As a middle school teacher, I asked questions—lots of them—to keep my students engaged. It’s a tougher task than it sounds; you’re never quite sure what your hormone-charged students will say—or if they will say anything at all. One valuable trick I learned to make sure my pseudo-Socratic method worked was called “wait-time.” I would ask a question, and then—the impossible—I’d wait. I’d stand there, watching an ocean of blank or unreadable faces, letting a heavy silence flood the room, anticipating a wave of potentially wrong answers as seconds drip by one slow drop at a time: Did they understand my question? Are they following along? Am I teaching the best that I can? Am I a travesty? Is this lesson a tragedy? Panic! At the Classroom.

Miraculously, at the end of the pause-that-would-last-forever (or ten Mississippi seconds, at the most), the Red Sea would part and reveal a hand in the air. If I was lucky, there might be two. And if I was doing my job, the student I would call on would be close to a right answer. Wait-time allowed my pupils to think and debate about possible responses while I recollected my thoughts about how to follow-up and lead the class. Ta-da: the fruits and labors of sitting—or standing—at the edge-of-your-seat without saying anything at all.

In the dating game, I’ve found a similar phenomenon: the wait-time between your date and your call, between your call and his call, between dates and dates later, between dates and nights and the bent knee proposal to forever. How long is too long? Or, perhaps more appropriately for an antsy and impatient guy like me who operates on five-year and ten-year plans, how soon is too soon?

You’d think it’d be easier when you don’t have thirty middle schoolers staring back at you. You’d think that because you’re an adult and you’re dealing with an adult, that these waiting periods would be less of a strategy and more a consequence of the busy bee lives we lead.

False. In dating, wait-time is a wait-game. It’s not fun, but it’s the rule; it’s a political move to be taken despite everything we say about love. That stuff about listening to your heart and then acting on it? Bullshit. If I listened to my heart, time would not be in the way of me and the people I want to date. My mind would draw unswervingly straight lines from thought A (“Wow, I really enjoyed hanging out with that guy”) to thought B (“I should ask him out again”) instead of tweedling over to paranoia-laden distractions like thought A.2 (“The ball’s in his court, so I’ll wait for his call”) or thought A.83765 (“I shouldn’t seem too excited, so I’ll wait exactly 48 hours”).

The wait-game is torture. Instead of doing what wait-time does in the classroom—giving students and teachers time to collect their thoughts into articulate arguments—all that the wait-game does is allow the butterflies in your stomach to multiply. Is it fair that they get to reproduce while you sit by your phone waiting for the chance to reproduce?

Throwing wrenches into an already sweaty situation is what I like to call the technological hierarchy. How much value should I place on a call versus a text? An email versus a text? An instant message versus an email? A Facebook poke versus a G-chat drop-in? Do waiting periods of non-communication differ depending on how I want to communicate with you next? Can I poke you two days after a date, or is it more efficacious to have a G-chat conversation after three days or a phone call after five days?

I’ve always felt like the wait-game has been detrimental for me. In my first dating experiences, I remember wanting to talk on instant messenger whenever I could; this stemmed out of a naïve understanding of love as togetherness—if not literally physical, then at the very least, conversationally. I soon learned that this was something called clinginess. I discovered that personal space and time was valued in the early phases of dating; love would be something to be planned around later on, but if you were just dating, you were supposed to let the tension between you and your eyed-one come to a slow boil. You couldn’t just jump into the deep end of a relationship; every cup of coffee or glass of beer you shared on a date was but a small contribution of water into a pool you had to fill. And you had to digest before attempting the next serving.

I’ve worked on this. In each of my relationships, I’ve tried to remind myself not to get too excited, not to always make the first moves, not to, as I desperately want to, wear my heart on my sleeve. I’ve been told that the acceptable thing to do is to keep it in my chest where it belongs, under layer and layers of pretense called, “Getting to know you.” (Some people also wear alternative layers called “hooking up.”)

But if love were about chemistry, sparks, and connections that either are or are not, then why put yourself through the wait-game? To prove to yourself that these are feelings that last? To make that which is after the wait worth so much more? Why do we put these connections on hold instead of understanding that what will be will be—and still will be whether accessed now or later?

When I was a teacher, I knew exactly what I was gaining by waiting. As a dater, though, I’m lost for words to explain my purposeful word loss: what exactly do I get aside from lost time?

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First I’d like to apologize for not being around as much and missing my last few entries on this awesome blog. The majority of you don’t know but I’ve been living in Guatemala for 3 months learning Spanish at www.plqe.org which is an amazing school full of ex guerrillas and leftist politics that I suggest going to if you’re interested in learning Spanish. Suffice it to say my experience has been incredible and simultaneously solidified my political beliefs while expanding my desire to change the world in the very ugly and very blatant face of white patriarchal capitalist dominance.

The story of Guatemala is typical in Latin America and the people of Latin America, especially the women, pay for it the most. The short story is this: Guatemala was and is a country of indigenous Mayans and for several hundred years white people have been enslaving the people and raping the women and continue to do so to this day. I saw my first slave on the street here and I’m sure I’ve seen more without even realizing it. When I drive by the land in buses and see all the beautiful mountains and volcanoes and jungles and forests I also pass by coffee plantations where people work 15 hours a day for 3 dollars on land that US corporations stole from them and then forced them to work on. Many of them are slaves via indentured servitude. The last 50 years of hell here is quite literally the sole responsibility of the US. The government staged a coup and then put in motion a series of military dictators leading to what the UN now calls a genocide against the Maya of Guatemala. At this time the person who killed the most amount of Mayans still holds a place in government and while America continues to enslave and exploit the people here in Guatemala we do the same to ¨illegal¨ Guatemalans in the US and dare to blame them for their own actions while we drove them out of their own country through exploitation, murder, and rape. Slavery exists and I see it more now than I ever have and I hate American culture, the government, money, and corporate power more now than I ever have. But that´s not what I´m going to talk about.

What I am going to talk about is the story of my host family in Guatemala. Guatemala has largely been colonized culturally due to religion and its culture severely injured due to dictatorships. Every night I walk home from school I pass by evangelical churches where people are having seizures thinking God is talking to them. Misogyny is ever present due to the heavy control the church has over gender norms, women’s sexuality, the sanctity of marriage, contraception, abortion, etc. Condoms are evil, abortion is illegal, women are harassed and rape in the street in broad daylight, and the police and army all contribute to, not help, any of these problems. I, however, thought I was lucky in my experience here. I got a host family for the past 3 months that was my age, the wife 21 and the husband 25. They have a baby that is 8 months old and utterly adorable. My dad played Radiohead songs on his guitar and we took turns playing my Nintendo DS at night after talking for long periods of time about life and how much police suck. Everything was awesome until the first time they had an argument. My host mom left for a week and they got back together afterwards and I moved back in with them. My host dad’s mom apparently had been disrespecting and interfering with their marriage and my host dad wasn’t defending his wife to his mom. It was ongoing enough that one day she left for a week. When she came back I thought everything was going to be ok, I hadn’t realized due to the length of time I’d been there, the language barrier, and other things that their problems were much greater than some family feuding and I came to learn that had been the fifth time she had left.

A few weeks later I really started to find out was going on. My Spanish kept improving and I got closer and closer to them. They asked me to be the godfather to their baby because they liked me and respected me and wanted someone responsible to be a third parent to their child. It was definitely a great night and I was incredibly flattered.

