incarcerated in the Superdome should not incite pity, but rather PANIC that this can happen to us. If, for some reason, one has trouble identifying with one's fellow human beings, perhaps it would help to remember that while some of us are protected by white privilege, our neighbors, friends, family, and future descendants may not be.

*And we really, really need to chill the fuck out about "bad neighborhoods." The Lower 9th Ward was considered a "bad neighborhood," and I'm sure that had a great deal to do with the violent reactions exhibited towards influxes of evacuees from the Lower 9th.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Talking About Things I Know Nothing About: Raising Gender Queer Kids

UPDATE: Read this, also, about how parents talk about their genderqueer kids on Nightline. It's a great analysis.

One of my goals in life - and I am going to make this happen, dammit - is that I'm going to adopt a bunch of queer kids who are living in homeless shelters like the amazing Trinity Place. So, so many queer kids get kicked out of their homes, face abuse and sexual violence, and drop out of school. Sassafras Lowrey has done some amazing work documenting this tragedy, and also points out that family reunification might be the worst thing for these kids, because their families might be the ones victimizing them. So, being a queermo myself, and understanding that queer people aren't born into communities of other queers the way other marginalized people are born into communities of people like them, I think it would be cool to start a queer family. I'm hoping to recruit other queer adults into this project so we can get the work done together.

But even though queer kids are born to straight parents, there are straight parents out there who really want to do a good job raising their kids and helping them navigate this extraordinarily heteronormative world. The first letter of this Cary Tennis column, sent to me by Alert Reader Megan, was written by one such parent. Yes, it could be seen as problematic that this mom uses female pronouns for her child, but her child is six and she is just learning about trans and queer issues, it seems, and standing up for her kid in the face of some horrific backlash from neighbors.

Tennis gives her some good advice, and points out that this child is a miracle, part of the unlimited potential of human existence, and backs the mom up in her struggle against the judgmental assholes of the world. I wish I could give this mom a hug and whisper into her ear that she should talk with her child about pronouns.

She should also talk to the remarkable woman who writes Raising My Rainbow, about her adventures in raising her genderqueer son, CJ. CJ is very young, but clearly gravitates towards stuff we'd consider girly. His mom is amazing and supportive and writes openly about her own struggles with this. Her letter to her husband about what to do if she dies ripped my heart open. If you like reading about queerness, or child raising, or just good writing, check out this blog.

I've never raised any kids. The prospect is one I find terrifying. I admire the hell out of good parents who are raising their children to be intellectually curious, flexible, and honest. It's got to be challenging, but if we're going to keep the homeless shelters for queer youth from being overrun, if we're going to make the world safer for all kinds of people we should support parents who are raising their kids to appreciate the beauty of queerness, no matter how they identify.

Image via.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Suicide Prevention Week

Hello, dahlings. Just a quick notice that it's Suicide Prevention Week. You can learn more about it at the Trevor Project, and pledge to be someone people can talk to if they need help. You can learn how to help someone in crisis and be an all-around awesome person. If someone you know is having issues around gender or sexuality and needs help, the Trevor Project is a great place to go. And if you have some spare change, I'm sure they'd appreciate it.

Gender Imbalance in Physics: Maybe Not the Result of Baby-Craziness?

Women continue to be severely underrepresented in physics and mathematics. As we all know, this is the fault of women; the main reason behind this trend being that women want to have babies and academia is ill-suited to this, just as the nationwide pay discrepancy is due to women's relative timidity in asking for raises.

Okay, I got the sarcasm out of my system. Women don't negotiate raises for a good fucking reason: they are penalized for doing so. And while academia is fairly hostile to child-rearing, a recent study shows that this may affect men as much as it does women:

We also show that the impact of science on family life is not just a woman's problem; the effect on life satisfaction of having fewer children than desired is more pronounced for male than female faculty, with life satisfaction strongly related to career satisfaction.

You read that right, folks; these researchers found that teh menz care more about having babies. So can we stop blithely assuming that women's biological clocks are the cause of the gender imbalance in physics?

Now, it is entirely possible to construct some argument to get around this one result. For instance, pregnancy and breast-feeding are burdens more often carried by women -- but I think parents will agree that these tasks do not comprise the majority of the time requirement of raising a kid. Then there's the possibility that women's partners are less likely to stay at home. Do these factors outweigh their apparently weaker drive to have kids? To answer this, we need more studies. Not glib answers based on "common sense."

In the meantime, I suggest we admit the possibility that there may be some sexism at work in the academic community. Yes, fellow scientists, I have just implied that you yourself might be somewhat sexist. Yes, that applies to me, too. (I'm talking about internalized misogyny, not sexism against men, in case you're unclear on that.) Let's stop freaking out at the implication that we might be sexist, and start working on how we can be less sexist.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Happy Labor Day!

Greetings, kittens. There will be no post today, as Kyrie and I are off doing Labor Day-esque things, like drinking and floating down rivers on tubes. So, let's all take a day off from talking about how organized labor is going to bring down America* and buy a mattress on sale. And don't over-do it on the baked beans, loves.

* It is not. I am a big supporter of organized labor, and I belong to a union. Just in case anyone can't read sarcasm through the haze of beer and charred meat so many people will have doubtlessly consumed by the time this posts.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Oh, Facebook, Part 1000

Once again, a Facebook war keeps me up all night and makes me nearly incoherent with rage. A friend's wife posted a relatively innocuous story about her strange neighbors who sit in their garage all day long and apparently do nothing, and asked for others to bring up their strange neighbor stories. A couple of people made some comments about neighbors' OCD tendencies about grass on the driveway and such, and then comes this (trigger warning for trans misogyny):

here I come taking the cake... 70 year old tranny w/lip plug, ear plugs, and a nice pair of implants. Has 30+ cats, likes to wear granny jammies and sports some thick stubble on most days. Oh yeah, that's right, in yo face weird garage people! :)
And then she followed up with:
try explaining THAT to your four year old! lol
"That." Try explaining "that" to your four year old. Well, I'm going to try to explain a couple of things to you, assumed-adult.

