Archive for the ‘lgtb/queer’ Category

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Complicating the Gay Marriage Debate

August 2, 2007

Forgive me, loyal readers of saltyfemme. I’ve written about this topic so much I have queer self-righteousness coming out of my ears. But the Feministe readers haven’t heard me rant yet, so now I’m giving them their turn. Reposting here. Feministe readers who have moseyed on over, find more of my gay-marriage rants here:

Recent Ruminations on Gay Marriage (June 2006)
Beyond Rhetoric (July 2006)
NYTimes on Those Rebel Gays (July 2006)
Wedding Bells Ring Again (October 2006)
Potlucks, Purim, and Gay Marriage (October 2006)
Blame it on the Gays. Seriously! (November 2006)
Maybe DOMAS Should Address This Instead? (November 2006)
Whose Agenda is GENDA? (July 2007)

And now, the post from Feministe:

There are supposed to be two sides to this marriage debate. Either you’re a member of the Religious Right and are opposed or you’re a good liberal and are in favor. Right? Not so much. I’ve seen a huge range of opinions on this issue from queers who don’t identify with either of these mainstream opinions. I wish that more of these voices were represented in legislative actions and in media representations.

Gay marriage advocates are fighting for the same rights that straight people already have. I’d like to question why straight marriage is the model from which to build gay marriage. Is it convenience? Strategy (i.e. what is winnable?). Why aren’t we fighting for more, why aren’t we representing nontraditional family structures instead of just traditional nuclear family structures? (and no, I’m not talking polyamory right now). What good is the right to share health insurance with your partner when millions of Americans don’t have health insurance to begin with? Furthermore, why should the government get to police who shares our benefits, who can inherit from us, and who can adopt our children? Considering that only 25% of families in this country follow the traditional nuclear model, wouldn’t we be better off instead seeing what might be best for everyone? How do (or will) co-parenting families, cohabiting adults in non-romantic relationships, single parents living with a sibling, and elderly parents living with their child and their child’s partner (among countless other permutations of family) benefit from a marriage that only provides rights to two romantically involved adults? Furthermore, it seems ironic that in a time when it seems like every straight person is avoiding marriage like the plague, gay people are fighting hard.

Academic John D’Emilio puts these changes into historical context brilliantly in his November/December 2006 article in the Gay and Lesbian Review, The Marriage Movement is Setting Us Back. D’Emilio actually argues that gay marriage goes against history. He explains:

Since the early 1960’s, the lives of many, many heterosexuals have become much more like the imagined lives of homosexuals . Being heterosexual no longer means settling as a young adult into a lifelong coupled relationship sanctioned by the state and characterized by the presence of children and sharply gendered spousal roles. Instead, there may be a number of intimate relationships over the course of a lifetime. A marriage certificate may or may not accompany these relationships. Males and females alike expect to earn their way. Children figure less importantly in the lifespan of adults, and some heterosexuals, for the first time in history, choose not to have children at all.

These new “lifestyles” (a word woefully inadequate for grasping the deep structural foundations that sustain these changes) have appeared wherever capitalism has long historical roots. The decline in reproductive rates and the de-centering of marriage follow the spread of capitalism as surely as night follows day. They surface even in the face of religious traditions and national histories that have emphasized marriage, high fertility, and strong kinship ties.

The gay marriage movement has also been accused of racism and classism and of taking up so much of the mainstream LGBT movement’s time and energy that it has little left for any other issues (trans rights in NY state, for example).

Is gay marriage the way to go? Can’t we embrace the fact that the nuclear family structure is no longer useful for so many people in this country and legislate to be able to support and be supported by who(m)ever we want and choose? To be clear – I support anyone who wants to celebrate their relationship privately or with their community. In the post, I am addressing gay marriage in a legal sense, the problems I have with the government policing our relationships and the rights that those relationships bring us.

