Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Men Need Man Food

I have been living outside of the "traditional" heterosexual male/female household structure for many years now. I am so used to this that I have forgotten much of what it means to live within this framework. Recently, while on vacation, I was in this "traditional" framework and looking through my current perspective shed some light on an annoying, artificial sex distinction.

In this setting, I had returned from a morning run, other people had woken up, and breakfast was being served. The person making the breakfast, a woman, fixed 5 plates of food. While doing so, she asked "The Men" if they wanted eggs with their pancakes. Onto the 2 men's plates she then scooped 2 pancakes and a pile of eggs, and onto the 3 women's plates, she scooped one single, solitary pancake.

It may be true that, due to their larger body masses, men on average have larger appetites than women. Yet, shouldn't who gets more food be made on an individual case-by-case basis that has more to do with hunger than sex parts? As a woman, I have a pretty big appetite. I am active, I work out a lot, and I burn more calories per day than most people, man or woman, do. That is, I need Man Food.

In short, the sex/gender binary and all of its associated stereotypes just don't work for many people. They lead to all kinds of annoying assumptions and expectations. In our society, men are encouarged to eat Man-Sized portions of Man Food, especially steaks and other animal products that keep him at the top of the food chain and that keep him big and strong. Women are still encouraged to eat small delicate portions of Woman Food that will keep them light, weak(?), and pleasing to the eye of the male human. Because women are dainty, female hunger takes a backseat to the inherently large appetite of male hunger.

It is in ways like this, small and large, that men are encouraged and expected to take up space. Thanks to the idea of gender complementarity that tells us that women are everything that men are not, the expectations for women are opposite to the ones for men. The assumptions and expectations surrounding women revolve around sacrifice, birdlike appetites, and subtle hints to not eventually take up too much space with our bodies. For instance, where many men will enter a subway train, sit down, open their newspapers, and spread their legs wide apart, not caring that they enter another person's seat space, many women will sit down, shrink, and take extra care not to enter encroach on another person's limited space.

Many men are entitled because they live in a society where people, men and women alike, cater to their entitlement. What is in actuality rude behavior, such as a skinny man forcing his legs into your seat-space, gets passed off as Boys Being Boys' inherent nature. Resist. Push back. Then go back for seconds.

Monday, June 29, 2009

MassResistance Documents "Transgender Prom"

Anti-gay organization MassResistance is at it again, this time promoting the testimonial of undercover correspondent "Max" who attended a Youth Pride Day* event held at Boston City Hall in May 2009. (*MassResistance erroneously calls the event "Transgender Prom" throughout its article). "Max," you will find, has very delicate sensibilities when it comes to phenomena observable in reality. While it is standard in the journalism business for news correspondents to at least feign neutral objectivity, "Max" reports that pretty much everything about the Youth Pride event is "depraved," "disturbing," and "weird."

Yet, aside from providing titillating glimpses into the lives of teenagers who perhaps lead more interesting lives than the typical Judgmental Moralist, "Max's" photos of the Prom are actually a testament to the normalcy of the teenagers in attendance. Aside from the fact that many of these teenagers were gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or otherwise gender variant, most of the "disturbing scenes" that "Max" describes are "scenes" that would also be present at a predominately heterosexual prom.

For instance, "Max" notes the "extreme young age of the crowd" and speculates, without documentation, that many of the youth "appeared younger than 15." I have a hunch that MassResistance adherents are supposed to tsk tsk at the young age of this event's attendees, given the Gay Agenda to Recruit Children and all, but all I can muster is so what? Young people do have a tendency to attend events that are designed for young people, after all. What did "Max" expect, an AARP convention? Other "disturbing scenes" included young teen couples kissing, socializing, and showing affection for one another. Like an anthropologist on Mars, "Max" seems to be completely unaware of the fact that all of these activities also occur at dances designed for heterosexual teenagers. That he is so utterly disgusted and flabbergasted by what he sees undoubtedly says more about him than it does about anyone at the event he has perhaps attended for purposes of sticking his finger down his throat, gagging, and showing like-minded allies of his how icky Everything Gay is.

The (faux?) disgust continues when MassResistance posts photos that "Max" took of this event and its participants. As his photos demonstrate, many of the youth engaged in that oh so peculiar activity that is known as dancing or, as "Max"/MassResistance calls it, "homosexual dancing." "Homosexual dancing," as "Max's" photos show, is much like heterosexual dancing. In fact, it is identical to heterosexual dancing except that boys dance with boys and girls dance with girls. Other photos and their corresponding captions demonstrate that youth attending this event also engaged in those other unusual teenage rituals of public "make-out sessions," asking other prom attendees to dance, and taking smoke breaks.

Before ending here, "Max" makes much ado about how LGBT adults were in attendance- chaperoning and wearing rainbow-colored "recruiter" shirts. For instance, "Mr Boston Leather" was a greeter at the event and "Max" does not like this at all. Whether that choice was a good one is maybe arguable, I'll concede that (mostly because it was oh so predictable as to how anti-gay groups would jump all over that choice regardless of Mr. Boston Leather's behavior at the event). Yet, "Max" goes on to use typical anti-gay Pedophile Fear-Mongering, saying "I was disgusted and disturbed that this individual was allowed to attend an event where so many young children were gathered." Ignorantly, he equates an adult who is part of the leather fetish community with an adult who is into pedophilia. He then states that the man "was free to recruit and harass kids as young as 14 or 15!" Yes, technically he was "free" to do so. But what does "recruit" even mean? And, did he do any such thing? Inquiring minds want to know.

Overall, "Max" appears somewhat obsessed with LGBT adults mingling with teens and the possibility of recruitment into the LGBT "lifestyle" that might be occurring. Perhaps lacking a sense of humor, he doesn't seem to understand that when LGBT people wear shirts that say things like "Recruiter" or "The Gay Agenda" it's a tongue-in-cheek response to the ignorant demagoguery that people like "Max" engage in. I've experienced similar faux concern from "marriage defenders" who read my "About Me" section which states that I belong to the Gay Mafia. It's like these people are missing reality chips and are so skewed by their fearful anti-gay worldviews that they are utterly incapable of distinguishing truth from fiction.

As with other MassResistance-produced propaganda pieces, "Max's" testimonial is simultaneously amusing, provocative, and brings to the top all of that just-below-the-surface anti-gay bigotry that is often simmering in anti-gay crowds. MassResistance justified its posting of photos from this event by saying that "the world needs to see what's happening." Yet, we only need to visit any rightwing website mentioning anything having to do with homosexuality to view the hostility with which many people already view it. For instance, some of "Max's" photos were posted on rightwing site FreeRepublic and commenters there expressed disgust, engaged in name-calling, thumped their Bibles, and expressed hope that all of the teenagers in attendance would get HIV and die.

By "exposing" this event to rabid anti-gay crowds and offering nothing more than judgmental condemnations regarding the disgustingness of homosexuality MassResistance's piece, which assumes that the immorality of homosexuality is a self-evident universal truth, feeds right into that anti-social anti-gay aggression and hatred. To many of us, this testimonial documents nothing strange, weird, gross, or immoral. In fact, even a quick perusal of the testimonial shows that it contains no argument as to why this event should not be held. It's as though the best arguments against the youth pride event that MassResistance can offer is a sophomoric Look, homos are gross and that tired old cry of Gays Recruit!!11!!

Relying on those trusty arguments from the gut and that reliable conservative uptightness about human sexuality, we see everyday that much of what passes for anti-gay advocacy doesn't have a lick to do with saving the children. Given how judgmental and immature the testimonial comes off as, any expressed concern for these LGBT youth comes off as disingenuous at best. While the anti-gay advocacy of some professional marriage defenders is oftentimes "something else in disguise," MassResistance doesn't even don a costume to its latest parade of homobigotry.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Thoughts On Pride

40 years ago almost to the day, New York City police officers and the Public Morals Squad raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City. 40 years ago, raids of gay bars were common and patrons, especially if they were male and wearing dresses, were arrested.

40 years ago, laws were still on the books that criminalized consensual sex between two people of the same-sex in their private homes.

40 years ago, the American Psychiatric Association considered homosexuality to be a mental disorder.

40 years ago, being gay was something to be kept secret and to be ashamed of.

The LGBT rights movement did not begin at Stonewall, but we celebrate LGBT pride every June because Stonewall symbolizes a visible act of resistance to government-sanctioned oppression.

