Saturday, December 13, 2008

These boots are made for walking.

It hit me like a ton of bricks.

I walked under the radar and the suited professional asked me to move off to the side – apparently gel and hair “smoothing milk” are considered weapons against humanity when taking a flight on an airplane. As he rummaged through my flannels and chuck tailors, he made small talk about how he works out to avoid having, “no offense, boobs;” because it's simply not sexy to fall outside of the perfect body. Wrapped up in my own internal dialogue on identity, I casually said, “yeah buddy; me too.” As he struggled to rezip my overfilled carry-on bag he looked at me with a smile, and I offered one in return. Swaggering off the smile remained.

The waiting area of the New York airport was chock full of people heading southeast on a balmy Tuesday evening. I sat there uncomfortable. What was it? Maybe it was because I hadn’t seen my family or the city since that hot and humid August day when I packed my car and departed four months prior. But I knew it wasn’t. It was my feet. They were nestled comfortably into a pair of grey boots cut out of suede in to a feminine style. They were loosly pulled over one of my favorite pairs of faded skinny jeans. At that moment they were not me. I felt so out of place, like a costumed character in a bad Christmas play. I rolled my carry-on case to a lonely corner of the USAir wing, located my sneakers and made the switch. I changed my shoes and sighed with relief. I felt so good in my more comfortable genderfree look of jeans and vintage flannel. Moments later I was confident as I stood waiting in line to find my seat on the tiny, overcrowded jet.

When I landed I touched my short hair, now cut into an edgy fauxhawk, and the anxiety crept up from the pit of my stomach and into my face. Flushed, I sent a text to my support: “OMG – I am a huge dyke in my hometown!” It took only seconds to receive, “Awesome babe!,” and “Of course you are honey; what’s wrong?”

My city of three rivers can feel stifling at times when I think about the various cultures that make up my hometown demographics: machismo and feminity reign strong here. Can I walk around rocking the cocked-to-the-side baseball hat and scarf, showing my slim hip bones off like a boy in a town where foundation was built on the sweat of men and the aromas of women? Do I have the right to walk my own path in a place where history has carved out my "purpose" long before I asked it to? Will I be judged for a-line tanks with a bra, instead of v-neck and cleavage? Can I make jokes as I chug beer, legs casually spread apart on the barstool without getting a look from the patrons around me?

Beer in hand I bobbed my head to the booming, yet sultry voice coming from a person no larger than my leg who stood, eyes closed, singing into a microphone on the tiny stage. The room appeared candle lit, and I felt at peace with the radiant variety of skin color around me -- all of us swaying and reflecting on the importance of true hip hop; a communication style that speaks truth to not only our minds but our limbs. Orientation doesnt seem to matter here. Race doesnt seem to matter here. Gender doesnt seem to matter here. Until it does.

The hallway to the bathroom is damn near dim and I'm headed to the stalls when I'm stopped.

"Why do you look like a boy?" He asks me; wrinkles across his otherwise smooth face.
"Excuse me. Um. Why do you," I asked back, adding that I think we should question why we only identify our outward appearence based on historical "purpose."
"Cause I'm a boy, and I can see that you are feminine under all those clothes."
For a second, a wave of fear rippled through my body as I felt the pressure to explain, while also feeling the pressure to turn on my heel and run. I waited. Numbly.
"Are you gay?" He asked next -- not quite accusingly, but almost more assuredly as if all gender-neutral dressers have to be queer. The argument in my mind fell flat as I dribbled out a HELL YES I am, and realized that perhaps I now fit his stereotypical and narrow mind of expression. And then he said it. Like a meat-eaters pompance comment to a vegetarian about how they only need a well-cooked steak to shake them of their custom; as if to say values and morals can be shifted by a well-built grill; a warm summer evening and a bottle of A-1 sauce bought on sale at the local market.

"Maybe you just need a good man" to release and to "re-embrace" the man-pleasing woman inside who is just begging and tearing through my vagina -- waiting for him to hold me and point me in the right direction.

Or maybe, I thought, I just need a good man (or a bunch of men and women and trans folks) to release the heterocentric gender binary and "re-embrace" humanity and insert self and reciprocal love back in to communications; back into relationships; back into love and trust and reality. No matter who we are and what we have between our legs or on our backs.

Instead I shook my head no, and made a jumbled statement about self-determination and individual affirmation, and then politely asked him to not follow me into the restroom.

A couple of days later my head was between the hands of old classmates as I pranced around a crowded, music-less room for my ten year highschool reunion. My hair seems to be a constant point of discussion as many gal pals find bravery and sexiness in my decision to chop it off and be free of conformity. But Im just trying to be me, and I realize one night (back in the my bubble in NYC) that it is super hard to stand out, remain visible, be an educator; while also being private and wrapped up in my growth as I seek out who I am.

In the meantime, my dangly earrings, tights and flats are slowly covered in dust as I button up my size small men's collared shirt in the mirror. I smile, and say hello to my reflection. My friend and gender mentor recently remarked on my height: "It seems like every time I see you, you get taller." I laugh and wonder if that is simply my confidence - perhaps we all stand a bit taller when we are truly good to our souls and those around us.

It reminds me of an email signature I came across in my inbox, of which asked me to remember that somewhere between my soapbox and tears is a person who is working hard to sift through the healthy and not so healthy contradictions:

"Be kinder than necessary
Because everyone you meet is fighting
Some kind of battle"

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Hope is a big word.

The world was presented with a historic moment last night: Barack Obama was elected to be the 44th president of the United States. As he stood on a Chicago stage, messages of hope and change dribbled from his mouth. Around me, at the LGBT Community Center in New York City, messages of equality and openness and willingness to adjust frames of mind dribbled from the hundreds of folks who sat and watched the poll returns.

For human rights, and women’s rights, and immigration rights, and the plethora of issues that now sit on the White House doorstep, waiting to come inside and be picked apart by a competent administration, this is a victory. Change will come, that is a given, but what it will look is still a mystery.

I floated through my dreams last night, as I thought about the 21-months of debates leading up to this point. I was content and nervous because sometimes simply uttering the word hope brings forth unrealistic expectations of acceptance, of positive energy and (in this country) the idea that a quick-fix, band-aid approach will happen the day Obama is inaugurated in early January. We don’t need any more of that. Quick fixes don’t heal; they create a sort of skin over the wound, but never stitch up cuts that are actually quite deep.

Coffee in hand this morning, I see that California’s Proposition 8 – which sets to overturn a Supreme Court decision to ban same-sex marriages in the great west coast state – was approved. And while I am not necessarily a proponent of marriage in the way that it sets a hierarchy of who is a REAL couple and who is not, my heart dropped as I read the L.A. Times. Similar bans were passed in Florida, Arkansas and Arizona -- with the emphasis on banning fostering/adopting young people if one is not married (and if queer folks are banned from this human right, then being a caregiver for a person in need is also not an option). Last night we talked about hope and equality, but this morning I question who that equality is really for? Does it stop at sexual orientation? Does it stop at gender manifestations? Does it stop at the gates of the prison? Where does this line begin and end?

On the one hand, the country is ready to accept the challenges of being a community, a democracy; and on the other hand the country is still turning their backs, and dictating the desire for assimilation. Continuing to fight for real and true individual freedom? “Yes we can.”

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hairy Situations...

It’s nothing really. It’s just mineral and proteins strung together to create a tangible strand. Hair. We all got it – some more than others, and I was in this category of flowing tresses – tied up, braided, pushed to the side with a clip, pulled back in a ponytail under a hat…the list goes on. A couple of weeks ago I cut it off.

It was a Friday night; I just got off work and was walking to a friend’s apartment to watch the debate. In my mind, my own type of debate ensued: how much to chop? How do I style it; I have never been good at being consistent – except maybe when eating peas, corn and parmesan for dinner on a very regular schedule – so I found myself scouring each block. There were barbershops with the classic red, white and blue spindle in its window, there were nail salons that also gave cuts; and then there was this little spot located about a block a way from my friend. A slim woman, dressed head to toe in black, a gold belt slung loosely around her waist, stood smoking a cigarette outside of the small storefront. “Are you still offering appointments,” I asked. She leaked out a “yes” between the blue smoke rising from her lips, and waved her hand for me to go inside and set up a time slot at the front desk.

