I recently had an encounter with our mental health system. (I'm fine. Now.) I don't have to tell you that almost any encounter with our health system is embarrassing; that seems to be the state of American healthcare. But what do you think the frosting on my mortification cake--the little extra bit of humiliation to go with the spongy cake of being put in a room with no sharp corners and the delectable pudding filling of despair that having them take my belt away proved to be?

Having to out myself. Three times--once to the triage nurse, once to the nurse who took my vitals, and once to the doctor.

For a Christmas present, to help me out of my recent dry spell of gainful employment, my parents gave me some old bonds they had purchased for me to help pay for college. (That there's anything left is mostly because I was a scholarship student.) This is good news for me: they would pay about half my rent.

But of course, you know, they're in my old name. So when I arrive at the bank, I have to out myself again--to the teller, the teller's supervisor, and the supervisor's assistant, since the supervisor won't be in tomorrow--I couldn't cash them today, because I don't carry any ID with my former name on it, and I didn't happen to have a copy of my name change order with me. (For a long time I did in fact carry one around with me for just such an emergency.)

Last week I had a job interview. (I didn't get it.) And in addition to worrying about all the things any woman might worry about on an interview (Am I too aggressive? Not aggressive enough? Too feminine? Not feminine enough?), even beyond worrying about whether or not they'd clock me as trans walking in the door, I had one big worry--that they might pull a credit bureau on me (an increasingly common practice) and find some old accounts that were still in my name, outing me immediately. (This did actually happen once when I was applying for a job--they didn't say anything to me, but I overheard one of the supervisors wondering about my report.)

It's not so easy being green, or transsexual in today's digital culture.

In the old times you would transition, immediately break off all contact with your friends and family, move to another place, and start life over with nary a loose thread to worry about. (In fact, in the 1960s and 70s, this was actually the encouraged method of transitioning.) Now, there are still people who do just that--walk off into the sunset, obsess about expunging all records of their former gender, and lie awake dreaming of the day they would just invent those memory-wiping dildos from Men in Black already.

Nowadays many transsexuals don't try to burn out their entire history. Many have deep relationships with the people they know; families are becoming more and more accepting, in general; and for those fortunate few, like me, who live in a place that actually protects against anti-trans discrimination, there's much less worry about transition affecting their work life.

But that doesn't mean that they don't care if people find out. I, for one, don't make it a practice of telling people I've met since transition, even if I have many friends who knew me from before. And often it can be painful to be reminded of the past. Or to have to out yourself just navigating the healthcare system, or paying bills, or any number of mundane activities cis people take for granted.

And of course it's much harder to simply remove all traces of yourself nowadays. Your name gets into so many databases; most of my junk mail still comes in my old name. Nor is the always process particularly easy--or, as I found out with my health insurer, sometimes there's one process for cis people who change their names (like many married women still do) and an entirely different and more (arbitrarily) rigorous system for trans people changing their names. (I'm still pissed at that one--I had to humiliatingly argue with my pharmacist about getting a prescription filled because my ID and insurance card conflicted.)

The ancients believed that names had power over the things they stood for: and maybe they were right, because even if I hadn't been so lazy about getting the name change out to everybody I owe money to (or holds my money, a smaller group), I fear my old name would continue to haunt me--the ghosts of mailing lists past, the odd Wikipedia article, the occasional uninformed relative. Coming out may have been hard--but nowadays staying in can be just as tricky.

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Heternormative culture is both revulsed and creepily fascinated with queer sex, like a Christian Scientist watching surgery on television with his pants around his ankles while his wife is in another room, trying to pray the athlete's foot away. What, you thought there was going to be some sort of cease fire just because it's Christmas? Nah. That's not how I (rick) roll. If the Book Club doesn't like it, as their continued application of profits their businesses and churches accrue during this consumerist clusterfuck towards combatting the efforts of human rights organizations all over the world might suggest, then they can try and buy me off like everyone else. I'm a socialist. You think yours is the only hate mail I have to read this week?

A good example of this “it's so gross I must have another because it is so gross and not good in any way” attitude can be found in what I call “The Pinkmail”. The Pinkmail is a painfully, drabulous overdone cliché in which a character in a comic book, movie, or Republican campaign video is blackmailed with the threat of revealing a previous homosexual encounter or relationship. If I listed everywhere and on what television outfit I have witnessed this cheap and anti-creative plot convention, by the time I was finished the only people left alive to applaud my inane accomplishment would be all the super-intelligent gorillas with machine guns that have taken over the planet who would subsequently bash my head open and eat my brains because after humanity has stripped mother earth of her natural resources tranny brains will the only viable food source left.

If you genuinely have no idea what I'm talking about, I would suggest you read The Boys, a comic series by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, that tells the story of a team of CIA operatives who use fear and intimidation to keep the world's superheroes from going drunk with power. A lot of this involves, you guessed it, “mature readers”, sitting in vans watching heroes have sex. Sometimes I like to impose the faces of Rick Santorum over the titular voyeurs. I laugh. And then I cry. Because all those campaign donations have to go somewhere...and thus I return to my civic duty of forwarding e-mails titled “10 Reasons Why Homophobia Is Dumb!” and “Why The World Would Suck If We Did Everything It Says In Leviticus.” I keep telling myself that I'll think of something clever to put on a sign and walk back and forth where somewhere will take a picture and put it on a liberal-minded blog. But then we'll still lose the election and when I ask my friends why they weren't out there protesting the blatant disregard of human rights with me they'll say “oh, I didn't know...nobody sent me an e-mail.” If our parents really wanted us to succeed they would have drank moonshine, fucked each other's cousins, and hit us with sticks whenever we mentioned the word “dinosaur”. It's not thoughtful posters with the work place that breed motivation and productivity, it's the heirloom of idiocy. But I digress. I could go on all day about the inequities of the right, but it's Christmas and I have a family to entertain, and of all the ways I want to go out, eaten by super-intelligent apes is remarkably low on the list.

Now, when I say that I've encountered this phenomena while watching television, I should perhaps specify my scope of perspective. I rarely, if ever, watch sitcoms. In fact, I find them to be the lowest form of entertainment. When I do watch comedy, it's animated, and more often then not aimed at adults. I prefer violent, surreal, and foul-mouthed media, because that reflects my reality. If I ever spend thirty minutes of a day wondering how to beat my eccentric neighbor at parcheesi so I can pay my parking ticket on time, you have permission to kill me. It probably won't work. I will probably rise up immediately after the fatal blow and eat your heart so I may possess its power, but you have my permission nonetheless. I prefer dark material because I feel that there's a level of consequence to the actions and motivations of the characters. Which I think illustrates my interest in this trope. The people who are often blackmailed are not the quirky jabbermouth in the copy room or the hopeless ex-girlfriend who calls you at 3am to tell you that she saw a cat that reminded you of her. No, they are often involved in very heavy shit. Murder. Theft. Drugs. Other things that Sesame Street taught me are not good when making a first impression. A trigger-happy mobster or sadistic, secretary-raping executive gets blindsided with pictures of himself performing oral sex on another man and suddenly the house of cards starts to fall down. And we, as the audience, are meant to sympathize to a degree, to sit back and go “damn, that's fucked, they got your number, G”. Two episodes ago you were watching this guy stuff a dead body with coke. And now, he's all on the DL...where has the innocence gone?

Now the simpler, perhaps more reasonable interpretation of this is that we in a Western patriarchal culture are wired so sex-negatively that we are taught to think of gay sex as somehow more of a cruelty than murder, that male contact is only acceptable if it is done out of aggression or competition. But that's why they keep showing these articles to troubled children to warn them of what they may become; I don't do simple, and I don't know the meaning of reasonable. I mean, I do, I'm not an idiot, just not in this context.

I think it's for the sake of sating curiousity. Now hear me, err, read me out on this one. It's never hinted at. You can hint at things like murder and theft, and in some ways, it's more poweful that way, because we all know what murder looks like, and there's no way you're gonna redefine it. But they always show the gay sex, don't they? No innuendo there. It's always a shot of the guy getting back up and wiping his mouth or nice wide shot of two guys doing it in a hotel bed. Or, in the case of The Boys beautifully and colorfully rendered illustrations of superheroes going down on one another while someone smokes crack in a bathroom. Or beating each other off in a private movie theater. Only 2.99 an issue!

My point is, it's never “hinted” at. It's always shown in rather revealing detail. Well, “revealing” in the context of our current censorship “standards,” where a gay kissy scene is enough to raise a film's rating up one whole age group.

I think your average heteronormative person is curious as to how it's done, and despite the wealth of information available on the interwebs, they can only allow themselves to be “educated” on such doings if it's presented to them as some sort of twisted plot development. Because let's face it. For as much as they discriminate against us, the heteronormative culture knows very little about us and what we do. If you asked a straight men how two men would have sex, he would just shrug, say “one fucks the other up the ass, I guess” and then cringe until he began to collapse upon himself like a black hole. Now, if you asked him how two women have sex, he might be able to recall something from all those videos he's seen, and become quite excited, but really, his explanation would seem to the average lesbian as somewhat hollow. Because no matter how much lesbian porn aimed at straight men you watch, it really doesn't explain the whole spectrum of girl on girl intimacy. What does that mean? What relevance does it share with the rest of this paper? Fuck if I know.

