The nomination of Sarah Palin as Republican John McCain’s running mate for this year’s U.S. election has brought abortion issues back into the national spotlight. Palin’s position on abortion (that it should be illegal, even in cases of rape or incest) has re-galvanized social conservatives and provided new inspiration for the so-called ‘pro-life’ movement. What is this movement really about? And what can it tell us about U.S. politics and society?

I have always been astounded by the hypocrisy of the ‘pro-life’ position. On the one hand, anti-abortion advocates claim to support ‘a culture of life’, in which ‘innocent human beings’ should not die for any reason. On the other hand, they have no problem supporting U.S. politicians who have started numerous wars that have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of ‘innocent’ people. Ultimately, the ‘pro-life’ position is untenable unless it is backed up by a total pacifism in all other matters. How can it possibly be considered ‘morally wrong’ to terminate a gestating infant (who we are not sure is even ‘a life’ yet), while it is allegedly fine to murder thousands of human beings (who can only be described as ‘living’) in Afghanistan and Iraq? Thus, so-called ‘pro-lifers’ are, in fact, not ‘pro-life’ at all, as they tend to be fully supportive of policies that quash life.

Opponents of this view would claim that killing in war is totally different from terminating the development of a fetus. In the discourse of ‘national sovereignty,’ the state has permission to do what it takes to defend itself, and killing others is one of the ways through which it exercises self-defense. But when ‘self-defense’ involves imperialism, conquering ‘spheres of influence’, securing oil markets and ensuring profits for politically well-connected arms producers, how can that possibly be ‘morally superior’ to a woman aborting her pregnancy because it resulted from a rape? Or because she does not have the economic means to raise a child? Or just may not be ‘ready’ to have kids? Abortion and war are conceptually separated because they are understood to be part of divergent discursive frameworks (‘international politics’ and ‘domestic society’), which clouds the fact that both of them involve the same moral issue: human life and when it is permissible to end it. If, for a second, we step outside the discursive framework and view the issue from a fresh perspective, it becomes clear that the reasons for ‘killing’ in an abortion (although we are not even sure that it ends ‘a life’) are morally superior to the reasons for killing in war. Both operations involve the ending of ‘life’ for a particular purpose – and the purposes to which abortion is put are generally more ethical than the purposes of the vast majority of wars (especially Bush II’s wars in Asia).

So, if it has nothing to do with ‘supporting life’, what is the U.S. ‘pro-life’ movement about then? Why do they harp on about banning abortion? What is their problem with Roe v. Wade? The following is pure speculation, but I would suggest that anti-abortion activism is fundamentally about two things: social control of sexuality and reproducing ‘the nation’. U.S. conservatives want sexuality to be tightly controlled by both society and the government (as if the rampant heteronormativity permeating our culture already does not do that for them). It fits their view of social order that individuals should not have a consciousness about their sexuality or control over it. The fact that abortion promises control over when one can have a child and over the results of a sexual encounter disturbs the conservative sense of social organization. Furthermore, abortion promotes the notion that sex is not just for reproduction. In the conservative mindset, reproducing another generation of ‘real Americans’ for the nation is the principal (and often sole) purpose of sex. Abortion implies that sex can (and should) occur for plenty of other reasons as well. Overall, the pro-life movement is about maintaining control over sexuality for the sake of (re)producing a particular social order. It has nothing to do with protecting ‘life’ or ‘promoting a culture of life’ for moral purposes – if it did, most pro-lifers would be pacifist vegans, which they certainly are not.

So, for those of us who are opposed to the so-called ‘pro-life’ movement, what should our response be? I think it is high time that we stopped respecting the ‘pro-life’ position. Much energy is wasted on announcing consideration and respect for others’ ‘religious’ moralities or arguing that ‘everyone has a right to their own private opinion’ and that all the pro-choice movement does is open up space for people to exercise their own private choices. It is time to confront ‘pro-lifers’ head on with the profound moral inferiority of their position on abortion. It is shameful that they have hijacked the language of ethics for their cause, given the ethical poverty of their activism. We need to reclaim it for ourselves and to argue in favor of abortion rights from a moral perspective.

***For More Information***
For more on Sarah Palin and her position on abortion, check out this website. Also see Machiavelli’s The Prince and Kenneth Waltz’s Theory of International Politics for arguments about the discursive separation of international morality from domestic morality.