2009 began as a year of hope and change for all Americans. And, after a particularly alienating previous 8 years, LGBT Americans especially took this message to heart. This Pride weekend, let us celebrate how far we've come but let us not forget that, although the rhetoric is more appealing, our own government continues to weight us down. The Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Ask Don't Tell exist to remind Americans that being gay is less-than being heterosexual. These two federal laws tell us that being gay is so very different than being heterosexual that those who are gay can't possibly be the same types of spouses to each other, or the same types of soldiers for our nation, that people who are heterosexual can be.

Today, we know that being gay is not something to be kept secret or to be ashamed of. Yes, organizations, individuals, and some politicians who fancy themselves our modern-day public morals squad devote their lives to telling us otherwise. And likewise, those who claim to be our friends and then take no action to repeal unjust laws also tell us otherwise.

I am reminded this Pride that true change comes from within communities, through grassroots organizing, and through the simple work of everyday people and rarely from politicians who make big promises in hopes of gaining power from us.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Breaking News: Another Otherwise Really Great Guy Attacks Woman

Now doesn't this just chap your ass?

"An off-duty Chicago police officer convicted of pummeling a female bartender half his size was sentenced Tuesday to two years probation and anger management classes for the videotaped attack that appeared worldwide on the Internet and cable news channels."

We have seen before how the media tends to portray white males who commit acts of violence as inherently non-violent beings who just did something stupid that one time they like kicked the shit out of someone. Society has a tendency to construct violence as out of character for white men while ascribing violence as being inherent to certain other non-dominant groups.

In this latest case of White Gandhi Gone Awry, the 250-pound police officer Anthony Abbate was shown on videotape punching and kicking a 125-pound female bartender who refused to serve him more alcohol because, pursuant to her legal duty, he was over-served. Amazingly, he claimed self-defense:

"Abbate acknowledged during the trial that he was drunk during the incident. But he said Obrycka pushed him first as she tried to remove him from behind the bar" [emphasis added].

It's understandable. It's probably very scary for a large men who has entitled himself to someone else's booze to be "pushed" by a small women who trying to keep him from taking it.

Prosecutors sought a prison sentence but the judge "didn't see aggravating factors to justify a prison term." Since, you know, a man drunkenly attacking a woman half his size isn't enough of a harm in and of itself. Or, as his defense attorney explains it to us:

"He's not a bad man, he did something bad." He characterized the incident as "one silly, stupid act."

The Chicago Police Department is apparently "looking into" firing Abbate. Whoa-ho-ho there! Why get crazy and take things that far when it's clear that the man is a really great guy who just got drunk and did something silly that one time?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

More Fun Thinking Beyond the Binary

Our anti-equality friend The Playful Walrus recently posted a piece regarding an after-school program that explores gender outside of our culturally-constructed binary. The Walrus is rarely one for depth in his pieces and I don't say that to slight him. It is his schtick to, on his various blogs, respond to newspaper letters to the editor and articles in the form of one-liners and rhetorical questions in a manner that perhaps those who agree with him consider to be witty or insightful. While that approach may be fun, I tend to be of the opinion that real-life is deserving of more nuance and depth than one-liners, and this post, I hope, will demonstrate some of that nuance.

At the end of his series of mini-rants about an after-school program using tax dollars to promote an agenda that he does not agree with, we finally get to the substance of Walrus' issue with a program that encourages teens to re-think gender and biological sex. His issue with the program has to do with his need, and it's one that many social conservatives share, for the maintenance of clear and distinct lines around what is Male and what is Female. He writes:

"Look, people are born male and female, the species perpetuates itself through the two sexes interacting. Sure, some people of each of those two sexes have no interest in sex, or are attracted to people of the same sex exclusively or in addition to people of the opposite sex. Yeah, there are instances when baby is born with some abnormal genitalia. But there are two basic genders – period. I saw picture of a baby born with a third arm. Instead of starting an activist movement to 'honor' this new category of identity, they amputated the arm" (emphasis added).

I suspect that many social conservatives strongly value certainty in life and that's understandable. Life is full of uncertainty, and that can be scary. Religious "truths," tradition, and "old-fashioned ideas" provide a sense of certainty, safety, and meaning to many people's lives. And, when tradition happens to benefit, and does not harm, a person's identity within a dominant group, it tends to be quite easy to insist that everyone should keep following certain traditional views because they "work." So, within this (to them) self-evident socially conservative worldview, only biological males and biological females exist, with all or most people being inherently heterosexual. While many social conservatives will admit that biological anomalies exist that render some people's chromosomes non-XX/non-XY, they will usually only go so far as saying that these variations are Tragic and Too Rare Too Matter. When social conservatives admit that non-heterosexuality might be something that people are born with, as opposed to something that people for some reason "choose," many of them fully expect non-heterosexual to nonetheless opt for heterosexuality anyway.

Rather than accept difference, many social conservatives will acknowledge it, mark it with a badge of inferiority, brand it as pathological, and insist that Others "amputate" their differences and assimilate into statistical normalcy with Everyone Else. We see this in the ex-gay movement, in Evangelical Christianity, and in the refusal to call transgender people by their preferred gender pronouns. Accordingly, in Playful Walrus' amputation analogy, which one of his fellow bloggers calls "perfect," he insists that others literally remove that part of them that is different from the statistical norm so that he and other who are invested in certainty will not have to re-think things. In this particular case, we see how these folks are invested in maintaining the sex binary and unwilling to re-evaluate their gender theory in spite of evidence things are not quite so, to use a cliche, black and white.

This worldview in which certainty reigns supreme is often contrasted with the view that reality is much more gray, much less tidy, and remarkably less certain than the above view. I'm sure it will come as no surprise that I tend to agree with this latter view. Unlike the tidiness of certainty in general and male-female complementarity in particular, I think it is more apt to observe that human beings exist along a gradation of male and female, in terms of both gender and sex. In terms of gender, meta-analyses show that men and women are alike on most, but not all, psychological variables. The significant differences, in the domains of physical strength, sex drive, and aggression, are likely attributable to the influences of testosterone and social conditioning. Thus, I would go so far as suggesting that it's impossible to know what the essence of being a woman, or a man, is in terms of gender. Surely, it is more than testosterone, something that any woman could inject herself with, that makes a man? In any event, I do not think it is accurate to conceptualize Male and Female as discrete categories of gender, given all the variation in gender expression that is plainly observable in human beings.

In terms of biological sex, I have explored the questions that arise with respect to even defining biological females and biological males. Far from mere "instances where baby is born with some abnormal genitalia," a myriad of hormonal, anatomical, and chromosomal conditions exist that shed light on the inaccuracy and insufficiency of the sex binary. I know that many people believe that XY Anatomical Males constitute the Real Male, XX Anatomical Females constitute the Real Female, and those who do not fall neatly into one of these two categories are errors. Yet, aside from the rudeness of suggesting that some people are mistakes, in reality, I think it is worth exploring whether it's even accurate to say that these Others are flawed males and flawed females. What if, instead, it is more accurate to say that all people exist along a gradation of sex and gender, and that some people are more "gray" than others? What if, biological sex and gender are often, but not always, concordant? And then, therefore, what are the implications of "amputating" or "correcting" that which makes someone Not Completely Female or Male? What if, in doing so, we amputate that which makes a person that particular person?

To those invested in the gender binary, variations outside of Definitely Male and Definitely Female are tragic and rare. These cases are statistically uncommon (but more common than people think); yet, the only tragedy is that doctors, parents, and sex binary-dominant cultures have entitled themselves to make these personal decisions for other people. Approximately 1 in 2000 babies are born with "ambiguous genitalia," a micropenis or enlarged clitoris, and doctors now advise caution in "correcting" this "condition." It actually turns out that amputating "extra tissue" to make a child fit into a neat category to make things easier (for other people), has actually turned out to be the "wrong" decision in some cases. Furthermore, those invested in providing patient-centered care, as opposed to those invested in maintaining a simplistic sex binary, suggest that body parts should not be "removed" or altered until the child is mature enough to make an informed decision for him or herself.

Note that my argument here is more than a matter of political correctness or semantics. My argument is that conceptualizing sex and gender as Wholly Male or Wholly Female is not an accurate reflection of reality. The Intersex Society of North America advocates against recognizing any sort of third gender, but their reason is not that such a categorization would be inaccurate, but rather because doing so would "unnecessarily traumatize the [intersex] child." Instead, the Intersex Society points out that, in reality, "nature presents us with sex anatomy spectrums" [emphasis added] and that, to maintain order, human cultures simplify all people into Male or Female. Furthermore, it is not nature that decides "where the category of 'male' ends and the category of 'intersex' begins, or where the category of 'intersex' ends and the category of 'female' begins. Humans decide."

