Category Archives: Queer Politics

Dear Advocate, Please Stop

Last year, there was an uproar following The Advocate naming Grand Rapids to its list of the top 15 gayest cities in America.

It bothered me that my hometown had been named to the list. While I understand that The Advocate is trying to spotlight gay life in other corners of the country besides the East and West Coasts, this was a complete misrepresentation of my hometown.

A year later, Grand Rapids is off the list but other small towns across America like Salt Lake City and Spokane, Washington remain firmly entrenched on the list because of The Advocates’ questionable criteria:

The Advocate Gay cities criteria

You can pick apart the criteria for yourself and decide how fair you think it is. I think this year’s criteria is slightly less eyebrow-raising than last year (no more nude yoga?), but still. Whole Foods makes a city gay? Glee concerts? Rugby?

You know what I think would make a city gay friendly? How about not getting harassed when you want to hold hands in public? How about not having to worry about whether or not you can go look at an apartment together and be seen as a couple or if you should act like you’re just friends? How about partner benefits?

The best part is that MARRIAGE EQUALITY is 5 points. Marriage equality is not equality. Legal recognition, though a step in the right direction, guarantees relatively little in life. Legal recognition doesn’t mean that your family will be accepting or that you won’t have people lean out their car windows and yell hateful words at you.

For the sake of all of us in Middle America, The Advocate needs to seriously reevaluate what makes a city “gay”. If these cities really are so gay, they should make a great vacation destination for the staff at The Advocate. You know, they can go to the roller derby and stuff.

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2013 is our year

Equality DE

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28/01/2013 · 16:55

Self-hating? How about self-critical

I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine last week where I was complaining about how I don’t get along with most gay men. She sympathized, noting how hard it is for her to make friends with women.

Another friend e-mailed me recently letting me know that she’s finding it hard to fit in with the LGBT subculture in a major American city where she recently moved. I initially (stupidly) thought that I could offer some words of comfort since I’ve been out longer than she has. As I wrote the e-mail, though, I realized that I had nothing to say on the matter. I’m out, yes, but I don’t belong to the subculture, do I? I have about 7 – 8 LGB friends in my life that I consider close – not including my boyfriend, all but two of them are women.

Marina and the Diamonds Girls

I feel the same way about gay men as Marina feels about girls.

At the time of the conversation mentioned at the beginning of the post, I wondered to myself if I was simply self-hating. I find myself posing the same question to myself again. Am I simply another gay man incapable of accepting himself for who he is, who would like to be able to pass, who would like to be considered straight-acting?

As far as the question of “straight-acting” goes, I’d like to shoot that down right away. I am happy to acknowledge my orientation. Did my blog’s name give it away for you?

My problem is that I don’t want to buy in the to expectations held out to us as gay men that we often help perpetuate. I am critical of these expectations, because I see how eagerly I bought into them for a time – and how I sometimes still stumble back on them. Not all expectations or stereotypes are necessarily bad or wrong. What is incontestably wrong with them, however, is when we limit ourselves and our identity, when we don’t dare push outside the lines that society has drawn for us where we have come to feel comfortable.

Being queer means rejecting dichotomy and erasing the boundaries that are set up for us. Hence why I prefer identifying as “queer” rather than “gay”.

How do you balance belonging without taking on all the baggage that gets added on? How do you negotiate your identity with what society tells you you are?

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The choice

Need any more proof that there is only one viable candidate for LGBT people in this election?

Mitt Romney reportedly met with gay Republicans recently seeking their support. Did he do to a Log Cabin Republicans event or a GOPride event or, God forbid, the HRC? Nope. He went to a “rural farm” where he met with them privately.

We have a president now who is fighting for us and with us. President Obama has signed the Mathew Sheppard Act which allows hate crimes to be investigated on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, he has endorsed marriage equality, and fought to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Mitt Romney is promising that he won’t send us to internment camps….

Is the choice clear enough? Get out and vote!

