November 30, 2010

No More Loopholes

I feel like everyone has a “coming out” story but me. I really don’t come out. I suppose I think that the topic of sexuality isn’t necessary to announce until it becomes relevant to a specific person. For instance, I didn’t tell my roommate I was bi-sexual until I had a girlfriend who was sleeping in my bed every night, which was 3 feet away from her (i.e. it was relevant to her life to know). At Duke I’ve expressed my sexuality on a need to know basis or if people were bold enough to ask me. People don’t go around nervously publicizing to their friends and loved ones that they’re heterosexual, so what’s the difference? There isn’t one…

Until I realized that my family doesn’t know. Now I have this huge problem on my hands that has been growing at staggering rates for some time. There were some phases of my life where it just wasn’t a concern. I wasn’t dating a girl, so it didn’t matter—once again, it wasn’t relevant. Then I would be talking to another female and I would feel so heavy with guilt because it was this huge secret. This back and forth would play itself out over and over again.

So here’s my current dilemma: I think I really want to come out my parents and I just don’t know how. The other day I was talking to my beloved roomie (hi V!) and she asked me if I would ever tell my mom. My quick response was something like hell no, I enjoy breathing and walking on this earth. My less dramatic response consisted of certain conditions, which are as follows:

1. My mama would have to ask, “Xan. I need to ask you a question and no matter how you answer, I love you anyways and I’m still proud of you. Are you gay?”
2. The girl I was dating would need me to come out in order to feel fulfilled in the relationship.

My mother has asked me before if I was gay/lesbian. Now if you know me, I’m all about the loopholes. My answer is always no. No, I’m not gay. No, I’m not a lesbian. I’m bi-sexual…so I didn’t lie (technically). One time she asked me if I still like guys and I answered yes. See, she never asked the right question. My fear with telling my mom is that she will be disappointed or hurt by this revelation. My mother has sacrificed so much for me that I can’t imagine causing her pain. She tells me almost every single day that I’m her mark on the world and that my successes and failures alike make her proud to have me as her daughter. Pressure much?

As for my dad, I’m really not concerned as much. We’ve always had a really rocky relationship with long stretches of time where I wasn’t speaking to him. I feel at this point in my life if he doesn’t accept me, I can easily walk away without being affected by his disapproval. However, our relationship has improved tremendously and I’m actually feeling pretty confident/comfortable about telling him. In fact, I plan to tell him this Thursday while he’s in town visiting. My GREAT idea goes something like this:

When: Thursday, December 2, 2010
Time: 8am (when he’s about to get back on the road)
Place: Outside of his car

Me: Dad, I’m bi-sexual. I’ll give you two days to think this through, then you may contact me with any questions or comments. I will not be accepting any calls, texts, or emails until two whole days have passed. I love you. Thanks for coming to visit.
*I walk away*

I’ve been told this is a horrible idea but it’s kinda all I got. I really want my dad to be supportive and accepting but selfishly, I really just want someone in my family to finally know. As for my mom, I’ve set an unknown deadline sometime before graduation. I might call her or mail her a letter. My mama and I are really close but I have no clue how she is going to react. That’s what really scares me.

Why the sudden change of heart about telling my parents? The other day I was on the phone with mom and she was telling me about some ex-boo she got rid of and I nearly blurted out, “Well I’m talking to someone new and she’s really great and I think you’d love her,” but I couldn’t. That hurt…so much. There’s a whole part of my life, and great women who are a part of it, and none of my family knows.

Nikki Giovanni is quoted to have said, “She knows who she is because she knows who she isn’t.” Well after years of going back and forth about whether I was truly bi-sexual I’ve decided that I’m bi-sexual as hell. I know who I am. I think I’m ready for the people I love the most to know too (or at least I’m working on being ready).

November 29, 2010

Anonymous Posts

Every week, we collect anonymous entries sent in using the link on our sidebar and post them all on Monday. We post anything as long as it doesn't contain personal attacks or hate speech. Feel free to submit your thoughts and questions :)

I'll add commentary later, but let's just get these up right now because wow.

In the same vein as the post posted 11/22 about the "ninja" gay men, I sometime feel out of place at the center because of identifying as bisexual. Many of my new (mostly gay male) friends (I'm a freshman) assumed I was a straight ally. And I guess I just don't know how to tell people I'm bi, especially at a LGBT event. I mean, I thought that just by going it would be obvious. But, apparently not.

I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the gay men and straight women at Fab Friday. Not to say that I don't enjoy their company, I just feel like a silent minority.

I'd really like to see some more activities geared towards bi (and transgender? might be leaving those students as well) students at the center. I feel like all the discussion groups are for completely gay/lesbian students. But, being bi offers its own challenges and hurdles that are unique from being gay or straight. For instance, I often feel like responding both to anti-straight ppl and anti-gay ppl remarks. Anyways, thats just what I've been thinking about lately.

I think this is so moving and everyone, regardless of how they identify, should see it. I've been feeling pretty down as of late, and these stories make me hopeful. (link)

I'm home for Thanksgiving and something's really bugging me. A few very select people know that I'm 'questioning.' But I mostly present myself as straight, though I often play the ambiguous card.

At several of our past family gatherings, I almost feel like my sexuality has been under a microscope. My family thinks I'm a "straight ally" and know that LGBTQA stuff is all so important to me (in my own life I don't qualify 'ally' with 'straight,' but I do here because that's what they [at least used to think] think I am--straight and an ally). So, if I thought rationally about it all, I'd probably conclude that they were just following in my footsteps by using gender neutral terms to refer to my future significant other and that they are probably trying to convey to me that "it's okay" if I'm gay. AND I KNOW, for so many people on this blog and in the LGBTQ community, it'd be a DREAM to have a family so accepting and inclusive and whatever. MY GRANDFATHER once asked me if there was a "boy or a special girl friend" or something like that in my life…the significance of that is not lost on me, nor is the intention. Other times, though, it's more aggressive--like when I was challenged at dinner: "why do you only care about lesbian women's issues and not about other women's issues?" (a total fallacy, by the way...I'm sort of just a hardcore feminist, period). It's become very apparent to me that my lack of dating (or rather my "lack of getting fucked" as one member of my family so eloquently stated tonight) combined with my involvement with BDU/the center, etc, leads my family to think I'm gay. This bugs me. I DON'T think being thought of as being gay is a bad thing, so that's not it. People assume I'm gay all the time, actually, and it’s really fine by me. Like, whatever. But, something about this is different. Something about my lack of "getting fucked" being the talk of the town and leading to family speculation on this and that and that they're leaning towards that I'm gay...I just don't appreciate it. And I don’t appreciate it coming up SEVERAL TIMES A DAY. "You don't need to have a family conference about my sexuality!!!" I don't want to talk about my sexuality with my family. I don't even want to talk about it with my best friend(s). I don’t want to do either of these things until *I* know what's going on for me in my own life.

Last summer I read this blog as an incoming freshman. I was so excited to finally be away from my rents and free to date girls. But I got scared as soon as I set foot on campus. So much homophobia. I want to talk to someone, but I'm just too scared/shamed. I don't even know why, though. Lately I've been trying to make myself straight just so life will be easier, but unfortunately easier doesn't equal happier in this case.

In the past week there has been a lot of comments about religious intolerance.

I’m gay. I’m religious. And hold these two possibly conflicting identities simultaneously. I’m blessed—the few people I’ve come out to have been wonderful, independent of their religious identity. It breaks my heart when I hear stories like Edwin’s or Eric’s [Grace and peace, my brothers. No one should have to deal with that]. I personally find no way to reconcile that behavior with the Christianity I’ve learned about since I was young. But then again, perhaps I’m biased.

But even being biased, I have to admit the religious case against us isn’t 100% bigotry, as much as I would like to indulge myself in the thought. In many cases, it’s much more complicated than that.

We ask Christians to respect our identity. But what about theirs? I’m not talking about not expecting love from your parents, or civil treatment for everyone. That’s common human decency. I’m talking about me expecting someone to change her world-view because of me. When we ask someone who is strongly Christian to redefine their views on homosexuality, do we realize how much we ask them to redefine about themselves? If they believe Biblical literalism, that is often the bedrock of who they are. Take that away, and they are lost.

We are angered by Christians who ask us to turn our back on who we are. Yet, what about when we ask them the exact same thing? How long did it take us to accept our own identity? And, now, we come out and expect them to fundamentally change upon interaction with us?

