February 18, 2014

Tarzan

When I was a kid, Disney’s Tarzan had no political meaning to me. Who wouldn’t love the story of   little wild boy, raised by gorillas when his human parents fell victim to an evil jungle cat, having adventures with his animal pals and falling in love with Jane? And of course the music’s great.
But sitting in senior year AP Calc, three weeks after my senior prom, I saw the movie differently. I took a girl to my senior prom – she’s still my girlfriend. My mom stood anxiously to the side while my dad took photograph after photograph of their daughter in a short pink dress standing hand in hand with a girl in a tuxedo vest and blue tie. Mom smiled through a grimace, and I ignored her loud and clear discomfort in favor of chasing a stereotypical prom experience.

And so we sat in AP Calc watching Tarzan. I pulled my desk up next to a close friend – he’d recently started dating a guy and been outed, very late the night before, to an unhappy mother and an irate stepfather. He was still wearing the ratty gym shorts he’d left the house in and a hoodie belonging to his maybe-boyfriend. I knew the dark circles under his eyes and the Xanax in his jacket pocket with intimate familiarity.

And so I watched Tarzan through brand new eyes. Not only did I catch a buried Heart of Darkness reference – a young gorilla shouting “The Horror!” at the excess of the human campsite – but suddenly Tarzan’s story seemed like a full-color metaphor for discovering sexual identity and coming out.
A young man, always slightly different from his family and never accepted by his father, begins to discover his own identity – true, in the movie it isn’t explicitly his sexual identity, but the connections are there – it is after all a romance that leads him to his self-discovery.
I found that the music was practically speaking to me. Listen, though – “Strangers Like Me.”

 “I wanna know, can you show me
I wanna know about these
strangers like me
Tell me more, please show me
Something's familiar about these strangers like me”

Maybe it’s just me. But this is exactly how I felt when I was first coming out (at 13) and meeting other gay people – especially older teenagers and adults. I was enthralled and I felt a sense of connection I had never before felt with complete strangers.
It’s a romantic song with “she” pronouns so of course that emphasized my connection with the song.

“Every gesture, every move that she makes
Makes me feel like never before
Why do I have
This growing need to be beside her
Ooo, these emotions I never knew
Of some other world far beyond this place
Beyond the trees, above the clouds
I see before me a new horizon”
 
This is a perfect stanza for how I felt the first time I had a crush on a girl. And it’s from Tarzan, for heaven’s sake.
And then the song gets into describing my initial feelings about the gay rights movement:

“Whatever you do, I'll do it too
Show me everything and tell me how
It all means something
And yet nothing to me
 
I can see there's so much to learn
It's all so close and yet so far
I see myself as people see me
Oh, I just know there's something
bigger out there”
 
These stanzas, for me, reflected my realization that being gay was about more than who I fell in love with – there is a political side to the identity, and there are important political issues in play. “It all means something and yet nothing to me”? Although I understand that my civil rights are important, when I was first coming out, civil rights were the last thing on my mind. I just wanted to know if I would ever have a girlfriend and if I would get to go to a dance with a girl and if I would kiss a girl and if and if and if; the only times I thought about civil rights led to 13-year-old me sitting in a corner and crying because it literally seemed like the whole world was against me. When I should have been able to think about nothing but crushes and first kisses I was haunted by the knowledge that I was now legally inferior.

And I think Tarzan feels that. This is where the movie really speaks to me:
Tarzan is finally discovering who he is. He’s discovering why he’s different from his family and friends, and he’s discovering that this difference is why his father rejects him. He’s realizing that his father rejects him not because of something he has done but because of who he is. And I think that sounds like an experience common to a lot of gay people – feeling rejection and alienation not because of something you’ve done but just because of who you are, because of your intrinsic identity, and worst of all – often because you’ve finally been honest about who you are.
I’ve felt that. I heard people mutter “fag” and “dyke” and “hell” and felt it like a blunted knife because they didn’t know me and I’d never done anything to them – maybe never even spoken to them. But they could see this part of my identity – this incredibly personal part – and they turned it from something wonderful into something painful.

Tarzan is delighted to encounter strangers like him. He’s overjoyed to finally understand who and what he is, even if that knowledge is painful. But his identity is used against him, and he has to fight with not only his enemies but even his father and even himself to reconcile this new identity with his family life.



-Gabriel

February 11, 2014

Grindr

 “Face pic or no reply”—This is something that I’ve read all too often when perusing for man candy. Yes, us gays have finally emerged from our black hole of not ever knowing how to find another queer man to canoodle with; now, it’s as simple as tapping that little orange app with a skull on it, and before you know it, almost every gay schlong within a 50-mile radius is at your fingertips. Finding a hookup, date, or even a husband is as easy as opening Grindr and chatting up that stud with cute eyes that describes himself as “outgoing and charismatic”—and is evidently only 2354 feet away. It’s every gay man’s dream, right?