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Filed under Election 2012, Queer Politics, US Politics

People really think this way

Since I follow NOM on Facebook, I have at least one “WTF!?” moment every day when I see something on my newsfeed.

Today, I learned that I’m a fascist.

I don’t know how much credence can be given to this story that a woman got bullied at her front door by a liberal, pro-gay rights activist. Anyone can go on Rush Limbaugh or any other call-in radio show and make up anything they want. But for the sake of it, let’s pretend that this really did happen and this woman really was intimidated by a canvasser in her own home to the point where she felt threatened by this “evil person”.

Apparently she was asked to sign a petition against the ballot initiative in Minnesota to define marriage between one man and one woman and she told this canvasser that she supported his right to his own opinion but she disagreed with his views on marriage at which point the conversation went from bad to worse.  According to the caller, “Then he really went off the wall and started yelling and screaming and shouting and waving his arms.”

First of all, I would like to apologize to this woman first and foremost as a canvasser. Supposing that this really did happen. As a canvasser, I do everything I can to approach people with sensitivity, recognizing that not everyone I talk to is going to agree with me on politics. In fact, I had my own interesting run-in last weekend. Long story short, no one should ever feel intimidated by a canvasser. That’s not our job. Our job is to connect with voters, to have conversations, to exchange ideas and try our best to sell ours. If people don’t want to talk to us, we shake the dust off our feet and go on our way.

Secondly, I would like to say that when we frame political discussion based on extremes, we get nowhere. The only way forward is earnest discussion between reasonable people of good faith. People who “go berserk” are not going to lead the way forward, whatever side you’re on. People who compare gays to Nazis or terrorists are not going to lead the way forward. People who propose an “underground railroad” to save kids from gay parents are not going to lead the way forward.

As an advocate for LGBT rights, I ask heterosexual people who oppose LGBT rights to examine what exactly they’re opposing and why. As necessary as legislation is, the best way forward is for all LGBT people to live their lives as authentically as possible – something that’s not always easy, which is why I would like to particularly call on other gay men to do so since we, as a group, enjoy the greatest privilege of any letter in our community. (Of course I don’t want to say that all gay men enjoy the same level of privilege, any number of other factors come into play from religion to socio-economic background, to where you live, etc.)

The more visible we are, the more authentic we are as queer people, the less credence the Right Wing has when they point to stories like this about “gay fascists” taking over America and trying to “take away religious freedom”. People will be able to dismiss these stories when they know our faces, when they know our own stories, when they know that we’re they’re friends, co-workers, children, sisters and brothers.

I’m out. Are you?

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Filed under Queer Politics, Religious Wrong

Words of wisdom from the Gawker

So a while ago when I was bored and broke in France, I signed up to get e-mails from Gawker because they were running some sort of contest to win money or a vacation or something. I don’t remember exactly what. The point is I was bored and broke and living in a cornfield… Er, vineyard.

In the time since, I’ve deleted a hundred e-mails from Gawker, bothering only to open the particularly salacious ones that I couldn’t resist.

I’m so lazy, I can’t even unsubscribe myself from a mass e-mail subscription.

I got my daily e-mail today and didn’t know what to expect at the headline “When Gay Men Think Baseball Caps Make them Masculine”. Mostly a quick laugh.

As my boyfriend and I sat down to dinner at our favorite white people’s place (aka Panera), I realized two paragraphs in that this was going to be a serious article that I wouldn’t be able to finish in the 20 seconds it would take my boyfriend to get a Diet Pepsi. Now that I’ve read through the article, I have to say that Rich Juzwiak, the author of the post, is largely spot on in his assessment of gender presentation politics in gay-male circles.

This temptation to spurn effeminate stereotypes (successfully or not) is a complicated thing.

