My Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jason Tseng joins us from The Bilerico Project:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's this clip:

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

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

Which side is really extreme here??

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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