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!

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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.

 

What Should Brian Boitano do?

GIFSoup

Today as I took my daily sauna (not spoiled, just a Yooper) I listened to NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” which I love. However, one the segments on the normally very liberal show managed to get under my skin.  One of the week’s questions was about the newly appointed US delegation to the Sochi Olympics.  President Obama, like several other world leaders, has decided (wisely, I think) not to attend the Olympics.  In his place he is sending a delegation of three openly gay and lesbian former Olympians: Billie Jean King (tennis), Brian Boitano (figure skating, rendered in the amazing .gif above) and Caitlin Cahow (hockey.)  This move was immediately supported by the Human Rights Campaign, indisputably the most power gay lobby in Washington.  (Note, I say ‘gay’ and not LGBTQ on purpose, but that is a matter for another blog post.)

For those who are perhaps unaware, Russia passed an “Anti-Gay Propaganda” law last year which essentially makes being gay and, in some interpretations of the law, failing to report “a gay,” a crime.  This law has had immediate and tragic effects, sparking the repression of LGBTQ activists around the country and essentially declaring open season on Russia’s LGBTQ community.  Recent attacks have included the online seduction of gay youths by neo-nazis who then torture them on tape with total impunity.  Calls to boycott the Olympics altogether (which I initially supported) have been  quieted by Russia’s LGBTQ community, as the failure of the Olympics might further situate them as scapegoats, a viewpoint which I had failed to consider in my initial blind rage.

So, getting back to the issue at hand, what was it about “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me?” that irked me?  The discourse around this delegation is that it is the ultimate “middle finger” to Putin and his anti-LGBTQ policies.  Media response in general, and not just on WWDTM, has been filled with a gleeful electricity.  “We’ll show them.  We’ll send all these gays.  That’ll show’em,” they laugh, tenting their fingers à la Mr. Burns.  And I get it; I do.  I would love to show Mr. Putin a middle finger or five.  What bothers me is the idea that the very “gayness” of these athletes is somehow being weaponized.  In turn, I think it somehow furthers the notion that there is something noxious or extraordinary about the very fact of existing as gay or lesbian.  It turns these athletes, and in turn all of us, into tokens.  Perhaps in the case these tokens will be used for a greater good, but the tokenization is undeniable.

Would it not have been just as powerful for President Obama to refuse to send a delegation, making his reasons clear and public?  Something like:

“Dear Vlad, I can’t send a delegation to the Olympics this year because I cannot vouch for the safety of all of its members due to your ridiculous laws.  Sincerely, Barack.”

Somehow in this version, it seems like the onus is on Putin to respond and not on the athletes in the delegation to be on the offensive.  It shows that the President, and by proxy our country, recognizes the intrinsic humanity of gays and lesbians enough to not tokenize them or use them as pawns in a political game.

On this point, I must confess that I am also skeptical of the U.S.’s “ally when I wanna be” stance on LGBTQ rights.  First, I should be clear about my understanding that we do not live in a monarchy, and that Barack Obama is only one man.  Nonetheless, his support of LGBTQ issues has seemed as politically shrewd as it has seemed genuine.  For example, his decision to finally “evolve” on the issue of marriage equality just two months before the 2012 election is hard to interpret as a mere coincidence.

While I don’t doubt that Obama is better friend to our community than Vladimir Putin, I’m significantly more inclined to hear from it some of the other world leaders who have chosen not to attend the games, most notably France’s François Hollande, who ran his campaign on a platform the included staunch support (and immediate legalization) of marriage equality, and Germany’s Joachim Gauck, a former civil rights activist in East Germany who currently presides over a country that just legalized a third gender option on government documents.  If Obama is truly the friend to our community that, somewhere deep inside, I suspect that he is, he needs to stop making statements like “marriage equality is best left up to the states.”  Why not lead by example, especially when you can’t be re-elected?  And why not stick it to a few homophobes, like Putin, in the process?

I recognize that Obama, and the country, are in a difficult situation not entirely of their own making.  Both boycotting and attending the Sochi Olympics have positive and negative consequences that are as difficult to predict as they are potentially lethal.  Nonetheless, I think that sending gay and lesbian activists as a “fuck you” to Russia paradoxically serves to further the belief that there is something there to fear, both in Russia and here.  There must be a way for the Obama administration to make its objection to Russia’s Anti-Gay law known without tokenizing gay and lesbian athletes on the basis of their sexuality.  Especially when these athletes are still being denied so many basic civil rights in our own country, it seems in poor taste to weaponize their sexuality in defense of an ideal that we, as a country, are not quite sure of ourselves yet.