Knowing this, we can see how this conversation is not as simple or "self-evident" as is commonly thought. For one, if sex and gender are gradations, as opposed to discrete categories, at what point do we truly know whether to call a person male or female? Shouldn't that decision be up to each individual person, and not doctors, parents, or people with political agendas? With these complications in mind, I have no problem knowing that my precious "tax dollars" are going towards an after-school program that teaches teenagers that it's okay to think beyond the simplistic sex/gender binary.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Marriage Equality and the Ideology of Rights

I'd like to think occasional commenter Chuck for passing this article along to me. In it, conservative Rod Dreher explores the issue of marriage equality in a meandering yet thoughtful manner.

One of the secular arguments against allowing same-sex marriage is the argument that marriage is about Responsible Procreation. The essence of that argument, as demonstrated by prominent "marriage defender" David Blankenhorn, is that marriage was designed to produce children and to meet the important social need of childrearing. Leaving aside the question of who, exactly, it was that did this alleged designing, Dreher's piece cites Peter Berkowitz's response to this argument. Namely, even if marriage used to be defined by a man and woman raising their biological children together, marriage is no longer that to many people:

"Ask twentysomethings and thirtysomethings what they hope for from marriage. They will, of course, tell you that they want love and that they definitely want companionship -- indeed, that they expect their spouse to be their best friend. And obviously they want to share the pleasures of sex. Then ask them about children. Many will pause and say well, yes, certainly, they are thinking about children, and eventually, somewhere down the line, they expect to have one or two. But children, once at the center of marriage, have now become negotiable, and what used to be negotiable -- love, companionship, sex -- has moved to the center. Under these circumstances, legal recognition of same-sex marriage will not represent a change in the meaning of a venerable social institution through law, but rather an adaptation of law to a profound change in social meaning." [emphasis added]

That is, legalizing same-sex marriage will not change marriage. It will change the law to reflect what marriage currently is- something along the lines of two people who love each other, commit to mutually supporting each other, and who may or may not raise children together.

Secondly, Dreher cites law professor Amy Wax's secular reasons for opposing marriage equality. I actually take issue with the bulk of Wax's argumentation, as do law professors Dale Carpenter and Andy Koppelman. However, I would especially like to note her argument here:

"Finally... legalizing homosexual marriage will of course create pressure to 'normalize' those relationships in all contexts. This will extend to teaching in public schools (and private schools for that matter).

The absolute equivalence of hetero and homosexual relationships will become public orthodoxy."

I have been doing a fair amount of reading lately on the social construction of outgroups and deviancy. Nothing, I believe, about the anti-gay industry is more harmful to LGBT people than is the idea that we, and our relationships, are inherently pathological and less than heterosexuality and heterosexual relationships. People object to even informing children about homosexuality because they believe in the artificial ideology of heterosexual supremacy.

I know that many heterosexuals and anti-gays believe that their relationships and marriages to their opposite-sex partners are inherently better and more important than my relationship is to my same-sex partner. My partner and I attend weddings of heterosexual friends and family members because we love them; but at the same time I never forget that my "girlfriend" and I have often been together longer than the celebrated bride and groom and, even if we were to have a "commitment ceremony," it would be legally meaningless and would not be universally glorified in the way that heterosexual marriages are.

This isn't an ego thing for gays and lesbians and it's not about hurt feelings. Personally, I don't grant anti-gays that ability, anyway. Heterosexism is more than that. The ideology of heterosexual superiority emphasizes and exaggerates differences between LGBT people and heterosexuals and operates by denying us social acceptance, freedom from stereotypes, freedom from being seen as individuals (as opposed to members of a deviant outgroup), and freedom from being viewed as mentally unwell, pathological, evil, and/or scapegoats for various social ills. It may seem like a lot for parents to give up the "right" to have schools teach that homosexuality is wrong, but I think the benefit to LGBT people of not having to endure this stigma of inferiority outweighs this "right."

Finally, Dreher explores an issue perhaps inherent in the ideology of rights. To many of us who support marriage equality, we do not believe that "marriage defenders" are able to provide a compelling reason as to why same-sex marriage should not be a constitutional right. Yet, to many "marriage defenders," acknowledging the right to same-sex marriage means that we cannot logically deny the right to marriage to other groups seeking marriage, such as polyamorists.

Dale Carpenter, I think, does one of the best jobs of addressing this argument, so I will defer to him:

"One response to the fear that dyadic same-sex unions will lead to a polygamy slippery now is, 'Why would it?' Opening marriage to one change because the change seems justified does not mean that opening marriage to every change is justified. Every proposal for reform rises or falls on its own merits. Gay marriage advocates have made extensive (and contested) arguments about why it would benefit individuals and society. It is up to polygamy advocates to do the same."

Drawing new lines around marriage, does not mean that our legal system is abandoning all lines. The law makes distinctions and these distinctions are upheld unless they are found to be irrelevant or arbitrary. There may, or may not, be large contingents of polyamorists seeking marital rights, but their battle like any other will have to be won on its own merits.

To get around this issue, it is clear that it would be most helpful to all sides to get the government out of this thing called "marriage" entirely. By distributing benefits, rights, and privileges to some personal relationships and not others, the government has set itself up for precisely these sorts of constitutional challenges. Currently, by favoring dyadic heterosexual relationships, the federal government and most states are effectively involved in maintaining an ideology that holds that one type of relationship is superior to every other type of relationship and entitled to public resources that other relationships are not. Combined with the liberal ideology of rights, it will be state involvement in marriage that will be the true destroyer of traditional marriage.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Gay Agenda: Found! (Again)

From time to time, those opposed to LGBT rights come across "proof" of The Gay Agenda. This evidence, which they usually find on the world wide web and then present to their like-minded readers as though it is a startling top secret revelation, usually consists of some sort of compilation of policy priorities that such-and-such LGBT organization has produced.

For instance, in his eerily-titled "Gay Rights- a cascading tyranny of nihilistic hedonism" post, James Tanner is at it again, this time claiming that the LGBT rights movement is "masking its true objectives behind a facade of equality." Imbuing gays with the incredible desire to destroy US culture, Tanner claims that the true objectives "of the Gay Rights movement include the utter destruction of our entire society."

How does he know this?

Because the Gay Liberation Front Manifesto says so, that's why. This manifesto, you will notice, was originally written in London in 1971. Tanner claims that heterosexuals supporting LGBT rights today "have no understanding of the history of modern radical liberalism." Now, several issues immediately jump out from this post. For one, attributing the goals of some gay people, or one LGBT rights organization, to gays "as a group," as Tanner does throughout this post, is a standard hasty generalization. (I don't mean to be so Logic 101 here, but some posts merit such a treatment). Here, Tanner has examined one particular manifesto and has generalized it to be representative of the LGBT rights movement and gay people as a whole.

His post is littered with statements like "they are as a group," "they," and "their," yet he cites no names and only provides the words of this one LGBT group. This post shows no capacity for Tanner to see LGBT people as individuals. This fallacy is quite common among people who are unwilling or incapable of viewing minority groups as being composed of individuals as nuanced and capable of divergent opinions amongst themselves as Everyone Else. I sincerely wonder if Tanner has forgotten that he's even talking about human beings and not some abstract, non-human Gay Agenda.

Unfortunately, it has been my experience that it is often futile to point out to those who make such simplistic generalizations that just because some gay people have certain goals, it doesn't mean that all gay people have these goals. If I, a lesbian, point out that I do not in fact aim to utterly destroy "our entire society," I am considered to be an exception to the general rule regarding gays. Or, the conspiracy theorist will take his theory to a whole other level and claim that rank-and-file members of the LGBT community have been hoodwinked, so to speak, by the LGBT Elites.

Secondly, and most egregiously, Tanner makes absolutely no connection as to how this particular manifesto is connected to the present-day LGBT rights movement in the US. He merely presents this manifesto, claims that gay rights supporters have no knowledge as to how this manifesto is related to the gay rights movement today, and then leaves the readers to fill in all the blanks and all the history themselves. Any semblance of a historical narrative completely lacking, he leaves his conclusion that LGBT people "as a group" are "nothing more or less than an extension of radical liberalism" completely unsupported. He builds no bridge, so to speak, from 1971 to 2009. Not that I would seek out Tanner's interpretation of history (as he has presented inaccurate accounts of history before), but if I only had his post to go by, I would be left wondering what all has happened in those 30+ years in which this manifesto was written in London and how it affects the LGBT rights movement in the US today.