Believe it or not, the Grindr life isn’t all that perfect. Yes, it’s possible to find some random guy to have sex with. And yes, sex with someone at least moderately attractive can be very fun. But I’ve come to a point where I’m nearly exhausted with Grindr and its blatantly shallow undertones. A typical Grindr day starts out with checking your new messages: usually a couple of spambots (impossibly hot guys that are apparently 1034 miles away), an extremely pervy older man, and if you’re lucky, someone who you think might be slightly sex-able. You get a closer look at the pic (whoa, he didn’t look like he had that many chins a second ago??), delete the convo he oh-so-ambitiously tried to begin, and then you move onto the home page. Here, you can see a basic lineup of the 50 gays physically closest to you. Sounds overwhelming, right? Yeah, very wrong. You’ve probably already tried to chat most of them up, only to find no reply, or they have tried to speak to you, with your better judgment telling you to delete that conversation (which you do, thank God).

And finally, glistening on the horizon, you find a beautiful specimen: A boy both semi-attractive AND your age. You have to message him something that you know won’t seem overbearing, or even too clever; you don’t want him to think you’re too ambitious or intelligent, because apparently, other gays hate that. “Hey” is the standard greeting of a Grindr conversation. Rousing, ain’t it? Usually, the guy will follow up with an equally entertaining…drumroll…“hey.” And from there, things really get spicy! “What’s up?” you say. “Nothin much. What about you?” “Same.” Wow. Intense.

Now, why am I forcing you through this almost painful, yet typical, Grindr conversation? (Or lack thereof, really.) Honestly, it’s because I am so completely and utterly mentally done with Grindr. It distorts your reality of actually meeting people, making you think that love is just a click away. But really, it isn’t—when you’re on a website where the primary goal is to hook up, you’re not going to find someone you want to be dating. And that’s what I finally realize I want, I guess; I want to be dating someone; I want the intimacy to actually mean something—to actually be intimate. And I’m sure a lot of you feel that way.


Recently, I finally deleted the Grindr app—and I’ve never been happier. It's been pushing me to put myself out into the world more and more ach day, and actually try to meet and socialize with human beings. So, here’s my challenge to my fellow Grindr-loving gays: try deleting Grindr for a week. Try to meet some new people. You’d be surprised what kind of great guys could be right in front of you.



-Dustin

February 4, 2014

Letters

Most Americans know what LGBT means, and many people have already postedblogs about the various identities within the queer community. However, there are some who remain in the dark (willingly or unwillingly) about the extent of gender diversity. To clear up any confusion, and perhaps a few misconceptions, here is LGBT's full acronym (and I think I've missed a few):
LGBTTQQIAPK: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, pansexual, and kink

Lesbian: Woman attracted to women
Gay: Man attracted to men (the word "homosexual," or one attracted to the same sex, is typically used to refer to gay men, but lesbians are also homosexual)
Bisexual: person attracted to both sexes
Transgender: a person who breaks gender norms, i.e. men wearing dresses or women wearing (stereotypically) masculine clothing
Transsexual: a person who has physically altered his or her body to match their gender identity
Queer: anyone who breaks gender norms; the word "queer" is often used to represent the entire LGBTTQQIAPK community
Questioning: person unsure of sexual orientation
Intersex: person who does not fit neatly into the male or female categories
Asexual: person attracted to neither sex
Pansexual: in the words of Lyla Cicero, a blogger for UnderCoverintheSuburbs.com who has a doctorate in clinical psychology, "a refusal to define sexual orientation from binary notions of gender" (see, I did miss a few letters, since her acronym is longer than mine: LGGBTQQIAAPK; the extra "g" and "a" stand for genderqueer and androgynous, respectively)
Kink: while perhaps politically incorrect, the word kink describes "fetishes" or private sexual activities people enjoy with their lovers in the bedroom (and before anyone rushes to conclusions about "sexual deviants" within the LGBTTQQIAPK community, there are plenty of straight people who enjoy literotica.com, porn websites, and theFifty Shades of Grey series)

A few notes on the above descriptions: Gay men and lesbian women rarely refer to themselves as homosexuals, just as straight people don't refer to themselves as heterosexuals. Transsexuals don't call themselves transsexuals either; they may call themselves "transsexual men" or "transsexual women," but more often than not they identify as either man or woman. While lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and transsexual are easily identifiable sexual orientations, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, pansexual, and kink are not, and they may not be taken as seriously. People identifying with the latter are not "confused" or "misguided," and we have no right to tell them so. They are what they identify with. We just have to deal with it.