(...to the full post)

So even though I have a boyfriend and enjoy his company and the company of my close friends here in New York City, I’m still a pretty shy guy and generally welcome the prospect of meeting new people and making new friends. The only problem is – well – I often bear the fairly bitter conception that most people out there (particularly…gay guys) are fairly narrow-minded, and that NYC-folk in particular are of a special brand of bitchy craziness.

Needless to say, I was excited to learn about a Web site called Meetup.com. “Real groups make a difference,” the site boasts. A quick search revealed that this would perhaps be the social networking interface I’ve been looking for – Progressive Gay Men, LGBT Movie Fan Meetup, Lavendar Salon (a gay literature group), and all sorts of other geek-tacular LGBT-oriented groups trailed down my screen.

I scrolled and scrolled through the lists of groups until one caught my eye – a NYC Foodies Group for Women. The pictures of the members looked silly and fun (of the L.A.-ish trendy lesbian variety [picture Jackie Warner but at 24]) – just my kind of scene. They had meetups planned to awesome bars and clubs I’ve been to, wine tastings, dinner and theater outings. Their message board was fun and lively, a little quirky, and heavily LGBTQ-oriented. I didn’t think about clicking “Join” until I read that their mission stated that they were open to “LGBTQ members”, not restricted to women or lesbian women. In true shameless fashion, I clicked and became the first dude to join the group named “Women Heart Food”.

Now I understand that it would probably be a little awkward that a guy was joining a women’s group – I just knew in my heart that if I got to meet them, if they got to meet me and see what I’m really like – they’ll totally welcome me into the group and we would have a lot of fun. After all, I’m a proud lesbian whisperer among gay men.

I did not expect to receive an email from a member questioning my desire to join the club. “What are your expectations for joining a predominantly lesbian group? I don’t know why you would make assumptions that automatically ALL members must be open minded about all LGBTQ issues. What issues are we assumed to be open minded about that you are looking to share?”

Was I being harassed by this woman because she didn’t want any men in this group? Did she gather from my gender and my profile picture that I was perhaps a transman and therefore would be unwelcome in this lesbian circle (an issue I know can be a pretty big deal among some lesbian groups)? I inquired further. “Many of my friends are lesbians,” I replied. “I’m looking to meet more LGBTQ-friendly people, just like your group’s mission states.”

A one line reply: “So, are you saying you are gay, or just a supporter of gays and lesbians?”

There it is. The awkward line I occasionally walk when meeting new people – instead of normally having to figure out if new people are gay-tolerant, I find myself having to prove to this queer-themed group that I’m lesbian-tolerant. Because I’m not flaming enough from my picture to be deemed gay, I must be a threat.

Further, I love how basically this person made me realize that asking to meet “LGBTQ-friendly” people does NOT necessarily imply that these people will be open-minded. A real sign of tolerance there for other people.

Now I entirely understand the argument that certain groups, groups that have historically experienced a great deal of hatred, must be on guard. I entirely understand that. But I thought I had made clear that I was LGBTQ-friendly and looking for more of the same.

So despite the fact that I immaturely vented my feelings on a blog, how did I finally reply to this woman when she asked if I was gay, or “just a supporter”?

“Aha, that's the question you were asking! I'm a gay male, though I salute supporters of gays and lesbians as well. Although I just left the group out of worry that I'm not entirely too welcome.”

Meet that. Thanks.

(...to the full post)

With Hurricane Ike dominating national front-pages early this weekend, it became very easy to glide over another domestic catastrophe, one whose tragedy has more gravity, I think, because the fault was not nature’s—it stemmed from human mistake. In case you’ve been mesmerized by Ike, here’s another bit of news: a Los Angeles commuter train headed out of town during the height of Friday afternoon rush slammed directly into an oncoming freight train. Currently, two dozen people are dead, more than one hundred are injured, and there are bodies that have yet to be found. Included in the toll: the Metrolink engineer who ran two yellow warning lights and a final, fatal red light.

I scrolled through the facts, numbers, and images provided by major news websites, but found the most compelling account from the Los Angeles Times, where three writers combined eyewitness accounts to construct a narrative of the moments before, during, and after the crash. I found my most visceral reactions to “A sharp turn left, then muffled screams” as I navigated between graphic descriptions of twisted wreckage and bleeding bodies. There, poignant, intimate moments briefly silenced the otherwise jagged landscape of the article’s imagery; I imagine that if the article were a movie, it would’ve zoomed in and faded the sound of metal, fire, and chaos into the background. There, we would hear the human pulse.