I guess I should’ve known from the door. Literally. Walking through the door put me smack into the end of a tunnel-like shop that was decorated in mauve and gold, glass tables and techno music; men strewn on either side of the counter who donned slick-back hair and limited buttoned button-up shirts. Chest hair and smiles. He gave me the last appointment of the day. I would be back in 20 minutes. Slowly, but giddy about the new transformation that was sure to ensue, I buzzed my friend and updated her on the evening’s schedule. Per usual, my need to be chaotically organized lends way to overriding impulses, and per usual, good people in my life make attempts to shake me from my Piscean dream-like state. She lay there, her own hair tussled and pulled high on top of her head, and dialed the number of her trusted salon in the Village – she added me to her appointment the next day and hung up. I had the option of waiting a little over 12 hours to sit in front of a mirror, under the hands of professionals who are like comic book drawers creating this week’s episode of the Transformers – a breed that is more than meets the eye.

I paced, I checked my phone, went pee, washed my hands, applied chapstick, paced again. Finally, I decided;I was gonna go that night. Shrugging, my friend and I made our way down the crowded block to the salon.

Never again would I feel those exact stands of hair being tugged and scrubbed in that forceful, yet pleasurable way that only the shampooers at a salon can elicit. Staring at the ceiling I noticed the gold belt walk by a couple of times; she would be my stylist. Hair wrapped in a towel I was asked if wanted a glass of wine, of which came in a low crystal-cut baller glass, kind of like the ones you scoop from an estate sale or your grammy’s attic, or perhaps in that one cheesy Days Inn hotel that I stayed in after blowing a tire in Virginia, driving between Florida and Pennsylvania long over a year and a half ago. I liked it, and I swigged easy from its rim.

“How would you like it styled,” she asked me, dancing a bit to the music blaring out of a speaker somewhere above us. “I want it really short, but with a longer, sort of, swoop in the front – something I could perhaps tuck behind my ear, but still have the feeling of next to nothing on the back of my head.” She nodded like she knew, but 20 minutes later, my cheeks pink from the wine, I realized that she was giving me the old lady bob. “Um, I was hoping it would be short – like really, really short.” And she looked at me, paused, shifted her weight and said, “But you are a woman; that is a boy cut.”

I think I laughed.

“Yes, make it look like a boy cut then.”

She made several attempts – like Edward Scissorhands, hair dropped all around us, but she just couldn’t get it close to the head. Perhaps her own long hair kept her from seeing the beauty in being flexible, breaking down the barriers of what it means to be a woman, a beautiful woman, in this society. How does length of hair become genderized and normalized and perpetuated by those who think they are strong enough to smash through the bullshit? Well, it was that night. Her scissors were like the blades of the patriarch – they created me from the mold that sat on top of my head. I was restless; she looked tired from fighting the challenge in front of her. She undraped me, and sent me on my way.

Still, that night, I felt pretty darn good; I mean, my ‘do WAS finally off of my neck, and I WAS wearing a flannel, jeans, and a silly grin. A group of us went out, and I have to admit that I felt like I wanted to be wanted, and I wanted to want all in my path. It was like an internal game of tug-o-war where I didn’t want to be demure, but I also didn’t want to ogle and demand the women in our group to be protected by me. The stew of my analysis was already beginning to bubble on my stove. The next day, hung-over, and planted on a brown leather stool, I was getting it recut. I was once again asked “how would like it to be styled, and seeing as how my stylist and I already established that we were both gay, I blurted out, “Make it dykey, make it edgy.” Why couldn’t’ I say this to the woman who refused to get my cut closer than a bowl/bob cut? How does my internalized fear of being myself creep in to some situations, and not others? At the end of that session, hairs were super short -- an almost orgasmic feeling of freedom rising from my body as I ran my fingers through the next-to-nothing length.

Here’s the thing about making change, it can take minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, but it’s there. Real and tangible – and people love to comment on their own inhibitions based on your act of alteration. “Oh my gawd, I, like totally love your hair; I was going to do it too, but I just feel so connected to this length.” Or, “You are so brave.” Or, “Can you send a picture where you are smiling?” (Ok, that one was because I was only taking pictures of myself where I had that pouty model look of desperation/uber sexy). For the most part, I nod and smile, and for the first couple of days I came up with witty responds, such as “What? You mean my hair looks shorter without the wig?” I like that place – somewhere between obnoxious confidence and unnoticeable ego. It’s a slight line – ebbing and flowing, my radar teeters.

There are a number of things that happened to me in the last 18 months, one of which was the realization that I easily fall in love with people who may be a great connection, but of whom I may be better suited to ask the question, “do I want to be with them, or do I want to be them?” Again, a fine line that takes courage to disentangle. Part of that realization was that perhaps I am sort of 60 - 40 on masculine versus feminine identity. Funny how showing neck and ear skin can bump that number higher on days when it matches both my outer fashion, and my inner style where with my legs casually apart, I watch a mysteriously stunning woman from across the room – eyebrows furrowed, she reads and ponders, back straight, chest out, just absolutely beautiful in all that she exudes, and I think how I am not like her. I am not that creature. Yet, having the privilege to move through my day and recognize that I can ebb and flow is a gift, and I know that. I know that I look exactly who I feel like: a dykey, edgy woman who is comfortable in a dress, but only if I am wearing high-top Chucks, and who would rather play Scrabble over football, eat salad instead of a steak, and who simply cannot stop flirting and strutting like the men in black and white films who wore fancy hats and a boyish grin.

It’s nothing really. It’s just a haircut. But it feels like another layer of my cocoon being stripped away, closer and closer to a center in which will metamorphosis into a butterfly.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

All gender restrooms are where it's at.

A group of cohorts and I are working on creating an all-gender restroom at Columbia University's School of Social Work, where I am in my second year of graduate school. Of the 11 floors, there are no multi-stall, all-gender restroom where people can feel safe. Some may argue that the single stall facilities should be adequate enough, but how marginalizing is it to have to hide one's self away if one simply wants to be themselves, and pee in peace? Breaking down the boundaries of what a person has to look like to use a woman or man's restroom is something that should be smashed.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Gender manifestations: not on the binary

What does it really mean to act like a man, or to act like a woman? Are we constantly adopting to gender expectations that society places upon our bodies, voice, mannerism, clothing and relational connections, or is it an innate persona that shines through based on the anatomy that we have between our legs. For most, it is that reasoning. For others, the binary is blasted out of the water through example and reasoning in which exemplify the disillusion and unrealistic commands of our world; people are not THIS or THAT, instead individuals adopt their own perceptions and lie on a continuum of manifestations that is constantly evolving.

The Marshall School of Business, located within the University of Southern California, found interesting resultsfrom a research study looking at the ways people change their gender expression during job interviews to appear either more masculine if presenting as a biological woman, or more feminine if presenting as a biological male.

“In the study, women who were motivated to make a positive impression, perhaps in an effort to refute the stereotype that they are weak or ineffective negotiators, advocated more strongly for their own interests. In contrast, men who were motivated to make a positive impression, perhaps in an effort to refute the stereotype that they are overly aggressive, yielded to the demands of the other side.”

The result of the study: men take an economic hit, and women take a relationship hit. Their recommendation, “Our recommendation is that the more negotiators of both sexes are conscious of dynamics affecting negotiation, the more planning or practicing they can and should do.”

The real result: Sexism and gender marginalization are still very real in the society’s workplace. What’s more, it appears that people, in general, operate in a dualistic fashion where the complete opposite is acted upon. Perhaps we all need some lessons on the continuum – find understanding and acceptance in the grey area.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

My Experience With Armpit Hair

There have been an interesting string of events that have taken place since I ditched the razor. Well, I guess I didn’t ditch it completely; I just stopped using it above my hipbone. It started with a dare, of sorts. I should start from the beginning.

It was a sunny morning in the Midwest, and I lay on my friend’s backyard hammock. The breeze was just light enough to keep my sweat from dripping, but it was not enough to alleviate the sweat. “You need a test of conformity,” she said; “perhaps you should not shave your armpits until I see you again.” That’s seven weeks I thought, and that is a long time for my underarms to go without a sharp blade slicing into its sensitive flesh. “Sure,” I said. Why? Well I thought I knew exactly who I was: a strong woman with no ego; I am a feminist who touts my SELF as my own – to do with as I please; and in some ways I was comfortable because not shaving may fall in to a stereotypical category in which I already pridefully and passionately place upon myself: gay. These are silly generalizations, but as the days turned into weeks, my hair’s length began to match that of my awareness of gender.