To conclude, I'll address three hypothetical complaints:
"Why should I spend time learning about gender identity? Why should the LGBT community get any special attention?"
If you're asking this question, you are probably one of many people who perpetuates queer stereotypes and uses offensive gender terminology on a regular basis. Take some time to learn about LGBTTQQIAPK people - maybe even TALK to a few rather than assuming things about them - so you can be a little more enlightened. They need "special attention" (if you insist on calling it that) just like any minority group needs attention: to identify the issues they face and to make sure they don't have to continue facing them.
"The title is too long!"
No one is requiring you to write out the entire acronym or even know what each letter stands for (the most I write is LGBTQ). It's just good to be informed so you don't rely on prejudicial assumptions to describe the queer community.
"Aren't people just making up gender identities now? Should people even be allowed to claim anything beyond LGBT?"
No to the first question, yes to the second. It's a good thing, not bad, that people are refusing to follow gender norms imposed upon us by homophobia, sexism, and other old-fashioned, oppressive gender-controlling social institutions. Some of us have finally realized that girls aren't required to like pink to be girls, that boys can wear high heels and still be boys, and that we shouldn't even be forced to choose between male and female. If you're uncomfortable with gender flexibility, that's just tough. It's time to break social habits and accept the fact that gender isn't as straightforward and repressive as it used to be.
To use the words of Lyla Cicero again, "if that acronym [LGGBTQQIAAPK] looks a bit absurd, it speaks to the absurdity of thinking there are a few isolated "sexual minorities" while the rest of the human race is "normal" and fairly similar." There is no singular "normal" regarding gender. Normality in sexuality is whatever orientation, or lack thereof, the individual feels comfortable declaring. At present, gender norms are still "females do this, males do that." The term "gender norm" needs to be replaced by gender freedom.

Sources: 
Cicero, Lyla. "What Do All Those Letters Mean, Anyway? Defining LGBTQIAPK" rolereboot. N.p., 11 June 2012. Web. 11 Jan 2014. http://www.rolereboot.org/sex-and-relationships/details/2012-06-what-do-all-those-letters-mean-anyway-defining-lgbtq
Tobia, Jacob. "LGBTQIA: A Beginner's Guide to the Great Alphabet Soup of Queer Identity." PolicyMic. N.p., 2 March 2013. Web. 11 Jan 2014. http://www.policymic.com/articles/28093/lgbtqia-a-beginner-s-guide-to-the-great-alphabet-soup-of-queer-identity



-Carmen

December 5, 2013

A Year of Coming Out and Being Out

I always get really retrospective around the holidays, and for good reasons I suppose. Moving from Thanksgiving to Christmas and eventually the New Year marks a year of change, good and bad, and the beginning of new experiences. Looking back a year ago, I was living two lives. I had recently come out to my mom, which she was really receptive of. I expected nothing less since her best friend is gay; she had been an advocate of gay rights since I could remember, and she had always made sure that myself, my brother, and my dad were sensitive to using “gay” as a slur. I guess that’s mother’s intuition, as she wasn’t surprised when I told her. She thought that I might have been gay since I was three years old. In a way, this disappointed me. I wanted some sort of shock factor, not in a negative way but in the “holy shit, I didn’t expect that, that’s dope and I’m happy for you,” sort of way. Following my mom, I came out to all of my high school friends that I still associated with. I suppose this started a ripple effect in my life and the double life I was living was increasingly blurred. My brother took the news with ease, my fraternity was, and still is, extremely supportive.

The beginning of October marked the dreaded time to tell my conservative father. My mo had kept my secret for a year, and it was fed up with not having told my dad. I was accepted to an LGBTQ conference, O4UTC, for members of the community interested in technology. I was going to fly back to California, my home state, and spend the day with my parents on Sunday. I couldn’t just show up unannounced and my dad isn’t dumb, so it came time to burst out the doors, once again. My dad was, well, less than receptive. I expected that much, but it still hurt to see my fears materialize into reality. I quickly ran to my support systems and vented. My mom reassuring me that he’ll come around, in a few years.

