We've all had the conversation before but I just don't think I'll ever be ok with the fact that labels rule our society with such a dominating force. They are what give us the ability to sort through things, create order, establish a foundation for all prejudgment, and break it all down at the same time. It's as if our lives would slowly disintegrate if we didn’t have ways to label the places, things, and especially the people around us.

Sure, they serve a purpose when you are looking for a specific service: police officer, sex worker, baker, child molester. They all point you in the right direction whether you're pursuing their goods or their presence. But then it gets technical. How many labels are we allowed to have? Where do we put the limit- racial identity? Favorite sports team? Sexual preference? Bad habits? Hey I'm Jamie the Japanese, Yankees fanatic, bisexual nail-biter? What about the fact that Jamie actually has a black father, secretly watches the Red Sox, has never been with a woman but just likes to look at them, and only bites nails when stressed? Sure you call yourself white, but what does that mean? I can promise you it doesn't mean the same thing it means to me when I say it. Yeah you can call yourself a lesbian. But I can promise it doesn't mean the same thing if I were to call you that. So why do I have to call you that? You've never in your life had feelings for a man? Even really strong platonic ones? Who's to say your definition of platonic is someone else's definition of true love?

Then there's my favorite word- normal. Where do you even begin to understand the true semantics behind that word? Like honestly, my brain hurts just trying to get a good grasp on it. How do I begin to give the word context? Does it depend on where I am at that moment? Who is saying the word? Where that person grew up? What that person's general political stances are? What that person had for lunch? What the general conception of society's modern definition of the word is? It's insane. Yet so many people have used various strategies to make me understand the word. "No. It's not imposing a set of standards on anyone. It's just the way it is. Society is one way and there's no way around it". Or "You're just being stubborn.

Obviously there is something that is accepted as 'normal' and something else that is 'abnormal'. Doesn't mean one is right and one is wrong. It just is". Ok but who are you to define what is actually is, then? Sure, we can blame it on society. But what society? Who's society? If we are going to accept a general definition of the parameters established by the use of the word, is it universal? If not, when can I use it? And with whom? When I'm visiting home is it different from when I'm living in Mexico? When I'm talking to my 80-year-old aunt is it different than my 13-year old punk rock cousin? What about my 60-year old Catholic neighbor? Or my 15 year-old in-the-closet student? What if someone else uses it in a conversation with me and I don't agree? I have to go through the entire process of explaining why I'm in disagreement; a process that can be irritatingly slow because you don't even want to go through with it because at the end you know the person will still be indifferent because they've been "brainwashed" by this monster that we've termed "society".

I'm surrounded by people that are so enthused, so passionate, so in love with their faith that it leave me in awe, in wonder, and in a state of complete jealousy. People that can believe so strongly in something that it changes their lives. So who am I to say that what they consider to be wrong is right? Sure I can disagree and I can explain why…that's different. I could tell them I think sexuality is just a social construct…or I could casually drop into conversation that my two female friends recently got married or that my cousin just broke up with her boyfriend to start dating her softball teammate…things that they would never be exposed to and hence why they would never be able to grasp MY definition of "normal". But I'm still pointing it out to them. Why is that wrong? It's different. I once asked a class of students if they thought I was gay. They laughed. Why? Because it had never crossed their minds that it could actually be true. Why? Because people don't talk about it. Wrong? No. Bad? Yes. Normal? WHO KNOWS

I will go ahead and make a brash rationalization here based on the slight understanding I have gained through reading the entries, responses, and comments on the blog- very few of you have gone through a period in your life in which you honestly think about whether you'll have money to buy lunch tomorrow. So your standards of normal living are different than those who have, right? The ones I work with everyday? How different? Could you EVER understand their concept of a normal routine? I say Mexican and you think of….? Something different than what I think of, right? Do you kiss your landlord on the cheek when you greet him? If I do, is that abnormal? Do you get together on Sunday to have dinner with all of your family including your aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbors, and 3rd cousins? If not, does that make you abnormal? Mean you "don't have values"?

I have an identity. But what do I do if how I view it is different from how you view it? Who is right? No one is. But what if you want to call me straight and I don't? Or I want to call you upper-class and you don't? Well gosh darn ain't that a pickle?

(...to the full post)

Rating (out of five): ΔΔΔ

Do we all know the stereotype that females are not as capable at math as males? Folks, that old stereotype has just been debunked.

Gender Differences in Mathematics: An Integrative Psychological Approach, edited by Gallagher and Kaufman, essentially states that there are no real differences in mathematical ability. Beware, though, that this is not a book that gets the heart pumping. Not to scare people off from reading it but the book is a fairly dry read.

The book has a variety of ideas on differences in mathematical ability as it relates to gender. These ideas are presented in a conglomeration of essays written by academics and researchers, all of whom have their own personal experiences and biases. Often times the research essays disclosed that females overall ended up with higher grades in mathematics classes than males. However, when taking higher level mathematical ability tests, females tended to end up with lower scores on average than males.

This finding prompted many in the book to discuss reasons for this tendency. There was a range of explanations but most were vague or non-conclusive. One explanation was that as young children males are encouraged to play with blocks. This encouragement has the end result of leading to increased spatial ability. High spatial ability is correlated with doing well with certain types of math, and high spatial ability is especially conducive to success on mathematical ability tests such as the SAT.

This and other explanations for the test score differences as well as class grade difference raise questions about the impact of biology versus socialization on academic performance. If there are differences in mathematical ability how do they manifest and why? Are we as a society more responsible or are physical factors responsible? In some cases it was concluded that societal factors are more to blame and that there are no inherent factors outside of intelligence that lead to differences in mathematical ability.

Gender Differences In Mathematics also raises questions about the focus many research studies take. Why are we asking why males are outperforming females on the mathematical portion of SAT? Ultimately in one of the many essays the authors pondered that studies are asking questions that focus on the ways that males are outperforming females in mathematical areas, but the studies do not tend to focus on the ways that females are outperforming males. This leads back to the old and engrained stereotype that females are not as good at math and that researchers themselves carry that stereotype within them. The researchers have their own personal agendas. Not only the researchers have agendas but also the publishers of the studies.

