June 27, 2011

Anonymous Posts (6.20.11-6.26.11)

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, hate speech, or express or insinuate that one is at risk for hurting themselves or someone else. Please read this for an explanation of this policy and seek help if your or a friend find yourself in that position. With those exceptions aside, please feel free to submit your thoughts and questions. :)

NEW YORK PASSED GAY MARRIAGE. Yesterday was NYC Pride [Hi, BDUers who are all playing together in NY! I'm fomo-ing :( ] But what I'm trying to say is: THANK YOU, NEW YORK!

Since last week, my first set of campers arrived and today I'm taking seven of them on a five day kayaking trip today! Woot.

Also in the last week: Frida Kahlo made an appearance on the blog, WOMYN Magazine is still taking submissions (I'm working on mine! Are you working on yours?!), and the nature vs. nurture debate returned for a round two .

The Women's World Cup kicked off (pun!) yesterday, and features at least one openly out player in Megan Rapinoe (who I met two summers ago!!! picture below). Rapinoe used to play for the Chicago Red Stars of the Women's Professional Soccer League and was happy to be one of the favorites among the lesbian community. She told a reporter for the Windy City Media Group (and Chicago LGBTQ publication) that "I want to make people feel like, when they go watch [ the ] team, that there is someone that there's someone like them on the team, and that we're not all the same on the team, that there is diversity. I think that's a good thing for the sport and our team in general."



Now, for anonymous posts!

#1
has anyone watched this yet? it's the music video for make it stop (september's children) by rise against. and on another note, SO proud to be a new yorker.

June 26, 2011

Mutant and Proud: Genetics, Environment, and The Fruits of My Research, Part 2

This will be the second part of a two-part post, discussing my amateur genetics enthusiasm as it relates to the "nature versus nurture" argument on homosexuality. This post will look at the propositions of biology and genetics on homosexuality, as well as how my research on the matter went.

In my first post, I discussed the X-Men: First Class movie and it's allegory to LGBT themes (and I'd like to apologize for my error in reporting that Wolverine's adamantium claws were from his mutation). Now in this post, I will discuss some of the research that has been performed to find a genetic, or at least a biological explanation for homosexuality. I will talk also about what I found when I researched this topic.

Many correlative studies have found various biological features to correspond with an increased rate in homosexuality, one being the "birth order hypothesis" in males. This hypothesis states that younger brothers have a 1/3 increased probability of being gay with each older brother in the family. Researchers attribute this possibility not to genetics, but rather the uterine environment and the hormones and antibodies produced during gestation. It is possible that later children of the same mother may receive more or less of a secretion that influences homosexuality. Researchers also point for the uterine environment has one of the main determinants of sexual orientation, since the brain is in development at this time. The hormones, most notably testosterone, secreted for development may "hard-wire" our nerves and brains for an orientation. This may be manifested in a study by Simon LeVay which looks at nuclei of cells from the anterior hypothalamus. LeVay saw that the nuclei of homosexual males were smaller than that of heterosexual males, and similar to those of heterosexual females. Other parts of the brain have been pointed to for correlation as well as the lengths of various body parts and whatnot, but it is very important to note this simple lesson from statistics: correlation does not imply causation. A causal link has yet to be established, which brings up the point of genetics.

Genetics are said to possess the code for our behavior, our adaptations, and our personality. So people started to find specific mutations in the genome that differ between homosexuals and heterosexuals. These variations are called single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP, for short), and research led to an SNP on the X chromosome, called Xq28, that may show linkage for homosexuality, and they dubbed this, "the gay gene." Other studies have found this site to not be statistically significant, and point to a few other SNPs on the autosomes as opposed to the sex chromosomes. However, in my opinion, I don't think we can point to one gene and say, "this causes homosexuality." There is a ignorant misunderstanding among Americans as how genes work. While some genetic diseases and traits can be attributed to one gene, and perhaps even one improper nucleotide, most other diseases are caused by an interplay of multiple genes. I believe that homosexuality could potentially be the result of polygenic inheritance, and not just two or three genes, but hundreds of genes. In order for the many biological correlations that are found to be causal, I think that multiple factors have to work together which might, and I'm not a fan of using this word in this context, "cause" homosexuality. In addition, people fail to realize that there are multifactorial phenotypes, not just two or three, and an interplay on these multiple phenotypes may correspond to homosexuality.

So yes, there are some biological and potential genetic markers, but still nothing conclusive. So what about nurturing? An argument against nature is that not all identical twins, who share the same genetic code, do not share the same orientation, and thus, the nurturing of the children is responsible for their orientation and homosexuality cannot be genetic. In response, I point out what is known as the fallacy of genetic determinism, which states that our genes are not the sole indicator of our physiology and behavior. Even the fingerprints of identical twins are not identical. Just because identical twins have the same genes doesn't mean that everything is the same. There's a reason why you can usually discern one twin from another, albeit as tough as it may be. Another argument is that many homosexual males report closer relationships with their mother than their father, which may be a determinant for homosexuality, as the early relationship forms the child's behavior. A study even shows that people who live in urbanized areas as teenagers correlates to higher rates of homosexuality. Many of these observations can possibly correlate and may be causal, and for that, we look at the case for environmental genetics.

Our genes don't just "turn on" because they feel like it. Environmental cues often trigger the activation or repression of genes, I mean, look at puberty. Perhaps there are genes for homosexuality latent in people, but without the proper environmental triggers, be it hormones, pheromones, or neurotransmitters, these genes don't activate. So what, am I saying that the cause of homosexuality is nurture? No, I'm not. But without our environmental conditions, I do not think our natural conditions can be actualized. I attribute this to the different times when people find out they are gay, bi, or trans. If it were truly genetic, maybe we would all discover that we were gay when we were 14 or so. But many people can say they knew before then, and many people don't discover or come out with their homosexuality until they are in their twenties, or even later. Sure, societal pressures may interfere with this, but homosexuality cannot be as cut-and-dry as just our genes, because our genes are not as cut-and-dry as we think they are. From this, I do not subscribe to a "nature versus nurture" argument, but rather a "nature via nurture" belief. Our genetic code cannot operate and make us the unique people we are without the environmental interplay.

So while nature via nurture, in my opinion, is a more valid hypothesis, my research led me to websites where the main court of discussion was either nature or nurture, and not a lot of in-between. Thanks to Google searches and a careful selection of words, I kept pulling up websites by religious organizations, trying to argue the "nature versus nurture" argument using these studies of biology and genetics, and then quoting scripture and the opinions of theologians. Now I'm not one to talk down religion, but many of these sites that weren't from tolerant religious groups were quoting scriptures as a means for understanding the sin and for gays to seek God for a "cure" from their condition. These websites always discussed the biological and genetic studies with a clear bias by stating the evident statistical insignificance of these findings, and how they cannot be true, and that homosexuality is purely a choice. Truly, I was angered that my research kept pulling up these websites, not because of what they said with scripture, but rather because they presented their bias with such force that it made it difficult for me to continue researching. These websites are purely polemic in nature, and for a gay youth who perhaps is not so sure how to balance homosexuality and religion would become alienated by these sites.

So I guess I really haven't answered the question: Are we born this way? Well, I cannot answer that question. But here's a question I can answer: Why should we care? Why should we have to use biology and genetics to certify our orientation? Many people say that a genetic cause for sexual orientation would give us an edge in the battle for equality, but really, will a genetic cause of homosexuality really change the minds of religious extremists and social conservatives?

I guess a better question is, aren't we still human? Don't we still deserve the unalienable rights under the assumption that all men and women are created equal? Why does sexual orientation even matter? Thankfully, New York is the most recent state to answer these questions correctly.

So maybe being gay is caused by a genetic mutation, I don't know. But if it is, I have one thing to say:

I am a mutant, and I am proud of who I am.

June 22, 2011

WOMYN Wednesday - Sort of

Hello, everyone. So, it’s WOMYN Wednesday, but things have been totally crazy this week, so I don’t have a super-awesome new poll for you. Next week, though, I promise! In the meantime, I hope you’re writing your fantabulous submissions for WOMYN! Your voices are crucial to the success of this magazine, and we really want to help you spread the word about your ideas and experiences. Please send your amazing work to womynatduke@gmail.com!

