Friday, January 30, 2009

Website Review: Opposing Views

I recently came across a very cool and intriguing new site called Opposing Views. One of the editors of the site emailed me requesting a link exchange for its "Gay Issues" page. This site basically serves as a forum for experts to debate various issues relevant to politics, society, health, religion, and money. Opposing Views chooses a topic and then invites "experts, opinion leaders, and advocates to pick a side and weigh in."

This site's strength lies in an area in which many blogs fail. Namely, it serves as a neutral and safe forum for heated debates to occur. While allowing experts to present their side of the debate in their own words, the forum also enforces and expects participants to abide by a Civility 101 code.

I read through many of the debates, and frankly, I found it quite refreshing to read positions that I disagreed with without having to wade through distracting personal attacks, paranoid accusations, and insults. For instance, even though I profoundly disagree with the Alliance Defense Fund's position on marriage equality, I can appreciate that they frame their argument in a way that says that they just believe "moms and dads matter" as opposed to making the offensive Gay People Are Very Bad People sort of personal attacks that are so frequent in the anti-gay blogosphere.

Civility goes a long way in helping the "other side" better understand where we are coming from. Even if we end up disagreeing about something, we at least walk away knowing that we've engaged with a real human being as opposed to a virulent caricature of a person. I have written before that a good rule of thumb to comment by is to first assume that someone is writing in good faith. Until I have pretty strong evidence that says otherwise, I try to operate under the assumption that humans are basically good. And, even though other people disagree with me about some things, they aren't out to intentionally trick me, misrepresent my position, or lie to me and other people. Knowing that all debate participants have agreed to the same code of civility can go really far in preventing blog-thread trainwrecks from occurring.

My participation in online comment threads has waxed and waned over the years. To be honest, I don't feel safe commenting at many of the anti-gay blogs that I read. I'm actually pretty tough, but it doesn't do much good for anyone to subject oneself to abuse over and over again. And likewise, perhaps anti-gays feel unsafe commenting at the blogs of LGBT political bloggers.

Anyway, I just thought I'd bring your attention to this site if you like debate but don't like the nastiness that often festers on the web.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lesbian Head of Government! ...Eh, So Vhat?

Iceland is set to become the first nation with a lesbian head of government. Johanna Sigurðardottir is the current Social Affairs Minister, but with Iceland in economic and political turmoil, she is expected to become prime minister.

The best part about this is that in her country, Sigurðardottir's sexual orientation is a non-issue. As Icelandic journalist Iris Erlingsdottir writes:

"I guess I still have the attitude of most Icelanders when it comes to matters of sexual issues, because I failed to pick up on the newsworthiness of Sigurdardottir's sexual orientation....Even after living in America all these years, where hounding politicians into surrealistic hell about their private lives is the norm, it didn't really ring bells for me. 'I don't see what her sexual orientation has to do with anything,' my mother told me yesterday. 'It's no one's business but her own.'

My usually taciturn father agreed strongly. 'She is the most trusted and respected politician in the country,' he said, 'and she is simply the best person available for the job. Ja, that is just pervert thinking,' he replied when I told him that her sexual orientation would probably be more newsworthy in America than anything else surrounding her appointment."

Although we have been patting ourselves on our backs for a couple months now for finally electing an African-American man to our nation's highest office, I wonder if we have forgotten about all those other "trait barriers" that exist with respect to the presidency. Only one year ago, after all, a Gallup poll found that 53% of Americans would be unwilling to vote for a "generally well-qualified person who happened to be an atheist," 43% would not vote for a well-qualified "homosexual," and 24% would not vote for a well-qualified Mormon. 11% of Americans still would not vote for a woman.

And, if we're talking about religion, although the poll didn't survey the following traits, I wonder how many Americans would be willing to vote for a well-qualified Jewish or Muslim person?

Most politicians in office profess to be religious in some manner. Yet, when so many politicians, conservative and liberal alike, turn out to be slimeballs and hypocrites I wonder why we are still so willing as a people to accept candidates who claim to be religious and reject those who do not. In our "culture war"-afflicted nation, I am not surprised that so many would reject a candidate for his or her sex life or "deviant" sexual orientation. But I think Icelanders have it right in realizing how irrelevant sexual orientation is and not letting their culture war blinders prevent them from accepting the best person for a very important job. Besides, we have seen far too many men fall from their perches of moral superiority to allow us to continue believing the lie that religiosity is a guarantee of "moral" behavior. Further, many of us know far too many non-Christians who are genuinely good people to continue believing the lie that Christians and religious folk hold a monopoly on morality.

Who else longs for a more nuanced, thoughtful America? One in which Americans no longer assume that a candidate's homosexuality, femaleness, or non-whiteness is an automatic degradation of character and in which a person's status as a Christian is no longer an automatic character upgrade.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Going Beyond Empty Claims

[With UPDATE below]

Some of those who oppose same-sex marriage simultaneously claim to support reciprocal beneficiary laws which grant same-sex couples some of the rights and benefits of marriage. For instance, after its instrumental role in the passage of California's Propostition 8, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) claimed:

"The Church does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches."

Such support is appreciated even though I take issue with statements that make "the traditional family" the sun around which all other families revolve. Regarding support of civil unions but not marriage, I hear similar pronouncements from other "marriage defenders." Yet, perhaps because I mostly see these same folks celebrating our every political loss, I'm inevitably left wondering what these folks are tangibly doing to help us gain the rights they claim to be so in favor of. From where I sit, I only see "marriage defenders" take actions in the real world that deny us rights rather than those that help us obtain them.

On December 23, 2008, right before he left office, President Bush took a surprising break from history and signed a law benefiting same-sex couples. Specifically, the Worker, Retiree and Employer Recovery Act of 2008 allows same-sex couples to inherit retirement plans from their partner without facing the tax penalty that unmarried couples face. Previously, individuals in a same-sex relationship could be their partner's beneficiary but upon receiving the benefit, the surviving partner would face an immediate tax penalty on the inheritance.

This law represents a welcome change. Although I profoundly disagree that we should have to earn our state and federal rights as equal citizens on a piecemeal basis, it is better than nothing. Unfortunately, surviving individuals in same-sex relationships are still denied Social Security spousal benefits and survivor's insurance that surviving members of legal marriages are able to receive. As taxpaying citizens, that is fundamentally unfair.

Recently, the Human Rights Campaign, in response to the LDS Church's claim that it does not oppose non-marital and other legal benefits for same-sex couples, has recently requested the LDS Church to support legislation in Utah that would offer same-sex couples some of the benefits, protections, and rights of marriage. I certainly hope that the LDS Church responds (and perhaps urges its members to put their considerable funds where its loud mouth is). Otherwise its claim to support legal protections for same-sex couples looks like nothing more than meaningless, false-compassionate political posturing. I also hope that other "marriage defenders" who claim to support protections for same-sex couples are able to recognize and act on some of the basic unfairnesses in our legal system.

Many of these issues, for us, are not abstractions. Our families matter too. And yes, we do have families, even if some people do not call them that. As it stands now, no web of (expensive) legal arrangements can duplicate all of the benefits that same-sex couples need to protect their families.

I wonder if there's some way for us to work together in a spirit of compassion to protect all families.

UPDATE: Thus far, the Mormon Church has been all talk and no action when it comes to LGBT non-marital rights. Yesterday, the Box Turtle Bulletin reported that Utah legislators voted on a bill that would have granted non-marital couples the same right to sue for wrongful death that married couples have. Not only did the Mormon Church remain silent on this bill, but it died in committee when its 4 Mormon members voted against it (compared to 3 non-Mormons who voted Yes or who were absent).

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Study About Suicidality of Gay Kids Hurts Feelings of Intolerant Parents

A study published in the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Pediatrics, has found "a clear link between specific parental and caregiver rejecting behaviors and negative health problems in young lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults." In other words, lesbian, gay, and bisexual children whose parents reject them are also more likely to experience negative health problems.

As with any social science study, this study has its limitations. For one, correlation does not imply causation. Other factors, such as bullying, harassment, and living in a homophobic society, could have very well accounted for some of these negative health outcomes too.

What is expected and unfortunate is that the ex-gay movement has been utterly dismissive of this academic study and has not expressed the least bit of concern for the potential harmful impact of rejection on lesbian, gay, and bisexual children. After having just watched the based-on-a-true-story Prayers For Bobby, and seeing the real human impact of parental rejection, I am saddened that the anti-gay agenda, for some, will always trump the well-being of gay kids.