While I could say more I leave it to you as readers to seek out your own conclusions. The book is worth a shot if you are interested in how child education is impacted by gender stereotypes. It is also worth reading if you are someone in a career that is involved with mathematics. I especially encourage educators to read this book and question the ways in which they approach their students based on gender. Peoples’ well-being depends on it.

(...to the full post)

A warm welcome to our two new contributors, lsgw and biohazardbill. Fantastic first posts. Can anyone believe the first month of '08 is over? Crazy.


(...to the full post)

GayPatriotWest joins us from Gay Patriot:

Just as his wife attempted to rewrite the reasons for her husband’s support for the Defense of Marriage Act in the Logo Debate (claiming it was to stave off an amendment enshrining the traditional definition of marriage in the federal constitution), so too is Bill Clinton trying to rewrite the record of his (or should I say “their” given the experience she claims?) Administration. The former president’s latest whopper is claiming that when he signed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” he hadn’t expected that “anti-gay forces in the military” would start “using it as an excuse to kick people out.“

Log Cabin did not mince words in with Clinton’s latest lie. Organization President Patrick Sammon said:

“President Clinton either didn’t understand the legislation he signed or he’s lying. . . . If he actually thought the military wasn’t correctly implementing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ why didn’t he do anything about it for the seven years he served as President after signing the legislation? Clinton apparently forgets he was Commander-in-Chief.

Given the way his wife’s been campaigning, in the unfortunate event she wins election, she’ll forget she’s chief executive if things don’t go as she wants. And she’ll just try to pass the buck.

Citing a 1993* Department of Defense press release announcing the new policy, Sammon noted further:
From the very beginning of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ there was no doubt what the law meant—gay and lesbian Americans could only serve if they lied about their sexual orientation or kept it a secret.

We’re pleased to see Log Cabin taking on a Democrat. Indeed Sammon finds the former president’s latest misrepresentation just “another example of the Clintonian excuses and re-writing history.” Ms. Hillary is running on experience. Yet, just like her husband, she’ll twist her actual experience to fit the narrative of the moment, turning, for example, a goodwill mission abroad to a diplomatic initiative.

For the Clinton’s facts aren’t the way things were, but the way they want things to have been to fit their latest campaign narrative, to please whatever audience they’re addressing at the time, whose votes they need to win the election at hand.

If Hillary is running on her experience, then her experience is her husband’s record. And we know all too well what that means to the gay community. As Patrick Sammon puts it, Clinton is “a man who gladly took support and money from gays and lesbians and then delivered ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and the so-called ‘Defense of Marriage Act.”

Kudos to Log Cabin for taking on this dishonest Democrat. Let’s see if any of the other gay organizations take note of Clinton’s attempt to twist his record on gay issues to suit his purposes.

ADDENDUM: At least one gay blogger has taken note. Chris Crain writes that it’s Déjà Bill all over again.


*A year when Democrats controlled the White House and both houses of Congress.

UPDATE: Chris Crain has more on Bill Clinton’s weasley ways, commenting in a second post on the former president’s misrepresentations on DADT:
It is incumbent on the media and gay rights groups, whatever their presidential candidate affiliation, to call Bill Clinton out on his misrepresentation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and correct the record once and for all.

He also links a post providing video of the former Democratic president’s latest fib. As with anything by Chris Crain, read the whole thing because even when he’s wrong, he’s got a point to make. This time, he pretty much gets it right.

UP-UPDATE: Even Barack Obama has noted the former president’s dishonesty, commenting, “He continues to make statements that are not supported by the facts.” (Via Baldilocks via Instapundit.)

(...to the full post)


Becoming “poz”

“You’re Positive.” It was the afternoon of June 21st, 1995 and I can vividly remember the exact tone and inflection of the doctor’s voice as he delivered the two words that would forever change my life. I can remember the smell of the office, the pitying look in his eyes as he uttered the words, the ugly wave a nausea that swept through my stomach, and the light dizzy feeling in my head as my brain began to grasp the meaning of this new nugget of information.

“How could this possibly happen to me?” was the question repeating in my mind as I sat absorbing the shock. “People like you don’t get HIV,” my first gay friend had told me only a few days prior to receiving my test results. I didn’t go to bathhouses, didn’t do meth or any other hard drugs, I didn’t even sleep around that much. In fact, my gay dating life had barely gotten off the ground and I wasn’t even out to my friends or family yet. For crying out loud, I hadn’t even tried being a bottom yet! “You don’t fit the profile!” the logical part of my brain screamed in my head. This simply cannot be happening or my life might as well just end right here and now.

“Now you’re not going to do anything stupid are you?” the doctor asked between my sobs as he begins writing a prescription for thirty extra-strength tranquilizers. “Some people can become suicidal after getting this kind of news and I need to know that you will not be trying anything like that.” I shake my head to indicate no, still unable to speak. After another twenty minutes of sobbing and asking several times if this might be some kind of awful mistake, the doctor gives me a hug, a prescription for Xanax, and what I would come to refer to as “The Welcome Packet” from the Department of Health. I walk from the office, literally numb from terror, and somehow make my way back to my new little condo in the gay ghetto. Tucking away my Welcome Packet, I thought about how I now had to call the guy I had been seeing and let him know.

Over twelve years later and here I am today, happier and healthier than I have ever been in my life, looking back and labeling that first year or two of being HIV-positive as “the dark ages”. I am much stronger for the journey, even if it was an unintended one. Facing your own mortality is terrifying, but it can make every day seem like a blessing if you can make it through the initial shock. Oh…and the guy I had to call that first horrible evening? He ended up being the best thing to happen to me, struggling together we overcame a whole lot, and we are a couple still today.

My hope with this column is that I can use my personal experience with HIV to give hope to those struggling with the disease, expose some of the common challenges faced by HIV-positive folks, and provide insights to the HIV-negative readers here about how to stay that way.

