Since this column is intended to address HIV/AIDS issues, and most of us have had the ‘safe-sex’ rules ingrained in us from various resources, it might be more useful to approach this topic from a slightly different angle. Instead of going over how to avoid HIV for the umpteenth time, lets review on a couple of the more common behaviors or assumptions that can contribute to the “surprise” HIV diagnosis.

These are all examples I have heard from men who are newly diagnosed, so hopefully others can learn from these mistakes:

#1: Go to a bath house

To put it bluntly, a bathhouse is the perfect storm of drunken clubbers, meth heads, sex addicts, closet cases, an assortment of out-of-towners ‘on the down-low’ and the occasional stray ‘good boy’ looking to get laid… all coming together to create a veritable Petri dish of nastiness. There is a very good reason you might feel a little nasty and dirty walking home in yesterday’s club clothes at 5:00 AM from a place like this -- it’s because you have been a nasty, naughty little slut, and that tingle you are starting to notice in your throat (or on your dick or in your ass) is probably the beginning of a happy new colony of disease, delighted in your decision to look for quick, easy sex.

If you do insist on going, just assume the person you are having sex with is HIV-positive. If you expect men participating in these venues to announce or otherwise make you aware of any health related issues they might be experiencing, then you would also be advised to make sure you have a good health insurance policy, a great doctor and you might as well bump up your life insurance policy while you’re at it. You can and certainly should ask about a person’s HIV status *every time* before engaging in sex, but if you are participating in anonymous sex, don’t expect to get an honest answer every time. The reason it’s called ‘anonymous’ is because you will probably never see the person again.

#2: Assume only bottoms will contract HIV

You can get HIV from topping and from blowing, so don’t say you were never warned. Guys hate it when I tell them they can get HIV from giving a blow job, but I am here to tell you it happens, and not just to me, but others that went through the same experience. Personally, when I was initially diagnosed with HIV, my Primary Infection Clinic doctor had a million questions for me, but the obvious one is how I contracted the disease. When I told him about “the worst sore throat of my life” after an oral sex episode a few months earlier, he rolled his eyes and let me know he’d heard this story before. The fact of the matter is, you CAN contract HIV through oral sex. Although considered “low risk”, oral sex is not “no risk”… and that was my very big mistake. This is nearly the same story I have heard from other newly infected men as well, and the conversation almost always includes something like, “I thought it was almost impossible to get HIV from oral sex/topping” -- which can be answered by, “It is almost impossible”. However, if you give enough blowjobs, top enough bottoms without a condom, or happen to run into a person with a very high viral load (usually due to lack of treatment, failed treatment or someone going through an initial primary infection period) the statistics start working against you.

#3: Assume Every HIV-positive man will disclose their HIV status

As shocking as it may sound, many men will lie outright, be overwhelmed with the initial shame and not know how to talk about it, or just refuse to be tested, so they cannot be labeled ‘poz’. Also, don’t forget that all-important three-month window, where a person can test negative, but be infectious and just not have developed the antibodies that the HIV test is looking for. “But they are legally required to tell me if they are HIV-positive!” you say? Of course they are, and it is also illegal for people to drive drunk…. so try to keep your head in the real world and not the idyllic world of consequence-free sex as you would like it to be.

One last tip: When you do ask someone his status, do it in a way that will probably give you a better chance at an honest answer. “Are you clean?” is not the right way. We are not living in the Old Testament and HIV-positive people don’t like being called “unclean” any more than you like to be called a “sodomite”. You are much more likely to get an honest answer if you use just a little positive affirmation when asking the question. Example: “You are really hot and I want to mess around with you anyway, but I always like to know if the person I am playing with is HIV-positive.” See how that works? And believe it or not, there are a lot of safe and fun things you can still do with the person, but that’s a topic for another column. :-)

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2.28.2008

Viejos groseros

The other day I was in a really bad mood. All this stuff had piled up on my desk at work and on my shoulders outside of work and it was just one of those days. One bad look or the wrong type of comment and it's all over. So naturally, as I was walking outside to get something out of my car, a man happened to be driving by in his old beat-up pickup and decided he should let me know his opinion by specifically rolling down his window at the moment I was heading back into the house and give his best "hey baby" whistle he could muster followed by a couple "tst tst!" in case I hadn't got his drift. That's it, buddy. Wrong day.