Firefighters assigned [a bystander] to a man whose head was gashed. The man asked her to call his wife; she did, while holding his IV...

[Nearby, Frank] Haverstock, 64, of Simi Valley, said his wife, Norma, 53, the manager of a custom drapery house in Burbank, was a regular commuter on the train. After the collision, he said, she had called him. She told him that she was bleeding from the head, that she "hurt all over." "That was about it," he said. "The phone went dead."

The victims here—undoubtedly in pain, abruptly ripped from an unimaginable disaster—were practically in the middle of a warzone where I would think survival of the fittest instincts would kick in. On the contrary, the one thing they could think about doing was not to escape, but to call their respective significant others.

And it struck me that maybe that is love. That maybe love is the first person—if not the only person—you call when you think your time may be up. I remember the aftermath of September 11, 2001, when transcripts and records of final phone calls were released, revealing not necessarily screams for help, but promises of love, fitting the most meaningful messages possible into three-sentence conversations of closure. The screenplay for the movie Love Actually opens with this exact thought: “When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love.” Indie alternative band Death Cab for Cutie also finds love at its odd intersection with death, positing in its song What Sarah Said, “Love is watching someone die.”

They continue after an instrumental meditation: “So who’s gonna watch you die?”

Which leads me, of course, to ask—who would I call?

I didn’t really hesitate with a response. I’d probably call my mom, even though my relationship with her hasn’t always been the best, nor would I classify it in even the top fifty percent of my “deepest” relationships. And although she’s not the closest person to me, the significance of this final call takes into account a sense of duty, responsibility, and obligation—she would absolutely need to know my situation. Love, in this case, is when you can unquestionably recognize necessity with the mention of someone’s name: Mom.

I’ve frequently considered my friends my family although I realize that there are differences—family relationships, I’ve discovered, are not as temporal or fluid as friendships can be. Even in thinking about “close” relationships, I realize that “close” is all relative, whereas my immediate relatives are, for the most part, permanent. Whether that immutability is something to be appreciated or to be haunted by is relative; their presence is not.

This is true despite actual, physical distance. I see my friends much more often than I see my family, and even in my new Bay Area home, I’ve designated a friend up here—an ex, even—as my local emergency contact. He has never met any of my family to be able to reach them in case of actual, dire emergency, but I’d entrust him to figure out how to reach them and deliver any life-threatening news. Would he be the last person I’d want to speak to if I were in a train crash? Probably not. Maybe he’d make my top thirty. But ultimately, he’s not the last one. And maybe that’s what makes him an ex.

So is this what I’m on a search for? Is this what dating—something that connotes frivolity, materialism, and inconsequential pleasure… are these its ends: finding the potential last person to register into my memory before it fades away forever? Someone who is more family than family itself? How incongruous are the sexual games and playful politics we play with the gravity of the ends we want to meet—that ultimately, what we do when we date shapes our taste in such a way that leads us to make definitive decisions tied to loss and trauma at our final bows. Maybe this love thing isn’t romantic in nature; after all, if I had to choose now, I’d call my mom. Maybe this love thing isn’t even directed by attraction; after all, I don’t even like spending time with my mom. Indeed, I’m not even attracted to her sex.

If love is watching, hearing, or saying goodbye to someone who is dying, then whatever it is—romantic or not, gendered or not—it’s a force to reckoned with, in itself a bigger news story to our lives than a hurricane, as gripping or as potentially corrosive as a train wreck. So news flash: what are most of us doing by pretending that dating don’t play that?

(...to the full post)

Jason Tseng joins us from The Bilerico Project:

Michael Kimmel, a leading sociologist and scholar in the study of masculinity, recently released his new book, Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. In his latest work, Kimmel investigates "Guyland," a new development stage in young men's lives that encompasses the years from 16 to 26, where young men experience a prolonged adolescence filled with excessive partying, promiscuity, and aimlessness.

As some of you might know, I studied Gender studies in university and am a big geek for this kind of stuff. So I was naturally very interested, especially because I think that men as a whole have not had the same opportunity to critically examine their gender and masculinity as women, to some extent, have been able to do through the various feminist, anti-patriarchy, and women's liberation movements.

I had the opportunity to attend a book reading/signing with Kimmel in New York City this week and after listening to him speak, I was left with several questions as to this supposed "Guyland" and how it effects and relates to the gay community.