But once, I saw Brokeback Mountain in the theaters, and not one of the guys there with his arms wrapped around his ladyfriend turned away during the lovemaking scene. I even swear I heard one of them say “huh.” So, somehow, that proves my point. You can do the math if you like.

When I came out, I was constantly bombarded with questions of “how”. How do I have sex with another woman? How does my body change under hormones? How do they make my penis into a vagina? And my situation is not as unique as I would like to think it is. We all have these questions heaved at us? How do we do this? How do we enjoy that? Questions that about five seconds on google would easily inform you of, at a fraction of the social awkwardness. Unless that's the point. Heternormative audiences can only experience queer sexuality when it's awkward, and when they feel they have to endure it for the sake of understanding the plot or conversation or whatever. But deep down inside, they're all a little curious. And I can respect that. I too often wonder how straight people have meaningful sexual and emotional relationships. They keep telling me that all the answers are in the bible, but so far all I've learned about relationships is that men sparkle in sunlight. There must be more to it than that.

More and more fiction will be relying on the pinkmail as evil twin and mysterious baby plotlines begin to dwindle in effect over time. Because not on is it edgy and modern, but it's also educational in its own morbid way. Understanding queer culture then becomes the happy accident of media intake, and someone can safely say they know how this or that's done without appearing as sexually deviant or betraying their straight sensibilities because they didn't seek it out. They merely “witnessed it” by accident. How do we combat this backwards and ignorant behavior? How do we find a way to express and educate the timid and fearful heteronormative culture on our doings without resorting to cheap plot tricks? Fuck if I know. If it were up to me I would make it mandatory to teach this sort of shit in Sex Ed. Oh, if only I were Empress of All.

I believe, truly, that by sitting on the sidelines and going “oh, wow, they added a gay storyline to X show” that we are really only encouraging the mystification of our lives and sexual activity to the culture, who, by virtue of democracy's design (thanks for that, by the way, Ancient Greece, it's been doing us wonders) determine whether or not we get our basic human rights. So, um, down with that, I guess.

If you're devotion to me is so overwhelming that you're actually reading this when you should be with loved ones, then Happy Holidays. Let's hope this the last one we'll ever have to spend as second class citizens. If you're reading this after the holidays...congratulations, you have a life.

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I knew I wasn’t really a girl a long time before I actually wrapped my head around the idea of being trans. In middle school especially, all the girls seemed to have this moment where they veered into being young women who were so excited to get their first period and prayed for the day they’d have enough chest to justify getting their first bra.

I remember being twelve, much curvier than most of my classmates and having lived with a period for a year, and thinking they were all nuts. I just wanted these lumps growing out my chest to fall off, thank you so very much.

Looking back on it now, a part of me thinks, “Man, you should gotten to this transmasculine point a long time ago, kid.”

A big, big part of the reason why I resisted the trans label for so long was because I had all these vague notions and ideas about what transpeople did and what transpeople were that didn’t seem to fit with who I was.

In my head, transition had a false homogeny. I assumed that there was a One True And Right Way that each and every person went about transition. It was a 123, abc process with months of hormones shots that either caused homicidal rage or uncontrollable weeping and surgeries that created crude facsimiles of genitalia. And at the other end of it all emerged intensely masculine men and feminine women.

Again, looking back, I can never decide if I want to thwack my past self on the back of my head or pat my past self comfortingly on the shoulder.

I’m really not a traditionally masculine dude. I knew I wasn’t a manly man who does manly things. I didn’t fit in with the mental picture I had of what a transman was, so I spent a long time assuming that meant I wasn’t trans and, thus, couldn’t transition. I didn’t even do any research because I was so convinced of this true.

Fortunately, in the past couple years, I both became an LGBTQ Studies major and started participating in gender discussions online. I’ve long since known I was queer. That part I never really had any trouble with. I’ve been lucky enough to have the unwavering love and support of my family.

Gender, on the other hand, was something I never much thought about until right before I graduated high school. And it took more than eighteen more months for me to really learn enough to feel like I finally got the gender spectrum and, more importantly, that the spectrum applied to transpeople, too. Not gonna lie, it was a little bit like turning on a light.

I came to realize that transition itself is as unique as the people who want to transition. Some want surgery, some want hormones, some don’t have any desire to physically transition at all. And none of that keeps a person from being able to label as trans.

This was a total revelation for me and it opened up this whole amazing realm of possibility when it came to myself. I didn’t have to take hormones or get surgery or change my body. I didn’t have to fit an imagined definition of what it meant to be trans.

I can do exactly what I want! My transition is for me and me alone to shape and experience.

Deciding what I want out of transitioning is something I spent a lot of time thinking about over the past couple months. It’s something that changes, too, depending on the day and my mood and what’s going on in my life. Which, hey, I’ve come to realize is okay.

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More than in the average profession, I would wager, I have the gender binary blatantly thrown in my face. I work as the intake coordinator at a national mentoring organization, where I deal with all the incoming inquiries regarding our mentoring program. Adults call with interest in becoming mentors to children in their community, and parents call to register children they feel could benefit from having another supportive adult in their life. The majority of matches are between people of the same gender. We do match boys under 10 with women in some circumstances, but that’s more due to a lack of men volunteering and an excess of boys wanting mentors than to a desire to make a cross-gender match. Another reason boys are allowed to be paired with women and not girls with men is because most parents wouldn’t be comfortable with their daughters being left alone with a man (perpetuating the hyper-sexualization of young girls and the stereotype that all men are predators – and straight predators at that).

The gender issue comes up most with parents of boys. Almost every other call is a mother wanting to register her son to get a male mentor, saying that there’s no father in the house, there’s no male influence, there’s no one for her son to play sports with or look up to, etc. etc. Because we have so many women ready to volunteer, I’ll often ask mothers of younger boys would they be open to have a female big, and most of the time they scoff at the idea and say “Why would they need another woman? I can be their female role model. They need a man for this.” Gender becomes the primary reason for the mentor relationship.

The mentor relationship then becomes a training ground for gender behavior as opposed to a relationship based solely on trust and friendship. While these last two parts are components of the match, the gender aspect is the part that’s highlighted the most. When parents talk about the benefits of the match, they will immediately bring up how it’s so good that their son has a man around, and any positive changes in their son are attributed to the fact that he “finally had a man to teach him things.” Because our society operates so strictly around gender roles, something could be said for a boy being able to relate to a man better than a woman, however that may be because they feel they are expected to bond with someone of their same gender better than the opposite gender, feeling that those relationships are supposed to be primarily romantic.

This issue is also present with girls, but because there is no choice of which gender their daughter’s mentor will be, the parents don’t have as much of a reason to specify whether gender is important or not. It appears obvious to them that you would not pair a girl with an older man, thus they do not question it. There are times, however, when the gender binary is more directly mentioned, such as a call I got last week. A school guidance counselor wanted to recommend our program to a father who was raising a daughter on his own along with his three sons. The counselor insisted there were too many men around her. “You should hear the mouth on that girl,” the counselor told me over the phone. “Swearing, playing rough sports, not a girl friend to her name. I said I had to call to get her a lady mentor, you know, someone to do girlie things with her. Paint her nails, do her hair, those things.” “Uh-huh,” I say with a roll of my eyes.

There’s not much I can say, I knew this going into the job. There’s a gender binary inherent in the organization’s title, and it’s about pairing same gendered adults and children to give extra support to at risk youth. However it wasn’t until I worked here longer and saw how important the gender of the mentor is to the parents (note that it’s mainly the parents it’s important to, not the children) that I realized the danger in continuing to structure the organization in this manner.

The fact that the primary reason most parents want their child to have a same gender mentor is that they feel that mentor can serve as a successful example of their gender and what that boy or girl should aspire to be. It perpetuates the idea that boys become men and girls become women, and it does not give room for flexibility in gender identity. It promotes friendship and puts a positive influence in a child’s life, but it does so by using the gender boxes society has created and further solidifying the rigidity of gender.

The mentoring organization states that it must work within society’s guidelines because otherwise it could appear too radical to the general public and parents may not want to register children that could greatly benefit from our services. However there are ways we could tweak ourselves to at least provide a little resistance to the perpetuation of rigid gender identities rather than strengthening their presence in society. Our organization could discuss the effect s of gender in the mentoring relationship and discuss the options of same- or cross-gendered matches. We could show to the parents how their child could benefit from a role model of either gender, and how behavior improvement is not dependent on having a same-gendered mentor. We could use our cross-gendered matches more in examples of successful matches instead of only marketing our same-gendered matches, making it appear to the public that that is the only type of mentoring we provide. Making gender a topic of discussion could show people that gender is not a given and that there are other options than what seem obvious. This could spread more awareness about gender identity and possibly open people’s minds to new gender possibilities.

There’s something wrong with how this organization frames gender within their mentoring program, but that’s because there’s something wrong with how our society frames gender in general. We have to tackle the gender binary from the outside and from within, and it can start with little conversations that open the way to big outcomes.

