The night HERO was overturned

I am tired.

I am tired from walking to the polls to vote on my rights.

From driving to the suburbs at dawn,

to register to get an ID to vote on my rights, that should arrive in 2 to 3 weeks.

And I’m tired of living in a country where my rights can be voted on.

I’m tired of having my civil rights reduced to marriage.

What good is marriage if you’re unemployed and homeless?

And god forbid I should run into a clerk whose “religious freedom” trumps my protection under the law.

I am tired of living in a country where I can be fired for who I love in over 30 states,

And I’m angry that my friends don’t even know this is the case,

That they too have been led to believe that gay marriage fixed it all.

I am exhausted from the weight of wondering if a kiss from my boyfriend in a parking lot will provoke the anger of a bigot,

And I’m weighed down by the knowledge that if that bigot beat us, he’d just get probation.

I am tired from 20 years (20 years!) of waiting for ENDA,

Of waiting for a large enough majority of this country to decide that I am human enough.

Because what you’re saying when you vote down HERO, when you table ENDA, year after year,

Is that I don’t qualify as human enough for your American dream.

I don’t even get the chance to be judged by my talents, hard work, or character.

Isn’t that what you’re always yelling at the immigrants, the poor, the unemployed?

Hard work! Boot straps! Get a job!

We are happy to pull ourselves up, but what happens when somebody cuts your bootstraps?

What happens when I can’t “get a job”?

What happens when we can’t even piss without getting arrested?

I am tired.

We are tired.

Why I will never be your GBF

Hey there!  It’s a been awhile (longer than I had realized) since my last post.  Several versions of grad school have gotten in the way, but I read an article today that reminded why I started this blog in the first place, so here we find ourselves!

G.B.F._Official_Film_Poster

If any of you happen to hate-read the Huffington Post, as I do, you may have seen an article in the “Gay Voices” section today, originally entitled “Why Every Woman Needs a Gay Best Friend.”  The title has since been changed to “Why Gay Men And Straight Women Make The Best Friends: 4 Great Reasons”, because this is apparently somehow better.  You can read the “article” here.

Before the “great reasons” even start, the author promises the reader that by the end they’ll be “best girlfriends” even though he’s a guy.  The gays “serve an important purpose in your life.”

“You see, the trusted “gay best friend” helps offset the frustration of navigating a world of bitchy girls and bozo boys, and of course we empathize with your raging, mood-swingy hormones, too. (Well, everything except those menstrual cycles. We’re not quite sure what to do with those even though we have our own version of them).”

Never before have so many groups of people been essentialized with so few words.  It’s almost impressive, in its way.  “Oh Baird”, you say.  “Surely this was written by a snappy gay teen, dealing with his own raging hormones like only a character on GLEE ever could.”  Incorrect.  This article was written was by a self-described “old gay guy.”  That this guy is apparently still a slave to his hormones is a worrisome side note.  What’s really troubling is that this man is apparently unclear on what “to do” with a menstrual cycle.  I’ve identified as a man for my entire life and for many of those years, I have identified as a gay man.  In those 28 years, I do not recall ever being asked to “do” something with a friend’s menstrual cycle.  And I certainly don’t recall “having my own version.”  Assuming that I am not alone in my lack of man-struation, I have no choice but to read this as the kind of “cute” misogyny in which only the GBF can engage.  The kind of brutal (often unsolicited) honesty that usually consists of a (gay) man playing both sides of the chauvinism fence, while saying some really awful things to someone they profess to care about.

But hey, that’s just the introduction.  Let’s get to these four “great” reasons.

At first glance, these seem great.  Who doesn’t want a friend with these qualities?  And that’s precisely my point.  You should have friends with these qualities.  Not one GBF who protects you from the rest of the, to borrow a term, “bitchy girls and bozo boys.”  But the author presents these as services only your gay best friend, who was, remember, divinely placed on earth solely for this purpose, can possibly provide.

Let’s break it down.

1. “We admire and adore you.”  Great.  Wonderful.  I can safely say I admire and adore all of my friends.  Why would I be friends with someone that I didn’t admire and adore?  What is problematic is the author’s implication that we admire and adore our straight female friends because on some level we want to be them.

Our jealousy comes from the fact that your feminine energy has a way of making the male species become putty in your hands. True, we can do that, too, just not as well as you can. And, we watch you a lot. We’re dying to learn all your tricks for manipulating guys into doing anything you want. (Of course, let’s be truthful girls, manipulation shouldn’t be something we’re proud of unless it means manipulating a better deal on a pair of shoes … right?)

