Friday, February 27, 2009

Nourishment

I'm going to hold off my regularly-scheduled political post and instead share with you something I read recently:

"If you listen too much to the suffering, the anger of other people, you will be affected. You will be in touch only with suffering, and you won't have the opportunity to be in touch with other, positive elements. This will destroy your balance. Therefore, in your daily life, you have to practice so that you can be in touch with elements that do not constantly express suffering: the sky, the birds, the trees, the flowers, children- whatever is refreshing, healing, and nourishing in us and around us." -Thich Nhat Hanh, in Anger


During this new year, I have put more thought into the energy that I send out into the world on a daily basis. Every day, we all make choices about whether we are going to contribute more negativity, more aggression, into the world or whether we are going to make positive contributions and seek to ease suffering, rather than create more of it. I do believe that, in people with any semblance of compassion, it causes people to suffer when they read about injustice, hatred, and human suffering that others are experiencing. For me, blogging used to be a way to vent against such negativity in the world. Much of that has involved reading things that are painful and hurtful for me, and for many people, to read. Looking back, I can see how I was affected by this, and how I had a tendency to lose connection with the positive elements of life. I see this pretty clearly in some of my old articles.

I don't think the point is to utterly avoid all things difficult or negative. It's all about balance. Negativity is a natural part of life that we all have to deal with the best we can. Pretending that life is all about skipping through the tulips hand in hand with our brothers and sisters skews the balance in the other direction of unrealism. The point, I think, is that we have to remember to nourish ourselves so we can deal with negativity in ways that are healthy for ourselves and for our communities.

Most recently, I have learned that I need serious breaks from reading some of the blogs from which I gather my blogging material. That includes not reading blogs of all political perspectives. In the mornings, during my workouts, I have also stopped listening to my daily political podcasts. I have found that it's much better for me personally not to begin the day by listening to people debate controversial issues and discuss how messed up the world is. Sometimes, taking a day or two away from Pressing News Stories can lessen that sense that we are forever being bombarded with Things Are Getting Worse headlines.

Even though life can be difficult, I have much in my life that I can appreciate and I don't want to lose sight of that by wallowing in negativity. When I remember to nourish myself with positivity, it reminds me to enjoy life and appreciate my time here. I'm not talking about profound things. For me, I try to find nourishment in the simple everyday things: taking a hot shower after working out hard, being unconditionally loved by two furry dogs, eating chocolate while appreciating the goddess-like beauty that is Lucy Lawless, watching over-competitive adults in their 20s and 30s play dodgeball like they're back in grade school, and taking that first breath of crisp Chicago morning air at the beginning of a new day.

If you're reading this blog, chances are you care about political issues and, perhaps, get rather riled up about them. No matter what your political leanings are, I hope this post is a conscious reminder to take care of yourself. If you haven't already done so, or don't do so regularly, stop for a minute today and nourish yourself with something positive. You deserve it. You probably need it. We all do.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

On Using "Humor" to Shame and Silence Feminists

Yesterday I wrote about some Klassy "humor" by our friend the Playful Walrus. Walrus has written a response complaining that, come on you knew this was coming, "Feminists Have No Sense of Humor" (tm). Accusing feminists of having no sense of humor when they are ridiculed is an expected reaction from someone who has been so clearly called out on his rudeness.

Not only is Walrus completely unapologetic in accusing feminist women of being unattractive, he continued the meme by providing the "funny" Rush Limbaugh "feminism was established as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society" quote. He's sort of like That Guy we all know who will publicly ridicule your new outfit and then tack on a "What? I was just kidding" at the end of it as though that somehow erases the mean thing he just said. It's like, just own your rude behavior, dood. It is not feminists who are No Fun for not finding humor in being told that they, as a class, are unattractive. It's you who is Not Funny. And it is you who is No Fun for creepily objectifying the looks of your political opponents.

Anyway, to pick nits, that whole lack of a sense of humor bit, well that's another falsehood that I have to call the man out on. The thing is, we feminists and lesbians are often quite willing to engage in humor, including the self-depricating variety. Unfortunately, some people mostly find "humor" when it comes at the expense of others. That is, as Ellen (one of many funny lesbians feminists) would say, some people just don't know how to kid properly. When a funny joke has been made, we'll know it, because we will all be laughing. But when the biggest reception your "joke" gets is a couple of coughs and a loud boo, well, any diligent comedian would re-think the "funniness" of his routine.

So, while Walrus's response contains a lot of words, it's essentially a highly disappointing run-around. A simple apology would have sufficed. Yet, I doubt that one will ever be forthcoming from one who firmly believes in the truth of his deluded Feminists Are Ugly worldview. It's a bizarre argument he's made, and he tries to backtrack a bit in admitting that he doesn't even know what a feminist is to begin with. But he clarifies his stance a bit by separating feminists into the good anti-choice, feminine, heterosexual kind versus the bad pro-choice, masculine, lesbian kind. If one falls into the first class, he writes, "there's a good chance you're not a feminist in the sense to which I was referring in my earlier blog entry." Wow, deep thoughts.

Again, this is all relevant to anything how?

I guarantee this man that he sees pro-choice feminist women who may or may not be lesbians probably every day of his life, assuming he does venture into public from time to time. Yet, because the imaginary feminists that dance in his head are unattractive baby-killing Leftist Gender Warriors who burn patchouli, braid their pubic hair, and smear menstrual blood on each other by the light of the waning moon at Michfest**, he doesn't even recognize or acknowledge attractive "normal" women as being feminists when sees them. It's all about confirmation bias for some people. Every time he sees a feminist woman who is unattractive (to him), it just confirms his grand theory about what all feminists are like.

To end his non-apology, Walrus cited a "funny" anti-feminist book by a Townhall writer and has encouraged his reader$ to read it. I encourage you all, and especially Walrus and his readership, to read this post about how anti-feminists often use "humor" as a tool to shame and silence feminists.

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** Self-depricating and funny. See how it's done? Hardy-har-har.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Feminists Are Ugly...... Again

The Townhall blogger who calls himself "The Playful Walrus" has something to say about feminists versus "conservative women":

"Thank God! The ACLU is cutting back. Playboy is also in trouble to the point of facing reorganization or a sale. Sure, feminists and unattractive women (or, rather, feminists and other unattractive women) will also cheer at this, but that's okay. We can celebrate for different reasons. (Note: conservative women tend to be total babes, but not the kind that need to appear nude in a hedonist publication to find validation or get money.)"


You know, it's almost entertaining when I hear anti-feminist men spout the Feminists Are Ugly meme. I always wonder if they are just trying to get attention or if they really do have that ignorant and lazy of a worldview. Either way, it's a pretty good indication that any real conversation with such doods is apt to be a complete and utter waste of time. Immature one-liners are good for a one-sided chuckle, but rarely do they shed any light on a subject.

I've found that this lame non-argument serves two essential purposes, however. One, it reminds people that, unlike men, women are to be judged first and foremost by their attractiveness and appropriate availability to men. Note, for instance, Walrus's reasoning for being happy that Playboy is in trouble. His critique is not so much that the magazine exploits women, but more that the women who model for Playboy choose to exercise their sexuality beyond the acceptable scope of Wife Monogamously Married to Man. But that's tangential. By verbally depriving all feminists of their beauty, anti-feminist men attempt to deprive women of the most important value they think women have- their appeal to the male gaze. Once a woman has lost her beauty, she has lost her worth and no one is thus required to take her seriously. She is only saying those feminist things because she's ugly and can't get a man.

Many women are sensitive about their appearances, and the Feminists Are Ugly stereotype causes a lot of women to distance themselves from their natural allies. It is just one of the many caricatures of feminists that cause many women to begin sentences with that infamous phrase "I'm not a feminist or anything but [insert feminist statement]."

Two, even though those of us in the reality-based world know that one would find proportionate numbers of attractive and un-attractive women in the feminist and conservative population of vagina-Americans, in the World of Walrus, conservative women tend to be "total babes" when compared to feminists. This pat on the head is a reward to the good girls. No matter how many unattractive conservative women really exist in the world men like Walrus let conservative and anti-feminist women, as a class, "keep" their looks in exchange for staying in line. Good girls are rewarded with superficial compliments and, importantly, they see how feminists are punished with cheap shots and ridicule.

