Friday, July 25, 2014

Queer Liberation is a Contradiction to Zionism

At the time of this writing, the Palestinian death toll in the most recent act of aggression by Israel has reached 844. Most of those who have died are civilians.

This is not the first time Israel has massacred Palestinians nor, sadly, will it be the last.

Every time open warfare breaks out in Gaza, I am stunned by the eruption of outrage and anti-Zionist sentiment among my community. It is heartening to see radical organizers and every day queers leap up in collective anger and sorrow; I feel like I have surrounded myself with the right sort of people. I'm probably correct on that score.

Pro-Palestine noise brigade action. Seattle, 7/24/14

What always baffles me, however, is when I see queers support Israeli apartheid and aggression. Homonationalism is definitely a thing, and it seems to rear its ugly head with vigor every time Israel decides that, based on some pretext or another, it needs to go and kill hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinians. Whatever it is that causes some LGBT Americans to identify with the Israeli state's aggression, when war breaks out in the Holy Land, queer voices immediately start to squabble and denounce each other in a fervor to either defend Israel's right to empire or Palestine's right to existence. 

It's confusing to me when queers support Israeli aggression. To them I want to say: don't you know your own liberation is tied with the freedom of the Palestinian people?

Queer liberation was born out of desperation and frustration. A literally riotous movement espousing the necessity of the freedom of our bodies and our ideas, we burned cop cars and disrupted the heterosexual world's status quo in order to fight not just for the right to live without oppression, but (as the AIDS epidemic struck) also simply the right to live. Institutional oppression has long been our enemy; why do our fellow queers now side with the institutions that used to destroy us, and still do, every day?

 Thousands march from Ramallah to Jerusalem in protest on Thursday. They were met with live fire and at least two protesters were killed.

Palestinian resistance is a queer necessity. I say this not just because there are LGBT Palestinians suffering under the yoke of Israeli apartheid and the fear of murder at the hands of the IDF, though we must remember our siblings in Gaza. Can you imagine being HIV-positive in Ramallah, where basic medical supplies and water are in short supply?

I do not say this just to imply that there are intersectional identities that tie us to Palestine, even though there are. Queerness intersects with race in complicated, deep ways that continue to fracture our communities, and you can't scan Israeli opinion without the overt and very real racism at the heart of Zionism slapping you in the face, burning like scalding water thrown in your face.

I say this because until empire is ended, we are not truly free.

Gaza has been transformed into an open air prison, with death raining down from the sky. Much like the massive prisons in the US that incarcerate queer and trans* people of color, Palestinians have their movement restricted and are short of the basic necessities vital to meeting their fundamental human needs. Much like the continued murder and brutalization of trans women in our streets, Palestinian women are exposed to the degradation and death which comes hand-in-hand with Israeli apartheid and aggression. As we snatch and incarcerate people for the simple crime of having HIV, Palestinian youth are kidnapped and tortured in retaliation for perceived slights against the Israeli state.

A Palestinian youth is arrested in Beit Hanina.

To LGBT people who support this Israeli genocide of the Palestinian people I say: you make me weep. Have you forgotten that the equality you have striven for was itself based in the genocide of the people who lived here before us? That still live among us, forgotten? The ability of white American gays to marry came at a great cost, and not just measured in the efforts of LGBT Americans. Our own privilege and freedom was bought in the blood and tears of slaves and indigenous people, hauntingly mirroring the occupation and invasion of Palestinian's homes and lives. How soon we forget.

As long as empire exists, what meaning does our own equality hold? Does it even have any? How can I gloat in my own supposed freedom while people are getting phone calls from the IDF telling them their homes will be destroyed in ten minutes? How are you liberated when empire culminates in children dying, burning, in a cloud of white phosphorus?

My liberation, as privileged as it is, is worthless in the face of this aggression. As the death toll in Gaza mounts, and as white western colonial powers make ineffectual statements or none at all as these murders take place, our western efforts for equality seem empty. Israel itself supposedly prides itself on gay equality; what tragedy that these seeming lands of queer freedom stand idly by while this massacre continues. At what cost have we made these institutional gains, if it means we will instead turn about and strengthen the institutions of oppression that continue to enslave and murder?

We are not truly liberated until empire ends, my friends. I am not liberated, even in the white privileged, male socialized, and American entitled fortress that protects me at the cost of others' freedoms. You are not liberated, fellow queer, as long as people are brutally slain simply because they are guilty of the crime of being imprisoned in Gaza.

No-one is liberated, least of all ourselves as queer and trans* people, until Palestine is free.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

It's Okay To Be Called "Cisgender." I Promise.

The climate around LGBT politics is vastly different than it was decades ago. Mainstream gay activists feel they have a lot to celebrate; a cavalcade of judicial decisions have swept the country, imploding conservative efforts to defeat marriage equality. One by one, states in the US have begun caving to progressive sentiment, leading many to declare victory for LGBT Americans everywhere. 

There's just one problem, of course. These victories are not necessarily for all LGBTs. Rather, they are more for the LGBs-- at a time when queer sexual identities are becoming more mainstream and acceptable, trans* gender identities are caught in conflict with gay entitlement. Not only do trans* people still face oppression and violence at the hands of society at large, it's becoming increasingly obvious that they face microaggression and dismissal from their own supposed comrades: gay Americans.

Recently, this has been thrown into sharp relief by conflicts between transgender activists and notable drag queens over the word "tranny." Sparked by the use of transmisogynistic language on RuPaul's Drag Race, debates among LGBT activists and advocates as to whether cisgender individuals have the right to claim the term as their own have been raging, in a discussion that has perfectly illustrated what happens when one privileged group refuses to accept the stories and testimonies of a disadvantaged minority.

I'm not going to rehash that. Others have done it more eloquently than I could have. I did, however, want to address a particularly confusing sentiment shared by gay men defending the use of transphobic language: 

"Don't you DARE call me cisgender."

In online debates, I've heard this a dozen times. Finally, and unsurprisingly, this culminated in a trainwreck of a tantrum thrown by a writer for HuffPo's Gay Voices, J. Nelson Aviance, titled "I Am Not Cisgendered" (sic). It's a real headache to read, so let me give you a synopsis: people criticizing people who are not trans* and insisting that said non-trans* people check their privilege is a form of oppression, and calling someone "cisgender" is a slur. Evidently, life is very hard for white gay men who identify with the gender assigned to them at birth; getting called out by all these mean trans* people is very taxing! Parker Molloy has a play-by-play of his screwy and alienating logic on her site.

"Waaaaaaaaaah, pointing out my privilege is oppression! Waaaaah!"

Parker said a lot and I am not going to repeat her words; but I am going to express incredulity over this sick form of reverse oppression Olympics. Claiming some sort of victimization because people refer to you with a privileged term is insane. Sadly, unsurprising.

Let's think about this critically: there are people who identify with the gender assigned to them at birth. There are those that don't. The ones that don't, we have a host of terms for. Trans. Genderqueer. Genderfluid. Agender. Neutrois. The ones that do? Yes, there is a word that is used for that, and it is cisgender. Why does that exist? Because using the phrase "not-trans*" is cumbersome and sounds silly. 

It's not a slur. Why? Because it's what people who are not trans are. Hell, I don't identify with the gender I was assigned at birth; I am genderqueer. However, I am perceived as cisgender most of the time. While this is incorrect, it means that I benefit from the privilege that cisgender people have. As someone who wants to support trans* people, I accept that privilege and understand my place in their oppression.