Now maybe you're thinking I turned around, marched over to his car, and gave him a good ol' piece of this young, liberal, feminist's mind. On top of the day I had already had, the last thing I needed was some skeezy old man thinking there was anything positive that would come out of his spontaneous and unacceptable actions. Sorry to disappoint you. But for me, at that moment, the energetic middle finger I threw back at him was sufficient enough to quench my thirst for a retort. Didn't turn around, just flipped him the bird and headed back toward the house. Right before I made it to the front door, I heard him yell out in response "Double back to you!" (the translation takes away from its effect), slam on the breaks, and I was able to catch a glimpse of him sitting in his truck staring back before I entered the house.

In writing, I don't think this story should necessarily be traumatizing or cause for concern. But my immediate reaction would prove otherwise. As soon as I got into the house, I realized my heart was pounding, my stomach felt weird, and I didn't know what I was feeling. I went into the bathroom and realized tears wanted to come to my eyes. Why? Probably because the day was so overwhelming even a little kid givin' me the eye would have freaked me out. But why else? Because this man chose to rob me of the security that I thought I could have at least in front of my own house. He stopped outside my house and not only knew which car was mine, but which house was mine. He knew what I looked like and he knew I had an attitude. He thought that he had every right to express himself in that manner because hell, why not? And I had to give him that right.

Why? Because if I choose to deny him that, I have no idea what his response could be. When he yelled back at me, obviously surprised by my outward expression of disapproval, something he was fully not accustomed to, maybe it was all in jest. He did it with a smile and got a kick of out of this young guera who thought she was badass. Then again, because I didn’t see him when he did it, maybe he did it pissed off. Maybe he was so appalled by a woman who thought she could respond to a man in that way. Maybe all he wanted to do was get out of his truck, run over to where I was, and respond to my reaction in whatever way he chose and the only thing holding him back was the fact that it was broad daylight and neighbors were all around. Maybe that was the only thing that kept me from "getting what was coming to me".

Maybe it's an overreaction. Maybe absolutely nothing could have or would have happened. But should I be willing to take that risk? Should a guy pissing me off be worth the possible result of his own response?

Did this happen because I live in Mexico? For those of you think the answer to that question is yes, wake up. Get real. Perhaps it's more plausible for it to happen in Mexico because the cultural norms do not perceive his behavior to be as offensive as that of the United States. Does that mean there aren't men that want to do it every day and the ONLY reason they hold back is because of the social criticism they know they would have to deal with? So for me, a young woman who wants to feel comfortable walking alone outside my house, what am I supposed to do when there is only one reason standing between me and a violation of my personal freedom and that one thing, like the daylight, something that changes from one moment to the next, or a neighbor, someone who could just as easily walk back inside, changes in the blink of an eye? As of now, what do I do? I deal with it. Why? Because I have to.

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When discussing the status of queer people in countries that form part of the so-called East, Global South or Third World, it is easy to fall prey to an Orientalist discourse of hopelessness with regard to LGBTQ issues; from the violent breakup of gay pride parades in Russia, to the banning of same-sex hugging in Zimbabwe and mob violence in Jamaica, the lives of queer people in non-Western countries seem extremely difficult and fraught with violent discrimination. Further still, Western news reporting on this subject, both inside and outside the LGBT community, reflects broader tensions and inequalities in the global relationship between East and West.

Edward Said introduced the concept of ‘Orientalism’ as a framework for analyzing the bases of Western knowledge about the East. He argued that whatever Westerners ‘know’ about the East is not the product of actual knowledge about Eastern societies, derived from ‘objective’ responses to sense impressions received from interaction with the Middle East, Africa, South America and Asia. Rather, it is the outcome of elaborate ‘Orientalist’ discourses, which limit the context in which knowledge about the East is acquired and presents the Western ‘observer’ with a ready-made blueprint of information about the non-Western world.

‘Orientalism’ is the cultural discourse through which the East is either imagined (for those that have never been there) or perceived (for those that have visited). In this discourse, all non-Western societies are constructed as fundamentally the same: they are basically the ‘opposite’ of the West. For instance, while Europe and the U.S. are imagined to be the realm of technology, progress, and liberalism, the East is always already constructed as that part of the world where traditionalism/conservatism, nature and ‘barbaric’ values still reign. An alternative Orientalist discourse involves portraying the West as ‘progressive, but boring and bland,’ while the East (with its barbarisms and quirks) is depicted as vivacious, exotic and ‘interesting’.

