Below is an interview with a genderqueer individual living in Portland, Oregon. The answers correspond to the questions, but are not in order:

1. How does gender play a role in your life?
2. How has your sexuality been shaped, if at all, by your gender identification (assuming you have one)?
3. How do you feel about gender identification in general: do you see it as a necessary tool for providing order in the world or is it a hindrance to your own, and the rest of the world's, liberty?
4. Is your gender performance something that you think about often? What has the evolution of your consciousness on the matter looked like? (i.e.: pre college, during college, post college gender awareness)


Throughout my life i've been constantly been "bumping heads," so to speak, with gender. I refused to wear dresses before I could form full sentences and was considered a tomboy throughout grade school, at one point insisting that my parents refer to me as "Bradley James." I don't remember whether or not I considered myself a boy, at that age I probably didn't really think that I needed to choose sides.

Puberty was a wake-up call. I was most bothered by the fact that it wasn't acceptable for me to wear swim trunks anymore. I presented myself as fairly feminine in high school and didn't really question my gender as a girl. I think the message that people are either boys or girls based on physical attributes had finally sunk in-- there certainly was no one else in my life challenging that idea. However, as I began to identify more strongly as a girl, I became more aware of how differently boys and girls are treated. I hated being treated as what I felt like was less and was bothered even more by the fact that everyone else my age was oblivious to the differential treatment.

It was a relief to be in a same-sex environment at Smith College, gender became a non-issue for me, both internally and externally. Without having 2 distinct groups for me to compare myself to, I sort of floated back into a gray fuzzy gender somewhere between man and woman. This seems like a more natural fit for me and I do believe in the whole idea of gender as a spectrum although I'd probably agree that most people fall closer to one end or the other rather in the middle like myself.

I feel like there's a lot of pressure within the genderqueer community to choose a gender if you are somewhere in the middle... to make it easier for yourself and everyone else around you. There are a lot of reasons why I'm pretty content to stay in the middle at this point in my life. The first is that I honestly don't know which gender I would prefer if I were to pick one so I'm not willing to make any drastic changes like surgery, hormones or pronoun switching to be perceived as more male. Why choose to transition when I don't feel any more like a man than a woman? However, I would like to have chest surgery in order to be more ambiguous, not necessarily to identify as a man, and also for the freedom of not having to cover/strap down a part of my body that men don't have to deal with. I want to be able to wear swimtrunks.

Another reason for me to stay in the middle is that I feel like just by being hard to place I have more impact on how people think about gender in general. Even though most people clearly categorize me as a woman, most recognize that they interact with me as they might with a guy and that I'm not the same as other women. I try to make it clear that this difference isn't simply due to being gay but sometimes that doesn't always work... but sometimes it does.

Gender performance is a tricky thing because after you finally have people perceiving you as differently gendered, you have maintain that image. Because people are accustomed to viewing the world with two genders only, most are constantly trying to "categorize," even if they aren't aware of it. It’s so easy to slip up and do something "feminine" and then worry that it will reaffirm the belief that you actually were a girl all along. I know a few FTM guys who feel like they have to hide all feelings of sensitivity in order to be perceived as masculine.

I would argue that my sexuality and gender identity have developed separately. I was a pretty sexual kid and didn't discriminate between boys and girls when I was practicing kissing. When I started to seriously wonder if I was attracted to women was during highschool, the time in my life when I actually stopped questioning my own gender and fully identified as a woman.

How I feel about gender identification in general? Yes, I think it has become an important tool for providing order in the world but not a necessary one. Gender identification outside of my own is such a huge issue that I don't even know where to answer that because I haven't been able to get a firm grasp on it. I think gender is the single most effective form of social organization and that we have become so very dependent on it that it will never disappear. It's actually sort of sickening to think about how early people are stereotyped in life based on their genitalia, which most people associate with gender. My co-worker just found out that she was carrying a boy today. People immediately started talking about clothes with footballs and how it will be so much easier for her than a girl might be because she can send the kid off to the park with his dad. This kid will be ushered into a world that has expectations for him that he may or may not have any interest in fulfilling. I can only hope that gender will become more fluid as more people are open about being differently gendered, more people in general will start to think about gender as more than a "2 box option." It's pretty rare for people to question their own gender; it's just too unsettling.

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5.29.2007

f/m in the s/m

This weekend I signed a waiver promising that I would not engage in electrical play above the waist. Then I walked downstairs into a women-only space at a club normally packed with gay males. I went in drag. (Of course, in a binary-gendered society I’m always in drag) I had no idea what to expect; I was to attend an S&M party in the middle of International Mr. Leather.


What I observed and experienced in the basement spoke to gender within the broad and trans-friendly spectrum of "women." Of the master/slave pairs (yes, collars included), those with a femme/butch distinction invariably positioned the femme in the dominant master role. Is such a dom displaying a necessary ultra-femininity to counterbalance the culturally taboo claiming of power and sexual control by a woman? (But then, would mimicry of male/female dominance through a butch/femme dom/sub pair be considered more justified or at least more “normal”? Or would this instead reinforce the shocking dangers of a woman taking on “a man’s role”? Does putting the femme on top soften the cultural blow?) Perhaps the femme/butch dom/sub pair is a deliberate reversal of power relations normalized in the wider culture. Or, does the dominant femme embrace and reclaim the age-old fear that a woman’s power is in her sexuality? (And that her sexuality is tied irrevocably to her womanhood…)


And how many of those possible explanations factor into how hot I found those pairs? How did my own gender performance affect my relation to the women I voyeuristically observed giving and receiving commands, spanks, floggings, kisses, slaps, and more?


I find it very telling that this party was limited to women. There’s a strong sense that straight men cannot be trusted to enter a space of vulnerability and power like an S&M party. Of course, one has to question whether someone who comes to a place of group sex and public S&M isn’t automatically queered (gender attraction aside). The mere thought of someone accustomed to exercising male privilege would prevent (through intimidation or disgust) many queer women from attending. It doesn’t seem to matter that such a man might be well-behaved and play by the rules; his very presence changes the atmosphere. The gay men whose territory we had, after all, invaded, seemed a bit confused at being barred from the basement but they continued to dance merrily above. While I’m less concerned about their ability to deter women from attending, I hardly think they suffered from exclusion. This was the one event of International Mr. Leather catering exclusively to women. That specialization in itself is sexy and creates a sacred space, paradoxically freeing women from their gender by its very invocation: hence the wide range of costume and personality along (what I’ve reluctantly labeled) a butch/femme spectrum. It’s less about “my womanhood grants me entry” and more “as I am attracted to women, how wonderful that no men will be in the way.”


A friend of mine believes strongly in the power of S&M to release and heal embodied trauma, benefits accessible to all and entirely independent from the sexual thrill some people experience. Violations of the body, in particular, are carried with us almost like muscle memory. But as long as we live in a body- and sex-negative society, it’s likely that people suffering these particular wounds will continue relying upon either the talking cure or therapy in a bottle, nevermind the relative efficacy of these approaches. There is little room for exploring alternate therapies.


It’s a wonder someone was able to advertise and throw a party like this, then, and no surprise at all that every participant signed a consent form and legal waiver.


But S&M is increasingly present in mainstream culture, filtering its way in through films like Secretary and popular comedy. [Make sure you check out the SNL opener after Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of the House] And as more talk happens, we’ll find a growing, subversive channel for power, sexuality and gender expression.


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Beginning today, Sundays will be the day I take care of a little housekeeping and share with y'all major blog updates, followed by an exciting review of the week's news:

+ updates +


Alibee and theiniquisitor have joined Belowthebelt.org (well, this isn't exactly new...but it's about time I introduced them!) as guest contributors: alibee writes about music/art/culture, and theinquisitor conducts interviews. Another guest will be joining shortly, so stay tuned.

