Every week, I look forward to Fridays for one reason and one reason only: happy hour. It’s an opportunity to apply much-needed social lubricant, strip the stress of work away and blab about more pressing, inevitably more memorable things in life: What are we doing tonight? What should I wear? What new procrastination methods will we explore this weekend? It’s an ideal time for twenty-something bachelors like me to forget the pressures of the world and highlight their youth through inebriation, frivolous gossip, and raucous humor; it’s easy and dependable—a guaranteed way to relive the no-strings-attached days of college.

A few weeks ago, though, I looked around and realized that my routine happy hour haven was morphing into something different… and more adult. We still had our beer. We still had our appetizers. We still had the 90s rock soundtracks. But in front of me sat Nia and her boyfriend Stephen; to my right, Ada rested her head on Emil’s shoulder; and at the end of the table, Lauren held hands with her beau, Matthew. Meanwhile, I renewed my vows with a pint of Shiner Bock and a platter of fried bar food. Refreshments aside, this happy hour was not quite the bachelor’s paradise I intended.

In the last half month, I’ve accumulated a list of about nine or ten friends and acquaintances that have gotten engaged; three of my closest friends began dating someone seriously; and when I came home to visit my parents for the holidays, they were in the midst of celebrating their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. No matter how busy I’ve been or even where I’ve found myself, I haven’t been able to escape the reminders: I am unattached. And I wonder if it’s this pressure—not anything more natural or innate—that urges us to mate for reasons other than, well, mating.

In kindergarten, I remember being obsessed with Kids Incorporated on the Disney Channel. They were the cool kids that I wanted to be: singing and dancing guys who always got the singing and dancing girls. I wanted to be cool too, but I didn’t really have the training to be a singer or dancer, so I settled for the next best thing: getting girls. Although I was only five, I remember slipping Vanessa—a Filipino girl who lived two blocks down—a note during class that said, “Want to go on a date? I want to take you to Mann’s Chinese Theater.” According to my vast catalog of facts from afternoon television shows, Mann’s Chinese Theater was where only the most glamorous celebrities went to see their movies; it made sense that we kindergarteners followed suit. After all, these things were all the rage on TV: girls and movie premieres. I had to do them both.

In junior year of high school, all the cool kids had significant others. The president and vice president of our school KEY Club were both coupled, smothering their boyfriends with shoutouts in our monthly newsletters and lavish gifts for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and any other holiday for which demonstrating materialism would be a key ritual. Popular students asked each other to the winter ball; seniors invited socially-keen underclassmen to their otherwise exclusive prom events. To be privileged in high school was not necessarily to have high grades or even nice clothes; it was to have crushes and have those crushes realized into hand-holding, balloon-carrying boyfriends and girlfriends.

I had to be involved, and it was only a matter of time before coveting my classmates’ relationships transitioned into crushing on a specific girl to occupy my time and wallet. For eight months, I pined for yet another Filipino girl named Anna—feeling alive and moved and like a real high school student. So this was what it feels like, I thought, to be head over heels. I bought into the romance of the unrequited. I thrilled myself with the chase. I tasted life in the shoes of every cool teenager I saw on screens small and large. All of this—this eruption of feeling and want for a girl—this all made me seem, somehow, normal.

Eventually, I told her I liked her, and as things to tend to go for me, she just wanted to be friends. In retrospect, I’m glad nothing ever happened; at 16, I didn’t really know I was gay, and I wouldn’t have wanted to come out and make her think that she somehow was responsible for any perceived shift in my sexuality. But at the time I was devastated. With her rejection came the demise of my dream prom, the flowers and balloons I would’ve given her gladly in February, and the potential for the movie in my mind to play out in real life.

Since then, and with the added injection of critical analysis skills that comes with a college education, I’ve learned to closely scrutinize my motivations for crushing, dating, and—eventually—having sex. Because the world has so much influence on the make-up of our thoughts and actions, I’ve come to be skeptical of my own feelings: do I actually want to go on a date with this person, or do I just want the possibility that, later, his warm body might end up next to mine—because that’s what should occupy my nights as a twenty-something? Do I like this person, or do I just need someone other than my platonic friends with whom to spend my time? Do I have feelings for this guy, or do I just want to verify the fact that I can deeply feel?

As 2007 gives way to 2008, I know that a few things will rise with the number of the year. With every new happy hour that passes, I know that I will increase the number of friends who will be in serious relationships. I will lengthen my list of people engaged or already married, and I will receive more pressure from family and friends to join that particularly privileged list. I will see more romantic comedies telling me what my life as a young professional should look like, more one-hour dramedies to demonstrate what sex in the city should feel like, will live through more holidays meant for spending time with someone I don’t have. And as much as I can challenge these forces and their impact on that which I truly intend and feel, I can’t help but notice that at the next happy hour, more and more of the people I surround myself with will have succumbed to acting their age—that is, to being with someone else. In real time, not in the world of film and TV, my happy hour partners in crime will dwindle, making way for the next generation of college grads to transform from bachelors and bachelorettes to boyfriends, girlfriends, and fiancés. Normal or not, then, I will be left behind if I don’t catch up to where I am expected to be.

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Dear Fannie,

I'm 21 and gay. I've been with my boyfriend for about 7 months and we're just about to get a place together. Now, I'm still in school, and he works full-time and is very well paid. We're in the midst of planning the decorating for our apartment... and he keeps pulling the money card. Because he's buying the furniture, I don't get a say in how the apartment looks. I mean, I'm grateful and all that he's willing to spring for all this nice stuff, but I want a say too! It feels like I'm moving into his place, instead of moving into OUR place. How do I make him respect my voice in decorating our apartment?

Marred by Money


I've addressed money issues in the past, and I admit... I might have been a bit anti-catipalist/socialist-utopian, but I'll try and be more helpful and pragmatic this time around. So you're getting a place with your beau, but the boy is blocking the interior designer gem deep within you. While I think it's perfectly normal for two queens to butt heads over chartreuse or periwinkle duvet covers... you're problem may run deeper than bedframes and window treatments.

Moving in with a boyfriend or girlfriend is a big decision, and one that many couples rush into. And while it's possible that you and your boyfriend are ready to move in with each other, 7 months does seem a little hasty to jump into a joint lease agreement, where you're locked into living with someone you've only known for less than a year. I know that 7 months is like a decade in gay years. And while it may seem like a nice idea to see each other all the time, that can get old really fast. I think one of the most integral components to a relationship, especially a new one, is time apart. Being able to have your own space is important, because chances are that there are some things about him that bug you. When you live together, those will be there all the time. Moving in with a partner isn't just about occupying the same space together, it's really about compromising and work together to make a livable living space.

Now, if you're boyfriend is playing the money card where the furniture decisions are considered, it's pretty clear it's not just about money... it's about power. This is a classic case of how money can really fuck over a relationship. It's one thing if one party "doesn't mind" paying for something, like dinners, concert tickets, etc. But when one's economic situation is used to position one partner in a superior place in a power differential, that's a problem. I would recommend that you be firm about the fact that just because you don't have the same amount of liquid assets, doesn't mean he can just ignore your opinions. He may be purchasing the furniture, but you have to live there too.

You might try and agree to budget so much money for decorating. You both should try and contribute proportional amounts to that pool of money being used for furnishings. That way you can both be equally invested in the process of creating a home together. Also, if you don't like a certain design choice he makes, it's insufficient to just disagree with it. Come up with a viable alternative option, otherwise, shut the fuck up and enjoy your sugar daddy.


send you questions to askfannie@belowthebelt.org

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"Without gender differentiation... There would be no need to reconstruct genitalia to match identity - interests and life-styles [would] not [be] gendered."
– Judith Lorber

The above quotation by sociologist Judith Lorber is an example of the so-called gender-progressive challenge to transsexuality (understood as a process of surgical changes to the body that would transform one’s sex or gender identity). The standard argument goes something like this: Transsexuals are victims of society’s oppressive gender diktat. They mutilate their bodies because gender norms require having ‘the right’ genitalia in order to be a ‘real’ man or a ‘real’ woman. Wearing dresses and high-heels is contingent on having a vagina and breasts; facial hair and tuxedos are only for those with penises and a flat chest. And as good gender-progressives, we all know that these norms are a sham, and that many people with vaginas do ‘masculine’ things and many people with penises do ‘feminine’ things. We are aware of the terror and discrimination faced by these gender non-conformists, and thus, we are tempted to explain away transsexuality as a relic of gender oppression: transsexuals are forced to change their bodies because that is the only way they can construct a socially acceptable gender. They would be subject to shame, prejudice and violence if they did not change their bodies to conform fully to the gender prerogatives they want to enact. Thus, in a world without a tyrannical, binary gender ideology, transsexuality would cease to exist.