Given the above, how has representation of queer troubles in the East/South/Third World been held hostage by Orientalism? There has been an overwhelming tendency to focus on solely the negative aspects, or to write about queer life in the non-Western world only in the context of oppression. This ignores the fact that, despite awful discrimination, queer life goes on and numerous queer communities do emerge even in places in which one would least expect them to. The overwhelming focus on the discriminatory context of queer life in the East contributes to Orientalist discourses about the ‘backwardness’ and traditionalism of the non-Western world and obscures the fact that queer peoples and communities do find ways of managing life, even in very oppressive circumstances. Further, the actions of individuals and organizations working to resolve the problem become obscured – the sole focus is on the egregious human rights abuses (which make for sensational, eye-catching news) – and not the more mundane aspects of everyday LGBT activism and struggle.

Aside from continuing the emphasis on the savagery and barbarity of the East, there is also a tendency to ‘idealize’ the East as ‘exotic’ and sexually mysterious: a place that has been less subject to the regulative Western labeling of gender and sexuality. Indeed, in her book Queer in Russia, Laurie Essig posits Russia as a place where it is possible to actually live a truly ‘queer’ existence, outside the restrictive categories that many have built their lives around in the West. Although this version of Orientalism puts a considerably more positive spin on the ‘East’, it is ultimately discriminatory and inaccurate as well. By eroticizing and exoticizing the East, the authors writing under this framework again ignore the everyday inequalities that LGBT people in that area of the world have to deal with. While the discourse of ‘Eastern barbarism’ places too much emphasis on discrimination and inequality (so much so that it makes non-Western societies appear barbaric), the discourse of ‘Eastern exoticism’ totally ignores it.

On the whole, we have a representational conundrum – what is the solution? Perhaps it is time to let people from the global South/Third World/East speak for themselves. Since being represented by the West is fraught with ideological and political difficulties, perhaps the best thing that Western LGBT and human rights organizations can do is provide a forum for people from the East to speak. Rather than attempt to see them from the perspective of the West, it might be necessary to let them represent themselves on their own terms. And if this is not possible, then Westerners need to be aware of Orientalist discourses and to dedicate themselves to steering away from them in future writings.

***For More Information***
Definitely check out Edward Said’s Orientalism. It’s a classic read and provides a great framework for analyzing West/East and North/South international relations. Maria Todorova’s Imagining the Balkans is also useful. Although it has a more regional focus (on Southeastern Europe), she does provide a similar framework to Said’s which is just as valuable.

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My friend Michael first ventured upon online dating more than two years ago. He started with chat rooms on gay.com, and at the time, he deemed this as an acceptable way of growing a circle of potential gay friends as he moved into a new city. Despite gay.com’s reputation as an internet quick stop to hooking a lay, there was no way, he assumed, that every chatter on there was a sex fiend. In an east coast city ripe with young professionals and graduate students, he was bound to find others like him who weren’t necessarily looking for hook-ups, but instead found themselves online in search of friends, conversation, and actual, old-fashioned dating—albeit sparked through a new medium.

From what I know, it worked in spurts. Over the past two years, he’s reported a few dates—even chains of dates—all stemming from his chat room adventures. But unless he’s pushed me out of his Circle of Trust, none of the results I’ve heard from him has extended past four outings. Hook-ups? Yes. Dates that ended in sleepovers? Yes. Pursuits that looked promising until date three? Yes. But friendships or relationships of the long term variety? None of that.

And so the same went with Dlist.com, Adam 4 Adam, and even mixed-audience sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Match.com: his participation in sites aimed at both social networking and sex left him, for the most part, empty-handed. He wondered where he went wrong. After all, he put up his best pictures, carefully worded his profiles, and dutifully depicted himself with the sense of humor, intelligence, and fun that make up a generically attractive and mature gay guy. And though I may be biased as a friend of his, I think he’s a pretty good catch. And yet—nothing.

Last week, Michael decided to reverse years of habit and shut the door cold turkey on this ever-so-emerging pathway in both the gay and straight dating worlds: the internet. Dissatisfied with his lack of a substantial gay social life over the last two years, he concluded that the online dating forum was not as clutch as he initially evaluated it to be in terms of assimilating into a gay community or meeting potential mates; instead, it was a crutch that kept him tied to his computer, where he relied on hope and chance that at least some of the hundreds of people in cyberspace who came across his screen name might contact him, that at least one of those connections might indeed be the connection for which he was waiting. He resolved to erase his tracks, delete his profiles, and ditch the World Wide Web for the real world.

I feel like I’ve been there, done that, and then gone there again. Of the people I’ve dated, I’ve met about half of them online. If I compare guys that I’ve met online versus guys that I’ve met in real life, I can’t detect a pattern that would make real life guys better than internet guys, or vice versa. Each mate had his pros and cons; if there were any real differences, then it may be just this: that with the internet guys, I was able to arrive at those pros and cons of humor, intellect, and interest online; that with real life guys, I was able to arrive at the pros and cons of chemistry more. Behind a computer screen, I could message someone’s profile or screen name with relative ease, whereas the equivalent at a club would involve the risk of approaching someone and being rejected to my face. On the other hand, behind a computer screen, others could also be whomever they wanted to be—hotter than, funnier than, cooler than they may have actually been in real life.