So, if you are HIV-positive and are struggling to make it through the first year or two, or have made it through and have some advice to share with others, we would love to hear from you. Over the last several years, I’ve had a great opportunity to act as peer counselor to other newly diagnosed HIV-positive men and it makes a big difference when you are able to talk or learn from someone going through the same journey, struggling with the same issues as yourself. If you are HIV-negative and would like to learn how to stay that way, we would like to hear from you too. In this age, ignorance can kill, or at least ruin a couple years of your life. Even simple things like knowing how to ask someone his or her status, or hearing why it can be so difficult for an HIV-positive person to disclose his or her status, can make a big difference.

(...to the full post)

Dear Fannie,

I'm a straight man, mid-twenties and I have an amazing, fantastic, sexy, girlfriend. We've been together for about a year now and she's fulfilled pretty much every fantasy I've ever had. We've even had a few FMF threesomes which were bang-on. Now she's been trying to convince me to do MFM threesomes with her, but I'm just not into dudes. She tells me that if I'm not willing to help her with this fantasy that she should be allowed to have a threesome with two guys who aren't me. I don't like the idea of her being with other guys, but I just can't see myself enjoying a MFM threesome. Help!

Trouble with Threesomes

Dear TWT,

So you have this bangarang girlfriend who is willing to go the distance for your every sexual fantasy, and your suddenly shocked when she asks the same from you... hmmm... It sounds like the benefits streams in this relationship is only flowing in one direction.

Any successful sexual relationship is one that has an egalitarian pleasure ratio. What I mean by this, is that both parties should be receiving equal amounts of pleasure from the sexual relationship. I specify pleasure because it is insufficient simply to dictate partners having sex with each other, because often times one partner may be receiving more or less pleasure from a specific act than the other. Many gay men are caught in a vice of having a partner who really enjoys topping, but at the same point not enjoying the sensation of bottoming. In the same strain, women for centuries have been the brunt of the pleasure differential in heterosexual relationships.

Now, TWT, your girlfriend has offered herself to you wholeheartedly. She's a rock star in bed and indulges in your every fantasy (how extensive or raunchy those are, I have no idea). If she's put out for you in such a generous way, you should be willing to return the favor. Assuming your girlfriend is straight, having a threesome with you and another woman was probably less about her own pleasure and more about pleasing you. Even if your girlfriend isn't straight, giving you the opportunity to get it on with two bodacious babes probably wasn't one she took lightly. So, when approaching the prospect of engaging in a MFM threesome, think more about it being a gift to her... because, frankly, she's already put out for you. Time to pay the piper.

It may help to set up some ground rules with her and find out exactly what she expects from this kind of sexual encounter. Is she the kind of gal who gets off on man-on-man action? If so, then you might try and negotiate how much you and the other guy are going to be interacting. If it's only light touching and encouraging each other while she gets to pleasure herself with two hunks, then I think that may be a little more reasonable. And finally, if you just can't get past those anti-homo sex freak out feelings, then you should let her have her fantasy, because she deserves it.

Obviously, it goes without saying, stay safe and always use safer sex practices. Avoiding spreading the HIV is always the way to go.


send your questions to askfannie@belowthebelt.org

(...to the full post)

Allow me to introduce myself, I am “the light skin girl wonder” (or LSGW, for short).

I was born in LA, raised in CT, drop kicked out the closet in MA, and currently reside in NYC. My mom is Jamaican and Cuban (so Black) and my dad’s birth certificate tells me he’s “Negro” so it’s safe to say that I’m Black except I don’t really look Black. Apparently I look Dominican, which I think is also Black, and people tend to talk to me in Spanish… and then roll their eyes when I tell them I’m not Latina, I’m just regular Black – but light (especially in the winter). This ambiguity leads to many interesting inner-dialogues about my ethnic identity and who I am. For the most part, I identify with my Jamaican roots more than anything because I was raised by my grandmother.

And yes, all the rumors you’ve heard about Jamaicans being crazy homophobic are true. Although I haven’t come out to my grandmother, I’m sure she knows (thanks to a not so subtle keychain my first girlfriend gave me). But it’s ok, she prays for me every day. When I came out to my mother, she handled it the best she could. Four years later, she’s ok with it. At this point, she just wants me to settle down with someone and give her grandchildren. *shudders* Dad knows and never talks about it… ever.

So new friends, what else should you know about me? I always say what’s on my mind, to a fault. I recently started writing again after a two year hiatus. In typical LSGW fashion, I’ve got lots to say and now I have a new space to say them. I want to inspire, educate, share, grow, and learn from all of you. Hopefully the effort will be reciprocated.

How’d I get here?

Funny question. So I was talking with a group of self-proclaimed bougie Black folk and we were talking about if you can pray away the gay and people were feeling really comfortable because they assumed everyone was straight in the group. So I’m chillin’ in the cut listening to people say some crazy off the wall stuff and then I dropped the B-bomb – bisexual. (We were in the middle of a heated discussion about whether bi exists or not). Crickets. Yeah. Then the tones changed, people wanted to be inquisitive. I get private asides that they don’t really feel that way and they’re sure I’m not going to go to hell. Gee thanks.

I recently finished James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. Spoiler alert: After witnessing a lynching, he decided to start passing as a White man and lived the rest of his life like that. He was so embarrassed about belonging to a race with so few rights and who could be dealt with so mercilessly that he essentially quit the race to live the easy life.

It’s very easy for me to pass as straight because I “look straight”. I date femmes, so my girlfriends look like they are just girl friends. I also date men more frequently than I date women, so people often question why I still identify as bi when it probably would be easier to keep my mouth shut and just act like an ally. The thought has crossed my mind, but then I wouldn’t be true to myself. Even if I never dated another woman again, I wouldn’t pretend to be straight and ignore my past. I would never consider a life on the downlow. And I do all this recognizing the privilege I get from living in some of the most liberal cities and in very supporting environments.

When asked what I want to write about, my response was something along the lines of “race, pop culture, sexuality (and the homophobia goes with that), island people, South Africa, women's colleges, schoolin’ fools on who I am, challenging Catholics and Baptists about whether or not I'm going to hell, the bi-life, answering dumb questions like ‘how do you pick up girls?’ with witty answers like, ‘the same way I pick up boys’, being dropped kicked out the closet, confusion over which gender to spend the rest of my life with, keeping it real even when it really goes wrong, awkwardly reentering the dating scene, passing, punching holes in the box, etc. etc.”