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“So, you’re straight now?”

This was, verbatim, the response of a close friend upon the announcement of my engagement. I must have looked like a puppy that realizes you’re talking, but doesn’t yet understand what you’re saying—head tilted to the side, a look of confusion in my eyes as I tried to search out in her face just what the fuck she was talking about.

It hadn’t occurred to me until just then that a lot of people presumed that being bisexual meant never settling down with one person. In that moment, I realized just how many commonly held myths there were regarding bisexuality, some so prevalent that even friends who had known me for years still believed them.

It was then that I decided to use my passion for writing as a vehicle to debunk these myths, beginning with the simplest of all—a list. Below is a list of the five most common myths bisexuals encounter on a regular basis:

1. Bisexuals are all promiscuous.

This is arguably the most common myth about bisexuals. Like #2, it is based on the idea that we need to be with more than one person at the same time to be happy. This is true of some bisexuals, of course, but it is also true of some heterosexuals and homosexuals. Plenty of bisexual people are in committed, monogamous relationships and are celibate when not in a relationship. Bisexuality and promiscuity have nothing to do with one another.

2. We are all polyamorous/polygamists.

Again, this is based on the idea that bisexuals need to be with both men and women to be happy. While this can be true, and in my own case very well may be, I actually find I am part of a minority that way. I can't back that up with any statistics, but it has been my personal experience that there are less poly bisexuals than there are mono bisexuals. Furthermore, there are just as many, if not more, straight or gay poly people as there are bisexual poly people.

3. Bisexuality doesn't exist/It's just a phase/We're confused/We haven't made up our minds.

To be honest, I find this one ridiculous--which makes how common it is disturbing. Setting aside the shocking gall it takes to tell someone they are incorrect about their own orientation, the fact that countless people have publicly dated both men and women throughout entire lifetimes should be enough to make its existence obvious.

4. Once we make a lifelong commitment, we cease to be bisexual.

In 2005, I became engaged to a man. In the months that followed, I ran into the idea that I was no longer bisexual since I had committed myself to a heterosexual relationship. Much like #3, it was assumed that I had “made up my mind” and was now straight. This idea can be easily turned on its head, simply by applying it to gays or straights. When a straight person gets married, do they cease being attracted to anyone else? When a gay person gets married (if they are fortunate enough to live where that's a possibility) or commits to their partner, do they cease being attracted to others? Of course not. They may stop acting on their attractions, they may keep their attractions to themselves, but I do not know anyone who can honestly say the day they make that commitment, they cease finding others attractive. So why would we? I was engaged to a man, yes, but I was still attracted to women as well.

5. We claim to be bisexual because it's trendy/to get attention.

This one even seeps into the bisexual community itself. A lot of us look suspiciously upon 15 year old girls that proclaim bisexuality, wondering if they are just making that claim to be trendy or get the attention of men. It's possible some of them are, of course. Teenagers do a lot of things because it’s trendy or to get attention, and we can never be sure if that is why some people claim to be bisexual or not. Still, I know a lot of us knew we were bisexual from a young age, and many of us realized that in a time when it was NOT trendy or likely to garner good attention. So not only is this a misconception, as we know from our own experiences, but it is also a judgment that we have no right to make.

In the end, we must all realize that sexuality is personal and individual, rising far above our own assumptions and stereotypes. There is but one safe assumption to make about bisexuals, and that is that we are attracted to both men and women. Everything else depends on the individual in question. And, just for the record, no, I am not straight now.

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+ news +

A nice analysis of normativity following the trans incident at Bilerico,
same-sex marriage in D.C.,
and BBCfail! for the week.

A warm welcome to writers princesspretty, hokum&hex, and unboxedqueer! Another writer to start this week, and some exciting new content planned to arrive by New Years...
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In my life I do a lot of different things. One thing I love to do is play zombie video games with other queer gamers. One thing we like to do is use the zombies as what we call a “meat shield.” Instead of using an in game shield, we pick up a zombie and use them as a shield against other zombies or other in game players. The meat shield philosophy is also used in real life. The meat shield philosophy is when a person or group with considerable power/advantage/privilege uses an underprivileged or representative group as a shield against another group who also has the same or similar lack of power. The most recent use of the meat shield is in Washington D.C by the Catholic Archdiocese. Their shield, the homeless and foster care services.

The Catholic Church is the biggest provider of services to the homeless in DC. They have a contract from the city in the amount of 2.8 million that they use to provide various services to homeless including pantries and shelters. Back in September they announced that if the city council approved the marriage equality bill that they would be forced to cut services. One aspect of the bill that is causing the most dysfunction in the Catholic Church is the fact that they may have to extend same sex partner benefits to employees in the DC area.

There are of course, many things wrong with this argument. I am only going to focus on the doctrine that they so believe. As a queer Christian, the fact that they are threatening to stop serving the homeless is about as un-Christian as you can get. 1 Peter 4:6-11 states:

“Listen to the Message. It was preached to those believers who are now dead, and yet even though they died (just as all people must), they will still get in on the life that God has given in Jesus. Everything in the world is about to be wrapped up, so take nothing for granted. Stay wide-awake in prayer. Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God's words; if help, let it be God's hearty help. That way, God's bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he'll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything—encores to the end of time. Oh, yes!”

As Christian people we are implored to reach out and work for justice, help the needy, clothe the naked and house the homeless. So Catholics, I ask you, where do you stand with God, going blatantly against what he implores all of us to do?

Jumping trains from faith to politics, which these days seem to run on the same track, Catholic Charities receives DC taxpayer money to fund its services. If you are going to receive tax payer money, you have to abide by all rules. You can’t just pick and choose which ones you want. You want to play by your own rules, then play your own game, and fund it yourself. While the Catholic Church does get a good chunk of money, city insiders have said that they are not an integral part the city social services programs. Basically, they are expendable.

Even though they are expendable, the work they do cannot go unaccounted for. They do amazing work by providing shelter and food to one third of the homeless in DC. As a Christian man it breaks my heart that marriage equality is what continues to pull the church apart and could potentially lead to more people not getting the help and services they need.

Christ says in Matthew 25: 34-36 “Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what's coming to you in this kingdom. It's been ready for you since the world's foundation. And here's why: I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.”
And that is to me is the bottom line, so Catholics, make your decision really live up what it means to be Christ like.

For more information check out:

D.C. to Introduce Same-Sex Marriage Bill
D.C. Council Approves Same-sex 'Marriage' Law
Catholic Church gives D.C. ultimatum
Catholic Church Holds Poor People Hostage Over DC Marriage Equality

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Coming Out Queer

The figure of speech, “coming out,” is like a new beginning. It’s like a queer birthday. It is the day you stand tall and proud and scream, “I am not ashamed of who I am.” For many of us, it is an on-going experience. Often times, we meet people and we just get that look of confusion. They can’t quite figure you out. It’s like the stranger is saying, “Ok, please define yourself for me.” That’s the moment you realize, “shit, I’ve got to find a box, put myself in it and give it to this stranger.”

I have come out so many times in my life. I have come out gay to my friends, my family, and complete strangers. I have come out trans to myself and then re-thought what that meant and decided I didn’t have the strength or courageousness for that path of life. I have come out queer and gender-neutral, androgynous and unisexual. I have come out gay and lesbian. I have declared myself butch and femme, boi and girl, but today, today I am coming out human.

The term, “coming out” has so many definitions, which for a lot of people, may mean they go down multiple paths. Some may go down one path and always remain on that path. Some people may go down a path and then backtrack to get onto another one. Some may get to the end of a path, only to start again on a different one, while others may walk in between multiple paths. The possibilities are endless; however, the point is that we are all human.

The paths we choose often lead us down many different roads. For anyone GLBTQ this means taking “different” steps than that of the “norm.” Everything we do is “altered” in some way. When we choose to start families, or look for jobs, or introduce our significant other to our families or even strangers, it always reiterates the fact that we’re queer. In our being “different” and “loving different” we live different. Therefore, we have to rely on our GLBTQ community to seek advice and trade stories of success and failure. I, among many others, am walking queer paths.

We all have rights and freedoms. We all have the ability to do what makes us feel “right” or “normal.” We control the words we say, and our thoughts are our own. We don’t have to choose a hypothetical box or specific path to follow. We just have to be comfortable with ourselves and let others choose whether or not to accept us. We were all given the opportunity to have a journey here on Earth and we, alone, have to make ourselves happy. We are responsible for making sure that this life we are in is the life we want to live. We don’t have to be afraid to step outside of the box.

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When Allies Attack

So did you hear about how the Bilerico Project ran a piece from their brand-new contributor Ron Gold last week and the internet caught fire and burned down because it was so smugly transphobic? (No? Then you should be reading my blog. Seriously, people, I have a life outside of here you know.)

Now, Bil Browning ultimately did the right thing and took down the offending post and rescinded Gold's contributor status. I'm not going to rehash the particular reasons why this post was incredibly wrongheaded and stunningly insulting. I'm more interested in a phenomenon illustrated by this fracas: what happens when allies do something you find profoundly hurtful.

