December 30, 2010

LGBTQ Female Role Models: Susan Stryker


I recently just finished reading a great book callled, "Transgender History" by Susan Stryker, after it was recommended to me by Jack and Jess McDonald this summer. I was really impressed by Stryker's work and wanted to highlight her accomplishments here on the blog.

Susan Stryker is an openly transgender woman who has worked diligently to advance the transgender equality movement in America as a transgender historian. She recieved her Ph.D. in United States History at the University of California, Berkeley.

Stryker is a community-based historian, and she makes media and works to develop her community's history as a form of activism for the trans movement. Between 1997 and 2003 she worked as the Executive Director of the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco, which works to preserve and further ongoing research in LGBTQ studies in one of the largest collections of queer history in the nation. She also is a vocal feminist, noting that as someone who previously presented to society as a white male, she has a "good yardstick" for measuring misogyny and sexism.

When I was reading "Transgender History" by Stryker this past month, I realized that San Francisco actually has a really rich trans history. In addition to the Compton Cafeteria Riots (see below!) and housing one of the best LGBTQ historical collections, San Francisco is also home to the country's first transgender activist group, "Transgender Nation", founded in SanFran. in 1992. The
organization worked successfully to begin integrating transgender concerns into the larger movement for LGBTQ equality. One of the activist demonstrations that TN was best known for was it's 1993 protest of the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, in which the group rallied against the APA's diagnosis of the transgender identity as disordered (GID).

In addition to publishing "Transgender History" and many other works on transgender history, Stryker also co-directed the documentary, "Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria". (You can also find an Amazon trailer to the documentary that is a pretty good summary of it, here.) Here's an excerpt from the documentary below (there are some other great vintage footage portions on Youtube, too!)
"What happened at Compton's Cafteria that night wasn't a 'catfight' between screaming queens-it was a riot, and it kicked off a new human rights movement."

The documentary "Screaming Queens" covers the 1966 Compton Cafeteria Riots, which until this book (Transgender History) and this documentary, I knew very little about. It turns out that Stryker hadn't heard of the riots either, until she uncovered a vintage publication about them in the San Francisco GLBT historical society warehouses. The story goes that Gene Compton's cafeteria (at the corner of Turk and Taylor street) was a safe-haven in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco for transgender individuals (as well as other LGBQ individuals), and it was open 24/7.
"It was beautiful. Everybody would just die for window seats [at Compton's], just to show off. Jehovah's Witnesses used to drag crosses in the street in front of Compton's, and tell us we were going to burn in hell, but we ignored them. Compton's was fabulous. It was like Oz. Something like The Wizard of Oz."
The Tenderloin district of San Francisco had a police department that was allegedly paid off in order to keep the area open to prostitution and drug hustling, . The transgender and drag communities were eventually forced to the Tenderloin simply because restaurants, beauty shops, bars, and the hotels, etc. in other areas of the city wouldn't serve transgender people. The Tenderloin (and specifically, Turk Street), became known as "the gay ghetto", home to drag Balls and a larger transgender community. Not withstanding, the police could take transgender individuals as any time to jail for "female impersonation", and oftentimes they would:
"The first night I was in San Francisco I was arrested for 'sidewalk obstruction' by the 'tax squad', which was a police squad that generally made life unpleasant for people who didn't fit in. Later, I was arressted for 'female impersonation'. I never felt that I was impersonating female, I thought, I am a female!"
And while the Tenderloin was safer than other areas of San Francisco for transgender and queer individuals, it wasn't completely free of violence; there was once a serial kiler in the district who specifically targeted transgender individuals. The "Camelot" haven of the Gene Compton cafeteria didn't last forever either. When a new political activist group (composed of
many transgender individuals) named "Vanguard" started meeting at the restaurant, Compton's eventually started kicking them out. Nevertheless, Vanguard members picketed Compton's due to the discrimination they felt, which upset the Compton cafeteria management even further.

One night (the date is uncertain, but it is believed to be August 9th, 1966) the San.Fran. police department raided the cafeteria (presumably after conversations with the Compton management). Fighting started when a policeman grabbed one of the drag queens, and she threw coffee in his face. All hell broke loose after that, "triggering years of resentment", and "all the sugar shakers went through the windows and the glass doors." Police called for more backup as the fighting continued, and eventually a police car and a local newsstand were set on fire. (Business at Compton's never recovered, and a porn shop took it's place a few years later.) After the riot, police officer (and director of Community Relations), Elliot Blackstone pioneered services and helped to overturn many anti-transgender laws, thus improving conditions for the transgender community in San Francisco. Many transgender individuals at the riots also noted the marked change in the community:
"Out of Compton's [riots] came some very beautiful, beautiful women. We felt good about ourselves. And that's the most interesting part of it, because once you feel good about yourself, nobody can hurt you. Nobody can come in and turn anything around that you don't want."
Through her research, Stryker found that while the Stonewall Riots of June 28th, 1969 are typically cited as the birthplace of the modern LGBTQ rights movement, the Compton Cafeteria Riots were actually one of the first radical acts against police and institutional trans/homophobia in America. Stryker's work was instrumental in sheding light to this important and watershed event in our LGBTQ history (and if you notice on the Wiki page, Stryker is the primary reference of the entire account). She interviewed people in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco who she believed might have been present at the event, and collected first-hand knowledge of the riots through interviews and personal accounts.


Thus, we have Stryker to thank for uncovering an incredible part of our community's history; "the story was bigger than I could have ever imagined", she says of the night. Stryker also said that researching the riots made her feel the presence of a larger transgender and drag community; I think it's awesome that we can look to this group of empowered individuals in our community as a source of courage and strength.

December 29, 2010

Mom, We Need To Talk...


Well, it's been about two hours since I've been back in Columbus, GA and I've already cried twice.

That's how I was going to start this blog post. I was then going to proceed to tell you all about why I was crying and how upset I was about being home and not being accepted by mom. I was going to rant about how I would never be the perfect son she wanted me to be but how I would do anything I could to make her happy. All in all, it was going to be one of my sadder posts. But, I never really finished it. I kept thinking of new details to add or take away and I just never got around to posting it. Now, I'm glad I did.

In the post, I was going to talk about how my mom refuses to accept that I'm gay or even talk about it. I was going to cry about not having a good relationship with her. But, after a week of being here, I've picked up on something my mom keeps asking me:

"Baby, are you happy?"- mom asks me.

"Yeah, I am."- I reply puzzled.

"Are you sure? Because you know that all mommy wants for you is to be happy. You know that right?"- she says kinda awkwardly.

"Yes, ma'am."- In my head I'm thinking, what you talking about momma?! (anyone get the reference?)

"Good, because as long as you're happy, that's all I care about. Do you understand?"- she replies with a smile.

"Yes, ma'am."- I say still confused and baffled but maybe getting a sense of what she's hinting at.

Well, I didn't really catch on the first time she said it, but she's repeated it to me several times. Now, I'm not gonna jump for joy over this. She still hasn't said the g-word (gay) or even hinted at my sexuality. So I'm not entirely sure if that's what she's alluding to or just speaking generally. Either way, I feel like it's a step in the right direction for her. It's a long way from the "You're gonna burn in hell" and "Don't go near your little cousins" speeches. In fact, now she urges me to go hang out with them since I only see them once a year. But it did get me to thinking, what if the reason my mom and I don't have a good relationship anymore is because I've been pushing her away from trying to fix it.

