April 30, 2012

Anonymous Posts (4.23.12-4.29.12)

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. :)

Well, finals are here y'all. The blog will be trying to post new material as much as possible during this week to provide you with little study breaks, but we might not have something every day. As I'm sure you know, things get really busy around here during finals and so we might be a little slower than usual. Thanks for understanding, and good luck with finals! Notes from OC:

In light on Amendment one in North Carolina, citizens of Iraq are facing similar hatred with worse consequences. As much as we should vote against Amendment 1, the people of Iraq need someone to speak out as well so I thought I might share this website. http://allout.org/en/actions/stopthekillings/taf
Matt OBrien

This petitition could use more signatures. Unbelieveable!
I reject the church’s views on claims that it is all ad hoc and dialectic. The claims of the church originate from an unsupported body of documents. The Bible is an unjustified body of work. Little outside evidence can support not only that the authorship of the books was original but that what was attested did in fact happen. As such, the basis of its belief system is mere conjecture. This could be fine, if there was a degree of coherence in views. One need not read too much of the Bible nor study discrepancies between beliefs to arrive at a conclusion of inherent inconsistency of statements, but also an incompatibility of metaphysical assertions (a being cannot at the same time omnipresent, omnibenevolent, and omnipotent). Moreover, basic tenets such as prayer, retribution, saving grace, etc. hold no logical sway given the asserted metaphysical attributes. In addition, the bible asserts a number of claims that are contrary to evidential, observable fact. As such, the bible is both internally inconsistent and disconnected from reality. With this in mind, if the basic beliefs from which all the church’s morality derive are inconsistent then it does not serve as a compass for moral action. I’d also like to weigh in on the “bigotry” argument going on. Note the is-ought distinction of claims. The “is” is the summation of all observable facts in the world. Men are stronger. It obtains that x. etc. etc. The “ought” premise is where one gives logical thrust to a moral argument. It is this ought premise where you decide whether the claim is bigoted. This is where your code of ethics comes in. Think of it like this: x + y = c Where: X: statement of fact about the world Y: ought premise derived from a body of ethics C: logical, deductive conclusion X and C are outside the scope of ethical accountability. Y is where one is at liberty to say if that claim is bigoted and/or wrong. However, this problematizes things. If Y derives from an internally consistent body of ethics, it is a precarious position to say it is bigoted. Y just like C in that it was logically derived from other premises. One must then go back to the basic premises. And this is where one is at liberty to accept or reject claims. In regard to homosexuality: This basic premise might take the form of: all things unnatural are morally derisive and acts that are such should be punished/warded against so as to preserve ___what may have you__. Ought claims are very difficult to judge. However, in this specific example I would ask one to define unnatural. More importantly, I would see if this basic claim holds with our intuitions. Is soap unnatural? Should I not use it to bathe? Is driving an automobile unnatural? Is studying linguistics unnatural? It so seems untenable for this basic belief to hold. Well, what else might be the basic belief that one could hold to judge homosexuality as a vice? Sexual activities should only partaken in for there teleological purpose (their end. i.e. conception of children). In this I think we have found the moral intuition of the Catholic church. In fact, to my surprise, they are actually fairly coherent on this one, at least in regards to women and masturbation (sin of onan). There are numerous occasions in the bible where it doesn’t seem like men are held to a standard of sexual “purity.” But even assuming we omit these parts, one is stuck defending why sexual activity comes under the realm of morality. Ethics proper is a “science” of how one engages with other people (and a metaphysical being should one believe in one; if one supposes that this being exists, one should have good reasons for making this claim). As such, cases of rape and public sexual activity make sense in regards to prescribed ethical behavior. However, why do some ethical theorist feel like they have the right to regulate one does with another consenting adult (or with oneself) in a private setting? As a sexual libertine myself, I do not see how my sexual conduct affects myself as a person and how someone can pass moral judgments on me for my actions. But I will entertain possible claims: 1) the claim for “proper” sexual conduct is based on one’s relationship with a divine being. By some metaphysical relationship, this relationship is subverted by sexual activities outside “proper” accepted behavior. Reply: prove to me that a) god exists, b) your god is the right god, c) we have good reasons to believe that this metaphysical relationship obtains. 2) the claim of “proper” sexual conduct is a principle one should take because of its benefits, i.e. mental and physical health reply: this is a bit paternalistic to me; I am a full grown adult and am capable of making my own risk-analysis; if you want to lay chains on my sexual behavior show to me the health benefits of it; moreover, show to me why you have stake in me having mental and health benefits; if what I do is only damaging to myself, what business is it of yours? I could understand if somehow you were hurt by it, but until you are able to show this, you have no right of regulating my behavior. Moreover, your claim of health benefits is observably wrong. Sexual deprivation is damaging to animals (as a matter of fact). Furthermore, claiming that homosexuality is a mental or physical defect has been debunked by almost every psychological society in there is.

Please remember that there are a number of resources available on campus and in the local community. These resources are available over breaks and throughout the school year. 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).

April 28, 2012

Is the Catholic Church bigoted?

I apologize for the sensationalist title to this post, but this is really seems to be the question underlying so much of my interactions with others with respect to the Church.  Recently, I was giving a presentation in front of DSG when a Senator muttered under his or her breath doubt as to the Catholic Church recognizing any rights whatsoever. Earlier this year, one of my good friends asked me, “How can you be a part of an organization that denies that an entire community of humans even exist?”

I’ll admit that these comments disturb me.  If the Church does in fact dehumanize a whole group of people, then the Church would be undermining the dignity of the human person it claims to prize so highly. But this doesn’t seem consistent with the Church’s actions—it is the largest charity in the world that provides aid regardless of race, creed, or orientation.  While the rest of the world was going on about GRIDS, it was the Catholic nuns who were the first to overcome the fear that paralyzed society and step in to nurse the suffering—sexual orientation a nonfactor. 

This just doesn’t seem bigoted to me.  I would say bigotry is an irrational judgment without considering the facts, and based solely on gender, race, orientation, religion, etc. With that in mind, a statement such as,

“Men tend to be physically stronger than women,” 

could be considered bigoted if I just made it a priori without evidence and reflection on how I came to that conclusion.  But if we, like the scientific community, believe in some objective physical reality, it could simply be a statement of scientific fact established by accepted methods within physiological research (e.g. Janssen et al, Journal of Applied Physiology, July 1, 2000 Vol 89 No 1, 81-88). 

Similarly, a statement such as,

“homosexual acts are intrinsically morally disordered,”

could be considered bigoted if I just made it a priori without evidence and reflection on how I came to that conclusion.  But if we, like the Catholic Church, believe in some objective moral reality, it could simply be a statement of theological fact established by accepted methods within ethical research (e.g. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2357-9).

