Thursday, February 26, 2009

Gender and the NYT

So, this is clearly very late in being written, but I think the topic is still relevant - especially after the most current issue of Bitch has more than a few pages on this subject...

This article from way back when in the New York Times was forwarded to me by my friend Sass a few weeks ago. Sass, our friend Sarah, and myself engaged in a long email-conversation about the visibility of gender non-conforming women versus the agonizing disgust that such poor coverage brings.

Upon reading the very first pages I thought that the author had some incredibly valid points around the majority of assimilatory gay men and their lack of concern for non-cute male issues, i.e. women's rights, queer woman's liberation etc. It's so rare to see any real insight into queer culture in mainstream press, that I was genuinely surprised to see an actual truth as opposed to a truth that journalists come to after watching back to back episodes of The L Word.

Specifically, this thought came after a weekend of volunteering for The Vagina Monologues where I argued at length with cisgender male youth volunteers who refused to watch the show. I tried talking to them about solidarity - so many of them have straight female friends who care about gay rights, isn't it only a matter of respect to care about issues pertaining to women too? No avail. I argued with them on an ego level: what if they have a male partner who transitions to female, or if they fall for a trans man? What if, even though they identify as gay now, they fall for a woman later in life? No avail. On a basic knowledge is power level...aren't you at least interested in learning how more than half the world experiences sexism and misogyny?

What most appalled me was trying to justify a play that I truly dislike. I have seen so many versions of The Vagina Monologues and while I see an respect the empowerment so many women with vaginas might feel from the play...I have to agree with articles like this one and this one and this one that the play reifies many identity markers that so many women of various identities are fighting against. Yet for these young men, I knew seeing the play could still have the impact I felt when i first heard them so many years ago.

Anyway, to return to Rachel Maddow...I initially thought a conversation about lesbian invisibility was long overdue, and to focus on one of the smartest, savviest and apparently kindest lesbians known internationally was an awesome way to broach the subject! She's not sugarcoated, but Maddow is indeed accessible to many.

But then I read on and saw that apparently lesbians come in two gender identities: butch and femme.

Well. thank goodness, and here I thought that femmes were suffering from invisibility and butches from heterosexism. After all, butch ladies seem to be receiving the same internalized-patriarchal push back these days that they endured in the 80s, and femmes are organizing across the US into amazing collectives around visibility - despite the popular (mis)conception that a certain Showtime show has pushed femme identity into an approved normality. Ask any actual femme, and she'll let you know how femme the cast of that show is. Moreover, its good to know that The New York Times has sanctioned butch-femme and thereby made invisible all other gender identities and possible partnerships (heaven forbid we have a butch butch couple!). I know that queer female identities will never be given a fair day in the pages of the Grey Lady - and I'm not even sure they should have an equal exposure as an exposed culture loses a lot of its meaning and nuance.

So I am lost thinking how amazing to have an honest discussion of gender, and then the repulsion that the article was not well executed. I feel like this constantly with the NYT... they tackle these complicated, relevant subjects: marriage legality in post-transition, the relationships between transmen and lesbians, and gender identity and invisibility in lesbian circles. But...good god! Do it well please! Don't just interview Sally Herschberg and don't draw your lesbian "facts" from pop TV. Where was Joan Nestle in this article? Or the Lesbian Herstory Archives? or Sarah Schulman? Or all the famous lesbians living in NYC who could talk about invisibility and media representation of gender identities!

Well. At least this helps broaden the discussion a bit...I hate feeling "thankful" for bad stories though, as in "i should feel thankful that you cared enough about my community to report on us..." The fact that there wasn't enough concern to do a good job overrules so many feelings of "thankfulness". Like so many ally issues, the NYT can drop lesbians and gender non-conformity in a hot second if they feel like it - there's no survival understood in the coverage. Unlike so many if us, this story can represent an interesting fad, and not a real and consuming aspect of how we understand ourselves.

Realizing Medical Bodily Difference

It took me a long time to realize that the constant headaches and migraines i feel are not a constant part of everyone else's lives. About three years ago i became aware that on a monthly if not weekly basis I would begin to get extraordinarily painful headache that would leave me curled up in a nauseous ball for hours. Left un-medicated they would last for the entire day - after 4 Excedrin they would generally clear up in a few hours. It took me longer than most to understand that the experiences were unusual and even longer to realize that they were probably related to eating, visual, and exercise habits.