This line of reasoning, however, rests on several incorrect assumptions. First of all, it takes for granted that anybody who decides to change genitalia must be enacting a male-to-female or female-to-male transition. Is it not possible for agender, queer or genderqueer people to want to change their bodies – not in order to conform to a pre-existing sex/gender blueprint or for medical reasons – but simply because they ‘want to,’ because they think they would ‘look better,’ or be closer to ‘being themselves’? What if someone decides to remove breasts, but keep a vagina? Or add breasts, but keep a penis? Clearly such a person would still be a ‘transsexual’ (defined as one who undergoes surgical changes one’s sex organs), but definitely not the kind of transsexual imagined by the ‘critique-of-transsexuality’ discourse, described above. By ignoring the fact that transsexuals do not necessarily have to be MTFs or FTMs, this discourse makes invisible the very queer existences that it claims to stand for. Clearly, transsexuality does not only occur in a ‘traditional’ gender context, and thus, it would not ‘cease to exist’ in a queer or gender-progressive world.

Furthermore, it is also imperative to question the uneasiness with which the ‘progressive’ critique of transsexuality views ‘typical’ sex/gender changes. It assumes a kind of pathology (albeit socially imposed) for people who obtain vaginas and breasts in order to be women and people who acquire a penis and remove breasts in order to be men. The pressure of gender norms is undeniable, and it is clear that some people would not change their genitalia if it were not for social pressure. However, these are not grounds for dismissing the experiences of trans people as holdovers of an oppressive binary-gender model. ‘Queer utopia’ is not even close to being achieved. Worldwide, most people claim to belong to a binary gender system and cannot yet be expected to see beyond that. Indeed, it is questionable whether we can ever truly escape the binary gender system, and thus, trans people’s attempts to fit into it should be respected. Genderqueer communities do exist (as described above), however, they are small and isolated, not within reach of most people, or anywhere close to having a presence in mainstream social discourse. Queer utopia is far away, and thus, transsexuals should not be chastised for ‘failing’ to rely on its ‘eventual arrival.’ As Judith Butler states, “…trouble is inevitable, and the task, how best to make it, what best way to be in it.” This quotation sums up the predicament for many transgender people today, and having a ‘traditional’ sex change is a common solution.

In addition, the ‘progressive’ critique of transsexuality treats changing one’s genitalia as an ultimate act of social conformity. As most trans people will tell you, however, it is anything but that! Not having the genitalia one was born with (the so-called ‘natural’ ones) is viewed with painful amounts of stigma and violence. Transsexuality is an attempt to be oneself against immense social odds. It is true that this image of ‘selfhood’ is constructed by social gender expectations. Nevertheless, this does not make it any less respectable and any less remarkable of a triumph.

To sum up, the so-called gender-progressive critique of transsexuality misses the point on two fronts. First, it assumes that transsexuality can happen only in a binary-gender context – which is dispelled by the fact that genderqueer people can and do change their ‘sexual’ organs. Second, by figuring ‘traditional’ transsexuals as bearers of the effects of gender oppression, the queer critique of transsexuality denigrates their experiences. Yes, changing one’s genitals ‘appropriately’ may often be an attempt to ‘fit in’ to gender norms, but, in a deeply trans-phobic world, this is often a feat of immense bravery and social non-conformity. Binary gender is not going to go away anytime soon, and the attempts of transsexuals to ‘fit in’ to it against the odds should not be scorned.

***For More Information***
Judith Lorber is a well-known sociologist of gender. She teaches at Brooklyn College (City University of New York). Although she is not an out-and-out advocate of the ‘progressive critique of transsexuality’ discourse, her work covers a broad range of debates on gender and is certainly worth a look. Paradoxes of Gender and The Social Construction of Gender are especially worthwhile. You can find her essay, “Night to His Day: The Social Construction of Gender” here.

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Alex joins us from The Bilerico Project:

The Sunday Washington Post had an article detailing the states dropping out of federal abstinence-only education funds:

At least 14 states have either notified the federal government that they will no longer be requesting the funds or are not expected to apply, forgoing more than $15 million of the $50 million available, officials said. Virginia was the most recent state to opt out.
Virginia is just the latest in a string of states to reject abstinence-only funding. The number is growing, not shrinking.

And good riddance.

These programs are completely ineffective if the goal is to decrease teen pregnancy, STD infection rates, and increase sexual consciousness. Instead of having an ideologue stand in front of classroom telling kids "No, no, no" while teens go out and have sex anyway, we ought to be providing them the education that they'll need to protect themselves and their partners and to learn to appreciate sexuality.

But if the goal is to pretend like teen sex doesn't happen, shame those who have sex into not talking about it, and further entrench the myth of normative sexuality, then I suppose there's something to these programs.

The article cites states dropping out as the key that will topple these programs. I don't really know what will get rid of them, since even the Democrats are willing to fund abstinence-only $28 million further while they control Congress, but these states have to look out for themselves. The funding requires not just that these programs teach only abstinence, but that they match federal funds themselves.

So they're being asked not only to waste their citizens' federal tax dollars, but also their state tax dollars.

Not to mention the cruel homophobia in telling the kids to wait for marriage when in many of these states the gay kids can't get married. Of course, there's a certain amount of spunk in these kids that makes most of them ignore being told to be celibate their whole lives, and that's great, but that needs to be balanced out with education about risk and risk prevention and openness about sexuality.

This is a direct subsidy of sexism, homophobia, unsafe sex, sexphobia, and the Religious Right, and I have no idea why Congressional Democrats aren't just pulling the plug by redirecting the funding to comprehensive sex education. At least some states are getting the message.

Virginia's just the latest state to say no to this money. The others are Ohio, Washington, Maine, California, New Jersey, Colorado, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Montana.

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Dear Fannie,

I'm 24, gay, male, white... so the top of the gay pecking order. I've been with my boyfriend for a good 3 months. Like any normal gay couple, we fuck like bunnies, which is great... if only I liked it. My boyfriend is an out and out top, and I'm... I guess a bottom by default in that I don't like to top. The only problem is that I don't like bottoming either. It's not that I dislike bottoming. It's not excessively painful or anything... It just does nothing for me. And it's not just my boyfriend, I've taken it from plenty of guys, and it's the same with all of them. I'm afraid of telling my boyfriend that I don't like him topping me, since we've been having sex for 3 months, and I still haven't told him.

Not a Top, but Not Yet a Bottom


First, Thanks for acknowledging your privileged space in the gay hierarchy! There's nothing better than a self-reflexive question to start the day! So your boyfriend is pitching to his heart's delight, but you're an unenthusiastic receiver (I think I'm mixing my sports metaphors). I think your question is really speaks to how gay sexuality is not only scripted, but constructed with traditional notions of masculinity. Also, kudos on the Britney reference, SO much better than the last person to use that same song as a pseudonym.

Not to beat the gender studies gong again (and I do believe it to be a gong), but the more I see of western gayness, the more I see it playing into patriarchy. This includes the way that we think about sex as exclusively penetrative. I find it strange how in gay male sexuality, your sexual identity isn't only constrained by object choice (i.e. men) but also our coital position (top or bottom). Being a top or bottom in many ways defines us in the same way that being gay defines us. And with those labels come a host of associations. Tops are butch and masculine, and bottoms are femme and fabulous. Obviously, plenty of people resist or refute these stereotypes, but chances are that if one see a flame burning bright, one also assumes that he assumes the position.

There's another lovely category that in some ways attempts to resist that binary, being the versatile. But, even that category presumes the preeminence of anal sex as the pinnacle of the homosex acts. To not be a top, but not like bottoming shatters the schema of gay sex.

