Tag Archive | culture

There are worse things than invisibility—decoding is just another form of erasure

The Disney library (like that of most big studios) is already full of coded gay characters, as either villains, jokes, or both.

The Disney library (like that of most big studios) is already full of coded gay characters, as either villains, jokes, or both. (click to embiggen)

It’s happened twice so far this year: big media company makes an announcement about how they’re adding an explicitly gay character to an upcoming release, then reveal that it’s a character that everyone outside the company already assumed was gay and has been the butt of homophobic jokes about said media property for years. The one that’s getting all of the attention right now is Disney’s announcement that in the live action remake of Beauty and the Beast it will be revealed that Le Fou is “exclusively gay.” I think they meant explicitly, but lets ignore that weird phrasing for a moment, because it gets worse. The director clarified that Le Fou is confused about his feelings for Gaston. He’s oddly attracted to this man who abuses him and uses him to do his dirty work.

Which is exactly what homophobes have been sniggering and making fag jokes about with Le Fou since Disney released the animated version of the movie. Gaston is a parody of hetero hypermasculinity, and Le Fou is is craven, clownish sidekick willing to do anything at all to get the slightest bit of attention from Gaston. Le Fou’s lack of manliness in the animated film could be rationalized as being there to throw Gaston’s exaggerated masculinity into sharp contrast. Okay. Except that is exactly what the Hollywood sissy/coded gay sidekick has always been: he’s the example of what a “real man” isn’t. His whole point it to prove that unmanly men are jokes, at best. Not real people, but punchlines.

So they are taking the implicit hateful characterization and making it an explicitly hateful characterization. Thanks, but no thanks.

Le Fou is a typical unmanly minion.

Le Fou is a typical unmanly minion.

There will be people who insist that we shouldn’t judge it until we see it, but they’ve given me enough information that I already know they have messed this up. The fact that they decided to announce it, for one. Just as if a person begins a statement with, “I’m not a bigot, but…” we all know that pure bigotry is going to follow, if you feel the need to announce you’re enlightened and inclusive, you don’t know what those words mean. The director has described the classic negative stereotype (confused, obsessed with a straight man) is what they’re going for. Worse, they’ve referred to it more than once as a moment. Just a moment. You know why it’s a moment? Because they are already making plans to edit that moment out of the international release, because they knew as soon as word got out that countries would start threatening to ban the film. Heck, Alabama is already up in arms about it!

That means that it’s a tacked on joke. It’s not part of the plot. It’s not a meaningful part of Le Fou’s characterization.

Even if they do something with it. Let’s say that at the end of the film they have a moment that implies maybe Gaston is ready to return his feelings? What message does that send? It tells us that hating women (Gaston’s exaggerated masculinity includes a lot of misogyny in the animated feature, just sayin’) or being rejected by women is what makes men gay. And, oh, isn’t that great inclusion?

He was a pink lion without a mane wearing a string tie and cufflinks (despite not otherwise having clothes) whose dialog was littered with theatre jargon, delivered in a fey/swishy voice. He was a classic sassy gay character already!

He was a pink lion without a mane wearing a string tie and cufflinks (despite not otherwise having clothes) whose dialog was littered with theatre jargon, delivered in a fey/swishy voice. He was a classic sassy gay character already!

I mentioned that the Beauty and the Beast revelation was the second time this has happened this year. Previously it was Snagglepuss. Yes, DC Comics/Warner Brothers announced that the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character, Snagglepuss, was going to be reimagined in a new comic book series as “a gay Southern Gothic playwright.” Literally my reaction on twitter a nanosecond after I saw the first person retweeting the headline was, “reimagined? But that’s what he already was!”

Snagglepuss was a version of the sassy gay friend from the beginning. He was protagonist of his cartoon series, which wasn’t typical for the sassy gay friend (who is more typically a sidekick to one of the lead characters), but Snagglepuss broke the fourth wall constantly, addressing the viewer with his arch asides and sardonic observations. He was the viewer’s sassy gay friend, in other words. And he was cheerful and optimistic and always trying (but usually failing) to improve his life in some way. Despite the many setbacks, he remained cheerful and upbeat.

So the DC Comic (besides being drawn by an artist who has apparently never seen an athropomorphic character before—seriously, go hit that link above and tell me if that isn’t the worst comic book artwork you’ve ever seen!) takes the happy, upbeat fey lion and turns him into a bitter old queen. Again, thanks but, no thanks!

Coded queer characters have been appearing in pop culture for decades. Their portrayal as comic relief or as villains (and sometimes both) sent a clear message that they were not normal people. They are never the heroes. They can be loathed as villains, or tolerated and laughed at as sidekicks, but they will be lonely and unloved in either case. Neither of these supposedly inclusive announcements changes that homophobic message. It’s not, contrary to what certain evangelical hatemongers are saying, indoctrinating kids to be accepting of gays. It’s instead reinforcing the same old bigotry: we don’t matter, we are jokes, we are never the heroes, we are never loved.