Now, I am all for gender bending.  Everybody’s got feminine and masculine energy in various amounts and in disparate situations.  But are we really to believe that your best. friend. should be a person who admires your ability to manipulate guys?  It’s not just insulting to gay men, it’s insulting to women.  At the end of the day, this is just one more case of how women’s lives are constructed around, and in service to, the men they are desperately trying to trick into sex/love/marriage.  But how fun, now the gays get to play, too!  I have many wonderful friends, of a variety genders, and I can safely say that their ability to manipulate people into sex is not at the top of my list of their best qualities.

2. “Girl, we feel your pain.”  Once again.  Seems like perhaps one of the most basic requisites for friendship, right?  WRONG.  To quote the author “as for loving ourselves, we all go to the same church—Sisterhood of the Perpetual Inferiority Complex.”  Did you know that all women and gay men are forever broken inside?  (WHY WON’T A MAN TELL ME I’M PRETTY?)  What I find most disturbing about this particular “great reason” is that it hides a grain of truth.  Many women and gay men (and queer people writ large) experience legitimate pain and abuse at the hands of a society that normalizes our suffering.  Rather than focusing on the myriad ways in which we might understand these processes of aggression, the author continues

…if we had a dollar for every minute that girls/women and gay men spend in front of the mirror, checking themselves out to ensure we look good, we could pay off the United States National Debt! (Just don’t tell the politicians that, they’d never give us a cut of the funds for the discovery.) But yes, we gay men and tweens, teens, and grown-up women are obsessed with body image!

Swing and a miss.

3. “We want you to be uniquely you.”  I quote:

I’m not sure what you know about gay men and gay culture, but we tend to have a reputation of being a racy, sexually active and an over-the-top bunch. First of all, that’s just throwing stereotypes on people, which isn’t right. Stereotypes should just be outlawed. People should be allowed to just be themselves, and that includes you, Miss Thing!

Why let a straight man tell you what kind of woman to be, when you could let a gay tell you what kind of woman to be?  I think this one speaks for itself, and I’m so happy the author has made his position on the danger of stereotypes so clear.

Finally, 4. “We’re the boys who won’t break your heart”

Boyfriend break up with you?  Just head on over to your GBF’s house for some low-fat fro yo and shoulder-crying!  He’s got nothing better to do.  And he could never break your heart!  Who’s ever heard of a straight teenage girl falling in love with an unattainable gay teenage boy?  Certainly not everyone, right?

I think number 4 irks me the most, because it goes to why I find this whole “article” to be so dangerous.  The premise of the GBF is based on the closeted gay teens we have all known (and/or been).  Your GBF probably is jealous of you, especially if you’re in high school.  Not because your game with the menfolk is so on point, but because you are allowed to live like an actual person.

There is a reason your GBF is there when your boyfriend breaks up with you: it’s because he can’t have a boyfriend of his own.  There is a reason your GBF was your prom date: he couldn’t ask the guy he actually wanted to go with, for fear of having the shit beat out of him.

The concept of the GBF is one that inherently requires the dehumanization of your gay friend, and it requires to you to be excited about it.  The optimistic part of me wants to believe this problem is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.  The movie GBF (poster above) is so great (really, check it out) because it ultimately makes the point that the GBF can’t exist in a high school where he lives openly and honestly.  The main character is allowed to be a person, and *spoiler alert*, this prevents him from having to play the part of a chaste but anatomically correct Ken Doll for the various teen girl stereotypes in the movie.  He is not wrapped in their lives, because he is allowed to be wrapped up in his own.

While I suspect this is changing, we still have a long road ahead of us before LGBTQ high schoolers can stop being scared to lead full and authentic lives, and articles like this are not helping.  Instead of glorifying a societal category the depends on queer oppression and silence, let’s hope and work toward a day where LGBTQ teens are allowed to be full people, and where your GBF can just be your BFF, broken heart necklace optional.

bff

It’s only cute when I do it

Lord knows I’m not much of a “sports person” (which I assume is the technical term), but I do live in New Orleans, and I read a story today that got under my skin.

New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma was asked about the ramifications of openly gay players in the NFL.  His response:

“I think he would not be accepted as much as we think he would be accepted. I don’t want people to just naturally assume, oh, we’re all homophobic. That’s really not the case. Imagine if he’s the guy next to me, and you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me, how am I supposed to respond?”

vilma

This guy.

Sigh.

Now, to be fair, Mr. Vilma is certainly not the first or last person to make a comment like this.  His opinion is indicative of larger societal attitudes about both homosexuality and sexual assault.

But first, I’d like to address the buck-passing to which we’ve become so accustomed in his first sentence.  “I think he would not be accepted as much as we think he would be accepted. ”  The implication here is that the acceptance of an openly gay player is completely out of his hands.  If Mr. Vilma is, himself, not a homophobe, he could do as a few other NFL players have done encourage his teammates in the process of accepting a gay player.  But this kind of “I have a black friend so I’m not racist” bullshit is at this point a well-worn strategy.  It allows him (and others) to couch his own clear homophobia in a statement about the team as a whole.  This is especially obvious because in the next sentence he goes out of his way to challenge the idea that football players are homophobic.