Third, and of particular disappointment, is that Tanner's grand conclusion is an abysmal non sequitur. Observe. Near the end of his piece, he cites some of the specific goals of "the movement" such as eradicating discrimination against gays and lesbians, teaching that homosexuality is valid, allowing gay people to contact other gay people, and allowing gay people to kiss and hold hands in public like heterosexuals can. He then present these goals, without argument, as though they are self-evidently wrong to all people of High Morals and then, then!, he claims that inherent in these goals is "the utter destruction of our entire society." (I think that's why he boasts that he's not sympathetic towards any of these goals). Upon reading his conclusion, I did the Scooby-Doo WTF head tilt. That's how I always know I've just read an abrupt, unexpected plot twist that comes from nowhere and knocks you right off your chair. I was right up there with him, ready to concede that I could maybe see how some people could oppose some of those goals but then, like Chicken Little, he had to go where so many have gone before and get all hyperbolic on us.

See, it's not at all clear, at least to anyone who doesn't already agree with Tanner about things, as to how a laundry list of things like allowing gay people to hold hands in public will lead to the "utter destruction of our entire society." So, at this point, I think it could be most helpful to translate. By "our entire society," I don't think Tanner really means to say "our" entire society. Sadly, that which he calls "our" entire society, is really the society that exists in Traditional Values UtopiaLand, where employers can fire queers, police can raid gay bars, and gays forever suppress their "lifestyle choices" instead opting for that special something that is Man-Woman Coituslove. Using his worldview as the universal norm, he displays that unfortunate social conservative tendency to pass off his ideal society as the only authentic way of living for all of humanity.

To end, Tanner claims that his blog is dedicated to, among other things, "advancing freedom of conscience, belief and basic human rights for people of all faiths, traditions and cultures." That is a noble aim. Sadly, given that Tanner admits that he is not at all sympathetic to any of the "Gay Rights Movement's" goals, goals that include basic freedoms and rights for gay people, this noble aim does not at all resonate and, instead, rings ridiculously hollow.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday Flasher Poll

So, two days ago whilst walking downtown in a major US city, a man flashed his naked penis at me. This isn't the first time a man unknown to me has felt the need to show me his cock and balls and, if you're a woman reading this, I'd be willing to bet that a man has done the same to you.

The first time a stranger exposed himself to me, I was about 14. In the small town where I grew up, I was walking home from the store at night with a female friend and a man from behind us started shouting to get our attention. We turned around and we saw that this man was shining a flashlight on his naked genitals and running towards us. We ran screaming all the way home, visions of him doing terrible things to us dancing in our heads. The second time a man flashed me, I was 16 and driving on the highway with two female friends. A man drove up next to my car in the adjacent lane and began staring at us. He also happened to be wearing no pants and was masturbating.

This latest time, a man pulled up to the curb close to wear I was locking my bicycle and called me over to his car. Believing that he was yet another tourist seeking directions from a local, I walked over to his car, happy to help. When I was about three feet from the passenger door, he looked at me expectantly and, right then, a creepy feeling ran through me. I quickly noticed that this man was not wearing pants and, almost proudly, he was gesturing toward his (unimpressive) penis. Because the common wisdom is that flashers like to get a reaction out of women, my face remained blank and I matter-of-factly began recording his license plate number on my legal pad. Because of the look of panic on his face, I am convinced that he left skid marks not only on the pavement as he peeled away but also in the front seat of his car. You know, since he wasn't wearing pants and all.

It is commonly thought that flashers expose themselves for their own sexual gratification. Sure, I can see that. People have all sorts of paraphilias (not to be confused with sexual orientations, right anti-gays?). Yet, I honestly don't know what sort of reaction men who expose themselves to strangers are seeking for their own gratification. Are they trying to evoke fear? Desire? Anger? Any sort of strong emotional response?

Some psychologists say that exhibitionists are insecure and have a "deep sense of inadequacy" which produces a desire to prove themselves by frightening others. I can buy that. In our culture, it is an unfortunate reality and survival response for women to associate a stranger's penis that they have neither asked nor wanted to see with Very Bad Things.

Yet, sometimes, there's that moment right after they drop trou. They have that proud look in their eyes that says "Look what I have" as they expectantly wait for your reaction. It is then that I believe some of these men are so invested in the myth of the all-mighty phallus that what they really want in their heart of hearts is for women to stop what they are doing, congratulate them, and just behold the awe-inspiring sight of their male penis as though it's the Washington Monument. Because, you know, they may not have much in life, but they do have a dick and that counts for something Very Important, doesn't it?

Anyway, I did report this latest flasher's license plate to the police. I felt a bit silly doing so given that we are socialized to think that flashing is No Big Deal And In Fact Quite Funny. But, I also had a hunch that this dude was just driving around downtown flashing random women all afternoon, what with him driving around sans pants and all. He could be a registered sex offender or well on his way to being one. Who knows. My doubts about reporting the incident went away when I remembered the fear I felt during the teenage flashing incidents I experienced and what an unsolicited penis at that point in my life could have meant. My frightened reaction probably gave those two guys jerk-off material for weeks, and that disgusts me.

Flashers are an annoyance, and sometimes worse, that most women deal with or have dealt with in their lives. Unwanted male exhibitionism is part of a culture in which some men believe that they are sexually entitled to women, whether they're making unsolicited comments about our looks, tricking women into looking at their dicks, or otherwise entitling themselves to us for their own sexual gratification. It is self-penis worship at its most pathetic state.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tropes, Buffy, and Annoying Commercials

1. You Too Can Be Depicted!

I recently came across a (sort-of) wiki called TV Tropes that is quite entertaining in its exploration of many television (and movie, literary, and comic book) devices and conventions.

Some of these tropes include, for gays, the usually male character of Gay Best Friend (think "George" in My Best Friend's Wedding) and for black people, those trusty roles of Black Best Friend (think "Dionne" in Clueless) and Magical Negro (think "Morpheus" and "the Oracle" in The Matrix)?

I know, coming the day after a post in which I criticized an anti-gay person for taking issue with a "normal" lesbian character, you might be thinking that I'm implacable. But, media representations can be powerful, so it's something I think about quite a bit. For instance, it used to be a common cliche for writers to make gay and lesbian characters evil, incapable of finding happiness, and then ending up dead. Within the Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliche, "one of the most repeated scenarios is that one lesbian dies horribly and her lover goes crazy, killing others or herself." Yet, tropes, or so the TV Tropes site argues, are more benign than cliches and they are not necessarily "bad." Rather they are just patterns in storytelling that people come to recognize.

Speaking only for myself, what I want from the media is for minorities to be depicted as embodying the full range of humanity in the same way as people who are considered the norm, as much as that's possible in storytelling anyway. While it's true that sometimes people do really have Gay Best Friends. Where we have a problem is when virtually every single representation of a gay person is of Gay Best Friend. It sort of reduces the person to an unrealistic character who lacks "any wants or motivations not directly related to the [usually heterosexual] protagonist." Which is fine, if you and people exactly like you are the protagonist. But, not so swell when people like you are rarely the storyteller.

2. Buffy, Take Two

Ever since it was announced a few weeks ago that a Buffy the Vampire Slayer remake of the (sub-par) 1992 film, Buffyverse fans have expressed an almost collective sense of disappointment that producer Joss Whedon will not be a part of the project.

Although whoever produces this movie has big shoes to fill, given the current sausage-fest that is this summer's Action Flick line-up, I am not all that disappointed about the revival of a movie about a female hero. Many of us have been waiting a long time for a movie/television continuation of one of the few television series centered not only around a strong empowered female hero, but also a lesbian character who had real relationships and sex with other women.

Yes, it is difficult to conceive of a Buffy project without Whedon or any of the original Scoobies, but I think the producers could assuage a tiny bit of this disappointment, at least to a certain segment of the Buffyverse fan base, if Lucy and Renee were somehow thrown into the mix. If you're part of that certain segment, "Lucy and Renee" require no further elaboration.

3. Very Important Poll

In other news, judging by the results of my Very Scientific poll (n=10), commercials featuring Billy Mays are officially the most annoying commercials in the world. I concur.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

And Normalizing Others is a Bad Thing?

I have written before about my appreciation for literature that includes LGBT characters. LGBT people exist in the real world and, given the extent to which those who oppose homosexuality tend to demonize us and deny us a history, I think fiction can go a long way in helping to reflect our common humanity. When people come to care about and understand LGBT characters, I think it helps some people come to see us less as monsters and more as people who are perhaps much like themselves. Even back in the 1950s, lesbians such as Jeanette Howard Foster recognized the importance of looking for reflections of ourselves in literature.

Unfortunately, some people, such as "Traditional Value" blogger Emissary take issue with LGBT characters in literature. Here, she recounts her experience of accidentally stumbling upon a lesbian romance in a book she was reading and explains what was so troubling about the lesbian character:

"First, [the author] made the [lesbian] character very likable. This isn't the first book this character has been in, and in all of the others this unexpected romantic side was missing. It may have been because the girl was younger then, but (at least from my perspective) there was no warning that she was anything but heterosexual."

