This is the post where I, without warning or reason, abandon the “witty observation and random pop culture references in lieu of actual humor” formula that has been the formation of our entire relationship and instead get creepily personal, divulge way more information than you're comfortable knowing about me, and set the stage for many an awkward “is she joking or is she having a breakdown” moment in the future. You will be disgusted by my cheap ploy for an emotional response, and I will be wrought with conflict over whether or not I've betrayed my target audience, and four or five years from now everyone will say this was one of their favorite articles of all time, OF ALL TIME!

So let's just skip the foreplay and go straight for the silent, uneasy morning after breakfast.

To maintain my reputation as a touchy feely bleeding heart liberal, once a week I take public transit to downtown SFO and cry, scream, and perform interpretive dance for a therapist. I've been in therapy for two months now. While it started out as a means to appease loved ones and people who were growing bored with my blog, I quickly realized how not okay at all I really was, and have slowly begun to put my faith in its usefulness.

As a youngling I hid my feelings of gender discombobulation behind a mask of sociopathic emotionlessness. I never smiled, save for photographs, and it took me a long time to find a natural-looking one that didn't scream “you me and a roll of duct tape make three”. Eventually I settled for something between “bible camp counselor” and “I just saw a guy get hit in the nuts and that is relevant to my interests”. Christmas was especially difficult, as my parents insisted on recording us opening presents, and my father would often stop recording to “remind” me to show more enthusiasm. As my previous use of quotation marks to suggest a sarcastic euphemism might imply, with my father's help I found an emotion I was comfortable expressing: anger. In fact, I became so good at expressing it that I was in anger management while in junior high, and was actually suspended for two days after the Columbine Massacre to “clear my head” and “keep me from getting any ideas”.

Anger was my sole means of relating to the “male experience”, which was convenient because my whole life I was angry at having been born in a male body. My other emotions had atrophied, and letting out a smile or a tear was so taxing on my soul. If I have a soul. The treatment LGBTs receive from others for no logical reason is convincing more and more each day that we are nothing more than DNA and shutter shades.

See, I told you this would be awkward.

Unsurprisingly, this need to share my pain with everyone around me (which was my school counselor's code phrase for “punch random people in the face”) began to shape my intake of media. I was reading The Punisher at a time when most kids were still grappling with the moral complexities of Rugrats. I avoided video games that were not violence-oriented; I didn't own a MarioKart game until I bought a Nintendo DS, which brought with it the “Dude, You're A Grown Man, Why Are You Always Picking Peach?” scandal of my early 20's, which I'm actually still in despite my reminiscient language.

Coming out tempered my anger and need for seeing people succumb to senseless violence. Despite myself, I made a conscious decision that I was going to forgive myself for all those misspent years, and that I could no longer displace my self-loathing on other people. Lennon was my favorite Beatle, after all. I should expect better from myself. After I came out (and was no longer hung up on “showing my emotions” because I had been subsequently abandoned by everyone who criticized me for it), I began to drop the “tough guy” facade and took up some of the less aggressive video games and comics (I've even become a regular reader of some comics where nobody dies ever omg). Notice how I said “aggressive” and not “violent”.

Because while Super Smash Bros and Sandman are a definite step down from Call of Duty and Sin City, they would by no means appeal to the parent concerned with stomping out any violent urges in their child. I have come to a place in my fandom where I can appreciate the cartoony fighting in Street Fighter and the heavy life-and-death situations in Watchmen without thinking “oh man, I wish I could break someone's neck like that to fill the emptiness that dwells within me”. A notable exception to this scenario is Left 4 Dead, which really doesn't count, because that's not catharsis, that's survival training. When the zombie apocalypse comes, you'll have to race Janeane Garofalo to the tactical shotgun.

While I was initially tempted to distance myself from the things I enjoyed in my “previous life” I have come to understand that aggression (and/or outright sadism) is inherent in my personality, and just as I can't go walking around with it turned to 11, I also can't smother it. That much I figured out without therapy. However, the transition from “first born desperately finding a sport they excel at to attain the father's approval they will never have” to “glamazon feminist with only one pair of flats in her whole collection girl power yeah!!!!” has left me somewhat unable to relate to people, in social situations or in private.

Stripped of my “caustic jerkass with a heart of gold” costume, I find myself struggling to participate in even the most menial of discussions, often sitting for an hour without making so much as the “obligatory laugh to show that you're humorous anecdote has been acknowledged”. When people comment on my appearance, my first response is to deflect or change the subject. Like an alligator (or is it a crocodile) at a watering hole, I wait for someone to bring up a topic that I am interested in, and then speak way too loud than is comfortable for other people's ears on what I think about the topic, only to creep back into the water once I've made my point. I have been known to “make coffee for everyone” even when nobody wants or drinks it. I have difficulties with being introduced to new people, and will often have bouts of anxiety when friends bring unannounced friends with them to the house. If I can't punch you or fuck you, I have a hard time figuring out what to do with you.

I am conflicted with how to express and communicate my gender in social situations. On the one hand, I can't say “women act this way, so I should act this way” because that only enforces the oppressive gender binary and would ultimately be trading one puppet show for another. But on the other, I crave more validation than reading feminist literature alone in the basement can offer. But how and where do I find that? I cannot tell where mimicing learned behavior ends and where being “myself” begins. I still can't decide on a fitting middle name for myself. How the fuck am I supposed to know “who I am”? I know that I am a woman. But the farther I progress in my transition, and the more I reject the conventional trappings of womanhood, I'm missing out on what that means for me. My “cynic sense” tingles as I write this, suggesting that someone reading this believes that this is proof that I just don't “get it” or that I'm not “really trans”. FYI, fuck you.

I've thought of joining a trans support group, or a roller derby team. In a perfect world I'd get to do both, once I stop putting my friends straight to voicemail. I hate my voice and have considered learning ASL and pretending that I'm mute (just have to make sure nobody I pull this on ever sees my band perform). Despite my best intentions, I cannot shake the feeling that I still look, sound, and act like a man, and cannot seem to convince myself that being invisible is not a more viable option than making friends, for making friends and forming romantic relationships might leave me vulnerable and force me to open up, something I have been trained my whole life not to do. Nobody likes an ice queen. Unless their fridge breaks down. Or they like temperature play. No. Stop it. I've decided to give myself the weekend to mull over the benefits of going to a support group, and if it will give me a room to open up and be awkward about it. The internet has sort of burned me out on “group share time”. Everyone's got their own glistening snowflake of an opinion and is just so eager to let you have a piece. I fear the meatspace won't be any better.

While I let the voices in my head debate over that, I'm going to devote more time to my art and writing, hoping that if I express myself clearly enough through my art I won't have to in day to day discussion and person to person relationships.

Transfeminist and I are in the early process of launching our own label, Cowgirl Astronaut Comics, the first queer trans feminist comic label run by bloggers that works exclusively in webcomics. Webcomics, my cherubs, are the future. One day we will not need to scavenge for the occasional niblet of acknowledgement from the mainstream. We will have hundreds upon hundreds (dare I say an “oodle”) of queer and trans friendly comics on the web, and it will only cost you an internet connection and 1/12th of the time spent looking at lolcats. Consumerism is so heternormative anyway.