In lieu of a poll, perhaps you would be interested in some pictures of some absolutely fabulous queer women, courtesy of autostraddle.com? If you’ve already seen them, well, it can’t hurt to look again, right?

June 21, 2011

LGBTQ Female Role Models - Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)


Hey! So I've been wanting to write on the blog
about this woman for a really long time, but up until this point I've been trying to only focus on living LGBTQ female role models. But I think I'm going to break my own rule and write about Frida, simply because she's SUCH an awesome queer female role model and she was absolutely the woman I wanted to write about this week on the blog.

I have to start this post off with a confession. I actually have an enormous poster of Frida Kahlo in my dorm room, but I keep it on the back door of the closet (ironic) because it's really intense [See photo to the left, below-"Pensando en la muerte (Thinking of Death)"-that's the one I have!]. But I love her! Also, if you haven't seen the movie Frida, I would really recommend it! I had been introduced to Frida Kahlo in elementary school in Arizona, but that movie really helped me get a clearer picture of who the artist was and why she's such a strong woman.

Frida Kahlo was born in Mexico City (D.F.) in 1907, and just a few years later at the age of 6 she contracted polio, which "began a life marked by physical suffering". At the age of 15 she entered Mexico's oldest high school, (which was the first Mexican school to accept women, and had just begun to do so ) La Escuela Nacional Preparatoria, where she met Diego Rivera (her future husband) for the first time.

On September 17th, 1925, there would be an event that would mark Kahlo's for the rest of her life-physically, mentally, and in everyway possible. While riding on a bus, there was a collision with a street trolley, and a metal pole inserted her body, shattering her spine into various pieces, and also breaking her ribs and pelvic. The accident left Kahlo in a full-body cast, infertile, and bed-ridden for months.

During her painful recovery, Frida used painting as a way to pass the time and help cure boredom. In 1926 she painted her first self-portrait; she often painted herself in bed, or to express her emotional states at the time: "I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality", she said.

In 1929 she met fellow Mexican painter, Diego Rivera
again and they married within the year. Throughout her life, Frida had affairs with both men (including Leon Trostky) and women (Dolores del Rio, Paulette Goddard, Maria Felix, & Josephine Baker). She identified openly as a bisexual woman, while preferring men, and she sometimes chose to dress in drag. Her painting "Two Nudes in a Forest" clearly depicts a romantic interaction between two women-[right]. (Rivera apparently knew of and accepted her relationships with women during their marriage, but her male partners made him jealous.) Frida later confronted the emotional pain of watching her husband have an affair with her sister, Cristina, after which she divorced Diego Rivera in Nov 1939; they remarried Dec. 1940.

One of the reasons I love Frida Kahlo is because she was an unbashedly confident feminist and queer woman, converting into a national and international icon for the rights of women, those working towards socialism, indigenous communities of Mexico and others. Frida's powerful ability to represent marginalized topics in her artwork I think relates to others because she can empathize with those suffering struggle via own physical and emotional strife throughout her life [Right-"Los dos Fridas" (Both Frida's).]. Frida didn't hesitate to confront difficult topics in her paintings; in one painting she even expressed her pain after a miscarriage.

Today Frida has made an international impact. She is known for being the first Hispanic woman on a U.S. poststamp, her works today are consistently auctioned off at the highest prices of any Mexican artist, and she was the first 20th-century Mexican artist to be displayed in the Louvre.

June 20, 2011

Anonymous Posts (6.13.11-6.19.11)

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, hate speech, or express or insinuate that one is at risk for hurting themselves or someone else. Please read this for an explanation of this policy and seek help if your or a friend find yourself in that position. With those exceptions aside, please feel free to submit your thoughts and questions. :)


Shalom, chevrei! [That's "hello, friends" in hebrew]

I've been up here at camp since Monday and staff week is going well. We had a talk with our director about relationships--both for campers and counselors--and I was super impressed that he acknowledged (and was affirming of the fact) that people may be in same sex relationships.

We've had a great week of posts here on the blog, so be sure to check out Jennifer's WOMYN Wednesday post , Veronica's San Francisco reflections , Eric Furst's post on the gay adult entertainment industry and Part I to Cameron's series on the nature vs. nurture debate .

Remember we're still accepting Senior Posts!

Also very exciting: New York is one vote away from legalizing same sex marriage!

Less exciting: we don't have any anonymous posts for this week. :( I hope that means that everyone is having a super wonderful time.

Because I know better than to actually think that nobody in our community is facing any hardships, please remember that there are a number of resources available on campus and in the local community. These resources are available over summer, too! If you or a friend are experiencing thoughts or urges to harm yourself or somebody else, please reach out to the following resources: In an emergency, please don't hesitate to call CAPS at any time, including "after hours" at (919) 966-3820. Ask to speak to the advice nurse and tell them you are a Duke student. You may also call the Trevor Project, a national hotline specifically for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and questioning youth (college students included). Their number is 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386).

Until next week,
BDU Blog ♥

June 18, 2011

Mutant and Proud: The X-Men Allegory and Genetics, Part I

This will be the first part of a two-part post, discussing my amateur genetics enthusiasm as it relates to the "nature versus nurture" argument on homosexuality. This post will first describe the LGBT themes in X-Men: First Class and the societal implications, and the next post will look more at the propositions of biology and genetics on homosexuality.

Spoiler alert: For those who have not seen the movie, I may give some things away. You've
been warned.

Yesterday, I watched the movie X-Men: First Class, which outlined the beginning of the X-Men, particularly the rise of Charles Xavier, also known as Professor X, and Erik Lehnsherr, or Magneto, and the disparities in their philosophies on mutants with the human race. As I watched the movie, there were many things that alluded to homosexuality that I never knew. Perhaps the most obvious scene is when a CIA official escorts Professor X to the CIA compound where a young Hank McCoy, a.k.a. Beast, is one of the scientists working on mutant technologies. As the two mutants are introduced, Professor X remarks on how wonderful it is to find another mutant, yet the official is unaware of this fact. When he asks McCoy why he never informed him that he was a mutant, McCoy replies, "You didn't ask, so I didn't tell." This is one of the more "in your face" references, but there are more subtle instances, so I encourage you to watch the movie and find them.

The general premise for the X-Men is the notion that genetic mutations in an individual genome causes the powers the mutants possess, whether that is telepathy and telekinesis, adamantium claws, or storm-conjuring abilities. Some of the genetic mutations cause a phenotypic variation, as seen with Beast, Mystique, or Nightcrawler, to name a few, while others may not cause such a physical abnormality. The majority of mutants discover their abilities either as a child or a teenager, often without control or in anger.

While mutants like Beast and Mystique try to cover up their visible mutations from the rest of society, other mutants with non-visible powers still hide their abilities, for fear of the power they possess and for fear of society's view on their powers. For one example, Beast did not originally take the blue form most of us know, but rather a more human form with over-sized simian hands and feet. However, with his superior intellect and understanding of biochemistry and genetics, he tries to create an antidote for himself and Mystique so they can revert to more human qualities while retaining their mutant powers.

Mystique rejects the antidote, even though she expressed the most interest in being "cured," as Magneto helps her to realize that her true form is beautiful and there is nothing to be ashamed of as a mutant. Beast, on the other hand, takes the antidote, and unfortunately, the antidote enhances the mutation as opposed to repressing it, thus giving us the more familiar Beast. One might draw the comparison between these mutations and what people have called "the gay gene," and how Beast tried to create a cure for his "mutation," yet failed. His attempts to hide his mutant form, analogous to being "in the closet," failed, and he had to "come out" with his improved powers.

The mutants, spearheaded by Professor X and Magneto, decide to help the CIA against the communists of Russia around the beginnings of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Professor X wants to gain the acceptance of human civilization, while Magneto wants to pursue the Hellfire Club, notably Sebastian Shaw, a Nazi scientist who tortured Magneto as a child in a concentration camp so he would use his mutant abilities. During their collaboration, the feelings and philosophies between Xavier and Lehnsherr start to diverge.