Yet, what if we turned the mirror in the other direction and shone it on these fellows? We have a huge double-standard in which men, especially those who are political, do not have their looks scrutinized in the way that women do. Conservative men, liberals, progressives, and even misogynists are not accused of holding their beliefs just because they, as a class, are ugly or can't get a woman. Why is it that men, unattractive or not, feel that they can mock a woman's appearance while their own appearance is off-limits?

For instance, I have been reading Walrus's blog off and on for a few months now, and I do remember him mentioning that he has a bit of a weight issue. Perhaps he has chosen his moniker because he really does resemble a large flippered sea mammmal? Who knows. Overweight people can certainly be attractive, but given our society's preoccupation with weight, his Feminists Are Ugly "joke" seems a little, well... ironic.

I do not think anyone's appearance is relevant to, or should be brought up in, a political debate. And, I think it says something about character that feminists rarely take obvious and easy cheap shots that are available even though anti-feminists perpetuate a lie that all feminists are ugly. It's time to grow up boys. It's time to start dealing with the content of the arguments that feminists are making rather just blanketly dismissing the Feminazi Fuglies that exist only in your dull imaginations.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Book Review: The Riddle of Gender

Yesterday I asked what it was that makes us men and women. Many people believe that women and men have inherent differences, and that those differences define what it is to be a woman versus what it means to be a man. While I am willing to concede that men and women (once we know what those two categories of people are) have inherent biological and anatomical differences from each other, I do not think it is accurate to make that claim about all such people. Sex differences, especially psychological ones, are averages. Data is reflective of trends, not of individual capacity. Unfortunately, generalizations about what all men are like (or all women) have been used for far too long to inappropriately limit human behavior.

Yet, in The Riddle of Gender: Science, Activism, and Transgender Rights, Deborah Rudacille notes that while we go round and round about whether sex differences are inherent or constructed, many of us nonetheless have "the deeply felt and ineradicable sense that one is male or female- or neither" (xv). I think that's a good starting point for a review of Rudacille's book. For, this deeply felt sense of ourselves sometimes conflicts with both other people's perception of us and with the gender that other people think we should sense in ourselves. Many issues with respect to transgender rights result from those two conflicts. (All quotes from The Riddle of Gender unless otherwise indicated).


1. Looking For a Cause

To begin, I am not a scientist, so I appreciate that Rudacille, a science writer, has written a book summarizing a lot of the research regarding gender and sex in an accessible manner. And, just because some people automatically discount as biased any presentation of research by someone who happens to be gay or trans, Rudacille also happens to be a heterosexual cisgendered woman.

In the introduction of the book, Rudacille reminds me of something I learned long ago in Anatomy and Physiology but forgot somewhere between Secured Transactions and Making a Living in the Real World. Namely, that embryos begin androgynously and have the potential to develop either male or female anatomy. It isn't until the 6th week of pregnancy that the process of sex differentiation begins (xvi). Sometime during this time, the brain becomes "sexed as well, though the mechanism by which this process is carried out is less clearly understood" and this process "is completed after birth, as [the human] learns what sorts of attitudes, behavior, and role [our] culture expects of [us] as a female [or a male] (xvi-xvii).

With this anatomy lesson informing me, I don't find it all inconceivable that something could happen to this once-androgynous embryo to produce anatomical males (or female) whose brains have been hormonally sexed as females (or males) in the womb. As Rudacille notes, it does take more than XY chromosomes to make a person male. Yet, within our gender binary, persons with XY chromosomes are considered male and it is a "deeply rooted assumption" that "the sex of the body is always consistent with the sex of the brain" (7-8).

Searching for causes of transgenderism can sometimes imply that there is something "wrong" or pathological about the condition. When a condition is the statistical norm, we do not ask what causes it. For instance, it is rarely asked what causes people to be heterosexual, or what causes people to feel as though the sex of their bodies match the sex of their brains. Yet, even though many of us strongly believe that transgenderism is not evidence of some underlying psychological pathology or confusion, looking for biological causes can dispel the ability that others have to treat transgender persons poorly and to do so with the cocksure approval of their own consciences. As we saw yesterday when Seda recounted her experience with Jose, Jose was saying many things that are deeply hurtful to transgender people- calling her "he" and calling her "confused." Yet, undoutbedly, because he does not understand transgenderism, Jose is sleeping very well at night perhaps believing that he is helping Seda in some way.

Evidence of biological causes of gender dysphoria does exist, however. As Rudacille writes, "The strongest evidence for a biological basis for gender variance comes from research on the effects of the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES)" (16). This synthetic estrogen was given to millions of pregnant women during a span of 25 years. Rudacille goes into considerable detail in her book but to give you a general idea, DES has been found to "affect the development of sex-dimorphic brain structures and behavior in animals" (Ibid.). That is, male animals exposed to it in the womb display female behavior outside of the womb, and vice versa. Furthermore, DES "sons" and "daughters" have higher rates of transgenderism than the general population. Currently, as Rudacille recounts in an entire chapter, "'we find endocrine disruptors all over the place'" and we should be exploring in much greater depth how humans develop in response to such a hormonal environment (243).

2. Experience of Transpeople

One reason that I have always found it relatively easy to accept a transgender person's claim of gender dysphoria is that, like being gay, why would someone choose a path in life that is socially unacceptable? Furthermore, as Rudacille writes, "[t]here are few benefits to adult sex reassignment....[It] is physically and emotionally grueling, and hugely expensive in term of money, time, and lost personal relationships" (xxi). Yet, people undergo the surgery (to whatever extent they can) because for many people it is that or suicide. Like Rudacille, I have been told this by virtually every trans person I know. Seda expressed this sentiment in her coming out story.

Other shared traits have been noted, beginning with the observations of one of the first Western scientists to study transgenderism, Magnus Hirschfeld. Often, the gender dysphoria and/or urge to cross-dress begins at a very young age, increases during puberty, and remains almost unchanged for one's entire life (37). (As an aside, after Hitler assumed power in Germany, the archives in Hirschfeld's Institute for Sexual Science were burned by the Nazis (49)). Unfortunately, children who display gender dysphoria "must come to terms with a gender identity that all of society tells them is 'wrong' or 'bad' or 'sick'" (199). Rudacille includes accounts of transgender youth who were forced by their parents to repress their gender identity and/or sent to counselors who tried to force them to act like real boys or girls.

Yet, many such counselors missed something very important. As one transgender man recounts:

"[T]hey were working on my depression. Well, I was depressed because the world was treating me so poorly, but their plan was to get me to act more feminine so that the world wouldn't treat me so badly-- instead of realizing that if you try to make me be something I'm not, I'm going to be even more depressed" (211).


This is very similar to the experiences of people who have survived ex-gay therapy. The problem is not that we deal poorly with being gay or trans, the problem is that other people deal so poorly with it.


To end here, I'd like to end by talking about the concept of normality. Too often, humans have a tendency to see variation as some sort of pathology. The American Psychological Association initially put homosexuality into the DSM for moral, rather than scientific, reasons and even though it has long since been removed, some people still believe that gay men and lesbians are mentally unwell.

Currently, "gender identity disorder" (GID) is the diagnosis "most frequently assigned to children and adults who fail to conform to socially acceptable norms of female and male identity and behavior" (193). This (oftentimes overboard, subjective, and ambiguous) diagnosis is the subject of much debate within the transgender community. On the one hand, there is a sentiment that the stigma of pathology is unwarranted. Yet, it is this very diagnosis that enables some transgender persons seeking sex reassignment surgery to be reimbursed by their insurance companies. Many insurance companies will not pay for procedures that do not include a DSM-coded diagnosis.

I know that many people believe that the the question of including or excluding gender identity disorder in the DSM is a political question, but what if variation was just simple non-malignant variance? Historian of science Georges Canguilhem writes, "An anomaly is a fact of individual variation which prevents two beings from being able to take the place of each other completely. But diversity is not disease; the anomalous is not the pathological" (19).

Being different does not necessarily mean that one is wrong, bad, or sick. As we saw yesterday, defining maleness and femaleness is not as easy as one might think. What if people realized these complexities and fathomed that maybe they were doing more harm than good when calling transgender people "confused" and mentally unwell?