I have been encouraged to keep a poetry journal to detail my feelings about therapy and my transition. If I can read my poems out loud in a support group, than maybe I could have my cake and have sex with it too. Wait. No. Yes. I got it right.
Perhaps that is where people like are best fit; contributing to the media representation of the culture and community and without having to interact with it. It would explain why so many LGBT writers and bloggers and celebrities get caught saying the most problematic of bullshit in their off time. You know who you are.

This article is going nowhere. Like an Orson Scott Card novel. I guess the moral of the story is that while it makes a good magazine story, some of us do not transition to “be happy”. Some of us are compelled to do it, to balance the unironically crooked painting, knowing full well that doing so may harsh our spiritual and psychological mellows. I might be in therapy for the rest of my natural born life. But will it all be worth in the name of gender euphoria? Probably. I think so.

Thank you for joining us for this very special episode of Bitchzarro. Join us next week when I ask Wolverine what all those “cigars” are about!

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+ news +

Ali Saleem takes Pakistan by queer storm!,
post-AMA Lambert Chris Brown drama,
and Mike Penner (LA Times Sportswriter that came out as trans), commits suicide for the week.

A number of really terrific new writers in the works. Hope everyone who celebrated Thanksgiving had a good one!
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"Boyhood Studies"

One of my big research interests is the "boy crisis." It's always fun to read articles about boys and how they're all failing schools, and it's interesting to note the differences and similarities in how this topic is addressed on various media platforms.

Most recently, The Chronicle of Higher Education (you can guess the readership) published a piece called "The Puzzle of Boys," which was an attempt at a more encompassing take on contemporary work about why boys are falling behind in schools. The article provides some persuasive background regarding the predominance of masculinist thought in the history of "boyhood studies"; masculinist perspectives rely on "essentials" or "hard-wired" facts about boys vs. girls to justify educational changes based on gender differences.

A former professor of mine and writer at Mama PhD provided some nice commentary about the piece and offered that perhaps we should consider that certain hypermasculine spaces and ideals are not fit for all boys. The argument here extends, I think, into commentary about how debates about what is "right" for boys eventually becomes what is right for certain boys. Pieces about all boys and all girls can in many ways be essentializing stories that serve to Other boys within the boy category.

But for me, the most annoying piece of nearly all news articles about the "boy crisis" and particularly annoying coming from an academically-oriented publication like the Chronicle, I find the lack of attention to intersections of race and class to be unethical. Statistics are everywhere that show how the "boy falling behind girls" issue is really only an problem as far as educational achievement goes among poorer boys and among Black and Latino boys. One in four black boys graduates from high school, and Black and Latino women are far more represented in colleges than Black and Latino men. And among wealthy children, boys of all races are overrepresented in higher education. What does this mean? It means that we can't really claim that there are innate characteristics about boys that affect their educational performance on certain topics. It means that we can't justify transforming the classroom into something like a sports field, as some authors have suggested, in order to help all boys learn better about the topic.

It means that not all boys are the same.

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AJ joins us from Feminists For Choice:

This has been an exciting week when it comes to men, masculinity, and feminism. From so called “men’s rights” groups, to male feminists strategizing about ways in which masculinity can be redefined; the male-feminist hype has definitely surfaced. I’ve always operated from the assumption that men are completely capable of being feminists. Hell…i’m a feminist. With that being said, things tend to get tricky once you move past the basics.

Can feminist men contribute to feminism? If so, to what extent? Do men threaten the feminist agenda? How do the perspectives of queer men differ from heterosexual men, and what does that mean in terms of feminism? Is rejecting hegemonic notions of masculinity enough? The litany of questions could go on for days, and the responses to those questions could last even longer.

The point I want to make is that this shit is complicated. Feminist men have a responsibility to come to terms with the privilege that is associated with their assumed position under patriarchy; a process that is most certainly not easy. It requires a great deal of unlearning, questioning, and internal struggle. When you spend your entire life conditioned into a socialized masculinity, it becomes difficult to break from that mold. This is particularly true in a culture that threatens men who don’t conform to heterosexist standards. Hell, I can recall exactly what it was like to be a closeted gay man in high school. I remained conscious at every moment about the way that I walked, talked, laughed, stared. I self policed myself because I knew that if I didn’t, there would be hell to pay. Picking my face up off the locker room floor every day of gym class wasn’t an option. Repressing my authentic self, on the other hand, was the easiest way I knew how to protect myself.

I am a feminist because I don’t think that anyone should have to live that way. Feminism isn’t just about women. It is about the ways in which we are all implicated by power structures, norms, and unrealistic expectations. Clearly there is plenty of room for men in feminism. The more important question becomes…where do we go from here?

This was a reoccurring question at last weeks unprecedented event on St. John’s University campus in Collegeville, Minnesota. The National Conference for Campus-Based Men’s Gender Equality and Anti-Violence Groups gathered a room full of men to brainstorm the detrimental expectations associated with hegemonic masculinity. Over 200 individuals from nearly 40 different colleges and multiple organizations were in attendance. Courtney E. Martin offers some critical analysis of the event,

"This contemporary movement of gender-conscious young men is largely identifying themselves in terms of what they are against. They’re not rapists. They’re not misogynists.

They’re also not particularly effective in imagining what they do want to be. Case in point: back to Wong at the chalkboard. The negative associations with masculinity poured off the tongues of these feminist-friendly college kids. They’ve taken Women’s Studies 101. When their buddy says, “That’s so gay,” they spit back, “That’s a sexual identity, not a dis.” They let a few tears fall during the Take Back the Night March. They devour Michael Kimmel’s Guyland and proselytize about Byron Hurt’s documentary, Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes. This generation is saying no to toxic masculinity.

But what are these young men saying yes too? We’ve all failed to envision an alternative."

Although I agree with a large majority of what Courtney is saying, part of me thinks we should cut the guys a little slack. I mean, we have to start somewhere, don’t we? In fact, many great feminist thinkers have made the argument that it is necessary for us to reject old systems of thinking before laying out a blueprint of the future. Revolution isn’t easy, and it most certainly doesn’t happen over night, however; I do understand where Courtney is coming from. As feminist men, if all our time is spent on problematizing masculinity and defining what we are not, then when are we going to decide what we are?

In asking this question, I think we have to be cautious about how we totalize feminism. There is no ONE male identity. There is no ONE feminist identity. So I think we can assume that there can be no ONE male-feminist identity. Assuming a category of “acceptable” masculinity assumes that we even know what the hell masculinity and femininity is. Let’s be real: we don’t.

Progressive men all over this country are redefining their lives in a meaningful way. They are rejecting old notions of masculinity and involving themselves in a struggle to end gender based discrimination. I can’t predict where we will go from here, however; I can hope that we see a little less ‘men’s rights groups’ and a little more feminist identified men.

