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Hello bloggers,

I thought I’d reproduce for you here the note I sent out to my friends and family to mark International Women’s Day this year.

Things with me are alright. thanks to those of you who have emailed to day hello — it’s always good to hear from you.

Best,

TG

Dear friends and family,

today marks International Women’s Day!  It’s a day of worldwide celebration for the achievements women have made, recognition of the difficulties and challenges women still face daily, and recommitment to fighting gender-based discrimination through the promotion of women’s substantive equality.

I encourage you today to reflect on the sacrifices women have made over the years in order to further women’s political and social equality in the face of much resistance from society at large that believes women should know their place, that women are naturally inferior to men, that women already have enough equality.

Here in Canada, there is still much to be done to further women’s equality.

  • Aboriginal women still don’t have equality in their communities in terms of property rights and representation in the governance of their communities, and are at a highly disproportionate risk of becoming victims of domestic and sexual assault. Before European colonizers arrived in Canada, Aboriginal societies were gender-egalitarian — meaning that our Canadian government has created this gendered hierarchy in Aboriginal communities with such measures as Indian Residential Schools and the Indian Act, which prevented Aboriginal women from holding land, voting in their band’s elections, taking away their status if they married a non-Aboriginal man, and preventing both Aboriginal women and men from learning their cultural traditions and languages to pass on to their children.
  • Access to abortion services in Canada are measly and inadequate. Women often incur travel costs to get from their small rural/isolated Northern communities to larger urban centres to access abortion services, taking time off work and often necessitating child-care services; most often, these expenses are not reimbursed by our health care system (there is a small travel budget for Northern women). Women in Prince Edward Island have to travel outside their province to access abortion services in Halifax; there are 0 abortion providers in PEI. Women in New Brunswick have to obtain letters of referral from 2 separate doctors stating that an abortion is “medically necessary” in order to access abortion services at the 1 hospital in the province that provides them. Women who need timely access to abortion services (which is in their best health interests) often have to pay out of pocket for abortion services at private clinics because the wait time to access services in a hospital setting is too long. Despite that abortion is not illegal in Canada, and that our government’s health care policy holds as one of its 5 pillars “accessibility,” Canadian women still face challenges in accessing abortion services – including vilification by many conservative and religious groups.
  • Women are still being sold into slavery in this country in the form of trafficked persons. 80% of all trafficked persons are women, who are forced into domestic and/or sexual exploitation once they arrive in their destination country. Here in Canada, statistics estimate that about 800 women are trafficked to Canada every year. Canada only took a legislative stand against human trafficking in 2006, after the release of a highly embarrassing report exposing our government’s complete negligence on the issue. Since then, 10 cases of human trafficking have been opened. These women are going largely unnoticed through our borders and in our communities, and they need help.
  • in Canada, the gap is widening between the rich and the poor, despite that Canada’s economy is soaring – our economy is the fastest growing in the G-8. A quarter million people in Canada are homeless, 1.7 million households live on less than $16,400 USD a year, and the majority of these are households run by single women. 5.5 million live on less than $8200 a year (24% of all tax filers), and again, the majority of these are women. As our Employment Insurance program is sitting on a billion dollar surplus, only 3 out of 10 unemployed women are eligible for benefits according to current criteria, which disadvantage workers with part-time or irregular hours, which, again, are mostly women, thanks to society’s expectation that women are the primary care-givers for children and the elderly. Social programs are increasingly out of reach for the poor due to reduced spending in the service of increasing Canada’s GDP – in fact, it appears as though one of the primary reasons for Canada’s economic success (GDP has increased 55% in the last 10 years) is BECAUSE of social program funding cuts, meaning the economic success of this country is dependent on the poverty of women.
  • Lesbian women are still suffering widespread discrimination in Canadian society, and face legal barriers to being able to care for their partners during end-of-life situations and inheriting property from their partners – even homes that they have been living in for decades. these situations are deeply painful, as the families of these women’s life-partners swoop in and take away every evidence that their daughters were gay and had partnerships with other women.
  • Transsexual and transgendered women face unique barriers to equality. Sex reassignment surgery is under or non-funded by the Canadian health care system, and ancillary services to allow for greater integration into their physical gender are completely outside funding. Pre-surgery transsexual women often turn to prostitution in order to fund their surgical and aesthetic interventions, and when in prison are placed in male detention facilities and have difficulty obtaining the hormonal therapy needed to maintain the process of transformation.  In order to have any government funded access to sex reassignment surgery, which costs tens of thousands of dollars, they must go through psychological counselling and live for a year as a woman, despite being considered legally and physically a man.These women face deep misunderstanding by society and are highly vulnerable to homophobic and transphobic male violence.