Ironically, ex-gay group Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) suggests that it is scientists who are out to impose their agenda on others through their research. For instance, PFOX claims that the study "involved" "homosexual activists" who were out to promote "gay affirmation." I'm not even sure what PFOX means by such a vague non-claim, but I'm pretty sure it's nothing more than a Weapon of Mass Projection-y way of saying We're not the ones who use flawed, biased research, it's teh homosexual activists who do!!11!!

For instance, Regina Griggs of PFOX claims:

"So what [they're] doing is [they're] telling young people and [they're] telling their parents, 'You must accept those feelings. Who cares where they come from? It's a gay lifestyle -- endorse it!' ....and [then] they threaten parents and frighten them by saying, 'If you don't, then your child may commit suicide.'"

In spite of the fact that this study gathered and analyzed real actual data on children's experiences with parental rejection, PFOX is claiming that the study is really some sort of homosexualist master plan to guilt and frighten parents into accepting their gay kids.

This blatant dismissal and utter lack of concern about the health and well-being of gay kids coming from PFOX is scary. Their response to this study is pretty much them doing the equivalent of closing their eyes, sticking their fingers in their ears, and screaming "we love kids we love kids we love kids" as loudly as they can as though we'll all just forget that a scientific study just found that their way of "dealing with" the gay problem implicates them in pretty harmful stuff. Furthermore, I think it's pathetic to waive off a legitimate, published study as being part of a homosexual conspiracy rather than to address possible methodological flaws with it. We all notice, after all, that PFOX doesn't actually say what's wrong with the study. I would have a little more respect for PFOX if it made legitimate gripes about its methodology rather than using the trusty ol' it was done by homosexual activists stand-by.

I'm sorry if this study's findings hurts PFOX's feelings or hurts the feelings of parents who reject their gay kids, but it's time to realize that not everything is about the "gay agenda" or the "ex-gay agenda." Sometimes, believe it or not, gay people and our allies really do just want what's best for kids. And sometimes, the evidence suggests that accepting them as they are is what's best for them.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Monday Good News: President Obama's Recent Actions

Hello everyone. Who needs some good news for a winter monday?

Does anyone feel different now that we have a new president? Several people have asked me that, and I wasn't sure what to say. I'm hesitant to get my hopes up too high. Yet, in his short time in office so far, the President has already taken some positive actions.

But first, how predictable was it that our nation's anti-Obamas would immediately begin ridiculing the man for his little swearing-in flub? I personally thought it was endearing to see Obama eagerly repeat "I Bar-" a little too soon, but for others I suppose it's some sort of omen from the heavens above regarding B. Hussein's term.

Anyway, Chief Justice Roberts did commit a little error of his own by misplacing the word "faithfully" while administering the oath. Because of this error, Obama was sworn in a second time perhaps anticipating the bringing forth of more "fun" lawsuits challenging his qualifications for the office of the Presidency.

Frivolity aside, I want to remain upbeat today. I am pleased about the following almost-immediate actions Obama has taken thus far:

1) Closing Guantanamo Bay

President Obama has followed through with one of his campaign promises by issuing an executive order to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay ("GTMO"). US operation of GTMO has been subject to much criticism among legal experts and human rights organizations. General criticisms leveled against GTMO are that treatment of the detainees violates Geneva Conventions, that prisoners have been subjected to abuse and torture (PDF), and that the prison lacks legal accountability. All of these factors, it is often argued, further embolden terrorists and prove to our enemies that America is as bad as they say we are.

GTMO is a public relations-nightmare on multiple levels and an embarrassment to our nation. Bravo Obama, for doing what should have been done a long time ago.

2) End of Global Gag Rule

President Obama also plans to sign an executive order reversing the so-called Global Gag Rule. This rule prevents US funds from going to international family planning groups that offer abortions or even provide information about abortions. Ronald Reagan established the rule in 1984, Bill Clinton reversed it, George W. Bush re-instituted it, and Obama is now set to reverse it.

You can read more about the world health implications of the Global Gag Rule here.

3) Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

I have previously written about Lilly Ledbetter's wage discrimination case here. To refresh your memory, Ledbetter sued her employer when she found out that she had been paid less than similarly-employed male co-workers for many years. Even though Ledbetter had been unaware for 19 years that she was paid less than men for the same work, the US Supreme Court ruled that Ledbetter had to bring her case within 180 days of her wage being set.

Within the past month, both the House and Senate passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (PDF) reversing the Supreme Court's decision. This law treats each paycheck received as a separate discriminatory act that restarts the 180-day statute of limitations. While George W. Bush had threatened to veto the bill, President Obama has indicated that he will sign it into law.

4) Civil Rights

Obama has made his commitment to civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community pretty clear on his internet home. What a refreshing change to be mentioned, let alone supported, on the White House website!

As part of his gay agenda, President Obama expresses support for the expansion of hate crimes laws, a transgender-inclusive employment non-discrimination act, full civil unions and federal benefits for same-sex couples (but not marriage), expansion of adoption rights, and promotion of HIV/AIDS prevention. Meanwhile, he opposes a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and opposes Don't Ask Don't Tell.

While Obama doesn't go as far as many in the LGBT community would like, his overall position is leagues above that of his predecessor.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Feminist Friday

Hello readers. Today, I'd like to direct you to some reading which our heroine Leftist Gender Warrior (tm) may or may not approve of.

If you're looking for some fun feminist reading, you can start with the 69th Carnival of Feminists. My article regarding Garth George's odd feminism-causes-domestic-violence argument was featured in this December Carnival but I missed it with all of the holiday hububub.

More recently, occasional Fannie's Room commenter Rachel from across the pond hosted the 70th Carnival over at Sheffield Fems. Check it out.

In other feminist news, the Feminist Law Professors invited conservative (anti?-)feminist Christina Hoff Sommers to post one of her lectures. Although the lecture includes cringe-worthy statements like "I think it’s my bias toward logic, reason, and fairness that has put me at odds with the feminist establishment" it's worth a read, at least to see where she's coming from.

If you follow the trackbacks in the comment section, you will see many responses to the piece. I was going to write a post responding to Sommers' critques of feminism, but I got lazy. Besides, I see that others have already done it very well. Some of my favorite responses are over at Alas, a Blog.

Have a good weekend, everyone.


I too can command the wind sir!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Book Review: When Romeo Was a Woman- Charlotte Cushman and Her Circle of Female Spectators

I know I've been on a little kick lately writing blogs about sex, gender, and gender roles so I hope you can bear with me for another one. Lisa Merrill's biography of Charlotte Cushman, "the most famous actress of the nineteenth-century English-speaking world," nicely illustrates the fluidity of gender roles and gender performance. In addition to being a commentary on gender, When Romeo Was a Woman: Charlotte Cushman and Her Circle of Female Spectators is also a rich contribution to the scholarship on lesbian history and community. Charlotte Cushman, in addition to being a famous actress of her time, was also a lesbian. (All citations from When Romeo Was a Woman, unless otherwise stated).

1. Gender Performance

As Lisa Merrill recounts, a 19th-century theatrical career was considered to be "socially and morally suspect," with female actors in particular being regarded as "impure" and "unwomanly" (21). The idea that being an actress was "unwomanly" stemmed from the fact that in the 19th century, Real Women stayed at home and out of the public sphere. Thus, "few occupations of any sort were available to respectable women, and those that required women's visibility in public were most socially suspect" (Ibid.). Female actors "who exhibited their talents in front of the audience, for a fee, were considered by many members of the public as little better than... prostitutes" (31).

You know, I have said often that this whole women-belong-in-the-public-sphere line of thinking was a convenient affirmative action ideology for men. The more I read about different women's lives during this time, the more I remain convinced of that. For, in order to keep women out of the public sphere and foster less competition for men, "true womanhood" was defined in the 19th century as "piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity" (22). In other words, in order to be a "true woman," one had to stay in the home and forego all worldly ambitions. For men, who then had less people to compete against for jobs and promotions, such a scenario would certainly be auspicious.

Anyway, for Charlotte to seek a theatrical career while also appearing "respectable" and "true," it was therefore necessary for her to explain away her ambition in terms of sacrifice. Specifically, "she made it clear in her earliest stories explaining her performance career that she had undertaken such a public occupation to support her family" after her father abandoned them (21). Even though some tried to steer her into the less public career of writing, "acting was potentially the highest paid profession a woman could enter" and so Charlotte refused, citing the fact that her "entire family [was] dependent on her income" (34).