Monday, February 23, 2009

What Are Women and Men Anyway?

I don't write all that often about transgender issues here. Neither gender theory nor biology are areas in which I have special expertise. Yet, after Seda shared her coming out story here, I decided to explore the concepts of gender, biological sex, and transgenderism further than I previously have. My curiosity about these issues was further peaked when I saw "marriage defense" bloggers continually call Seda "he," "confused," and mentally unwell. Seda recounts some of these conversations at her blog here and here, and something she asked struck me:

"Does it matter why or how I came to be this way, if being this way not only gives me the peace and joy I live, but enables me to better parent my children, relate to my friends and loved ones, and contribute to a peaceful and functional society?"


No, as long as someone is happy and able to contribute good to society, it doesn't matter to many people. Yet, others are thoroughly convinced that gender dysphoria is a psychological pathology and/or some sort of harmful mental confusion. Others, even gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and gender nonconformists, reject a condition that they do not understand. I have said before that when it comes to gender and sex, there are many more questions than answers. We should all be wary of claims of absolute knowledge with respect to these issues. Issues of gender and sex are not self-evident truths, and expressing them as such only leaves out a heck of a lot of people who do not fit neatly into little blue and pink boxes.

What is it that makes us women? What is it that makes us men? Anatomy? Chromosomes? Hormones? Psyche? Is there even one trait that every single woman shares with every other woman on the planet that they do not share with any man, and vice versa? Once I started thinking about these questions, the answers were not as readily apparent as one might at first believe. Once I started reading more about these issues, I also saw that more knowledge only raised more questions.

Are mammary glands the trait that separates women from men? Gynecomastia, for instance, is a noted phenomenon, often having no known cause, which results in the development of mammary glands in males. Is genitalia what separates women from men? Yet, some genetic males, as another example, are born with ambiguous genitalia that moreso resembles a large clitoris rather than a penis. Is it our genotypes that separate us? Some people who have female genitalia nonetheless have an XY genotype. Is it our sex-differentiated brains? Psychologically, women tend to have "empathizing" brains while males tend to have "systematizing" brains. But again, the key phrase here is "tend to." Clearly, there are overlaps and many instances in which men are the ones with empathizing brains and women the ones with systematizing.

What exactly is it that makes us men or women, or both? Observable "anomalies" like above shed a very bright light on the failing of an overly-simplistic sex binary. I had my special friend hammerpants help me make a graphic, below, that illustrates some of these complexities. This graphic is similar to the ideas that some gender theorists and biologists have about the different ways of categorizing sex:

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Numbers 1 and 2 are how many, if not most, conceptualize sex. Not only do many people not recognize a distinction between sex and gender, many people assume that pretty much everyone is a 1 or a 2 with everyone else falling into some sort of anomalous "other" category. In many ways, the 1s and 2s are the lucky ones because all of their sex "categories" are concordant. Everything about their bodies tells them that they are clearly either male or female. Yet, what are the "everyone else's" who is not a clear 1 or 2? Even though they are not a 1 or a 2, society or they themselves force themselves to be a 1 or a 2.

It may be easy to dismiss someone as "confused" for experiencing gender dysphoria, but in light of the uncertainties and the seeming arbitrariness of human-made categories, I think that stigmatizing transgender people as pathological is premature, if not completely unwarranted. Furthermore, such a stigma probably inflicts more injury and creates more hardship for people who already have to struggle with not fitting into the neat little boxes we are all supposed to fit into. Biological sex and gender are not simple. Many people, especially conservatives, think it is simple: Man as XY penis. Woman as XX vagina. Oooga-boooga grunt grunt. But wanting things to be simple does not make them so in reality.

Tomorrow, I am going to post my review of Deborah Rudacille's The Riddle of Gender: Science, Activism, and Transgender Rights and will be exploring these ideas further. Rudacille does an excellent job of presenting research in this area and of presenting the voices of transgender persons.

Friday, February 20, 2009

I'm Back!

Hello everyone. I'm feeling pretty good today, thanks for the well wishes.

My tooth extractions were a bit more traumatic than they usually are for people. Apparently, my wisdom teeth had really "deep roots" due to a combination of me being "old" and because I have really strong bones. While having strong bones is good and all, I've decided that one of the grossest sounds to hear is that of your own bones cracking and popping while feeling no associated pain (at the time anyway).

As fun as I thought it would be to get to stay home from work for a couple of days eating ice cream, it was actually pretty boring. Although, who knew that one could watch Roseanne all day long?


Anyway, here is a little friday roundup of things I've been reading during recovery:


1. In her article Let the Small Changes Begin: President Obama, Executive Power, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Professor Jackie Gardina of Vermont Law School makes a case that President Obama has both the constitutional and statutory authority to change Don't Ask Don't Tell now.


2. It's almost a given that those opposed to equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, when arguing their case, will start sliding down one of their favorite slippery slopes. Namely, if gay people could marry than how could we stop people from marrying their relatives or more than one person?

This is pretty old, but Andrew Sullivan's argument that drawing a new line around marriage does not mean abandoning all lines around the institution is still relevant.


3. Do some groups of people hold a monopoly on what is considered real civil rights issues? Shelby Steele seems to think so.


I hope to write about these article in greater detail. But for now, this is all I've got.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Out of Commission For a Day (or Two)

Hello dear readers. Just dropping you a quick note to let you know that I'm not ignoring comments and my daily blog. I had my wisdom teeth "excavated" yesterday afternoon and I promise I will have something to more entertaining to say soon. Like, once I'm feeling a little more human.

In the meantime, vote for Grace the Spot in the Lesbian Lifestyle Blog Awards!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Church Killer Gets Life, Manifesto Published

Back in July of 2008, a Tennessee man named Jim David Adkisson with a strong "hatred of the liberal movement" opened fire in a liberal gay-affirming Unitarian church and killed two people. The killer, who was unrepentant and admitted that he committed an ideological hate crime, pled guilty and was recently sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The Knoxville News Sentinel has posted this killer's hate-filled manifesto, which you can read here (PDF). Hold off on reading for a minute.

I believe that many, if not most, people opposed to liberalism and LGBT rights do not actually want to see us harmed. Yet, I do think that much political rhetoric goes beyond what is necessary to defend one's own position. Rhetoric gets heated on all sides of an issue, but the rhetoric of the anti-gay industry, of many anti-gay bloggers, and even of politicians can be extreme in its vilification of LGBT people. I firmly believe that when people vilify small groups of minorities who are already thought of us dangerous in some way, it is only a matter of time until verbal violence leads to physical violence.

I read through Jim David Adkisson's manifesto and it read like a list of standard anti-gay, anti-liberal talking points that have been uttered by more prominent conservative and/or anti-gay personalities. Adkisson is a man who appears to be in real pain and, if his manifesto is any indication, he thinks that "Marxist" liberals and gays are the cause of this pain. His paranoia and Red Scare sentiment did not just come to him in a vacuum. We see this rhetoric all over the web and all over the rightwing media. So, as an informative little exercise, today we're going to play a game called Who Said It: A Murderer or a Conservative Talking Head? I am going to provide a quote, and you are going to try to guess who said it: Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sally Kern, Louis Sheldon, or.... unapologetic murderer Jim David Adkisson:

A. "The homosexual agenda is destroying this nation.... I honestly think [homosexuality] is the biggest threat, even moreso than terrorism or Islam."

B. "Lately I've felt helpless in our war on Terrorism. But I realized I could engage the terrorists [sic] allies here in America. The best allies they've got. The Democrats!"

C. "The worst problem America faces today is Liberalism. They have dumbed down education, they have defined deviancy down. Liberals have attacked every major institution that made America great. From the Boy Scouts to the Military; from education to religion."

D. "I think a baseball is the most effective way these days [to talk to liberals]."

E. "Liberals are evil. They embrace the tenets of Karl Marx, they're Marxist, socialist, communists."

F. "The American dream has an entirely different definition to Democrats and liberals than it does to you and me. Their American dream is the United States becoming a full-fledged socialist country."

G. "[The Unitarian Universalist Church] is a collection of sicko's [sic], weirdo's [sic], and homo's [sic].... They embrace every pervert that comes down the pike."

H. "Liberals are the sworn enemies of religious Americans."


Results:

Jim David Adkisson quotes- B, C, E, G.