Just another means of erasing the truth of our existence. No thanks!

Myths about bigotry: respectful disagreement

“Over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed in the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negor's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice: who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” — Martin Luther King Jr, Letter From Birmingham City Jail (1963)

Quote from Martin Luther King Jr, Letter From Birmingham City Jail, 1963 (click to embiggen)

I always feel a little nervous posting anything on Martin Luther King Jr Day, as I don’t want to co-opt another marginalized community’s hero, day, or message. Especially after seeing several people of color on my various social media feeds caution against talking rather than listening. But during his life, King said more than once that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and I believe we have entered a very dark time in our nation’s history where all of us who believe in equality for everyone need to stand together. So while I may be a white guy, as a queer person I have some experience with oppression and believe that I have a responsibility to use whatever gifts, privilege, and platform I have to promote justice.

A lot of people, not just the moderates that Dr. King talked about in that quote from Letter From Birmingham City Jail, rationalize and deny the existence of bigotry by making appeals to certain fallacies. Academically, we often state those myths as five fallacies:

  • Individualistic Fallacy: racism/homophobia/antisemiticism/etc is perceived as being only interpersonal, ignoring the systemic structural realities (such as underfunded schools)
  • Legalistic Fallacy: the belief that abolishing racist/homophobic/religious laws automatically ends the bigotry.
  • Tokenistic Fallacy: the inference that the presence of members of the marginalized class in influential positions in society proves that all bigotry has ended.
  • Ahistoric Fallacy: the belief that the denial of basic rights in the past has no lasting effect on subsequent generations (“but slavery is over!”).
  • Fixed Fallacy: assumes there is one and only one kind of discrimination, not recognizing new forms that emerge in context of societal and legal changes.

There’s an academic paper that explains all of this: WHAT IS RACIAL DOMINATION?, by Matthew Desmond & Mustafa Emirbayer of the University of Wisconsin—Madison, if you want to get into it. It’s rather long and involved, but if you open the PDF at the link and search for Five Fallacies you can jump right to their discussion of the fallacies. The paper is focused on racism, but the fallacies apply to all kinds of bigotry.

All of those fallacies contribute to that preference for an absence of tension rather than a passion for justice that Dr. King talked about. It’s the classic “Can’t You Get Past it/Live and Let Live Fallacy.” Or maybe another name could be the “Respectful Disagreement Fallacy.” It’s the belief that as long as a person isn’t physically attacking you right this moment, and is framing their critiques in polite-sounding language, than it can’t possibly be racist/homophobic/antisemitic/misogynist/etc.

So the bigot talks in dog whistles (coded language that doesn’t sound overtly like bigotry to people who don’t know the code), claims to respect or even feel love for the community targeted by their language, and if we point out that they are being racist or misogynist or antisemetic or homophobic, we’re the ones causing a problem. And people who think of themselves as moderate or enlightened turn on us. They don’t just look the other way from the bigotry and bigoted policies that the community is enduring, they actually enable it.

Which means they’re part of the problem. They’re not being neutral. They’re not seeing things from both sides. They’re not being nuanced. They’re oppressing other people.

I wish there was a simple solution. I wish I had some words of wisdom. Instead, I’m just stuck with this regrettable conclusion, having to try to educate people who don’t think they’re being an enemy.

“Over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed in the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice: who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”
— Martin Luther King Jr, Letter From Birmingham City Jail (1963)

Come Out and Celebrate!

“Keep Calm and Be Proud of Who You Are.”

“Keep Calm and Be Proud of Who You Are.”

Today is National Coming Out Day. If Ray were still alive, it would also be the day we’d be celebrating the twenty-third anniversary of our commitment ceremony (he promised to stay with me for the rest of his life, and he did).

I’ve written more than once about why I think it is important for all Queer people (by which I mean people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Genderqueer, Nonbinary, Pansexual, Genderfluid, Questioning, Polyamorous and their Allies) to be out about who they are. Because it can be dangerous to come out (kill the gays laws exist in many parts of the world, while here in the U.S. about 40% of homeless teens are children who were kicked out of their house by their parents for being queer or being suspected of being queer), there are some people who probably shouldn’t be out until their situation changes. But being in the closet is harmful in many ways. Studies and history has shown that the fastest way to get other people (and society at large) to accept and support queers is when queer people come out.

The more straight people who actually know queer people, the more minds are opened.

So, in case somehow it isn’t clear: I’m queer. Specifically, I’m a gay man married to a bisexual man.

Being in the closet takes an incredible emotional toll which affects your physical health as well. When you’re in the closet, you’re living in constant fear of rejection. Particularly if, like me, you grew up in a fundamentalist religious family and community. The fear of losing people you love—people who you have depended on—can be debilitating. The constant anxiety of what people’s reactions will be corrodes your soul.

