Friday, January 29, 2010

Howard Zinn (1922-2010)

I read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States during college. Not as part of any course, but because a character in a Hollywood movie said it would "blow your fuckin' mind."

It did.

Upon reading it, for the first time in my life I consciously realized two things. The accounts of history I had learned up to that point had points of view and that history could have been written from other points of view.

Although I had grown up with vaguely unsettling thoughts about the people, and by people I mean mostly men, and events I learned about in Real History courses, reading Zinn began to give me the words, ideas, and language to articulate- perhaps most of all to myself- that information is and was missing from dominant historical narratives.

After reading People's History, I wanted to learn more about the injustices Europeans and the US government inflicted on Native Americans and so I read Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.

I thought about how hypocritical and cognitively dissonant it was for our Founding Fathers to write a document declaring it to be a "self-evident truth" that "all men" were "created equal," in light of that inconvenient truth of slavery. Thinking about how "all men" did not include any woman, would come later. I then became inspired to take courses in African-American History, where the experiences of African-Americans in US history was centered, for once, rather than placed at the margins.

I became appalled at the racist and hysterical internment of Japanese-Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a government action my Real History courses had briefly and casually told me was done out of "wartime necessity" before going on to talk about More Important Things.

Instead of Great Corporate Men, for the first time in my life I learned that maybe people like me, and the working folks I grew up knowing, might be important to the nation, economy, and life too.

After reading Zinn, I stopped identifying with political parties, having realized that the two-party system is a false dichotomy. What if we- the little people- could stop pointlessly bickering long enough about death panels and homosex to realize that other options might be, not only possible, but better.

And finally, sometime after my reading of Zinn, I thought again about how women have not always had the rights that men have endowed to all "all men." I took a Women's Studies course and, even if I didn't fully "get it" then, I did start thinking much more about this historical oppression of women as a class. I don't know why feminism was my last awakening, I only know that it was. Perhaps it is a lady thing, for us to put our oppression as women last.

For all of these realizations, I am grateful that Zinn's work has been woven into our national narrative. By what it omits and minimizes, Real History has a way of justifying what powerful people have done to society's oppressed, Othered, and poor. While some critics argue that Zinn has done little more than create classes of historical victims, I would disagree. For one, an unfortunate history of a people is better than no history at all. And two, to read a history that includes multiple points of view is to read inspiring accounts of people who "asserted their humanity boldly, courageously, to the larger society" (661). To be oppressed is not always a tale of defeat.

Rest in peace, Mr. Zinn.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Prop 8 Trial: Blankenhorn's Testimony

While following the Prop 8 trial, I have been looking forward to seeing how both sides would handle the Prop 8 side's key expert witness David Blankenhorn, author of a relatively well-known book opposing same-sex marriage. Whilst Blankenhorn's book has a refreshingly respectful tone to it, numerous substantive issues can and have been taken with it.

One of my large issues with his book is that, after studying the topic of marriage for a mere one year, Blankenhorn nonetheless felt competent enough to dismiss entire bodies of work by actual anthropologists with little more than a wave of the hand. That's why, during admission as an expert witness, it was validating to see attorney David Boies get Blankenhorn to publicly admit that he has authored no peer-reviewed articles on same-sex marriage, that he has never taught a course on marriage/family/fatherhood in any college setting, that he only has a master's degree in history (with a thesis in comparative labor history), and that he has conducted no scientific study on the effects of same-sex marriage in those countries where it is legal. Furthermore, Blankenhorn's version of "study," by his own admission, seemed to be that he "talked to people and read about" the issue a whole bunch.

These facts about Blankenhorn's questionable expertise don't matter much to the "marriage defense" crowd, of course, as he says all the things that are "self-evident truths" to them. But in a courtroom, it is quite reasonable to object to such an expert's admission as an expert. When put next to the marriage equality side's experts, who were easily admitted, and who are noted scholars, professors, and PhD's Blankenhorn comes off looking a bit like a little boy carrying his baseball mitt to a big league game, perhaps hoping to catch a memento foul ball. While such underdog folksy folk narratives are quite compelling among the anti-elitist segments of the "marriage defense" crowd, or perhaps a jury, I predict it will be less so for Judge Walker.

Although Judge Walker let Blankenhorn testify, it was aptly noted that the standards for determining who counts as an expert are more lenient in non-jury trials, such as this one. Had this been a jury trial, his status as "expert" would have been quite questionable.

Unfortunately, we can pretty much cue the countdown until Maggie G and the rest of the "marriage defenders" start framing Boies' objection to Blankenhorn's expertise, and his cross examination, as bullying, elitist, and just yet another way "marriage defenders" are so incredibly persecuted.

During direct examination, Blankenhorn made many substantive conclusions about what marriage is (something along the lines of intercourse between a man and a woman that results in children) and cited cherry-picked statements by various other scholars supporting this view. As Rick Jacobs, liveblogging for the Courage Campaign noted, that by continually citing the original research of other scholars, the judge (and everyone else) was constantly reminded that Blankenhorn has not actually conducted original research of his own on this issue.

Aside from his continual citing of other people's work, in a bizarre statement that indicates an alarming ignorance of the Other Side, Blankenhorn said:

"I am not able to find any evidence that animus toward gay and lesbian people or hatefulness of homosexual persons is why they justified their participation in the marital institutions."

Holy strawman, Dorothy! I know of no LGBT person or equality advocate who is arguing that heterosexuals get married because they hate gay people. Is that really what Blankenhorn believes we think? What an incredibly strange claim.

Perhaps most damning to his credibility, marriage "expert" Blankenhorn admitted on cross that he had never read any court case that discussed marriage as a fundamental right. While it's true that Blankenhorn is not a constitutional scholar, and didn't claim to be, that's still quite an admission of ignorance coming from someone whose life work is to study marriage. In one of the most well-known Supreme Court cases ever, the Court said the following, about marriage:

"The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.

Marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man' fundamental to our very existence and survival. Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, 541 (1942). See also Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190 (1888)."

This right to marry, further, has been deemed so "fundamental," that even prisoners retain this right. Because, even though prisoners may be physically unable to make and raise babies with those they seek to marry, "inmate marriages, like others, are expressions of emotional support and public commitment" that may also have "spiritual significance" and evidence "personal dedication" to another person.

Blankenhorn's admission that he does not know this about our legal system, to me, perfectly demonstrates a key general difference between the equality side and the "marriage defense" side. Relying on emotional and self-evident arguments from the gut, many "marriage defenders"- even so-called expert ones who devote their professional lives to "defending marriage"- fail to learn or care about relevant legal issues surrounding marriage and constitutional rights.

Why would such things like rights matter, when one Just Knows that same-sex marriage is a really bad idea for society?

Many of the "marriage defenders" who aren't mired in homo-hatred rely on little more than sketchy evidence or bold predictions of future harm. They believe that their unsubstantiated and ignorant opinions are just as legitimate as the actual evidence that is presented by actual experts in the relevant fields of anthropology, psychology, and sociology. Relying on emotion and incompetence, they ignore all evidence that doesn't comport with what they already know which, as luck would have it, is pretty much everything.

Indeed, here's a particularly telling and damning snippet of the cross-examination of Blankenhorn:

"[Equality attorney David Boies]: Let me just ask you hopefully just two more quick areas. This is the review article you referred to previously published in Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics?

David Blankenhorn: Lesbian Mothers, Gay Fathers and Their Children?

BO: Yes. Are you familiar with this document?

DB: I don’t believe so.

BO: There’s something here called an abstract. You are familiar with what an abstract is, are you not?

DB: Of course.

BO: Reads that children of same-sex couples are no different in developmental outcome than children of heterosexual couples. Do you know of this study and such other studies?

DB: Yes.

BO: NO singularly accepted universal definition of marriage. Marriage constantly evolving.

DB: Yes sir. I wrote those words in my book.

Boies: No further questions, your honor."

After stating over and over again about how gazillions of scholars conclude that marriage is about a man and a woman creating and raising children, Blankenhorn admits that there is no "universal definition of marriage." He then claimed to "know of" but not be "familiar with" a particular document that demonstrates that children of same-sex couples fare just as well as children of heterosexual couples; that is to say, in spite of "knowing" of such a study, he did apparently did not investigate further to become more "familiar" with it.


I wonder why that was. Perhaps the evidence didn't fit into his marriage book's narrative? Perhaps, in spite of such evidence, he Just Knows that study is somehow wrong?

You know, it is a real shame that this testimony, indeed this whole trial, was not televised. But, given the performance of the super-star "experts" of the "marriage defenders," it's entirely understandable as to why they objected so strenuously to an open and public airing of their very best arguments and most awesome experts.

