How do parents’ gender identities affect the way they raise their children? What benefits might there be to having two parents of the same sex? At present, laws in Florida and elsewhere ban gay couples from adopting children. When homosexual couples elect to have a child via donor sperm or a surrogate, only one of the two parents will typically have a biological link to that child. If that parent dies, the remaining one, without a blood relation, may well lose that child to foster care.

These attitudes remain despite the facts: study after study has shown that children with homosexual parents possess levels of self-esteem, impulse control, and diligence on par with the children of heterosexual parents. In many cases, the children of homosexual parents actually scored higher on one or more of these attributes. Gillian Dunn*, of the London School of Economics, did a case study of around fifty lesbian couples raising children in the UK. She suggests that same-sex couples may actually make better parents than their socially sanctioned counterparts.

First of all, lesbians (and gay men as well) have to really, really want a child in order to have one. They must want a child badly enough to seek out a potential donor or surrogate that is acceptable to both partners and willing to participate. In other words, pregnancy is not something that just ‘happens’ to same-sex couples as a matter of (inter)course, as it does with heterosexual couples: it is a conscious, deliberate, and mutual decision. Only heterosexuals are subject to unplanned parenthood.

Lesbian couples were also far more likely, Dunn found, to share the task of childrearing equally. In heterosexual couples, one of two scenarios follows the birth of a child: the female half of the couple drops out of the labor force for several years to stay home while the male half of the couple continues unimpeded in his career. The alternative for heterosexual couples is to ‘farm out’ the duties of childrearing to a third party, i.e.: to a another woman or women of a lower socioeconomic class, while both husband and wife continue unimpeded in their careers.

Lesbian couples followed an entirely different path. Lesbians managed the rigors of childcare in two totally different ways. Most women saved money ahead of time, setting a portion of both their incomes aside in preparation for their new arrival. When the child was born, both women typically cut their working hours by half in order to share the work of childrearing equally. The other option, closely related to the first, involved couples who also decided to decrease their workloads with the understanding that it would mean acclimating to a lower standard of living for some time. In almost all cases, both partners in the relationship shared childrearing skills equally, by choice, stating that they found it far more desirable to participate actively in the formative years of the child’s life than to shift the duty to just one of the women. Dunn thinks that the difference between homosexual and heterosexual methods of parenting stems from the absence of rigid gender roles that exist in heterosexual relationships, which hold women are the primary caretakers and men, the primary breadwinners. The women in Dunn’s study had no rigid or specific roles to fulfill; they created their own rules based on a shared goal.
Despite these facts, the nuclear family still enjoys its status as the idealized form of the family, even though this is not even the most common type of family arrangement any more.

How, based on this information, can we account for this discrepancy between reality and public perception? What ill effects does conventional (lack of) wisdom fear will befall children raised by gay parents?

*Dunn, Gillian. A. “Opting Into Motherhood: Lesbians Blurring the Boundaries and Transforming the Meaning of Parenthood and Kinship.” Gender & Society 14.1 (2000) 11-35.

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Hello Below the Belters,

Fannie here. I'm sad to announce that this will be my farewell post to Fiercely Fannie. I've been doing this advice thing for the past year or so, and it's really been a fun, fun run with y'all. I'll continue to post intermittently as a guest contributor, so I'm far from gone from the face of BTB. So if you've had a burning question you've been sitting on but have been dilly-dallying on sending it in, there is still time! I deeply appreciate how much some people have been willing to open up to me over emails with questions about their lives. I've learned so much about myself through answering your questions. Thank you again for reading and I hope that you'll all stay fierce, fabulous, and free.

Dear Fannie,

I am so clearly gay it is wild, yet I am a married man so deep in the closet it is crazy. I haven't had sex with another man in over 4 years; been married almost 4 years. But I crave a man so badly and I know that man-to-man sex is fit for me.

I am terrified of telling anyone - never came out to any but other gay people before. I am in a quandary.

Queer Quandary Quagmire

Dear QQQ,

"Wild" and "crazy" sure sounds like they describe you well. You're out to yourself, yet decided to ruin the life of your wife by lying to her by promising to be the love of her life for as long as you both shall live. And now you're craving some man tang but stuck in a matrimonial cell of your own design. Funny how karma works, eh? The easy thing here would be to awww and coo and comfort you out of the closet. But, frankly, QQQ. I don't got the time or the patience for liars and cowards. If goddamn tweens are brave enough to come out in middle school, a.k.a. hell, then you should be able to come clean.