After another bit of time my host mom left again for a couple days though this time she was just visiting her family. My host dad did not believe this and while she was gone spent the days complaining about her and saying how she wanted him to change and blah blah blah. At first I bought into some of what he was saying because, after all, men aren’t ALWAYS the problem (or so I thought ha haaa!!!). When my host mom came home everything seemed more or less ok but a day or two later I woke up and went into the living room and saw that their door was open. My host dad wasn’t around and I walked by the door and saw my host mom very obviously crying. I asked her what happened and she told me that my host dad, the guy who talks about revolution and changing the world and who plays music and is into art and has a new born baby girl, had hit her. At first I thought maybe I was just mistranslating because confusing things like that had happened before and made for hilarious stories. But no, I checked with her again, and I had heard correctly. I talked with her for a while and apparently the baby had fallen over and scratched and bumped her face. He blamed her, hit her, then left the house and called HER mom and told her that my host mom was a bad mother and hurt the baby. The baby fell by accident and nothing more.

So explain to me what the fuck is going on? I had no idea. After keeping her company longer and talking to her more my host dad came back home. I asked him to go for a walk with me. We got outside and began to talk. He complained and whined about how it’s not fair, how she wants him to be different and he doesn’t want to live with her and blah blah blah. I told him none of that matters, that he has to apologize to her for what he did, and that he’s wrong for it. He was saying she was immature and doesn’t talk to him and he started saying all this weird stuff like he TOLD her she wasn’t ready for a baby that she was too young and blah blah. So I told him why the hell would she want to talk to someone who hits her? We went back to the house and he left again. I spent the day with her running errands outside and I asked her if she wanted to have a talk about their problems with my girlfriend and I present to create a barrier and to make it more calm and she said yes if her husband wanted to. I spoke with her husband on the phone and he asked me where we were and I said we were out walking. He said that it wasn’t good for her to be out with the baby, the baby is fragile, she shouldn’t leave the house for that long, all in this weird controlling tone. It was very strange and I told him everything was fine that the baby was fine and she had to run an errand. I asked him if he wanted to talk with us all present that night and he said maybe the next day, but he didn’t really want to, that it was embarrassing. He told me he’d see me later that night or the next day.

My girlfriend and I kept her company that night and stayed over and made food and watched movies. We tried to be supportive and I think it worked fairly well but unfortunately my host dad came home drunk in the middle of the night and woke me up because he was in the kitchen. I was worried something would happen but I didn’t hear them fighting or any noise so I fell back asleep. In the morning I said bye to my host mom while my host dad slept and went to school. A couple hours later I got a call from my host mom crying saying she was leaving immediately to go to her family’s house. I told her to come meet me at the school. A couple hours later she came and told my girlfriend and I what happened.

Apparently when my host dad finally woke up they started arguing again and, while she was holding the baby, he hit and strangled her. Not only that but the night before he had asked her to sleep with him ¨one last time¨ before they got divorced. What the fuck is that shit??? I was fucking furious and I really couldn’t do anything except do whatever my host mom wanted. I was sure that he felt more comfortable hitting her while I wasn’t around which just made me want to beat the crap out of him more. Testosterone aside I had to help my host mom pack her bag for the baby so I went back to the house and stayed near her while she packed so she would feel safe while her husband, my former friend, awkwardly meandered around the house. The next day she came back and I helped her move out her furniture and everything else with her father, who doesn’t know what happened, just that they’re getting divorced, and her two younger siblings who also don’t know (her mom and her older female family members do).

Already he’s called her and told her he loves after demanding to both me and her that he wants to get separated immediately because he can’t take her any more. Oh and I forgot to mention that my host dad called her a prostitute and then called his mom to come over and call her a prostitute and tell my host mom that she was ruining her son’s life after he hit and strangled her. Also he apparently told her she wasn’t allowed to have friends once they got married – no fucking wonder she’d want to leave all the time to go home where she can TALK to people who aren’t fucking assholes. And he wonders why she didn’t want to talk to him!

It’s utterly insane how much things change. I never would have imagined any of this happening after first knowing them for a couple months. It’s horrifying how hidden serious problems like these can be. He’s already called me asking why I’m mad at him and I haven’t spoken to him since saying I didn’t want to talk to him. I visited my host mom with my girlfriend in her hometown and she is a lot happier. Part of her is still holding onto the belief that they might get back together after a while if he changes. I want to talk to her one last time before I leave and try as best I can in my non fluent but functional Spanish that he’s not going to change and he’s a fucking bastard who doesn’t deserve her or anyone and talk about feminism and that there are men who aren’t assholes. It’s hard to say all this due to the language barrier, the cultural barrier and the norm of men cheating and abusing their wives here in Guatemala. Would she even believe me? Every man she’s known has been an asshole, as far as I know I might be the only non asshole man she’s ever met. Her father cheated on her mother and her two younger siblings are kids of another man. The statistics about men in Guatemala make the US look like heaven in some ways. Which, consequently, is pathetic since we are largely responsible for a lot of the patriarchy entrenched in the culture here. All I can do is try and help her in any way I can.

So yeah, this has been one hell of a trip. Trying to help someone in a personal matter like this in a country and culture you only know a little in a language you’re learning to speak is extremely hard. But it’s just as interesting to see that the same problems and same themes exist pretty much exactly the same in other parts of the world and that people aren’t all that different anywhere. Sorry if I haven’t done that much analyzing in this post but I’m hoping the story speaks for itself and makes us all think about how to deal with things on such a personal level. If you have any suggestions or know of any books in Spanish I could buy for her about this sort of stuff please leave a comment. Thanks!

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It's Christmas! You know what that means!! BUY YOUR WOMAN JEWELRY OR YOU ARE A TERRIBLE BOYFRIEND/HUSBAND. (And it also means only heterosexual couples buy each other gifts in the world of mainstream TV commercials.)

Now, I enjoy jewelry. And my husband has gotten me a couple items of jewelry as gifts, and I certainly appreciated it. But holy crap, what kind of mindless idiots have worked on the marketing campaigns for mall-jewelers for the past ... well, forever. Their ads are offensively heteronormative and wastefully consumerist.

Click for some videos.

Funny satire:

Unfunny actual viral marketing from JCPenney:

Personally, I would not be offended if my husband got me a double bagged vacuum as a gift. But that's probably because he vacuums more than I do. Or if he got me RAM with a note that said "thanks for the memories." That part of the "commercial" killed me. It was sweet and thoughtful and practical, but NO, it's not shiny and expensive and showy. Because all straight women want is shiny, expensive, showy stuff that has no real practical application other than making other women jealous when you scream "HE WENT TO JARED!"

I really hate when the world of consumer goods reduces straight women to money-grubbing whores with no sense of sentimentality or practicality. Yes, I do like the occasional shiny, pretty thing, but I also love practical, useful, thoughtful things. Maybe I'm not a true member of the girls club. But that isn't the first time I've thought that.

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Thanksgiving is one of the few chances I have to see my grand-nephew, Mason. The kid's just getting into everything, and he's got the same brown hair that I and my nieces have. There is no doubt in my mind he'll be a heartbreaker someday.

I look at my two nieces, Heather (Mason's mother) and Savannah, and it occurs to me that we all have roughly the same look -- a pile of brown curls, and dark eyes that peer from underneath.