As an actress, Charlotte was unafraid to take risks. Not only was she "one of the first female performers who let herself be seen as unattractive if the role required," she directly took on male roles herself "rather than merely supporting male colleagues in their starring vehicles" (45-47). Even when she portrayed female characters, especially Lady Macbeth, "Charlotte's strength, power, and physicality... were inevitably contrasted not only with other women's portrayals of these roles but also with the performances of her male costars, most of whom were taken aback at such direct challenges to their physical prowess" (91). Charlotte, by most accounts, was a "masculine-looking" woman who was not conventionally attractive. That she became one of the most famous actresses of her time suggests that she relied on her power and skill, rather than "feminine" beauty, to advance her career. Remarkably, audiences were receptive to her gender non-conformity. To women especially, she "dramatized new potentials for those audience members who witnessed or read about [her strong female characters]" (109).

When she took her career abroad to England, she was known as America's "leading breeches actress" due to her strong portrayal of male characters (81). In 1845, Charlotte portrayed Romeo in London for the first time and "accolades poured in from both critics and fans" (115). Critics, in fact, hailed her portrayal as being "far superior" to that of male actors at the time. Like accolades regarding her female roles, critics regarded her male roles as being intense, strong, and powerful. At the same time, "in her very portrayal of male characters Charlotte raised the possibility that if a woman could so convincingly act the man, perhaps being a man was merely an 'act'" (124).

Of her performances, one critic wrote:

"[Charlotte Cushman's] masculine personal appearance entirely unfitted her for many parts.... her true forte is... in characters, roused by passion or incited by some earnest and long cherished determination, the woman, for the time being, assumes all the power of manhood" (80).

Lisa Merrill contends that "Charlotte's performance of Romeo produced multiple 'meanings' and made available to spectators who could decode it, ways of perceiving and articulating female erotic desire that called into question the heterosexual framework of the texts in which she appeared" (126). While these "multiple meanings" were exciting to many spectators, they were a source of negative criticism for others- in particular, her male colleagues. One male colleague protested that a female could not perform Romeo because "Romeo requires a man, to feel his passion... A woman, in attempting it, 'unsexes' herself to no purpose.... There should be a law against such perversions" (Ibid.). In her portrayal as a male lover of women, Charlotte contested notions "about what constitutes the natural and the unnatural, the respectable and the immoral, the American and the British, and the heterosexual and the homosexual" (136). What is clear is that, to many spectators, Charlotte Cushman "played" a better man than many men did and that was very threatening to some people's needs for predictability surrounding gender and proper gender roles.

Many people believe that it is society, rather than huge innate differences between boys and girls, that mostly teaches us how to be "men" and "women." I think perhaps Charlotte Cushman's successful stage portrayals of men are some of the most literal illustrations of this theory.

2. Charlotte's Marriages and Lesbian Community

While appearing respectable, "Charlotte's male characterizations afforded her a space within which she could express her desire for other women, a desire that animated her offstage as well as on" (124). For, throughout her life, Charlotte had no romantic relationships with men. At the same time, she had many female loves and, during different times of her life, had several female romantic partners whom she considered herself married to. Merrill presents evidence that, contrary to the notion that women during this time lived in sexless Boston marriages, "women's erotic desire for each other was legible- to anyone who could read the 'code'" (8). "Passionate romantic friendships' and 'Boston marriages'" were "generally considered acceptable by nineteenth-century mores because women were assumed to be incapable of carnal desire" (7). For instance, it was largely assumed, if you remember, that early social worker Jane Addams lived in a Boston marriage; yet those who read "the code" argue that Addams was a lesbian in a time before lesbianism was named.

The first woman that Charlotte considered herself married to was a woman named Rosalie. In her diary in 1844, Charlotte "noted for the first time that she 'Slept with Rose'.... on the very next day Charlotte's diary entry reads: "'R.' Saturday, July 6th 'married'" (9). As Merrill notes, if Charlotte had been referring to a heterosexual marriage, there would have been no need to use quotation marks around "married." For, "instead, this was "like" a marriage. This commitment, forged by two women after whatever intimacies were shared when they slept together, was noteworthy to Charlotte but had to remain coded, indicated by initial and quotation mark even within the privacy of her own diary." (Ibid.). This need to keep her romantic situation coded, suggests that Boston marriages remained socially acceptable only to the extent that others believed them to be sexless platonic friendships.

However, when Charlotte left for England, Rosalie stayed behind in the United States and died a few years later. As Charlotte became more famous in England, she began living with a new romantic partner, Matilda "whom friends frequently called 'Max' or 'Matthew'" (160). Of Charlotte and Matilda, one friend wrote "I understand that she and [Matilda] have made vows of celibacy and eternal attachment to each other- they live together, dress alike, ... it is a female marriage" (Ibid.). Charlotte, who was relatively wealthy during this time and had no "need" for financial support from a husband, and her like-minded friends who dressed androgynously and called each other by male nicknames "embodied an alternative to heterosexuality for which there was no distinct label, but which today would be considered lesbian" (160).

In 1852, Charlotte and Matilda moved to Rome and lived in a "woman-centered communtiy" of "emancipated" female artists (171). Later on, the two women's relationship deteriorated and Charlotte forged a relationship with another woman, Emma, whom she came to consider herself married to. In one letter during this time, Charlotte had written "Do you not know that I am already married and wear the badge upon the third finger of my left hand?" (211). Marriage, counter to the claims that some make today, has not always universally been thought of as only between men and women. In fact, Charlotte's life and chosen family speaks to the reality that family is what we make it. At the end of her unconventional life, Charlotte was surrounded by her female "wife" of 18 years, her adopted son, and her daughter-in-law.

To end, for all gender-variant and sex-variant women, this biography of Charlotte Cushman gives us yet another important image of ourselves in history. Merrill's biography of Charlotte Cushman illustrates the complexity of assigning our conceptions of sexual orientation onto historical figures. Homosexuality was not in our cultural consciousness until the early 1900s, after Charlotte had died, and even then it arose only in the context of pathology. What remains clear is that even though what we today call the "lesbian identity" was not yet named, Charlotte Cushman's romantic loves in the 19th-century were exclusively other women. She performed gender, on the stage as well as off, and refused to let her biological sex constrain her life, loves, and ambitions.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Gender Diversity in Economic Sphere

I first saw this article at Feminist Law Professors. The (provocative?) thesis of the article is, in a nutshell, men and women are different. Specifically, men are risky. As a result of their inherent riskiness and their domination of the financial sector, they are the ones who got us into our current economic downturn:

"...[A]s the financial debacle unfolds, I can't help noticing that all the perpetrators of the greatest economic mess in eight decades are, well, men. Specifically, they are rich, white, middle-aged guys, same as the ones who brought us Watergate in the 1970s, the Teapot Dome scandal in the 1920s and, presumably, the fall of Rome."

What I always find entertaining about such arguments is that I envision anti-feminists cringing at their own ideology of "innate sex differences" being used against their own women-belong-in-the-home interests. Many of those opposed to equal rights for women believe that men and women are very different and, therefore, that they require different roles in society. In their view, it is inherent in women to stay at home and do feminine, womany things and inherent in men to work outside the home and do masculine, man-ny things. As I discussed last week, the idea that men and women have big innate (and sometimes complementary) sex differences, it is argued, are also why marriage and parenting "require" man/woman pairs and not same-sex pairs.

Some feminists, or those who at least would not be categorized as "anti-feminist," also argue that men and women are inherently different. For instance, while the author of the above article also argues that men and women are different, she shifts the arguments a bit. Instead of using these differences to argue against opportunities for women in the public sphere, she uses them to advocate for greater opportunities for women. She notes that while men are more inclined to be "risky," women are more inclined to "blow the whistle." Too much male "testosterone" in the public sphere, she argues, has created cultures of irresponsible anti-social risk. Therefore:

"We need women in leadership positions not only because they can manage as well as men but because they manage differently than men; because they tend -- over time and in the aggregate -- to make different kinds of decisions and to accept and avoid different kinds of risk."

I've said before that I believe that there are more questions surrounding gender and sex than there are absolute answers. Assuming for the sake of argument that these sex differences are real and have partly caused this financial crisis, I wonder if these differences may not be as innate as some people assume. It's quite possible that parents, teachers, and other influential-to-children members of society have taught boys and girls to be different in this way and that these differences were reinforced over the years.

Regardless, I do wonder what those who believe in innate sex differences and who also believe in "traditional gender roles" have to say about the article. Specifically, if marriage and parenthood absolutely require the gender differences and/or complementarity of one man and one woman, then why do other social institutions- religious institutions and businesses for instance- not? Why do you so value so-called "gender integration" when it comes to the home and family, but discourage it in the public sphere that affects all of us? Are men so important that they are needed in both the home and public, and women so unimportant that they are needed only at home?