Your question resonates particularly with a past question I received about a young gay man who was contemplating having sex with a married man who was after his meat. I told the kid to go ahead and jump on that wedded wang because it wasn't the kid who made a commitment to his wife. The response to that advice was controversial and mixed, as I expected it to be. But let me make this perfectly clear: while I may not have a wildly exuberant perspective on marriage as a political and social institution, I have a deep respect for commitments and contracts people make with each other, especially romantic ones.

If you knew you were gay 4 years ago, which I infer by the fact that you were down on your knees downing spunk only months before going down on your knees to get married to a woman, why in the world did you get married? God, when will people learn that lying to yourself hurts not only you, but the people around you? Women who marry these men are the overlooked collateral damage of these gay men's cowardice. Sure, it's tough being gay, and sure people feel pressured to hide their queer identities to protect their status both at work and with their families. But just because it's hard doesn't justify manipulating people in order to maintain your façade.

It's one thing to be that "confirmed bachelor" who brings his beard to a fancy event or two (I'm looking at you, Professor Higgins). It's completely different to string along another human being and get them to make a lifelong commitment to you, based off of a false relationship.

My advice? Grow a pair and be honest with your wife. The longer you wait, the more of her time you waste. There's nothing you can do to be in the right, but there are things you can do to make things better.

Tell your wife that you are gay and that you have been desiring sex with a man. She'll probably get very. Very. Very. Upset. And rightly so. Let her yell at you and cuss you out and cry, because honestly, you deserve a little tongue lashing, and she deserves some retribution. After all that hullabaloo is over, hopefully you will both be able to come to the table as adults and figure out if your marriage can still work. I assume that you have at least some affection and attraction to this poor woman you've manipulated for the past 4 years. If you can work some kind of relationship where you can get your rocks off with a man-friend and where she has primacy in your relationship (in addition to some of her own behind-the-scenes action)... then maybe it'll all work out. It's unlikely... but it's possible.

Now, the one thing I have to commend you for is not having cheated on your wife yet. It shows you have at least some moral fiber. It gives you some more legitimacy and makes the betrayal sting a little less. You'll be in for a rocky patch, but you really should do this right and not sneak around behind her back. Because she'll find out, one way or the other. And then, when the shit hits the fan you'll be that much more of an asshole, in addition to getting screwed in your divorce proceedings. Judges like nothing better than teaching an adulterer a thing or two.

The one thing I didn't mention was kids. You didn't mention if you and your wife have started a family, and I pray to the Powers That Be that you haven't because there's no worse crime parents commit against their children than deliberately raising them in a broken home (aside from obvious extremes of abuse). If you do have kids, this may be a bit of a more delicate process. If you can stand it, I'd at least stick together until your kid is old enough to comprehend what's going on. And for the love of all that is good, don't be that jackass gay dad who disappears only to show up every 6 months at Easter and Christmas with a new boyfriend.

Good luck, QQQ, I don't wish I was you, but I do hope you do the right thing.

Fiercely and finally,

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Blaming the Victim

Ramin Setoodeh’s Newsweek cover story, ‘Young, Gay and Murdered’ is a sore disappointment. It reveals how our society still blames the victim for the deadliest kinds of homophobic violence and views hir overt ‘otherness’ as a provocation, rather than a legitimate expression of gender and sexuality. While murder victim Larry King recently become a sentimentalized martyr for the LGBT rights movement, Setoodeh tries to show that ‘the reason Larry died isn’t as clear-cut as most people think.’ He suggests that the victim brought the violence onto himself by stretching ‘the limits of tolerance’ and ‘push[ing] his rights as far as he could’. Larry ‘was a troubled child who flaunted his sexuality and wielded it like a weapon’ - therefore, we should avoid turning him into a poster-child for the LGBT movement. He is not the right kind of victim.

In what ways did Larry play with ‘the limits of tolerance’? How did he provoke his attackers? According to the article, he was extremely effeminate, wobbling around in brown Target stilettos and knee-high pink boots. He would often ‘sidle up to the popular boys’ at lunch and say, in a high-pitched voice, ‘Mind if I sit here?’ And when he was tormented in the locker room, he would get even by telling the boys that they ‘looked hot.’ His relationship with his eventual killer, however, was considerably more intense. Larry ‘really liked’ Brandon McInerney. He would often stare at him and follow him. At one point, he told a close friend that him and Brandon had dated, but broken up. On Valentine’s Day, Larry played a game with a group of friends, in which each of them had to go up to their crush and ask them to be their Valentine. Larry, of course, asked Brandon, who was promptly ridiculed by a group of boys. Setoodeh portrays this as the ‘tipping point’ for the killer, as the moment when Brandon decided murder was the solution. Later on in the article, he uncritically cites school officials as stating that Larry ‘bullied’ Brandon. Setoodeh also unquestioningly quotes Larry’s father as saying that he believed his son ‘sexually harassed’ the killer.