Of course, it takes a certain amazing, powerful love to take someone who doesn't happen to be biologically related to you into your home and give them the support that their closer relatives in the world cannot -- but there are people who would never dream of having children, partly because they think they couldn't love a child that wasn't related to them. Evolutionarily, they might well be right -- but the point is moot for so many who are gay, lesbian, or transgendered; they face certain obstacles in the process of conceiving. Gay men and transwomen have a certain lack of womb and eggs, and gay women and transmen are of course sperm-free. Personally, even though I used to promise myself that I would adopt, if I ever wanted kids, I have found myself feeling deep loss that I'll never be able to feel what it is like to have another life growing inside me, due to being born male. (Also, for a long time, I didn't realize I'd ever start on estrogen, and wow, is the resulting increased awareness of the biological clock loud. I've already found myself daydreaming about what the baby's room is going to look like in extreme detail -- already picked out what kind of mobile I want over the crib! -- and it gives me pause every time it happens.)

Science, as so often happens, may be filling the void sooner than I ever thought it could happen. A recent BBC article talks about reactions to a technology that allows anybody with bone marrow to create sperm. Lesbian couples the world over can just pick whichever partner they wish to provide the spermatozoa, and voila -- egg plus sperm, and you've got insemination materials.

There are some current limitations, of course -- there's not an egg production process that would provably work in humans yet, and if both the egg donor and sperm donor are XX, there's no chance for a Y chromosome to stray into the equation, and hence no chance of a boy. (Whereas a couple that are both XY using the same technology for egg production would have 2/3rds male children to female children, because there are two combinations of their genes resulting in an XY configuration, but only one in an XX). Further, it does involve drilling a bone and making a marrow withdrawal, not exactly everybody's idea of a fun weekend.

Having said this, I couldn't see why -- as the process became less and less specialized -- that eventually people might not be able to have kits for generating sperm or eggs, ones that can be purchased at a local store and used with a blood sample to generate a few billion sperm or a couple dozen eggs for the user.

Back at my mother's living room, I'm pretty sure I'm not stable enough to take care of a child any time soon, personally. Also, I muse as I watch my niece Heather finding it very difficult to move with her enormously bulging 8-month-pregnant body, maybe not being able to do that isn't such a bad thing -- for now, anyway.

And who knows -- once I'm ready, maybe the science will allow me to actually bear the child, instead of just watching other people do it.

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Richard Rorty’s 1998 work, Achieving Our Country, reads like the masterplan of Barack Obama’s successful presidential election campaign. In the book, Rorty calls for a reconfiguration of the American Left. He argues that, since the 1960s, progressives in the United States have been engaged in a cynical and detached ‘politics of spectatorship’. Inspired by Continental and poststructuralist philosophers, such as Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida and Foucault, left-wing intellectuals have become disillusioned spectators of their country, unable to have pride in any of its achievements and exhibiting deep cynicism about the possibility for any real change (short of a wholesale elimination of the United States and total rejection of all its social institutions). The Left portrayed America as an incorrigible genocidal, imperialist, racist, sexist and homophobic nation, and thus, undermined progressives’ will to meaningful agency in favor of a detached and profound skepticism: what reformist change could possibly matter when the whole enterprise of America is so beyond repair? At the same time, the American Left became a purely ‘cultural Left’ by focusing on ‘niche’ issues and ‘sadist’ social structures, such as racism, sexism and homophobia, while avoiding discussions about what really matters: economic inequality, selfishness and class oppression.

Rorty’s critiques of the Left’s ‘politics of spectatorship,’ and its sole focus on ‘cultural politics’ were adopted very successfully by Barack Obama’s campaign. From day one, Obama emphasized ‘hope’ for change and the ability of all people to exercise agency both for their individual gain and for the common good represented by their country. He also provided a replacement narrative of American history, which took pride in what the country had achieved (the Constitution, civil rights, and winning the Cold War), but viewed its ‘ultimate morality’ as still achievable, as expressed in the need to strive towards ‘a more perfect union.’ Thus, Obama restored a ‘will to agency’ to the U.S. Left: he provided a revision of the standard depressing and pessimistic left-wing historical narrative by portraying America as an ‘imperfect, but perfectible nation.’ Furthermore, he avoided divisive issues in the campaign, while focusing on the common good and bread-and-butter economic issues that had a high probability of diminishing some of the profound material inequalities that exist within the country. Overall, the Obama campaign seemed to follow – word-for-word – Rorty’s advice for the American Left: (1) restore hope in America and inspire people to exercise agency; (2) focus on economic issues and avoid polarizing ‘cultural’ debates.

While I agree with Rorty on the need to replace the ‘politics of spectatorship’ with a ‘politics of hopeful agency,’ some of his other claims are highly dubious. First of all, his insistence on a distinction between ‘real (economic) politics’ and ‘cultural politics’ is crude and will not help us achieve unity on the Left. Rorty implies that the ‘victim politics’ of queer rights, feminism, disability and racial justice is somehow secondary to (and separate from) ‘real’ concerns about economic inequality and caste stratifications in U.S. society. This view echoes Alan Sokal’s critique of postmodernism as supporting a trendy focus on superficial ‘identity politics’ that cannot concretely benefit the working class.

Nevertheless, the notion that ‘identity politics’ has no relation to economic justice is a false one. Take the example of queer rights: how could a movement that questions the sexual and gender restrictions that we place on ourselves not have anything to do with a critique of economic injustice and exploitation? As Judith Butler points out in her article, “Merely Cultural,” queer activism is important to a movement for economic emancipation because it undermines and problematizes one of the key institutions by which caste and class distinctions are maintained: compulsory dyadic heterosexuality. Why have sexual restrictions in the United States focused so much on limiting peoples’ ability to form intimate relationships across class and racial divides or within their own gender? Because such relationships could very well undermine the caste system on which economic inequality is based. To (re)produce this system, people cannot legitimately copulate with those that the system is designed to oppress: they must seek relationships among ‘their own kind’ (class and race), and those relationships must be heterosexual ones that can produce offspring to carry on and (re)produce the caste distinction. The queer movement’s questioning of the sexual restrictions we place on ourselves (and its re-thinking of the general purpose of sexuality) can, thus, legitimately contribute to action against economic inequality by opening up space for a breakdown of the sexual mechanisms by which classes and castes are (re)created.

Secondly, Rorty falsely blames the postmodernist or ‘cultural left’ for failing to engage with unions and the American poor, who have now become a hot constituency for Pat Buchanan and other radical right-wing populists. At least in the case of the queer rights movement, I do not think that the ‘cultural left’ can be blamed for this discrepancy. Radical groups, such as Queer Nation, Act-Up and Gay Men’s Health Crisis have focused considerably on critiquing social injustice in all its forms. It is the mainstream, assimilationist gay rights movement (which reached its zenith in the 1990s and 2000s) that has compartmentalized sexuality issues away from the broader Left-wing social and economic critique. As I demonstrated in this previous post, assimilationist gay activists have sought to portray homosexuals in the least offensive way possible: as a group that will not engage in ‘radical leftism,’ that will support the class and caste structures of corporate America, and that will not work to eliminate racial injustice and sexism. Thus, responsibility for ‘compartmentalizing’ identity politics away from forming broad alliances against social and economic injustices falls squarely on the shoulders of assimilationist social movements.

Overall, Rorty is right that a ‘politics of hopeful agency’ must replace the detached spectator-like cynicism of the American Left, and we are very lucky that President-elect Barack Obama has championed this agenda. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the work postmodernists and identitarians have done should now be pushed to the side in favor of a ‘real’ economic politics. In order to build unity on the Left, we need to develop an understanding of how the various injustices in our society – economic, sexual, gendered, racial, and disability-based – work together and reinforce each other. We cannot suppress our differences in order to build unity; we must instead build unity on the basis of our particularity and diversity. Only then, will a comprehensive and truly hopeful Left-wing politics be possible.