I haven't actually read the entire book... which probably would prove helpful. But I've taken the liberty of summarizing Kimmel's presentation last night, and to arrange my thoughts after the jump. Be forewarned it's a bit long, but I think it'll be a great launching pad for discussion. I hope y'all will take the time and read it and respond! I'm very anxious to see what everyone else has to say!

-- Summary --

Men (he disclaims that his research is primarily inquiring into the lives of predominantly white, straight, middle-class, college educated men although he also interviewed many men across racial, ethnic, and sexual orientational lines) are experiencing a new stage in the developmental process, roughly between the ages of 16-26, where they leave the rigid and structured lives under their parental supervision and into the completely unsupervised lives as "guys" during college and onward. In this "precarious world where boys become men," we have 19 year olds telling 18 year olds how to be men, "and that can't go very well." Guyland is dominated by excessive drinking, "bros before hos" brotherhood mentality, and a pervading need to "keep up" with the imagined excesses of one's peers (be it "hooking up", consuming alcohol/drugs, partying, etc.).

Kimmel also relates this development to women's relative rise in social standing and their supposed "equality." Because women are involved in almost every area in these men's lives (administration, their classrooms, academia, student organization) and are often running circles around and surpassing them, these men retreat into the safety of the brotherhood of Guyland and drift through their studies, merely passing classes but without a great sense of direction in their lives.

Women are also forced to navigate Guyland by conforming to certain expectations. In many universities, fraternities are the only Greek organizations permitted to have access to beer/alcohol at their parties, which puts them in decisive power over women's social lives. Kimmel also cites documented instances of traumatic sorority rituals called "Circle the fat" where incoming pledges are made to strip to their underwear, blindfold themselves, and lay on the floor while fraternity brothers humiliate and use permanent markers to circle the parts of their bodies deemed "needing work." So in some ways, women are forcing each other to comport their bodies into shapes that enable them entree into Guyland.

Guys drift from colleges into what Kimmel names "serial jobonomy," or the constant employment in dead end jobs with little to no momentum or aspirations. Desiring to continue the party regimen of their college years, these Guys are unable to find themselves meaning in their work or their shallow social lives. These years result in a stagnation of emotional and social development, as they continue to live in apartments after graduation with the same group of college friends, partaking in the same college antics of Guyland. Kimmel claims that most men tend to phase out of Guyland by their mid to late twenties either through recommitment to their careers, relationships, families, etc.

-- Thoughts --

On one hand I really appreciate Kimmel's research into the development of masculinity in these formational (or rather, non-formational) years in young men's lives. I think that men on a whole have never had the opportunity to really discuss or critically think about gender as women have been able to, through the various women's lib, feminist, and anti-patriarchy movements.

However, I am a little disappointed with Kimmel's focus on almost exclusively white male middle class men. While a study in hegemony is helpful, I, personally, am more interested in how more fringe groups deal with or navigate this "guyland."

Kimmel talked briefly about this:

In regards to the culture of "Hooking Up", Black and Latino men tended not to follow the same Guyland cultural scripts as many of their white male counterparts when in communities where they were numerically weak. However, this seems to change in high minority communities like Howard University and other Historically Black Colleges and Universities, where black men do engage in more Guyland-esque behavior. The reasoning behind this is that when there are fewer black people in their communities, black men are reluctant to engage in similar Guyland behavior with their "sisters" for fear of getting a negative reputation in a relatively small pool of potential partners. These nonwhite men are similarly constrained from participating with their white friends and seeking white female partners for fear of reprise from their nonwhite male peers.

Kimmel found that Asian men and Christian students did not engage in similar scripts, but rather followed more traditional "dating" behaviors. (Although, why this is is not particularly well expounded upon. I would contend that Asian men suffer from a pervasive sexual racism that exists which labels them as unmasculine, undersirable, poorly endowed, asexual beings. I remember reading a study on Asian students at Duke University that found that Asian women enjoyed relatively unencumbered social mobility where dating behavior was concerned. But Asian men were chiefly confine to other Asian women for partners. Couple this with significant cultural and family pressure to continue the family line, especially an Asian family line, it is no wonder that Asian men are more likely to seek Asian women in a more long-term marriage/nuclear-family arrangement).