The thing is, staying in the closet is no guarantee against that rejection. Someday someone is going to figure it out, not at a time when you’ve picked and prepared yourself.

Coming out was hard, and there was drama (oh, was there drama). I put up with all the wailing and the angry letters (28-page handwritten letter from one aunt outlining all of the words and topics I would not be allowed to bring up around her, explaining several times that if I brought my partner to visit we would not even be allowed to call each other honey, et cetera). But while many reacted badly to begin with, it wasn’t everyone. Another one of my aunts was the first to call to tell me she loved and supported me. She made it clear to folks on her side of the family that if they had a problem with me being gay, they would have a bigger problem with her.

If and when there is drama about your coming out, you have to treat said drama as your parents (or whoever) throwing a tantrum. They are trying to force you to pretend to be someone you aren’t for their convenience. And just as when a child throws a tantrum, you can’t reward that bad behavior. Dan Savage, the sex advice columnist and gay activist, puts it this way: the only leverage adult queer people have over parents and other family members is our presence in their lives. We shouldn’t fear losing them, they should fear losing us.

It took a few years for some of my family members to come around. I remain grateful that my mom and one set of grandparents did so before my first partner, Ray, died. He had only a short period of time of feeling welcomed into the family. Now, years later, my husband Michael isn’t just welcomed, I’m pretty sure some of them like him more than they do me. And I can hardly blame them!

A few of my relatives never became accepting before they died, and it was their loss.

There will be some surprises. Some people who you were certain before you came out would never accept you will become your biggest defenders. Some people who you thought might understand will disown you and go to their grave without reaching out. You will definitely learn which people really love you, and which only love the idea of who they think you ought to be.

The thing is, being loved for who you are, instead of the illusionary non-queer person you pretended to be, is wonderful. The sooner you are able to find those people the better. And remember the wisdom of Dr. Seuss: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

And being out doesn’t just free you. Being out frees others.

HRC Celebrates National Coming Out Day 2016:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

What We Lose When We Don’t Teach LGBTQ History In Schools.

The myth of live and let live

We’ve all heard it before when certain topics come up:

“I don’t see color. I see people.”

“I don’t care how you pray. All religions lead to god.”

“I don’t like labels like ‘gay’ or ‘straight.’ We’re all human.”

“When I look at you I don’t see a man or a woman. I see a friend.”

“It doesn’t matter who you vote for. The important thing is to participate.”

They are usually intended as a statement of support for marginalized people. It’s a way to say, “I’m not intolerant!” It sounds so warm, fuzzy, and affirming, right? Obviously if we don’t perceive a person as different, we must perceive them as equal? Right?

Well, not really. I suspect that most everyone reading this felt at least a little bit uncomfortable reading one of those statements. Or at the very least wanted to quibble with one. Which one rubs you the wrong way and why it does will be different from person to person, but the truth is that each of the statements is just as problematic. Even the ones you agree with.

First, let’s talk about labels. The person who ordered blood tests and prescribed medicine for me when I was sick is a doctor. The person who gives me assignments at work is my boss. The man I stood beside and said “I do” about when the officiant asked is my husband. The woman who gave birth to me is my mom. The man who adopted and raised my mother and her sister was my grandpa. We don’t have trouble with labels 99% of the time. Labels are how we communicate and make sense of just about everything in the world.

We only notice labels when those labels are perceived to promote or impede an agenda that we have a vested interest in. We only want to ignore labels when acknowledging them makes us uncomfortable. If, for instance, we benefit from a particular societal preference, acknowledging that difference implies that maybe our success isn’t solely due to our individual merits.

Ignoring labels is an act of denial or dismissal. Race, gender, religion, socio-economic status, sexual orientation are essential ingredients in our identity, whether we acknowledge it or not. Because we are confronted with and shaped by societal expectations from the day we are born. Just look at how outraged a lot of people got a few years ago when one couple tried to raise their baby genderless and refused to tell strangers the child’s sex. Or the many, many studies that have shown are very differently people interact with a baby depending on what gender they’ve been told the child is.

“To overcome racism, one must first take race into account.”
—Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun

The truth is that society discriminates against people based on race, gender, sexual identity, socio-economic status, religion, and many other factors that the people who are most likely to claim they don’t care about labels would agree shouldn’t make one unequal in the eyes of the law. We can’t make society more equitable if we don’t acknowledge both the inequalities and the things which trigger the unequal treatment.

So trying to ignore these labels—specifically either saying or implying that ignoring them is a better idea than using them—is a way to try to silence members of marginalized groups. It’s telling them that their lived experience of being discriminated against is less important than your comfort. And quite often it is often a way to say that you’re perfectly okay with the inequality as long as it doesn’t affect you.