I pride myself on being a very open person. I'll tell you just about anything if you ask me. If I feel I can trust a person, I'll open up to them in a matter of minutes (maybe not the best thing to do but that's how I roll). But with my mom, it's so totally different. I clam up talking about anything with her because I feel she won't understand or will rush to judgment. I don't tell her much about my friends (she's always been critical of my friend choices). I don't tell her much about my fraternity ("Why would you join a white fraternity? Do you think you're too good for a black one?"). I definitely don't tell her anything about my sexual life or even the fact that I'm somewhat active in the gay community. The only thing I do tell her about is Rhythm and Blue, my a cappella group. But even that gets some scrutiny from her ("Are you sure that singing group isn't taking up too much of your time?"). So, I basically tiptoe around all subjects in my life creating a very one-sided relationship where I know everything about her life and she knows nothing about mine.

Do I feel bad about it? Yeah, I do. But when everything that is important to me seems distracting to her, I just don't feel comfortable talking about it. Well, at least I used to. But now, things are changing. She's asking more about my college life and not being so judgmental and scrutinizing every little detail. And so I have started to open up to her more except for in one area.

Yeah, being gay, obviously. I want to tell her about the awesome LGBT friends I have. I want to rant to her about this guy I'm practically in love with even though we've only really hung out once. I want to cry to her about the past guys that have broken my heart. I want to tell her that I'm happy, truly happy. I'm enjoying life and having fun. I want to show her that being gay hasn't hindered my life or made it worse like she thought it would. In fact, it's opened up so many doors to so many amazing people and adventures. Most of all, I want to finally come out to my family but I need her support to do that. But I can't talk to her about this yet. I feel like she's still not ready. I don't want to push her to talk about something she's not ready to talk about.

But, I think she's getting there. She's slowly making her way to the point where she's ready to talk about it. So far, she's still at the awkward asking of "So... are there any... boys, I mean, young men you're interested in?". At one point, I tried to use this as my chance to go a little further with her by telling her about a guy but she hurriedly retreated back to her usual "Are you sure there aren't any girls you like? Maybe you just haven't found the right one." So, I just let it drop. She hasn't asked me that in a while. Next time, I'll try again.

For now, I'll bide my time. It seems like she's making progress. Slow, minimal progress but it's progress nonetheless. I'd love any advice on how to deal with this or maybe speed up the process a little (jk, but actually). I want both of us to be ready to have these conversations but what do I do now that I am, but she's not?

December 25, 2010

In which I have a lot of wine at Christmas


[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 not their full name (and pseudopic?). Details on anonymous columnists here.]

Merry Christmas, folks!

Transgender Day of Remembrance was a while ago now, but I've found myself almost haunted by a question someone asked. I attended a reading of Gender Outlaw at the Regulator, and a woman in the audience said, "I want to raise my children to be gender neutral, but what do I say if my son asks for a Barbie?"

At first, I thought she was objecting to Barbie on feminist grounds, and I found it a really interesting question-- should you allow your sons access to toxic marketed images of femininity that you wouldn't give to your daughters?-- but then it turned out she didn't actually have a problem with Barbie. She had a problem with boys playing with girl toys. She didn't want her son to be picked on by other kids, she said; wouldn't it be better to teach him to fit in?

I have kind of a lot of problems with this.

First, I really object to the idea that a child's gender is readily apparent. Mine wasn't. How do you know it's your son asking for a Barbie? If it's your daughter, you're only going to break her heart if you deny her gender expression just so she can fit in with the "other" boys. This was my girlfriend's experience, and it caused her a lot of pain for years.

I lucked out a bit due to another flawed assumption-- the idea that "male" is somehow "gender neutral." It's way more okay for a girl (or, in my case, a "girl") to act boyish than the other way around (good ol' sexism!). So, if your goal is to give your kids a gender-free environment but you ban Barbies for the boys... you have epically failed to understand gender. Honestly, if you banned Barbies for girls, you'd still be failing at "gender neutral."

But I think the most difficult thing for me to swallow was the idea that, somehow, if the rest of the world is going to disapprove of your kid, it would help if you disapproved, too. This is the argument my mother still uses when she tries to convince my brother and I to stop dating people of the same (or in my case, "same") gender. She claims to have no problem with gay people, but wants us to be straight to make our lives easier.

Maybe it's just wishful thinking, but I've always felt that I could deal with everybody else in the world with no problem if I knew I could count on supportive parents at home. I would almost certainly be going as Lawrence in class by now, for example. No problem is easier to overcome if you think your parents can't accept who you are as a person.

I'm actually a little intimidated by the prospect of ever having children, just because childhood is so full of gender policing, and I couldn't possibly protect my children from all of it. I can't bear the thought of the kids on the playground picking on my child for liking Barbie. I might go on a one-man crusade and talk to all those kids' parents. I might just give my kid a lot of pep talks about how some people are terrible. I would probably spend a lot of my time very worried. But I would still give my kid the Barbie. For me, that would never be in question.

And, you know, I don't give my mom a lot of credit for tolerance (largely because she remains "devastated" that I like girls, six years later) but she was pretty good about letting me just be myself. And this today we had a conversation that gave me hope (for the first time ever) that when I finally tell her I'm trans, maybe I won't have to be estranged from my whole family.

I usually get some nice new clothes for Christmas. Usually it's fancy dresses, shoes, or maybe a really stylish coat. Always in hyper-feminine prints and colors. This year, it was pajamas and some nice shirts from J Crew. Two or three of them had a few ruffles but they were all in earth tones, and they were probably the least-feminine clothes my mom had ever bought me.

"I noticed you were sort of dressing more neutral," she said, "so I tried to do that."

I didn't even care that she was conflating "masculine" with "neutral." I was just so, so happy. I'm pretty sure this is the first time my mom has had anything nice to say about my unfeminine tendencies. Usually it's a constant stream of criticism because I don't shave, she liked my hair better when it was long, I should wear earrings or my piercings will close, etc. But this time... when I mentioned that the ruffles were maybe too much, she said we could go exchange them tomorrow for something I'd like better.

And then, she asked if I had dress pants for an upcoming fancy dinner; I told her I'd outgrown my last pair, and said that I was just planning to wear a dress. I groaned when I said it, but I'm not sure I needed to. She immediately dismissed the idea of wearing a dress and insisted that we'd get dress pants. This is a huge turnaround from this summer, when she nagged me into waxing my legs specifically so I could wear dresses.

And you know-- it really does make a difference in how I feel about tackling the rest of the world. So I'm only more convinced that no matter what kind of consequences it has everywhere else, parents have to resist gender-policing.

As always, I'm just chitchatting about what's on my mind to get a conversation started. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them here or email me at lawrenceevalyn (at) gmail (dot) com. I'd especially love to hear from other gender-non-conforming folks to hear your point of view. Come on, queer up my break for me!

December 22, 2010

Anonymous Posts (12.13.10-12.19.10)


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 :)

These are superlate, y'all. Sorry about that, but I've literally been sleeping since my Architecture final on Sunday night. I may or may not have ended the semester with three straight all-nighters #greatdecisions. But I'm home now, and it is glorious. I can, like, get hungry at 2am and not have to decide whether I want McDonald's again that day (on a related note, Chocolate Cheerios are much better than one would expect).

Obama signed The DADT Repeal Act this morning, four days after it passed the Senate. You already know this from your News Feed, but John McCain was just The Worst. It was almost a little sad to see him acquiesce that he had lost. JK. IN YO FACE, MCCAIN. IN YO FACE. This is probably the most LOL moment from last week, though:


Hahaha. Totally.

As far as The Blog goes for break, not much has changed since last year (just change "124" to "394"). The bottom line is that things'll be slower these next coupla weeks (we will be with our families and Aris) and We should use this time to catch up on any columns we missed because we were taking some atrociously heinous class on Steel. I tried to make the sidebar as conducive to browsing old posts as possible - let me know if you have any suggestions!