And he’s right.  Football players are not inherently homophobic.  Kris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo have both come out as strong allies for LGBTQ rights, allegedly costing Kluwe his job.  They are not homophobic, at least not more than anyone else raised in our society.  But Mr. Vilma, you sir, are homophobic.  And do you know how I can tell?  Because you think we’re all rapists.  And do you know how else I can tell?  Your preconceived notions of what “a gay” looks like are so narrow and stereotyped that it’s apparently never occurred to you that you have almost certainly already shared a locker room with gay men.

Mr. Vilma is not alone in his gay = sexual predator “thinking.”  The culture has done such an excellent job of painting non-heterosexual people as hypersexual, predators, and even pedophiles that it is hardly surprising that he’s apparently bought into this line of thinking.  This is hardly a new discussion, and I have to believe that somewhere, in his heart of hearts, he’s knows this isn’t true.  I think quotes like:

“Imagine if he’s the guy next to me, and you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me, how am I supposed to respond?”

have less to do with being scared of a gay guy looking at him funny and more to do with this amazing cartoon from Slate that went viral this morning:

homophobia cartoon

The article that accompanies this cartoon (click the cartoon to read it) asks “Does homophobia come from sexism?”  The answer, in my opinion, is a resounding “yes!”  You see, straight men are the only people are allowed to be upset about being objectified.  The very thought that there might be some secret gay in the locker room threatens the relationships that keep men hegemonically in control.

This is not to trivialize sexual assault.  Mr. Vilma is doing a bang-up job of that himself.  Sexual assault is a serious and systemic issue and the very idea that Mr. Vilma is even tacitly equating it to someone “happening” to look at him in the locker room exhibits a level of privilege that is unavailable to anybody who isn’t a straight a man.

How are you supposed to respond, Mr. Vilma?  If someone, anyone, gay or straight, is looking at you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, you should ask them to stop.  If they do not, and they are your coworker, you should speak to your boss and get the situation resolved.  This a fairly straight-forward process.  But I’d bet money that isn’t going to happen.

First, because if you’ve made it to the locker room of the New Orleans Saints, my bet is that it’s probably not the first locker room you’ve ever seen.

But secondly, because most gay men aren’t sexual predators.  To be clear, most straight men are also not sexual predators.  But what Mr. Vilma is taking for granted is that any gay man who has made it to the New Orleans Saints locker room has also spent his entire life studiously NOT looking at the bodies of the other players.  Not because he can’t control himself, and not because he even necessarily finds any of the players attractive.  But because we still live in a society where if anybody were to perceive that player looking in a sexual manner at another player, his career and his life might actually be at risk.

But none of this is actually your discomfort with someone looking at you.  It’s about your discomfort with gay people.  If the very thought of someone accidentally looking at you naked makes you question how you should react, I would suggest you find a career that doesn’t involve quite so much group nudity or invest now a quality pair of jorts.  Here I’m thinking…virtually every job except professional athlete.

And if the possible objectification of bodies is so morally repugnant to you, I assume you’ll also soon be speaking out against this:

NFL: JAN 16 NFC Divisional Playoff - Cardinals at Saints

But the bottom line is, we all know you’re not really worried about being oggled in the locker room.  That is the sort of thing homophobes say when they need to justify their prejudice.  What you’re worried about is surrendering your power and your privilege to someone who you’ve deemed “less than.”  But you don’t have to worry.  Comments like yours create such a climate of homophobia and fear that you’ll continue to keep thousands of young men, like I once was, out of sports to begin with.  And those who do make it to the Saints locker room will be too scared to look at you, whether they want to or not.

Not your grammy’s Grammys: in (partial) defense of Macklemore?

So, in case you were unaware or unconscious, last night was the Grammys.  Full disclosure, I didn’t watch the whole thing, because I don’t have a TV (not because I’m better than you, but because I’m poorer than you.)

Seattle rapper Macklemore, besides being my pasty Irish doppelganger (see photo), was awarded statues for best rap performance and best rap song, for “Thrift Shop,” best rap album for “The Heist” and best new artist.  Much has been written about Macklemore, both before the Grammys and after.

macklemore

Me or Macklemore?…you decide. P.S. It’s Macklemore

Many accuse him of cultural appropriation, a charge that rang especially true as he beat out black hip-hop artists in category after category, most notably Kendrick Lamar, the favorite for Best Rap Album.  As much as I would like to engage in this debate, I honestly feel that it is out of my depth.  I’m certainly not going to be one more white voice telling people of color about how they are supposed to feel about the appropriation of their cultures.  There are plenty of people who are better able to address this topic than me, and I hope you’ll understand that I’m going to leave it to them.