However, this sentiment is not because these people really believe that the term "cisgender" is an insult or slur. Oh no, even they know in their cruel, hard little hearts that they are being ridiculous. The thing is, every time someone tells them "You are cisgender! Please check your privilege," they actually know that they are being told that frankly, they don't need to be commenting on transgender issues. Because they are wrong. And they need to stop.

Who is surprised that people with privilege will get in a huff when told that they can't dominate narratives of the oppression they actively enact on others? I'm sure not.

So I'm going to say this: being called "cisgender" is not a slur, not ever. However, I believe in calling people what they like to be called. Would you prefer, J Nelson Aviance, that I call you "not-trans*?" I will. Gladly.

I will do it like this: "You are not-trans*. You need to check your privilege. And you need to stop opening your damn yap about trans* issues. Because you are wrong."

Glad we cleared the air.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Reminder of Things That Used to Matter

It's World AIDS Day.

It's scheduled at a weird time of year, isn't it? Right in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, this day dedicated to one of the deadliest plagues to beset modern humanity is often overlooked. There's shopping to accomplish! Who is really going to take a break to talk about HIV?

It's sort of a problem cropping up in recent discourse when dealing with the AIDS epidemic. The majority of visible American media is satiated on the idea that HIV is no longer deadly, a circumstance exacerbated by the white supremacist and classist notion that HIV-treatment options are available to all, an idea repudiated by the realities of racism and poverty. With all this static and all this dissonance about the nature of HIV and its consequences, it's easy to see why an ongoing scourge, which slowly murders people globally, can fall out of the public eye.

It is no longer cool nor widely acceptable to talk about HIV and AIDS in the terms that they deserve nor with the sense of urgency that the epidemic requires. Poverty-stricken indigenous South Africans are wasting away in the suburbs of Cape Town, while the advent of PrEP has convinced white middle class gay men in the United States that HIV is No Longer A Big Deal. The priorities are clear: as long as those most privileged among us (like myself) can survive, the disease is manageable.

It. Isn't. If you think it is, please talk about it with someone newly infected living in Namibia, in Chad, in Alabama... Or on the street you live, sleeping behind your dumpster.



While you gear up for the holidays, please understand that there are some that will never see the holidays again. Please understand that there are those of us who lost an entire generation of elders to this disease, leaving us bereft of wisdom and historical perspective. Keep in mind that there are those among us who miss loved ones who died too soon, too young, too... dead.

Why do we not talk about this anymore? American mainstream gay culture is busily divesting itself of its urgency in talking about HIV, while American mainstream straight culture is divesting itself of any interest in the topic whatsoever. As funds for treatment and research slowly but steadily dry up, things are beginning to look bleak for those not advantaged enough to access prevention and treatment. What do we do? What do we do while people are dying and no-one cares enough to do something about it?



The next step forward, whatever the oligarchic ruling class may tell you, is clear to anyone with a sense of logic (or compassion). The de-stigmatization of HIV is paramount to education. Education about HIV is a necessity to prevention. Prevention is necessary to saving lives.

I hope for a cure someday during my lifetime; with avid desire I wait until I'm able to stop taking these pills, these little pills that rule my little world. Until then, I hope to stay alive, and I hope that others live through this, and I know that some of the people infected don't have a chance in hell, and I'm really fucking sad about that. Capitalism and the state and AIDS have ensured their demise. I hope they pass in comfort.

I know they won't.



As long as people are more obsessed over the day after Thanksgiving than December first, AIDS will exist and will continue to kill people. Thousands of them, globally. As long as people care for profit margins and gift wrapping and the American status quo, people will die victims of narcissistic negligence at the hands of the most wealthy society in human history.

Us.

Happy World AIDS Day.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

I Know Your Secrets and I Still Love You

Note from the editor: This is a guest post written by one of my favorite persons. Enjoy.

I know your secrets and I still love you.

A friend gave me a card with that phrase on it for my birthday a few years ago. I treated it like a talisman, a magickal token imbued with the power of possibility. I could be loved despite my secrets.

I am going to tell you one of those secrets right now.

I am a sex worker, a professional pervert, a pro top and bottom, a whore.*

I'm using my friend Ian's blog to confess this because Ian is a loud, drunken avatar of wonderful humanness and is allowing me to make questionable choices and also because I don't want to separate my activism and my job as a sex worker any more.

Let me explain.

I have been an activist for over a decade and in my quest to make the world less shitty and unfair I have done many, many things; from volunteering at an anarchist lending library (because access to information is a human right), to doing unpaid medical work at protests and in other states of exception like in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti a few years back (I am trained as a street medic and an EMT**), to working as an on-call counselor at a homeless shelter, to volunteering at a needle exchange, and volunteering with homeless youth. And the thing is, there are sex workers in every population I work with. Every. Single. One. And they are all afraid to admit it, afraid of what might happen to them if they talk about their work, because people look down on sex workers, and people look down on poor people, and people dehumanize and shame people who choose sex work whether it is a choice due to poverty or not.

My take on that: If you are judging someone because of their choice to survive in the face of poverty, you are an asshole. End of story.

Additionally, many sex workers deal with constant isolation and fear of the police. Resources are few and far between, and sex workers are often afraid to access the ones that do exist, afraid to be honest with their friends and loved ones, and deal with huge amounts of psychological stress.

Why should you care, beautiful creature who is reading this (I assume you are beautiful because everyone is beautiful, society simply tells us we are not)? Because a huge amount of queers are sex workers. A huge amount of straight people are sex workers. A huge amount of people are sex workers. Most of us choose to do it because of economic reasons, some of us enjoy our work, some of us do not. I generally enjoy my work, with a few exceptions. I love constructing an experience for someone, getting into their head and making their toes curl (If I could choose an overly pretentious job title for myself it would be Architect of Experience, Adventure Consultant, Esq.). Queer teenagers are much, much more likely to be homeless and/or choose sex work. It sucks to be queer, still, unless you grew up with money and a supportive family, and many of us did not. Sex work is a way to achieve financial independence for many a queer, trans*, or straight person living in poverty or in abusive situations.

Which brings me to my point: We need to support each other. What does it look like to be an ally to a sex worker? How to support your friend or lover when they come out to you about doing a little ho-in' on the side? Or full time? Or maybe you wanna date that hot hooker you met at the vegan potluck but don't know how to deal with their career of cocksucking? It's a demanding job and it gets more dangerous with each intersecting un-privilege. Queer? Trans*? Brown? Female-presenting? Just being a brown trans* ladyperson in public is often enough for police to assume she is a prostitute and hassle her even if she's just trying to get to the corner store for some juice and eggs. The longer the U.S. economy stays in a recession the more people will choose sex work to help them get by, there has been a huge influx of new people to the sex industry in the past 5 years and I don't see it slowing down anytime soon. I am entirely certain that if you don't know a current or former sex worker, it's because they haven't come out to you. We are everywhere, and that's not a bad thing.

So here's some handy tips:

1. Don't be a dick. Always good advice. (Thanks Wil Wheaton)

2. Dead hooker jokes aren't funny.

3. Intersecting oppressions are shitty to live with. Sometimes you just gotta listen.

4. Offer to be their safe call. They might not take you up on it, but having someone who knows where they are going and how long they will be gone while doing an outcall is a huge help.

5. All sex workers are not dirty or diseased. Most sex workers take obsessive care of their sexual health because it is their tool, and you cannot do work without the proper tools.