(Note: Official transcripts can be found here.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Story About Murdered Woman Focuses Entirely on Poor Accused Man Who Had To Deal With Bitchy Wife


Straight away, the BBC headline informs us:

Missing Gloucestershire wife was 'volatile'

Then, of this "volatile" woman who was "allegedly murdered" (oh by her husband, allegedly), the prosecutor informs us that the victim "was undoubtedly a demanding woman."

The prosecutor said that. About the victim.

The prosecutor.

It kind of makes you wonder how zealously he will prosecute the case against the alleged murderer of a dead woman who committed the great lady sin of being such a "demanding woman."

One wonders if the world even misses such a woman.

I mean, it's clear from the BBC article, which was quite willing to state character opinions about her as fact, that we are to sympathize with the alleged Poor Male Murderer who had to deal with such a volatile and demanding bitch of a wife who, oh by the way, also wanted to take some of his money upon divorce.

I mean, really. It's understandable why she would have been murdered. (Oh, by the husband, allegedly.)

Anyway, after then informing us that the victim and the accused had "heated arguments" that allegedly included him inflicting physical violence and threats of murder upon her, does the article inform us:

"[the Prosecutor] said [the victim's] cousin was alarmed as she recalled that earlier in their relationship [the victim] had said her husband had made comments about 'knowing people who could get rid of bodies.'"

That was the last sentence of the article.

This story could have been framed in many ways. Somebody made a choice to center the story around the supposed flaws of the murdered woman as though her flaws- basically being some sort of uppity bitch- somehow made her murder a little bit less wrong and possibly understandable if the husband actually did it.

And really, who can blame the BBC. It's probably pretty dull for everyone to hear about how yet another man has murdered or might have murdered, beaten, blown up, shot, or raped someone. The media needs to change things up a bit. Present a new twist on an old story. We don't want people to get the wrong idea, or anything, and start thinking that we have a problem with respect some people feeling entitled to violence and others entitled to being on the receiving end of it. Especially when those others are bitches, which is pretty much the worst thing ever for a woman to be.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lady Bowler Wins PBA Title

I'm hardly a bowling expert, but I still don't get why professional bowling remains a sex-segregated sport. The same with billiards and darts. Unlike, say, basketball or football, in these sports, the average body size and strength differences between men and women would seem to be irrelevant.

Nonetheless, Kelly Kulick recently won the integrated Professional Bowler's Association Tournament of Champions. After doing so, she aptly noted, "The pins don't recognize gender. And I probably outweigh [the male PBA Player of the Year] by 20 or 30 pounds."

The linked-to article notes that Kulick is the first woman to ever win this particular tournament in its 52-year history. A reasonable reader might infer that women have been competing against men in this tournament for all of these 52 years and that, only now, has a woman "finally" won.

Interestingly, what this particular article does not mention is that this year is also the first that the Tournament of Champions has featured a female competitor. For the first time ever, the PBA gave a berth to "bowling's most prestigious event" to the winner of the Women's World Championship, which Kulick won.

Seems like that would be a relevant fact to include, no?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mary Daly, Redux

After my recent post on the late feminist theologian Mary Daly, I decided to do a little perusing around the blogosphere to see what others were writing about her passing. Undoubtedly, the woman invokes strong reactions among many.

Among the feminist blogosphere, her accomplishments were often mentioned alongside her errors as a human being.

On various Catholic blogs, I saw various men (and some women, but really, mostly men) wishing mercy, how sincerely I cannot say, on Daly's supposedly hateful, sexist, shriveled soul before going along to discuss, amongst like-minded "brothers," More Important Matters like god the fatherly father dudeman. Daly was a
"crackpot," these holy men flippantly declared. "No one" learned "anything" from her writings, they claimed. She was "irrational" and "vile." A "God-hater," they shrieked.

Upon doing a Google blog search, these sentiments can be easily found after virtually any non-feminist article about Daly's death. Many religious dudes are very classy like that. And, if such folks find their way here, that is fine. But I am not going to link. I have gotten into arguments with "holy men" before and it has been quite Not Fun to argue with those who metaphorically cannibalize their lookalike god yet who also assume it's an objective statement of fact that feminism is some sort of mental "pathology."

Some people choose to maintain their male privilege by convincing themselves that there is something inherently crazy about being Not Okay with the mass gendering of god as a man. Sadly, that's the infantile mindset where much anti-feminist thought remains stuck.

Anyway, such comments are interesting, aren't they? The reaction that Serious And Learned Holy Men have of Daly.

Men who have not read more than a few Wikipedia paragraphs of Daly's writings believe that they nonetheless possess the competence to dismiss her entire body of work by categorizing her as a raging, sinful feminazi type who was definitely wrong on all counts, and entirely crazy. Just one of the benefits of being Men Who Know Things, I suppose, is possessing the incompetent overconfidence to dismiss a body of work of which one is almost entirely illiterate.

What's most telling is that while castigating her, these Holy Men accept as fact that their own perpetuation of male supremacy- via their religion that genders god male, that misappropriates the female birthing process, that excludes women from the clergy, and maintains that it was Eve who came from Adam's body- is holy, divine, true, and Not At All Sexist.

For, unlike Daly's sexist flaws, their own must go unexamined because it is mandated from above. Their brand of sexism is righteous. It's not sexist at all, they say. And if you insist that it is, well, you just don't understand God's Will and the Great Mysssssstery Of Things.

Or so they would have us all believe.

During the witch hunts in Europe, it was women who were most independent from patriarchal norms who were most likely to be called "witches" and subsequently murdered. I see a similar hysterical reaction among many, when confronted with the reality of Mary Daly. Whereas Daly's sexism was the Worst Thing Imaginable, Catholic and other forms of religious sexism are the Most Awesome And Holy Things Ever and not even real sexism at all.

And so, for some reason, Daly strikes a chord within many of these oh-so-holy men.

For some reason, as they chuckle amongst themselves about the obvious ridiculousness of Daly's writings, perhaps they tremble a little at seeing kernels of truth peeking out of her wacky writings. Perhaps most scary of all, they perhaps fear that others will see those kernels as well.

On some level, they surely must understand that Daly's writing reveals to many the arrogant subjectivity of their own dudely place in the universe for what it is.

A self-indulgent myth.

An egotistical creation of god in their own image.

A de-centering of themselves and their "brothers" from the divine.

Friday, January 22, 2010

NOM Emotes the Prop 8 Trial

Well, isn't this nice. National Organization for [Heterosexual] Marriage President Maggie Gallagher has already begun pumping her fists in a premature touchdown dance regarding the to-be-determined Prop 8 trial known as Perry v. Schwarzenegger.

Whilst LGBT bloggers and organizations have been busily recounting the legal arguments and substantive issues at stake here, Gallagher has provided her side an overly-confident Week One recap that is long on the pathos of the "Marriage Defender" Persecution Complex and short on actual substance.

Glossing over all of the legal details regarding the issue of whether the trial could be televised, Gallagher cites her colleague Brian Brown's gloating synopsis:

"'Once again the Supreme Court has stepped in to protect marriage supporters from potential harassment and intimidation, this time by squashing the effort by Judge Vaughn Walker to break all the rules in order to televise this trial....

And it also makes the second time that Justice Anthony Kennedy has stepped forward to try to protect at least the process, to create a more even playing field for supporters of marriage.'"

Always an interesting interpretation of reality NOM gives us, isn't it?

Let's note two things here.

One, NOM suggests that in this game, "marriage defenders" are playing on an uneven field that favors LGBT people. Yep. Despite the fact that same-sex marriage has lost nearly every battle it has faced in the US and marriage inequality is by far the cultural norm, it is the Poor Marriage Defenders who are fighting an uphill battle here.

Excuse me? What alternate reality is NOM perceiving and, most importantly, how do I get there?

Two, by not allowing the case to be televised, the Supreme Court is not actually "protecting" the Poor Marriage Defenders from anything. As the dissent noted in the cited Supreme Court decision that most "marriage defenders" have probably not read but nonetheless totally agree with about everything, the "marriage defense" experts are professionals who "are already publicly identified with their cause" and have already appeared all over the internet and television advocating a "Yes on 8" position. Not televising the trial will do absolutely nothing to "hide" these Poor "Marriage Defenders" from being publicly associated with their cause because they already are publicly associated with their cause.

Brian Brown continues, then, making no legal arguments, appealing to populist rage, and encouraging NOM's fans to take offense, stating:

"The hotshot team of Olson and Boies, misled by their own intellectual arrogance, which includes a profound lack of respect for the views of those Americans who disagree with them (including 7 million Californians who voted for Prop 8), appears off to a not-so-hot start."