I don’t want to leave out last summer’s Beyond Same-Sex Marriage (BSSM) statement, the most widely-read document that I know of that questions the legitimacy of the gay marriage movement and its “you’re either with us or against us” mentality. The BSSM executive summary is certainly worth a read. Its signatories advocate for:

  • Legal recognition for a wide range of relationships, households and families – regardless of kinship or conjugal status.
  • Access for all, regardless of marital or citizenship status, to vital government support programs including but not limited to health care, housing, Social Security and pension plans, disaster recovery assistance, unemployment insurance and welfare assistance.
  • Separation of church and state in all matters, including regulation and recognition of relationships, households and families.
  • Freedom from state regulation of our sexual lives and gender choices, identities and expression.

Realistically, this will never pass as legislation, though I don’t think that was the intent of the writers. I believe they wanted to spark a conversation, to bring the gray areas of the marriage discussion to the fore. Since last summer, not much follow-up has been done, save for a few events here in New York (one of which I attended and kept some notes on). Queers, marriage skeptics, if you’re out there, does BSSM speak to you? Is there anything useful (media or legislatively speaking) we can do with it? For all of you — what are your thoughts on gay marriage beyond the “I believe in equality for all people” lines and in light of these issues? Is gay marriage really the path to equality?

cross-posted to Feministe

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dudes declare sexual assault funny as long as the victims are men

July 30, 2007

I’m guest blogging at Feministe this week! Check me out. And check out this entry over there for discussion, it’s cross-posted.

It’s humor so this warning may seem strange – this video is potentially triggering.

I was wary of posting this video for fear of directing more traffic to it. When I saw how many people have already watched it (it has nearly three million views on YouTube and counting), I figured it might be worth the attention. “Bro rape” has achieved mass popularity among (mostly) white college students for reasons I don’t entirely understand. Offensive stuff aside – and I’ll get to that in a minute – I actually just don’t find it funny.

The video is supposedly a parody of Dateline NBC’s programs about catching pedophiles. The Derrick Comedy group, made up of a group of NYU grads, write and perform pretty typical white college student humor, involving alcohol and sex jokes and always tinged with tones of sarcasm and self-mocking.

For those of you who don’t care to watch, here’s the opening bit. After a pretty gross fake rape scene, the fake news announcer jumps in (camera frozen on a “bro” being raped by a fellow “bro”):

It’s a type of rape that’s gone overlooked for decades. And it’s risen 44% in the last year. I’m talking, of course, about bro rape. What is a bro? A bro is an 18-24 year old male who wears Birkenstock sandals, watches Family Guy, plays ultimate Frisbee, and wears an upside-down visor or a baseball cap with a pre-frayed brim. You know, a bro. For every suburban house party, four bros will be raped, and only one in seven bros will tell their boys what happened the next day. As a result, most bro rapes go unreported.

The skit continues with the fake news team luring “bros” on the internet to come to “Chad’s place” to do dudely things. The reporter then rifles through each culprit’s bag, finding dudely items like gamecubes, beer, Axe deodorant and always a big black dildo, at which point the bro is considered caught. If someone can fill me in on why this is so funny that three million people have watched it, please do.

The skit ends with another fake rape scene. News flash to privileged college boys: rape is REAL. Men have been and continue to be victims of sexual assault. This is a pretty ugly contribution to the stigma men face around being rape victims. It mocks and silences male survivors of sexual assault, all of whom deal with the same crap as female victims plus all the feelings around not being real men because real men, straight men, don’t get sexually assaulted. And here’s why this video is silencing male survivors of assault – a group of college boys can make a video mocking male sexual assault that millions of people watch and find hilarious and not feel guilty about it because sexual assault against men is somehow not real. It’s almost as if the reason this sort of comedy is allowed is because it is so far from the realm of possibility. Everyone knows it’s not funny to mock sexual assault against women. Men, of course, are fair game. The reason it’s so funny is because it could never happen, right? A straight man could never rape another straight man. Right, except that most of the perpetrators of sexual assault against men are heterosexual. All of this humor rests on the fact that it is mocking something the creators deem impossible. This is dangerous territory for three million viewers.