Being part of a disprivileged group is never easy. Every day you are confronted the ways you don't fit into the "mainstream," every day you are reminded how you are different, how you "don't fit in," how societal expectations never seem to expect...you. In a culture where the default human being seems to remain white, male, cis, and straight, it's pretty difficult to make your way if you don't happen to fit one of those categories. (And heaven help you if you find multiple exceptions on that list.)

Luckily, you're not alone. After all, the white, male, cis and straight are a minority. And one of the most positive effects of the various civil rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s was the realization that they all had a lot in common, and a common opponent in the societal structures that systematically disprivileged them. The various movements often borrowed theory and even rhetoric from each other, building upon prior successes and trying to evade previous setbacks, in the process forming alliances and laying the groundwork for a broad progressive movement.

But this solidarity is fragile, and when it breaks down it can feel much more painful than being turned on by people who don't share your broad vision. It's one thing to be attacked by Peter LaBarbera: gay, trans, or female, he's pretty much against any expansion of civil rights for you. You know this, and can let his attacks roll off your back as you share in some healthy ridicule with your fellow attackees. It's quite another matter, though, to be attacked by people that you agree with: to be a feminist trans woman and hear that a feminist icon like Germaine Greer thinks trans women are "ghastly parodies." Or to be a gay man or a lesbian and see how progressive liberal politicians always insist that gay rights needs to take a back seat to whatever the pressing social issue of the day is. (It doesn't matter what the issue is; it's always more important.) Or to be a feminist cis woman and encounter misogyny in male spaces, gay or straight.

It hurts. It hurts because these people are usually good allies; they're all for women's rights, but still think calling somebody a stupid cunt is okay; they're all for same sex marriage, but don't want it taught at school; they're all for disabled rights, but think not using the word "lame" is...lame.

They're all for the idea that homosexuality is inborn, but being trans isn't.

And because this feels like a betrayal, because it is so unexpected, people lash out. And in lashing out, they use the tools they use to fight ordinary oppressors. Transphobic, homophobic, misogynistic--these words get thrown around at people the same way they would at more overt homophobes, transphobes, and misogynists. And that continues the cycle of betrayal: now the ally feels attacked by an ally, and goes through many of the same emotions. Lines get drawn. Positions harden. Movements get divided, yet again.

That doesn't mean that people aren't justified in their anger, or should always swallow the hurt or always seek a conciliatory stance. A lot of the time, the anger is justified, and people need to be called out when they screw up--after all, if they really are your ally, if they really are progressive, they're supposed to be willing to listen. But it does mean that people can try to think before typing, because Jay Smooth's advice is a progressive philosophy as well: call out the act, not the actor; tell them that what they did is racist, not that they are a racist.

That doesn't absolve the person who messed up, though. One of the most presumptuous of privileges is to speak for someone else; and that's precisely what Bil Browning did by allowing the Ron Gold piece to run. "We intend to challenge our readers and contributors to reach beyond their usual expectations and engage on some topics that might be outside of their comfort zone," he said, but had he asked any trans person he'd quickly have found out that there was nothing challenging in Gold's post--just the same old tired attacks trans people deal with everyday.

It's important for allies to talk to each other with respect; but even more important is that they listen to each other with the proper attention, be open with each other on what the important issues are, and be quick to acknowledge when they have made a mistake or asserted a privilege. That will prevent a recurrence of the Gold fiasco far more than simply putting up a flurry of trans-themed posts at Bilerico.

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Ever gone to any standard party filled with gay men? Of course you have. The men come in all shapes and sizes. If anything, they represent a completely heterogeneous population, save one factor: they all seem to be, to some degree, quite affluent. Whatever happened to the “retail queen” working at Aeropostale and is of reasonable means? What about the gay guy who works at the seedy video store? Where have these men gone? Well, if these parties are to be believed, they’ve all become investment bankers, nurses, and lawyers and are threatening to take over the world. It isn’t difficult for me, with my four degrees and rather pristine pedigree, to feel like I am poor Cousin Cletus at some of these parties. Advanced education does not always translate into six figures, lest you count after the decimal point.

As a sociologist, I must admit I am skeptical. Contrary to what we all know as reality (or, reality television), most people in the United States are NOT wealthy. They aren’t even doing “great”. The last assessment of median household income is around $51,000 a year, which means half of American households make less than this amount. With simply that piece of information, no one should leave a party feeling bad because they didn’t make the maximum contribution to their 401(k) this year. But why does the gay community seem, at times, to buck this curve?

The answer is simple: it doesn’t. There’s no data that tends to show the gay community is smarter, wealthier, or in any better financial straits than their heterosexual contemporaries. In fact, socio-cultural co-factors would indicate the opposite would be true; queers as a minority population are more likely to make less because of being underemployed. There are a multitude of reasons as to why gay men, lesbians, and trans persons are indeed more likely to be burdened, but this raises an important question – where are the working class queers?

Media is hardly a great representation of community diversity, as network television went decades without credible representations of African Americans, Latinos, Asians, gay men and lesbians. However, in the last 20 years, the media has gone to great lengths to demonstrate that there are a sizable number of families who are not living in the lap of luxury like Alexis Carrington (from Dynasty) and J.R. Ewing (from Dallas). For example, the once-popular show One Tree Hill went to great lengths to demonstrate that a good number of the cast came from working class backgrounds. Shows like Roseanne and King of Queens portray people who, at times, struggle with issues of money.

This reality of economic disparity has not made its way to the queer community, as of yet. The highly popular Will & Grace featured a gay lawyer who lived in Manhattan. Though he was at multiple points fired or resigning from his career, he could afford to not have a job. Queer As Folk and the L Word portray images where the working class characters (like Emmett) seem barely working class and can easily associate and interact in socio-economic circles of their friends (who are upper middle class, at worst). Why do we not see real life as art, as it were?

A key reason as to the invisibility of the working class queer is within the title: visibility. In order to been seen (and counted), one has to be able to represent a data point. Unlike other minority groups, queers have the possibility of remaining in “the closet” for personal conviction (such as lack of gain in publicly coming out), fear of reprisal (for those in homophobic work or living situations), or a host of other reasons. Even early studies tend to show that being “out” is more likely in segregated places and metropolitan areas, as there is less fear of stigma (Dank 1971). So, if the working class person does not live in an area that is accepting, s/he is more likely to not publicly identify, even if they privately do so.

The second problem is one of measurement error. A good number of individuals who might be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or trans and working class may never been counted because they are not properly identified. For example, the haphazard (but all we have) data from the U.S. Census on homosexual households only measures based on reported domiciles with two members of the same gender, unmarried, as heads. But what if a gay man lives with his lesbian best friend? Not counted. Or a bisexual man lives with his son? Again, not counted. However, if you correlate that those are counted are more likely to be (a) out, (b) urban or suburban, and (c) financially secure, then you see why the picture we get of queers in our country is highly distorted. This is why research done by Simmons Marketing Research (1990) and The Bay Area Reporter (1991) are terribly flawed: small subsets of a population (Advocate magazine subscribers and San Francisco residents, respectively) who are disproportionately more wealthy than the enormous populations missed.

Finding the economically disadvantaged other, the working class queer, is not difficult if one looks. However, getting good quantitative data on this population represents overcoming a myriad of barriers. For good behavioral scientists, the first step might be capturing merit-worthy qualitative data, which the scholarly world lacks even in this day. It’s only through the efforts of behavioral nerds like us that we will close the gap between the stereotypical hustler on one end and the stereotypical lawyer on the other.

(1991): "Where the Money Is: Travel Industry Eyeing Gay/Lesbian Tourism", The Bay Area Reporter, September 19, 1991.

Gary Dank (1971): Coming Out in the Gay World, Psychiatry vol. 34.

Simmons Marketing Research (1990): Readership Survey for the Advocate.

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In patriarchal, heteronormative mainstream society, the concept of sex and gender does not usually go beyond the concepts of the male sex equals the gender identity of man and the female sex equals the gender identity of woman. However, among modern queer culture some of those who are assigned female at birth identify their gender as femme, not as woman. What does it mean to be a femme? Does one have to be queer to be a femme? Does one have to be a lesbian to be femme? How do queer communities construct gender? Is it different from how gender is constructed in hegemonic culture? What does gender have to do with sexuality? Does a lesbian identity legitmate femme gender identity? Does it need to?

Drawing on diverse sources from Gayle Rubin to Adrianne Rich, I explore concepts of gender identities among queer culture, as well as questions of gender diversity and gender definitions in general and in queer communities and femme and woman identities specifically. Questions of gender diversity and gender definitions are relevant because of the recent explosion of post-modern theory that has worked to examine and deconstruct traditional notions of identity. Questions of gender diversity, gender definitions and their link to sexuality has also been a long standing relevant issue to feminist theory and especially to the more recent developments in queer theory that questions the traditional definitions of gender and their link or lack thereof between gender and the sex one is assigned at birth and whether gender identity is connected to sexual identity.

