Archive for the 'queer politics' Category

17
Jun
09

Putting the “B” in LGBT

I’ve spent the past…oh…6 hours of my weekly writing date (it’s not usually that long, but work was canceled today due to lack of work) chatting with my friends, eating two meals, discussing linguistics and how stupid men who believe women aren’t really funny are, reading comics, joining Twitter, and generally doing everything but writing. Maybe I should try to actually get some work done before I give up and go home? No, never mind, it sounds like my friend’s new gentleman friend is coming by and I’ll get to meet him. You all don’t care if I never post again because I have the attention span of a gnat, do you?

Right. Um. Trying again on Thursday. I’m on a train to Philadelphia (Yay Trans Health Conference!) so there’s no internet and really very little to distract me. [Aaaand now the PTHC is in the past, and I failed to give you all a heads up that I'd be there so anyone else who would be could say hello. Oops. Next year.]

I spent Saturday May 30th at the Bi Writers’ Association and NYC’s LGBT Community Center‘s Putting the “B” in LGBT Summit. It was an interesting day. The organizers clearly tried to pack a weekend conference into one day, and the experience suffered for it — everything ran over and got increasingly behind schedule, and all of the panels had too many people in too short a time slot to effectively have a conversation. Nevertheless, there was lots of good networking, and some very interesting things were said. And while the opening plenary was made up entirely of people of the same race and within the same age range, that did change somewhat as the day went on — not as much as I’d have liked, but some. It was clear someone was trying.

Robyn Ochs gave the keynote. I’d never seen her speak before, and I was very impressed. She’s smart and engaging and funny and seems to have good queer, gender, etc. politics. I’m happy to have her representing my movement — which is good, because, um, she does. There are very few bigger names in bi activism out there. So I’m delighted she’s so on the ball.

For example, she made me very happy by acknowledging that the LGBT movement has lots of inclusion problems, and that we’d be focusing on the way bisexuals are often marginalized because it was the topic of this particular summit, not because it was the only or most important marginalization happening within the community. Yay.

She talked about how the ways to be visible (to most people) as bisexual at all mirror the most common stereotypes about bisexuals, thus reinforcing them, and how that and the way the existing language supports binaries leads to a lack of positive images of bi folk. She talked about the importance of choosing a wide range of messages and spokespeople, rather than only “easily digestible” ones. And I got a moment of being quite pleased with myself when she suggested that we think about the kind of resources we want to see out there and then go out and make them.

The first panel was “Bisexuality: Exploding the Myths,” and the only thing I really remember about it at this point is that Ignacio Rivera was on it and as brilliant as always. My notes remind me that I’m always amused when people say things like “You can’t have it both ways” in contexts like this. On the “Bi Community Panel: Telling Our Stories,” people talked about the ways DADT, job discrimination, immigration, etc. impacted their lives. We’ve all heard these stories before, and they’re touching and enraging every time.

During “Crafting the Message: Putting the ‘B’ in LGBT,” people talked about news stories about queer issues, and how important it us to quote bisexuals as well as just teh gays about how they’re affected. Particularly of note was Joshua Lynsen of the Washington Blade saying that he makes a point of contacting bisexuals for comments. He gave out his card so anyone present who wanted to could add hirself to his contact list. (Although now that I actually look up what’s he’s written for the Blade, I’m not so sure I want to plug him…”Black Opposition to Gay Marriage Remains Strong?” I’m so over that meme. And what ever happened to not calling it “gay” marriage, anyway?)

The closing plenary discussion was less a panel and more a whole bunch of people each getting to speak once — that’s what you get when you put something like two dozen people on a panel. Someone made the irritating assertion that the trans community is pulling ahead of the bi community in the race to our rights, which is problematic on any number of levels. (Can we just agree never to ever say again that anything is the last acceptable prejudice? Please? And “bi inclusion is the unnoticed stepchild of trans inclusion?” For fuck’s sake. I wish I’d written down who actually said that.) I don’t remember most of what was said but bisexual and New York State Assembly Member Micah Kellner was there, and seemed pretty decent for a politician. And you know, he was open about his bisexuality during the campaign, and that’s pretty awesome.