I’ve struggled with accepting online dating. I’ve heard it described as a last resort, the final place to try your luck if real life left much to be desired—or if real life felt you left much to be desired. It connotes desperation, social awkwardness, and abnormality, and the actual act of browsing through profiles and messaging isn’t quite as irksome as having to dealing with those stigmas. To defend myself, I’ve argued that the stigma is anti-progressive: online dating, I’ve said, is not at odds with conventional flirting and dating; rather, it’s the same thing happening in a different place. Either path leads to some sort of live interaction anyway. Yet I’ve gone back and forth with giving it up—like Michael, my luck’s been rare and the implications of being an online dater are heavy. I’ve sworn it off in favor of real life endeavors, only to tip toe back into it half a year later, its conveniences and temptation creating a strong gravitational pull.

Although the traditionalist in me has said that I’ll never meet anyone if I keep “looking,” my inner opportunist has also committed to the belief that I’ll never meet anyone if I let any opportunity pass me by—whether it be cyberspace or the counter-space of a bar. If many of my personal and professional achievements have been founded upon by proactive view of my life, then why make this an exception? Inevitably, what does it hurt that I’ve spent moments of downtime scrolling through potential friends or mates? At its worst, it’s procrastinatory entertainment; at its best, it could be my lucky trigger of fate. Is it the best and fastest road to romance? I don’t think so. But is it keeping me hibernating inside my house? I don’t think so either. So when has keeping my options open and playing all my cards ever been a bad thing? Why close any door that could lead to love, no matter how unusual the journey? At the very least, it’s worth a try.

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2.14.2008

Smoochie boochies

GO on…kiss 'em!!! Why not? What are you afraid of? What the old lady in line will think? What your coworker will say after lunch break? That you'll blush? Go on…blush away!!! If you feel something for 'em..do it!!!

Why are we so afraid of showing our emotions? And showing them in public??? Forget it! Maybe when you get home that's when the cuddling and the smoochies begin but definitely not before you cross the threshold. As if the feelings you have for a partner, a new love interest, or a 15-year old already-know-what-your-morning break-is-like and I still love you courtship should be hidden for fear that you might "offend" the person next to you or make the single guy at the table next to you feel "sad". Would you do it already? I promise…the dude beside you will get over it. Don't think you have that much power over his emotions.

And while we're on the topic…don't do it because it's Valetine's Day. Do it because you want to. Do it on February 15, too. Hell do it on August 15. What the hell does Hallmark have to do with you showing your emotions in a fearless, no holds barred, good golly I love ya kind of way?

It's like being politically correct has seeped into every single action we take and every single decision we make. It's like people living in the United States are more worried about looking silly than planting a big fat one on the person they like, adore, love, lust after, fancy, or whatever you wanna call it. I actually felt the difference emerge as I flew over the continental U.S. last time I went home with my partner. We were the only ones holding hands. I was one of the only ones that planted a juice one on him in line waiting to board. As a Mexican, he sure as hell isn't afraid to let me know how special I am. And I'm pretty damn special. Why shouldn't he let me know it? And so is he. So shouldn't he be reminded every single day, too?

I would like to think that this is at least the one day a year that no one would give a hootinany about what or who your partner is. Naturally, this a naïve desire. But, that doesn't mean that even if the other 364 days of the year you have to second guess your affectionate actions that today, even if it's a little bit more set-back, or perhaps just as everyone else walks through the door and you are left alone, do it. I know it's a lot to ask. Probably too much. It's actually an ignorant, obnoxious request for some. But I’m STILL going to put it out there. What have you got to lose?

Oh and you don't have someone to smooch with? STOP eating bon bons (why is that the always the candy of choice for these examples?) on the couch, by yourself, watching stupid, sappy movies. Get over it. It's a FACT that you've either already had a special someone or will have one. I promise. And if that's not the case, you need to CHANGE it.

And let me give you a little boost of energy. Here, in Mexico, it's actually called "The day of love and FRIENDSHIP". That's right, they don't force you to feel like you're not special. They don't squeeze you for every penny you've got so that YOU'RE special someone has more flowers than everyone else. They allow you to bask in the fact that you may not be gettin' any tonight, but you can still go home feeling 100% satisfied for having such kick-ass amigos in your life.