What I would like to talk about is the media attention around Macklemore as a voice for the gay community, and specifically his performance at the Grammys last night.  In case you missed it, click the screencap below:

The marriage ceremony starts at about the 3:00 mark, but I suggest you watch the whole thing.

The marriage ceremony starts at about the 3:00 mark, but I suggest you watch the whole thing.

First off, while I did not watch the entire awards show, I did watch Macklemore’s performance in its entirety.  Basically, he and the perpetually unnamed and openly lesbian Mary Lambert sang “Same Love,” Macklemore’s ode to same-sex marriage rights, which has been controversial, to put it lightly.

At the denouement of this performance, in a highly publicized moved, Queen Latifah (herself the subject of unceasing gay rumors) stepped out on stage and performed a mass wedding ceremony for 30 or so couples, some gay and some straight.  Then for some reason Madonna showed up and “sang” a few bars of “Open your heart to me,” which the cynic in me can only interpret as a plea to retain her “gay icon” status.”  (Sidenote, speaking of cultural appropriation, nice “pimp cane” and grill, Madge.)  But I digress.

I would be lying if I said that I didn’t get choked up when I watched the clip.  I’d be lying if I said I don’t get choked up every time I hear that song.  As much as I identify with queer politics, I am also product of the culture, and I cling to the hope that I will someday also find societally-sanctioned loved (there, I said it!)

And I will openly admit to owning all of Macklemore’s albums.  Does that mean I’m 100% a fan of everything he does?  Not by a long shot.  But if I’ve gleaned one thing from the media coverage around the song, it’s that we have a lot more to talk about than just Macklemore.

Perhaps the biggest critique of this song is that Macklemore himself is not gay, and in the first verse of the song goes out of his way to make that very clear:

When I was in the third grade I thought that I was gay,
‘Cause I could draw, my uncle was, and I kept my room straight.
I told my mom, tears rushing down my face
She’s like “Ben you’ve loved girls since before pre-k, trippin’
Yeah, I guess she had a point, didn’t she?
Bunch of stereotypes all in my head.
I remember doing the math like, “Yeah, I’m good at little league”
A preconceived idea of what it all meant

Critics often want to view this as Macklemore clearly demarcating his heterosexuality in opposition to the gay people he’s rapping about.  And they’re not wrong.  But what they fail to take into account is that this is probably also 100% true.  I’m afraid that what happens when we focus on these lyrics is that we forget to address why the 10-year-old Macklemore would cry over the very thought of turning out gay, even as the nephew of a gay uncle.  This verse always hits home with me because I have a very vivid memory of coming home crying, after a particularly intense day of bullying, and having this EXACT conversation with my mother.

I was raised in an extremely supportive home, as it seems Macklemore was as well.  But no amount of your mother reassuring you that she’ll love you no matter what can completely block out the overt homophobia to which we are all exposed in our culture.  I like to think this is changing to some extent today, but both Macklemore and I grew up in a world without “Glee,” and without almost any examples of positive gay role models in mainstream culture.  And let us also not forget that in the 90’s, gay still meant AIDS, and AIDS still meant death.  I am gay, and I didn’t want to be gay.  I don’t think admitting to that makes me any less a supporter of human rights, and I don’t think it should for Macklemore either.  I don’t think allies should upstage the communities they support (discussed below), but I do think allies can’t be held to a higher standard than that to which we hold ourselves.  I can’t pretend to know what he was thinking when he wrote those lines.  All I know is that, were I asked to write this song, I might have started it the same way.  I think if we ask artists to be truthful, we can’t at the same time expect them to be flawless.

There is a reason this post is called a partial defense of Macklemore.  Among many critiques, I firmly believe that he should be asked to explain this.

Troubling tweets notwithstanding, there are still plenty of things left to critique about Macklemore and his Grammy performance.  First, he almost never makes any mention of Mary Lambert, the openly lesbian female voice on the song, and author of the hook that arguably makes the song memorable in the first place.  Due to the limitations of the Internet, I’m not sure if she was introduced at any point during the Grammys performance, but I’ve seen several performances of the song where her name is never mentioned.

This at best seems like an act of hubris on Macklemore’s part, but at worst it feels like an act of both lesbian and general queer erasure.  Macklemore has to have known that there would be controversy surrounding this song from the get-go.  No only does Ms. Lambert deserve to be recognized, it seems like such an easy gesture in the face of mounting accusations that Macklemore is attempting to speak for a community that isn’t his.