Things I was less thrilled with: It always strikes me as unfortunate when people say things like “In this movement, bisexual men and woman fall through the cracks.” So many people fall through the cracks of that statement. And a surprising number of people who did talk about gender in non-binary terms and even spoke explicitly about bisexuals and trans folks as allies to each other then turned around and used phrases like “opposite sex.” But all in all, I’m very glad I went. If they have it again next year I’ll go again.

Next up: That night’s Bi Lines II performance! (Or at least my favorite segment of it.) Tomorrow’s writing date day again…

08
Feb
09

Queer as an oppositional identity

I saw a great comment on a Bilerico post a day or two ago that really resonated with me.

I think this represents a fairly common and rather large misunderstanding of why a lot of (but not all) younger folks use words like queer ….  For me it’s not about neutralizing an offensive word, it’s about aligning myself with a radical political identity …. It’s really not young folks who are trying to change the  meaning of words — it’s participants in the assimilationist, mainstream gay rights movement who are fighting to transform the word gay into something indistinguishable from the word straight. That’s where the real language shift is occurring. But I want a word that won’t slide smoothly down anyone’s throat. Something that says, yes I am different for all of these glamorous and tragic reasons, and I don’t have, or want, any place in this violently racist, anti-womyn, queerphobic, culture we live in.

I love this, because it helped me see one of the reasons I’m drawn to “queer.” It’s true that I want to reclaim the word, in the sense that it’s quite a powerful word and I want its power to work for me rather than against me. I may even want to neutralize it, the part of it that people call on when they react to us with hate and violence, and make “queer” into a place of love and welcome and solidarity. But it’s a word with a lot of kick, and I’m not trying to neutralize that. I’m trying to make it my own.

And I love the idea that the real change in meaning is happening with “gay,” that it’s coming to mean “just as white and middle-class and conventional as any straight person, and ready to cast aside the less conventional and socially acceptable segments of my community to get there” when it, too, used to be a radical thing to claim, a political statement in and of itself. That’s what I want from “queer.” I don’t really want everyone to start using it. Broad and welcoming as it is, it means some very specific things to me. It means setting myself against what society expects of me as a soft-spoken white girl on her way from and most likely to the middle class. It means radical lefty politics, and standing against racism, sexism, class-based oppression, ableism, fatphobia, etc. as much as I can and ideally as much as I do against heterosexism, biphobia, etc. It means being drawn to queerness in others, and building a community of people who share those values and convictions with me. Placing myself in a history that has involved riots and marches and protests and angry people of all colors and genders who’ve had enough, not corporate-sponsored parades attended mostly by white people claiming to be inclusive. Fighting for immigration righs and universal health care and the right to decide who makes one’s medical decisions and inherits one’s property regardless of whether one is coupled, rather than a few more coupled people’s right to access those things through marriage. And it means all of that much more than it means being attracted to other girl-creatures, though that’s a part of it and part of how I got here. “Gay” used to mean some of those things, I think, but it doesn’t anymore. I’m glad we have a word that does.

05
Feb
09

Queering it up, dumbing it down

I’ve found myself, a few times in recent months, dumbing down my queerness so it will be visible at all. This mostly consists of allowing people to perceive me as a lesbian in situations where I know bisexual girls will be viewed as straight girls with a sexy, exotic add-on rather than as genuine queers. Even though  I am so much queerer than many lesbians. As an example, recently when a waiter mysteriously brought an extra order of sausage to our table at a friend’s birthday dinner and the classic straight girl next to me declared “Everybody always wants more sausage,” all I could think to do was tell her that I don’t. Even though, comparisons of body parts to sausages aside (ew! Wrong on so many levels I can’t even count them!), I’m a big fan of that particular body part. Store bought or factory-installed, on boys or girls, I could not be less grossed out by it. But here I was pretending to be, just to register on the queer-o-meter at all. And even then, at first she thought I was referring to being a vegetarian and just couldn’t take a joke.

