I met last week with fellow activists to discuss queer approaches to immigration reform. Like many, I take the word queer to be an explicitly political term. But what does it mean to take a queer perspective on social justice?

I believe it goes far beyond simply giving gay people the opportunity to participate in a broken heteronormative system. Gay politics in the US advocates for same-sex marriage (first and foremost!), but also hate crimes legislation, the Uniting American Families Act, and repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell[1]. Queer politics – in my humble opinion – should question these tactics, and the structures they uphold. Now, this is where queer politics often gets attacked. You may be thinking that if I disapprove of fighting for marriage laws, or allowing same-sex partner sponsorship, or welcoming gay folks into the military, then I'm not-so-secretly advancing a right-wing agenda. Not so fast! It's not that I don't think folks should be allowed to do these things if they want to. Rather, I believe that none of the proposed reforms address the real problems of an unequal society.

For me, a queer agenda is a radical agenda. I like the word queerbecause it allows for difference. More than that, it is about difference. As an identity, queerness encompasses those who recognize that they lie outside society's norms: butches, femmes, fags, dykes, single folks, asexual folks, folks in several polyamorous relationships, parents, youth, same-gender-loving folks, pansexual folks, cisgender folks, transgender folks, genderqueer and gender-non-conforming folks. As a political agenda, then, it must be inclusive, flexible, sex-positive, and anti-hierarchical.

We know that when there are hierarchies based on merit or disgust, queer folks end up at the bottom. So in the search for a queer politics we cannot continue to reinforce these hierarchies and simply climb up the ladder. This upwardly-mobile vision of politics is why gay champions of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act have been so quick to drop trans folks, why partnered marriage-equality defenders have been so quick to criticize polygamy or promiscuous singlehood, why so many gay activists have emphasized 'family' values at the expense of sex-workers, kinky folks, and other non-conformists. In order to climb up the ladder, you need to shove someone below you.

So what, you ask? Maybe you think there are always winners and losers. Perhaps you're making the argument that winning rights for some of 'us' – the more acceptable ones, of course – is a stepping stone to winning rights for all. I'll give you that. But do you really think that once those picture-perfect suburban lesbian moms have won the right to get married they'll work to secure affordable health care for their polyamorous sister who couldn't share her partners' health insurance even if their low-wage offered any? Or that the gay man who lobbied hard for hate crimes laws that expand the criminal justice system will stand up when that same system abuses the homeless teenager who's gotten into drugs and survival sex work? Maybe I'm just too cynical.

So when I claim queer as a political identity and not just a sexual one, I am adopting a vision of society in which difference does not justify discrimination. To bring it back around to immigration, I believe in an immigration policy that trusts that people who choose to migrate have good reasons for doing so, that does not criminalize them for following either economic necessity or personal desire, and that does not value the lives of married (straight), educated, well-off, and white immigrants over those of poor immigrants, immigrants of color, immigrants who are estranged from their family, or immigrants whose skills are not classed as 'desirable'.

How do we get there? I don't know. But I do think that making the goal explicit is the first step.


[1] Apologies for the heavily US-centric post. It is not meant to be exclusionary, but I can only write what I know. For those of you in other parts of the world, I'd love to hear if your experiences mirror mine, or not. Please share!

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No Grief Relief

In keeping with last week's theme of disclosure, some..disclosure. Which will turn out to be more important than most of us--the non-trans most of us, that is--don't often think about.

Right. So I went out on this date with this girl. And I've been upfront about being trans--it's in my personal, for sheesh's sake--mostly because I've decided at this stage of my life to just not put up with anyone who can't deal with the rather disorderly sack of idiosyncrasies, quirks, habits, and occasionally questionable grooming habits (I don't always do eyebrow maintenance--wait, what were you thinking about?) that is C.L. Minou. But that's me, and my life, and believe you me if I didn't think that being upfront was less stressful--for me--than dealing with it later (or never), I would.

But I'm not out at work, and have no plans to be. And I think, for me and for many (not most, by any stretch of the imagination) trans folks: out to our intimates, and mind your own beeswax everyone else. Most people would probably (assuming they didn't want to kill trans folks with sticks) that this is perfectly reasonable.

But not the family of recently-deceased firefighter Thomas Araguz III!

You see, the firefighter--who tragically died in a July 4 fire--was married to a woman, a rather attractive woman named Nikki. Who, if you read Gina's fabulous article at Skip the Makeup, was initially praised for being the beautiful and stoic widow. Until, that is, firefighter Araguz's ex-wife (locked in a custody battle with him over custody of their children) leaked information that Nikki was trans.

Immediately, people got the vapors, poor dears. And then Araguz's family sued to have Nikki's marriage annulled because she was a man.

Excuse me. I have to go kick my couch for a half an hour in frustration.

You know what? I'm not even going to focus on the Texas aspect of this, because there are a lot of cool folks in Texas. And hell, I'm not even going to cover the disclosure/deception BS (Araguz's family are claiming that he didn't know Nikki was trans and separated from her when he did find out; Nikki says she told him early in their dating), because Lisa at Questioning Transphobia has done it so well already. Hell, I'm not even going to get into the money issue--in addition to the approximately $600,000 she can expect to collect in death benefits, as the surviving next of kin Nikki would be entitled to sue for wrongful death, something that could result in millions of dollars; the family is trying to get Thomas's children declared next of kin.

Nah. Eff that. Like I said, other folks have done it better.

