IFGE 2008

Each year there is an International Foundation on Gender Education conference. This April one took place in Tucson, AZ where I met and photographed an incredibly diverse group of people and their words. The next will take place in Washington, DC!

Read on to see some of the women, and what they had to say about themselves and gender.

F to F

Androgynous Power

Hard Femme

To see more, Check out Gender DiverCity
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Hey Fannie,

I’m a 27 year old gay man, and I’ve been getting more involved with activism, especially trans-activism. I’ve noticed that a lot of lesbians date trans-men, but it doesn't seem to work the other way around. Why don't I see more gay men date trans-women? In fact, now that I think about it, I think I've only ever heard of trans people dating other queer people is when trans-men date lesbians. Why is this? Am I just ridiculously out of the loop?

Trying to Understand

Dear Trying,

First off, good for you sticking up for our trans siblings! We need more "conventional" homos to get behind supporting rights for our entire community and stop cutting out the T when the going gets tough.

Your question is one of those that I can't really answer. I'm not a sociologist and there aren't really studies out there on this kind of topic. So... I can only speculate. And since I'm going to enter the realm of hypothetical, I first want to say that I am far from an expert on the trans experience, so I welcome the input of my trans siblings out there to speak their minds.

The first thing that comes to mind is a book I read by the brilliant Julia Serano, "Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity." In it, Serano talks about many of the struggles Trans people and transwomen in particular face. One thing that I found interesting in her writing was how she felt feminism failed transwomen. Serano talks about how femininity as a set of traits and behaviors associated with female people (i.e. emotional, caring, cooperative, etc.) have been systematically devalued without regard to what kind of bodies are performing or embodying them. So basically, whether it's a cissexual woman subscribing to traditional gender performance, a transsexual woman acting "hyperfeminine" (as frequently accused of by feminists), or femme nelly bottoms getting their queen on; any performance of femininity is seen as an affectation, a falsehood, and a weakness. Conversely, masculinity, to varying degrees is on the whole elevated and rewarded. Being rational, level-headed, strong, and opinionated are all traits that we see as being desirable and natural.

So it makes sense to see transmen, who are marked by masculinity and therefore marked for success, achieve greater amounts of success in relationships with people, queer or otherwise. And similarly this may explain for the trend we see in transwomen not being considered desirable romantic partners by gay men. Especially since gay male culture is so addicted to testosterone, gay men practically worship the ideals of masculinity. Don't believe me? Walk a beautiful, lithe, muscular man in front of a bunch of queens and watch the conversation suddenly halt as they gawk.

It isn't only transwomen who feel the brunt of this war on the femmes. Take a look at any gay social networking site (and I use the term "social networking" lightly) and you'll find sexism plastered all over the place. "No femmes, no fats, no asians." (We'll get into the "asian" bit in another post... I have far too much to say about sexual racism than what can fit here)

Serano described a similar trend in her experience in the trans community. She found that transwomen, especially those that subscribed to traditional feminine gender performance were often scorned by the trans and genderqueer community, even though transmen often exhibited traditional masculine gender performance. She calls this valuing of subversive gender performance over that of conventional gender performance as subversivism.

So, a long story short, Trying. I don't know why you and I don't know more transwomen who date gay men. I'm sure they're out there. There are plenty of hypotheses out there why this seems to be the way things play out, but the fact of the matter is that no one really knows and we should focus on keeping our minds open and broadening our horizons, social, romantic, and sexual.

Again, I invite those with much more expertise and experience with trans folk to weigh in on the conversation.


send your questions in to askfannie@belowthebelt.org

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Machismo is one of those things that many people generally understand as something that men use to cover up their insecurities. Slick cars, action movies, porn, muscles, being a dick, etc. - none of which are inherently bad (except being a dick) but all of which contribute to the stereotype of your average macho jerk. Still, machismo is much more pervasive than that and is probably the biggest issue your average man has to battle with. I have the same issue in my own unique way just as most men do.