To steal a line from Steve Biko, “I write what I like.”

(...to the full post)

The history of feminism in the West is a familiar one. And yet, despite many complaints about the current lack of organized direction in feminism, there is little or no discussion about where feminism should proceed next, no vision of what a ‘Fourth Wave’ should look like. Perhaps this is because of feminism’s diverse reach: since it is now an ideology, a social movement, and an academic discipline, it may be more and more difficult to come up with a new, unified direction. Indeed, when feminists were a small minority, organized in tight-knit groups, and rallying against a proudly patriarchal society, finding a common approach must have been considerably easier than in the current conditions of institutional and organizational dispersion. My contention, however, is that feminism has failed to engender “a Fourth Wave” for ideological reasons: feminists have not yet come to grips with the legacy of the Third Wave, which questioned many of its taken-for-granted assumptions shook the ideology to its core. Indeed, if we take seriously the contributions of the Third Wave, then the very need for more ‘waves’ and definitive directions is placed seriously into doubt.

The main contribution of the Third Wave was to question feminists’ claims about representation. Second Wave feminists claimed to speak for all women, to represent the interests of all women. And yet, ‘woman’ is a diverse and unstable category – do the claims of the white, middle-class, heterosexual feminists living in the West (who dominated the Second Wave) necessarily apply to all women? Certainly not. For example, a classic feminist claim for much of the 20th Century has been that the patriarchal family is the primary locus of women’s oppression: the authority exercised by male “heads,” and the domestic labor that only women are expected to do, have fatally undermined women’s autonomy and have placed them in a subordinate position. Black feminists challenged this claim: in the face of a racist society, in which Black women could not expect to exercise autonomy or authority, the “household” was actually a place where they had considerable freedom. Black women were usually the main breadwinners, and for them, families served as a source of strength against structural racist oppression, a locus where they could exercise authority. Thus, the White feminist critique of the family/household does not apply unproblematically to Black women. Furthermore, Second Wave feminists have focused almost exclusively on altering and reforming Western state structures – they have portrayed (necessary) policy changes, such as free state-sponsored child-care and equal pay as essential ‘women’s’ demands. And yet, how can this resonate with Third World women? Their needs may well include other issues, such as reduction of infant mortality, access to clean water and access to education. Moreover, the fact that they live in a different kind of cultural context may require a more flexible feminism, with some fundamentally different core assumptions.

Overall, the Third Wave resisted the homogenizing and universalizing tendencies of feminism and criticized the notion that men and women are always already constituted as subjects. After the 1980s and 1990s, claims to speak for ‘all women’ are no longer so easily accepted and more care is taken to specifically address the needs of women of color, lesbian women, disabled women, Third World women, transgender women and working-class women. It is no longer possible to portray the demands of Western, middle-class, White and heterosexual women, as the essential expression of women’s needs and interests. And this is where the confusion comes in. If feminism needs to be so radically diverse, if it needs to adjust itself and question its core assumptions every time that a different subject position is invoked, then how can it maintain internal unity? How can it claim to be a unified perspective? Indeed, this intellectual dispersion of feminism has disturbed many of the ideology-discipline’s practitioners, with feminists such as MacKinnon, calling for a return to an “unmodified” feminism, united in its approach and centralized in its direction.

What kind of form would such a united and centralized feminism take? How would it be possible to avoid the racist, ethnocentric, heteronormative and classist biases of Second Wave feminism, whilst maintaining a central direction? Few scholars and activists have provided effective answers to these questions, although there has been much clamoring about them. One possible alternative for a “new direction” in feminism is Mohanty’s argument that feminism must “begin from and be anchored in the place of the most marginalized communities of women – poor women of all colors in affluent and neo-colonial nations; women of the Third World/South” (Mohanty 2003). She believes that this kind of anchor would provide the most inclusive paradigm for thinking about social justice and would focus feminists towards areas where they are most needed.

On the other hand, some have criticized the very need for “a definitive new paradigm” in feminism as not being exactly congruent with the lessons of Third Wave feminism. As Judith Butler points out in Undoing Gender, attempts to create a reified feminism with a firm direction may in fact be succumbing to oppressive, phallocentric tendencies. Third Wave feminism taught us about the difficulty of making blanket statements and about the value of democracy within a movement. Would it be possible for the feminist movement to actually be strengthened by a commitment to diversity within it, by an emphasis on dialogue and difference, rather than a programmatic adherence to a particular direction? Why does feminism even need to be centralized and united? This is the key question for feminists and the answer to it is likely to have a major impact on the future of the movement.

***For More Information***
There are many books that provide excellent overviews of the history of feminism. I would particularly recommend Bonnie Smith’s Global Feminisms Since 1945. For critiques of racism and ethnocentrism, definitely check out anything by bell hooks or Angela Davis, as well as Levine and Campbell’s Ethnocentrism: theories of conflict, ethnic attitudes and group behaviour. For works about the future ‘direction’ of feminism, have a look at Mohanty’s article “Under Western Eyes” from Signs (issue 28, Volume 2), Judith Butler’s Undoing Gender, as well as Catherine MacKinnon’s Feminism Unmodified.

(...to the full post)

BTB-TV (Below the Belt television) link added to the right toolbar (congrats to Fannie for her first video advice column last week!). Toughstuff interviewed at The Guppie Life. Two new, terrifically brilliant contributors starting this week. theinquisitor to return with an interview of someone famous and amazing. And many other nice things. Have a great week!


(...to the full post)



So I wanted to see what you think. This is something that I've definitely been aware of for a while but haven't really felt the need to, wanted to, or known how to address personally whether it be actively or just in understanding. Obviously the topic of sexual harassment and/or discrimination in is challenging to tackle no matter who, where, or what you are talking about, so throw in a couple other cultural and language differences and you're got yourself in a regular ol' pickle.