My confidence was through the roof, and I wonder now if it is because I was subconsciously discovering/holding on to a masculine trait of feeling positive about my role in the world. Choosing to go against the grain was brave, and that is masculine, right? Maybe not, but, I decided to be real with a lot of folks in my life. If I could be brave in my own world, perhaps others could be brave in my world too. So, um, yeah. Armpits don’t emit any special potion that protect, and needless to say, I was rejected here and there on a multitude of issues based on my need to be free from my own set-up boundaries, constrictions and conformity. Still, I was determined to keep my “locks” (ew, can I call armpit hair such a thing?).

One of the first couple of days that I was back from the safety of the hammock, I was at the pool with my nephew. It was unbearably hot – like the sun-is-right-here-on-your-neck type of hot. They were there when I arrived. Two women – whom my queerdar picked up as family – strolled over to the edge of the city pool where I was diving, flipping and laughing in the deep, cooling water. My armpits had been consciously on my mind these days. I knew when to hide ‘em. In fact, I can’t believe how often my elbows jabbed in to my sides – as if to remind me to not lift my arms too high – we wouldn’t want to show the world that I am a woman who doesn’t conform to standards. Somewhere in the back of my heat-dazed head I decided that these women might find it sexy that not only am I wearing a white bathing suit with rainbow hearts, but they would also realize that I am interested in them because I have armpit hair (seeing the stereotype of this type of hair). So I propped my arms up on the ledge adjacent to their legs and proudly rocked my stubble. I’m pretty sure they never looked at me. And if they did, what type of weirdo checks out their possible date’s pits? Perhaps it wasn’t long enough yet.

It was finally noticeable on a day where I was not quite as puffed up as the day at the pool. It was the first day at the mural site, and I was the only woman. I had on my painting gear, ready to get dirty, and my hair was swept up into a bun, and held together by my pen. That morning I noticed the dark mass under my arms, growing (too close for comfort) next to my sports bra. With a wince and a crinkle of my nose I hopped on my bike and headed out to the neighborhood where the mural wall needed pointed, primed and landscaped. The guys at the site were dope: super funny and very masculine in that they wore long shorts, Timberland boots and either A-line tanks or crisp white t’s. First thing we had to do was put the scaffolding together, which means a lot of heavy lifting, and holding up the metal pieces. It also means exposing the world to my armpits. I noticed them noticing, and I thought, well, already they think I am not a “girly-girl” because I was working on such a hard job – and in fact one of the guys asked me if I am the male in my intimate relationships (no, you idiot, gay relationships don’t have to mirror your heterosexual ways…) – and maybe this would work to my favor because they will give me the benefit of the doubt that I can indeed lift and work hard. Because I can. Instantaneously I was in charge of things; pointing out where to place the metal sides, calling out for more mortar to be mixed. My demands were intermixed with stories told by my fellow workers that were littered with misogynistic words. They talked about music and hollered at ladies walking by in their summer ‘fits. Usually men apologize to me in these situations; “oh, sorry Bonnie, no disrespect, but…” Nothing like that was ever said. I felt truly accepted by them, and I dug that. I wondered on my way home if it had anything to do with the hair growing under my (now dirty) arms.

The next day, I rode my bike the five miles to the center of town, and waited for the early morning bus to drop me off at the site. A guy about my age walked by a few times, and then stopped. “What’s that pin mean,” he asked while pointing to my rainbow pin on book bag strap. It says “Celebrate Diversity.” It was silent for a moment as I gave him that look that says, come on now, you know what a rainbow flag symbolizes. “So, are you, like, a lesbian?” he sputtered. “Yes.” Yes I am buddy. “So, have you ever been with guys? I mean, do you have guys trying to turn you, like how I am doing now?”

Oh goodness, I thought. Seriously? So I lifted my arms and fixed my hair, armpit hair practically stabbing him in the eye. The magical powers still didn’t work. He was still standing there.

“Well,” I tell him, “I usually don’t wear work clothes covered in paint like this, so yes, when I am wearing my usual flowing dresses, I get mistaken all of the time for a straight woman.” I knew I would either have to be rude or educate so I chose the latter. “You may not realize it, but women are so conditioned in our world to be a princess and to marry a prince that coming out is a later-in-life practice among many queer folks.” He nodded. The bus came at that moment, and, of course, we were going in the same direction. He sat next to me, and told me about his job as a barber, and then he asked the most insane thing a person on public transportation has ever asked: “Ok, I will make you a deal; You get with me, and I will get with another man.” What in the world is this crazy dude’s problem? Here I am being nice and then he drops some weirdo sex stuff on me. I tried to laugh it off.

“Ha, um, yeah, not interested in that.” My social work skills jumped the gun (I should have just put my ipod back in my ear canals): “Have you ever been with a man?” I asked. He was silent for a moment and I could tell that he had never really talked about this before. Perhaps his ignorance was mistaken; he may be trying to reach out. He told me that before he went to prison for five years he had sex with “a he-she”… “Sorry, you mean a transgender person?” He looked at his shoes, and muttered, “Yeah, that’s it.” “Ok. Well, have you met anyone recently?” “No, I don’t go to those type of bars,” he said, still not looking up at me. I noticed then that he was the type of person who, like me, is often spotted as straight. He wore Dickies, new sneakers, a crisp t-shirt. He was covered in tattoos and had a cool-guy demeanor. I was happy to have the conversation now because he may be reaching out. I now wish I had been less consumed with flashing my pits, and, instead, more mindful of his real intentions. But, alas, we parted ways on the desolate streets of Carnegie.

I could seriously go on for pages here about all of the men who approached me during the week I worked on the job site. One person commented on my outfit (“You gonna paint in that; you don’t want to get messed up”). One person touched my hands (I didn’t give him permission to do so) and said I clearly didn’t do this type of job for a living. I got a grip of business cards from folks whose services I didn’t need, but who decided to waltz up to me as I rolled the super bright white paint on the walls. Madness I tell you. And the freakin’ armpits were doing nothing for me. I didn’t care about the hair, and no one else seemed to care. In fact, they seemed to be a magnet for men, and I don’t swing that way.

On July 26th, a mere 12 days since the dare, I shaved it off. It was about 7 in the morning and I was in the bathroom staring at myself in the early morning light. It took a split second, but I grabbed the razor, splashed some water on my pits, and got rid of it all. A slight sting of “good job Bonnie, you couldn’t make it even a month” rushed over me, but then it was gone. I realized that I am ok with being me, and if that means shaving and conforming, then so be it. If it means breaking down stereotypes while sometimes contradicting myself, then that’s my role. I still got treated the same way that I get treated when I don a skirt.

The day I shaved my armpits I worked so incredibly hard at the site. I was with the kids, I primed the wall, I did landscaping, I pressure washed the adjacent, moldy walls. I was filthy. I came home beat. My folks were down the street at their local hangout. I needed to collect my head for a moment. Purple dress, black flats, my hair clean and smelling good, and my armpits gleaming in all of their naked beauty, I walked in to the bar. “Yuengling draft,” I ordered. It wasn’t long until a local guy told my mom that her daughter was beautiful, and that he just broke up with his wife. He was going on and on. I drown the conversation out; I was too interested in my pint and the extreme fighting that was on TV. Two women, one from South Dakota and one from Brazil, were interlocked in move after move on the bloody mat. People in the bar were amazed at these “girls” who were being aggressive. They would never make the same comments if the two women were, instead, two men. My mom looked at me. “Should I tell him, or do you want to?” He noticed and said, “tell me what?” I looked at him square in the eye, and after a week of these types of approaches, I flatly and loudly said, “That I am gay.” He stood back, and looked shocked. “What, you think I’m gay?” So now he thinks that being gay is an insult, and, besides, that is not what I said. “Now (you jerk), I am gay.” He smiled. “Oh, well, that makes it even better; that’s totally hot.” Oh how I wish I had saved the shavings and sprinkled them in his Coors Light draft sweating on the counter top.