What have we learned from Brown? Not much, substantively. Not that that matters when there's narratives to write about how the Poor "Marriage Defenders" have to endure Elitist Marriage Equality Legal Teams who don't respect those who disagree with them.

Excuse me?

This coming from the side that insists that all of society will be destroyed if same-sex marriage becomes legal? From the side for whom it is a self-evident truth that children merely learning about the existence of same-sex marriage Will Be The Worst Thing Ever? From the side that fails to care or even try to understand how unequal marriage laws perpetuate the idea that same-sex couples are inferior and pathological? And we don't respect them?

Concluding the narrative with some thoughts of her own, Maggie Gallagher takes Big Time Offense over the fact that marriage equality experts read the Vatican's statement regarding homosexuality. If you don't recall, the Vatican said this about same-sex marriage and parenting:

"Legal recognition would mean not only the approval of deviant behavior with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity."

"There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family."

"Allowing children to be adopted by gay couples would do violence to these children. Their condition of dependency would stunt their full human development. [Full statement here]"

You read that right. Allowing children to be adopted by gay couples would do violence to these children.

It's incredible, really, the degree of morally-sanctioned spiritual violence that a purported Moral Authority regularly inflicts upon LGBT human beings.

Yet, in Maggie Gallagher's world, when our side let the Vatican's own words speak for themselves in open court, she "had to laugh to keep from crying." Constructing that visual image, Gallagher does herself no favors, as she pretty much morphs into the cartoon villain that many marriage equality advocates imagine her to be. Cackling away in a bizarre, inappropriate display of emotion, she completely ignores the fact that these statements that the Vatican actually put forth, backed up as they are by one supposed Moral Authority and followed by millions, are hardly benign. They accuse gay people of being inferior, deviant, and violent towards children. Why doesn't Gallagher seem to care at all about that? Why does she only focus on how it is So Very Unfair And Possibly Christian Persecution to use the Vatican's own words against itself?


The Vatican's own verbatim words counter the nifty narrative NOM constantly tries to write. Stop me if you've heard it. Oh, you have? It's that "marriage defenders" (all of them? some of them? most of them?) really truly don't have anything against gay people, it's just that they want to protect marriage and ensure that every child is raised by its mommy and daddy. Note how, within her article, Gallagher and NOM try hard to present the "7 million Californians" who voted Yes on 8 as being one monolithic group that all had this same exact benign reason for doing so. In creating this false "marriage defense" monolith, NOM ignores the larger, reality-based social context that homophobia is a pervasive social problem and a causative factor for at least some people's support of Prop 8. I wonder if they would even concede that much.

Fittingly, the leader of Team Objective Truth ends her narrative by noting with glee that criticizing the Catholic Church is no way to "win the heart" of Catholic Justice Anthony Kennedy. Perhaps not. But thanks for effectively conceding one thing- that narratives, emotional pleas, and personal biases, as opposed to substantive legal arguments, are what the Prop 8 side does best.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Lessons From Another Title IX Article That's All About Male Athletes

While it is true that there are issues with the way Title IX is administered, an unfortunate trend among those who insist that women and girls are inherently not cut out for sports like how men are, is to write articles lamenting all of the losses that Title IX has caused male athletes while ignoring all of the gains it has meant for women.

In an article that recycles the arguments Phyllis Schlafly has been making for decades, Jessica Custer writes:

"Title IX consistently ignores gender differences between men and woman by blindly advocating for equality that actually limits opportunities for student athletes in the long run. Male wrestling teams and male gymnastics have been nearly eliminated to 'equal' the playing field for women’s sports teams. In 1969, there were 230 collegiate male gymnastics programs; today there are 20. North Carolina does not offer a single collegiate male gymnastics program."

From this paragraph, we learn patriarchy's first lesson about Title IX. Men are so entitled to athletic opportunity that all of the gains that women have made in sports since Title IX count for nothing in light of the "harm" done to male athletes and their sports programs. In fact, all of these gains with respect to Lady Athletes need not even be mentioned. All that matters is that men have "lost" something.

This lesson is a nice segue into the second lesson.

For, Custer then talks about how the University of North Carolina-Charlotte is contemplating adding a football program and she further concernedly mentions that "no one" seems to be talking about the Title IX compliance costs that will be associated with this new sports program. After itemizing the projected cost of a $45 million football stadium, an increased activity fee for students, and the $6 million dollar annual fee that this new football program would entail, Custer finds a peculiar cost with which to take issue:

"Federal Title IX regulations require gender equity for men and women in every education program or activity that receives federal funding, including athletics. Thus, UNCC adding 63 male scholarships could require an additional 63 female athletic scholarships."

Note, she doesn't question the soundness or appropriateness of building the boys a multi-million dollar football stadium, of burdening even non-sporty students with an increased activity fee, or of funding a small army of football coaches/staff. Nope. No sir. She takes issue with the school having to help additional Lady Athletes pay for college in the same numbers that it helps Real Athletes (ie- men) pay for college.

And that gives us Lesson 2: Because of "innate gender differences," male athletes are entitled to a Whole Bunch, whilst female athletes are not even entitled to equality.

Other than the sickening entitlement and disturbing male-centrism that Custer's "criticism" of Title IX display, the other glaring problem is that it is based entirely on the unsubstantiated assumption that women and girls are less interested in sports than are men and boys, and that this alleged relative lack of interest is biologically determined and not culturally learned.

So, on many levels, this article is sad. Although the reinforcement of being a Lady Who Isn't a Bitch Like The Feminists must be nice, I strongly doubt that patriarchal pats on the head are worth completely discounting the experiences of every female athlete, coach, and fan who has in some way benefited from Title IX as though these experiences do not at all matter in light of the merest suggestion that a football (or wrestling, or gymnastics) program might be in some way compromised.

The historical picture in my head is of an archaic father, hoarding all of a family's food- appetizers, sumptuous dinners, delicious desserts- and divvying it out only amongst the boys. He reasons that the crumbs that trickle off the boys' table are good enough for the girls, who aren't that hungry anyway. When the constable comes and notes that boys are getting rather chubby and the girls are skin and bones, she orders the father to share the food more equally. With a grumble, he does so, but not without mentioning, every chance he gets, how sad and unfair it is that the boys no longer get to have all of the dessert for themselves.

While there is something "sad" about that, perhaps, as the boys themselves did nothing wrong and were culturally trained to be entitled to more, I am ultimately less sympathetic about their plight than I am about that of the girls, who grew up believing the lie that they deserved less than boys, and that this was just a law of nature.

Equality doesn't mean that some people get to be "more equal" than others until those who are "more equal" decide to share with everyone else.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Prop 8 Trial Review, Days 3-5

This post continues the summaries of the Prop 8 trial. Summaries of Days 1 and 3 can be found here.

Day 3

At the start of Day 3, the Prop 8 side attempted to demonstrate that gays and lesbians do not face discrimination and are not politically powerless. The purpose of this argumentation is an attempt to show that gays are not a "suspect class." So, the Prop 8 attorney tried to get Dr. Chauncey to admit that shows like Will and Grace, Brokeback Mountain, and Philadelphia are popular and that Nancy Pelosi is a "powerful ally" of the LGBT community. And therefore, we are now living in a homofantastic utopia.

The Prop 8 side then continued a line of questioning probably intended to get Chauncey to admit that people could have benign motives for voting for Prop 8, and that they could have been voting on their "sincere moral values" as opposed to anti-gay animus. Chauncey responded by noting that many people opposed to desegregation and interracial marriage based upon their "sincere moral values." And, on this particular issue, I would agree that people may very well be acting for what they believe to be benign motives; however, I do think that their "benign motives" are grounded in stereotypes about gender and sexual orientation and that their "benign motives" have a harmful effect on LGBT people, nonetheless. I like to think of it as the soft bigotry of the Christian conscience.

On re-direct, the marriage equality side aptly countered all of these arguments by noting that LGBT people are still discriminated against and that people who voted for Prop 8 might have based their beliefs in "sincere moral values" that were also rooted in stereotypes about gay people. It's not that difficult to demonstrate that discrimination against gay people isn't over yet and that hate crimes against gays still happen.

Dr. Letishia Peplak then took the stand as an expert on marriage and relationships. She testified that marriage brings important benefits to those within it, gay relationships are similar to heterosexual ones, gay couples who can marry benefit from it, and same-sex marriage will not harm heterosexual marriage. Thus, this testimony is part of the "there is no good reason for the state to deny equal marriage rights" argument.