Aaaaaand anonymous posts for the week, yo. Sorry again for the delay. I'm sure Alec'll make me feel amply guilty.

#1
I'm not sure if anyone else has run into this issue, but I am having a heck of a time finding someone who is interested in monogamy. This is not to say that i have any issues with others being non-monogamous, but as someone who is interested in being in an exclusive relationship... it's getting a little frustrating. I've gotten a couple (repeated) responses so far to this concern:
- "you really should try being non-monogamous"
and
-"It's college. people don't want to just date one person at a time. That comes later"

...??

#2
“You are not your bra-size, nor are you the width of your waist, nor are you the slenderness of your calves. You are not your hair color, your skin color, nor are you a shade of lipstick. Your shoe-size is of no consequence. You are not defined by the amount of attention you get from males, females, or any combination thereof. You are not the number of sit-ups you can do, nor are you the number of calories in a day. You are not your mustache. You are not the hair on your legs. You are not a little red dress. You are no amalgam of these things.

You are the content of your character. You are the ambitions that drive you. You are the goals that you set. You are the things that you laugh at and the words that you say. You are the thoughts you think and the things you wonder. You are beautiful and desirable not for the clique you attend, but for the spark of life within you that compels you to make your life a full and meaningful one. You are beautiful not for the shape of the vessel, but for the volume of the soul it carries.”

#3
i'm really thankful for this blog. it keeps me thinking and hopeful.

that's all i have to say :)

#4
Why do LGB people not put "interested in" on Facebook? It seems like a common thread in most out people at Duke... they're active at the Center, have no problem living openly, but don't reflect that on Facebook. Is it a "I don't like labels" thing? Because it's not really a label, it's just who you're romantically interested in. Men? Women? Both? Put something! I know some people don't feel like that's pertinent information to put online, but that's the point of Facebook. You have the opportunity to portray yourself in the public square, in the manner you choose. Putting nothing just makes you look asexual in my opinion.

December 21, 2010

LGBTQ Female Role Models: Shamim Sarif


Born in 1969 in England, Shamim Sarif is a current writer and filmmaker. She has received numerous awards on her works as both an author and as a screenwriter and film director ("Best Director" at the South African Film Festival, World Cinema Best Director), and more informally she won an AfterEllen.com 2008 Visiblity Award as the "International Lesbian/Bisexual Woman of the Year". Another fun fact: her and her partner, Hannan Kattan, formed their own entertainment production company called "Enlightenment Productions". This is remeniscent of queer women creating their own spaces when the current system just doesn't cut it, such as Joan Jett from two weeks ago, who formed her own recording label-and was the first woman to ever do so.

Sarif's first film and novel, The World Unseen, is a story set in Cape Town, South Africa at the beginning of apartheid in the 1950s. Sarif herself has a personal connection to South Africa, as both her parents and grandparents were born and lived there. The story surronds two Indian South African women who work against the racism, sexism, homophobia and political tensions that they encounter in their lives.

The World Unseen (2008 release)



Sarif has also released I Can't Think Straight, as a film and novel, which is a modern-day story of two women in London who navigate family and cultural prescriptions about sexuality. If you watch the two trailers, you'll notice that Sarif uses the same actresses, Lisa Ray and Sheetal Sheth in both films, which is sort of an interesting and unique connection between the two films.

I personally really admire Shamim Sarif for making films of substance about LGBTQ women, especially regarding policital/cultural themes. As an openly lesbian herself, Sarif is a role model for visibility in addition to her accomplishments as a filmmaker and author. I've also seen both these movies, and I think I'd definitely rank them both in the top 10 LGBTQ women's films that I've seen, so if you have any free time over break, definitely check them out!

And lastly, if you like these films/novels, Sarif actually has more LGBTQ women's movies in the making: her second novel "Despite the Falling Snow" is being filmed now, and is a lesbian story set in Cold War Stalinist Moscow. I'm personally impressed by the initiative in which Sarif has decided to use her talent as an author and director to advance LGBTQ women's visibility, and I hope other openly LGBTQ women and their allies are motivated by her films and openness.

I Can't Think Straight (2008 Release)

December 19, 2010


More Than a Little Sobering: (from The Advocate) Sorry to get superserious, because I know today has been all about #DADT and #!, but this is a, uh, pretty compelling video. This is a reminder that We've got a lot of work still ahead of Us, y'all - there are no days off. There was a frenzy of support when these suicides occurred a couple months ago, let's not forget about them. [Rant on the tendency for the Movement to treat issues like fads deleted for now.]


So obviously the school and admin really screwed up here. But would a reprimand have solved things? Even a little? Would it have maybe even made things worse? What's the most effective and realistic way of combatting bullying in schools?

December 18, 2010

In which it gets complicated


[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 not their full name (and pseudopic?). Details on anonymous columnists here.]

It's still Friday night, right? It's not Saturday morning until the sun rises.

I feel like "it's complicated" has been my mantra ever since I started questioning my gender. Today I want to untangle my identity a little, but I want to be clear that all this is only true for me, personally. I make no statements, or even guesses, as to how other transgendered folks relate to these things.

So, I guess I think of myself as having three selves. There's me, which is whoever I am when I'm completely alone, and then there are the slightly-processed versions of myself that I allow to be seen in public. I don't want to make it sound like these are totally different identities-- I think it's pretty normal to have a private-self and a public-self. You know, like, maybe your private-self likes to eat peanut butter out of the jar with your fingers, and thinks your boss is ugly. But your public self doesn't show this side of you to the world. Normal! Right?

Except for me It Gets Complicated, because right now I have me, my girl-public-self (whom I shall call Lavinia), and my boy-public-self (Lawrence). Lawrence is basically me, plus underpants, and minus nose-picking. Lavinia, though-- hoo boy, is Lavinia something else!

Lavinia is the perfect daughter my mother always wanted, plus all the coping mechanisms required to get me to go along with the act. Lavinia is high femme, and totally straight. She has an incredible work ethic. She's unfailingly polite. She's ambitious.

But in order to be that person I could never let myself make any close friends. It required momentum to keep Lavinia going; it broke my heart every time I had to put Lavinia back on after leaving a friend; I couldn't imagine going through the world as anyone other than Lavinia; clearly, the friend had to go.

Lavinia got a little tainted by my misery. She was a snob and a cynic and kind of a bitch. She was very aggressive and not very empathetic. She was so, so self-absorbed. I didn't like Lavinia, which only made her more unlikeable.

In a particularly tough period of my life, I tried to kill Lavinia. They made me stay in the hospital for a week. This was, as you may imagine, a bit of a wake-up call. I decided that I didn't care if I had no idea how to live without the facade, I obviously couldn't live with it, and I gave myself permission to find out what was underneath.

I am afraid I became an even more unbearable person at this point, as I removed all my self-censoring instincts and thus spewed my drama onto any and all unsuspecting passerby. I quit and re-joined all kinds of groups and projects, and changed majors every week. I flirted mercilessly with a cute girl and never called her back. I ate three gigantic ice cream sandwiches in a row one night, and skipped class to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender.

But gradually-- so, so gradually!-- I began to put myself together, and make myself presentable to society again. And I found out that I don't really care about making money, that I don't like to be in charge, that I do care about social justice -- and, oh yeah, I found out that I'm a guy. Surprise!

I am working hard to put Lavinia behind me, and to become a better, happier, truer person. A lot of this doesn't really have to do with transitioning at all -- though I don't think I could have gotten so carried away with the facade if I hadn't been so deep in denial about my gender.

