February 18, 2014

Tarzan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



-Gabriel

February 11, 2014

Grindr

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

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

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

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


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



-Dustin

February 4, 2014

Letters

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

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

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

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

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



-Carmen