Sadly, it seems to me that many look no further than a single statement of the Catholic Church to call the Church bigoted without a study of the epistemology that the Church uses to construct her worldview, or the evidence that the Church considered to draw her conclusion.  Somehow, theological claims are something we’re all entitled to an opinion regardless of our depth of study.  Few educated people take seriously extremists who dismiss evolution or some other scientific claim without a degree in Evolutionary Biology or some related study.  Yet we as a community seem to laud those who, without theological degree or even carefully considering the Church’s evidences, reject the Catholic Church’s theological claim.  How many who reject the doctrine mentioned above can tell me the arguments the Church uses to justify that doctrine?  Yet, if we as a community don’t study the Catholic arguments, how can we ask Catholics to consider ours?

This is not to say that individual Catholics always act with pure motives, or have not used their religion to justify hate, despite the Church’s explicit forbidding of this (See again my comment about people feeling entitled to express theological opinions without a careful study of theology).  I am not asking non-Catholics to study or agree with a faith they don’t profess.   However, I am asking non-Catholics to not make judgments about a view they have not carefully studied based on an incomplete exploration of the arguments. After all, that would seem to be an irrational judgment without fully considering the facts.

Calling my Church names without studying her teachings dismisses a billion people worldwide for no reason other than their religion.  I invite the community here to, with me, enter into conversation with my Church on her view on LGBT rights.  But please, do so after careful study of her arguments and how she derives them.  It is, after all, merely the treatment you would ask any Catholic when considering ours.

April 27, 2012

Parenting Without Papers

[Editor's Note: We are SO excited to bring you ANOTHER amazing out faculty blogger, Dr. Jules Odendahl-James.]

At the end of February, I spoke at the Duke Together rally against Amendment 1 on the West Union Plaza. I was there to talk about the harms this discriminatory amendment poses for my family, which consists of myself, my spouse of 17 years, and our 7-year old daughter. {You might have seen us the “Make it Better” video that Duke Together released at the end of March.} That event in February, I’m almost ashamed to say, was the first large campus event where I spoke openly about being a gay parent and my most palpable emotion was fear--fear that by being visible I was putting those I love at risk not to mention myself.

Earlier on that same February day, I was a participant in a “Know Your Rights” training facilitated by NC Dream Team as part of STRANGER: A Festival of Hospitable Acts, a civic engagement project sponsored by the Duke Center for Civic Engagement and the Department of Theater Studies. The Dream Team typically reserves this training for undocumented students, workers, and their families but agreed to facilitate a version of their workshop to help us understand more personally the range of emotional, physical, and legal issues faced by North Carolina Latino/as. There were some dominant themes:
• Fear -- of exposure, of entrapment, of discrimination, of loss of everything one knows and holds dear.
• Resolve -- to speak out for fair business, legal, and educational practices in relationship to immigrants old and young, those with papers and without.
These young activists are unwilling to hide, remain silent, and hope for others to change a dysfunctional system. Their resolve also what puts them at risk; however, it’s a risk they feel compelled to take. If they don’t, who will?

I began to imagine myself in the shoes of our facilitators. No, I do not risk arrest and deportation if I am pulled over for a traffic violation. No, police officers typically do not single me out on the street and ask my name, to see some ID, or demand to know “What are you doing here?” No, I do not worry about my ability to get through a day without being accosted, my workplace raided, or being torn, summarily and without legal counsel, from my family and sent to a place I do not know as home.

And yet, I can be denied access to and the ability to direct care for my child or my wife, if we have to seek medical care in a county or from a facility where the staff refuses to acknowledge me as a parent and a spouse. In 2010, I lost my legal standing as a same-sex, “second” adoptive parent via a summary judgment from the NC Supreme Court in Boseman v Jarrell. So did hundreds of others. I am now dependent upon benevolent schools, doctors, and employers to accept me as a mother despite that ruling. If something were to happen to my spouse, despite the many costly legal documents we have in place to protect ourselves, a member of her extended family could step in and argue for a blood tie to the child I have raised. And I would have to rely upon the mercy of the court for custody.

The immediacy of the fear is absolutely different for LGBT and Latino/a North Carolinians, but the risks for living “without papers” (be they birth certificates, valid Social Security cards, or adoption decrees) is shared. And, while I am fortunate that Duke University provides benefits to its LGBT employees and their families, my position is provisional. My temporary access to the generosity of this employer adds complications and, admittedly, has influenced my willingness to be public and vocal about LGBT equality.

As I sat in the “Know Your Rights” workshop, I was reminded of an exchange that happened at a Race to the Ballot town hall. Race to the Ballot was a statewide marathon in which EqualityNC staffer Jen Jones ran from city to city appearing at public forums to talk with citizens about the ramifications of this legislation. At a meeting in Boone, a supporter of Amendment 1 demanded to know how one speaker, a lesbian non-birth mother, could legitimately consider herself a parent. “Did you and that woman conceive your child?” He was visibly shocked at her answer of “Yes,” and at her question of him. “Can you see that I am the mother of that child? I was there at her birth and have raised her. Can you believe that she is as much mine as your children are yours?” “No,” he responded with blunt honesty, ”I just can’t.”

It is this refusal to recognize LGBTQ North Carolinians as equal that Amendment 1 will enshrine into the state constitution. This is more than just an issue of semantics about marriage; it codifies a particular religious morality as a rationale for discrimination. It not only prevents relationship recognition for both unmarried gay and straight couples, but also makes it impossible for North Carolina law to conceptualize of such unions for the foreseeable future. Without legal standing as full subjects, any and all rights and responsibilities to partners, communities, and institutions are rendered inconceivable.

On my most pessimistic days, I think this is the unspoken endgame when it comes to LGBTQ individuals, as well as un/documented, Latino immigrants in North Carolina: to make invisibility not a temporary survival strategy, but a permanent legal position from which we have few, if any, means of recourse. On other, more hopeful days, I think of how much the fight to defeat Amendment 1 has galvanized and connected seemingly different communities and encouraged people to come out, to see themselves and make themselves seen as complete subjects in the face of the law. Resolve in the face of fear can no longer be a dream -- it must be a reality.