***For More Information***
Definitely have a look at Richard Rorty’s Achieving Our Country and Barack Obama’s campaign website for evidence of a reconfiguration on the American Left. For a very intelligent reply to Rorty and other critics of the ‘cultural’/postmodern Left, have a look at Judith Butler’s “Merely Cultural.”

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Jason Tseng joins us from The Bilerico Project:

At 6:30pm on W 65th St and Columbus, I joined thousands of fellow queers and their allies in a protest before the Mormon Temple in New York City. I didn't have extraordinarily high expectations for the night. I had a headache from work and wanted to sleep. But I felt compelled to participate in the growing national momentum in opposition of the recent passage of Prop 8.

Now, I consider myself an activist. I have worked at the local and national level for arts, queer, and gender advocacy. But all of my activist experience has been fairly white collar: writing grants, researching for reports, organizing service programs, etc. I had never been to an honest-to-god ol' fashion protest. I knew from the facebook event that had circulated like wildfire to expect around three thousand attendees. I was ready for that. I know what a crowd of three thousand people looks like.

What I was unprepared for was a much larger crowd (I've heard estimations topping at 10,000 with conservative estimates saying at least 6,000!) and the sheer scale of the demonstration. Pouring out over three to four blocks around the Mormon Temple, chants of "Shame on you!", "Tax this Church!", and "Gay, Straight, Black, White! Marriage is a Civil Right!" soared through the air. Even more amazing, this entire event was organized and constructed outside the formal endorsement or agenda of a large formalized organization. This is grassroots at its best.

The night was definitely an exciting one. I even caught a glimpse of a few celebrities in the mix. Whoopi Goldberg, being the most prominent... but I think I may have caught a few former Project Runway contestants and our good friend Andy Towle, over at Towleroad at the head of the march (video of Andy in Father Tony's post from today). As the protest swelled around the Mormon church, demonstration leaders led the raucous and lively crowd on a march down Columbus Avenue towards Columbus Circle. With police flanking the protesters with mobile fences and trying to herd the demonstrators into Central Park, members of the protest started chants like "Pens are for pigs!". Finally, all assembled together in the southwest corner of Central Park beneath an oddly homoerotic fountain statue, the protest reached a fever pitch as chants rippled through the crowd, spreading and multiplying as gay, straight, bi, queer, trans, and whathaveyous joined in the clarion call for equal rights.

However, being the perpetual devil's advocate and idealistic cynic, I was moved to question why this outpouring of outrage and civil action now? Why were we not mobilized like this nationally before we lost in California when it might have done some actual good. Showing solidarity in the light of an unfair loss isn't quite the same as mobilizing proactively to ensure victory. An activist friend of mine who accompanied me on the march and was a very strong, vocal leader in the crowd, taking the initiative to start the rallying chants, was impressed and encouraged by the turn out for this event, but wondered about where all these people were when activists try to mobilize for other important issues, like class, race, immigration, etc.

I thought my friend had a point. One of the more popular chants that rang out in the night was "Gay, Straight, Black, White! Same Struggle, Same Fight!" While I appreciate the sentiment of queer activists calling upon the history and energy of the civil rights movement, this has also been a very charged issue when dealing with communities of color, especially African Americans. Conflating these two movements (as many of these social justice movements tend to be rhetorically homogenized: from reproductive rights and suffrage, to Ghandi's anti-colonialism and King's civil rights movement) is problematic. Queer people do not face the same struggles and hurdles as the civil rights movement did. They may be similar, and are often times opposed with similar language used by the status quo powers-that-be, but we in the queer community should be careful not to try and co-opt the Civil Rights struggle as our own.

By doing so, I believe we ignore the very real problems with racism that the gay liberation movement - and the current gay rights movement - have been plagued with since their inception. Large swatches of the gay political electorate have been driven by "liberal" affluent gay white men who have historically directed the course of gay politics towards a distinctly generic "color-blind" philosophy which ignores the confluent problems with race and sexuality. The problem with being color-blind is that when you choose to ignore color everything tends to become white.

As a brief addendum to all those gay leaders out there: by working on diversity initiatives and with "communities of color," you have to work with more than just black people. There are many colors out their in the rainbow of our society that consistently get left out of the conversation.

But, all the rambling aside, I was really pleased and honored to have been able to participate in this call to action. For all my fellow New Yorkers out there, there will be another demonstration at City Hall on Saturday, November 15th at 1:30pm. Be there or be square.

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James Bond

Quantum of Solace, the latest in the James Bond franchise opened on Friday. It was the usual Bond-fare - dreamy Brit actor, sexy women, fancy gadgets, big guns, high body count. It was the stereotypical straight man's wet dream, although I'm certain other people (like this straight woman) enjoyed it. But it still left me with a sense of defeat when it comes to gender roles in cinema.

One thing that was mildly refreshing in this Bond film is that it had a degree of revenge, over a lost love. Meaning in the world of Bond, women weren't just play things. But because of the way things turned out with that love (she betrayed him and then killed herself to save him), and knowing that Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace are supposed to be the beginning of the Bond story, perhaps that is supposed to explain why women are so expendable in the movies. I did get a small amount of satisfaction that in Quantum, the female lead not only had her own (tiny) back story, but that she also got to kill someone on her own (for her own reasons), and she didn't sleep with Bond. But she lived. The expendable minor female character that Bond did sleep with merely tripped a man down the stairs to help Bond, and she ended up dead. I'll admit that I'm no Bond expert, so I had to check with my husband to see if "sleep with Bond and end up dead" is consistent in the other movies, and according to him, it isn't. Whew. But the movies are still so overboard with gender stereotypes. Although I do appreciate Judi Dench's character, M. She seems to go against the stereotypical expectation. But maybe as gender roles have changed since the Bond franchise was first introduced, the gender roles in Bond movies can get a bit more progressive.

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What's your type?

You can’t give a response to “What’s your type?” without having to answer to race.

The usual responses I hear include personality traits (like “funny,” “laid back,” or “intelligent”), facial hair attributes (such as “clean-shaven” or “five o’ clock shadow”), and occupational affiliations or interests (for instance, “someone who likes to cook” or “not a lawyer”).

But then things start getting tricky. People try to dodge the question of race by talking about skin tones: “light-skinned,” “dark-skinned,” “brown-skinned,” or “caramel complexion.” They worm around being explicit by mentioning attributes like “blue eyes and blonde hair” or social circumstances like “someone from the hood.” And my all-time favorite circumvention? Straight up without being straightforward: “Someone who looks like me.”

Sometimes, though, people try to be honest: I had a friend begin listing personality traits, interests, potential job positions before glimpsing around and, with his eyes low, moving his lips only oh-so-much to produce in the quietest little whisper, “White.” Why, I thought, should he keep his confident answer to himself? Why are we afraid to proclaim our preferences (and I do believe they are preferences, as opposed to orientations) if we are so, it seems, stubborn about them?