Secondly, while it is important to note that “Same Love” was written for a specific purpose (in support of the legalization of marriage equality in Washington state), the song is undeniably problematic.

As discussed in previous posts on this blog, the emphasis on marriage in the LGBTQ movement is controversial at best and damaging at worst.  Focusing on marriage as the sole gateway to rights reinforces patriarchal relationships between partners, as well as between couples and the state.  Additionally, it erases and invisibilizes the lived realities of poly and asexual people, as well as people who simply don’t want to get married.

But what I really don’t like about the song is the line “I can’t change even if I tried, even if I wanted to…”  For regular readers, it should come as no surprise that I think the immutability (or not) of sexuality is a moot point.  Arguing that our sexuality can’t be changed or is not a choice should not be our battle cry.  Shouldn’t we strive for a world in which that doesn’t matter?  Am I not allowed to choose what I do (and allow others to do) with my body and my heart?

All of these issues are things we’re not talking about as we rail against Macklemore for making what I sincerely believe has been a largely positive impact in the realm of mainstreaming gay rights.  Don’t get me wrong.  We should continue to have those conversations.  But I find it troubling that the antics of celebrities are creating the illusion that we’re having meaningful dialogue in this country.

When Miley Cyrus twerked, those of us who were interested talked about the cultural appropriation involved.  But most people just talked about Miley Cyrus, the way they were already talking about her (general schadenfreude with a dash of good ol’ fashioned slut shaming).   And I think a similar thing (minus the slut shaming) is happening with Macklemore.  We’re talking more about the fact that he’s a “bad ally” than we are about why a song like “Same Love” has to exist in the first place.  Why, in 2014, are same-sex marriages still so controversial that they are a ratings draw?  Why does the culture persist in ignoring songs about gay rights until they are sung by straight people?  Neither of these things is Mackelmore’s fault, although he has certainly benefitted.   Our sound-bite culture is starting a lot of conversations it’s not finishing.  So yes, let’s start the conversation with Macklemore, or Miley, or whoever it will be next week (my money is on the Biebs.)  But let’s make sure we don’t end it with them.

Gays in the mist: why your “gaydar” is problematic

gaydar

Today, over drinks, I was talking with a friend about online dating.  I’m personally partial to online dating for two reasons. 1) Talking to strangers is hard and 2) it takes a lot of the guesswork out the equation for queer people.

As we have discussed here briefly before, public space is heterosexual by default.  We need look no further for evidence of this than rainbow flags and “safe space” stickers on queer (or queer friendly) businesses.  While these spaces are crucial for many queer people, their very existence serves to reinforce the unspoken heterosexuality of the un-marked spaces around them.

In the course of the conversation, my friend asked if I could “tell” when someone in a room was gay.  The short answer is, to some extent, I think that I can.  The idea of “gaydar” is pretty well entrenched in both gay culture and the mainstream at this point.  Regardless, I don’t think it’s so cut-and-dried.  I don’t think I can tell who every gay guy in the room is.  My response was something like “I think I can sometimes tell, but there are probably gay guys here that I wouldn’t guess were gay.”  Fortuitously, when I got home, I saw this video:

gaydarvidcap

Click to watch the full video

I really recommend you watch the whole thing.  I’ll wait.

So, that happened.  I honestly don’t even know where to start with this video.  First and foremost, I guess what bothers me about the whole “gaydar” debate is that I’m not really sure why it’s important to anyone who isn’t gay.  Unfortunately, we live in a world where hitting on the wrong person can get you killed, and I so don’t blame my queer family for wanting a leg up on the situation.  Why anybody who identifies as straight would want or need to know if stranger is gay, however, is beyond me.  It occurs to me that this is either:

a) an extension of our recent cultural obsession with the lives of total strangers
b) a way to reinforce one’s own hegemonic masculinity in comparison to a stranger
c) a justification for micro and macro aggressions against queer people or
d) all of the above

Nonetheless, it would appear that it is, for whatever, important to this blogger, Mark Miller, and his “professional straight man” guest to figure out exactly how and why he does, or does not, have gaydar.

We open on a charming on a charming rendition of “What, what, in the butt,” because nothing says “I’m still one of the guys” like satirizing a stigmatized sex act in which you most likely participate.

I think what most bothers me about this video is that it’s one more way in which my sexual identity gets to be all about straight white men.  Nothing’s ever about straight white men, so I’m glad they’re finally getting their day in the sun.  From the very beginning, it’s clear that Miller is either still really uncomfortable with his own identity (which is totally valid, and everybody gets to make that trip in their own time) or is specifically pandering to his straight best friend.  Instead of saying, “A year ago, I come out to my roommate about identifying as gay,” he says

“A year ago, he found out that I don’t like chicks”

Let’s just parse this out.  First, he “found out”?  Was there some sort of investigation?  Secondly, there are plenty of ways to express your gay identity that don’t involve the overt misogyny of referring to women as “chicks.”  Finally, “not liking chicks” doesn’t make you gay.  You also have to “like dudes.”