Here are some personal suggestions of mine on how to bridge the gap between men and feminism:

1. Don’t believe the hype. Feminists aren’t man-hating militants. Just because you’ve met one of them doesn’t mean they are the poster child of the feminist movement. Speaking from personal experience as a gay man, the feminist community has, with out a doubt, been the most welcoming place I have ever found.

2. Give stereotypes the boot. Meeting social expectations of what we should or shouldn’t be keeps us from finding our authentic self. The best way to redefine masculinity in a progressive way… is to stop defining it. We don’t need a definition to make ourselves better human beings.

3. Come to terms with your male privilege. This is probably one of the most difficult tasks. It requires a great deal of self reflection; in fact, chances are that you won’t like what you see at first. Absent this difficult and painful task, feminist men are destined to replicate the same old sexist behavior.

4. Become an active member in the feminist struggle, rather than a passive consumer. There is no excuse to scapegoat your responsibility for the oppressive socio-political structure that we live under. Get your ass moving and find out how to make a difference.

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Today is the eleventh annual Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), a day when trans people and allies are encouraged to pause and remember the people who have died in the previous year for the simple crime of being trans (or even, in the case of one person on this year's list, loving a trans person.) Today events will be held all around the world to memorialize, celebrate, and educate people about the lives of trans people and the all-to-often fatal prejudice they face.

Which isn't to say that there aren't controversies even inside the trans community about TDOR. Some people find it overly morbid--that by making our annual celebration about people who have been killed, we make ourselves out to be victims, not strong people struggling against sometimes impossible barriers. (I once heard a transsexual woman describe the day as a "pity party.") Another criticism is that we should be celebrating our lives, not our deaths--that people who are trans and live "normal" or "successful" lives should be the focus of our celebration, not the unfortunates that died.

But not me. Perhaps I've been radicalized, but to me, TDOR is no more morbid or a "pity party" than anti-rape or anti-domestic violence rallies are for women. If there is something morbid about the various TDOR events, then perhaps that is the fault of how they are structured, rather than the idea behind TDOR. For me, an event like TDOR should serve as a rallying cry: a day to stand up, demand that trans people be treated like human beings and not targets, and to reengage in the struggle to never let it happen again.

It's no accident that these criticisms tend to come from trans people who have successfully transitioned or otherwise carved out a comfortable place for themselves in the world--and the people on the TDOR memorial lists often had not...or at least never gotten the chance to. But for me the fact that so many of the victims who are the Remembered on TDOR weren't successful is why we should remember them in the first place.

Because the simple fact remains that many of the people on the list were sex workers, or poor, or people of color, or all of the above--and there is a certain rough analogue to the slut-shaming that rape victims often suffer for these people. Trans people of "respectable" circumstances, who aren't poor or sex workers or even people of color, sometimes sniff at having to treat the latest ghastly story of a trans prostitute murdered by an angry john as "one of our own." After all, they were prostitutes, right? They should have known better--a convenient erasure of what it is like to be poor, what it is like to suffer the effects of both transphobia and racism, of the dreary cycle of poverty that sucks so many people, trans or not, into sex work.

It is the List itself that makes TDOR important. Because for all the talk about "celebrating our lives," when was the last time that a trans person of color was profiled--there is plenty of room to "celebrate" the transitions of Jennifer Finney Boylan, Chloe Prince or Susan Stanton, but not Monica Roberts or Pauline Park? (Even more frustrating when you consider the last two are long-time activists.) Sadly, it seems, the only way a trans person of color can be assured of being remembered is to be murdered. And that is why we need TDOR, and should remember these dead--because they are us, and because they are invisible, and because it should never happen again.

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Recently I’ve found Scotty and Kevin’s relationship on Brothers & Sisters to be a bit boring, but I did appreciate a recent episode where they talked about the online search process for surrogacy. In this episode, the couple mulls over a searching form that, as Kevin notes, looks a lot like the the process to find a trick on an internet dating site. Search by race? Various sizes? Eye color? Job and income? “No,” they hesitantly conclude together. A baby is a baby, right?

This is a bit of an old debate for everyone, not just same-sex couples, but it’s still one that deserves dialogue. To the point, what I find most interesting is that few people seem to acknowledge the relationship between partner selection and procreation…in a way that would perhaps make Scotty and Kevin’s actual use of search parameters less sinister and closer to reality for heterosexual couples.

Various contributors on Below the Belt have talked at great length about sexual racism and partner selection, and I’ve touched a little bit on sexual typing and the meaning of cultural images in dating choices in ways that might resemble fetishes. And although our conversations were largely gay-specific, a recent study from sociologists at UC-Irvine confirmed that most of our assessments about gay dating are actually reflected among heterosexuals, too. Dr. Feliciano, a researcher on the project, expressed that media perceptions about gender and race affect dating preferences. In short, many people use internalized versions of these web-based dating search engines when making everyday decisions about who we date.

So what I think is tricky to connect here but is really worth discussing is the slippery slope between partner choice and anticipated procreation. To what extent do dating preferences (for those hoping to be in a relationship that will ultimately result in “family” and having kids) also extend to preferences about the child? To what extent do people who only date (other) white people secretly only want to have a white kid? Or a smart kid? Or a kid without a disability? Or a femmey or gay son? Are these thoughts part of our partner selection process?

I admit it’s much more complicated than I make it sound because partners are not always selected with the intent to find a relationship that results in a child. But for a lot of us folks that buy into the desire to have a family and raise kids, this is important. In addition to the debates about sexual racism and other ethics of attraction, we have to consider these other layers that ultimately guide the construction of family.

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In spite of efforts made by anti-gay marriage advocates, New York State's highest court ruled unanimously against the challenge, which would have revoked the recognition of same-sex marriages performed outside of New York, as reported by the New York Times.

In their majority ruling, four of the seven members of the court said they were making their decision on narrow grounds involving the specifics of each case, and not settling the broader question of whether same-sex marriages performed in other states should be recognized. Judge Eugene F. Pigott Jr., writing for the majority, expressed “hope that the Legislature will address this controversy.”
But in a concurring decision, three of the justices said that the court should have addressed the wider issue because New York law already allows for the recognition of marriages that are considered legal elsewhere.
Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, who wrote the concurring decision, said “that the orders under review should be affirmed on the ground that same-sex marriages, valid where performed, are entitled to full legal recognition in New York under our state’s longstanding marriage recognition rule.”
The ruling leaves open the possibility that there could be future challenges on the issue in New York.
New York Governor Patterson, in what is widely believed to be an attempt to build support for his upcoming race for re-election, has pushed vigorously for a vote on marriage equality rights in the state. However, most sources state that democrats are far from the 32 votes required for a victory in the Senate, with conservative Democrats siding with social conservative Republicans. Some have advocated for a vote regardless of a win, while other caution against yet another legislative loss after the upsetting revocation of marriage rights in Maine for same-sex couples.
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Historicizing Heterosexuality

Until recently, Le Petit Robert (the French equivalent of the Oxford English Dictionary) defined “heterosexuals” as people who experience a normal sexual appetite for individuals of the opposite sex. This perspective is still widespread in modern social discourse, which assumes that sex between a man and a woman is the only natural and healthy form of sexual expression. Heterosexuality is conceived as having its origins primarily in human physical makeup – in genes, hormones and brain structures. It is thus frequently portrayed as a transhistorical and transcultural sexual orientation: most humans have had a “healthy” attraction to the other sex and most human societies have organized sexual and amorous relations primarily on the basis of man-woman coupling. Given that heterosexuality is hard-wired into our biology as the basis for reproduction, it could hardly have been otherwise: the cultural dominance of heterosexuality is inevitable and unchangeable.