6. Don't be Captain-Save-A-Ho. It's patronizing and pathetic at the same time.

7. Respect that sex work is work. It is. It is fucking work.

8. Don't out them. It is not ever okay to disclose that someone else is a sex worker without their consent.

And here are some more, from the Sex Worker's Outreach Project Chicago https://redlightchicago.wordpress.com/2009/02/03/how-to-be-an-ally-to-sex-workers/

and the Sex Worker's Outreach Project NYC(though oddly not on their website, I couldn't find the original post) http://sarahelspeth.com/2012/01/11/how-to-be-an-ally-to-sex-workers/

Here is SWAAY, Sex Work Activist, Allies, and You, a resource that answers for pretty much every question you want to ask about sex work and the industry, though it is dominated by cisgender ladies***: http://www.swaay.org/

And I will leave you with this amazing video, Every Ho I Know Says So:

And remember: If you are a sex worker, someone will love you despite because of your secrets. I promise.


*Do not call a sex worker a whore. It is a reclaimed word, like queer and n******r. You don't call your African American friend n******r if you are white. Don't call a sex worker a whore if you are not one.

**Before anybody starts with the "Shut your whore mouth and get a real job as an EMT." bullshit the answer is I tried. I have applied to every company in the area I reside and haven't gotten an interview in 3 years. I am letting my EMT certification lapse when it expires next year because it is not worth the money to re-certify again if I cannot work. I originally got my certification to support my community as a medical resource, and I can still do that without the certification.

***Most resources and information about sex work, even the stuff by sex workers for sex workers tends to revolve around cisgender ladies, and I wish I could find more queer, trans* sex worker narratives and voices.

Hexe is a queer non-binary trans* mixed race Lakota/white sex worker with white privilege. They like being called faggot. Twitter: @h3xtacy Email: h3xtacy@riseup.net

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sandbag

One of the hard things about having been a war vet and how I have dealt with my feelings on the matter is the difficulty in drudging up sad or traumatic memories and unpacking them years later. I tried for years through drugs to kill my memories and my emotions about the war; meth was an efficient way to distract myself so thoroughly that I did not really think about the things that upset me about Iraq.

It's been ten years, but occasionally I am forced to confront memories and events that happened so long ago. Today was an excellent example of this; I am taking a course deconstructing societal ideals of masculinity and as part of the class we read "The Things We Carried," a short story detailing an Army lieutenant and his methods of dealing with grief during the Vietnam war.

Two details of the text sparked some pretty poignant memories that I haven't examined in a long time. The first was how we dehumanize those most at risk in combat; in the text, soldiers in the most danger are called "grunts." I surmise we do this in order to minimize their humanity so that it's less painful when they die, and it's a cultural military meme that carries forward to this day. During my time of service, for instance, some soldiers in the Army referred to Marines-- who generally see far more combat when invading a country than the typical soldier in my field of work-- as "sandbags." Sandbags are bags filled with sand that can be used when building fortifications in order to stop bullets when under attack. The comparison between Marines and sandbags is rather brutal.

The other detail that hit home was the romantic relationship referenced in the texts. The main character, Lieutenant Cross, carries photos and letters from a woman in the States named Martha. When he is depressed or unhappy he daydreams about being with her. It's how he copes.

I had a Martha.

Actually, to be honest, I had several Marthas (I've always been something of a scoundrel). One in particular, however, was pretty exciting. Shortly before my deployment to Kuwait and the following invasion of Iraq, I met a man. He was so beautiful it made my heart break to look at him. He was unbearably kind. He was exceedingly intelligent. He was a little shy. I was charmed by him.

I met him online (does anybody remember the chat rooms from Gay.com? Sheesh), and we would spend hours chatting or talking on the phone. We only met a couple of times, but we made a delightful connection. I wanted to get to know him better. I wanted to do more than just the one sweet kiss we shared.

He was a Marine.

He left for Kuwait before I did, and before he left he told me "I wish I wasn't leaving. I wish I had time with you."

So I went to Kuwait, and I invaded Iraq, and even though there were so many horrible things going on and I was so unhappy I still had him on my mind. I hoped we would both pull through the war okay, and that when I got back I would give both of us the chance to see if we were right for each other.

Everywhere I went in Iraq I would look for him. If we drove past Marines I would hang my head out the window and try to examine their faces, hoping for a fleeting glance of him, this Marine ever present on my mind. I would not be able to speak to him (keep in mind how difficult it was to be gay in the military at this time), but at least I would see him, know he was okay, and hope that he saw me.

I think I saw him once in Baghdad. I'm still not sure.

When I got back from Iraq, I tried to contact him in every way I knew how. His Gay.com profile was deleted. His number didn't work anymore. He didn't return my emails. I never heard from him again.

He was from New Orleans. He was going to take me there and show me around. I ended up going without him.

I don't know what happened to him. He might have changed his number, changed his email. He might have decided that he didn't want to talk to me. He might have died. I assumed he did. I hope he didn't. It's a possibility, however... he was, after all, a sandbag.

I still remember his sweet face. His gentle voice. His admiration and attraction for me, and how it made me feel. 

I wish I could remember his name.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Deep Green Resistance: Transphobic Liars, Grasping at Straws

Well, this has been an interesting week.

This year's Law and Disorder conference, a radical political gathering in Portland, was particularly spectacular. While the program certainly had its merits and the organizers can likely call the event a success, the schedule was overshadowed by the controversial attendance of one organization and the community response to their presence.

Deep Green Resistance, a "radical" environmentalist group led by such figures as Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith, were tabling at the event. Their environmentalist politics weren't the problem, though. Deep Green Resistance advocates a hardline "radical feminist" stance on transgender issues, essentially denying that "transgender" exists, instead equating all trans women as "men" who are posing as women in order to infiltrate female spaces, deny their socialized privilege, and rape "real" women. Or something. It's pretty disgusting (click over to Decolonizing Yoga's breakdown of their transphobic stances here).

Anyway, they had literature to that affect at the conference, and some queer anarchists decided to confront them on the issue that weekend. The queers involved in the confrontation issued a statement that says:

On the first day of the Law and Disorder Conference in Portland, two anarchist genderqueers* approached the Deep Green Resistance Table to inform the two women of Lierre Keith’s rampant transphobia. The people who confronted DGR were met with transphobic claim after transphobic claim, upholding the gender analysis held by their leaders. An argument ensued in which members of DGR denied the validity of trans identities. Offended by this, one of the genderqueers took a paint pen out and defaced the official Deep Green Resistance book written by Aric McBay, Lierre Keith and Derrick Jensen. While said person was marking the book, a member of DGR grabbed the book back and was smudged by the pen. The person with the pen, knowing that DGR members are known for snitching (see Derrick Jensen & FBI and Lierre Keith & the pieing incident) and grabbed a stack of Lierre Keith zines and was not seen again.

Later that day, three anarchist genderqueers were sitting in the lobby of the Smith Memorial Hall of PSU laughing about how those transphobes got their book fucked up. While the queers were loling, a member of DGR** approached and started arguing with them. The DGR member even asserted that DGR believes that transpeople do not experience violence based on their trans identity. When he was challenged and given the tragically long list of transwomen murdered at the hands of transphobes, he had no retort. While he was walking away a burrito and some trash sailed through the air and landed on his head. Someone started a chant “DGR ARE TRANSPHOBES” and a dozen or so joined in. Laughter ensued!

The next day, near the end of the conference, a group of about 15 to 20 people approached the same two women from the first day and started a discussion about transphobia espoused by the group and it’s leaders. Some people yelled, others wrote down lists of zines and books to read so the members of DGR could educate themselves about the validity of transpeople and the daily oppression of transpeople. The DGR members decided to pack up their table at that point and go home. The DGR women proceeded to call Comczar Jensen and High Counselor Keith about their hurt feelings.