Instead I simply turned my head and watched a woman beat the crap out of another woman.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Her/Himselves vs. Themselves

Facebook is adding a new layer to its identifiers: a gender portion of the profile. The idea is that the mini-feeds and news-feeds will now appropriately describe the users movements. Meaning, instead of saying, "Jane Doe tagged themselves in a photo," it will now say "Jane Doe tagged herself in a photo."

And while this may be practical for searching or organizing, Facebook creators understand that folks who fall outside of the gender binary may want to opt out of the dichotomous setting.

"We've received pushback in the past from groups that find the male-female distinction too limiting," Gleit's post explained. "We have a lot of respect for these communities, which is why it will still be possible to remove gender entirely from your account."

It is a good thing that a massive social site is being so mindful of people's identities, but I wonder if by allowing members to opt out the new tagging mechanism, is it also perpetuating marginalization because now folks who chose "themselves" will be noted as someone who may not identify as someone under the limiting umbrella of Facebook's gender labels.

Perhaps progressives can silently protest the new twist on the markers by opting out of the gender binary, no matter where they fall on the continuum.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Quick Hit: GENDA Passes in NY

Joining a dozen other states, New York's powers-that-be agreed with gender identity advocates in the recognition of the necessity for an anti-discrimination bill for folks who fall outside of the gender binary.

The GENDA bill will pose as the legislative leg for folks to stand on if they are discriminated against when applying for employment, housing, credit lines and public accommodations, according to articles written about the June 3rd passing of the bill.

For many reasons, including anti-bullying measures and protection for transgender individuals, GENDA is a milestone in that governmental bodies are looking for ways to curb the status quo by reaching further in to the gray area of the continuum.

That beings said, some pundits have opposed the passing of the bill because many feel that criminalizing perpetuators of stereotypes is not always the best solution. Why make a law to force people to be nice to one another. Unfortunately, society needs guidelines to eliminate the, often nasty and violent, biases that the current hierarchy persists on maintaining.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Blatant sexism.

This is a great example of how news pundits perpetuate sexism via slams against women who are governmental representatives, journalists, authors, and the like.

And while much of these comments were made on Fox, a station that is notorious for being, um, less than politically correct, tears of frustration, anger, fear and overwhelming sadness crept up while watching this. Knowing that women are still not respected is a reason to fight the good fight, but it also reminds me of the very real work that needs to be done.

Even though I am a supporter and fan of Obama, I hate that non-supporters of Rodham-Clinton may be against her because "she sounds like your first nagging wife." And that she is "only in the senate because she husband messed around." Where would we be if she was a gay woman? Would she even be in the race at all? I doubt it. Behind every ball-breaking joke, is the reality that at the end of the day she goes home to a man, and (apparently) for some folks that was the only thing keeping her afloat in this world.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Homophobic Antics.

It's getting a little tiring to hear of people who are homophobic bigots, and it's also tiring to hear of people who think these bigots don’t exist.

With the turn of the tide in California, where gay folks can now be legally married, a slew of pundits have risen to the surface. Much of it is so gross that I just stare at the videos and try not to cry. How much work we have, but what message do we have to convey in order to shake the naysayers?

The talk show Ellen had John McCain on the other day and the message was humanity. She asked him to see that we are all just people at the core, and similar to the marginalization of black people and women in this country, there has to be a time where we recognize this humanity – even if the proposal for change appears on paper; meaning while the Civil Rights era proved successful legislatively, reality does not always reflect the ant-discrimination laws that were drafted and enacted. McCain’s answer is just so mind-blowingly sad because he totally dehumanizes queer folks, while attesting to such an unfair ideology:

“I think that people should be able to enter in to legal agreements, and I think that is something that we should encourage, particularly in the case with insurance, and other areas. Um, decisions that have to be made. I just believe in the unique status of marriage between man and woman.”

In another California-related incident, in which Hollywood star Lindsey Lohan has been spotted holding hands with her gay DJ friend, the New York Post decided that it be OK to include homophobic antics in the article’s title: “Lindsey to Sam: Les Be Friends.”

Seriously? A reputable paper is really going to perpetuate such grossness? Clearly, as noted in the web site’s reader comments, lesbian women are still seen as a product of a male desire. Post after post asks Lohan, “Damn Lindsey, that sexy bod and you get a dyke like that? Come on! Give us some better candy to look at!”

Women making out? Must be for men. People getting married? Must be soley in support of the patriarchal economic design of our country. Not love. Not natural attraction. Nope. Only for attention and for the reasons such as insurance and sexiness.

Come on.

These are just two examples of hundreds, if not thousands of homophobic misogynistic stories that infiltrate our media. On the one hand I think that it is important to show because society at large gets the chance to disentangle the difference between real life and societal expectations. However, at the end of the day the sting felt by comments made by these folks seriously effect and, sometimes damage, those who are absorbing these messages. Queer folks across the world may continue to wonder what is wrong with them for wanting to take an oath of love with their same-sex partner, or if (for example) they are a pretty enough lesbian.

Allies and queer communities need to continue to rise up and fight this madness, remind the mainstream media that it is not ok. Do it. Right now.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Queer Assimilation

Sex and the City Star Cynthia Nixon, who plays Miranda on the show, was recently interviewed in the New York Times. Not only was the title of the interview unnerving ("Chick Crit"), the questions surrounding Nixon's relationship with a woman were equally offensive; I mean how many f'd up perpetuations about same-sex couples having to assimulate to heteronormative standards can they fit in to one article?

A few years ago, you moved in with a woman, after leaving the father of your children. Do you find it easier living with a woman than a man because you have more in common?I think you do have more in common.

You can use the same bathroom in movie theaters, for instance.That’s absolutely true!

Can you share clothes?No. Christine doesn’t wear women’s clothes; she only wears men’s clothes. She won’t even wear any kind of women’s shoes. I bought her a pair of cowboy boots that were from the women’s department, and she was like, “Don’t do this again.”

Does she watch sports on TV?She does. We don’t have a TV. But when there was a World Cup, we went to the local Ruby Foo’s and watched it. And we actually did watch the Super Bowl as well. She tried to explain it to me.

Do you think of her as the male figure in the relationship?No, I don’t at all. Look at what’s happening now. She’s at home with the kids, and I’m the one out pounding the pavement. . . . She’s for Hillary, and I’m for Obama.

Outraged I composed a letter (in the confines of their 150-word limit) to the editor at the New York Times:

To Whom It May Concern:
It was with awe that I read Deborah Solomon’s “Chick Crit,” as it not only began with such a gross label (women are not baby birds), but it encouraged stereotypes of same-sex relationships.

The author asks a series of questions that diminish the reality of queer couplehood; I mean really, does the writer believe that two women occupy one another’s space and hearts only because they can share a bathroom or shoes? And upon mentioning Ms. Nixon’s partner’s affinity for less-demure clothing, Solomon makes further assumptions about watching sports and being the male in the relationship. This is not only unfair journalism, it is also a glimpse into the world of homophobia, one in which includes the consistent need to force people to assimilate to the heteronormative standards of society.

Contrary to such belief, straight and queer individuals fall on the continuum of identities. The NYT should be challenging the gender binary, not perpetuating it.

Cartoons are more than just entertainment

Perhaps kids watch to much television these days, but one has to question whether or not it is truly a mind-numbing activity; and decide how many stereotypes are perpetuated daily.

A recent study found that while many girls watching cartoons, the lead characters in the shows are males, 2 to 1, which effects both girls and boy viewers because the characters punch up the expected norms that society would like to continue.

The female characters, when presented, were found to be oversexualized, and fall in to three categories:
1. Daydreamers: Have no goals, and want to be romantically swept away.
2. Derailed: Have goals but get romantically swept away and never return to goals.
3. Daredevils: Have goals and ambitions, not willing to let romance derail them.

What’s especially interesting is that while many characters have been designed through a socially conscious lens – the article’s writer points out Fiona from “Shrek” – research shows that animators still cannot throw a female character in to a slapstick skit (think Wile Coyote) because females getting run over would simply not be funny to much of the viewers. Nor would most viewers believe it if a "regular looking" girl were a hero (currently this only happens if the female character is masculine or if she is portrayed as a nerd). This is not to say that I suggest females start getting injured, but by leveling the playing field we have the opportunity to see girls and boys as realistic, as opposed to this fantasy of perfection.