You can often chalk up a lot of workplace or business situation awkwardness in another country to language barriers and/or cultural differences. Calling someone by an improper title, using inappropriate language without realizing it, or going in for an informal cheek kiss when you're really supposed to shake hands- par for the course. But then there are those times that you wonder whether you are just letting something inappropriate slide because you don't know how to react. That certainly stems directly from the perspective I have being a female, as in most cases, but what I'm not sure of is when that changes or is adjusted because I am in a different culture and furthermore, if I should be ok with it. Because of the context I am writing from, the only case I can address is harassment coming from a male to a female.

A few examples come to mind. In terms of the two workplaces I have here, one is a U.S.-based organization that employs only two men, one the husband of the director, and the other a native Mexican man, and I have faced a total of 0 intimidation or discomfort. In the other, a native Mexican high school and higher education facility (of all places), the story has been different. While I have found the environment to be very professional and organized, it is also very much so run by the "club" mentality, either you're in or you're out, no in between. Because of that fact, I have come across various individuals who feel they have more right than others to say what they deem appropriate. That's not to say anyone has every directly come out and said something inappropriate, that would be too obvious. But I have been in the presence of male colleagues, one being my supervisor, who either refer to a female colleague in a way we would call "too friendly" or make comments, I'm sure according to them in a joking manner, about their work ethic, conduct, or appearance. Used to inappropriate hootin' and hollerin' in the streets, I'm constantly on the defense. Although I had never felt uncomfortable with the afore-mentioned supervisor, there was a time when another male colleague of his made a comment to him privately, turned and "pointed" at me with his eyes, and my supervisor just smiled in agreement and nodded. I stand out here. It's a fact. But, we can call it paranoia or we can call it questionable. Whatever we do, we need to put it in context. Personally, I let it completely roll off my shoulders. Later on I got really pissed at myself.

Another "higher-up" at school made more than one comment during orientation in front of all the teachers about how lucky he'd feel to have me as his teacher and get to look at me all day. Thanks, old man. But it's allllll done in good ol' fashioned fun so I don't worry, right? I need to remind you- this is all relative. This is not a daily occurrence nor one that has ever become an up-front issue at work. But does that make it roll off your shoulder material?

I have a close friend who is a lawyer and works for the state penitentiary. Within an already frighteningly-flawed system, she goes to work everyday to see the people who we hope to never meet that have done things that we don't even want to think. She's badass. She does her work and she does it well. And that intimidates her supervisor. Actually, it pisses him off and he lets her know it. Some people just don’t know what to do with a strong-willed woman here who doesn't take shit. Now, granted there is a large majority of workplaces that are like that all over the world, but in a low-income community where over half of the households in the entire state have a family connection to migrants in the U.S., employment opportunities are not what we would call abundant. And naturally, for Mexican women, they are much less prevalent. So put that together with a Mexican mama who knows what she wants and you may just have yourself a spooked supervisor. One, like that of the friend I mentioned, who gives you more (unpaid) night and weekend shifts than other employees, threatens you with being let go because you didn't show up for work on Friday despite the fact that you asked for the day off three months prior, talks about you behind your back concerning your "lazy work habits" and "sense of entitlement" (where did he pull THAT out of???), and is just a plain asshole when it comes to issues you may have.

If someone says something that makes you feel uncomfortable or unjustly targeted, it's wrong. But what about if it's more culturally acceptable? Who says it's culturally acceptable or not? What does that even mean? I again, hate these kinds of things because I have trouble separating an issue from what could be the actual reality. And one of the realities here is that sexual harassment is actually addressed at times with such in-the-face campaigns as this one from almost two years ago. Granted, it has its critiques but it's an effort nonetheless. I should say that I have been more than impressed at times with the level of professionalism and level of commitment shown by those I work with but at the same time, flaws shouldn't be ignored.

We won't ever disagree that any form of harassment in the workplace is wrong but where do we get these ideas? What context did we form them in? What experiences have we had to make us feel that way? Why do those guidelines travel across borders when at the same time the argument is the opposite when we talk about things like the U.S. valuing work and money over family time? Microwaved dinner and Mickey D's over family meals and Sunday get-togethers?

Do you see what I'm saying? I think it's wrong. But that's because of who I am. The white woman from the U.S. who has actively put herself in open-minded environments her entire life before coming here. I'm going to keep playing with this one in my head and see what happens.

(...to the full post)

Hey Readers!

Fannie Fierce here. We, at Below the Belt, are proud to announce a special edition of AskFannie on video! This was the first time I have ever attempted anything like this, so please excuse the amateur nature of the vlog post. I hope y'all enjoy!

*a transcript of the question and post are available after the jump...

Hey Readers,
Fannie Fierce here. In honor of the new year I give you AskFannie's very first video advice column. And without further ado, the question!

Dear Fannie,

I'm a bit of a pickle. I'm a second year in college and in my first monogomous relationship since coming out a year ago. But, I'm an attractive guy and when I go out I tendto get attention -- a little too much attention if you ask me. From time to time... well, if anyone was in my position it's just too hard sometimes with all the temptation. What can a guy do?


Too Hot to Handle It

Dear Too Hot,

Here's what I hear, blah blah blah I'm gay, blah blah blah monogamous, blah blah blah I'm hot... PITY ME! It's so hard to be beautiful. I have three words for you Too Hot, you're right hand... or in my case, my left! Basically You're a little gay slut with a wandering eye. And there's nothing wrong with that. Gay men have been constructing entire lives on promiscuity for decades. You mention that you're new to your first monogamous relationship and are newly out. While I'm sure you're madly in love with your boyfriend, it sounds like your head up here [gestures to head on shoulders] and your head down there [gestures to groin] are in two different places.

Every gay goes through different phases when he or she... he first come out. There's the slut phase and the pride phase. In the Pride phase you're all idealistic, and "No! I won't be like those other queers and there's only one guy for me," with your white picket fence and 2.5 adopted children from Somalia, or something Brangelina like that. In the slut phase, the whole world is your big gay oyster and you're at a buffet! Pile on the crab legs!