Deep Green Resistance and all of their fucked transphobic ideas will be confronted by anarchist queers at every turn. Get used to it.
*We do not believe that only trans people can confront transphobia. If the fact that the people who confronted them were genderqueer brings more legitimacy to the confrontation, then so be. DGR should be confronted by people of many identities in many ways for a multitude of reasons.

**This cult member was not one of the two women who were originally confronted at the DGR table.


The incident has sparked a Facebook shitstorm, with radfems spouting their transphobic idiocy, anarchists responding with humor and outrage, and even Twitter harassment from Cathy Brennan, DGR supporter and transphobic bigot extraodinaire:



So yes, I was involved in the online discussion of what occurred. However, Deep Green Resistance then published an interesting statement that, frankly, included something that made me howl with laughter.

The videos here were taken on Sunday. Below in italics are the direct words of the woman who took the video. She is the woman who Ian Awesome, aka Ian Finkenbinder, assaulted on Saturday. Ian has supported violence publicly in the past.
628x471Ian Awesome aka Ian Finkenbinder.
You can find the entire statement here.

Imagine my surprise... because I wasn't even there. I didn't even know about the conference until the controversy erupted. At the time of my alleged assault, so effortlessly placed right next to allegations of  rape threats (I'm absolutely positive they're not trying to accuse me of being a would-be rapist, right?), I was having dinner with five other people. On my deck. In Seattle. A three-hour drive away.

Well, my burrito-throwing arm must be a lot stronger than I thought...

I can't imagine what these people are thinking. I took place in the online debate, to include telling these disgusting human beings how horrible their politics are. However, I was nowhere near the conference, and am a distinctive-looking enough person that it would be hard for people to mistake someone else for me. I can only conjecture that they started looking for queer anarchists who appear in the media, grabbed a picture from an interview I did over a year ago, and decided to lie about who I am and what I do.

To be frank, this is an attempt to intimidate and harass voices who speak out against them online. That's cool. It doesn't work on me, and I don't know anyone who these lies would sway.

So I'm not going to get into a debate of what violence is or isn't, or what I have supported in the past (no, I have never ever stated support for violence, if you click on the link they provide I say nothing of the sort), but I would like to discuss violence and radical response to it, and how transphobia rightfully enrages those it affects.

Because let's be real, transphobic politics actually feed a larger culture of violence and destruction against trans* people. When we deny someone's identity and essentialize them to the sum of their body parts (IE, the "every person with a penis is a man"), we are actually reducing them to something less than normal, less than human. Tell me, are you more likely to assault a human? Or an inhuman object of ridicule?

In essence, the stance DGR takes against trans* folk actually and actively increases and empowers a culture that enforces gender assignment, victimizes them on the basis of their identity, and results in real-world physical, state, and institutionalized violence. Their politics aren't a difference of opinion-- they are a literal assault on trans* people. Frankly? A marker to the hand and a burrito to the head are not an immature response to a difference of opinion. It's a legitimate expression of rage, it's resistance to the violence these politics engender, it's a BASH BACK, and a humorous one to boot.

Dear DGR: Not only are you losing focus-- who the fuck even talks about your environmental work anymore? Do you even do any?-- but you're lying. I wasn't there. I didn't throw a burrito. I didn't deface anything, much less anyone's hand. The weakness of your position is frankly leaving you grasping at straws, attacking anyone you can for whatever you can make stick. What next, are you going to call the cops on me, as your bullshit group of people is so fond of doing?

While I'm owed a serious apology (sticking my picture next to allegations of rape threats is fucking disgusting, you creeps), I'm not bothered about the mischaracterization of myself as offering resistance to this bullshit.

Do I support that resistance, though? Do I support a lone, airborne burrito? Do I support bashing back?

Fuck, yeah.

UPDATE: 

Left comments on both the website that initially published this statement and on Cathy Brennan's website, which reblogs the statement with my picture, and thus far I have been ignored in requests for retraction. The original post, in fact, did not allow my comment with this piece to go through moderation. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Letter to John Aravosis (and Other Progressives Who Just Don't Get It)

Dear John Aravosis:

Evidently, it's really hard to be you lately. 

In case everyone else reading this doesn't know who he is, John Aravosis is the founder and a major contributor to a liberal-progressive blog called "AMERICAblog." Back when I was a baby blogger, I read AMERICAblog, among others, for inspiration and motivation to become the writer that I am (and hope to be). Before I radicalized to the extreme left, I looked up to bloggers like Aravosis. Their work became a model and a goal as I developed my chops as a voice in the LGBTQ blogosphere.

Recently, however, I've been a little disturbed by the rhetoric coming from you, John. In fact, Sue Kerr of Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents and I published a piece on the Huffington Post's Gay Voices blog skewering a particularly troubling Tweet in which you chose to cast aspersions on the survivor of the Steubenville rape due to her drinking:



Turns out that was a bad week for our friend John, as just days later you used the term "bi" in reference to Gov. Christie's flip-flopping attitudes on gay rights. Essentially equating bisexuality, of course, with wishy-washy political stances. On Twitter and behind the scenes, a huge backlash resulted, putting you on the defensive. 
Evidently these are not the only public image and rhetoric fracases you have faced, as you published a particularly defensive piece today on your blog addressing a phenomenon that you choose to label "Outrage Inc.":
It’s part of a growing problem I’ve noticed for years, but have recently felt coming to a head. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to comment about far too many things in the public sphere without offending someone and creating instant outrage, often unmerited. As a result, you end up not wanting to write about the possibly-offending topics, which works to the detriment of the topics involved, unless the writer is a flaming bigot.

In the past few months I’ve been accused of supporting rape, terrorism, and hating trans people, bisexuals, women, immigrants, and Bradley Manning, which apparently encompasses a larger category of mom-and-apple-pie things that I’m sure I must hate or at least have no respect for (apparently I hate Manning because I asked a simple innocuous question in order to better understand what most angered his advocates).... 
...The need to be outraged about everything, and usually for insufficient reason, I’m calling Outrage, Inc. It’s the Change-dot-org-ification of advocacy, where with only 30 seconds of effort, you too can be mad as hell about anything, everything, and nothing. 
I say this, ironically, as a lead gay and progressive activist who has never backed away from using “outrage,” when appropriate, as a means of effecting change. But outrage must be measured to be effective. Being a good and effective activist and advocate isn’t about always being angry. It’s about being angry when it matters, when it can make a significant difference, and channeling your anger appropriately. It’s also about getting it right, i.e., getting angry when anger is merited.
Reading this piece, of course, made me a little... perturbed. Just call me the President of Outrage, Inc.

This piece is problematic in numerous ways. For one, you appear to be setting himself up as the definitive authority of what is or is not offensive to numerous groups to which you don't seem to identify with. As a presumably cis non-bisexual person who (and this is not something I know for certain but would not ask as it is private anyway) has likely not experienced the trauma of sexual assault, it is not actually your place at all to determine what rhetoric is oppressive or not to these groups. Frankly, you have no frame of reference and your assertion that this critique of oppressive language is appropriate while that one isn't is simply unwarranted and wrong.

That's not, of course, the only thing objectionable about your defense of your behaviors. You paint a surreal picture. Not only should you be allowed to determine which of your stances are offensive and which are not, you create this idea that suddenly this great, effective movement that you have belonged to for decades has suddenly turned on you and people like you. The culture, you appear to be saying, has suddenly become intolerant, easily offended, and hamstrung by its need to nitpick at every little thing you say. You are being hampered in your effectiveness, my friend, because we don't want you to use oppressive terminology.