To learn more about The NC Dream Team visit their website. To learn more about Duke Together and other statewide organizations fighting Amendment 1 visit our website. [Photo Credit: Justin Cook, Commitment NC Project]

April 25, 2012

This is my home too

When the Amendment 1 was proposed, I was upset, but I really don’t think I realized that is was actually real. It was surreal and something to worry about later. But in the last couple of weeks, it has become starkly real to me. It’s hit me that these are my neighbors, my friends, and my family, some of which will definitely vote to deny me even the possibility of having equal rights. And these people will say (if I ever get the nerve to confront them about it, which I surely will not) that it’s not personally against me—that it’s an issue of principle, not individuals. But it can’t be divorced from me personally. This is the state where I grew up, and my community back home is asserting its disapproval of me, and so are many of the friends that I have come to love and respect. It makes me nervous that these sorts of feelings are becoming more and more socially acceptable. I have always sensed a tension at home (tiny rural area in NC, cows outnumber people, mostly socially conservative, that sort of thing), but in my experience people have managed to at least keep it largely to themselves. I think they haven’t expressed any direct malice because it’s not something that they regularly think about. Now, though, LGBT issues are the topic of discussion, and I dread what I know that I will hear in two short weeks when I go back. I have been thinking a lot lately about coming out at home, to my family if to no one else. But now I’m afraid the climate may be too hostile for this to even be an option. I’m afraid of the insensitive passing remarks and conversations that I’ll overhear about how wrong or disgusting queer people are. I’m afraid that I will let these inevitable words get in my head. I’m afraid that I will feel ashamed or less of a person where I know that I never should. I’m afraid of giving people power over me, even if they are completely unaware of what they are doing. I’m afraid people will draw a connection between my politics and my sexuality and expose me. I’m afraid that what has been my home for so long will no longer be that. And I’m afraid that all of my friends there who would be affected by the Amendment and the change of social atmosphere that it would bring, wonderful queer and allied people who deserve nothing better than the best, will be subjected to the same.

I find myself faced with what seems to be an unavoidable step back into the closet. I’ve been able to surround myself with LGBT community at Duke in ways that I never had even imagined possible. I have been fulfilled and supported and have developed and it has all been a dream. After having all of this freedom, going back is going to be undeniably hard. I dread that I will have to be there when the Amendment 1 voting results come in. If it’s good news, I will celebrate alone; if it’s bad news, I will cry alone. And it is like this for so many queer and allied people in rural communities through the state. So I guess that’s ultimately what Amendment 1 would mean for me—a hit when I’m already down.

April 24, 2012

Thoughts Of A Graduating Senior

So, it's come to this: my final blog post as an undergraduate at Duke University. It feels like just yesterday that I was taking that first step and nervously writing my first blog post. It was my sophomore year and even though I was out to all of my friends, I had never spent much time in the Center or even fully accepted myself as a gay man. I knew I was gay and had hooked up with guys before, but I had not told myself that it was ok. It was still something I was ashamed of and something I tried to downplay as much as I could.

Thankfully, I had an awesome roommate and brother who wouldn't let me do that to myself. He told me that I had to accept myself before I could be truly happy. Accepting myself meant more than just saying I'm gay and hooking up with the occasional guy. It meant not being afraid to talk about my sexuality with other people. It meant not lying to people when they asked where I was between 4-6pm on Friday.

And so, I turned to the blog. And now, here I am. A senior. Getting ready to leave Duke and all of the amazing people I have grown to know and love behind. Leaving the people that were once strangers but are now family.

Over my years here at Duke, I've learned a lot and so I hope to relay some of my nuggets of insight to you younger whipper snappers:

1) Get uncomfortable: Do something that makes you feel a little out of place, something you've been hesitant about doing. The only way I became involved with The Center was by stepping out of my comfort zone.

2) Be the lion: Just a creative way of saying be courageous. This goes hand-in-hand with my first piece of advice. It takes courage to break down that comfort wall, but without it, I wouldn't be writing for this blog, I wouldn't have my awesome fraternity brothers, I wouldn't be in my amazing a cappella group. Be brave and know that everything will be ok.

3) Don't close yourself off: I've seen it happen way too many times. Everyone has their group of close friends and there is nothing wrong with that, but don't ignore anyone not in your friend circle. Reach out to that new person sitting in the corner. Strike up a conversation with the person alone in the computer room. You never know. They might end up joining your friend circle. If not, you never know how your conversation might have helped them.

4) Don't judge: You don't have a gavel. You don't have the cool robe. You don't wear one of those ridiculous white wigs. That means that you have no right to make decisive judgments about someone else's life. Remember that. We are all different. We come from different backgrounds and have different experiences. We have varying views on life. And that's what makes us all special. This also includes actions.

5) Express yourself: In every way possible, express yourself in any way you see fit. I mean more than being artsy or wearing a neon pink shirt with fluorescent orange shoes. I mean your beliefs, too. Engage in conversations with people that have different views than you. Don't be afraid to go against the "norm" of what other people are saying. It's through these intellectual discussions about life that you become closer to people.

Above all else, love everyone. It is only through this mutual compassion that we can move forward and achieve progress. It's the only way we can grow as a community and as a people. Love = Love. I love you all and am going to miss each of you dearly. I can't thank you enough for the love and support I have received from everyone who reads and comments on this blog. You've helped me through quite a few rough times. I only hope that in the midst of all my rambling and identity crises, that I was somehow able to help you.

AJ Biggers
Trinity 2012

April 23, 2012

Anonymous Posts (4.16.12-4.22.12)

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. :)

So y'all, here it is. LWOC. This weekend was a big one for our community, what with Lav Grad and Alumni Reception, the Center was quite busy this weekend. Good stuff, and lots of fun for all. Add onto that the night at the Bar to protest Amendment One, and this was a super fun, super queer weekend. What's more, we're getting TONS of anonymous posts! It's enough to make a blog editor all weepy... But enough of my silliness, you've got posts to read!

 With that said, notes from OC:

I think being a single lesbian here is incredibly lonely and sexually frustrating. It doesn't help that when I go to WLW and out to the Bar or Pinhook almost everyone is in a couple. I don't know who to talk to. I can openly talk with my straight friends about hookups. But when I bring up sex in a group of queer women it's a big joke. Is this the 1950s? Just waiting until I find my princess charming is so at odds with everything I believe.

I'm a pre-frosh, and I'm a bit disappointed in the perceived lack of a dating scene at Duke, and the domination of "hook up culture" as a current Freshman put it to me. Is the dating scene really non-existent? and, is it wrong of me to seriously detest the hook up culture, and sometimes even the people that partake?