Home is where...well, where is it?: Bisexual Femme Identities

Another queer femme's attempts at getting hot'n'heavy with a straight non-transman has had me thinking:

About myself, and my own forays into sex with non-transmen, what I like to do, what I like to fantasize about, in short, this complicated, many-layered and sometimes totally confusing and frustrating thing called 'my sexuality'.

My sexuality - in terms of what I like to do, what I like to fantasize about, who I notice, who I date, has changed so many times over it's not even funny.

“As it’s finally sinking in that if gender is fluid, how can ‘sexual orientation’ not be as well?” a Travers Scott wrote in 'Pomosexuals: Challenging Ideas about Gender and Sexuality', "How can you be rigidly oriented to something that is amorphous, shifting, tricky and elusive? Basing your identity on sexuality is like building a house on a foundation of pudding." That's certainly been my experience. Once I come up with a specific label for my sexuality, I chafe against it. There is something in me - even deeper than a conscious thought that screams 'don't fence me in!' and fights against any kind of label or category I try to put myself in, unless it's broad enough. But then I worry that a broad term could never really convey all of the nooks and crannies of my sexuality. But, that's what happens when we are dealing with, the oft-used lesbian feminist phrase, "a paucity of language."

Even though I spent a good few years identifying as a lesbian, I was only for a short time of that, exclusively attracted to women. Most of that time, I was still pretty interested in dick, even if I wasn't all that interested in the men attached to them. No one bought that I was a lesbian - it was like people could into my mind and see that I was cock crazy. Only one friend of mine believed that maybe I was a lesbian, but it was more of the lesbianism described by Adrienne Rich in her "Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Existence" essay.

"You were always so women-oriented," she said, "You know, so into women's bodies and celebrating them and the goddess and all that typically lesbian-feminist stuff" She was shocked when I took the Klein sexuality (a more expanded scale from the Kinsey Scale) grid and revealed that I almost exclusively fantasized about sex with non-transmen. "But you've had sex with so many women!" she shouted in disbelief. "I know." I said. And I've been contemplating the complexity inherent in that ever since.

What does it mean to identify my gender as a femme, but not necessarily as a woman, except in a social gender role sense, and to be primarily visually attracted to women and sex with them the most, but fantasize constantly about dick, but prefer transmen and queer cisgendered men?

I don't know what it means, but I do know how it feels. Sometimes it feels great - I feel complex, interesting, different and other times I just feel weird and misunderstood and like I'll never fit anywhere. The queer community and my queer identity is so precious to me, especially my identity as a queer femme. I constantly live under the fear that I'll be kicked out of the queer girl club and that they'll take away my femme tiara. Every time a lesbian-identified femme says, "The difference between me and a straight woman is that I present myself as a subject of desire for a woman. That's what is subversive about my gender." I feel like I've been kicked in the gut. What the heck does that make me then, I wonder, and where does that leave me?

I remember the first time I read Gayle Rubin in school. I remember when they mentioned her name thinking, hey, I've read her work before, in butch-femme anthology ‘The Persistant Desire: A Butch-Femme Reader'’ edited by Joan Nestle and the lesbian (dare I say lesbian-feminist?) BDSM anthology, ‘Coming To Power’ edited by Samois, a BDSM women’s group.

Gayle Rubin is most famous in feminist and women's studies for her essay 'The Traffic in Women: Notes on the Political Economy of Sex' which all of our teachers would tell us she wrote while in grad school. We would roll our eyes and groan because we knew they were saying, hey, you could write something like this too! We really didn't need the pressure.

In an essay on the sex wars in ‘Coming to Power’ Gaye Rubin recalls a conference, not at Barnard, which is famous for a conference that occurred in 1982 that was a major showdown between feminists of different factions, but at Mount Holyoke. The different factions that were ‘at war’ were (are?) namely the butch-femme, kinky, queer feminists and the cultural feminists who felt that heterosexuality, butch-femme and BDSM was assault and reproduced women's oppression. The conference that Rubin writes about takes around the same time period as the Barnard conference in 1982, but preceding it, and in the essay, Rubin quotes some of the cultural feminists.

What struck me this time that hadn't before were their names. I recognized Sheila Jeffrey's and Janice Raymond, but I realized that I recognized them from their writings on how and why transpeople were the anti-Christ, excuse me, I mean anti-feminists. I was struck at how it seems the same people often consider groups that I belong to, to be the enemy. I also marveled at how the usual suspects; leather people, butches, femmes, transpeople, bisexuals, non-monogamists, overtly sexual women, have often been the target of not only mainstream society, but of the some members of subcultures we are often connected to - the queer and feminist community. I find this very interesting.

Rubin's essay in ‘Coming To Power’ details the ways in which mainstream oppression of BDSM and clashes in feminism over the issue, have worked toward the oppression of kinky people. When she mentioned that she used to be excited about reading feminist press and now dreads it, for fear that there will be a new installment about how sick she is as a sexual person. It reminded me of why I became to dread reading the local gay paper. It seemed every week a new article about why transpeople and bisexuals were 'wrecking the movement, making 'us' look bad, or hijacking the movement' were frequent themes. I would sigh. Close the paper and wonder where the hell that left me.

In Rubin's work in 'The Persistent Desire’ she notes that when the slogan 'Feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the practice' was taken too literally that lesbian sexualities merit to exist as a sexuality had dropped out of the landscape. It had to be justified politically. It struck me then that I felt that way about femme identity. That when lesbian femmes rushed to legitimize femme identity based on its queerness and the queer direction - that what made it subversive is that the gussying up is for a woman not a man - then the ability to legitimate femme gender not on the basis of queerness drops out of the landscape.

Both of these lines of reasoning make me profoundly uncomfortable and just as I'd like to see sexuality considered legitimate because it's sexual, not despite it, whether that's a BDSM or lesbian or queer sexuality. I'd like to see gender considered the same way. Not based on who the compliment is, but for femme gender to stand on its own. With or without justification from a butch or queer desire. I don't need a justification to be who I am and I don't feel that my being a kinky queer femme who fucks people all over the gender spectrum is incompatible with my feminism. But I know full well what it feels like to be alienated by mainstream culture and the communities you so want to call home. It's frustrating to seek out community and see all these signs that say 'You Are Not Welcome Here' I know that I myself and many other queers and feminists of my stripe have felt that way in feminist and LGBT communities.

I've solved this for myself by creating my own communities of friends and reveled in that. But friendship circles is not the same as community so it makes me thrill to hear about conferences, classes and other venues that deal with femme gender and identity and hope that new dialogue and new theory is being written just as it is being lived each and every day by my brave people who have the courage to be themselves, even if we do get disowned every step of the way.

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+ news +

LAPD pwns Boy Scouts,
dramaz at Bilerico,
and trans-inclusive housing discussion @ Columbia for the week.

Um, four new writers starting this week, and still more to come. Keep an eye out!
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Trapped In Azeroth

Video games are escapism. Some may disagree with that statement, and they are free to say as much on their own blogs, but here I am Bob fucking Barker and I decide who goes home with the turtle wax. I imagine that such a sentiment can seem confusing. To the untrained eye it would appear that I'm writing off my own area of expertise. We have been conditioned to avoid the term, to fear it's negative connotations if applied to anything relevant to our interests. My high school required us to bring our own books from home and read them during institutionalized quiet time. Some teachers wouldn't let us bring in fantasy or sci-fi books, chanting in monotone that “reading should be for reading, not for escapism”. By the time I finished explaining all of the flaws and fallacies in that argument, so much time would have progressed that you would no longer get any of my pop culture references. Although that suggests you get them now. I think that's what hell is. Going around making witty references about Billy Corgan that nobody understands but they laugh anyway because they don't want to seem rude.

There are many other examples of our cultural aversion to escapism, ranging from the dreaded “sci-fi ghetto” of television to bedtime stories of the Jews controlling the media to make us complacent enough to rule (if you're reading this, I miss you Grandma <3). We avoid the term, like that guy who gives away Chick Tracts at Mid-Terms, but all fiction is inherently escapist. That's like, kinda the point of fiction, isn't it? We should embrace escapism. Take it out for dinner and even spring for dessert. Because life is brutal. Like the blackest black times infinity. It's cruel, unfair, and absolutely none of us will make it out alive. I have a college degree. I recycle. I keep up on current events, even those that do not directly effect me. I know HTML and occassionally remember to feed my roommate's cat. All in all, I'd say I'm a winner. And yet despite all my virtues I get exactly the same amount of say on human rights as someone who wears magical underwear and believes that childbirth is woman's punishment for eating a pomegranate. If I reflect on that for more than 25 seconds at a time they will find me on Rick Santorum's property, dressed in carboard wielding a wiffle ball bat that I've painted silver so it looks more menacing, foaming at the mouth and humming the theme song of DuckTales. Knowing the differences between Castlevania 2 and Castlevania 3 is a small price to pay for my sanity.