I don’t think I knew how concerned people were about the race of their mates until I went to college. When I was growing up, my parents would indeed make flabbergasting comments about the racial make-up of my friends; I am Asian, and most of my closest acquaintances were black, with a sprinkling of every other race and ethnicity to boot. They would advise me to be careful about whom I hung out with, that I should work more to find a group of friends that reflected my roots. Sometimes, my sister—much bolder than I am—would tease my parents: “What if I came home with a white boyfriend? What if I came home with a black boyfriend?” My mom would shake her head, release a touch of nervous laughter, as if to say, “Why would you say such a thing?” Certainly, I thought, this was a generational gap. My parents were simply too old-fashioned to understand my teenage ideal of a post-race dating society. I would need to go to college to be with peers who would understand.

Surprisingly for me, college provided me with the opposite of my expectation. Same-race relationships pervaded most of my small liberal arts community—so much for being liberal, I thought. “What’s your type?” was more rhetorical than inquisitive. In a social scene dominated by Greek life, I found that most whites dated whites, most blacks dated blacks, and everyone else needed to figure out if they were “more white” or “more black” to see where they would fit in. White European or Australian international students, for example, had for their dating pool both the larger white community and each other; a young Asian woman from the hoods of New York, on the other hand, gained street credibility among black students and was able to socialize in that world.

I remember noticing but two attributes that helped students transcend the prison of mate-racing: language and sports. Students who shared an interest in speaking a language—Spanish comes especially to mind—bonded with other students who also spoke the language; here, race played second fiddle to the assumptions of heritage or cultural awareness that came with linguistic talents, whether by birth or high school AP class. Similarly, students who played the same sport on separately gendered teams achieved camaraderie through practices and long-distance conference tours. While this forged a handful of interracial relationships—frequently between a black student and a white student—this also caused interracial-related drama: Why should a white student take a perfectly good black student out from an already limited black dating pool? Why would a black student give up mating options within his or her race for someone who represented the dominant Man?

From my experiences in college and beyond, I’ve found “What’s your type?” to be even more twisted in gay circles. I tend to fit responses I hear into two extreme poles: there’s almost always white, and there’s almost always fetishist. At one end, there fits the aesthetic type sold to us by Abercrombie, American Eagle, JCrew, Armani Exchange, and the rest of the big brand names: white, usually muscular, men. Yes, okay: sometimes there are tokens. But almost always: white. This is what people end up seeing on most of the major porn networks: Sean Cody, Randy Blue, Corbin Fisher—if it’s popular in gay porn, it’s probably white. On the other end, “What’s your type?” gets very specific: Asian. Thin Asian. Latino. Hung Latino. Black. Dark Chocolate. On this side of the spectrum, minorities become desired because they’re, well, minorities—but specifically, minorities with a certain typed physical presence. Men value them explicitly for everything that supposedly comes with being their race or ethnicity; behaviorally, this may come to obedience, machismo, or strength. While the most popular gay pornography sites may not celebrate these ethnic caricatures to the extent that they sell whiteness, searchable porn databases like Xtube drip with clearly-labeled fetishist options, creating categories like Asian, Black, or Latino. Easy access to whatever color—and stereotyped culture—that you want. The cultural baggage is important: if you fit the color but not the trait, then maybe you won’t be as popular among these ethnicity fans. Or, maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll come off as mixed and straddle two potential ethnic markets—if you can pass as mixed white/black, for example, you might be viewed as a mate with training wheels for someone who wants pure white or pure black. No matter what, though, you still seem to be defined by your relationship to these umbrella categories of primary racial colors.

Obviously, as both my dating and pornography options demonstrate, my teenage dreams of a post-race mating scheme didn’t quite play out as I had imagined. I think, however, that that’s a good thing. Years later, the idea of concocting a colorblind world is not only naïve, but also dangerous; not acknowledging that there are differences in treatment and perception simply based on the color of one’s kin is the absolute ignorance of, well, the history of the world. And to think that love, dating, and attraction are immune from these prejudices—or, worse, hide those beliefs with cushy syntax and fancy hints—is to simply perpetuate this post-race fantasy.

I’m not saying that we should assertively proclaim our mating preferences and publicly narrow our options down to our gut’s raced reactions to “What’s your type?” But what does need to happen, I think, is for us to say, “Well, this is my type…” and then it follow-up with the very personal acknowledgement, “And this is probably why…” For many of us, that will be a hard thing to do. It forces us to shed a thin beam of light on the tightly-stacked structures cemented within our social selves. And even more uneasy is the feeling of, “What now?” after we see what’s been built inside of us, oftentimes without our permission at all. I do not know where we go from there. I do not know what to do with the rubble that unsettles when we realize we’re programmed against our will to love who we love. Our responses to “Why?” will not take care of that; they do not justify what we do, but they do, at the very least, do something. “Why?” steps us toward a more productive conversation than one about the pinning down of necessarily (and, I still want to believe, unnecessarily) essentializing characteristics and markers.

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I know it's election day, and I hope you all voted. But I'm sure you're done reading about politics, so I won't talk about that.

According to a study published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, "Teenagers who watch a lot of television featuring flirting, necking, discussion of sex and sex scenes are much more likely than their peers to get pregnant or get a partner pregnant."

In fact:

"Watching this kind of sexual content on television is a powerful factor in increasing the likelihood of a teen pregnancy," said lead researcher Anita Chandra. "We found a strong association."

Whoa - so because of a strong association, this is now a factor? And not just a correlation? Perhaps kids who watch a lot of sexy TV aren't very well supervised, and maybe these same kids don't get a real sex talk from their parents. Couple that with all this abstinence-only BS, and that means these kids may very well be getting all their sexual education from TV. So of course let's blame TV instead of the parents, and the schools that fail at actually educating teens about sex.

And many studies have shown that TV violence seems to make children more aggressive.

UM ... again ... these kids maybe be unsupervised, or just don't get the attention/discipline they need from their parents, and thus, they act out. WOW. Imagine that.

The study did not examine how different approaches to sex education factor into the effects of TV viewing on sexual behavior and pregnancy rates. Proponents of comprehensive sex education as well as programs that focus on abstinence said the findings illustrate the need to educate children better about the risks of sex and about how to protect themselves, although they disagree about which approach works best.

We need to educate our children. Imagine that. Saying "sex is bad and should be saved for marriage otherwise you will get AIDS or your dick will fall off", however, isn't education.

"We have a highly sexualized culture that glamorizes sex," said Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association. "We really need to encourage schools to make abstinence-centered programs a priority."

No, we need parents to play an active role in parenting. I remember the sex talk I got from my parents ("Don't do it until you're married.") So I am so thankful that I went to public high school in the 1990s and got a real, comprehensive education about sex. Complete with charts and graphs and slide shows and worksheets comparing contraceptive options.

Could it also be that the kids who are watching more sex on TV are just watching more TV in general, because they have nothing better to do? And what do bored kids like to do ......? I remember when I was in high school, I was busy with homework and sports and band and piano lessons and other stuff, I didn't have time for sex (but I did have time to smoke pot ... but, um, whatever). So, maybe the lesson is, make sure your kids occupy their time with other activities.

The researchers recommended that parents spend more time monitoring what their children watch and discussing what they see, including pointing out the possible negative consequences of early sexual activity.

Hallelujah. Amazing. So perhaps we shouldn't put the blame on television completely??

I remember my mom would monitor some of my TV viewing - the only show that sticks out that she didn't want us to watch was "Married with Children." How racy. It also helped that we didn't have cable.

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My Life

Ever since I can remember, I have always wanted to be coupled.

