Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thinking Kevin Clash: Elmo and Queer Perversity

A second accusation seems to have solidified what many suspected or feared about Kevin Clash--he's a homosexual(1).  Yes, on the surface the concern is that he potentially had sex with a minor, or as some are eager to say, that he's a pedophile.  Some seem just generally grossed out that a male would have sex with another male 15-30 years younger.  And all of these may be actual concerns of people, but underlying it all is an implicit (and often explicit) policing and punishing of homosexuality.

I suspect Clash's career in puppetry was ruined by the first accusation.  Homosexual men working with children are generally seen as perverts, regardless of what they do or how "well behaved."  As Eve Sedgwick and David Halperin have pointed out, neither being "out" nor "in" the closet is refuge from being indicted about one's sexuality.   Those who would accuse Clash of getting in trouble because he never publicly discussed his homosexuality or because they presume he was a closeted gay man looking for sexual or emotional gratification in any place he could find it miss the larger point that being gay is always precarious for those working with children.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Election Aftermath: Scared Whites and Will Legitimate Extremism Shut Down the GOP Body?

about the economy
Two thoughts in the aftermath of the election that I keep coming back to:

1) A lot of straight White people are "scared" of the "increasing division" in our country.   I read this from the encounters I've had and accounts I've heard from other friends of people with high amounts of privilege finally coming to the realization that the area of their dominance is dawning.  There is still substantial White power and influence in culture, of course, but the fact that people with Brown and Black skin, women, and gay and lesbian people substantially influenced the election to keep our first Black president in power undoubtedly has shaken the notion that White people can band together and get whatever they want.  The unassailable ability of White supremacy to put Black people in their place has sustained a palpable hit, and White people are reacting.  I suspect many of them were assured that either their fellow Whites and White skinned people were sufficiently racist (we're not) or that the numbers of the White voting block was powerful enough to counter the Black and Hispanic voting blocks.    

Certainly it must be scary to realize that others who have been oppressed are now asserting their rights and ascending to positions of authority and gaining cultural power.  My initial thought is that I need those people to think through their fear and express it productively, and ideally transform it into an embrace of a new kind of society and for those of us agitating for further change to consider that while some hate is hate, some stems from fear and we should recognize the difference.  It will also help if people like Bill O'Reilly would quit perpetuating the idea that people of other races are trying to steal from White people through the government.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Butch on the Street, Femme in the Sheets (of this Book)

Growing up in one of the larger and more prosperous towns of Mississippi, I had no access to representations of gay men or women. Despite growing up Southern Baptist, gays were not denounced in my church, they were never spoken of at all.  In sixth grade, a bully harassed me for much of the school year for being gay, but I didn't know what that meant.  I am not sure that he did either. Applied to me, it seemed to be more of an evolution of an insult that began when I took allergy medication at lunch time. I went from being a druggie to gay when druggie seemed to cause insufficient pain.  I cried in the arms of my mother, but only because I knew gay wasn't good--whatever it meant.  I was bullied in other grades also, although the insult of gay was not thrown around.  Still, as a scrawny introverted nerd scared of getting in trouble, I failed to perform masculinity properly and suffered the consequences.

Despite experiencing same-sex attraction in my teen years, I was unable to identify it as such at the time, largely because I had no conception of gay people or a gay identity.  I had no way to make sense of what those feelings meant, so I explained them away in the only ways I could: brotherly love, admiration, envy, and so on.  I would not make sense of those feelings until I was nearly thirty.  Even having gay and lesbian friends in college didn't help me identify myself as one--it honestly never occurred to me that I might be one too.  (Although later I would discover they clearly marked me as one when I was told it was about time I came out.)

I was, to use David Halperin's term, a proto-gay.  Gay in the sense of experiencing same-sex attraction, but proto, in not having a consciousness of it.  Halperin specifically uses this term to designate boys who will grow up to experience same sex object choice, but have not yet done so. The earliest I recall attraction to another boy was around seventh grade.