Second, claiming that you don’t care. The more often someone repeats a statement that they don’t care about something, the harder it is to believe them. If they really didn’t care, they wouldn’t say anything. This has been demonstrated most clearly recently by people who get defensive about video games, claiming that the games aren’t sexist; besides, if you don’t like them, don’t play them. Then the same people threw a hissy fit and called for boycotts when someone cast four women to play the leads in the new Ghostbusters movie. If sexism and representation didn’t matter to them, they wouldn’t have gotten upset.

Now, I’ve had people claim that the only reason they say anything is because we keep talking about it (whichever category it is). This has happened to me personally most often in relationship to sexual orientation. The cliché that I have heard millions of time is, “why do you have to keep shoving your sexually in my face?” Most ironically it came from the co-worker who had plastered an entire wall of his office with pictures of himself, his wife, and their five children—and he was objecting to a single picture of my late first husband (in an ugly Christmas sweater, no less) that I had discretely tucked in a frame on my desk where most of the time no one but me could see it.

Humans are social animals. We often are defined by our relationships to other people. People mention spouses, children, parents, friends, niece and nephews, and so forth all the time, without thinking about it. Studies have shown that if people we work with are reluctant to share these sorts of real life details, that they are perceived as stand-offish and not team players. It affects the likelihood that they will get raises, get promotions, and even the likelihood that they will be the person chosen to be let go if there are layoffs. So queer people are caught in no-win situation. If they are honest and open about who they are, they get accused of shoving their sexuality on people. If they evade the topics, they’re not team players.

If labels really don’t matter, then you shouldn’t mind hearing about them.

Third, claiming that you don’t want to take sides, you just want to live and let live. Why does this have to be a conflict, you may ask? Or “being intolerant of bigotry isn’t very tolerant,” you may say. This is a false equivalency. It is logically identical to saying that the person who reports a theft to the authorities is making a victim of the thief.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
—Bishop Desmond Tutu

When inequalities exist, live and let live just perpetuates injustice. You aren’t being tolerant or neutral or impartial, you are actively supporting the side of the bigot. You are aiding in the oppression. You aren’t helping the oppressed, you are doing quite the opposite.

“Life's most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” —Marin Luther King, Jr.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” —Marin Luther King, Jr.

Stop telling me what you don’t care about or don’t see. Show me what you’re doing to make the world a better place.

Wishing on 9/13…

Cover of the Sept 21, 2001 edition of the Village Voice.

Cover of the Sept 25, 2001 edition of the Village Voice. (click to embiggen)

Jim Wright, an author who is also a navy veteran, posted some comments about the 15th anniversary of 9/11 on Facebook on Sunday which upset a lot of people. They called him a traitor and other nasty names, and reported him to Facebook for violating community standards (which the post didn’t). Subsequently Facebook (as they always do) gave in to the loud voices of rightwing people who claim to love Freedom and Liberty, but only for people who agree with them. These folks also often yell a lot about how much they love Jesus, and then they call people like me faggots, lead prayers saying we deserve death, and call for people who have committed no crimes to be executed. So they neither understand what freedom means, nor do they understand any of the teachings of Jesus.

Mr. Wright’s post was blunt, and not at all a feel-good statement. But it also contained a lot of truth:

“You’re expecting some kind of obligatory 9-11 post, aren’t you?

Here it is, but you’re not gonna like it.

15 years ago today 19 shitheads attacked America.

They killed 3000 of us.

And then … America got its revenge for 9-11.

Yes we did. Many times over. We killed them. We killed them all. We killed their families. We killed their wives and their kids and all their neighbors. We killed whole nations that weren’t even involved just to make goddamned sure. We bombed their cities into rubble. We burned down their countries.

They killed 3000 of us, we killed 300,000 of them or more.

8000 of us came home in body bags, but we got our revenge. Yes we did.

We’re still here. They aren’t.

We win. USA! USA! USA!

Right?

You goddamned right. We. Win.

Except…

Every year on this day we bathe in the blood of that day yet again. We watch the towers fall over and over. It’s been 15 goddamned years, but we just can’t get enough. We’ve just got to watch it again and again.

It’s funny how we never show those videos of the bombs falling on Baghdad today. Or the dead in the streets of Afghanistan. We got our revenge, but we never talk about that today. No, we just sit and watch the towers fall yet again.

Somewhere out there on the bottom of the sea are the rotting remains of the evil son of bitch who masterminded the attack. It took a decade, but we hunted him down and put a bullet in his brain. Sure. We got him. Right? That’s what we wanted. that’s what our leaders promised us, 15 years ago today.

And today those howling the loudest for revenge shrug and say, well, yeah, that. That doesn’t matter, because, um, yeah, the guy in the White House, um, see, well, he’s not an American, he’s the enemy see? He’s not doing enough. So, whatever. What about that over there? And that? And…

Yeah.

