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.

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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.

But you meant well!

Yesterday this meme was all over my Facebook wall.

facebook gay memeFirst off, let me clear, I’m happy to be friends with so many people who want to openly support gay rights.  Nonetheless, this meme is missing the mark.  It somehow manages to be insulting to virtually everyone in the world, while simultaneously claiming, in a roundabout way, to be advocating for gay adoption rights.

‘I’ve never met a gay person who “accidentally” had a kid they didn’t want.’

Where to begin?  As I discussed in my last post, the compulsory hetero/homo binary has created a world in a which a lot of people identify as gay or lesbian and still have sex with people of the same gender, for any number of reasons.  There are scores of gay and lesbian people who have accidentally made a baby.  I have met them.

And let’s talk about the quotation marks around “accidentally.”  Are we to believe that accidental pregnancy is not a thing?  The only way I can read this is in the voice of those weird sex ed movies we all had to watch:

“If you’re old enough to have sex, you’re old enough to handle the consequences.”

This kind of sex shaming allows us to distance ourselves from the realities of people dealing with an unplanned pregnancy by blaming them for having the nerve to have sex!  Which we are also doing!  Or trying to do!

Yes, often when we have sex, accidental pregnancy is a risk.  However, every time a plane crashes, we don’t say

“Well, those idiots never should’ve gotten on that plane!  If you’re old enough to get on a plane, you’re old enough for the consequences.  Oops, my flight is boarding!”

This, I realize, is not the best example since babies and plane crashes are not always equally disastrous, but sometimes they are!  By distancing ourselves from accidental pregnancy, by hypocritically judging it, we’re giving ourselves permission to not feel compassion for someone who may be going through a very rough time.

And that’s ultimately what bothers about that top half of the meme.  The phrase “a kid they didn’t want” is maybe the worst part.  In 5 words, it takes for granted that “wanting” a baby and being able to care for one are the same thing.  Now, I’m sure there are babies that are completely unwanted by their parents.  But there are also a hell of a lot of children in the foster care and adoption system who were given up or forcibly removed because their parents, in one way or another, could not provide for them.  By buying into this discourse of “unwanted babies,” we’re erasing the pain of parents who lose their children and the joy they experienced while together.  Furthermore, given the racial makeup of kids in the system, we’re once again buying into the script of the welfare queen, the drug addicted mother, the gang banger father, stereotypes that are almost without exception leveled at people of color.

“If you don’t want gays to adopt, tell straight people to quit having kids they don’t want.”

Oh you thought we were done?  Don’t go yet, we have to find out how to get gays to stop adopting.  That is what’s so crazy about this meme.  I happen to know, because of the friends I have who shared it, that they interpreted this as a pro-gay statement.  But it can just as easily be read as a very practical piece of advice on how to get gays to stop adopting.

It frames gay adoption as the problem, and not the bigoted views that would lead someone to hold that opinion.  I don’t want gays to stop adopting.  Or lesbians.  Or bi, or trans, or poly families, or anybody, as long as those people want to adopt and can provide a good and loving home for the children they bring into their lives.  Ultimately, that’s the crux of the issue.  Gay people are not adopting because we just want to help out straight people.  And we’re not doing it on a whim.  It’s not as if we got off our latest cruise, mimosa in hand, and had to decide between a shih-tzu and a baby and thought “You know, let’s take the baby, it’ll live longer.”

Gay couples struggle for years to be able to adopt children, sometimes unsuccessfully.  We’re prohibited from adopting as couples in many states, including my own.  And we can’t be certain that the laws won’t change tomorrow and take our kids away.

If straight people suddenly stop having kids they “don’t want,” there will still be gay couples who want to adopt.  You can’t solve that “problem,” because it’s not a problem.  Where is the meme that says “If you don’t want gays to adopt, shut up” or “If you don’t want gays to adopt, stop being a huge bigot”?  Queer people are not here to be your problems anymore than we’re here to fix them.  The problem is not that some queer people want to adopt.  The problem is that some bigots don’t want them to.  Where’s that meme?

UPDATE: In answer to “Where’s that meme?”, one of my dedicated readers created this meme:

fixed meme

LOVE IT!