+ news +

The adorable,
the whoop-tacular,
and the obvious for the week.


Sincerely,
ts
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We are off to see the Wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz! I personally would rather visit Oz the prison and watch some inmate shank a dude with a filed toothbrush but, hey, being twisted away to a land with flying monkeys to hang out with some animated inanimate objects and a man in a lion suit is probably just as good. It satisfies the furry in me...

Nope, still a close second. I blame the little dog. The urge to punt the yapper hurts so good like a 14-year-old boy’s deathgrip on his initial discovery of masturbation.

Before we continue on our journey down the yellow brick road, I am going to say outright that I bear no resemblance to Dorothy or Judy Garland. Wearing women’s clothes…that is for another day. Let’s bring our focus to the compadres on this little journey of self-discovery.

Oh, Scarecrow, you lost little honeybee, looking for a brain. It’s funny because no one can blame you for missing a brain. You just don’t have one. Like many people, who don’t believe in global warming or AIDS, you are on a similar sinking boat. News for you: perhaps the fact that polar ice caps are melting and that people take copious amounts of drugs to counter their flailing T-cell count is too unfamiliar for you to make any kind of rational connection. Let’s try smaller things. Peanuts and potatoes (the things you eat, how’s that for close to home?) are slowly but surely trucking along towards extinction due to climate shifts and, you got it, global warming, Who knew? In the years to come the prices of your favorite peanut butter and French fries could sky rocket like the gasoline for your giant fuel-inefficient sports utility vehicle. That will directly affect your “civilized” life. How you like dem apples? So wave your bio-diversity flag proudly and do the world a favor – learn a little.

Oh, Cowardly man in a lion suit, you are so maligned in this cruel, cruel world. People like to assume that you are so brave and noble when all you want to do is curl up like a pussycat and purr the afternoon away. That is why you readily jump in on some coital activity all suited up - just as you are. You are so steeped in preconceived notions. A story comes to mind. This anonymous person painted a sign at Wesleyan University to say “Picture yourself a Lesbyan.“ My first thought was to laugh. And I did. Then I thought: “That was a cowardly and wholly unoriginal move.” If you are going to do it, make it count. I also thought, Wesleyan, you are also trapped in a long standing notion that girls’ schools harbor lesbians like a kindhearted coastguard with a ship full of Cuban refugees. Townies threatened by and in fear of contamination make constant passive remarks to make your inhabitants feel little and unwelcome. (Guys, you can’t catch it, no matter how much you try. Although the more you resist, the more it might be a sign that you caught the homo fever. Ba-bum-BUM!) However, true to form, like Frankenstein, monsters usually end up squashing your townie heads. So back the fuck off. (I do have to admit that liberal arts students are frightening. They make me vomit a little in my mouth.)

And Tin man, you wayward cloud looking for a heart. You are the saddest of them all. Your story brings me back to this – a man who pulled on the heartstrings of underage girls like a schizophrenic harpist by pretending to be a dying cancer patient. He didn’t think he was doing any harm. To an underage child. Exposing herself on the internet. To what she thought was a terminal cancer patient. Where, on this journey through his magical wonderland that I guess you can call his brain, was his heart? Where did those redeeming qualities go? Are they scrunched up under his bed next to the impressive pile of cum rags? And how did this love/sex connection come about for these girls? Is it true that girls are just more receptive to pity? And how does transference from feeling sorry for someone lead to love and lust? Is it a [gender programmed, overly generalized, evil, evil] chick thing? Where does the heart roam in a world based in illusion?

Amidst all the hubbub, the lies and the deceit that populate this disintegrating world, we journey on with hope on our minds and our companions in tow, no matter how flawed everything is. The real hope is that we don’t get to the end only to discover some fucktard projecting holograms of big green faces on the haze spewing forth from a shoddy smoke machine.

Fingers crossed!

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What do you want from a relationship, really? What is it that you think you're looking for? Emotionally? Physically? Logistically? Should the person look a certain way, speak a certain way, think a certain way? No really…think about it. We all have our personal tastes that determine why we eye flirt with the third person down at the bar and not the fourth, why the nerdy guy with converse sneakers is more eye-catching than the dashing one with crystal blue eyes, and why you can't get enough of her despite the way she snorts when she laughs. Maybe you only date people who like to cuddle. Or maybe you can't stand PDA. Maybe you like 'em badass and sexy. Then again there's much to be said for the quiet and alluring. Perhaps you think that you would never date someone who didn't agree with you on issues a, b, and c. I mean, your viewpoints are part of you for goodness sake. Then again, maybe you just don't date.

I think I just always assumed that anyone I dated would fit a certain outline. Not that I had a pre-made box ready to throw the person in the moment I decided we should date. More that, like many people, you tend to eventually develop an idea of the person you picture yourself with. Not necessarily long-term, but if something were to become serious, you're pretty sure they would fit these guidelines. I'm not sure there's necessarily anything wrong with that. I would consider it a very positive attribute to understand who you are so well that you also understand what you need from a partner.

But what happens when you find yourself in a relationship that you have no idea how you got into? Or the person you adore waking up next to fits only 2 of those 25 guidelines you had all neatly prepared for yourself and your future? What if this person's stature, political beliefs, sex, favorite foods, level of enjoyment derived from reading a good book in the bathtub), or skin color just doesn't match up? Well, crap.

Then again, maybe that "crap" is uncalled for. Maybe this is a blessing in disguise. Maybe you need to let down some of those barriers you have up to protect yourself from deviating, not necessarily from the comfortable, but from the understandable.

Every day I'm trying to figure this all out for myself. I keep soaking in the aspects of my life here that are different and trying to see what my perspective on them is. Then I try to connect them to my lifestyle, my relationship, and the future I see for myself and it becomes that much more confusing. The simple fact of the matter is, the way people think here is very different from the community I come from. It's both fascinating and frustrating at the same time. Often, I confuse my personal life with my social and political one and it's something I tend to regret. A relationship is something between two people. But where, and how far, do the outside factors enter?

For instance, if you are a Mexican man (born and raised in Mexico), do you inherently have a little bit of "macho" in you? Not that you raise your fist at the first hint of anger but more that you see thing from a certain perspective, you enjoy things a certain way. Does this "macho" man need a very "feminine" woman? What if she doesn't like cooking enchiladas and wearing tacones (high heels), and becomes defensive discussing the femincides in Juarez? One deviates from the norm, the other doesn't. Does that mean these two people truly can't form a loving and balanced relationship? It's safe to say they probably have some of the same expectations of a relationship – care, support, understanding, acceptance…but should they truly have to "accept" each other? Should we "accept" our partner? Or should we wait until we feel we are entirely embracing who they are instead?

From a personal viewpoint, who the hell knows what a relationship is "supposed to be like". And really, the only people that know what a specific relationship is truly like are the ones taking part in it. We can probably all agree that it's about learning who you are, who they are, and if those two factors can blend. I'm not talking about forcing them to blend or even waiting until they blend naturally. I'm just saying, sometimes, with a little remodeling, two opposing puzzle pieces can be meshed together a lot easier than we may think. Hence why that macho man and his "liberated" woman, an opinionated and vocal woman and her soft-spoken partner, or any other combination you want to create could potentially find the path to a successful relationship. Then again, maybe the whole idea of a "committed relationship" is an unreachable dream that we've been forced to believe in. The Cosby Show, the Brady Bunch, and the Camden Family…it's all a figment of your imagination.

But it helps to talk about it.

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5.23.2007

AskFannie: X-Gen!