Yet prior to both my arrival at a gay identity and my earliest recollection of same-sex attraction, I was drawn to non-gay cultural artifacts that reflected a gay subjectivity, or in other words, cultural objects and characters that reflected how it felt to be a (proto-)gay.  Bugs Bunny, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Paul Lynde, Wayland Flowers and Madame (yes, both gay, but coded or covertly so), Flip Wilson, Beau Arthur, Kathy Bates, Bewitched, Maude, Golden GirlsDesigning WomenAuntie Mame, Steel Magnolias, Misery, Dolores Claiborne, Mommie Dearest, the Muppets, Spider-Man. (I realize some of these may seem more "obviously" gay appropriations than others.)  Specifically, I was a white nerd gay, and my cultural attractions reflect this sensibility.

This experience, along with my experiences with other gay men, makes David Halperin's premise (or one of them) in How To Be Gay highly compelling, to say nothing of Halperin's rigorous methodology, staggeringly incisive analysis, clever insight, necessary contributions, and sense of wit. In short, David Halperin's How to be Gay is a tour de force.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Truth is Out There (But It's Hard to Find)

Discerning the truth about political facts and claims is an onerous and unfulfilling one.  What you're most likely to find is that, by and large, everyone lies or distorts.  Certainly, no televised advertising can be trusted (this seems given), the candidates are going to present their case in the most favorable light possible, and we cannot rely on journalists to present any kind of useful analysis, a small handful aside.

The two best sources I've found so far, FactCheck and Politifact are certainly useful tools, although they require a good deal of time to wade through to understand the often shaded nuances (outright fabrications are easier to sort out) of the claims made by politicians, PACs, SuperPACs, and other partisan organizations.  Sometimes, the About page on Urban Legends and Netlore is useful, and Snopes can be good where more personal claims are made (e.g., Q: Is Hillary Clinton the liberal Marxist America-hater I know she is? A: If you take her statements out of context, she's handing America over to Fidel Castro right now.)  None of these sources are infallible and both liberals and conservatives alike have taken specific aim at Politifact from time to time, but these sites do try to lay out data as much as possible

I wonder how widely these (or other reliable) sources are used and who uses them?  I'm inclined to think only those most invested or interested in political discourse and strategies do--with most people leaning on soundbites offered on broadcast news, entertainers (e.g., Limbaugh, Beck, Palin, Stewart) primarily, faux-political commentors (e.g., Hannity, Van Susteren, Schultz)   and, to a lesser extent, partisan wonks (e.g., Huckabee, Maddow).  Confirmation bias (i.e., the theory that we seek and ignore evidence in ways that help maintain the beliefs we want to maintain) is a real threat for people of all political inclinations.  And, existing research suggests that getting people to re-think their deeply held beliefs, even opposing factual evidence is offered, is very difficult anyway.

As an example, I'll use the above popular macro, seen circulating on a Facebook page near you, to illustrate how difficult discerning such claims can be, or at least how much more complex such claims are.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Identity Facism of Modern Gay Liberation

For about a week now, much wailing and gnashing of teeth and lamenting of the faithful has been had by those who view themselves as gay liberationists or activists over Cynthia's Nixon statment that sexuality was a choice for her.  Despite affirming that this may not be the choice for everybody, she felt this was true for her. 
Oh, the uproar.  Such vitriol is usually reserved for those who equate gay people with pedophiles and Nazis.  The nasty comments across the web have come fast and furious.  Much of it has been incredibly malicious, sexist, hateful, and biphobic (i.e., fearful of bisexuals)   It's extremely clear that many people are deeply invested in the narrative that sexuality is innate, biological, immutable.

I understand why people may feel that way.  It seems that if we can prove that sexuality is as predetermined as race, then we have a iron clad argument agains discrimination.  Moreover, many people likely feel that they experience some kind of primal, out of their control attraction or urge to men or women. But, there's a lot wrong with these assumptions, which usually go unexamined.  And, from the look of things, people don't seem very inclined toward thinking too deeply about them.

It's probably never a good way to start off an essay by referring you to better done essays, but Scott Long's excellent blog post really is must-reading on this topic, as is his follow up: "Frots, g0ys, and other options."  While I was swilling this around in my mind, he said it first and certainly better than I have or am going to here.  Long provides a great overview of Foucaultian thought on sexuality, troubles quite accessibly and articulately current notions of sexuality as put forth by the mainstream lesbian and gay movement, and rightfully takes the modern "liberation" movement to task.  I would also recommend Frank Bruni's New York Times essay.  Bruni lays out the research that's been done so far on sexual orientation and shows that not only is it conclusive, but persuasively argues (along lines similar to Long) that it's unnecessary for equality.