Sure, this portion of their identity may be misfounded. They believe that the LGBTQ portion of ours is, too. Having studied their reasoning, I find it uncompelling, not in keeping with the overall message of the Bible, and certainly not in keeping with the Christian teachings on love. But, as unpopular as it is to say, the Christian hierarchies in Rome, Istanbul, Moscow, etc are not “out to get us.” Someone from the Center who has been a confidant along this entire process for me has sometimes felt the need to use “tough love” to get me to take steps I don’t necessarily want to do. But what (s)he feels when telling me that is what the pastor feels when telling a member of his or her congregation the relevant Christian teachings. I pray they see this is not the love we need, but indignant cries to battle and ostentatious displays are no more effective or merited than the corresponding actions by Christians (This Onion article satirically sums it up nicely).

I started this post by saying I was gay, and that I was religious. Certainly, many who read this post will disagree with what I have written. But I ask, how much worse would readers have reacted if I had merely started with the statement that I am religious?

It is only in giving respect that we’ll be deserving of getting it in return.

For everybody who identifies as bi--Do you identify with this label because you realized that you had crushes on/were attracted to both men and women? Or was it an intellectual recognition that a person's gender doesn't matter and that you'll fall in love with whoever you fall in love with? I ask because I frequently think about identifying as bi, but I don't know what it means to other people who identify so I don't know if it explains what I'm feeling/thinking...

November 27, 2010

In which I do not discuss the many awesome parts of my vacation, in favor of whining

[In addition to all of our awesome visible and identifying columnists, we also have some awesome anonymous columnists that for one reason or another must use a pseudonym (and pseudopic?). Details on anonymous columnists here.]

And now we discover the danger of assigning me to Saturday mornings: I like to sleep in late. Especially when I'm feeling a little unhappy.

Luckily, though, I bring a revelatory insight: the closet sucks, y'all.

At Duke I generally don't tend to feel closeted, because at Duke I don't actually pretend I'm a girl. I just don't always correct people when they make the wrong guess. It's not exactly comfortable, but who really expects to be their most genuine, authentic self in Chemistry class? And if the wrong guesses start to get to me, I can just talk to a friend (or my girlfriend) to get called the right name, or bind for the day, and I feel better. It's not my fault people don't see the obvious, so it's not really the closet.

No, the closet is when I encourage people to misgender me. Which is... this weekend. My mom likes me to bring laundry when I come home (seriously, if I don't she'll complain that I don't need her any more and spend the vacation trying to bury me under cups of tea) but I could only bring my girly laundry. So, today my mom asked why I brought thirty pairs of underwear, ten shirts, and some pajamas-- "You do... wear pants, don't you?"-- and I told her yet another half-truth: "The laundry was all over my room, so I only grabbed some of it." Sure, I heavily implied that the selection was random, when in reality I obsessed over every article of clothing to make sure it conformed appropriately to her standards (that is, I checked everything for rainbows before putting it in the suitcase) but it wasn't technically a lie.

The rest of it is lies, though. Lies, lies, lies. I think this is the heaviest irony of trans life: you know how people generally imply that trans folks are lying about their gender? Like, the "trans panic" defense, used (successfully, alas) in so many murder trials: "when I found out it was really a man, I just had to kill it!" Or, the murder mystery I watched with my mom last night-- "it turns out he was really a she!" There's the transphobic idea that the gender you were assigned at birth is your real gender, but there's also this idea that if you say you're anything else, you're lying and deserve what's coming to you. Well, I do feel like a liar, all the time-- when I tell people I'm not a man.

I'm not a religious person even a little, but I have a strong sense of honor. I hate lying.

Part of it is that I'm not a very good liar, so to maintain the facade I have to forget the truth a little. I grew so accustomed to the facade that I showed the rest of the world that I actually had no idea what was underneath until this semester when I decided to drop it. (Turns out: there was a man under there! Other than that, pretty much the same.) But I've always had a special facade for my parents. I wasn't just their daughter, I was the daughter they always wanted-- which means, I was straight, I was femme, I didn't curse, I didn't drink, I definitely didn't have sex, I wasn't a feminist, I wasn't an activist, I wasn't an atheist... I got to be a geek, but that was pretty much it, in terms of resemblance to my actual self.

And today, right now-- that's who I am! Sure, I've holed myself up in my room to write this, but I'm wearing pearls. It's only been a few days but I already feel like my sense of identity has been eroded away. (Not just my gender identity-- my whole identity.) I called my girlfriend last night-- from inside a literal closet, with three closed doors between my and my family-- just to hear her say my name. My real name. Which is Lawrence.

So, to remind myself who I am for the rest of the weekend, I open the comments up to all your Trans 101 questions. Just call me by my name, my real name, and I'll answer anything you want to know. Don't worry about dumb questions, personal questions, or even unintentionally offensive questions-- I did a lot of 101 in my lesbian days and I know what I'm signing up for. If you're nervous, that's what anonymous comments are for.

So ask away! I think it'll help both of us.

November 26, 2010

LGBTQ Female Role Models: Joan Jett

Who is Joan Jett?

"The Queen of Rock and Roll"
- as referred to several times during her career

A legendary American punk rock musician, Joan Jett is best known for her song,
"I Love Rock and Roll",
a cover of an Arrows' song of the same name. It's one of the most iconic songs in the world, and it was a U.S. Billboard Hot 100 track for seven weeks in 1981.

Joan Jett's accomplishments today might be taken for granted, but the historical, cultural and societal context of her success cannot be overlooked. Jett was one of the members of the all-female punk band, The Runways (1975-1979), in a time when all-girl punk bands were literally, unheard of. Today, it's easy to think of successful all-women groups, or punk bands
with female leads, but it was only through artists like Jett who transformed the idea from unthinkable, to something possible. Later, she formed her own group called Jett Joan and the Blackhearts, which released hits like "I Love Rock and Roll" and "Crimson and Clover".

A few weeks ago, I would have guessed that Joan Jett was just following in the footsteps of other all-female punk bands, but after working on my 12 page paper on the Riot Grrrl movement for my Spanish class (on pop culture), I realized that Joan Jett wasn't following in any woman's footsteps: she made the path for women in the hardcore punk scene. When she first started out, she was told that "girls don't play electric guitar", and she was laughed at when she tried to buy a black leather jacket and pants. Punk has traditionally been a male-dominated scene, and that was especially true in the late 70s and early 80s when Jett gained popularity. (Women were grouped at punk shows, and pushed to the back of concerts, demeaningly labeled as "coat racks".) Jett's band itself, The Runaways, was not treated very well, and Jett expressed her frustrations as follows [italics added]:
"I didn't understand people's reactions and why they thought it was so strange for women to play music. There were people who looked at us like we had seven heads....I wonder how many women actually looked at what we were doing in the Runaways and said, 'Hey, that's great.' Or, 'You make me feel stronger.' Because it seemed like the Runaways had a mostly male audience, waiting to see us take our clothes off or something-that's what they expected us to do."

In addition to being a woman pioneer in the male-dominated punk genre, Joan Jett is also a success story of the "I think I can" attitude. When she wanted to produce music on her own, she didn't take "no" for an answer. She was rejected by 23 major record labels, until she eventually decided to start her own record-label, called "Blackheart Records". This was another previous "impossibility", as Jett was the first woman to ever start her own recording label. Her "Do-It-Yourself" (DIY) feminist attitude was characteristic of the genre that followed Jett, the Riot Grrrl movement, and so it's no surprise that Jett is also known as "The Godmother of Punk" and the "Original Riot Grrrl". (Riot Grrrl was a feminist music genre in the early 90s that focused on all-female bands, promoting feminine individuality and strength through uninhibited music.) Jett collaborated with one of the most famous pioneer Riot Grrl bands, Bikini Kill, and helped get their band (and thus, the Riot Grrrl movement) off the ground.

I wanted to write about Joan Jett on the blog, because I wasn't very familiar with her as a person, and I certainly had no idea she was queer. Wikipedia won't tell you how she identifies (maybe just an oversight?), but after doing some research, I found that both AfterEllen and report that she is "open" and "out". (Fun fact: GLBTQ Encyclopedia reports that she has a "Dykes Rule" sticker on her guitar.) Also, when you listen to her hit song "Crimson and Clover", check out the lyrics-they're pretty queer.