Why is it ok for men to be the only one to be able to take on the role of hero, while they must also take on the role of stupidity? This alone may have serious affects on the way that boys grow up, and it also affects the ways in which girls view themselves (can they be a hero if they are not boys) and how they view the opposite sex.

Because there is double the number of male characters flashing across the screen, girls subconsciously take note of these ideas, while boys may not even compare themselves with the female characters unless she is a “tomboy.”

The article points to the historically all-male creators behind these shows when explaining where the disparity began. As more women made headway in the field, more well-rounded female characters began showing up. Still, the numbers are lacking:

Her report shows that, as of 2004, only 18% of WGA-employed film writers and only 27% of TV writers were women. In 2006, female membership in the Animation Guild was only 17.3%, and of these only 8% were producers, 14.9% directors and 10.8% writers. "Maybe the answer is that for change to occur even more women are needed in the creative process where key decision-making occurs at the pitch and story development level," writes Smith.

Or, as she writes in the introduction: "Clearly, along the entire creative and marketing process, participants can develop, design and engage in practical solutions to the problem of gender under-representation aimed at children. As balance and portrayals improve, children now, and the next generation of children, will be the winners. They will be exposed to entertainment in which females take up half the space and both females and males are active, diverse and complex."

And while they have a good point, it should only be up to females to break in to the world of animation, the men who are already there have the opportunity to jump in to the movement as well. Everyone suffers if collaboration is not met.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The View has a narrow view

The View is not a show regularly tuned in to my radar, but it was on today at work and I caught a moment about the latest media craze: a trans man who is pregnant. With the exception of View co-host Whoopie Goldberg, the panel made the hairs on my arms stand up.

One View member, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, said [paraphrase warning...] that "if the parents are confused, then the child will be confused." Another one chimed in, "Yeah, first you want to be a man, and then you want to be a woman. You have to choose one side of the fence or the other."

No. Actually. You don't. That is why this story is both amazing -- because we are able to realize that not everyone fits neatly into society’s construction of the gender binary -- and it is also detrimental because we see that folks are still able to actively perpetuate isms through powerful tools such as the media.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the audience ripped and roared in appreciation of the above-mentioned comments, while only giving a mere golf-clap when Whoopie expressed her excitement for coverage that is "tackling unchartered waters."

And of course I sat in the subacute nursing rehab cafeteria awe-faced and disgusted.

Here the View makes other gross remarks, only this time in regards to trans kids:

Religious roles in identification

Labels and their perpetuations are a constant theme that should continue to be looked at through the lens of equality, social justice and advocacy. The perceived definition of a person or their identification appears to get in the way of resource allocation and coping mechanisms.

Some of those labels are perpetuated in religion institutions. As discussed in previous writings, the idea of dual stigma is one that needs specific attention because not only are queer people facing marginalization from the hetero world, a queer religious person is further seen as somewhat atypical and therefore are often silenced and further ostracized. Those who are already marginalized in society, such as the black community, may be less inclined to accept those who are queer because many may feel they have to fight off the white majority by presenting a positive and normative front (which is defined and perpetuated by heterosexual white men). And if the powers-that-be perpetuate a world where heterosexuality is the norm (for what ever reason: economic, religious, etc), making the act of silencing and ostracization a normative action against LGBT individuals, means that the hetero status quo is not disrupted. Melendez and LaSala state the silencing as a “purposeful attempt to reduce contact based on the knowledge that when people have personal contact with those from other races, ethnicities, or sexual orientations, their prejudices diminish and their tolerance increases,” as Melendez and LaSala state.

That being said, one of the few places one can feel like themselves may be inside of a building of worship – a place where they feel accepted as humans and not subjected to the isms that individuals face in daily life. That sentiment unfortunately is not true for those identifying as LGBT.

Robert Miller’s article, “Legacy Denied: African American Gay Men, AIDS, and the Black Church,” points out the hole left not only because one is shunned, but also because they now do not have a place to form spiritual relationships. As a person who is not religious, and not theologically educated, the idea of ostracizing a person is strange to me because the underlying message of religion seems to often circle around the idea of being good, fair and just humans who strive to live together in one world. Miller’s article states that many believers and participants of religious sects interpret certain scripture passages as messages that back up homophobia.

What is upsetting is that research shows that “religious participantion offers additional benefits for most members [such as] positive health benefits, emotional and psychological support during crisis moments, and increased life satisfaction,” yet people can not participate because being gay casts them aside. More, Millar points out that religious centers are often like family, and just imaging losing those closest to an individual based on their sexual orientation is hard to swallow. That being said, clergy can not take coping mechanisms and resiliency away from people.

For example, some folks may not attend the physical church, but still find ways to incorporate god in to their lives by using a different lens to interpret the biblical words (there are, apparently, no specific lines in the bible saying that being gay is wrong, but it has been interpreted as such in many churches). Miller writes, “over time an increasing number left their churches; they felt capable of leaving because they believed the homophobic sermons inaccurately described how god felt about them.” The torah’s words are more explicit in that they clearly denounce gay men: Naomi Grossman’s article, “The Gay Orthodox Underground” points to Jewish texts that state, “if a man lies with a male as one lies with a woman, the two of them have done an abhorrent thing; they shall be put to death – their bloodguilt is upon them.”

Still, people are moving away from the ostricization by joining support networks and altering from a sin, to seeing gayness as a “test from god,” as stated in Grossman’s article: “Just as there are people born with disabilities and disadvantages, and these are all ordained by god to deal with and overcome, homosexuality is no different.”

The ability of people to willingly alter their faith’s foundation to incorporate other viewpoints is extremely positive, and focuses on an area of queer life that is often undercut by the multitude of negative issues: LGBT individuals can use the strength perspective to maneuver through life. Moreover, social workers, or others who are in helping professions, can use these strengths to affirm LGBT communities.

However, one can only really highlight strengths if they have a historical understanding of the ways ideals such as religion has created and perpetuated certain biases and prejudices in social and legal arenas. Another way social workers, and the like, can positively guide marginalized individuals is by eliciting the strengths of collateral contacts, such as the parents of the gay men highlighted in Michelle Lee and Robert Lee’s research article, “The Voices of Accepting and Supportive Parents of gay Sons: Towards an Ecosystems strengths Model.”

A sense of community and family, however defined, seems to be an integral part self appreciation and sound mental and physical health among LGBT individuals. In the Lee and Lee article, parents of men who came out seem to have recognized the importance of this, and have accepted their children. For both the gay men and the parents, being resilient in the face of a hetero society (that typically marginalizes queer people) serves as a model for future individuals who will come out at some point. It may also serve as a model of family structure normalcy, which breaks down the stereotype that queer people can not have positive and healthy family relationships. One parent in the Lee and Lee article pointed out the ways society have marginalized their children, and how it hurts to know that a family member could ever be in pain because of ostracization: “Quite honestly, this isn’t something you would wish for one your children. I think it was a very lonely place for him to be and for him to worry about having to hide such a basic part of himself. It makes me sad to think about all of those years that he went through that.” And while some of the parents interviewed had difficulty coming to terms with having a queer child, not letting their own struggles get in the way of the struggle their child was going through.

In fact, most of the parents went beyond just making their own child comfortable; according to the article, they also wrote letters to the editors, signed petitions against inclusive legislation, and the like, to ensure that other parent’s children did not suffer. Cathy Resmer writes about another parent who helped her child come out in her newspaper article “From Daughter to Son.” Again, we see a mother who as a “fiercely protective and supportive” advocate for trans people lobbied for hormones, surgeries, inclusion in the local school, in addition to accompanying him to support groups, and defending him in “a world where his unconventional identity puts him at the mercy of other’s prejudice.”

The realization that some parents were so supportive that they step way beyond a head nod of approval makes me somewhat jealous, as I do not believe that my mother went straight to the PFLAG web site and made a donation. My queer friends’ parents mirrored my own; they are accepting but not necessarily proactive. Still, as Lee and Lee point out, having any acceptance has enabled my relationship with my mom to be strong because I know that not only am I faced with a struggle in a heteronomative world, she must also struggle each time a person asks her when her middle child is going to get married to a special man and have children. Knowing that she has to pause and decide how to answer makes me cognizant of her role in the LGBT community.