One may consider Professor X's philosophy to be based on nurturing while Magneto's is focused on the natural order. While the consensus between the two is that genetic mutations lead to the powers, Professor X wants to train young mutants on how to properly use their powers and to hone in on their abilities, while Magneto wants to gather mutants so they can be the ultimate beings on Earth. In my opinion, this reflects the two sides of the "nature versus nurture" argument, perhaps with more dramatization to reflect the super powered beings. The differences between the views of Professor X and Magneto are not those of "nature versus nurture" of the creation of the mutants, but rather a parallel to "nature versus nurture" argument for homosexuality. In addition, Professor X is also optimistic about
humans accepting mutants if they help prevent a war with Russia, but Magneto is angry with humans, and thinks that, no matter what, humans will turn against mutants so to avoid extinction. (I have heard hypotheses on a possible relationship between the two, and the movie does show a scene with both of them lying together in the same bed at a strip club as they are finding Angel, so this is very possible. There is another scene when the first two first meet and Magneto says "I thought I was the only one." I don't want to give away too much more, so you'll have to watch the movie.)

Skipping a few scenes, we're at the end where Magneto has achieved his mission, and he establishes his new order to foster the superiority of mutants. Magneto wants to be very out and open about being mutants, while Professor X believes that this is inappropriate and will only further provoke the human race. He decides to create his School for Gifted Youngsters to brings mutants who are bullied at home because of their mutations and provides a safe haven for them, thus leading to the creation of the X-Men. This poses many analogies to the LGBT community, including acceptance into the community, degree of openness, and bullying.

The allegory of genetic mutations and the differences they cause in the X-Men can be seen as comparative to what may be the genetic disposition for homosexuality. The debate on the causes of homosexuality always boils down to a "nature versus nurture" argument. Are we born this way? Is being gay due to our nature, our genetic code, a gene or something of the sort, or does parenting and our childhood cause homosexuality? When it comes to the X-Men, genetics dominate, with Juggernaut being an exception. There are plenty of biological markers that lead to a genetic predisposition, so why have we not isolated a gay gene? Why don't all identical twins have the same sexual orientation? Why is it that many gay guys say they spent more time with mom growing up than dad? Or is it more than "nature versus nurture"? I will explore more of these questions and other genetics and biology in my next post, so please be on the lookout for that.

I leave you with a line from the movie. As Mystique decides to go with Magneto at the end, she tells Beast to remember one thing. Our friend Beast, who once rejected his exterior form and even devised a cure so he could be normal. Mystique utters these words to him:

"Mutant, and Proud."

June 17, 2011

Summer Session: San Francisco

My two options this summer were DC and SF. Then I realized that urban planning, while a legitimate stepping stone to UN-HABITAT, is boring. Even the word “design” does not save “urban design” from being monotonous and bureaucratic activity. International issues are my jam (mom says I need to focus,) so WorldCorps in SF it was. (Curious cats: this is the program supporting me.)

I needed to take a mental break from Duke. Experience what my life could be like when “it gets better.” Yes, I have the girlfriend in Carborro and Women Loving Women each month, but this summer I wanted to spend some time in the real world, navigating a notoriously queerfabulous and unpretentious city.

In my post on study abroad I said I wanted to spend significant time in one of the world's most tolerant cities before I took the plunge to Nepal or rural India. I have high expectations for how my sexuality (and curiosity about deviant sexual practices) should be satisfied.

I also wanted to have an idea of where I fit in and could spend the rest of my life. Then I could map latrines and water sources in Nepalese refugee camps without feeling like my life was all self-sacrifice and repression. As I hoped, I’m feeling that lightness of being that comes from watching the perfect porn clip or dancing to your song at a club. In the San Francisco tech/social business/start-up/non-profit/sustainability circle, I am normal. My parents unknowingly raised me to be a part of this culture, not the culture of Southeastern preps. While watching people at Powell Station, I feel more square than freak. A gracious Ivy League intern carrying a thick electric blue backpack.

Before you think that I came to SF just to get lezzed-up, get this: San Francisco is one of the densest and most walkable cities in the country, it's a mecca for sustainable business practices and foodies, it's adjacent to Silicon Valley and features a multicultural population and a Hispanic district. Also, the summers are cool. Most importantly, it's the first world-class city that didn't make me feel like a country bumpkin. I fit right in.

But living is San Francisco hasn't yet become the most glamorous thing ever. I'm a Dukie in a Duke-less city. I must meet people or face certain loneliness.

In my past incarnation I was aloof (and selfish, according to my dad.) I couldn’t look strangers in the eye without the assistance of my girlfriend. I now go to the same taqueria every day after work to order a horchata or try the honeydew aguafresca. I strike up a conversation with the cashier at the de Young about the necessity of a heavy duty lint roller when you own H&M trousers. Staying within the same couple blocks requires less energy and gives familiarity to my new life. I’m the girl up the street who comes in at 5. I’m the girl who loves New Orleans iced coffee. I’m a regular.

But when it comes to getting lezzed up, the corner co-op and Buena Vista Park won’t suffice. I’m three girls deep on OkCupid. (For those who can’t understand my lingo as I make it up: I’m carrying on conversations with three girls who indicated they want to meet me in person soon.) At the suggestion of a friend conveniently located in New York, I joined several Meetup Groups. I’ll pass on the next meet up at the bowling alley, because bowling with strangers sounds almost as fun as historic preservation. My best shot is with my OKC ladies.

My parents, ignorant of my internet-fueled dalliances, suggested I meet friends at work. My place of work, The Hub, is filled with young people. I don’t yet know what they do on their laptops in the Hub common area, but behind my glass office I see them and think potential friends. I have conferences on the future of capitalism and Monday Meditations to attend. An intern meetup is forthcoming. The mistress of the Hub, a tall African woman with a mini-fro, makes me swoon when she smiles. She wants to sit down sometime and talk about how I got involved with Worldcorps. (If a certain friend in the same situation asked for advice: I'd say, She knows everyone. It's her job. Chill out.)

Regardless of if she is or isn’t, I’m here to contribute to a community (contributions range from sexual favors to website consulting.) This Duke-less Dukie wants to be part of all these communities and more: the Hub, meetup groups, Haight-Ashbory. So if anyone still isn't sure: Yes, I’m happy here and I don’t want to leave.

June 16, 2011

Black Spark and the Clouds and some other things

The word ‘porn’ conjures images of meaty flesh pounding together under harsh, unsexy lighting, and latex breasts, and artificial moaning in awkward harmony with “fuck yeah”, or a tan, too-hairless man with a ten-inch cock, and if these images are instinctually repulsive to you—in that gut-wrenching mom just caught me masturbating way—you’re not alone.

Except but then why do we still watch it?

At Duke I think the standard discourse on porn involves denouncing its debasement of women and negative effects on hetero relationships, but I’ve never heard much about gay porn’s unique influence—interesting because the subliminal effects undoubtedly reach beyond just homosexuals to those who do not (or not yet) consider themselves gay. I wonder if more men watch gay porn than have gay sex.

For all the pleasure I derive from speaking candidly of taboo topics, I still get squeamish talking about the subjects/objects of porn—which is why this story is only now being posted, six months after its inception. I think I can safely trace the reason for that back to middle school, when I was caught by the parents watching some amateur sex video I’d found on YouPorn. The embarrassment sent me running into the bathroom, where I vomited from shame. After that, no more bedroom computer in the room for a few years, and I resorted to imagination.

Through Duke guys, I found out about Sean Cody, which as far as I can tell is the benchmark brand in the gay porn industry. In the 21st century, I think it’s fairly self-evident that pornography is bound to be one of the greatest forces in sex education for young people; perhaps this is especially true among budding young gays, who probably aren’t exposed even to the second-rate info disseminated among their peer groups.

Even as gay rights extends to adults, our nation will remain deeply disturbed by the idea of a youth homosexuality. And even the confident 13-year old boy from an open-minded family who accepts his homosexuality early in life seems more likely to learn about the relatively tricky dynamics of gay sex from porn instead of, like his parents/school/friends.