These are only some of the problems affecting women in Canada. Immigrant and refugee women, sex workers, (dis)abled women, and women of colour all face significant and specific kinds of barriers to equality. Federally, the slashed funding to Status of Women Canada means awareness about women’s issues in Canada is waning, and the cancellation of the Court Challenges Program and the courts’ aversion to allowing equality groups to intervene in cases involving women’s issues means women’s equality is not being adequately advocated in our justice system. Our beloved Charter of Rights and Freedoms is being interpreted and applied by our courts in such a way as to limit rather than protect and enhance women’s equality.

There are different problems affecting women in other parts of the world. Women are raped en masse as part of genocidal wars in Congo. Girl children as young as 8 are married off in India. Girls as young as 4 are subject to female genital cutting in northern Africa. Women are displaced in the Sudan. Women and girls are not permitted to go to school in Afghanistan. Women aren’t even allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. Girl children are abandoned in China. Women are forcibly sterilized in Tibet. Women are being denied access to contraception worldwide through USAID and PEPFAR, and have no way to prevent unwanted pregnancies, even when they know they risk transmitting HIV to their fetuses.

It’s pretty obvious that there is still much work to be done, both at home and abroad, to gain full equality for women. this International Women’s Day, I’m thinking about what I can do to help. I believe women are not second-class citizens. I believe women do not deserve 15, 25, 50, or 65% equality. I believe women deserve 100% equality, no matter where they live or what barriers they face.  Today, I recognize the courage and dedication of women who have been fighting this struggle since before I was born, since before my mother was born, and I am deeply honoured and grateful for the important progress they have made on my behalf. Today, I rededicate myself to continuing this struggle, for myself, for my sisters, for my mother, for my aunts, for my cousins, for my friends, and for all of our daughters.

to the women in my life — I celebrate you today! You are, quite literally, the reason I do what I do. Thank you for your inspiration and courage.

to the men in my life — I look for you to be partners in the fight for women’s equality. This takes some strength, but I know you’re up for the challenge.

Happy International Women’s Day!

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I am a creature of habit. Every morning, I get up, go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, and then check my email. My morning email always includes my horoscope, because I love horoscopes. I don’t leave my house without checking my horoscope. Doesn’t mean I believe it, but it’s an entertaining little habit. Sometimes I hang onto it for the day, if it seems interesting at all, and check back later to see if any of it was right.

Well, the past couple of days, apparently some planet of love is in my 3rd house or whatever, and I’ve been getting horoscopes that are all about romance and partnership and love. I don’t usually pay these ones any mind, because I’m not in a romantic relationship. But lately, I’ve noticed a trend in these love horoscopes. The trend is compulsory heterosexuality.

Here is my horoscope for today, for example. The site I do mine through asks for your name so you can “personalize” your horoscope.

Your Horoscope for AUGUST 25, 2007

Are you thinking of declaring your heart to someone today, Jennifer? Beware you don’t overwhelm him! It would be much safer to spend some time by yourself, taking pen in hand and releasing your flood of emotion onto the pages of a private diary. Today, any encounter that is swollen and bursting with sentiment is likely to result in total confusion, and perhaps even panic!

So, knowing as my horoscope provider does that I am female, it spits out romantic advice based on the idea that everyone is heterosexual. Well, what if I’m not? What if the object of my affection happens to be female? or trans? what if I’m bisexual?

hmph. If I thought I could get a horoscope provider as good that didn’t conform to limited socially constructed ideas about sexuality,  I’d drop my subscription in a minute. Stinking hetero-patriarchal bullshit.

Seen any other glaringly obvious displays of compulsory heterosexuality lately? now’s your chance to vent.

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I’ve been taking a course over the summer in gay and lesbian studies. I’ve recently submitted a couple of article review assignments. I thought since I’m not writing much else these days that I would share them with you here over the next couple days, and see what discussion might be generated. so without further ado, here’s the first one:

The article I chose to review for this assignment was a chapter from Kate Bornstein’s book, Gender Outlaw, entitled “Naming All the Parts” (Bornstein, 1995). I chose this article because I wanted to review something specifically written about transsexuality and how it relates to both gender and sexual orientation. I will first discuss the main themes of the piece in detail, then particular issues that were raised for me, and finally how the essay contributes to discussion of LGBT issues.

The main themes of Bornstein’s essay have to do with the relation of gender to desire and sexuality. Bornstein, a male to female transsexual, sees gender as an entirely socially constructed system of classification: “Gender means class” (Bornstein, 1995: 21). She argues in this piece that gender as a system must be deconstructed and done away with completely (Bornstein, 1995: 21).

