I’m sorry, come again?

May 15, 2007

I’ve been thinking lately about how I came to feminism. I wouldn’t really have called myself a feminist until about a year ago, despite clearly holding feminist ideals dear. In fact, I was pretty turned off by what I saw as feminism when a woman told me that the movement could use “women who look like [me].” I didn’t feel like being anybody’s token dyke, and I was more than a little offended.

Are we really some kind of endangered species? I’m sure she meant well, but the whole thing was really off-putting. But lately it’s gotten me thinking about where feminism and sexuality and gender identity collide, because that’s where most of my writing and my thoughts these days fit in.

I’d like to think that the days of “We’ll get to you when the bigger issues are hammered out, ladies” are gone (If These Walls Could Talk 2, anyone?), but unfortunately I think there’s still some friction between “mainstream” feminists and so-called “lesbian feminists.” In my mind, there shouldn’t be a distinction. But I don’t want to bash anyone’s chosen identity, and it would be equally wrong to ignore the ways that feminism and lesbian feminism fail to overlap.

Part of the problem, as I see it, is a problem of representation. When we talk about sexual harassment, we often don’t talk about how frequently lesbians are harassed. When we talk about wage and job equality, we often fail to mention that lesbians in many states aren’t protected from being fired in the private sector due to their sexual orientation. When we talk about balancing career and family, we often ignore the fact that many women who would love to be starting a family face serious obstacles because they can’t legally marry.

As for gender identity, unfortunately it seems there’s still considerable backlash against lesbians and trans folk. A lot of women still seem to see us as the patriarchy. If we’re dressing in men’s clothing, adopting male pronouns, or taking on “masculine” behaviors and identities, we can’t possibly have a stake in women’s equality, right?


Let me put it bluntly: The fact that I wear boxer briefs and neckties is never going to magically bestow male privilege upon me. I’m still at risk for rape and sexual assault. I still may face significant barriers accessing birth control. I can still recognize that women all over the world are being oppressed, abused, and killed because of their gender. And because I’m a lesbian, and a gender deviant at that, I face the additional risk of being fired for my sexuality, having my access to health care blocked, not being able to have children (either naturally or through adoption), not having my (future) marriage recognized throughout the country, and getting security called on my ass in the bathroom.

I should say that a lot of the feminist blogosphere gets this. Feministe, Pandagon and Feministing are all very inclusive. But even on those sites (and elsewhere), every once in a while the tiny cry of “What about the homos?” gets shot down immediately.

Queer issues are feminist issues. Gender issues are feminist issues. We should be forging alliances, not splintering. Why can’t we get more straight women to fight for same-sex marriage? Why don’t more lesbians speak out about the wage gap? Until we find some kind of solidarity, divide and conquer is working against us.

How I keep from going under

March 14, 2007

(You’ll have to excuse me–I was listening to an NPR bit on Grandmaster Flash.)

I’m a little frustrated lately. And I don’t make a good emotional debater. I learned this most coherently during my freshman year of college, when I tried (pretty unsuccessfully) to explain to one of my roommates and a mutual friend how I could possibly defend being a pacifist when the terrorists were all trying to kill us. Things mostly went downhill once the roommate explained she had a relative fighting in Iraq–this was one woman you did not keep arguing with once she was in tears. Regardless, I’m still a staunch pacifist (or, more precisely, someone who has yet to support my country’s reasons for being in a combat theater, although I firmly support my country’s soldiers and want them all home in one piece–my cousin was a reservist in Iraq, but he was lucky enough to be filling sandbags and taking pictures the whole time) even if I couldn’t eloquently explain it then.

Likewise, I’m still a staunch homosexual advocate (read: believes homosexuals can be moral beings, approves of equal rights and protections for homosexuals) even though I have difficulty elaborating on that to people whose rhetoric enrages me.

Luckily so far these people have all been fellow travelers on the intertubes, not, say, employers or family members or people on the street getting all up in my grill. I have a feeling I’d be even more incoherent and emotional in any of those instances, while there would simultaneously be much more at stake.