The fact of the matter, NATBNYAB, anal sex is far from the end all be all of gay sex. It may be hard to believe, especially if you're ever seen gay porn, or listen to Pat Robertson (I swear, I learned more about gay sex from frantic anti-gay Christians than from anywhere else)... but there's a lot less butt sex that happens than most people would believe. I know many gay male couples who seldom perform anal sex, if at all. Don't let the categorization of certain sex acts as "foreplay" deceive you. Those "foreplay" acts can be far more satisfying than taking it up the chute could ever be.

As for telling your boyfriend that you don't like playing hide the sausage, believe it or not... he may already know. Unfortunately for gay men, it's much more difficult to fake an orgasm, than it is for women. So, unless your boyfriend is a complete idiot, or profoundly selfish (both possibilities), it won't be a complete shocker if you reveal your secret. Basically be clear that if he enjoys fucking you, he should know that you're doing him a favor. You don't gain any pleasure from it, so his pleasure debt to you mounts with each fuck. It's only fair that if he gets to fuck you, you should be able to request a pleasurable service from him as well. And if can't pleasure you at all... well you've got bigger problems.


send your questions to askfannie@belowthebelt.org

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Is romance a lie if you have to get past physical attraction first?

On Friday night, I avoided a mounting bout of holiday loneliness by going out. (Okay, so I went out alone—again—but in the company of great music and eye candy, I had fun.) The next day, my friend asked me if I had met anyone new, as if having done so would have had anything to do with my having had fun.

“Of course not,” I answered. Of course: my two-word explanation for stubbornly sticking with the expectation that other men should come to me instead of me going to them.

With that, my friend revisited last week’s homily about my lack of aggression when it comes to meeting men. If I don’t approach anyone, then how do I expect to meet anyone new? she would argue.

This week, I retorted.

“But you don’t always enjoy it when other guys come to you at straight clubs. I mean—you all ask to be saved all the time.”

“But I still dance with assholes if they’re hot.”

“And if they’re not? Then you ask to be saved.” I introduced to them my hypothesis: that everything in the world of pick-up comes back to physical attraction. If you don’t have that, then you don’t stand a chance, even in a dimly-lit bar filled with horny, incoherent people.

“That’s not true,” another friend chimed. “I’ll dance with an ugly guy if he can start good, genuine conversation.”

I disagreed. “If an ugly guy came to you, he might be able to start a ‘genuine conversation,’ but as soon as he gets your attention and you take one look at him, you would make a split second decision as to whether or not you wanted anything to do with this character, regardless of what he said.”

“Not,” my first friend said, “if they had an incredible sense of humor.”

“So basically,” I continued, “they have to make up—in some sort of large way—for their lack of physical attraction?”

She hesitated and then nodded, accepting the implications of what that meant as far as physical attraction: an end all-be all wall that must be hurdled before personality, character, values—before anything else can be evaluated about a person.

I hate this conclusion, for both ethical and personal reasons. It means that if you have a look that may not be largely perceived to be attractive, then your chances for any sort of success in a club, bar, or any setting where first impressions are key are slim. It means that you have to work twice, thrice, or even more times as hard if you want any success with flirting—or maybe you can have enough trust in pure luck to bring someone who defies the judgmental norm to you.

For me, it means that I’m screwed if I perceive personality or intellectual traits to be my strong suit. It means that my achievements in the work world will mean nothing to my personal life if my appearance isn’t what’s date-ably marketable. It means that I can be on top of the world with success—but always falter in the department of romance. Because if I can’t get past the first hurdle without running into any issues or having to “make up” for something that I don’t have perfect and can’t quite change without reversing the impenetrable decisions of genetics, then I’ve got to somehow adapt my endearing (but perhaps naïve) idea of love for someone else into a notion of love for someone else on the initial basis for how they look. How shallow it sounds, but how real it is!

If I’m going to undo my seemingly perpetual pattern of singleness, then what actions can I take to off-set the role of physical attraction in how others will receive me? And even then, if flirtation and dating are two-way streets, how rare will it be for me to find someone receptive to that different mode of attraction, to the idea that physical attraction can be “made up for” or even overcome? Or maybe, with my ridiculously youthful belief in fairy tale true romance, there’s someone out there who might actually like me for I am—the complete package, the inner highlighting the outer, the outside providing the perfect complimentary shell foreshadowing the gifts within, but remember over and over again that it’s the thought that counts—not the object itself.

This holiday season, I don’t think I’m going to discover that rare find at a club or bar. Heck, to be perfectly honest, heading home to spend time with a family that knows nothing about my love life isn’t really going to help my cause either. I suppose, though, that in a season founded upon faith, hope, and magic, anything is possible. Scientists have recently discovered that it’s mathematically possible for Santa Claus to make it around the world (as long as he’s based in Kyrgyzstan); if they can find a plausible home for a crazy international trespasser, then I can certainly find at least one person who believes that physical attraction isn’t the primary ingredient for chemistry.

And if I can't, well then... at least I can add it to my wish list for Santa.

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Good luck to our writers and readers with upcoming finals!


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School and a surprisingly active social life have been keeping me pretty busy lately. Although I am not usually a big music buff, I was tempted by four concerts in two months: Tori Amos, Tegan & Sara, Sia, Regina Spektor. I see a trend. Anyway, my sex life has also been markedly more interesting this fall, with visitors from near and far adding spice to my bedroom. I also purchased a new sex toy, although this one has been quite disappointing thus far. But putting an old one to new use, on the other hand (or, on the other person)....

I digress. My point is this: I have been a little mentally absent from the sociopolitical world outside my personal life. So forgive the slight un-timeliness of the discussion to follow. Our primary topic: gender identity protection in Montgomery County, MD.

According to a press release by Montgomery County, "more than 100 U.S. jurisdictions, including 13 states and the District of Columbia, have already passed similar legislation, covering 37 percent of the country’s population."
The county's new bill providing protection for gender identity, passed unanimously by the council and signed off on by the county executive,

...prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in housing, employment, taxi and cable service, and public accommodations. …Initially, council members in committee agreed to allow a person to use [private facilities, such as health club locker rooms,] based on the gender that a person "publicly and exclusively" asserts…[The bill sponsor] agreed to pull references to such facilities after hearing concerns of colleagues and the community. The county's anti-discrimination code makes exceptions for areas considered "distinctly private or personal," and Michael Dennis, compliance director for the county's Human Rights Commission, said the exemption would extend to locker rooms and restrooms. This would allow a facility owner to segregate based on biological sex.
     -- Washington Post

County law now defines gender identity as "an individual's actual or perceived gender, including a person's gender-related appearance, expression, image, identity, or behavior, whether or not those gender-related characteristics differ from the characteristics customarily associated with the person's assigned sex at birth."

I particularly like to check out the conservative reactions to this kind of legislation, much as it sometimes elevates my blood pressure in a most alarming fashion. Negative reactions focus largely on the safety of defenseless women and children, whose privacy will surely be preyed upon by men who are "confused about their 'gender identity'":
The council and county executive have publicly stated that access to these areas will be decided by their operators. But all they are doing is kicking the issue into the lap of the county's Human Rights Commission, which is on record saying it will grant bathroom rights to transgenders according to their perceived gender when a case is brought before it," Turner said. … In other words, a male teacher or student will be able to use the female restrooms and locker rooms if he thinks he is a female.
     -- World Net Daily

It always surprises me when religious conservatives, who should be focused on our spiritual well-being, are so incapable of looking past our physical bodies.

In a separate but related article from WND:
The problem, according to [the Transgender Law Center], is that many transgendered people have few safe places to go to the bathroom. They claim to "get harassed … and arrested in BOTH women's and men's rooms." One sufferer, who had clearly entered a restroom of the opposite sex, whined that he had been "dragged out by security guards."
     -- WND

It's interesting that not only is the woman's gender claim being refuted and male gender asserted ("clearly…of the opposite sex"), but then the loaded vocabulary ("whined") that immediately follows deliberately undercuts the supposed masculinity. So we see the discomfort the authors feel, their unwillingness to fully accept either the person's self-identified gender or their assigned gender. The "claims" of harassment are dismissed as whining, the people (and we can reasonably assume it is MTFs being targeted in this article) told to toughen up and get over their "confusion"—nevermind that some of the discomfort and harassment transgender people face centers around the same privacy and personal security concerns that women are asserting.