As Emissary has entitled her post "Normalizing Homosexual Behavior Through Fiction," I gather that she thinks all of this- making a lesbian character "likable" and such- is a bad thing and that she doesn't think authors should make LGBT characters otherwise just like everyone else. For instance, you will notice that she complains that "there was no warning" that the character "was anything but heterosexual" until the character fell in love with someone of the same-sex. When I read statements like these, I'm always saddened. Many people believe that the LGBT rights movement is propagandistic, but people who believe that "likable" LGBT characters just aren't realistic have to be wearing thick, thick perception-distorting goggles of their own.

I mean, what does she expect, tails and horns? Anyway, it probably goes without saying that personally, I'm always delighted when a character I have come to admire and relate to surprisingly turns out to be gay.

Secondly, Emissary expresses disappointment that the main character in the book acted like homosexuality "was not a big deal. There was no extreme shock, no abhorrence, no indication that it was anything but normal and perfectly acceptable." It's interesting, this complaint. In the real world, to many people, homosexuality is no big deal and completely undeserving of "extreme shock" and "abhorrence." Is Emissary suggesting that only in fiction is homosexuality not a big deal?

Emissary claims to only read children's books, because adult ones tend to include "a lot of sex, violence, and profanity." Yet, as our blogger friend PF notes, in the reality-based world sex, violence, and profanity are all a part of the human condition. As is homosexuality and people who think homosexuality is no big deal. While perhaps it is reasonable to shield children from things that adults deem "immoral," I see less value in adults shielding themselves from reality as, well, I think the term for that would be Intentional Ignorance.

To sum this up, I think Emissary does a good job of discrediting herself all on her own. That is, I'm not really all that surprised or offended that a person who professes to censor herself from reality would suggest that gay people aren't "likable," like Normal People, or deserving of anything other than acceptance.

Anyway, whether your goal in life is to avoid or encounter lesbian, bisexual, or cross-dressing women in literature, I would recommend Jeanette Howard Foster's classic reference piece Sex Variant Women in Literature. First published in 1956, Foster's tome examines how same-sex love between women can be observed in hundreds of years of Western literature, as far back as Sappho.

And only a few of them had tails.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Obama's DOMA Fail

Given Barack Obama's impotence on LGBT rights thus far into his presidency and the duty of the Department of Justice to enforce current US law, it comes as no surprise that Obama's Department of Justice (DOJ) is defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the law that prevents same-sex couples from receiving any of the federal benefits, rights, and privileges of marriage. What is more surprising, and extremely disappointing, is that the DOJ brief deploys arguments that are to be expected from rightwing anti-gays, not from certain liberal Democrats who claim to be "fierce advocates" for the LGBT community.

You may read the brief over at Pam's House Blend, embedded within a post that gives an excellent run-down of its arguments and subsequent responses by LGBT organizations. Some of the arguments included within the brief include the argument that DOMA is good because it saves the federal government money (since surviving same-sex partners cannot receive Social Security Survivors benefits, for instance), that no analogy exists between bans on inter-racial marriage and bans on same-sex marriage, and that DOMA doesn't discriminate against lesbians and gay men because lesbians and gay men are already free to marry people of the opposite sex. Strangely, the brief also argues that DOMA is actually "neutral" towards marriage equality, despite the fact that in the reality-based world it prohibits the federal government from recognizing legal same-sex marriages, civil unions, and domestic partnerships.

I have addressed these substantive arguments previously and the links are embedded above. So, putting aside those issues, I want to focus today on another topic. Namely that, from the Obama Administration, the LGBT community has endured one slap in the face after another. Personally, I was willing to let the Rick Warren thing go. I could see, after all, that a reasonable person might think that a symbolic gesture to unite our nation was more important than Rick Warren's previous vilifications of our community. Then, when the Obama Administration announced that repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell would have to wait, I took that at face value and continued to hold out HopeChangeyChange that he would eventually follow through with his campaign promise once he finished More Important Business.

But now, to support DOMA, the most sweeping piece of legislation that prevents same-sex couples from full legal equality, and to use asinine rightwing homobigoted arguments in the process, that's strike three in my book. And yes, the Department of Justice has a duty to defend current laws, but past presidents (and Obama, in a different instance) have refused to do so when "there are important political and social issues at stake." While many of us in the LGBT community have suspected that Obama secretly favored marriage equality despite his statements to the contrary, I think some of us, myself included, were giving him too much credit.

The Obama Administration's new line is now that DOMA will be repealed before his term ends at some unspecified future date. That's nice. But promises at this point are empty when his Administration unnecessarily and counter-productively just elevated offensive fringe arguments into the mainstream. During his presidency, the Obama Administration has consistently validated every homophobe out there and has made it just a little bit easier for people to continue thinking it's acceptable to treat LGBT people poorly and enshrine discrimination into law.

I'm neither a Democrat or a Republican, but at least with McCain and Palin we would have known what we were getting. So, for now, I'm officially "neutral" towards President Obama.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Odds 'N Ends

1. How Does God Feel About Abuse?

Nathan Phelps, son of Fred Phelps of "God Hates Fags" Notoriety, recently addressed the American Atheists Convention. In his speech, he recounts his abusive childhood, his father's theological beliefs, and his evolution from Christianity to atheism.

I don't think that all anti-gay people are as extreme as Phelps. In fact, where many relatively mainstream people who oppose homosexuality and LGBT rights insist that gays can and should opt for heterosexuality in order to be "saved," Phelps is more of a Calvinist. Nathan writes:

"[T]he heart of Calvinism is the doctrine of absolute predestination, which posits that in the council halls of eternity past, an omniscient and omnipotent god preordained who would be saved, and who would be damned. Mankind would have no say or choice in this, since they are dead in their trespasses and sin. If you are selected you gain eternal life. If you lose, you suffer the most extreme physical and mental anguish forever. My father has simply refined Calvin’s doctrine to the point where the vast majority of us are going to hell. And he and his followers are among the privileged few chosen by God.

This doctrine is very important to understanding the Westboro Baptist Church. My father, and those who follow him, are not preaching to try to convince people of their truth. Unlike street evangelists, who are trying to convert people, my father has no intention of converting anyone, since conversion is impossible. You’re either chosen, or you’re not."

Although it contains graphic descriptions of child and domestic abuse, it's worth a read if you're at all interested in what drives a person to devote his life and his family's life to telling the world that "God" hates various people and nations. Although, I'm pretty sure I could just sum up the WBC's philosophy by saying God Hates You, You're Going to Burn In Hell, and There's Nothing You Can Do About It.

I suppose I can see how that might discourage some people from Christianity.

2) How Does Got Feel About Racism and Homophobia?

North Carolina legislators so resoundingly passed a resolution honoring the late Jesse Helms. In a mostly-symbolic gesture, the only openly-gay legislator in the state, Senator Julia Boseman voted against it. 26 legislators, mostly African-American, sat out of the vote altogether.

Helms is (in)famous for his conservative views regarding race and homosexuality. During his career, he opposed federal HIV/AIDS funding, believed gay men and lesbians to be pathological ("weak, morally sick wretches" were his words), opposed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, opposed school integration, and opposed Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

It is highly disappointing that white heterosexual legislators, especially Democrats and "liberals," did not stand in solidarity with African-Americans and the LGBT community and oppose honoring this divisive man. Furthermore, when I read about things like this, I become more convinced that white conservatives, who are so eager to decry gays for comparing our struggle to the black civil rights movement, don't really care all that much about the African-American community outside of how they can pit the two communities against each other.

Not only is this resolution disappointing, but it is inappropriate. We can and should honor Helms' human dignity as we should with all people, but doing so does not require rewarding and validating all of the negativity he has contributed to the world.

3) An Apt Mission

Last week, we experienced another unfortunate act of probable domestic terrorism. Rather than at a church, this latest incident happened at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Rather than focus on the alleged perpetrator of this act of violence, I'd like to end today by contemplating the very noble mission of this museum:

"A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum stimulates leaders and citizens to confront hatred, prevent genocide, promote human dignity, and strengthen democracy.... Located among our national monuments to freedom on the National Mall, the Museum provides a powerful lesson in the fragility of freedom, the myth of progress, the need for vigilance in preserving democratic values. With unique power and authenticity, the Museum teaches millions of people each year about the dangers of unchecked hatred and the need to prevent genocide. And we encourage them to act, cultivating a sense of moral responsibility among our citizens so that they will respond to the monumental challenges that confront our world."