Sitting around talking to a couple of coworkers a while ago, I was remembering just how alien my sexual views and practices are in Heteronormativeland. Continue reading ‘Queering it up, dumbing it down’

05
Jan
09

Fort-nightly Round-Up, Part 2

Whew! This should be it on everything that happened in the past month. We should now be back to our regularly scheduled weekly round-up.

It’s been a fun couple of weeks for me. My sister is in town between a semester in Russia and her last semester in Wisconsin (she should have something to say for us about that soon!), and I’ve been spending tons of time with her. We hosted a dinner party last weekend, spent this week getting my apartment from mostly-moved-in to fully set up and looking like a home, and two nights ago broke it in with a housewarming party. It’s been lots of fun, but blogging and spending time with my other friends have been falling by the wayside a bit as I try to stock up on time with her enough to last me the next three months. They say that how you spend the New Year is how you spend the next year, and I would be so okay with spending this year in people’s living rooms with a few close friends. Eating homemade soup, tearing apart neocon craziness, and laughing til it hurts. Bring it on.

Meanwhile, in the world:

Continue reading ‘Fort-nightly Round-Up, Part 2′

30
Dec
08

Libraries are a Queer Issue, or, LGBT Politics Beyond Marriage


Remember all those nationwide rallies last month against Prop 8? I didn’t go to the Philadelphia one because I was at a rally to save the Kingsessing branch of the Free Library from closing. That pretty much sums up my political priorities these days. But this isn’t a case of libraries trumping queer issues or local politics trumping national issues or anything silly like that; rather, I see the fight to save 11 branches of the Philadelphia Free Library from permanent closure as exactly the kind of intersectional issue I’d like to see included in a broader sense of what constitutes “LGBT politics,” which is all too often overshadowed by gay marriage.*
Continue reading ‘Libraries are a Queer Issue, or, LGBT Politics Beyond Marriage’

10
Nov
08

My spellcheck would be so much happier if it would just learn the word “heteronormative…”

I started to write an aside about same-sex marriage in the last post, and it kind of took on a life of its own. My asides tend to do that.

I’ve read some very eloquent arguments (including others I can’t find right now) recently by people urging Californians to vote against Prop 8, or infuriated by its passage. And I’m persuaded to an extent, and to an extent I didn’t even need to be persuaded. If we’re going to have marriage, I believe that couples of any combination of genders should be allowed to marry. Hell, I’ll go further, just like the anti-marriage people always fear we will: I believe that any number of consenting adults of any combination of genders should be allowed to marry, If an amendment to ban gay marriage is going to be on the ballot anywhere, I want it to fail, and I’m offended by what I perceive as the bigotry and hatefulness of the people who vote for it. I do not, however, think that marriage equality should be the main goal of the queer community, or the main focus of our energy and resources. And this is not only because I’m dubious of state-sanctioned marriage to begin with (for all I know, I’m dubious of state-sanctioned marriage to begin with because I was raised to believe it’s wrong that everyone who’s in love can’t get married.) I’ll freely admit to having my doubts about marriage, and wondering why queers want a piece of big, expensive weddings, government approval of their unions, assimilation, and heteronormative family structure. I’m not sure it’s something I’ll ever want for myself. But I understand why people who are denied those things, and who are also discriminated against, disregarded, and mistreated in so many other ways, would want the legitimacy they convey. I even believe that changing the law, by changing the ways people act, over time sways public opinion, and that any change in the law that will legitimate queer identities and queer love is a change for the good.