Is it possible that they are mocking their own masculinity as a performance in and of itself? The opening lines from the newscaster I blockquoted above are some of the funniest lines in the skit, I think. It is a pretty impressive feat to have a group of boys who possess an overly heterosexual masculinity and style be able to step back and mock themselves. But are they simply reasserting their heterosexuality by mocking the idea of male sexual assault? I’m also curious about what makes this college humor among (mostly) white students. There is also be a bizarre race thread in this skit – why are most of the bros white (with one exception) and all the big dildos black? Mocking rape survivors, racism, homophobia, hints of sexism. And huge popularity with little criticism. What am I missing here?

Crossposted to Feministe

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on femme invisibility and street harassment

July 21, 2007

There’s been a great deal of fantastic blogging about street harassment (SH) over at Feministe – first, a post on SH with a focus on queers and one about SH and race/class, both courtesy of Jack, who is guest blogging this week. I don’t usually read the comments underneath the posts – mostly I don’t have the time or the energy. My ears perk up, though, when I see nuanced writing about an issue that is not explicitly queer that includes queer perspectives on it. Jack asks towards the end of her post:

And then I always think – how do visually feminine women, who get way more of this than me, deal? How do femmes and other feminine queer women handle that on the daily?

While I can wax theoretical for hours and hours around other queers about my experience as a femme, I haven’t had much experience doing it with straight women. (sidenote: the vast majority of the women who comment at Feministe are straight – case in point, Jack gives her queer perspective, asks for others to give theirs, but with a few exceptions, the thread ends up being dominated by a discussion of whether a man should be allowed to give a polite compliment on the street – as in, is it a man’s tone or the mere fact that he’s talking to a strange woman that makes me feel degraded and violated?).

Maybe I’m just exercising caution. The differences between straight femininity and queer femininity are pretty huge but nuanced, especially to the naked (i.e. straight) eye. Hell, the differences between how white women and WOC experience femininity are also huge and complicated and I wouldn’t even know how to touch that. I can only talk about my own experiences as a white femme and admit that I share some of those experiences with white straight women. I fear that when I talk about empowerment or “reclamations” of femininity or especially about how I relate to masculine partners, I will hear the dreaded “why is your experience any different than a straight one?”

This is actually exactly what happened at Feministe. I posted this and then got this response. Read it if you like, the gist is that I wrote something about invisibility and about the complications of queer femininity becoming lost on the street and that catcalling further invisibilizes the queerness. The responder rightfully asks, how is your experience any different from a straight one?

I can’t speak for straight women. I don’t know what makes up their personal reaction to catcalling. I would guess that if you are normatively gendered, you don’t necessarily think and obsess about your gender presentation the way queers do and you certainly don’t feel your gender being erased in the same way. After all, I experience my gender as mostly synthetic and unnatural and in that way, it is pretty fragile.

I am not saying that straight women do not obsess about appearance. I’m saying that as a queer feminist, I’ve gone through phases and thought long and hard about what femininity means in the world and the ways that it’s been oppressive and powerful and sometimes both and the ways that I, personally, have experienced it as both. I’ve also obsessed over what it means to have a queer perspective on the world, looking out from inside a body that often passes as straight. And the answer, over and over again, is about invisibility. My answer about SH was not about straight women, it had nothing to do with straight women. And maybe I just need to make peace with the fact that straight women can and do relate to some of my words. (And blah blah identity politics we can have overlapping experiences and still be different people.)

At the same time, queer femmes walk around all day long being taken for something we are not. We’re misread as straight, and of course enjoy the privileges that come along with that, and also are included in the joys of SH. This asshole comes along, “hey baby, hey sexy,” and it’s like boom, again, hit me when I’m already down and already feel like I don’t exist. If the femme experiences of femininity is “empowerment,” there’s nothing more disempowering than a strange man telling you you’re sexy. (And for the record, I hate the word empowerment but I can’t think of anything better. I wouldn’t hate it so much if the fucking Pussycat Dolls and white middle-class pole dancers hadn’t co-opted it.)