Of particular note, within this statement, is "the myth of progress." I don't think it's possible for humanity to evolve out of, or outgrow, its capacity for violence over time. Despite society's "progress," various cultures throughout time and history have constructed and persecuted Jews as a dangerous and deviant outgroup. When it isn't Jews that people construct as sub-human deviants, it is some other group of Others. The target of persecution changes, but the methods are similar.

This capacity for group persecution is what humanity needs to be vigilant against.

Friday, June 12, 2009

"Marriage Defenders" Continue Promoting Dishonesty

As we have seen numerous times, some of those who take up the righteous cause of "marriage defense" have serious problems when it comes to accuracy and honesty.

Previously, I have debunked a few of the many erroneuous and/or misleading claims that anti-gay organization Mass Resistance has made regarding the so-called "harms" of legal same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, "marriage defenders" throughout the blogosphere continue to promote Mass Resistance's piece without question. What has been more disappointing than the unquestioning acceptance of this piece, however, has been the apathy that "marriage defenders" have shown with respect to this piece's dishonesty when I have brought it to their attention.

As one recent example of this tendency, citing no evidence whatsoever aside from the Mass Resistance piece, "marriage defense" blog Kingfisher Column claims:

"What ["Gay Activists"] don't want you to know is that the [Massachusetts] court's ruling on gay 'marriage' has negatively impacted almost every sector of life: education, public health, business, and family life."

In response to this snippet, I asked this blogger:

"Given that the Mass Resistance piece you cite was created by an identified hate group and numerous inaccuracies have been found in it, what is your justification for promoting it?"

The blog author did not respond to me in the comment section but merely added an "update" to his/her blog post saying:

"Opine Editorials wrote a post about this same article. You can read the post here as well as dozens of comments in which Opine already addressed concerns. No point in me saying what has already been said."

Sad. I only say so because no one at Opine has actually "addressed" any of my critiques of the Mass Resistance piece, making Kingfisher's statement a dismissive cop-out. In fact, I have yet to see a single "marriage defender" address Mass Resistance's dishonesty despite the fact that I have deliberately exposed my critique to numerous people who devote their web presences to the ideology of "marriage defense." They either dismiss the dishonesty, ignore it, claim they will address it at an unspecified future date, or make vague claims about how "homosexual marriage advocates" engage in character/source assassination.

What's up with that, folks? I tend to think that decent people, no matter what their political beliefs are, can find a common appeal in the values of intellectual and moral honesty. Now, I'm not so sure. Maybe, to some people, any means justifies the end of Saving Marriage.

I would like to address anti-equality blogger Pearl's claim, above, that "homosexual marriage advcaotes" engage in character/source assassination, before ending here. It is not character/source assassination to point out dishonesty. It is not character/source assassination (why the violent language, by the way?!) to note that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has identified Mass Resistance to be one of 12 anti-gay hate groups in the US. As this group's dishonest same-sex marriage piece demonstrates, Mass Resistance goes "beyond mere disagreement with homosexuality by subjecting gays and lesbians to campaigns of personal vilification." Mind you, it takes quite a bit to be identified as an anti-gay hate group. Think: Fred Phelps and his church of God Hates Fags. Think: Watchmen on the Walls, an anti-gay group founded by a Holocaust revisionist who claims that the rise of Nazi Germany was perpetuated by Powerful Gay Men. More mainstream, for lack of a better term, anti-gay and "marriage defense" organizations are not considered by the SPLC to be hate groups because their activities (arguably) do not venture into the realm of personal vilification of LGBT people.

It is my hope that, one day, "marriage defenders" will address the substance of my critique and take responsibility for their promotion of dishonesty. Their current method of closing their eyes to their own side's misbehavior, sticking their fingers in their ears, and ignorantly echoing everything they hear from those who they agree with does their side a real disservice.

I encourage anyone reading my blog who values truth to note the dishonesty in the Mass Resistance piece if you come across people promoting it. In fact, given how ubiquitous this piece has become, I am contemplating running through it with a fine tooth comb and examining each claim in considerable detail. I am very willing to do this. What I find unfortunate is that "marriage defenders" have thus far proven themselves to be unwilling to even engage in dialogue regarding the piece.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Another Act of Rightwing Domestic Terrorism?

Perhaps encouraged by a recent act of alleged politically-motivated terrorism, a man with ties to white supremacist groups allegedly engaged in an act of deadly violence yesterday at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. Police have identified James von Brunn, who decries Jews and blacks on a "rambling, racist and bitterly anti-Semitic website," as the shooter.

Here, you can read some of the anti-Semitic rantings of von Brunn in which he suggests that the "Nazi Gas Chambers" were not real and that Jewish people are imbued with Teh Incredible Power of the Jew. Although the target is different, the suspect's writing is disturbingly similar to the deeply paranoid anti-gay, anti-liberal manifesto that a man wrote prior to murdering two people in a liberal, gay-affirming church. It is due to instances like these, that I remain somewhat frightened by some of the writings I read on the internet on a daily basis. The "villains" change but it is clear that people who see themselves not as oppressor, but as oppressed, are absolutely convinced that certain minorities are both involved in sinister conspiracies and responsible for the decline of authentic culture and society. History shows that this warped sense of victimhood allows people to treat Others in horrific, inhuman, and abusive ways.

I am not sure what motivates people who hold strong beliefs to cross over that line and engage in politically-motivated violence. It probably varies from person to person. From what I've read, I think that it has to do with a combination of factors. For one, that sense of victimhood- that inability to see oneself as an aggressor- allows people to think they are only engaging in defensive, rather than offensive, behavior. Two, absolutism- the belief that there is only one right way to live and that particulars can be stated as universal truths- precedes and is a strong justification for violence. Third, and perhaps this is the most important factor, violence becomes more acceptable to people when they believe that those they are killing are not the same type of human that they themselves are.

Anthropologist Eric Wolf observed in his chapter regarding the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany in Envisioning Power, conceptualizing human beings as Others, "disease organisms," or otherwise evil eventually "becomes abstract and powerful enough to justify not merely severance but destruction." Working in combination, we can see how violence might be very appealing to those who believe what they are doing is morally right and is the just consequence of being victimized by evil, sub-human beings who are "immoral." I don't think it even takes someone to be particularly unhinged to justify any means to eliminate those Others who do not engage in, believe in, or follow the Greater Good. Obviously, we observed this during the Holocaust when Otherwise Normal People carried out the orders of the Nazi party and committed heinous crimes against humanity.

Knowing that we're all connected, I struggle with accepting humanity's dark side, along with its lighter side. What I mean by that is that, as human beings, each of us has the capacity for violence within us. Each of us, therefore, has the responsibility to acknowledge that and to always be vigilant when we feel those seeds of anger, violence, and hatred within ourselves begin to bloom. I know that many people have convinced themselves that they do not feel anger or hatred towards Others and that they have nothing but the love of the Baby Jesus for certain groups, but I don't think those people are recognizing what it is they are truly feeling. It is much easier to label one's feelings "love" than it is to actually experience and demonstrate love and compassion. When I see people continually insist that certain people are pathological, evil, immoral, perverse, or otherwise not at all like Normal Humans, I see only people who are extremely clumsy and reckless with what they put out into the world. If they themselves do not condone physical violence, other people obviously do, and take the demonizations a bit more to heart than perhaps they were intended.

Before these most recent incidents in (alleged) rightwing domestic terrorism, the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning (PDF) that rightwing extremism was going through a resurgence due to the economic downturn and the election of an African-American president. Many conservatives had a defensive knee-jerk reaction to this document, but I think they missed the part where if you're not a violent rightwing extremist, this report wasn't talking about you.

I suspect that many people are, or feel as though they are, on the receiving end of hatred in some way. I think we all need to think about what it is we are putting out into the world and to be more mindful of how we may be watering the seeds of anger, hatred, and violence in other people. And, if you condone violence, explicitly say so. And condone violence when you see it, even if it's done by people with the same political beliefs as you.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Photo Montage of Andro-Centrism in Abortion Rights Law

Ever since the recent act of anti-choice terrorism that closed the doors of the slain Dr. Tiller's clinic, abortion has been on my mind. I don't often write about the issue here. It's a lightning rod for, ahem, "interesting" comments and although I support a woman's right to choose, I'm not comfortable with idea of ending human life. I'm not sure many people are. Well, except for some of those who most claim to revere human life, of course.