Regardless, here are a few of my least favorite arguments as of late (mostly summarized from Pandagon comments threads–I won’t link to them individually, but the site should be part of your daily reading, along with Feministe and Feministing):

1. It’s not homosexuals that are the problem–it’s homosexual acts. If the homos could just stop having sex, everything would be fine!

2. Homosexuality is immoral. I know this, because the Bible, compiled by a bunch of men during a historical period when the Jews were particularly persecuted and continuation of the race depended on procreation, says so. But don’t point out things like shellfish and shaving, because that’s just stupid.

3. I’m perfectly comfortable talking about how terrible homosexual sex in the military is, but for criminy’s sake, don’t mention military men raping women, because that’s totally not the issue. Oh, and it also doesn’t happen. But if the bitches can’t handle it, bitches shouldn’t be in the military.

I have to stop now. It’s just making me too mad.

Again, from Pandagon

February 28, 2007

Another popular thread got me thinking again about hate crimes and the laws that surround them. I’ve been interested in the issue since ninth grade, when my major religion class projects focused on the case of Matthew Shepherd and pushing for hate crimes legislation to include sexual orientation.

Major disclaimer: I no longer have absolutely any idea what the actual status of hate crime laws is in any state, including the one where I currently reside. I have a long-term goal of organizing information like this along with other queer legal resources on a single website, but thanks to things like grad school I’ve yet to take that project out of the conceptual phase.

That said, I think I finally put my finger on why hate crimes legislation makes sense, at least in my mind.

First of all, let me make a distinction, because this seems to come up every time there’s a discussion of hate crimes. This is not about penalizing interracial crime, adding penalties to a crime merely because the victim is a minority, or otherwise giving undue legal protections to minority groups. A fair number of folks who oppose hate crimes legislation always seem to chime in with wack examples of crimes with run of the mill criminal motivations–greed, revenge, pathology–whose victims happen to be minorities. “Just because a white guy kills a black guy, that doesn’t mean it’s a hate crime,” these folks cry.

Well, no, it doesn’t. But we’re not talking about a criminal whose thought process is “Man, I really feel like killin’ somebody today. I am totally just gonna kill the first person I see. Oh, sweet. I’ll go kill that black guy.” Hate crime laws aren’t about criminals who have already decided to commit a crime for any of the myriad reasons a person might choose to do so. Hate crime laws are about the criminal who thinks, “Man, I hate black people. I hate black people so much, I am gonna go kill me one.” A hate crime is one that is motivated by hatred or prejudice against a group, where the crime is an expression of that hatred or prejudice. Of course, things can get tricky when the crime also has other motivations–a burglar steals things for money, say, but he targets Jewish victims because he believes they deserve it.

Now that we’re past that bare bones (and, again, not the verbatim legal definition, since I’m out of touch with the current laws; this is about the heart of the issue rather than individual pieces of legislation) definition, onto an argument I find really interesting: isn’t this thought police? Aren’t we punishing criminals more for the way they think and feel? And, by extension, because the way we think and feel is right, and they’re wrong?

Simply answered: yes, yes, and yes.

Hate crime laws absolutely punish criminals more for their opinions. We’re not as sophisticated as the denizens of Orwell’s 1984 society, but we’re playing thought police as well as we know how.

And we should, because some ways of thinking and acting are simply wrong.

I’m a huge fan of free speech. It’s a wonderful liberty I cherish and promote. But the notion that certain groups are inferior to others and thus deserving of abuse and violence is simply wrong.

Sure, some of my reason for saying this comes from my recently revealed belief in the big JC. My personal background in Christianity (as liberal and non-denominational as it is) tells me to love my neighbor as myself, turn the other cheek, and understand that all humans were created equally in the image of our creator. But aside from the particular identity (or existence) of the creator, I’m pretty sure a whole lot of non-Christians, religious and atheist alike, would agree with those concepts.

Religion aside, a belief in basic human worth leads me to believe we are all, at our core, equal. We all have absolutely equal capacity for love, kindness, courage, and forgiveness. Sure, there are a lot of variables that may prevent many of us from fortune, fame, and long life, but this does not diminish the capacity of the human spirit or the human mind. Poverty does not erase love. Skin color cannot prevent kindness. Illness will not preclude courage. Even enslavement cannot forbid forgiveness.