15 years ago our leaders, left and right, stood on the steps of the Capitol and gave us their solemn promise to work together, to stand as one, for all Americans.

How’d that promise work out?

How much are their words worth? Today, 15 years later?

It’s 15 years later and we’re STILL afraid. We’re still terrorized. Still wallowing in conspiracy theories and peering suspiciously out of our bunkers at our neighbors. Sure we won. Sure we did. We became a nation that tortures our enemies — and our own citizens for that matter. We’re a nation of warrantless wiretaps and rendition and we’ve gotten used to being strip searched in our own airports. And how is the world a better place for it all?

And now we’re talking about more war, more blood.

But, yeah, we won. Sure. You bet.

Frankly, I have had enough of 9-11. Fuck 9-11. I’m not going to watch the shows. I’m not going to any of the memorials. I’m not going to the 9-11 sales at Wal-Mart. I don’t want to hear about 9-11. I for damned sure am not interested in watching politicians of either party try to out 9-11 each other. I’m tired of this national 9-11 PTSD. I did my bit for revenge, I went to war, I’ll remember the dead in my own time in my own way.

I’m not going to shed a damned tear today.

We got our revenge. Many times over, for whatever good it did us.

I’m going to go to a picnic and enjoy my day. Enjoy this victory we’ve won.

I suggest you do the same.”

—Jim Wright, Stonekettle Station

I almost never write about 9/11. On the first anniversary, I made a post on my old blog called “Living for 9/12.” And I reposted it on this blog around the eleventh anniversary. I didn’t express the same sentiment as Wright either of those times, but I’m getting to a similar emotional space.

It’s not that I think we should forget the deaths that happened that day. But could we try using that grief to accomplish some good in the world? I mean, my goodness, it took us 14 years to pass a bill to help the fireman and paramedics and police who responded that day, survived, but have suffered longer term health issues. And yes, we killed the mastermind of that plot, but along the way we’ve bombed countries that weren’t involved, and have used the original tragedy to justify all sorts of violations of our own civil liberties, assassinating at least one of our own citizens without due process, not to mention developing a disturbing habit of killing civilians with drones!

Every year about 11,000 U.S. citizens are murdered with firearms, sometimes in mass shootings like Orlando or Sandy Hook, most in incidents that barely make it to the local news. That’s nearly four 9/11s every single year. Maybe we should actually do something to prevent some of those? Or at least let the National Institutes of Health research into whether we could do anything to reduce that number?

Why are we unable to work up any determination over any of the tens of thousands of deaths that have happened since that day?

I need to stop ranting. There was one other 9/11 post I saw on the day that I think is worth looking at. It isn’t like Wright’s at all, but it also doesn’t wrap itself in the flag to push an agenda. Tricia Romano is currently the Editor in Chief of a Seattle weekly newspaper, the Stranger. But in 2001 she worked in New York City, writing for another weekly newspaper, the Village Voice: I Was In New York City During 9/11. I’ll Never Forget.

Pot shots from the troll gallery: false equivalency edition

Flow chart to help figure out if your First Amendment rights have been violated. (Click to embiggen)

Flow chart to help figure out if your First Amendment rights have been violated. (Click to embiggen)

So I recently wrote about a professional internet troll who was finally kicked off Twitter after years of extensively documented organized harassment of (mostly) women on line. He was finally kicked off because he went after one of the actresses in Ghostbusters and she was famous enough that major news sites carried stories about it and so forth. In case there was any doubt about what will actually motivate a company like Twitter to enforce its own rules. Anyway, I got a fairly long comment on that post yesterday. The person left the comment under his own WordPress account, which links to a very active blog, so he isn’t trying to be anonymous. And he asks some questions, apparently expecting answers.

But I’m not approving the comment, and have added him to the blacklist because he couldn’t finish the comment without including racial slurs (aimed at the actress).

So I’m not going to subject anyone else on the internet to that. Since I have previously stated that my policy is to approve comments that disagree with me if the person seems to legitimately want to discuss, I confess that I wrestled with the decision for a little bit. One of the options I have is to edit a comment before I approve it. So I could just delete the slur, right? But I’ve never edited a comment, because that seems to cross a line for me. The comment system warns you that I screen comments and it won’t appear until approved, but editing opens me up for accusations that I’ve changed something else, you know.

And I honestly don’t want to send any traffic to a site run by someone who would deploy a slur like that.

But I do want to address a few things. The commenter first opined that if I were going to write about this particular instance of harassment, I’m obligated to write about any and every other instance of harassment going on in the world. No, no I’m not. This is a personal blog. I’m not a journalist. I’m not representing myself as a news site. I have been an editor of campus newspapers a zillion years ago, and worked as a freelancer for a short time; but even then, editorial discretion applied—a publication should choose which stories are relevant to their readers, and in how much depth to cover them.