I liked someone for a really long time, but once he found out all he did was gossip (rudely) about it to mutual friends and be a complete ass about it, but he continues to talk to me in group settings as though he didn't do anything. Should I say something about it? Would it be inappropriate to give him a bit of a cold shoulder?

this is an honest question to people of color: What exactly is wrong with non-people of color lgbt people from comparing (even equating) the struggles they go through to the current struggles of the black community. Point 1: Historical Perspective Both groups have had a long history of being marginalized, excluded, and discriminated. Both groups have been the targets of hate speech and hate crimes. I understand that there's a difference: black people went through slavery. But to then ignore the fact of sodomy laws and other laws targeting homosexuals (in essence making their "behavior" illicit), is to marginalize the group even further. Understand I'm not saying one is worse than the other. I don't think I have to make a case for either side. The point is that the experiences that a gay man shares and a black man shares can not be solely derivative to this difference. They both experience the same forms of discrimination. Point 2: Contemporary Discrimination Disclaimer: Rushing through this part of the post will lead one to think I'm claiming being gay is harder than being black. While I grant that is a fair interpretation of what I'm about to say, I strongly encourage you to take a more nuanced perspective. The plight of PofC and homosexuals is very different in today's world. Whereas most people are more subtle with their discrimination of black people and while there are anti-discrimination laws protecting them, gays/lesbians are often openly attacked with vile speech; moreover, in many regards they are not given equal protection (either lgbt is not part of the anti-discrimination policy or certain rights are not considered to be rights and thus they have no claim to them). It would seem to me that as a gay man, my career can be significantly more impaired than my straight black colleague. At least blacks have protection formal (understand this in the philosophical technical context) even if not true/full protection (this is to say that I understand the loopholes in the system that allow for discrimination). But in many cases LGBT folks do not even have formal protection. I understand that my being white can mitigate some of the discrimination I face as a gay man. Trust me, that fact is not lost on me. This post is not meant to downplay the struggles of people of color. However, I'm aghast to so often hear people of color take offense and openly denigrate others who compare the discrimination they face to theirs. I can understand not letting certain groups privilege themselves with this comparison when it would in effect undermine or reduce the seriousness of the actual discrimination faced in the past, present, and future (i.e. religious conservatives who claim the "discrimination" they face is equal to that of the trials of black people). But when one truly marginalized sect of people tries to make a claim to the the hate faced by black people, I don't understand the kneejerk reaction that "your struggles are not equal to my struggles." While it is true that I can only have a second-hand perspective of your struggles, the same relation holds for you and my struggles. I do understand that those intersectional black-queer have a unique perspective to offer. And I respect that. It does shed some light on the issue. However, I have met few of these people. I take what they have to say very seriously. But their opinions do not form the foundation of my belief for two reasons: 1) I have a poor sample size. I know maybe 20 or so people that fit this intersectional description. Most of them also happen to be college-educated people as well. So I have a skewed data source. I would need perspectives of at least 100 people of this description that also come from a diverse range of backgrounds. 2) they do not get to compare 1:1 the struggles faced as a black person and as a queer person. The struggles come coupled together. It's not like one day they can experience the struggles of being black and then the struggles of being queer on the next day. That is to say, it is impossible to parcel out the relative hardship of either identity. Moreover, it's not a simple case of one identity compounded with another identity. It has to be noted that homosexuality is much less accepted in the black community than in other communities. The point of this statement is to say that the struggles of the queer identity are exacerbated by the black identity. And from the perspective of the person, it could either be taken to be an added struggle as a queer person or an added struggle as a black person. With all this said, I'd would like an honest critique of my argument. I do not for at all hold that my views are correct. I am very ignorant in many respects. What I do not want is an abrasive diatribe that so often is seen on this blog. When it stops being critique and starts being vilification, academic and philosophical advancement stops.

[Editor's Note: I've really loved how we've been talking about issues of race on the blog lately, as it's such an important conversation to have. I've really liked how patient everyone has been with each other for the most part, and I hope we can keep that energy up. As we talk about this important issue, let's keep talking about our experiences and respecting those of others. Also, whenever possible, let's keep giving people the benefit of the doubt if they say something we find ignorant. It's great to see these issues being discussed, this is what the blog is all about! Thanks, y'all. :-)]

Even though I'm a gay female, I still find it weird to think about my future and hear me or my friends speculate about my wife. The word just always seemed weird and awkward when applied to me. I always preferred to say girlfriend or almost anything else. But today, for the first time ever, my best friend said something about my future wife and the word didn't sound weird. One day I will have a wife and she will be awesome.

Today I had a face-to-face conversation with a friend and explained why it was extremely hurtful and offensive to me (as a straight woman) that he said f** in a facebook conversation we were having awhile back. This original use of this word led to a much longer debate and discussion over facebook chat and it is the first time we have sat down in person. He had thought that I was overreacting (it was the first time I heard him say that word) and he didn't mean any harm. Today, I explained that I was speaking out for those who didn't feel comfortable doing so. I didn't have anything to loose other than my time. After he realized that I was willing to drop our friendship because of our heated argument because I felt so personally offended and disrespected, I could tell that he was starting to get it. In the time between our facebook conversation and today's talk, it was clear that he has reflected on why he holds certain beliefs and how his words can perpetuate a homophobic culture. I am proud of myself for not being a silent bystander.

Please remember that there are a number of resources available on campus and in the local community. These resources are available over breaks and throughout the school year. 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).

April 22, 2012

Questioning in Silence

Starting my sophomore year, I’ve written a blog post every year on the Day of Silence. While the rest of the nation participated in Day of Silence on Friday, we were busy celebrating our seniors in Lavender Graduation (2012, what’s up!?). As a result, the Blue Devils United Executive Board decided that here at Duke, we’d observe DOS tomorrow.

Which leads me to this post.  

Tomorrow, I’m silent for those who are questioning in silence. After all, I was one of them for far too long.

So what kept me from talking about it? At the time that I came out as questioning on the blog, I wrote that there were “approximately 12318023 barriers along the way.” Here’s four of them. And, while I can’t say that these are the barriers that every person who is questioning faces, I also don’t believe that they are entirely unique unto me.

1. I didn’t want to be “Just another gay LGBTQ Rights Activist”
It might be hard for some people to believe, but I’m not an LGBTQ rights activist because of my own sexuality. My activism has and always will stem from the “ally” part of me—the part of me that believes that all people deserve respect, equality, dignity, and safety. It’s the part of me that embraces MLK’s quote, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” and out retired NBA player John Amechi’s quote, "Why speak, why act, why exist if not to change the world?"

I didn’t want to be “just another gay LGBTQ rights activist,” because I’m not. I might be gay or bi or something other than straight. And I’m definitely an activist. But those identities aren’t connected for me. To this day, when I advocate to vote against Amendment 1, it’s not because someday I might want to marry a woman. It’s because I believe all people deserve the right to the legal protections and benefits that come with marriage. As people in this community understand all too well, it’s not fun being taken for something you’re not. Coming out as questioning jeopardized people understanding my motives for being an activist.