Bornstein discusses how gender functions in society, and where it comes from. She begins by discussing gender assignment, which she states is performed at birth in this culture (North American, western, contemporary), generally by medical doctors, “which shows you how emphatically gender has been medicalized” (Bornstein, 1995: 22). She argues that gender assignment in this culture is performed on the basis of whether or not the child in question has a penis: “It [gender assignment] has little or nothing to do with vaginas. It’s all penises or no penises: gender assignment is both phallocentric and genital” (Bornstein, 1995: 22). Bornstein briefly discusses how other cultures assign gender, showing that the way gender is assigned in this culture is not related to anything “natural” or biological, but rather is a social construct (Bornstein, 1995: 22).

Bornstein writes further on the false notion that gender is biologically based: “It’s biological gender that most folks refer to when they say sex. By calling something ‘sex,’ we grant it superiority over all the other types of gender” (Bornstein, 1995: 30). Here, Bornstein argues that biology isn’t necessarily the most important thing when talking about gender, but that by emphasizing biology, we do just that, thereby marginalizing alternative conceptions and experiences of gender. She goes on to write about the problematic ideology of gender as “natural.” Bornstein writes, “Gender is assumed by many to be ‘natural’; that is, someone can feel ‘like a man’ or ‘like a woman’” (Bornstein, 1995: 24). This is not something she experienced, however, or what drove her own transformation from male to female. Bornstein writes, from her own personal perspective, “I’ve no idea what ‘a woman’ feels like. I never did feel like a girl or a woman; rather, it was my unshakable conviction that I was not a boy or a man. It was the absence of a feeling, rather than its presence, that convinced me to change my gender” (Bornstein, 1995: 24). She argues that the belief in the naturalness of gender “is in fact a belief in the supremacy of the body in the determination of identity” (Bornstein, 1995: 30).

Bornstein advocates doing away with the gender system altogether. She does, however, acknowledge that this raises the question, “if gender is classification, can we afford to throw away the very basic right to classify ourselves?” (Bornstein, 1995: 24). Gender is an identity as well as a classification, a way to belong (Bornstein, 1995: 24). This can certainly be oppressive. Bornstein writes, “In this culture, the only two sanctioned gender clubs are ‘men’ and ‘women’. If you don’t belong to one or the other, you’re told in no uncertain terms to sign up fast” (Bornstein, 1995: 34). However, gender is not just something that is thrust upon us – it is also something we can claim for ourselves.

Bornstein next discusses gender roles, claiming that these teach a person how to function so that others perceive him/her as belonging to a specific gender (Bornstein, 1995: 26). She writes, “Gender roles, when followed, send signals of membership in a given gender” (Bornstein, 1995: 26). Directly related to gender roles, which send out signals as to which gender one belongs, is gender attribution, which happens (for the most part automatically) when we look at a person and attribute a gender to them (Bornstein, 1995: 26). This is important because it affects the way we relate to others (Bornstein, 1995: 26). Gender attribution relies on gendered cues, which we are obligated to give in ways that are clear enough to be perceived by others. These cues include physical cues (hair, body, voice, clothes), behavioural cues (manners, decorum, deportment), textual cues (such as personal history, documentation, and names that support the attribution), mythic cues (cultural myths that support gender attribution, such as ‘weaker sex’, ‘emotional female’, ‘strong male’), and power dynamics (ways of communicating, aggressiveness/assertiveness, persistence, ambition) (Bornstein, 1995: 26-29). Bornstein points out, “In this culture, gender attribution, like gender assignment, is phallocentric. That is, one is male until perceived otherwise” (Bornstein, 1995: 26). A study Bornstein cites found that “it would take the presence of roughly four female cues to outweigh the presence of one male cue” (Bornstein, 1995: 26). Bornstein also includes sexual orientation as a gender cue (Bornstein, 1995: 29).

Bornstein tells about her own struggle with learning feminine cues in order to pass as a woman during her process of “becoming” a woman. Successful “passing” meant that others attributed a female gender to Bornstein (Bornstein, 1995: 27). Many such feminine cues can be seen as harmful to women. She writes, “It wasn’t ‘til I began to read feminist literature that I began to question these cues or see them as oppressive” (Bornstein, 1995: 28).

Bornstein discusses the problematic conflation of biological sex and gender in our society (Bornstein, 1995: 31). This conflation leads to another conflation – that of gender with sex (the act). She points out that gender isn’t the only thing that is confused with sex in this culture – “we’re encouraged to equate sex (the act) with money, success, and security; and with the products we’re told will help us” attain these things (Bornstein, 1995: 31). Bornstein asserts that “it’s important to keep gender and sex separated as, respectively, system and function” (Bornstein, 1995: 31).

Bornstein goes on to discuss sexual orientation/preference as a factor in both sex and gender (Bornstein, 1995: 32). She quotes Murray S. Davis as saying that “the gender component of identity is the most important one articulated during sex. Nearly everyone (except for bisexuals, perhaps) regard it as the prime criterion for choosing a sex partner” (Davis, in Bornstein, 1995: 32). Bornstein argues that sexual orientation/preference is solely determined by the gender of one’s partner, and that sexual desire is meant to fit into one of only a short list of models: heterosexual, gay male, lesbian, or bisexual (Bornstein, 1995: 32).

