I really hate when people say “I don’t have a problem with gay people but…” That “but” indicates you do. That but has to be the mos aggravating,Most of the time the phrase is followed by things such as “but why do you have flaunt it?” or “it just should not be seen in public” or “I don’t want to see two guys/girls kissing.”

First of all, if by “flaunt” it you mean being a loud, outspoken, angry, queer, than yeah I am. You know why? The closet kills. End of story. As for being seen in public, let’s get real. We’re like VISA, every you want to be. You will see queer folk in public. As for PDA, tell all the straight couples to stop sucking face and I will too, deal? I found this quote by Warren G and it made by blood boil.

"I ain’t against gay people. I’m just against it being promoted to kids...I know people that’s gay. My wife’s got friends that are gay. I got family that’s gay. Cousins and shit. He cool as fuck. He cool as a motherfucker. He’s my homie. I just mean that on some of these TV shows, they got dudes kissing. And kids are watching that shit. We can’t have kids growing up with that...I know it happens, but let’s keep it behind the scenes. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with it if that’s what two dudes wanna do. Cool. But that’s not bring that out into the world, where the kids can see that. We don’t want all the kids doing that. ‘Cause that ain’t how we was originally put here to do. Like I said, I ain’t got no problem with the gays" (Vanity Fair).

As he eludes too, if kids see queer folk TV then OBVISOULY they will be gay. I know that’s how I knew I was gay. *insert sarcasm here* He totally has this gateway theory about being queer. Sorry Warren G, but just because you two guys make out does make you gay. I would have hopped that you would understand that but obviously, by your comments, I am sadly mistaken

So basically as long as we stay in the closet and appear to be non-sexual it’s all good and fine. To bad we are a sexual community. Our sexual identities are constantly on trial and under fire in the media. This is the worst form of homophobia. It’s the kind that kills and hurts our community slowly because 90 percent of the time it’s the people closest to us that say these things so we let it go. One point I want to touch on is this:

‘Cause that ain’t how we was originally put here to do.

Oh yeah sure, you have NO problem with us. This line says it all. Listen here Warren G and everyone else out there who says “I don’t have a problem but”, you do! Let’s own what we say and stop passing off this blatant homophobia as okay. Owning what you say is the first step to admitting that you’re a homophobe. This queer man is sick of hearing it. To my queer family, it’s time to gut check ANYONE who says this.

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Everyone’s passing around that New York Times article about queer youth. It gives a nice reading of the climate for queer youth in schools all over the country. It also has a really cute ending.

But what that strikes me most about the article, the thing that frustrates me so deeply whenever I hear about or witness this kind of activity, is both the local and administrative toleration and support schools give to queer bullying:

“Teachers would never let students say, ‘That’s so black,’ “ says Eileen Ross from the Outlet Program in Mountain View, “but I’ve had teachers look at me like I’m crazy when I suggest that they should say something to a student who says ‘that’s so gay.’ They’ll say, ‘If I have to stop what I’m doing every time a student says that, I won’t have time to teach!”

If you aren’t willing to address this kind of harassment in your school, THEN DON’T BE A TEACHER. There are so many issues in the air with regard to gender and sexuality in schools, and so many of them can be attributed to teachers, administrators and parents turning a blind eye to issues around sexuality.

The instinctual response for many when dealing with youth sexuality is silence; talking about youth sexuality is equated with condoning sexual activity, but obviously this a problematic approach. Setting aside the real fact that children are clearly thinking about their sexuality and becoming sexual beings at a very young age, we have to acknowledge that schools are institutions that live and breathe heterosexuality on a daily basis. Not only are most school curricula indoctrinated by heternormative language and histories, informal schooling administered by school administrators and teachers – athletic offerings, gender segregation, school events (think prom, football games, dances) – routinely and aggressively script behaviors for children about what is acceptable for gender identity, gender roles, and romance (including what kinds of sexual identities are acceptable, how one initiates romantic relationships, how one engages in sexual relationships). If you want a clearer picture of how intensely formative these silent practices can be in schools, read C.J. Pascoe’s Dude, You’re a Fag.

I definitely think that teachers aren’t doing enough to stop queerphobia in schools, but as a grad student at an institution that trains teachers, I also know first hand that these academies dolittle to prepare teachers and staff. So very little. And in the one class I took that focused on gender in schools, I found that some teachers are not only limited in knowledge about gender and queer issues but they are also quite deeply homo- and gender-phobic. I’ve experienced this so much that I wouldn't be surprised if the teachers who are progressive in their approach to dealing with gender and sexuality probably find themselves hard-pressed to actually be effective without getting harped on by other teachers, administrators and parents.

Although most people aren’t outwardly gay-bashing once they’ve become working professionals, their demeanor – the way they describe gay kids in their classes, the way they talk about how they approach issues of gender and sexuality when they come up – reflect that they are a likely source of anxiety for queer youth by condoning such aggression towards queer kids in and outside schools. Sometimes the most frightening and damaging activity in our communities is caused by silence – either the things we are afraid to talk about with our peers and with kids, or things we aren’t even aware that we’re doing that marginalize students. And no, this isn’t just about queer issues. It’s time to advocate for schooling with the intent to welcome difference.

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Penetration 101

I realize this is an old debate (in that feminist years ago spent countless hours weeding through it all), but I want to share some thoughts about rape education.

The reality is that residential colleges – especially U.S. residential colleges – are ripe for sexual assault and rape. The reasons for this are quite numerous, but I think a quite obvious and important reason why this is an issue is because of laws about alcohol. You see, when it’s illegal to drink alcohol even though it’s cultural practice to drink it at parties in schools, you create unregulated spaces for students. Administrators are given a choice – either heavily police all forms of alcohol consumption, or enforce unspoken rules about when alcohol consumption can be consumed (meaning, it can be consumed unless you get caught).

In college I was involved with a sexual assault and rape prevention group that had an administrative liaison from the school to work with us. We struggled to think of how to do this effectively. Our student body had a pretty conservative and intense gender divide. And at orientation, the men and the women had separate sessions for residential programming (because students lived in single-gender buildings). In a place where gender differentiation is at the heart of the community, how do you find a common ground for students to talk about sexual assault and rape?

One interesting attempt to educate has been done by a group called One in Four, a traveling rape education program that largely boasts its “for men by men” program for colleges. I thought this was actually an interesting idea when I was in college and considered applying to work with the group for a period of time. Then I found out that an integral part of their program is showing a video that teaches men to “learn what rape is” via a male-on-male rape situation.

So I get the point. Show people who will probably never in their lives experience a penetrative violation what that could be like. Except the only way to do this, following the logic of sexuality I guess, is by showing male on male rape. While not explicitly gay, the problem here is that as it stands, we see anal sex as the way gay men have sex. It’s hard to explain to some people why gay men might find that offensive – to me, it reads as a stigmatizing way of dealing with the fact (or problem) that straight men generally do not experience sexual penetration. Logistically, if you’re trying to reach out to a group of men that lack education about rape issues, I think it’s pretty likely that they also lack education about gay issues. It feels to me like trying to address one problem at the expense of another.

Anyways, my ramble here is basically summarized in the fact that I think rape is a very serious issue on campuses and in the great beyond, and I think there needs to be some more careful work done to try and address this stuff. I personally think it comes down to evaluating spaces on campus and what kinds of activities are encouraged or discouraged, creating climates that allow men and women to stop seeing themselves as inherently different from one another, and encouraging dialogue of all sorts. Oof.

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Just curious. What constructive advice would you give to the parent of a kid who is gender-variant? Assume they're well-meaning, and just want to try and help their kid be happy. Also assume they're submerged in a typical mainstreamed community with all of its problems for people different from the norm.

It's actually a more challenging question than one might think!

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System Shutdown

It must be something in the air: we seem to be having another round of the Great Cisgender Debate. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the question is whether or not it is appropriate to refer to people who are not trans with the term cis, short for cisgender, as trans is short for transgender.