Sally Kern- A.

Rush Limbaugh- F.

Ann Coulter- D.

Louis Sheldon- H.



Freedom of speech is one of the greatest privileges we have in America. But with this freedom comes responsibility. Even if conservative talking heads and the vast majority of their listeners themselves do not wish physical harm on gay people, or liberals, or any other group of people, I wish they could at least fathom that their violent rhetoric, can and does actually lead to physical violence. I visit anti-gay and other conservative sites and I see everyday citizen bloggers parrot the sentiment that "homosexuals" and liberals are destroying everything that is good about America. How can these people not expect some people who hear this rhetoric to want to kill us? Do any of you really think that that Jim David Adkisson is the only person out there who believes that "liberals are a pest like termites" and that good patriots should "kill them in the streets"?

Unfortunately, the silence from traditional values folks and "marriage defenders" with respect to this case has been deafening.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Out From Under More Anti-Gay Propaganda

A few weeks ago, I noticed some "marriage defenders" salivating over a book called Out From Under, by Dawn Stefanowicz. According to the author's website (from which all quotes in this post are taken), this book is the alleged testimonial of a woman raised by a "promiscuous homosexual" man. Generally, the book is a statement against same-sex parenting and marriage. Using her claimed personal experiences, the author expresses concern that:

"If same-sex marriage is legalized, a person, couple or group who practice any form of sexual behavior would eventually be able to obtain children through previous heterosexual relationships, new reproductive technologies, and adoption due to the undefined term sexual orientation."


I have been hesitant to bring this book to your attention for two reasons. For one, I haven't read the book. (Although, I'd also be willing to bet that most "marriage defenders" promoting the book haven't either). Yet, the author does go into some depth about her personal experiences on her website. Reading the testimonial on this site, some flaws of her reasoning are readily apparent.

Two, Ms. Stefanowicz's "promiscuous homosexual" father is deceased and unable to speak for himself. When people promote thoroughly one-sided testimonials, especially when doing so to support a controversial policy position, readers should remain aware that the information is being filtered through only one person's experience. I read the comments and links below this promotion of the book, and I'm just not convinced that "marriage defenders" think about how this testimonial is only one person's side of things. I'm also not convinced that many "marriage defenders" know that one person's testimonial is not necessarily indicative of the norm.

To begin here, assuming everything in Ms. Stefanowicz's testimonial is true, I do think it's unfortunate that the author had negative childhood experiences. According to her website, Ms. Stefanowicz's father struggled with
"depression, control issues, anger outbursts, suicidal tendencies, and sexual compulsions."
I think that any parent with those issues, no matter his or her sexual orientation, would have difficulty raising a child. She also claims to have been
"exposed to all inclusive manifestations of sexuality including bathhouse sex, cross-dressing, sodomy, pornography, gay nudity, lesbianism, bisexuality, minor recruitment, voyeurism and exhibitionism."
This statement is vague, but if it's true that this woman's father exposed her to explicit sexual situations and porn when she was a child, that's not appropriate. That's kind of a given, though. Using my own anecdotal experience, since that clearly counts for a lot with this crowd, I would argue that most gay and lesbian parents would say the same. When it comes to parenting, the needs of children should take priority. Parents should take into account how their actions, addictions, and "issues" affect their children.

And that brings me to my biggest beef with, at the very least, her website testimonial. Ms. Stefanowicz uses her single experience of having been raised by an allegedly mentally ill man who happened to be gay, happened to be "promiscuous," and who exposed her to explicit sexual situations to make generalizations about all parents who happen to be gay. While testimonials can serve a general purpose, by definition they are representative of only one person's experience. Anecdotal evidence can be captivating and even titillating, more on that later, but it is a logical fallacy to use anecdotal evidence to make generalizations about groups of people. The thing is, anecdotes are not necessarily typical. All that Ms. Stefanowicz's testimonial tells us is that she had a crappy childhood; it tells us nothing about what other people's childhoods were like who were raised by gay parents.

So, while this woman's childhood experiences were likely very powerful and painful to her, and in that regard I certainly feel for her, I wonder if some people are missing some sort of logic chip that enables the rest of us to know that just because some gay people are x, not all gay people are x. This one person's story, no matter how intense and emotional, does not magically trump the evidence that shows that all scientific research to date "has consistently found no inherent deficits among gay parents, and their kids have proved to be as well adjusted as children with heterosexual parents." It doesn't work that way.

To end, I am sad for Ms. Stefanowicz's childhood experiences. Yet, I can't help but wonder if she has been somehow preyed upon by a predatory anti-gay industry. As the Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters blog writes, her personal story is tailored to promote "pretty much every stereotype, talking point, and lie the anti-gay industry spreads about us." This book confirms what many anti-gays already (think they) "know" about gay people. In their eyes, we're all selfish sick slutty perverts who will only harm the children we come into contact with.

Yet, think about something for a minute. Is it really gay people who are the ones who write the most about sex, sexual deviancy, and other people's possible sex practices; or is it anti-gays? I am reminded of a saying: The difference between people with tattoos and people without them is that people with tattoos don't care that people without tattoos don't have tattoos. Maybe it makes people feel better about themselves to point out how other people are "deviant" in some way.

Or, and I don't mean this to be some sort of cheap shot, I do wonder if it is titillating in some weird way for anti-gays to read about deviant sexual behavior that they themselves would never engage in. Ms. Stefanowicz claims that she was "exposed to all inclusive manifestations of sexuality including bathhouse sex, cross-dressing, sodomy, pornography, gay nudity, lesbianism, bisexuality, minor recruitment, voyeurism and exhibitionism." If you read some comments, you too may notice that many of the "marriage defenders" noted that they couldn't wait to read this book. Considering that a single woman's testimonial is not representative of any sort of trend in same-sex parenting and that logical people know this, I do wonder if some people are perhaps hoping to get their hands on more graphic details about these behaviors and "deviant" lifestyles. Peter LaBarbera of Americans For Truth [sic] About Homosexuality, for instance, probably knows more about gay male sexual sub-cultures than 99% of gay people in America do. I don't think anti-gays are necessarily secret gays themselves, I just find the constant focus on other people's sex lives to be, well, kind of perverted in its own way.

Is opposing homosexuality an alternative to consuming pornography? Is anti-deviance an acceptable fetish that allows people to track and read about the sexual deviance of others? Is anti-homosexuality an obsession, and actively opposing LGBT rights its concordant compulsion?

I do wonder sometimes.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Odds 'N Ends

1. Repentant Phelps: "I Made a Mistake"

This Phelps.


Not this one.

Yawn.



2. "Yes on 8" Doesn't Mean What She Thought It Meant


In other news, sorry but this made me laugh.

Like I said before, sometimes celebrities should just stick to what they do best.


3. How Not To Give An Apology

Generally, an apology is an admission of error coupled with an expression of regret. Some people, unfortunately, believe that apologies are just something that other people make them do when their otherwise legitimate expressions are "negatively received" by overly-politically correct people who lack senses of humor.


4. Annoying Use of Passive Voice

In Chicago, there have been a series of attacks at a Metra train station. In describing one of these attacks, ABC writes:

"The woman resisted a sexual assault and she was thrown into the path of a train."

Nope. Wrong. The woman was not "thrown" on to the train tracks. Somebody threw her onto the tracks.

I don't agree with the journalistic tendency to maximize the victimhood of women and minimize the fact that perpetrators, other human beings, are committing these crimes. People don't just walk to work and get themselves assaulted. Other people assault them.



5. Only in America?


Is the rise to power of someone coming from a "stigmatized ethnic minorit[y]" group something unique to America, or is the phenomenon "an uncommon but regularly recurring part of history"?

Macon over at Stuff White People Do makes a convincing case that it's the latter.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Marriage Equality Coming to Illinois?

State Representative Greg Harris (D- Chicago) has introduced the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act which would "provide eligible same-sex and opposite-sex couples with the same treatment as those in a civil marriage." Previously, Harris sponsored the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act, which I wrote about here, but it died in committee.

This current bill, which is in committee, would allow same-sex couples the right to enter into civil marriage that is recognized by the state. In addition, the bill would provide:

"that nothing in the Act should be construed to interfere or regulate any religious practice concerning marriage and no religion is required to solemnize a marriage to which it objects."