A brief excerpt from the truly frustrating, to which I feel no need to comment:
According to [the TLC's document supporting gender neutral restrooms, called] 'Peeing in Peace,' it is important that transgenders be allowed to use multi-stall facilities with mixed company. The guide states, "If people are worried about privacy ...stall doors could extend all the way to the ground and locks on individual stalls could function more effectively."

Why would such desires be so important?

Considering that, according to Yale and Harvard-connected psychiatrist Jeffrey Satinover [link added], pedophilia is more than three times more common among homosexuals than among heterosexuals, and since the GLBT population is strongly unified, doesn't it strike you as odd that a major transgender organization endorsed by the homosexual lobby would consider having children undress in a teacher's office? And that they would insist on using multi-stall restrooms of the opposite sex? And that they would desire stalls that extend to the floor and securely lock? (If only Sen. Larry Craig had been so lucky.)
     -- WND

Some unrelated German litigation for thought: an intersex woman is suing the doctor she claims removed her female organs without proper consent 30 years ago.
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Dear Fannie,

I'm a 20 year old gay college student. I came out very recently and have just started telling my closest friends. With the holidays coming up, I'm slotted to go home in a few days. I want to tell my parents over the break, but I'm scared out of my mind. Do you have any tips on how to do this? My parents are pretty middle of the road when it comes to politics. They usually vote republican because of economic reasons, but they're good people and don't discriminate against anyone. Also, I want to be honest about my orientation to new people I meet, but I don't want to be weird or obnoxious about it. Help?

Tip Toeing Out the Closet


Congratulations on tackling that first hurdle in your journey towards queerness! Coming out to your family may prove to be one of the most challenging experiences in your life, depending of course of the kind of family that you have. The fact that you've chosen to take the opportunity of the holidays to drop the gay bomb on the 'rents makes for a sticky but workable situation. Now I can't tell you specifically how you should reveal your queerness to your parents, as I have very little knowledge about their political, cultural, and religious views on the subject. But I also want to point out that while your parents might be "good people," you should be prepared for a possibly negative reaction. You mention that "they don't discriminate against anyone." And while that may seem like the case... they probably do, because, frankly... everyone discriminates against SOMEONE. And given that you have some reluctance or anxiety over coming out to your parents, it's likely you've already picked up on some homophobia (subtle as it may be) in your parents. But enough about them, here are a few helpful hints with coming out to your family on the holidays.

1. Make your coming out schpleel personal. Nothing's worse than a bulk e-mail to the relatives with "I'M GAY" splashed on the front. Sound familiar, Lance? It's best to talk to small groups at a time, so take Aunt Ethel and Uncle Dan out to coffee, or sit your cousins down for a one on one. It's probably a good idea to avoid the big communal family intervention setting where you have everyone gathered to kill multiple birds with your big gay stone.

2. Choose a location and time where you will have control of the environment. Not that you have to be secretive about anything, but with revelations of this nature, it's best to select a time and place where you won't be interrupted by burning pies or newly arrived relatives. Your family members may have questions for you, so it's only fair to allow for enough time to have those discussions before breaking the conversation and being with the rest of the family. Also, if you're afraid that a particular family member may react badly, even violently. It's best to choose a location that is semi-private... like a corner table in a restaurant or coffee shop where you'll be forced to maintain some composure even if the emotions get out of hand.

3. Be consistent and if you can, tell everyone. One of the most unfair things a newly out person can do to his or her family and friends is to only tell a hodge podge of people. Doing this will force those that you have told to be accomplices in keeping your secret, which just isn't fair to them. It also increases the possibility that the dissemination of that information will be out of your control. If you aren't able to come out to your entire family over the course of the holiday, or if there are certain people you absolutely can not tell, then make it clear to whomever you reveal your queerness to who those individuals are.

4. Have a support group ready and waiting. Whether your coming out goes well or badly, you should have a group of people who are ready and willing to support you emotionally. Tell your supportive friends what you plan to do and have their contact information ready and waiting. Also, it might be a good idea to have a place to crash for a night if things go awry, or just to let emotions cool down.

5. A technique for coming out to new people I meet without blurting out "I'm gay!" to every John and Jane on the street is employing the mention of the ubiquitous ex. If you're having a casual conversation with a new acquaintance, just slip in a tangential reference to an ex-boyfriend/girlfriend. i.e. "Oh yeah, my ex loved that movie. He made me watch it over and OVER!"; "I got a sweater just like this for my ex-girlfriend! Don't worry, you look better in it! *playful wink*"

Well, those are a few tips that I hope you find useful. The internets and its citizens will most likely have gobs and gobs of advice for you, but the most important thing is to be honest. That's all we can really give and expect from people, eh?


send your questions to askfannie@belowthebelt.org

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“...can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” So goes the famous, yet highly erroneous saying. This piece of “common sense” fundamentally misrepresents the power of language, its power to construct the world around us, to a priori determine what is possible and impossible, what is permitted and what is proscribed. Words have a constitutive effect: they create “reality” as much as they describe it.

A basic example of this is the gendered use of pronouns. Before the 1970s, using the masculine signifier (“he”) as the designator for any person performing an activity was ubiquitous. For instance: “a wise politician is never impatient, he always waits for an opportunity.” This default use of the masculine pronoun by default placed women in a passive position – they were excluded from becoming public figures (politicians, religious leaders, businesspeople etc...). Language did not create this problem, but it served to embed patriarchal norms and to continually (re)make them through repeat performance. Language is itself very difficult to change – it is such an indispensable part of everyday life that the values it represents often go unquestioned, and thus, have a way of seeping into people’s minds. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that, aside from a few notable exceptions, people have a “fish in water” attitude to language. This is one of the reasons why it was so hard to question why only he was allowed to vote, hold property etc... Patriarchy took up nearly all the space that language provided.

Nowadays, at least in English, it is more common to use gendered pronouns in combination: “She or he,” “He/She,” “S/he” – this is a conscious response to the sexism described above. However, this still has exclusionary effects. By solely conferring recognition on two genders – masculine-male, feminine-female – genderqueer and intersex people are practically wiped out of existence. Their invisibility, and their fundamental “impossibility,” is a priori determined by the linguistic gender-structure that people are held hostage by. This makes it almost impossible to imagine a person who actually identifies as something other than male-masculine or female-feminine. Of course, people do imagine androgynes, “trans” people, and hermaphrodites, however, these are never taken seriously as identities or ways of being in this world. They are usually used as fodder for cheap comedy or conceived as strange quirks of otherwise definitively male or female people.

My basic point in this post is that language matters and that any progressive gender and sex/ual/ity politics should be considerate of language issues. A cavalier attitude to language, such as the one expressed in the following quotation, should not be encouraged: “I used to say fag, gay, retard all the time, then I stopped – I wanted to be taken seriously by liberals. I recently changed my mind, though. These words roll off the tongue and everybody knows that they mean what you want them to mean. I’m supportive of gay people, but sometimes I want to say ‘I’m being so gay’.” The essential mistake in this statement is the assumption that words mean what one wants them to mean. Although it is possible to have personal meanings to words, or even to make up words that only mean something to oneself (gagableebleegugu made sense to me when I was a kid), words have social meanings that almost always overpower their personal meanings. Thus, although the person who said the above statement may claim that the meaning of the word “gay” has changed for hir, that ze “wants it to mean” something different, ze will use it in a social context in which its meaning has already been decided and firmly embedded, in which the people listening to hir will think ze is using it the “normal” way. There are currently two meanings to the word gay (homosexual and silly/stupid/bad). The use of the phrase, “that’s so gay” associates with both of these, and in a social setting, will always be gay bashing, no matter what the speaker intends. Thus, words’ social meanings tend to overwhelm whatever personal significations we impute to them. Activists should be aware of these social meanings and should seek to change them when they are oppressive.

A striking example of the way that words’ social signification can overpower their personal meaning can be found in the work of Sigmund Freud. He often referred to “deviant” sexualities as “perversions.” What he meant by “perversion,” however, is not something negative or unacceptable – he personally defined it as anything that deviates from a strict biological necessity. Thus, in Freud’s personal framework, most sex/uality is perverse, dining for pleasure is perverse, going down slides is perverse – nearly everything we do is perverse. Nevertheless, the social meaning of “perversion” is a profoundly negative one. It connotes sickness, willful breaking of social norms, evil desires etc... Thus, Freud’s use of the word, “perversion,” has provided ammunition for some conservative “ex-gay” groups who have tried to show that homosexuality is a kind of illness. They have used the work of Freud and other psychiatrists as the basis for their “diagnosis” of homosexuality-as-illness. The social meaning of the words that Freud used (not what he actually meant by them) provided them with that opportunity.