To "counter" her testimony, the Prop 8 side cited a decades-old study that cites higher rates of non-monogamy among gay men, perhaps to try to demonstrate that gay male (and lesbian?) relationships differ from heterosexual ones. I'm not sure that old study will prove to be all that convincing. Also, if I were there, I'd be citing statistics on the high rates of married heterosexuals who report cheating on their spouses even within the bounds of a "monogamous" relationship, as this demonstrates that perhaps heterosexual married couples don't value monogamy as much as is assumed.

Day Four

At the beginning of Day Four, Chief Economist of the City and County of San Francisco, Edwin A. Egan testified. He said that after doing an economic impact report, a ban on same-sex marriage would have a negative economic impact on San Francisco. This helps demonstrate that, not only does the state not have a good reason for discriminating against gays and lesbians, it actually harms the state.

The Prop 8 side tried to counter this report by trying to get Egan to say that all gay couples who wanted to get married actually got married in the short window of time when same-sex marriage was legal in California. They also questioned some of the methodology and assumptions, but it's difficult to analyze the specifics since we can't see the slides they are referring to.

Later in the day, Dr. Ilan Meyer testified as an expert on LGBT public health issues. Meyer stated that the stigma gays and lesbians face in society results in them being devalued as human beings. Prop 8, he continued, is an example of structural stigma that blocks gays and lesbians from attaining the goal of marriage, which is highly valued in our society. This line of testimony helps demonstrate that the denial of equal marriage rights is a harm to same-sex couples, even if they are given the rights of marriage via separate-but-equal domestic partnerships. It also demonstrates that gays and lesbians continue to be discriminated against, in spite of shows like Will and Grace. Meyer than testified regarding all of the large and small instances of discrimination and stigma that come with being gay in a heteronormative society and how those cause "minority stress" and can lead to mental illness.

On cross-examination, the Prop 8 side tried to tarnish the Meyer as being biased by asking if he gave to the campaign against Prop 8 (he did) and tried to get Meyer to concede that higher rates of LGBT mental illness can come from causes other than discrimination (he does). On re-direct, Meyer also acknowledged that the effects of minority stress can be more pronounced for LGBT people because, unlike African-Americans and other racial minorities, LGBT people don't grow up in a family that teaches them how to deal with being that particular type of minority.

Day Five

The first to testify on Day Five was Dr. Michael Lamb who is an expert on child development. What the research shows, he testified, is that children do best when with loving parents, that kids do best when their parents are happy with each other, and children do best when there's adequate economic resources. He also addressed the line about how children "who grow up without a father" display a variety of negative outcomes. He notes that these studies aren't comparing fatherless homes with two-parent same-sex families and also that it isn't the absence of the father that causes these negative outcomes, it's parental conflict and economic deprivation.

This line of reasoning is probably intended to demonstrate that the state does not have a "rational justification," or a good enough reason, for discriminating against gays and lesbians with respect to marriage.

On cross, the Prop 8 side predictably tried to discredit this expert's testimony by getting him to admit that he gave money to the ACLU and other liberal groups. Because they cannot counter the substance of the research regarding parenting and child outcomes, the Prop 8 side then tried to get Lamb to admit that these studies are tainted by ideology and that they were funded by leftwing donors. Lamb noted that funding is mostly provided by the government and that all of the studies have been peer reviewed.

The Prop 8 side then continued by trying to get Lamb to admit that men and women are different and, therefore, that children need both a male and female parent. Lamb went as far as saying that mothers and fathers may play different parenting roles in heterosexual couples, but that these differences do not affect children's adjustment. The Prop 8 side then cited studies from the 1950's and 1960's that suggest that the father plays an important role in development and then tried to apply the findings of studies about heterosexual parents to same-sex parents.

Lamb also discredited the Prop 8 side's principal witness, David Blankenhorn, whose anti-marriage equality book I reviewed here, for confusing issues of correlation and causality and misrepresenting studies and data.

After Lamb, writer Helen Zia took the stand and testified about her experiences as a lesbian Asian-American in the civil rights movement. She talked about her experiences coming out and how Prop 8 sends the message that she is an abomination and that her relationship is wrong. She discussed how the Prop 8 campaign sent the message that legalizing same-sex marriage would lead to bestiality, would end the human race, that linked pedophilia to homosexuality and how this was hurtful.

On cross-examination, the Prop 8 side attempted to suggest that Zia is a flaming leftwing ideologue. As an aside, since this isn't a jury trial, I question the efficacy of this continuing McCarthyist tactic. By focusing on the supposed tainted ideology of all of the expert witnesses, it seems to send a message that the Prop 8 side is unable to deal with substantive issues. It will be interesting to see how effective (or not) this tactic proves to be.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Prop 8 Trial Review, Days 1 and 2

Over the long weekend, I finally had time to catch up on transcripts of the Prop 8 trial, Perry v. Schwarzenegger.

But first, unfortunately, the US Supreme Court has banned the live broadcasting of this trial. The pro-Prop 8 side argued that witnesses feared public recrimination and possible harassment based on their anti-gay positions and then produced evidence, mostly in the form of newspaper articles, of real and imaged threats and acts of harm against Prop 8 supporters after Prop 8 was passed. In banning the videotaping, the Supreme Court cited in its decision [PDF] this evidence, some of which is also outlined in the Heritage Foundation's dubious "The Price of Prop 8" report, a collection of mostly hearsay, hyperbolic, anonymous allegations against marriage equality advocates.

Justices Breyer, Stevens, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor dissented from this decision, cogently noting that all of Prop 8 side's witnesses "are already publicly identified with their cause" and have already appeared all over the internet and television advocating a "Yes on 8" position. In short, broadcasting their testimony won't reveal their identities as being for Prop 8, because they are already publicly associated with the cause. Thus, the likelihood of "irreparable harm" to these witnesses is insignificant, especially given that newspapers and internet sources covering the trial will be citing the names and testimony of these expert witnesses anyway.

That's why I think the Prop 8 side's exercise in opposing cameras in the courtroom was actually a nifty little stunt to make the judge, who is the sole arbiter of this case, aware of the Poor Prop 8 supporters who have been victimized by the Angry Gay Mobs. Judges are human and, as much as the Prop 8 side critiques the pro-gay side for playing on people's emotions, those opposed to equal rights know damn well how to play the victim card themselves.

Nontheless, the Courage Campaign Institute has been covering the trial live from the courthouse. In addition to trying to follow live Tweets from the National Center for Lesbian rights, which is really its own modern art form, I've read all of the trial transcripts at the Courage Campaign's trial tracker. My summaries of each day are below. Instead of merely reciting the testimony, which can be easily found on the Courage Campaign website, my goal is to explain how the testimony is relevant to the pertinent legal issues:

Day One

To put it generally, the question at issue is whether Prop 8 is unconstitutional discrimination against gays and lesbians. In order to make that determination, the court will apply a particular level of scrutiny to Prop 8 in order to determine whether a good enough reason exists for it to be a case of "constitutional" discrimination. Yes, sometimes, discrimination is considered constitutional, there just has to be a good reason for it.

However, measures that discriminate against certain groups are considered to be "suspect classifications." That is, measures that discriminate against discrete and insular minorities, who possess immutable traits, who share a history of discrimination, and who are relatively politically powerless, are likely to be found unconstitutional. Thus far, courts have been reluctant to apply this stringent test on measures that target gays and lesbians.

That's not to say a court would never apply that test to gays or that a court's refusal to do so is fatal to the marriage equality side; indeed, the Supreme Court famously struck down a Colorado anti-gay law using the lesser "rational basis" review in 1996. And so, perhaps to preclude the Prop 8 side from being able to convince the judge that there is any sort of "rational" reason for Prop 8, in his opening statement, Ted Olson, attorney for the marriage equality side, spoke in the lingo of the lesser "rational basis review," arguing that there is "no rational justification" for Prop 8's discrimination against gays and lesbians and that Prop 8 serves "no legitimate state interest."

For its part, the Prop 8 side is trying to prevent the court from applying a higher level of scrutiny to Prop 8, arguing that gays and lesbians are not a suspect class since gays are politically powerful and no longer discriminated against. Specifically, the Prop 8 side's main arguments, as ascertained from their opening statement, seems to be that discriminating against gays and lesbians with respect to marriage laws is okay because (a) the purpose of marriage is procreation (b) countries and states that have legalized same-sex marriage have led to "societal harm," (c) gays wield significant power and are not an embattled minority, and (d) Prop 8 was not motivated by anti-gay animus, but the belief in an institution that has always been between a man and a woman.

