Hark! The trauma phone rings! Triggers must be afoot!
Say no more. I'm on it.

Suit up, BelowTheBelt. Back in time we go.

Enter 1990, stage right. I am 4, maybe 5 years old, surveying my kingdom of hot wheels, action figures and rocks laid about the living room of our cramped Air Force-issued house awaiting my command to unleash maximum playtime. My brother Jason is in his play pen, chewing on a stuffed cat. His training is almost complete. In time he will make an excellent second in command. The big shiny white thing in the sky begins its ascent. Soon it will be bathtime. We must strike soo—what's this? A tiny man in one of those green and browny suits my dad wears all the time. He's holding a gun, I think they call it. Oh, the gun comes out of his hand. How intriguing. How did you get here? It is of no conseqence. Are you prepared to have your head and body smashed with a rock? Fantastic. Welcome aboard.

These memories are from before I learned how to properly subtitle them, so for argument's sake let's say we're now in 1991, though we might in fact still be in 1990. Santa Claus has visited our school to inquire as to any requests we may have for gifts and the like. After ensuring that we are on a secure line and my information cannot be intercepted by that meanie stupidhead Trey who keeps hitting me with his backpack, I relate to the old man my predicament: I want paint, or more LEGOs, perhaps some paper dolls, piano, oh or one of those lunchboxes with the rainbows and hearts on it, much better than this G.I. Joe lunchbox I have. Whatever you do, wise old wizard, please don't ask my parents what I want. They'll tell you I want more of those men with guns and it's all lies. They're useless! They don't actually do anything.

On Christmas Day I am brought before the firing squad of army men, tanks and miniature jet planes. My father stops recording. “You're enthusiasm's killing me”. Action. Cut. Smile more. Be happy. Action. Rinse and repeat for years and years and years. When I'm 20 and successfully convince my college professors that I'm suffering from narcilepsy (known amongst truth tellers as “a habit of recreationally using prescription painkillers and listening to Frou Frou) and need more time to turn in my assignments, I will look back on those Christmases with my father and do something like but not necessarily smile. But at this very moment I wish he was dead, that I was dead, and the ice cream man didn't constantly run out of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ice cream bars I like so much. I spend years 6 thru 10 with a closet full of toys I never play with. I never realized they were meant to be instructional. When I was 16 my father told me all my life he was grooming me to join the military, to die for my country, and that if I didn't enlist after I got out of high school he'd kick me out of the house. The only reason I was able to stay at home while attending college is because the war in Iraq called and was like "hey man, you should come out to the middle east for a two year solo stint, dude, this place is rockin!" By the time he returned to the States for good I was already in college and couldn't back out of the loans I had signed up for. That reminds me. I should check my mail today. And then pretend I haven't. In years.

Present day-ish. My girlfriend and I are browsing a local old-fashioned toy store. I recognize nothing (metaphorically speaking, of course, I'm 25, I know what a fucking top is) on the shelves, except for some tiny statuettes of zoo animals. I remember those, I think. I am wrought with the urge, a giddy compulsion, to buy something, anything, from the store and run as fast as I can back home to see what it does and make it do it again and again. My future self, the one writing this article right now, will wonder if playing with gender-neutral toys and eating from a hello kitty lunchbox will actually soothe the pain of my forced masculization or if it will only agitate my memories, forcing me to relive even more of them and heighten my feelings of self-loathing. Who discovers they like coloring and playing with LEGOs when they're 25? Isn't the point of all this therapy and shit to help me pokevolve into a functioning adult? What does it all mean, computer?

In normal circumstances, I would simply handwave this, say “fuck it, it's future me's problem” and stride out the door with slingshot or dominoes in hand to the tune of “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John. (Un)fortunately, depending on whether you ask my emotions or my wallet, I'm not sure I'm ready to bring my girlfriend along for the safari to recapture my youthful spirit. Instead I go home, cry, watch an episode of Rocko's Modern Life and try folding a few paper toys from cubeecraft.com, but it's just not the same.

Helping me set realistic goals for myself and gently nudging me to make good on my commitments is one thing. Watching me process my childhood and gender identity while I play with toys or build a sandcastle is a unicorn of a different color. I'm not wholly convinced I'm ready to involve a partner in that sort of incidental therapy.

Pay no attention to the Nintendo 64 and Super Nintendo that I have acquired and set up in my bed room for her and I to play in private standing behind the curtain. You're confused, and thirsty. Once you have some kool-aid you'll see that it's just another cynical attempt to reject mainstream consumerism by embracing outdated and obsolete technology to impress my friends and partner and not immersing myself in an activity that I enjoy and find solace in because it is something I enjoy, and is not a byproduct from a learned behavior from my childhood or a reaction to a learned behavior from my childhood. My girlfriend will tell you I get giddy and bounce my legs and rub my feet and cheer when I play, but that's only a loving torment intended to provide me with a healthy level of humility appropriate for a woman my age. That rumor about me outright refusing to buy or accept donations of military-inspired or certain sports games is a lie intended to sell more newspapers. I'm glad you gave me a chance to clear my name. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a super honest truth tellers support group to attend.

Circa right now. September 30, 2010. I turned 25 a few days ago. Every year since I came out, someone somewhere has asked me if it's my real birthday or the day I began transitioning. A “tranniversary” as some would call it. While initially dismayed by such an invasive and invalidating question, I've warmed up to the absurdity of it, of being able to say that I'm 3, and that the last 22 years were of a buggier, earlier version of myself. If there is not a pill or therapy that will alleviate this weight of my “past life”, then maybe starting over will. Being denied employment because my presentation doesn't match my documentation and seeing myself portrayed in the media as a deceptive sexual trickster goddess is the fresh start I need to wash away the “be ridiculed as a child for wanting to do traditionally 'girl' things” blues. Coming out was the greatest day of my life. It brought me closer to my family and friends, helped the world make more sense, made shopping for myself easier. I want to remember and celebrate its anniversary for the rest of my life. Happy Opposite Day.

It is now the future. Enough people have misinterpreted Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind that such a procedure is now available to the public. Down with toy tanks and having to sit through Full Metal Jacket when I was 6 and constantly being denied activities and hobbies because I "wouldn't need that shit when I joined the military", up with never squicking at the sight of a G.I. Joe ever again.

I am manically jotting down a verbal patchwork of anecdotes and memories of my father and being raised a boy, the good and the bad. I don't trust myself. I might succumb to bliss and have it all deleted from my brain. It will not occur to me, the beauty in enduring such experiences and still retaining my humanity, my love, my joie de vivre. Though I may indulge my cynicism and say that my family taught me there's no such thing as “unconditional love” and being raised the wrong gender taught me how everyone wants you to play a certain part or character in their own little life's puppet show and those are important lessons to remember especially if and when I ever become successful in whatever it is I end up doing, I will likely neglect to realize that most if not everyone is hung up on their memories, and it doesn't make me defective, but a well rounded bag of mostly water just like everyone else. Forsaking my memories of being a boy will not make me more of a woman. Only herbal essences can do that. These are important facts, the stuff that epiphanies are made of. Too bad once I'm whitewashed I'll forget I wrote those memories down in the first place and will probably delete them to make more room for downloaded sound files of popular songs done in Mario Paint. And the guy who did this “We Didn't Start The Fire” DIDN'T EVEN GET THE DAMN MELODY RIGHT.

That is not the future I want for myself or whoever the hell would come out of that mindwiper procedure in my body. Too bad this time machine is only a narrative device and not a way to like, solve my problems. Even if I could see how this plays out, I'd just change it anyway because I'M NOT AN AUTOMATON I HAVE FREE WILL YOU DAMN DIRTY APES.

In situations like this the correct answer is always the most difficult, potentially vulnerable option which unfotunately isn't “create dinosaur in a lab and train it to be ridden”. Pointing how and why you you cut yourself doesn't automatically patch it up. You still have to put the band-aid on yourself. I will have to consider the possibility that feeding my inner child after midnight will not make her a gremlin. That doesn't mean I have to like it. I probably will, but I don't have to.

So maybe I get some LEGOs or build some models or some other alternative option that I will not upon pain of death say out loud in the public forum. Maybe I feel like I've made amends with myself, can forgive my younger self and my parents for the misgivings of my childhood and move on with my life. And maybe being okay with myself and providing adequate self-care makes me realize the good I bring to my relationships and I can correct the thinking error of telling myself nobody will be effected if I commit self-harm to myself and I accept that I'm of value to others. The mere thought of that makes me uncomfortable. That probably means I should do it. Goddammit. Otherwise, I'm out a few bucks and maybe a few years of my life after they send me to Azkaban for casting a curse on whoever tells my friends they saw me playing with lincoln logs.