Bornstein discusses variants on these gender-based relationships, such as heterosexual female with gay male, gay male with lesbian female, lesbian female with heterosexual female, gay male with bisexual male , etc. (Bornstein, 1995: 33). These variants each “forms its own clearly recognizable dynamic, and none of these are acknowledged by the dominant cultural binary” of heterosexual/homosexual (Bornstein, 1995: 33). Furthermore, all of these models, and their variants, depend on the gender of both participants. This is problematic because it “results in minimizing, if not completely dismissing, other dynamic models of a relationship which could be more important than gender and are often more telling about the real nature of someone’s desire” (Bornstein, 1995: 33). Some of these other dynamic models include butch/femme, top/bottom, reproductive models, multiple-partner models, monogamous models, and non-monogamous models (Bornstein, 1995: 33-34).

Moreover, Bornstein argues that “there are plenty of instances in which sexual attraction can have absolutely nothing to do with the gender of one’s partner” (Bornstein, 1995: 35). For instance, Bornstein suggests that sexual preference could be based on sex acts rather than on the gender of one’s partner (Bornstein, 1995: 36), because sex acts don’t have to be heterosexual or homosexual (Bornstein, 1995: 37). For example, Bornstein gives a very elaborate code by which participants use coloured handkerchiefs worn on either the left or right side of the body that indicate their preference for particular sex acts, and whether they prefer to play a top or bottom role in such acts (Bornstein, 1995: 37). Here, the gender of the partners is less important than their willingness to participate in particular sex acts in particular ways.

Nevertheless, our culture is one that does conflate sex and gender, and codifies sexual preference along these lines – which results in lumping together very different subcultures into one catch-all category that is binaurally opposed to the dominant sexual culture, heterosexuality (Bornstein, 1995: 37). Bornstein writes,

A dominant culture tends to combine its subcultures into manageable units. As a result, those who practice non-traditional sex are seen by members of the dominant culture (as well as by members of sex and gender subcultures) as a whole with those who don non-traditional gender roles and identities. (Bornstein, 1997: 38)

Bornstein writes that people are still attracted to her, despite not having a clear-cut gender identity (Bornstein, 1995: 38). She goes on to say that this made her feel nervous at first, as she thought, “What kind of pervert… would be attracted to a freak like me?” (Bornstein, 1995: 38) She identified this fear as internalized phobia about her transsexualism; however, she says she still doesn’t know how to respond to a man’s attraction to her (Bornstein is a lesbian) (Bornstein, 1995: 38-39).

Bornstein finishes her essay with a discussion of desire and how it relates to gender. She writes, “Given that most romantic or sexual involvements in this culture are defined by the genders of the partners, the most appropriate identity to have in a romantic relationship would be a gender identity or something that passes for gender identity, like a gender role” (Bornstein, 1995: 39). Even without a gender identity, with something like a gender role, we can still navigate the waters of sexual relationships. Gender is, Bornstein argues, an identity that can be used to manipulate desire (Bornstein, 1995: 40).

Whenever Bornstein advocates the dissolution of gender altogether, the objection is raised that without gender, how can there be desire? (Bornstein, 1995: 38) Bornstein acknowledges that this culture is one that is “obsessed with desire: it drives our economy… No wonder I get panicked reactions from audiences when I suggest we eliminate gender as a system; gender defines our desire, and we don’t know what to do if we don’t have desire” (Bornstein, 1995: 40). She goes on to write, in perhaps the most important insight of the essay, “Perhaps the more importance a culture places on desire, the more conflated become the concepts of sex and gender” (Bornstein, 1995: 40).

However, this conflation is ultimately limiting, says Bornstein. By having these gender identities to rely on in our personal journeys, we are prevented from examining our preferences and identities more fully:

If we buy into categories of sexual orientation based solely on gender – heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual – we’re cheating ourselves of a searching examination of our real sexual preferences. In the same fashion, by subscribing to the categories of gender based solely on the male/female binary, we cheat ourselves of a searching examination of our real gender identity. (Bornstein, 1995: 38)

Bornstein’s essay raises a number of excellent points and issues for me. Firstly, the relationship between gender and sexual desire was intriguing. Certainly, it seems true that the primary criterion for the vast majority of people in choosing a sexual partner is that person’s gender in relation to their own. I appreciated Bornstein’s discussion of other ways to define sexual desire, like by preference for sex acts, as well as her encouragement for us all to examine how desire functions in our sexual lives outside of gender. In light of this idea, it seems right that Bornstein should advocate the dissolution of gender as a system.