It's not so bad, really, pretending to be Lavinia, now that I know that's what I'm doing. She's less of a bitch now that I'm less miserable. And hey, that work ethic is great!

But the rapid switching I have to do on campus causes its own stress. I have to be on the watch for people who "don't know," and if just one shows up I have to immediately switch to Lavinia. When they leave, I try to work her off again, but it's a slow process, and there are a lot of people on campus who know Lavinia. This is why, if I introduce myself as Lawrence to someone, I refuse to tell them my legal name (which is not Lavinia) -- they can't expect a facade they don't know.

I do have to "put on" Lawrence as well, but mostly this involves consciously rejecting Lavinia. I don't think I'd notice changing my gestures, voice, posture, etc. if I didn't have to change them from something radically different, several times a day, at a moment's notice. And, well, I have to put on pants to go out in public, too. So I don't worry too much right now.

But anyway, that's why I don't really feel a connection to my former, girly self. I am kind of the most effeminate guy in the universe, but Lavinia never got to have fun with her gender expression; all the terribly stereotypical love for fashion, Lady Gaga, and camp-- that's all me, and I'm Lawrence. The more baby steps I am able to take towards transition, the more I feel... congruent. And Lavinia has nothing to do with it.

December 16, 2010

An Ode to Mom

So this week, I had a very significant anniversary. It was my three-year anniversary of coming out to my parents, which in my life—and in many of my LGBT friends’ lives—marks one of the single most significant moments in my life. It was the moment when I committed to never hiding who I was again. It was the moment when I began to start the process of becoming a whole person.

I call it my “Gayday.” It’s like my birthday, but for me it’s so much more significant. After all, on my birthday, most of the work was left to my mom; on my Gayday, I did all of the work.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. For me, my Gayday was the culmination of years of work, of self-discovery, and of building courage, but for my parents, it was only the beginning of all of the work that they had to do. My parents had to begin to do the work of understanding what it would be like to live with a gay son, which is no small task.

So at any rate, yesterday, December 15th, was my Gayday.

That makes me three-years-old, and with all of the profound insight of a three-year-old, I’d like to take some time to reflect on the one person who is most important to every three-year-old: my mom.

I’ll never forget how my mom reacted on the night I came out. After watching a Goosebumps marathon on Nickelodeon and feeling nostalgic as all hell, I decided that, for whatever reason, that was the night I was going to come out. I was just going to do it. I was just going to march downstairs and tell them. First I called my best friend Paige to make sure that she was on call in case things went badly and I needed a pick-up, and I called my brother to let him know that I was finally going to do it. For whatever reason, I couldn’t seem to find my parents in the same room that night. So I spent a few minutes wandering around the house trying to see if they’d naturally settle in the same place; when it became abundantly clear that they wouldn’t, I just asked them both to come downstairs, “I just have something I want to talk to you about.”

“What’s wrong sweetie?” asked my mom.

“Nothing, I just want to talk, that’s all.”

So now my mother and my father are standing across the island in our kitchen, we’re all standing up, and I jump in.

“There’s not really a way to preface this, so I’m just going to say it…Mom, Dad, I’m gay.” The words dropped to the floor, and my father let them crash and shatter at his feet, but my mom swooped down, caught them, and cradled them gently in her arms.

My mother’s reaction was remarkable. All she did was ask questions, as if it was a new hobby that I was picking up and she was curious. She asked things like “how long have you known?” and “who else knows?”—you know—basic sorts of things.

My father didn’t react quite as positively, but that is a post for another day, and rest assured, it’s a story that ends well. But for the moment, fast-forward a few minutes and I’m out the door. I wasn’t running away for good: I just needed some space. So I went to Paige’s house, drank hot cocoa, and cried for all that I thought I had lost.

My mom called at around 9:00 and only wanted to know if I was safe, and if she could pick me up. I said that she could and that I had never planned to run away forever. She said that she knew and that she understood.

When we got home, we sat down on our favorite couch, she held my hand, I leaned on her shoulder, and we talked until 2 am in front of our fireplace. I have never felt more loved by my mother than at that moment, when she sat there holding me, and telling me all the things that I needed to hear. She told me that my father would come around, that he just needed some time. She told me that she loved me no matter what, and that I was her son and nothing could take that away. She told me that she was amazed by my bravery, by my courage to be myself. She told me that she had had a sneaking suspicion that I was gay since I was 4, and that she had even talked to a therapist about what to do if her son was gay. She told me that her only worry, her only concern, was that I wouldn’t be able to live the life that she had always wanted for me—a life free of discrimination, free of hurt, and free of the prejudice of others. In the midst of everything that she could have focused on, she only focused on me. All she wanted was for me to be happy regardless of my sexual orientation. On a sillier note, she also made me pinky-promise that I wouldn’t get HIV, which I assured her wasn’t even a concern given my current lack of a dating life at the time.

And I told her a few things. I told her that she should still expect a beautiful marriage, that she should expect to meet my boyfriends as they came, and that she should still expect grandchildren—beautiful, adopted, wonderful grandchildren.

From that point on my mother has been my pillar. It was her who supported me when I began to get involved with my high school’s GSA, and it was her who claimed me as her son when I came out to 2,000 Methodist church leaders at the NC Methodist Annual Conference. It was her who lent me a shoulder to cry on when I faced the pain of religious marginalization, and it was her who was the first to congratulate me on a successful youth march at the NC Pride Parade or a great meeting of the Triangle GSA Council.

So to all mothers out there who support their gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender children, know that you are our rock, know that you are loved, and know that you make more of a difference in our lives than you could ever understand. And thank you. Thank you so much for being everything that you are.

And to those of you whose mothers have not been supportive, know that they love you. They truly, truly do. Your mothers love you more than you could know, no matter how terrible they are showing it. I promise.

I started this post by talking about how yesterday was my 3rd Gayday and yesterday my mother, because she is hip and wonderful and the best mother that I could ever, ever ask for, sent me a text message that I will never delete:

“I just realized that it’s the third anniversary of your coming out to us. It was the night before our cantata at church, which is tomorrow…I know, a very strange association. I just want to say thank you for helping me to see the world in a better way. You are still the bravest man I’ve ever known and I love you very much! Mom”

I love you Mom. Merry Christmas.

December 14, 2010

Bisexuals: Greedy and Selfish/Labels


On two different occasions I’ve been told that bisexuals are greedy and selfish. Let me clarify, I’ve been told that I am greedy and selfish. One of the statements was made out of malice while the other was a reflection of someone’s ignorance. In either case, I was pissed.

I’ve never viewed my bisexuality to mean that my attraction to men and women is split 50-50. I know that I tend to be more attracted to men than to women. I also know that I have standards (like most people, duh) for partners of both sexes and thus my dating pool is limited significantly. Greedy and selfish implies that I want everyone. No mam/no sir. I look for specific qualities in my partners just like the misled/rude people who made these assumptions about my sexuality.

This common misconception that people who identify as bisexual are attracted to everyone they meet is ridiculous. It is no wonder that sometimes people choose not to “label” themselves because they fear the stereotypes attached to said label. Media tends to portray faux lesbianism as this erotic fantasy or peg lesbian women as men-haters. Bisexual women can also fall into this fantasy category or that they are preying on the entire dating pool. I’ve heard guys make comments about being “homophobic” and avoiding gay males because they don’t want to be hit on. I wish they understood that these gay-identified males that they fear so much don’t want them…at all. In other words, they have taste and standards and are not worried about some of these unkempt, varsity male athletes with undeserving egos. (Minor rant…sorry).

Anyways, I have a challenge to us all (LGBTQ community, allies, and questioning folks alike): Don’t let comments like these go unchallenged. You never know who is around listening and wishing that someone would defend them. You never know who you might be helping to come out/be comfortable with their identity by standing up to ignorance.