So, what lessons does Sean Cody teach? For one, that there is a huge secret gay obsession with fetishizing straight men, especially jocks with hard bodies and girlfriends. Given the right incentive, we’re told (cash, rewards from a coach or teacher or boss, the promise of fucking a hot chick afterward), straight men will indulge in their natural homocuriosity or, more comically, become “heteroflexible.” You might even convince one to, during his first ever gay sex experience, be the recipient of anal sex which, if you’re good enough, could lead to a mind-blowing, hands-free, prostate orgasm. Cool!

It is likely that our first gay crushes and fantasies involved straight men, such is the nature of the numbers game—but the near impossibility of reciprocity was never a component of that attraction, and on the contrary, causes lots of young boys a lot of heartache.

The stock response I get when I point this out is, “Wait, Eric, you're fucking dumb. Of course no one believes it’s true. It’s just that normal desire for the ‘unattainable.’” I guess I’m just not sure that this idea was born from natural desires, or implanted in our minds by whomever. For me, it doesn’t appeal because it strikes an internal chord of unease; some of these guys look a lot like my best friends, and even entertaining the idea of experiencing them sexually, let alone falling in love, is a path I’d like to steer clear of.

But porn is never about love, is it?

Before moving on, you should probably take a look here. There's a lot content. Start with this one (NSFW and FVIL—funnier viewed in libraries).

-------

“What strikes me is the fact that in our society, art has become something which is related only to objects and not to individuals, or to life. That art is something which is specialized or which is done by experts who are artists. But couldn't everyone's life become a work of art? Why should the lamp or the house be an art object, but not our life?”— Foucault

Early this year, a series of short, narrative film clips set to music, comprised of sexual montages of a small number of men obscured by creepy masks, LED lights, and arty camera work, caught my attention.

Now, I’ll admit I have a penchant for the unusual and tend to react with boredom/frustration/indifference at overly conventional music, films, art, etc, which is partly why this stuff appealed to me, by which I mean, it got me off.

Hopefully, I can speak about this without deflecting the raw unadulterated truth that sometimes I really really enjoy masturbating in the company of visual stimuli comprised of hard bodies, big dicks, and hot men sweating on each other, like to the point that I prefer it to sex with another person. But the “intellectualizing” is part of and beside the point: the fact is that thinking really really hard about some things gets me super-off. Obviously.

Which is why I thought it might be a good idea to interview Black Spark and see if he was a full-bodied artist cultivating the style of David Lynch, as he had had hinted at in the vague, frustrating few interviews he had done during his early hype-building phase.

Apparently a UCLA film student “on hiatus” in New York, the Spark has been producing a repertoire of short films to preface a more narrative-driven, full-length he’s preparing. The huge popularity of amateur DIY porn that’s proliferated through free ad-funded websites has already upset the boundaries of pornography, such that Justice Potter Stewart’s famous guideline seems even sillier. But I’m choosing to ignore a lot of the interview which I wasted having him defend his films as “not porn,” because I’ve realized these semantic issues are lazy alternatives for honest engagement with a topic.

But for the record, he considers his work more along the lines of "erotica verité," since it documents moments of genuine romance between lovers—supposedly the Spark (who directs and appears in the films) is only ever seen having sex with his “soul mate,” whom he refers to as the White Spark in this context.

The filmmaker and his team recently went on a bi-coastal tour of the U.S. to recruit supporting actors (aka “Sparks”) for cameos in the film shorts—and though potential volunteers were encouraged on the website to send photos, Black Spark said what he was really searching for for was “honesty,” and men “willing to face and confront their own personal demons…nothing physical.”

Which sounded like a lot of bullshit at the time. But afterward, a few more films emerged featuring unconventional beauties, with normal-sized penises, and then, the guy sort of even solicited my participation.

Obviously he enjoys this sort of power, of probably appealing to people like me who would laugh at the idea of appearing in a conventional porno, but seriously think about doing something this weird for free. And it also underscores his self-identified “sex addiction.”

“I wake up with a hard-on and I think about sex, and I typically go to bed right after I have sex. I think that addiction can consume you and prevent you from being productive.”

This is supposedly a vice, but he does seem to enjoy the ride, as his addiction is represented in pieces through various nameless Sparks that he meets across their country, cataloguing different objects of his desire ranging from talent to novelty.

It’s weird stuff, and its nods to dialectical oppositions—good and evil, love and lust—are indeed very Lynchian. It also strongly suggests of the Art School speak and excess romanticism you’d find in an Alexander McQueen exhibit, but all the arty static surrounding the project does serve his end of “transcending gay,” or perhaps overshadowing it; at the very least, the typical tropes and plot points that characterize popular gay porn (straight boy fantasies, locker room athlete/coach scenes, oversized dicks, the usual sequence of oral-anal-cumshot) are absent.

What’s probably more universally appealing, and what I heard Black Spark speak less guardedly about are the romantic components, the suggestions that real love might be captured on film—something usually absent from the porn equation.

Black Spark was soft spoken and sounded truly earnest when talking about a clip that he made as a love letter. In one of its scenes, he leans back to grasp the neck of his partner as his receives his penis—constituting the most romantic rendering of bottoming that I’ve seen on film. The text, “I trust him,” briefly flashes across the screen at one point, and at this moment I am reminded why anal sex used to seem so repulsive to me—it never looked sweet.

This depiction led us to further discuss issues of the popular portrayals of male homosexuality, and Black Spark spoke of his feeling essentially “masculine," taking pride in his ability to use his hands to build, and being intrepid and aggressive. I know some a lot of people are (rightfully) wary of associate with this characteristic, but I too have experienced the annoyance of being sometimes emasculated by the gay association. Even if this male identity is constucted and hollow, its denial still stings. This is ingrained in boys since childhood, when they learn the insults synonymous with a deficiency of maleness—“fudge packer” and “cock-sucker” are among them, long before boys truly contemplate the male homosexual act.

Some of these videos contain political messages like “support love,” and though Black Spark expressed the desire to “put us a little bit further than we were yesterday,” he admits to being confused by the intrusion of identity politics into what he considers a separate issue.

“I’m just learning this gay versus straight thing. I mean, I’ve been like this all my life, I’ve never known anything different. It’s just realizing that…I’m gay and, maybe lesbian as well.”

I can understand feeling a bit removed from an identity others embrace with such a passionate vigor—like me, it’s something he only entered into a few years ago.

June 15, 2011

WOMYN Wednesday


Happy Wednesday, y’all! Just to remind you, submissions to WOMYN’s second issue are due September 16, 2011! We’re super-excited about this issue – it’s going to be so awesome, because all of you are awesome, and so are your submissions (without your voices, WOMYN’s awesomeness quotient is going to suffer, though. Just sayin’.) So please send your poetry, prose, cartoons, photographs, etc. to womynatduke@gmail.com!!! And now, it’s time for the first WOMYN Wednesday Poll of the summer:

Do you feel comfortable coming to the LGBT Center?

(Click here to take survey)

Although this question isn’t directed specifically or exclusively to queer women, it’s an important question to ask, because it applies to everyone, queer or not.

There’s been a lot of discussion this past year, both on and off the BDU Blog, about the LGBT Center at Duke. In fact, at times this discussion has approached argument status, mostly due to the apparently polarizing nature of this space on campus. (Disclaimer: the following is based on what the writer, Jennifer, has seen/heard, and should not be taken as a reflection of anyone else’s experience or opinion.)

The Duke LGBT community is made up of many different kinds of people – some are very active, out, and open, while others are not. Many of the most out and open members are often the most vocal and visible LGBT people to the rest of the Duke community. (And let’s not forget the awesome allies who stand beside us – they’re one of the As in LGBTQQIAA, and their support and advocacy makes a positive impact every day.) A significant number of these members of the LGBT community tend to hang out in the Center on a regular basis, whether it’s for Fab Friday, for one of the several discussion groups hosted by the Center, or just to do homework, surf the web, and chat with friends. These people are sometimes referred to as “The Community” or “The Center Gays,” usually in a negative context.