Let's talk about...homophobia.


Cause that's what this is, right?

Now, I don't get that, but then again I'm one of those weird bisexuals who go straight (ahem) down the middle; I like what I like, and gender is only one piece of that. In fact, on a deep and personal level I seem to have lost the ability to understand how it could be a big deal to anyone. I get that it is, for some folks, and I'm cool with that--but I just don't understand why it is a big deal.

Sadly, a lot of people don't feel that way.

And that explains this whole thing. All the narratives are built around homophobia. Nikki and Thomas couldn't be married because Nikki "is a man" and teh gay marriage is eeeevil and God hates it. Also, she was a lying deceiver not just because--obviously--she didn't tell him, but because a "man" can't become a "woman." And no real human being--er, straight person--would ever want to sleep with another man. (Relax, my lesbian sisters, I didn't include "woman" in there because I said person and we all know that means man in this formulation.) And since Nikki was a man, sleeping with her would mean you were gay. Just like sleeping with me, C.L. Minou.

Because my pussy will make you gay.

That's a pretty powerful pussy, come to think of it. And not a sentence you normally hear. At least not when one of the people involved is male.

People sometimes tell me that homophobia is a poor word, because the bashers don't fear gay people, they hate them. And that's true. But I think you can't get away from the fact that they hate gay people, queer people, trans people, because we threaten them. We prove that we exist, and that we can look like anyone. Even them. Why, your best friend might! Fetch me my stick, son!

If people weren't so afraid of gayness, of transness, of queerness, then they might not do the kind of things that fear motivates you to do.

Like attempt to destroy the reputation of a grieving widow. Whom, Lisa Harney reports, has had her assets frozen, so she doesn't have any money to buy food with. And who to all appearances was loved by her husband.

Yes. This is definitely the kind of person we need to stop, right?

Yanno, maybe there is some deception here.

Folks are deceiving themselves into thinking they're decent human beings.

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Sex & Androgyny

It’s no secret that sex is a topic of sensation in our culture. It’s often deemed a “necessary evil”- sometimes a nasty secret to be kept behind closed doors while other times a profitable commodity to be exploited by media for capital gain. So where does androgyny fit into all this?

Sexuality is traditionally glorified in the context of hetero-normativity: girl meets boy, they marry, contribute to the over population of the planet, blah blah and blah. We all know this is a short sided and antiquated formula, but it still persists as a societal default. Over sexualized archetypes of men and women flood our television sets: men who are all torso with stuffed underwear and large breasted women are revered as the epitome of fertile sexual beings. While these caricatures exemplify the best of the species, those of us that do not fit into this picture perfect hetero fantasy are often categorized as inherently nonsexual or undesirable. I cannot speak for all androgynes/gender queers but my peeps are neither nonsexual nor undesirable.

In any case, it’s not too difficult to see how androgyny could be associated with a lack of sexuality. There is some degree of androgyny associated with many religious figures: deities who are venerated as chaste, abstinent, or virgin. Religious figures in many western traditions possess a certain fusion of gender traits, which takes them outside the realm of the carnal and human. Between you and me, I’m no saint.

Beneath the sheets there is yet another dimension to the role that we gender non-conformists seem to fall into, fetishization. There’s no lack of exploitation of gender ambiguous individuals in the sex industry. Too often being androgynous, genderqueer, trans, etc. earns us a spot in the dark corner of some porn shop in rural USA. God forbid that it ever be considered normal or socially acceptable to fall for the androgyne next door!

In Bob’s words, “the times, they are a –changin,” and we are at the forefront of that change. It is our obligation to our community to represent ourselves as we want to be seen against the current of stereotypes that haunt our name. It is unlikely that any of this comes as a revelation to any of our readers but one’s gender identity does not denote any particular sexual identity. Some androgynes/ gender queers as well as some cis-gendered or transgendered beings may be naturally asexual. Many of us however, whether pansexual, gynosexual, androsexual, homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual or anything in between lead perfectly “sexual” lives as we so choose. I for one would like to see that on TV.

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Serena joins us from Feminists For Choice:

The second season of MTV’s “Teen Mom” debuted last night. The show features pregnant teens, or young women who have just given birth, and it focuses on their struggles to raise the children while the mothers themselves are still growing into adulthood. The timing of the season premiere could not have been more fortuitous, because an op-ed in today’s Huffington Post seeks to blow the myth of a teen pregnancy epidemic right out of the water.

Choice USA Executive Director Kierra Johnson writes a scathing article, asking pro-choice advocates and policymakers alike to re-examine the way that teen pregnancy is discussed and demonized.

"People in every age bracket have sex, get pregnant, have abortions and have children. Sex and the outcomes of sex are not exclusively experienced by teens. Actually, according to the Guttmacher Institute, teens have a lower rate of sexual activity (46 percent) than other age groups, and teens make up the smallest percentage of pregnancies (seven percent, including 18 and 19-year-olds), abortions (six percent) and births (10 percent). The vast majority of pregnancies, abortions and births occur after the teenage years.

So, if people of all ages are having sex and facing the results, why are teen sex and teen pregnancy the problems?"

Johnson goes onto argue in the article that the US needs to shift its priorities. Instead of getting so hung up on sex, we need to focus on the lack of access to health care and education that keeps individuals locked in poverty. If people have more access to medically accurate sex education, they can make healthy decisions about their bodies. If people have access to birth control and condoms, teen pregnancy isn’t such a risk. And when all Americans have the option to go to college, they are in a better position to support their families, regardless of the age they are when they start their families.