As long as one’s identity stems from truth and understanding of the self, it should be embraced. We should all be helping each other embrace our identities daily against those that just don’t get it. The struggle is hard and unfair…but it ours.

December 13, 2010

Anonymous Posts (12.6.10-12.12.10)


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 :)

It's finals week, y'all. For me, this means catching up with whatever Steel lectures I didn't understand and reading tons and tons of feminist essays. The Center'll be open all this week, with designated quiet zones for studying. Seriously, I've never seen this place this quiet. And with Perkins just PACKED, it'd be smart to capitalize on this. All are welcome!

Last week I made an attempt to get Everyone to use the "Share!" and "Like" buttons at the bottom of our posts in order to spread The Good Word. And then, uh, You did. Like, the most. The anonymous posts were shared 95 times (up from none times) and while our previous record for number of visits was at 456 (excluding the day a certain scandal went public in April), we had 943 on Monday. That's ridiculous. A third of those were new visits (hi, New Visits!). Great work, y'all. Let's do it again? Let's do it again.

Beyond Monday, really just loving all the posts from this week. Feel free to procrastinate with those, yo. For your convenience:

For even "the most closeted" of Frat Stars :)
- Edie
LGBTQ Female Role Models: Alice Wu + [MOVIE NIGHT!] - Megan
Hey Feminists! - Chris
Study Abroad the LGBT Way - Veronica
"Hir" Poem about Transgendered Youth - Megan
It Gets Better (Really) - Dan
Freedom - Eric Furst
It Gets Better - Ian
Over the Rainbow - Robert
In which I talk about some terms - Lawrence

Anonymous posts for the week below!

#1
Sometimes when I read stories like this one I have the fleeting thought that maybe if I started abusing drugs or alcohol, or acted out in some other way, my parents would finally take seriously the effects their non-acceptance has on me. I won't do it. But sometimes it's tempting.

#2
I'm just a freshman and I'm not out yet because I'm just not sure. I feel like I need to be in a legit relationship with a girl before I can ever really know if I'm a lesbian. But it's a catch 22, I'm not out so I have absolutely zero chances at getting with a girl. Girls turn me on like magic, but I'm not gonna let lust determine my sexuality. I have no idea what to do.

#3
I have read this blog nightly for the past 4 consecutive days, and tonight I finally realized that, for about a year now, I have been in denial about a huge aspect of my life. I think I'm in love with my best friend. She has no idea (at least, I hope). We met three years ago and we're now so close that sometimes I have trouble distinguishing where my life ends and where hers begins and vice versa. We spend almost every waking moment together, and tell each other everything, yet I still can't get enough. We go out together almost every weekend, and a couple times I've been drunk enough to where I even considered letting all my feelings for her slip out. At first, I only entertained the possibility that I was in love with her in my head when I had been drinking, but now, stone-cold sober, I am staring my denial in the face. At this point, there's no way I'd ever reveal them to her soberly; if I did, I wouldn't be able to deny them later. I'm scared to death that one day I will, accidentally and stupidly after a few too many drinks, and that it will ruin the amazing friendship we have. I'm not sure what scares me most... That I'll tell her, and she'll say she knew all along (because that will make me feel stupid for unsuccessfully trying to hide it all this time), that she won't take me seriously, or that she'll be shocked/appalled. She's the only girl I've ever felt this way about. I've had boyfriends, I've hooked up with guys, and I continue to be attracted to men... So I'm not sure what this makes me, or if I need to come out, or whatever. I know very little about LGBTQ life. I try so hard to portray myself as put together and strong on the outside that I feel ashamed for hiding behind my computer screen to do this. I know I shouldn't feel shame, but I'm not sure why I still do. I am in awe of those of you who have the courage to be yourselves in a world that is so often hateful and intolerant. I wish I had even the tiniest fraction of your bravery. Maybe finally admitting these feelings to myself, and saying them aloud (or at least typing them) for the first time is the first step for me. I'm not even sure I'm looking for responses or advice... I'm just glad someone is reading. Thanks for being there.

#4
I am exhausted.

I am exhausted from trying to fight a battle within myself and society, losing all along the way. My biological legacy should not a battle at all, but that's what it's been.

Choosing to live certain ways that are potentially harmful to one's life is one thing, while speaking through the heart is a completely different topic. There are ignorant folks all across the nation that insist homosexuality is a horrible lifestyle. Unfortunately, they are beginning to prove themselves correct. It IS horrible for someone's natural love and personality to become an every day battle. It is horrible to lie in bed for countless hours, crying oneself to sleep. It is horrible to be discriminated upon by one's peers, friends, and even family. The significant question is, "should it be horrible?" No.

Although many will never grasp the idea of biological legacy, I just want to reassure everyone reading this that it does exist, and being gay is NOT A CHOICE. Personally, my question to propose to all of the foolish people of the world that claim homosexuality is a choice: "Why would I want to torture myself and go through hell on earth, as I have one, for something I had control of?"

I apologize, but words such as DEPRESSION and SUICIDE aren't common words that go along with your typical choices life. Why would anyone with any sanity at all chose to be neglected, hated, and betrayed their entire life? It doesn't sense. Why? Because it isn't a choice.


It will get better.

You may spend all of your life hiding from the ignorant and skeptical, but you cannot hide from your DNA and biological makeup.

#5
I'm sorry, sad, and disillusioned to see such a divide between gay men and gay women on this campus. What's with that?

#6
I’ve been spending the first semester of college coming to grips with my sexuality. I think I am bisexual. But—duh duh duh duh, this is what everyone says, I know it is really cliche—I’m not sure.

See, I really like this girl. She’s wonderful and has nerves of ice and is shockingly sexy and hot, hot, hot and absolutely amazing. But she is very, very lesbian. I don’t mind that at all! I know that she likes me as a person, and finds me attractive, but I am afraid that she might not like me anymore if she knew that I am sometimes attracted to men.

It’s just an interesting dynamic I need to learn to strategize with—how to be my own person and be bisexual and straddle two different worlds. I know that theoretically my dating pool should double, but I think it may shrink a little. It’s like—in the media and stuff, if a woman is bisexual, it is supposed to make her really hot. But only because it is hot to men. And for me, I really don’t want my sexuality (if it is the case) to be used as a weapon that way. I especially don’t want to be wrangled into some unwilling threesome with someone else’s girl, or be dropped by a lesbian woman out of fear that that is what I will do to her. I am not like that! And that is not a person I plan ever to be.

I was just wondering—does anyone have any advice they could give to me? Or be willing to give to me? I would love to hear it, or talk to someone about it.

#7
Within the LGBTQ community here we talk a lot about hooking up, but at the same time, I know I'm not a small minority when I say that I've never done it. I usually have thought that it was just "wasn't me". But lately I've been reconsidering that-maybe I'm just viewing sex too puritanically. It might be the right thing. I'm wondering how others here decided when sex (or more colloquially, "hooking up") was right for them. I'm seriously toying with the idea of doing it next smester, but I want to get feedback from those who have done it before.

December 11, 2010

In which I talk about some terms


[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 not their full name (and pseudopic?). Details on anonymous columnists here.]

Well, I'm absolutely exhausted by finals already, how about you? I've been trying to write a complicated, personal post about how I related to the female persona that I still live as much of the time, but, um, it's complicated! And personal! And I am absolutely exhausted by finals already! So instead, I thought I'd take a moment to define the way that I use some trans-related vocabulary, and open the post up to questions again, since there seemed to be a lot of interest in that last time.