It’s time we stop letting our loyalty to free speech override common human decency. We must no longer tolerate those who believe that others are inferior and worthy of abuse. They may think their thoughts, speak their opinions, and write their hatred into as many books as they please. But the moment those words turn to action, to violence and to crime, that is the moment we as a society must say enough.

John 3:16

February 28, 2007

There’s quite a tizzy over at Pandagon over same-sex marriage and, thanks to commenters like GBaker, the inherent immorality of homosexuality. In throwing myself into the fray (I really don’t know why I do this, except perhaps a genuine curiosity about why so many religious folk, particularly evangelical Christians, so abhor homos) I mentioned for the first time in quite a while that I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal lord and savior.

And, yeah, I’m a big homo.

There are a lot of reasons this is possible. First, I’m non-denominationally Christian. I was raised in a pretty non-religious household–the only specific religious instruction I can ever remember getting was when I was about six and upset about some bees, and my mom told me not to use the Lord’s name in vain because it was like blaming him for the bees, which was dumb. I’m still pretty bad about peppering my speech with “Jesus” and “God” and more blasphemous variations, but my mother, bless her heart, at least makes me more conscious of it.

So I had to discover the church on my own in elementary school, through youth group activities. Unfortunately, the church I discovered happened to be pretty fundamentalist, and despite a few years of devoted participation and even a good stretch of regular grown-up sermon attendance, I found that questions were unwelcome and had to leave. It wasn’t until middle school that things really clicked for me. (Sort of hilariously, I had a deeply religious experience while reading Christie, and I’ve never been the same since.)

Then I went on to a private Catholic college prep school for eighth grade and high school. Now, we weren’t extremely religious; every year brought a mandatory religion course (exceptions, to the best of my knowledge, were only made for Mormons already attending seminary every morning; we only had a couple of Jewish students while I was there, and I’m not sure if they were in any kind of outside religious instruction) and a set number of masses per year. But the place was really pretty relaxed, and I got to appreciate a lot of the ritual and mystery of Catholicism without all the guilt. I mean, I’ve never been confirmed, and I’ve never received communion in a Catholic church.

So, as a non-denominational Christian, I don’t have any major religious authority figures constantly denouncing my lifestyle, which is nice. I also live with a pretty loose interpretation of the Bible. That’s not to say I’m a picker and a chooser–I just happen to think the Bible was written by men, not by God, and that a lot of what made it into the versions we read today had more to do with the culture and politics of the times than what was ever communicated directly from the big guy himself. I also think the beautiful language of the Bible shouldn’t be ignored, and should be taken figuratively or symbolically in most cases.

Also, I’m a New Testament kind of a guy. I don’t want to completely ignore the Old Testament, but really, the concept of a wrathful god just doesn’t sit too well with me. The message of love, forgiveness, and mercy from the Gospels strikes me as much more representative of a God who would create something in his own image and give it such amazing gifts as free will and the capacity for love.

So, being a New Testament believer, I tend not to pay much attention to things like the Levitical codes or Deuteronomy, which happen to be two major places where The Gay is actually discussed in the Bible. I feel comfortable discounting these because some of the other stuff is just so wacky in a modern context. I mean, shellfish can now be safely prepared, shaving will soon be revolutionized when Gillette finally adds that nineteenth blade, and hanging out with women on their periods–while perhaps unpleasant for emotional reasons–is generally quite sanitary.

It’s also noteworthy that even in the New Testament, any mention of men lying with men (or whatever wording one might interpret to mean homosexual behavior) is specific to men. While a passage from Romans was quoted in the Pandagon comments as evidence to the contrary, I have a hard time with it:

Rom 1:26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile passions: for their women changed the natural use into that which is against nature:
Rom 1:27 and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another, men with men working unseemliness, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was due.