2. I didn’t want to be “Just Another Gay Female Athlete/Women’s Sports Fan”
What I learned from this is that stereotypes hurt people. Both people who are and aren’t a stereotype feel the need to continually prove that they’re not. Specifically, people who fit a stereotype want to be seen as an individual—not as an archetype. The female athlete/women’s sports fan stereotype, especially, kept me from embracing who I might be. I didn’t want people to think I was just another gay female athlete/women’s sports fan, because once again, those things are obviously unrelated for me. And because I’m so much more. I was afraid people wouldn’t get that. So I denied that I was questioning—to myself and others.

3. I didn’t want to talk about it until I had answers/a girlfriend/etc
That’s pretty simple. Explaining what you might be and what you might not be—well, it’s confusing and complicated and most people, even if they are embracing/affirming/etc, don’t get it. I didn’t want to “come out” if I was just going to decide that I was actually straight. And if I did decide I was gay/bi/queer, I didn’t want to come out until I had a significant other, because, it seemed pretty irrelevant.

4. No One Else Talked About Questioning Even in the LGBT Center, where people are eccentric and own their quirks…nobody once talked about questioning (in my presence). Everybody seemed to know where they stood—seemed to have this story that they popped out of the womb gay and have known since then. I felt like I was the only one to ever struggle with this, and I didn’t even have words for it.

Obviously, I’ve learned to put those woes aside. People might think that I’m an activist because I’m questioning and they might think I’m just a stereotypical female athlete and women’s sports fan, but they’d be wrong on both accounts. There isn’t much I can do about it, though, and it isn’t worth my time or energy to worry. It sure isn’t worth my energy to be ashamed of who I am because of their narrow views.

I’ve also since learned to live with and embrace questioning. Anybody who’s ever taken a class with me (dating back to kindergarten) knows that questions are what I do best. It seems that this is just another area of my life where that’s true.

It probably won't surprise people reading this who know me that patience isn’t my strength.  In typical Risa fashion, I got tired of waiting to have to talk about my sexuality. Now, I’m not sure I’ll ever have answers—and I’m finally okay with that.

Lastly, I learned that if I want people to talk about questioning, I’ve got to be the one to talk about it. Nobody can share my story if I don’t. I didn’t have the role models I wished I would have had—but I can be a mentor, an ear, a support system for someone else. As I see it, I have an accepting family and community, and so it’s my responsibility to help in any small way I can. I want to empower others to share their stories of uncertainty and coming into their own.

On the Day of Silence, our collective silence is loud. But in everyday life, the silence around questioning is desperately lonely.

April 20, 2012

Waffle House Woes

This evening, my friend Chris and I ventured beyond the walls of Duke to a shining beacon of hope – Waffle House. While a trip to Waffle House at 2AM is inherently a bit crazy, tonight’s trip was different. Sitting at the booth across from us was a lesbian couple and their presumable straight female friend. A couple of extremely intoxicated males walked up to their table and began hitting on the couple, who explained that they were together and that they were not interested in the men. One of the men responded by asking them to “prove it” by making out at the table. When they refused, he asked how much he would have to pay them to watch. Later, when one rose to go to the restroom, one of the men asked her if she was going to use the men’s restroom, since “one of them has to.” At this point, I was getting fairly pissed off, but I didn’t know what I could do – it was an uncomfortable situation to say the least. A few minutes later, as the women were paying, one of them asked if they were looking for a threesome that evening.

Needless to say, I was rather shocked at the events of this evening. Of all the patrons and workers in the restaurant, no one (myself included) chided the men for their harassment. In fact, most of the comments drew laughter from the rest of the room. There was a group of UNC students in the diner as well as another group of Duke students and none of us said a single word. Mid-conversation I remarked that I felt as though I was on “What Would You Do” because of the sheer outrageousness of the situation. I suppose I was relieved that no one told them they were going to Hell or the like, but that was the only highlight of the evening.

I wonder if I was right in not speaking up. Is it ever okay to not speak up? No, it wasn’t my place to correct the men, and yes, the women seemed to be standing up for themselves just fine, but I can’t help but feel a bit guilty for sitting by and saying nothing. I suppose the fact that the harassers were severely intoxicated heightened my anxiety about speaking up, but even then I don’t know if I can be fully excused. I simply did not to know what to say to the men. I hope next time I stumble into a situation like tonight’s I will be better prepared.

P.S. Vote Against Amendment One

April 19, 2012


I have to admit it. As the vote on Amendment One draws near, I’m scared. And not just horror movie scared—no, I’m scared in an existential way that shakes you to your core. It may seem obvious to some, but let me explain why I’m scared.
You see, I consider myself a strong person, and yet these past few months, I’ve started to feel very weak. While weakness isn’t new to me, I haven’t felt this weak in quite some time. In many ways, I’ve spent my life learning to be strong, learning to overcome, and learning to take pride in my identity. Through persistent effort, I’ve been able to make weakness something that is constantly in my past—at least until now.
I remember feeling weak as a child, when the other kids in my neighborhood made fun of me for playing with Barbies and for wanting an easy bake oven. I used to sit in the dining room of my house and watch the other kids in my neighborhood play on the street, but because I was a “sissy,” and a “girly-boy,” I didn’t go outside—I stayed at the window, wishing that I had friends in my neighborhood who could play dress-up with me, who could be my friends even though I was a little bit different. I remember feeling weak then, but I mustered up my strength, learned to assert myself, and eventually found a way to make friends in spite of being different.
I remember feeling weak in middle school whenever my friends asked me if I had a crush on someone. I dreaded that question, because every time someone asked me, I longed to tell them the truth and never did. Thoughts of a boy in my class would bubble up warmly into my mind, but each time I pushed them back down in favor of a lie. I lied so often. I remember feeling weak then. Over the years and after many failures, I gained the courage to stop lying, to claim my truth. Through strength, I was able to live a more honest life.
I remember feeling weak in high school, when I heard about Lawrence King, an eighth-grader who was murdered by one of his classmates because he was gay. It wasn’t until I heard about Lawrence’s death that I began to understand the full magnitude of homophobia, and it was crushing. I realized that I lived in a world where even children thought it acceptable to kill someone for being different. I remember feeling weak then, but I didn’t take weakness for an answer—I found the strength to make an announcement over my high school intercom decrying Lawrence’s murder, I found the strength to begin organizing local gay straight alliances in Raleigh, and I found the strength to author and pass a resolution against LGBT bullying at the Annual Conference of the NC Methodist Church.
And I remember feeling weak last semester, when the NC General Assembly approved a referendum on Amendment One, placing my civil rights to a majority vote. I sat, dazed, surrounded by the realization that something like this could happen in my home state. But once again, I summoned all of my strength and got moving. Along with a few cherished friends, I worked to establish a campus-wide coalition against Amendment One, to hold a rally, to secure a voting site on campus, to author a Duke Student Government resolution against Amendment One that passed unanimously, and to get grants for printing up t-shirts, buttons and stickers.
But over the past few days, I began to realize something.
I realized that, no matter what I do, I could never be strong enough. Through individual strength and perseverance, I will never be able to defeat one of the most hateful pieces of legislation in our state’s history. My personal strength—no matter how fervent, no matter how fierce—will never be able to overcome amendment one, because at the end of the day, I am still just one person with one vote. In the face of Amendment One, I am profoundly weak. For the first time in my life, I feel powerless.
Which is why I need you.
While I may be weak as an individual, with you, I can be strong again. Because of you and through your ardent support, I will be able to find my strength. Alone, I may be only one person with one vote, but together, we are two people with two votes, and as a community, we are hundreds and thousands of people with the strength to change this world.
So I need you to be strong. I need you to be strong for my family. I need you to be strong for my community. Alone, I can never achieve equality before the law, but together, we just may stand a fighting chance. Together, against all odds, we may just be able to beat Amendment One. If we stand up, arm in arm and hand in hand, we have the chance to make history by being the first state in the South to vote down an amendment that takes away the fundamental rights of the LGBT community.
Together we are strong. Together we make history.
Will you be strong with me?