So, here's how I use these words:

Cisgendered: basically, not transgendered. Your gender identity matches up with your genitals without assistance.

Passing: This can be a problematic concept. To say that a transman is able to "pass for" a man would suggest that he isn't a man, which is just blatantly transphobic. So, I tend to think of it as passing for a cisgendered man. In practical terms it's pretty much the same-- the idea is that people don't know you're trans-- but I find "passing for cis" much less problematic.

Closeted: Because I am a transman, I am closeted when I tell people I'm a woman. Being in the closet means lying.

Out: Because I am a transman, I am out when I tell people I'm a transman. Being out means telling the truth.

Stealth: Because I am a transman, I am stealth when I tell people I'm a man. Being stealth also means telling the truth. I kind of don't like the word stealth, because it sounds a little pejorative but I don't think it's necessary at all to tell people you're trans once you've transitioned. I have a problem with being closeted, because I have a problem with lying, but being stealth is totally different. Trans lurkers out there: do you know any terms for this that are less judgmental-sounding?

And now you know enough to learn something new about me: I am out as much as possible because I don't pass for cis well enough to be stealth, and I hate the closet!

I hereby open the comments section up to any and all questions once more. Also, if you want to ask me something personally (or if you're in any way gender-non-conforming and just want to hang out!!) please feel free to email me at lawrenceevalyn at gmail dot com. I'd love to hear from you!

December 10, 2010

Over the Rainbow


Welcome to the first (and hopefully not last!) installment of Over the Rainbow, a serial blog aimed at highlighting hallmarks of LGBT culture throughout history. Here you'll find celebrities, artists, writers, painters, musicians known for either their sexuality (or questioned for it), or their material as it speaks out towards a community of individuals seeking identity and union. These individuals will stretch throughout history, so no, this is not merely a cover of the most current and rising gay icons (though Gaga and Britney will get their dues, I promise!) Think of this as a history lesson that sheds light on LGBT issues at various points in time.

To begin this series let us look to the film that made the title of this blog famous: The Wizard of Oz. Released in the summer of 1939, the film is an adaptation of L. Frank Baum's work The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that covers the fantastical and often dangerous adventures of Dorothy Gale as she wanders through the Land of Oz to find her way back home to Kansas. The film is noted for its cinematography, which places a very distinct contrast between Dorothy's dreary home in Kansas (shot in Sepia tone), and the vibrant and brilliant Land of Oz (shot in Technicolor). Another directing choice that separates the film from the novel is the use of parallel characters, as Dorothy encounters individuals in Oz that mirror those back home, who are in fact played by the same actors.

This combination dualism and juxtaposition of color has itself been seen as a commentary of LGBT societal pressures to play two separate characters: that which satisfies and conforms the reserved and strained heteronormative culture of the time, and the freer, more vibrant Land of Oz that celebrates individuality and creativity. This vivacity and otherworldliness is itself the epitome of camp, that over-the-top theatricality and performance that sheds all inhibitions and worries over the eyes of judgmental observers. Judy Garland, herself, is considered an example of camp personified, lending to her labeling as one of the most famous gay icons in the 20th century, her personal struggles during her later career garnering identification and support from the gay community and culminating in a cult following of impersonators and adoring fans. In fact, Garland's portrayal of the young farm girl was so adored that a common covert conventionality (alliteration much?) of the time was to refer to a member of the LGBT community as a "friend of Dorothy." Like the companions that Dorothy meets along the yellow brick road, these individuals were also different, awkward, or socially unacceptable by society for going against the grain.

Looking closer at the title song, it is clear that the singer longs for somewhere where they can fully express themselves, where "the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true," free of repressing naysayers. How can individuals struggling to either identify or express their sexuality not relate to this desire to be treated with full merit to have all their troubles "melt like lemon drops" and make the bold claim that they too are a person with feelings and rights to exist and be heard among the masses. The rainbow, too, is both the manner in which to achieve this acceptance as well as the most prevalent example iconography in the LGBT, a banner and symbol of unification for all those that dare to stray from the status quo. Even the last line of the song, repeated for emphasis, is a call for change:

If happy little blue birds fly
beyond the rainbow,
why, oh why cant I?

The singer's pathos can either be of indignation at those who repress or irony, for who is anyone to deny a person their right to reach their full potential and seek out their own happiness? Unfortunately, for manner this lyric may also resonate as a futile attempt to break free of the ties that, for now at least, continue to weigh them down and leave them room only to dream. I now leave you all with a clip from another famous Judy Garland film, Meet Me in St. Louis, as my personal wish for you to find joy and happiness this Holiday Season, regardless of your religious affiliations. Maybe next year, our troubles, too, will be miles away:

It Gets Better (Ian)


[Ed. Note: Got this in my inbox last night from Ian Ballard - really glad he's sharing this with us :) Thanks, Ian! Perhaps this is a theme that others who just want to post once would be interested in contributing to?]

I never thought I would write anything for this blog but I was inspired by Dan’s post. These stories are important to disseminate and I hope mine will help someone. I would also like to respond to an anonymous post by someone who was offended by the “closeted frat guys” stereotype. Since I don’t plan on posting again, and I’m a senior and have a lot to talk about, this is extremely long. Skip to the end for important bits.

I first remember questioning my sexuality in fourth grade. This story is not that important but I think it’s kind of cute. We were in sex ed class getting the speech about how everything is normal (wet dreams, smelling bad, etc). I remember almost raising my hand to ask if it was normal to picture your friends naked (all my friends were male). Something stopped me and told me it wasn’t a good idea, so I sat silent, but for some reason this memory stuck with me.

In 7th and 8th grade I started rewarding myself when I could masturbate thinking about girls. I figured it didn’t matter what inclinations I had, I was stronger than it and could brute force my way to a normal life with wife and children. For whatever reason I wanted to be a politician at this age, and I knew that to let these feelings grow would ruin my career.

Freshman year of high school I had accepted I was “bisexual.” I fell in love with my straight best friend. I was wrecked by guilt and shame. I started starving myself and lost almost 60 pounds in 6 months. Through some stroke of luck I snapped out of this period and gained some weight back.

By junior year of high school things had begun to go very badly. I started getting panic attacks and I could no longer handle eating lunch in the cafeteria. It was against the rules to leave so I took whatever opportunity I could to sneak out and hide in the bathroom. The shame I had for my love of my best friend had become so painful that I stopped speaking to him for over a month. It destroyed our friendship.

I felt doomed. I felt that I would fall in love with every male friend I would ever have and would never meaningfully connect with anyone. I felt that everyone would abandon me when I came out, or at least typecast me and deal with me like I was some strange animal. Worse, I thought that even if I came out I would find no solace in the gay community. I knew only what I had seen on television about gays. I thought they were all sassy, loud, and shallow, and I would never be happy with them. Not only would I never find love, but all my straight friendships would be lies and would fall apart when I could no longer handle the shame of secret and perverse love. I was often suicidal.

Things began to turn around when I made a new best friend, one whom I did not love. He was the first person I came out to. I was 17. We were in the cockpit of my boat and I had been crying for two hours. The sun was coming up and we both had work to go to. I finally blurted it out and he was angry: “you made me sit here and listen to you cry for that? I thought you were going to tell me something important.” The idea that this was not important was totally new to me. I started telling more people and my mood began to improve. Though I never fully came out in high school, I had told most of the people important to me.