I present to you a deal, Professor. I will grant you your freedom from the repression box if you accompany me on a dangerous voyage of self-discovery that may or may not feature a montage of us learning to overcome our differences and work together to brave the elements and survive in the wild. And then we can fight a robot or something.

Why yes, I do believe we can get the rights for “Closer To The Heart" by Rush.

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"Why don't you just pick guys or chicks and stick with one or the other?"

Who gets this? You? Well, a lot of people do. Pansexual people would get this question, too, if anyone knew what the hell "pansexual" meant. I'll bet since I'm pan I'm even MORE "OMGTRENDY" than all the bisexual chicks and dudes and non-binary people out there. I'm fightin' The Man. I'm a loner Dotty, a rebel.

Well, the whole "WHY DON'T YOU JUST BE NORMAL AND BE STRAIGHT? OR AT THE VERY LEAST GAY!" question is pretty classic. What is normal? I don't know. I don't think anyone does. But I don't think it's terribly abnormal to be indifferent as to the regard to the gender of the person you are attracted to. I think that's actually a good thing. Not being picky, just because of arbitrary standards of conduct, you know. You don't need to be just straight or gay, people. You can be somewhere in-between. And it doesn't need to be the exact center or anything. There are words like "homo-flexible" and "hetero-flexible" for a reason. The Kinsey Scale can be helpful if you absolutely NEED something to define your sexual preference, but I tend to see it as a spectrum and not as concrete as five numbers. I actually think it's ridiculous to define something as complex as sexuality with numbers. Maybe if you used a negative infinity to infinity scale. But that would be impossible to define, completely negating the so-called "usefullness" of a numerical scale. And I doubt there has ever been a person who has never had at least a fleeting thought sometime in their life of doing something with someone of the same gender, even if they're totes straight. I mean, minds wander, right? Maybe the thing is as simple as just kissing someone out of extreme affection. Something more than a bro hug. Not like there's anything wrong with keeping it to a bro hug.

There's nothing wrong with not liking the idea of being with someone of the same gender. My boyfriend is quite squicked (I think I may have made up a word...) about it, even though he's dating me, and I'm definitely not the opposite gender of him. He regards me as a separate entity (not like a ghost or something...a gender-neutral HUMAN entity...because remember, pansexual genderqueer kids ARE people) and therefore my gender status is not relevant to his unwaverable heterosexuality. At least not in his mind.

Basically, there's no problem with what mixtures of people you are attracted to. It doesn't matter if you're pansexual and potentially attracted to any gender or you're asexual and are not sexually attracted to anyone (or very rarely are). There's also really no problem with polyamory (concurrent relationships with multiple people), either. I guess people might just think that we outside the "completely" homosexual and "completely" heterosexual groups are weird, but in actuality there's absolutely nothing weird about us. We're just people a little deviated from the norm, but we are definitely not deviants...and we don't need to choose a side.

Kirk out.

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Last week, ABC aired the pilot episode of a new series, My Generation. The show is a mockumentary about the class of 2000. Cameras follow a group of nine classmates, catching up with them 10 years after graduation, and splicing in “flashbacks” from their senior year.

The mockumentary style feels pretty inauthentic, the characters are mostly predictable stereotypes, and the relationships that have occurred between them are contrived for “interesting” storytelling.

What struck me as most lacking was their sexuality. All characters appear to be straight. Granted, we’re only one episode in, but based on the relationships that have occurred between the characters, past and present, all of them are straight. Only one character has not had a relationship with one of the other eight, although a comment made by his character about a female classmate makes it pretty clear he’s straight (or at least straight-acting).

I’m not sure exactly whose generation this is. I haven’t looked into it, but I doubt any of the writers graduated from high school in or around the year 2000. The creators of the show made an attempt at diversity (there is at least one of each when it comes to commonly seen minorities on primetime: black, Asian and Hispanic) but fell short of including sexual diversity. Perhaps that will come out in a later episode. If it does, that is also pretty inauthentic. These people are 28-years-old. They grew up in a time of Ellen, Will & Grace, Rupaul, and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. It would be odd for someone of that generation to have made it that long without coming out of the closet. So I’m going to take a tiny leap and assume they are all straight.

Which is odd for my generation. I’d like to think my high school was relatively average. I had quite a few classmates who were out (at least to their friends) in high school or who have come out (or come further out) in the years since graduating. Gays being out of the closet from teenagers to adults wasn’t shocking for our generation. Maybe I’m giving us too much credit, and I’m not going to pretend like it was perfect, because I know it wasn’t. But it wasn’t hidden. And for a show to obviously go through the effort of attempting “diversity” it missed the mark.

But I’ll tune in for a few weeks at least, to see what the series holds. I am curious to see how mainstream media portrays “my” generation. And who knows maybe we’ll find out that hold out character (the one that hasn’t had a relationship with a classmate) was merely straight-acting in his comment.

I purposely didn’t mention the characters names because the show goes so far to stereotype them that after watching the one-hour pilot, you barely remember that they actually have names.

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A recent Brookings Institute report indicates that, in 2007, one out of every four men aged 25, in the United States, lived at home with their parents. That number is astonishing (and doubled from 1980, when the figure was 1 out of every 8) given that these numbers were crunched in 2007 (read: the recession hadn’t even started yet) and speaks to a population that has, in American culture, had more expectation to strike out and make it on their own as they passed into adulthood. For men to be living with parents, coexistence is no doubt a harrowing experience.

Now imagine how being 25, gay, and at home can put a crimp into your social scenario.

If the above figure is correct, and there’s reason to believe it is, that means, by statistical extrapolation, that a significant number of 25 year old gay men are still enjoying the benefits of Mom and Dad. Because we don’t have a hard number of how many men are gay in our society, it’d be difficult to come up with an acceptable figure. If we go with the conservative 6% figure, that would probably suggest that about 15% of 25 year-old gay men are living at home (once one considers co-factors that would inhibit gays from living at home as adults).

Sociologists like me remark in amazement about the development of the gay ‘coming out’ process, and how subsequent generations are going through periods of self discovery at much younger ages than their predecessors. Although there are no real hard numbers, anecdotal evidence easily supports the notion that the median coming out age for most out gay Gen Yers is younger than their Xer counterparts (who were, themselves, younger than Baby Boomers when they came out). As such, a bevy of boys coming out of the closet at, say, 15 isn’t as shocking or rare as it once was. Thus, you have, psychologically speaking, a population that has a better chance of being comfortable “in their skin” by the time they make it to their mid 20’s. Strong, well adjusted, and determined.

Well, yes, but they are still a part of Generation Y, a generation that is intent on taking its time to get to what insurance companies call “life events” (e.g. buying a house, getting married, having kids). The average female will now be in her late 20’s before marriage, and possibly early 30’s before children enter into the equation. That means, as a generation, the Yers are more likely to sit and ponder opportunities, and enjoy the creature comforts of home, compared to Gen X and the Baby Boomers (who were, statistically speaking, beating the door down to get out of the house).

Yet “being gay at your parents' home” presents some challenges in the new millennium that preceding generations didn’t have to overcome. For example, it goes without saying that the center of gay society for the Boomers and most of Gen X was the bar or club, because traditionally, that was the meeting place. However, it is easy to find evidence to support the idea that the center of gay society for Generation Y is the internet, as many social interactions that previously occurred only (or mostly) at the bar now are web-based. Trolling Manhunt on a random Friday night in your apartment is one thing; making sure the volume is turned down and your door is locked so Mom doesn’t walk in with those freshly baked cookies is another matter entirely.

In short, there’s a measure of negotiation that must occur if one wishes to be active in the gay community (however you define active) and an adult child living at home. There’d seem to be more bias regarding dating possibilities (a 25 year old straight guy living at home is, to some straight women, amusing; a 25 year old gay guy living at home is, to some gay men, a pariah), encounters (not like you’re going back to “your place”), and privacy (“what’s this thing that looks like a flashlight?”) that heterosexuals either bypass or minimize (thanks to our old friend, heteronormativity).

While the numbers of mid-twenty something men at home are shocking, consider that (a) Canada has worse numbers; it’s been speculated that 38% of their 20 something male population live at home and (b) these numbers are from 2007; the recession probably accounts for a (conservative) 3-5% increase in these numbers, since we have evidence of adult children moving back in with their parents due to financial distress.

As such, adult gay men living at home might represent a nominal, rocky, or awkward scenario, but as time progresses, it may be something we see more commonly.