Well, on the one hand it’s not. It’s ingrained in those of us who were mocked for being girls or gay or fags during school years. For example, even though I’m an adult – all 24 years’ worth – I still have my moments where I can’t even walk down the road without telling myself to walk like “a man”. Some days, when my arms just don’t want to make it all the way down to swing at my hips, I remember being a middle schooler and my mother telling me not to hold up my left arm too close to my body because it made me look like a girl. On my better days I tell myself that I’m trying to forge my own identity, that I want neither to be wholly masculine or wholly feminine in my presentation because I think both genders – as they are “traditionally” understood – have so much good to offer. Who says that because I have a penis, I am therefore obligated to be loud, dominant, and aggressive? I think that this is also a problem for straight men, as Mr. Juzwiak himself also points out.

As gay men, we’ve taken masculinity – something that should theoretically be value neutral – and loaded it with meaning. Gender presentation = power. And it’s not just a question of in-group politics.

When I first started teaching, I worried a lot about my gender presentation, especially since my first gig was at an all boys-high school in rural France. For a while this made me really uncomfortable to the point where I didn’t even want to show my face on campus some days. I wished I had been placed in a different school where I wouldn’t feel like I was back in high school trying to not stick out too much. After a while, I realized that I couldn’t fool anyone even if I wanted to. For better or worse, my solution was nothing more and nothing less than simply showing people that I was comfortable with who I was.

The beautiful thing about being gender queer is inventing your own narrative, it’s deciding who you want to be and how you want to live your life without bowing thoughtlessly to societal expectations and not taking shit from anyone about who you decide to be. This is one of the reasons that I adore my boyfriend. At first glance, he looks like a frat boy. But it’s not the baseball cap that Juzwiak writes of – it’s his simple preference and if you spend any length of time with him you’ll know that he isn’t trying to play some masculine conformist game. There is a power that transcends masculinity in being self-confident – which many would argue is an inherently masculine trait, but I would argue is gender-neutral, belonging inherently to neither the masculine or feminine gender. There is a power in knowing who you are and standing behind that 100%.

In the end, I survived my teaching experience because my students knew that I wasn’t going to take any crap from them. Not because I played some stupid game of feigning heterosexuality or masculinity.

The first lie you give up is telling yourself that you’re straight.

The second is hoping that other people will still think you’re straight.

As long as we cede to heteronormativity, we are admitting that we fall short of an ideal imposed on us by society. This is not a question of being “anti-butch” – but a question of being favorable to all gender expression. Assimilation has never been the answer for any minority group; let’s stop imposing self-hatred on ourselves, because essentially that’s what this comes down to.

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You got yourself into this

Something deeply hurting still burns in my brain.

In the wake of “Memogate”, a controversial move by the board of trustees at Calvin College to quash discussion of gay rights in classrooms and around campus, there were a number of students who wrote in to the school newspaper telling us, the LGBT community, that we should’ve known better than to attend a Christian school. How could we expect that Christians could possibly be OK with our “lifestyle”, with our Bible-bending and slippery slopes.

Of course. What were we thinking? How could we have been so stupid?

The sad thing is that a lot of non-Christians agree. Since last fall, I’ve been kicking it in Delaware, basking in the religious apathy of the East Coast and appreciating a visible and reasonably well supported LGBT community at the University of Delaware where I go to school. But there’s another side to that.

I don’t want to get myself in trouble for what I’m about to say. So let me start off by making a compliment to Christians and Muslims and religious Jews and all other religions: Religious people have a sense of smallness. I like that. Religious people tend to realize their insignificance in the universe and to see things in a much broader scope. We are all a part of something much bigger, depending on what your particular religious persuasion is, whether you’re Baptist or Pagan or Buddhist.

I am not arguing that all non-religious people are vapid or big-headed or self-absorbed. In fact I think it’s often just the opposite. Some of my favorite people I knew in college were atheists. I appreciated the honesty and thoughtfulness. In a place like Grand Rapids, it takes no small amount of courage to be forthright about your religious views when you’re not an evangelical Christian.

But I think there’s a difference between religious apathy and atheism or serious agnosticism.

Often our problem as gay people is that we have limited goals: We set our eyes on adoption and non-discrimination laws and marriage equality when we could be aiming for something so much broader. Of course these are all great things we’re fighting for and I consider every single person behind these efforts a hero.

