Friday, September 02, 2011

How Do You Solve a Problem like Marcus?

A queer colleague of mine brought up this article about the potential problems of calling Marcus Buchmann out as gay.  The concerns about what this rhetoric potentially does is important to examine and take seriously.

It's been popular among (at least the gay blogosphere) to point out Marcus Buchmann's more effeminte qualities, including but not limited to the nickname "Ladybird," which I do find fairly amusing.  As with most things, the rhetorical strategy, politics and rationale behind such a move are complex. 

On the Baby Boomer Generation

This really is a gross oversimplification, but the following quote really does capture the gestalt of my feelings on how the baby boom generation as a whole (there are always exceptions) has really impacted the world (and continues to do so):

For all that Baby Boomers fetishise “the Sixties” as some mythical time when everything was perfect – not realising that it’s their own generation who have pretty comprehensively fucked the world up for those of us who are following them, by pulling the ladder up after themselves – they did have the luck to be a giant demographic bubble of youth at precisely the point when this could almost sensibly seem true. The ‘long 1960s’ (from roughly the Suez crisis to the OPEC crisis) were built on cheap oil, and that meant everything from cheap plastic consumer items to cheap transport. The Western world was rich and (other than Vietnam) at peace, and that meant an explosion in possibilities, ... After the OPEC crisis all this changed. We can’t afford hopes and dreams any more. To do that the Boomers would have to make sacrifices.

From, of all places, a commentary on Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1969 over at the Mindless Ones.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume III: Century #2 1969

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

No Help for The Help

I did not pay much attention to the move The Help initially; I was vaguely aware of it and largely uninterested in it because I have an intense dislike of movies where a heroic white "rescues" (in some shape or manner) a black person (often after the black person in question has served, affirmed, or rescued the white person in some way). The Blind Side is just one of the most recent of these, but Crash and Driving Miss Daisy fit here.  Even a movie I greatly enjoy, The Shawshank Redemption, has this unfortunate plot element in it.  devout and/or lazy.  I have no interest in narratives that portray any person, group, community, identity, or culture uniformly and simplisticly, but I hold a special distain for narratives that portray black people as magical, saintly, stupid, sassy, or criminal.

Monday, July 11, 2011

NPR: Lesbian Couples Wed More than Gay Men

Never mind that NPR has now mainstreamed the best known lesbian joke ever.  What I really like from this news story are these sound bites:

"When you're an outsider, in order to make it okay you haveto embrace that otherness of yourself, that you live on the outside. And many of us unconsciously don't want to totally give that up. I like it.  We're used to being different and being on the outside.  Now, with marriage, you're just like everyone else. So there is a resistance to it." -- Leslie Cohen

"So, lesbian and gay people have formed very complex families, and need more flexible norms." -- Katherine Franke

While same sex marriage can do great things for some couples, it also stands to obliterate the different forms of familial and other relational bonds that queers have learned to form.  What is the cost of forgoing our queerness in the quest for equality?

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Truly Offensive

As a general rule, I don't talk about Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum (or Sarah Palin for that matter).  None of these individuals are serious contenders for the Republican nomination given their extreme viewpoints and stances.  They are odious individuals who don't deserve any kind of attention.  But Bachmann and Santorum have sunk to new lows by signing the Family Leader (an Iowa based conservative organization) "Marriage Vow."  In terms of gay rights, it's all same old, same old.  What is truly offensive is that the pledge asserts that Black people were better off under slavery than they are today.

The pledge contains plenty of other objectionable material, but the racist language of the pledge takes the cake. MSNBC covers the story:

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Problematic Gay Rhetoric

I've been troubled lately about what I consider very problematic rhetoric that seems pervasive on at least one gay blog that I follow.  About the only website on which I can manage to read comments by readers is NPR and even there the occasional ill-considered comment pops up.  On almost every other internet site, comments reflect the worst of humanity: ignorance, flat-out stupidity, bigotry, prejudices, inhumanity (e.g., "I hope you die"), rudeness, ad hominem attacks, the worst logical fallacies, etc.  Gay blogs are no different, but I wish they were.  Some are better than others, but what concerns me is that: a) gays should know better and b) much of it seems to be echoing current activist rhetoric.  To be clear, most of the problematic language and though I've read comes from gay males and white gay males at that.  Men of color, lesbians, and transfolk seem to be considerably better in both manner and thought.  Perhaps on other sites, those people are just as bad, but there seems to be something particular to white gay men (likely of a certain social class).

What follows are some of the problematic thoughts I've read and very brief thoughts about them:

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Same Old Stuff PLUS Michigan AFA: Gays are employment risks

I don't usually post much from the likes of the AFA (American Family Association) or its ilk (e.g., the Traditional Values Coalition,  Family Research Council, Exodus International, Catholic League, National Organization for Marriage); the rhetoric is pretty much the same regardless of the organization or event to which these groups respond. 