When it comes to abortion rights, I tend to agree with bioethicist Sigfrid Fry-Revere who argues that to suggest that a fetus has the same rights as an autonomous human being borders on the perverse, for "a woman's rights should never be placed second to the needs of her fetus." Many people, however, who are anti-choice weight the scale differently and frame their argument in terms of a fetus having more of a right to live than a woman has the right to choose. And yet, given that a large portion of the opposition to abortion comes from male-centric theological beliefs that treat women as community-owned vessels for carrying fetuses, I also know that many people's "fetus rights" arguments are actually facades that mask a deep-seated entitlement to control women's bodies. Observing how so many anti-choice people actually don't seem to care all that much for other people's babies once they are actually born, and especially when these former bundles of "precious human life" turn out to be gay, atheist, or otherwise Other, only reinforces this belief of mine.

When men, especially, have very strong opposition to abortion, I am not surprised. I admit it. It is to be expected, I suppose, for a man, who never has the possibility of becoming pregnant, to weigh the rights of a fetus as greater than the rights of a woman. While he will never, in most instances, experience what it is to be a woman, he has been a fetus and perhaps is more likely to relate to the fetus than to a pregnant woman. What is more surprising is when men can step outside of men's long history of controlling women's bodies and see women, not as community-owned vessels for reproduction, but as autonomous human beings whose right to decide whether another living thing subsists on her body outweighs the right of the fetus to live in and through her.

With this background in mind, let's set aside the issue of whether or not one agrees with the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act and ponder something for a moment.

Given the fact that the female body sometimes operates as a life support system for fetuses, is this photo of George W. Bush signing the Act into law, surrounded by smiling non-uterus American legislators, at all troubling to you, dear readers?


Given the fact that the female body sometimes operates as life support system for fetuses, is this photo of the 2007 US Supreme Court that upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act at all troubling to you, dear readers?


Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissent in Gonzalez v. Carhart, the case that upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, demonstrates (a) how the female perspective on issues that uniquely affect women tend to be different than the male perspective and (b) that the male perspective is not at all objective or neutral.

When it comes to pregnancy men are, quite simply, outsiders. This is true no matter how much some try to co-opt the female birthing experience by creating their Improved Race of Born-Agains. My claim here is not novel but I tend to believe that men, who have never had and will never have the capacity to become pregnant, who have never been denied educational and occupational opportunities due to their capacity to become pregnant, and who have never been told that their reproductive capacities have rendered them too frail and weak to do anything worth doing in the public sphere are incapable of truly understanding and empathizing with the conflict between a woman's right to control her body and the right of a fetus to subsist on that woman's body. In short, because men do not have the capacity to become pregnant and because it necessarily benefits men when women's right to abortion (and birth control for that matter) is denied, I am suggesting that it could very well be a blatant conflict of interest for men to have a say in any of this.

For instance, a notable part of the Supreme Court male majority effectively upheld the elimination of women's right to make informed decisions about their own bodily safety by expressing concern for the distress that late-term abortion causes women. The Supreme Court, as lone Uterus-Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted, has a long and unfortunate past of finding women to be in need of male protection, due to women's "natural and proper timidity and delicacy." This male-centric view, however, fails to acknowledge just how beneficial it is to men to promote an ideology in which men must valiantly protect women from their own choices.

In the reality-based world, as opposed the "reality" that some men invent, full equality means acknowledging that women are strong enough to live with the choices they make. Throughout history, women have been helping other women have abortions long before male medical and legal authorities granted themselves entitlement to control birthing and abortion processes.

Perhaps it takes a woman to know that chipping away at a woman's right to control and protect her own body, under the guise of protecting her from emotional "distress," is not some sort of neutral objective necessity. Rather, it is a transparent attempt for males to continue entitling themselves to the control of women's bodies and to continue treating the bodies of women as community property.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Alleged Gay Basher Otherwise a "Good Kid" (Other Than That Time He Allegedly Attacked That Woman Of Course)

Previously, I wrote about how a 23-year-old college man allegedly attacked a lesbian woman coming out of a gay bar in Provincetown while calling her anti-gay slurs. Well, The Boston Herald is now reporting that friends and family from the alleged attacker's "well-heeled, waterfront neighborhood" are simply ShOcKeD by the charges because he's otherwise a "very good kid. Very Respectful."

The way stories about white male violence are framed rarely surprises me anymore. Somebody apparently has a lot invested in continually framing Average Joe Next Door Neighbor as inherently non-violent and incapable of heinous crimes outside of fluke-like circumstances. Personally, I don't find this image all that resonating. I don't think I'm any more scared of people than most women who live in large cities. But as a woman, I do consider most men I meet to be potentially interested in physically harming me. Yes, I see how that statement could be controversial and that some might believe that it's "anti-male reverse sexism" to be wary about possibly getting killed, raped, or maimed by a male. So before the "Men's Rights" crowd comes here and gets its collective panties in a bunch, I am not saying all men are violent; they aren't.

What I'm saying is that it's a survival thing for women to be vigilant and take precautions when we can. In a world in which men are so entitled to women's bodies that women are sometimes blamed for male attacks on themselves, censoring ourselves from saying that men, even those Nice Guys Next Door, are potentially violent is what keeps us unsafe. So, fine, call me "sexist." I am much more concerned about safety than I am about appeasing the egos of defensive guys who don't understand the argument I'm making. See, no matter how people publicly present themselves, we never know what people really think and do behind closed lips and closed doors. If we ourselves have not been attacked, we certainly have close friends who have been. We've all, men and women alike, read enough scary shit on the internet when people, speaking anonymously, make violently anti-social statements that they'd never make if their identities were attached to their words.

That's why when people write articles about how such-and-such dude is usually a Very Nice Guy Other Than That Time He Like Beat The Shit Out Of His Wife/Girlfriend/Child/Stranger/Homeless Person/Rival Sports Fan, I am saddened that so many are evidently fooled by the myth that some people's facades are inherently non-threatening, safe, and "clean-cut."

Exhibit. A man was recently arrested in connection with the murder of a woman he met through Craigslist. Virtually every media report mentioned the fact that this man was, other than being arrested for murder of course, a "nice, smart" boy, "clean-cut," a medical student, in fact!

Exhibit. In Drew Peterson's case, the media was abuzz with the juxtaposition of (one of) his dead wife(s) and the fact that he was set to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in a divorce proceeding. While perhaps establishing a motive for his wife's murder, this information also implies that if he did kill his wife, it was only because he was scared of losing all that money. You can understand, can't you? Other than that, he was probably a really great guy.

In the case of the alleged gay basher, a neighbor of the accused believes that this Nice Guy's alleged actions were an aberration most likely caused by alcohol saying "[A]lcohol is a crazy drug. It does crazy things to people." Yes, alcohol is "crazy." But I tend to be of the opinion that people who are Mean When They're Drunk also tend to be Mean When They're Sober too. With their inhibitions lowered so that they no longer feel the need to put up a socially-acceptable facade, alcohol just gives some people an excuse for their misbehavior. Oh, ha ha, that was just the alcohol talking. Yet the thing is, I know lots of people, myself and my friends included, who like to partake in a little bubbly from time to time and not once can I remember this "crazy drug" ever inducing us to harass and then beat up women outside of bars. But yeah, alcohol. Totally crazy! You never know what sort of crime it might somehow induce a person to commit.

Furthermore, we see that implications are embedded within how these stories are framed. As Renee at Womanist Musings has written, in connection with another "aberrational" act of violence committed by a white man, society constructs violence as Out of Character for white men while ascribing violence as being inherent to certain other non-dominant groups. For instance, just for fun, let's pretend that the accused was a black guy, or a gay guy, or a Latino guy, and that the victim was a white heterosexual woman, instead of a white lesbian. Rather than the accused being presented as An Otherwise Upstanding Young Man, I think we all know that he would be presented as Yet More Proof As To How [insert minority group] Are Inherently Pathological and Violent.

Note that I am not saying men of color and men in other "out"groups are never violent. Patterns of violence in the US are complicated and not at all as obvious as many people think they are. My point is that no matter what category a person falls into, it is not wise to assume you're in safe company even though the media continually presents white male violence as a fluke. Articles committed to the story that some people who commit violent acts are Otherwise Quite Normal demonstrate mostly that looks mean nothing and that stereotypes constructing some people as "clean-cut" and inherently "safe" actually serve to keep us unsafe.

How? For one, as we saw, when a white guy is accused of committing a heinous crime, it is constructed as an aberration. Because of how the narrative of the crime is presented, we are to associate with the white male, try to understand why he might have done it, and ultimately to feel somewhat sympathetic towards him, the alleged criminal. As the white man is usually the protagonist of the story, we are to feel indifferent at best towards the victim. Headlines abound that refer to the actual crime in the passive voice, as though an attack just happened to a woman and not, rather, that someone, a man usually, committed a crime against her.