Hey maybe I'm being insensitive. Maybe too optimistic. And yes, maybe it's because I have a special someone. But really…should any of that stop you?
GO OUT AND KISS SOMEONE!!!
(And go see the Vagina Monologues. It's at a university near you. I promise.)

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2.11.2008

Valentine's Day

Last year, for the first time in my life, I had a Valentine. We had begun dating just a few weeks before the Holy Day of Love, and I was excited to section off a piece of my calendar to spend that day with him—really, with anyone at all. So after a long day at work and an evening of rehearsals for a community theater production, I went to his house at 10pm, still garbed in my dress shirt and tie, and we celebrated in the most romantic way possible: by grabbing food at the Jack in the Box drive-thru window, popping in a DVD, and then going to bed. For sleep. To get up early for work. No candles, no roses, no mind-blowing love-making. And it was still something to be remembered.

I took this as a sign that my idea of courtship had evolved; I used to saturate my thoughts of love and dating in unrealistic romantic notions. In my junior year of high school, for example, I had a huge crush on a girl named Anna. She was spunky, smart, had an “in” with the popular crowd, and—the clincher—had great taste in music. That, and she came from the same ethnic background as I did; my parents immediately claimed her as my bride to be, the Filipina who liked Filipino food and had more of a Tagalog vocabulary than I did. She would keep me grounded in my culture, they thought, bring me back to my Asian roots after “straying,” as they might’ve put it, to the Latino and Black friends that largely made up my social circle.

I grew to like Anna. A lot. I had bought into the necessity of dating someone in high school after watching too many TNBC sitcoms and WB dramas. I perceived that that was what it meant to really live your high school experience. Thus, in the most innocent ways that I could have expressed, I pined for her: in my AOL Instant Messenger profile, I inserted lyrics hinting at my interest in an unnamed someone; in my journal, I wrote cheesy entries about how I’d treat her right if she were my girl; and for Christmas, I gave her the most expensive and thought-out gift I had distributed among my friends. At the time, I didn’t see the act of pining even remotely as the needy, embarrassing, and sometimes creepy signal it might represent to adults; it seemed like the appropriate response when you were enamored with someone for whom your fondness hadn’t been reciprocated. It was the physical and emotional manifestation of the butterflies you felt for someone. It was my naïve and superficial proof of being alive inside.

The culmination of my media-fed so-corny-I-want-to-barf enactments of romance: I decided that, after eight months of dropping too-subtle hints, I wanted to tell her how I felt. In my head, I aimed for the perfect moment: we would hang out afterschool, and as we walked out our classroom buildings (at sunset, of course), she’d find petals leading to a grassy hill just off-campus. And there we’d have a talk. (In retrospect, this idea of having that DTR-like situation without actually having a relationship to define seems exceedingly preposterous.)

As delusional as that sounds, that was the plan, and fortunately, I didn’t actually execute it. That vision was much too overwhelming, even for my immature adolescent self. I saw past it. Instead, I went completely in the opposite direction: cowardly, I hid behind a computer screen and screen name and told her everything online. She didn’t believe me at first, but eventually, she realized I was serious. And she broke it to me straight: an “us” wasn’t what she was looking for in our friendship. As she typed the words that broke my inexperienced heart, I did what Dawson or Slater or Topanga would do—I locked my bedroom door, fell onto my bed, boomed O-town’s “All or Nothing at all” (you’re excused if you need to vomit), and bawled.

Thank fucking goodness that I have grown up since then. My first relationships and sexual experiences have helped to de-mystify and de-romanticize the hype surrounding love. I came to understand the differences between a honeymoon period and the lazy motions of the day-to-day routine of seeing a significant other. Maturing past my stereotypes of what liking someone looked like helped me to ground and re-envision love not as fuzzy feelings stickered with hearts and arrows, but as simple and unquestionable comfort—a situation where a pairing only seems right and normal. I think this is different from being cynical about romance; indeed, I still appreciate roses and slow dances, flickering flames lighting a fancy dinner for two. The difference is that I now don’t see those signifiers as proof of chemistry; they’re more like its accessories—unnecessary but nice.

So this year, I’m making myself believe that having a Valentine on February 14th, a day that supposedly celebrates the idea of love, is sort of like that: unnecessary, but nice. I’ve heard it said before that everyday should be Valentine’s Day. Wouldn’t it be nice, people have asked, if everyone demonstrated his or her love as expressively as he or she does on Valentine’s Day? But now I want to understand that suggestion a little bit differently: maybe we shouldn’t take that to mean that everyday should be fluffy and commercial and conventional; instead, maybe everyday—the normal, the routine, and perhaps even the boring—maybe that should be the type of love we find worthy of celebration and value. Maybe everyday already is Valentine’s Day.