More so, I am concerned with Kimmel's assertion that the most viable exit/salvation from "this perilous world" is through a return or adherence to the pervading script of the heterosexual, nuclear family structure. While Kimmel was quick to acknowledge that the form of the family does not equate the content of the family, there still seems to be a heavy emphasis on the raising of children and the seeking of capitalistic status and stability through attainment of wealth and career as the fundamental components of "manhood."

I also am keenly interested at how this supposed "Guyland" effects gay men. Is there a GayGuyland? A Fayland, as it were?

My own experiences lend me to believe that a Fayland, if even possible, would only be viable in an environment with a certain critical mass of gay men. So, if Fayland were to exist, it could only be created in gay-enclaves, most likely centered around urban areas and larger schools where the sheer size of the institutions would mean a large enough contingent of queer men to sustain such a community. Also, given the relatively late sexual awakening in many gay men (some well into their college careers, where most heterosexual men have been sexually aware/active since their high school and middle school days), it would seem to suggest that Fayland would have a longer and more fuzzy beginning and end, perhaps extending from one's 20s to their mid to late 30s or beyond.

Some of Kimmel's findings definitely seem to relate to Fayland... Gay men, especially in gay enclaves definitely become engrossed in this extended adolescence characterized by promiscuity, excessive drinking and drug use, partying, bar crawling, etc. But additionally, Gay men also seem to exhibit many of the qualities of women navigating Guyland, with an obsession on one's body and weight, up-to-date fashion, a need to exhibit an "effortless perfection."

So, has Fayland created a double vice for gay men: caught between the privilege of a gay brotherhood of endless fun and excess, while simultaneously being the cause of their own victimhood to the endless self-policing of body image and weight issues? And what, then is our saving grace, our escape from Fayland? Is it the eventual obsolescence of our beauty that forces us to become "serious" and resign to "manhood?" How does the newfound prospect of legitimacy through marriage/civil unions as an escape from Fayland? Is the replication of heterosexual family models a viable answer to this prolonged adolescence?

Please let me know what you think! I'd love to engage in a real conversation about these topics!

(...to the full post)

At a family reunion, I met my cousin’s new husband. My cousin, who was very pregnant at the time, went inside to lie down, asking me if I wouldn’t mind introducing her new hubby around.

One of the first couples I introduced him to was my cousin MP* (Butch for Mary Paige) and her partner, Netta. They’ve been together for years, and Netta is a frequent and welcome guest at all family get-togethers, even coming to gatherings alone when MP can’t make it.

As we walked away from them, Stan said, “So, I guess your cousin’s the guy, eh?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, one of them’s always the girl, and one of them’s always the guy, right?”
Wrong, I wanted to say. I was about to accuse him of projecting a heterosexual relationship pattern onto my cousin and her partner when I had a thought: It was true that Netta looked a bit more traditional—she wore skirts, had long hair, and often wore jewelry and makeup—I had never thought of it that way, and it seemed insulting somehow. But then I started thinking, is this a common perception? Is there some truth to it? Do homosexual relationships somehow just replicate heterosexual ones, with the only difference being the couple is of the same anatomical sex?

The butch/femme aesthetic has recently made its way into mainstream culture via famous butch-femme couples such as newlyweds Ellen Degeneres and Portia di Rossi. In fact, not all members of the lesbian community approve of such relationships; butch/femme subculture, it seems, is one of the most contested in the GLBT community.
In a culture that privileges visibility as a political strategy, femmes in particular are often regarded with suspicion. A femme, after all, is visually indistinguishable from a ‘typical’ heterosexual woman; she is an invisible lesbian. Other lesbians feel that femmes, in ‘passing’ are being cowardly, and shirking their political duty as lesbians to openly thwart the norm, an oppressive feminine aesthetic. Instead, they argue, femmes are reinforcing the constraints and gender stereotypes that other lesbians are trying to break down.

There are those, however, who would level the same charges at the ‘butch’ identity as well. Aren’t butches just women ‘in drag’—females trying very hard to look like heterosexual men? Aren’t they male-identified, and therefore prone to all the dominating tendencies of the gender they emulate?

But criticism doesn’t come from within the GLBT community alone. Straight homophobes have used butch/femme relationships as proof that homosexuality isn’t a real sexual orientation; rather, it’s a warped heterosexuality, a pathology that could and should be ‘cured’.