I have written about some other instances of harassment. I’ve written about the general topic of online harassment many times. I link to news stories and opinion pieces about these sorts of things in Friday Links quite often.

The commenter went further and listed three specific events which he thought were similar to the organized harassment story I mentioned above, and asked whether I have covered them, as well. Again, with the assertion that I’m obligated to do so since I commented on this one. Of the three events he listed, two are mythical. They are false stories that many conservative web sites trot out from time to time that have been debunked. So, no, I have not written about them.

The third one, the Isreali Hasbera operation, well, I suppose it is worth commenting on, but if Al Jazeera has declared it a failure two years ago, I’m not sure what more there is to say about it: The grand failure of Israeli hasbara. An even bigger problem is that a government intelligence agency creating sock puppet accounts to harass and spread misinformation, while it is a deplorable thing, isn’t the same as a private individual encouraging other private individuals to flood yet another person’s social media accounts with racist and misogynist harassment, death threats, rapes threats, et cetera.

It’s a false equivalency. Just as a private company deciding not to serve a customer who abuses other customers is not censorship. I understand that the commenter is looking at the alleged online harassment by government officials as similar to other forms of harassment. Harassment is bad. Which I’ve said many times.

But it’s not in the same lane as a raving mob of fragile man-babies/mens-rights-advocates harassing someone. It’s not in the same lane as sci-fi/fantasy fandom gatekeeping. It’s not in the same lane as societal racism and misogyny. All of those are topics I comment on all the time. And the original story was an intersection of all of those things, which is one of the reasons why I commented on it.

But I comment on things like that because I have personal experience with all of those things. I can write about them from that experience. I don’t have personal experience with the machinations of the Isreali government. The likelihood that I’ll have something to say that is any different or insightful than other articles/posts you can read on that topic is nil. So I don’t go there very often. I’m far more likely to comment on Isreali pinkwashing, because as a queer man, I have some experience seeing my very existence used as a talking point by politicians.

Yes, I’ve also commented on various atrocities committed by governments. So, maybe if there’s a new development in this area someday, I might comment on it. More likely I’ll include a link in Friday Links and let my readers who are interested follow up.

It’s my blog. It’s my opinion. I get to decide what I get worked up over, and what things I will ask my readers to spend their bandwidth on. The wingnut has his own blog. He can talk about these topics there.

It’s my country, too

#WeAreAmerica #LoveHasNoLabels

#WeAreAmerica #LoveHasNoLabels

I find myself in really odd discussions lately on social media. The worst, to be honest, happen on Facebook—usually with relatives. But it’s not just the cousin who keeps insisting that only immigrants object to religious Christmas displays on the public dime. Nor is it merely the aunt who keeps insisting that she doesn’t hate “the gays” or “the transgendereds” but is constantly posting memes and personally penned rants about how god is going to destroy America because of gay rights, and allowing trans people to use a public bathroom leads to rape. It’s not even the folks who argued that their right to sell assault weapons was more important that my right to not want to be gunned down in a gay club.

Captain America photographed in the 2012 Seattle Pride Parade (https://www.flickr.com/photos/sea-turtle/)

Captain America photographed in the 2012 Seattle Pride Parade (https://www.flickr.com/photos/sea-turtle/)

It’s also the folks who post the “Make America Great Again” memes, and unironically talk about how perfect America was in the 60s or 50s or whenever their childhood was. It’s the people who post the “Thank a Veteran” memes while voting for Republican congresscritters who constantly cut funding for veteran’s health care (and everyone else’s healthcare while they’re at it). It’s the people who describe themselves as “patriot” but think that means a very specific rightwing viewpoint. It’s the people who scream “all lives matter!” in the face of overwhelming evidence that the murders of black people, brown people, trans people, or women, or Jewish people, or people perceived to be muslim are never given as much attention by the justice system as other people’s deaths.

I love America. I have a favorite Founding Father (and I can go on at great length about why he’s my favorite), and I have a second favorite (and I can go on at equally great length as to why he’s my second favorite and why I understand that a lot of people prefer him over my fave). I can quote whole sections of the Constitution from memory. I get irritated at people who leave their U.S. flags out in the rain or fly them at night without illumination. I get teary eyed when patriotic music plays. I believe, even though many of the men who signed the document didn’t, that the Declaration of Independence was right when it said that we are all created equal (though I really wish it said people instead of men). I believe that America’s ideals are great, and wonderful, and visionary, and worth fighting for.

But I’m also painfully and personally aware that neither our laws, nor our society, nor most of our institutions live up to those ideals. America has seldom been great if you were not a cis white heterosexual male—preferably protestant (or let’s be honest, with a veneer of being a protestant Christian). If you were lucky enough to fall into that privileged category as a child, or the next best thing, to be the child of such a person and therefore protected by their umbrella of privilege, yes, America seemed really cool when you were younger.