***For More Information***
Definitely check out Freud’s Three Essays on Sexuality – particularly interesting is the “battle” that goes on between “Freud-the-radical-social-constructionist” and “Freud-the-science-obsessed-19th-Century-Psychiatrist.” Although he has a very lengthy chapter on “the perversions,” in which he talks about various “deviant” sexualities (fetishism, homophilia, sadomasochism), notice how he subtly suggests that all strictly non-reproductive sexual activities (even kissing, caressing, massaging) are perversions. Truly an important assertion!

For more on the power of language, have a look at any poststructuralist thinkers, in particular Jacques Derrida (Of Grammatology, Writing and Difference) and Judith Butler (see previous posts). For a simpler, clearer, and angrier introduction to these issues, check out Riki Wilchins’ Read My Lips: Sexual Subversion and the End of Gender, and Queer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant Primer.

If you’re looking for an introduction to genderqueer and intersex issues, Wilchins’ Genderqueer: Voices from Beyond the Sexual Binary is the perfect place to start.

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Good luck to our writers and readers with upcoming finals!


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Melissa joins us from Queercents:

This week, Jean Chatzky has an article in Money magazine about the particular perils of single finances. I’m sure it will comes as a shock to all Queercents readers that financial structures and tax, real estate and health care law are all designed in favor of the legally married.

The article talks about some of the important ways to work a will and living trust if you’re unmarried–including those who are unmarried in long-term committed relationships. As I looked into it, I found this older Money article that contains a very simple outline of how joint tenancy works for unmarried couples, friends, or partners who own property together. None of it’s comprehensive financial advice, but it’s all a good place to start. These arrangements are important for single straight people, but they’re even more important for LGBT people who can’t rely on the law to protect their unions.

To me, one of Ms. Chatzky’s most interesting assertions was that many of the steps toward financial maturity take place around traditional, heteronormative milestones: “Get married: Merge your financial lives. Have a child: Buy life insurance and start saving for college. Stay single: ummm.”

Sure, if you’re in your forties and unmarried you need to make these special considerations in arranging your finances, paperwork and estate–you’ve probably accumulated a lot more assets to protect than someone in her twenties. But that doesn’t mean financial maturity is only for the grown ups! Don’t wait until you’re in your mid-thirties, look around, and discover that nothing in your life has forced you to get your finances in order so you might as well do it yourself.

Here is something true: finances are the only thing about which I act like a sensible person. In areas like alcohol and romance and gchattng at work–oh, there are just years of stupid choices ahead off me, I’m sure. But homie doesn’t mess around with things like living within my means, saving 10%, or designating the cosigners of my student loans as life insurance beneficiaries. A broken heart is some drama, but I’m guessing eviction is way worse–and once you’ve made sure you’re not going to get evicted, you can go out and get that heart broken all you like! Too many people dig themselves into deep holes of consumer debt and empty 401ks in their early twenties because there’s no social pressure for responsibility until marriage or bankruptcy, whichever comes first.

Over Thanksgiving, my roommate asked her older family members for advice on how to invest five- to ten-year, moderately risk-tolerant savings. Her dad said he’d have just bought a flatscreen TV. She’s thinking a Vanguard STAR fund. There aren’t enough people in the world talking about young, single finances–probably because there aren’t enough young, single people listening. But this is when it’s so important to lay a good foundation and avoid those later freakouts.

In the same way I think the concerns in the original article are even more important for LGBT people than unmarried straight people, I think laying that strong foundation is especially important for young LGBT people. The farther off the beaten path you want to live, the more secure you need to be on your own road. As long as financial systems are working against you, as long as it’s still legal to fire and evict you for your sexuality or gender identity, as long as you need to write up legal documents to secure benefits most people don’t even have to think about, it’s even more important to know how to take care of yourself.

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Well, maybe that's a bit strongly worded. There has been some very good material coming from that tradition over the years. But I read something this week that made me very angry, and the faulty reasoning that made me so angry is pretty prevalent in neo-pagan circles, especially Wicca. Hence the bombastic title.

Christopher Penczak, the prominent author, was hawking his new book on BeliefNet, and discussing his views on homosexuality in relation to Wicca.

"The divine is spirit, and as such, is beyond male and female, yet incorporates both. Witches believe the divine in immanent in all things, all nature, the stars and all people."

Which is lovely.

"Neo-paganism initially focused on heterosexual union because the roots of our reconstruction are based in fertility cults - fertility of the tribe and fertility of the crops. No gay witch is going to dispute the role of fertility. We all got here through reproduction."

Which is accurate; het sex makes mammal babies. It's a wonderful thing and it's of large importance. Unfortunately, he starts to talk bollocks almost instantly after that.

"But a gay witch will recognize that everyone has male and female, god and goddess energy in themselves. All men have feminine energy. All women have masculine energy. GLBT folk have a different blend of these energies when compared to the traditional heterosexual roles. It makes them perfect for magical world, because they can access whatever current of energy that is needed"

What the fuck? This gay witch certainly doesn't think that. I have no female energy. I have a male body and a male identity. What other meanings of "female" are being used here? For all his positive, pro-queer decoration, isn't Penczak just calling me an "invert"?

Penczak's descriptions read to me like an apology. It looks like someone is trying to excuse the Queer prescence in Wicca. These aborted attempts at "integration" would be offensive enough coming from a straight lay-person, but from Penczak they are horrific.

Penczak, for those who don't know, is that author of several gay oriented primers on Wicca. Despite presenting himself as the face of queer witchcraft, his views on gender (here at least) are still firmly rooted in the heterosexual hegemony. Males fuck females, females are receptive vaginas, and anything else must be ignored or else assimilated by force.
And Penczak, despite how much his individual ignorance is annoying me right now, is not the whole of it. There are whole communities of pagans out there who legitimise queer spirituality by pretending that lesbians have secret "male" energies that straight women don't have access too. This pisses me off.

Rather than admitting that a legitimate male experience can include being fucked, they play this weird game where our asses become magical pseudo-vaginas. How is two cismales fucking in any sense female? Not the biological sense. Not the linguistic sense. Only, it seems, in some vaguely defined "energetic" sense.

I call Bullshit. Phil Hine, in his article "Sodomy and Sorcery", says "I feel that being fucked is a celebration of my maleness".I agree. As lovely as that vast expanse known as "female" is, I don't belong to it.

And, whilst we're at it, what is this sexed energy that they claim makes up the universe? When the seahorse births his children, is that Goddess energy? And when a female sea-monkey impregnates herself, is it because she is actually a secret "energetic" male? Or, is it just that the stories neo-pagans weave are just that? Just stories?

For people who venerate nature, they seem to do a good job of ignoring it. The vast majority of organisms on this earth do not reproduce through the union of male and female body parts. To claim that het-sex is some kind of cosmic standard is, effectively, a lie.

While the framework of God+Goddess can be a useful and beautiful metaphor, it isn't real. And the effort of Pagan authors to cram our square pegs into that round hole is well intentioned but ugly.

Straight authors need to realise that Wicca's heterosexual agenda isn't actually a divine truth. And to force Queer people to fit into that story is a crime against the very natural diversity that they claim to venerate.

And queer authors? Queer authors need to pull their shit together and not just republish the heteronormative wankery that they've inherited off of their trads.

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Last night, late for my usual posting time and attempting to break towering walls of Writer’s Block, I stared at a blank Word document (Blog18.doc) and complained to my friends: Why do I keep this column if I’m one of the most single people I know?

I guess I asked for it: a less-than-comforting discussion of why I, despite learning from my trials and errors, am single. My friends spoke with passion. In bursts of arguments, they agreed with each other’s rationales, citing situations and experiences that illuminated my inability to couple successfully, as if they had mentally isolated actions of mine that have led to my singleness and compiled a series of five lessons of what-not-to-do-if-you’re-a-gay-man-trying-to-get-laid that they only decided to share with me now.