However, doing so seems like a dangerous and frightening thing. As Bornstein says, gender is a kind of identity. The right to determine our own identities without punishment is, I think, much more important than eliminating the options available to us for self-definition. It’s the forced nature of gender as a system of classification, the rigidity of that classification once it’s been determined, and the binary of male/female that is problematic. There is nothing wrong with being a “man” or a “woman” – what is wrong is the unequal valuing of those identities and the subsequent oppression of both all the members of one of the binary options and everyone who doesn’t fall into either of the options.

The other major issue raised for me by Bornstein’s article is regarding the nature of desire. I thought a lot about LGBT politics and the fight for equal rights within that community, and the debate about why queer people are queer – is one born queer, or does one choose to be queer? For so long, and still in some circles, the belief is very clear that people are born queer. Saying that you’re born queer is a biologically essentialist argument, but it can carry some weight politically – as a society, we have decided (at least rhetorically) that it isn’t ethical to punish or discriminate against people because of something that they’re born into, that they cannot help. Of course, this kind of discrimination happens all the time against people for things they cannot help: sexism, racism, ableism, to name a few. But rhetorically, we have a notion of human rights that stands most definitely against such discrimination, and it is considered unethical. However, biological essentialism in any form is problematic.

I don’t necessarily believe that we choose our sexual preferences. I think it is far more complex than that, because I am inclined to believe that our sexual identities are socially constructed and it is not without a good deal of self-examination that we can break free of compulsory heterosexuality. But yet, I think a discourse of freedom of choice is a far more tenable position from which to argue for LGBT rights. It is unethical to discriminate against others because of the choices they make (within limits, of course, such as not hurting others and obtaining consent). People make choices all the time that are protected by law. Why should sexual preferences be any different? So what if someone “chooses” to be queer? Why should that “choice” be any less valid than the “choice” to be straight?

In conclusion, I think Bornstein’s writing is very important to discussions of LGBT issues. Hearing from people who experience transsexuality is vitally important to furthering understanding of trans issues, and to furthering political solidarity among gender-marginalized groups. Finally, because her writing is so personal, it encourages us to examine our own gendered experiences. The personal is, indeed, political.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bornstein, Kate (1995). “Naming All the Parts” in Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us. New York: Vintage Books. 21-40


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A comment from vimi, whoever the fuck he is, on this post.

vimiIP: 71.120.52.199

You are not oppressed. You don’t know what oppression is. You think that some lone deviant raping a woman is oppression? You think that some sleazy guy staring at you is oppression? You think some magazine that portrays an image of women you don’t like is oppression? If you answered yes to any of these questions then you are full of shit.

Oppression is what happened to blacks during slavery. Oppression is what happened to Serbs under Turkish rule. Oppression is what the Jews lived under in eastern Europe even before the Holocaust. You are not oppressed.

Oh, there are places in the world where women, as a group, are truly oppressed. Look no further than the Muslim world for a real life example of women living under oppression. That, unlike your paranoid fantasies, is real oppression.

It’s easy for you living in the comfort of the modern Western world, where woman have enjoyed a level of equality with men unparalleled in history, to preach about oppression. It’s easy for you to hold forth like some kind of expert on a subject about which you know nothing and have no first hand experience. It’s easy for you to deny that woman are equal before the law in every Western nation and have been for decades. It’s easy for you to scream and bitch about even the most minor of problems you face and to blame the ‘patriarchy’ for them. It’s easy for you to do these things because you are not oppressed.

Since you are not oppressed, you cannot use that as an excuse to justify your antipathy toward men. Men have never done anything to you. Even if an individual man or individual men have done you wrong that is still not the fault of all men. There is no organized mens movement plotting to oppress you – thus any talk of men, as a group, wronging you is ludicrous. No, your hostility toward men cannot be based on what men, as a group, have done to you. It must instead be based in bias and, quite possibly, simple hate.

Why are you so hateful? I have an easy answer for that one. Here it is: I don’t care. That’s right, I don’t give a damn. You are the very type of bigoted, hateful monster you claim to despise. All men are guilty until they prove themselves innocent in your eyes? That’s hilarious. You’re not worth the effort. No one who thinks like you is. Your line of thinking is absolutely disgusting and makes you completely irrelevant as a human being. Why should anyone take someone who thinks in such a prejudicial and discriminatory way seriously? They shouldn’t. Instead, they should just ignore self-righteous, self-important fools such as yourself and move on.

I don’t care if you rot away in some dark, hateful corner of the Internet whilst venting your impotent rage toward everyone and everything born with a penis. I only hope that you share your malevolent philosophy honestly and up front with any men you take an interest in so that they have a fair chance to avoid you. It’s unfortunate that you are a heterosexual. I really don’t believe it’s possible for someone as hateful toward men as you to ever be in a loving relationship with a man.