There are other LGBT people here at Duke who do not regularly come to the Center. That’s fine – that’s awesome, in fact. Coming to the Center is not a requirement, and far be it from anyone to force others to go anywhere against their will. Sometimes the Center seems downright scary, especially for those who are questioning, closeted, or new to Duke. Some might see the Center as superfluous or confining.

The fact that there is such a division (these two groups are broad generalizations) within Duke’s LGBT community is not bad, nor is it unexpected. But sometimes we seem a mere hop, skip, and jump away from a really hurtful conflict, which is bad. A blog post addressing this issue happened earlier this year, as did some discussions in comments on the blog. There was even a meeting about it. However, after some comments on the Anonymous Posts this week, it appears that we haven’t yet resolved the discussion. So, please take the survey – your responses will be a helpful addition to the discussion. (Do avoid any obviously inflammatory language in your comments, both on this post and within the survey – the survey is not meant to start an argument. On the contrary, we want a constructive conversation, so that there will be no need to discuss this issue further. )

June 13, 2011

Anonymous Posts (6.6.11-6.12.11)


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, hate speech, or express or insinuate that one is at risk for hurting themselves or someone else. Please read this for an explanation of this policy and seek help if your or a http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.giffriend find yourself in that position. With those exceptions aside, please feel free to submit your thoughts and questions. :)
http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif
WAZZUP BDU BLOG!?

My time in Phoenix has been quite swell. I had the immense pleasure of getting coffee with the Duke alumna who serves on the GLSEN National Board (GLSEN=Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network=Sponsor of the Day of Silence and lots of other awesome things).

But alas, all good things must come to an end. Therefore, I left this morning to head off to outdoor adventure camp in Colorado where I'll be a counselor, an excursion trip leader, and a duathlete the resident feminist and LGBTQA community member.

I've gotta say that things around here are going awfully well. After a slow start to the summer, our writers have really picked it up and shared some inspiring stuff for the second straight week. (Good job, bloggers!) To recap: Jacob started thttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifhings off by sharing a conversation that he and his friend, Mehdy, most tragically will never be able to finish. Next up, Jennifer wished us all a happy WOMYN Wednesday. On Thursday we had our first ever Senior Post, which was also our first ever post about poly relationships and casual sex (Hi, 2011ers! We still want you!!!). Then yesterday, I came out of the closet, or something?

Of course, some of the most exciting posts we receive come from you, readers! Check out our anonymous posts below!

#1
I am a (gay) prospective student, and Duke is my top choice. It is nice to see that there is a thriving community at Duke supportive of LGBTQ students. I do not fit most steroetypes of gay men, and I do not like the idea of being identified only by my sexuality. I plan on rushing a fraternity, and will be very upfront with my sexuality from the beginning. This blog and other research about gay life at Duke has made me confident that I will find a fraternity, or atleast a niche at the school, that is right for me.

#2
People use the Bible to attack homosexuality, yet most of the time those same verses can be interpreted in a way that condones being gay. How can we even know if being gay is okay or not when we base it on something as subjective as human interpretation of God's word, which is something we clearly will never fully understand. Is there just a straightforward answer out there? I'm tired of wondering whether or not me liking girls is gonna send me to hell!

#3
This one if for all the girls on here....where the heck do u find a girlfriend at Duke? I think meeting girls in gay clubs is kinda sketch...but is that really the only option??

Please remember that there are a number of resources available on campus and in the local community. These resources are available over summer, too! If you or a friend are experiencing thoughts or urges to harm yourself or somebody else, please reach out to the following resources: In an emergency, please don't hesitate to call CAPS at any time, including "after hours" at (919) 966-3820. Ask to speak to the advice nurse and tell them you are a Duke student. You may also call the Trevor Project, a national hotline specifically for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and questioning youth (college students included). Their number is 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386).

June 12, 2011

"Available."

[Author's Note: This was a year of tremendous personal growth for me. I started talking with those closest to me about my sexuality. After 10 months of talking in hushed-tones and strict confidentiality, I am finally writing for the blog about my personal experiences, past and present. Throughout this process, writing has been a really helpful outlet for me. Some things have changed since I wrote this, and other posts that I will publish soon but that I also wrote in the past. Other things have stayed the same. Regardless, the following post speaks directly to how I felt at the time that I wrote it (mid semester, Spring 2011). I will not be modifying my writings to reflect my current state of mind. Rather, I will denote when posts are backdated and will offer more current reflections in other columns. Finally, I wish to thank those who have been my confidantes along the way. There is no way that I could be posting on the BDU Blog about this without our many conversations and your unwavering support.]

I was talking with a good friend who is a little older than me. She was “out” to me, and frequently updated me with the latest in her relationships with other women, though I wasn’t really sure how she identified, specifically: bi, lesbian, queer, something else? So when she told me that she was considering dating some “dudes,” and we’d never discussed her dating men past high school and coming out, it seemed like a situation in which I could comfortably and appropriately ask her about the nuances of her sexual orientation. Her response? “Available.” She didn’t know it at the time, but that one word just made so much sense to me. In fact, if you pressed me today to “choose a label! You have to pick something!,” that’s probably what I’d tell you. I’m available.

What’s it mean to be “available?” I’d say that it’s…
  • …sort of like what others conceive of as bisexual, but it expresses the fact that my “sexuality” is more about philosophy and less about sex (read: not really about sex, at all).
  • …sort of like being pansexual, which is philosophically and semantically different from people who identify as bisexual and therefore takes care of the part where “my ‘sexuality’ is more about philosophy,” but it doesn’t adequately express the part where my ‘sexuality’ is, paradoxically, not really about sex.

You might also understand it as being…
  • …sort of like being hetero- or homo-flexible, without the hetero- or homo- prefixes (see below for an explanation…and see above about the part where my sexuality isn’t really about sex).

I know, now you’re really lost.

So, here’s the philosophy part: I’m not “gender blind,” but you could probably say that I am “gender apathetic.” I just don’t really give a fuck care if you’re a man or a woman or queer or trans or feminine or masculine or what. Basically, as I see it, gender is confining and I don’t want it to limit me when I choose with whom I want to spend the rest of my life. I want to like and fall in love with a person—not a gender.

Sometime ago, an anonymous post (to which I had a very visceral reaction) asked why more out people don’t show their “interested in” on facebook (see #4). I have a lot of thoughts about this and loved the debate that got going in the comment section, but for right now, I’ll say this: I’m not interested in women, interested in men, or interested in men and women, as my facebook options may be. Rather, I’m interested in people. If you’re an amazing person, I want you in my life.

That’s why it’s sort of like being “heteroflexible” or “homoflexible.” In fact, if I still identified as straight, I’d definitely qualify my being straight with also being heteroflexible. Except that I can’t, right now, tell you whether I would choose the word which emphasizes the “hetero” or “homo” part. Which is where the sex part comes in…

The sex part: To determine which prefix to add to the word “flexible,” I’d have to be able to (and willing to?) identify what gender I was primarily attracted to.

I know we were all basically raised under the following two tenets: one being that two plus two equals four and the other being that “we are all sexual beings” (that’s why we have sex ed in the fifth grade, right? “DON’T HAVE SEX NOW. But someday when you’re married, you will, because that’s what people do when they are married.”)

Well, while two plus two will ALWAYS equal four (this is Duke, which means that some smart math major will probably correct me in the comment section, but roll with it, folks) some of us are more sexual than others, and I’ve found that I’m not really attracted to people, almost ever. And there are 101 reasons why this might be my situation (some more personal than others), and it very well may change, but for now, that’s how it is.

Which comes back to the reason that the labels bisexual and pansexual make me uncomfortable. It isn’t out of some internalized bi-phobia, but rather because the emphasis of the words is on sex, and for better or for worse (I’m, unfortunately, often convinced that it’s for worse), that just isn’t my experience.

Perhaps asexual is the correct way to express where I’m at? But, I’m not really convinced that that sums it up, either. For one, I’ve had crushes before—just not recently (read: a long time). And, I (albeit very rarely) have fleeting moments of feelings for people. Finally, it’s not something I’m super comfortable with.