I can't think of a better role model. She was one of two women listed in Rolling Stone's Top 100 Guitarists of all time, and she continues to play her powerful music. She still tours (at the age of 52) with The Blackhearts, and most recently, she just played for Greenday's Europe 2010 tour. This woman's strength, and her visible rejection of traditionally rigid female roles (demur, submissive, subservient) in place for an angry, enthusiastic and passionate love affair with music (and life) demonstrate, literally, how cool rule-breaking feminism can be.

November 25, 2010

"Wonderfully and Beautifully Human": Remembering Mike Penner, Transsexual Sportswriter

Every other Thursday I will be writing about LGBT Issues in Sport. Between each regularly scheduled post I may chime in with more posts if something comes up and/or I have the time. I have a serious academic interest in sport and in this column I’ll be highlighting current events, sharing resources, reflecting on complex issues and sharing athlete’s stories among other things. For more about me, you can read my first post, here. Please feel free to email me with thoughts or if you come across something you’d like me to include on the blog.

This post is the second in a miniseries about trans-identified folk in sports. Two weeks ago I wrote about Kye Allums, the first ever D1 collegiate athlete to openly identify as trans. He plays basketball on George Washington University’s women’s basketball team.
*     *     *     *     *

I want to start this post by saying that I’m an ally for trans-identified individuals. That said, I’m still learning how to be a better and better ally (thanks, Lawrence, for already educating me in your first post!). I might make a mistake and I hope that if I do, you readers will correct me. I identify as cis-gendered. I don’t write that because I’m afraid that by talking about these issues someone might think I was trans…I write that because as a cis-gendered person, I have to acknowledge that while I can sympathize with transfolk’s struggles in our society, advocate on their behalf, and support the people in my life who identify as trans or genderqueer or something that isn’t 100% cis, I can’t positively know what it’s like. As human beings who share some characteristics, we have many shared experiences, but we also have different experiences and I am cognizant of that.

Before I even worked at my first women’s basketball practice my first year (and despite having spent the previous summer in the PR office for the Mercury), I pretty much thought that the only people intimately involved with the team were the coaches and players. Like some of the other naïve things one thinks as a first year, I was WRONG. There are other administrative staff members, athletic trainers and doctors, sports information and marketing folk and the media themselves (I’m probably still leaving out some people). It became pretty clear to me that a team isn’t just the 12 players and 4 coaches on the bench during the game. Just like those 16 people on the bench, though, media personnel themselves lead pretty public lives.

November 27th will mark the 1 year anniversary of Mike Penner’s suicide. A Los Angeles Times sportswriter for 25 total years, during his career he covered high profile events such as the Olympics and the World Cup, in addition to being the LA Angels’ beat writer and writing about tennis, the NFL and sports media, among other things. Despite some high profile assignments, Penner’s most famous column ran on April 26, 2007. Titled “Old Mike, New Christine,” he wrote that “Today I leave for a few weeks’ vacation, and when I return, I will come back in yet another incarnation. As Christine [Daniels]. I’m a transsexual sportswriter.”

Endless Endless (part three of three)

Somewhere on a mostly deserted beach on the Big Sur coast of Northern California, I was struggling to achieve full lotus, scintillating with wildflowers and waves and wind, and feeling as ecstatic as I’ve ever felt in my whole life, doubly inspired by the psilocybe cubensis and proximity of my Best Friends, and basically trying to stop laughing so I could stop crying. It seemed as literal as enlightenment could get, and my enlightenment was that it was both funny and disheartening how life just rolls on by entirely indifferent to you.

Take for instance how there was no Philip Glass playing when I found an appropriate lull in the dinner conversation behooving me to leave the kitchen table and take my baggage upstairs to my room. Or how the weeks/months that followed were witness to some of the raddest Californian sunsets of any summer ever, and even some pretty enthralling acts of Human Kindness in unlikely places. One unlikely place: a downtown San Francisco hotel room, where I’m shirtless, straddling an attractive and sweaty Northern European-looking boy who’s about to start his freshman year at Berkeley, drumming on his chest to the beat of "I Summon You."

So but then, in walks an old girlfriend (invited—it’s a hotel party), accompanied by an, um, acquaintance from high school (not invited). Uninvited goes to church with my parents, and had once remarked that we really ought to be friends since, he said: “You're one of the only other Christians I know who’s as smart as me.” ....

Aside: one of the reasons I got beer cans thrown at me freshman year is that I’m not a good schmoozer, and sometimes frat parties require serious schmoozing, and in those situations it’s not always the best idea to feign parodic self-importance in the presence of the men whose names are on the lease for Blue House or wherever.

And so after dismounting I mentally prep for schmooze mode (Christian schmoozing—debatably harder) and immediately get the sinking feeling in my chest via: “So I heard what happened with you and your parents this summer.”
“ wasn’t...that bad. Do you—uh—still see them oft— ”
“—No so listen, my parents are totally aware of the, um, situation and I just want you to know if you ever needed anything, a place to stay or anything, they—WE...would be totally cool with that. I’m really sorry.”

Dumbfoundedness ensued. Even within the same church, gradations of tolerance, and I just ended up on the wrong end. Goddamn. My plan of staying away from home as much as possible (tricky given my unemployment and sharing of a car with my also-unemployed and thus super-social mother) was fairly successful in terms of avoiding tête-à-tête confrontation, but was peppered with various hiccups in the way of:
1. Finding indiscreetly placed “literature” Mom had culled from various online sources for me about the prevalence of STDs and stunted average life span of gay men.
2. Hearing news down the grapevine, from my oldest sister, that I had apparently acquired one of these STDs. Well, what the doctor diagnosed as a poison oak rash following excessive amounts of time traipsing the poison oak-infested hillsides of Big Sur, Mom had chalked off as an unsolved medical mystery, and had her own diagnosis to offer.
3. Mom visited me after I was released from an eight day hospital stint (non STD-related, assuredly) and, after having a generally O.K. time together, a fight erupted. She called me cold (probably true) and compared me to her abusive, alcoholic ex-husband (I'm skeptical here) and bid me part with, “Have a good life. I still love you,” i.e. probably the most traumatizing thing anyone has ever said to me. At least I’m pretty sure it traumatized me. I was kind of busy being auto-piloted by emotional stoicism and re-readying my game face as I prepared for visiting friends and more parties, traveling, and school.

So like, back to life’s vague projection of indifference: I’m still the star of my own little selfish narrative, but after serious consideration, I’ve decided that I can’t just rule certain people out of my life who have paid two hundred-something thousand dollars for my education and still love me to a fault. The materialness of it even makes my so-called sacrifice of, idk, ideology or acceptance or something sound downright petty in comparison. Life rolls on, and even scary, moralistic injuriousness, Family is one of those things I have a little bit of ungrounded faith in, despite my disillusionment with the filial concept as whole, among other things (I’ve recently been obsessed with depression in some abstract way, like wondering what it’d be like to be a suicidal gay teenager and then watch this and have my life saved.) Plus, I do have comfort in my own skin on my side. I’m more a Kinsey 4 than 3 now, etc. So I figure I can deal with a shit-ton of extra scrutiny or computer espionage or whatever it is my Mom does to essentially undermine the purpose of my anonymity on the blog (the days of E.F. are numbered, that’s for sure). Even the combined gravity of Perfume Genius and David Foster Wallace can’t dampen my spirits. And although D.F.W. did in fact kill himself, life to me right now seems like an endless swim race, swimming being an activity that I suck at and don’t particularly enjoy but still do because it feels like it will pay off in the end, and I know I won't be one of the tragic few who end up drowning. As I’m going I have to keep reminding myself: this is water!

November 23, 2010

Let's Talk About Sex...Lesbian Sex

I’ve had this idea for awhile now. I’m currently trying to formulate it in the best way and see what other people think.

Almost everyone who has been through some form of sex education knows how to put a condom on a dildo. Hardly anyone knows how to use a dental dam. I can understand why dental dam demonstrations might not happen in sex education. Putting a condom on a dildo can be fun. Putting a dental dam on a plastic vagina seems much more intimate. And weird. Here’s the deal: for men who have sex with men, they’ve been taught (albeit in a heteronormative way) how to protect themselves. For women who have sex with women, the waters are murkier.