In his book, The Invention of Heterosexual Culture (L’Invention de la Culture Hétérosexuelle), French scholar and activist Louis-Georges Tin puts forward an ambitious challenge to these dominant ideas about heterosexuality. He explodes the assumption that all human societies have prioritized love and sexual relations between men and women by showing that heterosexual pairings were valued very differently throughout history. More specifically, Tin provides an astute historical analysis of medieval and early modern French literature and culture, in which he argues that the valorization and exaltation of love and sex between men and women only started in the 12th Century and did not become dominant until the 16th Century. Previously, heterosexual marriage was considered an economic and social duty, but the male-female couple was by no means glamorized or placed on a pedestal as the highest point of love, passion, friendship and affection. Indeed, the eventual rise in prestige of the heterosexual dyad was challenged and resisted by various other cultural discourses about sexuality, companionship and love that were widespread in Western Europe during the Middle Ages: (1) homosociality and passionate friendships between knights and men of war; (2) love of God through celibacy, which was promoted by the church; and (3) the medieval medical idea that love itself is a serious illness.

Theorizing Heterosexuality

Tin’s historical intervention is founded on an alternative theorization of heterosexuality, which sets up a distinction between heterosexual practice and heterosexual culture. He defines the former as sex between a man and a woman involving contact between the vagina and the penis. This practice is “universal” and found in all human societies, since it provides “the biological basis” for reproduction (9-10). Human societies could not have survived without it. On the other hand, the widespread existence of heterosexual practice does not necessarily imply that all societies have been organized around a heterosexual culture, which Tin describes as the constant and widespread “portrayal, encouragement, and celebration” of the “man-woman couple” and its depiction as the only valid form of sexual and amorous relations (9).

One only has to examine the deluge of poems, stories, films, novels, and paintings, and other works of art that have been devoted to promoting and exalting love and sex between men and women, in order to understand that 20th Century Western culture was extremely heterosexual. During this time, it was very difficult to contest the idea that “the purpose of a man is to love a woman, and the purpose of a woman is to love a man” (10). Nevertheless, there were many societies throughout history that took a different perspective on love and sexual relations. While recognizing that marriage and heterosexual practice had supposedly “useful” functions (reproduction, subordination of women, economic exchange), cultural elites in these societies did not view it as the best, most valuable and most passionate form of love, friendship and sexual relations.

Homosocial and Anti-Sexual Cultures of Medieval France

According to Tin, medieval France was an example of such a society. Upper caste feudal culture had “an exclusively masculine basis,” in which “virile” friendships between men (particularly knights and warriors) “often became passionate relationships that lasted until death” (15). In cultural representations, these friendships were “expressed in very strong language, which mixed sentimental tenderness with military vigor” in a way that “modern socio-sexual discourse” would find unthinkable (15). In this homosocial society, “normal love, the kind of love that causes individuals to lose themselves in sacrifice” for another person was considered to be possible mostly between two men (15).

This perspective is prevalent in the cultural productions of the period. In The Song of Roland, the oldest surviving major work of French literature, the exceptionally close friendship between Roland and Olivier figures prominently in the story. For instance, in the heat of a battle, Roland sees Oliver get struck down. The sight of his friend “all bloody and blue” causes Roland, who is otherwise portrayed as a paragon “of courage and virility,” to “faint on his horse” (17). He eventually manages to make it to his friend’s side, and Olivier dies in Roland’s passionate embrace, which is described as “a burst of love” (17). French literary critics have made much of the relationship between Roland and his wife, Aude, but her place in the story is considerably less prominent than Olivier’s. She is presented in only 29 lines of the epic poem (out of 4,002) and functions, in a highly patriarchal manner, as an object of exchange that confirms Roland and Olivier’s friendship. Aude is, in fact, Olivier’s sister, and she is “given” to Roland by Olivier as a way of “reinforcing the link between the two” men (21). Thus, the main, although probably non-sexual, love story in The Song of Roland is between Roland and Olivier, not Roland and Aude. According to Tin, there are “innumerable examples” of similar passionate male-male friendships in medieval French literature (26).

For instance, in the Arthurian legend, Lancelot, the story is organized around “the double relation between, on the one hand, Lancelot and the queen [Guinevere], and on the other hand, Lancelot and his friend Galehot” (36). Galehot is clearly in love with Lancelot: when the Lancelot falls asleep Galehot quietly lies down next to him and passes the night secretly by his side. He says that, “he loves [Lancelot] more than any earthly riches,” and seems prepared to do anything for his friend, including setting him up for marriage with the woman he loves, Guinevere (37). The only condition that Galehot places on the marriage is that he be allowed to have one last night with Lancelot, in the same bed. Although there is no way of verifying whether the relationship between Lancelot and Galehot was of a sexual nature, it is evident that they are engaging in a level of passionate (although probably platonic) love and intimacy that modern social discourse makes us believe is unimaginable between two virile male warriors.

In addition to this valorization of seemingly platonic male-male friendships, the Christian church in medieval French society also viewed celibacy and abstention from sexual relations as superior to heterosexual marriage. “Marriage populates the Earth; virgins populate heaven” – this adage, first formulated by Saint Jerome, was “repeated unceasingly” throughout the Middle Ages (75). And the cultural productions of the time clearly show that celibacy was highly valued. For example, in The Travels of Marco Polo, Polo writes approvingly of an old hermit who, “having read in the Bible that it is better to gouge out one’s eyes if the eyes encourage sinning,” proceeded to cut out his own out in order to avoid looking at beautiful women (76). He would go that far to preserve his celibacy because the superior form of love was considered to be love of God, which the “believer” expressed by “consecrating his or her chastity” to the deity (75). Given that celibacy was considered to be the best guarantee of spiritual love and a strong relationship with God, the church forbade its clergy to marry and encouraged its followers to do the same.

Furthermore, popular stories and legends were often revised to include positive portrayals of the renunciation of sexual earthly pleasures. For instance, the last few pages of The Death of King Arthur show Lancelot “renouncing human love, retiring to a monastery, becoming a priest...fasting, abstaining from sex [and] praying” (85). When Lancelot dies, “everyone mourns him,” and he is buried right next to his best friend, Galehot (85). Of course, just like the homosocial valuation of close friendships (above), the church’s obsession with celibacy was motivated by a considerable amount of misogyny: men were encouraged to be celibate not just as a way of getting closer to God, but also in order to avoid exposing themselves to women and the alleged “danger" (in terms of encouraging men to engage in ungodly sexual acts) that they posed.