People go through phases in different order. Some have the pride first and then the slut phase, or vice versa. And... it sounds like you're a big gay slut. If you're not in the right place psychologically for a relationship right now, that's fine. You just need to make that clear with your boyfriend. Tell him that you're newly out and you want to play the field a little bit. It's perfectly fine to diversify your stocks, just as long as your stockholder knows what your doing. (That doesn't make any sense, but roll with me)

Be a big ol' gay slut, safely. However long it takes for you to get all that gay promiscuity stuff out of your system. And hey, it might never happen and you just might be a big ol' gay slut... forever. Which would be fabulous!


send your questions to askfannie@belowthebelt.org

(...to the full post)



Below the Belt today introduces READ MY BELT, a resource of free online journals, articles, and other publications related to the study of gender, sex, and sexuality. We have added a permanent link to our contents bar on the right.

READ MY BELT is purposefully constructed as a blog post so that anyone can comment and suggest new online resources to add. So get ready to copy and paste those bookmarks, you gender geeks out there!

And now, for the journals:

Gender journals
19th Century Gender Studies
Genders OnLine Journal
The Journal of Family Welfare
Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality

International-themed journals
International Family Planning Perspectives
Jenda: A Journal of Culture and African Women’s Studies
The Journal of Family Welfare
Journal of International Women’s Studies
Said It.
Women’s Health and Urban Life

Race-oriented journals
Jenda: A Journal of Culture and African Women’s Studies
Women’s Health and Urban Life

Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality
Journal of Queer Studies in Finland
Women in Judaism

Sexuality-themed journals
Canadian Online Journal of Queer Studies in Education
Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality
International Family Planning Perspectives
Said It.

Women-centered journals
Advancing Women in Leadership
Journal of International Women’s Studies
Jenda: A Journal of Culture and African Women’s Studies
The Scholar & Feminist Online
Women in Judaism

(...to the full post)


Flirting 101

In 2008, I resolve to hit the bar scene and get my flirt on. I know it’s unlikely that I will find the man of my dreams. I know it’s improbable that I will even find someone to date. But I want to prove to myself—someone whose previous best pick-up move was dancing yards away and giving the desired subject occasional glances, wishing and hoping and telepathically-directing oh-so-hard that he’d turn in my direction—that I can actually do it.

I began the year’s challenge in perhaps the most difficult of places to start: South Beach. In Miami, the club scene pulses, but it’s the men within them that make the heart twitter: Tanned, muscled arms, squeezing out of fitted designer t-shirts, worn by naturally-olive-skinned gods who sport sunglasses atop their perfectly-molded hairdos. Every romantic accent spews from all directions: Spanish, Italian, Portuguese… even Jude Law British. Walking into a Miami Beach club is like strutting onto a runway where good-looking wannabes distinguish themselves from the real models by gawking at them. For the actual hotties, this crowd is the standard. It’s perfectly normal. Everyone else is just a tourist.

I was, of course, a tourist. And as I sat in an artsy hotel restaurant, wearing my not-good-enough-anymore Banana Republic blazer and DKNY white button-down (both purchased on clearance), I attempted to polish my flirting methods with my friends.

“It’s a crowded club,” I pitched to them, “and I have to get someone’s attention. What do I do?”

My friend Ashley looked to my eyebrows. “Can you raise them?” she asked.

I raised them.

“Not as surprised-looking,” Jen, another friend, directed.

I raised my left eyebrow, slightly and quickly. I met a chorus of oohs and aahs.

Ashley continued: “Now before you do that, give me a look—down and then up my body, like you’re checking me out.”

I glanced at her down, and then up, as told.

“Too quick,” she denounced. “You look like you’re about to fight me.”

I tried it more slowly. I scanned her body more smoothly, past her neck, breasts, and abdomen, down to the zipper of her pants, where I paused before trailing my eyes back up her stomach, chest, chin—and then her eyes. I capped the advance with my previous move: the lift of my left eyebrow.

“Yes, that’s good!” they cheered.

Excited by my progress in Flirting 101, I asked them for my next steps. “So then what?” I pushed, “Do I just wait until they approach me? Do I approach them? Do I smile?”

“No,” Ashley interrupted, “Don’t smile.”

“Why not?” I had always been told that people in clubs want to see others having a good time. (Thus the attraction, I’ve been told, behind the lone clubber, breaking into his solitary groove on the dance floor. “It’s mysterious,” others are supposed to think. “How can he be having so much fun alone? I guess I should find out…”)

“It can look sketchy. It’s… it’s… not seductive.”

Seductive? In my head, I had always thought of flirting in two ways: there’s making yourself seem so interesting that the other person demands to find out more about you, and there’s oozing sexuality with every look, step, and gesture you make (so much so that you could make a man follow you out a club without even trading words). One of them makes you a whore. A lucky one, but a whore nonetheless. I wasn’t going for whore.

Indeed, why would I be trying to be anyone else but myself? Why wouldn’t my music-loving, lights-entranced, alcohol-induced ass not be smiling and having a good time at a club? I’m a generally serious person when it comes to getting work done, but who wants to dance with an office drone? If I tried looking seductive, I’d be misperceived as being downtrodden and blue. Maybe drunkenly so. I had to let my lighter side show: A smile, a sparkle in the eyes, the Cabbage Patch on the dance floor. I decided to set aside my down-up-eyebrow move for the night and be—well—me.

Being me, apparently, does not cut it on South Beach. Three hours later, inside a club near Lincoln Road, I was dancing the night away with my girls, each of whom—surprise, surprise—had already paired up with an unassuming straight foreigner who had somehow found himself at Gay Night. I, on the other hand, had paired up with an ottoman atop which I decided to stand and dance. (I’ve danced atop chairs, tables, and counters in eight states and two countries.) And while I had my drink in my hand, a smile on my face, and my groove to boot, any visual or physical contact I attempted to make seemed to fall short of whatever it is that people wanted instead. A guy looked at me and turned away. A guy looked at me and then turned to my girls. I thought that the one guy who I had the courage to speak to was straight. It turned out he wasn’t. “I’m not straight,” he uttered in the most straightforward assertion I’ve heard in a while. He gave me the down-up look—the awkward, challenging one—and continued dancing elsewhere. Oops.