So yeah, video games are great. Because they allow us to be people and do things that would be impossible due to the real world, due to physical and moral limitations, science, or a lack of hair product. Video games allow a tough-talking coward to be a sociopathic space marine, a skeptic to fight hordes of demons, and for a young lad of 10 winters to express his repressed femininity. Don't think I didn't see that look on your face? “Ugh, what is her point?” Well chow down on this, Emeril, because this one's a doozie. I understand that I phrased it clumsily, but I could not think of a way to say “I used to play video games and pretend I was a girl” without it sounding problematic or riddled with binary. I'm a shit-stirrer by nature. Before I joined the LGBT community, I was that kid who would plug my ears and chant excerpts from the Communist Manifesto whenever I walked by the College Republicans booth on campus. I don't know how to be unoffensive. So when I say “video games allow a boy to be a girl, and vice versa”, please know that I mean no phobia, and that I'm on your side, whether you like it or not, mother muchacho.

I haven't played it in years but I still remember all of Chun-Li's special moves for Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo. I entered my first Smash Brothers tournament, and made it to the finals, as Princess Peach. I have played Sailormoon RPG although I will never admit to saying it aloud for fear that doing so will launch my otaku friends into a chant of “One of us! One of us!” Before I had mustered the courage/gall to come out to myself and others as transgendered, I played the female characters in all my favorite games as a, well, looking back I see it as a desperate cry for help, but I imagine back then I saw it as a subtle expression of my interest or curiosity in living the female role, not that I know at all what the fuck that even means. And for once, I'm not the only one. Many trans women that I've confided this to over the years have reciprocated the notion. Like good 8 out of 10, easy. Admittedly, my data pool is a little biased; I tend to seek out nerdy femme trans women like myself because that's also my dating preference and I like to have my cake and sleep with it, too. We're a subculture of a subculture. Hardcore Gamers > People Who Admit To Being Hardcore Gamers > Trans Women Who Admit To Being Hardcore Gamers. Let me know when you've worked that one out, Pythagorus.

And for every trans person who reads this and says “well, that's interesting...this doesn't relate to my life but it's intresting” there's at least 500 cis people who would read this and go “what the fuck is this chick talking about...I only play Chun-Li because she can bounce off the side of the screen...and Lara Croft is hot, anyways”. And that's okay! Not everyone who makes a WoW character that's not their current identified gender has to use it to “express themselves”. That's the beauty of escapism! You can just be doing it for escapism's sake! Wheeeee! If I may be serious for a minute, I would like to point out that this mega informal study that I've performed on my social circle is not meant to suggest that trans men do not experience a similar phenomenon. While I don't mean to exclude you, I'm also an idiot who often talks like she knows shit when she really don't. If you are a trans men who liked playing as Ryu or Chrono, I would love to hear your story. I'll even post it as a comment on this article post. Because I love everyone. Group hug.

As a Discordian, I try to view every situation as a Schroedinger's Cat; it both is and isn't, simultaneously. On the one hand, it's great to have girl characters in video games because it allows those of us born into one gender to vicariously experience being the other. On the other hand, having girl characters in games is cool because not every game needs to be a sausage fest. If I wanted to be left with the choice of “testy guy with way too many muscles who's mom didn't love him enough” and “testy guy with way too many muscles who's mom didn't love him enough with bleached hair” I'd sign up with a local fight club and be featured on a History Channel only three people will watch all the way through. It's okay to play as Ruby Heart because she's the kind of girl you wished you could be. It's also okay to play her because she's fast and has that special attack just comes out from the ground and hits your opponent when they least expect it, like a two year old who's just learned to punch you in the groin.

Those of us who play “against our gender” are issued rations of harassment and other bullshit. I've been called the f word more times than Tom Cruise, though I'm as proud a lesbian as Wonder Woman (no, I don't get to say the word, reappropriation doesn't work like that. So stop it, girl who spells dyke with an “i”). But with online gaming, the culture has developed an odd double standard; if you're really a human (or Glenn Beck) you can be gnome, but if you're gender A it is not okay to play as gender B. There is this unwritten expectation that gamers be “themselves” online, and there can be consequences for playing against your gender. Speaking from experience, I gave World of Warcraft a try in my pre-”out” years. I made a girl character and met up with some friends I knew in the meatspace and joined their guild. For like a week and a half. One of my friends pronouned me during a raid and I was booted by the guild leader. When I asked my friends to appeal on my behalf, they both nonchalantly said “just make a boy character and they'll probably let you back in”. I hope I am the only person to ever experience this. Because if such an incident was ever repeated I would be tempted to walk up to my good twin and shake their hand, causing the world to annihilate in contradiction. But I have in the past heard of similar monkey shit being thrown at people for playing against their gender, either on WoW, Second Life, Xbox Live or even tabletop RPGing. And this is stupid. Not only because it deprives people who would otherwise not have a chance to explore their gender expression of the opportunity, and also because it's a fucking video game, and you're stupid for trying to make it out to be anything more than that.

One MMORPG is going the extra mile by enforcing webcam tests to prove a player's gender, to cut back on “gender-bending cheaters” and give female players “more respect”. Now, those of you who actually clicked on the link and actually fought your way through the jungle of bad grammar and spelling mistakes armed only with your machete of tolerance for internet English will scoff at me and go “Jetta, that's China. This is AMERRKUHHHH. We don't do that here.” I would respond by reminding you that we all (WE ALL), have at least one friend who's met their current partner or is currently seeking out a partner through an MMORPG. And you would be speechless. And I would hold you and tell you it's okay, that this happens to everyone, and that I still think you're very pretty and smell good. Online gaming has become just another social networking site, and for every girl like me who gets three e-mails a day from strange men no matter how big she writes “NO MEN” on her OkCupid profile there's a girl (or boy playing a girl) trying to politely rebuke the advances of a very saucy saucy blood elf. It is not as far fetched a scenario as your optimism may seem.

Right now, there is someone in America who works with or devotes much of their “civilian” life to an MMORPG who thinks that this is a great idea, and that American games should give it a test run. Perhaps not WoW. Perhaps not, I dunno, I don't know any other MMORPGs because I spend all my looking at erotica and routinely updating my facebook so my mother does not think I spend all my time looking at erotica. But it could happen. And it will be bullshit. Because it's bullshit now.

It's discriminatory (although nobody's holding China to any human rights standards), and it just defeats the spirit of gaming. Gaming is escapism. It is opening the window of your predictable, brutal life and inhaling some whimsy and inspiration. Maybe some of us who play Halo might will never be space marines. Maybe some of us who play Fire Pro Joshi or Super Fire Pro Wrestling Queen's Special will never one day be female pro wrestlers. Who cares? We don't have to be ourselves. Most of us can't even be bothered to be ourselves while we're in the meatspace interacting with other bags of mostly water. So maybe this article isn't targeted or tailored to you, my audience. You don't need to be reading this, because you already know. I would hope that being able to read months of my drivel without finding me and beating me half to death with an NES light gun would have endowed you with enough sensitivity and awareness to know that you shouldn't player hate on people who play against their gender. But fuck, some people need to be told this, and I can only shout at so many people per day before the police are called.

Unsurprisingly, I'm torn over feelings about this issue. On the one hand, I feel that this is an important and necessary phenomenon, and we should take down some names and make some bar graphs and that every liberty should be secured so that those who want to use video games to express their gender in the future should be allowed to do so without having to take webcam pics or have triggering hate speech thrown at them at comic cons. On the other, fuck it, they're video games. It's escapism and nothing more and nobody should be making such a big deal about people playing “against their gender” because it's just a fucking game and if you feel yourself troubled or vexed or even disquieted because some girl character in your clan or server is played by a boy then you have bigger issues to be worrying about, like how you're going to pay for that therapist who's going to help you realize how your hatred and bigotry is merely an extension of your insecurity and feelings about how you were raised, or something. So stop it! Let people play whoever and whatever they fucking want.

So yeah. That's how I feel about that.

In other news, for those of you who have asked, therapy is going well, and I'm being referred to a pyschiatrist. So soon I will be able to combine my love of crying about my problems to people obliged to listen with taking drugs. Sorry. I'm using humor again to deflect my feelings again. I'm working on this. In therapy.

Since I still have you on the horn, and my next article is due to go up around Christmastime, I would like to invite all of my readers, even those who don't comment, to ask/suggest/request the topic of my next piece. I'll even do another FAQHag and just answer your geek-related questions, if that's what you wish. For those of you who think “oh, you're gonna write an article for me...how...lame of a gift”, I will remind you that this year I'm giving loved ones poetry, some of whom will undoubtedly wish they had received a four-page treatise on the homoerotic themes of He-Man instead. So pick your battles.

Stay classy. Remember, what happens over the rainbow, stays over the rainbow.

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Apparently, the University of Notre Dame's new football coach is a pro-choice Irish Catholic. Ironically, earlier this year, many from Notre Dame protested President Obama's commencement speech at the University on the grounds that he is pro-choice.

However, this begs the question, can you be pro-choice and a Catholic? You could argue that you can be anything you want. But one of the Big Rules of the Catholic church is being pro-life. And, I've got to hand it to them, at least they are consistent, they are pro-life when it comes to fetuses, to war and to the death penalty. So at least you can respect them.

I've been doing a lot of soul searching lately on the issue of religion. I was raised Catholic, however, I don't consider myself Catholic anymore and am trying to discover if there is an organized religion for me, or if I should just continue being a good person in the world without a religion to tell me so.