But don’t worry, the straight white man-splaining is just getting warmed up.  We’re then treated to Miller’s guest’s opinion that, until you’re close to a gay person

“…it’s like, it doesn’t really exist.  Like it exists but like, you don’t really notice it.”

You heard it here first, gays.  Until this one straight guy discovered a covert gay living in his very house, homosexuality itself did not exist.

That’s maybe not what irks me the most about this quote though.  Yes, it is ridiculous that this guy thinks because he’s not conscious of a group of people, they don’t exist.  What bothers me most is that, as any swishy former theater kid can tell you, straight identified men often have the best. gaydar. ever.  Nobody is better at picking up on non-hegemonic masculinity than a person whose entire identity as a “straight dude” depends on the existence of an other.  Straight masculinity as we know it today is entirely contingent on the existence and identification of men who do not conform to the ideal.

“DJ Donny D,” apparently not content with just ripping off hip-hop culture, then goes on to tell us the four characteristics that trigger his gaydar which, remember, 30 seconds ago Miller established that straight guys don’t have.  For those who didn’t make it through the whole video, allow me to enlighten you.  You too may spot a gay in your very midst.

1. Really clean-cut hair
2. Really in shape
3. Too small clothes (gripping of the arms)

and apparently the biggest giveaway

4. How they talk

It’s hard to know where to start here, because there’s just so much to say.  I just got my hair cut on Friday, and it didn’t even occur to me to assume that every. single. person. at the salon was gay.  How silly of me!

For those who watched the video, you’ll remember that the comment about being “really in shape” was made at the gym.  Apparently straight men are supposed to go to the gym but just be really bad it?

Donny, as I assume (but to be fair, do not know) his mother actually named him, uses his own “straight” clothes to talk about the tell-tale “gripping of the arms” that makes a T-shirt gay (unless it’s on Donny, I guess?)

Nonetheless, and according to Donny we’re all in agreement on this, we’re told that gays just talk gay.  In the outtakes, Miller gives the example of saying “That’s so Gucci.”  Uh-huh.

This video makes a few things abundantly clear.  A certain segment of gay culture, the kind of “hot gays” you see on TV with their six-packs, and brand-name clothes, fits perfectly within the consumerism of which our culture has become so enamored.  We see this at the very end of the video when DJ Jazzy Jeff tells us that

“I’m what they call metro, where you dress like you’re gay but you’re not gay.  You love women but you like to look good.”

No, Donny.  You don’t look “good” –by your own definition, you look “gay.”  You’d set off your own gaydar.  You’re just able to disguise your co-opting of “everything but the hard parts” of being gay as consumerism, a value held extremely dear by our culture.

Beyond this, though, the video drives home another, bigger point.  Gaydar is not actually about knowing who’s gay and who isn’t, as if we ever truly could.  Maybe for queer people, this is part of the idea.  But straight people, especially straight men, have no reason to know or care who’s gay.  They are, and we all are, policing masculinity.  Donny can’t know somebody is gay any more than I can.  What he can know is how much that person deviates from his own ideas of acceptable masculinity.  And as a straight guy, not only can he know, he must know.  Especially in an age where the performative lines between gay and straight are increasingly blurring, his very identity as a “straight dude” depends on his ability to point out the other.

Thank God his roommate gave him the chance.

Sometimes a cigar…

Yesterday, in what I can only assume was a ploy to get people to talk about anything besides his own current scandal, New Jersey governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would allow trans* people in New Jersey to be issued new birth certificates to reflect their gender without first undergoing genital surgery.  He claims that this legislation would lead to “fraud, deception and abuse, and should therefore be closely scrutinized and sparingly approved.”

US-VOTE-2012-REPUBLICAN CONVENTIONDespite support in both the New Jersey House and Senate, the bill is far from veto-proof.  Supporters are not optimistic that the bill will pass in the near future, especially not in Christie’s New Jersey, where political revenge is anything but rare.

It is not, I would say, surprising that a member of the GOP does not support trans* rights.  For me, that’s not the issue here.  There are two issues that trouble me much more.

First, I’d like to address Christie’s “logic” (quotation marks used very much deliberately) that allowing people’s documentation to reflect their true genders would contribute to fraud.  Does this seem totally backwards to anyone else?  If, hypothetically, I were a trans* man, I have to assume that I would not stop living my life as a man simply because my birth certificate had an “F” on it.  To the average passerby or civil servant, would it not be more confusing and indicative of fraud for my documentation to present a gender that I’m not performing?  Doesn’t it seem like allowing people to claim the gender with which they most closely identify would prevent problems?