Given that same-sex marriage has been defeated by votes of "the people" in nearly every contest that's happened in the US and that Prop 8 does quite obviously discriminate against gays and lesbians, this argument seems to be particularly bizarre and non-reality based. But, more on that later.

In his opening statement, Olson also discussed how Prop 8 singles out gays and lesbians, marks us with a badge of inferiority, and causes "immeasurable harm" to gay and lesbian families. In support of these claims, the plaintiff gays and lesbians discussed how hurtful the pro-Prop 8 ads were. These ads, if you remember, suggested that it would be The Worst Thing Ever if children were merely taught that same-sex marriage existed and that children needed to be "protected" from same-sex couples. The plaintiffs also discussed how being told that they couldn't legal marry made them feel "not good enough" compared to other people. It is "humiliating," they said, and they talked about how they are "outside" of the institution compared to all of their friends who are legally married.

Echoing this sentiment, Professor Nancy Cott, an expert on marriage, discussed how slaves could not legally marry in the US. Once they were emancipated, she testified, slaves flocked to get married, in part because legal marriage signified the rights of full citizenship.

Day Two

Countering the Prop 8 side's argument that marriage is about procreation, Professor Cott noted that the institution of marriage has always been as much about supporting adults as about supporting children. Furthermore, there have never been requirements that a couple produce children in order for their union to be considered a legal marriage. Also, the term "family" has historically been much more broad than the nuclear family that traditional values advocates would have us believe is the universal norm.

Furthermore, Professor Cott noted that as women entered the workforce and the doctrine of coverture was eradicated, marriage became more "gender neutral." That is, the role of Husband As Bread Winner and Wife As Homemaker became a less realistic description for many people's marriages. Same-sex marriage can now fit within what marriage currently is.

The marriage equality side then introduced Dr. George Chauncey as an expert in LGBT studies. Dr. Chauncey mostly noted the history of anti-gay laws in the US (eg- bar raids, witch hunts, employment discrimination, sodomy laws) and how they were used to indicate social disapproval of gay people and homosexuality. By criminalizing homosexuality, gay life was effectively associated with criminality. Generally, this testimony establishes that gay people share a history of discrimination, which is one of the prongs needed for a group to be considered a "suspect class."

Dr. Chauncey then discusses Anita Bryant's infamous 1977 "Save Our Children" anti-gay crusade which, of course, has striking parallels to the Yes on 8 ads. Playing on these fears, dozens of anti-gay campaigns were successful around the nation. Chauncy argues that the Prop 8 campaign was an extension of Bryant's rhetoric, which marks gay people and our relationships with a badge of inferiority. On cross-examination, the Prop 8 side mostly suggests that Chauncey is a biased "advocate" of the LGBT community. They don't actually address the substance of his claims.

In order to break up this long review of the trial, I will post summaries of subsequent days tomorrow.

Monday, January 18, 2010

More Thoughts on Peace


Riane Eisler:

"Have you ever wondered, for instance, why it is that so many politicians always find money for weapons, for wars, for prisons – but when it comes to funding health care, child care, and other 'soft' or caring activities, they have no money?...

[B]etween child-battering, wife-beating, sexual abuse of children, rapes, bride burnings, sexual mutilation of girl children and women, so-called honor killings, and other horrors, the number of lives taken and blighted by intimate violence worldwide are much greater than those taken by armed conflict. And yet this violence is still largely invisible."


One week after a man lit his balls on fire in a failed attempt to commit a terrorist attack on an airplane, President Obama vowed to do "whatever it takes to defeat" Al Qaeda. I assume doing "whatever it takes" will entail pouring more of our fucktillions of dollars into the Wars on Terror.

What if we, as a society, put the same zeal and resources into eradicating some types of violence that we put into others? Might we find an interesting correlation between living in a society that prioritizes solving problems with violence and living in a society wherein individuals prioritize solving problems with violence?

Replacing one domination-based model with another doesn't end the cycle, it only changes who gets to be in charge of the violence.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Riane Eisler's Peace Speech

I first saw mention of this speech on Ellen Snortland's blog. Dr. Riane Eisler, author of the classic challenge to domination-based societies, The Chalice and The Blade, recently received the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation's Distinguished Peace Leadership Award. From her speech:

"[I]n my research I looked for patterns, drawing from a very large database both cross-culturally and historically. And it was then possible to see social configurations that had not been visible looking at only a part of social systems, configurations that kept repeating themselves cross-culturally and historically. There were no names for them, so I called one the Domination System and the other the Partnership System....

We see this cross-culturally and historically. I want to illustrate this with two cultures. One is Western, the other is Eastern; one is secular, the other religious; one is technologically developed, the other isn’t: the Nazis in Germany and Taliban in Afghanistan. From a conventional perspective they are totally different. But if you look at these two cultures from the perspective of the partnership/domination continuum, you see a configuration. Both are extremely warlike and authoritarian. And for both a top priority was returning to a 'traditional family' – their code word for a rigidly male-dominated, authoritarian, highly punitive family.

Now this is not coincidental. Nor is it coincidental that these kinds of societies idealize warfare, even consider it holy. Neither is it coincidental that in these kinds of cultures masculinity, male identity, is equated with domination and violence, at the same time that women and anything stereotypically considered “soft” or feminine, such as caring and nonviolence, is devalued.

I want to emphasize that this has nothing to do with anything inherent in women or men, as we can see today when more and more men are doing fathering in the nurturing way mothering is supposed to be done and women are entering what were once considered strictly male preserves. But these are dominator gender stereotypes that many of us – both men and women – are trying to leave behind.

All this takes us directly to women for peace. Because if we are to build cultures of peace we have to start talking about something that still makes many people uncomfortable: gender. We might as well put that on the table; people don’t want to talk about gender, do they? But let’s also remember what the great sociologist Louis Wirth said: that the most important things about a society are those that people are uncomfortable talking about. We saw that with race, and only as we started to talk about it did we begin to move forward. And we’re beginning to talk more about gender, and starting to move forward, but much too slowly.

This is important for many reasons, including the fact that it is through dominator norms for gender that children learn another important lesson: to equate difference – beginning with the most fundamental difference in our species between female and male – with superiority or inferiority, with dominating or being dominated, with being served or serving. And they acquire this mental and emotional map before their brains are fully developed (we know today that our brains don’t fully develop until our twenties), so they then can automatically apply it to any other difference, be it a different race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

This is why we urgently need a systemic approach if we are to move to a better world, a nuclear-free world. Because only then will we have the foundations on which to build this more peaceful world...."

Read the whole speech. Her thoughts on "The Economics of Domination and Partnership" are especially worth considering.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Of Girl Writers and Men

In general, it is annoying when "best of" lists of literature, or anything subjective really, are released. Because all human beings who read have their own set of personal preferences when it comes to literature and because determining the quality of literature is a highly subjective endeavor, any set of rankings ultimately says more about the audacity and sense of entitlement possessed by those who create the ranking.

Nonetheless, those who fancy themselves the arbiters of artistic hierarchy like to rank subjectivity all the time, whether they're informing us as to what the Bestest Science Fiction Ever is or which novels are the best of the year. Naturally, and despite the existence of the feminist hegemony that runs everything in the entire world, the majority of the "winners" of such lists often turn out to be white men.

To some, this representation just speaks to the obvious and self-evident truth that, like most other human endeavors, women suck at writing compared to men. To others, the over-representation is a sexist reflection of the greater value our society ascribes to the stereotypically masculine. Predictably, the Arbiters of Artistic Merit, as a reaction to any backlash by feminists and people of color, often react by claiming that their list isn't racist or sexist or anything, it's just that white men write about Universal Things Of Great Importance, whereas women and people of color tend to write about little things of special concern.

Perhaps earning her some sort of pat on the head, for instance, writer Lydia Netzer speculates on the "most viable" reason that best-of lists favor men:

"Too often feminists and other axe-grinders reel around shaking their little fists and saying 'This is bad! Bad list!' Then they totter away, ending the train of thought in comfortable outrage....

The things that women write about are neither culturally nor historically significant, and the books that women write are not the best books....

We're not going to get prizes just for showing up and writing our little books. Girl books are great; I like to read them and write them. But if we're writing girl books, we're not getting on 'Best of' lists, and that is the reality."

It's an interesting perspective, coming as it does from a woman writer. Personally, I've always thought that colluding with those who perpetuate notions of male superiority is a pretty piss-poor strategy for, you know, subverting notions of male superiority. I fully understand, though, that some women have little interest in countering the notion that Men Are The Awesomest Humans Ever. Given the extent to which male-centrism is invisible in society and some women are dependent upon men for access to resources and status, I somewhat understand the unfortunate phenomenon of ladies against feminism.