Dear Fannie,

I'm a 20 year old straight female. I've been with my boyfriend for over a year now and we're very much in love. We've been hand-fasted and we live together. The only issue is that my boyfriend is 43 – my parents don't approve and it's causing a lot of problems in my family. I barely speak with my parents now, and even some of my friends are weirded out by the age difference. But it's not my fault that I'm in a more mature place then my friends and what my parents are ready for. I'm ready to settle down, which my family and friends just can't grasp.

Just a Number


Relationships with large age differences are often approached with hypocritical criticism. We're not entirely surprised or shocked to see a significantly older man partnered with a young woman. In fact, for a very long time in human history, that arrangement was the norm. But nowadays inter-generational relationships are more of a social taboo. This is possibly due to a general increase individual financial independence and overall stability. This may have removed much of the economic pressures that fostered a system where economically stable older men become more viable options for younger partners.

I have long believed that relationships should be based on maturity levels of both partners rather than arbitrary "acceptable" age ranges. If both people are on the same page and want the same things in the relationship, then I say live and let live. However inter-generational relationships come with a significant amount of problems to consider. Older partners often find that their younger partners, people who they initially saw as full of life and youthful, are actually perpetually childish. Young people, however mature they present themselves to be, still have a lot to learn about life and are going through a lot of change. On the other hand, older partners seeking a youthful lifestyle tend to be more fixed in their behavior, because the goal isn't really to live as if one was 20 years younger (which suggests that one would eventually mature and grow up), it's to perpetually live as a 20 year old. This can cause problems later in the relationship with the younger partner is ready to move past their youthful and carefree life-style, with their partners trailing behind them in the life journey.

JAN, it sounds like you're moving really fast for a relationship. Getting hand-fasted and moving in together are all big decisions to make, especially since you're only 20. So don’t be surprised that your family and friends are shocked to discover you’re boyfriend is easily old enough to be your father. But the best way to ease your family and friends into the idea of your inter-generational relationship is to show them that you are A) in control of your relationship and B) you’re still the same person they know and love. One of the biggest concerns people have about inter-generational relationships is that the younger partner is being exploited for their youth. While most couples have to deal with friends’ concerns of being cut out of their life, inter-generational couples to do with even greater fears that their friend is being in a way kidnapped.

So, the best thing you can do to maintain your relationships with your parents and friends is to make a concerted effort to keep time for them. At the very least keep the communication lines open, especially for your parents. The old rule of out-of-sight-out-of-mind does not hold true here. The less you talk to your parents the more outlandish and lascivious their imagination on your relationship becomes. So just talk to them. Talk to them about the boring things in your life. The less your parents think about what you do in the bedroom the better.

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Remember criticism that shows like Friends and Seinfeld received in terms of their homogeneity (“How can a show based in New York City never have any people of color?!”)? While any given show might have good writing and directing and what have you, it can be pretty important to present a convincing portrayal of what’s being performed through the look and feel of the performers themselves.

Because Work Out has depressingly failed me as it finished its season, I’m moving on. It’s time to talk about what’s really important; the staple of my everyday television diet: The Food Network.

The Food Network boasts a number of incredible winners and a handful of terrible losers. Despite the fact that the Network is about food, the channel is entirely founded upon culture and old, new, and transformed representations of culture as demonstrated through the process of culinary preparation and how it is ultimately enjoyed. And by the way, it’s really queer. But I’ll get to that later. First, a quick snapshot:

I used to come home from work and watch Giada De Laurentiis as I settled down from a hard day. With her carefully applied makeup and low cut dresses, Giada prepares her food and invites the camera to zoom onto her hands as she chops; the camera lens dwells on her lips as she consumes high-fashion meals and sugary desserts. Though I admit that I mostly hate her for the implicit classism which her recipe choices exude across the television set; she’s filmed like a porn star – delicately masked with a sheeshy, “proper” demeanor – and it’s fun. Playboy Bunny Delaurentis.

After changing into something more comfortable and preparing some food myself, I’d eat my dinner with the queen bee of cuisine, Rachael Ray. All hail -- seriously. Rachael’s brought back the talkative Italian housewife to the mainstream, this time adding some serious tom girl action. What a tom girl. She’s cheap (or at least tries to convince us she’s on a budget), eager to roll back her sleeves and get dirty, and she can probably hold her liquor better than most.

After Rachael, I’d catch a little of Emeril. The biggest loser award, hands-down, goes to Emeril. What a tool. Every time he chops, stirs, saut├ęs, or seasons I want to projectile vomit on the screen. Not one moment, not one motion of his show is uncalculated – for Emeril, it’s all about masculinity. When he cooks his food he struts around the kitchen; he flaunts his dominance over the raw meat and vegetables; moans “Oh, baby!” when pleasured by his own work; and occasionally even drops an awkward sexual innuendo about him actually getting laid. The kicker is that he’s threatened by Rachael’s success. During his show after he cut something cleverly, I actually heard him say: “How’s that, Rachael?" Awkward. Emeril, it’s not a competition if she isn’t trying.

But I guess my overarching point here is that to the naked eye, the Food Network seems pretty whitewashed. And according to the content of the shows, it is. But the irony, here, is that the Food Network has a huge queer following. Almost every homo I know watches the channel, has a favorite chef or show, and creamed themselves when Rachael and Giada faced off on Celebrity Iron Chef (Giada was SO bitter). The gays that love Giada are usually bitchy, classist queens; the mo’s that are into Rachael are typically dykes or butch-bent trannies and other queers; the followers of Sandra Lee are often the diva-loving, cher-worshipping, bleached-hair Marys.

But the question then, I guess, is how did this happen? How does the Food Network, of all things, become queered? Do we as queer viewers just automatically queer everything we see, regardless of the intention behind the viewed performance? Perhaps. But I can hardly believe that we did this all by ourselves. My theory? There’s something a little queer over at the Food Network headquarters. Every time the Barefoot Contessa invites her male floral arranger over for dinner with his “good friend”, I smile a little bit. As the Food Network wrestles to manage its viewership over time, from the truly closed-minded in middle America to the flaming queers across the country, my guess is that we’re going to start seeing a little more gayness each day. So keep tuning in, dear queers. As long as we’re cooking together, we’ll stay together. Until we have an openly queer cast member on the Food Network, feel free to relish in AskFannie’s version of Rachael. And what a beautiful vision it is.

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Every time I’m in a club, I find myself attracted to the guy dancing dorkishly on the dance floor with a half-empty bottle of Miller Lite. He sports a five o’ clock shadow and looks preppy enough to be intelligent, but his debaucherous interpretation of Fergielicious sheds light on his crazy side. I’ll like it. And I can’t help but think that if I made the right moves, he’ll like me too.

Unfortunately, I won’t do anything about it. I’m amazed by friends who can strike up conversations with random people in bars and clubs. I can’t do that. It’s not necessarily because I’m too socially inept to be friendly with people I don’t know; for me, the smoke, darkness, alcohol, and grinding just don’t cultivate the most appropriate environment to find someone with the brains, heart, and depth of a guy I’d ever consider dating. Sure, nights out with friends are fun; but when I’m searching for The One, those
ingredients of nightlife culture concoct a simple, well-worn stew of temporality, sexuality, and—some would argue—immorality.

I, for one, think that consensual one night stands are okay.
It’s fine to sneak in a little candy while waiting for a full meal to bake in the oven. But most of the time, the stew just doesn’t agree with me; that which may be comfort food for others is an improbable recipe for my view of success in the relationship world. I’m time-conscious, future-driven, and live in such a way that I want the majority of my decisions to be productive towards molding my ideal Yet-to-Come. And The One who I foresee in that Far, Far Away is not someone who I can pick off a dance floor, with whom I can have throw-away sex, and then from whom I might procure a phone number to set up a real conversation that will lead to Happily Ever After. It just doesn’t strike me as a likely chain of events.