Cis, like trans, is a Latin prefix, and they are essentially antonyms: trans means across, and cis means on the same side. The Romans had provinces named Cisalpine Gaul and Transalpine Gaul, indicating which side of the Alps they were; and in organic chemistry, the source of the entry of the term cis into gender discourse, they are used to distinguish where chemical bonds are located on a molecule. Cisgendered, then, is the opposite of transgendered.

Trans activists and gender theorists began using the term to correct a troubling lack in the English language: there was no word for somebody that wasn't trans. People are either trans or...something. Not-trans. And makes trans people the exception, rather than simply another form of human diversity. It makes it impossible to talk about people who aren't trans without talking about people who are trans. And all too often, when one group is marked linguistically that way, it become easy to think of people who aren't marked that was a "normal," alienating and even contributing to the oppression or persecution of the marked group.

All of this seems uncontroversial enough: cis serves the same function that "sighted," "hearing," or "able-bodied" serve in discussions of disabled people, or even "straight" versus "gay" does in discussions of sexual orientation. As progressives have striven towards greater and greater inclusion of marginalized groups (including attempting to de-center discussion from privileged groups), it would seem natural that cis would enter the parlance, perhaps as rapidly as "transgendered" has entered the popular imagination (and popular culture.)

And in progressive spaces, this seems to be happening: feminist blogs such as Shakesville, Feminisiting, and Feministe have many examples of cisgendered people using cis to refer to themselves. The problems seem to be happening more often between allies within the LGBT community.

It must be said that some of this resistance stems from the way the term is often used by trans activists. Cis often comes up in discussions of privilege, specifically how feminists or LGB allies are exercising privilege over trans people. Emotions can run high on both sides, and both sides get defensive. It hardly helps trans people to say that cis simply means "not-trans" when it is often coupled with "bigot."

But that in itself should not be enough to suppress the term, or only use it in "approved" spaces, as helen boyd seems to be saying:

"So, yeah. I love it as theory, in classrooms. I teach cisgender & cissexual privilege. But as a cissexual person, I don’t want to be called cis, or cisgender. It’s not my identity. I have lots of genders, but I’m not trans."

Now, I have two issues with this: first, the act of opting out of "cis" when trans people hardly have the option to opt out of "trans" is indeed an exercise in privilege. Even more important, however, is the misperception that cis is an identity, when instead like trans it is merely a descriptive term.

It may seem startling to claim that transgender isn't an identity: after all, isn't that what people say? "I identify as trans." (I say that, for example.) But trans has the characteristics of an identity for the same reasons that being black, or Jewish, or disabled do: because of the oppression, because of the way that it is marked as abnormal, Other. Being called trans tells you nothing about how a person feels about themselves, exactly what their gender is, about how they express it: it only tells you that they have enough variance from their assigned gender that at least some of the time they want to appear to be a different gender.

There is no need to accept a "cisgendered identity," because it isn't one. It doesn't even indicate that there isn't any variance in the person's gender: all it says is that they don't go so far as to identify (even temporarily) as a different gender than they were assigned. So an effeminate gay man can be cisgendered because he always identifies as a man (and indeed, nothing proves this more than the fact that when he stops doing that, we call him something else.)

If trans people have a responsibility to be more judicious in their use of the term, cis people have a responsibility to not conflate cis with an insult as well. Especially given that they are the privileged group in the argument. If we were to buy the argument that the word must be suppressed or limited to academic settings, then today nobody outside a gender studies class would ever have heard of the term male privilege. We deserve our right to talk about cisgendered privilege, and cisgendered people, without forever being reduced to the role of outsider.

transfeminist comes to us courtesy of The Second Awakening

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Men vs. Guys

I recently stumbled on one of the New York Times’ latests attempts to dialogue about gender and masculinity – this time in the form of Cathleen Calbert’s piece entitled, “Forget the Men. Pick a Guy.

The article is quite provocative, with lines that prickle the skin of gender studies’ folks everywhere:

“Guys [will] rub your belly…They’ll like your cute dog. A guy is never going to shoot Old Yeller in the woods.”

“Then again, guys don’t remember to tell you the doctor’s office called. They don’t check your tires before your big trip. They don’t say, ‘Call me when you get there.’ They say, ‘Love you, have fun,’ because they can’t imagine anything bad happening to you. Which is good, and somehow bad. Guys don’t tell you what to do. This also is both good and, oddly, bad.”

“I want the E.M.T.’s who show up when I’ve collapsed to be men, not guys. I don’t want someone responsible for saving my life to be torn up about the death of his dog or how some chick hurt his feelings.”

It’s easy to try and point out snippets of her piece that unfairly represent (groups of) men. But I think that Calbert is instead providing an interesting articulation of the rules, or rather, the ethics of two kinds of genders that exist among certain men, and how some women (or many of us, for that matter) struggle to understand what our relationship is to the people that ascribe to these kinds of behavioral value systems.

According to Calbert, our expectations of men and guys are as follows: Guys are round characters, and men are flat. Guys are thinkers, and men are do-ers. Guys are feeling, can experience feelings of inadequacy, and experience self-doubt; men mow lawns, follow rules, and don’t cry.

We all know that both men and guys – all men and people out there – can experience all these emotions and behaviors. But what’s weird – and probably done purposely – is that Calbert doesn’t once make mention of the saliency of all of this; this piece in many ways tells a story of how Calbert experiences men in her life as categories. As with the mention of her disturbing sexual assault by male teenagers, these categories are how she has tried to understand her experiences with men – including the most horrifying – in order to make sense of what she has gone through. How can a woman rationalize being with a man after being assaulted by them? Answer: Don’t be with a man. Be with a guy.

While I think that Calbert’s rationalization of masculinity is ultimately unfair and essentialist in nature, I think her story is one that reflects the importance of these gendered categories for many people. For some, creating easily recognizable images of different kinds of men is a mechanism to be stable and comfortable. For others, I suggest a different kind of answer: Be with a person who respects you first, more than any social code of ethics that might instruct them to behave otherwise.

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A new play has made its home, nestled in New York's Lower East Side. Joshua Conkel's MilkMilkLemonade performing at Under St. Marks through September 26th, is an absurdist jaunt through the lives of Emory (Andy Phelan), a helplessly effeminate boy, his best friend Linda the Chicken (Jennifer Harder), and their indelible dreams of escaping Nanna's chicken farm to Mall Town, USA. in order to audition for Reach for the Stars, a reality talent competition and break free from the mundane normative existence of rural life. The only thing that stands in their way is Nanna (Michael Cyril Creighton), a cancer-ridden, bible-beating, chain-smoking, grandmother, and her determination to process all the chickens on her farm on "Processing day." In an effort to stymie Emory's increasingly problematic effeminacy, Nanna employs the aid of Elliot (Jess Barbagallo) the rough and tumble anarchist-bent trouble child from next door with an evil parasitic twin living in his thigh, which compels him to behave badly. All of this is narrated by the ever uncomfortable "Lady in the Leotard" (Nikole Beckwith) who conventiently translates Linda's unintelligable clucks and voices Elliot's demonic Jiminy cricket of a fetus-in-fetu.

As you can tell, realism wouldn't touch this play with a ten foot pole, and director Isaac Butler revels in the naughty children's play aesthetic which permeates the production. In many ways watching MilkMilkLemonade reminds one of a slightly more political/queer-theoried Animaniacs with the pop-up book set designed by Jason Simms and campy dance montages (Meredith Steinberg). Cronkel's play is funny, dare I say, very funny. But as humorous and witty as the play is, it wasn't particularly inventive thematically. While it's a fair bet to say that there are very few if any plays which feature a giant chicken delivering stand up routines, MilkMilkLemonade's core narrative arc deals with Emory's struggle with gender normative society as a fledgling fey and his abusive relationship with closet case Elliot, who forces Emory in engaging in child sex play. While the absurdist bent offers a refreshing lift to the play, the core narrative seems tired. If I had a dollar for every gay-themed play, movie, and tv show about a gay teen struggling against the heteronormative patriarchy embodied in his abusive closeted butch lover who's really sweet and tender inside but is compelled to react violently because of unseen social forces... I wouldn't be living in the 77 sq. foot space that passes as my bedroom, for one thing.