If Larry was a ‘girl’ (in the conventional sense), would any of his actions be considered bullying or sexual harassment? Would he have been pushing any limits? Would there be anything out of the ordinary about a ‘girl’ staring at her crush, making up stories about him, or asking him to be her Valentine? Clearly, if we imagine for a second that Larry was female, nothing he did could plausibly be considered ‘sexual harassment’. His actions would be viewed as ‘normal’ teen behavior, hormones acting up, or the runaway effects of a first crush. Larry King’s tragic story is, thus, not a parable about queers ‘pushing the limits of tolerance.’ Rather, it demonstrates the horrifying extent of heterosexual privilege. It shows how queers are not allowed to do everything that straight people can, and that their self-actualization can be brutally curtailed at any point. It is also a story about how deadly homophobia really is: beneath the taunts and petty locker-room harassment lies a more serious, life-threatening hatred.

We cannot allow ourselves to keep blaming the victim; we need to stop assuming and legitimating heterosexual privilege. Following Setoodeh’s logic, Larry should have been ‘on the down-low’, he should not have defended himself from homophobic abuse, and he should have refrained from acting on any of his crushes. While any ‘reasonable adult’ would have probably done this, to badger a child into stifling hir identity is cruel. Larry tried to live a queer life to the fullest, but he was brutally cut off because of homophobic social norms. Unfortunately, all LGBTQ people face this risk. Believe it or not, we all have a gun to our heads.

Nevertheless, if there is anything to learn from Setoodeh’s article, it is that homophobia rarely affects only queer people. It has an impact on most people that are associated with them. The day that Larry came to school in knee-high pink boots, his brother complained to school officials that he was getting taunted for being gay (kids believed that, since Larry was definitely gay, his brother must be gay too). Larry’s killer was himself the victim of homophobic abuse. On the day that Larry asked him to be his Valentine, Brandon was made fun of intensely by his group of friends. However, it was certainly not Larry’s responsibility to ‘tone down’ his behavior in order to ‘save’ others. The real culprit is the homo and transphobia that is rampant in our society. It is only with the undermining of those ‘phobias’ that we can hope to eliminate gender and sexuality-inspired hate crimes.

***For More Information***
The Internet is currently brimming with Larry King news. You can find the official memorial website here. For more information on homo and transphobic violence in general, check out the following site from GenderPAC. Also, this website has a really useful list of ‘heterosexual privileges’. Finally, for an incisive analysis of heterosexual privilege, have a look at Adrienne Rich’s seminal essay, ‘Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.’

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After a long wait, Mad Men's second season begins this Sunday night. Is anyone else as excited as I am??

If you aren't familiar with the show, it is about a fictional Madison Avenue ad agency circa 1960 (although the second season starts in 1962). Now, I wasn't alive in 1960, but from what I understand, the sets, the costumes, the mannerisms and personalities, the situations, etc are all painstakingly realistic to the time.

One of the best lines of the show is between two of the ad men:

Don: What do women want?
Roger: Who cares?

The interesting thing about the show is we see all these stereotypes, but we get to watch characters develop behind the stereotypes:

The acceptably sexist men
The cheating husbands
The husband-chasing secretaries
The (not so) happy housewives
The closeted gay man
The closeted gay woman
The seductive secretary
The wants-to-get-ahead secretary
The sweet husband (who, of course, ends up cheating)

Another interesting thing about the show is how closeted everyone is about their own life, regardless of what they are hiding.

I think this is especially interesting because it is so far from what our current society is like. Could you see any of the mistresses dragging their lovers and their wives onto a talk show to accuse them of being their baby daddy? Could you see any of the unhappy housewives actually admitting to their other housewife friends how unhappy they really are? Could you see any of the cheating husbands actually admitting to their wives that they are cheating? Would any of the husband-chasing women decide to go on a reality TV show to find a mate?

Yet, these actions have become so acceptable in 2008, whether on reality TV or talk shows, for all the world to see. Why is that? Why are we so eager to bear all and come clean and air our dirty laundry in public? Why is it almost an abnormality to keep private things private?