Are men just special and lucky like that?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

California "Marriage Defenders": Scared or Ashamed?

The National Organization for Marriage-California (NOM) and have filed a lawsuit arguing that campaign finance disclosure rules should not apply to them in this scary post-Prop 8 world.

Generally, California's Government Code requires contributions to ballot measures such as Proposition 8 to be made available for public inspection. Organizations such as NOM and, as well as those on the pro-gay side, are required by law to file public campaign reports listing contributions to their cause. The basic idea behind these laws is to limit the influence of well-funded lobbyists on government actions by providing greater transparency to the campaigns.

The complaint, which can be found here (PDF), alleges that "supporters of Proposition 8 have been subjected to threats, harassment, and reprisals as a result of their support for Proposition 8." And further that these alleged misdeeds "have been enabled" by the campaign finance law's disclosure requirement. After reciting a brief history of the marriage battle in California, the complaint goes on to allege specific incidents of "threats, harassment, and reprisals."

Hearing NOM's accusations, one might come to believe that an epidemic of death threats is currently raging through California. Upon taking a closer look at the complaint, however, we see a very different portrait.

Reading through the specific allegations, one will mostly find that the "threats, harassment, and reprisals" were, while juvenile, not as scary as NOM and have made them out to be. For instance, one "John Doe" reported receiving a "threatening email" saying "congratulations. for your support of prop 8 you have won our tampon of the year award" while another person received an email that said "I AM BOYCOTTING YOUR ORGANIZATION AS A RESULT OF PROP 8." Moving on to allegations of physical threats and harassment, one "John Doe" claimed that a window was broken using a "Yes on 8' sign" and the complaint also cited the notorious WhitePowderGate, a notorious incident in which no one has been proven guilty. Further, the complaint also ominously claimed that businesses have been "blacklisted," a reference to legitimate, legal boycotting of businesses.

In total, the complaint listed two vague death threats. When a complaint makes huge, exaggerated claims yet produces mostly relatively minor instances of name-calling and harassment, I have to wonder why NOM and are really seeking special protections. Persecution complex? More vilification of gays? Who knows. What a sense of entitlement these folks must have to keep people from marrying and then turn around and seek special protections while doing so.

Very generally, when deciding whether campaign finance disclosure law is unconstitutional, a court will balance the state's interest in disclosure against the harm that may result from the disclosure. I am sure it hurts the delicate butterfly feelings of "marriage defenders" to be called names, but immature name-calling just does not outweigh the state's interest in disclosing who is contributing to campaigns. Furthermore, it is a most ironic plea for special rights to argue that only marriage defense organizations should be exempt from campaign finance disclosure laws. And, it's even more ironical that these people are attempting to overturn a law, as enacted by the will of the people, by utilizing the very activist judges that they've been condemning for years.

I don't think calling people names is acceptable, and it really is unfortunate that some people on our side are stooping to that. Yet, this lawsuit seems to be the equivalent of a playground bully bringing a multi-million dollar defamation suit because someone called him an asshole. While it's unkind and immature to call someone a name, it's a bit of an overreaction to try to bankrupt someone for doing so.

The sole purpose of this complaint, as with any such document, was to paint the most persuasive picture in the plaintiff's favor. It's almost laughable that the most persuasive document that NOM and could come up with consisted mostly of a bunch of name-calling and instances of legitimate boycotting. The two referenced death threats were unfortunate, but the criminal justice system already contains mechanisms for responding to such threats. Campaigns require transparency. After reading this complaint and seeing how absurd most of the instances of "threats" really were, I wonder if this complaint speaks more to a growing, desperate awareness among "marriage defenders" that it is their position that is embarrassing to hold.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Farewell to Bush: He Did a "Heckuva Job"

Today marks the last day of George W. Bush's presidency. I've been waiting a long time to write this post celebrating this occasion. Even though I do think the man will go down as one of our worst presidents in history, I found that I had sort of just stopped blogging about him. It wasn't a conscious thing. Perhaps like some of you, in a twisted Stockholm Syndrome sort of way, I slowly became accustomed to political ineptness. When I've heard his voice on the news lately, the best I've been able to do is wonder what "funny" thing he'll say next. 8 years in, after all, was there really much more he could do to offend, surprise, or scare us? What's that you say? The lame duck is pushing through some last-minute anti-environment initiatives? *Shrug* What can we really do about it?

In general, I think much of the problem with Bush's presidency comes from the fact that while the type of guy who might be fun to grab a beer with serves a purpose, he's not necessarily the same guy who's going to lead the nation in understanding the world on anything other than an immature "you're either with us or against us" level. That's probably "elitist" of me to say, but I just don't think it's wrong or stupid to wish for a more nuanced, thoughtful person for president.

While George W. Bush was not an intellectually "elite" president, I do wonder if his supporters forget that his elite family and upbringing played a large role in his life's accomplishments. Like many men of privilege, George W. Bush was born on third base but he seems to think he hit a triple to get there. And so, with his cocky, entitled swagger he sauntered into the 2000 election perhaps unaware that someone with his intellect and ability, on anyone other than the son of the much-more competent George H.W. Bush, would have been mired in middle-management anonymity somewhere.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, in 2000 we found ourselves gripped in a constitutional crisis involving him and a man named Al Gore. I think that many of us have been unable to forget how Bush's presidency all started mostly because we are left wondering what could have been. In general, I think that the 2000 election has been best summed up by Jack Balkin of Yale University Law School:

"As the new century began, the Supreme Court of the United States settled a disputed presidential election in Bush v. Gore by inventing a novel legal theory which did not even justify its remedy of stopping all recounts, and which, the Court suggested, it would be unlikely to apply to any future decisions. The reasoning was so weak and ad hoc by professional standards of legal argument that it appeared that the majority simply wanted to end the contested election in favor of the Republican candidate, George W. Bush."

The irony that many of us did not miss was that George W. Bush ran a campaign largely opposed to "activist" judges, yet was placed into office by activist judges who invented a new legal theory to stop the recount of our most democratic of all democratic processes. Not surprisingly, we don't hear much about this instance of judicial activism from today's anti-homosexualist opponents of activist judges.

The notorious Bush v. Gore decision succeeded mostly in eroding a large chunk of the legitimacy of the US Supreme Court and what we generally refer to as the rule of law. Many liberals and democrats were bitter about accepting a man as president who lost the popular vote and who, they believed, was placed into office by 4 conservative justices. This enduring bitterness, I believe, partly explains why, prior to September 11, 2001, President Bush enjoyed some of the lowest approval ratings of any president. The percentage of Americans approving of his job during this time hovered around 50-55%.

That, of course, changed one tuesday morning.

After doing little more than swaggering onto Ground Zero in a jumpsuit and declaring war on an abstract noun, President Bush immediately enjoyed some of the highest approval ratings of any president. Showing ourselves willing to rally around this "uniter not divider," immediately post-9/11 the percentage of Americans approving of his job hovered around 85-90%. September 11, 2001 was a tragic moment in our nation's history. It was a time for us to come together as a nation and figure out why something so horrible could happen here so it would never happen again. Unfortunately, many could not foresee how dangerous it would be to lend this mediocre man our uncritical "patriotic" support.

The post-9/11 Bush Administration "made repeated assaults, some subtle, some not so subtle on key rule of law values of transparency, accountability and constraints on arbitrary power, particularly executive power."
The USA Patriot Act, for instance, was quickly rushed through Congress and signed by President Bush. While a nation fighting
terrorismterrorists needs to have flexibility to act quickly and decisively, the rule of law should not be compromised. With great power comes the power to abuse; and a law enacted for the purpose of fighting terrorism should be narrowly tailored for that purpose only.

After 9/11, the US began detaining (mostly) Muslim men, holding them incommunicado and without charges in Guantanamo Bay, and utilizing special tribunals to try these detainees. Following the advice of Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, the Bush Administration labeled these detainees "illegal enemy combatants," enabling them to argue that the humanitarian protections of the Geneva Conventions did not apply to this category of persons. And, in another blow to the rule of law, Congress passed a law taking away the right for these human beings to access US federal courts for purposes of even challenging their detentions. Countering a rubber-stamp Congress and apathetic public, the US Supreme Court ruled that even foreign suspects of terrorism have the right to challenge their detentions in US courts. The writ of habeas corpus, after all is one of the most important protections of individual liberty in existence.