There are some lesbian feminists who would be more than happy to help you ‘unlearn your heterosexualization’. I suggest you seek them out and take them up on their offer. You’ll be happier if you can just leave men out of your life completely – and so will the men whose lives you would have otherwise ruined with your presence.

Dear vimi,

how nice to know that the mass rape, objectification, and pornification of half the human population isn’t oppression. boy,  I’ve been seriously mistaken all these years! I guess all those instances of women being denied substantive equality is an individual thing, probably just something they are doing wrong all on their own. Thank you ever so much for clearing that up for me.

I also guess I should start seeing this work that I do, in speaking out against women’s human rights violations and offering a counterhegemonic critique of my culture, as easy. I’ve been taking the wrong attitude altogether! I’ve thought it was kind of hard, getting my message across to people who don’t think that feminism is useful. But I guess you’re right – speaking up about all this stuff is kind of easy, considering how widespread and commonplace it all is, and how women’s rights violations are so clearly unjust! Feminism is a piece of cake!

actually though, you’re right, it is a lot easier for me to speak out and actually be heard than it is for a lot of other women, because I’m white, and hetero, and able-bodied, and middle-class, and educated, and mentally stable, and unaddicted, and unaffiliated with religion, and I live in a wealthy western nation. doesn’t mean that I’m not oppressed as a woman, or that gender oppression doesn’t exist in the west. it sure as fuck isn’t fair that I have a better likelihood of getting heard. but that kind of means I should use my privileged position to advocate for those who can’t get heard so easily, don’t you think? try to work towards creating spaces so that they can speak and be heard, and get responses? that’s what I think too.

Thanks for pointing out that those psycho anti-choice activists, MRA groups, and PUAs are not collectively organizing to limit women’s opportunities and continue women’s oppression. Phew! What a relief!

It was also good of you to point out how I am so full of hate against men, that I am ridiculous and disgusting and irrelevant as a human being, that it’s impossible for me to have loving relationships with men, and that I’m really not worth the effort to… try to convince me that men are really all very good people? try to show me the error of my ways? something like that?

I guess I was worth the effort it took to write that comment… hmmm…. and I guess my corner of the internet isn’t so dark and remote after all, since you found me just fine…

You’re right, I probably should tell the guys I meet that I’m a feminist. That would really help me weed out the asshole misogynists like you.

but, it’s good to know I can always fall back on the lesbians out there to unlearn me my hetero ways. I didn’t realize that was the sole goal of lesbians, or that they were actively offering to do so! Cool! Must be my lucky day – lesbians rock! I love lesbians!

thanks again for such an informative and helpful comment. it’s great to know I can always count on the sexist motherfuckers to crawl out of the woodwork and point out the error of my ways.

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ah, shit. It was yesterday, and I missed it. Thanks to Ren for organizing.

So,  sex ed. I certainly remember my very few classes devoted to this subject. My fourth-grade teacher was completely red-faced the whole time. Mortified, he appeared to us to be, which only made us embarrassed that we wanted to learn about sex and our own bodies. One teacher (whose son later became my prom date) refused to teach sex ed and left the school. Later, in juniour high, the best we could do to get through was try to make up questions that would embarrass the teacher the most. The one teacher who actually dealt with sex ed in a pretty decent way, with no shame or embarrassment, was a woman, a quite feminist woman, who threw condoms at us, taught us how to put them on a banana, and passed around IUDs and diaphragms and spermicide and sponges so we could actually see what kinds of devices were available to us. Hurray for Miss West!

Kids have a right to know about their bodies, and a right to know unbiased information about sex and reproduction. They have a right to discuss bodies, sex and reproduction in an open and frank way with someone who isn’t embarrassed by it, who doesn’t have any anti-whatever agenda. They have a right to have THEIR sexuality discussed, no matter what sexual orientation they have/are, with legitimacy and sensitivity. They have a right to know the dangers of sex, yes, but also the pleasures of sex. They have a right to know that masturbation is healthy and normal and that everyone does it. They have a right to not be scared about sex, but also to know how to be responsible about sex. They have a right to know that sex should be mutually desired, and mutually enjoyed, and how to see to it that both of these things happen in a sexual encounter. They have a right to know that they can say no to sex, and that when they hear that word from their partner, it means stop. Kids have a right to know that pregnancy can happen, and that there are a variety of options available to girls who get pregnant by accident, and the multitude of ways to protect against getting pregnant. Kids have the right to know that sex can make you sick, and that condoms are the only way to have sex and not get sick, but also that condoms break sometimes and they have to be worn properly. Kids have the right to know that the more partners you have the greater your chances are of getting sick if you’re not careful and use condoms. Kids have a right to have a space that they can talk about all of this, ask whatever questions they have, and get honest and unbiased answers from someone who actually knows what they are talking about. They have a right to know.