On a conference call to pro-choice bloggers on Tuesday, Johnson brought up the example of The Netherlands, where discussions about sex are not taboo. Condom manufacturers in Holland have even gone so far as to make smaller sizes so that condoms fit teenage penises. Not surprisingly, the Netherlands has one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the world.

I don’t think it’s enough to attribute Holland’s teen pregnancy rate to the accessibility of condoms, and the permissive sexual attitude that exists in the country. Holland also has its priorities in order – priorities that Johnson herself argues the United States needs to copy. The Netherlands has the highest child welfare rate in the world, according to UNICEF. Everyone in Holland is required to have health insurance, and if families cannot afford to pay for health insurance themselves, it is provided by the government. Education is free in Holland, all the way through college. Is it any wonder, then, that the Netherlands has lower teen pregnancy rates than the US? When children are valued and given the educational tools they need to succeed, they thrive. Compare that to the United States, where children make up the largest percentage of the uninsured, and it’s no surprise to find that the US ranks 20th in the world for child welfare, which is lower than all of the European nations surveyed besides the United Kingdom.

I agree with Johnson. Teen sex and pregnancy is not the problem – American attitudes towards sex in general need to change, and so do our priorities. Let’s start advocating for comprehensive sex education for everyone, not just teens. And let’s start demanding comprehensive health care insurance for all Americans. It’s time to change the terms of the debate and start focusing on things that really matter.

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I do a lot of work at an LGBT center in my hometown in the Midwest. After getting really excited at school about all the exploration of orientations and gender identities and redefining and obliterating the boundaries of those identities, I was basically starving for an outlet for these things when I returned home. I quickly found out however, that LGBT spaces often deal very little with gender at all, and I've been here doing what I could ever since.

One of my early frustrations concerned the blank stares I would get when I started talking about queer identity and gender fluidity. It was particularly baffling to me because I could literally walk down the street to a coffee shop where I know a lot of queer identified people socialize. Clearly there is a disconnect, and time proved that these two groups (the center and the social gatherings at the coffee shop) were in fact very aware of each others presence.

This seems like a common issue, only often times the LGBT's and the Q's have this disconnect within the exact same space, which begs the question, are they in fact part of the same movement? Of course this is complicated because you can ask this about any of the plethora of letters that get built into the acronym and on each account get different answers. What I have learned with time, both through the people I have met and through my own positioning of my identity as a gay man within a movement that I am trying to make much more progressive and inclusive, is that LGBT and Queer are not at odds here, but essentialism and a constructionist viewpoints.

Within Trans movements for example, there is far more going on than advocating for protections of people who transition from MTF or FTM. There is, in fact, a fundamental question constantly present regarding how extreme gender performances of trans people have to be to pass or whether passing is even the most important thing, and there are of people questioning the need to have surgery to transition gender identities. In short, aspects of trans identity often have more in common with queer than LGB.
So how do we reconcile this disconnect, which exists across alternative gender and sexual identities? Clearly those with goals geared toward a more comprehensive and inclusive understanding of these identities should not be waiting around for the mainstream LGBT folks to push for particularly progressive goals, but I think that Queer identity is not really the point of separation. Separation itself, isn't even really the goal, but rather a more progressively focused movement that addresses more fundamental social issues.

So sign me up for this truly progressive movement!

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I used to find queer documentaries unnerving to watch, but thankfully years of feeling invisible and without voice helped rehabilitate my proclivities. It wasn't a “shame” thing. I just never developed a taste for the “objectivity in filmmaking” kool-aid. You're seeing the sides of the story and the points of view the director and/or subjects want you to see. That's gotta be like, the second or third definition for “subjective”, if not the textbook definition. When I took a documentaries class in college, I frustratedly conveyed to the instructor that the hardest part of the job was reconciling the 20 hours of unused footage with my conscience. The instructor chuckled, looked both ways, and murmured that if they had heard that from anyone else in the class, they'd have accused them of half-assing their project.

20 hours of footage for a 10 minute film about drunken kickball was considered “being stingy”. The idea you can remain objective while simultaneously culling over 95 percent of your footage is simply recockulous. Fuck, I gotta make a detour here. If I keep going down this road I'm going to re-gift my complex back to myself.

Having come to know the real nature of documentaries, and even growing to enjoy the art of manipulation and sleight of hand to forge a story from hours of nonsense, I find them quite comforting, even relaxing. That, a soda and practicing my origami or tying my knots helps give me the edge to compress a week's worth of stress and worry in two hours. I did it, Papa. I slayed the Multitasking Dragon.

A couple of days ago I received a copy of Small Town Gay Bar, which is exactly what it says on the tin, from Netflix. I invited my friend and collaborator-in-arms Terry over, made some lunch and popped open a web article on how to fold a penguin. I'd had a hard week. I could really use the heart warming story promised me on the synopsis section of the Netflix sleeve. Initial signs were promising. Footage of a small town shot from the window of a moving vehicle. A soundtrack with Ween and Electric Six. Drag queens with southern accents. This film was winning me over in a big way. And that penguin was as good as folded.

And that's when Fred Phelps arrived at the scene.