Those who live in glass closets…: Outing and the politics of compulsory homosexuality

aaronschock

Early today, Buzzfeed posted a blind item outing GOP Congressman Aaron Schock, substantiated by what essentially reads like one of Perez Hilton’s cattier blog posts.  Schock has long been known for his well-kempt appearance, rockin’ bod, and “colorful” fashion sense (I’m pretty sure if you stare at that outfit and then look at a white wall, you can still see it on your retinas.) And obviously, since any stylish, fit man can be nothing else but a 100% grade A American homosexual, these physical attributes have led many to “assume the worst.”

As if this were not enough, the “report” cites a source who says:

“here’s a hypothetical: what if you know a certain GOP congressman, let’s just say from Illinois, is gay… and you know this because one of your friends, a journalist for a reputable network, told you in no uncertain terms that he caught that GOP congressman and his male roommate in the shower… together. now they could have been good friends just trying to conserve water. but there’s more. what if this congressman has also been caught by tmz cameras trolling gay bars. now what if you know that this very same guy, the darling of the gop, has also voted against repeal of don’t ask don’t tell, opposed the repeal of doma, is against gay marriage; and for the federal marriage amendment, which would add language to the us constitution banning gay marriage and would likely strike down every gay rights law and ordinance in the country?

Are we still not allowed to out him?” (lack of respect for capitalization in the original)

Before we discuss whether we are “allowed to out him,” there are a couple things that I think are equally worth debating.

First, the main reason anybody thinks Aaron Schock is gay is because he has the nerve to dress stylishly (and occasionally blindingly) and he takes care of his body.  While I admit that, creature of the culture that I am, I would probably also see this man’s appearance as evidence that we might be on the same team, that doesn’t make it OK.  By stating publicly that by virtue of his very appearance we can tell that he’s gay, we’re not only grossly overgeneralizing about a diverse and varied community, we’re actually oppressing that very community.  What this  does is reify that there is only one way to “look” gay.  This serves to deprive the vast majority of gay men on this planet who do not look like Mr. Schock (myself very much included) of an identity that many of us are working very hard to defend.  It is also reinforces the same messages of body-shaming and economic stratification with which we are already bombarded by voices from within our own community.

Secondly, the assumption that even if Mr. Schock were having sex with men (which I do not claim to know) he would necessarily be gay reinforces a hetero/homosexual binary that completely erases the real and lived experiences of bisexual and queer identified people, as well as MSMs, the hetero- or homo-flexible, and the bicurious.  Mr. Schock’s case is not unique.  In the past year we’ve witnessed the public comings out of Frank Ocean, Robin Roberts, Maria Bello, and Tom Daley, none of whom said “I’m gay.”  They all simply said that they were currently in relationships with partners of the same gender.  Nonetheless, the media has persisted in labeling each and everyone one of them as gay.

At the root of the hetero/homo binary are two main problems.  First, as Shane Phelan has theorized:

“The threat of bisexuality has always been choice.  Bisexuality seems to call inescapably for choices about whom and how to love.  For lesbian-feminists, the threat is that bisexuals will choose a man.  For heterosexuals, the threat is that bisexuals will choose a same-sex lover.  For lesbians and gays, the threat is that bisexuals belie the claim that we can’t help our desire.” (Sexual Strangers, pgs. 127-128)

Second, bisexuality (especially for men) is always spoken about as a “phase.”  Nobody wants to believe that man can be bisexual.  This has nothing to with the nature of some inherent male trait and everything to do with the way our society defines masculinity.  The male bisexual threatens the ideal of the “phallic” or impenetrable male because he refuses to conform entirely to a societally sanctioned sexual role.

This definition of masculinity is so engrained in our society that it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, producing evidence of itself in the innumerable young men who have taken their first step out of the closet as bisexual, only to eventually admit their “true” homosexuality (once again, me!).  Except there’s no such thing as your “true” sexuality outside the bounds of how society makes you define it.  It’s not difficult to conceptualize that a society that refuses to allow men to be sexually flexible is going to produce men who feel they may only identify within a binary.  Once again, I don’t know what happens in Mr. Schock’s head, pants, or bed, but for the purposes of this argument that’s not really the point.