I have this idea of myself as a strong independent passionate man – and I am one. But I find that with this idea I often may be stifling myself by not making the right choices in my life and not truly living life as the emotional creature that humans are. I don’t even remember the last time I cried. But by the same token of machismo I can’t really get past my own rationalization for why I didn’t need to cry at all the times I should have. I have a pretty thoughtful insightful mind and, having been a nerd my whole life, I’ve spent a lot of time being introspective and thinking things through so as not to get too upset by them. The problem with this is that there’s a dangerously thin line between dissecting your feelings and ignoring them.

I want to feel. I want to hurt. I want to cry. And for some reason I just plain haven’t been able to for years now. There’s been a few times here and there but I can honestly say in the last 5 years I’ve probably only cried 3 or 4 times – that’s less than once a year and none of them were me bawling by any means. I just can’t figure it out.

I’ve realized that maybe my independence is blocking my emotions. I’ve realized that I’m not nearly as independent as I thought myself to be. I’m very strong willed in what I believe, I’m very extroverted, I’m not at all shy – but I’ve also learned that I desperately need other people’s influence in my life. I can’t be creative unless someone is pushing me on. I can’t get physically active unless someone else inspires me to do so. I can barely even get up in the morning without hearing one of my roommates get up as well. And, even after trying to shy away from my mom’s often negative influence I still go to her with questions knowing she’s going to give the wrong answer (or at least the answer that worries WAY too much) just so I have someone to listen to that I know cares about me.

Men need input. We shy away from it, we like to remain strong but we really fucking need it. Not getting input, not talking about our emotions is what leads us to be those pissed off, middle-aged, unhealthy assholes who everyone hates (most people call them ‘dads’). I can feel stress building in my heart and I can feel myself getting a bit more edgy and snappier; in short, becoming more of a dick. I want that ‘feminine’ side of me to come out, I want to feel and be loving and be nice but the fact that I’m so miserable in the shell of life I’ve created for myself I sometimes feel like I’m losing my ability to relate. I work a boring job where I sit on my ass all day dreaming about death staring at a computer monitor. I am single and alone. I have a job where I get reprimanded for being ‘too nice and talkative’ when I am one of the most talkative people I know. I need to make that change in my life where I do what I want, where I be who I want to be, but I feel that guilt of manhood dredging me down. I should build a career…plan for the future…be responsible for people and a family that don’t even exist yet. The future, it’s all about the future. It’s like the last tendrils of the American dream still trying to brainwash me with promises of the easy life living it up in the middle class with a home of my own and money in the bank.

In reality I already have fucking carpal tunnel syndrome and I’m 25. I have terrible eyesight from staring at monitors all the time. I’ve finally started going to the gym and doing physical activities to turn from pale and thin to strong and energetic (and still somewhat pale) but that is only one step. I need for people to encourage me, to take the leap, never work in an office again, do what I want, break out of the macho mold. I need help to make sense of all the anger I feel inside of me. Teenage angst just becomes heart attacks, baldness, and ulcers as you get older. Disgust with the system never goes away: it just gets buried deep inside you till the very act of pretending it’s not there causes physical illness.

I can’t do it alone no matter how much my subconscious is sent that message. I need that loving support just like any other human. Talking about it in this blog is but one small step – I need to reach out to my friends and ASK them for help because I simply can’t make the jump by myself. No one is 100% independent. No man is an island god fucking damn it!

So send me your positive thoughts, your feelings, your own stories of personal triumph and life changing choices. We’re all in this together and the more great stories I hear the more I’ll feel up to the challenge of getting my shit together. So I pose a question to you, dear reader: tell me one life changing moment that occurred from your own actions – when did you take hold of your life and take it in the right direction despite what society told you? Inspire me!

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My ex is single again.

After he broke up with me in March 2007, he somehow managed to pick up a new boyfriend within a month’s time. They clicked, apparently, in a way we never could. They clicked so much that he followed his new boyfriend across the country to San Francisco and moved into a phase of relationshipping that I have yet to explore with anyone: “I Love You.”

He tried to make the quick turnover as painless for me as possible. He wanted to be friends, and I wanted to be friends, but I couldn’t get myself to be in friend-mode again until July, when he said he was moving west. By then, I had discovered that he was seeing someone else; Facebook and MySpace tell all. At our coffee-as-friends date before his big move, he refrained from mentioning his new boy—I’m not sure if he knew I knew, but I knew, and so I refrained from mentioning him too.