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

June Zombiepaloozapocolypse

Inspired by watching AMC's excellent Walking Dead series and my love for George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968), I dedicated June to watching major (and often influential) works of zombie film:
Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Day of the Dead (the third of his zombie trilogy- 1985),
and Land of the Dead (his fourth movie - 2005)
Return of the Living Dead (1985- of which I had seen portions of years ago)
28 Days Later (2002)
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Zombieland (2009)

Shaun and Zombielands are more affectionate, comedic takes on zombie films than anything, although it's worth noting that Shaun does this extremely well and is a very funny movie, taking full advantage of zombie film conventions and turning them on their head in a clever way.  Zombieland starts out promising, particularly with it's "rules" for surviving zombie attacks, but after a stop at certain comedic icon's Hollywood mansion, fades into a rather by the numbers and not so funny zombie movie.  It never fully capitalizes on the fun premise of a zombie rulebook and throws its own film logic on its head at the end, unfortunately. Also, the promise of a zombie-infested Disneyland type amusement park is woefully under-delivered.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Separated at Birth

Scott H. Reiniger (Dawn of the Dead)

Brad Bird (Iron Giant)

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Why I'm Not Gaga over "Born This Way"

Perhaps it's fitting that the .99 sale of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" album on Amazon crashed their servers, or at least slowed them down.  It's an apt metaphor for the way "born this way" rhetoric has crashed, or at least slowed down, gay and lesbian liberationist politics. 

It's tempting to simply quote Eve Sedgwick and Michael Warner on this topic and leave it at that: they said it first and best. A politic built on an essentialistic conceptualization of sexual orientation (that is, the idea that one's sexual orientation is natural, established pre-self-awareness, and stable and unchanging) does not guarantee one success and cannot be certain to result in the type of outcomes that those employing it certainly seek to achieve.  Of course, neither can one build on a social construction theory of sexuality.  Neither argument guarantees that rights will be granted or that others will conceed on moral or rational grounds.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Erasure of Subjectivity in Green Eggs and Ham

Unknown to many, Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, wrote a thesis promoting the erasure of borderland subjectivities of those living outside the matrix of cultural intelligibility. One should note that Geisel's self-bestowed title betrays his compliance in a discourse of medicalization and psychiatry. Seuss's title operates within the realm of bio-power to promote his narratives as truth and to reify the status of his morality tales within the dominant cultural discourse. Geisel's title calls to us to take his lessons authoritatively.

In Green Eggs, the nameless narrator clearly represents those not named, those not existing within the matrix of cultural intelligibility. The narrator exists as a liminal character of  unknown gender; clearly Green Eggs is an antecedent text for Written on the Body. The dominant culture represented by Sam (clearly a reference to “Uncle Sam," i.e., American society) acts as Althusser’s ideology cop, hailing the narrator to perform in a manner that meets cultural standards. Sam offers eggs, signifying heterosexual reproduction and ham, a food choice gesturing towards Christian identity by foreclosing Jewish and Muslim membership. This is the food of bio-power: the only life worth sustaining by (Uncle) Sam is the performance of a heterosexual Christian identity. Sam threatens the narrator unceassingly: will the narrator take the food with a "house" or a "mouse"? With a "box" or a "fox"? In a "car" or a "tree"? In other words, the narrator compliance will be rewarded with consumer goods produced by the capitalistic nation-state (symbolized by the color green, the color of money) or face homelessness and the dangers of nature. The narrator resists until the end, realizing that existing outside of the cultural matrix and refusing to meet the approving gaze of the reader means certain annihilation and permanent erasure.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Best "It Gets Better"

A few weeks ago I blogged my critique of the "It Gets Better" project.  As well intentioned as it is, many of the stories reinforce some kind of happiness script rooted in heterosexual ideas of happiness. It also stands to lose ground long term in favor of some short term gain.  That's a valid ethical choice, but I'm not sure we want to leave people who see it isn't getting better out to hang, perhaps literally, because they then assume that it's their fault that their life hasn't gotten better.

So, imagine my joy to be directed to this video, which I think better says it. Gabrielle Rivera explains why it might not get better but we do get stronger.  (She is included in Savage's written compilation, but, unfortunately, he dismisses her contribution as just another way of say "it get's better." Thanks for not listening to what she's saying at all, Dan.)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Not so Pretty in Pink

Sherri Shepard has said some pretty stupid things previously (e.g., not knowing if the earth was round or not or saying that nobody came before Christians), so it's pretty easy to disregard her comments. Although Shepard might be easy to dismiss, based on the audience reaction alone, clearly others share her insitence that makeup or nail polish are inappropriate for male children because those things are for "mommies."

Of course, concerned conservative psychiatrist, Fox news personality and Glen Beck friend Keith Ablow is concerned:
Yeah, well, it may be fun and games now, Jenna, but at least put some money aside for psychotherapy for the kid—and maybe a little for others who’ll be affected by your “innocent” pleasure.

This is a dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity—homogenizing males and females when the outcome of such “psychological sterilization” [my word choice] is not known.

Ablow continues to be concerned about how pink nail polish on little boys endangers the future of the human race!Ablow might benefit from Judith Butler's discussion of how at least one attempt to socialize gender didn't find much success.

