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.

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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

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.