————————

Have an opinion?  Leave it in the comments section!  I haven’t worked this out for myself yet, and I’d love to know what you think!

Pontificating About the Pontiff

Pope Francis Holds His Weekly General Audience

Lately a lot has been written and said about Pope Francis, namely that he seems to hold relatively liberal values, especially as Popes go.  While I would argue that being more liberal than Pope Benedict XVI is anything but difficult, that is hardly the point.  Yes, Francis is undeniably more liberal than Benedict XVI and perhaps John Paul II as well, the only Popes I have been around to see.

However, it worries to me how many LGBTQ people and straight women are so seemingly willing to let bygones be bygones and accept whatever crumb of “tolerance” or “progress” might fall from the papal table.  It is true that the Pope was quoted as saying, in July 2013 “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge them?”  Forgive my my cynicism, but this is hardly a ringing endorsement.  According to Biblical teaching, this same statement can (and should) be made about any “sinner.”  No “sin” is greater than any other, and ultimate judgement is the domain of God and God alone.  While many are eager to view this as an evolution on the part of the Catholic Church, it doesn’t seem to represent any substantive change.  Sure, the Pope won’t judge you anymore, but God will. *spoiler alert* You’re going to Hell.   The Pope, and by proxy the Church, have not actually changed their minds about the sinful nature of homosexuality; they’ve just decided to be quieter about it and let God deal with the inevitable lake of fire part.

Add to this another quote from (then Cardinal) Francis from 2010, as Argentina prepared to legislate marriage equality.  Francis referred to it as a “destructive attack on God’s plan.”  As he championed a law that would prohibit marriage equality and adoption rights from same-sex couples he said:

“[T]he Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family,” he wrote to the four monasteries in Argentina. “At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”

These are hardly the words of a devoted LGBTQ ally.  Moreover, it points to a more historic problem in the church: that of institutionalized misogyny.

I am by no means the first to say that homophobia is, in many ways, an extreme manifestation of misogyny.  In a world where gender roles reign supreme, there is no is room for “effeminate” men or “masculine” women, and our very existence is a threat to the oppressive social order upon which the Catholic Church (along with many other organized religions) relies.  This is especially true in terms of the “traditional” family structure.  Every so-called defense of the family is in fact a thinly veiled defense of gender status quo.  The idea that children need a mother and father implies that women and men are inherently different; they could never assume each others’ roles because everyone knows you can’t change diapers if you have a penis, and your vagina somehow prohibits you from playing catch in the backyard.

This is of course to say nothing about gender non-conforming and trans* people, apparently destined to walk the Earth alone as they don’t fit into the Church’s idea of what family (read: patriarchal gender roles) is supposed to look and act like.

Although the issue of LGBTQ inclusion in the Church is, perhaps, of more recent importance to most, the Church has a misogyny problem that dates back at least a millenium, inherent in the prohibition of women priests.  While there is a growing movement to repeal to proscription, as it is not even scripturally mandated, the new Pope has been adamant in toeing the party line of his predecessors, saying that “that door is closed.”  Can we really expect the Pope, and the Church, to advocate for any real change for LGBTQ folks when they cannot yet see their way to advocating for the full spiritual personhood of 50% of the Church’s population?  Essentially, the Church’s position is “We know we made up this rule, and it’s not even in the Bible, but you’re still not enough of a person for us to change a rule that WE. MADE.

Should we be cautiously optimistic that the Catholic Church appears to be advocating for slightly more liberal politics since the election of the new Pope?  Yes.  Any progressive change is good change.  Should we be filling every newspaper, blog, and cable news network with stories of Francis’s greatness?  No.  Not yet.  We LGBTQ people have subsisted on the table scraps of the rich and powerful for long enough.  It is time for us to stop applauding the hegemony for espousing views that we view as basic human decency in those around us.

Ask yourself: Would you tolerate the idea that LGBTQ people and straight women are inherently less than from your friends or your family?  If the answer is yes, you have some deep thinking to do about why that is (and I’m confused about how you found this blog.)  But if the answer is no, and I hope it is, you shouldn’t be tolerating it from your Church either.