So what is it? Do people really want to be seduced? Or do they want to see you having fun? Should I even think about flirting from this perspective—that is, from thinking about what others want? Or should I forego the personal manipulations and be, plainly, me? Ideally, that’d be the easy answer. In reality, I may have to play the game.
(...to the full post)

Genia Stevens joins us from SistersTalk:

A Star Tribune analysis posted late last night discusses how women voters are now standing firmly behind Hillary Clinton after noticing what they considered was blatantly sexist treatment by the press, other politicians, and some male voters

Even Democratic women with no intention of voting for Clinton found themselves drawn into the debate and shaken by what briefly seemed like a humiliating end to the most promising female candidacy in U.S. history. The process seems to have changed a few minds.
I've already said gender will be a big issue in the 2008 election. But many female voters of a certain age range never really thought gender would be a factor in the 2008 presidential race. People like 37 year-old Allison Smith-Estelle stated, "I do want Hillary Clintom to take the White House, but until she lost Iowa, I didn't realize how much, or how much it had to do with her being a woman."

If Hillary's emotional breakdown on January 7 -- and the media's subsequent treatment of that breakdown -- was what Clinton needed to (gently) remind non-supportive female voters of her gender, then I'm thinking Clinton is patting herself on the back right now and saying "Mission Accomplished." Obama would accomplish the same thing with Black voters who don't plan to vote for him if could suddenly position himself as the victim of media-encouraged racism. Let's keep our eyes open for that one.

There's no denying Clinton is treated differently because she's a female. On the flip side, that's exactly what she's hoping for. It's rare that I read articles or blog postings written by female Clinton supporters that don't focus heavily on two things: Clinton's gender and their own desire to see a female in the White House. It's always been my belief that no publicity is bad publicity. For Hillary Clinton, negative publicity related to her gender is the best (and cheapest) publicity she could receive right now. Sexist jabs at Clinton will translate to sympathy votes from females who never planned to vote for her.

Usually when I write about Clinton, I address her by her first name -- as most bloggers do, both male and female bloggers. How often do you see bloggers calling Barack Obama by his first name only? Rarely. Some would argue that addressing Senator Clinton by her first name is a sexist move since we don't usually address male politicians by their first name. Even if it is a sexist move, it's a really good thing for Hillary. Very few of us address our friends by their last name only (unless it's an old habit you developed in the military -- my aunt still calls her husband of 30 years by his last name). In my opinion, when you're on a first name basis with someone, that person enjoys friendship status -- or a status closely resembling that of friendship.

Yes, you can argue that we often call our enemies by their first name. But how many Bush-bashers call George W. Bush by his first name?

Maybe the reason so many people call Senator Clinton by her first name is because it's the easiest way to inform our readers which Clinton we're hatin' on at the moment. That argument is flawed as well since there were two Presidents with the last name Bush and rarely did we call the latest one "George" to differentiate between the two.

It's my opinion that Hillary wants the world to see her as Hillary. As long as we continue to see her as Hillary-the-female-politi cian, she can hold on to her dream of becoming Hillary-the-first-female- President of the United States.

(...to the full post)

This post is a response to the article, “To those that have, shall be given” from the December 22nd, 2007 issue of The Economist. You can find the article here. I would like to encourage everybody to write to the Economist about this issue (e-mail - Letters@economist.com) or post something in the comment box below.

The (unnamed) author of the above article makes the following argument: ‘The ugly are one of the few groups against whom it is still legal to discriminate’ –however, there are good reasons to be prejudiced against them: various scientific studies have shown that there are links between how ‘symmetric’ someone is and their intelligence. People are, therefore, correct to assume that someone they consider ‘beautiful’ is also smart, intelligent and capable – much more so than someone they consider ugly. So, in choosing a partner or a person for a job one should really favor the so-called ‘better-looking’ candidates. There are some very serious issues with this argument. The author’s naïve and unproblematic use of the term “beauty,” her/his insensitivity to ethical issues, and the callous acceptance of scientific evidence all reek of eugenics and dangerous biological determinism.

Does the author of this article not realize that the category “beautiful” is not something absolute and definite: it cannot simply be based on simplistic and vacuous criteria like ‘good symmetry’? It is a label that confers privilege, but it is also a label that is largely limited to the privileged. Beauty is a category that is raced, gendered, classed, and usually confined to those that are temporarily-able-bodied. This is not to say that people of diverse races, genders, classes, shapes and abilities cannot be valued as beautiful (from time to time) in dominant discourse, but that the very definition of beauty can play a major role in patterns of discrimination. For example, in India (as in many other parts of the world) being beautiful is often defined as being light-skinned – thus, ‘beauty,’ in this case, is based around race and is a racist construct. Beauty is also dependent on ‘appropriate’ gender performance. Although high fashion has, on occasion, pushed the boundaries of the feminine and the masculine, it has largely ignored trans people and women that are just ‘too masculine’ and men that are ‘too feminine’. Trans people and other gender ‘misfits’ are routinely portrayed as ugly caricatures in popular culture – the category of ‘beauty’ is unavailable to them inside dominant discourse. The same goes for the disabled: people in wheelchairs, amputees, or those with conditions like spina bifida probably do not meet the ‘symmetry’ requirements of this Economist article or the less specific ‘beauty exigencies’ of dominant discourse.

Furthermore, the article under discussion fails to acknowledge the gendered nature of beauty: the extreme pressure on women to be beautiful (in a narrow, socially acceptable way), and its systematic effects, such as the silent, creeping dominance of eating disorders. The saddest thing is that women are all too frequently judged based on their beauty and are encouraged to judge themselves by these same criteria. Men are also judged for their beauty, but not as intensely. They have a considerably broader and easier range of behaviors, grooming, and ways of dressing that constitute ‘male beauty.’ For a lot of women, beauty is a complicated full-time occupation, practically a second job – makeup, clothes, hairdos, dieting, ‘corrective’ surgeries etc… Few women are taught that they are beautiful as they are – instead, they are told that they must work hard everyday to become beautiful, that this beauty is their major bargaining chip vis-à-vis the world (i.e. – getting jobs, husbands), and that staying beautiful should be their most important task. Being thin, having the ‘right’ skin tone, wearing the appropriate clothes and makeup, having ‘pleasant features’ - all of this requires work, time and money that some people who do not belong to the upper or middle classes simply may not have. The resources spent on trying to attain this unattainable ‘beauty goal’ fuel a beauty industry that rakes in hundreds of billions of dollars a year, and beauty-obsessions keep women in a subordinate position success-wise: all of the time they have spent beautifying, applying, extracting, removing, shopping, dressing, washing, brushing could have been used for career advancement, spending time with family and friends, or other activities.