In 2005, the Bush Administration acknowledged that detainees at GTMO, Iraq, and Afghanistan "have been tortured." Even when disgusting and highly embarrassing pictures at that one prison surfaced for the rest of the world to see, Bush twice refused to accept the resignation of the man with whom the buck would have stopped if bucks stopped in the Bush Administration.

During these humiliating post-9/11 events that may or may not have had something to do with stopping terrorism and/or making the world safer, a little lady named Katrina came along. In a profoundly out-of-touch "let them eat cake" moment, George W. Bush declared that "Brownie," his cutely-named head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, did a "heckuva job" with respect to his handling of the Katrina situation. Even though dealing with disasters is generally a responsibility of local government, this federal agency which exists for purposes of disaster response and mitigation began preparations before the disaster hit and quickly federalized the response. Despite Bush's praise of "Brownie," FEMA's response has been criticized seen as a ginormous, mis-managed embarrassment of a governmental response to a natural disaster.

Most recently, of course, we find ourselves in the midst of two wars. Well, three wars if you count the perpetual war against that abstract noun. The war in Afghanistan began as a response to 9/11. The general purpose of this war was to capture Osama bin Laden and to topple Al Qaeda and the Taliban. We don't hear much about these goals or even this war these days, even though bin Laden is still at large.

In 2003, the Bush Administration initiated the Iraq War by infamously claiming that Iraq possessed "Weapons of Mass Destruction" (WMDs) and posed an "imminent threat" to us. United Nations' weapons inspectors later found that Iraq did not, actually, possess these WMDs. The Bush Administration then claimed that it never actually claimed any such thing about Iraq posing an "imminent threat," contrary to many produced quotations showing otherwise. A few months into this war, Bush declared our Mission to have been Accomplished in Iraq and major combat operations to have ended. 5 years later, however, history has shown that 98% of casualties from this accomplished-yet-paradoxically-ongoing war have occurred after Bush's premature Mission Accomplished ejaculation. Meanwhile, the tours of duty of more than 50,000 of our brave men and women in uniform have been "involuntarily extended," sometimes up to 18 months longer than their service was supposed to end, since the Iraq War began.

Throughout the years of the Iraq War, the Bush Administration has carefully filtered information about the war. Photographs of soldiers returning from war in coffins were prohibited, for instance. And, it was later learned that the Army staged the iconic image of the toppling statue of Saddam Hussein and of Iraqi citizens "celebrating." At least 935 times, Bush or one of his top officials made false statements about the threat that Saddam Hussein's Iraq posed and, especially these days, more than a few Americans wonder what exactly was our purpose there.

Most currently, even though the "haves and the have mores" might not be tightening their belts right now, our nation has been in a recession these days. Bush came into office padded with low unemployment and a national surplus. Almost immediately upon entering office, Bush implemented trillion dollar tax cuts because "the surplus is the people's money" yet also increased domestic and foreign spending. In 2008, he leaves us with unemployment at a 15-year high and a 100% increase of the national debt.

Of the few people left who remain unabashed Bush loyalists, I don't think many understand why so many people feel disdain for his presidency. Perhaps they think we're "just being mean" to him or that we just woke up one day and decided not to like him. Yet, you'll notice that this post does not hinge on Bush's socially conservative ideology. Volumes could be written, and probably will be, on these matters. As a lesbian, I can say that I didn't always feel that I had a place in George W. Bush's America. It's a joke to me that he considered himself to be a "compassionate conservative" while simultaneously pandering to his bigoted base, making few efforts to bridge cultural divides. This man supported the Federal Marriage Amendment, an asinine usurpation of state's rights, and his administration actually paid profe$$ional "marriage defenders" like Maggie Gallagher boatloads of taxpayer dollars to write columns supporting his anti-gay agenda. (Who knew that professional "marriage defense" could be so lucrative?)

Yet, while I vehemently disagree with the man on social issues like homosexuality, abortion, and stem-cell research, it's quite possible to argue that his presidency was an epic failure without mentioning such "hot-button" issues. With this post, I hope I've made it clear that it really is about much more than not liking him as a person. He may indeed be a fun, nice guy. However, while I can tolerate spoiled, incompetent frat-boys in small doses, the end of their monopoly on the office of US Presidency has been long overdue. We've learned the hard way that perhaps the entitled are not as competent as they believe themselves to be.

In the post-9/11 world, by electing Barack Obama, I think in our own American way we've chosen to grow up a little.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday's "Deep" Thoughts: Things I Thought I Didn't Like But That I Really Do Like After All

I firmly believe that the willingness and ability to change one's mind is an underrated trait in human beings. I don't think we should be fickle, but I do think it would be an unbelievably stale and boring life to hold fixed, completely unchanging opinions about things for one's whole life. In the face of new and better evidence, why not change your mind?

What follows is a brief list of things that I've recently changed my mind about:

1. Musicals.

I used to think that I hated musicals. Not anymore.

My distaste for musicals most likely stems from being forced to watch lame Disney musicals like Newsies at girly-girl slumber parties. Was that harsh? Okay, so Newsies might not be lame. What do I know about whether a particular musical is considered good? But I do know that back in my teenybopper years, I had no interest in swooning over these newsie-boys. I wanted to partake in the much more fun endeavor of actually being a newsie (or Aladdin or Peter Pan or anything other than a boring princess). But I digress.

My appreciation for musicals blossomed, I believe, a few years ago when I first saw Wicked with Grace. Then, a little while later, I saw Rent. Wow, I thought, who knew that musicals could be subversive? It's not all cutesy-barfy sing-songs, after all. Yes, I know. Given the preponderance of gays in the genre, I should have known all of this. But I didn't. I remained fixed in my belief that I was not a person who liked musicals (let alone one of those people who sang along to them)!

In more recent months, Joss Whedon has cemented my love for musicals via Once More, With Feeling. I know this musical is a little dated, since it first aired over 7 years ago, but I watched the Buffy series last year on DVD. (I also hear there is a musical episode of Xena!)

Now, I have accepted the fact that I am the type of person who likes musicals. Not only that, but I am the type of person who owns the soundtrack to a musical episode of a television series involving a vampire slayer. And I sing along to it. Often.

2. Old-Timey Jane Austen-type Movies

My friend Jane will appreciate this category, since she is the type of person who will, during Becoming Jane, look over at her friends in a movie theatre and loudly say "I'm BORED." Not that she did that or anything, she's just the type of person who would do such a thing. If normal people did that sort of thing, of course.

Yet, I used to share her disdain for these types of movies. Not anymore. Maybe it's because of Keira Knightley's tendency to act in them. Maybe it's because I was on an airplane when I watched The Jane Austen Book Club and thus, appreciated anything that got my mind off of flying. I'm not sure why, but I gave these movies a second chance and do actually enjoy them now.

Most recently, hammerpants made me watch Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age starring Cate Blanchett (swoon), which I am including in this category. I know, I shouldn't have been surprised that I, a feminist, would find movies about a powerful female monarch exciting. But surprised I was. I'm just quick like that. Anyway, back to Cate Blanchett:

3. The Godfather movies

Before I actually watched this series I used to think they would be long, boring, and violent.

Oh, who am I kidding. After watching this series, it has only been confirmed for me that the Godfather trilogy is all of those things. Maybe I just couldn't get over Marlon Brando's cotton-ball-stuffed-mouth. Who knows. But I did give the series a good try.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

On Gender Complementarity, Part II

Yesterday, I outlined the basic gist of the "gender complementarity" theory and my reasons for opposing it. Today, I'm going to discuss applicable research and explore these ideas further.

Supporting my position that men and women are more alike than they are different are results from a recent review of 46 meta-analyses. These results align with the Gender Similarities Hypothesis which holds that "males and females are similar on most, but not all, psychological variables" (PDF). In this report, it was found that 78% of gender differences were small or close to zero. This was true even though most of the meta-analyses addressed "classic gender difference questions- that is, areas in which gender differences were reputed to be reliable, such as mathematics performance, verbal ability, and aggressive behavior." Thus, the vast majority of gender differences are "small or close to zero" even when looking at areas generally believed to show reliable gender differences. The largest differences were found in the domain of throwing velocity and distance (especially after puberty), incidences of masturbation, and physical aggression.