I've been told you can be Catholic and be pro-choice, or think that women should be ordained, or be OK with divorce, or whatever. But if that's the case, why be a Catholic? Is the best solution picking and choosing what you believe in from a religion, and just saying "the heck with it" to everything else? I'm not religious scholar, but it seems pointless to say "I'm a This" but then disagree with some of the big rules that This tells you to believe. Why not be Episcopalian instead? Or join the UCC? Or become a Unitarian? Why not find a religion that actually matched your personal beliefs?

(Because, after so many years being indoctrinated in one faith, it feels "wrong" to attend a service of another religion, so attended no church at all is better than attending one different from how you were raised, even if you don't identify with it anymore.)

However, do you have to be a Catholic to work at Notre Dame? I have no idea, but I'm guessing no. I work for a Catholic company (not Notre Dame), and I'm not Catholic, and there are plenty of people that are also openly not Catholic (not like they are Catholic-church bashers, they just identify with another religion). So, if the new ND football coach, isn't really "Catholic" then big deal. Clearly football is more important to ND than religion. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

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My previous post provided a review of Louis-Georges Tin’s book, L’invention de la Culture Hétérosexuelle. The book is an attempt to historicize heterosexual dominance by exposing the fact that the man-woman couple was valued very differently throughout French history. During feudal times, heterosexuality was viewed as necessary, but secondary: marriages had to be performed in order to ensure continuation of family lineages and certify economic exchanges. But the man-woman couple was not considered to be the epitome of love, friendship or sex. Passionate homosocial friendships and abstinence from sex were vaunted much more than relationships between men and women, and it was only in 12th Century that heterosexuality began to be placed on a pedestal. The end result was total dominance: since the late Middle Ages, and especially in the 20th Century, Europeans have been living in a hegemonic heterosexual culture – a society that Tin describes as constantly “portray[ing], encourage[ing], and celebrat[ing]” the “man-woman couple” and depicting it as the only valid form of sexual and amorous relations (9). This is the history of heterosexuality – but what about its future?

This post will consider some of the ways in which hegemonic heterosexual culture can be relegated to the dustbin of history. In order to ensure a pluralistic social environment that respects a large variety of sexualities, genders, and pleasures, heterosexuality must be stripped of its normative, compulsory status. The rules regarding heterosexual courtship (men paying for women on dates), sex (focusing solely on phallic pleasure, penetration) and relationships (legal and cultural recognition only of the man-woman couple) should also not be mandated for anyone. There are a variety of methods for fighting this hegemonic heterosexual culture, one of the most idiosyncratic of which is the phenomenon of the “queer heterosexual.”

But how can a straight person be queer?

This concept is, at first glance, hopelessly oxymoronic. How can a person who has a highly normative sexual identification be so closely associated with a term usually used to describe LGB and transgender individuals? And why would a person who has the legal and social privileges associated with his/her sexuality willingly link themselves to discriminated minorities? Indeed, the notion of the “queer heterosexual” seems bizarre from an LGBT movement perspective – is it not LGBT’s who are supposed to be fighting for rights and recognition? And is heterosexual participation in this fight not based primarily on the “ally” identity? Queer straight identification is only made possible, sensible and intelligible if we consider some of the philosophical changes brought about by queer theory. We can only hope to understand this phenomenon by peering at our sexed and gendered world through the queerest of looking glasses. This section will explain how queer theory’s basic insights inform queer heterosexual identification and practice.

First of all, queer theorists have produced a unique conceptualization of sexuality, which highlights the differences between sexual culture, sexual identity and sexual practice. The latter essentially involves sex acts, such as the swallowing of the penis by the vagina, the licking of various body parts, mutual masturbation, fun with bondage etc… Sexual identity entails the definition of certain sexual desires and practices as an essential part of who one is (for more on the historical contingency of sexuality-as-identity, see this previous post). For example, in the 20th Century, if a woman has sexual desires mostly for men, and if she has mainly had sex with men, then she is likely to come to identify herself as heterosexual. On the other hand, sexual culture refers to the social norms, values, and rules that regulate sexuality. For example, as stated above, heterosexual culture involves the constant celebration “man-woman couple” and its portrayal as the only valid form of sexual and amorous relations (Tin 9). Thus, as Annette Schlichter points out, “queer theory distinguishes between a cultural system that produces and regulates sexual identities…and heterosexuality as the hegemonic identity position arising from this system. Consequently, the object of…critique is neither heterosexual desire nor the subject desiring another gender but the sociocultural system, which inscribes a heterosexual identity as a hegemonic position” (“Queer at Last?” 546).

Queer theory’s second key theoretical move involves the dissociation of queer politics from LGBT identities, which “opens the queer project up to the participation of heterosexual[s]” (Schlichter, 546). In the late 20th Century, it was commonly thought that personal identities were inexorably linked to political affiliations. Only women could be feminists and participate actively in the feminist movement and only homo and bisexuals could participate in the struggle for gay and lesbian rights. While both of these social movements can be interpreted as pushing for greater gender and sexual liberation, it was simply assumed that only women and GLBs had a stake in these principles and that only they were allowed to struggle for them. This caused the movements to become inaccessible to people who did not fit neatly into the categories “woman,” “gay man,” and “lesbian.” Furthermore, people who strongly supported the principles of the feminist and gay/lesbian movements, but did not identify with the requisite identity categories, could not find a way to meaningfully participate in them. Hence, queer theory seeks to reorient the feminist and gay movements away from identity politics and toward the struggle for sexual and gender liberation in general. In this sense, it is no problem for heterosexuals who believe in that goal to participate in queer political movements – as David Ross Fryer argues in his “African-American Queer Studies” article, “one’s identity is not part and parcel of one’s political affiliation and there is no identity criterion for entry into the political agenda” (9).

But what about the claiming of a personal queer identity and membership in the queer community? Can heterosexuals go further than simple participation in queer politics? According to most queer theorists, they certainly can. The second major contribution of this academic field is the broadening of the definition of “queer,” such that it is no longer simply a synonym for gay or lesbian. “Queer” is now considered to be an umbrella term for all non-normative gender expressions and sexualities. While gays, lesbians and the transgendered are still included under the umbrella, queer can also refer, for example, to feminine men, masculine women, people in non-monogamous relationships, and those who perform a wide variety of sexual practices that are considered to be “kinky.” Many heterosexuals fit these descriptions, and also feel isolated from the dominant gender and sexuality frameworks in society. Unlike the identity politics described in the above paragraphs, membership in the queer community is not premised on any particular desire, action or social category. In a sense, it is all about how a person feels, in relation to the sexed and gendered social order. If they feel personally uncomfortable in relation to forced monogamy, marriage, compulsory heterosexuality, and the creation of a rigid hierarchy of sexual acts, then they may feel comfortable identifying with queerness. In a sense, all that is necessary for queer identification is the proclamation of queerness itself and acceptance of the core ideological message: you are queer if you say that you are and feel comfortable with it.

Overall, queer theory opens up possibilities for queer heterosexuality. Three philosophical moves are necessary in order for this identity to be rendered intelligible. First, conceptual differentiation between heterosexual practice and culture enables a both critique of heteronormativity and a neutral attitude towards sex between men and women. Under this model, heterosexual identities and practices do not necessarily have to be the objects of scrutiny and condemnation. Second, the dissociation of identities and practices from the queer political agenda opens up the possibility for straight participation in it. Since the overall goal is the liberation of sexuality and gender, there is (at least in theory) nothing that would prevent heterosexuals from participating actively in it. Finally, the broadening of “queer,” to include all non-normative sexual and gender identities/practices, makes it perfectly possible for straight people who have experienced discomfort with heteronormativity to identify as queer and to belong in the queer community.

Radical feminist opposition to queer heterosexuality

Radical feminists have been at the forefront of critiques of queer heterosexuality. They have responded with shock at queer theorists’ attempts to embrace non-normative versions of heterosexuality, and they have been extremely skeptical about straight peoples’ ability to reject patriarchy and heteronormativity. Radical feminist criticisms of queer heterosexuality emerge from an essentialist view of sex and sexuality. In brief, the argument goes as follows: (1) heterosexual sex – defined as the penetration of the penis by the vagina – is inherently oppressive to women, as it inscribes their subordinate social status; (2) it is unclear what exactly one needs to do in order to qualify as a queer heterosexual; (3) this uncertainty leads to a kind of “anything-goes” libertarianism, in which patriarchal, oppressive and immoral sexual practices can suddenly be glorified under the pretext of liberating the “non-normative”; and (4) heterosexuals can co-opt gay, lesbian, and transgender identities for their own purposes and quash the voices of true sexual and gender minorities by assuming leadership positions in queer organizations.