April 17, 2012

Navigating Multiple, Seemingly Conflicting, Identities

[Editor's note: We are thrilled to welcome newest faculty writer, Dr. Brian Ammons, to the blog!]

In the midst of final papers and projects, advising and fielding questions about next fall, and all of the other minutia that creep up at the end of the semester, I’ve got a rally to plan. On Sunday, April 22 at 1:00 PM, I’ll be gathering at the Trotter Building (410 West Greer) with other church folk who are opposing Amendment One, doing my part to try and actually get people to the polls. I imagine it will be a strange moment for me. Church folk aren’t the first set of allies that many of think of in political battles for LGBTQ rights. But it’s who I know, and as I’ve asked around, these are the folks who have been willing to step up and commit to standing against this amendment.

Alongside my faculty appointment here in the Duke Program in Education, I am also an ordained Baptist Minister. As far as I know, I was the first out gay man to be ordained in North Carolina outside of the predominantly LGBTQ Metropolitan Community Churches. I still serve a small congregation in Raleigh, and much of my speaking and writing remain tied up in religious conversations. Yet, here at Duke I generally keep my “Rev.” title in my back pocket, only whipping it out for strategic purposes now and then.

I always find the process of coming out as a teacher to be strange and complicated. Part of me resists the idea that I need to make myself easily intelligible to students in order to claim the authority to speak about queer theory or the experiences of LGBTQ people. And yet, part of me believes that visibility matters, and that in claiming and normalizing my own sexual identifications I stand with my queer students and have space to disrupt the assumptions of some of my other students.

But I come out twice…given that I teach about controversial social issues, it is a rare case that at some point in the semester we doesn’t land in some conversation about the role of religion in public discourse. Again, I have to navigate whether or not self-identifying as a Baptist minister is productive or likely to shut down conversation. Part of me believes that visibility matters, and that in claiming and normalizing my own religious identifications I stand with my religious students and have space to disrupt the assumptions of some of my other students.

Be clear, I’m not interested in using my authority to coerce or convert on either count. I am however conscious of the complicated choices around self-identification and disclosure I am asked to make in my professional life. I teach courses largely about power, politics, and identity in education systems, and yet two of the most centrally defining aspects of my own identity are consider by many educational institutions as out of bounds – rendered invisible by academic discourse. Or, on the other hand, in making them visible, I chose to let myself be reduced to being the “gay Baptist guy” who talks about schools.

It’s a complicated dance, and I almost always stumble. In the end, I count on the relationships we build in the classroom to be able to hold the tensions that each of us carry with us as we engage complicated questions. I am intentional about not requiring my students to self-disclose, and yet simultaneously try to create an environment that values the organic knowledge that comes from lived experience, the kind of stuff I learned on Sunday afternoons sitting at the feet of my elders on my great-grandfather’s front porch. It’s a dance about showing up, living with the tensions, and trying to navigate the contradictions with grace and integrity.

Not all of the folks coming out on Sunday are affirming of same-gender relationships. In fact, many of them are openly opposed to them. Yet, they are standing against the Amendment based on their understandings of the role of government in society, the nature and purpose of constitutions, the very practical realities of how the amendment could affect children and all unmarried couples, and even a sense of neighborliness. These are folks who live with tensions. Some are taking significant risks in their personal and professional lives to stand with those of us who are outspoken in our opposition. They are my friends, and I’m grateful for their choices.

I am a queer North Carolina native, who has made intentional choices to stay in my home state and work for progressive change. I am a minister. I am a teacher. I am an activist. I live in those tensions. So I’ll take a break from grading final papers on the implications of French inflected poststructural thought for American public schools to hang out with some Christians and cast my ballot.

April 16, 2012

Anonymous Posts (4.9.12-4.16.12)

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. :)

Hello again y'all. This is kind of a big week for us. Thursday marks the beginning of the early voting period, so get out there and vote. Get your friends to vote. Get those randos from down the hall to vote. You get the idea.

If you need persuasive material, just show them this:

The Most Special Thanks goes to Christine and Erik for the time they dedicated to this project and for the individuals who shared their stories and lent their voices to Making It Better.

What's more, Friday is Lavender Graduation. It'd be really nice if we get a lot of people in there to support our seniors that are leaving us all too soon. Then the next day is the alumni reception, which is also a big deal.

In short: This week is kind of a big deal. Now, notes from OC:

I remember when you used to smile - please don't let that joy be gone forever

Are there other athletes who read this blog?


I was at Duke for Blue Devil Days this week, and I REAAAALLY wanted to stop by the LGBT Center to talk about the level of tolerance on campus...but I chickened out big time. However, seeing the rainbow flags all over West and East Campus, and witnessing two guys holding hands as they strolled through the crowds at Sprinternational answered all of my questions. I'm still choosing between schools, but I know I will feel comfortable at Duke.

I just wanted to give a huge shout out to the gay community here at Duke. I've been feeling less and less comfortable hanging out with my homophobic friends lately. Thankfully, I've been able to spend some time with out students at Duke and you guys just make me feel right at home. I finally understand the importance of having gay friends as well as straight friends and next year I will definitely be going to the center!