It used to be that women were known as the talkers, the communicators, the ones who shared everything. But even men are becoming like that. Is there any virtue in following the example of Mad Men, and returning to a society that values privacy? That is buttoned up, both verbally and in the style of dress? Our fashions are thankfully returning to a more conservative tone, maybe the rest of our lives (that we'll admit to) will follow suit.

Or at the very least, we'll see the value in keeping private things private between the involved parties, instead of splashed across a talk show's stage.

In the meantime, I'm am looking forward to the return of my new favorite cosmopolitan show set in New York.

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I’m alive! I finally moved away from Little Havana after an incident in which I was shot at by some obnoxious hoodlums for looking weird in the wrong side of town; that day I learned that cheap rent does not merit the risk of getting killed while walking home on a typical weeknight. When will the day come when insecure gun slinging macho dopes don’t feel the need to compensate by shooting at “queers” for walking down the street?

In all honesty I cannot cast the first stone. I am also guilty of machismo, and while it is not as blatant as it is with your typical Marlboro man, it is by no means less destructive. I catch myself often trying to play up my masculine traits when in certain situations: e.g. if I am around girls whom I want to impress, guys whom I want to intimidate, or peacocks who invade my turf. This compulsion is so primal and conflictive with my own gender identity and intellect; yet till now I have blinded myself to it enough to not do much to eliminate it. So why does Machismo exist? What is it and what purpose does it serve?

You may be thinking “How can an androgyne claim to be macho?” Well in my case the answer is quite simple; all of my young life I was raised to be a “normal” boy and that includes being instilled with all the chauvinistic values that our society believes normal boys should have (aggressiveness, dominance, double standards, misogyny, stupidity?). While I’ve come to surpass many of those artificial values intellectually, there are still moments in which certain emotions cloud my rationality thereby compelling me to reduce myself to a stereotype. Shame and guilt factor heavily in bringing out the macho in anyone; I find that when I feel the need to swallow my pride it is usually in a situation where I feel insecure for showing a lack of appropriate masculine traits; this however has slowly been changing the more I’ve conquered said insecurities.

To quote from a song by Madonna entitled “What it feels like for a girl”, she says “Girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short, wear shirts and boots cause its ok to be a boy. But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading…” The pop queen may be no Dalai Llama, but she’s definitely onto something with that song. The lyrics reflect the idea that boys are engrained with the mindset that displaying feminine traits make them somehow inferior and that such things must be avoided; this is a terrible reality which we must change at all costs. Boys are raised to feel that having feelings or displaying “feminine” behaviour makes them somehow inferior, and it’s that kind of backwards education that scars people for life and prevents them from being able to enjoy healthy and happy lives in the future.

Ardhanārīśvara is a little known Hindu deity who represents the essence of androgyny; this deity is the avatar of both the god Shiva and his lover Parvati. It embodies both masculine (Shiva) and feminine (Parvati) traits thereby making it superior to its individual counterparts. The beauty behind Ardhanārīśvara is that it comes to symbolize the wholeness of both genders as one; in this way we also see how human beings are more complete when they renounce the restrictive chains imposed by society’s gender binary; hetero-normative type castes reduce human beings into mere stereotypes incapable of being true to themselves due to societal pressure to be otherwise.

My inability to feel comfortable enough to not feign certain artificial masculine traits is an example of socially enforced restraints combined with personal insecurity; I have found myself emotionally bound and incapable of being true to myself because I live with the shame that my conservative upbringing has instilled in me. However, admitting this has helped me remove the vestments of machismo and double standards that have cost me from having healthy relationships in the past; acceptance is the first step after all, but by no means the last.

True security in oneself cannot be found unless one comes to embrace oneself wholly, thereby allowing one to feel free to be oneself regardless of the situation.

Till next time…

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According to the ספר תורה, the Jewish Holy Book Torah (or teachings), in the Beginning God created basically everything. In seven days. Clearly, the beginning is both a time for bold vision and to get to work. I think I’ll do the same:

This is the beginning of a regular column that concerns spirituality and gender. So, in honor of doing things big in the beginning, I’m going to tackle what I think of as a great biggie – the creation of Adam and Eve. It’s a story about gender, it’s a story about religion. Seems like a good place to start.

To quote from the King James translation (1611) of the Torah text, Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” This is the text most of us are most familiar with. In Martin Luther’s translation, which is legendary for the research Luther did in the language of the German people, “man” is not the “man” we’re used to seeing, it’s “men” as in “humankind” (1522). The reason I’m interested in this particular text? Gender.