Thankfully, Butler's choice to cross-cast many of the roles in the play (Nanna and Emory), a new layer of gendered commentary is superimposed on the production. While not a wholly original move, as cross-casting has been a well used theatrical convention dating back to feminist and queer plays through the 60s and 70s, it does complicate the way the audience is asked to interpret Emory and Elliot's relationship. Barbagallo truly shines as Elliot, donning his erratic restless masculinity effortlessly. In fact, several times during the production I had to remind myself that Elliot was being played by a female actor. This performative dissonance immediately causes us to acknowledge the artificiality of Emory and Elliot's relationship since it emphasizes the role of the actors as primary movers propelling the action of the play. While I eat up this kind of gender critique for its brazen rebuke of the notions of sex dichotomies and gender roles, it breaks the crucial veil of suspended disbelief which allows a sympathetic response to Emory's plight. Since we are forced to see the characters as what they actually are, it is difficult to also ask of us to see these characters as real people with emotions which we are to empathize with.

In addition, Nanna is unfortunately tasked with much of the pedagogical work in explaining the birds and the bees as it were. Her lecture on gender roles and her outright "fag"-slinging homophobia exposes her more as a literary device than a person. Which again makes the choice to inflict her with terminal cancer, which she is clearly on the brink of being killed by, all the more strange. Are we meant to empathize with the literary device? Much of the same can be said of Linda the Chicken who I found to be amusing and well-acted, but wholly ancillary and inconsequential where the actual plot is concerned. Linda's perpetual Eyore gloom-and-doom defeatism doesn't inspire much but a frustrated pity. Why she is unable to fly the coop as a giant, singing and dancing fowl is puzzling.

While the critical problems I have with MilkMilkLemonade are pointed, I actually really enjoyed the production. All the actors and creative staff have imbued the play with a certain uppity madness and undeniable humor. The melodramatic scenes where Emory and Elliot "play house" is worthwhile enough to see the play in its entirety. Phelan truly channels Blanche Dubois in Emory's hysterical housewife persona. And lastly, Beckwith's narrator shines brightly in her range going from crazed parasitic twin to awkward storyteller to blaxploitation venomous spider.

MilkMilkLemonade is produced by The Management and Horse Trade theater Group and can be seen at UNDER St. Marks (94 St. Marks Place between 1st Ave and Ave A) September 10-26, Thursday through Saturday at 8pm.Tickets ($18, $15 students/seniors) are available by calling Smarttix at 212-868-4444 or online at www.horseTRADE.info.

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This is a moment I have both anticipated and dreaded since the day I began blogging about video games. Since my first emoticon and hyperlink-laden post documenting my misgivings with the copy of “Sneak King” that came with my Whopper, every tap of the sweat and Doritos-stained analog stick, every arbitrary number I've ever assigned a game's soundtrack, every hot pocket microwaved in secrecy and shame has been in preparation for this one moment. My rite of passage, my trial by fire. My initiation into the illustrious tradition of video game bloggers.

The time has come, my cherubs, for my List Of Video Games Ranked According To Their Relevance To The Seemingly Randomly Assigned Topic.

Five Unsuspectedly Sexist Games

Finding the sexism in the Dead or Alive Volleyball franchise is like finding the racism in this picture. It's so very obvious and unapologetic that anything more than a “huh, well that's kinda fucked up” is a waste of your time and energy. Real sexism, the toxic, brain-eating “okay class today in Home Economics we're going to talk about how to land a rich husband” authentic sexism is found not in the games that are marketed to the very horny adolescent boys and very shady old men of America, but to the games that are marketed to girls themselves. The widespread popularity of handheld consoles has invited a flood of unfortunately produced, poorly conceived video games designed to supplement the “this is what girls do” bullshit so readily available on Disney and Nickelodeon, as has the phenomenon of games being downloaded as opposed to bought in a brick and mortar store with flesh and bone people. The pedantic concepts, shallow gameplay and unoriginal packaging allow these games to be made cheaply and with little remorse for their effects on gamers, as whether or not they bomb doesn't really affect the bottom line of the company.

Alright. Enough jibba-jabba. Nobody's buying this whole “academic” act anyway. Let's just get on with the list.

5. Bratz: Diamondz Forever
System: Nintendo DS
Publisher: THQ

“Shop. Try on clothes. Repeat.” It's the staple of enforced gender roles, the do re mi of sexism. So how did THQ build a better mousetrap with Diamondz Forever? First, they added a “fashion show” angle to the game, which not only forces you to buy new clothes, but then uses those said clothes to judge your worth. Then, they added a “prize”, a game-ending MacGuffin, for you to win, which turns out to be just another pointless fashion accessory that you have no use for now that you've beaten the game. Then, they threw in a bunch of sidequests featuring pets, which are the ultimate accessory, amirite? Finally, just to get you while you're down, they starve the game to about an hour's worth of gameplay. Probably so like you have more time to go shopping (for a Bratz doll).

Haha, seriously though, marketing a video game that only takes an hour to beat to girls is unforgivably patronizing, especially in a time where women have made up the majority of college students since 2005. How you sleep at night is beyond me, but it probably helps that you eat so many live kitties.

4. The Imagine Series for Nintendo DS & Nintendo Wii

System: Nintendo DS
Developer: Virtual Toys, Lexis Numerique
Publisher: Ubisoft

While it would make more sense for this list if I chose only one of the thirty-seven harbingers of hate in this library, you wouldn't be able to muster one game's worth of thoughtful play if you somehow managed to Katamari them all together into one big cosmic ball of suck. The games allow you to simulate the challenges of such woman-empowering careers as: Wedding Designer, Salon Stylist, Babysitter, Interior Designer, Babysitter, Cheerleader, and of course, Babysitter. No, I wasn't being ironic. There are actually four games in the series devoted to babysitting. One of which, titled “Baby Club” sounds like it should be a weapon in Viva Caligula. There is the occasional “step in the right direction” with games like Imagine: Pet Doctor and Imagine: Teacher, but if you're 5-10 year old doctor is self-aware enough to know that she wants to be a vetenarian or instructor when she grows up, chances are she'll take one look at these games and go “What? No MarioKart?” And that's how you ruined Christmas.

The game reflects badly not on the develoeper, but the parent buying the game in the first place. These games seem to suggest that girls are not as capable at jumping on goombas or puzzle solving as boys, and that their DS or Wii would be better used trying to figure out what kind of a career they should pursue. Now before you try to tell me that “nobody uses a game to get ready for a career” go ask a Marine how they felt about Call of Duty (if you're reading this please write me so I know you weren't killed by an RPG), a Med School student about Trauma Center, or a software engineer about Five Minutes To Kill Yourself. If you have that many friends. If I did maybe I wouldn't be doing this nonsense all the time.

3. Fat Princess

System: Playstation Network
Developer: Titan Studios
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
A quirky, cartoony take on “capture the flag”, with the flag replaced with a princess that you force feed to make heavy and thus more difficult to capture and carry back to home base. Do I really need to explain what's wrong with that concept? What's perhaps most heartbreaking about this game is that unlike other titles on this list, it's actually quite good. It's quirky, inventive, and fun, with a focus on teamwork (a trait you don't find often outside of shooters) and a flair for the absurd, which makes the whole “holding a princess captive and feeding her cake” aspect all the more brutal, like the rape scene in A Clockwork Orange or the cries of “shoot that n*****” echoing throughout Twitter following Kanye's latest stunt du jour. I can even handle the exhausted “damsel in distress” trope, because sometimes, after a long day of being teabagged by GokuPwnsYouN00b, you just long to carry a girl in a frilly dress out of a burning building. The game does bring up interesting questions about sizeism, fatphobia, and body image, as we seem to prefer our princesses either frail and petite, or obese and somewhat deformed. But the real question, the one on everyone's minds, is “if she keeps eating all that cake, how is she ever going to find a husband?”

To anyone who would argue that this isn't even remotely aimed at girls, note the similarity between the princess in the picture and Nintendo's Princess Peach. Me-1 You-0.