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So, it's September (well, nearly October, really), which means back to school for many of us. There's this stereotype (not entirely unfounded) of academic institutions as bastions of liberalism. And definitely, an institution where there are a bunch of people immersed in studying the world's problems and their solutions, with relatively flexible schedules and a mandate to engage with the communities around them – well, that's a pretty good recipe for a place that's going to foster all sorts of activism. But academia is also a site of oppression for many people, including those who work or study in the academy, those who are studied by it, and those who are excluded from it altogether.

I know I'm not the only person on this blog who is a student, researcher, instructor, or otherwise involved in a university setting, so I wanted to open up a discussion: What are your experiences with oppression in academia, or of academia as a place for activism and anti-oppression work, or both?.(This question is open to anyone, whether you are, have been, or will be involved with academia in any way, shape, or form, or if you want to offer an outsider's perspective.)

To start us off, here are a few thoughts:
Last week I attended an awesome, sex-positive, gender-inclusive, feminist workshop on sexual assault recently. The facilitator was from the student volunteer-run sexual assault center on campus, which is also the only sexual assault center in the city to offer its services to people of all genders, and not just cis women. They are open to anyone in the city, student or not, and in addition to providing a help-line/support groups/assistance with filing complaints/what have you, they also do outreach in high schools. In short, they're pretty freakin' awesome, and I'm going to assume that their existence is made a whole lot easier by the fact that they're in a university setting.


Another thought. This semester, I'm taking a class across town at another university. It's a pretty amazing class, looking at international institutions (the UN, the World Bank, etc.) from a subaltern perspective, but that's not really my point. What surprised me was that when I got the syllabus, it had an official-looking statement on it about the right of students to vote on the course requirements. Sure enough, after the professor had spent some time explaining the syllabus and making sure all our questions were answered, he left the room and we students were left to discuss the syllabus and vote on it, including any proposed amendments. The professor and an elected representative then signed the agreed-upon syllabus as a binding contract, which we will all abide by – or face disciplinary proceedings.

This is apparently a university-wide policy. How awesome is that?


And of course, the current climate of neoliberal budget cuts and “austerity measures” tend to be bad news for public funding for education. At the same time, the skyrocketing cost of many private institutions has created a sense that higher education should be costly. Which is exactly why the administrators at my university are lobbying hard to raise tuition. Although our fees are actually quite high compared to other institutions in Montreal, the province as a whole has some of the lowest fees in the country – and by extension in North America. Apparently, that means that our fees ought to be raised to meet the national average. (Although if we meet the current national average, that'll just push the average up, which I guess means we'll have to hike tuition again, amiright?)

Academia likes to think of itself as a meritocracy, but there are serious consequences to these sorts of decisions. Among other things, high tuition costs disproportionately favor students who can rely on financial support from their families (i.e. leaving out many queer and trans folks, children of single parents, people of color, poor and working class people, first generation university students, children of undocumented immigrants, etc.) I think we all agree that not having the opportunity for higher education is one way in which systemic oppression is reproduced: access to education – and the associated status, connections, and experience – is a prerequisite for most well-paying or powerful positions. But here's another thing: being excluded from academia means being excluded from the mainstream creation of knowledge; perpetually being the studied, not the studier. This does not, generally speaking, lead to peace, love, and mutual understanding for all involved.

In related news, I just found out that the Chicago City Colleges — whose open-door policy allowed me to take classes there before I was ready to attend a 4-year university — are now restricting admissions. Again, budget cuts are the alleged reason. Why is it that budget cuts always seem to hit those who were struggling most already? Wait, don't answer that.


No discussion of tuition hikes in North America would be complete without referencing the struggles of students in the University of California system, and the March 4th day of action that grew out of them.

And finally, I want to link to two compelling posts I came across in the past few weeks that contributed to my thinking on this issue. Read them!
Carrie Cutler/mouthyb, Guest Post: Standing in the Crossroads. An eloquent, honest post about the author's personal experience of classism, sexism, and harassment as a graduate student at the University of New Mexico.

Kay Ulanday Barrett/brownroundboi, [15+ things I wish i knew in college] broke-ass qtpoc from an immigrant household (the REMIX). Pretty self-explanatory, really. Kay Ulanday Barrett is a poet/spoken word artist/educator with roots in my hometown of Chicago. (I wish I could say I knew hir, but I'm not that cool. Yet.)
Go ahead and post your thoughts, experiences, struggles, and questions below.

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History is pretty awesome. Because when you are in tune with it, it gives you something to build off of, and then you don't have to reinvent the wheel every time you are passionate about something. LGBT movements sort of recognize this, and have celebrations that honor things like the Stonewall Riots, but guess what... they often neglect to look back any further than that.

Forget the homophile activism that took place in the decade prior, and further, forget that while Stonewall gained national prominence, US history is ripe with different forms of resistance against gender and sexuality norms. Forget the gays in the holocaust, forget the myriad of non-European cultures that prior to falling victim to Imperialism had much better social systems for acknowledging the wide array of human gender and sexual and behavior.

I bring up all these things to oppose the sovereignty of one simple idea, an idea that I think drives a lot of Moderates in the US, which is that time will bring progress. This idea is often conflated with the notion that progress takes time (which, while technically true, is woefully overemphasized and used as a reason to make progress take way more time than it actually needs to). Even in the rather shallow collective memory of the US, one can see evidence that progress and time are not marching together; the very active 60s and 70s have left us with a watered down memory of MLK Jr. and a frighteningly pervasive discourse that reduces much of the radical activity of the time to unnecessary violence. We constantly fight waves of anti-muslim sentiment. If progress and time correlate at all, it is certainly one of the more tenuous journeys that can be imagined.

There are lenses through which a correlation can be seen; legally recognized gay marriage rights in the US for example have been moving fairly steadily forward in recent times, with backlashes being mostly immediate rather than a product of backward marching social thought. But even things like this can be contrasted to assaults on affirmative action and the prevalence of post-racial, post-sexist discourses. The most mainstream view of US history will focus on the strides that have been made, ignore deviations to this storyline, and with the aid of the wow factor of obvious technological differences, make the heroic claim that the US is a better nation today than it was when we separated from England.

And in reality, time can only bring progress if our collective memory deepens and provides more universal exposure to the full mosaic of historical struggle and social thought.

This post was prompted by my recent reading of a 20 year old article published in a local LGBT publication that asked the question “why is the gay deaf population leaving the area?” I never knew that my area had one, and upon further investigation, there were lots of things we used to have. It saddened me, because though my area is half in Iowa, so the Quad Cities has access to legal marriage equality, there are definitely things in our past that I would trade it in for.

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Rewind. Last weekend. I'm lying in bed with my partner, idly stroking her hair and trying to sumo wrestle a piece of dinner from between my teeth. I can feel it working it's way up my throat. A word, or perhaps several fixed together like a Voltron of impulsive vulnerability, fighting it's way out of me with a reckless devil may care attitude to shatter my house of glass and give away my trade secrets. It will burst through my corporeal form, tearing my spine out with it and leaving me a helpless heap of mostly water on the floor to shiver and writhe. Just like last time. And the time before that. I have foreseen this, yet I am unable to divert from the course. Like a Nordic god slated to die in the Ragnarok, so too must my ego be sacrificed for the greater good. It has to be. I have to believe that this is for the better, that this constant wretching and purging of what optimists would call “my soul” has somehow been arranged for my betterment.

Oh god here it comes. You can see it. Look at how I close my eyes real tight and take a deep breath, as if opening them again will magically awaken me from this dream and copy/paste me back into reality, where I am an open book who doesn't soil “cuddle time” with vulgar soul-bearing (and can walk through walls). That smile means I'm preparing myself for her response. I'm practicing my "laugh at myself because I'm silly" face. I pull her tight and exhale right into her hair. Sometimes that shit's so hot and sludgy with aroma that when it comes back to your eyes you tear up a little. And lo, here cometh the money shot:

"I look up to you because you're the woman I wanted to grow up to be when I was a little boy."

Now. Wasn't. That. Special.

Fast forward to yesterday. The support group facilitator is popping off that good shit about attachment theory. Scanning memory banks for memories of my parents that won't trigger a system error. File not found. Rewind to Tuesday. In one day I've booked a fundraiser event for my budding nonprofit and been nominated to be lead game designer for the game some friends and I are making called Across The Zooniverse. Alone in my kitchen at 1030pm, I cry because I realize that I would have given anything at that moment for someone to pat me on the head, tell me they're proud of me and maybe give me a cookie or an ice cream sandwich. Sometimes I think I should change my screen name to FirstWorldProblemChild.