King James the 1st of England and 6th of Scotland was successor and cousin to Elizabeth I, daughter of King Henry VII. James’s mother was Mary, Queen of Scotts, who Elizabeth had killed by mistake (ooops, sorry!). Elizabeth’s own birth required the creation of a whole new branch of Christianity! (And you thought you had drama in your family.) James was also a raving, infamous homosexual. True he produced an heir to the throne, but he also made his male lover 1st Duke of Buckingham, creating a duchy for him, and elevating him in the Court. The Duke, George Villiers, was known even to wear the King’s Royal Seal around his waistline on a chain, dangling it very near his own genitals. This King is the same man for whom the clerics of the time dedicated the King James Bible.

There are a few books written about the translation of the King James Bible, the most fun to read is Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, by Bart D. Ehrman. It’s a fun, politically framed look at the men who guided and executed the translating.

What does all of this have to do with gender? Well, the King James translation sets us directly into a model of bifurcation regarding gender. God created man, and then woman. There is one, or there is the other. In Luther’s translation, it can be argued, that God created people. No defined dualism, but perhaps a continuum.

Do I think that the dualistic view of man and woman in the King James Bible is a reaction, and admonishment of a ruler given to flouting gender? Yes.

Since this Bible is most widely read book in English over the last almost 400 years now, it has put us in a mind about the dualistic nature of gender. Man and Woman. Just two choices. But we students of gender know that just two choices is insufficient – there is really a continuum.

As a religious person, it saddens me, and well frankly angers me, that some people have used this Book to beat others literally and figuratively. It is not the book of my religion, but it is still the one that most of the American culture thinks of when they think of religion. There are many other cultures around the world that have a less stringent idea of what gender expression in. As a people who are searching their souls about gender, many know more about it than I do. In future columns I hope to explore these other realities.

People who have worked hard enough on themselves to question their perceived gender know more than a little about soul searching. You don’t endure wearing a lot of pink when all you really want is a Tonka truck, as a kid without having to think about a lot of things to survive.

If there is a God, what does S/He want? Ultimately I believe that God wants you (and me) to enjoy our bodies and our whole selves. God gains nothing when you’re unhappy and unsettled. Your body may not be the one you’d choose from a catalog, but really, whose is?

As this column progresses I hope that together we can find ways to celebrate our bodies. Whether you were born with the parts you wanted or not, you are a whole and complete being. We need to find a way to have joy in that. We need to find a way to hands down, really get into digging ourselves as we are, and as we plan to (or not) change them surgically.

May whatever you consider Holy, companion with you on your journey. May you gather the strength to accept the Love that the Universe is offering you.

Salaam, Shalom, en fe la paz, and Amen.

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Dear Ethan,

I’ve debated in my head about whether or not it would be a good or bad idea to write a blog entry about someone who may actually read the entry… like you. You may be reading this now. And if you are reading this now, I’m going to ask that you stop reading unless you want to deal with the consequences of what you’re about to read. Or, I suppose you could continue reading and then a) tell me that you did read it and then be perfectly okay with the consequences or b) pretend that you never read it and keep things going exactly where we left off. Or, you could stop here and simply deal with uncertainty. But then again, that’s really where we left off anyhow. At least the way I see it.

At the beginning of the summer, my colleague and friend Jen told me I should meet you. Why? I wondered, Why would I have any interest in meeting one of our college interns? Unless I had some sort of task that required an intern’s assistance, I’m not sure I had any desire to relive my college years and gallivant with the same folks who, at one of the earlier summer parties, ripped their shirts off and ran into the middle of the street downing beers before tossing them into some neighbor’s bushes. Yes, I thought at that very moment, that’s exactly the kind of presence I need in my life.

I ran into you at various functions through the summer: at a meeting after a panel or performing errands at our office, for example. All in all, however, you were in the periphery—just one of the many people running around our busy summer headquarters.

Then, on our last Thursday of the summer work calendar, I arrived at a bar to have a drink, and you were sitting with my friends. I sat beside you because it was the only seat empty, and in my polite small talk, you found ways to grab my interest. After comparing ever-so-superficially German and United States court decisions, it was pretty obvious: you’re very smart. And mature. I hadn’t met a smart mature gay man in a long time. I mean, I know a handful of smart mature gay men—most of which I met in college—but most of them aren’t in Texas. And most of them aren’t in their early twenties. In my two years of Texas living and bar-hopping, I hadn’t met any smart mature young gay men at all.