This language is important. We saw how during the Proposition 8 campaign, "marriage defenders" put out dishonest and misleading statements claiming that churches would be forced to marry same-sex couples or risk losing their 501(c)(3) tax exempt statuses. This law would make it clear that a state recognition of civil marriage would not require religious groups to solemnize same-sex marriages if they did not want to.

Not surprisingly, the anti-gay Illinois Family Institute (IFI) is coming out strongly against the Illinois Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. In addition to opposing same-sex marriage, the IFI opposes any form of legal recognition for same-sex couples. That is much more extreme than the views of most Americans, the majority of whom support at least civil unions. In general, I think the IFI's rhetoric is much more radically anti-gay than what many Illinoisans are willing to associate themselves with.

The thing is, most people don't care all that much about homosexuality and gay people. But what they do have an aversion to is obvious intolerance and prejudice. While some "marriage defenders" are capable of making arguments that do not dehumanize and vilify gay men and lesbians, others are not. Observe the Illinois Family Institute's hyperventilations and ask yourself if most Americans would be willing to sign their names to statements like:

"Respectfully tell your lawmaker that Illinois' government should not officially recognize immoral, unhealthy, and changeable homosexual behavior."

"We must courageously and publicly state that homosexual behavior is profoundly immoral, perverse, anti-family behavior. No one who publicly affirms homosexuality as an immutable, morally defensible identity is fit to oversee a committee dedicated to youth and family [Harris is chair of the Youth and Family Committee]. The belief that homosexuality is morally equivalent to heterosexuality is a subversive, ahistorical, unproven, and destructive claim that is not the right of our government to affirm."

I'm not sure most Americans agree with these radical statements. It's my opinion that most Americans are capable of being good people who reject prejudice and do not believe that there is anything inherently wrong with gay people. Yet, I also know that the good intentions of Americans are easily taken advantage of by "family values" groups who prey on the concern for the welfare of children. What worked for the Yes on 8 crowd was that they dialed down, for them anyway, the overt prejudice and amped up the Save-the-Children scare tactics.

This time, the marriage battle has come to my own neighborhood. I live in Illinois and one day I would like to legally marry my partner. When groups like the IFI make dehumanizing statements like the ones above, they are making those statements to prevent me from having equal rights. Not only that but they are talking about many of my friends, my family, and most of the people who are dear to me in life. With America's growing acceptance of sexual diversity, I think that many people will want to distance themselves from groups who call "homosexual behavior" "profoundly immoral, perverse, anti-family."

I sincerely hope the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act becomes law in Illinois. Now, we have some work to do to make it happen, perhaps beginning with contacting our friends and family to urge their representatives to vote for this and ending with a peaceful vigil in Springfield to demonstrate how important this issue is to us.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Patriarchy's Romance With the Bromance

Do the powerful-yet-non-sexual bonds that men form with other men in society work to maintain male domination in public arenas?

Heart, at Women's Space, writes:

"Evangelical men, in my experience — for all their apparent devotion to and defenses of wives and families and the traditional family as an institution — are, for the most part, emotionally homosexual. Their closest emotional attachments, longings and bonds are towards and with men, father figures, potential buddies and the God they envision as male."


While non-sexual bonds between those of the same-sex are perhaps more accurately labeled "homosocial," I personally like the term "emotionally homosexual" because it illustrates a nice irony. Namely, that some of the most homophobic men are also some of the most emotionally homosexual, building interdependent relationships and solidarity with other men that enable them to exclude and dominate women. For instance, as Heart writes in the above-quoted blogpost, the anti-gay Rick Warren's sub-par Inauguration sermon was "thoroughly and completely male in its references, in its sentiments and in the way it portrays the divine– as a Father who made everything there is all by himself in order to glorify himself." We also see this irony in the Pope, of course, a man who condemns homosexual behavior yet who lives one of the most homosocial lives ever and who condones spiritual homosociality via the Catholic Church's male-only ordination policy.

The degree to which male homosociality is ingrained in many our cultural institutions suggests to me that as a society we are very much okay with male homosocial behavior as long as it is properly channeled. As a society, we reject personal male homosexual behavior and relationships, but are consistently reinforcing societal male homosocial behavior that excludes women.

Thus, it may bear mentioning that this post is not a critique of gay male relationships. There is a clear distinction between men who form strong bonds with other men in order to maintain male privilege in the public sphere cersus gay men who form relationships with other men within their own private lives. Gay mens' exclusion of women from their romantic/sexual lives does not have the effect of maintaining male dominance in the public sphere.

Now, I know that many guys start getting defensive when feminists talk about The Patriarchy (tm) so I think it's also bears mentioning that I don't think the desire to maintain male privilege always springs from conscious malicious desires. It's just not realistic to picture closed-door conspiratorial meetings of The Patriarchy plotting to keep Woman down. Sure, radical and even mainstream anti-feminist groups do exist that oppose equality, but for many I think male homosociality is so ubiquitous in our society that most people don't even notice it. And by not noticing it, they are complicit in it. Male-centrism is just the lens that many people see the world through and they can't imagine that the Male Gaze is not the gaze of all people in this world.

I know I'm not the only person who notices how so many aspects of our society are like odes to the bromance. But sometimes it feels like it. Religious institutions, accounts of history, politics, business, movies, sports revolve around men doing very important things with, to, for, or against other men. Women are not completely excluded from these institutions and genres, but neither are they proportionately integrated into them. And the men involved so rarely seem to notice or care.

Of history, for instance, Historiann writes "History is about heroes, heroes are men, and heroes are meant to inspire boys." I have no doubt that for many young boys and the girls who can identify with male heroes, history is inspiring. Unfortunately, history is not universally inspiring. As Historiann continues, those who are excluded from historical accounts read "history as alienating or even embittering, rather than inspiring, and that’s the fault of historians" (emphasis added). It's the fault of those who continually place women at the margins, rather than at the center as men are so often placed.

Personally, I think of popular movies, particularly the so-called universal greats and classics like The Godfather and Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogies. While I especially enjoyed LOTR from a fantasy standpoint, the feminist in the back of mind was quietly wondering what all the women were busy doing while these heroic men were engaged in the real and important business of Saving the World. When Frodo's best pal Sam got married to a woman in the end, it didn't work for me. Clearly, Sam's relationship with Frodo, sustained as it was through great trials, adventure, and bonding, was the most important relationship of his life.

Women, in this rich-yet-homosocial Middle Earth, were mostly at the side of some sort of male being if they were even present at all. What I have trouble understanding is why it was so difficult for JRR Tolkien to envision central female leads, a "race" of female warriors perhaps, when his great imagination rendered him capable of envisioning elves, dwarves, rangers and their associated complex societies and made-up languages? Even now, I wonder if men and, sadly, women even notice how few women are in these movies. Is it the destiny of women to remain as love interests, princesses, and scared huddling masses, even in rich invented fantasy worlds? Along those lines, how many people notice that relatively few movies pass the Bechdel Test? That is, does the movie:

(a) Have two women in it who
(b) Talk to each other
(c) About something other than a man?


This test should be relatively easy to meet considering the preponderance of women in the world. But it's not. I know that we Vagina-Americans have "chick flicks." But why are movies about women's lives "chick flicks" and movies primarily about men's lives "universal"? I'd say that's a pretty good indication that the male experience in life is still at the center of social consciousness, and women's lives remain on the periphery.

I know some will say that I'm only talking about movies here, but movies, art, and literature are what help us understand ourselves. They reflect society and, in turn, society is a reflection of them. I thought about the past few movies I'd seen at the theater and none of them passed the Bechdel test. Benjamin Button? While I enjoyed this movie, it was from the point-of-view of a male lead and I'm not sure there were more than a handful of scenes in which more than one woman was even on the screen at the same time. Ditto for Slumdog Millionaire. To be male is to be the default human being to which all human beings can supposedly relate. To be female is to be a supporting cast member who helps the Main Character discover Very Important Things About Himself.

To help illustrate how invisible cultural male-centrism is, try to think of movies that have two men in them who talk to each other about something other than women. Not too hard, huh? There's nothing "wrong" with this, per se, as long as everyone realize that the male experience in life is not the universal, objective experience for all people. Unfortunately, I don't think many people realize this.