LGBT students often don’t get inclusive sexual health education in highs school or from parents. In college you’re on your own. Fortunately, people of our generation can use the internet to find sexual health information. I use the internet to find the information I need- whether it’s a Youtube video demonstrating how to use a dental dam or charts that show the risk levels of various sexual activities. I expose myself to a menagerie of information partly out of curiosity and partly because I need to answer questions when I’m counseling. I don’t see the problem as lack of access to information.

I know what it’s like to be a queer women struggling with if and how to have safe sex. I know what it’s like to feel nervous asking a partner to use protection with me, and the frustration felt when a partner wasn’t as enthusiastic as I was. Dental dams aren’t weird and awkward, and haven’t impeded my ability to get someone off. (Maybe I’m just that good.) While LGBT women and men have many reasons to collaborate, we might be more different than similar when it comes to sexual health. I’m not qualified to tackle sexual health from an LGBT men’s perspective. I know which acts or more high risk than others, but people are already aware of that. I’ve yet to encounter an LGBT man at Duke who didn’t find safe sex perfectly obvious (in theory at least.)

How do women have safe sex with other women? By using a dental dam during oral sex or rimming. You could also use finger condoms or latex gloves. Valencia by Michelle Tea, a novel I read in high school, described women wearing latex gloves when they had sex, so it’s on my radar. Barring specific medical conditions, I don’t see any need for finger condoms or latex gloves. To be honest, the idea of having unsafe sex freaks me out, especially when I have my public health nerd glasses on. (Those glasses do sometimes come off in the heat of the moment. But yall already know I’m not a sexual health saint.) I have never talked to a queer woman who knew about dental dams or wanted to use them. I have never shared sex toys with a woman. If I did, I would at least know to clean them. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but women can transmit STDs to each other. Otherwise this discussion would be moot.

I want to hear from yall. What (if anything) do you use for protection? What are your reasons for using or not using protection? Do you feel uninformed or inexperienced? Do you consider lesbian sex safe, or safe enough? Do you find dental dams awkward/gross/pointless/potentially lethal?

Wait. Don't Forget About Me Too!

There's been a lot of conversation about several issues on the blog lately, and I love it. I love it when people engage in thoughtful discussions about topics. I believe that's how you honestly get to know people better than talking about what likes and dislikes you have in common. The funny thing is that I tend to not be a very vocal participant in such stimulating conversation. I like to sit back and let the discussion develop while I formulate my own opinion and sometimes change it depending on certain key points people make. For that reason, I have not been an active participant in many of the discussions that have taken place on the blog. But, I think I am finally able to articulate my opinion. So here we go...

The topic I want to focus on is the sexism that occurs within the gay community. Well, not so much focus on the sexism but a comment someone made about how one gender of the community has a tougher time than the other gender. I, at one point, actually used to believe this was true, but, after becoming friends with women in the community, I was made aware of my fallacy. I think where this difference in thinking stems from is the focus of attention on one's own life and how people can tend to think that their situation is the absolute worst. I think that's a completely understandable mistake to make. I know that I oftentimes only focus on my own life and the problems I go through and how miserable it makes me feel. I sometimes forget that other people have problems that they must work through, too. Just because their problems might not be the same as mine or seem as extreme as I believe mine to be, it doesn't mean that they don't have it just as hard. Because it is just as hard, just in different ways that may not be apparent. So there's that which leads me to the actual gist of this post:

Sometimes, I get worried that we are focusing too much on one subset of the community and letting the others fall by the wayside.

Let me be clear about what I mean. There have been several recent efforts made to shed light on or help the issues that the queer female-identified community faces. I'm all for this. It's great that we are recognizing the women within the community and doing more to make sure that they are better represented. I'm so happy for the women of this community because they are on their way to getting the recognition that they deserve. BUT (here's the kicker), what about everyone else in the community?

Let's take, for example, the awesomeness that is the WOMYN magazine and Women Loving Women meetings. Both of these are such wonderful achievements for the women community. But what do the men of the community have? What about those who don't conform to a certain gender? What do those who are trans get? Nothing, at least not anything that is solely for each specific group. Of course, there is Fab Friday and the blog and the Center itself. But none of that is ever a space solely just for people of one group.

I guess what I'm saying is that I would like to see more initiatives geared towards every subset of the community. For example, even though the community here is heavily male-dominated, I would still love to have a space where I can sit down with other gay males of color who are in a non-historically black fraternity and have a discussion about some of the challenges we go through. Well, not all of that because that would probably just be a group of me, myself, and I, but you get what I'm saying right? There are times when I honestly get jealous of the women in the LGBTQ community because they have their venue to voice their concerns and frustrations about life. But where am I supposed to go? Fab Friday isn't exactly the space to do that. Yes, I'm using the blog to voice my concerns but it's just not the same as talking face to face with people and hearing what other humans (not a computer screen) has to say. Why can't we have a Men Loving Men or a Queers Loving Queers for those who don't identify with one gender or Trans Loving Trans? After all, we all have issues that we want to talk about, don't we?

I'm just worried that we risk alienating others in the community if we focus on only one group, which I'm guessing is maybe part of the motivation for Women Loving Women, to make the women feel more included. There's been so much talk about making the community more inclusive and representative of everyone but it doesn't seem to me that much has been done to make it happen. Let's start by showing that we are looking for ways to make those who feel separated from the community more included. I know it's impossible to please everyone, but I feel like we can at least show that we're trying.

November 22, 2010

My Perspective #1: Hands and Holy Oil
(Serious Reality)

[Ed. Note: I'm SO happy to have Edwin writing for the blog, Everyone. Say hi to Edwin!]

Someone once told me that one of the most influential forces in life is a personal story. It’s better than literature because it’s current; it’s better than rumors because it’s honest; and it’s better than theories because it’s real—at least when it comes from me. So yes, my slot on this blog will be used as public pages of my diary. I know what you’re thinking: “How creative considering that the heading of this blog is ‘Our Lives.’” Rest assured, however, that my posts will be more than regurgitations of events. I plan to delve deep into my experiences to discover the ways in which each of them has shaped the perspective of Edwin C. Yet convinced? Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you that once I start talking, I don’t stop. And sooner rather than later, the hot mess struggle bus that is my life will reveal itself in the form of absurd hilarity and serious reality. I hope that you’re down for the ride.

It was a Wednesday morning in early October of my senior year in high school. I was forced to come out to my mom by a cousin of mine—I’ll save that story for another time. It stands as one of the most difficult experiences I’ve ever had. My mom and I were on the back porch of my uncle’s home. We sat side by side on the steps with our knees up to our chests like two 1st graders at the end of afterschool activities waiting to be picked up by their parents. I thought I’d look my mother in the face as I spoke, but the shame was made too real by the seriousness of her gaze. I tried to start slowly, but before I could utter a sound the tears were streaming down my face; my legs began to shake, my lips started to quiver, and my heart was beating at a pace faster than I could imagine. To say the least, I was terrified beyond belief. Somehow I got it out in what I’m sure was more gasping for breath amid sobbing than an articulation of my feelings. Anyways, her initial response was everything that I wanted to hear. “You will always be my son. I love you no matter what, Don’t cry because I am here for you.” I thought to myself: “Yes! Yes! This is going much better than…” And before I could finish that thought, she dropped the bomb: “But I do not accept this part of you. And don’t worry because I know that you can change.” There it was, what my pessimistic mind had foreseen—the feeling of rejection. I was almost instantly sick as my heart sank into my stomach. It was like she had given me a cup full of hope and joy and wacked it out of my hand just as I began to drink it. Can I say that I was taken by surprise? No. But was I hurt? If only you knew.

I grew up in a black church that is in a predominately black city called Camden, NJ. My family is pretty much the typical crazy and dysfunctional family. One of our main struggles is that we rarely ever talk about our issues and problems. We sweep it all under the rug and KIM (keep it movin’), as my friend Anthony would say. So after I came out to my mom what did she do? She looked for a quick solution by handing me off to my Aunt, who at the time was an assistant pastor at the church we attended. I’m sure they would have liked to just sweep this one under the rug, but this dirt was too sticky and gross to KIM. They needed something quick to loosen it up a bit. So they found Mr. Clean in the form of the church pastor. Yup, that’s right. My mother and my aunt took me to church to be prayed for. I should tell you that they didn’t spring this on me by surprised that next Sunday. My Aunt warned me in a prior conversation that I’d be going for prayer. During that same conversation she told me that I had demons inside of me and that I needed to repent for the sins I had committed. The pastor had similar sentiments as she prayed for me at the front of the church that Sunday.