But the issue is deeper than this.  The bottom line here is that my penis does not make me a man, and my waking up with a vagina tomorrow would not make me a woman.  People don’t miraculously change genders based on the genitalia they happen to have been born with.  Furthermore, physical sex is no more a legitimate binary than the gender binary, and that idea that penis=man and vagina=woman leaves out a lot of people, most notably intersex people.

Last week, Katie Couric had trans* actress Laverne Cox and trans* model Carmen Carrera on her to show, ostensibly to talk about trans* issues and these women’s upcoming projects.

couric

Instead, the show rapidly devolved into a Maury Povich-style interrogation about the nitty gritty details of gender confirmation surgery and what each of these two women might be packing (or not) under their designer frocks.  Both women did an admirable job of redirecting the conversation and informing Ms. Couric that the

“…preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies trans people and then we don’t get to really deal with real lived experiences; the reality. By focusing on bodies we don’t focus on the lived realities of that oppression and that discrimination. “

But the point is, they shouldn’t have had to defend their surgical choices.  By positioning genital surgery as the only acceptable marker of “true” gender transition, we ignore the fact that this is not an option for the vast majority of trans* people.  Hormones alone cost insane amounts of money and are often not covered by insurance.  Additionally, trans* people are twice as likely to be unemployed as their cis-gendered peers, making it harder for them to get any kind of insurance in the first place.  We live in a country without universal healthcare or anti-discrimination laws that legally protect LGBTQ people, and we’re demanding that trans* people magically come up with tens of thousands of dollars for gender confirmation surgery?

This is, undoubtedly, illogical and unacceptable in and of itself.  But there’s an even larger problem with this whole line of thought: maybe not every trans* people wants to have gender confirmation surgery.  Many trans* people do not overtly identify as male or female, instead opting for the use of gender neutral pronouns, an option that is unfortunately not legally possible in this country.  Additionally, surgery (and I say this as someone who has had more than his fair share) sucks.  It’s painful, it’s expensive, it’s risky, and it requires that you have time to recover.  There are countless reasons that a trans* person, or any person could have for not wanting to undergo surgery, especially if it will not make a qualitative difference in the way they conceive of their own gender identity.  Why should anyone have to go through a potentially painful and dangerous process to satisfy Chris Christie?

To be clear, I am all for gender confirmation for anybody that wants it.  I also think we should have universal health care that pays for it, but that’s another post.  The point I’m trying to make here is that trans* people, like all  people, should be entitled to the right to do whatever they want with their bodies, and equally important, to define them in any way they see fit.  If the gender and sex binaries were so natural and automatic, we wouldn’t have to keep talking about them all the time, and there wouldn’t be outliers.  We don’t have to walk around shouting that the sky is still blue, just to make sure we’re all still on the same page.

If we have to debate what makes us men, or women, or neither, that points to the idea that we don’t actually know.  I would argue that anybody who identifies as a given gender merits being treated accordingly.  But to be clear, I also don’t know; I’m not trans*.  I have the privilege of not walking around having to justify my gender identity.  What I do know is what doesn’t define our gender.  To adapt a line (erroneously) attributed to Freud, “sometimes a dick is just a dick.”

B. Scott, B. yourself!

In the past few days, the drama surrounding B. Scott‘s correspondent duties for the 2013 BET awards has reignited with the leak of a series of internal BET e-mails.

B-Scott-Head

In a nutshell (although I suggest you check out the links above) B. Scott is trans* person who first became famous on the Internet and than transitioned into the mainstream.  He uses masculine pronouns while dressing in a “feminine” manner.  BET asked him to be a “Style Stage Correspondent” for the 2013 BET awards.  The day of the awards show, BET demanded that he change from his previously approved wardrobe into more “masculine” clothing and, even after he complied, drastically reduced his role in the show and time on camera (it should be noted that BET had worked with B. Scott on two previous occasions without questioning his wardrobe).  They, at the time, claimed that it was because he arrived late to the event.

before after b scott

Before and After at the 2013 BET Awards

The recently leaked e-mails not only prove that allegations of lateness were false, but that BET planned to discriminate against B. Scott well before the event actually took place.

“I don’t want ‘looking like a woman’ B. Scott,” BET music programming president Stephen Hill allegedly wrote before the June 30 awards show, according to emails obtained by TMZ. “I want tempered B. Scott.”

The network’s vice president, Rhonda Cohen, reportedly replied, “I can speak to him about being less ‘womanly.'”

After Scott made public his allegations of discrimination, BET’s vice president of digital marketing, Monique Ware, evidently advised her colleagues on how to “spin” the controversy, according to another email reviewed by TMZ. 