Where I become concerned with this is when I wonder in how many ways it impacts girls women to constantly see images of themselves on the periphery, rather than in the center, of Things That Matter in the World. What a sense of entitlement it must give to boys and men to see so many images of them dominating the public sphere with other men.

I think it's time to end this romance with the bromance.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

9th Circuit Court Rejects DOMA

Two federal employees have utilized a federal court's administrative dispute process to seek spousal benefits that they have been denied based because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In separate decisions, two 9th Circuit judges have found in favor of the employees and, while their decisions do not extend beyond these two cases, have cast doubt on the constitutionality of DOMA.

The first case was decided on 1/12/09 and the order can be found here. (PDF). All direct quotations below are taken from Chief Judge Alex Kosinski's order, In the Matter of Karen Golinski.

In 2008, California attorney Karen Golinski married a woman and applied to add her legal wife to her health insurance plan. She was denied because her spouse is female. Although the denial of this "valuable benefit" on the basis of sex and sexual orientation violated the Equal Employment Opportunity Plan that covers Golinski, her federal employer nonetheless refused to identify Golinski's wife as her legal spouse because he believed that doing so was barred by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

DOMA, as you will recall prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex relationships as marriage for any purpose, even if the same-sex marriage is recognized by a particular state. In Golinski's case, she was employed by the federal government. Thus, even though Golinski is legally married to her wife under California law, her federal employer believed himself to be barred from recognizing Golinski's marriage for purposes of providing federal spousal health insurance coverage.

In addition, her employer failed to certify Golinski for family coverage arguing that under the Federal Employee Health Benefits Act (FEHB), her wife is not considered a legal spouse under federal law and thus is not part of her "family" for purposes of the FEHB. Chief Judge Alex Kosinski, disagreed with this second argument and stated that the FEHB could be more broadly construed to allow an employer to contract "for 'family' benefits for individuals who do not qualify as spouses under federal law, but who are considered spouses under state law."

At the same time, while acknowledging Supreme Court precedent that "mere moral disapproval of homosexual conduct" does not justify treating similarly-situated gay and lesbian couples differently than heterosexual couples, the 9th Circuit declined to answer the "delicate and difficult question" of the constitutionality of DOMA. Courts are hesitant to decide broad constitutional issues if they do not have to. So, Kosinski broadly construed the FEHB to permit coverage of same-sex spouses so he would not have to decide the more broad question of DOMA's constitutionality.

While Kosinski, who is generally regarded as a conservative, declined the opportunity to decide a larger constitutional issue, this decision is a small victory that nicks away at the injustice of DOMA.

The second case involves Tony Sears, a federal public defender who also married his husband in 2008 and sought benefits for his spouse. Judge Stephen Reinhardt went further than Kosinski and found DOMA to be outright unconstitutional stating:

"The denial of federal benefits to same-sex spouses cannot be justified simply by a distaste for or disapproval of same-sex marriage or a desire to deprive same-sex spouses of benefits available to other spouses in order to discourage them from exercising a legal right afforded them by a state."


He went on to find DOMA to constitute unlawful discrimination.

In general, I think that these two cases will bring to light an oft-neglected issue in the marriage debate. Namely, that even if some states allow same-sex couples to legally marry, because of DOMA they still are not entitled to federal benefits and protections that heterosexual married couples can receive. I continue to maintain that the most logically consistent position for those who oppose marriage yet who also support reciprocal beneficiary laws for same-sex couples is to join us in seeking to overturn DOMA. With DOMA in place, even same-sex couples who are "only" in domestic partnerships or civil unions cannot obtain many of the federal benefits and protections that married couples can receive.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Walking Away From Aggression

Familiar dramatics from those who believe they are my prosecutor, judge, and jury begin here.

While I went to Pearl's place looking for a good conversation, some familiar faces appeared for some familiar treatment.

I know that over the years the "marriage defenders" at Opine Editorials and I have exchanged unkind words. While I do not keep records of past conversations, the name-calling and aggression has been mutual. Unfortunately, I have not always chosen to step outside of the cycle of verbal violence. I have let their unkind words anger me and I, in turn, have used harsh words against them. I regret that. I missed opportunities to stop the cycle of violence.

In admitting my regret, however, my fear is that these men will believe their own abusive behavior against me and others to have been justified. In tracking real and imagined harms done to them, these men have been unwilling and incapable of acknowledging their own past unkindness. The focus is always on how others are Bad People Who Can Do Better. There is no introspection and there are certainly no concessions. I wonder if they believe that they have no past words to redeem at all.

A difference between myself and these men is that I acknowledge both my humanity and my capacity for anger. The Opine blogger who goes by the name of On Lawn keeps record of years-old internet conversations that my friends and I have participated in. Even when I am having good, respectful conversations with other "marriage defenders" on the internet, he has shown up several times only to paste these past conversations into comment threads to show others that I have not always been respectful in the past. I honestly do not know if he thinks that doing so is some sort of credibility-diminishing "gotcha!," but I would not deny or excuse that I have called people names in the past. I'm sure it will come as a shock to no one that I was (and am) an unenlightened human! I remain aware that not one of us is completely outside of the cycle of violence and aggression. It is my sincere hope that these men will one day also see themselves as within the cycle of aggression. As it stands, it looks to me like they place their current location in the realm of total objectivity and perfect morality.

In addition to striving to stop my own participation in the cycle of violence, recognizing that I am experiencing abuse is something I have learned to "do better" as of late. And, I have used this knowledge to inform my opinion that these men are often abusive commenters. They do not communicate effectively, yet they blame resulting misunderstandings on the ill-will of their opponents or on the inability of others to read well. They disregard and ridicule the feelings of others. They are often sarcastic yet when caught, they do not concede that they were being cruel. They frequently offer unskillful criticism that breaks virtually every rule of constructive criticism. Their criticisms are not respectful, solicited, done in private, or with any acknowledgment that they themselves are not perfect. And, in the midst of such critiques they often shift their voices from the first person (speaking to me) to the third (speaking about me), as though they themselves are objective narrators merely telling it like it is and are completely outside of the cycle of aggression themselves. They have no concept of how they are capable of wrongdoing. Sadly, as is true for those who abuse others in the real world, they view themselves as being regularly victimized by others and so they neither acknowledge nor take responsibility for their violent words and aggressiveness.

I wonder if they genuinely are surprised that the wind so often catches their own aggression and blows it back into their faces.

When I visited Pearl's blog, I was sincere in seeking understanding. Unfortunately, the three men from Opine rejected and ridiculed the vulnerable state in which I put myself. After feeling hurt and then expressing that I no longer felt safe participating in the converation, these men disregarded my expression of this. At this point, given our history, some of you may be saying that I fully knew what I signed up for in conversing with these men. Maybe you all are just smarter than me, but I have always remained convinced that if I put myself out there, I could touch the spark of humanity in these men that we all have. Now, I am trying to feel compassion for the wasted energy, anger, and closed-off hearts that these men must feel to keep convincing themselves that they are Good and others are Bad. I'm sure it creates a lot of cognitive dissonance at times, especially when they read my blog and catch glimpses of me as a real person who is something more than the caricatured LGBT Homosexualist "Leftist Gender Warrior" version of me that dances around only in their imaginations.

Unfortunately, I think some people don't let themselves believe that gay people are okay people, because they do not want us to be okay people. Some people have a lot invested in us being "bad." An entire industry thrives on convincing people that gay people are villains. The anti-gay industry makes it just a little bit easier for people to treat us poorly on a daily basis. It is characteristic of those who abuse others to want to think that how they are acting is justified in some way. When we tell them we are hurting they show no capacity to replace themselves with us, because we are Bad and They Are Not. Punching bags are much easier to hit when you put the mask of a villain on them.


So today, I am reminding myself that sometimes, walking away from aggression is one of the most peaceful gifts that we can give to ourselves.

I do believe that we all encounter at least small forms of violence and aggression on a daily basis. I don't want to make light of much more serious forms of violence in the world. In the grand scheme of things, internet aggression is a minor form of violence. But little forms of day-to-day violence add up and take their toll on us all. I find it draining to turn the other cheek in the face of continuous bee-sting-like aggression. I have to fight the urge to swat it away, rather than to keep letting it sting me over and over again. Now, I see that sometimes I shouldn't even be close to the hive at all.