Leftists are, sadly, well-known for this behavior. Since we all ascribe to vague notions of liberatory politics (generally anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-homophobic sentiments), we are able to absolve ourselves when we are accidentally racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise. "But I support all your causes! My ignorant comment couldn't possibly be biphobic, because I'm giving you guys a hand in solidarity!" This is all too common a defense (and yes, I'm looking at YOU, Dan Savage) we take when called out on oppressive behavior because we really don't like realizing we're part of the problem.

Don't get me wrong. I like you, John. You're a fun guy and you makes good points and hey, if it weren't for folks like you I probably would not be a blogger. However, this notion that you can't be offensive because you like the people you're offending is ridiculous. One might even say... outrageous?

To be frank, it's not that the culture has suddenly become more prickly and more hateful, it's that your rhetoric and positions are no longer acceptable. Just as it is no longer acceptable to make racist or homophobic jokes, it is now no longer acceptable to make jokes about bisexuals or to blame victims of rape due to their intoxication. Why? Because these narratives actually do in fact promulgate a culture that marginalizes these people. I don't care if you support rape survivors and bisexuals, my friend, because if you are blaming them for the oppression they face or if you use them as a punchline in a joke, you are contributing to their ongoing harassment and even the violence they face.

What's particularly troubling is that when these jokes or narratives get called out, defensive behaviors like the one that spawned "Outrage Inc." on AMERICAblog immediately are quick to point out that their intent is not to offend-- therefore no offense should be taken. Let's be plain: intent is entirely divorced from impact. One example is the prevalence of the word "bitch" in the gay community. This word is used in almost every other sentence among mainstream gay America, heedless of the offensiveness of the word. This word is used to oppress women and contributes to a culture of violence that ends in rape and physical assault on non-male persons (BTW, guys, "bitch" never ever means "female dog" when referring to a person, so quit with that lame-ass excuse, gays). Is the fabulous queen who uses it with his friends intending to oppress? No. Are they actually part of an oppressive framework that impacts women negatively? Yes.

John. You, and people like you, need to realize this: no matter your intent, your impact is what matters. Did you intend to be biphobic? No. Were you actually using biphobic rhetoric? Yes. Your defensiveness isn't necessary, John. Your apology, introspection, and reformation into a better-- a more effective-- activist is. After all, how can we be effective... while being oppressive?

Love,

Outrage Inc.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Why I'm Angry

Trigger warning: This post contains references to wartime violence, sexual assault, IV drug use, and domestic violence. 

Anyone who knows me knows I'm pissed. I'm just generally a really angry person. Lately, my writing hasn't been particularly angry, however. I've been trying to be thoughtful, with lots of well-considered analysis and hopeful critique. The things that we tackle day-to-day don't just require rage, though that rage may be well-deserved. We need to really understand the problems that we face as a society and as a species-- oppression, privilege, resistance, stigma, shame, capitalism, repression... these require thought and subjective understanding. Not just personal, but political.

These posts have led some strangers to question, why? Why do you call yourself One Angry Queer? My posts lately... just haven't had my usual indignation. They have had, I like to think, a level of sophistication, of finesse.

This isn't one of those.

I'm going to tell you why I'm angry.

I'm really fucking angry I grew up poor. I'm angry that poverty led me to live in an economically depressed area, generally, where I didn't have access to the kind of education I others did. I had to get jobs in high school, and I'm angry that I was distracted from what I needed to do to "get ahead" in our society. I'm angry that, when it came time to graduate high school, I didn't go to college; I was too poor and so I joined the military. I'm angry that military then sent me to a country I never thought I'd visit. I'm angry that I contributed to death there. I'm angry that while I was there I saw dead bodies that I'll never forget; I'm angry that I once stood over a dead Iraqi woman in her twenties who had been shot in the head. I'm angry she was shot in the head. I'm angry I was ever there. I'm angry any of us were ever there.

I'm really fucking angry that this destroyed my life for so long. I'm really angry that I couldn't handle my feelings about what I did and what was done to me and I'm angry that I didn't feel that I could handle them out in the open. I'm angry that in my society, men are stoic and don't talk about their bad feelings. I'm angry that in my society, gay men are supposed to be happy all the fucking time and go out and drink cocktails and hey, maybe do some blow and then we dance and entertain our straight girlfriends because my goodness! Gay men are such a good time all the fucking time.

I'm really fucking angry that I then descended into the madness of drugs, slowly and surely over the course of years. Coke at first, and then when I stopped doing that... occasionally that devil of a drug methamphetamine. It wasn't bad at first, I was using here and there, sometimes months between uses. A weekend warrior! All under control! Of course, I'm angry that meth culture is largely without condoms and I'm really angry that I fell for that shit, oh boy am I angry, because now I have HIV and I might have it for the rest of my life and good goddamn do I hate taking those pills.

I'm really fucking angry that HIV exists. I'm angry that so many of the elders I could have had in my community are dead and they're dead because Ronald fucking Reagan wouldn't admit that we existed back then and just let us die. I'm really angry about this because I might not have gotten it if we had just addressed it back when it fucking started. We might have a cure right now, but we don't, and I'm angry about that because the reason we don't have a cure is profit margins and political expediency and gay folks are icky. Instead I'm taking these pills and I'm angry that I have to find insurance to pay for these pills and I'm angry that thousands of people don't have the privilege I do and they will die because they can't pay for these fucking odious little pills.

I'm really fucking angry that I have the shame and internalized stigma that I have about HIV. I'm angry that I haven't been the insertive partner with someone in months and months because I largely date seronegative people and I'm terrified of giving it to them. I know, oh so rationally, that because I'm undetectable it's almost impossible for me to give it to someone, especially using safer sex practices. I'm angry that I can't accept that easily because every day my fellow queer "brothers" tell me I'm dirty and reject me and tell me "Drug and Disease Free, U B 2" on their shitty online hookup websites and I'm angry that we are all so isolated in our communities that we have to seek intimacy through our computers because I'd rather seek intimacy in warm, encircling, loving arms.

I'm really fucking angry that the shame that I have been taught to have about HIV led me to toss in the towel, give up and become a full-blown meth addict, one that used every day and fell apart. Just fell apart. Oh, and I'm really angry I started shooting up. OH GOD. I am so angry about that. I'm angry that I now have hepatitis C because of that and I now have to quit drinking because my liver enzymes are through the roof. I'm angry that now I'm going to have to inject myself with goddamn interferon to treat it, something that I'm afraid of because needles are triggering and because it will likely make me sick and that's just a mess that I don't want to deal with but have to or else I'm really fucked. I have to go back to sticking a needle in my skin, even though I get super anxious and traumatized during blood draws just because there's a needle in the room and oh yes, now I just have nightmares about shooting up that make me wake up yelling and crying and the person who occasionally sleeps next to me has to wake up and tell me that it's all okay and really I would just like to let him sleep but I can't. I'm angry because I'm in something of a cool, new relationship right now and he has to deal with all this trauma and insanity because I couldn't take care of it before I met him. I'm angry that my addiction did this to me and that addiction still exists because we won't treat it like the disease it is, no, instead we criminalize it and lock it up and fuel the trade that it feeds on.