If your anus didn't tighten a bit, go google that name and come back to me. Yeah, THAT FUCKING GUY. On my television. And he's quoting the bible and showing off the first poster he ever made for his crusade against “the f-gs and f-g enablers”. I'm in the middle of a squash fold, can you see if I sat on the remote by mistake? Wait, why isn't he on a street corner tending his flock of troglodytes. Why is he...he's sitting down! And he's talking in an indoor voice...IS HE BEING INTERVIEWED BY THE FILMMAKER?! GET HIM AWAY FROM MY HEART WARMING STORY OF COMMUNITY, HE'S TALKING TO IT AND MAKING IT QUESTION ITS IDENTITY.

Fuck, I made a tear in my penguin. This day is ruined.

Now, I won't argue the logic behind interviewing Phelps and some other anti-gay personalities for this documentary. It sets the tone for the premise of the film, that being “the struggles of community expression in small rural towns where conservatism holds hella sway”. I get that. Not to harp on the one college project I'm proud of, but my thesis was a faux-sermon drag revue performed in the suburbs of Arizona. Find me someone who better grasps the necessity for acknowledging and giving visibility to the opposition and lo many a steel cage death match shall be had. Still, I have to question the necessity or appropriateness of including the Voldemort of the anti-gay movement on a documentary about small town LGBT communities. For your convenience, I have numbered my complaints/arguments, as I realize sometimes my point gets lost in all my yadayadablahblah. I ask only that your comments and or hate mail have corresponding numerals. Or letters. Fuck it man, fight the system.

1.The most obvious reason, I guess, for Fred Phelps to be included in the film is that he shares a hometown with Crossroads, which was once a thriving “anything goes” gay bar. Such is an interesting observation, until you take into account the staggering number of other conservative socio-political figures in this country who share hometowns or living space with gay bars.

2.Fred Phelps has plenty of space, a gaggle of public venues and mediums, for him to preach his message. When he's not all over my youtube or blogosphere, he's across the street, making it hard to listen to the Lady Gaga albums on my iPod (anachronism: I wasn't listening to Lady Gaga around the time I attended the counter protest in Scottsdale, but trust me, dude, you wouldn't have heard of any of the bands I was listening to then). To feature him “in action” from the point of a counter protest is one thing, but to let him sit down and share, without interruption or response, his views on the LGBT community, to me feels like an invasion of our space. But that's just me. All of this is probably just me.

3.The frequency with which personalities like Fred Phelps and the AFA are featured in news reports, films, and other media representations of the LGBT community seem to suggest, if inadvertently, that there is no community outside of the need to huddle together in the face of ignorance, or that somehow people like Phelps are vital to the queer culture and experience in the United States, rather than an obstruction. I realize, with the remaining clarity at my disposal, that such is not this or any film's intent, yet I must insist that the complexity of our individual and combined struggles with identity and fitting in are interesting enough on their own. The LGBT community is more than just a reaction to the cis hetero world's disapproval, and it is possible to document our lives without giving conservative pundits a forum to be poppin' off that good shit.

4.Phelps is a fucking Lich whose power rises with every iota of attention paid him. He is a professional shit starter, and I remain unconvinced that there is not at least some of his horde who are not attracted to that element of the church's activity. We're only encouraging them. Why can't erasure work both ways?

5.His voice sounds like he's always on the verge of shitting his pants. I can take the suspense no longer.

What I lack for in clarity (or fucking sense) in my ideas I make up for with enthusiasm and delight in arguing and being told I'm wrong. No need to RSVP to that party.

You might deduce, from my incoherent list of gripes, that I did not enjoy the film. False. I gave it four stars on Netflix. I'll even go so far as to recommend it to everyone reading this. Certified doubleplusgood. My beef is not with the filmmaker, but with the LGBT media institution.

This isn't little league baseball. You don't have to let everyone play. As our community continues to grow at this exponential rate, people like Fred Phelps will comprise an equally exponential diminished part of our experience, and once some or most of us are integrated in society and we look back on these old home movies of when we were younger and “special/unique/alternative/counterculture” we're going to wish we had spent those extra five or ten minutes here and there on baby steps and first words instead. I'm speaking metaphorically, of course. I think.

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Many people assume I'm FTM. Or wonder why I say I'm not. I've always acted like a boy...when I was young I insisted I was one. I don't anymore, but once I got older I realized that me being a boy wasn't exactly true. Until a few years ago I didn't realize it was possible to be in-between. I just thought I had to pick. And at that age, being a boy was so much more preferable.

I ALWAYS wore shorts and t-shirts. I ALWAYS had my hair short. It was long and I insisted it be cut like my male cousin's, and my mother obliged. But she kept "needing" to insist I wasn't going to be a boy no matter how much I tried.

I got older and learned how human biology works. I knew I wouldn't turn into a boy. But it was still preferable when my only options were "boy" or "girl."

I continued to act like I was a "boy" well into elementary school, and was part of a little playground "gang" of boys. Teasing girls. Pokemon battles. Chest bumping (I was horrified once I started to develop a chest in fourth grade...it was awful. I only wore sports bras to hide them even then). I "like-liked" one of the boys in my gang, but kept it highly secret for fear he would reject me and start treating me like a girl.