And if they don’t know, then how can we expect them to be responsible? How can we expect them to be healthy and express themselves in ways that are safe?

All I know is, all that red-faced embarrassment and hemming and hawing from my sex ed teachers made me both freaked out, and curious as hell. I’m quite certain I wasn’t the only one. Do we really want kids to be freaked out, curious as hell, and NOT have any reliable information about sex? I think not.

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So, I watched both of these movies today, for the second time. I saw both in theatres when they first came out, but not again since. I was left with very different impressions the second time around.

Brokeback Mountain – so, check it out. What I think I missed about this movie before was the complexity of the sexual identities of the two characters. I was kind of hung up on thinking of the story as one about two gay men who couldn’t really be out because of time and place, beautiful unrequited love! (I am such a sappy romantic!) And, after Jack and Ennis’ first sexual encounter, I thought to myself, well, now they’re gay! It seemed to me that was what the filmmakers wanted me to think, anyway.

But that isn’t really the entirety of what was going on. Both men went on to hetero marriages, had children, and continued their affair. Jack was unsatisfied with their arrangement, and sought out other same-sex affairs, and also mentioned an affair with another woman. but, it seemed like the emphasis in the film was on Jack as being “more” homosexual than Ennis, based on the facts that he initiated the affair with Ennis, and that Jack had more same-sex partners than Ennis, who only had Jack, and that Jack was the bottom in their relationship, a classic move in determining which partner is “gayer” than the other (the one doing the penetrating has historically not been seen as necessarily gay; the one being penetrated is usually seen as the one that is “truly” gay). I dunno – seems like too simplistic an analysis. Seems like Jack just got around more than ol’ Ennis did – with both men and women.

And, what’s up with that initial moment, the “they turned gay” moment? I felt so weirded out with that whole thing – like that initial sexual encounter was enough to negate their entire previous lives as heterosexuals? That it revealed the “truth” about them, that was lying dormant all those years until then? How do we define sexuality – by acts, by desires, by identifications? By acts, both men were bisexual. By desires, Jack seems more bi than gay, but Ennis seems more gay than bi. By identifications, well, Ennis explicitly told Jack, “I’m not queer” and Jack said, “Neither am I,” so I guess both identified as hetero (seeing as that’s the only other option presented) – but that seemed like the line was there for the audience to go, “yeah, right!” and it was early on, not after 20 years or so of fishing trips together. nevertheless, they both still led lives that were largely presented to the world as het.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting to see it now, because I tended at the time I saw it first to think about sexuality in more rigidly defined terms. Now, I think of sexuality as something that’s more fluid, and not necessarily innately determined but also socially determined in lots of ways. The film seemed to me to be presenting the sexuality of the characters in harsh juxtaposition with their social and historical context – and I can’t help but wonder, if the story was told in the historical context of this decade, would things have ended up the same? I think not – more support for and within the gay community might have led to the two of them shacking up or getting married, and identifying themselves as gay, and having very different lives.

Anyway, I got the distinct impression that the idea was we were supposed to think of these men as sexually homosexual, and that “truth” about them was interacting at odds with their social contexts. But the more subtle message, I think, is that historical and social contexts actually work to shape and produce sexuality in significant and meaningful ways, and that placing sexuality at the centre of one’s identity does not make for a stable and homogenous “truth” about a person or his/her experiences. This time, I didn’t miss that message. (thanks, Foucault!)

Best Line: Jack, to Ennis: “I wish I knew how to quit you!”

Crash – the first time I saw this, I liked it. I thought it was an important kind of movie to make, to examine racial tension among various communities. This time, I felt differently. It made me mad.

Make TG Mad #1: the scene where Thandi Newton got felt up by Matt Dillon the cop while her husband Terrence Howard watched helplessly and Ryan Phillippe the other cop did nothing. White cop molests woman of colour while man of colour is powerless to stop it and other white cop watches uncomfortably but yet doesn’t question the power hierarchy.

I was so mad about this scene. Then, the next scene where Thandi Newton and Terrence Howard are at home arguing about what happened, and then when she went to see him at work the next day. Thandi kept saying things like, “why didn’t you do anything?” and Terrence kept saying things like “what was I supposed to do, he’s a cop?” So frustrating. Thandi’s character, in addition to being victimized by white male supremacy in the embodiment of Matt Dillon, was vascillating between blaming her husband for not taking better care of his stuff (her) and feeling bad for Terrence for being so emasculated. Traditional Gender Stereotpye 1: Woman Needs Man to Defend Her and Traditional Gender Stereotype 2: Man Must Defend Woman Or He Isn’t Really a Man were definitely upheld here.