Ok I admit it. I’m scared. Actually, I’m scared shitless. Underneath the surface of my smile and energy my heart beats fast with uncertainty. My blood boils and my brain gets tired from the stress. Yup, I said it. I am scared. I’m sorry to my siblings who thought I was a good role model to them. I’m sorry to my parents who thought one day I would give them grandchildren. I’m sorry to my godmother who will now think I will live in hell for all eternity. I’m sorry to the teachers who thought I made it look effortless. I’m sorry to my friends who thought they knew me so well. I’m sorry to my ex-girlfriends, and I just want the to know that I really and truly loved them. I’m sorry to my teammates, who always thought I had it together to be there for them. I’m sorry to all of those who saw me walk up on stage during high school to get the, “Outstanding Senior Award” thinking, “Damn, he makes it look so easy,” when inside I was a mess…. But, I’m not sorry for the reasons you might think. I’m not sorry for who I am. What I am sorry for is that I’ve lied to you all this time. Second confession? Whoa it’s a shocker. I’m gay. “Great!” some might say, “I’m so proud of you for telling me!” Whoopee! Let’s all be best friends! How about you wake up to the real world and realize that I still hate myself!! I hate that I can’t tell my closest friends, people I consider basically brothers, who I really am. I hate that I can’t tell my own flesh and blood the true son they have created. I hate that even at a liberal institution like Duke I am still so afraid to be…me… I hate that people will stare, I hate that people will whisper, I hate that I could only ever get married in 7 out of 50 states in a country that prides itself on freedom. Ha-ha, bullshit. I hate that the way I have to find people to satisfy my, “needs” is through a seductive picture and sites like craigslist where people degrade me by posting things like, “my dick needs your mouth” or, “need to dump a load?” Seriously, what do you think I am, a slut? I hate that the way I relieve my ungodly sexual tension has to be through scheduling what creepy parking lot I have to meet up in, or who’s car we will be in. I hate that when I am blackout drunk at shooters the only thing I remember the next day is the tears running down my face as I tell my friend from home, “I just want to be normal…” To all of you who may have thought nothing could ever bother me, that I am so confident and sure of myself, you are wrong. If you could ever think that I would CHOOSE to be scared that my entire life theoretically could collapse with the simple words, “I’m gay,” you are sorely mistaken. In the famous words of Gaga, bitch “I was born this way.” I once joked to my friend, “you know, I may be one of the whitest people I know, but I sure as hell know what it feels like to be black.” And I do. Judged for something you have absolutely no control over. Granted, I can hide my situation a little more, but imagine being so afraid every minute of every day or every week of every year that the very world you know and have come to love has the chance of being altered with the simple, and irreversible utterance of two words. I’m not really sure what I am afraid of. It is hard to articulate. Do I come from an ultra-conservative area? No. On the contrary, it is probably one of the most socially liberal places in the country. Is my family extremely religious? Nope. My parents barely ever go to church. Do I go to a conservative college? Ha-ha, yeah… Duke is REALLY conservative, especially with all of those flags hanging up fighting Amendment One. On that note let me just have a little tangent on Amendment One. You know, when I first came to North Carolina I was amazed by how much I liked the South. Sure where I am from is TECHNICALLY the south, but everyone around me tries to disassociate us so much that why bother attempting. What gets me, though, is how a state can sponsor so much hate. Literally, hate is what is propelling this onwards. I once had a friend explain to me that Catholics can’t support gay marriage because they love gay people so much so they cannot endorse acts that will lead to sin. And you know what, I respect that. I respect differences in belief no matter how much they may hurt me. What I don’t promote though, is reckless hate. And let me just say that Amendment 1 promotes hate for all of those who simply believe that gay people are inherently bad people. So I’m a practical person, so I’ll try to look for practicality in these situations. Using taxpayer dollars to have your state legislature promote hate is NOT the purpose of government. Using taxpayer dollars to promote inequality is NOT the purpose of government. In practical terms, using taxpayer dollars to cause people within your state to possibly leave is 1) STUPID and 2) NOT the purpose of government. Get real North Carolina. But, I digress. Let’s get back to the real question. Why is it literally impossible for me to reconcile my identity? Everyone who I have told has been more than supportive, always there for me. The problem isn’t acceptance; the problem is recognition. I’m a man, I’m 19, I’m a friend, I’m a lover, I’m a brother, I’m a son, I’m an athlete, I’m a musician, I’m a scholar, I’m an idealist, I’m a stuborn-ass-mother-fucker-ready-to-change-the-world. Oh yeah, and I happen to like guys. So then why if I accept and recognize my own PERSONAL inclination for other guys, does this become so much more a part of my “identity” than it should be? If I were to ask any straight person what they would describe themselves, as I would bet $100 dollars that they would not include being heterosexual. So why does being different automatically define who I am? Yes, this is totally a rant, but I hope that it can actually make people think. There is so much more to me than just happening to like guys. I am a smart, strong and genuinely nice person. If I were to come out, every time I would hear a snide remark or be lumped into a stereotype I would literally be stabbed by those words and thoughts. I consider myself to be a really good friend: to anyone. I can be a “bro” just like the rest of them, but if you judge me based on things I have no control over, how can you really get to know me? Think, listen, learn, and appreciate the beauty of difference. Do not waste your time and energy with hate. Your actions and words and thoughts have direct impact on people. You may never know what effect they have on people, underneath the surface.

Please remember that there are a number of resources available on campus and in the local community. These resources are available over breaks and throughout the school year. 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).

April 14, 2012

What Duke owes to its Queer students.

In a conversation I recently had with a top-level administrator about the relocation of the LGBT center I felt as if the historical struggle of Queer students on campus was being ignored. The conversation went a little something like this…

Me: “We feel as if the administration gives our issues less attention then they deserve, and less attention as compared to other minority groups on campus, most notably the Black Student Alliance.”

The response was something like this “ Well I can see why you may feel that way, but Duke has such a long history of racism that we have a long way to go with reconciliation with black students”

Me: Duke also has a long history of Homophobia, that the University needs to own up to”

The reply: “yes, but Duke never officially said you can’t come here if you are gay, but it did say you can’t come here if you are black”.

Now this explanation of LGBT second-class treatment, as you can imagine angered me a great deal. To be honest, it is an administrative copout! As you may have noticed I am BLACK and I am GAY, so this whole discussion does put me in a bit of an uncomfortable situation. That being said I think my double minority status also qualifies me to point out this discrepancy without fear of being call homophobic or racist. Duke University owes a great deal to its LGBT population for past and present sins committed, and NOW is the time to pay up!

After that conversation I decided to do some digging on the LGBT history of Duke, and the struggle our predecessors had to endure. This is some of what I found…

The fist queer student group was formed in 1972 and it was called Duke Gay Alliance. Students during this time reported harassment, ostracism, and a general sense of fear. One student from the 70s recounts that many gay students of the time were advised by the University to seek psychiatric help to correct their homosexuality.

In 1974 President Stanford denied the request to include sexual orientation into the Universities non-discrimination policy. This by default meant that the University condoned institutionalized discrimination against LGBT individuals.