2. Cooking Mama

Platforms: Nintendo DS & Nintendo Wii
Developer: Cooking Mama Limited Publisher: Taito, Majesco, 505 Games
So what squick me out about this most beloved franchise? Is it that, while marketed as a family game, it nonetheless appears on every “good games for girls” list (and even a “good games for girlfriends” list) and has been shamelessly marketed by outlets like GameStop as a game for girls? Or the insinuation that cooking is a woman's activity? Or that 5-10 year old girls have just been longing for a game that teaches them to cook, an activity most parents don't allow their children do to until their teens or even later and will just become another loathed, thankless responsibility thrust upon them and exploited by friends, significant others, and possibly even their children? No, what rubs me the wrong way about this game is the cutscene, I guess we'll call it, that comes up whenever you run out of time, forget a step, or however else you manage to fuck up chopping up a tomato. Mama will give you the death glare and say “Don't worry, Mama will fix it!” That's pretty shitty when even Halo 3 has more personal accountability than your game. Yes, just leave your mess behind for the woman to clean up. She's got some spare time before Gardening Mama, Crafting Mama, and you guessed it sports fans, even Babysitting Mama. You've got shit to do, you know. Go learn some chemistry and math with Science Papa. If you played this game for longer than 10 minutes and didn't feel like a patiarchal enabler, congratulations, you're Republican Party material.

Super Princess Peach
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Developer: TOSE
Publisher: Nintendo

I'll admit, this one's personal. Growing up, Peach was my idol. She dressed snappily, practically reinvented the parasol, and above all knew that her place was not in the kitchen but up in Mario's grill. From firing red shells at Donkey Kong in Mario Kart to hitting Pit with a frying pan in Smash Bros Brawl, Peach never sacrificed style when she laid the smack down on video game royalty. For the longest time I wanted to get a tattoo of her on my back, but just couldn't stomach the amount of beer necessary to convince myself it was a good idea. Imagine my delight at the prospect of playing as my imaginary girl—role model in a platformer on the DS. I waited outside the GameStop, waiting for it to open so I could play the game I thought I always wanted (and so I could pretend to pre-order a game only to tell the clerk that he “didn't sell me on it fast enough”). I raced home, curled up on the couch, turned on my DS, and turned it back off half an hour later. And cried. Then I ate a cookie. Then I cried some more. Then I blogged about crying. And that's why I have a therapist. Peach should get one too, by the looks of it.

In the game, Peach draws power from her unstable emotions to tantrum and cry at her enemies to death so she can raise some coins to buy items, because no girl's game is complete without an element of shopping, and just because Mario's life is in jeopardy doesn't people should cut you a fucking break or anything. In Super Mario Bros 2 I saw the Princess pull turnips out of the ground and throw them at people. In this game she can't even jump on enemies. Why? Because it's not ladylike? Because she's had to slim down to fit in all those frilly dresses? And why is the game so goddam easy? Don't want me to get too distracted, lest I forget to club babies and dice a fucking cucumber for dinner? Racing and party games are one thing, but adventure platformers? Hah. That's a man's game. Fuck you, Nintendo. If women were as emotionally combustible as you think we are we wouldn't have time to buy your stupid games, on account of being too busy beating the shit out of any random men we encountered on the street. I always knew you were like all the others, Peach. I just always hoped I was wrong. But it's cool. In ten minutes this PBR will kick in and I'll forget the whole thing. Meet ya on the tennis court, betch!

Oh my god. I did it. I've finally arrived on the video game blogger scene. Somebody better call my Momma, cuz I've made it to the big leagues, fools! Screw Attack, here I come!

Brb, hot pocket's done.

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The Year of Harvey Milk

2009 is turning out to be a busy year for Harvey Milk. Over three decades after his death, the first out gay man elected to public office in the United States has been the subject of intense media attention. A critically acclaimed feature film about his life moved into wide release on January 30th - it was awarded Oscars for Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards. Randy Shilts’ 1982 book about Milk, The Mayor of Castro Street, was re-issued in paperback with a swanky new cover-photo, clearly aimed at promoting mass consumption. Barack Obama posthumously awarded Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a bill that would designate May 22nd “Harvey Milk Day” has passed the California legislature and is currently awaiting Governor Schwarzenegger’s signature. While it is still not clear whether the “Governator” will sign the bill, he has announced that Milk will definitely be inducted into the California Hall of Fame later this year.

Despite all of this interest in Harvey Milk, there has been very little in-depth reflection on his political philosophy, the character of his activism, and his place among the contesting ideologies of the LGBT movement. The focus has been very much on celebrating his political achievements, obsessing (soap-opera style) about his love life, and finding various ways to canonize him as an icon of civil rights and gay liberation. Milk certainly deserves to be revered: he served as a strong leader of San Francisco’s gay community, who augmented visibility and political power for homosexuals worldwide. But it is also necessary to assess Harvey Milk’s oeuvre from a more critical perspective. How can we characterize his approach to gay rights? How did he aim to improve the lives of gays and lesbians? What was his political philosophy? How does his conceptualization of gay issues compare to the approaches of other prominent figures in the LGBT movement?

Milk’s Gay Opponents

Perhaps the best way to begin an analysis of Milk’s political philosophy is to examine his main rivals within the San Francisco gay community. According to Randy Shilts, Milk defined his activism in opposition to the “gay moderates,” who promoted the homosexual cause by lobbying San Francisco’s liberal political establishment and cultivating heterosexual “friends.” They believed that the best way to secure positive change was through clandestine deals with leading figures in the Democratic Party: the “gay moderate” leaders would promise to support a particular politician in exchange for legal changes and token appointments of homosexual civil servants. In the following passage, Shilts describes the “gay moderate” approach in a way that emphasizes its similarities to today’s gay conservatives (as discussed in this previous post):

“All we want are equal civil rights, simple legal reform, the gay moderates stressed. You get that, they figured, by showing liberals that you’re decent respectable people, just the same as they are except for a few bedroom gymnastics. Liberals clearly were much more comfortable with this approach…By keeping the topic of gay sexuality a private, bedroom matter, liberals also did not have to confront the reality of gay sexuality, something that still made them uncomfortable” (86).

Prominent “gay moderates” included the co-founders of the Society for Individual Rights (Jim Foster and Rick Stokes), Advocate publisher David Goodstein, and Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, the founders of the Daughters of Bilitis. Together, they all formed the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, which they used as a base for their political lobbying. And, for a variety of reasons, they always vehemently opposed Harvey Milk’s election efforts in San Francisco: they did not think it was realistically possible for an out gay candidate to win an election, they were afraid of losing their leadership positions in the gay community, and they thought that electing a homosexual would not be as beneficial for gay rights as coddling up to the city’s political establishment.

The strategy of cultivating “liberal friends” did bring some benefits. For example, in exchange for supporting Art Agnos over Harvey Milk in a Democratic Primary for the California State Assembly, the “gay moderates” managed to secure a repeal of California’s sodomy statute. And by 1975, ten cities and three counties enacted gay civil rights ordinances, which made various types of discrimination against homosexuals illegal. But the “gay moderate” approach also had some very serious drawbacks. In a twist on Tennessee Williams’ famous phrase, Harvey Milk rightly accused them of “depending on the kindness of heterosexuals” (Shilts, 148). In a difficult situation, the straight liberals would “always act solely to save themselves,” and this was proven in the wake of Anita Bryant’s successful 1977 campaign to repeal Dade County’s gay rights ordinance (Shilts, 148). By that year, public opinion shifted against the gay movement, and San Francisco’s liberal politicians began to avoid openly supporting gay rights for fear of losing votes. For instance, most of the city’s political elite avoided the 1977 Gay Freedom Day Parade, even though they had participated actively in previous queer manifestations. Straight liberals would only be reliable allies as long as supporting gay rights could win them votes.