But hark, I am jerked to the present by the facilitator's inquiry on how I'm handling the loss of my individual therapist, whose internship with the clinic I'm treated at ended a couple of months ago. My tears follow me to the present and I begin leaking all over the place. It dawns on me that of all the things I miss about individual therapy, the absence of validation cuts me the deepest. Like a trained circus animal I would grin when she told me she was proud of me. The same grin I give my partner when she does the same. I guess what I really meant when I said "someone" was my partner, my ex-therapist, or perhaps a version of either from the future, a time where people relax from the hours of watching robots do all the damn labor by using time travel to give people they know morale boosts. I wonder if hearing my mother tell me she's proud of me would elicit the same reaction. I don't think so. I love my mom. Totes for reals. But for 22 years my mother loved and cared for someone I did not want to be. I know she loves me, but I am unsure if she sees me. Have all those years being her "firstborn son" built a wall between us, the cracks of which she must peek through to see the "real" me? And how thin or thick is that wall to begin with? How much distance did my assigned gender put between us from the beginning?

Being MAAB, society deemed that I should take my cues about growing up to be a well-rounded human being from my father. In his defense my dad did his very best to teach me how to be a man and point me in the direction of other men who could help keep me on the path. Veterans, politicians, sports stars. As I developed into more of an art/music type, he tried to reconcile his expectations for me. I could be a country music singer, or a filmmaker of patriotic war movies. When book suggestions and father/son bonding over a baseball game failed, he would bring out the big guns: shoving, name calling, trying to embarrass me in front of my friends. The sort of stuff you see "token angry drunken dad" do in the movies and roll your eyes. It would be very easy for me to twist all this into abuse and gender coercion, but the fact is my father did the best he could with the tools he had. There simply was not enough force, pressure, and emasculating language in the world that could sway me to "man up".

Calling me a sissy, a cocksucker, a faggot does not demean me. It demeans you for having to resort to such dirty tactics and losing anyway. I can say this shit to him now because I've had the time to think of a witty retort. The same hindsight allows me to interpret my refusal to adopt male role models as a child as a symptom of my gender dysphoria and not necessarily because "people suck, they let you down, and the only solace is that one day they'll die". Thank you for sharing that with us, seventeen year old me.

When I was younger, when asked who my heroes were, I would say "Optimus Prime" or "Green Arrow". I reasoned that Optimus Prime, unlike my father or teachers, never lied to me. From the beginning, I knew he was a fabrication intended to sell toys and commercial time and theater tickets, and that I sought to emulate his "honest to a fault" quality. The truth is Green Arrow was guarding my front door as I read Virginia Woolf and Wonder Woman and listened to riot grrl punk and watched Power Puff Girls and all sorts of shit that I'm embarrassed to admit I did in "secret".

At the time I thought I was indulging my "inner girl". I had no idea that the inner girl would grow and assimilate my corporeal form. When I was a "heterosexual cis man" my knowledge of trans women consisted of Christine Jorgensen, Calpernia Adams, a subplot of Nip/Tuck and Hedwig. It never occurred to me you could be trans and still be diy, counterculture, ready for action. When I first transitioned, I read books on how to cross dress and tried to develop a taste for expensive handbags and develop a "girl walk". When I think of how much time and money I could have saved if I had listened to myself the first time, much shit is lost. None of these compacts match my paint-covered chucks. I'll never get asked to the ball.

I value my partner's opinion in part because embodies what "being a woman" meant for me at a time when I was convinced I could never attain it. She identifies as femme and likes to bake and wear fabulous dresses. She also plays rugby, wears torn jeans to social functions, is well read on all sorts obscure curiosity and minutiae, more than holds her own in a discussion on feminist politic and kicked my ass at ping pong on our fourth date. I'm not so proud that I won't admit that I've begun to emulate her in benign, nonthreatening ways. I've begun baking from scratch and not using a mix, reading recreation-ally, knitting, and actually exercising. No more "oh boy I have a letter to mail I might get to walk some today". Her approval is important to me not only as my partner but also as someone whose grasp of reality and identity I trust. Do not mistake trust for security. I am absolutely terrified at how much her opinion means to me. There are no free warm fuzzies in this town, mac. That's the thing with approval and validation; it can be lost or taken away. How will I take it if I ever feel like I disappoint her? I've always taken it as a given that my family thought low of me and my path in life, which was okay at the time because I didn't want to be like any of them. Disapproval from someone I admire and strive to emulate, someone who I want to be like if/when I ever recovery from or learn to manage my mental illness...that is as unfamiliar-ly terrifying as ketchup on tacos. I'm far from eager to try either.

My girlfriend is also my role model. You may not think this is healthy. You may also have a great relationship with your parents, not require weekly therapy to help you deal with your emotions, and understand that Spongebob Squarepants is just a cartoon and not a useful tool for teaching diversity and tolerance to children AKA "not necessarily representative of my experience or my target audience's experience". I ain't writing this shit for you. I gave all my fucks to Save The Rhinos, I don't have one to give about what you think. I'm too concerned about how my girlfriend is going to take having an article examining our relationship. All I can do is keep calm, carry on, and make the most of it. I can think of worse ways to process these feelings than asking someone to play with my hair and say nice things about me. I won't say what they are, lest you get any ideas and end up on 4Chan's hit list for drowning a puppy on youtube and I learn about this when I find your entry on EncyclopediaDramatica. I fear I've already said too much.

Fast forward to today. What I had intended to take 45 minutes has taken a few hours to write. I turn 25 next week. I'm scared. You can tell because I bite down on the inside of my mouth until it leaves permanent grooves on the flesh. I can't tell if I'm going forwards or backwards. It like I haven't passed Go and collected my 200 dollars since transitioning and moving out to California. Feel. That's a word I never used with any sort of regularity until I went to therapy. My mother is sending my musical saw in the mail. I want to get very good at it and play it in front of my girlfriend. I almost de-tagged myself from a picture my cousin posted of me from when I was 5, or maybe 6. Much to my surprise I refrained. It's who I was, but not who I am. Maybe when I'm 30 I'll feel like a completed work and not like a painfully tedious restoration. Maybe then I won't need my partner to "re-parent" me. Maybe I will. No time for love, Doctor Jones. I'm gonna get me some fucking cake next week!

After writing"Bloody hell!" she cried. and Boys Are Plant Type, Girls Are Psychic Type I got muy feedback from people that suggested I was speaking about things that often went undiscussed in trans spaces. Is this one of them? Does there exist a phenomenon where lesbian, queer, or bi-identified trans women see their female-identified partners as stand-in parental figures or role models? Is this common enough in f/f relationships that there's a name for it I am not privy to? Am I just the first to show up, and should I go ahead and get us a table or do you want me to wait for you?

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If you ever come across me, I’ll give you a dollar if you know what the hell I was thinking when I woke up that morning. Well, I should up the ante, because it's really unlikely that you will. I’m kind of a genderfuck. Maybe. You could probably call me that. I bind everyday, but I’m obsessed with eye makeup, and wear that pretty much everyday, too...if I have time to put it on. I also keep my nails long…and my hair short. And I wear unisex or men's clothing. I want to pass for…I don’t know, something? A person? My goal is to keep you guessing. I’ve had people call me sir, "correct" themselves to ma’am, and then go back to sir. Usually they eventually apologize and try to pretend it never happened. I, for the most part, end up pleased. I get looks of disgust, or confusion, and then I get those looks of surprise when I see people that I haven’t seen in months (or years) who have noticed my chest has suddenly dropped a few cup sizes with no explanation. Some people are disappointed. They can deal.

Let’s talk about this makeup thing. I really like it. It’s pretty much face painting, except less…gross. I am not Insane Clown Posse. They’re not even a posse. You need at least two other people to have a posse. One is just a wing man. They apparently do not understand this. Or magnets.

Insane Clown Posse aside, eye makeup can be pretty fun. I have a plethora of colors, probably about 75 or so different pots or pans of that wonderful stuff. That's just the high quality stuff. I have a couple pans/quads of stuff you can buy at Target or whatever. Yeah, that's a lot. No, I am not a professional. Not yet. I have no real reason to have so many colors, but I do, and it's put me back about $1000. At least. It's accumulated over the years, but still. That's a lot of makeup. And I actually use most of it.