But what impressed me most was that I attempted to box you in as this elite private school academic snob and you kept breaking through that type. You ordered more drinks—not a cognac or wine as I wanted your type to order, but girly drinks: cranberry vodka. You forced me to take stupid online quizzes. You gossiped. You didn’t laugh; you giggled. And when you left early that night, our table grew a little more boring.

With our summer work calendar coming to a close, I thought that that’d be our only interaction, but the next day (and the day after that, and the day after that…) proved me wrong. The next night, I met up with some friends on your team at yet another bar… and there again you were. You were there, however, with another guy. Ah, I noted, of course. The smart ones are either awkward or taken. You were the latter. So I chatted with my friends and caught up with some folks who I hadn’t seen through the busy summer, and the next thing I knew, your man was gone. And so we talked. And it was, as was the night before, a good talk. I found out more about this balance that you strike—this socio-political scientist who also preys after donuts like nobody’s business. Again, you broke through the box. I wanted you to be vegetarian—maybe even vegan! Neither. To my disappointment, you were pretty normal. The intelligent kind of normal.

I found myself wishing that I hadn’t just met you in our last few days of work, but I checked myself. I knew you were really friendly, and it was in my best interest—and your best interest—that I read your behavior as that. In the closing days of our work calendar, I couldn’t think of our interactions as anything but. And also… you had a guy. I wasn’t going to interfere with that.

The next day was our organization’s end-of-summer party, and our overlap of friends decided to go to the same post-party at a local gay club. Your man-friend was going to meet you there, but in the time we passed waiting for him, you again proved to be good company. We talked about homosexuality and identity construction, and you asked me at some point if you had won the debate, and I said no, but I was just too afraid to say yes you did and admit my rusty sociological theory. I think I pushed your buttons too much and dropped the subject, and when we went inside the packed club—your first gay club—I dropped all thoughts of academia more permanently.

We danced. I hadn’t danced with a guy in a long time. I had forgotten how good it felt. You weren’t some random drunken guy. You weren’t looking for anything else aside from a good time on the dance floor. It was just us and the dance floor, the pulsing of the lights, the onset of fog, and the energy of the music.
It felt good to be dancing with someone who I knew was an even better person on the inside.

When your guy finally showed up, I backed off. Or, in your words, you asked me to Leave room for Jesus. I did. I avoided you for the rest of the night. And when I drove off with our friends and left you there with your guy, I can’t say that I wasn’t disappointed that I hadn’t met you first.

Less than an hour later, you called our friend Keena. She was sitting across from me at a late-night diner, and you didn’t know where your car was. She passed the phone to me, and I gave you directions to where you parked. We hung up, and three minutes later, you called again. Still, no car. She passed the phone to me, and this time, I said I’d be right there.

And at 2:30am, I drove back to the club and to your parking spot, and you were right: your car wasn’t there. That’s when I unlocked the passenger side door and let you in. This wasn’t the late night I was anticipating…

To be continued…

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One of our contributors, alibee, has been having some medical hardships. We just wanted to take this opportunity to say that she's in our thoughts and we wish her a speedy recovery. '

Come back soon, alibee!!"
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Since some of my close buds are going through the painstaking process of finding that first job after college, I thought I’d share a little 2-years-out reflection on the whole working in the real world thing:

College was a time when I spent a great deal of effort on coming to terms with my sexuality and learning how to negotiate this new "self" with my old and new networks – friends, family, peers, etc. Graduating and finding a great first job was, for me, my way of proving to myself and to the world that even though I was a wishy-washy liberal and activist…I could do just as well as people who had not gone through what I did and probably majored in something more practical like business.

I started my job hunt the December before graduation, sending resumes to over 200 companies in the field I thought I wanted to work in. I landed a job right as graduation neared, and moved to New York City in late June.

Let me be the first to tell you that life sucked. Even though I lived in the beautiful West 70s (we found the perfect place) and I had a great job in the business world, adjusting to a regular work schedule – waking up at 7am, getting to work at 8:30am, returning home at 6:30pm, eating, and going to bed to start the whole process again in the morning – made me feel like life was over. I was exhausted by the end of the day, and I no longer had the time to just…do things that made me happy. Work was okay, but didn’t make me happy the way I hoped it would. One month in, I started thinking about grad school and the possibility of looking for a new job.

The reality is that this feeling is pretty common for people coming out of the college; for me, this period lasted about 4 months, and then I started doing a lot better – I adjusted to my schedule, I realized that I didn’t like my field too much and slowly kept my eyes peeled for new opportunities, and I discovered coffee. Five months after starting my first job, I landed Perfect Job in Ideal Field, and now life, for the most part, is quite good.