Undoing Gender

It doesn't matter if being gay or transgendered is a choice or not (I'd say it's not, for the record, but but neither is it somehow an essentialized characteristic), but how in the world is nail polish or the color pink going to influence that? They are not somehow magically or naturally linked to female-ness or woman-ness. They aren't even socially constructed or linked to woman-ness any longer; it's pretty unremarkable nowadays for men to use nail polish of any color.

What is amazing, but not surprising, to me is how concerned anyone can be over such small things. Gender policing is, IMO, far more important to members of our society than regulating sexuality. Non-normative and queer sexuality is still pretty heavily policied, but I'd argue no longer as pressing of a societal concern as gender regulation still is. I personally see gender concerns underlying much homophobia and heterosexism. Heterosexual power needs gender binaries to mainstain itself. Therefore, stupid shit like pink nail polish becomes of monumental concern and weaponized.

Why does something so seemingly insignificant become such a potent weapon? I'd argue that it's because we can't really decide what constitutes gender (although we dare not admit this question lurking in the back of our minds), so some cling to very surface and seemingly inconsequential markers: the color pink (or blue), for example. We even assign colors to uncertainty of infant gender; yellow or certain shades of green are often used when preparing for either gender. We still mark gender in uncertainty.

Color coding and other more obvious and prominent markers help us feel more secure about who is a man and who is a woman even when those markers are ambiguous. For instance, Shephard and the audience (or parts of it) identify makeup as for women (actually, for "mommies," but I'll forgo a discussion of the necessity of reproduction in the construction of womanhood for now). Perhaps others would agree that makeup is something only women wear, except for the fact that men do wear certain kinds of makeup. I've known straight men to wear concealer to hide a blemish or clear nail polish for a variety of reasons. Men use hair products to style their hair, isn't this a kind of makeup also? As a brief aside, when does a worn scent become perfume and when is it cologne?

Our need for markers is needed because we really don't have a good sense of whether gender relates to genitals, gonads, chromosomes, feelings, bodily movements or some other criteria. Obviously most of these identifiers of gender are normally hidden from view, so society requires visible markers. Why? Probably in part because we want to make sure our desires line up with what society tells us are proper desires. If I'm a man who considers himself attracted to women and I then desire someone I discover is anatomically a man, then I stand to be implicated as a freak, immoral, degenerate, perverted, or otherwise outside the norm. Also, many theorists have pointed out how men regulate how women should perform in public spaces, so, clearly men need clear markers of who is a woman.

Although conservatives argue that gender and sexuality are fixed identities bestowed by a Creator, they typically fret a lot about threats to these supposedly stable aspects of our lives. Gender is, rather, as Butler says, "a form of social power" used to discpline, control, and constrain bodies. And in this fight, any weapon will do, even if it's just pink nail polish.

Jon Stewart offers not only a humorous spin on this gender policing, but does a little gender deconstruction of his own "weapon" (see at the end).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Construction of Happiness in "It Gets Better" (Brief Essay)

In response to a rash of highly publicized suicides of lesbian and gay youth, columnist Dan Savage initiated the "It Gets Better Project" ( in September, 2010. According to the website, since its inception, various individuals, including celebrities and politicians contributed over 10,000 videos. The laudable purpose and aim of the project is to provide hope to despondent gay and lesbian youth. Although many have lambasted critics of the program (such as gay blogger Joe Jervis’s denunciation of queer theoretical critiques as “predictable,” “over-intellectualizing,” and “navel gazing” ), to exempt this very well-meaning program from analysis is to willfully ignore the ways in which the project works against its own aims. As Sedgwick says, “in the vicinity of the closet, even what counts as a speech act is problematized” (p. 3).

The content of the videos tend to vary somewhat depending on the contributor, so for the purposes of this brief analysis, I focus on Savage’s and his partner’s original video. The better future that Savage offers is an intact family, with an emphasis on fulfillment through the addition of a child, “the promise of the child becomes the promise of happiness” (Ahmed, p 113). Happiness is the “reproduction of happy heterosexuality” (p. 90). Thus, the failure to enunciate any alternate, queer forms of love or happiness becomes one of the “many silences” (Sedgwick, p. 3) and becomes a powerful reification of heterosexual happiness scripts. In addition to the silence that denies queer love, the videos act as a confessional space where queers get to perform their coming out. Invoking Foucault, one may question: for many of the contributors, in addition to Savage, for whom does the confession provide happiness? Perhaps rather than the audience, the confessor derives his (or her) pleasure from the act of confessing queerness. Also, to what extent does the video serve to provide hope versus providing a space for the confessor(s) to establish him/herself with the societal structure, to perform acceptance? Is hope possible when the potential site of liberation is placed within the very structures that oppress or fail to prevent oppression? At the very least, Savage fails to “trouble…conventional ideas of what it means to have a good life” (Ahmed, p. 115) or to account for a better life that includes unhappiness, given that “happiness tends to come with rather straight conditions” (p. 100).

Works Cited:
Ahmed, S. "Unhappy Queers" in The Promise of Happiness.
Foucault, M. The History of Sexuality Vol 1.
Sedgwick, E. K. Epistemology of the Closet.