And now the navel-gazing must come to an end, please go read and take part in the discussion about SH and race/class issues – namely about why sites like HollaBack seem to be dominated by stories of white women being harassed by men of color.

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a health care post (and it’s not about SiCKO)

July 10, 2007

But it is about gay marriage.

Thank goodness for the good gay marriage fight, without which we would not have states suddenly denying domestic partner benefits because they violate constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. Step back for a second. For some refreshing commentary (not to mention great historical context, if you read the full text), let us consult John D’Emilio:

Please, can we speak the truth? The campaign for same-sex marriage has been an unmitigated disaster. Never in the history of organized queerdom have we seen defeats of this magnitude. The battle to win marriage equality through the courts has done something that no other campaign or issue in our movement has done: it has created a vast body of new antigay law. Alas for us, as the anthropologist Gayle Rubin has so cogently observed, “sex laws are notoriously easy to pass. … Once they are on the books, they are extremely difficult to dislodge.” (“The Marriage Fight is Setting us Back,” from the November/December 2006 issue of the Gay and Lesbian Review:)

Case in point today: Kalamazoo, Michigan. Domestic partners of city employees used to have the option of accessing their partners’ health care. No longer, since legislators recently realized that they could use a 2004 constitutional ban on gay marriage to deem the practice illegal. The answer to this problem is NOT “find a way to guarantee that all couples can access each other’s health insurance.” The answer is not to tell the millions of Americans without health insurance to get married to someone whose employer provides insurance.

I haven’t seen Sicko yet, though I hope to soon. From what I’ve read, the documentary provides ample evidence that our country’s system of spending the most in the world on health insurance and having the highest number of uninsured citizens (not to speak of uninsured undocumented immigrants) is beyond absurd. What is also absurd is that so many gay people will rally around gay marriage as some piece of the solution to “our” (as in the gay community’s) health insurance problems, among other issues, when the reality is that a) many states, cities, and private employers recognize domestic partnerships as they do straight marriages when it comes to benefits and b) many, if not most, gay people would STILL be uninsured if gay marriage was legalized in the federal courts tomorrow.

But I digress. What did Kalamazoo do in response to this conundrum? Something really interesting, actually. They took the same language of the previous law allowing partners of city employees to access their partners’ health insurance and changed the wording from “domestic partner” to “Other Qualified Adult.” It’s kind of brilliant, actually, and it reminds me, if only nominally, of the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement, which dares to ask for recognition for all kinds of family structures. The language needed to be ambiguous regarding the relationship between the two people in order to pass – it makes no requirement that the two people be romantically involved. It’s kind of cool, actually. Coolest part? It passed. Interesting.

I’ve said it before and I will likely say it again because if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know this issue drives me nuts. Gay marriage is not the answer to all your gay problems. Seriously. It’s doing us more harm than good (it’s also going against history: thank you John D’Emilio). And it’s taking energy away from other worthy fights.

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whose agenda is GENDA?

July 3, 2007

I went to the pride parade this year for the first time in awhile. Last year, the thought of the gay marriage fanfare mixed with the gross commercialism (shiny-chested altoid boys don’t make me feel so proud for some reason), coupled with humid, rainy weather were enough to make me stay away. This year, weather was beautiful and I was on a mission to be a little less judgmental.

OK, so the commercialism is still alive and well, no shock there. And apparently, so was the gay marriage nausea. A friend who marched behind Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA) noticed that a lot of the marchers’ signs read “GENDA NOW!” As I read over at transadvocate, this was because one side of ESPA’s signs read “Marriage Equality” and the other read “GENDA now.” And surprise surprise, most of the marchers walked with the marriage stuff facing front, so the only people who saw the GENDA part were those marching directly behind ESPA. Curious.