What I thought they did a good job of was treating gender and race coherently. Matt Dillon felt Thandi Newton up not just because she was a woman, but because she was a woman of colour and because her husband was a man of colour. He wasn’t aiming just to hurt her, but also to hurt him through his objectification and subsequent use of her.

Made TG Mad #2: Thandi Newton is trapped in her truck after it flips and she can’t get out. Matt Dillon the cop who molested her the night before comes to her rescue and pulls her out.

Fuck this scene made me MAD! Now, this woman of colour who has been abused and victimized by this very same white cop has to rely on him to help her, to save her life. And he has the nerve to say to her, “I’m not going to fucking hurt you!” NEWSFLASH: he already did! And so, the woman of colour has to put her trust back in the very same white man who just finished molesting her, telling her what her value and worth and place was, and not just for her own knowledge, but for the emasculation of her husband, so he also could know his value and worth and place: look how powerful I am, I can finger your pretty black wife and you can’t do a damn thing about it but offer her up and apologize for taking too long doing it. And isn’t this pretty much how our social systems treat women of colour everyday? Let me show you how little you’re valued, and how mighty we are, and exactly how much you need and require and rely on us for the very air you breathe. You exist within our framework, our hierarchy of power, but you can’t participate in it.

Made TG Mad #3: Don Cheadle goes to see the DA about a case he’s working on where a white cop shot and killed a black cop (neither knew the other was undercover, I think). Anyway, the guy he talked to, who is the creepy guy who was on that show about the aliens and now he’s on Prison Break with the icy blue creepy eyes and the kind of blondish hair, kept on about “fucking black people” and how they can’t keep from robbing and killing each other and whatnot, in order to extract from Don Cheadle what he wants, which is something to do with the case but he brings up his little deliquent brother and throws him into the mix for further extortionary purposes.

So, what pissed me off here, aside from the references by a white man to a black man about “fucking black people” was the damn system, putting Don Cheadle in the middle of white men’s manipulations. That’s about all I can say about that, it was a really kind of general feeling of anger that scene generated, I’d have to go back and watch it again to get the full feeling.

There are a hundred other little and big moments in the film that pissed me off. But what kind of pissed me off the most was that this is a movie that is ultimately supposed to make white people feel good about opposing racism. Like identifying and opposing obvious cases of racism makes a white person not racist. Such a surface analysis of racism.

Best Dialogue (paraphrased):

Don Cheadle, on the phone with his mother, which he answered while in the middle of sex with Jennifer Esposito: “Mom, I can’t talk right now, I’m having sex with a white woman.” To JE: “Where were we?”

JE: “I was white, and you were jerking off in the shower,” pushes him off and proceeds to get dressed.

DC: “I’m sorry, I would have told her I was fucking a Mexican woman, but it wouldn’t have made her as mad.”

JE: “Here’s a geography lesson – my father is from Puerto Rico, my mother is from El Salvador. Neither of which is Mexico.”

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a kiss is just a kiss

so, around here, there’s been some pretty rampant homophobia happening. A couple weekends ago, Cape Breton fiddler Ashley MacIsaac married his boyfriend, onstage at his ECMA performance (that’s East Coast Music Awards to you) here in Halifax. And the next day, one of the local newspapers, The Daily News, ran a story on the event, with this picture on the front cover.

newfront.jpg

(Photo: Ryan Taplin; Ashley’s the shorter one)

Now, myself, I didn’t really even give it a second glance. But all kinds of hate-filled messages started popping up on the paper’s message board, and several haters also wrote letters to the editor, saying things like the picture was disgusting, made them want to vomit, that they objected to the guys “deepthroating” one another, that they didn’t know how to talk to their kids about the picture and tried to hide it from them, and that the picture was practically soft-corn pornography. Most of them, while expressing these words of hate, were careful to temper their language with that common phrase, “I don’t have anything against gays, but…”

Lots of folks wrote in to condemn those letter writers and support gay rights to marry and to have their lives represented in the media, which was heartening. But that phrase has haunted me. “I don’t have anything against gays, but…” I mean, it’s a blatent lie! It’s so obvious to everyone that these people do in fact have something against gay people, that this phrase does absolutely nothing to conceal their true intention, which is to protest queer equality. Do they really think that saying this will actually make anyone believe them? Or is it just cursory now in our politically correct world to at least make an effort to appear as though you think everything is hunky dorey? Has political correctness simply pushed hatred deeper underground, made us package it in pretty phrases that denote passive acceptance, but really do nothing but point a big fat flashing neon arrow at the fact that we are contradicting ourselves?

Let’s just do ourselves a favour, and eliminate this ridiculously contradictory statement from our vocabularies, and stop trying to couch what we say in equality rhetoric. If you truly don’t have anything against gays, or any other kind of social group, then chances are, you won’t be objecting.

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