A queer interpretation of straightness depends on the idea that sexuality itself is a matter of interpretation. Building on the insights of a sociological tradition developed by Emile Durkheim and Max Weber, queer theorists assert that a particular action can never have a single meaning. Instead, in order to grasp the significance of the act, one has to know what kind of interpretation the individual or group doing the act takes of it, and what that interpretation means in the wider social context. This perspective sets up the possibility that, even though an action can have a dominant social meaning, individuals can develop their own interpretations of it, which do not necessarily conform to collective meanings. On the other hand, radical feminists have asserted an essentialist view of human action, which embeds certain acts with only a singular social meaning. For them, heterosexual sex is inherently damaging because there is “a particular set of cultural and political meanings attached to penile penetration of women being “had,” “possessed,” “taken,” “fucked,” meanings which are oppressive, humiliating and destructive” (Kitzinger and Wilson, “Virgins and Queers,” 446). It is not possible to transcend these meanings, “penile-vaginal penetration [is] inherently oppressive,” and therefore, true liberation can only be found by “refus[ing] heterosexual sex altogether,” or “choos[ing] heterosexual sex that does not include intercourse itself” (Kitzinger and Wilson, 447). Overall, according to some radical feminists, heterosexual sex inherently reinforces women’s subordinate status in society – hence, the only solution might be to reject heterosexuality altogether, as separatist feminists did in the late 20th Century.

Queer theorists have built their reputation on resisting this kind of reductive analysis of social acts. Their reply to radical feminists regarding the issue of penis-vagina sex is that the dominant social meaning of this act (the possession or penetration of a woman) is not fixed indefinitely and is only one among its many possible meanings. For instance, is it not possible for a person to interpret sex involving contact between the penis and the vagina in a way that would emphasize how the vagina “swallows,” “takes,” and “consumes” the penis? Would a re-interpretation of penis-vagina sex that emphasizes the woman as the active and benefiting agent, or that portrays both partners as consuming each other, be truly that difficult to achieve? At least at the individual level, people can come to interpret heterosexual sex in a different way quite easily, simply by activating their own critical consciousness. Social meanings of penis-vagina sex might be more difficult to change, but individuals and groups can work in concert to disrupt them. For instance, through dissemination of cultural material, such as the Bend over Boyfriend series (instructional videos for women about how to fuck their boyfriends with a dildo), activists can disrupt received notions about what heterosexual sex is like and open up possibilities for people who would like to explore beyond the usual sexual menu that is presented in heterosexual cultural production and mainstream porn outlets. Queer theory’s core contribution is that the social meaning of a particular act is not fixed. While today, penis-vagina sex is interpreted as an act by which a man possesses and dominates a woman, individual interpretations of it can differ widely, and concerted action by individuals and groups can help to change dominant social meanings over time as well. Hence, there is no basis on which to consider penis-vagina sex as inevitably, irreversibly and irrefutably patriarchal and oppressive.

The radical feminist critique of queer heterosexuality continues with a challenge to queer theorists regarding the vagueness of the concept. As Suzanna Danuta Walters points out, queer theorists have not successfully defined what exactly makes heterosexuality queer: “are straight queers marked by their willed critique of heterosexuality, or by their choice of sexual practices (S/M instead of vanilla, fetish fantasies, etc.), or by their allegiance to gay politics?” (“From Here to Queer,” 862). This is a valid point, but it ultimately misunderstands the individualistic sensibility of queer identity. As described above, the most important criterion for queer identification and membership in the queer community is the feeling that one wants to identify with the label and belong to the community. Usually, this is accompanied by a discomfort with heteronormativity and an unwillingness to accept social norms about gender and sexuality, for oneself or for others. Hence, the exact criteria for queer heterosexual identification should purposely be left open-ended, as a variety of experiences, emotions and desires could incite one to identify as queer.

The lack of certainty that surrounds concepts, such as “queer heterosexuality,” has also led some radical feminists to wonder whether the acceptance of heterosexuals under the queer umbrella will lead to the incorporation of morally questionable sexualities into the movement. Walters writes that, if “anyone who feels disenfranchised by sexual norms” has a right to call themselves queer, then the category can accommodate “pedophiles, incest perpetrators” and even rapists (838). If all that queer people “share is a non-normative sexuality and a disenfranchisement, then why not be totally inclusive?” (838). This slippery-slope argument misrepresents the ethical focus of queer theory. While its attention is certainly on studying how the definition of gender and sexual non-normativity has changed across time and space, queer theory’s major point is that “both gay liberation and feminism should be focusing on the struggle for sexual freedom itself – for freedom of sexual expression” (Fryer 9). Queer theory does not simply support all non-normative gender and sexual tendencies, without any regard as to what those tendencies entail. The broader principle at work is the general liberation of gender and sexuality, and hence, queer theory cannot seek to include sexual practices that are non-consensual, and that diminish the people’s freedom, under its umbrella. Rape is obviously coercive and pedophilia involves differences in the meaning of sexuality for children and adults that make actual consent for it unachievable. Consent is also problematic when it comes to incest, especially its pedophilic forms. While queer theorists might, for example, inquire into how we define pedophilia across time and space and question the arbitrary definition of ages of consent (what is the difference between 16 and 18?), it is hard to imagine an attempt to justify sex between adults and children. Furthermore, no queer theorist has seriously argued in favor of ending moral prohibitions on pedophilia, rape or incest. The only prominent figure that I can think of who has done so is Camille Paglia, and given her exceptionally stereotypical views about women and her disdain for poststructuralism, one can hardly call her a queer theorist.

Finally, Walters also expresses concern about the possibility that queer-ness could “degenerate into a ‘we are the world’ pluralism that refuses to see the lines of power as they mark themselves on the lives of gendered, raced, ethnic subjects” (863). She essentially worries that queer heterosexual identification will obscure the fact that heterosexuals still have an unprecedented amount of legal, social and cultural privilege, whatever political affiliation and sexual kinks they might have. Assuming a queer identity would allow straight people to portray themselves as victims, on a par with trans people, gays, lesbians and bisexuals. It would encourage them to infiltrate these groups’ organizations and to assume leadership positions. This would likely cause authentic sexual minority voices to be lost, as heterosexuals’ privileged position in society would make it probable that they would find it easier to assume a public role on most issues. There are two problems with this argument. First, it relies on essentialist assumptions about heterosexuals – would they not, in most social contexts, be taking a risk by identifying as “queer” and siding with sexual and gender minorities? Second, the argument conflates the GLB, transgender, and queer movements. I understand them to be interacting and overlapping, but separate, entities. The GLB and transgender movements largely push for legal changes and short-term measures to improve the lives of GLB and trans people, while the queer movement works towards broader cultural change in our conceptions of gender and sexuality. This might be an overly rigid rendering, since legal changes can contribute to cultural transformations and vice-versa. But I think it captures a key distinction between identity-based movements, which represent and aim to secure rights for a particular social group, and universalistic movements for the achievement general social principles and cultural goals. Like the LGB and trans movements, the former represents a particular group, while the latter represents the will to realize an idea. In that sense, the participation of heterosexuals in the queer movement poses few problems.

And what about queer heterosexuals themselves?

But amidst all this chatter, where are the voices of queer heterosexuals themselves? Dreamy queer theorists and horrified radical feminists, sniping away at each other in academic publications, have dominated discourse about queer heterosexuality. Unfortunately, few queer heterosexual voices have entered this debate. Currently, I only know of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Clyde Smith, who have written pieces about queer heterosexuality. In Smith’s case, he describes how identification with feminism, and queer cultural analysis, led him to develop a distance from heteronormativity. A move to San Francisco and a close identification with a mostly gay men’s dance group caused him to rethink his worldview and to develop a queer straight identity. I am not going to summarize/analyze the essay here, but it is well worth a read. In general, though, it is a shame that there are so few queer heterosexual voices, and as a result of this our understanding of the phenomenon is greatly reduced and remains largely at the theoretical/abstract level. So, come on queer heterosexuals! Tell us about yourselves!

***For More Information***

For brief, journalistic pieces about queer heterosexuality, check out Tristan Taormino’s, “The Queer Heterosexual,” and Clyde Smith’s “How I Became a Queer Heterosexual.” Annette Schlichter’s article, “Queer at Last? Straight Intellectuals and the Desire for Transgression,” is an interesting and sympathetic take on the queer heterosexual phenomenon, while David Fryer’s piece on “African-American Queer Studies,” in A Companion to African-American Studies, provides one of the clearest explanations of the differences between queer and GLBT identities, communities, and movements that I have ever read. I highly recommend it. For books on queer heterosexuality, see Thomas’ Straight with a Twist: Queer Theory and the Subject of Heterosexuality< and Fantina’s Straight writ Queer: Non-normative Expressions of Heterosexuality in Literature. Unfortunately, I have not been able to do full justice to the radical feminist critique of queer heterosexuality (and queer theory more broadly) in this post, so definitely have a look at the following articles: Suzanna Danuta Walters’ “From Here to Queer: Radical Feminism, Postmodernism, and the Lesbian Menace (Or, Why Can’t A Woman Be More Like A Fag?),” and Kitzinger and Wilkinson’s “Virgins & Queers: Rehabilitating Heterosexuality?” There is even a Wikipedia page about queer heterosexuality, which has more useful links and resources. If there are any other books, articles, or websites on this subject that we should be aware of, do let us know in the comment box below!

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