When I was five and in kindergarten, I passed Vanessa a note on which I drew some sort of building and scribbled: “Do you want to go to Mann’s Chinese Theater?” (Note: I did not live in Hollywood, nor had I ever been to Mann’s Chinese Theater.) She gleefully agreed, which meant that she would ask her mom if she could hang out with me afterschool. Her mom, for some reason, allowed her (and chaperoned) this oddly premature dating experience. Both of them came to my family’s duplex, and we played on a toy-covered living room floor crowded with Legos and GI Joes. Although the event may actually have been my first date, I don’t consider it that. Not with her mother there.

Six years later, the fifth grade dance churned the pressure to find dates for school functions. Ashley brought Esperanza and I to an empty spot on our school’s concrete playground and made us admit that we wanted to go to the dance together. So we did. At the dance, we promptly split apart, blaming cooties.

Another dance memory: the eighth grade Halloween dance at my middle school. In a packed, sweaty, and dark auditorium, I wrapped my arms around Hillary, she cradled her arms on my shoulders, and we grinded away… only to be split apart by a teacher, shining her flashlight between our gyrating hips. It was the first time I became aware that being coupled wasn’t a private venture; it was something that was also perceived and watched.

This perception of coupling became more important in high school. Students—and even teachers—gossiped about who was going out with whom, and it became a symbol of popularity. It was a microcosm of the real world: power couples from student council, science geeks holding hands, misfits awkwardly finding their fellow misfit—we were puzzle pieces experimenting for our other half.

In the eleventh grade, I caved into this pressure and made a big deal out of a simply having a crush. I told everyone that there was someone I wanted, someone that I wanted to write songs for, someone who would help me realize the American Dream of having a high school sweetheart. Look! my move screamed, I’m just like everyone else! I can have a crush too! Maybe I’ll even end up in a couple!

It didn’t. My year-long infatuation with Anna deflated (she poked the hole in my balloon, and I was devastated), and for the first time, I learned the pain of singlehood. I didn’t want to be alone, and I didn’t want to be perceived as one who couldn’t be with another. My desire to couple grew even stronger. In the way that only a teenager could, I posted emo-tinged lyrics in my instant messenger profiles; I longed publicly—perhaps through accepted shame and embarrassment – for someone to love.

College didn’t seem different. When Barbara put her head on my shoulder while riding back from a formal, and her best friend Sara trotted to my room the next day with a cutesy hand-drawn card, I read these performances as coupling opportunities. When I came out a year later, within a month I asked a guy out on a date; the pressure to couple apparently transcended sexuality. Indeed, maybe there was even more pressure in this new gay world: I had to prove I was gay enough for it! And in a way, my official public switch to homosexual identification enabled me to continue my surge toward coupledom. I wasn’t going to achieve my objective as a straight man—and so I had to come out.

And it’s been that way ever since. Through mutual friends, at parties, at clubs, on and offline, I’ve been on the look-out for some sort of completion of a void, convinced, at times, that I was actually feeling incomplete. This blog has tracked my journey, providing a post-adolescent space for my stuck-in-gear adolescent emo-guery. I don’t interpret my desire as desperation—otherwise, I’d just hop into bed with Tom, Dick, and everyone else as they come; instead, I think a true and deep belief in coupledom as the materialized version of Platonic ideals, as a fulfillment of some sort of coming of age’s manifest destiny—this hardened belief of a larger and more gratifying interaction with another human continues to drive me. As I age, the specter of a coupled future only becomes a greater haunt: weddings, anniversaries, and even the political advent of gay marriage institutionalize for me the pressure I’ve felt all my life.

Which is why I find it very unexpected, after all of this time, energy, and effort I’ve spent searching for The One in my relative youth, that I’ve come to a turning point.

Two weeks ago, as I picnicked in Sharon Meadow at Golden Gate Park, I felt it for the first time: the happiness and quietly sweet satisfaction of being single. I detected no clear impetus, have not been able to self-psychoanalyze any rationale for why this and why now. I just know that since that afternoon, I’ve felt not only a contentedness with being single, but also a strange tinge of aversion to putting myself on any dating market of sorts. I cherish my time alone. I’ve declared my newfound independence to my colleagues. I feel unburdened and sexy and still very normal. Life goes on, and for once, I’ve asserted emotionally that it’s all mine: my life. Not my and someone else’s life.

I gladly shake myself free from the expectations I’ve carried since I was five. And this feeling of renewal—though I suppose it’s less of a renewal and more of a first acceptance of singlehood—is something I plan on hanging onto for as long as I can.

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As a student of sociology, I often find myself blaming society. Society imposes the norms that oppress us, Society forces people in the closet, Society causes gendered misery and misogyny, homophobia, racism, and transphobia.

I usually think this until I have conversations with students of psychology that tend to yell at me for pulling the blame away from the individual.

I do think, however, that I have a genuine amount of sympathy for some people that make unfair decisions because they fear the norm. Take the example of a father that has an effeminate young boy. He acknowledges at some level that the boy may grow up to be gay, but he knows how direly difficult it will be for that boy to grow up through school and become a confident adult in the face of truly oppressive norms at school for effeminate boys. The kid will get made fun of all throughout school, he could get beat up, and god forbid, he could risk aggravated assault and murder. Why wouldn’t the parent then worry about his boy’s effeminate gender performance? Why wouldn’t he try to get him to play sports, dress more manly, and not play with his barbies in public?

On the flip side, of course, are a whole variety of problems. Forcing your son to play sports, dress more manly, and hide interest in barbies subjects the boy to a host of complicated feelings and socialized behaviors, including self-hatred and closeting of favored gendered behaviors and sexuality. Further, why not be harsher on the dad? How dare he not love his son unconditionally and let his son act and behave the way he feels most comfortable? How dare he not be the good father that calls in at school and calls parents when he hears his son is treated poorly because he’s effeminate and/or possibly gay, instead of training his son to be more “normal”? How dare he reinforce and reproduce the same norms that often end up creating individuals that (out of fear) stand by and watch while publicly oppressed others endure the pain and suffering that in another situation they themselves could be suffering?

I think it’s really complicated. I think that we, as people who understand many of these issues and were brave enough to take strides to fight against our own oppressive forces, need to take focus our anger at different levels. I think that in most cases we need to take our anger out most at the mainstream level. We need to rally and fight against political moves and TV shows and newspaper articles that are oppressive.

But on the individual level, we need to balance sympathy with action. We need to be able to talk with the dad to show that we understand how hard it is for children to survive adolescence relatively unscathed, but also tell him that sometimes scratches are important to maintain individuality and a concrete sense of self. We also need to tell him, and convince him, that if their kids are LGBTQ that they will still be beautiful and amazing and make them proud in ways they can’t even imagine right now.

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Jason Tseng joins us from The Bilerico Project:

I had the not uncommon coming out experience for many kids of my generation:

Boy finds out in middle school that he likes boys. Boy represses all of that until he comes out in a flurry of dramatic over-the-top fabulousness in high school. Parents disapprove, cue angst. Shortly followed by reconciliation during college years where boy learns to be himself and not a stereotype... which can ironically be pretty stereotypical. A few years of dating men and living the good ol' gay life and I'm set for the classic narrative of boy meets boy, cue sunset... right?

Or so I thought. Until I fell... for a woman.

I met her in one of my Gender & Sexuality studies classes (the irony does not escape me). She was short, Asian, funny, smart, and had a great laugh. She was also the thing I thought I wasn't supposed to like: a woman. And on top of that, she was a lesbian!