Part of that was all that privilege, but another part was that most real world problems weren’t yours to worry about. Your parents were responsible for keeping a roof over your head and food on the table. If your family wasn’t poor, you spent at least part of your childhood completely unaware of most of the downsides of the world. Similarly if you were lucky enough to have loving, non-abusive parents. So of course life seemed simpler then. It wasn’t any simpler. Violent crime rates were actually much higher (because they have been steadily decreasing for decades), for instance. A lot of diseases we have treatments or even cures for now were completely untreatable. If you weren’t white, male, or straight, the law denied you all sorts of rights many take for granted, and often actually criminalized your existence.

And it’s not as if things are perfect and enlightened now: Millions of Americans Have Nothing to Celebrate on the Fourth of July

Otters wish you a happy Independence Day (© 2013 Monterey Bay Aquarium)

Otters wish you a happy Independence Day (© 2013 Monterey Bay Aquarium)

I mention America’s flaws not because I hate America, but because I love it and wish that we would live up to our ideals. As Elie Wiesel (the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who died Saturday) said, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

No one who calls themselves an American patriot should sit in silence while injustice, racism, sectarianism, homophobia, or misogyny are being perpetrated in our name. James Madison (called Father of the Constitution, though he preferred to be remembered for authoring the original Bill of Rights) warns us, “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

It is our silence and indifference that erodes the promise of liberty. It isn’t the immigrant (besides, unless you are Native American, you or your ancestors are immigrants), it isn’t the person who adheres to a different faith than you, or to no faith. It isn’t the lesbian couple trying to buy a wedding cake. It isn’t the trans person wishing to use a public bathroom. It isn’t the African-American mother demanding justice for her 12-year-old gunned down in a playground by police. It isn’t people asking to close some of the loopholes in background checks before guns are purchases. It isn’t the Jewish person asking that we not have a manger scene in city hall. It isn’t the recent immigrant working two jobs and trying to fit in English as a Second Language class while getting their kids through school.

None of those people or events are what has made America anything less than great.

It’s people who call themselves “patriot” who blames any of those other people. It’s the people who call themselves “patriot” and lecture people on line about racism while their own user name is literally a vile racial slur. It’s the people who call themselves “patriot” who sits silents while others denounce people because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, sexual identity, et cetera.

Judging others for being different and denying them the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is not American—love, acceptance, and helping our neighbors is.

We Are America featuring John Cena | Love Has No Labels:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

A Day of Pink and the Stupidity of the Transgender Bathroom Argument

A t-shirt proclaiming, "It's time to talk about bullying, homophobia, transphobia. Day of Pink, April 13, 2016."

Today is the Day of Pink, an International Day against Bullying, Discrimination, Homophobia, Transphobia, and Transmisogyny across the world.

I’ve been noticing a theme in the search terms bringing people to my blog lately—many variations of “stupidity of transgender bathroom argument.” Which is understandable. We have certain states falling all over themselves to pass anti-gay and anti-trans laws in the wake of the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling, and the argument which seems to get the most traction with voters (or will get a certain type of person who isn’t a reliable voter to turn out) is the argument claiming that laws protecting trans people leads to sexual predators lurking in public bathrooms. So the laws that are getting passed include specific language demanding that people use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender listed on their birth certificate, or that “matches their genitals” and so forth. Which in turn means a lot of people who want to figure out how to debunk those arguments are searching the web for an answer.

And it makes sense that some of those searches will land here, since I’ve written about this topic at least once or twice before:

Setting aside some of the other ludicrous claims, the one take away that we need to return to, again and again, is that many states and cities have had laws that specifically allow transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, and in none of those places as there been a single documented case of someone using that law in order to try to commit a sexual assault. Not one. Which is summed up nicely in the chart below.

mediamatters.org

None of those bathroom or locker room horror stories have a basis in fact. (Click to embiggen)

This chart (which was included in one of those previous posts) is a bit over a year old. Now, in addition to the original Media Matters nice compilation of statements from law enforcement officials and other experts from the 12 states that have had laws protecting transgender people on the books for year (some going back to 1993!) showing that there has never been an assault in a bathroom because of them, we have even more! Media experts, law enforcement, and real live trans people explain why the fear of men “pretending” to be trans to attack women and children in bathrooms has no basis in reality, and More Republican Lawmakers Arrested For Sexual Misconduct In Bathrooms Than Trans People.