I find it ironic that many of us attempt to build the foundation for these long-lasting, best-friend-for-life relationships with people with whom we have no basis for trust, no background except for the stereotypes we create when we see them for the first time—Actual. Total. Strangers. And while I certainly have my share of friends who have had successful dating experiences with these truly random people, I find that my long-sought path to mental and emotional intimacy might be paved easiest when I have something on which to build: the commonality of a mutual friend or employer, a previous conversation online, an exchange of emails—any minute insight into a personality is much more helpful to me than hoping that drunk-ass disco vibrations are going to get me into a fantastic relationship.

In an ideal world, it seems as though the best ingredient in a solid significant other is to have a strong friendship already prepared, aged, and ready for some extra spice. If you already share secrets, vibe with each other’s humor, and like being around one another, then why look elsewhere for anything better, let alone a complete stranger? The foundation’s been built; it’s just about building on top of that base.

It seems like such a no-nonsense, easy solution. But I have two problems:

(1) I don't have gay friends that I see with any regularity. After graduating college, I relocated to Texas, where most of my friends are straight. Don’t get me wrong; I love them… I just can’t fathom being the gay man in a straight relationship. My gay friends, on the other hand, have set roots on either coast, leaving me straddling the center-divide in Bush country, and well—I’m interested in neither
Bush nor bush.

(2) The friends that I do have are my rock and my family. And I don’t have a lot of gay friends or family, so I don’t want to risk losing them. I won’t lie: I’ve crushed on a best friend before. Who hasn’t? One time, I actually had the courage to confess my attraction to one of them, and—among other things—it resulted in awkward conversations, months of silence, and ultimately, missing out on someone’s friendship during an important time in my life. I can’t imagine going through that again, so I’d probably go the coward’s emotionally-wrought route if he didn’t seem like he would return similar feelings for me.

I’m a risk-taker at heart. I jump off planes and bridges, pine for the thrill of roller coasters and bounce around the country (and the world) from opportunity to opportunity, all to squeeze the most out of life and my future. And although I can push myself to do all these things, I can’t quite take the same risks when it comes to love: I shy away from meeting strangers at bars or clubs, and I can’t bear the thought of putting a friendship on the line. So where does this leave me? Is the answer to
grow more balls? To not be so dependent on current friendships? To learn to grow relationships in a dark, smoky, beer-damp funhouse of throbbing club music? Hopefully not. Flowers can’t grow that way; neither can I. There’s gotta be another way to my dorky, five o’ clock shadow-wearing prince with a groove—one without the unfortunate after-taste of smoke and booze stew.

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Dear Fannie,

GWM student here. My problem is that I’m beginning to suspect that one of my close friends has a crush on me. I can’t be sure of it because he’s never made any kind of overt gesture, but it’s more about his hidden stares and lingering hugs. He’s a great guy, but I’m not attracted to him in that way at all, how do I let him down and stay friends? I’m inclined to wait for him to make a move and cross that bridge when we get there. Is that a good idea?


Unsure of Unrequited Love



I think that the way that we choose friends is in some way based on attraction. So it shouldn’t be completely surprising that your friend may be attracted to you. People on your end of the unrequited love equation usually get the raw end of the deal. No one likes to hear, “Woe is me, so and so is in love with me… Isn’t my life difficult?” Coping with unwanted excess love seems much less difficult and emotionally damaging than coping with a dearth of love. But, rest assured, Unsure, that negotiating a situation where a friend wants to be more than a friend, can be difficult, drawn out, and exhausting.

According to recent psychological studies in unrequited love relationships, the vast majority (almost 100%) of unrequited love is the result of a disparity of attraction levels (comprised of physical beauty, personality, social standing, etc.). According to these studies, most people tend to consider themselves more attractive than they actually are. So when Boy A who is a 50 has a crush on Boy B, who is a 70. Boy A thinks himself as a 70, so he thinks that he and Boy B are a good match. But Boy B thinks himself a 90, and sees the disparity between his own attraction level and Guy A as much greater than it actually is. One of the biggest misconceptions of unrequited love is that the greatest burden of emotional stress is on the side of the pursuant of the unrequited love, Boy A. But, studies show that its Boy B that is the recipient of the most emotional stress, derived from trying to be considerate of their pursuer’s emotions. This is only exacerbated by the fact that most unrequited love occurs within friendships rather than acquaintances, making it harder for the pursued to continually rebuff advances and unrequited feelings.

My advice? Nip it, and nip it early. Even though you may not be completely sure of your friend’s feelings for you, you should make your feelings for your friend very clear and defined. A mistake many people make in these situations is to ignore the unwanted feelings and to only address them once they have become overt. Waiting for your friend to make a move is really just procrastination on your part, and frankly a little unfair. If you’ve already identified his potential feelings, the best thing for both of you is to sit down and clearly define your relationship. Having been on the other side of the fence many a time, I can tell you the best way to get over a crush is to receive some closure and clarity in the relationship. If you leave the boundaries of your relationship murky and undefined, it just allows more room for imagination and pining, which doesn’t help anyone.

You have nothing to lose. If you’re wrong about you’re friend’s feelings, the worst that will happen is a few minutes of awkwardness. But you have the opportunity to solidify a meaningful friendship with a moment of genuine honesty.

(...to the full post)

5.15.2007

Censured Romance

I once admitted during an undergraduate scholarship interview, “I read romance novels.” As I became personally, politically and academically more aware of queer issues, my relationship to this genre changed. I find some heterosexual romances make me uncomfortable by so firmly reinforcing gender stereotypes and heteronormativity. Other het tales are filled with deliciously subtle cues that create queer spaces. Just last week I told Tough Stuff how much more relaxed I was while reading my then-current paranormal romance, even though I couldn’t put my finger on what queered it. No sooner had our conversation ended than I turned the page and met a gay character. Bingo.

The predominantly gay slash movement in fanfiction increasingly questions the assumption that m/m and f/f pairings are attractive and marketable solely to readers who are gay. We find that self-identified straight women are arguably the most common writers and readers of m/m erotic romance. E-books and small publishers are increasingly recognizing these markets, as well.

So what makes a gay-affirming, HRC-approved hotel chain like the Hyatt pull all of m/m romance author Laura Baumbach’s promotional materials at a recent Romantic Times convention, and what makes Romantic Times allow it?

Here is the poster that was considered most offensive to the businessmen passing by the public promotional display area of the convention:

Now personally, I think that’s a great ad for reading. American Library Association take note! Yet this promotional set, just this one amongst countless others typical of the romance genre, was silently and rapidly pulled by Hyatt staff.


Is it because a naked man is more offensive than a naked woman? We still don’t see full frontal nudity equally between the sexes, true. Just check out this poster they allowed to remain:

It’s okay for us to see a nude woman in a submissive position, hands bound; but a sexily recumbent man is taboo. Can we not objectify the male form yet? Is that what this is about? The businessmen felt their own sexuality commoditized and challenged?

Or, perhaps, rather than being offended by his masculine sexuality, the businessmen passersby were offended by the URL along the bottom of the poster. Is romance between two men itself a paradox and a challenge to the businessmen’s worldview?

And I know we all hate to do the race analogy, but…would the hotel have yanked promotional materials featuring sexually attractive black women, had businessmen passersby complained?

Hey, when the hotel referenced said “offended businessmen” were they using a quasi-neutral masculine form of the word, or did they really mean that only men complained? Is the eroticized male/the suggestion of homosexuality the sort of thing businesswomen complain about?

Oh, the politics of the publishing industry. I know we often look critically at the production and marketing of textbooks and journals in academia, but I’m every bit as worried about popular literature. Romantic Times staff member Carol Stacy replied to the Hyatt fiasco and questions about Romantic Times’s refusal to review m/m romance as follows:

My decision is based on my "print" readership and the fact that the majority of my "print readers" are not interested in m/m books at this time.