Now, are we “allowed to out him?”  I will admit that there is a tiny angry queer in my brain that says “Yes, out them, out them all!”  It’s hard not to feel that, given Mr. Schock’s voting record, a little vengeance isn’t justified.  And yet, I have been outed.  I have been outed in places where it was very, very dangerous for that to happen, and in fact illegal for me to be gay.  I know what it is to feel you have to hide your sexuality, whatever that may be, and the powerlessness of knowing you can’t ever get that cat back in the bag.  I understand the impulse to out, but I also understand the consequences.  So, I don’t know.

What I do know is that we can’t out him as gay, or bi, or whatever.  Only he can do that.  Gay, and bi, and even queer, are labels that describe us only when we in some way accept them.  This is not to imply that this is a free or rational choice.  The decision to identify as a sexual minority is necessarily influenced by societal factors totally beyond our control.  Nonetheless, the process of coming out is, in a way, our assuming a given label that will partially define and shape our respective experiences.

Finally, I don’t think it’s necessary to out Mr. Schock.  Sure, if he is having sex with men, his voting record is unarguably hypocritical.  But even if he’s not, his voting record is disgusting.  Instead of focusing our political energies and media attention on outing this one politician, shouldn’t we be focusing our energies on making sure he’s not a politician anymore?

Mr. Schock’s orientation, whatever it may be, is not what should appall us about his voting record.  It should appall us that we’re not appalled by the voting records of the rest of the homo/bi/trans-phobic lawmakers in this country.  What does it say that we only expect people to vote for human rights when they have a personal stake in the issue?  Instead, we should be reacting to the general climate of bigotry that reigns in our country and its government under the guise of religion and “family values.”  So don’t waste your time “outing” this guy, if that’s even a thing.  Write him a letter, write the GOP a letter, sign every petition you can find, and work to elect somebody you can agree with to his, and other, positions.

So.  Are we “allowed” to out him?  Certainly.  But why waste your energy?  Use it for something infinitely greater.

———

On a personal note, I’m loving how engaged you all on my Facebook posts.  But can I ask you to do it in the “Comment” section here instead/also?  I’d love to open up these discussions to people who might not be my Facebook friends!  THANKS!

Look who’s paying for dinner

There's a lot goin' on here

There’s a lot goin’ on here…

I have a complicated relationship with OkCupid.  Unfortunately, I also have a complicated relationship with being able to speak to strangers that I would possibly like to sleep with.  You see the tension.  My general pattern with online dating, since I first started in college, is to go on 3-5 dates in a month, occasionally landing some sort of short-term boyfriend equivalent, get frustrated, and ignore it for 6 months.  True to form, this is exactly what I’ve been doing, and the 6 months are up.  So, I’m delving once more into the world of online dating.  Everything looks its typical rosy at the moment, and I am by no means nervous about the process anymore, except for one small paralyzing question.

 

Who. Pays?

 

I know, I know, we’re not supposed to think about these things anymore.  It’s the ’90s or something.  But this a question that straight people ask me all. the. time.  So, why don’t I know the answer?

Bear in mind that gay kids don’t grow up getting a lot of practice on the dating scene.  A recently out gay guy may have the body, credit card, and access to alcohol of an adult, but the dating experience of a 7th grader.  This is not helped by the fact that we grow up with the same gender expectations as the rest of you.  There is no script for a date between two men or two women, or at least not one that permeates culture in the way the straight script does.  And as much today’s ladies and gents may rail against these same gender-based expectations, the fact remains that they exist which, while still problematic, serves as a paradoxically reassuring parachute in the event that social anxiety gets the best of you.

Unfortunately, my personal perception is that many same-sex dates fall back on the straight script, even though it is arguably inapplicable.  Lacking the gendered bodies on which to reproduce the script, we’re left with nothing but the power dynamics of gender and dating laid bare.

There is a clear dominance implied in paying for any date, especially a first date, straight or otherwise.  This is perhaps even more problematic on a same-sex date, because it can feel more like a fight for dominance than a genuine gesture.  This is because on a straight date, this power struggle can be masked as “chivalry,” even viewed as correct by many women who would not accept such blatant male domination in any other arena of their lives.