In light of this report, what those who promote the "gender complementarity" argument are essentially telling me is that I should marry a man because he can (maybe) throw a ball farther than me, masturbates more than me, and is more aggressive than me. And furthermore, these differences, therefore, complete me. I think these meta-analyses demonstrate nicely that, as Collette Dowling has written, we don't know "what differences, if any, there are between the essence of what it is to be female and the essence of what it is to be male." If we don't know what the "essence" of maleness and femaleness are, is it not impossible to specifically describe essential characteristics that males exclusively have and that females exclusively have? I'm not talking about anatomy here. We all know that men have a penis and women have a vagina. What I am wondering is whether those who promote "gender complementarity" are basing their theory on more than the "lock-and-key" characteristic of the penis and vagina.

On his blog Gays Defend Marriage, David Benkof has generally stated his belief that men and women bring unique contributions to parenthood that those of the other sex cannot bring. While he's stated that he is not a proponent of the gender complementarity theory, he nonetheless believes that men and women have inherent differences that marriage and parenthood require. To me, the obvious question to such an argument is, aside from sperm, what is it that a man brings to parenthood that a woman could not possibly bring? Like, what are the specific characteristics that are inherent in maleness and fatherhood that women are necessarily precluded from bringing to parenthood?

David gave what I believe to be a good, valid, and concrete response to this question in a blogpost of his own. While focusing on sex, as opposed to gender, he gave examples of bonding moments between mothers/daughters and fathers/sons with respect to biological "rites of passage" like menstruation and shaving. For instance, he writes:

"Mothers and daughters often (usually?) have an important bonding moment before or during the daughter’s first period. They discuss what menstruation is, why it happens, and what it means. They may buy the daughter’s first tampons together. By contrast, what are two Dads going to do - print out an article from Wikipedia, sit their daughter down, and say 'It says here that the, um, fallopian tubes…'"

Yet, while it might be awkward for dads to discuss menstruation, for instance, I just don't believe that a parent who has not experienced some of the biological phases of the other sex would be unable to adequately discuss these things with his or her child. Further, I do not believe that just because a man is incapable of experiencing menstruation he, as a single man or the partner of another man, would make a poor father or should be denied the right to raise a daughter. Perhaps David would agree. While a parent who has experienced certain biological phases may be able to better relate to his or her child's experience, a little compassion and understanding in a parent can go pretty far in dispelling teen-angsty awkwardness surrounding these things.

And, it does bear mentioning that even for parents who share the same sex as their child, these oft-romanticized phases of life do not universally prove to be memorable "bonding" moments for all. For some, especially intersex and transgender people, as well as other gender non-conformists, these markers of "official" manhood and womanhood can be quite painful. I know more than a few women, for instance, who in their pre-teens resented their mothers for "making them" begin wearing bras and certainly did not want to bond over or celebrate the occasion.

Yet, it is also my inkling that when it comes to the "gender complementarity" argument or the "men and women are inherently different" argument, these relatively few biological sex differences are the vast majority of specifics that proponents of "gender complementarity" have to offer us. For, general statements regarding the characteristics of "all men" or "all women" inaccurately leave out individuals who vary from these absolutes. In the real world, for instance, not all women are "nurturing" and not all men are "strong." So, given the fact that men and women are not so different, I continue to maintain that there are few, if any, specific traits that a woman brings to parenthood that a man would be unable to bring and vice versa.

As a little "experiment" of sorts, David asked my help in preparing two statements to send to 200 sociologists for their "expert opinions" on the matter. Specifically, the sociologists were asked which statement closely resembled their opinion:

"A) Men bring some specific contributions to parenthood that women are pretty much incapable of making, and women bring some specific contributions to parenthood that men are pretty much incapable of making.

B) The contributions of men and women to parenthood are pretty much interchangeable. There is little if anything that a male parent brings to his children that a female parent could not bring pretty much equally successfully; and vice versa."

Unfortunately, only 9 respondents answered (3 agreed with statement A, 6 agreed with statement B) and so we decided to abandon this super-duper scientific experiment. 9 responses out of 200 isn't exactly significant. Yet, I would have been interested to hear all respondents further elaborations on the issue. Although, as I alluded earlier, I do believe that generalities as the above two statements to be problematic. In the face of such absolute statements, I think it is crucial to remember that it all depends on the individuals involved.

The ability of an individual to be a good parent or a good partner to another human being does not depend on race, sex, gender, or sexual orientation and that's why categorical exclusions, such as Arkansas' ban on adoptions by gay couples, are ignorantly overbroad. We allow felons to raise children, yet in some instances all gay people are completely barred from doing the same just because some people believe all men represent "manhood," all women represent "womanhood," and therefore all children (and marriages) require one man and one woman.

Our reality is that family is what we make it and the word means something different to a lot of different people. Our reality, and science, tell me that while it's true that human reproduction requires a sperm and an egg, the idea of "gender complementarity" is a myth and, therefore, neither marriage nor the act of raising children requires both a man and a woman.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

On Gender Complementarity, Part I

An oft-used argument against allowing same-sex couples to marry and/or raise children is that a same-sex relationship or parental unit is not "complementary" with respect to sex/gender. Representative Marilyn Musgrave (in)famously invoked this argument in support of the Federal Marriage Amendment saying:

"The self-evident differences and complementary design of men and women are part of [God's] created order. We were created as male and female, and for this reason a a man will leave his father and mother and be joined with his wife, and the two shall become on the the mystical spiritual and physical union we call 'marriage.' The self-evident biological fact that men and women are designed to complement one another is the reason that for the entire history of mankind, in all societies, at all times, and in all places marriage has been a relationship between persons of the opposite sex."

If you ever engage in even a cursory discussions with "marriage defender" proponents of the "gender complementarity" theory they will often invite you to take a moment to imagine how the penis and vagina fit together in a complementary manner, much like a lock and key. Or, creepily, like a bullet and a gun. True story. The lock-and-key concept, if you will, is then extrapolated and applied to the entirety of male and female relations. It is "self-evident" to these folks, and I suppose then to everyone else as well, that men and women are meant for each other in a very special way. Virtually every conservative "family values" group believes in the theory of "gender complementarity" in some form or another.

Now, my main issue with the idea of "gender complementarity" is that I tend to think that we as individual human beings are complete the way we are. Any model of complementarity implies that if one of the two is missing then that one, by itself, is incomplete in some manner. As human beings capable of expressing the gamut of human emotion, trait, and experience, I do not think we require connecting with another person to make us whole. Rather than existing on opposite poles, I think that human beings exist along a gradation of what we call masculinity and femininity. The mere existence of intersex individuals, transgender people, gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and other so-called gender non-conformists is evidence of much greater nuance when it comes to constructions of sex/gender and creates undeniable complications for the "gender complementarity" theory. Contrary to what some people believe, we are not anomalies somehow outside of the "real" male-female sex/gender binary. We exist in reality. We were created by nature. And by definition we are natural parts of the human experience that cannot be explained away as mistakes.

Bearing my point out a bit, it should be noted that another aspect of the "gender complementarity" argument is that one of the purposes of marriage is to regulate "otherwise unruly heterosexual desire that otherwise causes 'immense personal and social damage.'" This so-called "unruly heterosexual desire" basically refers to the male's alleged "inherent need" to spread his seed and abandon the mother(s) of his child(ren). Because of this evolutionary "fact," "the passive, unregulated heterosexual reality is multiple failed relationships and millions of fatherless children."

This argument, however, contradicts the essential premise of the entire "gender complementary" theory- that men and women are naturally compatible complementary beings that make each other whole. One must ask, how can it be that these complementary beings are so naturally suited for marriage and parenthood when their "heterosexual reality," if left to Mother Nature, results in "multiple failed relationships and millions of fatherless children"? To me, the alleged "heterosexual reality" of male promiscuity suggests mostly that, when it comes to anything other than the lock-and-key anatomical reality, the sexes are not actually as "complementary" as promoters of the theory claim. It's not exactly the most flattering portrait of heterosexual unions (or of men) if a key purpose of marriage is to entrap men into being faithful to their partners and helping to raise their own children. And, as an aside, this whole line of reasoning makes me wonder if the price men pay, so to speak, to be head of family and society is submitting themselves to marriage.

Anyway, the creation of human life via male-female human reproduction is a wonderful thing, but given the fact that we are individuals I do not believe that that happenstance of nature tells us much, if anything, about an individual's position on the gender gradation. Nor does the fact that a sperm and an egg create human life tell us anything about who the creator of that sperm or egg ought to form relationships with. You will notice that I refer to a "gender gradation." While one's sex is biological, I believe that a person's gender, that internal sense of self-identity, exists in shades of gray. Men are not from Mars. Women are not from Venus. We really probably all exist as unique, oddly-shaped chunks floating in that asteroid belt-thingy between Mars and Jupiter.