Moving along, the way Netzer trivializes the wittle fists of feminists and wittle books of wittle "girl" writers is noted. Infantilizing adult women is a common way to minimize and devalue women's competence and achievements. It is belittling. It is patronizing. For, linguistically transforming women into "girls" serves to contrast adult females with adult males, who are almost always referred to as "men" rather than "boys." Referring to books written by women as "girl books" places female-authored books in a category that is to be distinguished from grown-up books, as though female-authored books are less important than Man Books. Indeed, as Netzer writes, "girl books" are "neither culturally nor historically significant," unlike Man Books, which are of course Real Books.

It's unfortunate when women adopt this tendency to belittle women and denigrate our contributions to culture, arts, history, and well, life in general. Of the many books I have read by female authors, almost all of them have been significant to me in some way, most often because they have provided me with a female point of view, female protagonists, and important female actors in a story, something that Great White Male Canon novels rarely do well, if they do so at all. I wonder, why aren't books that are meaningful to women "culturally" or "historically significant." Ain't we humans, too?

Secondly, Netzer accepts as truth the notion that the themes men tend to write about- "war and adventure"- are universal, whereas the themes women write about- "emotion and motherhood, love and feelings"- are not.

That too, is interesting, isn't it?

The experiences of more than half of humanity are dismissed as specific, while the experiences of the other half are aggrandized as universal. Are "emotion and motherhood, love and feelings" really issues specific to women that do not concern men? In a world that insists the love between a man and a woman is so very special that two people of the same-sex simply cannot get married, is the argument now suddenly that "love and feelings" are the realm of women only? Did I miss the part where we are suddenly living in a lesbian utopia wherein men are not involved in those endeavors?

Similarly, it is highly questionable as to whether the oh-so-great-and-universal "war and adventure" books that men write are really truly universal. Or, rather, I question the assumption that male writers write about these manly universal topics in ways that are universally applicable to all people. War, for instance, does not always affect women in the same way that it affects men. Do male writers generally acknowledge that the freedom won during wartime has historically meant something very different for women than it has for men? What did independence from Britain tangibly mean, for instance, to a white Lady American in 1783 who had no public role to speak of and no right to vote? Think the experience of a black woman was any different? Why is the white male's narrative of "freedom" the universal norm?

In a world in which, for reasons of safety, women have limited mobility compared to men, does a story about a male protagonist's Great Adventure truly speak to women in the same way that it speaks to men? What was, for instance, Tom Sawyer's twin sister doing whilst Tommy and Huck were galavanting down the Mississippi? If a "girl" writer wrote about this fictional sister's life, perhaps mentioning her fear of some man raping her whilst on her grand adventures, my guess is that that story would be considered a "woman's story" and not universal in the way that Tom's story supposedly is. Why is that?

Most importantly, this has been a long-winded way of saying that, unlike Netzer, I do not believe that women should forego telling stories that speak to women and instead choose to mimic the male-centricity of Universal Greats, all for the sake of ending up on somebody's subjective, arrogant Best-Of list.

The problem isn't what women are and are not writing about, it's (a) the audacity of even knitting together "Best of" lists from inherently subjective material, (b) that we collectively pretend that these lists truly represent a statement of objective truth about artistic quality, and (c) that we likewise pretend that books about and written by white guys truly represent "piercingly brilliant insights about the human condition" that "girl" books tend to lack.

For, it is a truth not at all universally acknowledged that books touted as Universal Greats often really only bother to concern themselves with the male condition, which has been defined as the Default Human Experience.

So here's another tale.

When the emperor wasn't wearing clothes, it was the villagers' fear of looking stupid and incompetent that kept them from stating what was readily apparent to all. It took a child to state the obvious. It took a child to ask aloud why all the grown-ups were playing make-believe and acting like the emperor was wearing great new clothes, something other grown-ups were wondering too but dared not say. For, children do not yet fully understand the role that intellectual snobbery plays in quieting those small voices inside us that say something's not quite right.

As "girl" writers, our role suddenly becomes very clear.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Prop 8 Narratives: An Examination of Christian Male Privilege

For those not familiar, Playful Walrus is a conservative Christian blogger who writes quite often about his opposition to same-sex marriage. I have critiqued his articles before, as I am perhaps endlessly fascinated by those who boast of their strong Christian faith whilst also engaging in feminists-are-ugly namecalling (and failing to apologize when called out for it), comparing homosexuality to having a fetish for sticking bananas in one's ear, and comparing same-sex couples who seek marriage licenses to those who are too lazy to earn diplomas.

Assuming arguendo that Jesus was a real historical figure who possessed divine qualities, I'm pretty sure he was clear about all that compassion and kindness stuff, despite what he may or may not have said about the homosex. Perhaps if Walrus took a moment to refrain from denigrating "tingly feelings," a category into which compassion and kindness surely fall, he would have more room for his god's other divine messages. And yes, same-sex marriage advocates can also be mean at times. However, one would logically expect those on Team Jesus to take that duty to be civil a bit more seriously than Team Heathen Homo.

Anyway, Walrus' general writing style is to write short, snippy soundbite reactions to what pro-equality advocates have said in newspaper articles or letters to the editor. Although shallow, his commentary is interesting to observe as a barometer of the privileged mindset of the "oppressed" Christian male.

For one, in his latest article regarding the ongoing Prop 8 trial, entitled "Proposition 8 Roundup: The Crying Game," he fails to demonstrate even a cursory curiosity or comprehension of the constitutional issues pertinent to his fave topic. Not that he lets that stop him from holding and sharing his very strong opinions about how the case should be decided on the monomanic "marriage defense" blog he contributes to.

His opinion seems to be based mostly on emotional reactions to quotations in newspaper articles about the case, rather than, say, arguments for or against the constitutional validity of Prop 8. And so, whilst accusing same-sex marriage advocates of engaging in an overly-emotional "crying game," his own post is rather long on emotion and short on substance. The emotion he plays on, rather than tears, is rage. Populist rage, to be specific, at the fact that an Elitist Judge and Ivy League Professors might determine that an action of the majority might have constituted unconstitutional discrimination.

That really seems to be the summation of his position: The people voted against same-sex marriage. The will of the people is supreme. End of story.

Observe his reaction to an AP article about the Prop 8 Case that mentioned the "two Ivy League historians who will discuss the nation's experience with matrimony and anti-gay discrimination." Of this testimony, Walrus dismissively declares: "This is irrelevant" and "You see, Californians – you need Ivy League professors telling you how to live your lives and how to vote."

Upon reading Walrus' reactions, one is led to wonder, has Walrus even read the complaint in Perry v. Schwarzenegger (otherwise known as the Prop 8 Case)? I don't ask this relevant question so as to embarrass Walrus, but only to acknowledge that there are, actually, legal questions that go beyond his populist appeal and constant refrain of California Voters Voted For Prop 8 And That Settles The Matter.

For instance, the basic issue in Perry is whether Prop 8 is a violation of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. If one understands that in the context of 14th Amendment doctrine, one also understands that an exploration of our "nation's experience with matrimony and anti-gay discrimination" is hardly an irrelevant inquiry, as Walrus claims. And, the best way to explore that issue is for each side to present experts in those particular fields of inquiry. This has nothing to do with Elitist Ivy League Professors telling people how to live their lives.

When determining whether a state action that curtails the rights of minorities is a violation of the 14th Amendment, a court will analyze that action under varying levels of scrutiny. To put it very generally, a court will judge a law more stringently the more the minority group is deemed to be oppressed in society and the more "fundamental" or important the right at issue. Shelves of law review articles that nobody reads have been written about "discrete and insular minorities," a concept crafted by Justice Harlan Stone in a famous footnote in a famous Supreme Court plurality opinion. Thus, for purposes of making the determination as to whether Prop 8 is constitutional, it is extremely relevant for both sides to present evidence as to how historically maligned and oppressed gay people have been (or not) in the US. While it is perhaps possible that a court will invent a whole new way of analyzing a 14th Amendment claim, that determination will be the building block, so to speak, of a court's analysis.

Unfortunately, Walrus seems to believe his own fauxbjective ignorance to be a reflection of reality about what does and does not count as "relevant" to a constitutional court case. He stirs up populist rage that sheds little light on the substantive matter and offers his readers nothing helpful to make that determination for themselves. If anything, it misleads. The people voted, the drumbeat goes, and that's all that matters.

Well, no. It's not, actually. It's more complicated than that.