Her andro-lesbian demeanor and her humble yet confident swagger had me weak in the knees. Sure straight women and gay men have had a long-running symbiotic relationship, which has often resulted in unrequited feelings. But gay men and lesbians? The only thing they have in common is that they both like people of the same gender, Romantic feelings aren't supposed come into play... or so common sense would dictate. But against all possible odds, me and my andro-lesbian got together, and had a brief but passionate relationship.

Being with her was unlike any of my past relationships with men. I didn't know what role to play, what I was supposed to do. With guys, I'm pretty comfortable being the pursued and not the pursuer. I know what to expect and how to act. But with her, all the rules went out the door. She was more man than I could ever be, but at the same time she was more woman than I could ever hope to emulate.

Many will be surprised to hear that our relationship was just about as far from heterosexual as you could get. I increasingly found myself thinking less as a man and her as a woman, but more of us as two people. We weren't gay, we weren't straight... we were queer.

While our relationship was short-lived and I went back to dating men after we had parted ways, I continued to hold onto the queer sense of self that I developed with her. However, when I would tell friends, gay and straight, about my queer relationship, I'd get baffled non-responses. No one knew what to do with me. Most wanted to claim that I was bi, but I firmly denied being so. I was not attracted to hetero- femme-performing women. All the women I found myself drawn to had the same androgynous confidence that she had.

And the more I lived in gay male culture, the more I felt removed from it. I became uncomfortable with the obsession with youth and beauty, the racialized hierarchy which positions Asian men on bottom (metaphorically and physically), the valuing of butch and "straight acting" gender over that of femme performance to name a few. I really began to see how mired in patriarchy gay men were.

I'm one of those new breed of non-hetero men and women who are hesitant to identify as gay or lesbian. Those are 20th century political and cultural identities for a 21st century sexual politic. What exactly does that mean? I'm not entirely sure... but I do know that I'm excited to find out.

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I'm not the first feminist to blog about McCain's air quotes around "women's health" in response to Obama's statements on an exception for the health of the woman in the case of late-term abortions (or "partial birth abortions" as the forced-birthers aka the "pro-lifers" like to say .... see, air quotes go both ways) during this week's debates. And I certainly won't be the last. But I'm still pretty peeved about it, so bear with me.

Here's this clip:

This is a slap in the face to any woman who has had to have an abortion for the sake of her health. It just wipes away the complete sadness and seriousness of the issue. It completely ignores that pregnancy can be a scary, delicate state for some women. It's not just some simple easy thing to go through, and believe it or not, sometimes things go wrong, sometimes there are complications, sometimes pregnancy isn't served up with a nice little bow for mommy. But you better believe deciding to end a pregnancy, regardless of your situation, isn't an easy choice. And McCain's disrespectful use of air quotes completely ignores the difficulty those women went through.

Thankfully, Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, knows how to respectfully argue her point. Random Female McCain supporter, however, does not:

Which side is really extreme here??

I'd like to thank PP for providing their services to the 1 in 4 women in the United States who needed them (including Silver Screened). McCain can just retreat to his fantasy world when women's health doesn't exist. I hope his wife and daughter don't follow him, for their own well being.

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The news of Ellen’s latest project, that of CoverGirl spokes model, has left more than one person I know wondering, “why?” I have to admit I’m part of that bandwagon. Maybe becoming a CoverGirl (that sure is odd to say while thinking about Ellen) is the next logical step in the career of the country’s most beloved celesbian. No one said she couldn’t wear sneakers, a suit, and CoverGirl mascara and lip-gloss. Partially I’m excited that a 50 year-old, not typically feminine person is going to be on a national ad campaign to sell make-up. But in that very act isn’t she intrinsically trying to sell youth and feminine beauty?

The pictures that have been released of her photo shoot don’t show her dramatically made up, though frosty pink lipstick is not the first thing I think of when I think of Ellen. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Ellen made up, she wore full mime face for a well known Annie Leibovitz portrait (okay, that probably doesn’t count, but I really like the portrait) and sported a soldering smokey eye on the March 2007 cover of W Magazine. I picked up that issue of W when it came out because I needed some airport reading. I went through the magazine in my usual fashion scanning through all of the photos and illustrations first, reading captions and headlines before I actually read the articles and after perusing the photos of Ellen I felt a tiny bitty bit betrayed, annoyed that even Ellen would tread down the path of traditional beauty. I thought they were awesome photos, but the sky high heals and runway make-up felt incongruent and unsettling. Fortunately I actually read the article and found this quote regarding Ellen’s thoughts on wearing a dress for the shoot, “I know what this magazine is. It’s a beauty magazine; a fashion magazine. For me to even be considered and asked to be on the cover—it’s huge… When I [first] thought about doing it, I thought, okay, I’ll be open to this. I’ll play dress up. Then I thought, I just don’t feel comfortable in it. I don’t want to apologize for who I am.” After that I felt a little ridiculous about trying to police Ellen. Obviously she’s a person and not a whole pant-wearing, short-hair-having segment of the population and if she wants to play around and take fancy photos I am the last person to try and stop her.

I don’t think that Ellen working for CoverGirl means that we’re going to see her wearing gowns on the red carpet or that she’s going to become a Victoria’s Secret model though it probably means that we’ll see her wearing a bit more visible make-up and not just the normal TV make-up. I kinda wonder what this will do to Ellen and Portia as a couple, visibly. In some strange way, they will be lipstick lesbians (that’s a technicality, based on the fact that they will both be wearing lipstick). Honestly I think the greatest concern about Ellen’s CoverGirl status should not be one around gender or sexuality, but as Miriam at feministing points out, the apparent conflict between Ellen’s veganism and selling make-up that is tested on animals.

But Ellen is not the only “butch” (I do not endeavor to give out identities, I’m simply using a shorthand for a style of presentation) persona who has folks atwitter about her appearance. Rachel Maddow has folks talking about the softening of her look for her new MSNBC show. I have to agree that Rachel’s look on TV has a lot less edge than the one we don’t see when she’s on the radio, but I would endeavor to say that even with the extra wave in her hair, the muted eye-shadow and the quasi traditional news garb, she’s still a lesbian political commentator with her own show on a cable network being beamed into millions of homes in America and in comparison to most female commentators and news anchors her fairly androgynous look is a bit of coup. They don’t have her wearing jewelry or pastels and though her suits are most defiantly women’s suits, they are not overly feminine. While I know I and others (like Sugarbutch) would like our political eye candy in Ira Glass glasses at least we can rest assured that she hasn’t really changed, she’s just wearing a new uniform to work and hopefully as her ratings climb and her viewership grows her look will be allowed to evolve into a something a little more Rachel Maddow. In the meantime we have her recent appearance on the Tonight Show to keep us happy, an appearance, which puts in great relief the way that her MSNBC style is most specifically an outside force policing “Rachel Maddow MSNBC News Commentator” and I think this outside appearance in full pre-TV show Rachel Maddow garb partially invalidates the policing. If Maddow is going to be seen by the mainstream public, rather than just the gaystream or liberal public, out of her news commentator uniform, then why put her in it in the first place?

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I have been speaking with a lot of my female friends recently and something that has come up a lot is the frequency with which men talk negatively about women when only other men are around. It´s one of those really strange things when people of a dominant group will say things they believe about an oppressed social group only when in the safety of other people who share the same dominant characteristic. Specifically my friends and I talked about it in respect to supposedly progressive men who, when with other men, would talk about women in a disrespectful way, make sexist jokes, etc etc.