In fifth grade I actually TRIED to look like a girl...kind of. I wore "girl" clothes sometimes and makeup every now and then. But after a little while I gave up. I realized it wasn't me. It was a lie. I didn't want to try to be a "real girl" anymore. I started dressing like a boy again and when we had American History Day I insisted upon being a male historical figure (I was Samuel Morse, by the way. It was pretty sweet). I was the only "girl" to do this--there were plenty of female historical figures to choose from. But my teachers have always been supportive of my masculine attitude and traits, so there was no fuss. And if there ever was a fuss, my parents would lay down the law with the teacher and tell them they had to let me do what I wanted when it came to acting outside my female-assigned gender role...or else. It's not like I was dodging responsibility, I was just doing things my way (to be honest, Samuel Morse had so little information I had to work harder than the other kids...).

Junior high wasn't much different. Boy clothes, "boy attitude" (whatever the hell that is?) and all male friends. I was in a play..."Death of a Salesman"...and I played the main character's hallucination of his dead brother, Ben. It was SO FUCKING FUN. I got a suit and a moustache and a bowler hat and a long cigarette holder and everything. I loved acting. I was good at it. But when high school came around I was denied when I asked to audition for a male part in "The Crucible." I was heartbroken. I realized I would never be allowed to be a boy again with this director, and I gave up on acting. For the rest of high school. And college. When you're a "girl" you can't play a male part. It's the rules. Well, I thought it was the rules now. And with no high school drama experience, it's not like they'd even consider me for a college role.

I hated how The Man kept me from being a proper boy (which, I will emphasize, is all I thought I COULD be if I wasn't a girl) and I resented everything. It was awful. I hated the world and continued to be this strange mixture of "boy" and "girl" that couldn't be properly resolved. I didn't know what to do.

And then I went to a private university my freshman year. It was extremely liberal and had a large queer population. This made me feel comfortable because at least now I could be comfortable with my bi (pan) sexuality. And I met M. He's a guy that was in my freshman seminar. He told me he was a lesbian at that time, but I could never see him as a woman. I told him how I felt about my gender and he was the first person who actually understood and VALIDATED my gender identity. He came out after I left by creating a Facebook group that was called "[birth name] is now M." That took some serious balls. I wish I was so brave. I've just been dropping hints and hoping someone will find out and not hate me, but I suppose as soon as I link this blog in a Facebook status everyone will know. I'm prepared for "Ewww"s and shunning and unfriendings. To be honest, I'm much more worried about my boyfriend's brothers than anyone else. I adore them and adore the rest of his family and I don't want to have a damaged relationship with any of them. One of his brothers knows my personality. He knows how I behave. He shouldn't be terribly surprised but I'm terribly worried his family will reject me.

It took until I joined queer communities on Livejournal to realize there was a word for what my "gender" was. That I wasn't alone. That I didn't need to pretend I was a boy just to reject the fact that I was female-assigned at birth. There's something in-between. I can now proudly say I'm genderqueer and not need to force myself into an inaccurate place. I'm not a boy and I don't want to be one. I'm not a girl and I don't want to be one. I don't need to pretend I'm either. I can be myself. Neither a boy nor a girl. And yet both at the same time. Neutral. Just myself.

Kirk out.

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This past weekend, I got to do something that surprisingly I had never done before: I attended Lilith Fair. I say surprisingly because for [almost] the past two decades, I've been a fan of girlie alterna-rock.

I was lucky to have the option to go, seeing as how about a third of the scheduled dates have been canceled due to lackluster sales, and the is the first Lilith Fair tour in 11 years. And many have been asking "Is Lilith Fair relevant?"

Lilith Fair 2010 - Chicago
Heart performs at Lilith Fair

I would argue that Lilith Fair is more relevant that ever. In the 1990s when Lilith Fair was first launched, alterna rockers like Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos, Courtney Love and Fiona Apple were popular, as well as acts like the Spice Girls (for the record, I enjoyed the Spice Girls) and Britney Spears. However, today, artists like Regina Spektor, Lily Allen and Lady GaGa are popular alongside the likes of Ke$ha, Katy Perry ... and Britney Spears (will she ever go away?). And like back then, guess who sells more records?

I would argue that Lilith Fair is even more relevant today that it was 10 years ago. Whereas I had solid female rock role models in Tori Amos and Fiona Apple, what do today's girls have? Ke$ha who [jokingly] talks about brushing her teeth with a bottle of Jack? Katy Perry whose "I Kissed a Girl" is much more satire and much less self-aware than Jill Sobule's "I Kissed a Girl"? And who sings about "daisy dukes / bikinis on top."

I'm sure there are plenty of young impressionable girls who are aware that manufactured pop stars are, well, manufactured, and that genuine musicians are out there and worthy of celebrity crushes.

However, and maybe I'm just more aware of it, but it seems that today's manufactured pop stars are more heavily manufactured, promoted and shoved down our throats than they were in the past. How can genuine, organic talent compete with millions of dollars thrown behind bubble gum beauties? Thank god for Lady GaGa.

To that end, Lilith Fair needs to continue, to promote genuine female musicians, bring new talent (that is actually talented) to the fans, and foster these powerful, independent(ly minded) female performers. So that the teenage angsty gals of today, much like me 15 years ago, have someone to look up to, solid music to play over and over again, memorizing the lyrics (that actually mean something other than "I'm cute").

Instead of the alternative ... being bombarded, over and over again with messages about getting crunk and gyrating through [fake] pole dances and singing about boys and being cute.

If you haven't check it out, click over to The Seventeen Magazine Project and Teenagerie, both by Jamie Keiles, 18, who is more self-aware than many adults I know. She gives me hope that today's youth can see through the way over-manufactured hype.