Two, disregarding the lived experiences of same-sex couples, Walrus states as fact his opinion that the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples isn't anti-gay discrimination and isn't a "compelling interest." For instance, he claims that "one can be completely neutral towards or even supportive of homosexual behavior" and "still be in favor of maintaining a bride+groom requirement in state marriage licensing." The argument here is that one can oppose same-sex marriage and not be considered anti-gay. However, given that the denial of a marriage license to same-sex couples has a clear and disparate impact on gays, such a ban meets the very definition of anti-gay discrimination. No amount of weaseling and semantics can get around the fact that no matter how much opponents of same-sex marriage love love love us, a ban on same-sex marriage still constitutes anti-gay discrimination.

In another blog post, he authoritatively wrote, with little explanation or analysis, that "There is no compelling interest for a court to overturn the state's constitutional amendment." I will withhold personality judgments and instead merely observe that (a) again, there is no attempt at legal argument or analysis here, only a mere conclusion and (b) I question the appropriateness of yet another heterosexual, married dude deeming himself to be the arbiter of what does and doesn't count as discrimination against gay people and what does and doesn't count as a "compelling interest" with respect to the constitutional rights of gay people. (See above, re: Christian Male Privilege). While that is certainly what the court in this case may find, the judge will likely at least offer us some analysis for such an opinion.

Three, not surprisingly, his opposition to same-sex marriage is, in addition to being rooted in his Christian faith, also rooted in his worship of the gender binary- both of which place the male category above the female. Responding to a quotation regarding the importance of heterosexual marriage, he claims:

"Yes, because [man-woman marriage] unites both basic elements of society and perpetuates society."

It's always interesting when people speak of men and women in society as though (a) only two "basic elements," male and female, comprise all of society and (b) all of humanity can be easily reduced to two basic atoms on some sort of sociological periodic table of elements. Despite the observable fact that sex and gender exist in nature along a gradation, gender complementarists cover their ears, close their eyes, and insist that the category "male" and the category "female" are two discrete, complementary categories of humans that, when linked together in coitus and marriage, magically comprise a whole greater than themselves in this really incredibly special way.

Other than his continual argumentum ad populum, Playful Walrus seems to base much of his opposition to marriage equality on this notion of gender complementarity. It doesn't of course, have a lick to do with whether or not marriage is a good idea for society. At least not on the surface and certainly not in a way that is "self-evident" to all people. And accordingly, this man, whose general outlook on the matter is that "same-sex couplings have not produced anything for society, except for the spread of disease," fails to care and comprehend how gender complementarism is, even with the best of intentions, a fantastical perpetuation of male and heterosexual supremacy.

Because his ideology dominates in society, he doesn't have to understand this or understand how such an ideology, masquerading as "truth," harms those insignificant "tingly feelings" of many women and LGBT people. That is part of the privilege. He doesn't have to care about this. And so he chooses not to.

He opposes rights for his fellow citizens- indeed, devotes much of his web presence to doing so- undoubtedly with the approval of his own Christian conscience. He claims to "vehemently" oppose anti-gay bullying, which is an admirable first step in demonstrating compassion. Given that a large part of Christian Male Privilege means believing one's own opinions and ignorance of reality to constitute Truth, it becomes more understandable as to how and why some people truly believe that they are Only Doing What's Right, even though their advocacy hurts others and perpetuates the idea that the types of people who look remarkably like themselves are the best types of people ever.

In some ways, I have compassion for those who live with great privilege in society, knowing that it quite possibly entails possessing delusions of one's own grandeur that would be quite enticing to remain attached to. If possessors of this privilege did not also possess and wield the power to deny others equal rights, I would perhaps have pity for them. Because it is repeatedly and continually reinforced in them that their experiences in life are objective, rational, and centered compared to the experiences of women and other supposedly subjective, overly-emotional, "tingly" types who live on the margins of Real Life, many men are lacking in the ability to distinguish their own opinions from fact. It is only natural for such a scenario to lead to an over-estimation of one's own competence and correctness in nearly all situations. That is something we must understand and address.

As we saw with the Manhattan Declaration, the power and weight of the Christian Male Voice, especially their ability to convince themselves and others that they are awesome, brave, objectively correct, and righteous for opposing LGBT rights, cannot go underestimated or unacknowledged. Whereas society's maligned and othered would be laughed into the loony bin and/or summarily dismissed as unbelievably arrogant for writing a Courageous Declaration informing us all that their own lookalike god says that they're pretty much right about everything, Christian men are lauded (and laud themselves) for doing so.

We cannot let such fictions continue to be constructed as reality for the rest of us.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Odds 'N Ends

1) Deep Questions

Open debate is a good thing. It is more preferable to point out inconsistencies and illogic in people's arguments than it is to shut them out of a debate and then have them consequently claim the role of Censored Victim.

Some "issues," however, should not be presented as though there are multiple legitimate "sides." And that's why I fault the BBC for running an online poll on its website asking "Should homosexuals face execution?"

This question was asked in reference to Uganda's pending legislation that would authorize the execution of gay people. As though answering "yes" is an opinion worthy of taking into consideration.

2) Obsessed Much?

In Malawi, where homosexuality is illegal, two men were arrested for engaging in a symbolic marriage ceremony. From Reuters, "Police said the two men had been taken for medical tests to prove whether they had intercourse."

Do you ever get the impression that those opposed to homosexuality think about anal sex between men wayyyyyyy more than any gay person thinks about it?


Me too.

3) On Beauty

Via Womanist Musings, Alienation speculates what a world would look like if black female beauty was privileged over white female beauty. It is an illuminating post.

At the same time, while appreciating how the post highlights the fact that whiteness is privileged as the default and superior "beauty" in our society, I question whether replacing one standard of beauty for another does anything to subvert and challenge patriarchy.

What if, instead, all women had the privilege of caring less about what resource-divvying men thought of their superficial appearances?

4) Link Away

Lastly, what are you all reading, writing, arguing, and laughing about?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Review: "The Price of Prop 8"

The conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation has put out a piece called "The Price of Prop 8," by Thomas M. Messner that reports instances of real and alleged harassment that supporters of California's Proposition 8 faced after the 2008 election. Proposition 8, of course, was California's voter referendum that took away the right for same-sex couples to marry.

For more than a year now, "marriage defenders" have been parroting various acts and allegations of wrongdoing allegedly committed by same-sex marriage advocates as though they're The Worst Possible Things That Have Ever Happened To Anyone In The History of Ever. I have addressed many of these claims before. This Heritage Foundation is a regurgitation of many of these "marriage defense" allegations.

Nonetheless, my analysis of this brief is as follows.

1) The Brief Ignores the Substantive Debate

Despite their numerous victories, professional and lay "marriage defenders" insist that it is they who are oppressed by the Angry Gay Mobs and that it is therefore, as Messner argues, "an important example of civic courage" to oppose rights to a historically-persecuted minority group.

Neither this boastful message, however, nor Messner's report, have a lick to do with the substantive debate of whether or not same-sex marriage is a good idea for society. That is the real elephant taking a dump all over this report.

Another subtext, however, ominously lurks. Namely, that gay people don't deserve equal marriage rights because look at how mean same-sex marriage advocates are, for no reason at all, to people who don't agree with them. That is the real point of the report, is it not?

2) The Brief Ignores the Larger Social Context

Devoid of any larger social and historical context, the report miserably fails to acknowledge- even in passing- the discrimination, hostility, and violence inflicted upon LGBT people in the US that is a likely root of much anger within the LGBT community. Whilst the report cites instances of stolen "Yes on 8" yard signs, it ignores that, within this same climate, sexual orientation-based hate crimes are the 3rd most frequently committed hate crime in the US. It ignores the reality that professional organizations and think-tanks exist to reinforce the idea that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender is an unnatural aberration from the superior and normed heterosexuality.

So, while these historical and current levels of aggression against LGBT people does not excuse LGBT people who are violent or who engage in misbehavior, an angry response is certainly to be expected. Violence, aggression, and social movements do not occur in a vacuum. From a causal standpoint, violence begets further violence, whether it is physical, spiritual, or mental. Many "marriage defenders" have convinced themselves that they don't have anything against gay people, but they nonetheless fail to understand the impact that their unwitting heterosupremacist words and actions have on others.

A huge failing of this Heritage Foundation report is that, like so many "marriage defenders," it expresses no comprehension of or acknowledgment of this aggressive social context surrounding the "culture wars." Worse, it doesn't have to. As the heterosexual experience in life is the default human experience, it doesn't have to take into account that LGBT people experience this situation far differently than the Poor "Marriage Defenders" Who Are Harassed For No Reason At All.