You would think it would be obvious by virtue of logic that when you talk about someone but don´t want them to hear it that what you are saying is mean or offensive or inappropriate. Unfortunately this is definitely not the case, or sadly is the case and men don´t care. I don´t understand why so many men have such a problem simply respecting women and, consequently, respecting themselves. One of the points I try and stress when talking about the male gender and patriarchy and how it negatively affects men is that why would we want to be assholes? Why would we want people we do genuinely care about to be hurt by us or disgusted by us? Being an asshole to women makes us feel stupid and lowers our own self esteem. I´m not an animal, like all men and all people I am controlled by my thoughts and my emotions and to a lesser extent by instincts. Treating women like shit, consistently sexualizing their bodies, and treating them like a separate species isn´t gut instinct – it is a choice.

Even saying this I feel kind of ridiculous because it should be so obvious. When you hate and when you oppress it reciprocates back onto your psyche. The more disrespectul you are the worse a person you are, the less friends you have, and the more unhappy you are. It´s basic 101 psych class. And yet so many men don´t make the connection. We can make fun of a random woman but if someone makes fun of our sister or mother or daughter it´s wrong. Everyone is a sister, mother, or daughter and that´s the point of all progressive politics – we all deserve the same respect and equal rights. What´s so important about feminism and radical feminism and the deconstruction of gender is that it brings us all together by realizing all that we share in common and all our unique characteristics of equal importance.

What´s interesting as well is the intersection of all types of social groups with this type of male shit talking. In the workplace it´s extremely common for male bosses to speak with male employees in all sorts of offensive ways about women and often neither party sees any problem with it.

It´s these small daily occurrences of disrespect that build a society and atmosphere of inequality. Another aspect of feminism I find so important is that it deals with the personal lives of people; specifically our emotions and beliefs. Change rarely occurs from the top down despite what political parties would have us believe. Change occurs from social dynamics and people choosing to believe in and act upon a better world and in turn better relationships with those around us. Laws can be put into effect and good people can be elected to government but if the public doesn´t want to follow the laws or demand progressive change from the politician then no rule or person can be held responsible for following through on itself. And the other side of the coin is that these changes don´t get made unless at least some people call for them. All progressive change made by the government, corporations, and parts of society owe that progress to people fighting for it.

Which brings me to my ultimate and once again very simple point: if you can´t say something to someone´s face then there is probably something wrong with it and you should re-think your reasons behind wanting to say it. If you are a man and your male friend says something offensive then call them out on it and explain why it´s wrong. Disrespecting people is never ok and being prejudiced is just a worse and more aggressive form of disrespect. If men live in a world where it´s ok to talk shit about women that only feeds into an uncomfortable and unequal environment. Thoughts become words, words become actions, and actions become cultural norms. Do your mother proud and think before you speak.

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I agree that pornography isn’t always the best kind of sexual media out there. In fact, where some might argue that pornography opens up the sexual lexicon for individuals looking to veer outside potentially oppressive norms, I know that this isn’t true – most of the pornography out there actually serves to reinforce sexual norms that are misogynist, heteronormative, and all sorts of other bad things.

I think what happens when a lot of people surf the Internet for porn is that they are overcome by the economic pressures to conform. You go to xtube.com and are asked to make a number of very important selections to find the kind of videos that are most appropriate for you. First, you must choose “Gay,” “Straight,” or “Both.” Then you are prompted to select from the tens of other categories, including “lesbian,” “hardcore,” “teen, “latino,” or “ebony.” This process, combined with the ability to sort the videos by “most viewed,” creates more opportunity than ever for porn watchers to only watch the same kinds of sexual scenarios over and over.

So why is this problematic? I think that when most people are dealing with the complicated issue of maximizing their sexual satisfaction, they follow their behavioral gut – if you experience a good sexual feeling from watching one specific kind of pornographic video, you will use these internet sorting mechanisms to find more of the same. This, I believe, creates an odd sexual norm that becomes socialized internally and shapes sexual satisfaction in arenas that could extend beyond pornographic interests.

Now, I’m going to go out on a pretty big limb here, but what else are limbs for but taking a risk:

An example that I think most clearly reflects this issue is the fairly common gay male obsession with straight men (or even “str8 acting” gay men). Say you have a little boy who is gay, but grows up in an environment that doesn’t even mention the idea of gay sexuality. As a result, this kid grows up knowing that he MUST be straight because there is no other option, and his sexual impulses that draw him to men are quieted – almost. Whenever he approaches the idea of sexuality – either when watching movies and TV, sneaking to the computer to watch porn (porn that is likely straight porn but the male participants meet his/society’s standards), and talking with his friends about who is hot and who is not – he subconsciously internalizes ideals for what defines an attractive man. In many parts of the U.S., and particularly in areas where gayness as an identity is not an option, the ideal man is this Western male ideal that embodies tough, cowboy masculinity.

This boy then spends years growing into adulthood subconsciously reinforcing in his mind a male ideal until he comes out later in life. When he first starts dating men, his sexuality has already spent years socializing sexual ideals, and he of course only wants to date “real men”. We arrive at the plague of gay men only finding straight-acting men attractive.

I welcome your critique of my example here, because it is a bit of a stretch, but I think that this kind of sexual socialization explains not just how some gay male sexuality develop but how human sexuality functions in the U.S. and possibly in many other parts of the world. Why do we think that most straight women only want straight-acting men (something that usually isn’t questioned because of the unfair assumption that, well, straight men are all super butch)? Why do most straight men only want feminine women? I think that there’s a deep and important link between how we socialize gender in our country and sexuality.

I say this with mind to the fact that not everyone follows this pattern of socialization. But I do strongly believe that this is a common pattern for the mainstream of the U.S., a pattern that serves to reproduce the same norms for a great number of people.

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I'm supposed to blog about movies & tv, but I hope it's OK if I deviate and blog about myself.

I'm finding that I'm a lot more gendered than I thought I was. I see it in my own (hetero) marriage, I see it in the way I react to my new niece, I see it in my job. How much of it is socialized? How much of it is who I am?

I don't want to go into too much personal detail, because despite my anonymous name, that is my face attached to these posts, and my husband and I share the same computer. So I'll be diplomatic and draw the line at blogging about my marriage.

But my niece. She was born on Wednesday night to my sister-in-law (husband's sister). She has a 3-year-old boy, and ever since I knew that her husband and she were going to start trying for baby #2, I hoped they would have a girl.

So what did I do, now that we know she's a girl (they didn't find out the sex until birth)? I bought her a bunch of pink baby clothes. Why? My sister-in-law isn't particularly girlie. They have all of their son's newborn clothing. But I just couldn't resist. There's just something so cute about dressing a little girl in cutesty, pink, girlie stuff, way girlier that anything I have worn past the age of 8 (save for a few pastel bridesmaids dresses). Or is it just that kids clothing in general is pretty cute and borderline ridiculous? I mean, especially some of the holiday-themed stuff. It's ridiculous in it's cuteness.

Moving on to work. I'm a shy person. So when I'm in meetings, I don't participate as much as I should (I'm sure my boss just loves that). And I hate public speaking. But is it weird that on a committee of like 10 women and 2 men, the men are always the one that do the public speaking? Is it because all of the women just don't like public speaking, or that we just let the men do it? Even when that public speaking is at a breast cancer fundraiser of all events.

So anyway. I have no answers. These are just observations of myself. Observations that bug me when I actually stop and think about them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet that. Thanks.

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