I do have to express, though, that this transition many people go through after graduating college is reflective of a highly privileged upbringing – I never had to work a great number of hours for a job I didn’t entirely like while trying to balance a million other things, like my finances, my apartment, schooling, a family, etc. But this aside, I think the difficulties privileged folks like myself undergo when transitioning to the working world are reflective of something interesting from a sociological perspective: transitioning to the workforce and to be successful in many workplaces/fields – “becoming a professional” – is kind of an identity struggle in and of itself.

There are moments now, as I’m becoming comfortable in the workplace and confident in my ability to do work, when I realize I’ve become “a professional”. When someone calls for me on the phone I reflexively act happy and excited to hear from them, and grateful for the good work they’ve brought to the table. When I sit in a meeting, I always bring a notepad and pen and I try to anticipate questions about anything that might be brought up during the meeting. I offer to help with others’ projects I may not have anything to do with. I am outgoing at work, I always ask how people are doing, how their weekends were, what they’re doing for the holiday. My work identity has, in many ways, been institutionalized -- and it's crazy because those who knew me a few years ago knew me as a very shy, almost socially defunct kind of guy. In some ways I kind of like this new personality I can turn on. I feel that it has helped me to be more successful at work.

Obviously this institutionalized identity can have its problems. What if, for whatever reason, you are unable to fit this behavioral image of “the professional”? What if the ideals of the office are such that other identities (gender/sex/sexuality/ethnicity/socioeconomic status) create a discomfort in the office that causes short term problems and prevents long term growth? And further, what if you become this “professional”, and lose behaviors associated with your original identity to this new, fairly superficial, work-driven way of life? I don’t know that I necessarily want to instinctively start small talk every time I talk to someone. Isn’t that a little fake?

I guess it all comes to finding that balance. Some people – people I’m sure we all know – become the Stepford Robots about everything…work, social life, etc. A lot of them lose flexibility in life. Transitioning to the workforce is rough and can be very demanding, but just make sure that you create a space for yourself. Some of us start blogs, but I’m sure there are other ways to do this, too. :)

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Earlier this week, I woke up with back pain and stayed home from work. Whenever this happens, I always try to watch two TV shows I don't normally get to see: Oprah and Jeopardy. I happened to catch a rerun of Oprah that featured Matchmaker & Dating Coach Patti Novak. Patti offered her "expert" advice on why so many wonderful women in their 30s are single, and what they can do about.

Much of the advice was truly useful - don't treat a first date like an interview, treat it like a date. Don't be competitive and try to one up your date. Etc.

But then Patti got to talking about men and women and how sometimes a man wants to feel like a man. Fair enough. Women today are so independent and successful, we're used to doing everything ourselves. But sometimes you want your man to feel like you need him. Well, I can't argue with that, everyone wants to feel like their partner needs them in some way.

Patti's solution? Let your man open the pickle jar.

Uh ..... what?

I get what she's saying, but she completely missed the mark on what it takes to feel like a man, or what exactly might be missing for men in these relationships with super independent women. Now, I don't have much first hand experience in other types of relationships, but I have a lot of experience in male/female romantic relationships, so I think I know something about hetero guys. And I don't think letting him "open the pickle jar" (or insert your favorite physical activity here) is going to give him his manliness back.

I think what Patti should have gotten at, is that your partner wants to feel needed. Regardless of gender or orientation, a person wants to feel like they bring something to the romantic relationship, and bring something to their partner that their partner didn't have before - love, support, a listening ear, a hand to hold - literally or figuratively, a person wants to feel somewhat like their partner depends on them. Needs them. Appreciates them. It's not exactly a pickle jar, but it's a way of saying "I need you around." Or, even "you complete me."

I was just completely flabbergasted that a "Dating Expect" seems to think that the problem of "men not feeling like men" can be solved by letting your man open a jar. I mean at least use an example that a 10-year-old girl most likely fulfill - like lift a 100 pound box. Or I don't know, use an example that might actually be meaningful in a relationship? I mean, I wish she had said "well, you know Oprah ... men are from Mars and women are from Venus."

I think I'll continue to open my own jars (unless they are super tight, and, say, I just bench pressed half my weight), but when I've had a bad day, or I need an opinion on something important, I think I'll ask my husband. And I think that will help our relationship way more than any damn pickle jar.

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Fannie's Farewell

Below the Belt is now one year and eight months old, we’ve had over 100,000 unique readers from around the world, and been host to twenty-three amazing writers across 284 posts. Our writers, regulars and guests alike, have started some amazing discussions – from talks about racial fetishes to bug chasing to trans social politics to tirades about gay sexuality and sexism in Mexico.