I don’t think it should be our top priority. I’m frustrated with the way it appropriates a disproportionate share of our advocacy and resources, to the exclusion of things I feel would be a much better use of those things. In many places we can still be denied housing and employment because of our sexuality. This is true in almost all places of those who don’t conform to binary gender norms (and those of the gender assigned to them at birth, thank you very much). People are still being harassed, beaten, raped, and murdered for their perceived queerness. Trans folks are still being harassed, beaten, and raped by the cops. Gay men are being arrested for the crime of having sex. Many medical professionals are still trying to counsel and medicate queers out of our sexual preferences or gender identities, and giving us less than their best care besides. And many, many of these things are happening disproportionately to queers who are young, old, outside of the gender binary, poor, and/or not white. The segments of our community who have the fewest rights and resources of their own. And we are, in my opinion, abandoning them to their fate so that middle-aged, middle class white men can push for their right to join the straight people at the top of the ladder of oppression. Save for the controversy over an ENDA that left out trans folks (and now that we have the kind of Democratic majority in Congress that even the people who wanted to leave trans folks out in the cold said we’d need to pass an inclusive ENDA, could we get on that, please?) pretty much everything I’ve heard about queer rights from mainstream sources in the past several years has been regarding marriage. I think this is a terrible misprioritization, and a gross misappropriation of our attention and energy. I rank marriage as less important than people’s lives and bodily integrity, and I don’t understand how the “gay agenda” doesn’t.

And no discussion of same sex marriage taking place right now would be complete without a mention of the appalling racism that’s currently dominating the discussion (I like Dan Savage less because of his unapologetic biphobia; if he keeps up the blatant racism, too, I will simply have to stop liking him). Everywhere I turn the past few days, I run into the statistic that 70% of black voters in California voted for Prop 8, and the associated opinions that it’s all of the new black voters Obama inspired who are to blame for homophobic legislation, and queers aren’t racist in nearly the percentages that blacks are homophobic. Never mind that simply phrasing the statement that way – with its assumption that all queers are white and all blacks are straight – belies the point. It is probably true that queers need to do more education in and outreach to black communities, but that is the point to be made here: we need to reach out more. It is not true that all or most black people are homophobic, or that black people are a monolithic whole as implied by the way the discussion is framed, holding one set of opinions and voting one way across the board. There’s so much “Shame on black people for getting their rights and closing the doors behind themselves,” but shame on white queers for believing everything we’re told about how another minority group thinks and acts and harms us. We’ve been on the receiving end of such smear campaigns, we should know better than to buy into them and turn against people who are themselves oppressed, and who could be our allies. And not only were the majority of people who voted for Prop. 8 white (the majority of Californians, after all, are white; and it was a close vote), but the people who financed the campaign for it and advocated heavily for it were almost entirely white.

For more information on how the election would have gone had all of the black voters in the country stayed home — teaser: Obama would have lost in a landslide, and all of the homophobic legislation that went through on Tuesday would still have passed except for Prop. 8, which would been defeated by the barest of margins — check out this collection of links and statistics.

07
Nov
08

Election Reflections

The world is a much brighter place for me right now than it was even a week ago. All of the tension I’ve been holding about the uncertainty of the future might finally have a chance to dissipate. There are two reasons for this, one personal and one shared:

1) I’m moved! Moving really is possibly my least favorite thing to do in the entire world. I just hate it. But I managed to get the packing done in time, and my friends showed up and carried and smiled and laughed and made the day itself a pleasure, and since Sunday I’ve been giving myself a break and slowly settling into my new place. Now that I’ve had a chance to recover a bit from draining myself so dry, and don’t have to spend every spare moment packing, I’m determined to follow the news more closely and blog more often. Also to put more time and care into my close friendships

2) President-Elect Barack Obama!! I can’t express how surprised I am that the democratic process actually worked (I was convinced this election would be stolen), and how thrilled at the idea of a regime change. The state of the world has been wearing on us all, I think. And while I don’t expect it all to turn around in an instant — and don’t even get me started on how this election is not the death knell of racism – I admit that I’m inspired and full of hope. The majority of voting Americans voted for a black man. A man who is, while not perfect, maybe as liberal as could possibly elected. A man who might be able to inspire people to do the things that must be done. Now I’m hoping that it’s not too late — for the economy, for the environment, for foreign relations — but I know that at least we will not be sitting back and watching the world go to hell, doing nothing and patting ourselves on the back for it.