“The spin should be he was late for a live show and subsequently replaced and it would have been awkward in a live show to have the person assuming his role removed and him inserted,” Ware reportedly wrote.

But then the email suggests that such a “spin” might not be the whole truth: “Unless we can make public the reason we didn’t want him dressed the way he normally does, I would stay away from suits, suit selections, etc.” (from The Advocate.)

Let’s unpack this, because there’s a lot going on here.  Historically, both trans* people and people of color have been pushed to the margins of the LGBTQ community, and we can’t have this conversation without acknowledging that uncomfortable truth.  Today’s LGBTQ movement, at least in this country, is largely the domain of white, gender-conforming gay men.  This has created an (erroneous) idea that there is no overlap between the Black and LGBTQ communities, completely negating the realities of countless queer people of color.

First, let me make it clear that I am neither trans* nor Black.  This entry does not claim to speak for members of these communities but rather to look at this incident as evidence of larger societal issues.  I look forward to feedback from people who know more than I do about the daily lives of trans* people of color in the comments section.

A person like B. Scott causes so much scandal because he refuses to fit anywhere.  His gender identity does not conform to the binary, as evidenced by his choice to use masculine pronouns.  He refuses to be “all the way” male or “all the way” female.  While this sort of queering of gender is subversive in any almost any US context, it is perhaps exceptionally so at the BET awards.  Much of modern hip-hop culture is bound up in ideas of hyper-masculinity, performed through styles of dress, styles of speech, and a discourse of hyper-sexuality directed at women.  Hip-hop masculinity (as well as masculinity in general) has a lot invested in the idea of the gender binary and heteronormativity.

“Ok,” you say, “But that’s hardly news.”  You’re right.  Normative masculinity is always threatened by non-normative gender and sexual identities regardless of racial context.  Nonetheless, one of the things that is especially distressing about this particular case is precisely the racial context in which it plays out.  As mentioned above, people of color are often made to feel unwelcome in the “mainstream” (read: rich and white) LGBTQ community.  And, it would appear that B. Scott and people like him are equally unwelcome at the BET awards.  While we should certainly not take the BET Awards as the definitive measure of “acceptable behavior” in Black culture, such a highly publicized incident at such a highly publicized event will, inevitably, send a message to the people watching that broadcast.

I can’t help but wonder where the future B. Scotts, clandestinely watching the BET Awards in their mothers’ high heels, are going to feel that they belong.  The onus is on ALL of us to make those little queer kids feel welcomed, loved, and supported.  This effort has to come just as much from white LGBTQ culture as it has to come from BET.  It’s up to white LGBTQ people to work to create spaces in which racial diversity is not only accepted by sought after.  This does not mean inviting people into white spaces.  It means completely rethinking queer spaces and working together with people of color to build them from the ground up.

And it’s also up to BET to work to show its audience a world in which a person like B. Scott is not only accepted by embraced as a whole person, not in spite of his differences but because of them.  A media platform like BET has the potential to show millions of people that Black and queer are not mutually exclusive.

But this problem is bigger than BET, and the racial divisions in the LGBTQ community, it’s bigger than hip-hop masculinity.  What I find most distressing about all of this is that, while it’s clear that BET behaved atrociously, and most likely conspired to both humiliate and discriminate against B. Scott, it’s not actually clear that they did anything illegal.  As federal non-discrimination legislation currently stands, we are offered NO protection from employment discrimination based on gender identity or sexuality.  ENDA has only finally come to a vote in Congress after being introduced virtually every year since 1994.  I don’t claim to know the legalities of B. Scott’s particular case, but if he is capable of making a successful employment discrimination claim, he is one of the lucky ones.

We live in a country where it is, federally, entirely legal to look someone in the face and fire them for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or trans*.  Beyond what tacit and overt messages of discrimination may be sent by BET, or the white-dominated LGBTQ movement, or by anybody else, our own government is overtly putting its stamp of approval on anti-LGBTQ violence.  And make no mistake, folks.  Work-place discrimination is violence.  Being rendered unemployable on the basis of your very being is violence.  Being denied the possibility of gainful employment and then being villanized for using public assistance is violence.

So, while I think BET deserves to pay through the nose for their discrimination, that won’t be enough.  Even if this one event is the flashpoint for a whole new era of LGBTQ inclusive BET programing, and even if the insular white-dominated LGBTQ community miraculously opens itself up to welcome and validate the lived experiences of all our of brothers and sisters, it will not be enough.

That little boy in his mother’s heels will need a lot of things.  He’ll need support, love, and acceptance.  He’ll need to grow up knowing that he’s special, not strange.  But even if he has all of that, and I hope that he does, he’s going to need one more thing: a job.