Problem #1: My closest friends are straight women who work the same occupation.

(Pause-- Isn’t it ironic that the folks reasoning my own doomed relationship status are the ones perpetuating it?)

Beyond our friendships, we spend hours slaving over professional endeavors, typing away at coffee shops and brainstorming ideas to implement in our individual work. When we’re not stressing out, we’re wasting time at each other’s apartments, watching movies or plays, or, my personal favorite, eating. On a rare night out, we’ll taxi to a bar or club throbbing with lights, music, fog, and—a key ingredient—straight men. My friends become the women upon which these men prey, the same women who I must inevitably save when the men are no longer of interest. At the end of evening, we have ourselves only, a cab stewing with estrogen-injected memories of the phone number they got, the sketchy guy who wanted to dance, or the make-out session on the dance floor. For a change of pace, I am the new male necessity on the return ride: a pre-approved splash of testosterone, uninterested yet equally welcome and wanted—the bodyguard-confidant-token gay all rolled into one.

In case you’re wondering, they do, on occasion, humor my desire to dance among men who like men. But it is then that problem #2 arises:

Problem #2: I may be perceived as straight.

If you know me, then you’ll think that’s funny. My friends, however, highlight an example from a Vegas vacation: We stumbled into the only gay club on the Strip at 4am. Although the city has a reputation as a sleepless adult playground, this particular dance floor had already emptied to reveal a handful of older, not-so-appealing gentlemen, wriggling to an endless string of unidentifiable (and seemingly generic) techno beats. It wasn’t exactly our idea of a party. Disappointed at my options, I shoved my energy into reserve and plopped into a booth (which they reference as Problem #3—I can look unhappy at clubs when I’m not having fun.) Yet there we were, four girls and a guy wanting to squeeze the most out of our crazy weekend. They paraded onto the dance floor while I sulked on the side. A man approached them (a common occurrence for me at gay bars—men approaching everyone in my company but me) and began dancing. He saw me in the booth, hesitated for a moment, and then motioned towards me. I shook my head, uneager to make do with my option of dancing with a forty-something as opposed to my more attractive third Corona. Regardless, he didn’t take the hint. He came to me and whispered words I will never forget:

Listen, I know you’re straight, but your friends want to have fun. You should dance with them anyway.

I told him I’d finish my Corona and then consider his idea. Meanwhile, in my head, I contemplated my newly-found aura of apparent heterosexuality. Not that I especially wanted to grind with the gray-haired fellow, but what about me would I need to change in order to confirm my gayness? Was that the problem? Do men not flock to me because they don’t know that I might be attracted to them? Isn’t my excessive amount of chill time with a gaggle of friendly girls enough to project my inner rainbow to the world? What do I need: a gang of gays? Sorry! No can do because…

Problem #4: I don’t have any gay friends in my area.

If I did, maybe I’d have a completely different social network and agenda, one that would expose me to men who would (*wink*) expose themselves to me. It is said that 95% of employment opportunities surface from personal connections; is the same true of potential mates? Should I turn to friends to, literally and metaphorically, hook me up? Assuming, of course, that they’d do that kind of work for me, as I apparently don’t do the work myself because…

Problem #5: I’m not aggressive enough.

According to my friends, I don’t put myself out there. (What? You mean going out alone to a gay club isn’t going to suffice when I’m not at work or at a straight club?) I may go out, they argue, but I don’t approach the guys that I think are cute; I assume that they need to come to me. Is that a problem? Maybe. While I have my reasons for not making the first move (a long explanation in short: I don’t like acting on physical attraction alone), this is a definite impediment to my entrance into the dating world.


With these five issues in mind, my first instinct: get defensive. But I like my friends. But I shouldn’t need to change. But I don’t want to pretend. But this… but that… but I…

In the end, though, I stumble upon the same, stale realization: But I’m still single.

Excuses aside, I have to face it: while others are fashionably solitary, personifying Sex and the City as perpetual bachelors or bachelorettes, I’m—well—I’m just single. And I can either hope or pray for someone to dodge the landmines above or—gulp—I can disarm those landmines myself.

(To be continued)

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Like most of the folks on this blog, I am someone that lives outside of the binary. I am also a therapist-in-training, and even more unusual, I am a state employee…hired mid-transition. I am a social worker for child welfare services. Which state? Not saying…but it is one that my trans status was not a deterrent to hire. (Also, my office focuses on Indian Child Welfare Act cases, and traditionally, Native societies are often more accepting to those of us outside the gender binary.) I am also open about who and what I am.

Within the office, I am called a range of pronouns: she, he, ze…if we have a guest in the office (interns, social workers from other offices), I have noticed that my co-workers enjoy watching the guest do a double take if I am unshaven and binding and I am referred to as “she” or if I am unbound and clean shaven, and referred to as “he.” Social workers typically have a wicked sense of humor…and I am old enough (and comfortable enough with who I am) to find it funny, too. It is not mean-spirited—I have had enough experience with that type of treatment to know the difference…teasing is part of many cultures and it is something I grew up with, so in this context, it is something that makes me feel accepted. When referring to my gender identity, they usually say I am “two-spirit.”

Outside the office or in front of clients, my coworkers refer to me as “he” (or try). This is by agreement, as my supervisor has told me she feels that the gender fluidity does pose a safety risk (and she is right) with some of our clients. I have had some clients ask “are you a boy or a girl?” My response is either “my name is Luis,” or “what would make you more comfortable with me?” This depends on several factors: age, gender identity or sexual orientation, and their comfort level with me as a person. I find that I am not as rigid with my gender identity as the media says I should be. Strangely—or maybe not so strange—a few of my female clients like me because I “think like a guy” but they have figured out I used to be female, and so I am “safe”…and easier to talk to.

However, there are times I have to appear in court. Some judges have rudely asked me if I am “male or female” (a small minority) and others have chastised defense attorneys for being disrespectful to me, telling them that the only confusion is in “your mind, not his (me).” Still, court remains a bit hard for me. I tend not to use the bathrooms. Which one can I use? Like every transperson under the sun, I have a potty dilemma. In court, it is even worse…either one I use, I could be hauled out and arrested! (I look male, my ID is still female.)

Since I have a goatee, generally bind, and have a low tenor/high baritone voice, being a “he” in the courthouse and meeting with clients makes my life easier…and really, theirs. I know that living outside the gender binary is where I belong, but the power dynamic in my relationship with my clients is NOT where I force my worldview or my ideas on my gender identity. I figure they are not there to have to skip around the question, and I am not there to inflict myself upon them. Do I broaden their worldview? Maybe. Do I want to make a big deal about it? No. My colleagues: attorneys, judges, other social workers…I expect a certain level respect from them. The quality of work alone should get it…but it doesn’t always. I generally laugh at them, and move on. In private, I sometimes feel a bit anguished about it, and it can be very exhausting.

But still, like all of us, I press on.

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Against The Nation?

As far as I am aware, most queer and gender-progressive activism occurs within the context of a nation-state. With the exception of some groups, such as the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), feminist and queer activists usually lead lonely campaigns within a single country. It is thus necessary to ask what effect nation-states (particularly ones that are “ethnically-defined”) have on these movements. How does ethnic nationalism (a powerful ideology that seeks to advance the perceived interests of a particular ethnie) impact gender and sexuality? How does it affect the work of activists seeking to alter dominant patriarchal and homophobic/heterosexist norms?

The principal theorist of the links between nationalism, gender and sexuality is Nira Yuval-Davis. The “big names” in social science thought about nationalism, such as Hobsbawm and Anderson, generally ignore the gendered dimensions of this phenomenon. Yuval-Davis fills this gap in the academic discourse by emphasizing the gender ideologies that proliferate in nationalist thought and action. In Racialized Boundaries, she outlines how a desire to control reproduction is inherent in ethnic nationalism. Membership in an ethnic group is almost exclusively based on being born into it – having the “right” ethnic blood. Reproduction is vital in this case as it ensures the future survival of the ethnie and the replication of its physical and cultural content.