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The writer behind ramblings joins us today, and begins her tenure as a guest columnist (libractivist) in the near future:

Gay marriage — or my preferred descriptor, same-sex marriage — has become a (the?) defining issue in many LGBTQ communities, so it seems only reasonable that I would weigh in on it at some point. I understand the impetus behind the movement: it feels like a slap in the face to be denied something you’ve likely been brought up to expect as a certain rite of passage. It is not fair that a right exists for some but not for others. But honestly? If getting married is the only thing you’re worried about, you’re doing pretty well. We still can’t pass a law that prohibits firing people solely based on gender identity or sexual orientation, and you’re upset about marriage?

And I know you’re saying (if you’re one of those people) ‘but wait, this isn’t really about marriage, it’s about healthcare and visitation rights and joint adoption and tax benefits; and how are we supposed to have those things without marriage?’ To which I say, ‘how does marriage bring me, a single person with little enthusiasm for life-long monogamous commitment, any closer to those things?’ How about people who have no health insurance to share with a partner in the first place? How about polyamorous people whose chosen partners exceed the requisite two?

What we need is not more marriages, but a better safety net for individuals: universal healthcare. Guarantees to an adequate basic income. The ability to name non-family members as next-of-kin. Comprehensive immigration reform — with sponsorship made easier — and alongside immigration reform, more work done to ease the disparities that make immigration so tempting. Civil partnerships for tax purposes that allow two or more people.

These ideas come out of my thoughts on queering the definition of family. One of the things that I love about queer people is the sense of chosen families. Although I am blessed to have a loving, accepting family, many of my fellow queer folk are not as lucky, and those experiences have shaped our community. But beyond that, I think, is the queerness of the element of choice. Queer identities (as opposed, perhaps, to homo- or bi-sexual orientations) are characterized by intentionality — an awareness that we have no reason to abide by the principles many straight, cis people take for granted: that sex, gender, and orientation necessarily follow from each other; that procreative, monogamous, state- and church-sanctioned relationships are the ideal; that blood is thicker than water. Or that any of these are simple dualities.

So, while I will continue to celebrate wins for marriage equality with my friends who hold that as a goal, I will dedicate my own resources to fighting for the basic rights to keep our families (blood-tied and otherwise) healthy, cherished, and protected.

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There's been a lot written about what it means to be defined as a sexual minority, whether that concept be seen as 'gay', 'bisexual', 'transgender', 'lesbian', 'intersexed', or any of the other identities included in the expansive community. Gay men in particular have been saddled with an image of being flighty, self centered, and impulsive: in other words, the ultimate Western consumer. What else better exemplifies the ideas of the "Me" generation and the "Want it Now" generation than an entire subculture of men perceived to consistently buy what they want, when they want it, and who cares about the price. For a time, it's been a stereotype, a bias, accepted by a certain portion of the target group.

What about now? We are knee deep in a recession, and the 'buy, buy, buy' attitude of the 90's and half of the new decade just don't fly. The new concept is to 'save' and to 'put off buying', a belief system that has, slowly but surely, begun a process of insinuation into the American consciousness. How is that affecting a perceived group that has always been on the pinnacle of purchase, as the 'pink dollar' is highly touted as a competitive financial market no community could dare ignore. Have gay men cut down their spending, and are they beginning to eschew the images of old?

The answer to the first part of the question is 'yes'. Gay men aren't anomalies, and aren't going to spend willy nilly simply because. We're beginning to see evidence of the much vaunted "gay male disposable income" being something of an urban legend. Some aspects seem unchanged. As Kralev (2009) noted in his article, gay travel hasn't dropped; it has actually increased during the recession. Companies in the travel industry seem to want to bank on gay men's wanderlust, which can be partially attributed to more and more countries adopting accepting attitudes towards gays and lesbians (Argentina being the most recent). It was even brought up on the floor of the Argentine Senate that a reason to pass gay marriage in the country would be to increase tourism.

This raises an important question: did retailers go to gay men (in particular) because of the perceived image of a huge disposable income and desire to spend money? It would seem the concept of the 'big gay wallet' has been its own undoing, as individuals might have now found themselves as targets to ad campaigns vying for monies that may or may not be there.

Regan (2009) points out the clear duality of the situation, as he points out that "conventional wisdom holds that the gay community ignores recessions", but highlights the businesses, clubs, and organizations that are now gone, casualties of the recession. He further indicates the core reason why "gay" doesn't mean recession resistant: this is, in part, about jobs, and layoffs (and business closures) don't discriminate. If we wish to believe 8-10% of the population of the U.S. is made up of sexual minorities, then we must freely admit that a correlative percentage of those without jobs are of our community.

Now to the second question - are gay men shredding the old image? There's no empirical proof to say this is so; no studies done by behavioral scientists or quantitative surveys. But anecdotally, if you look at comments on listservs, boards, and listen to the community, it's there. The before mentioned Regan article had seven comments to it, all rather critical of the flighty, jet-setting image of gays that many embrace. The responses spoke to real hurt and pain caused by a recession, like cutting back expenses, being laid off, suffering from depression. These are not representations of a 'disposable income' community who is not impacted by a financial downturn.

How gay men will fare once the recession is fully over is anyone's guess. It could be that a self induced austerity survives well into the future, permeating itself into the younger generations. It could be that gay men ramp up the purchase power as soon as they get the 'all clear'. Regardless of where the community goes, this might speak to the need to take a look at what's real and what's 'disposable' among gay men.