When he left, I was sure that our relationship would dwindle into random G-chats and occasionally-obligated holiday text messages. It did. Until I found out in January that I, too, would be moving west to—as fate would have it—San Francisco. I convinced myself that I’d be fine, and when I visited to look for new housing prospects in March 2008, almost a year after we broke up, I had dinner with him… and then we had drinks… and then we danced… and then we reminisced… and left it at that. There was a comfort in being with him despite knowing he had this other intimate life—again unmentioned. We promised when he dropped me off that night that we’d have great nights of friendly fun when I moved more permanently in August.

A few weeks ago, he called— it was one of those calls where a friend of yours reaches out to catch up with the subtext that something had just happened to him and he needed to talk to someone who would tell him that it would be okay. I never picked up. He left me a voicemail. I detected the concern. But maybe purposefully so, I shoved it away as nothing and merely G-chatted him back. He never responded.

Then two nights ago, a surprise text message: You gonna be going go to Asteroid tomorrow? :-P I’m gonna be there!

I was in the middle of a meeting, but I didn’t hesitate. I stepped out and called. It was true. He was coming. For one weekend, home to Texas to visit family and, yes, he wanted to see his friends.

I was hesitant. I never really got along with all of his friends—they were high maintenance, I was a workaholic, and not there aren’t high maintenance workaholics, but we just didn’t’ mesh. I said I’d let him know if I couldn’t make it while, in my head, I began thinking of good excuses. I would see him in August anyway. Everything would be okay then, and we’d hang out one-on-one. It’d probably be better that way. He passed on details for where to meet him and at what time. I wrote them on a post-it and stashed it in my pocket.

When I got home after work, I found the post-it again and remembered the phone call. I decided to check up on him via Facebook to see what his San Francisco ventures had been like since I met up with him in March…

And there, aside a tiny broken-heart icon, was that dangerous, dangerous word: Single.
I refreshed the page. No. He couldn’t be. He couldn’t… single. He’s single. No, it’s just Facebook.

I had to double check. I checked his MySpace page. Single. I checked his boyfriend’s MySpace page. Single.

Single single single.

And now he’s in town.

And he wants to hang out.

And I’m single.

And he’s single.

And we’re still friendly.

And I think I may still be attracted.

If not for real, then at least for fun.

So what do I do with this tension of wanting to work out that never did? I’m almost positive he just wants to be friends, but how do I drag that confirmation out of him without bringing up the boyfriend that now is, according to cyberspace, his ex? My gut says to stick to what’s tried and true: refrain from bringing it up. But with me moving to his neighborhood in two months, doesn’t refraining now actually mean postponing the inevitable anyway?

Whatever happens, I have a feeling that tonight begins a new chapter of my life two months too early. ManontheSide in San Francisco. With his ex. Uh oh.


I am too much of an optimist. Coming into tonight, my memories were nothing but romantic ideas; I had forgotten all the reasons why I wouldn’t want to be with him. Tonight, those reasons all came sloshing back: the ridiculous silliness; his need to be the center of attention; his focus on the physical—all things that don’t really blend with my own desires from a mate.

My ex is single again. And I bet his newest ex is celebrating too.

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In follow up to my last post, I paid my $8 (it was a matinée!) and I saw the Sex and the City movie. At first, I was entertained and mildly annoyed. But then the more I thought about it, and talked to other people who saw it, the more I was annoyed and less entertained.

The movie was everything I hated about the series, but even more so. Watching the movie, I found it hard to believe that these characters were supposed to be around 40-50 years old. They were acting like completely self-centered 20-somethings (and I'm a 20-something). It was all "my wedding" and "my marriage" and "I have to find MYself" and "you hurt MY feelings." Me me me. The only one of the four that I liked was Charlotte, and she was always my least favorite. But, she was the only one that I felt acted her age. She understood what it meant to have a healthy relationship - surprise surprise, you are willing to put the other person's needs before your own.

I read an article on Jezebel (not the best site, but sometimes interesting) that summed it up pretty well: "These women are assholes." Is it really empowering to have such disregard for the feelings of your partner - the person you love? Regardless of gender, the ways these women acted during most of the movie (and the TV series) made me kind of appalled to be associated with them in any way, even gender.