Much of ethnic culture, therefore, is organized around rules relating to sexuality, marriage and the family, and since nationalism does not just create a common past for ethnic community – but also a common future – maintaining an appropriate level of reproduction (whether through anti-natalist, eugenicist or pronatalist policies) is conceived as paramount to the ethnie’s long-term survival. These ideas are echoed by Verdery (1994: 207): “‘nation’ parallels ‘gender’ in linking the physical ‘body’ of the state to a set of meanings and affects, thus rendering physical space socio-political… the standard rhetoric of nation-states effectively ties together control over the subject bodies and over territory.” Similarly, Gal and Kligman (2000: 23) point out that, at least in the case of Eastern Europe, citizens are constantly compelled to present a legally approved, reproductive” sexuality, because the “very concept of nationhood relies crucially on reproductive discourses and practices to make and remake the ‘nation’ and its boundaries.” Indeed, the deep, inextricable connection between nation, gender and sexuality is perhaps best exemplified by the etymology of the word “nation”: it comes from the Latin word, “natus,” which means, “to be born.”

Overall, nation-states, particularly those that are heavily influenced by ethnic nationalism, have an inherent desire to control sexuality and to demand a certain “proper level” of reproduction (which is dependent on the maintenance of patriarchal gender norms). Ethnic nationalism, thus, is very likely to be unfavorable to queer advancement and gender-progressive politics, as it would endanger the imperative of gender and sexual control that is inherent to it. How should activists respond to this challenge, then? Should they actively work “against the nation,” seeking to abolish its validity and advocate a radical politics that would eventually see the state “wither away” (a la Marx)? Should they attempt to accommodate themselves to ethno-nationalist norms and requirements? Or should they perhaps attempt to change the meaning of “the nation,” to move the semantic framework away from discourses about control of gender and sexuality?

Of these suggested tactics, the “abolition of the state” perspective has considerable “radical appeal,” (indeed, states and the international state-system do promote various other injustices, such as war, conflict, economic exploitation etc…). However, it is unlikely to be practical given the fact that people overwhelmingly identify with the nation or state that they were assigned at birth – altering this identification could only be a very long-term goal. Attempting to accommodate to the patriarchal and gender-conservative norms of the ethnic nation-state would be an uncomfortable process, at best – as it would involve arguing that emancipated women and “sexually free” individuals somehow support the social control over gender and sexuality that nationalism mandates. That would, in fact, be impossible.

The idea of reconfiguring nationalism away from an ethnic basis certainly holds the most promise. Promoting a kind of “civic nationalism,” where the nation is identified more with fostering a diverse social order and human rights for all its citizens, rather than the survival of a particular ethnie, would be a promising tactic for gender-progressive and queer organizations seeking to improve the gender and sexual order within their nation-states. This has, in fact, happened in South Africa. Although racial and ethnic tensions are still ever-present, the post-1994 South African state has identified itself considerably with a discourse of human rights – the “nation-state” has been reconfigured as the primary promoter of these rights, rather than the power-vehicle of a particular ethnic group. This discursive alteration has enabled policies such as same-sex legal unions and has fostered the creation of vibrant queer communities in some of the larger towns. Thus, reconfiguring the basis for nationalism, rather than abolishing it, would seem to be the best tactic for dealing with queer and feminist politics within nation-states.

***For More Information***
Nira Yuval-Davis’ work is absolutely pivotal for this subject. If you would like a “short-and-sweet” summary of her main ideas, the article “Women and the Biological Reproduction of the Nation” (in Women’s Studies International Forum. Vol. 19. 1-2, pp. 17-24) is a good place to start. She has also written several fascinating and very accessible books with Flora Anthias, in particular Woman-Nation-State and Racialized Boundaries. For a full bibliography, take a look here.

Other important thinkers on this subject write mostly about particular regions. For example, Deniz Kandiyoti focuses primarily on gender, nationalism and sexuality in the Middle East – her classic text is Gendering the Middle East: Emerging Perspectives. I have mostly studied this subject in the context of Eastern Europe, for which the work of Susan Gal and Gail Kligman is indispensable: Reproducing Gender is the key text – a shorter and more readable alternative is The Politics of Gender After Socialism (2000). Kathryn Verdery’s work is also important – check out her article “From Parent-State to Family Patriarchs: Gender and Nation in Contemporary Eastern Europe” (in East European Politics and Societies, Vol. 8.2, 1994).

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Tough Transitions

Okay, so I’m going to finally write about trans stuff. The problem is, I’ve been hesitant to write about it because I fall into the category of one of those folks who wants to be as supportive as possible of trans issues and help create some dialogue, but I’m still not as educated as I would like to be in order to confidently stand at the front of the picket lines. I majored in gender and sexuality studies in college, but ironically very little of it led me to the study trans issues; we were too busy talking about the gays, gay this and gay that with a little dabble of gender norms here and there. I guess I just need to bite the bullet and write, and risk making a mistake or two. So feel free to call me out.

When the ENDA poo recently hit the fan, I was really upset…and it kind of struck a chord with me from a very, very similar situation I was in a couple years ago:

Back in college I interned for a state-wide gay rights organization in a state where no protections existed in any shape or form against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Our organization was fighting to put a protection on the upcoming ballot, a protection against discrimination for state employees (a protection now required by the passed ENDA). The reality was, and everyone knew, that this move would never pass to be included on the ballot…but they were doing as a symbolic statement to show these rights were in demand. Quite progressively (considering the very red nature of our state), our organization put forth legislative language that included protections for both sexual orientation and gender identity. I admit I kind of expected it; as a young, eager college activist, I thought: “Of course a gay rights organization would be fight for the rights of trans folks. How could one marginalized group leave another one behind?”

A couple weeks into the push to include this on the ballot, powerful (read: $$$$) members of the organization confronted the director about the language on the bill to protect gender identity. One member even stormed into our office in outrage, and I was in earshot of the conversation he had with the director in another room. He first argued that including gender identity would make it impossible for the bill to pass (a reality they already knew would happen anyway). After my director spoke with him about his exact concerns he started to calm down, and then he told a long-winded story about how as an effeminate, gay-curious teenager he was subject to transphobia; people made fun of him saying that because he was gay he was more like a girl than anything, and his family would worry he would become a transvestite and want to maybe have surgery to become a girl (something he resented and has violently rejected since his youth; he was gay…not, God forbid, transgendered).

And that’s one of the big sources of where my frustration with the ENDA comes from. It’s a fear that underneath all of this political stuff about “just getting it to pass” (and I believe the reality is that it really would not pass if it included gender identity), the deep truth is that gay people around this country are uncomfortable with our country's multifaceted transgender community, and further – gay people are excruciatingly uncomfortable with their own gender issues. And while this is definitely for another post, I think the reason this is so is because gay men are being reconfigured in our heteronormative, gender-normative society that can only tolerate other forms of gender variety when they're mocked.

I realize I’m not being particularly objective. I promise something better soon!

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The year is 2007, the place is Zimbabwe. A wave of hysteria sweeps the streets. The Popobawa is here again.

For those that don't know, the Popobawa is a sex demon. Having been accidentally loosed by an incautious magician in the 1970s, the Popobawah (who's name is swahili for "batwing") has come to terrorise the men of the area. How is he doing it? He's using his massive penis.

Though able to shapeshift, the spirit often appears in the form of a winged, dwarf, cylops ogre. He flys at the dark of night and attacks men, espescially unbelievers, in their own bed by pinning them down and sodomising them for hours with his freakishly large penis.

Beyond the obvious trauma of supernatural rape, the men are instructed to tell everyone the ordeal. If they fail to share the story, then the Popobawa will return and rape them again.

Sound ridiculous? For the victims it is a very real experience. Hospitals have had to deal with bruising, broken ribs and a shattered pelvis. The fear is equally as real, during periods of high activity men may choose to sleep outside rather than in the bed where the Popobawa would expect them to be.

Understandably, the international community has looked with scepticism on the claims of our Tanzanian brothers'. With very little effort, we have managed to explain the Popobawa away. There is a physiological quirk with human sleep that means we can't move whilst in REM sleep. Sometimes, this paralysis continues over into the begining of the waking state. The half awake dreamer often adds in something hallucinatory of their own making,and voila, demonic experience.

The experience of Sleep Paralysis often includes a pressing or crushing feeling,so that would explain why the Popobawa is reported as pinning down his victims, but there isn't much in the hypnpompic state that feels like a giant penis repeatedly entering your rectum. Or, for that matter, that would compel you to go out and admit your msenge status. So what's that about?