As with every publication, we expect writers and readers to come and go over time…but one writer in particular will be shoving off, and we have to make a note. After thoughtfully answering over 40 questions, Fannie will be retiring her tiara at BTB as a regular columnist, and will join us on a more infrequent basis as a guest contributor. Come back often, Fannie!

Looking to the future, we welcome new regular contributors – [f]embody, silverscreened and tokenstr8dude! And for those of you out there itching for a platform to make your voice heard, drop me a line!

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Cut your hair!

I never hear the end of it - if it’s not my father it’s some random octogenarian screaming it out of his second story window. In case you haven’t guessed I have long hair, which apparently for male bodied individuals is not all too acceptable. Hell, there are still so many people out there who see long hair on a man as so uncouth that it can often factor into whether or not you’ll do well in interviews and get a job. Hell, even my dad has told me that he wouldn’t hire a guy with long hair at all.TI am past the stage of putting up pretenses of masculinity; I accept my gender identity as fluid and androgynous as my gender identity is an eclectic fusion of what is considered typically masculine and typically feminine (a.k.a. I am me). However - like many others I’m sure - I’ve found it quite difficultto balance my freedom of self expression while simultaneously trying to succeed in gender-cautious world. Why is this a problem in what should be a modern society?

The truth is that in our time gender expression is not considered a right; therefore there is little that can be done legally to defend our rights against discriminatory corporate practices. If you’re reading this blog, surely I do not have to delve into the details of gender discrimination; however if you’ll give me the time of day, I would like to share with some of what I’ve been dealing with since beginning my little foray into the work place.

I’m currently working on an internship down in Miami- yes I know! Great beaches, beautiful people, and sunny weather – what could one possibly not like? Well, due to gas prices and a limited stipend, I can only afford to live in low socio-economic region of historic Little Havana, a place with more than its fair share of both crime and traditional old world values. Living here is turning into quite an educational experience since, for the first time, I am living outside of my sheltered college environment; here, appearances can make the difference between employment and unemployment, and in some cases…even between getting home safely at night and being accosted for being “a queer.”

I would never say that the people here are bad; there is an abundance of good people if anything. It’s just that many of them adhere to hetero-normative guidelines as if there were some sort of biblical mandate to do so. Unfortunately, due to (I think) the crime rate in the area, there are a number of macho hoodlums who in their late night drunken stupor wouldn’t refrain from throwing more than just a few hurtful words in the direction of a “queer” passerby.

Since moving here I’ve been scared to wear anything that might arouse unwanted attention, ranging from skinny jeans, couture tops and a dash of eye makeup to add glamour to the night. When I do go out I feel compelled to put on a façade; being this way on a regular basis is really taking its toll on me. Many of you know that it’s not easy pretending to be a hetero-normative cookie cut-out just to make it through life safely and with a roof over your head. Such repression can slowly over time grate at your sanity.

If being scared to be myself on the streets weren’t enough, I have to contend with similar gender repressive attitudes at work. Considering the temperatures in Miami regularly hit the 90’s it’s a little less than desirable to wear long sleeved shirts, let alone a suit. Understandably, many of my female bodied co-workers opt to wear sandals (with heels of course), short skirts, and tube tops. etc,,,. So I, the only male bodied employee aside from my boss, decided I would wear some nice leather sandals to work – which seemed an acceptable addition to my business casual ensemble at the time. Clearly my boss didn’t think so; it was apparently enough to warrant an e-mail blast with a friendly reminder of the company’s dress code values, cleverly targeted to me. I just recently discovered that another supervisor actually defended me by pointing out that he has never addressed the breeches of dress code amongst the female staff. There’s no doubt in my mind that if it were purely up to him, the entire office would resemble an episode of “Sabado Gigante.”I would really like to see how he would address the dress code if I were to just show up in drag wearing the same sort of revealing clothing the women in the office are allowed to wear.

All problems aside, I am confident that just as society has changed in the past, things will change for the future; I just hope that it happens during my lifetime. All I really want is to be in a world where people accept and appreciate gender diversity, where everyone can be free to explore the full spectrum of human potential that is often fractionalized by societal pre-conceptions of what gender appropriate behaviour should be. I guess it’s just going to take the intrepid few who are willing to sacrifice their comfort and safety to pave the way for true change. Hopefully I can come to play a part in that change as well. Oh and by the way, I’m not cutting my hair- well aside from the occasional trim, that is.

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