I'm really fucking angry that I was a full-time meth addict that was out of control and had no control and never had control and that led me to having sex with someone I didn't want to, and when I wanted to stop it I couldn't because I was too fucked up and hey, men are always ready to have sex so why would I have wanted to anyway? So I said nothing, even though I was horrified at what was happening to me. I said nothing because I was too goddamn fucked up to know what to do and too stupidly worried about disappointing that random sex partner I'll never see again. Men certainly can't be raped or assaulted or however you want to call it and if it happens they certainly can't admit to it. Except I was and now I am and I'm really fucking angry it happened to me. So angry that it makes me cry.

I'm angry that while all this was going on I was so busy trying to survive and not succumb to desperation and was so busy just trying to not die that I wasn't sending my brother any letters, because did I mention he got arrested when I was 18? Yeah, he was there for eleven years in prison, and when he got out I talked to him on the phone and I said "I love you, Jon, and I'll see you in a year on the outside, because I want to come and visit you because I miss you." And then, of course, six months later he keeled over dead because he'd been eating shitty prison food for eleven years (because who cares what slop they feed criminals? Got to keep the budget low when feeding those reprobates), and I will never see him again. I'm angry that the real criminals, the ones who fed him shit for years, the ones that decided that prison food should be a for-profit business, don't have to deal with this pain. Capitalism ended up in our prisons, ladies, gentlemen and genderqueer persons, and didn't you hear about capitalism and property? Property is motherfucking theft, and my brother was made the state's property and he was goddamn stolen from me and so I haven't seen my brother since I was sixteen and that makes me so fucking outraged and furious and angry and raging because I'll never see him again and that is. So. Horrible.

I'm really fucking angry that here I am, years later, assaulted and bereft and guilty and shamed and weeping and sad and I just hate it. I hate it that patriarchy, imperialism, prison, all of it has fucking wrecked my life every day and it just doesn't quit. I still get called a faggot on the street and that pisses me off and then I have to threaten these assholes' safety in order to get them to leave me alone and that really fucking enrages me because I really honestly just love most people and hitting someone is the last thing I want to do. I've had lovers and strangers both do it to me, and I hated it! Why would I want to do it to someone else? But they make me have to threaten them to get them to leave me alone and that fucking infuriates me. After everything I've survived, I have to deal with this petty shit almost every week I'm alive and why should I? Why does it still happen?

What's really insanely infuriating is that my story is not unique, far from it. My story is actually really fucking commonplace. All around us the systems that we have bought into and plugged into and taken stock in do this to people around us each and every day. Strangers, people we love, people we hate, this is all happening to them and it seems hopeless because it's a never ending cycle of poverty, violence, rape and exploitation. It's not hopeless, though, because we can challenge them, but do we ever? Do you ever?



Why the fuck aren't you angry like I am? My stories and those like it aren't even the worst case scenario. I walk through life still wrapped with the privilege my skin gives me and my Y chromosome gives me and there are people who don't have that, who are black or female-assigned or trans and they have it a lot worse and they are treated like shit and are dying and you aren't angry? My female friends are getting raped and you would rather sip your Absolut cocktails and go to a Pride Parade? The people I cared about during my using years are bleeding out their lives in gutters and alleyways and you want to crow about marriage equality passing in motherfucking France?

That's the worst. You know why I'm really fucking angry?

Because you're not angry enough.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Check Out My HIV Etiquette Series on Gay.net!

So I know I've been cluttering up this site with thoughts on social justice and other topics written for class; probably not as interesting as my usual rage but it'll have to do for now.

In the meantime, a series I've been writing for Gay.net has been pretty good. It's an advice column-style series of articles designed to assist HIV-negative people in learning how to navigate the social aspects of HIV. I will update this post with new links to new articles as they come along.

How to React When Your Crush Says He's HIV-Positive.

How to Respond When Your Friend Tests HIV-Positive.

How to Discuss Personal Health With HIV-poz Peeps

Also, here's a photo of me with my cat on my head.

Charity vs. Solidarity: Out of the Bathhouses, Into the Streets

This was originally a paper for an anthropology class. Please excuse any potential hoity-toityness.

While I have often received both criticism and approbation, both from the right and the left, for engaging in discourse on topics related to social justice, the core of the work that I do is driven by reasons not immediately apparent to many. 


It is often self-evident to outsiders why I engage in the work I do. Few but the most deluded can ignore the systemic and institutionalized injustices in our society. Racism, economic disparity, sexism, homophobia... it’s all too clear that efforts need to be made in order to correct these ills. Capitalism, empire, and the state all work to oppress the working class and the policing of social movements warrants resistance.

One factor, however, to which little attention gets paid, is my personal motivation and inspiration for engaging in this sort of work. Far beyond the most obvious and superficial reasons-- I have been fired from the Armed Services for being queer, I have been homeless-- is a deeper connection to concepts that drive movements like the ones I have taken part in.

Social movements often stand in stark contrast to the narrative established by the ruling class, which states that social change and the betterment of our fellow humans is one that must come descended from a hierarchy of privilege. The wealthy and powerful would have us believe that justice must come from above; either charity from the rich or magnanimity from the state would grant us the resources or rights we desire and deserve. With recent studies indicating the wealthy donate little to charity and historical trends indicating the state is primarily being used to advance the agenda of the already-powerful, this is a narrative and idea that simply won’t do to correct the societal injustices of our nation and planet. What instead is needed is solidarity: where the oppressed, underprivileged, and poor stand together to demand change and the betterment of the social order in resistance to the goals and exploitation of the ruling class.

This concept first truly crystallized for me amidst a personal crisis of an extreme degree that I faced in my own personal exploits. While the example I outline below is but a microcosm of the concepts that I espouse previous, it illustrated to me quite neatly that charity, asking for help from those better off than I, is neither desirable nor effective.

In February, 2009, I moved from Eugene, OR a newly-diagnosed HIV-positive, unemployed 20-something with little in the way of goals or plans for the future. After spending close to a year working in a porn store, I secured a job at a local bathhouse located on Capitol Hill. I was making an hourly wage that wasn’t half bad, had a partner that I thought I was in love with, was accessing HIV treatment, and had a lovely apartment with a great view. Life was good.

The bathhouse proved to be my downfall, however. Much like many gay male-identified people, I had dabbled with hard drugs over the years. A brush with addiction to cocaine had been overcome some time previous, and an occasional brush with methamphetamine was not uncommon every few months or so.

This changed in the bathhouse. The Seattle gay sex club scene is rife with crystal meth use. This particular bathhouse even had someone living in one of the rooms full-time who made brisk trade selling meth to patrons. I, slowly, gradually, and finally explosively, became a full-time meth user. 




This was undoubtedly the darkest time of my life. I stopped reliably taking my medications, to include both HIV and psychiatric medications. I have a small frame, and what little weight I had started to melt away. I stopped caring for my personal appearance, and my friendships with non-users started to suffer. My relationship became troubled, with my partner confused and baffled; a previously happy healthy Ian instead became angry, brooding, prone to explosive outbursts. I sometimes didn’t sleep for a week at a time. My job performance became erratic and spotty at best; I always showed up to work (where I could get the drug upon which I had come to depend), but the quality of my work suffered.

My life finally fell apart and I had no recourse but to admit I had a problem. My partner, finding out that I was using, left me. I lost my apartment. The only thing left I had was a job that enabled me to find and use the drug that was slowly killing me. When I became homeless, I too started living at the bathhouse, just up the stairs from the dealer that gave me the substance that was destroying my life. I took a step that was one of the harder things to do: I admitted I had a problem, publicly and openly, and sought treatment.

In the weeks between my admission and my registration at an inpatient addiction treatment facility, living at the bathhouse was clearly untenable with my goals of getting better. I had to seek out another place to stay; someplace where I would not use. I turned to my non-using friends to try and find housing; none of my calls, messages, emails were returned. Those best equipped to help me would not. I was left without any recourse.