If you’ve ever been to a black church you might recognize what I will attempt to describe next. It’s a point during the service at which the music is ringing loudly in your ears, the congregation is speaking in tongues, and the clergy is “laying hands” on members of the church who desire prayer. On this day, I desired no such prayer, but I received it anyway. They whipped out the vegetable holy oil and rubbed it on my forehead. The pastor leaned into my body and put one hand on my back and the other on my heart, and she began to pray. She pressed forcefully on my chest like an EMT trying to revitalize a stopped heart. I remember her screaming in my ear as if the combination of her physical pressure and yelling would scare the demons out. Then she moved her hand that was on my chest to my forehead and began to physically shove my head back as if she wanted to force her prayer for me into my mind and down my spine. She yelled things like: “I rebuke you demons,” and “Lord he has so much potential.” By the time it was all over I had been traumatized. Not knowing how to react, I turned around and headed for the edge of the back pew. I cried like a 1st grader whose parents forgot to pick him up after his afterschool activities. In a way I guess that’s how I actually felt. At a time when I needed her most my mom seemed to have abandoned me. I felt unloved, confused, and forgotten. How could she forget to pick me up? How could she forget to love me no matter what? How could she cause me so much pain?

I found the answer in what happened shortly after I sat back down when I realized that my mom was sitting next to me also crying. I can recall thinking to myself : “Why is she crying?! I’m the one who was humiliated in front of the entire congregation!” It wasn’t until a few months ago that it dawned on me. My mother was crying because she was just as confused, hurt, and dejected as I was. She had no idea where to turn or what to do either. She had never dealt with something like this before, and had probably never imagined it. So like most Christians, she did what she knew best by turning to God for help.

So how has my perspective changed as a result of this experience you ask? Well for one, I’ve come to realize that I had such a bad coming out experience not because my mom isn’t a good mother or a good person. It’s not that she doesn’t love me enough or care enough about my experience. I had a bad coming out experience because my mom made misinformed decisions and had misguided actions, which turned her love for me into harm. I can’t blame her more than I can blame each experience that she’s had that constitutes her perspective. And I can’t blame my Aunt any more than I can blame the religious institution that taught her to say those hurtful words to me. Does that completely absolve them of how they’ve scarred me? Absolutely not. Do I place all of the blame for my experience on “the church?” Absolutely not. However, I’m doing my best to understand how people who care so much about me could do the things that my family has done. What’s important here is that for as much as I want them to understand where I am coming from, I need to do my best to understand where they are coming from. With that said, the end is to accept and love me for who I am or not, which is solely their decision to make. My perspective and understanding may change, but who I am won’t. And as for my relationship with the church and Christ, let’s just say that at first I blamed both for my pain, and as a result hated anything to do with them. Looking back on it now I can see how my experience eventually brought me closer to Christ than I’ve ever been.

Unfortunately, my feelings toward the Church are still stained by many of the leaders who hurt me with their actions and words then and now.

I bumped into someone on the quad yesterday after coming from church that said, “I had no idea that you’re a Christian.” It’s interesting how few people on this campus know how spiritual I am. I think it’s because my relationship with Christ has had to become so personal in order to stay in tact. I’m sure it won’t always be this way, but for now this is my perspective.

Anonymous Posts (11.15.10-11.21.10)

Every week, we collect anonymous entries sent in using the link on our sidebar and post them all on Monday. We post anything as long as it doesn't contain personal attacks or hate speech. Feel free to submit your thoughts and questions :)

I think it's safe to say that Nick Altemose is the busiest person I know. When he isn't busy being among the top 1 most handsome students at this school, he's, like, in a lab FINISHING THE HUMAN GENOME OR SOMETHING. Needless to say, when I get an email from him, I'm not going to ignore it, and I'm going to let as many people as possible know.

The story here is not the actual body of his email (bringing to my attention this really interesting piece from The Advocate that evaluates how The Movement should adapt now that We are the Moral Majority in the country (in 2010 the number of Americans who support marriage equality crossed the 50% mark). The use of extreme and militant tactics may now be not only antiquated, but counter productive. Says the author, "To the public, a shrill, aggressive majority appears bullying and menacing, not plucky and righteous. Worst of all, it looks oppressive. Oppressive? Gays as oppressor? Am I kidding?" (He is not kidding.) Oh snap! This is something that is extremely applicable to us as a group of college-aged community activists. Is a mass flier campaign the best way to further The Cause? Should we be doing flash mobs and such? Scarier yet, are we hurting our interests? Maybe. Maybe not! But maybe! [Insert embedded video of the first time we see the Frozen Banana Stand (which has so much money in it! by the way) in the pilot of Arrested Development #obscurereferences #hiari!] So yeah. Read this article, Everyone. (It may inform how you respond to a couple of our anonymous posts below.)) but that he signed it "Yours, Nick." In your face, Everyone Who Isn't Me!

In other news, tonight is the last discussion group of the semester. Details are on the blog here and the facebook event is here. The topic of the discussion tonight is sexism within the LGBT community, which should prove to be, uh, interesting to say the least. Everyone's welcome! Bring a friend.

Anyhow! Anonymous posts for the week, yo.

I wonder if the people who put up the "Got Privilege?" Fliers on Tuesday November 16 in Few Quad thought about how they were infringing on the privilege of other students to have their fliers displayed and not covered up by an inordinate number of copies of the same two fliers. If you want to be treated with respect in getting your message across, don’t monopolize the bulletin boards.

The fact that someone just walked my room (which has a flag hanging from it) and said "Burn that flag!" makes me really sad. I wish that people would be more respectful of others people's ways of life, and wouldn't judge people because they are 'different' or the 'other.'

Let's talk for a minute about sexism. Heterosexism, that is. The idea that being heterosexual is right, is better. I don’t think I have to tell all of you that that’s complete and utter crap. Being straight does not make you a better person than anyone else on the planet. We can all agree on that, right?

So let’s talk for a minute about homosexism. Yes, Microsoft Word, I know it’s not a real word. Probably because most of the time I feel like I’m the only person who sees it. Perhaps that’s because I, as a loud proud straight ally, spend the vast majority of my life with my LGBTQ friends. And I love you all, I really do. But I just want to put out there that sometimes you make me feel bad for being straight.

I just want to scream, “I can’t help it! I didn’t choose this! There’s nothing wrong with me!”
Instead I sit there while you complain about how annoying it is when straight couples cuddle on the Plaza. I ask you if it would bother you if a gay couple were to do the same thing. “No,” you say, “that’s different.”

How is it different? How are you different from those homophobic people you spend so much time vilifying? Why is it okay for you to get upset when I talk about some guy I have a crush on, okay for you to treat me like some silly frivolous little straight girl not realizing how fantastic it is to live a life of straight privilege? I would never look at you at the end of a movie and say “why wasn’t that about straight people” they way you ask me why it wasn’t about two women.
All I’m asking is that you practice what you preach: tolerance. I understand that you want a place where you feel like you can speak freely about your sexuality, and not feel as if you’re judged for it. And I’m perfectly content listening to you talk about LGBTQ issues while you hold hands with your same-sex lover. I just wish that you’d be okay with me having a conversation with you about the trials and tribulations of trying to find a boyfriend. I am lucky in that I know the majority of the world automatically accepts my sexuality. But you are my best friends, and I need you to accept my sexuality too. Let’s put the equals back in “Love equals Love.”

I read in a psych book once that the average gay male is indistinguishable from most straight men and that the super feminine stereotype comes from the fact those with a feminine disposition are more visible to the general populace. I'd like to add a disclaimer that I have no qualms with those that live their lives in a more fabulous manner and believe that they're more "manly" than those who would judge them because they have the strength to wear their identity with pride.


Sometimes I feel a little alienated. I enjoy frizz with my bros, video games, weed, and other men. Yet, sometimes I feel like these qualities don't exactly mesh with the visible gay community (minus the liking other men part). The most frustrating aspect is that I know for a fact (thanks, psych textbook) that there are others like me, but they're invisible/indistinguishable too. While I think the Center (and this blog) is awesome, I kinda feel like I couldn't just walk in there and start up a conversation about Halo: Reach. I wonder if it's a symptom of the fact that it's harder for the "ninja gay" kids to be "out" or if they're worried about the rainbows and Lady Gaga music stereotypically associated with the visible gay community. Either way, it's super dooper frustrating.