As far as queer issues go, this election was not nearly so awesome. Obama himself seems fairly positive on LGBT issues, but has basically not mentioned us, and spoke out against Prop. 8 but has also said that he’s not for legalizing gay marriage. And Prop. 8 has almost certainly passed, and similar measures in Arizona and Florida have certainly passed. Which is disheartening, particularly in California, where it’s a definite step backward rather than a failure to step forward. (More on why I don’t prioritize same-sex marriage in another post, but if it’s going to be on the ballot I’d at least like it to pass. People voting against it is still bigoted and infuriating even if I think it’s a poor use of our community’s energy and resources.) Arkansas’s ban on unmarried couples adopting passed, and is horrendous, and clearly aimed at keeping queers from raising poor, innocent, impressionable children. Because it would be so much better for those children to grow up in orphanages! Finding enough foster homes is enough of a hardship without going around disqualifying people for ridiculous, hateful reasons that have nothing to do with children’s actual wellbeing. Ballot propositions on abortion went well, but as far as queer issues go, not a banner election.

But Girlfriend, Esq. pointed me in the direction of Kate Brown, today’s official Bisexual Politician Of The Day. She was just elected Oregon’s secretary of state (the second highest-ranking elected official in the state of Oregon), which makes her the first LGBT secretary of state in the country. Even before Tuesday’s election, as the Senate majority leader in Oregon (a post she’s held since 2004) she was the highest-ranked out bisexual elected official in the United States, and Oregon’s first female Senate majority leader. And she’s used that position to do all sorts of great things: she was involved in passing a domestic partnership bill, and the Bay Area Reporter quotes the Oregonian as also crediting her with pushing through “civil rights legislation for gays and lesbians, stronger ethics laws, solid budgets for schools and universities, and health care reform, including insurance coverage for contraceptives.” That’s, um, pretty awesome.

Of course, while I was googling her I came across this nonsense from Just Out, which suggests that none of that is as important as the fact that Ms. Brown is partnered with a man and no longer has short, dykey hair. Because whether she looks and acts like their conception of a queer woman is so much more important than whether she openly identifies as one. And hey, she may do a lot of LGBT advocacy, but any gay-friendly straight person could do that! (Yes, they said that.)
I’m infuriated. It would be one thing if Just Out was criticizing Ms. Brown for hiding her identity, or not fighting on behalf of the community when she’s in a position to do so, or anything like that. But they’re suggesting that all of that isn’t good enough, and if she wants to represent the community she needs to (I am not making this up) “please just butch it up a bit.” What is she doing representing herself as the bisexual candidate and taking money from LGBT donors if she’s not going to dress and act like a big ol’ dyke? That would help queer people identify with her so they’d want to vote for her. ‘Cause no queer women can identify with someone who chooses to have long hair. Would one little drag show really hurt her?
I’m offended by this as a bisexual and as a femme. I’ve spent enough time thinking I’m not good enough or queer enough because I don’t have the right haircut, I’m over hearing other people given grief over it. Come to think of it, I’m outraged as a woman as well; I can’t imagine a gay man being told to be a bit more nelly to get community support, and I think that’s all about a demonization of femininity and failure to take it seriously. And as far as getting on her case for having a husband and kids, when will people would stop questioning bisexuals for our partners’ genders when choosing those partners is totally consistent with the identity we’ve claimed all along? From what I can tell, they’re also taking out of context her statement about hoping her sexuality won’t be an issue in the campaign — from a longer quote (in the same Bay Area Reporter article) it seems she was hoping her opposition wouldn’t stoop to smearing her for it, which strikes me as a totally reasonable hope. I was already going to email Kate Brown to congratulate her on her victory, and let her know how awesome I think she is. Maybe while I’m at it I’ll leave a comment or email the man who wrote the article (stephen@justout.com) and let him know how offensive I find it that they’re judging a bisexual politician on her haircut and the gender of her partner rather than her openness about her sexuality, the ways she’s used her power as a state Senator, and her advocacy for the community.
I, for one, am proud to have Kate Brown representing bisexuality. No matter how she dresses.




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