Except, of course, from my fellow addicts. Many of them were years-long addicts, and while they still used and would not necessarily admit that they had problems, they recognized the deep and disturbing problems in their lives. They saw that I had made a choice to try and change, a choice that many of them desperately wanted for themselves in their own lives. In the end, the ones who took care of me and encouraged me most were those who were themselves in the thrall of addiction. 

I lived, in those weeks, on an addict’s couch. One addict, as the weather was getting colder, made sure I had warm clothes. Several shared their groceries with me and made sure I ate. While they were not able to encourage me to quit my use immediately, they at least assisted me in my other material needs and sent me off to treatment with well-wishes and the hope that I would accomplish my goal, that of being meth-free.

This illustrated to me something crucial to gay meth culture in Seattle. While it was a seedy scene driven by sex, drugs, and the immediate gratification of baser instincts and wants, it was a cohesive, if dysfunctional, community. While infighting occurred, mostly squabbles over money and drugs, there was a sense of solidarity. We were all sick. We were all living in fear of getting caught by police. We were all in fear of overdose and death. So we helped each other to survive.

The juxtaposition of the reaction garnered from my non-using friends and those who shared my addiction is stark. I asked for charity from those best able to give it and it was denied; asking for help from those more materially privileged had been useless. However, when leaning on my fellow addicts, my needs were met and I was able to save my life.

This gave me an essential understanding of the concepts of charity and solidarity and has shaped a great deal of how I view the struggles of the working class and underprivileged. We can beg for scraps from a richer table and ask for charity, either in the form of resources or rights. This will likely lead to the failure of the working class and the continued oppression of the many peoples who find themselves the victim of white, capitalist, patriarchal exploitation.

It is instead in the solidarity and shared struggle of our fellows that we get by, and we must harness that in order to seize the needs for which the ruling class would have us petition, request, and beg. It won’t be until we break this paradigm of trickle-down justice that we more truly empower the disempowered in our own destiny.




I don’t pretend to say that my experience as an addict is a universal one, but it is indeed a small subsection of experience that informs a valuable praxis of political activity. I wonder what other stories are out there, other cultural experiences that fuel concepts such as mutualism and solidarity. As we enter into a new age of radical resurgence and political unrest, however, we would do well to remember: begging will get us nothing. We must provide for ourselves, and the only way we can do that is together.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Becoming Male (?)

This essay was originally used as a testimony for a Sociology class. Dig it anyway.

Examining gender in oneself can be a tricky proposal, especially when one doesn’t choose to do so until later in life. As a 30-year-old individual who has always assumed the proper identification of their gender to be the same as their sex, my internalized feelings and suppositions about my gender have always been ones constrained by my understanding of society’s perception of my body and identity. I have lately found my feelings about my gender, however, to have recently shifted, and as I look over the course of the past three decades, I can see how it has evolved, unbeknownst to me, in a large part due to the intersectionality of patriarchy and my own sexuality in ways that have defined my identity without much thought or input of my own.

Gender is, of course, one of our attributes that are defined through a process sociologists refer to as “social identity development.” Through five stages, known as naivete, acceptance, resistance, redefinition, and internalization, we come to develop within ourselves classifications that some call necessary in order to integrate within society. Some statuses, such as agent statuses, may not require the completion of all stages. A white person, for example, may accept that they are white and then stop there; they do not need to be introspective as their privilege makes challenge unnecessary to gain membership into advantaged groups. As a male-bodied individual, I have this privilege and never stopped to challenge (or resist and redefine) assumptions about my gender, both on my part and on the part of those around me.

This privilege comes, of course, from patriarchy. In order to maintain supremacy within human societies, males have given special status and privilege to people who are male-bodied. This patriarchy problematically asserts that certain behaviors are appropriate for men and certain behaviors are appropriate for women, which serves to delegate the role of “woman” away from positions of power and prestige.

Patriarchy, however, does not just rule the world of the heterosexual. People who do not subscribe to the gender binary often fall victim to the ideation of the straight male when it comes to “male” and “female” behavior. The roots of homophobia are certainly found in misogyny, as men who have sex with men are denigrated through feminization and derogatory language; when we call queer men “sissy” or “bitch” we are calling them female and somehow this is seen negatively. The assumption that “female” behavior, such as submitting sexually to another man, is negative is one that not only disempowers men in their own identities but implies that women are inferior to men.

Growing up queer, I have of course experienced this. I have always had “effeminate” behaviors, and when I came out it was no surprise to anyone around me. This, of course, exposed me to sanctions from the society I live in, with my peers harassing me and the world at large seeking to assert the “rightness” of male behavior in male-bodied individuals. As part of my socialization process, I accepted this and strove to define myself as male with masculine characteristics. I have since realized that this does a disservice not just to myself but to others.

This was easily illustrated to me recently in a conversation I had with a friend. She loudly proclaimed that she hated all men; I feigned taking offense. She laughed, shook her head, and stated “Oh Ian! I don’t view you as a real man.”

I found myself taking offense, which I quickly stifled and was confused by. “Not being a real man” meant, to me, that I was in some sense female, and I was a little disturbed that I found this offensive. I consider myself pretty staunchly pro-women and have a pretty good understanding of non-gender-conformant issues; why then, was I challenged by this statement?

This led to a whole host of ideas which pretty deeply challenged my assumptions. My concept of self, I realized, was predicated on patriarchy. Further introspection was needed. I began to resist my own idea of who I was, and at the age of thirty finally began to complete the social identity development process. I began to resist the concept of “male” as defined by society and started to redefine myself.

The problem, however, is that when we define ourselves we tend to place limitations on our role in society. I don’t feel female, and since I experience privilege as a male-bodied individual, it feels disrespectful to claim that term. Many of my characteristics are deemed “masculine” while some are judged “feminine.” So what am I? I have male sex parts and yet reject the supremacy of “male.” I feel feminine many times, but benefit from male privilege and act with male behaviors. So what do I call myself?



In the end I suppose I haven’t chosen to conform to anybody else’s definitions. I am not trans nor am I strictly male. I started telling people that they could refer to me either by “he” or by “they”. I have changed my gender identification slightly; I now include a (?) at the end of it. Male (?) perfectly describes, to me, my identity. Yes, I am male-bodied, and yes, I am perceived as male. However, there should be a little bit of mystery. It’s in that mystery that I can truly explore myself and internalize (or not) the conclusions I find. Perhaps through non-definition I can more truly define myself.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Get Your Priorities Queer: How Jodie Foster Ruins Everything

Ok, ok. The title is a bit misleading.

It's not Jodie Foster that ruins everything. It's our reaction to her that does. When I use the word "our," to whom do you think I refer?

LGBT activists and bloggers, that's who. 


By now, if you haven't heard of Jodie Foster's somewhat bizarre and certainly angry "coming out" speech upon her reception of the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes, you likely live under a rock, have no internet, and can't read this post anyway. I'm assuming most of you have at least heard of it. She confirmed that she was gay without ever actually using the terms "gay," "same-sex," "lesbian," or "queer," then went off on an angst-ridden discussion of why she had never come out in her 47 years of filmmaking:
I hope you guys weren't hoping this would be a big coming out speech tonight, because I already did my coming out about a thousand years ago, back in the stone age. In those very quaint days when a fragile young girl would open up to trusted friends and family, co-workers, and then gradually, proudly to everyone who knew her, to everyone she actually met. But now apparently, I'm told that every celebrity is expected to honor the details of their private life with a press conference, a fragrance, and a prime time reality show. You guys might be surprised, but I am not Honey Boo Boo Child. No, I'm sorry, that's just not me, it never was, and it never will be. But please don't cry, because my reality show would be so boring. I would have to make out with Marion Cotillard, I would have to spank Daniel Craig's bottom, you know, just to stay on the air. It's not bad work if you can get it though.