Finally, according to Tin, “love and pleasures of the flesh were…also [considered to be] bad from a medical perspective” (142). For doctors of that period, love was “comparable to other potentially pathological practices, such as drinking alcohol” (144). They assumed that too much love could lead to an “inflammation of the liver and the blood,” which causes a general overheating of the body (147). In men, this “love sickness” could have serious consequences for the body, such as a slowing of the pulse, weight loss, insomnia, sleepiness, digestive problems, and inability to react to stimuli (148). For women, it was thought that the situation could get even more serious: the assumption was that “the woman is by nature weaker than the man,” and thus, more susceptible to pathologically falling in love and overheating (148). The consequences of this for women’s bodies were considered to be far more severe. At the time, doctors thought that a woman who was “strongly heated by an extraordinary desire, could eventually acquire masculine sexual characteristics, such as…a virile voice and a beard” (151). Furthermore, an excess of love and passion could also cause a woman to produce semen. And if the semen “remain[ed] unused, it could accumulate in the uterus along with menstrual blood, go foul, and cause irritation in the inner linings of the vagina” (153). This was considered to be the leading cause of “hysteria” and “erotic melancholy” among women (153). On the whole, medieval medical discourse was decidedly anti-sexual: it pathologized excessive love and passion between men and women, while encouraging a moderate, subdued approach to sexuality that bordered on celibacy.

The Rise of Heterosexual Culture

Nevertheless, the homosocial and anti-sexual cultures that dominated medieval society were largely displaced by the 16th Century. Heterosexual culture, or the glorification and exaltation of the man-woman couple, had become the most prominent discourse on love, sex and friendship in France. And it is still dominant today, as evidenced by the stream of “children’s stories, adult novels, films and T.V. shows, journals and magazines, advertisements and pop songs” that portray, propagate and celebrate the male-female couple (6).

In the 12th Century, more refined court culture had begun to slowly replace chivalric military culture as the primary inspiration for poetry, plays, epic poems and songs. Unlike the military world, which was almost exclusively male and masculine, the world of the court featured females and femininity prominently. In this context, "courtly love" between men and women "became…a quasi-obsessional recurring theme" in the poetry, music and literature of the period (28). The story lines usually went as follows: a man and a married woman would fall in love, but the woman's husband and family would forbid their relationship. How the couple negotiated this predicament was subsequently the major theme, and the poem would usually unfurl in passionate erotic language, which in particular, "celebrated [and] exalted" the woman's physical beauty (40). According to Tin, court culture introduced a veritable "revolution" in medieval life, and by the end of the 16th Century; it managed to replace homosocial masculine friendships with heterosexual affairs as the social centerpiece of love and intimacy.

The Catholic Church also changed its attitudes to heterosexuality. With court culture and heterosexual erotic poetry becoming more and more popular since the 12th Century, the church increasingly had trouble promoting celibacy. It thus attempted to regulate the burgeoning heterosexual culture by bringing it – with many strings attached – into the religious fold. Marriage was reluctantly made into a sacrament and poets were encouraged to channel their admiration of women into chaste songs of praise for the Virgin Mary, instead of for married women. While the clergy initially resisted heterosexual culture, they eventually realized that it had become a permanent feature of the social landscape and that the best way to regulate it would be to accept it as a cornerstone of church doctrine.

Finally, anti-(hetero)sexual attitudes also waned in the medical sphere. By the 16th Century, sex was perceived more as a cure than a disease: "when a woman was affected by love sickness, an increasing number of doctors recommended that she have sex with a man as a way of treating it" (155). Whereas previous cures for the illness included "bloodletting" and "the induction of vomiting," Renaissance medicine would often recommend that a spouse be found for the sick person and that the two people should consummate their relationship as soon as possible (157).

Overall, by the 16th Century heterosexual culture largely replaced medieval homosocial and anti-sexual ideas as the main way of organizing sexuality, love and friendship in French society. The construction of what Tin calls “the heterosexual empire,” or the symbolic primacy and constant propagation of man-woman relations, was virtually complete by that point (6).

Some Criticisms of Tin’s Book

While Tin demonstrates convincingly that medieval French society did not exalt sexual, amorous and friendship relations between men and women, he does not attempt to explain why heterosexual culture emerged as a challenge this perspective and why it became the dominant way of organizing sexual and amorous relations by the 16th Century. He astutely describes how heterosexual culture seeped into, and eventually took over, most of the cultural productions of the early modern period: epic poems, tragedies, comedies, philosophy, novels, and medical discourse. But he does not speculate on the reasons why this happened. This may be due to time and space constraints: as Tin himself points out, “the scope of the subject is so vast that it would, of course, be impossible to address everything” in one book (190). Indeed, a comprehensive treatment of the topic of heterosexual culture would require “several volumes” of work and an “ample library” of sources. But neither of these are currently obtainable, since The Invention of Heterosexual Culture is actually “the first book published in French on the history of heterosexuality” (190).

Nevertheless, I do not think that we should excuse the lack of explanations for the rise of heterosexual culture because of this. Tin could have at least tried to speculate on some possible reasons why heterosexual culture emerged and became so dominant in France and the rest of Europe after the 12th Century. It is especially important to note, in this context, that he had no trouble coming up with a list of factors, which purported explain why there was such a strong emphasis on male-male friendships in the Middle Ages. On pages 26-28, he describes “the historical conditions that favored the development” of widespread homosociality during this period as follows: (1) Misogyny – “women were pushed to the side and mattered little” – they were viewed primarily as objects of exchange, who could stir sexual interests, but not true love or passion; (2) The need to avoid conflicts – close relationships between knights and male warriors were a way of ensuring unity and social peace in a violent and fragmented political context, and friends were often bound together publicly by an “unwritten contract,” which usually involved an exchange of women and mutual promises; (3) Royal power – the King needed a permanent army of “unmarried young men,” who would be able to defend “his territory” – married men would be more difficult to mobilize and the cult of intense male-male friendship served to make the single-sex warrior life more attractive and to reinforce “solidarity” among the soldiers; (4) The brutality of medieval life – “sentimental” friendships between men brought some of the few moments of affection and “tenderness” in feudal society. In a violent social context, having knights who “hug and kiss each other…and sometimes spend the night together” was a welcome respite from everyday brutalities.

Tin was thus able to propose some historical factors, which could explain why homosocial relationships were so popular in medieval France. But why did he not endeavor to do the same for the heterosexual culture that became so dominant after the 12th Century? Could he have at least speculated on some of the potential causes of the increase in valorization and exaltation of heterosexuality? Could he have even argued that the rise of heterosexual culture may have been caused by the declining importance of the four conditions (see above) that promoted homosociality? Given that Tin’s stated purpose is to de-naturalize heterosexual culture by exposing its historical contingency and variability, he would have done well to reflect more on why heterosexual culture has existed in some periods and some societies, but not in others.