GENDA, for the uninformed, is the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which is now being pushed in the NY state legislature in Albany. GENDA would offer the same protections to transpeople that the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA) already offers to gays, lesbians, and bisexuals – GENDA would make it illegal in New York State to discriminate on the basis of gender expression in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations, education and credit. Human rights laws in 13 states now cover transgender people, up from 2 states in 2002. So what gives, why has GENDA still not passed in NY state?

ESPA has been accused of putting significantly more energy and resources into pushing “marriage equality” legislation than trans rights legislation, resulting in years passing and still no legislative protections for transpeople. Donna Cartwright writes in a letter to the Gay City news:

Transgender rights appear to have dropped off the radar of the LGBT community – GENDA has received scant mention recently in the gay press, which is saturated with coverage of marriage equality. And ESPA just seems to be going through the motions. The home page of its Web site has told the story – for three straight weeks, as the legislative session in Albany neared a close, the ESPA site featured no less than seven items about marriage equality, and barely a mention of GENDA, nothing about its prospects this year, and no call on legislators to make it a priority.

Finally, on Tuesday, June 19, after repeated complaints by trans activists, a button was added asking visitors to contact their legislators in support of both GENDA and marriage equality.

ESPA, which has ostensibly included transgender rights in its mission for several years now, is the LGBT community’s leading voice in Albany; its staff, lobbying expertise, and financial power give it considerable clout. With that power comes responsibility – to represent the entire LGBT community.

ESPA ED Alan Van Capelle, in his rebuttal, rattles off some lip service about how hard it is to pass bills in Albany (sorry but duh), then adds in this gem:

To be honest, the issue of gender identity and expression has been a brand new issue for many of our straight allies. They, like much of the rest of New York, have to learn about it and be able to move beyond notions that are usually widely disconnected from the reality of what it means to be transgender.

I’m sorry, but if “straight allies” in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington can figure out how to write transphobia out of state legislation, can’t New York “straight allies” handle it? (source)

And while we’re on the subject of pandering to hets, I love these gemmy questions on the FAQ page on the GENDA legislation on the ESPA site:

Would the law require that all public bathrooms be unisex?
Would the law force owners of small and family-owned businesses to hire transgender people?
Would the law apply to people renting out a room in their home?

To which all the answers are, of course, no. Let’s make the worried hets feel better: don’t worry, you can still police the ladies’ room! There are still channels through which you can discriminate against transpeople!

Back at transadvocate, I can’t help but nod when I read these words:

So why do we refer to these organizations as GLBT anyway? True, we worked hard over the years in the 90’s to be recognized as a part of the community, but that didn’t mean our entire fight boiled down to being nothing more than a T at the end of an acronym. It’s like saying our entire goal was to be the butt on a pig, with all the significance. Dandy! So why don’t they just advertise just GL or GLB? Sure, it’s not PC. But what the hell good is being PC if all it requires is just saying “I’m GLBT” and never giving it another thought (at least not until those screaming trannies throw their asses in the fire when they’re forgotten again)?

ESPA doesn’t have a single trans person on staff or on their board. A token trans person on a board, however, would not make a difference. I’d like to see ESPA make some kind of a visible, concrete effort to push trans legislation through Albany – and admit that perhaps transpeople deserve the same legislative protections that ESPA fought for (and won) for gays and lesbians in 2002. One might even say that such protections should take precedence over, dare I say it, “marriage equality,” especially when you consider that transgender people have extremely high rates of unemployment and poverty (some figures say 70% of transpeople in NY state, though none of the figures I found cited sources for their numbers). This discussion involves race issues that no one wants to mention – like perhaps the fact that gay marriage is primarily a white issue and the discourse surrounding it is directed at white people – and the fact that ESPA doesn’t speak to or represent the vast majority of queers in New York. If only Queers for Economic Justice had the resources and lobby power of ESPA.

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I can figure out a better use for this bomb

June 12, 2007

I’m not sure whether to laugh, cry, or check to see if it’s April Fool’s Day. Apparently, in an attempt to develop non-lethal weapons, the Pentagon developed a bomb that would turn enemy combatants into insatiable homos!