But seriously. If you had been a public figure from the time you were a toddler, if you'd had to fight for a life that felt real and honest and normal against all odds, then maybe you too might value privacy above all else. Privacy. Someday, in the future, people will look back and remember how beautiful it once was.
For some historical context, rumors have flown about Foster's sexuality since the 80s, when queer activists put her face on a poster labeled "Absolutely Queer" and pasted them on street corners in major cities throughout the US. She's never been able to dog the rumors, but she has always sidestepped the question of her queerness, preferring to remain silent about her sexuality. But now, there you have it: a woman the LGBT press had been trying to get to come out for decades finally did. Hooray. Can we stop talking about it now? 

Uh, nope. 

Bloggers and gay newspapers blew up. It seems that the only thing that is concerning the LGBT community in the past two days is one woman's speech and what it means. Everyone is offering their opinion on her speech and what it means for the future of LGBT civil rights.

Some gave approbation at her admission, siding with Ms. Foster with pleas to have respect for her right to privacy

Some will argue that visibility matters, and she should have come out earlier in order to serve as a role model. I say she’s served the LGBT community in her own way. In 1994, she was the first major donor to provide support for the production of the short film Trevor, about a teenager who attempts suicide after realizing he might be gay. The film won the Academy Award for Best Short Film (Live Action), and spurred the filmmakers to found The Trevor Project, now the leading national crisis intervention and suicide prevention service for LGBTQ youth. She did this in 1994, folks—long before LGBTQ youth suicide became a big issue in the national headlines in 2009-10 and other celebrities like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry added their voices. In 2007, Foster gave The Trevor Project the biggest donation in its history. Sure, national out visibility can be a good thing, but it’s not the only way to serve.
Others were not as supportive of her decades-long silence, insisting that in current years it is the responsibility of gay celebrities to come out:
But whatever you thought of last night, you'd have to agree that it was another indication of how it's becoming harder and harder for anyone in public life to have any real credibility and still be living in the closet. Personally, I don't care if people like Jodie Foster are bitter or annoyed at activists. It's the job of activists to challenge people and, yes, to annoy people. What I care about is that the repressive and suffocating gay closet not be seen as a good place even if it is still the only safe choice for many. The only reason that millions are still in the closet is that society forces them there under threat of punishment. But things get easier for all those millions of closeted individuals when Hollywood celebrities and media figures come out. And more and more, it appears that it's becoming their responsibility, as privileged members of society, to do so. 
Some appeared to take her speech personally, and blew up in fury and outrage
Why am I so angry? Because I'm roughly the same age as Jodie, and yet I had the courage to come out exactly 20 years ago. This was before Glee and Modern Family and Will & Grace -- and even Ellen DeGeneres' historical and culture-changing pronouncement. I, and so very many others, took a leap of faith and dealt with the consequences. Sure, I wasn't worried about losing $20 million a picture, but it's all relative: I feared that family and friends would abandon me, that I'd get passed over for jobs and promotions, that I'd be the victim of violence, and all the other clich├ęs from the after-school specials.
It's not just on Huffington Post and other public forums where these debates rage. I'm on a few listserves for LGBT bloggers and activists, and over the past two days I've had close to 100 e-mails land in my inbox with nothing but the phrase "Jodie Foster" in the subject line. Heated arguments have been exploding in the electronic back rooms of the publications LGBT Americans read, and I can't help but be appalled at the single-minded obsession with rehashing, yelling, and debating a less than 10-minute speech.

In fact, I would encourage my friends and colleagues to talk about... other things. Other more important things. Things that queer and transgender people face every day in our country and around the world.


Let's see what else has happened recently that seems to have fallen by the wayside among our prominent (and predominately gay) voices:





Back in August, a DC cop solicited a transwoman for sex and was refused. Drunk, he then angrily pulled his weapon and shot through the windshield of the car she and her four friends were in, endangering the lives of everyone inside the vehicle. He got off with probation, and while some in the community certainly voiced their outrage, it's confusing how Jodie Foster's speech is getting more attention than attempted murder by one of DC's "finest." I find this personally a lot more offensive than her angry on-stage rant. Guess how many e-mails I got about this in my inbox, by comparison. That's right, only 3.





There's no doubt that the online LGBT community has benefited from this man's work. Aaron Swartz, a computer programmer integral to the success of Reddit and other online communities, was also crucial to a movement in resistance to the passage of SOPA/PIPA. He was found dead after years of harassment from federal prosecutors accusing him of illegally disseminating copyrighted materials. His death has been ruled a suicide, and there is no doubt in the culpability of those prosecutors in his demise. 


Did you know he was queer



People shouldn’t be forced to categorize themselves as “gay,” “straight,” or “bi.” People are just people. Maybe you’re mostly attracted to men. Maybe you’re mostly attracted to women. Maybe you’re attracted to everyone. These are historical claims — not future predictions. If we truly want to expand the scope of human freedom, we should encourage people to date who they want; not just provide more categorical boxes for them to slot themselves into. A man who has mostly dated men should be just as welcome to date women as a woman who’s mostly dated men. 
So that’s why I’m not gay. I hook up with people. I enjoy it. Sometimes they’re men, sometimes they’re women. I don’t see why it needs to be any more complicated than that.

So a person who literally gave his life to give us the forums that we have kills himself (let's keep in mind that LGBTQs are far more likely to commit suicide than straight people) and we hear almost nothing from the gay press? We would rather talk about Jodie Foster? 

Yeah, I didn't get a single e-mail from my LGBT comrades on this one. 


Jodie Foster was the subject of years of intense scrutiny on the part of the mainstream LGBT press, an effort that spanned decades in a campaign in order to give up her privacy against her will to further the cause of gay visibility. This shows immense dedication and fortitude on the part of that press. I can't help but wonder, however, if perhaps those efforts aren't put to better use.

I've written about CeCe and the prison industrial complex before, and while there are currently no new developments in her case, it's certainly a topic worth addressing with as much (and in fact more) fervor than Ms. Foster's sexuality. CeCe, imprisoned for defending her life from transphobic attackers, needs support. Not just in the form of legal support, but in the form of real, material support. She urges people to not just send letters to her, but to other trans prisoners, and cries out for the attention of the LGBT community in examining the plight of transfolk in the prison industrial complex.

Frankly, where is the large, decades-long effort to end the unjust incarceration of our most vulnerable? 

Or is Jodie Foster's coming-out more important? 

*****

In the end, please do not think that I am insinuating my colleagues are terrible, blind people to what goes on around them. Many of them have indeed written about these things, and many of them share my outrage over these topics. Some of them are even as exasperated with this ongoing discussion of celebrity sexuality as I am. And some of them just may not know a lot of the things at hand, such as our brother Aaron Swartz's plight. I do have to say, however, what are we communicating when it comes to our priorities? 

Many young queer people are indeed empowered by a celebrity coming out, and we should allow those who choose to make their sexuality visible to have the forum necessary to continue that process of empowerment. However, there are issues, deadly issues, that are engulfing those with limited agency over their fate that we must make a priority. It's time to let Jodie Foster get off the stage and let the Aarons and CeCes among us have our attention.

Because really, who needs to be more visible. Foster? Or them?