Further reading:

Kralev, Nicholas (2009), Gay Travel Endures Amid Recession,
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/mar/16/kralev-gay-travel-endures-amid-recession/ .

Regan, KL (2009), Gay Men and the Recession: How are We Faring, http://www.realjock.com/article/1483/ .

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Ethic Pathetic

Whoa! Hey! I'm back on Below the Belt? You're back on Below the Belt too? Gosh howdy! And wait til you see the new set!

Right. When last we left off, I, the transfeminist known as C. L. Minou was ranting about...something. Can't remember now, and the archives are too far away. But. I've never yet run out of something to rant about! Howabout...sharing personal information that could get a person killed! That sounds like a worthy rant! But that could never be defensible, right? I mean, that would be totally unethical.

What. Huh? RandyCohensaidwhat?

Yes, folks, the New York Times has taken one of its occasional glances at trans folk and returned to tell the world to not worry, we really are all freaks. Yes indeedy! This time the vessel of righteousness was Randy Cohen, the, um, ethicist of the Times Magazine's column...The Ethicist.

Let's take a looksy, eh?

"I am a straight woman, and I was set up on a date with a man. We got along well initially, but I grew concerned about how evasive he was about his past. I did some sophisticated checking online — I do research professionally — and discovered that he is a female-to-male transgendered individual. I then ended our relationship. He and I live in Orthodox Jewish communities. (I believe he converted shortly after he became a man.) I think he continues to date women within our group. Should I urge our rabbi to out this person? NAME WITHHELD, N.Y."

Whoa hoa, there, sister! I can't blame you for doing a little research on someone you're dating--I mean, it's scary out there, ain't it? And hey, no particular hard feelings about you breaking it off--most people cannot handle the innate and acquired fabulousness of the trans individual, and oh by the way we're better off not dating bigots, mmmkay? But...out this guy to the community? WTF? Since when is it any business of yours, madam? I mean, you wouldn't even have known had you not done some "sophisticated checking" (i.e. in depth invasion of this guy's privacy), so clearly this wasn't information to be shared at random.

And Randy Cohen agrees! "You should not prompt a public announcement about his being transgendered."

But...oh God he didn't stop there:

"Changed religion and sex? I feel emotionally exhausted if I get a new sport coat. But although this person behaved badly by not being more forthcoming with you, he is still entitled to some privacy."

Behaved badly?


Hola, Randy. Sit down with me at the kitchen table...er, I don't have one, just the desk I keep in the kitchen. Let's sit on the couch. Comfy? Great. Okay, here's the deal: why the hell do I have to tell someone about the most heart-wrenching, difficult thing I've ever done, on the first freaking date?

Oh, right. To protect your precious straight selves.

Hey, Randy: did you know that some people don't like trans people? And that sometimes they react badly to it? Like, you know, beating the tar out of them? Or raping them? Or killing them? Or that delightful combination of all three? Do you think that maybe there's a reason trans folks aren't always forthcoming?

And also: I bet you've been on more than one first date in your life. Yes? More than a few? How many of those went to a second date. Not as many, right? And a third? And a year-long relationship? Yeah, those are hard to find, especially in New York. I know. No, it is tough. Um. Hey, don't cry, kid. Let me get you a cup of coffee.

So, right, where were we? Geez, don't mist up again. My point was that not too many first dates ever grow into anything other than a cup of coffee--don't get that look in your eyes, this is an intervention, not a date--or a glass of wine in a noisy and soulless bĂ´ite. So again: why should I tell all about C. L., any more than you're going to tell about the time you couldn't get a condom on in time and ruined a perfectly good evening?

Um, hypothetically speaking, that is.

Wait, you disagree? You compare being trans to having a STD? WTF, Randy:

"But as partners cultivate romance, and particularly as they move toward erotic involvement, there are things each should reveal, things they would not mention to a casual acquaintance — any history of S.T.D.’s, for example, or the existence of any current spouse. Even before a first kiss, this person should have told you those things that you would regard as germane to this phase of your evolving relationship, including his being transgendered. Clearly he thought you’d find it pertinent; that’s why he discreditably withheld it, lest you reject him."

Fercryin' out loud. If this was about a straight man not talking about, say, his horrendous divorce twenty years ago on the first date, I'll betcha you'd be okay. But it's those freaky trans folk that have to brand themselves with a scarlet T lest some poor straight person ever accidentally like us.

Look, I'm generally free with disclosure--this girl I'm dating? I told her before our first date. But that's me. I'm an internet trans legend. OK, an unknown blogger! Sheesh! Your ethics kick in at weird places, Randy! Anyway, other times I haven't. I don't tell anyone at my new job, cause it's none of their business. And whether I disclose or not to an intimate partner is my business too. Your judgment really doesn't matter, does it?

Oh, and one last thing, Randy? Before you go? (Sorry--didn't know you were allergic to the Army of Household Cats I have.) The -feminist part of being a transfeminist notes that you gave this advice, I bet, because you didn't consider it possible for a straight woman to hurt a man, even a trans man. Oh yes you did. Would you tell a trans woman to always out herself? Even if doing so might mean that soon everyone in her community might know? And that might get her raped, killed, or rapednkilled? I mean damn, it's bad enough that you think it's totes okay for this woman to share this with her friends, some who are undoubtedly in this guy's congregation, and therefore put him at extreme risk of being outed. Would you out a gay person like that? The atheist spouse of a regular synagogue-goer? Someone who has had plastic surgery?