The second problem with the “gay moderate” approach was its excessive legalism: they defined gay progress largely in terms of the successful resolution of legal issues relating to homosexuals. But positive changes for gays in the legal system were only going to have an effect if people’s opinions about homosexuals changed. It would be difficult to implement new laws if no one actually believed in implementing them. Legal victories would have to be backed up by wider transformations in social value systems and beliefs about gays. The “gay moderates” focused far too much on backroom deals with prominent politicians, and apart from Jim Foster’s rousing speech at the 1972 Democratic National Convention, almost completely neglected the necessary work of engaging with the attitudes of the wider population and developing a grassroots movement for gay liberation.

Grassroots Gay Realpolitik?

Milk developed his activism largely in opposition to the dominant “gay moderate” faction in San Francisco. Shilts claims that Milk was a practitioner of a populist version of “realpolitik,” or political realism (107), which aimed to move the gay movement forward not by “nurturing liberal friends through high-level politicking, but [by] forging strong power for gays at the grassroots” (288). While Shilts does not adequately explore the meaning of realpolitik and how it applies to Harvey Milk, I believe that it is possible to view some aspects of Milk’s activism as belonging to that tradition of political thinking and practice.

First, a realpolitik-inspired view of the world assumes that power is the key to political success. Whichever political faction has a large amount of material power (many people on its side, considerable economic clout, and military strength) is likely to get what it wants. To this effect, Milk sought to use the burgeoning numbers of gay men in San Francisco, and their increasing economic importance, as a way of gaining political influence. By 1976, about eighty homosexuals migrated to the city per week and one in five citizens were gay. Milk encouraged the gay community to use this strength-in-numbers at the ballot box by only voting for out homosexual candidates or straight candidates who have a history of unequivocally supporting gay rights. Milk’s volunteer corps registered thousands of gay voters every year, and he considered get-out-the-vote drives, which astronomically increased the numbers of homosexuals who voted, to be one of the major successes of his activism. Milk was also keen to flaunt the economic significance of the San Francisco gay community. When a Castro neighborhood storeowner complained that gays were disrupting the “family character” of the area, Milk did not hesitate to subtly remind him that his business had tripled since a gay bar was set up across the street from his store (Shilts, 139).

Second, practitioners of realpolitik tend to form alliances with other political factions on a pragmatic basis. They do not aim to build partnerships according to moral or ideological affinities; for realists, there is “no virtue like necessity” in seeking political friends. Milk adopted this framework in his grassroots coalition building. He formed close links with unions, such as the Teamsters, by demonstrating that the gay community could be useful to them. Although homophobia was common in their ranks, union leaders were impressed by the economic clout that gays held in San Francisco. For instance, the ultimate success of the unions’ boycott of Coors beer largely depended on the participation of the Castro neighborhood’s gay community, led by Harvey Milk. When they realized this, union leaders began to see the merits of forming a close friendship with gays. Milk was less interested in winning people over with moral arguments about homosexual rights than in developing a long-term marriages of convenience based on common economic and political interests.

Visibility and the American Dream: Harvey Milk’s Moral Vision

This is not to say that he completely ignored moral issues. For Milk, the primary moral priority of the gay movement can be summed up with one word: visibility. Electing a gay public official – such as himself – would “set an example for younger gays,” increase their self-esteem, and encourage them to come out (Shilts 169). Milk was fond of saying that “the true function of politics is not just to pass laws, but to give hope,” and he was convinced that a successful gay public figure would give much needed succor to the millions of closeted gays across the United States. Such a figure would also serve to destroy common myths that fuel the fire of anti-homosexual thought. If people could just see a homosexual person performing a public function well, they would quickly understand that gays are not child molesters, communists, sick people and sinners. One of Milk’s proudest moments was when he garnered national attention for his campaign to create laws that would oblige dog owners to clean up their dogs’ waste on the street. He was thrilled that the stories covering the campaign did not center on him being gay, but were simply about “a gay person who is doing his job” (Shilts, 239). This is how Milk wanted to educate the heterosexual majority: less with arguments about the moral status of homosexuality than with evidence that gay people exist all around us and that negative stereotypes about them have no basis whatsoever. He also pioneered the controversial strategy of “outing” by leaking information about the homosexuality of Billy Sipple, the man who saved President Gerald Ford from assassination, to the press. This was his way of showing that “gays do heroic things [and putting to rest]…all that ca-ca about molesting children and hanging out in bathrooms” (Shilts, 144).

Milk also conceptualized the struggle for gay liberation as “the fight to preserve democracy” (Shilts, 264). When he talked about homosexual rights, he based his arguments largely on the principles expressed in the United States’ founding documents. And he portrayed anti-gay bigots, who wanted to put out homosexuals in jail and prevent them from entering into certain occupations (such as teaching), as fundamentally threatening all Americans’ basic First Amendment rights – freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and the right to petition. The following excerpt from one of his speeches provides is an example of this tactic:

“In the Declaration of independence, it is written: ‘All men are created equal and they are endowed with certain inalienable rights’…For [John] Briggs and [Anita] Bryant… and all the bigots out there: That’s what America is. No matter how hard you try, you cannot erase those words from the Declaration of Independence…That’s what America is. Love it or leave it” (Shilts, 265).

This is very similar to the political strategy advocated by Richard Rorty in Achieving Our Country (as explained in this previous post), which was put to use by Barack Obama. Instead of solely providing a trenchant critique of heteronormative U.S. society, Milk sought to give hope by showing that the principles of the gay liberation movement were already embedded in American political culture. The United States may not be a perfect nation (as evidenced by its racism, sexism and homophobia), but it is perfectible: a “more perfect union” can be achieved if Americans strive to fulfill the principles embedded in their country’s founding documents. In this sense, Milk’s approach to gay rights was deeply patriotic and likely to inspire U.S. citizens to action.

***For More Information***

This post has been largely based on information from Randy Shilts’ excellent book, The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk. This is so far the only major publication to focus solely on Milk. Otherwise, there are many audios and transcripts of his speeches, pictures of his campaigns, and short articles about his life, on the Internet. Most of them can be accessed via this Wikipedia page. I realize that I have oversimplified the highly complex realpolitik political tradition in this post. To find out more about it, see Jack Donnelly’s Realism and International Relations, Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society, and Jonathan Haslam’s No Virtue Like Necessity: Realist thought in International Relations since Machiavelli. On the clashes between different ideologies (such as the moderates and the liberationists) within the gay and lesbian movement, have a look at the following articles by Mary Bernstein: “Celebration and Suppression: The Strategic Uses of Identity,” and “Identities and Politics: Toward a Historical Understanding of the Lesbian and Gay Movement.”

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Hugh Heffner. When I hear that name the images that come to mind are less than flattering; silicone, bunny ears and the objectification of women. I learned recently though, through an article online at The Advocate that Hugh was, and apparently still is, a gay rights pioneer.

This was at the point while reading I turned into Scooby Doo and did a double take. The man who has made his living on objectifying women calls himself an activist? You’re joking right?

Hugh Heffner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel is making its debut at the Toronto Film Festival and will highlight the fact that Heffner has always been involved with social change including the women’s movement as well as the queer movement. Playboy, now Playboy Enterprises, was started right after Heffner graduated in 1948 from the University of Illinois. In Heffner’s words “I graduated from the University of Illinois in 1948, and there were the beginnings of racial integration. There were student protests against restaurants and movie theaters that had segregation, and I took part in some of those protests” Apparently this sparked his interest in social change.

As of December of 2008 the total revenue for Playboy 292.2 million dollars. Modeling fees for the women that appear as Playmate of the Month in 2006 were sitting at $25,000 dollars while Playmate of the Year brings in about $140,000 dollars plus a car and motorcycle. So minus modeling fees and taxes, Playboy is still raking in the big bucks and with 2.6 million copies sold each month. There is even The Playboy Foundation, which provides grants to non-profit groups involved in fighting censorship and researching human sexuality.

In 1955 he published a story by Charles Beaumont in the still new publication where heterosexuals were the minority. After receiving letters from his irate readership, he responded "If it was wrong to persecute heterosexuals in a homosexual society, then the reverse was wrong, too." During the McCarthy witch hunts he would commission writers that had been part of the “Hollywood Ten” and he had a variety where he featured many artists that had been black listed as well. Heffner even claims to be a feminist: "I was a feminist before there was such a thing as feminism.”