During the moment when my friend identified as available, she made it sound so simple. The fact that we talked for two hours more, though, confirmed for me what I already knew from my own personal experiences: getting to where we both are today is a long, uncomfortable, and really personal journey with approximately 12318023 barriers along the way.

June 9, 2011

The City of Gigs

[Editor’s Note: Congratulations to the Class of 2011! The BDU Blog has invited all Duke 2011 graduates to write and share Senior Posts, which we will publish over the course of the summer. If you are interested in writing a Senior Post, please email me, Risa. Also hit me up if you want some ideas about what to write. There is no minimum or maximum length and no LGBTQA related topic is off limit. We will accept and publish anonymous submissions. Without further ado, our very first Senior Post!]

The City of Gigs
By Anonymous 2011 Graduate

It’s the first time in two years that I have been back home, which I have named “The City of Gigs.” Things have changed from the last time I visited. While I was walking on the street or shopping around in the mall, every five minute I would see gay female and gay male couples holding hands and expressing their affections. Sometimes I looked at them and could not stop smiling. I also looked at people who were walking pass those couples and infrequently noticed people looking down looking surprised. Bangkok has changed, but that is not the reason I call it the city of ‘Gigs’.

The first time I think I became someone’s Gig was during the summer before last, which was when I last visited Bangkok. At that time I was not out to anyone in Thailand and wanted to keep things secret, but I had somewhat craved for sexual satisfaction and wanted to explore things discreetly. One day, before going to do my part-time job as a tutor, I went to the gym to work out some. That day the gym was pretty empty. After finishing the workout, I went into the sauna room and found my opportunity. There was a handsome muscular guy. I sat on a hot wooden bench and started giving him an I-want-you-look. Suddenly, he stood up and left the room. Without thinking, I followed him and said “come with me.”

We were in the bathroom for some time, but that didn’t make me become his Gig. Realizing that people might catch us doing inappropriate stuff in public, we departed. I put my clothes on and walked out of the gym. (Un)fortunately, I met him again in front of the gym and we started introducing ourselves and shared phone numbers. On that same day, he texted me and wanted to meet up. We met at the coffee shop. He was a completely different person. He wore a nicely-designed outfit and shoes and he drove a brand-new sport car. As superficial as I was (am), I thought it would be nice to date this guy. We went back to his condo and had an intimate moment. After that we hung out more and had a nice dinner date. After dinner, one question came into my mind. ‘Are you single?’ I asked him. ‘No, I am not. I have a boyfriend. We have been together for seven years and he is in NYC …’ He replied to me, which started a long discussion about his boyfriend. He ended the conversation and asked me ‘What are you up to tomorrow?’ I replied ‘I don’t know,’ asking myself what I would become—his Gig?

Anyway, I spent my three months in Thailand hanging out with him as his Gig. I didn’t feel guilty, but special at that time. I don’t know whether I ever developed romantic feelings for him, regardless of our sexual activities. For me, I felt more like a friend and/or a brother—but a special one. He did express his love to me and did cry when I left Thailand. The first month after I came back to Duke for my third year of undergraduate study, I met the guy of my dreams. He is a handsome guy with a great heart. I fell in love. I completely forgot all of the things around me and those that had happened between me and the guy at home. When the guy of my dreams and I became boyfriends, I easily and happily shared the story with my Gig. He was mature about it. He was happy that I had someone nice and suddenly we became ex-Gigs. I have been in a quite-long-term relationship that was shared by two people, not three, and I really appreciated it. However, the relationship did end and one of the people who always supported me is this ex-Gig of mine. The story doesn’t end here because I haven’t answered why I named this essay “The City of Gigs.”

After getting an undergrad degree from Duke, I quickly headed back to Thailand—learning to look at the term, Gig, in multiple dimensions. Unsurprisingly, my ex-Gig and I met up. We started talking about his ex-Gig and Gigs he has had during the past two years. He introduced me to his current Gig who seemingly wants me to also be his Gig. One day, after my friends’ wedding party, I had too much fun and woke up in the white neat room with my ex-Gig hugging me. I got up and walked to the bathroom, seeing my ex-Gig’s current Gig playing with his dog. I said hi and went into the shower room. After taking a shower, I walked out and met a stranger who I found out to be one of the two boyfriends of my ex-Gig’s current Gig. They all live in the same place. They all share their lives with one another. After being around them for a while, I do respect this life style— if all people in the Gig community are happy and love one another; however, I am sure that I don’t want to be a part of it.

What do you think? Would you like to be part of this Gig community? How amazing would it be if we could have different Gigs who would fulfill different parts of us?

I’m now sitting on the 48th floor in a nice condo of one of my friends, looking at the city of Gigs and its beautiful river. I have been hanging out with this British guy for three days. He is nice and single. But who knows, I might be becoming one of his Gigs or he might have a Gig who is a Gig of my ex-Gig’s current Gig.

June 8, 2011

On Teamwork

[Editor's Note: Welcome to our newest blogger, Jennifer! Jennifer is the current editor of WOMYN, Duke's Magazine by and for queer women and their allies. The magazine launched during the fall of this past school year. Be sure to stop by the LGBT Center to check out a copy of it if you weren't fortunate enough to grab one hot off the press. And be sure to submit your own reflections and experiences by emailing womynatduke@gmail.com. In addition to writing about things from her own life, Jennifer will be bringing sexy WOMYN Wednesdays back!!]

Hey, everyone! I’m Jennifer, and I’ve finally been convinced to write for this amazing blog, so I’ll try to introduce myself in this post. It took a little while for me to agree to write for the BDU Blog, but my hesitation was (at the time) for some legitimate reasons. Like many LGBTQA people, I have been fearful of the reactions I might get for coming out or being outed. A great deal of that fear has been directed towards my family, because the messages I received about gay people when I was growing up were extraordinarily negative, and those messages haven’t stopped. So, I’m not out to any of my family, not even to my little sister, which keeps me safe but also makes me very sad. However, I’ve been lucky enough to find another family here at Duke and in Durham. My new family is full of wonderful, beautiful people – people who are as different from or as similar to me as I can imagine, and everything in between.

In my opinion, a family is like a team – we work together for some common goals, like making the family more welcoming and positive, and the love we have for each other makes cooperation easier. This blog is one example of the amazing things that happen with love, dedication, and teamwork, and I feel honored to write for it. I’m also the member of another team: WOMYN Magazine. Katherinne Silva, Robert Kollenberg, and I make up the Editorial Team, and together with you and your voices (because you’re part of the WOMYN team as well!) we want to make the LGBTQA Community a more visible part of Duke.

Megan Weinand, Jack Grote, and Summer Puente, the original Editorial Team (with the help of the ever-fantastic Dr. Janie Long), did something groundbreaking by starting WOMYN, and the current editors need your help to publish the next issue, because without you, there isn’t a magazine. In fact, as part of my contribution to the blog, I want to restart WOMYN Wednesday – WOMYN really needs your submissions and your input, and hopefully WOMYN Wednesday will give you even more ways to contribute. A quick word about submissions: the deadline for submitting to the next issue is September 16, 2011, and if you’re affiliated with Duke – a student, staff member, faculty member, or alum – you’re eligible to submit! We accept anonymous submissions, and we adhere to a strict code of confidentiality. You can submit anything: a photo, a comic strip, a poem, a prose piece – if you can email it (or a representation of it) to womynatduke@gmail.com, we’ll submit it to our Review Board. The only thing that we ask is that it has a focus on queer women and/or queer women’s issues. Additionally, we would love to have ideas for an awesome cover design for this issue. You are the ones who make this magazine, and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at the WOMYN email address listed above.

However, Wednesdays won’t always just be about WOMYN; both this blog and WOMYN are forums where we can tell our stories, analyze movies, poems, YouTube videos, and political power-plays, share our secrets, and help each other ask and answer difficult questions. So, I hope that I can share more of my story on this blog, and that you will feel comfortable sharing your voices with the Community by submitting to WOMYN.

June 7, 2011

An Ode to Mehdy


This past Sunday, June 5th, one of my good friends from high school died after suffering brain damage due to a fall. I’m not going to say that he was my best friend, because we didn't spend all that much time together in high school, but I will say that he is someone for whom I had a great deal of respect and a great deal of love. Moreover, he is someone who took me completely off guard one day, a year after I graduated.