But fighting for inclusion in the system means we need to make sure that the system we want to be a part of isn’t excluding others. We need to take a hard look around us for who’s being left behind now that we’re moving forward. We need to see ourselves as a part of something bigger than ourselves.

In the wake of Memogate, the ever brilliant Stephen Mulder, the then editor of the school paper and one of the best allies the LGBT community has ever had at Calvin College, wrote an especially brilliant editorial in the Oct. 30, 2009 issue of Chimes. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to have someone outside our community without any personal interest at stake willing to step up to the plate for us, especially someone so articulate and thoughtful. It was a little insulting to be getting letters sent to me, as the co-editor of the opinion section, telling the gays to get out. Telling the gays to shut-up and take it quietly. And on top of that, having the audacity to accuse me of silencing their voices when I, a gay person, was also obligated to publish their dribble. Here I was, a student at a school that had decided that “advocating for gay rights” was unacceptable in the classroom, being accused of infringing on people’s free speech.

To be fair, one of the aforementioned individuals and I had an e-mail exchange the following spring at which point he gave me the high compliment of “Hey, you seem really normal. I expected you to be really militant.”

Obviously, he hadn’t read my blog.

In the time since “Memogate” I’ve been busy putting space between myself and this world where I grew up. Emotional and physical space.

Going to spend a year in Charente helped clear my head. It helped me readjust and learn to become a whole human being. The song “Ashes on Your Eyes” by the Weepies’ Deb Talan became my anthem. I heard it for the first time a week or so before I left for France. I remember sitting at my desk that I’d had since high school, clearing out my room and crying hysterically. Each word seemed written to me.

“Dry your wings in the sun/You have only begun to understand/When it’s time to move on/There is no one to hold your hand/So let go/Let go/Let go…”

Although I’ve vowed to never go back to religious institutions following my stint at Calvin, I wonder still why it has to be this way. I mean, of course I know why on some level. Cultural norms and religious exhortations get conflated. We mistake cultural practices for divine commandments. We even find a couple of excerpts from our holy text that we can use to support our beliefs.

So here I am. Exactly where I need to be.

But I’m broken-hearted that it has to be this way. I don’t think I could ever live in Grand Rapids again. At least not for a very long time. I’ve just started living, I’m done resenting and so I can’t go back. Not now. Going back to Grand Rapids would only trigger that resentment. Resenting that other people grew up being happy. Resenting that they’ve never felt like an outsider in any really meaningful way or know what it is to want to end your own life. Resenting the weddings, the high school proms, the heteronormativity. Resenting other couples getting to hold hands in public without people staring or laughing or worse.

That was 20 years of my life and I’m happy to be done with it. You can say “You should’ve known better” as many times as you want to me, and I can’t help but agree with you. I should have. I should’ve expected the treatment I got.

And I’m not blaming anyone else. I survived my childhood and, hopefully, I’m a better person for it.

All I’m saying is that we can do better. This dichotomy of Christian versus gay sucks. It’s a bad business calling the shots for God, especially when you have something so feeble as seven Bible passages to base it off of.

Shouldn’t we know better than to expect that such a place on earth existed that would be sufficiently thoughtful to welcome us in rather than to see us as a threat? Shouldn’t we know better than to expect that Christians might actually take their calling to love others as themselves seriously? (Seriously – that whole verse about the plank in your own eye? Have you crossed that out of your Bibles? How many of you are willing to hate your own sin the same way you hate gay people’s “sin”?)

I chose Calvin College because I wanted to find an academic setting where I could fully engage myself, where I would be encouraged to seek out a lifelong calling, a higher vocation and not just a degree that would help me land a job. I may have rejected religious institutions, but I don’t reject this idea that I want to be more than a cog, that I want more than a degree and a job.

People still ask me about what I want to do in terms of a job like I have a clue. I want to live my life – that’s enough for me.

I’m not stuck on my past. It’s difficult, though, and I would argue unhealthy to so quickly discard your past. It shapes you and in turn, in the present we transform and change the past into our present experiences.

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