I'm not saying that men and women are exactly the same. Yet, I do think there is much more overlap than proponents of the "gender complementarity" argument would like to admit.

I know I haven't cited much in the way of research yet. I went into this blog post knowing that this is a highly flammable topic that, in my opinion, is laden with many more questions than answers. Simply because there is so much uncertainty with respect to these issues, I don't trust those who profess absolute truths when it comes to sex, gender identity, and "optimal family form." I am wary of those who claim, as does Rep. Musgrave, that issues of sex and gender are "self-evident" as though their particular (often religious) opinions are self-evident to all people. Calling one's beliefs "self-evident" as though such beliefs are universally true for all people does not make them so. There are far too many people in this world for whom "gender complementarity" is not a "self-evident" fact that such blanket statements simply cannot be accurate.

To end today, I'd also like to urge "marriage defenders" to do better than to present their usual sentimental idealizations of the oh-so-speshul heterosexual marital relationship as though these types of relationships are inherently "more" and "better" than what we experience. I'm not saying same-sex relationships are superior or that heterosexual relationships cannot be good, but I have seen far too many broken homes, abusive relationships, and shoddy examples of parenting to know that the universal idealization of heterosexual love often exists mostly as figments of the "marriage defender's" imagination. To heterosexuals, I am sure their relationships are special. But, to us, our relationships are just as special, even though they're not endowed with the magical unicorn quality of "gender complementarity."

Tomorrow, I will cite research supporting my position and discuss the Myth of Gender Complementarity in greater detail.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Worst Headline of the Week

From OneNewsNow:

"Feminists worldwide promoting 'sexual genocide.'"

So, upon glancing at this headline, a reasonable person would probably believe that the contents of the corresponding article would detail some sort of vast feminist conspiracy to commit mass murder upon people of a particular sex. And given that those promoting this alleged "sexual genocide" are feminists, one might wonder if the corresponding article details the mass murder of the male sex.

Nope, not so much. Not even close.

I'm sure this will come as a shock to those of you are familiar with OneNewsNow's tendency to write asinine over-the-top headlines, but the article actually makes several tangentially-related claims, none of which actually support the bold claim contained in the headline.

First, the article claims that "sex-selective abortion is rampant in many countries and continues to grow." As "evidence" for this claim, the article observes that India and China have low female sex-ratios because female fetuses are selectively aborted. Secondly, because it recognized that females had souls, Christianity "has actually helped females." Third, "radical feminists" support abortion internationally. Therefore, feminists promote worldwide genocide of females.

I'd like to first ask if anyone else is wondering what Christianity supposedly being good for "females" has to do with any of this? What's that you say OneNewsNow, Christianity recognizes that women do indeed have a soul? Neat-o. How big of them. Secondly, the logic contained in this article is so simplistic and immature as to almost not be followable. But I think I get it now. Basically, the argument, minus the defensive Christianity bit, is this:

Some people in India and China practice sex-selective abortion on females. Some feminists favor abortion rights internationally. Therefore, feminists favor worldwide sex-selective abortion on females.

Worst. Logic. Ever.

Anyone browsing Wikipedia could, in 10 minutes, quickly ascertain what sex-selective abortion is really about and then, using a minimum of critical thinking skills, deduce exactly why feminists might take issue with it. Oh, for starters sex-selective abortion:

"[I]s especially common in some places where cultural norms value male children over female children. Societies that practice sex selection in favor of males (sometimes called son preference or female deselection) are quite common, especially in The People's Republic of China, Korea, Taiwan, India, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, New Guinea, and many other developing countries in East Asia and North Africa."

Does one really need to spell out why feminists just might take issue with using a procedure to kill female fetuses because they're not as important as male ones? That many feminists condone abortion does not mean they condone how other people use it. See, contrary to those who believe the feminist and gay agendas to represent cultures of so-called "death and depravity," feminists do not support a woman's right to choose because they believe in the gratuitous killing of fetuses. And they certainly don't support this right under the belief that it should be used to maintain cultural norms that value male children over female children. To blame the practice of sex-selective abortion on feminists, as opposed to patriarchal societies that value male lives over female ones is more than a bit disingenuous. At the least, it's very ignorant.

In China, for instance, abortion is often used as a means of population control. In some instances, the Chinese government allegedly forces women to have abortions against their will. I don't know of many feminists who would be in favor of that. But hey, maybe OneNewsNow has some super-special intel about secret Chinese radical feminist cells that are advocating for the murder of female fetuses.

But seriously, to suggest that on the one hand, "radical feminists" are so powerful that they're able to "promote sexual genocide" worldwide yet mysteriously not powerful enough to stop the root causes of son preference, suggests to me only that one is living in a paranoid anti-feminist fantasy world.

It's time to stop using ridiculous, misleading, over-the-top headlines and start getting real.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Yet Another Anti-Gay AFA Boycott

The American Family Association (AFA) is once again urging its (alleged) millions of members to boycott a company. This one's against Pepsico for its alleged promotion of the, you guessed it, HoMoSeXuAl AgEnDa!

Now, what's all so ironic is that the "marriage defense" crowd has been telling us, ever since gay people initiated post-Proposition 8 boycotts against certain companies, that boycotting is nothing more than fascist, unfair, "bully tactics." At this time, I think my words can best be expressed by using the words of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage's little website against boycotts er, boycotts promoted by LGBT advocates*:

"A new McCarthyism is threatening our free speech and freedom of association—our most basic constitutional rights. Donors who exercised these rights in supporting [gay rights] are seeing their employers or companies being targeted for harassment and intimidation.

[Fannie's Room] has launched a 'buycott' to support businesses targeted for harassment. If those of us who believe in democracy and freedom of speech all band together, we will create a potent force to show that we will not be intimidated, harassed, or threatened out of our constitutional rights."

That's right ladies and gents. It's just not faaaaaa-ir that the AFA is engaging in legitimate means of social protest in order to try to advance its own agenda. It's fascist, hateful, intolerant, and McCarthyist to the max. Faint.

Drink Pepsi!

*And no, I am not so over-the-top as to really believe boycotts to be "McCarthyism." I just always think it's funny (and by "funny" I mean hypocritical) when anti-gay organizations exaggerate and criticize us for boycotting when the AFA practically launches a new major anti-gay boycott every other day.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Blogs I Like: Updates

Today, I'm going to take a second to encourage you to vote for Grace the Spot for Best New Blog here.

Speaking of Grace the Spot, my latest sporty post is up over there.

In other news, Pam's House Blend's server was hacked a few days ago and was temporarily off the internets.

Although her site is back up, it was a very trying event. Pam's currently mulling over whether to stick with her current (hacked) server, which hosts many progressive blogs, or to move to a new server. Soapblox is valuable to the progressive community because it fosters a sense of online community by enabling blog readers to write "diaries," personal entries that can be promoted to a main blog's "front page." Pam's House Blend has been using this format for awhile now and it's really brought great depth and variety of opinion to her blog.

Anyway, in light of the shrill accusations that anti-gay advocates make against our community, I was sort of tempted to jump the gun and write an article claiming: Anti-Gay Bigot Fascist Haters Hack Pam's House Blend.

But I didn't.

That would have been a bit over-the-top. Even though it may very well be the case that those opposed to gay rights or liberalism hacked the server, I don't think there's enough information out there to be able to state that as fact.

To end here, I'm a little surprised this story hasn't gotten more coverage. Someone hacked a large chunk of liberal blogs possibly intending to censor messages they do not agree with. I mean, dear gawd, can you imagine how liberals and the gay community would be vilified if this would have happened to conservative and, gasp, anti-gay blogs? In all of their jumping-to-conclusions glory, I'm pretty sure that by now certain organizations and bloggers would have already created immediate tattle-tale messaging campaigns, letters of condemnation, press releases, full-page ads in the New York Times, banners, leaflets, trumpets, balloons, and special websites denouncing this stifling of free speech!

But, you know, when it happens to us, their lips are zipped.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Catholic Church Vandalized: "Prop 8 Protestors" Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Apparently, someone has vandalized a Catholic Church in the Castro by painting swastikas on it. That is very unfortunate. No arrests have been made in this incident. In other words, no one knows who committed this crime.

Oddly, in spite of the fact that we don't know who committed the crime, the anti-gay blogosphere and even the mainstream media have accused the LGBT community of this crime. This latest guilty-until-proven-innocent accusation reminds me of White Powder-Gate, the incident in which someone sent white powder to a Mormon Church. Even though the FBI called any links between the white powder and Proposition 8 to be a "stretch," anti-gays around the blogosphere have gone ahead and blamed the LGBT community and Prop 8 protestors anyway.