I, for one, would argue it's about the culture that the victims live in. Sleep Paralysis phenomenon have been around for a long time, and though the basic "I can't move, someone's sitting on my chest" experience always remains central, the window dressing has changed to express the important social dilemnas of the era.

Medieval men had witches ride them, because witches repressented unbound female sexuality and power over men. Monks of the time, who slept with crosses clasped to their groins, where visited by succubi. Female demons who represented sexual sin and nocturnal temptation. (Nuns, conveniently for them, could blame unwanted pregnancies on incubi, the male equivalents of the succubi. Incubi penises, which could be identified by their massive size and freezing temperature, squirted the semen collected by their succubi sisters. Hence why so many of the nun's demonic children looked suspisciously like local men). In the secular era modern America suffers from a surfeit of alien abduction stories, each of which makes an interesting study on America's relationship to the concepts of foreigness and anal-probes.

And Zimbabwe, for all it's comparative liberalism, still suffers from strong taboos against men being penetrated. In a country where same-sex handholding can result in imprisonment, it seems inevitable that the queer should become monstrous. I think it's telling that Popobawa is literally a "one eyed monster".

In all honesty, any country with Mugabe (a rabid,vocal and violent homophobe) at it's head is going to have a gay sex demon in it's head. I find it hard to look at the Popobawa and not see a nation suffering from a masculinity crisis. Popobawa is, to my uninvolved non-sociologist eyes, a voice given to the voicless characters in the national psyche.

But this, I think, is my point. Though it is easy to make a judgement and interperet other people's myths, it's not always the best response. Popobawa shows us that there is a mirroring link between a society and the religion it creates. Our spirits sometimes reflect ourselves more readily than they reflect our reality, and it would be arrogant to assume that the same process is not at work in our own beliefs.

Why, for example, is it important that the Virgin Mary has a perpetual virginity? What does us say about our view of female sexuality? Why are our superheroes straight men,and why can they fly? What does that tell us about our attitudes to the ground and to masculinity?

The Popobawa, for all it's oddness, is an important lesson in the nature of metaphysical belief. As strongly as our beliefs are held, we often hold them for reasons that are more psychological than philosophical.

That's not to say I don't believe giant penises fly through the window. Just that my belief might be based more on personal needs (and who doesn't need a flying penis?) rather than the spiritual reality.

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Have you seen the movie The White Masai? Is it well-known? I had never heard of it until a friend here in Zacatecas lent it to me. I believe her exact description was: "It won't be your favorite movie…but you have to see it. For the experience." Ay Dios was she right.

I mean I had seen similar movies before. The kind where it's in your face, no avoiding the reality, you live in a bubble type movie. But this one hit me in certain places I wasn't expecting and I think part of it was due to the context I watched it in.

To begin with, there are three languages spoken in the movie: English, German, and the native Masai (an African tribe) language. So I understood some, and the other parts I was reading with Spanish subtitles. Changes the experience. Then, as it began, so ignorant and naïve is the little white girl, I say to myself, hey, it's kind of like my story! A woman leaves her home to go live in a foreign culture to enjoy not only it, but also the person she has fallen in love with! Right. Not only grossly generalized, but I'm not sure I could have been more off.

It's the (Hollywood version, I'm sure) story of a Swiss woman who experiences love at first sight with Samburu warrior in Kenya. She leaves her old life behind to begin a new one with him. Based on the book that tells the true story, you are constantly wondering- could I/ would I do something like this? I mean, the entire movie, it was like my little inner-gender alarm was blaring in this sickeningly high-pitched tone with the brightest red light you could EVER imagine. Ever 20 seconds there was a scene, or a character, or an event, or a place, or a reaction, or a comment that I just had no idea how I felt about. So many possible responses: It's cultural. I don't know what it's like. That's a complete disregard for her individual freedom. What would she put herself through that? Is that justified? That's justified. Why. Why? Why!? Oh, I get it. I mean they just went on and on.

I don't think I've actually given my interpretation a thorough analysis. Maybe I’m a little scared to. The comments at the bottom of the above-mentioned website provide some real profound examinations (large amounts of sarcasm were placed in that statement). I mean really, how much do people believe that women will do anything for love? Well…is it true? Which women? Why only women? And is it ok what this Swiss woman put herself through all of those things just for…love? And then there's the fact that with her presence in this village also comes the western presence, a whole different aspect of the movie that you must look at.

I felt that the ending of the movie brought relief but at the same time left many doubts, many questions. It's the never-ending debate of culture vs. an individual's rights. And then came the undeniable question- what would be different right now, at this moment, if I wasn't in Mexico? What would I have been outraged by that now only made me question? What would I have done differently if I were watching this before engaging in the experience I am having now. Really, the root of it all, I, as a white female westerner, am looking at this very differently that anyone who isn't a white female westerner would. The task is to try and think what I would be saying if I didn't fit that profile.

Oh and me having to deal with overbearing, traditional in-laws and a few whistles in the street? Children's games compared to this woman's story. I mean really, in the end, the question is: Can two people from completely different (to full extent of the word) cultures fall in love? Is it possible? Ok, yes? Then can they live a happy life together? What kind of sacrifices would you be willing to make to do so?

Oh Happy Thanksgiving. We're not so in to that here.

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Dear Fannie,

What are your opinions on polyamorous relationships? After a rough relationship that ended over infidelity and trust issues, it became clear that the man I loved could only operate in an open relationship. For my personal comforts, I cannot separate romantic intimacy from sexual activity. What was left was two different relationships posing as one; me with only eyes for him and him with a few people on the side. This felt like torture and thus ended. Can two people with different views on sex and intimacy work it out? Or do we have to draw a line in the sand?

Appreciating Your Insight

I’m sorry to hear about your previous burn from a previous relationship plagued with sex view dissonance. I first want to set up some vocabulary basics on which I want to discuss this topic. Polyamory is defined as “the desire, practice, or acceptance of having more than one loving, intimate relationship at a time with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved,” (thank you wiki). This is different from polygamy, which is one partner (usually male) is married to, or sexual relationships with multiple partners (usually female, at least historically speaking). I’m opposed to polygamy, not only because it is deeply engrained in heterosexual marriage and profound patriarchy, but also because it is hierarchal and the benefits stream seem to flow inward to the prime partner, whilst the spoke relationships get the raw end of the deal.

I don’t like to make blanket statements. Well… maybe I do, but they’re blanket statements with gaping holes in them as to avoid being reductive. But if I were to make a blanket statement regarding non-monogamy I would be for it. And a lot of that opinion is based on the rabid anti-non-monogamy propagated not only by marriage politics, but legitimacy-seeking “LGBT” sell-outs as well. However, as I’ve stated in the past, the only kind of non-monogamy I support is honest and consensual non-monogamy. And I mean actually consensual. What I don’t mean is caving into your boyfriend’s desire to hook up with other guys and leaving you in the dust, as it sounds like you did. Any kind of poly relationship decision should be made conjointly and not as a compromise.

One of the reasons I support polygamy, when it works, is because I think that monogamy sets unrealistic expectations of your partner. Monogamy demands that one person can fulfill all of your sexual, emotional, psychological, and intellectual needs. I have serious doubts as to the viability of that claim. In the end I believe that every successful monogamous couple is, in part, polyamorous. Even if you only are sexually engaged with each other, at some point you realize that there are some needs that you have, whether sexual or personal, that your partner can’t provide.

AYI, I think you’re right that two people with completely different views on sex and intimacy probably won’t work out. However, I think that it may be helpful to understand exactly why your partner is interested in seeking to fulfill his needs outside your relationship. Sometimes those needs don’t involve infidelity. Also, if your boyfriend feels that he needs to have sex with someone else for whatever reason, i.e. he has a fetish that you are unwilling to participate in, then you can encourage him to have you be a voice in that process. If he just has a wandering eye, then I think that you have more of a justification to demand a little more commitment. However, you may want to consider being a part of your boyfriend’s extra-relationship sex. Inviting a third can help your boyfriend satiate his sexual urge for many partners and reinforce your place in his heart and his bed. Remember, just because your partner finds other people attractive doesn’t mean he doesn’t still want you. There’s a reason why he keeps coming back to you.


Send your questions to askfannie@belowthebelt.org

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