I mean, what is the “natural use” of women? For starters, that sounds an awful lot like women are commodities for men. (In the Bible?!? I know–you’re shocked.) It’s also hard to say if the “natural use of passion” necessarily refers to sexual acts. What if it refers to romantic love?

But I don’t really want to get into the whole “lesbians are off the hook” argument, because that’s counterproductive.

Really, my main question is this: do religious folk who denounce homosexuality on the basis of immorality do so only from a scriptural standpoint? (Again, I’m speaking here mostly of Christians, since my personal knowledge is only of potential support in the Bible, but I assume non-Christians with similar feelings have interpreted their own holy texts to the same end.)

If they do, why? I mean, what makes a book someone’s only moral compass? The Bible condones an awful lot of things that American society (among others) now widely condemns. You know, women as property, people as property, sleeping with your niece (okay, not specifically condoned, but also the only form of incest not specifically prohibited)…

It also just seems odd to me that someone could consider things like murder wrong only because the Bible said so. I had a pretty firm anti-murder stance from a young age, and well before I’d read any scripture. I also felt guilty about filching from my dad’s change jar before I’d even heard of the Commandments.

Anyway, I don’t have any major point here, except that I’m tired of being considered inherently immoral due simply to my chosen sexual partner’s gender. Because that’s what it really boils down to–denouncers of homosexuality privilege the sexual act over everything else, and use it as the cornerstone of “the homosexual lifestyle” and “the homosexual agenda.” This is the root of the ol’ “love the sinner, hate the sin” fallback position. Forget homosexuals who choose abstinence. Forget homosexuals who never engage in penetrative sex (sodomy or otherwise). Forget homosexuals who never find a sexual partner.

I just don’t understand. I don’t assume that a heterosexual’s morality is tied solely to his or her choice of sexual partners. Knifing someone in an alley or devoting your life to ending poverty or embezzling or feeding the hungry has nothing to do with doin’ it missionary style. So why do so many people think otherwise?

He hit me first!

November 7, 2006

I’m usually a big Pandagon fan, but I really gotta disagree with Amanda at the moment. In more than one comments thread just today, she’s tried to exculpate war-supporting dems. I’m sorry, but there’s no excuse for that. Her argument to BenA and now karpad has basically been that dems didn’t write bills like the Patriot Act or come up with the war in Iraq, and thus are less to blame. (I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt by saying “less to blame;” nothing she’s said in comments indicates to me that she blames war-supporting dems at all.)

Let’s say my buddy Al decides to rob a bank. He comes up with an elaborate scheme and enlists the help of his buddy Ted. They hold the bank up together. Is Ted any less guilty then Al just because he didn’t come up with the plan in the first place? Or make it a more extreme crime–let’s say premeditated murder. Aren’t they both guilty of murder? Sure, if only one of them actually fires shots or uses a knife, then you may say one is a murderer, while one is an accessory to murder. But if they’re both firing shots, they’re both murderers.

Amanda’s argument seems to be (based on her analogy of how ridiculous it would be to call social security bipartisan) that dems who support unconscionable repub agendas aren’t to blame because they wouldn’t have thought them up on their own; they’re just supporting bills and acts that the repubs put on the table. Sorry, but I don’t buy it. The amount of early and continued support by dems for the war in Iraq tells me that they easily could have come up with it on their own. If we haven’t already invaded Iran well before then, do you think if we elected Hillary in 2008 she would hesitate to go to war?

The disposable vote

November 7, 2006

There’s an interesting discussion thread going on at Pandagon at the moment. Commenters are debating the merits of totally partisan voting to oust republicans, the viability of voting one’s conscience, the issue of democrats who support torture, and what it means to be a third-party voter.

I’m mostly concerned with that last item, as someone who would love a third party to gain serious attention, if only to shake the dems out of their apparent eight year coma and stop sliding toward conservatism. One commenter shared this anecdote:

“A Union friend of mine is a total off the map left fielder/anarchist type and he knows the issues backwards and forewords- he voted for Nader in 2000. Look how much he screwed us all over? And he realized he was going to have to compromise and vote democratic in 2004 because the stakes were just too high.”