Like most able bodied youth (and perhaps like most youth with disabilities, I don't know) I didn't pay attention to in health classes. As an adult I now see my behavior reproduced in the youth I work with - youth who are unable to make connections between lethargy, constant physical pain, and their daily habits. Perhaps it is because for many of the youth - living in neighborhoods/communities where disability is at an increase due to poorly managed work environments and increased environmental risk - disability is normative and associated with age.

I don't wish to suggest that disability is to be avoided or that a disability is a negative identity, but I do believe that all of our identities should be understood fully. I mean to say, for example a wonderful life can be lived if you are HIV positive - indeed being HIV positive can open up a whole new cultural identity and knowledge about sexuality, touch can become even more erotic as can sexual stimulus of non-genital areas. However, despite the joys that can come HIV positive status increased economic cost, physical illness, and discrimination also accompany the identity.

What I'm trying to come to here is that for whatever reason bodies are often not treated as visceral and important, some able bodied people often don't realize the impact of what we need to do to our bodies. All of which is to say that I only recently realized that my migraines were not normative and that I might be able to control my body in a more affirming way. Prior to my identity as a queer feminist anti-ableist activist I dismissed the body as an unimportant shell to the soul (yeah, I was raised Catholic). Now I see my body as a bearer of extensive importance: race, sexuality, size, gender, ability...all are marked on the body and give me access in a world where access equals privilege. Yes. This is old hat. But sometimes it is important to return to old hat.

I recently spoke to a small group of Gay Straight Alliance Students about allying with and becoming inclusive of transgender students and identities. In our discussion of allying techniques every student in the room discussed their abhorrence of gym classes and how humiliated they felt during gym. I understand and remember these same feelings - specifically the year-long teasing I received about my small chest and hairy legs. The daily teasing took away any joy I had at exercising my body - a task I do enjoy these days when I am practicing yoga (I need to write about that), running, or swimming.

It pained me immensely to see mini versions of myself with the same stories of pain and humiliation. As someone who believes in the importance of the body and that care for the body is how we are able to honor ourselves and continue our revolutionary legacies I'd like to see these students be given more affirming spaces to explore their identities. I find that our bodies are crucial for our identities and I'd like to see our LGBT and gender non-conforming youth know that their bodies have value. However this isn't going to occur in public high school gym classes, and I so I understand their desire to skip.

For many of us, living outside of our bodies is the way we find ourselves. But that comes at the expense of our bodies, something my friends in the disability rights community have taught me to value in many ways. I don't wish to value any identity or bodily ability over any other. What I want to emphasise is education. If I choose to have headaches, or if these youth were consensually choosing not to exercise this would be an entirely different conversation. Instead we came to these (lack of) activities because we were told our bodies - and thereby our identities - were not important.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Who plays us in the movies?, has put together a list of all the LGBT roles that were ever nominated for an Oscar. Now, we all know the Oscar's are...well, what they are. They are political (art is political) and not necessarily reflective of actual achievement. Anyway. It's interesting.

There are only two people on the list who I know to be out, both of whom are out gay men. Jaye Davidson (for his role as Dil in The Crying Game) and Ian McKellan (for his role in Gods and Monsters), and Jay was portraying a transwoman and not a gay man. So there seems to be a growing trend of non-LGBT identified actors playing LGBT roles (hmm, not so much B or T actually) and being nominated for their acting.

This is compounded with The L Word from two weeks ago (oh, don't even get me started!) where the character of Nikki Stevens said that playing "an ugly lesbian...or a retard" gets you an Oscar. The character proceeded to name Charlize Theron in Monster Sean Penn in I am Sam and Hillary Swank in Boys Don't Cry (where, in case the title didn't give it away...she plays a transman...not a lesbian).

But, despite the nastiness of her comment, it does ring true. Is it that to see a conventionally attractive actor whom we know to be straight go against grounds of cultural beauty and play a LGBT character we become convinced that the actor is really doing a good job as the transformation must be difficult? That they degraded themselves so deeply that we have to recognize it? Playing a character we know to be culturally different: being gay, being transgender, having a mental or cognitive disability seems to impress people - perhaps because non-LGBT/ally folks and able-bodied/minded people don't often see the intricacies of our lives and how normative they seem to us, contrasted with the imagined difficulty of outsiders.