Furthermore, in a theoretical sense, Tin does not deal at all with the issue of heterosexual identity. His distinction between heterosexual practice and heterosexual culture is certainly useful, in that it sets up a distinction between sexuality as a specific type of action and sexuality as a normative social discourse, which defines what the legitimate and desirable forms of love, sex and coupling are at any given time. This dichotomy enables Tin to effectively critique the anti-democratic and highly limiting discourse of heterosexual culture, while at the same time, remaining neutral about the practice of sex between men and women. Nevertheless, it is strange that a book about the history of heterosexuality hardly deals with the issue of heterosexual identity. Many interesting questions could have been asked on this point. For instance, Foucault argued that homosexuality only emerged as a personal identity in the late 20th Century and that this was made possible by changes in medical discourse, which posited sexuality as a form of being, rather than an action – is the same true for heterosexuality? At what point did people start to identify as "heterosexuals" and how did they define themselves in relation to the homosexual "other"? Given time and space constraints, it is perhaps understandable that Tin did not deal with this question. Nevertheless, the book has left me wondering about them.

Conclusion: Studying the Heterosexual Empire

Nevertheless, despite the above-mentioned flaws, Tin’s book is an excellent introduction to the history of heterosexuality and the practice of historicizing sexual relations in general. It is also a fascinating read for anyone who is interested in early modern French literature, as it offers crucial re-readings of several canonical authors from the perspective of gender and sexuality studies. The book has the added advantage of being written in a clear-but-complex language, which makes it very accessible for beginners, while at the same, holding the attention of specialists and other readers who are already familiar with the subject matter.

Finally, it is impossible to overemphasize the significance of The Invention of Heterosexual Culture from an activist point of view. The book sets out to destroy a major aspect of heterosexual privilege: the freedom from having this particular sexual orientation queried, studied, and questioned. For too long, homosexuality and sexual fetishes have been the sole objects of scientific, sociological and psychological analysis, while heterosexuality has been left unexamined. It was simply assumed that sexual relations between men and women, the monogamous heterosexual coupling on which society is founded, and the constant cultural glorification of man-woman relationships, were all perfectly natural and required no analysis and no explanation. Only the presumably pathological (homosexuality and other non-heterosexual sexualities) was considered in need of academic inquiry. Tin’s book rightly brings heterosexuality down from its pedestal and puts it to serious scrutiny.

***For More Information***

Louis-Georges Tin is a well-known French LGBT activist and scholar. His academic training is in medieval and early modern French literature and society, but he has also published three books about sexuality: Homosexualités – Expression/Repression, The Dictionary of Homophobia: A Global History of Gay and Lesbian Experience, and L’Invention de la Culture Hétérosexuelle. He is also the founder of the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) and a writer for the French newspaper, Liberation. You can find some interviews with him (in both French and English) here and you can read his blog about heterosexuality (in French) here. As yet, there are no plans to translate The Invention of Heterosexual Culture into English, but my next post will take a look at some of the English-language literature on the historical and theoretical study of heterosexuality and homosociality. I will, in particular, aim to compare this literature to Tin’s contribution and to see whether it can offer some explanations for the emergence and dominance of heterosexual culture.

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Discouraging news regarding the newly trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) bill which was scheduled to receive a mark up from the House Committee on Education and Labor this wednesday has been put on indefinite hiatus. Jillian Weiss of the Bilerico Project says more:

I had posted on Wednesday about rumors of a possible slow-down on ENDA. DC insiders said there was no slow-down, and that the bill is "on track." However, it appeared, after comparing statements made when the bill was introduced with later statements, that the House vote, initially thought to be in October or November, was now being discussed in a "December or February" timeframe. That would put the bill up before the Senate during midterm election campaigns, which could make it more difficult to gain support among conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans.
Since the House is not in session next week, the earliest date for markup would be in December. That would make it difficult to obtain a House vote on ENDA before year's end. 

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Thawing to a Close

After a month of avoiding my topics of expertise, I think it's best we just dive right into the geek jargon and misguided extrapolation of socio-sexual themes in picture books of men in tight underoos.

A math professor whose name and likeness I've purged from memory to make room for obscure slang and fantasies involving Masuimi Max once said that a mathemetician's job was “to simplify”. I really wish I could identify the peddler of such mindwipingly stupid misinformation, because looking back upon my life it is definitely in the top five fattest fucking lies I've ever been told. Every subsequent math class ever served only to illustrate just how arbitrarily complicated they could make math for students, for no other reason than to keep them occupied for fifty minutes a day. In college I had to make a venn diagram to show why barking was evidence enough to prove that Max was a dog. Moral of the story: I picked a hell of a year to go broke and not afford any hard drugs.

For me, the only facet of human knowledge that actively seeks to simplify itself is language ('ll feed you, my cherubs, just bear with me). It's perhaps most evident in the analysis in fiction/media, where over time we have as an audience identified and analyzed “tropes”, explaining plot conventions and media trends into short two or three-word phrases in lieu of paragraph-long definitions. These often have catchy, memorable names like Jumping The Shark, Pet The Dog, and Bikini Chain Mail (I'm almost positive that at least one of those is the name of a band I auditioned for in college). Depending on how widespread these expressions become, they can succeed in simplifying and modifying the language of those who observe and partake in the media these trends occur in (which, in the case of television, is like, a lot of people).

Where am I going with this? Absolutely nowhere. That was all just smarty talk back story for the real topic we're covering today: a disturbingly common trope in fiction known colloquially as Women In Refrigerators. WiR denotes the phenomenon where female supporting characters (usually the “love interest” but can sometimes be the daughter, sister, etc) are murdered/beaten/tortured/thrown through a wormhole in time to be eaten alive by velociraptors by the antagonist for seemingly no other reason than to hurt or aggravate the male protagonist. The trope was coined by writer Gail Simone and derives its name from an issue of Green Lantern, where Kyle Rayner comes home to find that his girlfriend Alex has been murdered by Major Force and stuffed into the fridge. While prolific, by 1999 this trend had become, as we say on the interwebz, “old meme”. Icing the leading lady to get a reaction out of the protagonist is at least as old as Shakespeare, and perhaps older; if you're read up on your classic mythology.

WiR reached its height in usage during Identity Crisis, where Sue Dibny, the wife of Elongated Man and one of the most beloved secondary characters in comic history, was raped and murdered for no other reason than to sate the curiousity of DC executives who were eager to see how a “rape story” would go over with their audience, because you know, they had that whole comic book thing down so well they thought they'd branch out. I wouldn't even trust these assholes to read aloud a Mad Lib, let alone write me a story about rape and the political privileges of superheroes. Fuck. I need to step outside and count to ten. I'm running out of throwable furniture.

If Mjollnr can only be lifted up by those pure of heart, can The Hulk lift a path of earth or a building upon which Mjollnr is lying, or would the hammer just fall through and return to the ground? Discuss.

To say that WiR is illustrative and illuminates the sexist and chauvinist patriarchal mindset pervasive in comic books is like saying Fox News' support of the teabaggers is illustrative of their right-wing viewpoint. Congratulations, you've discovered critical thinking. I could dissect WiR as a sexist phenomenon and pontificate about what it says about women and a woman's place in a “man's world”, but that sort of poignant, socially conscious critical analysis isn't what my readership has come to expect from me. No, I know what you really want. Subtext and implications of homoerotic overtones!