A number of theorists have written on this topic, most of them defending this sort of relationship configuration. Nestle defends butch/femme relationships, insisting that they are “complex erotic statements […] filled with deeply lesbian language of stance, dress, gesture, love, courage, and autonomy” (Butch-Femme Relationships , 97). Sue-Ellen Case indicates that butch-femme couples are more about parody than replication: They are “playfully inhabiting the camp space of irony and wit, free from biological determinism, elitist essentialism, and the heterosexist cleavage of sexual difference” (Towards a Butch-Femme Aesthetic, 128). Judith Butler points out that “butch/femme parodies the notion that there is such a thing as an ‘original’ or ‘true’ gender identity” by appropriating hetero norms and showing how they can be used subversively, i.e.: these identities do not belong to, and cannot be confined to, heterosexual relationships ( Gender Trouble,174). The juxtaposition of anatomical sex and gender, Butler believes, is real source of butch/femme desire.
The one lesbian theorist who doesn’t agree is Sheila Jeffreys, who views anything possibly modeled on heterosexuality as inherently oppressive. “Heterosexuality,” she says, “is a sexual desire that eroticizes power difference” (Unpacking Queer Politics, 86). Butch/femme desires, then, are also defined by inequality. She suggests that we need to make equality sexy instead.

There is some unintentional agreement between Butler’s and Jeffreys’s statements. As one femme quoted by Butler puts it, she likes her boys to be girls.

(...to the full post)

I've been busy recently, a new job, a number of summer-time social engagements, and obligatory family visits, which means I haven't been keeping up with the world wide web. It specifically means that I haven't been logging into Facebook, so it was a while (a month, at least) before I was personally faced with the small box at the top of my login page asking me to choose one of the following:

a) popularqueer updated her profile.
b) popularqueer updated his profile.

At the same time that Facebook was asking me to choose a gender, my new job was telling me I had to assign genders to other people, people I’d never met, people I had never seen a picture of, based solely on their name. It was explained to me that it was very important for our data wrangling and the database as a whole to include a gender marker for each entry, even if a gender was not specified. I don’t think my boss would believe me if I told her that I was uncomfortable assigning gender without consent or consultation.

The punch line to this story is that in the same week that Facebook and my job collide I had to add myself to the database. Both asked me the same question: What are you? Him or her, m or f, and in a typical fashion I refuse to answer, leaving both of my entries incomplete.

With my incomplete profiles it’s a good thing I’m not a NBC news anchor or reporter, because I would cease to exist. Of course this comment leads back to work, which is not a place I thought I would spend afternoons contemplating gender in the glow of computer monitors. This job of mine involves a good amount of internet research, most of which is dull and filled with web pages that take entirely too much time to load. When I settle in, waiting for a video to load, or the most recent news update, I actually take in what’s on my screen. It is a moment like this when I notice that at the top of my open web browser reads: “NBC New York, NY female and male news anchors.”

Yes, that is correct; NBC has female and male anchors. I almost laughed out loud reading it, thinking to myself, there must be another page for the trans and gender non-conforming anchors, knowing that was not true.

Instantly I wanted to know who decided that all web pages listing NBC affiliate anchors and reporters should mark these individuals linguistically as male and female, as if there might be some confusion about the photos that follow. As if there was not already a highly gendered system of categorization in place. I cannot think of a time that I have turned on a major network and not been faced with an anchor or reporter who did not fit into a traditional gender presentation, but maybe I just haven’t watched enough TV. You can imagine the page that follows: men with short traditional haircuts, wearing blazers and ties and women with a little too much blush, hair that falls into that acceptable range of lengths (from long to less long) and tasteful jewelry; tiled one after another in neat little squares, a visual matrix of what makes a news anchor. No chubby cheeked, nerd glasses-wearing, non-conforming faces in sight.

Facebook doesn't want to be as cut and dry as NBC, they are allowing users to choose to ignore the question, and remove gender from their profiles, but they are still implying that gender as a question can only be answered two ways. In Facebook’s attempt to gain mastery over foreign languages, languages that rely more heavily on gender-related syntax, they are transitioning from gender neutral to gendered pronouns. I have to admit that I’m angry about the change, about the confrontation, thought slightly intrigued by the presentation. Facebook isn’t explicitly asking for your gender or even the gendered pronoun you necessarily “prefer”, but which term is the most correct, whatever correct means. They aren’t forcing me to say, “I am male”; they are asking me to choose the most applicable pronoun, and as a person who only uses gendered pronouns because they are a cultural default I choose to remain with the Facebook default, themself. And I don’t really care if it’s grammatically incorrect.