“The Ohio Air Force lab proposed that a bomb be developed that contained a chemical that would cause enemy soldiers to become gay, and to have their units break down because all their soldiers became irresistibly attractive to one another,” [Edward] Hammond [a rep from a Berkeley watchdog organization that tracks military spending] said after reviewing the documents. (source)

Um, how about we try dropping this bomb on Washington? Or on a few of our more homophobic states. How great would it be if President “defense of marriage” turned into a big gaywad? Seriously though, this is totally weird. I could go into a whole diatribe about the irony of dealing the most serious consequence of our hypermasculine culture (war) with the most emasculating activity for our hypermasculine culture (gay sex). I could also go into the offensiveness of the Pentagon’s use of the oversexed gay man stereotype. I could also get into the whole assumption that gay men are incapable of violence because they’re too busy having sex. I don’t really feel like going into any of those things. Because this is just funny and ridiculous. Damn.

via a fantastic listserv.

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nature nurture blah blah blah

May 19, 2007

Mainstream media on queer gender: blah blah nature nurture blah blah? That’s all I hear. Yahoo news has a series of clips from this week’s 60 Minutes on sexual orientation. Let’s see if we can essentialize gender and chalk it all up to science, shall we? OK. Go watch the clips and then come back.

Things you learn from this brilliant show:

    1. Twins of the same biological gender can have remarkably different gender identities and expressions. Say what?

    2. In discussions of queers demonstrating traits of the opposite gender, make sure never to mention the possibility of anyone being trans, as that fucks with our needed conflation of gender and sexuality. Even though the girly 9-year old boy (who is SUPER cute, btw) says out loud that he wants to be a girl.

    3. Gay men are almost always feminine; lesbians are almost always masculine. Phew, glad we got that one cleared up. That explains everything. Case in point: this dyke played with trucks as a child, now she has short hair and doesn’t cross her legs in a chair. Also, her voice is kinda low. THIS IS SO EASY! Let’s essentialize SOME MORE!

    4. If we give male rats female hormones at birth and vice versa, they become gay! Then the boy rats mount the other boy rats and don’t make rat baybeez! I don’t know what this teaches us about human sexuality and human gays but it sure does make scientists look bizarre.

    5. The more older brothers you have, the more likely it is you will become a gay. Something about the mother dealing with having foreign hormones in her womb or something.

Things queers can tell you without scientific research:

    1. Nature/nurture is an inherently flawed dichotomy which excludes historical and contextual factors. Nature/nurture assumes that we are a product of a combination of our biology and our parents’ child-rearing, that we were born into and move through the world as isolated beings, protected from everything around us and from our collective history as humans and as Americans, separate from our race and class experiences. I’d rather see nuanced questions like, how do nature and nurture interact with one another? Why can’t we complicate these two black and white forces of what made us? See my favorite article on the development of gay identity, D’Emilio’s “Capitalism and Gay Identity” for further reference. (And of course, the offer still stands – if you want a copy, just email me. Saltyfemme at gmail.)

    2. Scientific explanations of queer identity can be offensive because they amount to straight people dealing with their homophobia not in the respectful “I’m going to learn about this thing that is foreign to me” way but in the “they can’t help it! It’s inborn! Therefore I must force myself to deal!” way. (remember this guy?)

    3. As many people as there are in the world, that’s how many different expressions of gender there are. Don’t chalk it up to pink and blue or who crosses their fucking legs. Or even to who you fuck. Yep, straights can gender bend too. I know, shocking. Most queer people I know do not fit into these convenient little boxes that scientists have created in order for the world to deal with homophobia. DON’T DELUDE YOURSELF, curious straights. We come in a million colors and stripes, in varying degrees and combinations of masculinities, femininities, and androgynies.

And for the record: saltyfemme crosses her legs and talks girly. She played with Barbies. She likes the boy types. You’d probably think she was straight if you saw her. She is most definitely not. So fuck you, 60 Minutes.

Via Pandagon.