This weekend, I read in the New York Times magazine a quote from Rupert Everett where he says (specifically in regards to MILK): "The paranoid moneymakers know that when the star goes to the first night with his wife, the public sees that. They’ll accept someone playing gay because they know he’s really straight."

On the flipside it seems that transgender actors have to play transgender roles (if they get a role at all). I haven't yet seen or known of a transgender person who played a man or a woman who didn't have a transgender history. I don't have a particular thought on this...I was just noticing the bombardment of discussion of LGBT representation recently.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Ten years of Dykes Do Drag!

The amazing Minnesota group Dykes Do Drag is celebrating 10 years of fabulous gender-bending performance art. As a former troupe member (Mik Danger of the TransFormers) who really got his feet wet at the Dykes Do Drag arena, this ten year show is hugely important to me. I wish I could fly out just to see this triumph! I've written before about the importance of drag in my development, and I can't emphasize that enough. Dykes Do Drag practiced an amazing form of drag that I refer to as post-drag drag. It has gone beyond the hyperbole of feminization or masculinization to address real issues of class, race, accessibility, and queerness in all of our communities. In short, being a transmale drag performer was seen as the same kind of ever day experience as the cissexual drag performers or the folks who came in without pronouns or gender identities. It was a really safe space for exploring our genders in US society.

But more than that, it was also a fabulously creative space for putting our explorations into amazing performances. Which weren't all serious. In fact, they rarely ever were. Everything from marionettes to powerpoints were used to play with our perceptions of art and identity in a freeing way that inevitably left us laughing.

I can safely say that my consistent character of a punk gay man allowed me to play with the hyper-masculine qualities I was told over and over again i should possess. By playing with them on stage, and using them to manipulate audience laughs and reactions, I was able to safely put my hyper-masculine longings to rest and settle into my own genderqueer transboi identity.

So I really urge folks to make the trip. It's amazing and fabulous. And they've been around for ten years. That's ten years of consistently progressive commentary and consistently hilarious performances!

The show will be

Thursday Feb 19th @ 10pm
Friday Feb 20th @ 10pm
Saturday Feb 21st @ 7pm and 10pm

Tickets always sell out early so please order in advance by calling the Bryant Lake Bowl Box Office 612-825-8949 or going online at

Due to the amazing historical impact of the show (and yes I DO mean that in all seriousness) tickets are a bit steep. But oh-so-worth it!
$14 in advance/$18 at the door
241 tickets with student id on Thursday
$20 VIP tickets will be available through BLB box office (will include the best seats in the house, snacks upon arrival, a free BLB or DDD t-shirt, and possible seat decoration)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Audre Lorde Project Action Alert!

Free the RTTC 8!

Hey Community!

FIERCE will hold a press conference at 10am to highlight the unjust context in which they were arrested and held.
Today FIERCE participated in a non-violent action at the Future of New York conference organized by the city's business sector. They were meeting today to create policy recommendations geared towards "strengthening the city's economy." We came, along with other grassroots organizations across the city, to say that the people of New York (queer and trans youth, homeless, workers, immigrants...) were being left out of this very important conversation. No, we weren't invited but we went anyways to deliver a letter to our mayor so that we set up a meeting with him and share with him some policy recommendations that actually reflect community priorities for the city's economic future.

Unfortunately, eight organizers (one from FIERCE) were arrested at the Grand Hyatt hotel where the conference was held. They are currently being charged with criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct. They are being held at the Midtown South precinct and are being moved to Manhattan Central Booking in the morning to be arraigned.

We are calling for all community members to mobilize out the arraignment to show community solidarity across New York City and also to stress that DEMOCRACY is NOT DISORDERLY CONDUCT.
Here are the details as FIERCE knows them now:

MEET AT 100 CENTRE STREET as early as 8am. (we don't know for sure when they will be processed...but we'll be there hot chocolate and all...)

You can take the 4/5 to Brooklyn Bridge, City Hall. Or J/M/Z/Q/R/W/N/6 to Canal (take the Centre street exit).

The court opens at 8am and there is no set schedule to when they will all be arraigned. Right to the City and FIERCE will be there at 8am and stay there until all of the eight organizers are processed.

If you have questions call: Glo 718.207.3980
Thanks for all of the support you have shown

When: Wednesday, February 4, 2009 8:00am
Where: @ AT 100 CENTRE STREET 4/5 to Brooklyn Bridge, City Hall. Or J/M/Z/Q/R/W/N/6 to Canal (take the Centre street exit)