Secondly, those who are the statistical norm or thought of as Default Human Being, are deemed automatically non-pathological until proven otherwise. As opposed to minority groups, all white men are neither implicated in the crime that one white man commits nor are all white men thought to be particularly violent when we hear about one white man being violent. When people of color and minorities commit or are victims of crimes, dehumanizing headlines reduce them to generic categories of Black, Lesbian, Transgender, Asian, and Other. Unlike white men, minorities are never merely responsible for their own behavior; their actions always say something about the entire group of people to which they belong.

We should always question assumptions about who our culture tells us is and is not Inherently Violent. Rarely, can we tell these things just by looking at someone or knowing what identity a person falls into. Our safety depends on knowing that.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Odds 'N Ends

1) Same-Sex Parenting In Animals

In News of the Cute, a pair of male penguins in a German zoo have hatched an egg, and are now raising a chick, that was abandoned by its biological parents. From the article:

"In the case of Z and Vielpunkt, two penguins at the zoo in Bremerhaven, the pair had been observed attempting to hatch a stone. When a male-female pair of penguins at the zoo rejected their own egg, keepers gave it to Z and Vielpunkt, who tended and hatched the egg and now, a month after its hatching, continue to care for the chick.

The BBC article noted that four years ago the same zoo, which houses three pairs of male penguins exhibiting mating and bonding behavior, tried to coax the males into a heterosexual relationship by introducing four female penguins. The zoo made this attempt because the particular species of penguin in question is endangered.

However, those attempts were suspended when the male penguins showed no interest in the females. Meantime, GLBT activists protested that the zoo’s strategy constituted an attempt to force the birds into relationships they would not naturally have entered into on their own.

The article included a snippet from a statement made by the zoo. 'Z and Vielpunkt, both males, gladly accepted their ’Easter gift’ and got straight down to raising it.'

Added the statement, 'Since the chick arrived, they have been behaving just as you would expect a heterosexual couple to do.

'The two happy fathers spend their days attentively protecting, caring for and feeding their adopted offspring.'"

Even though this story is true, I have no doubt that the many parents who believe homosexuality to be unnatural and less-than heterosexuality will not want their children to learn about it. Unfortunately, many parents want to censor the reality-based world from their children and try to ensure that their kids grow up sporting the appropriate ideological filter. It's understandable. When animals engage in same-sex pair-bonding and parenting, it's sort of a real-life rebuttal of the argument that homosexuality is a human invention and "choice." It's probably better if kids don't know that homosexuality exists at all. I heard that strategy works really well in Iran.

2) More Fun With the Non-Apology Apology

I really think many people today just don't know how to render a real apology. As a case in point, Rob Williams and Arnie States of Condoning Violence Against Transgender Children notoriety, issued a... statement, to use the more apt word, with respect to their recent radio show:

"I’m sorry that you might find it funny — or I’m sorry that you might not find it funny that some people laugh when Arnie — who does not have a child — talks about throwing a shoe at his non-existent son. You know what? Some people do laugh and they know we’re not serious, that Arnie’s not serious and we don’t advocate for it."

I strongly believe that people who (a) are not sincere and (b) fail to believe they did anything wrong should not render apologies. The apology is rarely the point. When people seek apologies, what they are really seeking is some sort of acknowledgment that the person understands that she or he has hurt someone and that she or he regrets doing so. People who don't feel guilt for having hurt someone should not "fake it." It comes off as them transparently caring more about uttering insincere "apologies" out of a sense of face-saving duty than caring about the fact that they've hurt people. And, perhaps the worst kind of apology is the one that, like an abuser's tactic, blames the victims for the pain they've caused and completely dismiss people's valid reactions to pain. Instead of taking responsibility for their actions, they accuse those who have been hurt of being too sensitive or too humorless to not be hurt.

In a nutshell, that's why "I'm sorry that you might not find it funny [that I said something really fucking mean]" isn't a real apology. As Ellen DeGeneres would say, well, then you don't know how to kid properly. Because we should both be laughing.

Also, for the record, it's not a violation of "Will and Arnie's" free speech, as some have suggested, to criticize what they've said. Freedom to say whatever you want, does not mean freedom to say whatever you want without anyone ever criticizing what you say.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Radio Hosts Condone Violence Against Transgender Children

Via The Huffington Post:

"Even by the flexible moral, ethical, and professional standards of American talk radio, the May 28th segment of KRXQ 98.5 FM Sacramento's Rob, Arnie, & Dawn in the Morning radio talk show makes for a sickening half-hour of ugliness and cruelty. For once, the focus was not LGBT adults, but minors. The hosts, Rob Williams and Arnie States, devoted the segment in question to a vicious diatribe against transgender children, some as young as five, focusing in particular on the case of one Omaha family raising a gender dysphoric child, and their decision to support her transition from male to female."

It is often argued that anti-gay and anti-trans bullying is not so much about being gay or trans, per se, but actually has more to do with bullies seeking to police gender norms. Sexual difference, the idea that men and women are very different and perhaps complementary, implies hierarchy. Whenever humans construct multiple categories, they also tend to construct some sort of ranking system. And, when men and women are constructed as very different, it is women as an entire class who are constructed as "less than" men. When people transgress gender norms they demonstrate the fluidity of gender, thereby disrupting this hierarchy. After all, how can men be superior to women, if some men act like, are, or become women?

Observe how radio hosts Rob Williams and Arnie States police their (hopefully imaginary) sons' masculinity:

"For his part, States bragged that if his own son were to ever dare put on a pair of high heels, States would beat his son with one of his own shoes. He urged parents whose own little boys expressed a desire to wear a dress to verbally abuse and degrade them as a viable response. 'Because you know what? Boys don't wear high heel shoes. And in my house, they definitely don't wear high heels.

'I'm going to go, 'You know what? You're a little idiot! You little dumbass!'' States sneered, adding later, 'I look forward to when [the transgender children] go out into society and society beats them down. And they wind up in therapy.'....'A boy who wants to wear a dress is a freak. A nut.'"

I find this diatribe incredibly sad.

For one, if femininity were not "less than" masculinity, it is likely that these two radio hosts would not be have had such violent, seething, histrionic responses to biological males who traverse gender boundaries. Men, you will often find, seem to have the most extreme negative reactions to transgenderism. Perhaps, squatting as they are on their pedestals of masculine superiority, the conservative heterosexual male has the most to lose when men and women stop being men and women. If men can really be women and women can really be men, then who would He automatically be better than?

Secondly, note how these radio hosts package and present their You're A Freak! reaction as though it's all just a bit of self-evident common sense. That's the tricky thing about the construction of gender and deviancy. People have a lot invested in the binary biological sex status quo and in keeping a clear demarcation between masculinity and femininity. These constructs have become so pervasive that they masquerade as authentic. Yet, I find it far more enlightening to always be wary of these things people arrogantly call Self-Evident Truths. Such creatures, after all, are usually nothing more than argumentum ad gastrums, lazy and biased arguments from one person's gut that they egocentricly pass off as Universal Truth For All of Humanity.

What is it, for instance, about a dress, in and of itself, that makes it a suitable garment for females but an unsuitable one for males? Could it be that only because US society has arbitrarily constructed a dress as a Piece of Clothing For Females that men, therefore, are not allowed to wear them? That is it, really. No logical reason exists as to why men cannot or should not wear dresses other than that dresses are associated with femininity, girls, and women. Knowing that, why or how is it in any way "freakish" for a boy to desire to wear a dress? In other cultures (and especially at the Vatican!), it is perfectly acceptable and "masculine" for boys and men to wear dresses and dress-like garments.

Could it be, then, that many things about what society tells us are "inherently" male and female are also not so "natural"?

Lastly, in a decent, civil society it should go without saying that Williams and States' violent rhetoric has no place in it, no matter how free they are to say it. Their incendiary words are exactly what some people need to hear in order to justify their hatred of, intolerance of, and possibly violence towards transgender persons. It takes small, angry, and possibly hurting men to publicly condone violence against children- particularly children who are among some of the most vulnerable members of our society- and it breaks my heart. As Michael Rowe notes:

"Trusting, innocent, and vulnerable, [these children] ought to be beyond the reach of the violent, hate-mongering adult rhetoric that is taken for granted in American talk radio. One needs no particular sympathy for transgender people to understand the prodigious boundary transgression of promoting contempt and disgust towards children, anyone's children, on a radio show."

I wonder if anti-LGBT organizations, blogs, and individuals will condemn this violent speech. Or, maybe when these folks express concern for The Children, they do not actually mean all children.