Like I said, I'm not a professional. But I like to think I'm pretty good. I have pretty decent brushes and my friends always want me to do their makeup. But without a certificate from a cosmetology school, I'm not going to get a job. But, pretty soon, I will be entering cosmetology school. As soon as I get my breast reduction. FO SHO. Are you excited for me? I am. I'll finally be able to do hair and makeup and nails for my friends' and relatives' (and other people's) weddings and make lots of money. And cut friends' and family's hair on a regular basis. Other people's hair, too. Money. Money for when I'm not going to school and am only working in the office twenty hours a week. Money when I get a night and weekend job at a salon. And I will, since I cut hair and do makeup pretty well without formal training so I can only get better, right?

Well, people usually assume I’m female once they see that I'm wearing makeup, but when I went on a visit to a the cosmetology school I'm probably going to go to, some weird stuff went down. I got major compliments on my eyeshadow from the director. We chatted a while, and then she said that I would make a good wedding makeup artist. She said that I would get a lot of clients and make a lot of money if I got a certificate from the school. She was very friendly, but when she talked to me about the school, she always corrected herself when she mentioned that the students were “girls,” “gals,” or "ladies," et cetera. She tried to make a point that there were male students as well, but it was awkward for her to say it. She said it like it was unusual and somehow difficult for her to mention it. Maybe it’s because she didn’t know how to gender me because of my blatantly obvious (and purposeful) mixed messages, and she was trying to be sensitive. She knew my birth name, but, well, seemed uneasy. Seriously though, I'm going to be the only non-"gal" at that school as far as I can see.

Similar things happen at the makeup stores. I like really nice makeup so I get my eyeshadow at M.A.C or Sephora. That's why I'm so broke from accumulating my vast collection. The clerks either stare at me like a freak and leave me alone, or they read me as a femme gay man, or as a woman who is presenting quite unusually, but who is strangely attractive in a "cute boy" kind of way. If they get past the "freak" impression they come up and tell me to work there. Whether they read me as a weird guy, a weird girl, or something else entirely, I've been asked many a time to work at the makeup stores by various employees. No one really knows what I'm going for presentation-wise, but usually they don't really give a shit. See, I’m confusing. On purpose. Oh, how insensitive and horrible and mean I am. But I doubt my antics truly harm anyone.
My being "insensitive and horrible and mean" gets me ID’d a lot, because I seriously do look like a boy wearing makeup. One time I was first in line for a show at First Avenue. Yeah, I go there all the time. Because I'm awesome. If you didn't already know, that's where "Purple Rain" was filmed. Yeah, with Prince. But that's kind of irrelevant to the point I'm trying to make. I just wanted to add it as a fun little side note. But yeah, before I could hand the bouncer my ID, he yelled to a guy inside, "Hey, can you get me a Sharpie out here?" I said, "Hey, well, I'm actually 21. See? So can I have a wristband now, so maybe I may consume some alcoholic beverages while inside your fine establishment?" Okay, I didn't say it like that. But I did put my ID in his hand and said, "Hey, I'm 21. You don't need to give me X's."

Seriously, people even ID me at the mall to check if I’m over sixteen. So obviously I don't look like a woman in her early-twenties (ewww I just called myself a woman), I look like a fifteen year old boy in makeup stuffing his C-cup sports bra. I sound like it, too. I have a deep-ish voice that cracks (and jumps an octave when I answer the phone at work…) and I tend to swear a lot. I’m so immature. A perk of looking like a teenage boy (well, I think it’s hilarious) is that my boyfriend, who is in his mid-twenties, looks like a cradle-robber.
Oh, look at the time on my pocket watch! I need to go rainbow up my eyelids and hit the road.

Kirk out.

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The naive Peggy Olson of season one
The second in a series of posts examining the women of the popular AMC drama Mad Men, from my feminist lens. Note: Some spoilers from season four and earlier seasons below.

The character of Peggy Olson on the AMC hit drama Mad Men is easily considered the “feminist” character of the show. In the beginning of the series, she’s 20 years old, single and determined to be successful at her job of secretary at Sterling Cooper. By season four, she’s moved up to copywriter, still single, and even more determined to be successful in her career. She’s very ambitious for a woman of her time – most women in the 1960s were focused on finding a husband, and if they did have jobs, they were jobs only women could do: secretary, nurse, teacher or saleswoman in retail settings that cater to women – department, jewelry or grocery store.

By season four, Peggy Olson doesn't take shit
from anyone, least of all douchey guys

Socially, Peggy is very progressive – she doesn’t save herself for marriage, she’s willing to experiment with pot. However, as seen in season four, her careers ambitions are getting in the way of her pursuit of husband and family. In episode 7, “The Suitcase,” she bails on dinner with her boyfriend on her birthday, her boyfriend subsequently dumps her. She seems initially more shocked than sad, and later more sad that she’s alone, not that she’s no longer with that specific boyfriend. In season three, Peggy has an affair with the older (divorced) Duck Phillips, although it’s not clear exactly how and why this relationship ends, when Duck comes back around, Peggy realizes what a pathetic drunk he is.

The definition of feminism, and what the feminist movement wants to achieve, is as varied as the women who have claimed to be feminists. Feminist scholar bell hooks defines feminism as the movement to end sexist oppression. Other largely agreed upon definitions of feminism include equality for women (although what exactly that means is debated) and the freedom of choice for women. It is easy to see that Peggy is a feminist character.

Through the series, Peggy has issue with sexist actions. Early in season one, she is disgusted by the way the men treat the women in the office. There is even a montage scene of the men in the office repeatedly checking her out, and her reaction of frustration and anger. She complains to office manager (and the office “sexpot”) Joan: “why it is that whenever a man takes you to lunch around here, you're the dessert?”

In season three, when Duck Phillips tries to recruit Peggy to work at his new firm, she goes to Don to ask for a raise, citing the newly passed Equal Pay Act. Don is distracted by other things at the office (which escape me) and turns down her request, even through she does better work than the male copywriters for less money. However, it is empowering to see her (short-lived) determination.

Also in season three, Peggy realizes that the advertising targeted to women is not actually appealing to women, and says as much to Don, who rejects her comments. When the proposed ad is shot down by the client, Peggy’s expression is one of small triumph. Even if the men don’t realize it, she knows that women don’t think just like men. As someone who currently works in public relations & marketing, Peggy has the potential to be a rich women in the future (of the timeline of Mad Men). Eventually the rest of marketing catches up to her and realizes that women don’t think like men, and can’t be marketing to the same way, and it’s important because women make the majority of the buying decisions. I digress.

In season four, Peggy is seen with more power at the office, but still the single gal without a husband. It seems to bother her not because she wants that status, but because like most people, she wants a partner, someone to love her, someone to come home to, and with which to raise a family. She quickly gets over being dumped by her boyfriend Mark when she realizes how little he actually knows her. She values having a partner who knows her, what makes her happy, and takes her wants into consideration.

It’ll be interesting to see the trajectory of Peggy, especially as the feminist movement heats up. While she be a leader of the movement? Will she join NOW? If Peggy does get married, will it be to a partner who understands her need for independence, and the satisfaction she gets from her career? Hopefully Matthew Weiner et al do “our” feminist Peggy right.

First post in this series: Man Women: Joan Harris née Holloway

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It is often assumed that modern LGBT movements had their origins in the United States, in the second half of the 20th Century. One only needs to examine the iconography of queer communities around the world in order to understand how US-centric queer activism can be. For instance, most pride parades are held in the summer months, to commemorate the Stonewall Riots of June 1969. And the rainbow flag, which is slowly becoming an international symbol of queerness, was created by a Californian artist. A number of other mainstays of LGBT communities around the world also have their origins in the US: academic queer theory, genderqueer identity, RuPaul, Cher, etc.. Indeed, the United States serves as a reference point, a place of origin of sorts, for contemporary LGBT activism.

But this is a misconception. Over fifty years before the first large-scale queer organizing in the US, German sexual minorities were developing sophisticated movements of their own, which would have probably garnered significant political and cultural victories had it not been for the Nazi terror of the 1930s. This post will take a close look at these movements and examine the extent to which their internal debates mirror the controversies dominating modern queer activism.