By reverse engineering the Women in Refrigerators phenomenon, we can see what circumstances have brought about this shallow, contrived trend. So, why do the women always have to take the fall whenever some superhero gets in over his head? Because there aren't any men around to do it.

Superheroes often lead lonely, anti-social personal lives. Relationships with friends and family are scarce, and in many cases, the people who you are suppose to rely on and turn to for support end up being the same costumed assholes trying to throw drop a car on your girlfriend.

Such is the sad story of Spider Man, who, ironically enough, is argued to have started the trend in the first place. Originally, the trope was named Gwen Stacy Syndrome, after Spider Man's original love interest who was dropped off a bridge by none other than Norman Osborne, father of Spider-Man's best friend and self-proclaimed “surrogate father”. Peter Parker's got to have the loneliest facebook account in the Marvel Universe. The Lizard and Dr. Octopus were, in different incarnations of the characters, Pete's academic mentors and occasional accomplices. His boss, J. Jonah Jameson is such a raging anti-Spiderman advocate even Glenn Beck would say he needs a hobby. Even Venom, one of Spidey's most popular villains to date, turns out to be a childhood buddy of his in childhood.

There is no man that Spidey can trust, especially not after he sided with the Pro-Reg side in Civil War. And when you can climb walls, tie people up with webs and sense the various unseen objects being hurled at you by robotic tentacles, there really isn't much people can do to hurt you. You don't have any friends or siblings, so the only option your enemies have is to attack your love interest (Gwen Stacy/Mary Jane) or your doddering, helpless maternal parental figure (Aunt May, the geriatric punching bag of Marvel). The best part is that they don't even need to google up their addresses, because chances are all your enemies will have met one or both of them at some point in their supervillainy career.

Why can't Spider-Man have any friends? Is it just something about him? Does he just attract bad guys wherever he goes, or is it just a superhero thing? Surely other heroes have meaningful platonic friendships with other men?

Green Arrow? Partakes (unwillingly) in mindwiping Batman, who wasn't far from the finish line, mentally speaking.

Aquaman? Constantly being usurped by his brother Ocean Master.

The Hulk? Launched into space by a group of other heroes, one of whom was his former psychiatrist.

The Punisher? Killed his sidekick. And two hours of my life when War Zone came out.

The lesson here is, obviously, that other men cannot be trusted. If they don't become your enemies, they will steal your thunder to make room for their own career. If Superman is his “best friend”, why does Batman keep a kryptonite ring lying around?

If you must have some contact, if you absolutely must form an attachment to somebody, it's best to find yourself a nice girl, one spunky and independent enough to not be bothered with you never being around for movie night but vulnerable to ambush so that you can constantly rescue her in lieu of actually working towards a relationship. And if she dies, well then you gotta use that as an opportunity to get stronger, to overcome and all that shit. Because it can only make you tougher. Because you can't die. Women, once they die they're dead. No “get out of dead” cards for them. But a hero never dies. You'll just keep coming back from the dead until you stop being profitable and then they'll write you off in some crossover and by then you won't even care that all your girlfriends keep dying because you won't even exist.

I feel somewhat responsible for the state of male friendship in fiction, because in a time in this country where two men cannot be open for their feelings for one another, cannot express genuine platonic love without their sexuality being called into question, the last thing I should be doing is putting out all these articles about these two heroes are gay for each other and how that guy's fucking his sidekick and wackity shmackity doo. When I was a kid my father used to warn me that showing any affection to my siblings would make me “queer”. This from the guy who complained when I wouldn't kiss him on the cheek after I reached high school. My therapist never gets tired of hearing about my dad. But seriously, I should know better. I've played right into patriarchy's plan. Damn them. Damn them all to hell.

This is why the women are always taking dives in comic books. Because our warped American sense of friendship and community has bred a generation of distrusting lone wolf heroes. Is the knife in my back going to come from my estranged college buddy or my best friend who's taken a few too many gamma rays to the nutsack? Or maybe this has nothing to do with our society's discomfort with male friendship. Perhaps it's all about target audience! Maybe offing all the popular, sympathetic female heroes and secondary characters keeps girls from getting interested in comic books, maintaining a strong “straight male” demographic that takes some sort of catharsis in seeing their paranoia and unrest towards other men brought to life, that experiences some perverse relief in seeing the ball and chain cut loose and stuffed in some domestic appliance. We like our criminals unreformed and our heroes unattached.

Two drinks and some subversive leftist literature later, I'll swear up and down that this is all one and the same. That comic books are being used to indoctrinate the youth of the nation with the misogyny and homophobia necessary to sustain the patriarchy. Which I may or may not already believe, but simply do not possess the courage to say it out loud with a straight face. All I'm saying is that if Joe Quesadilla can use his executive influence in Marvel to push his anti-smoking agenda, then it's not out of the picture to imagine he'd use it to push his opinions on love and relationships. Because he already has. It was called One More Day.

The irony of these tropes is that their oft-wacky names can be used to downplay or sugarcoat the unfortunate messages and themes expressed. Women in Refrigerators sounds absurd and silly, mostly because it is. It's the 21st century. Women are on the news and in the White House and winning tennis championships. We don't need to be taking dives to make the story relevant. For every superhero's girlfriend tossed off a bridge or stuffed in a fridge there's five or six being shot or stabbed or hit with a car on some form of televised media. We are more than MacGuffins in skirts.Yeah, that's right. I said “we”. I'm co-opting your gender like I co-opted your mom.

WiR is, at its best, an overused and deservedly mocked plot convention used by male writers who just don't know better. At its worst it is a reflection of the blatantly misogyny inherent in male-oriented fiction.

In the juvenile fantasy of the patriarchal stooge, the woman is both invaluable and disposable; the only face you can trust in a city of villains disguised as lab partners and teammates, and an easy and convenient way for your enemies to let you know they're ready for your city-devasting grudge match. A confidant you can trust with your identity and vulnerabilities who will stay in the ground once buried, leaving you free to continue your quest for revenge or whatever you decide it is today without fear of having to commit, to flesh out your feelings and really bond with another person. Because that shit's for queers.

Enough female dignity, both fictional and nonfictional, has been lost due to society's inability to reconcile male friendship with flaming homosexuality. Our inability as a society to accept male bonding that does not involve murdering some animal in its natural habitat is eating us up from the inside, and the effects will only worsen over time. As the misogyny festers in the patriarchy, its fantasy land will become more and more hazardous to women, both character and reader. Five years ago DC did Identity Crisis simply because they wanted to try a rape story. Who the fuck knows what awaits Black Canary and Lois Lane in the coming years. And all the while Superman and Batman will simultneously drift apart with resentment and inch closer with unvoiced desire and love, ever-mirroring the real world that breathes their story to life. Art doesn't imitate life. It is life.