(...to the full post)

This post is a response to thatspiritualguide’s recent article, “Does the Bulge Make the Man?” I wholeheartedly agree with him that one does not need a penis to be a man – just witness the vast number of people with vaginas who identify as men and who are accepted as such among their friends, family, peers and coworkers. Furthermore, I also agree with him about the uselessness of ‘penis size’ as a barometer for one’s masculinity, as an indicator of how much of a man one is. This obsession with dick size is a purely arbitrary method of reducing people’s self-esteem. Indeed, in Ancient Greece, it was considered comical and embarrassing to have a large penis, while small penises were glorified in sculptures as the pinnacle of masculine beauty. Obsessions with penis size are time-bound, culturally-specific creations that, in reality, have none of the ‘absolute’, gender-defining characteristics that many men attribute to them.

But if penis size is no barometer of manliness, and if, in fact, one does not even need a penis to be a man, how do we define ‘men’? What are they, if not creatures with a penis? Thatspiritualguide suggests a definition that has potentially dangerous consequences. He claims that a man should be defined primarily by his ‘strength’: ‘Men, whatever body parts they have, possess a core of strength. They operate from strength. This is what allows them to tough it out, to be strong, to man-up.’ Thankfully, he avoids stereotypes of traditional masculinity, by pointing out that manly strength is not about driving fast cars, climbing the ladder of economic power, emasculating other men and bedding as many women as possible. Instead, thatspiritualguide suggests that a man’s strength should be measured by his sensitivity and generosity: ‘he cares for others. He is not afraid to cry at sad movies. While some of these characteristics may sound femmy at first, let me assure that any man who is secure in his maleness can and does do these things. And it makes him all the manlier because he can do them.’ Essentially, he suggests that strong men have the courage to be gender-flexible, to appropriate so-called feminine emotions and behaviors.

While thatspiritualguide’s refined manliness may seem reassuringly progressive at first (especially when compared to the violence and misogyny that permeates ‘traditional’ masculinity), it could have very negative consequences. As I outlined in my previous post, one of the principal demands of the hegemonic discourse on gender is that there must always be a difference between men and women. Often, this difference is defined as oppositeness. Hence, in the worse case scenario, defining men as ‘strong’ will lead, almost inevitably, to the notion that women are, in some way, weak. In the best-case scenario, it will lead to the idea that women have a different kind of strength, that they cannot be strong in the way that men are strong. Hence, we have images of ‘women’s strength’ that involve things like enduring severe multi-tasking (a job, taking care of children, housework), or staying in a marriage, despite a husband’s philandering behavior. Men and women are discursively defined as different (often diametrically opposed) creatures, and defining one gender in a particular way often leads to an inability to define the other gender in that way as well. Hence, the notion of strong men easily leads to the idea of ‘not-strong’ women…

So if any attempt to define men could have negative implications for women – and vice versa – how do we define our two genders? What ‘are’ men and what ‘are’ women? An interesting option is presented in Tom Boellstorff’s article, “Playing Back the Nation”. Through an analysis of a particular transgender population in Indonesia, Boellstorff suggests that it is possible to open up the category ‘man’ to such an extent that it almost becomes meaningless and can incorporate an exceptionally broad range of behaviors and identities. He documents how the waria (a trans population in Indonesia who dress like women and take on ‘feminine’ roles in society) are still considered as ‘men’ in society and mostly identify as ‘men’ themselves. Thus, the article opens up the possibility that we may define ‘men’ in such a broad way, that the very term becomes almost utterly meaningless.

Who are men? They are strong, they are weak, they are smart, they are thick… some wear lipstick, other’s don’t, some are pricks, some are nice, some have dicks, others don’t… Men are a chaotic mess, akin to a Jackson Pollock piece – full of contrasts, contradictions and similarities. Any definition of what it means to be a man will never suffice.

***For More Information***
Definitely have a look at thatspiritualguide’s post, as well as the Boellstorff article. Otherwise, all I can do is recommend the usual: Judith Butler, Riki Wilchins, and Michel Foucault. Also, for more on penis size, have a look at the following Wikipedia article: www.wikipedia.org/Penis_size

(...to the full post)

The GOP has put the first women on their presidential ticket. Amazing, no? Well, not really, when you consider this woman is anti-woman .... anti-anyone who isn't a gun-toting, oil-loving, abstinence-only-teaching, "intelligent design"-believing, whitey mcwhite. Status quo all the way.