Since we all have the capacity to be aggressive, we all have a responsibility to end aggression when we are confronted with it. It is those who only see aggression in others who probably need to do the most soul-searching. I know that many of the readers here have had their own unfortunate interactions with the Opiners, so I hope it goes without saying that it is not okay to call them names here. Creating a space where people can disagree while still feeling safe is a delicate balance but it is one of my goals. None of us should tolerate abusive behaviors and words, and that goes for those even on our own side. I know that anti-gays all over the internet say things about us that make many of us angry, and that anger is often very justified; but the point of this post is that we all, no matter how much we are provoked, have a responsibility to end aggression. When we act like the good people that I know we are, we take away the only weapon they have against us: their ability to point to our misbehavior and use it to justify their own mistreatment of us.

I know that one day I will have greater compassion for abusers, but today is not that day.

So for now I am consciously choosing to remove myself from a toxic, provocative comment thread at Pearl's. May you all have peace and the courage to walk away from acts of aggression both large and small today.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Friday Random Fun!

Sometimes, I think celebrities should just stick to what they do best and not try to get all political. Kelly Clarkson, for instance, recently made an unfortunate statement about feminism and succeeded mostly in displaying her ignorance.

Via feministing, observe Clarkson knock feminism for being outdated and unnecessary while simultaneously lamenting that the record industry is a boys' club straight from "the 1950s."

And in case anyone is wondering, even when celebrities hold positions on issues that are similar to mine, it still rankles me when they say asinine, ignorant things about these issues. My annoyance at ignorant celebrities with megaphones traverses all political affiliations.


In other news, I confessed to a deep, dark secret over at a Grace the Spot. Check it out, if you're nosy.

Also, it's time for the annual Lesbian Lifestyle Lezzy Blog Awards so if you feel inclined, please nominate Grace the Spot for Best Culture/Entertainment Blog, Best Humor Blog, and/or Blog of the Year. I would also be honored if you nominated Fannie's Room for Best Feminism/Political Blog, but I know my humble little blog can't really compete with some of the large feminist behemoths. ;-)


Third, do you ever just need a little unicorn and rainbow in your life? I sure do. Go to cornify.com and get some. For an example of unicorn fun, look in the righthand corner of Fannie's Room and click on the little rectangular "cornify" button. Keep clicking it. Fun times.


Lastly, and thanks to Personal Failure for reminding me of this, I've been thinking about it and I've decided that the name of David Benkof's blog, GaysDefendMarriage, is a misnomer. Not only is David the only gay person to contribute "marriage defense" articles to his blog, I have yet to see even a single gay commenter agree with him that marriage should only be between one man and one woman. Hence, a more accurate title would be GayDefendsMarriage.

Yeah, it's nit-picky. We have corresponded several times, and I've come to like David. But the thing is, his blog moistens the panties of many heterosexual "marriage defenders" sometimes because they believe that there is some sort of large cohort of Gays Defending Marriage. Perhaps David is trying to build such a community, but as it currently stands, the name is plainly inaccurate.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Rightwing Roundup: Fun in the Townhall Echo Chamber

Sit back and relax, ladies and gentlemen, it's time for a Townhall.com edition of Rightwing Roundup.

1. "Deep Thoughts" With Professor Adams

How does one know that one is preaching to an anti-gay choir?

When one can "write" an article by merely posting the job description for a LGBTQQ Community Coordinator, with little commentary of one's own, because the inanity of it all supposedly just speaks for itself.

Seriously, I'm pretty sure Mike Adams just got paid to copy and paste a job description and pretend to apply for it in order to entertain his like-minded readership. Is the silliness of a gay-friendly position at a university really just self-evident to all people? Was the professor too busy to write a real column? Can some people really find nothing else to "critique" in the world other than long gay acronyms?

Unfortunately, Professor Adams is a bit late to the party if he thinks he's the first person to find humor in the LGBTQQLMNOP-bit. The thing about we overly-sensitive politically correct gays is that we find humor in mocking ourselves. The thing about loving, Christian conservatives is that they seem to most often find humor in mocking other people.


2. Klassy Christian Criticism

A loving, Christian fellow by the name of John Hawkins has offered some "constructive criticism" in his article entitled "A 'You Suck' List." In this article, Hawkins offers up some advice to those "idiots who are too dumb to ever take it." For instance, his ending tidbit to the "mob" protesting Proposition 8 in California? "Stop acting like perverts in those public parades, you weirdos." This fellow's article was such a hit at Townhall, it seems, that he also wrote a sequel.

Now, at this point I have to wonder if Mr. Hawkins knows the proper meaning of "constructive criticism." While John here might be sincerely intending to help the many "idiots" he is offering advice to, generally constructive criticism comes from a place of compassion from someone qualified to give it. While there is no universal definition for "constructive criticism" virtually every article I've read on the subject distinguishes "constructive criticism" from negativity and, first and foremost, mentions that it should be fair, skillful, and solicited.

Unfortunately, Mr. Hawkins' "criticisms" are none of these things. It is mean-spirited rhetoric dripping with sarcasm meant solely for an audience of like-minded believers. Klassy.


3. The Bear Calling the Grizzly Black

In his article entitled "Gays and Atheists Joined at the Lip," a fella named Burt Perlutsky manages to kill two of Townhall's un-favorite birds with one stone. Of both "gays" and "atheists," he writes:

"Basically, they erect straw men, put words in their straw mouths, and then engage in battle with these creatures they’ve cobbled together with spit and glue."


The one thing mildly interesting about this article is that Mr. Perlutsky manages only to do precisely what he accuses "gays" and "atheists" of: erecting straw men and blowing them down. After claiming that there is no such thing as homophobia, he claims that the gays supposedly argue that "those who don’t fully support the gay agenda are most likely latent homosexuals." In actuality, this idea comes from scientific research showing that compared to non-homophobic men, "only homophobic men showed an increase in penile erection to male homosexual stimuli." Although this response could suggest latent homosexuality, researchers also acknowledge that the increase in penile erection could be a function of anxiety.

Where Mr. Perlutsky goes wrong here (other than the fact that his entire article is like his very own game of Anti-Gay bingo) is that he disregards this scientific evidence and suggests that this homophobes-are-latent-homosexuals idea is a figment of hyper-active gay imagination. And while I would certainly agree that the latent sexuality of a homophobe is largely irrelevant, what Burt further does is ignore every valid criticism that the gays make of bigots and presents the homophobes-are-latent-homosexuals idea as though that is our only critique of bigotry, intolerance, and inequality.

Sounds like a strawman to me. Further item of note: Townhall readers gave this article 5/5 stars.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Conservapedia: Bringing New Meaning to "Trustworthy"

The other day, I took a little time to browse Conservapedia. In case you aren't aware, this site, founded by Phylis Schlafly's son, regards itself as the conservative right's "answer" to Wikipedia and touts itself as a "Trustworthy Encyclopedia." Wikipedia, meanwhile, regards Conservapedia as "an English-language wiki-based web encyclopedia project written from a young Earth creationist, Americentric, right-wing and Conservative Christian point of view." In my opinion, Conservapedia reads like one of those paranoid conspiracy-theory chain emails that circulate among people my parents' age.

So while I have visited this "source" numerous times before, my hopes for reading reality-based news are never all that high when I visit. Most recently, I decided to check out what these folks were reporting on President Obama's page. Alas, I quickly remembered that "Trustworthy" has a whole different meaning in the Conservapedia universe.

Obama's entry starts off fair enough by reciting his full name (of course) but the entry takes a shady turn when it recites Obama's birthplace:

"Barack Hussein Obama II (allegedly born in Honolulu, August 4, 1961)"

If you follow the cited references in the Obama entry, you will learn that the "allegedly" refers to the ongoing campaign by WorldNetDaily's Jerome Corsi to cast doubts on Obama's citizenship and birthplace. In the reality-based world, many of the claims that Corsi has written about Obama, including the ones about his "alleged" birthplace, have been found by a nonpartisan fact-checking organization to be "a mishmash of unsupported conjecture, half-truths, logical fallacies and outright falsehoods." Further, many lawsuits have been filed by citizens seeking to challenge, on the basis of Obama's "alleged" birthplace, Obama's qualification for the presidency. These lawsuits, however, have been thrown out.