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Dear Fannie,

I've been dating this guy for the past 2 months or so, but we're not "in a relationship" yet. We've been "dating around," but it's mostly been him seeing other people. I feel like we're really good together and I want to move our relationship to the next level and see each other exclusively. How do I move from his sometime guy to his all-the-time guy?

Wanting More

WM,

I hate to break it to you, WM... but it sounds like there's a disparity in how much each of you is invested in this relationship. You're obviously committed to making this thing between you two grow into a long-term deal. But that kind of commitment is only useful if it goes both ways. It sounds like you're being dragged around like a love-sick puppy. While I'm sure when you're together it's great. But when you're apart, I get the feeling the object of your affection won't object affection from his other beaus.


My advice? It sounds like you're a giver. Which is awesome, the world needs more givers. The problem with givers is that they have a tendency to forget their own needs and are all too willing to shirk their desires/dreams/needs in exchange for their partners/dependents/colleagues/etc. It's a simple game of supply and demand. You're offering up a surplus of love to this guy, and right now, it looks like he has more than enough love coming in than he can handle. If he wants you, make him work for it! I'm not talking about playing games with him, I'm talking about making him come to you for once. He should want to see you as much as you want to see him. If he doesn't... than dump his ass and find someone worth your affections. Plus, some away time will let you get some perspective on the situation.

++
fiercely,
fannie

send your questions to askfannie@belowthebelt.org

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So I was sitting there like an idiot watching the MTV debate this past Saturday. Amid all the blaring technical errors with the videocasts (were you there when MTV made Ron Paul sound like a robot?), the totally off "instant polls" (if they were accurate, they would have made the candidates truly uncomfortable like the thing intended to), and the wholly obnoxious reporters from Washingtonpost.com and the Associated Press (I liked the kids' questions better than anything they said) -- I sat there, thinking. Up until this shitty waste of a political moment in the campaign, a tv show most people in the engaged, political stratosphere would deem inconsequential, I had no opinion. I was an uneducated voter at 23, watching an MTV special in the hopes that it would prepare me for voting in the primaries in three days.

I had done a little preparatory work, however. In my hands sat a huge binder with materials I put together: printouts of voting records, 'nonpartisan' collections of assorted information, and countless stanced articles, blogs, and reports from major media dated from the past half year. Eventually, the banter from the MTV debate reduced itself to a steady hum, and finally I could feel that I was starting to focus. Before I opened the binder, I tried to picture what the faces of our country might look like a year from now -- both president and vice president.

My gut whirred with exhilaration at the thought of a Hillary/Obama team, but my gut also told me that only one combination of the two would ever come to play: Hillary would never bottom...for anyone. Even after a thorough reading of all the materials in my binder (a reading that led me to agree with the same points Hillary's campaign emphasizes -- more experience [especially in foreign affairs], a more competent and convincing speaker/debater, a stronger connection with the players of this country), my gut was getting louder by the minute. If I thought that Hillary even had an ounce more quality as a candidate for either presidency or vice presidency, I needed to vote for her as president. And here's why:

My gut first started rumbling when I read Gloria Steinem's article from the New York Times back in January; she touched on the gender-oriented anxieties I have had for a long time about the election that I could not yet put into words. Our country may strive for equality on paper (if that), but we still live in both a white supremacist AND patriarchal society. Most sociologists and gender theorists would agree that both schemes of institutionalized marginalization are deeply embedded in many pockets of our country (and I would argue, most importantly, among the ruling groups with the most power). But my concern is this: When society sits back and thinks about the face of their country a year from now and who could effectively sit in the seat for vice president, Hillary's identity as a woman disempowers her far more than Obama's non-white racial status would if he were to sit as VP.

It's not politically correct to explore the race vs. gender game, but each identity status operates differently in different social spaces of our society, and the social space occupied by political candidacy cannot be ignored. If Hillary was VP next to a president Obama, she would be a lost face in the political and social landscape. She would be subject to the same hierarchy of gender that she has been fighting all along, a hierarchy where Obama's maleness pulses a fervent lead, leaving Hillary struggling for an appropriate gendered balance of fashion and rhetoric -- I'm inspired by her butch, commanding demeanor, but as VP she'd be silenced. Obama would face no such barrier whatsoever. If he were VP next to a president Clinton, I think he would be effective at changing our country for the better. I want both Obama and Clinton up there in the top seats of our country, but Clinton must be in the highest seat for both of them to have major influence as leaders and agents of change.