At my high school, we have a very close-knit alumni community and we invite all alumni who are around to come visit in mid-May. As a recent alumni, I came back to visit, and amid the maelstrom of chatter and hellos and hugs, I got a chance to see Mehdy. I told him how much fun it’s been watching him (via Facebook events, etc.) implement multicultural programming at my high school in a way that I never could’ve, I told him how wonderful I thought he was, and I told him how excited that I was for him to go to college next year (at Harvard of all places, no big deal). All of that was expected, and didn’t surprise me really at all.

What took me off guard was the facebook message that I got from him a few days later, and I cannot think of a better way to honor his memory than with his own words, so I’m re-posting our exchange. I apologize if it’s long, but it shows so much about who he was as a person--about his capacity for critical analysis, for deep introspection, and for love:

* * * * *

Hey Jacob,

I really hope you are doing very well by the Grace of God.

I guess, I wanted to say to you thank you. You've placed on me a lot of cognitive dissonance, and you've made me confront my intolerance and my homophobia. I faced some stress and I think the truth can be bitter, but it needs to be embraced: homosexuals can be great, magnificent human beings. And, I guess, I will admit that parts of it remains, but it no longer pervades my heart like it once did, and even at this point, I'm battling it. Hatred is a beast that if you let in your heart, eats (quickly or slowly, but eventually) your beautiful essence up. So thank you. A lot. Thank RCHS. A lot. And most of all, thank Allah (ST). A lot. For everything.

I want to talk to you about homosexuality though. I have overcome my hatred and I want to understand now in clearer terms why I may or may not oppose homosexuality. As you probably know, Islam is against it, according to most scholars. I am a Shia Muslim and so first off, I am interested in hearing what you have to say about Iran's stance on trans-sexuality. I heard you mention it once in Social Justice at the beginning of your senior year, and I became very interested. Unfortunately, I got caught up with other things, but I am very fascinated, esp. now. Here's the wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transsexuality_in_Iran

Also, I wanted to know how you felt towards Islam's stance towards homosexuality. There are obviously (and this is common in most religions) very prejudiced, and at times fundamentalist scholars who preach a dehumanizing Islam that is no way consistent with the Islam Muhammad lived. But regarding the points these prominent American Islamic Scholars, I wanted to know how you felt:

This is Hamza Yusuf: (link)

This is Tariq Ramadan: (link)

I believe that in Islam, everything goes back to how Allah defines Himself and in the process, our reality. Allah is composed of 99 names within Islam and we believe that there are three categories for which those Names fall in to: Majesty (Masculinity), Beauty (Femininity) and Truth (the Oneness). And for men and women, Allah has concentrated certain amounts of each of these Names into their essences, their souls, and so, for example, men have a higher concentration of Names that fall into the category of Majesty and women have a higher concentration of Names that fall into the category of Beauty.

And, by God's will, He has manifested these Names in physical and psychological ways. That is why it can make sense that the spiritual self is connected to the physical, genetically composed self. Now, who are homosexuals? How do they work into this human spiritual structure? And I feel that homosexuals can be genetically pre-disposed to be attracted to the same sex. Homosexual tendencies can and do exist for at least two reasons that I can think of and it is very natural to be attracted to the same sex.

Now, back to the categories of Divine Names. In Islam, Muhammad had said Marriage is half of Islam and I feel that it can be seen very easily why in the inherent duality in humanity. The mark of a successful Muslim's life is the realization of Oneness and in order to attain that Oneness, heterosexual marriage is very necessary in order for men and women to transcend their duality. With this metaphysical understanding, I do feel that that is why Islam and I think possibly most religions believe that homosexuality is natural but been placed there for us to struggle with and eventually overcome to meet our Beloved. And I feel that individuals with homosexual tendencies are similar to individuals with alcoholic inclinations, in that it is natural for them to (strongly, for some) desire that thing, but in order to fulfill our purpose of creation, we need to not indulge.

So, all of that was not well-developed and there are probably many mechanics issues, and I apologize. I feel that mutual respect is very important in facing any issue and we have more in common than we differ in. Thanks again for everything and I will leave you something to ponder over: (link)

-Mehdy”

* * * * *

I sent him the following response:


Well, to start off, the Lupe Fiasco video rocks. I miss the days of socially conscious hip-hop and it's refreshing to hear it.

Secondly, I want to maybe preface everything I say by saying that I have a deep--albeit for the most part uninformed--respect for Islam. Muhammad has wisdom that we can all learn from.

Also, I'd like to strike a deal with you. I will help you to learn about and discuss homosexuality if you will help me to learn about and discuss Islam. In some ways, it's shocking; you'd think that I would know a lot about Islam as an Arabic student, but I haven't learned very much at all in my classes and I would love for someone to tell me more about it. The last thing I want to be is ignorant.

Another thing that I definitely want to express is that you are not at all alone in struggling with this. From what I can tell during my experience at the Global Youth Summit, most of my Muslim friends all throughout the Middle East are having this struggle. My friend Said in Morocco, my friend Edris in Afghanistan, and my friend Jessica from Egypt all talked to me about this when we were in London together for the summit. Jessica was so conflicted that it brought her to tears, because for her, she felt that being perceived as anti-gay is but one of the thousands of stereotypes that people had about her as a Muslim woman who wears a hijab. I very much empathized with her in that regard, and I think most people can. So bottom line is that this is a struggle that people are having all across the world.

As far as Iran's policy towards transsexuals, I actually think that in many respects it is a huge step in the right direction towards the acceptance of people who are transgender. It makes the process of switching one's sex legitimate and affordable and in that respect, it is a good policy. What is problematic about it, in my opinion, is that it demands assimilation and covering-up one's past after surgery. I think that view creates some kind of shame about the procedure, when people are not allowed to be open about having it done. Secondly, allowing the procedure does nothing to breakdown the prevalence of concretely defined gender roles, which I think in many ways is the larger problem for people who are transgender.

As to the more theological concerns and questions, I'm not sure if I'm terribly qualified to answer them given my limited knowledge of Islam, but I'll try to address them as best I can. When it comes to viewing marriage as the realization of Oneness, to me it seems that there is room for homosexual relationships. From what you've said it seems that the important part of that Oneness is this transcendence of duality and you've defined that duality as something that exists on the basis of gender, but could that duality not also exist in a larger more human way? Could we, as humans, be fundamentally separated from one another, and the Oneness that is realized through marriage is a Oneness that is created from the connection of two human beings, regardless of gender? For me, that is what is remarkable about love. Love unites people in a beautiful and deeply spiritual way regardless of gender, and thus finding your Beloved is a daunting, but worthwhile task for anyone, gay or straight. I don't know if I've stepped on any toes theologically with that perspective, but it's what I believe about love. The remarkable thing about love is not it's ability to cross the oftentimes arbitrary lines of gender, but it's ability to cross between two human souls and unite them in Oneness.

As for the idea of struggling with and overcoming homosexuality, I have never agreed with that idea. For me to struggle against my homosexuality would be for me to struggle against who I am, against who Allah made me to be. (I hope it's not offensive for me to use the term Allah, personally, I believe that God is one and that Allah seen through Islam is the same God that I grew up worshipping in a Christian church, many paths one destination and all of that, but that's a different philosophical debate in and of itself) I very much believe that Allah creates each one of us in his image, that Allah creates each one of us beautifully, and I see my homosexuality as part of that creation. So I would never struggle against homosexuality. That being said, I believe that everyone, gay or straight, struggles against lust and against the desire to objectify people and see them as sexual objects. But that is a struggle that I believe is universal.

I can't help but feel like this conversation might be better in person. Do you have any free time this weekend or potentially afterschool on Monday or Tuesday? I leave for my ten-week summer placement on Wednesday, so I couldn't do anything after Tuesday, but I'd love to get together and talk more. I have a great deal to learn from you I'm sure. If you can my cell is (919) 741-7696. Just send me a text or something.