Then I came to Duke. College was not what it seemed and I felt like it would be impossible to be out of the closet here. One day I sat in the Bryan center and hyperventilated for twenty minutes before working up the courage to go to my first Fab Friday. It was helpful, but things were different back then and Fab Fridays were not terribly comfortable even for those comfortable with their sexuality. Those first few months at Duke, I spent many of my weekend nights curled up under tables and desks thinking about how I was going to kill myself. Drunkenly, I came out to my first friend at Duke – a republican catholic who did not believe in premarital sex. Luckily for me not all stereotypes are true, and he was strongly supportive of me, if a little taken aback. This was encouraging. I came out to more of my friends, though news spread faster than I had anticipated. Ultimately, through the help of my friends, therapy, and SSRIs, I got back on track by the end of first semester.

This is where the story gets better. In 3 ½ years at Duke, I have never once felt victimized by anyone. Not so much as a dirty look. I had a two-year relationship with a boy I loved, and my friends were accepting and no one seemed to mind when we held hands on campus. The most shocking thing about coming out is how little changes. I had a few problems with those that tried to force me into the sassy gay best friend role, but I let those friendships drift and it wasn’t a big problem. None of my close friends treated me any differently. This is where I would like to respond to the anonymous post. The fear of being typecast is real and powerful, even if you are comfortable with your sexuality. Being gay carries with a multitude of stereotypes that I, and many others, don’t want to be associated with. Plus, when you finally get a handle on things to make being gay not the most salient part of your identity for yourself, the last thing you want is to have it become that for everyone else. I can’t speak for the Greek community because I have very little interaction with it. However, nearly everyone I’ve spoken to on this campus, Frat-Stars included, is insightful, thoughtful, and open to new ways of thinking. Coming from someone who feared being typecast above almost anything else, it will undoubtedly surprise you how accepting people are once they are forced to think about something instead of mindlessly echoing stereotypes. At least at Duke.

To those still struggling with these issues, I recommend going to the center. Even though I have accepting friends, it is for some reason immensely comfortable to be around gay people. It has been invaluable to me at Duke. Not that it is a panacea, they are a group that, like all special interest groups, suffers from the fact that everyone is there because they share only one thing in common. The conversation can be hypersexual and shallow and stereotyped, but hanging out at the center doesn’t mean abandoning all your friends. There is something powerful in spending time with people who understand who you are and what you’ve been through. And, of course, there are many genuine, interesting, fun people there.

I still get panic attacks. I still get depressed. These are not rare problems for gays. Though I understand there are other factors, I blame my years of struggle with my sexual identity for many of my psychological problems. That being said, those scars get fainter all the time. Years after coming out and realizing that no one really cared, I can feel myself becoming healthy and whole. Duke has come so far since I was a freshman and I hope others can take advantage of the opportunities here as I have.

December 9, 2010

Freedom


Queer, gay, bi, not straight, whatever I feel like saying, it’s obvious that I’m indicating abnormalcy. In a statement she probably regrets—but that I take pride in—my mother told me, "You used to be generic, but not anymore."

Hallelujah for that. Pet Shop Boys captured the ethos pretty well (do yourself a favor) and it’s something I need to avoid: being normal, being boring, because what could be worse? Status quo is never a bar set high. But then I got older, and certain factors precluded that fate. I became a music obsessive, an art obsessive. Post-mod lit, too. Developed some OCD traits. Even worse ADHD. (Instead of listening in class, I write meticulously compiled lists, or sections of imaginary novels that are too embarrassingly bad to ever even look at again.) I am actually allergic to cold weather. And I have a peculiar BMI that's earned me the nickname "Thickums," though I promise I'm not fat.

Yeah, and so then I also turned out queer. All in all it’s one of my least compelling traits, but still a great teacher. And it's liberated me from a lot of things: false expectations on the part of my parents; undue self-consciousness in social settings; and perhaps, most frightening of all, a conventional life path.

The other day, a French family of four, two small boys maybe 6-8 years-old, stood near me on a train. There was one open seat next to me, and though they both scrambled to climb up to it, the bigger kid won. The smaller child asked, "Puis-je m'asseoir ici, s'il vous plaît?" and, after receiving a shrill, affirmative "Oui!" in response, climbed up to share the seat with his brother. It was the cutest fucking thing I've ever seen. They were tiny, heads swimming in enormous matching knitted scarves, but still too large to fit entirely into one seat, such that the younger boy was basically halfway on my lap. I wanted to pet his head, but instead I leaned back and choked on my own spit, swallowing back something gut-wrenching and sad.

This sexual coming of age absolutely shattered my marriage-kids-back to the burbs-life plan. And though that's totally not right for me where does the path go without convention? Autonomy is scary. How can I have children? I probably can’t do it alone. I don’t see myself ever “settling." I won’t settle, I’ve promised myself. So then, how does bisexuality work? Vicky Christina Barcelona didn't offer any answers, and just left me with a filmic version of blue balls instead.

I did fall in love once—on Manroulette. He was supposedly a graduate student of psychology, twenty-four years old. Definitely a strawberry blond, and definitely a devilish grin and body that—when he removed his UChicago sweatshirt on request—made me swoon. Someone came through a door to whatever room he was in and suddenly, I'm nexted to some grotesque image of hirsute skin folds and penis, and I was angry and disgusted and, well, what did I expect from Manroulette? And who came into the room anyway? Really, general life experience tells me it could have been anyone—roommate, girlfriend, boyfriend, wife...Such are the shaky politics of anonymity, when etiquette is totally unnecessary, and self-gratification wins the day, even when it lives among subterfuge. On the one hand, I would have never met this guy, but on the other, real life would've given me a real chance.

In Costa Rica, I slept with a technically-still-married man. He was separated only recently, fortunately childless, and had consistently broken a woman’s heart for approximately six years. I met him in a resort town at a gay bar near his new construction high rise luxury apartment, in the kind of building whose very existence on otherwise-pristine beaches makes me angry. This guy: real winner in bed, but what had he done with his life?—cashed out on some assets to flee the country and his wife. Maybe friends and family too, we didn't really cover everything.

Point being, even though I have no interest in morals, it’s still hard to make ethical decisions regarding sex. Irrationality is Roger Federer in the sex game. Still, I would never do that. The first girl I told about my queerness became my girlfriend a few days post-divulgence. We broke up about two months after due in large thanks to my burgeoning sexuality, and I'm pretty sure I broke her heart. But I love her so much and we’re still best friends. I could never do that to a wife, a fellow child-rearer, anyone. Plus, I have ridiculous separation anxiety from the twenty-some people I love whom I left behind in the States this semester.

There's a quote scribbled in silver sharpie on the neon orange walls of the Coffeehouse men's room that always catches my eye: Where do we go from here? Up! I’m trying my best. I’m trying to orient myself, to go in the right direction, to be a good person, even though I don’t know if I really am. It’s hard to know what to do with all this freedom.

December 7, 2010

Study Abroad the LGBT Way


[Note: I know some of yall were looking forward to me writing more about sex. I will be. I'm in the process of figuring out how I can write about girl-on-girl sex in an inclusive, fun and legal way, while protecting everyone's privacy. You know how it goes. Feel free to leave me comments about what you'd like to see.]

I’m considering two different study abroad options for next year. Copenhagen and Istanbul.

Here are my ill-informed fantasies of what would happen in each case:

Copenhagen, I imagine- drag kings, vogueing, Scandinavian style, for once not having my sexuality be a dull hum in the back of my mind (it used to be a rock concert, I’ve since mellowed), walkbility, livability, world renowned woman-oriented sex stores. [Ed. Note: NSFW (unless you work at a sex store).]

I know I’m reducing Copenhagen down to a clean, livable LGBT utopia. But who cares, since no one would deny it?

Copenhagen has its cons. It’s $20 for an average hamburger expensive. It offends my anti-Eurocentric sensibilities. Am I living my life according to Stuff White People Like? Is studying abroad for me all about accumulating sexual partners, binge drinking and partying?