Again, as noted in the beginning of this post, if people stop at labels, then they may be less inclined to break away from the misconceptions that come along with lumping all people under any identifying umbrella; this goes for LGBT individuals, as well as society at large.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

On sexual progression

On Sunday I had the pleasure of attending a performance of Spring Awakening, a musical adaptation from a book written in the early 1900s. The plot stems from a place and time when sexual prowlness was taboo, disgusted and made out to be an unnatural desire. Young people going through puberty sang and danced to the beat of their lustful hearts, while the adults scolded them for being, um, human.

Flash forward nearly 100 years, and we find that not only is sexuality still seen as perverse, it is also a constant contradiction. On the one hand we see media creating an ideal of youthful sexual attraction, while on the other hand, those who take part in the perpetuation are demonized and ostracized. We are in a fog of enticement, yet cannot actually take part in the naturalness of engaging in sex.

A perfect example is that of New York Senator Eliot Spitzer who recently resigned over his engagement in sexual activities. Have we not progressed at all since the early 1900s? Apparently not, as pundit after pundit rips to shreds anyone who delineates from the country’s Puritanical and Christian value-laden foundation.

This video blog sums it up best:

Monday, March 10, 2008

Gender and violence

My Working With LGBT class put LGBT folks in to the social work perspective: the idea that an individual resides within their social, political and familial environments. Looking at the specifics of “Violence in gay and lesbian relationships,” the title of Christopher Alexander’s article, 25 to 50 percent of same-sex relationships have incidence of domestic violence, yet society is not adequately dealing with it because it is not adopting this person-in-environment approach where gender roles place a hierarchy in the relationship. In particular, I found it useful when looking at lesbian domestic violence victims, a population whose very sex puts them into an imaginary box because women are not seen as aggressors.

Emily Simpson and Christine Helfrich’s article, “Lesbian Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence: Provider Perspectives on Barriers to Accessing Services,” breaks down the barriers into three areas: systematic (which are often cultural), institutionalized (which include policy and vocabulary), and individual (which include clients, therapists, and every one in between). I think it is really important to break down huge issues, in this case homophobic responses, into pragmatic solution because it seems to be too much for most people to simply say, “let’s change.” Society needs a road map in which to follow, and pointing out these barriers seems to do that. At the helm of the research seems to be the way that gender roles affect societal, institutional and individual arenas. If at any level a woman is seen as demure, and not capable of being in power, their struggles will go unnoticed, or perhaps even worse, noticed but not taken seriously.

As a feminist who is dedicated to the eradication of the gender binary, I found Simpson & Helfrich’s interpretation of the movement to be interesting. They seem to blame the feminist movement as it has placed much of the abuse on the patriarch because feminist theory says it is the male-dominated society that perpetuates violence on women. Therefore, many feminists don’t touch on lesbian partnered abuse because it is two women, as opposed to a man maintaining his position of power through abuse against his woman. I think this theory can still be applied, as women most certainly find a way to be powerful by adopting these traditionally masculine gender roles – be it emulation or innate. Meaning, a biological man or woman has the ability to take out their aggression, and to be leaders by way of violence; actions that are often placed under the male (masculine) role; and therefore treatment and interventions for same-sex domestic violent abusers and victims can still be addressed through a feminist framework because it all boils down to gender role expectation.

I always felt that a large factor among men who beat up on the women in their lives includes that of gender role discomfort and anger because they don’t want to always have to be expected to make decisions, have economic power, or other responsibilities that come with being a male in our culture. Sure, they get to hold the ruling title in the patriarch, but not all men want this constant obligation to be aggressive. The same may go for a woman who may resist the societal expectation of submissiveness by taking out her aggression on her partner, and thereby adopting a traditionally male role of abuser. How we determine where a woman abuser is getting these roles, and then interpreting them, can be found by assessing their environment. And what researchers appear to see most often is that the gender binary causes victims to not get the appropriate treatment and intervention because gender identification is an oppression in our society.

Steven Onken defines oppression in his article, “Violence and Social Injustice Against Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People,” as “the act of molding, immobilizing, or reducing opportunities which thereby restrains, restricts or prevents social, psychological, and/or economic movement of an individual or group.” This oppression, Onken points out, is maintained by the powers-that-be, and in the case of DV agencies, those folks include all levels of aid who do not recognize the way gender role expectation effects victims and abusers (such as placing women abusers with other women, reducing the reality of the abuse because females are non-violent; not having appropriate resources addressing gay DV specifically, etc).

Why do these expectations exist?

There may be a plethora of reasons, but I often resort back to the capitalist foundation of our country that basically says that stability equals money, and therefore a man should be stabilized as masculine, and women should be stabilized as feminine. “Gender is one of the most effective means of social control; from birth we are encultured into a dual gender system, reinforced by all the major institutions,” as Onken states.

Of course, in our culture, heterosexism creates the gender roles, which thereby perpetuates the invisibility of LGBT victims because it defines relationships norms, in which a man is basically “allowed” to have (physical) power over the women in their lives. Emily Pitt and Diane Dolan-Soto’s article, “Clinical Considerations in Working with Victims of Same-Sex Domestic Violence,” highlights the way society uses “heterosexual roles to normalize abuse and shame partners for same sex and same sex desires.” More importantly, perhaps, gender roles are not always easy to distinguish in couple relationships such as, say between two traditionally feminine-looking lesbians, and as Pitt and Dolan-Soto state, if a person “identifies as a victim or abuser, it is important to recognize that her representation may not be necessarily accurate; [they] do not follow the same gender role behavior as heterosexual relationships.”

Instead, folks in the three barrier areas: societal, institutional and individual, do something that needs to stop: they make assumptions.

We rely so often on labels in order to quickly box people in, make a diagnosis, and then move on to the next person in line. A person’s biological sex or gender identification, then, are just one more way society capitalizes on being efficient and getting the job done. And it appears that labels go beyond just name-calling. In Joan Mclennen, et. al’s article, “Gay men’s domestic violence: Dynamics, help-seeking behaviors and correlates,” the idea of role-theory comes up, and explains the way people in a relationship take on their perceived role, based on society’s expectation, and can use it against one another to facilitate a domineering and violent partnership: “In this self-conceptualization, each gay partner’s status derives from his role in the partnership; [and] role conception influences both identity and behavior: enter[s] the structure of the self. When one partner is perceived by the other partner to have more status in the relationship, a power imbalance ensues.”

So, then, one can assume that if the media, et. al, create and perpetuate gender roles, there will continue to be partners who adopt one aggressive, and one submissive role, which causes a multitude of problems from drug abuse and domestic violence, to depression and suicide. Again, real issues that stem from a binary that is inconsistent with the real lives of humans. We are diverse, and limiting potential can lead to dire outcomes

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Political Safety Netting

The Occasional Rufus, a blog I read often, recently posted a piece about Larry King -- the young boy who was shot and killed in California because of his gender identification and sexual orientation -- in which he stated that politicians should not make statements on how they feel about hate crimes:

Do we really need candidates for any office to say this is wrong? Other than a select few nut-jobs out there, does anyong think this was OK? And would those nut-jobs give a damn if Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama -- candidates the people in question certainly aren't casting ballots for -- issued statements saying that it's not OK to kill a 15-year-old kid because he's gay?

Furthermore, doesn't it sound a little strange to say that? That it it's not OK to kill someone because of X, Y or Z? Would it have been any less offensive if King had been killed because he slept with the shooter's girlfriend? Should Clinton release a statement saying adultery is no exuse for murder? Does Obama need to say it's not OK to kill people because you want their money? Or because they're ugly? Or because they're in a rival gang?

What? As an advocate for social justice, I have to disagree because trickle down effects are real, and not having the head of a heteronormative country come out in full support of making our world safer, simply perpetuates hatred. More, Larry King was not shot because he was a "rival gang" member who was gay. The fact that he was not straight was not an afterthought for the person who pulled the trigger, who mind you was also a young kid and who no doubt adopted his homophobia from the macro forces in his life (i.e. the media, and political outlets). He sought his demise because of this hatred, this fear.

I responded:

"Do we really need candidates for any office to say this is wrong?"

I say YES.