He has also been quoted as saying, “Without question, love in its various permutations is what we need more of in this world. The idea that the concept of marriage will be sullied by same-sex marriage is ridiculous. Heterosexuals haven't been doing that well at it on their own." So if Heffner is such a believer in the queer movement, why does he not put some of his money where his mouth is?

All I see is another rich, white man, talking a lot about what he believes in but not doing a damn thing about it. All I see is a man who has built his empire by exploiting women for his own financial gain. Now let me say this, this writer is in no way a prude nor do I believe that porn is a bad thing but you can’t call yourself and activist and not do anything for the communities you wish to serve. Being an activist is more than giving money or stating your opinion. It’s more than a printing a story. One of my close friends says all the time “Being an activist is not what I do, it’s who I am.” If you want to call yourself an activist, fine do something. Own your words Heffner and put your money where your mouth is to show us you’re not another rich, old, white, man who doesn’t follow through on what he says.

Want to know more? Check out the following:





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+ news +

DOMA repeal!,
Vegans and gays?!,
and Urugay for the week.


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Caster Semenya, South African star athlete, has been the center of a significant storm of gender questioning as track sports officials engage in "gender testing," after accusations came from rival coaches that Semenya was posing as a woman for competitive edge. In response to such accusations, Semenya appears in the latest edition of South Africa's You Magazine with a makeover aimed at silencing the gender rumors surrounding her career.

Semenya traded her butch corn-rows, baggy track suits, and bare muscular physique for a relaxed curly bob, black dress (with capped sleeves which skillfully hide her muscular frame), and gobs of gold bangle jewelry:

 Semenya told the BBC:
"I'd like to dress up more often and wear dresses but I never get the chance.
I am who I am and I'm proud of myself."
Let's hope this is what she wants though.
Nothing Semenya has done in the past month has suggested that she likes to wear dresses, get manicures and let down her hair. After the controversy broke, she kept her cornrows, wore baggy clothes and pounded her chest in victory like a college football cornerback. When she returned to her hometown, she was dressed the same way. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. That seemed to be Semenya's natural inclination. This feels forced. [link]

While I have long viewed this gender testing notion as inherently sexist, claiming that women categorically cannot compete with men; it saddens me that an 18-year old young woman has been forced to put on a frock and make up to prove that she is a woman. Even more embarrassing is that Semenya was subjected to gender tests without her knowledge. Her coach at the time had taken samples in what he told her were standard doping tests.

One can only hope that Semenya does indeed enjoy the femmer side of life and isn't being pushed to affect her gender performance for the pleasure of the normative police.
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One of the things about being part of a maginalized population that is the most fun--if for fun, you read "uncomfortable, occasionally stomach-churningly so"--is that many pleasures cannot simply remain unmixed: messages, tropes, and cultural references that can be overlooked, disregarded or just plain unseen by the dominant group hit home with you in unmistakable and unignorable ways.

Even worse is when you make the, ahem, transition from dominant to marginalized groups. Things that once gave you easy enjoyment now leave a bad taste in your mouth, and when you complain, people tell you you've become humorless or a radical. And that's just when you talk about popular entertainment.

Which leads me to Adult Swim. I've long been a fan of animation, a frequenter of Spike and Mike's animation festivals, and an avid watcher of many of the Cartoon Network's adult-oriented series. At its best, the very artificiality of animation allows it to say things--via fantasy, self-referentiality, or just plain outrageousness, that live-action simply can't accomplish. (At its worst, of course, animation can be a lazy, unimaginative commercial for the dominant culture: or to be briefer, at its best you get the first nine seasons of The Simpsons, at its worst you get every season since.)

Out of all the animated shows I've watched, my favorite is undoubtedly The Venture Brothers, in no small part to the sheer intelligence of how the show is put together: the pop-culture references hum, the voice acting is impeccable (led of course by ubiquitous voice actor Patrick Warburton), and the characters and concepts truly unique and fascinating. Part jet-age nostalgia trip, part nostalgia trip for jet-age nostalgia, and part theater of the absurd, The Venture Brothers, as the creators have often said, ultimately is a meditation on failure: of never living up to what you want to be, of reaching and never grasping.

This ought to be a pure unmixed pleasure for me: postmodernism done right. And it would be...except for the trans stuff.

But hell, it's always except for the trans stuff, right?

There are two characters in the show that break gender norms. One is suspected of being transsexual; the other is transsexual, although not...unproblematically.

The first goes by many names but is most often known as Dr. Girlfriend, frequent partner-in-crime to the show's bizarrely incompetent arch-villain, the Monarch. Most often dressed in a pink Chanel suit and pillbox hat a la Jackie Kennedy (whom she resembles), Dr. Girlfriend is the most attractive of the female characters on the show--often inspiring rivalries between the heroes and villains for her affections--and may well be the only truly capable character in the series.

She also has a voice like Alex Rocco at the bottom of a well, and because of this rumors of her being a transsexual have long been a part of both fan's reaction to the show and the actual plotlines of episodes.

The actual transsexual on the show is Colonel Hunter Gathers, more-than-loosely based on Hunter S. Thompson, if Hunter Thompson had worked for the government killing people. And had been a transsexual. While it is implied that Gathers must have been good at her job, as a transsexual...she's a mess, with a permanent five-o'clock shadow and no attempt to alter her voice. She works as a stripper--though that may just be a cover.

It is interesting to note--in followup to aqueertheory's recent post on Julia Serano--that both characters simultaneously manage to combine the "deceiver" and "incompetent" portrayals of trans women. Dr. Girlfriend is sexy and admired, by all appearances a successful woman who gives no hint of being trans--except her voice; Hunter is very clearly trans, but her stripper act has nothing to do with being trans, implying she is somehow "fooling" her clients.

For a real live trans person, even one inclined to like the show, both characters are sometimes difficult to take. For every moment you cheer on Dr. Girlfriend (she tells a teenage girl who confronts her in the ladies' room, "Don't worry, I belong here--I just have a deep voice"), you wince at the cheap jokes made at her expense. And Hunter can be positively cringe-inducing, managing to capture just about every negative stereotype about trans people (men in dresses, unable to look like women, obsessed with having breasts) in one horrific package.

And yet at the end of the third season, she's one of an elite group of all female assassins. And yet Dr. Girlfriend is the show's one shining beacon of actual talent. And yet...

And yet I just can't laugh easily at all this stuff. But I know that other people, probably the vast majority of the show's audience, can do just that.

But not me. Not anymore. Because I've changed places. And now the joke's also on me.

transfeminist joins us from The Second Awakening

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Professional women's team sports in the US hasn't really been a total success story just yet (I'm hopefully that the future will prove the "just yet" warranted). Individual sports like tennis and golf have seen their share of success for women. But as for team sports, there have been a lot of attempts that haven't had long term success.

I would never want female athletes to fail, but I honestly hope this one does: The Lingerie Football League.

Sadly, there already is a professional women's football league in the US: The Independent Women's Football League. But these women wear clothing, how boring! Plus they don't all look like models-turned-"athletes". The IWFL looks like it is made up of women who have the stature required for football (you know, they can take a beating or tackle another person). But the LFL looks like it is made up of rejects from America's Next Top Sports Model who still want to launch their "career" with any exposure they can get. If they were really interested in football, why aren't they in the IWFL?

But don't be fooled ... the LFL ladies do take a beating! As evidenced by this photo of a scratch ... I can't tell if this is satire or not:

You want to see cute injured females, go to a Roller Derby match. True, those women wear fishnets and skirts, but who runs Roller Derby leagues? You never doubt that those women are in it because they truly enjoy roller derby, and not because it's good publicity.

I'm sure the ladies of the LFL take their job as a football player seriously ... maybe as seriously as they would take any other model or acting gig. I'm sure they work hard, and they understand the rules of the game. After all, like any professional sport, this is just a job.