The German Homosexual Movements of the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries: An Overview

The territory of present-day Germany went through enormous changes in the second half of the 19th Century. A series of nationalistic wars were used as a pretext for unifying 39 feudal principalities and statelets into a large German state by 1871. Industrialization and the domestic free trade system introduced by the Zollvereien (Tariff Union) swept away internal barriers and led to large-scale migration and urbanization. The increasing availability of work in city factories enabled more people to leave their families and villages, settling on their own in teeming urban metropolises. It is in this context, during the unification of Germany “by iron and blood,” that the first visible homosexual communities emerged. As historian James Steakley writes:

“Prior to the wave of urbanization, the vast majority of German homosexuals lived in peasant villages where it was impossible for them to imagine themselves as a minority, to recognize themselves as a group with shared interests. The eccentric bachelor or spinster…may have been the object of mild suspicion or concern to village neighbors, but they would not automatically associate such forms of deviance with the sin of Sodom…Urban homosexuals developed the ritualized forms of interaction which would facilitate mutual recognition, and effeminate behavior on the part of males first became a caste mark in the cities” (The Homosexual Emancipation Movement in Germany, 15).

Nevertheless, while groups of homosexuals lurked in the shadows of German cities, no organizations existed to represent their interests and fight against the criminalization of their sexual practices.* For most of the 19th Century, activism on behalf of homosexuals was carried out by lone lawyers and doctors, many of whom did not know each other personally and could not form associations. The most prominent and pioneering activist during this period was Karl Heinrich-Ulrichs, a gay jurist from Hanover who developed elaborate theories about the origins of homosexuality. At the time he was writing, homosexuality was considered an acquired trait, a vice that one can fall into. Ulrichs, however, argued the exact opposite: that homosexuality was a congenital feature, akin to left-handedness, the outcome of feminizing or masculinizing influences in the early stages of fetal development. This developmental androgyny made all gays a sort of “Third Sex” by default. For Ulrichs, male homosexuals (whom he called, Urnings) were essentially women’s souls trapped in men’s bodies, while female homosexuals (termed, Urningins) were men’s spirits inhabiting women’s bodies.

Ulrichs read and wrote voraciously, but he was no solitary bookworm. He dared to publicly advocate for the partial decriminalization of sexual relations between people of the same sex in an extremely homophobic era. And he often used his theoretical work on the origins of homosexuality as the foundation for his legal arguments. On August 26, 1867, for example, Ulrichs gave a speech at the Congress of German Jurists, declaring that “extant laws were based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of homosexuality and had the effect of subjecting an innocent minority to untold persecutions” (Steakley, 5). Since people were born Urnings or Urningins, and did not have a choice in the matter, Ulrichs contended, legal discrimination against them was unjust. Nevertheless, his numerous efforts did not bring many immediate benefits. Ulrichs was “shouted down” by the Congress of German Jurists and he never managed to reach a wide audience with his books (5). “At the age of fifty-five, physically and spiritually drained, Ulrichs abandoned the cause of homosexual emancipation…[and left Germany], moving first to Naples and then, in 1883, to Aquila, an isolated town…where he lived his last years in poverty and exile” (22).

But in the longer-term, Ulrichs’ work was extremely significant for the German gay movement. Influential doctors, psychiatrists and lawyers, such as Richard von Kraft-Ebbing and Carl von Westphal, became familiar with his texts and used them to develop a more accepting medical approach to homosexual issues. Furthermore, his work had an impact on the words people used to talk about homosexuality. Whereas previously, censorious terms such as Sodomit, Paderast, Knabenschander (which means, “boy-ravisher”) were used by most people, Ulrichs’ more benign terminology (Urning, Dioning) became much more popular, at least until World War I (Steakley, 13-14).

Most importantly, however, Ulrichs laid at least part of the theoretical groundwork for the emergence of an organized gay movement in Germany. His ideas were resurrected by sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld who, together with Max Spohr and Erich Oberg, founded Germany’s first gay rights organization – the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee (Wissenschaftlich-humanitares Komitee) – on May 15, 1897. For the next three decades, the Committee was the most prominent sexual reform organization in the country, campaigning for the legalization of homosexual relations, writing petitions, co-opting members of parliament, outing politicians, developing educational pamphlets for the public, and fostering connections with the feminist movement and social democratic political parties. In the run-up to World War I, the Committee also began to establish an international network, opening up branches in Amsterdam (1911), London (1912) and Vienna (1914) (Steakley, 60).

But the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee did not have a monopoly. German sexual minorities joined other groups, some of which were markedly different from Hirschfeld’s organization. For instance, the Community of the Special (Gemeinschaft der Eigenen), founded on May 1, 1902 by Adolf Brand, Wilhelm Jansen and Benedict Friedlander, was primarily a cultural organization, whose members were drawn from the readership of Der Eigene, Germany’s first homosexual periodical. While the Community focused more on art, philosophy, literature and aesthetics, it was also a site of political commentary and debate. In fact, its members engaged in often fierce polemics with the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, which caused major ideological rifts within the German homosexual movements of the 1910s.

According to Steakley, “World War I brought the efforts of the homosexual emancipation movement to an almost complete halt” (61). Nevertheless, in the heady aftermath of one of the world’s bloodiest conflicts, there was a veritable explosion of homosexual activism, art, and culture. 30 gay periodicals were published during the Weimar Republic** and Steakley estimates that, in 1923, at least 25 gay organizations were operating in Germany (60). But this eruption of community action did not bring about any concrete political changes. The focus of most of these gay groups was social rather than political. They were a means for German homosexuals to meet, have sex, and form relationships, but few engaged in campaigns for legal reform or broader social acceptance. While the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee remained in existence, its influence waned as a result of the party atmosphere fostered in gay communities during the 1920s. This was bolstered by a degree of official tolerance in big cities, some societal liberalism, and the relaxation of censorship regulations. For instance, trans citizens could be issued police certificates, allowing them to dress as their preferred gender in public, and lesbian bars were sometimes permitted to sell drugs (Steakley, 81).

But one organization did push for legal reform in the early 1920s. The German Friendship Association (Deutscher Freundschafts-Verband) was founded in the wake of World War I as a purely social organization – but ironically, it quickly engaged in active efforts to repeal homophobic laws, in cooperation with the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee and some members of the Community of the Special. Indeed, the three organizations briefly formed an Action Committee (Aktionsausschuss), which attempted to develop a mass-based homosexual movement at the national level. Unfortunately, with the onset of hyperinflation in 1923 and the increasing disillusionment of the homosexual population with political struggle, the Action Committee soon became obsolete. In Steakley’s words, it became “far easier to luxuriate in the concrete utopia of the urban sub-culture than to struggle for an emancipation which was apparently only formal and legalistic” (81).

Notably, there was one more large-scale attempt at political change in the late 1920s: the formation of the Coalition for Reform of the Sexual Crimes Code (Kartell fur Reform der Sexualstrafrechts). This was an alliance of a variety of reformist organizations, only one of which (the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee) “was a homosexual group” (Steakley, 83). The group did have some success campaigning for the reform of the anti-sodomy law (Paragraph 175). And with the support of left-wing political parties, it even managed to get a Reichstag Committee to approve the legalization of homosexual relations in October of 1929 (84-5). However, the start of the Great Depression overshadowed all other policy issues and the Parliament did not end up discussing the issue in its Plenary sessions (85).

Overall, the relative liberalism of the 1920s provided a short-lived window of opportunity for German homosexual emancipation movements. But they failed to take advantage of it, and after the Nazis consolidated their stranglehold on power in the early 1930s, the gay subculture and gay organizations were driven underground and into exile. Hitler’s rule resulted in unparalleled levels of state brutality towards sexual minorities. Paragraph 175 was expanded to make “nine possible ‘acts’…punishable, including a kiss, an embrace, even homosexual fantasies” (Steakley, 110). And tens – perhaps hundreds – of thousands of homosexuals were exterminated in the concentration camps. The burst of a fiery queer culture and activism in early 20th Century was brutally extinguished in the space of only a few years by a regime bent on eliminating anyone who could not contribute to the progress of the Aryan race through reproduction.

German Homosexual Activism in the Early 20th Century: Three Approaches

Magnus Hirschfeld, the founder of the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, once wrote: “homosexuals are in reality almost totally lacking in feelings of solidarity; in fact, it would be difficult to find another class of mankind which has proved so incapable of organizing to secure its basic legal and human rights” (Steakley, 82). While the sweeping nature of this statement betrays ignorance about divisions within other movements, Hirschfeld’s frustration is understandable. The various organizations within the German homosexual movement of the early 20th Century were bitterly divided. This section will describe some of these divisions, arguing that there were three distinct approaches to homosexual activism during this time

(i) The “Committee Approach”
The Scientific-Humanitarian Committee was, without a doubt, the leading gay rights group in Germany (Steakley, 52-60). Using Ulrichs’ theories, the Committee based its arguments for emancipation on the notion that homosexuality is an essentially un-chosen characteristic, resulting from the feminization of male brains and the masculinization of female brains before birth. These prenatal processes were seen as leading to an androgyny of the soul in adult life. Hirschfeld couched explanations of this phenomenon in medical and scientific language and developed elaborate theories to explain the causes of homosexuality. If one is born gay, rather than choosing to be that way, what could possibly justify the penalization of same-sex relations? The Committee took this insight and used it as the basis for advocacy to reform Paragraph 175. The Committee’s main goals were legal and political change and its members spent a considerable amount of time lobbying the Reichstag and collecting signatures for numerous petitions. By 1914, the Committee had published over 100,000 propaganda materials and developed strong connections with the women’s movement and some members of the Social Democratic Party (SPD).