November 21, 2010

LGBTQA Discussion Group Tomorrow Night at 7: For the first two discussion groups, we just threw out possible topics and let the group decide where the discussion went. And this sort of worked! I've really enjoyed the dialogue and I love how many people (!) came to both. Some feedback we got though, was that the topic should be predetermined in order to give attendees an opportunity to think about it beforehand. So let's try that!

The discussion group is branded as a real-life extension of This Blog (hence its title "Our Lives: Up Close & Personal") that has the same sort of topics but allows a dimension of face-to-face dialogue that This Blog cannot offer. It's the conversations We All are having in the comments sections but in person. With this in mind, it is kind of a duh decision to have this next discussion be about sexism in the LGBTQ community.

This week's anonymous posts post (no, there really is no better way to say this, I've tried) that included an entry about sexism in the LGBTQ community got the most comments (32) any post has ever gotten since we went live over a year ago. (There was also an anonymous post that alluded to suicide that probably should have gotten more attention it did. Just saying.) And there's been, like, a billion gender summits and discussions and such on campus in the past three weeks. I feel like this is an opportunity for us to explore how this is a different and/or same phenomenon among LGBTQ students. This has potential to hit on so many topics, from double (and in many cases triple) disadvantage to the tendency (I'm understating) for gay men to feel the need to suppress any feminine qualities and defy stereotype. "I'm not one of those gays, and I don't want to associate with them. I mean, I can name the 40-man roster of the New York Yankees!" - Me, my first year, because hegemonic sexism and compensatory masculinity (lol @ First Year Me a little very bit).

This is just one way it can go! So yeah. I'm excited about this! I'm excited about this. It's sure to be a more than lively discussion. See you tomorrow at 7 in The Center? :)

Back Home

As the first post of the week, I would like to wish everyone a great Thanksgiving break! This past week has been incredibly stressful for me and I'm sure many of you. I hope you all can relax and enjoy great food (even though Marketplace is glamorous, I will be glad to have some real food).

When I go back home, I'm reminded of when I came out to my mother this past summer. Over summer, I moved into a new home before coming to Duke, so coming out to her is perhaps my most prevalent memory in that house. And when I go back home tomorrow, I will be reminded of that day.

I had my first boyfriend this summer, and we had always talked about how despite the fact that we were going out and about to head to college, neither of us told our parents that we were gay. So finally, after two months of going out, I decided that I should tell my mother. So allow me to preface the situation.

My sister came out before me, so I had her do a lot of the work for my turn. It was a long day of moving things from the old house to the new house. My mom and I went back to the new house early so to start dinner for that night, and the entire car ride I was just thinking to myself, "Self, you should tell her now." But I decided to wait, and then we started to cook, and while something was in the oven, I sat down on the couch next to her and told her that I am gay.

Her reaction? She laughed. Not a small laugh, but a loud and hilarious laugh. This did two things for me: One it reassured me that everything was going to be alright, and two it let me know that it was not much of a surprise for her (let's just say my acting skills for 4 years were not fantastic).

After the laughing episode, she told me that her main concerns for me were not on me, but on everybody else, and how I need to be prepared for people's prejudices. Thankfully, she knew that Duke was a friendly campus, so she was not as worried. But I think back to her talking to me that day, and all I can think about is that day, I disappointed her.

On that day, she realized that her suspicions were true. She realized that her grandchildren may not be her biological kids. She realized that there would be some interesting family dynamic changes with the extended family. She realized that she would have to know a boyfriend and a girlfriend, but I would be the one with the boyfriend. She realized that she would have to make sure I was safe on a different level at college, and all because I revealed my sexuality to her.

Rest assured, I know that I did not really disappoint my mom that day. I am defined by much more than my sexuality, and I did not change as a person when I came out to her. Even so, every time I go back home, I think about that day, and what was going through her mind. I recall when I had to stretch completely out of my comfort zone and be honest with my mom. I am glad that I did. Many people cannot do that with confidence and comfort, but know that there is a community that is here to make you feel comfortable and confident if back home is not.

November 20, 2010

Serving Up Some Tolerance

[In addition to all of our awesome visible and identifying columnists, we also have some awesome anonymous columnists that for one reason or another must use a pseudonym (and pseudopic?). Details on anonymous columnists here.]

First, I’d like to just add this link.

This is an article a transgendered friend of mine from high school posted on his Facebook a few days ago. I think it’s great UNCG is doing this, and that it reflects a positive image upon North Carolina as a whole. Or maybe just UNCG, because it is known to be the most queer friendly university in the UNC school systems. (Which NC locals so kindly say the G stands for Gay and not Greensboro… well, maybe not kindly, but I find it a bit endearing, because UNCG is awesome!)

And now, with that shared, onto my original entry:

“Nothing’s off limits for you” she joked.

“No, actually, there are things that I don’t joke about; things I don’t tolerate being said,” the other woman replied frankly.

“Like what?” another asked.

“Like, 'You’re retarded' or ‘That’s gay’ or, you know…”

As she trailed off (perhaps to avoid the mention of racial slurs), I knew exactly where the discussion was going to lead, but the impending doom I often felt when discussions tumbled onto the topic of homosexuality was absent. I felt comfortable, safe, and accepted.

“Oh yeah, I understand,” another said.

“Like, my best friend is a lesbian and I just don’t take that. Speaking of which I think Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is incredibly stupid,” she continued.

Despite the fact that I was feeling accepted, I was still awed by what was happening.

Allow me to back up and explain the situation.

Last week, when this discussion began, I was sitting on the floor of the lobby of Virginia Tech’s War Memorial Hall, the recreational sports building, with 7 other women. These women are members of Duke’s women’s club volleyball team—and I can say that I absolutely adore this random assortment (and when I say random assortment, I mean ages ranging from 18 to 26, engineering and public policy majors, Americans and Germans, whatever you could imagine; truly a random assortment) of women brought together by the desire to play a sport they love. And that love of volleyball unites us and we really are a team despite the fact that we’re still getting to know one another.

My experience with volleyball girls from playing volleyball all throughout my middle and high school careers caused me to form some, I suppose, unfair opinions and prejudices against the volleyball playing community as a whole. I expected closed-mindedness and ignorance and to be completely honest I’ve never really felt comfortable within the volleyball community because I was (and am) who I am. In high school, it was a rare occasion to hear anything supportive of homosexuality. Of course, they all weren’t like that, but the majority was. From what I saw, queer women didn’t play volleyball (weren’t softball and basketball the sports?) and I often felt like I was the only one. I actually still believe I’m one of the rare few playing volleyball, but within the Duke community I don’t feel as awkward. No, I’m definitely not comfortable coming out to the team, but I don’t feel as alienated and unwanted as I’ve felt in previous years. The outpouring of acceptance does allow me to feel comfortable with them. Their educated and compassionate discussion of their support of homosexuals—soldiers and others—allowed me a level of comfort I’ve never felt with any other volleyball team I’ve called my own; not my middle school team, not my high school team, and not my club/travel teams.

Perhaps it is a reflection of the Duke community, or perhaps it is a reflection of the real world and the fact that people are naturally more mature and reasonable when older. Of course, that’s not always the case, but whatever the source of this acceptance, I won’t really question it. I’m happy to have such wonderful teammates and consider myself lucky to know them.

ALSO: I'd like to credit this horrendously pun-y title to my friend Chris Clarke. Creative, isn't he?

November 19, 2010

In which I get more serious than I intended

[In addition to all of our awesome visible and identifying columnists, we also have some awesome anonymous columnists that for one reason or another must use a pseudonym (and pseudopic?). Details on anonymous columnists here.]

Well, hello there! My name is Lawrence, and I'm a transman. Lawrence is not a pseudonym (though it's also not my legal name), but as I hope you can tell, this is a pseudopic. I'm not putting a picture up because I'm trying to keep more control of who I am out to, but if you think you know me in person based on what I write, feel free to approach me and ask. I find it emotionally exhausting to tell people, but it's comforting when people know, and if you're the one bringing it up I'll know that any freak-outs have already happened where I won't have to deal with them.