But do the owners of the LFL take them seriously? I'm guessing no. How do you take someone seriously when you dress them in a helmet, shoulder and knee pads, but not an actual shirt. It all looks like some kind of fetish. The women are willing participants, but it still leaves me with a bad feeling. The LFL seems to have little to do with actual football, and everything to do with an excuse to parade hot girls around in bras and panties. All the while, how many tickets are sold for IWFL games?

Women's professional sports have a long way to go in this country before they are taken seriously. Sure, there have been many men's professional sports leagues that have failed, but sure enough, the big ones - the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS - are all men. Other than the WNBA, what is the second longest-lasting women's professional sports league?

But in the meantime, some marketing genius decided it would be a good idea for form a professoinal women's sports league made up of lingerie-clad women. Outside of the Olympics and tennis, female athletes already struggle with getting actual respect from the public. Putting them in underwear is surely setting the idea of the "female athlete" back a few notches.

Not to mention the fact that it further perpetuates women as object. But that's another whole blog post.

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The Strengths of Whipping Girl

The previous three posts in this series have been mostly critical of Serano’s work. They have appraised her individualist conception of gender, her overly sanguine view of femininity, and her idea that gender and sexuality develop mostly as a result of intrinsic biological inclinations. Contra Serano, I have argued that gender is a collective (as well as an individual) identity, that femininity can function as a restrictive normative structure, and that gender and sexuality are, to a large extent, socially constructed rather than naturally derived.

This final post in the “Gender Whipped” series will look at what I perceive to be the strengths of Serano’s work. In particular, it will examine her conceptualization of trans women’s struggles and experiences, as well as her creative revision of some core feminist ideas.

Theorizing Sexism

Serano contributes significantly to feminist theory and practice by providing us with a concise way of categorizing the different forms of sexism in Western societies. She argues that sexism is a two-fold phenomenon, consisting of “oppositional” and “traditional” elements. Oppositional sexism is “the belief that female and male are rigid, mutually exclusive categories” (13). A man should not have any of the “attributes, aptitudes, abilities, and desires” commonly associated with women, and vice-versa (13). Anyone who does not follow this schema, any manly women or womanly men, should be dismissed and punished for disobeying the divine, natural and social order that deemed the two genders to be mutually exclusive opposites. On the other hand, traditional sexism is “the belief that maleness and masculinity are superior to femaleness and femininity” (14). This type of sexism specifically demeans all feminine persons (many of whom are females) by characterizing their activities as frivolous and justifying their exclusion from certain jobs and positions of social authority. Thus, according to Serano, sexism is a commonly held belief system that conceptualizes males and females as strict oppositional categories and sets up a hierarchy in which men and masculinity are considered superior to women and femininity.

Feminists and queer theorists have failed to recognize this dual aspect of sexism, which is one of the reasons why they often seem to talk past each other. Queer theorists have focused on oppositional sexism: they have analyzed and railed against binary gender norms, which push people to fit their identities and behaviors into carefully prescribed masculine and feminine boxes. On the other hand, feminists have concentrated their efforts on studying and fighting against the more traditional forms of sexism: the oppression of women and their social subordination to men.

Serano’s reconceptualization of sexism has the potential to bring feminists and queer theorists closer together. Sexism can only be adequately assessed and combated if we recognize both its “oppositional” and “traditional” aspects. The two are closely dependent on each other: a strict value-difference between two categories can only be enforced if the categories are considered to be mutually exclusive opposites. For men and masculinity to be viewed as superior to women and femininity, there can be no overlap between them. This is why feminine men and masculine women are subject to so much violence in society: they question the belief in a strict opposition between men and women and thereby destabilize the foundations of traditional sexism. Overall, Serano has provided us with an interesting way of combining feminist and queer theoretical insights and facilitating long overdue communication between these two groups. She has also usefully corrected feminist theory by pointing out that there is not only a social hierarchy between men and women, but also a system of values that privileges masculine over feminine persons.

Trans Women in American Society

Serano also provides a highly necessary articulation of her experience as a trans woman living in the United States. According to her, one of the main problems that trans women face is the common belief that their femaleness and femininity are somehow fake or inauthentic. This view is constantly (re)emphasized in the mainstream media. Transsexual women are routinely portrayed “in the act of putting on lipstick, dresses, and high heels, thereby giving the audience the impression that the trans woman’s femaleness is an artificial mask or costume” (41). Their desire to be female is reduced to the pursuit of “stereotypically feminine appearance(s) and gender role(s),” which emphasizes that they are not real women, but men who are simply parading as women (41).

This notion is reinforced in movies that feature trans women characters. Serano identifies two major cinematic archetypes: the “deceptive” and the “pathetic” transsexual. The former successfully pass as women, but their trans status (usually signalled by the presence of a penis) is eventually revealed in a dramatic fashion as an “unexpected plot twist” (36). This pattern is evident in the Jim Carrey movie, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. At the end of the film, Ace Ventura strips Lois Einhorn, a female police lieutenant, down to her underwear so that the audience can see her penis and testicles tucked between her legs. All of the characters present in the room with Einhorn proceed to retch in disgust – the “deceptive” transsexual has been revealed and everybody is expected to exhibit shock, horror and disgust at the "fact" that she is "really a man." The following passage sums up the crux of the deceptive transsexual stereotype:

“Even though ‘deceivers’ successfully pass as women, and are often played by female actors…these characters are never intended to challenge our assumptions about gender itself. On the contrary, they are positioned as ‘fake’ women and their ‘secret’ trans status is revealed in a dramatic moment of ‘truth.’ At this moment, the ‘deceivers’’ appearance (her femaleness) is reduced to mere illusion, and her secret (her maleness) becomes the real identity.” (37)

In contrast, the “pathetic” transsexual is portrayed as completely unable to pass as a woman, even though she strongly insists that she is female. She is given obviously masculine mannerisms and characteristics, such as the five o’clock shadow, and openly makes references to the absence of a penis or to her intention to eventually “ha[ve] the chop” (41). According to Serano, this “extreme combination of masculinity and femininity does not seem to be designed to challenge the audience’s assumptions about maleness and femaleness… [the ‘pathetic’ transsexuals’] masculine voice and mannerisms are meant to demonstrate that, despite her desire to be female, she cannot change the fact that she is really and truly a man” (39). Examples of this type of character include the showgirl Bernadette from The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and John Lithgow’s portrayal of Roberta Muldoon in The World According to Garp.

Both of the cinematic archetypes identified by Serano serve the purpose of emphasizing that trans women cannot be “real” women. Trans women face an uphill battle to “prove” that they are authentic women in a society that constantly attempts to deny them their femaleness, their womanhood, and their femininity – often at gunpoint.

Trans Women in Feminist, Academic and Queer/Transgender Communities

The situation is unfortunately not that much better in the allegedly more progressive feminist, academic and transgender/queer circles. Serano notes that, “there are numerous parallels between the way trans women are depicted in the media and the way that they have been portrayed by some feminist theorists” (47). Feminists as well-known as Gloria Steinem, Germaine Greer and Andrea Dworkin have routinely accused trans women of “foster[ing] sexism by mimicking patriarchal attitudes about femininity [and] objectify[ing] women by trying to possess female bodies” (48). The idea that trans women are not real women is still quite popular among feminists. For example, the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (which has been analyzed very well in this post by queercritic), a prominent woman-only feminist gathering, still prohibits trans women from participating, since they were not born female and would allegedly bring “male energy” into a woman-only space. It is ironic, then, that the festival “allows drag king performers who dress and act male, female-bodied performers who... sometimes describe themselves with male pronouns” (50). It also permits the sale of penis-shaped dildos.

Trans women face exclusion from women-only feminist circles because they are considered to be “fake” women who carry “male-energy,” and this impression is further reinforced in academic gender studies communities. The notion that gender is performative and artificial has become popular among sociologists, critical theorists and feminists. They have often objectified trans women by using their lives and experiences to prove the socially constructed nature of gender. For example, in West and Zimmerman’s famous 1987 article, “Doing Gender,” the authors use a study of a trans woman (Agnes), who actively learns stereotypically feminine behaviors as part of her transition, in order to demonstrate that gender is a social achievement and not something that emerges naturally in a person. What they failed to note is that Agnes and other trans women had to (and still have to) adopt such an archetypal feminine gender expression in order to convince doctors that they are ready to have surgery. The Harry Benjamin Standards of Care basically require trans women to portray themselves as stereotypical women in order to be eligible for a vaginoplasty. While academics are happy to use trans women’s lives in order to demonstrate the artificial nature of gender, they rarely ask trans women themselves to reflect on their experiences or study trans women for long periods after their transitions.