(ii) The “Community Approach”
This “Committee Approach” was markedly different from the strategy adopted by the Community of the Special. In fact, while their memberships overlapped, leaders of the two organizations often engaged in fierce polemics. In Steakley’s words, there was “a deep factionalization between the Committee and the Community” (60). For instance, the following was Benedict Friedlander’s take on the activist approach taken by Hirschfeld’s group:

“Taken by itself, the very fact that the general public never sees anyone but doctors in the movement’s leadership must further the erroneous notion that the movement is concerned with disease or at least some kind of sickness. Certainly sickness can be pitied, the sick can be treated “humanely,” and a ”cure” can even be attempted, but equality will never be accorded to those who are held to be physically inferior.” (Steakley, 48).

Members of the Community also resented Hirschfeld’s ignorance about bisexuality. In fact, Friedlander believed that bisexuality was a superior sexual orientation, calling those who had an exclusively heterosexual or homosexual orientation, Kummerlinge, which means “atrophied or puny beings” (46-7). And while the Committee took great pains to emphasize that it was not seeking to offend Christian morality,*** the Community sneered at modern society, advocated public nudity, and emphasized the superiority of men who have sex with men in style and taste (61). According to Steakley, the overall vibe of the Community was one of “elevated and aristocratic aestheticism” (50).

It may be tempting to view the “Community Approach” as a forbearer of modern queer theory, given its embrace of bisexuality, its trenchant critique of heteronormative society, and its resistance to medicalizing homosexuality. But the differences between the Community of the Special and today’s queer theorists are just as striking as the similarities. Firstly, the Community was an all-male chauvinist organization, in which the belief that women exist to have children and tend to the household was very popular (Steakley, 61). This is a far cry from today’s queer theorists, who engage extensively with feminist politics and reject all imposed gender norms.

Secondly, the Community shunned collaboration with other oppressed groups in society, aiming for a revival of Hellenic chivalry and the transformation of the German public sphere into a space where masculine homoeroticism would dominate (Steakley, 61). Again, as queerthestorm described in a recent post, queer theorists are – at least in principle – committed to struggling against all forms of oppression. Systems of racial, sexual, economic, political or gender stratification are all objects of sharp critique among queer theorists. They are also definitely not advocates for the masculinization of public space, preferring instead to debate how socially constructed spaces create or foreclose possibilities for non-heteronormative genders and sexualities to express themselves.

Finally, one of the Community’s most cherished causes was love between men and boys. Community members, believing that they were realizing the Hellenistic ideal, valued the nurturing of “bonds between men of unequal ages,” and called for “erotic,” but non-sexual pedophilic relationships between male family members (Steakley, 43). One of the sharpest disagreements between the Community and the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee was actually over the latter’s desire to legalize homosexual relations, but only for those over the age of 16 (47-8). While modern queer theorists may question the arbitrary nature of ages of consent (who is to say whether someone is ready to have sex at 16 or 18?), they would certainly equate pedophilia with non-consensual sex.

Overall, while there are surface parallels, the Community of the Special had a profoundly sexist, elitist, and pedophilic agenda that, ultimately, has little to do with contemporary LGBT activism, especially queer theory. Similarly, it is tempting to the view the “Committee Agenda” as the forbearer of the U.S. gay conservatism of the 1990s. Both certainly use the notion that sexuality is essentially un-chosen as the basis for gay rights advocacy. They also share a focus on legal reform, instead of cultural/normative change and tend to fret considerably about not offending the heterosexual majority.

But the similarities end there. The Committee developed close links with the women’s movement and with social democratic politicians, while the modern gay right eschews alliances with most other anti-oppression movements and avoids any association with left-wing politics. Similarly, today’s gay conservatives tend to extol the virtues of conformity to gender norms – a sharp contrast to Hirschfeld’s idea that homosexuals constitute a sort of “Third Sex,” with women’s souls in male bodies and men’s souls in female bodies. In sum, the Committee’s involvement with progressive politics, and its championing of gender non-conformity, decisively separate it from the likes of Andrew Sullivan and Bruce Bawer.

(iii) The “Action Approach”
Was there an alternative to the “Committee” and “Community” Approaches in early 20th Century Germany? As mentioned earlier, for a brief period in the 1920s, German homosexual organizations united under the framework of a national Action Committee. This group did develop its own distinctive perspective on gay emancipation, which I will call, the “Action Approach.” Its main goal was to foster the development of a mass movement, countering the elitism of the Community and the technical-scientific isolation of the Committee. For instance, an Action Committee pamphlet from January 1921 stated:

“We no longer want only a few scientists struggling for your cause, we want to demonstrate our strength ourselves. Here we stand, demanding that which is our right—and who would dare to challenge us? For this reason, we must work steadily and everyone must take part in our work. No homosexual should be absent – rich or poor, worker or scholar, diplomat or businessman. We cannot deprive ourselves of any support. Therefore, join us, swell our ranks before it is too late.” (Steakley, 76)

It is notable that the “Action Approach” called for the uniting of homosexuals across divisions of class and occupation – a startling appeal in a society that had, until the 20th Century, been completely dominated by these categories. The Action Committee’s goal was basically to “swell the ranks” of those identifying as homosexual and use that power-in-numbers to struggle for social and political transformation. Furthermore, the “Action Approach” called for homosexuals to take up spontaneous activism on their own. In an implicit critique of the Committee’s dependence on social democratic politicians, and the Community’s isolation from society, its proponents argued as follows:

“Homosexuals, you know what the reasons and motives of your opponents amount to. You also know that your leaders and advocates have toiled untiringly for decades to banish prejudice, disseminate truth and win the rights due to you… But in the final analysis, you yourselves must win your rights. Justice for you will finally be the fruit of your efforts alone. The liberation of homosexuals can only be the work of homosexuals themselves” (Steakley, 76).

The “Action Approach” is actually quite similar to Harvey Milk’s successful organizing strategies in San Francisco (described in more detail in this previous post). But unfortunately for the German gay movement, this mass-based and national-level approach was unable to take hold. Hyperinflation, economic struggles, a degree of official tolerance, and the increasing appeal of a relaxed and decadent gay sub-culture in German cities, meant that the Action Committee’s calls fell on deaf ears. Had German gays been able to organize as a group and develop a numerical power base at the grassroots, they may have been able to achieve the legal victories that had eluded the activists of the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee and the Community of the Special for most of the early 20th Century. Indeed, the Weimar Republic was a window of opportunity, a relatively liberal interval between World War I and the Nazi terror, that German homosexual organizations basically failed to take full advantage of.

*Homosexual sex, classified under the rubric of “sodomy,” was a crime in Germany. In 1871, a penal code was enacted for the new German state, based on the Prussian legal tradition. Paragraph 175 made homosexual acts between men illegal and punishable with a prison term. In 1909, the law was extended to penalize sexual relations between women, but this was discarded in 1919. Paragraph 175 remained on the statute books for most of the 20th Century and it was only reformed to legalize some homosexual sex in 1969.

**Weimar Republic is a term used by historians to describe the political regime in Germany from 1919 until the beginning of the Nazi dictatorship in 1933. The Republic replaced an imperial regime with an often unstable parliamentary democracy.

***One Scientific-Humanitarian Committee pamphlet read: “We expressly emphasize that we do not contest the demands of Christian morality, whose ideals everyone should strive to fulfill…” (Steakley, 32)

***For More Information***
Most of the information for this post came from James Steakley’s 1975 book, The Homosexual Emancipation Movement in Germany. It is a short and interesting read, but may be difficult to find outside of libraries. For further information about Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs, please view Hubert Kennedy’s website – here, you can find Kennedy’s biography of Ulrichs, downloadable for free in PDF format. To read more about queer theory, I would recommend Nikki Sullivan’s A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory and Annamarie Jagose’s Queer Theory: An Introduction.