With respect to the this latest incident regarding the Catholic Church, abc7's headline boldly stated as fact that "Prop 8 protestors vandalize[d] church." The corresponding short, uninformative, and poorly written "article" offered no evidence to support its headline and actually offered nothing more than this lame suggestion:

"It appears the vandals are upset about the Catholic church's support of Proposition 8, which made same-sex marriage illegal in California."

"It appears" that way? Okay, but how? Like, specifically. My inquiring mind certainly wanted to know what exactly it was about the graffiti that enabled us all to delve into the innermost recesses of the vandal's mind and ascertain that the vandal was "upset" about Prop 8.

I'm not claiming to know why someone painted graffiti on the church. I'm just saying responsible journalists and bloggers should hold off on making accusations until they have evidence supporting their claims. Or, if they have better evidence they should present it to people who might not be willing to take their unsupported conclusions at face value.

Michelle Malkin, who's probably never met an anti-gay conclusion she didn't want to jump to, gloats "The tolerance bullies are at it again — engaging in renewed property damage in the name of peace, love, and understanding." Professional "marriage defender" Maggie Gallagher's iMAPP blog jumped on the bandwagon and promoted the abc7 headline without questioning a single claim the short article made. The Kingfisher Column claimed that "Proposition 8 protestors" and "fanatical gay rights activists" vandalized the church.

Now, I'm not trying to be mean here. But I would hope that some of these folks will soon tire of their obsessive vilification of the LGBT community. It's becoming ever more apparent that in their breathless zeal to tattle-tale on the homosexualists, they've lost all capacity for rational thought. These people would do better to remember that sometimes when one assumes, one does nothing but make an ass of oneself. Perhaps these bloggers are endowed by their creator with certain psychic powers but I'm going to hold off on making my accusations until I get some evidence to back up my claims.

But then again, I prefer to live in a world in which assertions are backed up by, you know, facts. I'm just elitist that way.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Stolen Lines #1

"I tried to think of the right answer. Unable to think of that, I spoke anyway."

This is a line that Grace from Law With Grace has chosen for her blogger friends to write about. It's part of an experiment, so to speak, in which Grace chooses a line from a book and everyone else begins their post with that line and then writes about it. The above line that Grace has chosen comes from Night of the Avenging Blowfish, by John Welter.

I think it is a wonderfully appropriate line. It describes what many people do on the internet and in the media every day. Some people, in fact, are living breathing embodiments of this quote.

Ann Coulter, for instance.

Apparently, she has a new liberal-bashing book out. Included in this book are lines like "We have a term for youngsters involved in children of divorces, or as I call them, future strippers" and "Single motherhood is like a farm team for future criminals and social outcasts." Coulter keeps it klassy by also accusing the Democratic primaries of being a contest of "Who's the Biggest Pussy?" and by calling White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan "retarded."

Her gross simplifications of social phenomena into black/white, liberal/conservative, smart/retarded, strong/pussified dichotomies indicates that Coulter is rarely able to ever think of the right answer when it comes to social ills facing our nation. Yet due to her various book-selling succe$$es she is nonetheless likely aware of the fact that Hate $ells. It may not actually be the "right answer" to blame every conceivable social ill on liberals or to hate liberals and everything they stand for.

But, "right answers" rarely matter when money is to be made.

Even though those of us in the reality-based world live in shades of gray and know that addressing problems in a meaningful way requires us to think about things in a more grown-up manner, in Coulter's world we're all divided into easily definable groups of good and evil. Her simplistic demagoguery and divisive rhetoric that distorts more than it informs sells. It sells even though speaking with, perhaps pussified, love in her heart would have contributed so much more good to the world and would have made Ms. Coulter more worthy of the Christian cross she wears around her neck while promoting her hateful tomes.

"I tried to think of the right answer. Unable to think of that, I spoke anyway."

Money, power, hate.

Despite the fact that a media watchdog organization has found numerous falsehoods and misrepresentations in her latest book, Ann Coulter speaks anyway.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Seda's Coming Out Story, Part II: "Don't You Miss Having a Dad?"

Yesterday, Seda shared her experience coming out to herself and to her partner. Today, she discusses the relatively recent process of coming out to friends, neighbors, and the world:

Thus began the most intense and challenging six months of my life. Through it all, Kristin and I stayed connected. We gave each other empathy, and cried in each other’s arms. We talked long into the night, almost neglecting the kids, in our efforts to stay connected, to understand and be understood. We both read all we could, and developed support networks online and, for Kristin, from the PPLP. I found a therapist who specializes in gender dysphoria, and surrendered my business for a job with our city’s planning department. And gradually, we began coming out to friends and neighbors.

This was a scary time because we were new in our neighborhood, yet the neighborhood was ideal for our kids. At least six of our neighbors have children near our own kids’ ages, and the kids play in a pack during the summer, moving from house to house and yard to yard throughout the day. We didn’t know how many of them would accept us and allow their kids to continue to play with ours. The burden of coming out with our neighbors fell mostly on Kristin’s shoulders, because we wanted to allow our neighbors to respond as they saw fit and it seemed that that would give them more leeway and comfort.

The next-door neighbors on one side came from Silverton, Oregon, where they just elected the first openly transgendered mayor in the nation. No problem.

On the other side, the wife/mom works for the Women’s Center at the local university. She immediately came to embrace me and say she wished she’d been getting to know me better.

A neighbor across the street said her cousin was transgendered.

We were completely embraced by our neighbors, and found, if anything, we were closer and more connected than before. We did lose a couple of friends who lived across town and could not reconcile their religious beliefs with the reality of a transwoman friend, but nearly everyone accepted me, and most came to say they like me better as a woman.

But the coming out process was not over, and now it was my turn.

My father died that summer, and in the fall I drove back to the ranch in Wyoming with my brother. I planned to come out to him during the drive. All through the states of Oregon and Idaho and half of Montana, I sat beside him, stewing on it almost constantly, finding any little excuse to put it off. Finally, on a long stretch of lonely interstate, I screwed up my courage and said, “I’ve got to tell you something really important about myself.” “What,” he responded, joking. “Don’t tell me, you’re gay.” “Not quite. The truth is, I’m a woman.” He was flabbergasted, and spent the rest of the drive trying to convince me I was mistaken. But that Christmas, he gave me two pairs of earrings he’d made himself.

At the ranch, I told my mom. She’s a Christian Scientist, and she looked at me and said, “Your identity is intact, and it doesn’t depend on gender.” I got up and hugged her.

My mother-in-law was shocked at first, and none too friendly. But after several months and a visit, she decided she likes me better as Seda, and our relationship is better than before.

Click here for my coming-out-at-work story.

All that remained was coming out to my kids. We did that after Christmas 2006, about the same time I started hormone therapy. They were six and three at the time. My eldest is fascinated with science, so we put it in terms of clownfish and parrotfish, both of which sometimes change sexes naturally. We told them that I’d always felt like I was a woman inside, and I was now going to start the process of changing, including dressing as a woman. Sam took it in effortlessly. For him, it was the same absurdity that everything is at that age, and was just something else new. Trin, the elder, drew a very sad face.

“What’s wrong?” Tears in his eyes, he replied, “Now that she’s a woman, Maddy won’t want to wrestle anymore.” Assurances that I would, indeed, continue to enjoy our wrestling matches comforted him. In the summer of 2008, I overheard him talking about me with one of his friends. “Don’t you miss having a dad?” his friend asked. “No. I like her better as a woman,” he replied.

As a transwoman, I don’t have the choice of being invisible that most gay and lesbian people do. The choice to present as I feel I am, instead of as society assigned me to be at birth, makes coming out into a continuous and very visible affair. I get strange looks, sometimes sneers, and the occasional weird proposition, like the time the woman said to me, “Two bucks to look under your skirt.” Nevertheless, I have found an incredible power in coming out. The courage to be who you are in the face of a society that disapproves gives others the same courage – and it changes minds as it crushes stereotypes and biases. But even beyond the social impact, and probably more important, is the personal impact – the way that coming out interacts with your deepest internal being. Coming out is social power – and it is also spiritual power.

I would like to thank Seda for sharing her story in Fannie's Room. Coming out takes courage, especially later in life when one's life and identity are already "established," so to speak. I share the sentiment of commenters here in that I too seek to better understand the experiences of our transgender brothers and sisters.