It doesn't take "courage" to advocate for the discriminatory status quo, it takes courage to examine one's own privilege and contributions to a violent, aggressive world.

3) Report Conflates Impoliteness and Legal Protesting With Illegal Activity

Clutching his pearls, Messner cites various "John Does" who claim to have been on the receiving end of impoliteness because of their support of Prop 8:

"John Doe 58" and "John Doe 28" reported receiving "phone calls and voice mails calling them 'bigot' and using vulgar language." "John Doe 51" reportedly "received e-mails, letters, and postcards using vulgar language and offensive labels like 'gay hater.'" "John Doe 26" reported receiving "a book, sent anonymously through, that contained 'the greatest homosexual love stories of all time.'"

Now, while I condemn these actions and agree that they are uncivil, a real degree of difference exists between these actions and the threats, vandalism, and illegal behavior with which the report lumps them Furthermore, the report also conflates illegal activity with legal, legitimate forms of social protest. For instance, the report condemns the following as evidence of anti-Mormon bigotry and malice:

"After Prop 8 passed, crowds of same-sex marriage activists congregated for protests at Mormon houses of worship throughout the nation. One video shows same-sex marriage activists massed outside the Mormon temple in New York City crying 'fascist church' repeatedly. Another video appears to show angry activists rattling the gates of the temple in Los Angeles and chanting 'shame on you.' Images from various protests show signs like 'Mormon Scum,' 'Get your filthy church off me,' and 'Keep your hate in Salt Lake.'"

Some of these signs were undoubtedly impolite. However, perhaps Messner does not understand that if a religious organization involves itself in political and social affairs, as the Church of Latter Day Saints did with respect to Prop 8, it is then not immune to criticism and protest just because it happens to be a religious organization. Criticism is not religious bigotry. Painting it as such diminishes the credibility of this report, as does conflating legal and impolite behavior with illegal activity.

4) Truthiness

If we remove the above legal acts from the report, many of the allegations that we are left with contain elements of truthiness to them. Elements of spin are present, extremely relevant facts were sometimes not included, and many of the Horrendous Acts are unproven allegations made by various "John Does" who have no accountability or motivation to tell the truth. Despite the lack of verified evidence relating to many of these allegations, many "marriage defenders" have accepted the "truth" of these allegations based on little more than what their guts have told them.

For instance, the section on "anti-Mormon bigotry" is entitled "'Mormons in the Crosshairs.'" This subheading uses undeniably violent imagery that suggests Mormons are within the telescopic sights of some sort of firearm. This subheading is enclosed within quotations marks, meaning that a reasonable reader could infer that it was a direct quotation made by a raging, violent same-sex marriage advocate who perhaps threatened to shoot Mormons.

Following the citation, however, we learn that the phrase comes, not from any same-sex marriage advocate, but from conservative Townhall columnist Kathyrn Lopez in this article. There, in her piece entitled "Mormons in the Crosshairs," Lopez breathlessly warned that "Mormons have a reason to be nervous" because of the Angry Gay Mobs. This arguably misleading title aside, Lopez's violent imagery is an unnecessary exaggeration given the fact that Mormons are not, actually, being shot by gay people.

Within this same section, Messner goes on to "report":

"Anti-Mormon malice reached a new level when someone mailed packages containing suspicious white powder to Mormon temples in California and Utah. At least one of those incidents triggered a domestic terrorism investigation by the FBI."

While he hides the unknown perpetrator of these acts in the word "someone," information that Mr. Messner fails to include is that the FBI called any link between the white powder and Prop 8 to be "a stretch." And, indeed, the FBI statement in the very source that Messner cited was that:

"We've got to follow the evidence and at this point we have not received anything that would lead us to believe the opponents of Prop. 8 are behind any kind of terroristic activity," FBI Special Agent Juan Becerra said from the agency's Salt Lake City office. "It would be irresponsible to say that at this point."

It would be irresponsible to say that at this point. That didn't stop Messner from implying as much in his report, though. He omitted the FBI quotation and instead chose to offer this instance as evidence of Prop-8-caused malice toward Mormons. Perhaps the FBI's statement didn't fit into Messner's narrative.

Furthermore, as Jesse Fruwith rightly notes the Heritage report would be "left in bloody shambles" if it included only incidents that could be reasonably linked to Prop 8. For instance, one "John Doe" placed a Yes on 8 sign on her balcony and later found that her staircase had been covered in urine. Her logical conclusion? Someone peed on her staircase because she supported Prop 8. Fruwith notes:

"'John Doe 12' and at least 55 other John Does make up the heart, soul and spine of the Heritage Foundation's litany of alleged sins committed against supporters of Proposition 8."

Disturbingly, "marriage defenders" have bought and promoted every single one of these John Doe stories without a shred of skepticism. Fruwith continues:

"It serves to show that gays and their supporters are prone to evil, which we already knew to be true. Why should we be skeptical of things that reinforce our version of truth? In this case the answer to that question is 'anonymous sources': often they'll say whatever they want, to get the desired result they want, and not have to worry about being exposed as liars or cheats because you haven't published their names. In the reality-based community, we call this 'accountability.' Heritage also lacks accountability because no one can show that their John Does are fakes or liars if no one knows who they are. Naturally, the Heritage authors can claim all these people were given anonymity to protect them from further urine."

I'm not denying that some of these incidents occurred. The point is that many "marriage defenders" have accepted each and every account of Gays Behaving Badly, no matter how far-fetched, because it confirms their overall narrative that says gays are Very Bad People Who Don't Deserve Equal Rights.

The Heritage article concludes:

"The freedom of parties on both sides of the marriage debate to voice their views and to promote them in public policy should be respected."

What this statement means is that "marriage defenders" want to advocate for an unjust, unequal society and they want to do it not only with the approval of their own consciences but with the approval of everyone else's consciences as well. While I would like to see people on all sides of this debate treat each other more civilly, I cannot agree that "marriage defenders" have the special right to engage in political activity without having to endure legal, legitimate, and non-violent counter-protest in return.

For, lest they misunderstand, and we know damn well that they often do, we have rights and freedoms too.

[Cross-posted at A World of Progress]

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Case of "Gay Panic"?

Sadly, a man named Michael Griffin has confessed to murdering writer and Indiana University professor Don Belton. Why?

"The former military man told police that Belton, who is openly gay, sexually assaulted him in front of his girlfriend, while they were both intoxicated on Christmas Day. And because the assistant professor of English refused to 'show remorse,' Griffin stabbed him to death, according to court docs."

It will be interesting to watch where this case goes, as it has the added element of an alleged sexual assault against the man who confessed to the murder. Generally, feminist ladies such as myself are quite sympathetic to those who claim to have been sexually assaulted. Yet, while acknowledging that it is certainly horrible when any person, male or female, is assaulted, it would be disingenuous to pretend that this alleged assault does not play into a larger narrative about the inherent sexually predatory nature of gay men. I also realize that the sexual assault of men is something that is generally not regarded as serious and, oftentimes, it is joked about with snickering allusions to prison, so I want to be really clear here.

I don't know what happened that night. We may perhaps never know what happened.

Yet, we do know that the Gay Man As Sexual Predator storyline is bought hook, line, and sinker by much of the general public and it permeates most discussions of homosexuality outside of LGBT-friendly forums. Given this narrative, and the fact that investigators found Belton's journal in which he expressed feeling "very happy" about a Michael that had recently entered his life, Griffin's claim on the surface looks like an after-the-fact attempt to invoke the gay panic defense in order to minimize the crime he confessed to. Since Griffin claimed that the alleged sexual assault happened in front of his girlfriend, it will be interesting to hear her version of the story.

Many are speculating that Griffin will indeed attempt the "gay panic defense" in order to be charged with a lesser crime. While admitting to the crime, men (typically, only men assert this defense) who use this defense essentially argue that being hit on by another man is so incredibly terrifying that it renders them psychotic and, therefore, less culpable for their violent actions. A similar phenomenon is the "trans panic defense," whereby a man will murder or attack someone and then attempt to be convicted of a lesser crime, claiming that he shouldn't be held responsible for his actions after learning the so very horrifying truth about a transgender person's biological sex.

In other words, these defenses are ways that we, as a society, let violent men know that certain types of violence against certain types of people are, while wrong, certainly understandable. The legal fiction of "gay panic" allows men to go far beyond self-defense and to seek vengeance on those who inflict real or imagined harm upon them. Whereas women endure being hit on by men on a daily basis without resorting to murder, apparently being a man means never having to endure that same incredibly horrible travesty. In fact, our legal system downplays the culpability of men who murder the men who hit on them.

Of, if it did the same for women.