As I have explained to Ms. Baumbauch if that readership changes in the future so will my policy to review this type of fiction.

This is a space consideration AND a business decision. If you will forgive the analogy: one does not cover yoga in a NASCAR magazine if you get my drift.

It's that simple.

Romantic Times renders its Queer readers, and its straight readers of queer romance, invisible in further privileging the interests of the assumed “majority” of readership. This majority status isn’t even clear. I’m not going to call it hard science, but in Carol Stacy’s own poll on m/m erotic romance, only 16% of respondents asserted that they would never consider reading a romance with two male leads. That leaves a lot of wiggle room. Not to mention that this kind of thinking—give the majority exclusively what they already know they like—shortchanges the majority as well, rather than providing door-opening reviews of new areas within the very broad romance genre. Finally, the tactless yoga/NASCAR comparison indicates intensive Othering in its assertion that m/m books obviously cannot also be romance novels.

This is an incident that spreads well beyond the world of romance readers. It exemplifies the pervasive obstacles we face in seeking affirmation of different genders and sexualities.

Oh, and while I’m feeling marginalized and unloved by promoters of a genre I’ve been loyally reading for more than a decade, please check out the “About Us” section of the Romantic Times website. If you find room for me there, be sure to drop a line.

(...to the full post)

5.14.2007

Camp (pt. 1)

The Monday after the funeral Jamie’s boss took her into what was called the “executive dining room” on the pretense of making lists of campers for color war teams. It was really just a screened in porch adjacent to a tool shed, with a long narrow table inside. The table nearly filled the entire room, which wasn’t more than seven feet wide, so much so that when they were building it they had to slide the table inside the skeleton of the room first and hang the screens after the fact. It commanded a view of the camp that only a select few had access to, and thus, was considered a special place. It was where the camp administrators ate, and during non-meal times, it was where special meetings were held.

From where Jamie sat she could easily see about half the camp. The wide grassy expanse behind the main office, which was burned from sun in places and sinking in other places where sprinklers had been set to provide relief from the heat, stretched all around. Behind it the woods rose, creating a little valley in which the heart of the camp sat. She looked around as if she were searching for something. A group of kids were heading to Tetherball 5, which was separated from the camp by a wall of fern trees in a little clearing on the edge of the woods. It was Josh’s group. She identified his figure receding across the softball field even before he turned around and urged the stragglers to follow. The hollow, reassuring sounds that tennis balls made were heard almost constantly, as the tennis courts were only about 20 feet away from where they sat. She saw the silhouette of the little boy who was her pet standing distractedly in the outfield of Softball 1—she had taken care of him during a thunderstorm and they bonded.

Josh turned back again. He was standing right in the round opening the trees made at the entrance of the woods. Although the sun was shining hard on his face, he was half bathed in the darkness of the woods. He put his hand above his eyes and made an annoyed herding gesture with his other arm to the slowest camper.

The man who was sitting across from Jamie was called Sack by everyone, although his real name was Jon. He saw her looking over in the direction of the woods. Josh was his nephew, and he could tell him from far away too. “What’s going on with you two?”

She looked at him with a vague expression, drawn suddenly away from her thoughts, although she had been considering the very same thing. She huffed. “I don’t know. He’s kind of—“ She stopped herself, wondering what it was okay to say to his uncle about him. Then again, she thought, Sack is my real friend—the reason I’ve been here for so long. He was the person who had taken an interest in her when she was dorky and sixteen and new here. He was the reason she was the only person her age who ate in the executive dining room.

He surprised her by saying forcefully, “He’s selfish. You know I loved busting you about it, but honestly he’s not a good guy for you Jamie.”

She sucked in her breath and drew herself up a little. “Sack,” she said slowly, “I think I figured that out this weekend.”

“He fucked up at the funeral?”

“He didn’t come.” Sack raised his eyebrows, but she stopped him. “No, it’s not like that. I didn’t want him to come. I wanted to be with my friends and I wanted to think about Amanda and not deal with him. But he just—wasn’t the way I expected him to behave. He was sort of a cold fish about the whole thing.”

Sack was the clown king of the camp, and everyone loved him. Now he shook his head, looking at the table. It was rare to catch him being serious, even for Jamie, who spent all her time with him. Today however, he looked at her contemplatively, seeming to regard her as the person she was right then, not all the different people she had been throughout the six formative years he’d known her. “You know Jamie,” he said, “you sometimes have to protect yourself in life.”

“You’re right. He’s incredibly selfish. I honestly never realized it till this weekend, but it’s all about him. Even down to the first times we went out, during the year, down to the movies we would rent. He always gets his way with me.” Sack laughed. She swatted him on the arm. “Not like that—you’re disgusting.”

He shrugged and looked down at the stack of papers before him, ready to get down to business. “You sure walked into that one.”


Later that night she was sitting out on the dock with Tom. He was standing up, skipping stones, a talent she had never acquired in all the time she’d been there. She was sitting down, her hands behind her, her feet trailing into the cool dark water. It was late in the afternoon, the time before dinner when the campers were freed from their activities and allowed to flirt or play as they pleased, and most of the counselors did the same. The sun was low in the western sky. They heard steps on the dock and both turned around. Josh finally knelt down wordlessly beside her and began to untie his sneakers. He put his feet in the water too and knitted his fingers with hers on the dock. She moved her hand away and he looked at her seriously. “How’s it going?”

She didn’t say anything. Instead, she looked in Tom’s direction, for help perhaps. He wasn’t looking at her, but almost instinctively he started talking. “How can I keep doing this? I’ve been doing this for twenty minutes. And yet it doesn’t lose its appeal to me.” He launched another stone.

She smiled in spite of herself and finally looked at Josh. “He’s a leettle bit stoned,” she said with laughter she couldn’t resist in her voice.

“Are you?”

“No,” she said, mimicking the sternness of his tone.

He looked out at the lake. “What’s up? Why are you mad at me?”

She paused. “Ja-osh.” When she wanted to make a point she said his name with two syllables. But she couldn’t bring herself to say what she wanted to say. She lied down on the dock staring up at the sky. “I’m not mad at you. I’m sorry I’m not throwing a parade every second to be back. You know my friend did just die.”

“I know,” he said quietly.
She put her hands behind her head. “When is your next night off?”

“Not till Saturday.”

“Oh good,” she said lightly. “A bunch of us are going to Jakson’s lake house that night. Tom’s coming,” she said, looking in his direction. Tom nodded wordlessly. “Too bad though.” She smiled at him. “I have tonight off.”

“Well Miss Jamie, I am on, and anyway I have to have dinner in town with my mother.” He looked down at her and patted her on the forehead. Josh’s mother was the art director there.

“Ah. Well, your loss.”

“Yes indeedy,” he said matter-of-factly. Tom laughed at him. This allowed Jamie and Josh to laugh too, which was a welcome feeling for both of them. “Okay you two, go get high in the woods, I have to go to dinner.” He leaned down and kissed Jamie quickly before hopping to his feet.

“Don’t tell your mom,” Jamie said, trailing him with her gaze.

“Bye,” Tom said vaguely without turning. Josh wasn’t yet off the dock when he heard him quietly ask Jamie if she wanted to go into town for pizza. She groaned and started laughing. The lake seemed to distill and preserve all human sounds, and Josh could hear notes of their conversation even when he was at the door of the dining room. He walked in and was overtaken by the din of conversation. A quiet person in general, he was always surprised by how quickly his own thoughts could be overtaken by the voices of children.