Impressive that one green party voter was able to “screw us all over.” I really wish I knew the study off the top of my head, but I’m pretty sure I’ve read literature suggesting that in 2000 a good portion of green voters wouldn’t have voted at all if not for Nader. This would refute the common misconception that green voters would’ve voted for Gore if Nader hadn’t been on the ballot.

The question I would ask of this particular commenter would be where this Union friend (unclear what that’s supposed to mean–a labor activist?) actually cast his or her vote. If it was a non-swing state, even if you believe that Nader votes took away from Gore’s votes, this individual voter (indeed, all green voters in non-swing states) did absolutely nothing to hurt Gore’s chances or the democrats in general.

But then again, as someone who was still too young to vote in that election, I remain fiercely proud of my father, who voted for Nader in a swing state. Sick of the “vote-wasting” rants I was hearing at school (high school, meaning most kids were still only mouthpieces for their parents) I asked my dad about his vote. He told me that if he had wasted his vote, everyone who voted for someone other than Bush wasted his vote too.

Now, for the sake of full disclosure, I’ll admit that in 2004 I voted in this same swing state for Kerry, even though I really didn’t want him to be president. I didn’t feel like the green party campaign that time around had enough momentum to come as close to the 5% mark as it had in 2000, and I voted against my conscience because I hoped to heal some of the damage Bush had done. And my state ultimately went to Bush. Do I think I wasted my vote? Absolutely not, and neither should anyone who voted for Nader in that state.

That same Pandagon commenter also offers this pearl of wisdom:

“The only statement you make when you vote 3rd party is that you are an idiot. When there are people working there [sic] ass off to improve our party and the state of the nation we need your support, we need unity.”

As I pointed out, there are a hell of a lot of people working their asses off to improve the state of the nation who are neither working from within the democratic party nor running for office. It only denigrates their noble work when we blame their supporters for the democratic party’s failure to earn votes. Furthermore, there are a hell of a lot of democratic candidates who aren’t doing anything to improve the party or the state of the nation. They’re too busy grooming each other for the presidency by veering into moderation or conservatism. I would argue that it is just as important to oust these democrats as it is to get rid of republicans. Both groups are damaging us and our country.

Oh, and just for the sake of enlightenment, in some states or districts where one party has had control for years, challengers often run against party lines simply to get their names on the ballot. In Idaho, for example, it’s not uncommon for a reform-minded republican to run as a democrat.

Blind partisan voting does no one any favors. If you vote for only democrats solely for the sake of democrats while ignoring your own values, you send a message to the democratic party that its platforms are sound. I don’t know how they could have gone for six years without hearing the wake up calls, but it’s clear we need to send them another.

A brief (re)introduction

November 4, 2006

Welcome to my new and improved blog. If you’re here from one of my Blogger pages, you’ll notice those old posts (from both Isn’t This the Ladies Room? and News Musings) conveniently located below. I’ve decide to streamline things with this new WordPress format. My hope is to continue posting on all the issues of gender and sexuality from Isn’t This the Ladies Room? and random things from the news (okay, mostly NPR) that used to be found on News Musings. But, yknow, post more often, and hopefully in an engaging way.

I think part of the problem in my lack of consistent blogging is how involved I’ve become lately in reading feminist blogs and getting engaged in the comments threads. Now I’ve decided that my blog-worship of Feministe (and, to a lesser degree, Feministing; I sometimes like Pandagon, but I’ve let the small detail of having comments linked at the beginning of the post annoy me into occasional dislike) should translate into increased blogging on my own site. I should really take the lead of various other Feministe commenters, who often say “I’ve blogged about this topic here,” link to their own site, and proceed with a small comment hinting at their larger post.

Anyway. I expect that while I’m putting off homework and not co-habitating with my sig fig this weekend I’ll do quite a bit of blogging, so I look forward to getting to know anyone who deigns to comment here (thanks to little light and other recent commenters on Isn’t This the Ladies Room–I would’ve acknowledged you sooner, but that blog was still linked to my college email, I believe, and since that was deactivated I haven’t received any notifications).