The crappy thing is, this movie was so lauded for beings successful despite having no male leads. So, in that sense, it was a success for women. And as a woman (and just a person in general), it makes me really sad that a movie about women that are so self-consumed with labels, appearances and what's-in-it-for-me is one of the most successful movies starring women for a female audience.

Maybe I'll go watch Steel Magnolias as an antidote.

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Dear Fannie,

Now you see, i have two kinda different dillemas.
Numero Uno, Premature Ejaculation. Im currently sleeping with this guy who shoots before we can really even get things going. Making out, touching and poof! He's done. I really don't know how to help the situation, and i really like this guy. So what can i do here?

And my second problem, anal sex. So basically, Porn has glorified anal sex and made it look like some really pleasurable and delightful thing. WRONG. I've been doin' it for a long time, and i still ain't gotten used to it. This other guy i'm sleeping with, seems to think that everything is just like the porn. How do i get him to slow down and just...go with the flow?

Please Help!
Timmy Two-Problem!

Dear Timmy (I hope that's not your real name),

Look at you! Your bed's busier than a beehive! While you have two very different problems regarding your boudoir buddies, let's look on the bright side: you got at least two guys gushing guysers of goodness for you. That's two more than a lot got, so don't complain!

So problem number one: premature ejaculation. A surprising situation that more men than you'd think get stuck with. Now it's important to figure what's the root of this problem. Most men who suffer from P.E. (not physical education... although a condition I thankfully left behind in high school) either have a psychological problem with sex, being that they don't get it a whole lot so get over-excited about a specific partner, or have a chemical imbalance which can expedite the ejaculatory response.

You know your sex partner better than I do, at least I hope you do. Figure out whether his ill-timed response is caused by over-excitement or whether it's just a biological response he can't control. If it's a biochemical problem, he might want to talk to his doctor and ask for some bloodwork to be done. He may, indeed, have a low serotonin level which, in addition to making him a mopey 'mo, will make it harder for him to resist ejaculation. Sometimes doctors will prescribe certain anti-depressants or mood stabilizers to counteract this chemical imbalance. I personally, tend to be skeptical of doctors and pharmacologists, and like to do things the natural, non-chemical, way. There are a lot of ways to naturally stimulate the production of serotonin, like excercise, chocolate, and sexual activity. I'd prescribe a good dose of excercise, 'cause not only will you increase your serotonin count and delay your ejaculation, you'll get a super fit bod.

There are a few techniques you two can work through as a coital couple, called: the squeeze technique.

"This method works as follows:
Step 1. Begin sexual activity as usual, including stimulation of the penis, until you feel almost ready to ejaculate.
Step 2. Have your partner squeeze the end of your penis, at the point where the head (glans) joins the shaft, and maintain the squeeze for several seconds, until the urge to ejaculate passes.
Step 3. After the squeeze is released, wait for about 30 seconds, then go back to foreplay. You may notice that squeezing the penis causes it to become less erect, but when sexual stimulation is resumed, it soon regains full erection.
Step 4. If you again feel you're about to ejaculate, have your partner repeat the squeeze process."

So, it all depends how invested you are in this specific boy toy. If he's just a casual fuck and you have no emotional investment in him and all this sexual therapy sounds like a lot of work for a roll in the sheets, then I'd give him the helpful info and suggest that he call you when he's figured his junk out. But if this sex stud is worth keeping around then talk to him honestly and address the pink elephant (or perhaps milky-translucent elephant) and offer to work together to make sex as good as you know it can be!

As for your second problem, Timmy... I've been saying this for a long time: anal sex isn't for everyone. Believe it or not queens, some dames don't do it up the doo-doo chute. Some guys love getting plugged by a nice wang, but others would prefer much less anally-inclined action. Sex should be a reciprocal activity, so if you're not getting enjoyment from getting plowed by your bud, then let him know that and demand being sufficiently compensated with a sex act that you enjoy. If you're too much of a push-over to stick up for your own sexual rights, then frankly I think you deserve a sore tush. Maybe you'll think twice before mindlessly bending over. And don't go blaming the porn industry for your own lack of a spine. Sure gay culture sucks... it's completely male-centric and obsessed with anal sex. So what? Fight the power.


send your questions in to askfannie@belowthebelt.org

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Politics or Pussy?