He was disturbed by their closeness, he allowed himself to think as he took his seat among the campers of his bunk. He made Julian, the boy who was sitting by the window, give up his seat. From here he could watch them sitting on the dock with impunity. Tom had given up throwing stones, and they were both sitting cross legged facing each other. He had difficult feelings towards Tom. They had gone to high school together and always been friendly, although Tom was always a cooler guy than he had been. They had both discovered Jamie last summer when she was dating another guy they had gone to high school with who also worked at the camp. Before last summer, although she had been a fixture at the camp for years, neither of them had ever really known her. Josh and she had bonded over their shared interest in literature; Tom had warmed to her when he realized she was a stoner. Josh remembered the first time he noticed her. She was sitting in the front office with a little boy named Jonas who was sick. They were both sitting on swivel chairs upholstered in retro orange fabric. She was playing something good and new to him on the cd player, and as he was checking his mail box he turned absently to ask her what the name of the band was. She was sitting perfectly still but making a funny face at the boy when she realized he was watching her. She smiled at him self-consciously. “He’s sick—just trying to cheer him up,” she said, poking Jonas in the belly gently with her pointer finger. He brushed her hand away grumpily and looked forlornly out the front window of the office. “Uh oh,” she said to Josh comically, “guess he doesn’t like that.” She brushed his hair out of his face. “I’m sorry Jo—do you want me to get you something?” The boy shook his head.

“Ok,” she said half to Josh, half to herself. She hadn’t meant to pick on the little boy and she felt bad.

“What cd is this?” Josh asked, rifling through his mail.

“The Actual Tigers.”

“Actual Tiger” he repeated appraisingly.

“Actual Tigers” she corrected. He nodded.

“What’s that you’re reading?”

“Oh,” she smiled at her book thoughtfully. “It’s actually this book my friend’s dad wrote. It’s about this American guy who moves in with his long lost family in Greece. It’s good.” She looked cautiously from him to Jonas, as if she were checking on the child’s condition. She looked back at Josh. “I’m Jamie, I guess we’ve never really been introduced.” She stuck out her hand.

“I know who you are,” he said, good-naturedly shaking her hand. “You’re dating Ben.” Then, by way of explanation, he said quickly “I know him—we went to high school together. Go way back.”

She was happy to have been called Ben’s girlfriend by one of his friends. That meant he had told them about her. “He told me. I’m a little intimidated by the old boys’ club thing you guys have going on.”

He laughed. “We don’t bite.” She smiled. He looked around. Neither of them had anything to say. She turned back to her book and he, ostensibly, to his mail. His eyes lingered on her white shoulders. He had heard some other counselors talking about her the other day appraisingly, but joking about how pale she was. True, she was the one counselor who had not developed even a hint of tan by now, half way through the summer. She had walked by right when they were talking about her, just off the water trampoline with a troupe of little girls. “Hey, Jamie,” a guy named Justin called out in a sing-song voice.

“What is it now,” she turned sassily, already sensing the joke in his voice.

“We thought there was a ghost out there on the trampoline before. All we could see was your bikini going up and down.”

She smiled broadly, hands on her hips. “Hah-Hah.” She turned away, heading back to her group. “Gotta run, some of us have work to do here.”

Josh had been on the outskirts of the conversation already, and hadn’t been drawn in. Now he noticed that she was just the kind of girl that Ben always dated. He was always getting someone who was a little too charming or pretty for him. All his girlfriends were sharp girls and it never failed to mystify Josh who secretly considered Ben to be a little moldy. “I guess I better be getting back,” he said.

“Okay,” she said, “well I guess I’ll see you tonight at Ben’s thing.”

“Oh, oh yeah right. Well, I’m not really supposed to be off tonight, but my mom cut me a deal that I could go after my bunk goes to bed, so I’ll be driving up with some people later on. You’ll probably all be off your faces by the time I get there.” He wondered as he was speaking why he was telling her all this.

She smiled. “Let’s hope.”

“Okay, see you,” he said, patting the doorway as he exited.

“Nice to meet you,” she called after him out the screened in window.

(...to the full post)

Covert operations are the best kind. You get to dress up all stealthy like in a makeshift renegade ninja suit, jimmy the locks to your neighbor's house undetected and take a huge dump in their washing machine. You know, ‘cause they have a washing machine. Or something. Not that I would know. Remember that song by Shaggy? "It wasn't me?"

Realistically speaking though, I believe the love of the covert stems from everyone's need to feel naughty and mischievous. Be it wearing women's underwear to your Bar Mitzvah, harvesting kidneys to sell on the black market (Covert "Operation"…get it? Ha! I slay me.) or donning a nun's habit, the “rebel cause” always gets you a smidge wet.

So, in honor of the covert, I divert thy spirit to didactic [news] stories of thine brethren of questionable moral decrepitude in the form of Commandments (the most blatant of teachings)…just to be a little subversive. And in true Commandment form, we rate the covertness of their tales on a scale from One to Ten.

First Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Be A Stupid, Stupid Turd.

An Australian television personality, Grant Denyer, most widely known for presenting the weather and hosting a family-oriented TV show, when asked live on a morning radio show, "How are you?" responded: "Let me say I'm feeling like I had sex with a black man right now."

I think we can all agree that was a dumb way to start the morning considering Australia's spotless genocide record. So spotted it is solid, like the black panther to it's non-black cousin. Ahh, Zen masters and their life riddles. In fact, his comments are so entrenched in ineptitude that there is little else to say. How much teeth bleaching must one endure to lose control of one's mouth? (Observe example to the right.)

Covert rating: 2 – Not sneaky at all but how many people really listen to Australian morning radio? The true puzzle in our hearts and loins: Does that mean he felt good or no?

Second Commandment: Thou Shalt Be Smoother With The Ladies

Salt Lake City, which is the holy grail of fun news, reports on a woman who battered her husband. How? Sneakily. She told the man she had a surprise for him, covered his addled noggin, led him into the basement, and addled his brain some more. With a hammer. A hammer. This is what happens when one bears the pressure of a man's man's man's man's world.

Covert rating: 8. Plus 1 for utilizing the crutch of sexual arousal, then minus 4 for letting the bastard get away and reach the cops and plus 2 cause the coppers are still investigating. That comes to a total of 7. And I guess you really can't excuse her craziness just to the weight of social pressures despite their thriving and hammer-swinging abundance in the Mormon homeland. You want to know what patriarchy is like? Ask my sixth wife. She's three. She's learning to form complete sentences, but why bother, I'm just going to tell her to shut the hell up.

Third Commandment: Thou Shalt Realize That When Naked, All Bets, And Clothes, Are Off.


Here is where it gets tricky. A woman walks into a bar. She gets up on stage, looks at all the leering guys cheering her on and says "Fuck you" and takes all her clothes off. Yeah, feminism! Yeah, taking back gender inequality! Yeah, objectifying myself for a quick buck! Yeah, what the fuck am I talking about?!

The idea is that, and all you L Word fans know it well, by embracing the act of stripping, where a little chickadee is the subject of the "ultimate objectification" (ritual gang-bangs not included), the woman is subversively gaining power, monetary benefit, and a sense of control.

The opposing idea is that no matter what you might believe, participation in an industry that caters to the homogenized image of beauty is backwards and furthermore supports the notion that a woman can be bought.

Sticky, right? And not even in the good way.

So I invite you to take a gander and decide: Is making the conscious decision to strip your clothes off to make a living a covert feminist operation?

Covert rating: ???

In lighter news: it appears that there are fewer babies floating in the rivers of China.

(...to the full post)

5.10.2007

Female envy

We're all aware of the competition that women are capable of feeling between each other. Her ass is cuter. How does she keep her hair so flat? So what if she doesn't need to wear makeup. I like wearing it. Why does she giggle like that? Could she flirt a little more? And the famous…what does he see in her anyway? And here's the best part…EVERY woman has done it and will continue to do it. Some actions are rooted in more superficial issues than others, but still true for all. We need to stop trying to act like we don’t do these kinds of things because denial usually just makes the problem worse.