And for what? For a ‘beauty ideal’ that masquerades itself as essential, timeless and an absolute necessity, but in fact, is none of these things! Take a peek in other cultures or take a glance back through history, and anyone can see that beauty is relative. Men used to wear lots of makeup in 18th Century Europe. Larger of fuller-bodied women are considered the pinnacle of beauty in some African countries and were highly valued by European Renaissance painters. The beauty standards that people are held to nowadays are not definitive in any way – they are a time-bound, historically-influenced construct and they do not deserve the absolute reverence that popular culture and magazines tend to bestow on them.

Overall, I have tried to show in this post that ‘beauty’ is not something absolute that exists plainly for everyone to see – but that it is a category of privilege that can often be racist, sexist, ableist, upper-class/Western, and limited to people of a particular size and shape. Therefore, the author of the article under discussion – by approving discrimination against those considered “not-so-beautiful” – has also tacitly approved the entire list of prejudices that I have outlined above. In addition to not being able to extricate itself from an oppressive context, beauty is also strikingly relative – what may pass for sexy and handsome in one day and age, may not in another. Does this not mean, then, that we should encourage people to be less obsessed with beauty? And that justifying discrimination against people who are not considered beautiful is a very unjust thing?

***For More Information***
There are several classic feminist texts that deal with the beauty issue. Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth examines the economic effects that the socially imposed obsession with beauty can have on women. Germaine Greer’s The Whole Woman also addresses similar issues: she discusses how relative beauty standards across are time and culture. For a powerful account of a fat person’s attempts to deal with beauty myths and standards, see Frances Kuffel’s Passing For Thin and her website. I am as yet unaware of any discussions of beauty from a queer theory perspective, but if you know of any, please write to us in the comment box below! For a fascinating disabled person’s account of how he dealt with a beauty-obsessed gay male culture, check out Body, Remember by Kenny Fries. The anthology Queer Crips: Disabled Gay Men’s Stories (Guter and Killacky, Eds.) is also worth a look.

(...to the full post)

Gearin' up for the New Hampshire primes!

(Any of you politically-minded reporter types or lots-of-opinions types? Drop me a line!)


(...to the full post)

Dear Fannie,

My girl and I have been together for two years and are madly in love. She is very shy about sexuality, I am her first lover, and in her culture talking about sex is taboo. I hoped with time she would get more confident and open up to occaisonnal toy use. I have been tentative about steps in that direction-but I can't even get her inside an adult store. She says she is satisified sexually. I have let it go because everything else is going great. I am writing because I have found myself increasingly watching porn and recalling scenes while we are making love. This is the first time that I feel the need to keep something from her. First, is what I am doing normal? And if you have any advice on how I can help her open up a bit, that would be great.


Lackluster Lesbian Love Life

LLLL (or, L^4 as I prefer),

So, your toy-terrified-tribade is cramping your kink with her refusal to let you stick her with a silicon sex toy. Here is a prime example of how our conceptualization of sexuality is extremely limited. We focus on object choice: do you like boys or girls... or both. Poles or holes, cocks or fish, bussy or pussy. It all comes down to our junk. But there are so many other axes on which sexuality operates. Some people think about sex a lot, some never. Some people like having it with more than one person. Some people like to watch. Some people only have sex with themselves. By limiting ourselves to object choice, we lose out on a much larger and more interesting conversation.

There are two issues here, 1) Your girlfriend is sexually shy doesn't want to use toys, and you do; and 2) Your usage of porn/fantasies outside of the relationship is making you nervous. I think first we have to acknowledge that just because you have a sexual desire, doesn't mean your girlfriend is required to meet that need. However, the flip side of that coin is that if your girlfriend refuses to satisfy that need, I believe she should be willing to let you find a means of fulfilling that need (within reason of course). It should be made clear that while girl-on-girl all organic non-silicon action may satisfy your girlfriend, it doesn't bring you to the same place. Since you mention only occasional toy-play, it doesn't sound like you're being unreasonable, or that she'd have any reason to be jealous of your vibrator. But what it does make clear is that she's being a little selfish when it comes to matching your needs.

However, in your girlfriends defense, you mention that she comes from a very conservative upbringing, which has spilled into your boudoir. We can't all be the sexually experimental dynamos, like you, LLLL. She might very well want to get where you are and rival you as a sex toy goddess, but she probably has some deep-seeded issues she's working out. It's probably a big leap for her just to make it to "deviant sex." So the thought of making sex acts which she might already be getting a scolding for from the Jesus tape running in the back of her head, even MORE deviant might be just too much for her to handle at this point.

You asked if looking at porn while in a sexually unsatisfying relationship is normal? Um... yeah it is. It's normal to look at porn even if your girlfriend is a perfect sexual match for you. Consuming porn isn't somehow a substitute for a partner. Porn is a fantasy, with absurdly hot people doing absurdly hot things with other absurdly hot people. Of course you're going to want to watch! However, the layperson shouldn't expect that hooking up with one's real life partner should be the same as the hyper-hot surreality of porn. Those are just unrealistic expectations (unless, of course, you're a porn star...).

I'd advise first talking about the pleasure differential with your girlfriend. She has to realize that what she is doing isn't meeting all of your needs. And if that's the case, she should be willing to let you indulge in a few sessions with the bunny and a video rental. You might try and let her watch some of the porn you enjoy (although save the riskier stuff for later). Also, a way to get her more comfortable with sex toys in the bedroom is to use them on yourself. There is a big step between watching your girlfriend give you a live sex show, and ramming a dildo into your partner's pussoir. So, not actually handling the sex toys may make it easier for her to digest.

I hope the two of you can resolve your issues! Happy fucking!


send your questions to askfannie@belowthebelt.org

(...to the full post)

Creative Commons License