This Thanksgiving break marked the end of my immediate coming out journey. I know it’s always a process, but for now I’m done telling people. My dad had instructed me not to tell any of my other family members and I didn’t. But, my social media outlets are pretty transparent. Family on my dad’s side saw an Instagram post of me in rainbow suspenders with a caption that outed me, #sorrynotsorry. Fortunately I went to Chicago, to my mom’s side of the family, for Thanksgiving and didn’t have to deal with that situation right away. In a similar fashion, tweeting was the outing mechanism. I assumed my cousins knew since they followed me, but they were dancing around the subject for days. Eventually I just said it, and as I thought, they already knew. What took my by complete surprise was when my aunt casually asked me over breakfast if I had a “boyfriend?” My jaw dropped as I looked back and forth from her to my uncle. The word “boyfriend” rang in my ears for minutes as the look of disbelief waned from my face. She informed me that my whole family knew, including my extremely Catholic grandparents. She assured me that no one cared and that everyone still loved me the same. This time, I didn’t care about the shock factor. As my personal astonishment subsided, I was happy I didn’t have to tell anyone anymore. My mom’s family sees me as me. I’m still Alex, the same as I have been.


For now, I’m happy with who knows and if anyone else finds out, that’s cool too. Being gay isn’t going to change for me anytime soon, or anytime at all. I’ve come to terms with myself and have countless people who really care about me. It’s been a whirlwind of a year in terms of personal growth and I’m excited to see what the new year will bring for me. Until next time.

-Alex

December 2, 2013

What's in a Name

Once upon a time, I had just started dating my girlfriend Jacqueline. It was senior year of high school and my mom wasn’t quite used to me dating a girl yet.
I knew that; I expected most of her reactions – double takes, awkward pauses when someone at church asked her if I had a boyfriend, a slow sort of uncertainty when she asked me any question about my relationship.

She was good about it. She wasn’t really shocked to hear that I was gay even if she wasn’t quite ready for it. She might not have been delighted about it but she was never cruel or angry and she was always supportive, and I know that that is a blessed, lucky experience.
But as always, little golden accidents make the best stories.

Freudian slips are a natural part of life – little kids call their teachers “Mom” all the time, and all through high school I accidentally (and eventually on purpose) called Pep Rallies Prep Rallies instead.
So: senior year of high school. All my friends and I (and Jacqui) spent most afternoons at a little independent coffee shop near our high school. I lived near the coffee shop, so we ran into my parents as often as not.

Now, it’s worth noting that my parents had met Jacqui several times – they certainly knew her name. I saw my parents in the other room and we all went to say hi. They hugged me, greeted all my friends by
name, until my Mom got to Jacqui.

“Hi, Jackson,” she said.

And that was an awkward pause. Like the catch in your chest right after you fall flat on your back, a little forced moment of silence until she laughed.
“I don’t know where that came from! I was thinking about Jackson Pollack earlier, and I guess since you’re into art…”

What’s in a name?

It’s a good question. Obviously my mother hadn’t forgotten my girlfriend’s name. But she tweaked it just enough to be pretty unquestionably male.

Jacqui gets that kind of thing a lot. Just this past Saturday we went on a Thanksgiving hike – a frozen trail two miles up a mountain, but that’s another story altogether – and at a rest stop, a kindly old lady warned her that she was about to walk into the women’s restroom. Obviously she meant well, and she apologized upon realizing her mistake.

My mother, though, that was unique. I still don’t know what to make of it.
I saw it again over Thanksgiving. I was chilling with my favorite cousin, who is trans. He is not out as trans to his father’s side of the family – which is the side our relations are on. So I heard his “female” name half a million times over the meal. Considering the discomfort I felt, I can only imagine how he felt.

What is in a name?

According to my English teacher, a misfit name can lead to a crisis of identity, as in Faulkner’s short story “A Justice” and in Saul Bellow’s “Seize the Day.”

“Ma’am,” and “Sir,” and misappropriations of our names often coincide with how we present. My name, Gabriel, is traditionally male, so it is misspelled and mispronounced as Gabriella more often than not since I present as fairly traditionally female – I have long hair, at least.

Maybe this anecdote doesn’t say anything significant about sexuality and society, but I think it speaks to our reaction to the disconnect between expectation and reality – or maybe I’ve just taken too many English classes.

What’s in a name?

Maybe nothing. Shakespeare wasn’t overly concerned, as long as the rose by any other name still smelled as sweet. But Faulkner’s Sam Fathers and Saul Bellow’s Tommy Wilhelm would beg to differ, as I would. I appreciate the androgyny of my name. Considering the assumptions I already face based on my gender, I like that someone reading an email from me or even an application can’t necessarily tell my gender by my name. In a situation where my gender is irrelevant, it’s not unnecessarily revealed. But names, nicknames, the way we choose to communicate with others, it’s all a part of our identity, our presentation. The way others react affects us, one way or the other – So I think I’m with Sam Had-
Two-Fathers.

-Gabriel