Sure, some of us are much better at keeping our inner she-bitch hidden and sometimes we can overcome it for periods of time. Some of the effective ways to avoid such loss of our selves to the whims of the societally-imposed she-bitch are by not reading popular magazines, not watching popular TV shows, not hanging out in popular places, and not being around popular[ly defined] people. At least then you know you are hanging out with real people; people that, even when you have those urges to give the evil eye or spill your drink on her new pants (even if they were 2 bucks from the thrift store they still look cuter on her than they would on you), you know that it is an unfounded urge produced by society's subliminal evil forces and not of your own doing.

Now multiply that by 13. Awesome. That's how I feel walking through the streets here in Mexico. It's something I've accepted and now have a much easier time dealing with. It's that... women here have a hard time liking me for who I am. I'm different. I'm exotic (i.e. over 5'3'', blonde, light eyes, and wear flip flops regularly). They don't know who I am. Men notice me because of this, and only this, and it causes a lot of women to not want to be mi mejor amiga. The intimidation that I unwillingly represent not only causes nervousness but often, blatant glares. We're talking in restaurants, in bars, at work, at baby showers, in the supermarket, the taco stand on the corner, and especially walking down the street. And then they notice: I speak Spanish? Phew, forget it. Not only am I a gringa, but I can employ their language, too, and communicate with other people. I am officially the enemy.

If I am honest with myself, I can admit that I only have one real Mexican female friend. I definitely have other good acquaintances who know I'm not Satan's gringa messenger. Maybe we just haven't moved past the role of just conocidas, but it's still disheartening to be fully aware that my lack of a real female Mexican social circle is due to basically…the color of my skin and hair.

One time I went to an internet cafe and the person I'm dating nudged me to look up. The guy working there was oblivious to his open mouth and googley eyes as I walked in. Now… I know how to work it – but this kind of reaction? I can't take credit for it. But the kicker was what the girl sitting next to him, who we then figured out was his girlfriend, said: "Hey…hey…I'm right here! No ya know what? Go ahead. Just look. It's not like you see one of those every day". Wait for it…wait for it…annnnd….she sends a glare right at me!!! Awesome. Another amiga to add to the list.

It's a weird dynamic I got goin' on here. The truth is, I absolutely love living here. I love the people, the culture, the food, the music, the relaxed lifestyle, the passion in the people. But even after a year of living here, I still get really irritated by the reaction I receive, both from men and women, when I'm walking in the street. Like I've mentioned in other posts, it's not a major city and that has a lot to do with the specific experience I'm having, but I don't like that I feel more comfortable walking down the street holding my partner's hand because at least then the men can't whistle and the women know I'm no longer competition. Trust me, the novelty of being "different and exciting" wears off a lot faster than you think. And even faster if your Irish roots scream stereotypical "gringa".

(...to the full post)

Dear Fannie,

I'm a young gay male and I've found myself in… kind of an awkward dating situation. I started dating Mike first and we really hit it off, only to find out later that he has a boyfriend, Thad. Mike and Thad had an open relationship agreement, where they can date/sleep with other people when either is out of town (which happens frequently, Thad travels a lot for his work). Mike and I have a great connection and I really like him, so we date/fuck whenever Thad is out. Mike is very open about our relationship with Thad and I've actually m
et him a couple of times. He's a decent guy, attractive, and sweet… but not the guy I usually go for (he's attractive for his age, but he's in his late 30s and while not entirely out of my usual age range, is kind of up there for me). Mike has suggested we start a poly relationship and has been trying to get me and Thad into each other.

Fannie, what is a poor gayboy supposed to do? Do I ditch the hottie because he can't be all mine? Or do I stick it out and try this poly relationship? I've always considered myself a monogamist… but maybe monogamy is just for straight people.


Thanks,

Montreal Menage-a-trois

Poly-amorous relationships are always a tricky deal, MM. It sounds like Mike and Thad have a fairly open and stable relationship, seeing how they are comfortable with their partners looking for companionship and sex outside of their relationship. You've expressed that you and Mike have a strong connection, and it says a lot that Mike likes you enough to bring you into the fold of his relationship with Thad rather than just keeping you at the fringe as the man on the side (no reference to our wonderful contributor).

I also agree with you -- many queer people have similar sentiments about monogamy being a throwback to hetero couplings. Monogamy occupies a sacred space in contemporary relationship ideals; a place that countless of therapists and counselors have advocated as the most "healthy" choice. Queerness often questions the idea that a person can and should be completely satisfied with one partner. While paired relationships have been successful for many people, monogamy has also limited the romantic experiences of many.

Poly-amorous relationships sound like a great idea in theory, but in actual execution they can be very difficult to maintain. Just think about all of the jealousies, fights, and ego struggles that come with relationships. Adding a third or fourth (etc.) partner to the mix only increases these challenges. However, it also increases the possibilities for an extended support group when the hard times come around.

Now, in regards to your specific situation: It doesn't sound like you're as nearly as interested in Thad as you are in Mike. The golden rule of three-way or multiple partnered relationships is that they are actually three-way. Often times these three-way relationships involve one partner who has relationships with two partners, with little connection between the two partners. This sounds like what you, Mike and Thad have: there isn't a completely mutual, three-way relationship – it's Mike trying to have his cake and eat it too. If you like Mike as much as you say you do, I'd advise trying to get to know Thad more. But if you don't feel a fire between you and Thad, I'd cut the losses and run. Because if you don't love Thad as much as you love Mike, you won't be gaining two partners, you'll just be getting half of one.

++
fannie

send your questions to askfannie@gmail.com
*note: all the names in this post have been changed from their originals.

(...to the full post)

The craziest thing about our society, in my opinion, is that we're constantly being bombarded with this amorphous thing we call 'culture'; in reality, we only have a fraction of the amount of time it takes to consume culture as it does to actually analyze it. It slips through our ears, and eyes, and back out our mouths, and we leave it up to academics in their ivory towers to tell us what it 'means' to be a cultural consumer. While I can't purport to really ascribe 'meaning'…as a geek of all stripes it's pretty fun to pick through my favourites to see just how I am consuming.

To start, it took me until this week to think about the way I process music under the lens of gender and sexuality. Ridiculous! This week, and I'm 21. Strangely, it took me until I was listening to Feist's "Lovertits" from Open Season to take notice of the differences of normative and non-normative gender roles in popular music. The reason this song caught my attention (as opposed to the entire crotch-throbbing Madonna, Peaches, and company oeuvre) was because I always found Feist to be a pretty conventional , clean-cut, straight (or, I am lead to assume) woman, who sings about love, loss, and the like, and not one of our glorious aforementioned femme-tops.

So, hearing this smokey-voiced vanilla lady sing "I'm your lovertits" with a husky, male back-up singer was exciting. I felt it was transgressive without being crass (although, I do love crass-ness…) and it made me consider what transgression means in music. There may be a line somewhere in the musical sand that is rarely tended to closely but is instead more frequently leapt over. Just like in porn, magazines, and television, there is a clear divide between women's sexuality constructed for male pleasure, and women's sexuality that rejects this standard of eroticism. When Peaches sings about her furry crotch, she becomes 'queered' no matter what her sexual orientation is, because she is transgressing far beyond those boundaries of what women are supposed to do to make men excited.

Moreover, it occurs to me that maybe this is what sets queer music apart: not only do queer artists not fall on the side of the line that fits into normative eroticism, but many of them don't even recognize standards of normativity and instead only subscribe to their own (normalized) desires.