For me there is always this period in a relationship where I try to suss out what kind of politics a person might have. I don't know that I necessarily think that everyone I date must be on the exact same page as me in terms of our political views but I do know that I'd likely have a hard time finding anything sexy or long-term about a fundie Christian, for instance. However, I try to remain open minded when I find myself having a connection with someone who doesn't sing the praises of composting, or see the need to be on every activist listserv in the city.

Like many people, I often find the potential dates (or more casual encounters) via activities centred around our shared views. I am not the first--nor the last--dyke who's tried to pick up on the bus to a rally. It just kind of happens like that. But I also recognize that those kinds of things take serious time commitments, and that there's a whole legion of lesbians who don't necessarily show up to every community potluck or forum. Plus I think it might be healthy to look outside these frequently incestuous dating pools. I suppose that's how I ended up in the situation I'm currently in.

I connected with this beautiful gal rather unexpectedly, particularly considering the debacle that was my last romantic escapade. We met through some mutual friends some months ago and made plans to connect in a business sense (she makes music videos, and I am a musician). However, contacts were lost and we did not cross paths again until this past weekend, via the same mutual friends. She is unbelievably cute. And very flirtatious. And an excellent dancer. She's also smart, and has her own (successful and growing, I might add) company at a remarkably young age. She is motivated and responsible, and good. So when she asked me out, I obviously said yes. I figured that with mutual friends as great as ours, she had to be a safe bet. But I've recently found out that I am now facing down a "politics or pussy?" kind of scenario; she's the kind of hipster-y girl who uses words (acronyms?) like "AZNs" in reference to any people of Asian descent. This is not in everyday conversation, mind you, but more in the envelope-pushing "ironic" hipster way that seems to be so trendy right now*.

I don't get this. This otherwise smart and cute and interesting and funny and sweet girl thinks this is funny. But to me (and countless others, I'm sure) using racial slurs casually or ironically isn't cool. It just fucking isn't. And what is so bizarre about this fad (at least, I hope it's a fad, which would imply that it's going to go away soon) is the kind of gradient attached to the Ironic Hipster Racial Slur. That is, it seems that the more shocking the epithet, the more it establishes a Hipster cred, like there's some sort of competition going on amongst moneyed suburban kids living in the city doing important Art Things or Music Things as to who can drop an n-bomb with the least trace of a smile.

I mean, I kind of understand the idea of it. I think the underlying notion is, "if I can use this awful word in all seriousness then I am calling attention to how incredibly offensive it is and that's funny", but the exclamation that seems to follow, whether spoken or implied, is "I'm not actually racist guys, I have all kinds of black friends!". These (almost exclusively white) kids don't seem to get that there is a huge amount of power in what they're saying that really, really overthrows any kind of irony they may be getting at.

I'm sincerely hoping that this girl is not one of those hipsters I am referring to, and that she is on the lower end of the Ironic Racial Slur Hipster ladder, which to me indicates that there is hope for her yet. Truly, I think she's kind of young, in the sense that she maybe hasn't had exposure to the kinds of politics my friends and I live (out of necessity, not aesthetic, which I think also explains my distaste for ironic hipsterdom). Yet writing that makes me feel like I'm being condescending, not to mention making the fatal early relationship mistake of thinking "Oh, that will change with time" (which can actually be interpreted as "I will change them" and as far as I'm concerned, is relationship suicide).

Still, as much as I hate to admit it, I often wonder about the accessibility of anti-oppressive politics. To some extent I believe it is every individual's responsibility to educate hirself about what kinds of privilege zie holds. But I also think that there's a part to this about having access to that kind of self-reflection and self-criticism as a form of privilege. I'm not sure I know how that fits in to the overall idea of being anti-oppressive, but I know that I want to give this girl the benefit of the doubt. Truthfully, I (and everyone else) had to go through a process of awakening, and I'm certainly hoping it's not far off for my ladyfriend.

*for evidence of this, please see sites such as You Tube and Hipster Runoff

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