Much of the remaining article's purpose is to suggest that, among other evil things to be, Obama is part of a Secret Muslim Cabal Plotting To Take Over America. In addition to an entire "Obama will likely be the first Muslim President" section, Obama's entry also claims "Obama used his Muslim middle name when sworn in as President, and chose not to use the Bible for his real, private oath."

At this point, I could take the time to rebut each of these claims and show how this Conservapedia entry has failed to rely on credible sources and, worse, has misrepresented credible sources when it actually used them, but other people have already done a superb job of rebutting these claims. So instead of re-inventing the wheel, I want to focus on the more important question: So what if Obama were a Muslim? American Muslims are capable of loving and serving this country too. And secondly, now that the smear campaign season is over and Obama is in office, any further baseless smears on the man are pointless and unpatriotic.

That Conservapedia promotes dishonesty is ironic since the site touts itself as "The Trustworthy Encyclopedia" and "a clean and concise resource for those seeking the truth" that is free from "liberal bias." Yet, what we have to remember is that just because a news source is free of a "liberal bias" it does not mean that the source is objective. Faux objectivity is something I've talked about before. We all have a viewpoint, we just like to think that ours is the Real Authentic and Objective One. That's why those who claim to have super special insight into true objectivity are usually doing nothing more than unknowingly distorting truth via their own different partisan lens. Distorting truths in the opposite direction of your adversaries, my friends, is not "trustworthy."

Unless, of course, trustworthy now means "the opposite of liberal."


To end on an upbeat note, check out rationalwiki's response to Conservapedia's Obama page.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Redecoration!

It's the middle of winter. I know you all live all over the place, but where I live it's been a cold, dark winter and I think it's time to bring a little goldenrod into our lives.

Fun times.

Anger, Humanity, and Compassion

Is anger a problem unique to the so-called "Angry Gay Mobs" or is anger a fundamental part of the human condition?

As absurd as it sounds to propose that anger is a problem unique to the LGBT community, that is precisely what some so-called marriage defenders have been suggesting with respect to the aftermath of Proposition 8.

Of the backlash in response to the passage of Proposition 8 in California, it is clear that many "marriage defenders" genuinely do not understand the anger that many gay men and lesbians are feeling and have been expressing since a majority vote took away their right to marry. I have compiled a relatively large archive regarding how "marriage defenders" have been exaggerating this anger, and thereby further vilifying the LGBT community. As I continue to track "marriage defense" responses to this so-called "sore loser" anger, these folks suggest that this anger is further proof that something is inherently wrong with gay people.

For instance, regarding one allegedly gay person's online threats of violence to those who supported Proposition 8, one "marriage defender" unfortunately opined
"Perhaps violence is a product of living a disordered lifestyle." I am disappointed that an alleged gay person made such threats. Yet, I am also disappointed that the "marriage defender's" response to these threats was violent in its own way. Another "marriage defender" went on to lament that "there is not enough attention these days to the fomenting violence within the GLBT." I'm not entirely sure what "the GLBT" is, but this and similar statements went unchallenged by this "marriage defense" crowd, no matter how off-the-wall paranoid their statements might be to outside observers. I read many insular blogs, and I do think that it is a self-evident truth among the "marriage defense" crowd that something is inherently wrong with gay people that "foments" a culture of violence.

Yet, I am also aware that LGBT blogs can be just as insular as non-gay blogs and that this insularity can lead to a warped one-sided understanding of those on the "other side." When I first started out blogging, I assumed that all people who opposed LGBT rights were raging bigots and haters. Over time, I learned that while some anti-gays certainly are raging haters, many others are not. I'm not justifying the injustice people perpetuate in the world, but sometimes people really do just think they're doing the right thing.

It is also apparent that many people on any side of an issue believe that anger is a problem of the Other and not of themselves. Oftentimes, people are wearing convenient blinders that do not let them see how they themselves or their allies foment their own cultures of anger and violence. Occasional Fannie's Room "marriage defender" commenter Chairm, for instance, has castigated those on my "side" for "inflammatory rhetoric" and an "incitement to violence" and has bemoaned a "very prominent pro-SSM blogger who declared open war on the Mormon Church." Yet, not only has he himself promoted egregiously dishonest and inflammatory anti-gay literature on his own blog by an identified hate group, but he frequents and promotes blogs which are a part of a new so-called "Digital Network Army," a group of "Traditional Family Values" blogs that have adopted the language of war in order to shed light and watch "the roaches scatter." Remarkably, this man who wags his finger at the "inflammatory rhetoric" of others nonetheless perceives his own promotion of anti-gay lies to be a "trivial" matter.

I don't perceive any act of violence to be a small, or "trivial," matter. Even the smallest acts of violence, hate, and anger can perpetuate a dangerous cycle. It worries me whenever anyone takes the attitude that some violence is the okay kind of violence. But especially, in light of the verbal (and sometimes physical) violence that so many "marriage defenders" engage in, it is amazing to me that some believe anger and, more specifically, violence to be some sort of fomenting "homosexual" problem. I am fully aware that those on "my" side feel anger and engage in violence of their own. Like I said, I read a lot of blogs. I am also fully aware that my writing has been angry at times.

All of this speaks to the fact that anger is a universal human problem. The seeds of anger live in all people. Thich Nach Hahn, a Buddhist monk and peace activist, has written extensively on the anger that is inherent in humanity and, knowing that we all have the capacity for anger and violence, he encourages us to take care of our anger, rather than to suppress it or act it out. So while it is legitimate to feel anger, in order to stop the cycle of violence we have to first recognize it, then understand it, and finally take care of it.

The upside is that while all humans have the capacity for anger, this also means that we have the capacity to understand the anger of the Other.

While Chairm has equated understanding the anger that other people feel with condoning acting that anger out, I could not disagree more. The conflation of understanding with condoning reflects what I believe to be one of the largest downfalls of the so-called Culture Wars. Understanding, and more specifically compassion, are traits that our paradoxically hyper-religious-yet-uncaring society doesn't really value right now.

I wonder why that is. Considering how so many of those involved in the Culture Wars have armed themselves with the Bible, I am surprised at how so many people have blatantly rejected the almost-universally-recognized virtue of compassion. Sure, "marriage defenders" have compassion for themselves and what-they-believe-to-be "real" families, and LGBT rights advocates have compassion for themselves and their own families. But rarely do we see a cross-contamination of compassion. Our political opponents deserve our compassion. And certainly, angry people deserve our compassion and understanding too. In fact, they/we probably need it the most. Violence is cyclical precisely because we all have the capacity for anger. It is a misunderstood karmic truth that violence creates further violence, not because violent people "deserve" what they get down the road, but because all of our actions and words have consequences. When we act out our anger, we should be aware that we are capable of igniting that spark of anger in others.

With respect to Proposition 8 and the so-called Rage of the "GLBT," "marriage defenders" have taken the attitude that all they did was defend marriage and protect society and that no real harm has been imposed on LGBT families. Unable to see things from the point of view of those who they supposedly defended marriage and society from, they do not at all understand the anger, sadness, and hurt that many gay people are experiencing. There is great capacity for understanding, but thus far it's not really being utilized.

I wonder when political opponents will move beyond condemning anger in the Other and begin to seek to understand it. On a daily basis, I see people who are firmly on one side or the other admit "I just don't understand why gay people want to get married and won't settle for civil unions" or "I just don't understand why anyone cares if gay people get married." We should not boast that we do not understand our political opponents. In doing so, we are basically admitting that we hold a really firm ego-centric belief about something without knowing or caring why the issue is important to the other side. If one doesn't understand why the issue is important to the other side, one cannot even begin to understand why a political loss would lead to anger.

I think it's time to stop pointing out instances of hate and anger in others and time to start looking at the ways that we all personally act out these emotions ourselves. Violence can be manifested verbally, spiritually, or physically and each of us probably experience some form of violence on a daily basis. Even the smallest acts of violence are capable of perpetuating a dangerous cycle. And, it’s a cycle that we all have a responsibility to end. We can all ask ourselves whether we want the cycle to end with us, or whether we want to perpetuate it.