However, there is a hole in my argument here because it does not account for the listeners – do its listeners play a bigger role in defining the music? Take Britney for example. When a gay man hops up on a podium at a club and grinds to "Slave 4 U" the song becomes somehow different than when a 14-year old dances to it in her bedroom. It transforms from faggy, ironic, tinged with S/M, to suddenly about premature sexuality, loss of innocence, and a very strictly gendered type of submission. The queer man dancing to the song is taking it from normative society and making it his own, while the young girl is having her sexuality dictated to her from what is considered admirable female allure. There are combined latent and manifest readings of the song (finally, a use for Freud!) that are both listener-dependent and dependent on the expression of desires within the music.

Which is why – just like there is a need for queer villages, clubs, and so forth – music by and for queer people can be empowering. For example, Lesbians on Ecstasy have no small following, thanks to the fact that queer women are able to listen to their music and hear a voice that is preaching a desire to be free and fuck whomever it pleases. It's no small gift to give someone, this ally in your headphones; to have a new standard for eroticism in art that more closely fits an individuals life is unquestionably a liberating experience. Queer or queered music is not simply cultural re-packaging of the vanilla stuff, but instead a chance to redefine gendered and sexualized eroticism in the arts.

Plus, it's hot.


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5.07.2007

On Distance

I hate seeing his screenname. Every morning, there it is—under “Quick Contacts” on G-mail: a new status message grayed beneath it, a green dot indicating his chat availability beside it; if I roll my mouse over his name, a box with his picture appears next to it, a picture he changed after we broke up a month and a half ago. And even though I’m over him for so many reasons, I wonder if, for him, I was that easy to get over: click, and upload a new file—a brand new beginning as simple as changing a G-mail profile picture.

His new picture was a reminder of how long it had been since we had talked. Keeping in touch was his suggestion to begin with; he said during our break-up conversation: I’d be devastated if we couldn’t be friends. We may not have been The Ones for each other, but there were aspects of each other that made our short relationship worthwhile. He wanted to keep those things, and so did I.

For a while, we did well: he’d call me in the weeks after our split, wondering if I was awake for work or spotting my car’s twin on the freeway. He shared musical discoveries he thought I’d find interesting and offered to have drinks, a movie, or a meal. Every morning, I’d turn on my computer, check my email, and boom—a message about something happening at his work. He’d keep typing his stories even as I, busy at work, was unable to respond. He even added me to his MySpace Top 12, an event, he said, only reserved for the closest of his friends.

I never reciprocated as much. I called him awake on a day he had to be up early; I looked over some drafts he had due. But I didn’t feel the need to update him on work. I didn’t want him to be the recipient of my first “hello” every morning. I didn’t even want him in my Top 12. I had placed him so close to the role of boyfriend that once he was no longer occupying that position, I found it difficult to give him the attention I used to give him. Once he negated his position of +1, he had no place to go but zero. I couldn’t give him any other role.

I think my lack of responsiveness grew too much for him. A week ago, he messaged me, concerned about my distance. He said he even talked about it with his best friends. I assured him it was nothing, but he concluded I was mad at him. The next day, he sent me a short message on G-chat. This time, he sounded cold. His last line: “One day, maybe we’ll hang out again.” User signed off.

I had my excuses. Legitimate ones. I keep a hectic schedule, juggling my job with advance planning for a summer operation, and he was just being immature about it.

But I couldn’t lie to myself: if I really wanted him as a friend, I would’ve made time. I didn’t. I had to get away. I needed to grow away, so far away that any chemistry I had with him would evaporate. Only then would I be ready to come back from a different point of departure—friendship.

Earlier today, after two weeks of non-communication, I gave in. With my evening conference calls postponed, my roommate out of town, and my friends busy with work, my choices were to sit at home alone or take him up on his long-held offer of dinner. See him for the first time in one and a half months.

I called him. His phone rang. (I bet he let it ring after seeing my name.) All for the sake of dinner company, I left him a winding, beat-around-the-bush message that screamed nervousness. I hung up. It’d be nice to see him, I thought. My heart started skipping a bit. After a month and a half, yeah—I thought—It’d probably be really nice. Maybe friendship will work out.

He called back fifteen minutes later. (I let it ring a bit before responding.) I answered cheerfully. Excitedly, even. He said he couldn’t make it to dinner, and I thought: well, okay. At least I tried. That’s when he dropped it: He was leaving the city. He’s been looking for jobs in places thousands of miles away. He was done with his employer. He was done with this town. He needed a new start. And as much of a non-planner he is, he set a date for himself: August 1st—goodbye.

Tomorrow morning, I’m going to see his screenname on my computer: a new status message will appear; a green dot will indicate his chat availability. He will not message me; I will not message him. And it will bother me—this time, though, because I feel responsible. Like I, somehow, played and continue to play a role in pushing him away. I needed distance and enforced it upon him. Now, as I find myself growing just far enough to pave a return route to his friendship, he’s imposing the distance I had wished for all along. Actual distance. And that’s very different from the distance of the internet or the distance of silence.

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Dear Fannie,

I'm a 25 year-old straight woman. My boyfriend of two years recently moved in with me. Now, he's not the cleanest person in the world, but it isn't bad. However, recently I've found myself pinned down with the majority of the housework. He does some of his own chores, like his clothes and stuff he leaves around. But it irks me because I have a normal 9 to 5 office job where most of his work is sporadic (he's an actor). Although when I get home I'm not doing any additional work than I did while I was living alone, I feel like I'm not valued. And it's not as if my boyfriend doesn't want to help me… but even when he tries to help me, he just isn't very good at cleaning/cooking/etc. Do you have any advice?

Bored with Chores

Bored, you've run into a problem women have been struggling with for centuries: the Chore War.

The question of who does the housework is an integral part of relationships, hetero or otherwise. Housework is still by and far seen as "women's work" and thusly devalued has been one of the greatest schisms that frequent couples. When one partner is burdened with all or the majority of the reproductive labor for the household (not a reference to child-bearing or childcare; I'm referring to the labor required to reproduce and sustain the home), the relationship becomes unequally yoked and oppressive. It's easy to gloss over house work as insignificant, menial chores that shouldn't be a big deal. I mean, they're just a few dishes, right?

Wrong. Housework comprises a huge amount of energy, resources and time; all of which have been historically made invisible by a patriarchal sexual division of labor. Recent studies estimate that, if properly compensated for the work she performs free-of-charge for the betterment of her family, the average full-time housewife would out-earn her husband's annual wages. Now, Bored, you're pegged with being doubly screwed by your lecherous boyfriend. Working full-time AND doing the majority of the housework means you not only have one job, but many (maid, cook, launder, etc.)!

And for those of your queer folk out there, don't think that this issue doesn't also affect you. Many queers believe that patriarchal structures such as this don't apply to queer couples because queer relationships subvert patriarchy by disrupting the heteronormative gender politic. But studies show that while lesbian relationships tend to be more egalitarian, gay male relationships are equally if not more likely to have an unequal sharing of housework.

So here's what you need to do:

Sit your boyfriend down and talk it out. Rules need to be set about what each of you will be contributing to "home care." Make sure you don't let him get away with "manly" tasks like fixing the drain or washing the car. When men actually do housework, they tend to perform tasks that are one-time tasks that don't have deadlines, like mowing the lawn, cleaning the attic, etc. Meanwhile, women tend to do perform tasks that are daily, repetitive and have deadlines, like shopping for groceries, doing the laundry, or cooking. Make sure you break up the household care into truly equal parts. Also, don't get trapped into the "ineptitude vice." This is where men use the easy excuse of not knowing how to perform a task, or purposefully doing it badly. Your boyfriend should be just that – your BOYFRIEND – and not a child. You're not his mother, so stop babying him and treat him like an adult.

If he refuses to grow up and be an adult, Dump The Mother Fucker Already! (also known as DTMFA as popularized by the nationally syndicated advice columnist and my personal hero, Dan Savage).

++
fannie

send your questions to askfannie@gmail.com

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