My thoughts about the election were interrupted by a loud commercial inbetween MTV shenanigans, but after the break it was Hillary's turn to speak to the youth of our country. She was eloquent, convincing, and seemed real. I felt similarly about Obama, albeit just slightly less convinced. But I knew that for a better society, it has to be Clinton. And I pray that Obama will take it like a man and be the VP. Clinton gets tested regularly, and I know she's safe.

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Internet celebrity, Chris Crocker, burst into our lives in late 2007 with a shrill youtube clip, which tearfully admonished people to “Leave Britney Alone!” However, the potentially irritating nature of that clip was not the main cause of the abuse that Crocker subsequently received. A cursory look at the comments under his clips reveals thousands of sexist and homophobic statements, such as “faggot has no life, retard,” “he’s stupid and he looks half like a girl,” “cock slap that little fag,” “if it’s a dude, stop trying to be a girl!” As if that’s not enough, he regularly receives death threats and ill treatment in his hometown (reportedly a small, rural place in the Southern U.S).

As I have argued in many of my previous posts, homophobic abuse is based mostly on perceived gender performance, not sexuality. Thus, the fact that Crocker claims to be gay is not what truly motivates the abuse (although he mentions his sexuality frequently in other videos, there was no explicit indication of it in “Leave Britney Alone”). It is his femme gender performance and “cross-dressing” which really disturbs people. Crocker’s case highlights the need for the transgender and gay/lesbian/bisexual communities to work together, as they are both essentially fighting against the same injustice: gender normativity, and the expectation that being assigned a gender category implies staying firmly within that category and acting in a particular way. Who one has sex with is just another gender issue, another expectation that rigid male-masculinity and female-femininity impose – not a reason to campaign separately.

Activist concerns aside, what is most disappointing about the “Leave Britney Alone” uproar is that it overshadows Chris Crocker’s other clips, in which he provides interesting, funny and sometimes controversial commentaries on gender, sexuality and other social issues. In this post, I will provide an introduction to those clips, as well as a theoretical analysis of his general approach:

For example, in the clip below Crocker takes a perspective on normativity that is similar to that of queer theory:


Although being ‘normal’ is often defined as ‘conforming or adhering to a norm,’ it is also associated with the notion of sanity, and being free from mental illness. Thus, Chris Crocker highlights for us how the persecution of the non-normative is embedded and confirmed in language. In a subsequent clip, he humorously questions the existence of heterosexuality (and by definition, all ‘definitively rigid’ sexuality labels):

He also addresses discrimination within gay communities, severely criticizing people who complain about ‘flamers,’ ‘sissies’ and ‘queens’:


Overall, from watching the above clips, one attains the sense that Chris Crocker takes a generally queer theoretical perspective in his approach to gender and sexuality issues. He highlights for us the existence of strong gender-performance bias within the gay community, questions the actual possibility of definitive sexual labels (such as, ‘heterosexual’), and critiques societal definitions of ‘the normal’. Nevertheless, the story of Chris Crocker’s theoretical leanings is considerably more complex. A look at some of his other videos reveals an unfortunate adherence to a primitive gay essentialism, which has considerable misogynist overtones. He seems to embrace the kind of conception of gay sexuality that defines itself in opposition to women’s bodies. For instance, in the video “Why I’m Gay…” his sexuality is conceptualized as having been “there from birth.” However, he attributes his sexual orientation not to genetic innateness, but to the traumatic experience of having to smell his mother’s vagina during birth:

Although we cannot take what he saying totally seriously, it is not uncommon for gay men to occasionally define their sexualities against a disgust for putatively female body parts, thus exhibiting a kind of ‘gay misogyny’. He continues this trend in the following video:

Then, he takes the disgust with vaginas to its logical conclusion, arguing that gay guys actually have it harder in society than women, that PMS and giving birth are not all that difficult, and that women need to stop complaining that life is so hard on them. Thus, he engages in a ‘competition of oppressions,’ claiming that life is, in general more of a challenge for gay men:


Overall, Chris Crocker is a fascinating theoretical phenomenon. On the one hand, he appears strongly anti-essentialist, blurring the lines between gay and transgender identities, bitching the gay community out for its disrespect towards ‘queens and flamers,’ and questioning the definition of “the normative” in society. On the other hand, his attitude to women is a disappointment. He is prepared to reduce his sexuality to being, essentially, an expression of disgust with vaginas. Thus, he invokes the discourse of ‘gay misogyny,’ which is basically another crudely essentialist way of conceiving gay sexuality. Although it is often brought up in a joking contest, ‘gay misogyny’ (defining one’s sexuality in disgusted opposition to women’s bodies) is widespread enough to be taken seriously as a problem, and may be one of the reasons behind strains in social relationships between gay men and women.