Surprise surprise, her world of abstinence-only education has resulted in a 17-year-old pregnant umarried daughter. What a success! And would you believe she's keeping the baby (well of course she is, otherwise this wouldn't have made into the media).

Samantha Bee of The Daily Show makes an interesting point about Republicans and that funny little word "choice"

Women like Sarah Palin frustrate me as a pro-choice, liberal feminist. Sarah Palin rose to where she is on the shoulder of feminists. The right to vote. The right to work AND be a mother. The right to choose to have five children. The right to own a gun (well, I doubt the feminists directly fought for that, but there is property ownership). And what does Palin do? Does she work hard to secure a bright future for the current generation of young women? Does she work for affordable healthcare, affordable daycare, the right to control our own bodies?

Why is it so hard for Republicans to admit that Bristol Palin made a CHOICE to have her baby, and that it was her CHOICE to make. Of course in their mind she made the "right" choice, but it was still her choice.

Sarah Palin would rather I cut out my uterus and just hand it over today for the Republican party to control.

(...to the full post)

I haven’t been in love for some time. I’d roughly estimate it at five years. In those five years I’ve basically repeated the same relationship over and over: meet someone, become interested in them, get into a relationship without knowing them well enough, watch it decay at about 3-4 months and break up. Four months is the absolute max I’ve been able to go before things ended. I’m starting to realize that this lack of love has had a serious negative affect on my personal and social life.

The last time I was in love it was tumultuous, like all times I suppose, and ended in chaos. After all the negative shit worked out we became friends again and still are to this day. For a while I wanted to take a break from relationships and just be single and date around. What started as a period of being single and self growth quickly turned into a lifestyle of distancing myself from my own need for love. And when I say need I use that word specifically because we all need love – whether it is from family, friends or romance. Casual dating started off fine but in a world as fast paced as ours it’s so easy to forget about what you need and focus on other things. I was working, I needed money, I was working on personal projects, I had trouble with my family, etc. The fact that I was consistently dating only made me less apt to see that I was (and am) avoiding love. It isn’t that I am consciously looking for short lived relationships, it’s just that somewhere deep down inside I am picking people I know aren’t right for me and I am denying myself the ability to attract or be attracted to those who are. Of course, throw in the natural streak of bad luck inherent to all dating and you have me, five years on and alone.

How do I fix this? Well, I guess this post is a start (have I said that before???). I’ve been thinking hard and I realize that I really need someone to love and to love me back. It isn’t a dependency kind of thing, I personally don’t need that person right now, but in the context of a romantic relationship it is what I should be looking for. I have to look for deep personal characteristics in people that I am strongly attracted to. I don’t need short lived flings with people I somewhat like, I don’t need physical connections instead of emotional bonds, I don’t need to date someone just because they’re cool and the opportunity presents itself and waste another three to four months that could be spent looking for someone really meaningful.

As a man it was easy for me to sink into this rigid dating structure. In the end all it did was screw me over. The longer I dated and didn’t experience deep love the more I became emotionally distant to my friends and my own life. It has become hard for me to talk with my friends about their relationships because it’s been so long since I cared enough about mine to feel what they’re feeling. I’ve distanced myself from my own heart so much that I lost track of what I really want to do in life and who I want to be. My emotional well being is the foundation of my entire existence, and to keep a protective covering over my heart only serves to stop all my desires from coming out. This is such a large factor in how men operate that when I realized how easily I succumbed to it, it ultimately didn’t surprise me. Our society is so well designed to make me settle, give me false hopes for things I shouldn’t care about to begin with, and at grinding me down day by day until I don’t even remember who I am any more that I’m just as susceptible to these evil structures as anyone else. Being a feminist and a man is an ongoing struggle of identity, hell, that’s what life is isn’t it? Luckily I have some tools to actively think about what has happened to me, and I have my fellow feminists to thank for helping me remember that.

This destruction of the self as a social creature is a very masculine trait in my opinion. People are not one hundred percent individuals. We need each other, we want each other, and we’ll always be connected. I’m largely a reflection of how people treat me and how they help me grow and change. It’s time I start meeting women who really fit what I want out of a relationship. Who provide the emotional support I want so that I can do the same for them. I’m sick to death of the way things have been. It's time I start loving again!

(...to the full post)

Creative Commons License