These appear to be separate issues, unrelated problems with unrelated solutions, but when it comes to people and their bullshit there is never only one cause and effect. These trends must be overturned and challenged. But how? Maybe if we had more feminist comic creators, perhaps with our/their combined efforts we could make the fictional world a better place for ink and pencil women. That still leaves the problem of finding Spider-Man a friend and teaching men that it's okay to be open about their love without ending every sentence with “no homo”.

Circulate this around facebook and livejournal and see if anyone comes up with anything.

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Rihanna speaks out about being beaten by her ex-boyfriend Chris Brown, and her decision to go back to him, and later decision to leave him.

I think it's good that she's speaking out on this topic. "F--- love." We hear so much that "love conquers all" etc, but it doesn't, and it shouldn't. Love yourself more. And she does.

Also, I think it's good that Rihanna realizes that because she lives her life in the public eye, she has a responsibility to accept that and act accordingly.

And she's speaking out that she didn't do this to herself - it happened to her. She's embarrassed she was with a guy like that, but she knows it's not her fault. No one deserves that.

The complete interview will air Friday night on 20/20.

This is the first part of your post.This is the hidden part.
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Not entirely shocking news comes out of Maine this morning. Maine voters approved a voter referendum repealing the gay-marriage legislation passed earlier this year by the Maine Legislature. This marked the first time that gay marriage rights had been afforded to same-sex couples via the legislature and not the judiciary branch. The final tally had gay marriage advocates losing by a 6% margin. A recount is expected.
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Nowadays, Halloween isn't much of a holiday for me; I rarely make special plans for it or bother to get a costume--and considering the average woman's costume--Sexy Ninja! Sexy Vacuum Cleaner Salesperson! Sexy First Lady!--that's maybe for the best. (I may not be a radical feminist--they won't take me--but come on, people--Amanda Hess at the Sexist has done yeowoman's duty on this subject.)

This Halloween, however, I was out in San Francisco and went to see a friend's performance in a drag show. So I donned my homemade ironic vampire disguise--fangs, pvc duster and dress, boots, and my "...And Then Buffy Staked Edward. The End." tee shirt--and caught some decidedly non-vintage drag.

Drag has always had an ambiguous status within the world of gender non-conformity. Frequently maligned by both gay men and MTF transsexuals--the former for not being masculine, the latter for not being, well, female--much of the ambiguity of the lives of actual drag performers tends to be erased, ignored, or swept under the rug. For example, many transsexuals and crossdressers buy into the concept of all drag as a mockery of women, and immediately tell people--often in the course of coming out as trans--that they aren't drag queens, that they like and respect women (and even want to be women.) Oddly enough, some drag queens buy into the reverse of this proposition, and sniff haughtily that they aren't a bunch of trannies, they're still real men after all.

But these are convenient figments that ignore the fact that some drag performers live lives that are almost indistinguishable from the lives lived by transsexuals. Some probably even identify as transsexual, and do drag for a variety of reasons: money, a background that included identifying as gay instead of trans, or even simply an affinity for the theatricalities of drag. There are even crossdresser drag queens--I know one personally, and she describes her drag mother as "sometimes a gay man, sometimes a drag queen, and sometimes a trans woman--and often all three at once."

All the same there remain troubling issues with drag from both a feminist and a trans viewpoint.

I ducked into two shows on Saturday: the first was a very traditional "female impersonator" type show, queens lipsyncing to ballads, and the second was a much more avant garde (in the tradition of Trannyshack, of late lamented memory.) I vastly enjoyed the second show more. Some of this is my own jaded aesthetics, but I think a lot also has to do with the ways that each style of performance confronted drag's own ambiguities.

Drag is always done with a wink and a nudge--this is part of its appeal, that you are always conscious of the fact that a man is performing as a woman. Sometimes, this has the affect of amazement--I've seen very traditional drag performances that were heart-rending because of the sincerity the performer brought to the piece. But more often, there is an effect of titillation, or amusement, or confusion--an awareness of the artificiality of the performance. For trans people, this can be troubling--for often our whole lives are questioned, or dismissed as artificial, mere pretensions of gender. So drag can be quite disturbing, as it knowingly invites just that sort of speculation. (And you get read more at drag shows. Trust me on this--I haven't been read in over a year but was several times on Saturday.)

Then too from a feminist viewpoint, there is something downright disturbing about some of the more traditional drag performances, where a woman's voice is quite literally appropriated in the service not only of a man's performance, but a man consciously taking the place of a woman. I'm not saying that all drag does this, or even all traditional drag, or that this is the primary function of drag: but it is an irreducible aspect of drag performance, and how the performer comes to terms with this is a major factor in how I, for one, enjoy the show. (For example, I'm less disturbed by the sort of deep identification with the material I described above.) This is probably at the heart of while I liked the avant garde drag of Charlie Horse much better than the more traditional drag I'd seen earlier, especially Trauma Flintstone's whirling madness that ended with her stripping off her costume and wig. And even the more traditional parts of the show were more about subverting staightness/feminity than mimicking them.

Is drag a vital if perplexing art form at the nexus of overlapping queer consciousnesses, questioning and subverting our own understandings of gender and sexuality? Or is it perhaps a troubling anachronism of a time when queerness had to be subsumed under a veneer of straight cultural symbols? What is unquestionable is its power to provoke uncomfortable responses in the viewer, even as they laugh along with the joke--because the joke is, that the joke is on them.

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Or, why I'm finally proud to be a Cubs fan (the last 101 years haven't given me much reason to be).


If you live in Chicago or are a Cubs fan, it's not news that the Ricketts family just bought the Chicago Cubs. But what is news to this Cubs fan is that one of the owners is not only female, but a lesbian.

Laura Rickets, who will serve on the board of directors with her three brothers, is an out lesbian who serves on the board of Lambda Legal, which is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people, and people living with HIV/AIDS.

Ricketts is the first openly gay owner of any professional sports team in the United States--football, basketball, hockey, and soccer included.

Perhaps the inclusiveness can also spread to That Other Baseball Team in Chicago, and their fans, and perhaps anyone who owns this lovely t-shirt or one of the other versions of it that I've spotted (yes, being worn proudly by a person ... yes, in 2009 ... yes, while Prop 8 has been debated ... yes, while 6 states legalized gay marriage) will retire the stupid offensive shirt. (Not that there aren't homophobic Cubs fans.)

Of course what can you expect when the manager of That Other Baseball Team publicly uses gay slurs.

The "joke" is that Wrigley Field (and the surrounding Wrigleyville neighborhood) is just north of the Boystown neighborhood in Chicago, home of many gay bars, the Chicago Gay Pride Parade and The Center on Halsted, Chicago's GLBT Community Center. I've always found it interesting that the two neighborhoods would bump up against each other - Wrigleyville, home of major league baseball and a bunch of bars that always reminded me of frat parties, next to Boystown, which certainly stands out on the last Sunday of June.

Anyway, I digress. Will Laura Rickett's place in major league baseball encourage any closeted professional athletes to come out? From reading the Bitch blog post linked at the beginning of my post, MLB doesn't have a great track record on being inclusive.

( the full post)

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