Mehdy, I can't tell you how glad I am that you contacted me. It says a lot about your character, your ability to think deeply about things that are important in your life, and your good heart.

Most sincerely,

Jacob


* * * * *

We never had the chance to get together before I left for my summer placement, so I will never get the chance to see what that conversation would have looked like. During the past few days, I have found myself reading this message over and over again, wondering what the purpose of it all was, mourning the fact that we never had the opportunity that we deserved to learn more deeply from one another. Which is hard. However, I am left with the hope that, if people would only learn from Mehdy’s example, insha’Allah, we’d be on our way to a more equal and more loving world.

June 6, 2011

Anonymous Posts (5.31.11-6.6.11)


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, hate speech, or express or insinuate that one is at risk for hurting themselves or someone else. Please read this for an explanation of this policy and seek help if your or a friend find yourself in that position. With those exceptions aside, please feel free to submit your thoughts and questions. :)

HAPPY JUNEBUGS!

If you haven't checked in recently, you've missed our first round of really super awesome summer posts! So be sure to catch up by reading about Sheryl Swoopes, AJ's workplace conundrum, and Dan's airport experiences.

Since being home, I've done a lot of couch-sitting, good-food-eating and doctor-appointment-ing. Does anyone else seem to become a lab rat for doctors when you're home?

The WNBA season opened yesterday. My hometown Phoenix Mercury lost to Duke's very own Krystal Thomas's Seattle Storm. That's bittersweet right there!

We're still collecting senior posts, so hit me (Risa) up if you're interested! Uncle Sam BDU Blog Wants You!! Make sure to visit us later in the week to read our very first one!

#1
I just graduated this past May, without ever having told anyone at Duke that I might be gay or bi or at least anything other than a girl who likes guys. I hate that, because I feel like I missed out on a big opportunity. It's too late for me... But it might not be for you.

Please remember that there are a number of resources available on campus and in the local community. These resources are available over summer, too! If you or a friend are experiencing thoughts or urges to harm yourself or somebody else, please reach out to the following resources: In an emergency, please don't hesitate to call CAPS at any time, including "after hours" at (919) 966-3820. Ask to speak to the advice nurse and tell them you are a Duke student. You may also call the Trevor Project, a national hotline specifically for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and questioning youth (college students included). Their number is 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386).

June 3, 2011

Airport Attire


Sorry I haven’t posted in a while (read: the most uninteresting man in the world). I figured I’d post something relevant and something that I thoroughly enjoy doing. Traveling. I have spent a decent amount of time in an airport during my long trek to and from Utah for my brief vacation from Duke. One thing has changed about the way I travel since coming to Duke. I always wear my Love = Love shirt when flying.

Now, I’m not sure if it’s actually doing anything in terms of swaying public opinion about LGBT identified people. Most of the people I see spend as much time looking at me as I do them (about a half a second to make sure we don’t run into each other as I sprint from one terminal to another). But when I actually get to my terminal and realize that I have nothing to do but sit and wait for 30 minutes, or when someone is awkwardly standing over my seat waiting for everyone loading the plane to move back, the second, third, and usually fourth glance are pretty obvious. In fact, as I am writing this in the Detroit airport, every time I look up to check the gate status, I meet eyes with the portly man across from me and he quickly averts his gaze.

If people are judging me for wearing this shirt, it’s almost a good thing. Just my presence is making them think about LGBT issues. Whether or not this portly man was supportive, at least I was making him think. I’d imagine that most people who are unsupportive of LGBT rights think that all gays are flag waving, parade marching, gaga loving queens. Frankly these aforementioned queens are the most fun people in the world and I feel bad for anyone who doesn’t know one, but I digress. By wearing the shirt, I hope I am somehow showing that there are gays (the majority, in fact) who don’t fit the stereotype. I wasn’t causing a stir, I was just sitting there, in blue jeans and running shoes, listening to an iPod, just patiently waiting (the fact that I was listening to the Wicked soundtrack is irrelevant).

Here’s a funny little aside. While in the Detroit airport, I went to McDonalds. I walk up to the lady at the cash register and order, and she says, “I like your shirt.” I am so incredibly touched, and graciously thank her for being supportive. And then she goes and crushes all my hopes and dreams and says, “It means like man and woman only equals love, right?” #facepalm. No. No it does not. So I tell her she should look at it again. Upon second inspection she says, “Oh, never mind. Next.”

So yeah. There’s that. I hope ya’ll are enjoying your summer.

June 2, 2011

The Ghost of Summer Past


I'm back at square one again. If you're a long-time follower of the Blog, then you'll remember me struggling with coming out at my job. (You can catch up here.) Well, I ended up not doing anything and kinda letting the situation disappear. I never really came out but I always avoided any kind of conversation about sex and/or girls. I tried to leave subtle hints like leaving my internet browser on my computer with the Blog open or shopping for a "Legalize Gay" shirt while at my desk but nothing that directly said "Oh hey, btw, I'm gay."

I left my job at the end of the summer not worrying about it, thinking that I would never see those people again except for maybe passing each other on the quad. Obviously, I was wrong.

I was invited to come back and work again this summer. I didn't have any other summer plans so I figured it would be a good way to make some money for the school year. Little did I know that two of my fellow coworkers from last summer also decided to come back and work again.

Ok. Cool. That's awesome. They already know the ropes so things will go a lot smoother this summer. The whole I-never-actually-came-out thing didn't cross my mind... until a few days ago.

As we were starting our day at work, we found one of the yearbooks from last year and began to flip through it. My other coworkers had not seen it yet. We browsed through, commenting on how we thought it was funny/awkward to have pictures of tailgate in the yearbook. Then, we got to this beautiful photo of a certain three rooms in Kilgo that were flying rainbow flags outside their windows. One of my coworkers stopped on that page. I stood there bracing myself for what he was about to say.

"I didn't know what those flags meant until last year. I just knew that a lot of people liked flying rainbow flags", he said. Ok, not bad. I can deal with that. If people aren't exposed to certain cultures, they wouldn't understand the different symbols of that culture. He just needed to be educated. So, now he knows. Good. Next page!

"I have a friend that loves to tear them down hahaha!"

I don't know how to explain how I felt after he said that. It was a mixture of rage/ disgust/ anger/ fury/ thirst for blood and sadness/ pity/ hurt/ pain/ disappointment. I wanted to tear him limb from limb like in Mortal Kombat and at the same time, just hang my head and walk away. This was the same coworker from the other post that invited me to his fraternity party by telling me there would be plenty of girls.

He confirmed my worst fears about him. As much as I tried to not impose the "douchey frat boy" stereotype on him, he just kept insisting that I treat him like one of those frat guys that make all of us look bad (Yes, even as a fraternity member, I recognize that some members of the Greek community are complete and total... bad, awful, not nice people).

I was able to compose myself to squeeze out a nonchalant "Why would your friend do that? Does he have something against gay people?" I was on the verge of saying more but I knew that if I did, I would end up probably with my hands around his neck. He said that he didn't think his friend was homophobic, he just thought it would be fun. "I think it's kinda funny actually." Now, that actually pissed me off even more. At least if he was homophobic, there would be some hope of educating him. But you can't cure stupidity and ignorance. Luckily, before I could unleash my fury upon him, my boss walked in and put us to work.

I fumed about that for days and I'm still fuming actually. That event showed me two things: 1) He didn't get the sexuality hints I was trying to drop and 2) As much as I hate to admit it, sometimes, stereotypes are spot on. He's the perfect example of the negative connotation of "frat star." (Sidenote: I think "frat star" can also have a positive meaning. I'll explain that later though. Stay tuned!).

I just don't know how to handle this situation. I know that I should say something to him about how I didn't appreciate what he said and that I find it really offensive for someone to do something like that. However, I now find him so repugnant that I don't want to talk to him anymore than absolutely necessary. And I know that's not a good way to feel about anyone, especially a coworker, but I just don't want to put up with people that I despise. I've got better things to do with my life. I know, I know. That's a horrible attitude but I just get so frustrated with intolerance of any kind that my temper would be more of a detriment than an asset to the cause.

So, my question is once again, what in the world do I do?