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As my posts address the nuances of building a progressive queer movement out of the many single-identity based movements that exist, it is certainly useful for me to define the way in which I use the word “queer.” I am not using it as a stand-in for LGBT, and I am not using it as an umbrella term. I am distinctly referencing Queer Theory, which "is basically a set of ideas based around the notion that sexual identities need not be fixed - and that gender identities are not necessarily fixed either (and don’t need to be)” (Koonan 3). Thus, when I refer to queer movements, I am referring not to the movements which seek equal marriage rights, but to the movements which question the legitimacy of gender as a tool for social organization." I am a white gay man who would love to see a progressive queer movement that looks a little less white.

I have heard plenty of explanations for the whiteness of the Queer movement, among them that people who struggle economically must spend more time making ends meet, rather than pondering the boundaries of social categories and because people of color are disproportionately poor, logically fewer will enter into Queer movements. From one angle, this explanation looks promising, as it acknowledges a social reality for people of color that dominant groups often try to warp. And it seems logical; if struggling for survival, reading Judith Butler's Gender Trouble would be significantly lower on my list of priorities. Further, because Queer Theory seems so rooted in academia, one might posit that it takes a certain amount of privilege even to be exposed to it (though this is a bit of a shaky position in the age of the internet).

This view pretends that the ideas encompassed in Queer theory can only be discovered or contemplated in spaces of academia, that ideas within Queer theory are not relevant to the lives of the working class, and that intellectual inquiry must take place instead of work and other life experience, rather than in conjunction with it.

To be sure, there are spaces for LGBT people of color, and within Black feminist frameworks lesbians play a prominent role. There are queer activists and theorists of color. But just as Obama becoming president of the United States did not signal the end of racism and racial inequality in the country, the existence of Queer people of color does not signify an arrival of the Queer movement to a healthy level of race-consciousness. There are undeniably some brilliant people of color doing the work to create a progressive, inclusive movement, but it doesn't work so well when those who experience intersecting oppressions embrace all marginalized groups while being overlooked, delegitimized and even shunned in return.

There are prominent folks trying to combat the whiteness of Queerness as well, just look at Judith Butler's rejection of the Berlin Pride award. This isn't enough. White queers need to be better than Democrats, and must do more than just pay lip service to the notion that racism exists within the community. Before a Queer movement can become truly inclusive, racial equality and equity must become core tenets, such that queerness cannot be understood in a supposed racial vacuum. White queers must see how their whiteness and queerness work together, just as Queer people of color see/experience how their identities work together. There is a great article by Diane Finnerty at University of Iowa that walks through common things that white LGBT people do or avoid in order to help the LGBT and Queer movements become less racist spaces.

None of these ideas are new. Despite its post-structuralist, all-encompassing flavor, Queerness has, and continues to fall far short of its potential, and in its brief history has held far too firmly to the dominant forces from which it emerged. In fact it is my belief that in order for a successful wide-scale progressive movement to take hold, Queerness will have to become but one frame in an intellectual pluralism that effectively gives voice to experiences of gender and sexuality in all different realms of life.

Additional Reading:
Coonan, Kris. Queer Theory Demystified

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This morning county investigators came to my house to inform me my food stamps/general assistance case had been forwarded to the welfare department (not the “hey did that check arrive yet” kind, the “there is way too much feces smeared on this wall” kind of welfare). They observed my living conditions, ask me why I moved to California and where I'm getting rent money if I'm reporting no income, and if I had access to mental health resources. I answered the door in an undershirt, panties, and bruises (look, we've all done things you regret). On my laptop table there are bookmarks made of duct tape with various suicide prevention hotline numbers written in six colors of sharpie. Now I'm not saying I would have cleaned my room had I known they were coming, but I would have done a better job at hiding the week's worth of candy bars and bottled water I have stashed under my bed.

Missing: The will and focus to write a thoughtful, poignant article on how being in a same sex relationship both validates my gender identity and gives cause for the occasional body dysphoria. Goes by the name of “get over yourself”.

In lieu of actual content, I've decided to rehash an old idea from when I first started writing for BelowTheBelt: my personal FAQ list. A veritable sideshow of the disinformed. Pickled punks of embarassment and bearded ladies of frustration. A wholesome family venture.

Hopefully you all caught the animatronic boytaur at the front of the ride who read you the disclaimer about how this is not indicative of any other trans or queer person's experiences and that if you quote me on some debate in a message forum (and you end up losing anyway) I will come for you. Alright. Fantastic. Let's begin.

When did you know you were trans?

If your initial reaction to reading the above wasn't “ugh not this shit again” but instead a very enthusiastic “oh this gonna be a good story”, drop everything you're doing, change the channels on your TV until you come across a televangelist, new age healer or Food Network personality and do whatever they tell you for the rest of your life. Knowledge is not a fixed point in time. A moment of clarity does not undo years of grasping at straws, filling vaccuums and standing against the wall at parties wondering why you don't seem to fit into your own skin like everyone else. Trans folk are not ticking time bombs of epiphany. Who told you to ask me that question? Was it my nemesis, Miss Goes On Every Trans Comm Ever And Makes Comments About How People Who Come Out In Their 20's Or 30's Probably Aren't Really Trans Until She Gets Her Ass Fucking Banhammered? You tell her to show herself and we'll settle this like 12 year olds who've just discovered the internet. And that I want my CDs back.

What's your birth name?

This is never okay to ask a trans person. Ever. Even if you're sleeping with them. Many trans folk won't even share birth names with each other, and two or more exchange birth names, it is understood that you are never to reference their previous name. If you really want to know, you're gonna have to wait 'til I fall asleep on your dining room table and rummage through my wallet like the rest of my friends.

Like, what do you call your genitals and stuff?

In my experience there is no right answer to this question. If you're a trans woman, any attempt to use common vocabulary to describe/reference your genitals in polite company (i.e. people you aren't fucking at that exact moment) will illicit moans and groans from someone. Penis, cock, dick. The only boo-proof word I know of is stickpussy, but only a n00b would interpret the faces people make when they hear that word as “agreeable”. Personally, my least favorite is “clit” or “clittie” because I know from my participation in the BDSM scene that such language is used by those that fly the sissy/forced feminization kite, and though it remains unspoken, it is understood that there exists a particular tension between those two communities. Rumors that I used to post pictures of “sissies” accompanied with two-bit dime store snark to a fashion blog are unfortnately very true. Fuck, what were we talking about? Oh yeah, my junk. That's not what I call it. Actually I call it my “stick shift”, or the “factory installed equipment”. For some reason, nobody ever objects to me using these terms in discussion. I believe it's because people see that I'm personalizing my relationship with my body and not speaking for anyone else. Also, it's fucking hilarious.

You should totally see/watch/listen to this movie/song/television show.

Now that I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, I purposely avoid watching documentaries or documentary-like television shows about tofuspace trans celebrities because whenever I meet them in person I embarrass myself, like I did with Clair Farley from Red Without Blue, my favorite documentary of all time. You can read more about it here, but for those of you who don't trust that I wouldn't link you to a NSFW (fucking google it, Dad) site, here's the abridged, basic cable version of what happened: I meet a person who I admire greatly and “much shit is lost”. If I ever move to Seattle or Paris, maybe. If I run into Calpernia Adams at a farmer's market in Raleigh, NC and accidentally call her a nerf heder then you know, them's the breaks, but while I'm within BART distance of people who's disapproval of me could shatter my credibility in the scene, it might be better to play ignorant convincingly and not get caught up in the hype.

Furthermore, I think it's about time that the community dropped this whole “drive thru enrichment” model. You can't say that no language works for everyone but then say “but you all need to read this book, it will have an impact on you if you're down with the struggle and all that”. You're putting average writers on pedestals and cutting off the blood flow of new messages and media by superfluously denying them this communal importance. Everyone should see Southern Comfort because it is painfully beautiful cinema, not because it “explores transmasculinity”.The truth is the money you would put towards a new copy of Whipping Girl or My Husband Betty would probably be better spent attending a spoken word/open mic or buying ingredients to make a dish for a queer pot luck. Lending your friend an overhyped tijuana bible of literary wank is not a replacement for providing support or a safe space to fellow queers. And your dish better be vegetarian this time. That whole “haha make the lesbian eat sausage by mistake isn't that funny” was good like, once, maybe twice. But try that shit on me again and I'll drug you, dress you up in a Nappy Roots t-shirt and baggy jeans and throw you in front of a crowd of tea partiers.

Also, that wasn't even a question, dickhead.

Is it true that you're helping to organize a skillshare/camp/conference in NorCal in the summer of 2011?

Is it true that I told you to shut up about it until I had set details?

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