Why? Because murder against an individual is one thing, but crime against a person who falls outside of the normalized culture is a social and institutional issue.

Being killed for having a non-heterosexual identification is not the same as sleeping "with the shooter's girlfriend." It's an absurd comparison because we are talking about a whole demographic that is being marginalized and eliminated because society cannot deal with folks who fall outside of the standards set up by this heteronormative, gender binary world.

Larry King was killed because our citizens and politicians don't help to foster a safe environment.

What people fail to realize is that it's not about forcing politicians, et. al, to change their moral fabric, or to take public stands on how they feel PERSONALLY, but rather, it should be about how to allocate more resources towards the freedom to identify as one pleases without fear of being marginalized, or in this case, sprayed with bullets.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Another young person killed because of conformity

A teenager in California was killed because the student not only came out to classmates, but also wore clothing and jewelry that was simply unacceptable to those who want boys to boys, and girls to be girls.

Since the horrific shooting, many pundits have spoken about the need to implement sound laws that will put these attackers in their place. And while I believe in consequence, I also think we should focus strongly on ideology:

“Safe schools laws and policies are vitally important, but simply having a law is not enough,” one respondent in the article said. “Schools need to implement staff development and trainings to address anti-LGBT bullying and harassment. Schools also need programs that teach young people respect and tolerance. Every student deserves to feel safe in school. We must take action and take responsibility for our inaction.”

Gender F'n

(Assignment completed for my Working With LGBT Clients Class):

I love “masculine” women. The walk, the talk, the dress, the personality. All of it. Mainly this attraction stems not from the traditional male role, but rather from the brevity one must endure as they do such things as taking the clippers to their head. In our patriarchal world women are meant to be calm, pretty, mothering, straight, and also strong willed. Creating the new categories of what a woman can be like is provocative – it’s hard work that I admire. Leslie Feinberg’s “Trans Liberation” piece talks about this courage: “I don’t think the point is why are we different? Why have we refused to walk of two narrow paths, but instead demanded the right to blaze our own? The question is not why we we’re unwilling to conform even when beaten to the ground by ridicule and brutality.” A very important question I think because that strength is one that should be modeled.

As a feminist I have molded myself in to this person who wants to eradicate gender roles – or at least the requirements men and women have placed on them if they want to be seen as normal in our society – because the barriers hide the true identity of all of us. We are not simply black or white – the gray in between is a continuum of color, blending, meshing, and creating new palettes with time. As much as I want to be self-assured, I have to step back and ask myself is this who I want to be. Is this what I want to look like?

On the one hand I would like to say that my own independence trumps society’s creation of what is normal, but then I wonder if I myself contribute to the perpetuation of conformity each time I shave my legs, wear a low-cut shirt, twirl my hair on my finger, or take part in other stereotypical interpretations of my gender. Do those markers make me feminine? What about the other times when I wear my sneakers to a club, wear a baseball hat, cheer on sports teams, goggle over beautiful women, and emit confidence? Do those markers make me masculine? It seems that as much as I try to depart from gender roles, the more I find myself doing stereotypical things to affirm them.

Newton’s search for the “right” role seems to be typical. Many lesbians I talk to think about these roles, and moreover, once they settle on an identification or representation, many work hard to keep it up. Newton points out how people fall into these roles because of the normalization of them in society – gay couples end up modeling heterosexual couples; where the concept of feminine and masculine are huge factors in the relationship hierarchy. She quotes a line from a documentary she watched that seems to describe this ongoing struggle to fit into labels that either we choose, or society places on us: “A woman not much taller than a fire hydrant tells the impartial camera how at first she had recoiled from joining an association of little people because ‘I was horrified when I saw them. I had to tell myself you don’t look like that.’ ”

If I put myself in to a category of femme then I compare myself to other femme lesbians…how do they walk, talk, dress; and how does that compare to me? Same goes with when I decide that I am just kind of gender neutral; I look at other neutral-looking lesbians and decide how I compare to their looks, personality, etc. Actually, just writing such a thing reminds me of the privilege I have to be able to maneuver through these identifications. I have the mind frame and desire to be on this continuum, which may make it easier for me to “pass” in the world – being a butch woman would limit this flexibility, I would imagine.

The same goes for trans people. Last week in class we talked about including transgender people within the context of sexual orientation, because we questioned the obvious: that gender is something that does not mean straight or gay. I believe after reading the “Trans Liberation” article by Feinberg, the idea of gender most certainly should be included because it plays such a large role in our sexual being. The gender binary effects all people – no matter straight or queer – and people run across all sexual orientations. Within sexual orientations are people who identify as male, female and many points in between. If sexual function and intimacy are important elements in normal human life, the way one represents themselves freely is crucial to healthy development.

So folks need to examine this, and advocate for the abolishment of gender oppression.

Barb Burdge’s “Bending Gender, Ending Gender” article explains the way social workers should advocate for this expression, and I agree because as noted in the beginning of this written assignment, I noted my own love and appreciation for people who fight off the masses in order to be who they want to be. Not being able to do this is oppressive, which is why it amazes me that the National Association for Social Workers does not have gender listed as a status that is oppressed. How could the founding doctrine of a profession that values “self-definition as a matter of self-determination ad social justice,” as stated in the Burdge article, not recognize the need to eliminate gender-based oppression?

Maybe this exists because of the ill-conceived notion that gender is something that is only “acted out” but not something that is real and ever present, such as noted in the Burdge article: “From this perspective, gender is a performance for which every person alters outward appearances to align with an internal sense of gender identity.” Esther Newton appears to negate this finding: “This masculinity, my masculinity, is not external; it permeates and animates me. Nor is it a masquerade. In my own home, when no one is present, I still sit with my legs carelessly flung apart.”

Newton points out that butches are “laughable to straight people," and I think this is because so many people are caught up in this idea that all relationships have to have one male and one female gender expression (which in the straight world means one man and one woman). They marginalize and oppress butches for this. Unfortunately many never stop to think whom it said that only biological women can be feminine and that only biological men can be masculine. Who wants to live like that, and really, is it even possible to be 100 percent all feminine or all masculine? I say no because current definitions of either gender identification means that a woman can basically never be assertive, have direction or goal, be confident, wear a cropped hairdo, etc. That would make this person robotic almost because I believe that humans require the need to lead AND to follow (which seem to identify both male and feminine trait).

Thus, I fully support and agree with Burdge’s call for gender advocacy: “We cannot end gender oppression by ignoring the inherent oppressiveness of the hierarchical gender binary. Social workers can work to disrupt the traditional gender binary and advocate for gender rights – the freedom to one’s authentic self.”

Friday, February 15, 2008

Heterosexual Questionaire

(This is a useful tool to show the other side of the coin...because LGBT folks are still being asked these type of questions:)

1. What do you think caused your heterosexuality?

2. When and how did you decide you were a heterosexual?

3. Is it possible that your heterosexuality is just a phase that you may grow out of?

4. Is it possible that your heterosexuality stems from a neurotic fear of others of the same sex?

5. If you have never slept with a person of the same sex, is it possible that all you need is a good gay lover?

6. Do your parents know that you are straight? Do your friends and/or roommates know?

7. Why do you insist on flaunting your heterosexuality? Can't you just be who you are and keep it quiet?

8. Why do heterosexuals place so much emphasis on sex?

9. Why do heterosexuals feel so compelled to introduce others to their lifestyle?

10. A disproportionate majority of child molesters are heterosexual. Do you consider it safe to expose children to heterosexual teachers?

11. Just what do men and women do in bed together? How can they truly know how to please each other, being so anatomically different?

12. With all the societal support marriage receives, the divorce rate is spiraling. Why are there so few stable relationships between heterosexuals?

13. Statistics show that lesbians have the lowest of sexually transmitted disease. Is it really safe for a woman to maintain a heterosexual lifestyle and run the risk of disease and pregnancy?

14. How can you expect to become a whole person if you limit yourself to compulsive, exclusive heterosexuality?

15. Considering the menace of overpopulation, how could the human race survive if everyone were heterosexual?

16. Could you trust a heterosexual therapist to be objective? Don't you feel that (s)he might be inclined to influence you in the direction of his/her own orientation?

17. There seem to be very few happy heterosexuals. Techniques have been developed that might enable you change if you really want to. Have you ever considered aversion therapy?