***For More Information***
Check out all of Chris Crocker’s videos here, as well as his MySpace page. The phenomenon of ‘gay misogyny’ is not very well documented in the theoretical literature on gender and sexuality, so if anybody is aware of any articles or books that discuss it, please let us know! There are many good general books on queer theory, but I would particularly recommend Annamarie Jagose’s Queer Theory: An Introduction.
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Matt Sanchez joins us from Matt-Sanchez.com:

Multiculturalism, a soft national identity and the inability to separate the public forum from the private sphere will send this country scaling up a new Tower of Babel.

I went into my local bank to solve a problem. During my stay overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, my financial institution put a block on my account because someone pretending to be me walked into a branch and presented a check. Fortunately, no funds were disbursed because the imposter's signature did not match my signature card, a low-tech solution to the common problem of identity theft. I stood in front of Elena, the bank's customer service representative. She stared at her high-tech computer database and attempted to remove the block from my checking, but the barriers between Elena and myself were going to need more than an authorization code.

After some pecking at the keyboard and several frustrated looks, Elena called over her co-worker for help. Both women watched the screen, not saying a word, and then it began. Before me, the co-worker went into a long, detailed explanation on how accounts are sometimes blocked. You know, the typical customer service stuff. The only problem was that the co-worker was having this conversation in Spanish.

It's annoying enough when the automated voice over the phone asks you to "press 2 for Spanish," but it's excruciating when the bank tellers give you no choice, and you're stuck with a live customer-service version of subtitles.

Now, let's get something straight: I actually speak Spanish. When I lived in Spain, I wrote little articles for a tourist magazine in Spanish. I even taught the language to adults in French-speaking Montreal, but this teller and her boss were not speaking Spanish for me, they were speaking it despite me.

After several minutes of the back-and-forth banter between the two women, it became obvious both actually spoke English better than Spanish. In English, I asked a question, so the co-worker spoke to Elena in Spanish for Elena to translate the response to me.

For a moment I felt as if I were back in Iraq interviewing some city councilman through an interpreter. Those interviews always took forever, and I was never sure how precise the translation was. In bleak Ramadi, I always wondered if anything really important was being left out. But in this bank, in the heart of Manhattan, I knew I was not getting the full story.

I'm not the only one who has experienced this Babel of communication. The London Terrace apartment complex, located in the ultra-liberal Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea, mandated that all employees will have to speak English on the job. Chelsea is a place where transvestites are considered too conservative if they wear a pearl necklace, but even this liberal stronghold had an issue with "diversity."

The problem was not hearing a different language. I live in Manhattan! The owner of the health-food store speaks Korean; the shoe repair man is Croatian, and there are more Russians and Chinese than there are native New Yorkers.

I'm not offended by different tongues; I make an effort to understand the dialects of New Jersey and Long Island.

This is not just about the decline of customer service or even an upswing in public rudeness. You have to make an effort to be rude, and you have to recognize a customer to give him service. This problem was more a shift in the public sphere, a societal and corporate slow drift that has been shoving customers off a cliff for some time now.

The dirty little secret is that all too often when Spanish-speakers go into these Latin diatribes while on the time clock, they are really just flipping the non-Spanish speaker a linguistic bird. Believe me, I've listened to more than one conversation where people didn't think I understood what was being said, or maybe just did not care.

In the new version of separate but equal, the American public forum, currently ruled by multi-cultural guidelines, has put Spanish on the same level as English. As more and more Americans see themselves as clients entitled to benefits rather than citizens bound to duties, the option of pressing No. 2 for a different language is just another choice on the multi-cultural public menu.

There was a time, even in my recent memory, when speaking another language was something reserved for the privacy of home, or in a community setting. In other words, it was meant to be a bond for people with a similar heritage and history. Would anyone describe English in America that way today?

For these two bilingual bozos, being at work in a bank and dealing with a customer was socially the same as being at home in the kitchen and ignoring the annoying children playing in the living room. When you add the "freedom" of reaffirming "Latino pride" and the self-righteous sense of entitlement, it's safe to say more clients at the bank will be hearing a lot of conversations that simply will not include them. It is up to us, as Americans, to decide if this is the model we want for a nation because others are willing to offer plenty of choices that will be more significant than pressing No. 2 for Spanish.

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