Finally, while the treatment of trans women in queer and transgender spaces is not as exclusionary, Serano does note that there is not enough respect for trans woman specific experiences in those communities. She recognizes that the umbrella terms, “transgender” and “queer,” are very useful politically, since they have the power to unite everyone who is disadvantaged by gender norms. She also understands that, for some people, these terms accurately describe their fluid sexed and gendered identities. However, she does have a problem with the fact that the use of “transgender” and “queer” labels tends to carry with it the assumption that all “transgender” and “queer” people are discriminated against in the same ways and for the same reasons. The assumption is that all trans and LGBT people are disadvantaged due to their inability to conform to binary gender norms. While there may be a lot of truth to this, Serano points out that trans women do face different types of social exclusion.

They are not only discriminated against for failing to adhere to certain binary gender norms but also because they choose to become females, in a society that consistently devalues women and femininity. They question the core of traditional sexism: how can maleness and masculinity possibly be superior to femaleness and femininity if some people who are born male will actively choose to become female or feminine? According to Serano, this trans woman-specific perspective has been drowned out in queer communities that focus too heavily on countering oppositional sexism, rather than valuing the different experiences of gay men, lesbians, trans women, trans men, genderqueer persons etc… She is in favor of building a pluralistic queer movement, one that recognizes the differences in experience among various minority gender and sexual groups and does not subsume everyone under the same framework. Many trans women are also isolated in queer and feminist communities because they happen to exhibit a stereotypically feminine gender expression. Such women are often critiqued for colluding with the oppressor and furthering the subordination of women by "doing gender" in an overly feminine manner. For more on this phenomenon, known as "subversivism," see this previous post.

Overall, Serano paints a powerful picture of trans women’s experiences in the United States. Trans women are routinely labelled as “fake” women by mainstream society, feminists, and gender studies academics. They face exclusion from women-only spaces and are objectified by social scientific discourses. Furthermore, transgender and queer communities tend to drown out trans woman-specific experiences by assuming that everyone is oppressed by binary gender norms in the same way. All of this is certainly overwhelming, especially when coupled with the high rates of violence against trans women. Serano paints a disturbing picture of their position in society; she has done a major service in Whipping Girl by providing a powerful articulation of trans women’s struggles and experiences.

***For More Information***

You can find out more about Julia Serano on www.juliaserano.com and here is a whole page about Whipping Girl that has a collection of reviews, a preview of the first chapter, and a useful glossary of some of the new terminology that Serano introduces in the book. Serano’s work has also been addressed in the following Below the Belt posts by bookmonkey and askfannie: Sexist Feminists and Observations on TransSexuality.

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My best friend in college, like most of my ex-girlfriends, was a closeted lesbian. One night, she confessed this to me as we sat back to back on a friend's living room floor, drunk, trying to keep each other's hair from getting ruined. She said she would never tell anyone, that she'd get married to a nice man and maintain a straight image because it would be better for her career.

She seemed disappointed that I gave no protest, no lip service about not living the lie and being true to yourself. I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Me in my Superfriends t-shirt and Spider-man arm warmers. Who was I to pontificate about the evils of the closet? All of my heroes lived inside of it. Also, I was kind of in love with her, and there was really no way I was going to convince her not to marry that guy without letting that slip.

The Batman of the 40's was gayer than Elton John using a time machine to go back and make sweet sweet love to Elton John. He lived in a mansion with his young ward and dandified butler, free from the judgement of his late parents and the financial and social obligations that come with marriage. His clothes were flamboyant, his lifestyle was lavish, and his life was so soaked in male energy you could fry bacon in the drippings. But then came the Lavender Scare, and Bruce Wayne was told if he wasn't a Communist he would quit the queering around. Dammit, didn't he realize that little boys were reading his adventures?
Think of the children.

Good Christian boys growing up to be homosexual vigilantes, taking the law and their sexual identity into their own hands (or the hands of a steamy young sidekick). Being gay was the first step to being a comrade. Got to get them while they're young. The identity, the true Bat-Self was stored away in the Bat-Closet, kept in a shoebox with the sanity of 50's America. Bruce and Dick got girlfriends, left real crimefighting to the police, chasing after costumed vandals while telling kids to be good, brush their teeth and keep their noses clean. A man fed on danger and justice his whole life was being asked to shit out domestic nuclear values. All to keep their jobs, all to keep the increasingly-concerned public from boycotting their books, movies, and merchandise. Doing what the man with the government salary says is moral is good for the bottom line.

Go on and ask Superman why he married in a church. See if he'll tell you about his Jewish heritage. Or how he reonciles the fact that Lois is so wholly devoted to him that she didn't recognize him with his glasses off, managed to get into a love triangle with his own fucking alter ego. What's it like being in a relationship with someone you can't be physical with, lest you break them in half? Is that frustrating? Wouldn't you want a partner more compatible with your alien biology, anyway? All the women in the universe and you'd pick the one who can't tell you from...you? If this marriage was any more convenient I'd be able to buy a slushie from it. What does it say on the marriage certificate? Is Clark Kent married to Lois Lane or just the American lifestyle?

Would the champion of Truth, Justice, and the American Way tell the truth about the American Way? The pressure to settle down, find a steady job, perhaps a dog, even if it has super powers. There's no time to explore yourself or realize your dreams. Being able to touch the sun doesn't make you special. Even the Man of Steel has to keep his hair trim and be at work at 9am. Even the Last Son of Krypton needs a steady girl. Clark Kent isn't a disguise, it's a uniform. A diguise is something you wear when you don't want to get caught. Who the fuck cares if Superman is seen riding the subway? It's the uniform of vanilla America. They'll bury him in that uniform and every one of us if we'd only get our fucking acts together. Have your identity crisis on your own time. Identity is bad for business. You want to be different, you want to be unique, do it at home. Or better yet, don't do it at all. If Superman can adhere to the dress code, so can you.

Generations raised to believe in the closet. To desire it. We've learned to equate the closet with success. Superman became the world's greatest hero with the personality of a turkey sandwich. Batman is on his 8th major motion picture and he's never even known what it's like to love. Maybe if Wonder Woman could have the whole “lesbian S&M” angle she wouldn't be waiting until 2011 for a live action motion picture. And now The Mouse is in bed with Jean Grey. They say the darkness will be lifted. Spider-Man will renege on his deal with The Devil, and The Punisher tried for his heinous crimes. The grit of the Marvel Universe will be scrubbed clean to make way for singing birds and Pixar movie deals. The horrors of the Comics Code Authority will be relived in glorious color. We will see a new age of gender and sexual oppression.

There will be no more heroes anymore. Only action figures and Halloween costumes.
Everyone will settle down, get themselves a nice opposite sex marriage and buy American cars. Try not to think of “Civil War” as a metaphor for “coming out”, it will only make the subsequent gentrification more painful and pathetic to watch.
The time for ironically appreciating white bread Americana is over. We must destroy the closet. Dismantle it. Burn the pieces.

Create our own heroes, forge our own mythology. We must succeed where the heroes of our childhood had failed. Find a comic retailer who sells LGBT-friendly or LGBT-created comic books and support the shit out of them.

Or better yet, create your own. Make friends. Create your own stories. Sell them on street corners. Or don't. Who gives a shit. It's just comic books, right?

Corporations will always be like this. Might as well make the most of it. If we cared enough in the first place Bush wouldn't have made it to a second term.

I think of her sometimes, when I flip through the pages of old Justice League books. I still cannot for the life of me remember how, in spite of all my superhero training, managed to stumble out of the closet. I wish I knew. I'd go back for her. Whatever that means.

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