Also, Ping is pretty much The Best. I watched that movie eight thousand times as a kid trying to figure out why Mulan chose to be Mulan when she could have been Ping. (Realising I was trans meant suddenly understanding like 80% of my childhood obsessions. Alanna! Ozma! Mulan! These stories have something in common!)

However, I actually have a specific topic I want to write about today, and it's pretty serious: the goddamn TSA. If you haven't heard about what they're up to these days, Jeffrey Goldberg has a pretty good introduction.

The short version: if you get randomly selected for additional screening, you have a choice between having the TSA use a machine to look at your naked body and take photos of it-- naked photos which are not secure from being saved and leaked-- and having your junk and/or boobs groped. The TSA has been brushing the backs of their hands over boobs for years, but it is now done with the front of the hand, and they have to feel under the breasts, too. Also, they're going to run their hands up your legs until they meet "resistance."

Imagine you're transgendered for a second. Which way would you prefer to be outed? Detailed photographs of your genitals, or a good old-fashioned grope? Remember, if they don't like your naked photo, they can force you to put up with the grope anyway!

I actually plan to opt out of the backscatter machine, and put up with the groping, but it's a complicated decision for me. I've made this choice because this way nobody will actually see my body, and because I hope it will annoy the hell out of the TSA. But then, I do not believe I will be in danger, because everyone will assume I'm a girl anyway. If people actually saw me as a man, I'd... well, I probably wouldn't fly in or out of the U.S. anymore.

The thought of a stranger handling my breasts brings up all my most violent feelings of body-hatred. To be blunt, it makes me want to cut the damn things off, or at least bind for the next thousand years. But binding would probably be "suspicious", and my parents would definitely notice and freak out. So I'm going to wear a damn bra, and let them touch me, and try not to be sick, because I know that the TSA is only doing these invasive pat-downs to bully people into accepting the backscatter imaging devices, and I refuse to be bullied.

It's definitely easier to just let them take your picture. It doesn't feel any different than going through a metal detector, really. It definitely feels less invasive than having someone touch you. But a stranger is still looking at your naked body, and I don't know about you, but I thought I was supposed to have civil liberties protecting me from that.

There is no reason for these machines to exist. There's no proof they would have prevented the attempt that supposedly necessitated them (which, let's remember, failed.) They endanger transgendered fliers by outing them in potentially-hostile environments (Don't think it's dangerous? Four words: Transgender Day of Remembrance.) They also take explicit pictures of children's genitals, which I thought we'd agreed was a Bad Thing.

Opting out of the machine is the best way to bully them back; if enough people do it, the one selling point of the machines-- convenience-- will be negated. So, if you're flying home for Thanksgiving, and you get selected for additional screening... think about opting out.

If I can do it, you can do it. Seriously.

And you thought being gay was hard?

In 1998 a woman named Rita Hester was murdered because she was transgender. Her murder kicked off a memorial project that would eventually become the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), which occurs November 20th of each year.

Part of the TDOR project was the creation of a website dedicated to memorializing individuals who were murdered because they identified as (or were perceived as) transgender or intersex. I recently looked through some of the profiles of the deceased, and I was horrified. From an infant forced to eat glass because it had ambiguous genitalia to an FTM individual who was found in a barrel of hydrochloric acid with electrical cords around his neck, this is the stuff of nightmares.

I'll admit it- I used to feel uncomfortable about the idea of transgendered individuals. It wasn't until recently that I understood and came to sympathize with their struggle. Not only do they enjoy fewer rights than the rest of the LGBTIQ conglomerate, but they also suffer greater prejudice. Even the LGBTIQ community occasionally plays down the "TI." Transfolk have it rough.

LGBTIQ individuals often tell heterosexuals not to take their sexuality for granted. But how often do we take our gender for granted? What if your body was a prison you felt trapped within?

18 years old and I've only ever met one (openly) transgender individual. If you're reading this post and identify as transgender, contact me. I want to become a better ally. Help me out.

Mistakes Were Made (part two)

[In addition to all of our awesome visible and identifying columnists, we also have some awesome anonymous columnists that for one reason or another must use a pseudonym (and pseudopic?). Details on anonymous columnists here.]

Dr. Seuss supposedly said this, and—general consensus being Dr. Seuss is a cool guy, rad art—it’s typically my M.O. regarding openness with strangers, since friendship is definitely a no-go if you can’t deal with it—wholly your cross to bear in that case. I’m not trying to be contentious per se, though it’d be disingenuous to pretend that I don’t get a small thrill from these confessionals. It’s a primary reason I enjoy writing here.

The Seuss aphorism like all aphorisms has exceptions, and I’m unfortunately related to them. So, I introduced my present parental crisis (here) in a fit of frenzy—e.g., taking a 90-degree turn across two lanes into a library parking lot so that I might use their computers to write. (I was so shaken that when the Republican-looking man in the lifted truck that followed me into the parking lot to admonish me for having cut him off, I just kind of whimpered and ran off into the lobby.)

Since July 14 I’ve thought about how I might chronicle this particular drama best; it’s self-therapy more than anything else, and Ken Rogerson, PhD/BFF, once told me that words might have control of me rather than vice versa, and that maybe this could be beautiful and cathartic. I hope so: just trying to conquer rhetorical demons here, and shape my reality around that success.

But so the aftermath of July 14: yes I was kicked out of the house, via “We need some time to consider how we feel about you.” Probably a wise move, the distance, and all-in-all my eight total days in exile were amazingly well-spent, staying with friend after friend—even needlessly moving, to exploit the diversity—speaking frankly with parents-of-friends, and generally being moved by kindness and my good fortune in a way that makes me well up nasolacrimally if I really think about it.

I went first to the home of my former girlfriend and current best friend—interesting only in that we broke up the prior summer due to my falling in love her male friend who was into both of us. My handling and subsequent discussion of the situation was totally callous and uncool, inconsiderate of the discretion it deserved. Yeah so I fucked that one up majorly and she still retains the ability to offer me more genuine kindness in a single phone call than I’ve probably mustered up in my entire life. As I said before, I’m not The Nicest (;)), not characteristically. She also had a distinct understandability advantage, being one of my few friends who has debated my mother on things religious and ideological without exiting in tears.

She dropped me off at home after day eight to either A) see if the coast was clear and leave a note and get more exile supplies, search for my computer, raid the liquor cabinet, etc or B) send me into the most frightening conversation of my life, if they happened to be home, and potentially offer me a getaway vehicle.

Scenario B did not transform into a story of love's transcendent power to render everything else subordinate, and my religious conservative parents were not bowled over with empathy by my emotive story-telling abilities and demonstration of prodigious friendship. In fact, it was painfully pragmatic. Like:

“The worst of all is that you don’t seem to care what God thinks.”


You’re right I don’t. FUCK! Did not see this topic surfacing. I never came out to my parents, I was outed. Thus, I did not know what it was to exit the metaphysical closet until that moment when, sitting in front of untouched smoked salmon, I had to confess my unbelief. Throughout high school, I acquiesced to church. I still do. I go, and I enjoy the iced tea they serve in the foyer afterward, and I like the SOP of going out to lunch with friends-of-parents after services and being peppered with questions about college and traveling the world and showing how like, smart and personable I am, in a way that just maybe tempers the version of me they hear about in prayer groups, where my name is brought up in narratives concerning getting caught having sex (with girls, formerly) or smoking pot or something. Yeah so, nope. No bitterness present whatsoever. My feelings toward religion, and fundamental Christianity—an unusual situation that I accidentally walked into myself, rather than being raised in—are for another time.

“But I just can't believe how totally immoral—”

“—I don’t care about morals!"


"…well I mean, I only care about ethics."

This is something I do believe, something important to me. Morals are the stuff of convention and inevitably have a social element that is too relative and fickle and ungrounded on any solid principle so just no, no thank you, I am proudly amoral. Ethics, better. I try to be ethical, to not cheat/steal/lie. It’s not complicated, or philosophical even. I’m really just trying to be a good person. Not sure where drinking or smoking or sex fits into that equation, but I'm almost positive it doesn't.

And then cue some argument about my trying to intellectualize my way out of answering real questions, and deigning to condescension in the meantime and this is the part where I tend to get a bit weepy inside and try to telekinetically crush my internal organs because I know that it’s true and I know I internally resent that my parents are uninterested in literature and art and philosophy and music, and I know that the way this manifests is that I am sometimes just downright mean to them. Doesn’t fit so well in my plan of being a good person.