18. Would you want your child to be heterosexual, knowing the problems (s)he would face?


Sunday, February 10, 2008

On Class and Being Out

The who, what, where, when and why’s of the coming-out process is incredibly intense. It is different for each and every person. For some it may happen at a young age; other people may not utter a word until they are elderly, and still others may never really come out at all. No matter how it happens, a recent slew of articles for my Working With LGBT Clients class point out the sort of ever-going process that happens – each life stage seems to spark another need to muster up the courage to self-identify and take part in disclosure.

As a white gay woman I found these ethnic and cultural articles to be very interesting and thought provoking. The years leading up to my own coming-out discussions were not marked with the same fear that the articles’ authors allude to. I have to question why this is, and moreover, I need to recognize the privilege that I hold. My mom always taught me to be independent, and it always seemed as though economic stability meant more than maintaining familial or cultural traditions. Thinking back, it seems that my siblings and I didn’t have much pressure at all to relegate our motives or actions towards the satisfaction of our family. Often the leader of my friends, the one to question my role in society, a feminist, and a lover of all, I was able to process my connection to my sexual identification in a very independent way. One article author, Althea Smith, points out how the established coming-out process is a white, middle-class ideal, that picks on people who do “not make public pronouncements about their sexual orientation, [and who are then] presumed to be negative and less then healthy psychologically and [are] characterized by negative terms such as hiding, being in the closet and being closeted [if they don’t come out].” I realize that I don’t feel I have to “hide” because I have the color of my skin to protect me (although having a vagina takes away some of the protections that a white gay man may have), and this privilege gives me more freedom to unveil my identification to the world.

Even my role models are a privilege, because while there is not enough LGBT representation in the media via TV shows, general news articles, film, etc, the ones that are have been white. And this is important because Smith notes that “some of the common themes and feelings [those who are struggling with identification] may bring up in therapy include guilt about sexual attraction to members of the same sex; self-hatred; depressive affect or suicidal ideation; rejection from the family; alienation, and difficulty in interpersonal relationships because of mistrust and suspicion, and the realistic need to be careful about what is disclosed to whom.” If my middle-class, non-religious, non-cultural, capitalistic family focuses more on being successful and paying the bills, then I have to realize that as a child I could watch a show such as “Ellen” and see myself, and therefore not focus on a fear about what everyone would say if/when I finally piped up about my identification.

Contrasting this to a black male who may or may not come out to the world as identification other than heterosexual, my privilege is once again highlighted. Benoit Denizet-Lewis’s article about the Down Low points out the ways race identification trumps sexual identification because in a world where racism is still very much in the forefront of marginalization and oppression, black men have a cultural obligation to be straight. He writes, “Most DL men identify themselves not as gay or bisexual but first and foremost as black. To them, as to many blacks, that equates to being inherently masculine.” Moreover, the societal pressure to conform to the “norm” is heightened because not being white means a constant struggle to overcome stereotypes. “If you’re white, you can come out as an openly gay skier or actor or whatever. It might hurt you some, but it’s not like if you’re black and gay because then it’s like you’ve let down the whole black community, black women, black history, black pride.”

My individual culture and history does not mirror this. That is not to say that my family’s legacy is not important to perpetuate, and being a lesbian may make it a bit more difficult to carry on our name, and that it wasn’t damn hard to find the strength to come out to my family and friends, but still I feel like my coming-out was made easier because I felt sure that I could be alleviated of the society’s normalcy to be straight. That being said, I cannot believe how sad I felt after reading the article on the Down Low. Not only are folks unable to fully identify with who they are – some may not even realize they are gay because they simply won’t allow their minds wonder to this place because it is unsafe and unacceptable – it appears that being uber masculine also means being misogynistic, and this effects me.

To people on the Down Low, being gay means acting female; “I’m masculine, there’s no way I’m gay; gays are the faggots who dress, talk and act like girls.” Again, the way that gay men and women are labeled and created in this country have profound effects on the ways people identify or not; the way they come out, or not. It appears that not only do people not want to slap a label on themselves, because that may mean living up to a pre-determined physical and emotional standard, there seems to be an all-out dislike for people who live outside of their “normal” gender role. Men on the Down Low want to be “tops,” meaning the one in control during sex, because being a bottom is being a “bitch,” which according to the Denizet-Lewis article means being second-class, i.e. a woman. Same goes with kissing: “Gay people kiss; DL thugs don’t kiss.”

The interpretation of who one is in a same-sex relationship is fascinating because it means that coming-out is a process that not only declares an orientation other than straight, it also means having to choose if one is male or female, and how does that decision determine who they would like to date, who they are attracted to, how they will dress, who will pay for dinner, who can be sexy, etc. All of these stereotypical barriers are set up through mainstream media culture that perpetuates the role of culture, race and gender roles. At the end of the day these articles remind me that coming out is not a black and white issue, it is indeed very complex and individual, and something that we all should take a closer look at.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

FGM - A Scary Tradition.

The New York Times published a seriously disturbing article and photo essay about female genital mutilation. The top three reasons to control women (however, the folks backing the procedure see these as benefits) by physically cutting off a part of their labia:

“One, it will stabilize her libido.
“Two, it will make a woman look more beautiful in the eyes of her husband."
"And three, it will balance her psychology.”

And while I understand that certain processes are cultural, FGM is downright oppressive, no matter what religion or tradition it is dressed up in.


Monday, January 14, 2008

News Roundup

In a world where LGBT folks have extremely limited legal rights, and those who are further marginalized because of their socioeconomic status, Maryland is making huge strides by opening up a pro bono legal clinic to ease some of the burden of partner breakups, homelessness due to family abandonment, custody and foster care issues and more.

The identification of one's gender is an ongoing public debate, and really, the "traditional" dichotomous mentality should be abandoned. Private and public institutions ought to step up to the plate and make all environments safe for those who identify as transgender, including this Massachusetts community college, which recently denied Ethan Santiago of a locker in the men's room because he "still has some female anatomy." And a solution is not simply to point to an unused room:

"Let's put you where people won't see you, where people won't find out . . . like I'm some kind of dirty little secret," Santiago said, describing administrators' reaction to his gender identity. "I'm not in the closet. I'm not afraid."

He makes a good point here. Not only should gender-neutral facilities exist, but accommodations should be made in the general-use facilities as well. Ostracizing folks who are comfortable with whom they are is unfair, and perpetuates ignorance. Not allowing this man to come into the men's locker room means that every single time he goes to the gym he has to negotiate, justify, and come out again and again; a process that can certainly not be comfortable.

Passionate Feminism

Novelist Isabel Allende talks about writing, women, passion, feminism at TED2007, which stand for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and is a conference that brings together people from those three worlds.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Chastity belts for young women?

I have not seen the movie Juno, but this New York Times writer takes an interesting perspective on teenage pregnancy. Well, maybe not all that interesting, but it certainly puts up a few bars on reality.

The author of the piece makes a good point that choosing to go forward with a pregnancy or not, and later deciding if adoption is a viable option or not, is not an easy thing to do:

“As any woman who has ever chosen (or been forced) to kick it old school can tell you, surrendering a baby whom you will never know comes with a steep and lifelong cost. Nor is an abortion psychologically or physically simple. It is an invasive and frightening procedure, and for some adolescent girls it constitutes part of their first gynecological exam. I know grown women who’ve wept bitterly after abortions, no matter how sound their decisions were. How much harder are these procedures for girls, whose moral and emotional universe is just taking shape?”

But instead of pointing to stats, in reference to something such as the outrageous data showing how abstinence-only education does nothing but perpetuate problems and self-loathing among young people, she jumps on the wagon of finger pointing:

“We, too, have a deep commitment to girls, and ours centers not on protecting their chastity, but on supporting their ability to compete with boys, to be free — perhaps for the first time in history — from the restraints that kept women from achieving on the same level. Now we have to ask ourselves this question: Does the full enfranchisement of girls depend on their being sexually liberated? And if it does, can we somehow change or diminish among the very young the trauma of pregnancy, the occasional result of even safe sex?”

The answer to the question is a resounding YES. Of course women should be sexually liberated, and that also means a progressive society that fosters protection via openness, contraception and the freedom to truly choose destiny…even if that person is not yet a legal adult.