1. "Tranny" isn't nice, especially in this context. It gets thrown around as a joking word by people in the community sometimes, and that is sometimes okay and sometimes not okay, depending on who's involved. But this straight-identified cis woman doesn't get to use it to talk about the fact that she thinks her neighbor is a freak. I pointed this out, and she asked me what would be better language to talk about this person she finds confusing. I brought up the word "trans," and also pronouns:
Honestly, we should always ask people how they'd like to be identified. But "trans" works well. And if your neighbor has implants and wears women's clothing, they might be trying to present as female, so regardless of facial hair and bone structure, you might do better to use female pronouns. Or you could always use the plural, which I encourage people to do when they are unclear of another person's gender (and, really, we should never make assumptions about anyone's gender). Leslie Feinberg, who wrote Stone Butch Blues and Drag King Dreams - both of which I highly recommend - prefers people use plural pronouns for them. There's also the gender-neutral "zhe" and "hir," which are more practical when writing than speaking.
The person on FB continued to refer to her neighbor as "he" for awhile, apologized for offending me, as though that was the point of all of this, and said that she was just trying to be funny. She also got sarcastic on me and said that she's surprised I'm not standing up for the "mental challenged" [sic] as well, since this person also has so many cats and has hoarder-like tendencies. This just pissed me off more - I'll stand up for anyone society marginalizes, shouldn't we all?

2. Weird piercings are pretty de rigeur amongst my friends, so if that's something that freaks her out, she really ought to expand her horizons a bit. Oh, we also have tattoos. SCARY. She later described her neighbor's piercings as "kind of hard to take sometimes," as though her feelings about their body modifications is all that matters.

3. She became very concerned that I think she's a bad person. I told her that's not the point:
It's about whether we're all going to stick to our rigidly-defined ideas about gender and what people should look/dress like and therefore consider some people more real or human than others, or whether we'll treat everyone with dignity and recognize everyone's basic humanity. You know? Gender's tough to understand, so I get it, but ridicule is hard to read when you could be talking about one of my BFFs (the only reason I'm sure you aren't is because I don't have any BFFs who have that many cats!).
Anyway. She sent me a message to tell me she has gay friends and relatives, as though I haven't heard that a hundred thousand times, and that she prefers love and not anger, which explains why she went straight to ridicule. She said that at one time she cared so much about women's rights that she got angry about it and now she realizes that isn't the right way to go. I'm not sure what got her there, but as you know, I really believe in anger. So this is what I told her:
What I've learned is that we're all responsible for our own feelings, and that it's incumbent on all of us to tell our own truths. My truth is this: Gender is an oppressive system for the people who are most important to me in my life, and for me, and so it feels like being stabbed when my people are ridiculed on Facebook or anywhere else based on a gender identity that might not be intelligible to the mainstream. If I let it go by I'd have been complicit, in my mind, because if someone were talking about one of my trans siblings like that on someone else's wall, I'd want someone to stand up for then. You feel me?
She never really got the point, saying she's sorry she hurt my feelings and telling me not to get too wrapped up in my queer family - which, fuck that, I couldn't live without them - or I might miss some of the beautiful people in the world. I think she's missing some of the beautiful people in the world by freaking out about her neighbor's stubble, implants, and lip rings, but whatevsies, y'all.

The whole conversation reminded me of this piece, called "Heaps of Woe," about racism at football [soccer] games. It's excellent, read the whole thing. The point is this: if we let racists act racist and don't do anything about it, we're making the world less safe for the targets of their racism. This is also true for queers, we can't let people - no matter how good they consider themselves to be - say shit about us without standing up for them. Just because I'm not transphobic doesn't mean that I get a pass on saying things to someone who is normalizing the idea that it's okay to snicker at one's unconventional neighbor.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

New Fave Advice Columnist?

Meet A Lady
Confession time: I like advice columns. I always have, and I am always excited when I happen across a new one. I have managed not to acquire a long blog-roll of advice columns, however, because most of them piss me off eventually. The Ethicist proved transphobic. Dear Prudence has advised readers to manipulate their lovers into losing weight. (Also, she advises that people seek therapy for, like, everything.) Dan Savage is way too prescriptive. And also he is anti-fat acceptance.

Miss Manners is always delightful, though. And I'm considering adding a new advice column to my pile o' blogs: the Hairpin's Ask A Lady. Partly because it's funny, and partly because the advice often seems ... kinda good, actually?

Some of my favorite quotes:

Oh, and people who call themselves rational human beings. You're a confused, hairless gibbon just like all of us, get over it.

My basic breakdown is: Come to me with a problem one time, you get hugs. Come to me a second time with a totally identical problem, you get strategy. Come a third time, and you are in Time Out.

All different girls prefer all different things. I am A Lady, I am not All the Ladies.

This one rang my alarm bells at first ...

Ugh, I hate "the patriarchy" and equivalently fussy terms (do not EVEN come at me with your "kyriarchy") ... let's call it the jerkcircus from now on, OK, I had everyone in the room vote, it's jerkcircus now.

But I have been won over by "jerkcircus." That there is a good word. Thanks, A Lady.