But the problem is also about financial dominance.  The power inherent in money goes beyond who controls how many mozzarella sticks you buy (only acceptable answer, all of them.)  Our notions of dating are so inherently bound up in money that no matter which financial path we take, we cannot avoid sending a message.  The way I see it, there are three options.

1. I pay – If I pay, a couple of messages are sent.  First, I’m in control of the date.  This, as discussed above, is perhaps even weirder in the gay community where, like it or not, there is often a competition to see who can be the more “masculine” gay.  Without the guise of chivalry, the power dynamic is all that remains.  In the same way that a straight guy may feel “emasculated” by his female date picking up the check, the gay guy who doesn’t pay may feel similarly like he has lost the phallic sword-fight.  Our notions of masculinity are, it would seem, bound up in capitalism.

The second message I send when I pay is that I’m in control of what happens after the date.  It seems to me that, especially for non-straight male actors, allowing the other person to pay is a tacit acknowledgement that sex, or some form of intimacy, is on the table.  This is perhaps indicative of the male privilege of assuming sex is always on the table until taken off, prevalent among both straight and non-straight men.

2. You pay– Conversely, if I let you pay, you might think the same things of me.  It feels to me like if I let you pay, I’m telling you that I’m willing to go home with you.  As already stated, I’m not only ceding power to you, I may be ceding my masculinity to you which, unfortunately, may have very real ramifications for how you treat me in the future.  This is further complicated by the fact that I am a grad student and not above a free meal.

3. We split the check– In an ideal world, this probably the best option, right?  Unfortunately, insisting on splitting the check would seem to send the message that intimacy is off the table, and there might not be a second date.  This is especially unfortunate in situations in which one would both like to split the check and continue the evening.  Splitting the check says, to me, this date is probably over.

As much as I hope these dynamics make us uncomfortable, I don’t think my personal perceptions of this situation are far off the mark, and we are all guilty of producing and reproducing them.  What does it mean to live in a society in which monetary transactions can serve as a stand-in for sexual consent?  (NOTE: This is not to imply that money IS consent.  Rape culture is real, and nothing is consent but consent.  I only mean to imply that, due to the existence of rape culture, financial acquiescence may be interpreted as sexual acquiescence.)

So, you ask…who pays?  I don’t know.  But the way I see it, we’ve got two options, and they’re not just for the gays.

1. Straights can continue to allow money to communicate their sexual desires for them, and the rest of us can emulate them as best we can.  We can continue to increase the already increeeedible awkwardness of first dates by refusing to talk ground rules.

-OR-

2. We (the everybody kind of “we”) can start to work toward a society in which we can actually talk about these things on (or before) the date.  What would a world look like in which I could let you pay and not make out with you?

OR pay for you, out of a genuine instinct to be nice, and not spend the rest of the evening looking for clues that we’re going to have to sex?

OR, conversely, what would it look like to split the check like two job-having adults and then go home and make out like two unemployed teenagers?

OR, what if before we even met we could say “Hey, I always split the check on first dates, but don’t take that as a sign that I don’t like you.”?

I don’t know about you, but option 2 sounds a lot better to me.  Unfortunately, it implies not only learning to talk about money, but learning to talk about sex and intimacy.  Our culture essentializes sex so much that a sexual “rejection” can only be viewed as a rejection of that entire person.  Paradoxically, it’s also so puritanical that too overt an interest in sex, even on a date, can be viewed as a sign of “sluttiness” or “looseness,” which might mean you’re “not relationship material.”  Why can’t we just say, and mean it, “You’re great, but I don’t want to have sex with you?” or “Hey, that was a really fun date, do you want to have some sex?”

I know, I know.  It’s hard.  It’s awkward.  But is it any more awkward than the continual guessing game that is a first date?  Just so we’re clear, I don’t claim to be there yet myself, either.  I will undoubtedly continue to sweat profusely when the waiter asks if we’d like the check.  But until we start having these conversations in a frank and non-earth-shattering manner, we’ll all have to keep wondering who pays.