In 1983 the student government dechartered the queer student organization, then known as Duke Gay and Lesbian alliance. The DSG dechartered the group because a University lawyer feared the group would “promote homosexuality”, which at the time was a crime.

In the 1990’s the University would form a LGBT task force and in 94 create the LGB center (note the lack of T) but things did not get much better for students on campus. In 1999 Duke was ranked as one of the most homophobic campuses in America by the Princeton review.

Even today the University still refuses to live up to its responsibility on LGBT issues. Even now in 2012 the university refuses to come out against amendment 1 as an institution.

Still today the university will not own up to its responsibility and provide us a LGBT center with sufficient staffing, space, and resources.

The university talks a big game, but now it is time for results. Duke University owes a lot to its LGBT population, and we deserve the same treatment and respect as everyone else. I resent the assertion, that another group should receive priority treatment because of the way some administrators measure discrimination.

This is why Queer alums don’t donate money to the University.

This is why many progressive p-proshes are skeptical out attending.

This is why so many of our peers are closeted, and fearful.

Duke University must embrace its responsibility to LGBT individuals, and if they can’t do it out of the goodness of their hearts, it is time we apply the pressure because…

We will not be second-class students on our own campus

We will not be relegated to the fringes of campus life.

We will not live in fear on our own campus and,

We will not be silenced or ignored.

Duke is my home, and all I am asking I to be treated fairly within my own home.

April 13, 2012

Amber Hollibaugh: Badass Woman

Amber Hollibaugh is one badass woman. I had never heard of her until very recently when I offered to write this feature on her, but the more I learned about her the more she made my head spin.

She was born in rural Southern California, the daughter of a Gypsy father and an Irish mother. In her early life she suffered through her father’s sexual advances and her mother’s physical abuse, along with the constant strain of poverty. She survived all of this abuse and left home at age 18 and joined a Hawaiian dance troupe, traveling with them to Las Vegas, Reno and other like places. To supplement her income, she became a stripper. She explained her choice to take up stripping as such, "I had contacts, I looked right, it was something I could do anywhere. Dancing was by far the easiest work I could find that paid easily."

Hollibaugh eventually became involved in several political movements, and continued to strip by night so she could fund her unpaid work as an activist by day. This made her an outcast in a feminist community which viewed sex workers such as her as victims of patriarchal misogyny. She hid her sex work from her feminist colleagues, knowing that even in the midst of the sexual liberation movements it would not be ok for her to talk about being a sex worker. She was also a pariah among the gay and lesbian movement of the time (this was before the days of the LGBTQ movement) as she was a high-femme lesbian among a movement which saw the butch/femme culture as outdated and offensive.

She takes her wealth of experience into her activism and is able to view things both from the mostly middle-class world of activism and the world of sex work for survival. With her perspective which is rather unique for an activist, she has this to say about sex work in general:

"It's labor, it's not morality, … The work in and of itself is not horrendous. But I am not going to romanticize it, you really can be treated badly, it's a pretty awful life." She insists that it does not always lead to victimization, however. "You have to say, wait a minute, some of us [feminists and lesbians] were sex workers. If you are talking about it as women's work, why are you only allowing women to view their history as victims?"

In the early ‘90s, Hollibaugh became the founding director for the Lesbian AIDS Project (LAP), a project of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) in NYC. LAP was designed to provide resources to Lesbians who are either at risk or are HIV positive. This is no simple task, considering that the Lesbian community is generally shrugged off as a community that isn’t really at risk of contracting HIV. This, compounded with the fact no real data had been gathered among the Lesbian community about HIV due to the strong misperception that the lesbian community is middle-class, drug-free, and monogamous. Hollibaugh managed to piece together a strong enough narrative to convince the GMHC to provide funding for LAP. Then began the even more difficult work.

LAP really had its work cut out for it, as it was attempting to target a near invisible demographic. Hollibaugh came up with a different approach to reach her target demographic. She approached public health facilities and community centers assuming that they served lesbians, and then worked through them to reach her target demographic. In less than three years, LAP had a mailing list of over 4000 and had identified more than 400 HIV positive lesbian in New York City alone. This community of women is rarely discussed, and they are often without regular medical providers, are often struggling with addiction issues, and may be in prison or are sex workers. Furthermore, this population is at a growing risk and lack the resources they need to deal effectively with HIV.

It was awesome to learn about this inspiring woman who came from poverty and used her experience to help others like her. That kind of strength is truly astounding, as is her refusal to shed any of her identities. It is thanks to women like her that we can engage with the broader scope of challenges faced by LGBT people in all circumstances.

P.S. Amber Hollibaugh is speaking at the Bingham Center’s symposium this weekend! Come hear her talk tomorrow (Saturday the 14th) in the Gothic Reading Room at 12:30pm. She's on a panel called "Intersections of Class, Race, and Gender from the 70s to the Present." Should be fun, interesting, and inspiring for all.

April 12, 2012

I’d Like to See…

There’s a Tumblr blog that my friend follows and reblogs, thereby making it show up on my News Feed. This blog, owned by someone named G, involves lots of photos and animated GIFs of sex – the kind that frames as an artistic and intimate thing. In other words, softcore porn that seemed nice to look at.

However, upon when I opened it up and skimmed through, I noticed something interesting. All the sexual images that bombarded me were of men and women doing activities of the sexual nature. Wait. Men and women. Only men and women. As I scrolled down into hands and hair and such, I realized each photo always contained white heterosexual couple. Being a Tumblr troll, I sent a message to the creator of this blog in question. I asked why a blog that celebrated the intimacy of sex focused exclusively on heterosexual sex.

The response? “Cause this blog is about my relationship and I’m in a heterosexual relationship, sorry.”

As a sort of open-letter response to you, G of Tumblr, I would like to say that there’s a lot more to love and intimacy than what you see in the photos you post. It’s not a cliché yet, so I’ll say it: Love = love. Rethink the message that your photos send. Just because you’re in a heterosexual relationship wouldn’t make your blog any less relevant or legitimate. You’re in a good position to make a small dent in what other people see. Therefore, I think you have a vague responsibility to better associate great sex the way it is normally espoused in marketing with LGBT community members.

his translates to what I feel is an issue in media. Most people still seem less comfortable to show and see the sight of two men kissing or two women kissing, or any other combination of non-heterosexuals. LGBT characters themselves don’t make a huge part of media. In addition, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any physical sexuality in mainstream television shows. Overall, I don’t think we’re done being afraid of portraying LGBT characters in media. So that leaves us with a set of archetypes that are fairly straightforward (gayforward) and unidimensional.

With that in mind, I just hope everyone notices and thinks more that our contemporary images of love, romance, intimacy, and sex don’t yet apply to LGBT relationships of equal magnitude.