Just how much personal information is cool for the world to know, Randy?

What's...ethical here?

Or are there two sets of ethics, one for trans folks and one for the norms...er, cis people?

Don't worry about getting back to me. I don't read your column anyway.

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+ news +

A nice analysis of the Jon Stewart sexism charade,
Federal court rejects DOMA,
and pre-qual process for trans folks seeking hormone therapy/surgery endure rough road (duh) for the week.

Y'all may have noticed that posts are trickling in more and more, and that's because...BELOW THE BELT is BACK! As promised, we've returned, we're refreshed and revitalized. We're actually making some really exciting structural changes to increase content, article quality and oversight, and expand the reach of our pretty fantastic content and discussion (if I don't say so myself).

Most notably, aqueertheory and theycallmevroom (formerly bitchzarro) are now editors! The three of us now manage content, and we're all working on some really exciting new writers to add to our palette of pink. That said, we wholeheartedly encourage you to email us if you have even the slightest interest of contributing. We're more than happy to talk through your possible fit with the blog based on your own interests and background.
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Name Game Over

The online LGBT community loves them some debate about reappropriation. Don't lie. I've seen you up 'til two in the morning, popping off that good shit to your friends about who can call who a homo and call themselves a tranny, on your blog keeping tallies of all the noobs you mock and make cry with your horror stories of prison rape and injustice like you're some sort of Flying Tiger for the movement. Step off, homes. I'm not here to judge. If you'd read my press rider, you would know that for that I require six boxes of strawberry pocky and one of those inflatable sea dragon things that go around your waist (so I don't drown in the pool of flavored lube). I'm here to give you the scoop, to sound the trumpet and prepare you for the reckoning.

Repent, my brothers, sisters, and those in between. The end of reappropriation is at hand.

It should come as no surprise to you (I would hope) that “fag” will be the first word lost to the void of cultural assimilation. That much is not prophecy. You've been all over the place trying to take that word back. But alas, beneath those angry e-mails to Comedy Central and awkward office place lectures to your cubemate the word has flourished on the website 4Chan, where the site's users have become so well trained at self deprecation that they've come to use the word to describe themselves.

You see, on 4Chan, “fag” has become somewhat of an honorific, much like “-san” or “-chan” in the Japanese language. If you're from Australia, you are known as an “ausfag”. Fond of music? You're a musicfag. Christfag. Macfag. Straightfag. No, don't rewind the scene, you heard that correctly. Straightfag. There is a place on the internet where (presumably) cis heterosexual men identify themselves as “fags”. Again, this isn't name calling. These are titles that people give themselves. If you can find a clearer example of cultural appropriation by an oppressor, then I will steal the hat off the nearest person and eat it in front of them.

Granted, I would argue that this word was lost long before 4Chan, or even the internet, for that matter. Sexual pejoratives are unique in that you don't actually need someone of that identity in the room for people to feel entitled to use it. A room full of white people are not likely to call each other, or themselves, or random inanimate objects the “n word” (unless it's a room full of white rappers, which shouldn't happen in the first place because I'm pretty sure that's why I pay taxes). I shouldn't have to tell you how painfully different this is from words like “fag” or “dyke” or “homo”. While visiting my point of origin Phoenix, Arizona, last week, I witnessed my friend, a grown man who has several LGBT acquaintances and considers himself “down with the cause”, call his toaster a “faggot”, and me a “double faggot” when I beat him at Mario Kart. Apparently I am twice the homosexual that a burned English muffin ever will be. Mama be so proud.

Before you thumb your nose at me, allow the opportunity to adjust your attitude for you. The anonymity of 4Chan does not diminish or short sell its impact on our current culture. Not even a little a bit. 4Chan is perhaps the most relevant non social networking website on the webs today. We're talking about a community of true neutral adventurers who shut down JFK airport with phony bomb threats with one hand and fight The Church of Scientology with the other. Only a fool would downplay the sheer strength of internet manpower it takes to bring Rick Astley's career back from the dead. It is a club with no membership roster that spans the entire fucking free world and Texas. Eating out, riding public transit, anywhere you go, there is Anonymous. You can practically see them from space.

And don't shake what little faith I have left in you by thinking that this trend will not migrate over to the meatspace. That's what the internet does. It modifies the analog, flesh and bone world to better emulate itself. Them's the breaks, kiddo. It's not that bizarre at all to imagine cis hetero folk calling themselves “fags” in public unironically. And if its usage spreads, the word will lose all its original meaning. It will be too ambiguous to reclaim. What are you supposed to do? Put an accent or write it in italics when you intend the homosexual definition? You better put your top minds to it, because I sure as hell don't have any answers. I've been up all night thinking of what I can call my genitalia without triggering half my blog readership, and I require their pageviews for sustenance. If I wanted to solve problems I would have pursued my plans to be an academic.

So what's the moral of this somewhat bleak and erratic rant? It might do us, as a community, some good to just look at LOLcats, count to ten, and hug it out. When one considers how much of our culture is usurped and assimilated by cis hetero society on a daily basis, the good that all this self-policing does amounts to less than nothing. So much less than nothing it would require us all to retake Calculus just to properly define it. In other words, just stop. Let the trans men call themselves trannies and the gay-male-identified women call themselves girlfags. Stop spell-checking the bi folk. Let everyone enjoy our language and culture before it becomes meaningless.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to change my phone number and fake my death.

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