My father at one point during the Talk remarked that revoking DADT was unethical, and that gay couples should not be able to adopt. I lamely refuted both charges—apparently proof that I’m "buying into their agenda" and that secular college was just maybe not so good an idea after all, should've taken the full-ride to TCU—but by this point all the fight in me was gone and I was just enduring. Sort of the pitiful awkward and strangely physical feeling one gets sitting in a small discussion class stoned while the teacher persistently continues to fail at inciting discussion. Anyhow, the political issues seemed immaterial in my current state, and I was less interested in gay agendizing (?) than whether or not I'd be allowed to sleep at home that night—ultimately, it would be one of the few I did spend at home all summer.


Eric Fürst

November 18, 2010

The 20 Ways in Which I am Not Stereotypically Gay

Let’s face it; there are a lot of stereotypes of gay men. Some of them are good and some of them are bad, but all of them are damaging in that they attempt to tell gay men how they should behave and enable society to marginalize the diversity of the gay community, so I figured that I’d write up a quick list of all the ways in which I am not stereotypically gay. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with conforming to stereotypes concerning gay men--seriously, there's not just look at the picture of me above--it’s just that the stereotypes of gay men that are culturally enforced portray an image of the gay community that is not necessarily genuine or reflective of who we are.

So, without further ado, here is my list:

1. I enjoy nature, and not just because it’s hip to be a hiker, but more because of an intrinsic love for it. Which leads me to the next thing;

2. I am not scared of bugs: as a matter of fact, I think that they’re both fascinating and kind of cute if anything.

3. I am Southern: according to some people who are from north of the Mason-Dixon line, the existence of gay southerners is shocking.

4. I loathe shopping: When I go to the mall—which I did for the first time in a year yesterday—I get in, get what I need, and get out. Racks of clothes sort of bore me.

5. I do not own a pair of pants or jeans that cost more than $50: Well, correction, I do own a pair of French jeans that cost $155, but I got them for free, and I never turn down free things

6. I am not promiscuous: While I’ve made a mistake or two in my life, I refuse to dissociate physical affection from interpersonal/emotional affection, and consequently, I’m like Kelly Clarkson, “oh, oh, I do not hook up, up, I go slow.”

7. I like music other than pop, indie, and electronica: this includes but is not limited to, bluegrass, Johnny Cash, hip-hop, opera (which I guess is pretty stereotypically gay), and Elvis.

8. Clubbing is not my raison d’etre: I would much prefer to watch a movie and cuddle.

9. I do not watch Glee, have never seen Wicked, and think that Gossip Girl is kind of a waste of time.

10. I don’t like getting drunk really.

11. I get my haircut at Great Clips.

12. I’m not scared of vaginas. After all, that is where we all came from isn’t it?

13. I’m not superficial, and if you think otherwise, we should have a serious conversation.

14. I don’t like to gossip: it’s not nice to talk about people behind their back.

15. I love power-tools and construction work.

16. My dream is not necessarily to live in New York City or San Francisco; I like the South just fine, and I’d also be fine with a village in Burma.

17. I’ve never tanned in my life, because I don’t like the idea of melanoma.

18. I value the idea of family and family structure. I aspire to be a father, to have a husband, and to someday have grandchildren.

19. I don’t mind getting dirty; not in the Christina Aguilera sense of the term, but in the I-have-mud-on-my-face-and-my-leg-is-covered-in-grass-stains sense of the term.

20. I really like Mormons. Some of my best friends in high school were Mormon and I find their spirituality and commitment to principle inspiring.

So those are my top twenty. I’d love to hear some other people’s.

Also, be on the lookout for my next post, "THE 20 WAYS IN WHICH I AM STEREOTYPICALLY GAY"

November 17, 2010

The Whole Truth

I find it disheartening to write about problems to which I feel there is no real fix, but this blog is "Our Lives," right?

As much as I'd love to say that I'm open with everyone, that I'm completely confident in being my full self all of the time, and that I never have reservations in disclosing my sexuality, it's not true. I have a closet. It may only exist for fifty minutes out of the week, but it's there.

I spent my last two summers living in Russia on exchange. Why did I choose it? I felt the need to experience a new part of the world, and this program was without cost to me. It was my first time out of America (and flying, for that matter). Russia is far behind in terms of acceptance, so, for convenience and for safety (at our pre-departure orientations, the program advised against coming out to Russians: "No matter the bond you've built with your host family, they'll probably just kick you out."), I was only open with my American peers.

Ironically, I had my first relationship (with a fellow American) this summer abroad, but that's a story for another day.

Enter Russian class, Duke University.

"Do you want to get married?"

My response: "No."

Yes, of course I want to get married someday. I can't bring myself to tell my teacher that, though. In class, we learned two different expressions in Russian for the English phrase "to get married." There is one for those who marry women, and one for those who marry men. His question and my response both contained the "marrying a woman" verb. It isn't exactly a lie. I don't want to marry a woman. However, it's not the whole truth.

The follow-up: "Why not?"

"I like being alone."

A complete lie. It was all I could come up with in Russian on impulse, and I hate that I said it.

Maybe I'm not giving him a fair chance, but I feel that the classroom setting is neither the time nor place to speak out on this issue. Furthermore, I actually slipped up once and made the mistake of answering, "I am not married" using the participle form of the "marrying a man" verb. My teacher quickly corrected me, laughing, waving his hands, and stressing the importance "watching word choice" in that situation. "You don't want people to think . . . you know . . ."

It isn't like I want to strengthen the bond between my teacher and me. I just hate that I feel the need to keep the whole truth inside.

Like I said, I don't know if there is an immediate fix to this. For now, it's simply an annoyance. At least I'm an optimist. After all, times are changing. Look at how far we've come.

Let's Queer Up

[In addition to all of our awesome visible and identifying columnists, we also have some awesome anonymous columnists that for one reason or another must use a pseudonym (and pseudopic?). Details on anonymous columnists here.]

If you had a chance to wander around campus yesterday morning, you may have noticed a new addition to the ext
ensive expanse of event and party flyering that regularly papers Duke. All over campus, "Got Privilege?" and "Heterosexual Privilege Checklist" flyers have sprung up, covering advertising boards, academic buildings, bathroom stalls, and bus stops (rumor has it that James B. Duke himself was found adorned with an appropriately pointed "Got Privilege?" sign).

Let me just throw out there right now that I think that this is awesome. This kind of action addresses one of the most insidious ways in which our society (including Duke), silences LGBTQ experiences. Through the perpetuation of an implicitly accepted hierarchy of worth, we have become desensitized to all the little things that tell LGBTQ persons every day that their experiences are "other" or invalid. For example, I can count the number of times I have seen an LGBTQ couple showing affection in public on campus on my two hands. However, when I walk around campus I am bombarded by heterosexual displays of affection everyday, to the point that I don't notice if a heterosexual couple is holding hands or kissing in public. But if an LGBTQ couple were doing that? You bet I'd notice! I think it's safe to say that most of us would. LGBTQ love still exists within a theoretical, rights-based understanding ("I'm not homophobic! You can be gay, just don't be gay in front of me,"). We have yet to embrace, as a society, a space wherein LGBTQ experiences are given just as much credence as straight (or cis-gendered) ones.

And that's completely normative bullshit.

The flyering campaign seems to be especially relevant in light of an upcoming event that is specifically aimed at addressing these pervasive issues of privilege. Today, from 12pm-3pm on the Duke Plaza, there will be a flash hand-holding/PDA mob, wherein participants (gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, etc) will hold hands with/cuddle/make-out with a same-sex partner. There will be no posters, no flyers explaining what we are doing. But just by being there, publicly displaying same-sex affection, we will be pushing our peers' boundaries and their perceptions of what is and is not "normal" to see.

If you too can count on two hands the number of times you have seen LGBTQ couples who feel comfortable and safe enough to display affection on the Plaza, Main Quad, in the dorms, at the bus stop, etc., then imagine how affirming seeing tons of same-sex affection (between men and gender-nonconforming individuals as well as women) would be. Now stop imagining that reality and come take action. It is up to us to push our peers to confront the crap that is the status quo. It's time for us to queer up.

Facebook event for the hand-holding/PDA flashmob here.