Which leads me to Istanbul. A megacity/megaslum straddling Europe and Asia. Secular, but with a majority Muslim population. Layers of history on every street corner. Turkish tea. (Is my Orientalism showing?) Classes on Islamic art and architecture, Urban Economics and Transportation Economics. Lightly “immersing” myself in language that I might find interesting and useful enough to pursue when the semester ends.

But Istanbul is NOT GAY ENOUGH. It just isn’t. If Istanbul has a thriving female-identified queer scene, it certainly is not showing up on my Google searches (which are mostly generic Istanbul Gay & Lesbian Travel Guides- apparently LGBT people don’t actually live there.)

I can’t deny that my sexuality is at the forefront of my study abroad decision. I’m so over being the weird lesbian girl from high school. While Duke was a step up, getting a date/getting laid is still work (werq?). Yeah, I’m all about “staying and fighting” and “pride bigger than Texas” but even I feel like busting out. Since when was I the mistress of LGBT purgatory, suffering alone so that debonair urbanites didn’t have to? I can inject LGBT life into the gay ghost towns of the world without sacrificing my well-being and potential.

I’m done with taking risks on places whose LGBT-friendliness is not well-established. I’m tired of being told by non-LGBT people that some place is “gay-friendly” when what they really mean is that I won’t consistently get called fagdykewhorebitchslut or mauled if I decided to kiss another woman in public. I’m tired of LGBT men telling me someplace is gay friendly when what they really mean is that men have a scene and a voice, but women don’t. I’m sure many of yall know how it feels to expect a LGBT haven and realize that the community was unaccommodating, whether because of your race, class, gender expression, gender identity, sexual orientation, confusion, fluidity, ambiguity, body type, taste in music…the list goes on.

How many LGBT people do you know who have studied abroad (or lived and worked for an extended period of time) in a country known for its mistreatment of the LGBT community? The kind of place whose name elicits a "Why would you ever go there?" from confused LGBT comrades. Is everything just part of a gradient…can one person’s San Antonio be another person’s New York? One person’s Istanbul another person’s Copenhagen? One person’s Uganda another person’s Jamaica? From Sao Paolo to Little Rock, we are all armed with a vague sense of where we came from and where we think we are going. I’m from Texas and want to end up in the American Northeast. Of course this affects how I view Istanbul.

When has LGBT life ever been the featured reason why I chose to go somewhere or do something? Maybe it’s time it should be.

Hey Feminists: This article in Duke Magazine on sex and hookup culture on campus caught my attention, and I want y'all to read it and tell me what you think. This obviously touches on gender issues/relations here and may suggest that the sex scene (a thing now) at Duke is in a post-sexism state.
Tellingly, when students interviewed for this story (not all of whom are included here) were asked what they thought of peers who have multiple, random sexual partners, the word used most frequently was “sad.”

“It used to be that if a girl slept around, she was called a slut, but if a guy slept around, he was supposed to be congratulated,” says Michael Kahn. “But that’s changing. Everyone knows who the promiscuous people are. I think most people, men and women both, want to be able to look themselves in the mirror and respect what they see.”
Thank god that's in the past and [straight, of course] males are now heckled just as much for promiscuity. 2010, YOU GIRLS. WE DID IT. Yes, I could totally be reading too much into this, and that's why I want some feedback because I really don't know. You have to read the whole article, because a lot of the things said are based on STATISTICS from a comprehensive survey with a 75% response rate (which is an insane response rate). Also,

Hey Queer Activists: Uh, over 3000 words on sex and relationships at Duke and no mention of LGBTQ students? I feel like this is a legitimate complaint. Where am I in this? I do not see myself in this. Either the survey didn't ask questions about sexuality and the researchers did not draw conclusions based on this (which I feel like they HAD to have) or the magazine/author/editor just decided to ignore this.

I mean, I recognize this has a flip side. Should We expect to be represented in every piece? We're at best what... 7% of the Duke population? For an article to be relevant to 93% of its readers is pretty impressive, no?

Haha, I'm usually better at being devil's advocate, sorry. "Blacks" (eek) and Latino students are both mentioned, minorities that represent 10% and 7% of the population respectively.

Meh.

LGBTQ Female Role Models: Alice Wu + [MOVIE NIGHT!]


This is a blog post and an announcement!

Announcement--->THIS Thursday, at 8:30pm in the Center for LGBT Life, we're going to watch Saving Face! There will be blankets, popcorn, and friendly people. All are welcome to attend!

I'm writing about Alice Wu this week, because I personally believe that she has single-handedly wrote and directed the BEST lesbian movie I've ever seen: Saving Face. I haven't seen every LGBTQ-themed movie, that's for sure, but I feel this is one of the funnier, (sexier?), and more realistic movies about LGBTQ women that I've seen.

Wu actually has a really interesting background entering the film industry which I think is part of what makes her a role model. She graduted from Stanford University with a B.S. in Computer Science, and she started working for Microsoft in 1990. While she was at Microsoft, she wrote the story for Saving Face, and eventually enrolled in a screenwriting course on the side. Her screenwriting instructor encouraged her to leave Microsoft and pursue her film-writing career. Five years later, she produced the film and released Saving Face in 2005.

The screenplay won the CAPE award in 2001, (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment), and the film itself was nominated for a GLAAD and Gotham award, and won the "Viewers Choice Award" at the 2005 Golden Horse Film Festival, which is sort of Taiwan's equivalent of the Acadamy Awards. The storyline of Saving Face, according to Wu, is largely autobiographical and focuses on her coming out experience as a Chinese-lesbian woman. Due to it's similarity to her own life, she knew that releasing the movie would out her to her family friends, which she has stated was both rewarding and nerve-wracking:
“It was kind of nerve-wracking to show it to my own mother. My own coming out experience was very similar in some ways to that depicted in the film, but even though my mom was very quiet on the subject of my being gay she’s still always been supportive. It might have taken ten years and a bit of estrangement, but we still love one another and even when she was having trouble understanding mom always only wanted what was best for me. That said, I had to be really clear with her about the subject matter [of the film]. I told her, ‘When this comes out, all your friends will know.’ All she said to me was, ‘This is what I want for you.’ God, that’s love!”
In an interview with New York Magazine about the film, Wu also explains how she made the film a "comedy", despite the relative serious nature of coming out (and the threat of a negative reaction) of the female protagonist:
"I know: A woman gets disowned at 48? Not so funny. There's pain and more pain. But people do weird things and life is funny. The characters don't think its funny-but their situations are just so impossible."
In an AfterEllen interview, Wu also describes the meaning behind the film's title, and its cultural significance:
"Often I think of it as more of an Asian notion, although the concept of it is very universal across many cultures. The way I understood it, growing up is that there is this sense that what you present to the world may not be who you are inside, but there is a responsibility when you come from an immigrant community--even though I was born in the states, my parents were immigrants--so there was this sense of wanting to be the perfect citizen. On some level I’m representing all Chinese people to Americans, even though, technically, I’m an American. So, if you do anything to shame yourself, you’re not just shaming yourself, your shaming an entire community. Also, in terms of the film, Wil is a reconstructive surgeon, who specializes in faces, and her mother works as an aesthetician at a salon, giving facials. There is that double entendre."
As a viewer, all I can say is that I'm so excited to see what Wu decides to do next, considering she's only just begun. Also, if you'd like to watch Saving Face, we'll see you this Thursday at 8:30pm! [all are welcome!] If you can't watch it with us, but would like to see it at a different time, I also know that there is a copy in Lilly Library that circulates outside the building. =) See you soon!