But it’s important to note that in the 200 cities and 17 states with laws like this [allowing trans people to use the bathroom that matches their identity] already on the books, there are no examples documented of someone using it for nefarious purposes, of a transgender person who is this sex predator in the bathroom. It’s got no factual foothold. If anything, the irony in this is that it actually would require — and North Carolina now requires transgender men who have beards, who are muscular, to use the women’s restroom. So it actually creates the very problem that it claims to solve. —Dominic Holden, speaking on PBS’s Newshour

Why have I chosen today, the Day of Pink, which is supposed to be a day to raise awareness of bullying to come back to this topic? Because any time a law criminalizes or otherwise penalizes people because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender, it encourages bullying. Businesses, school officials, hospital workers, and so on will reference the law as justification when they discriminate against someone who is queer or gender-non-conforming. The laws foster the notion that it is okay to mistreat, demean, and bully some people.

Ironically, these bathroom bills increase the likelihood that there will be assaults in bathrooms. It’s just that the victims will be the queer kids (or kids who are perceived by their peers as being queer). And it’s not as if school bathrooms aren’t already a place of terror for kids who are perceived as gender non-conforming, let along openly gay or trans children! In my early elementary school days, most of the teachers were women, and so the boys’ bathroom was a place where other boys could gang up on the class sissy or freak (usually me) with impunity. It got so bad for me at one school, that I simply stopped going to the bathroom at school. I avoided drinking anything all day, to try to stay out. My mom kept asking why I was running home from school and rushing straight to the bathroom.

So you can imagine the horror I felt when I read the headline: Kansas Bill Would Pay Students A $2,500 Bounty To Hunt For Trans People In Bathrooms! Geeze, talk about dehumanizing children!

"More United States Senators have been arrested for sexual misconduct in bathrooms than trans women."

It’s not just a meme…

I quote Dominic Holden (who used to write for one of our local weekly alternative papers, so I’ve been a fan for years) for his appearance on PBS’s Newshour above, and I’ve embedded a Youtube video of a snippet below (the link after the embed leads to a longer video and transcript, by the way). And while I agree with most of Dominic’s points, I think he gets one little bit slightly wrong. “…it’s really put LGBT advocates in a difficult place because they haven’t figured out how to respond to this. And for the most part, they have not taken it on directly.”

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

The part I disagree with is where he says that these laws have put advocates in a difficult place. No, we put ourselves there.

We were so giddy at the Supreme Court ruling, that we allowed ourselves to think the battle was won. I say “we” even though I was raising this concern back then. I raised the concern, but what did I do about it? Most of our official advocacy groups have been avoiding taking the issue on directly. They responding half-heartedly, if at all, to some of the earliest instances of backlash. They deployed a really generic fairness response in the Houston equal rights repeal, for instance.

And to imply that we don’t know how to respond is simply wrong. The current trans bathroom bill arguments are not substantially different than the arguments they have always made against queer people. The bigots have always claimed we are delusional—our orientation or gender identity is a choice we’ve made for sinful or other nefarious reasons, not an inherent characteristic. They have always claimed that we are dangerous sexual predators. They have always claimed that acknowledging our existence will cause confusion and harm to children. Exactly how they couched those arguments has changed. Which segment of the non-heterosexual population they were demonizing has changed, but the essence of the arguments are the same.

That is what they are claiming now. We’ve dealt with those arguments before. We have won battles in the court of public opinion against those arguments before. We can do it again. We just have to actually try. Marriage equality was only one touchdown out of a very long game. And it directly benefits only some of us, and only in some situations. The fight still belongs to all of us.

Invisible or tragically dead… reflections on representation

lovingmemoryI was catching up on some podcasts last week, specifically going back through episodes that I had started but not finished. I was listening to Cabbages & Kings, which is a sci fi/fantasy podcast that focuses on books and other written stories, with a focus on the things readers love about the experience of reading. In that specific episode the host, Jonah Sutton-Moore, was discussing queer romance in sf/f with Carl Engle-Laird who is an editor at Tor Books and is bisexual. It was a good episode, but I was shocked when Engle-Laird said that he had only recently learned about the Tragic Queer Trope/Cliché, and specifically that he had learned about it after he had already selected two books for publication in which the only queer character in the story dies. He says something along the lines, “I had just learned about this cliché and the pain it causes so many people, and I was about to publish two books that fit it and realize there’s trouble coming my way.”

The host of the podcast shared a similar story, about how he had reviewed a book in which the two main characters, who happen to be lesbian, overcome the obstacles of the plot and apparently live happily ever after. In the review he had expressed some surprise at how many rave reviews he’d read of the book before reading it himself. Not because the book wasn’t good, he didn’t see that it was a breakout book as so many reviews described. People reading his blog had to tell him that what felt groundbreaking about the book was the fact that the queer characters not only lived to the end of the book, but actually got a happy ending.

I’m not shocked that the straight host of a sci fi podcast was unaware of the prevalence of the phenomena described at TV Tropes as Bury Your Gays and Gayngst, or a bit more honestly explicitly at places like Another Dead Lesbian or The Curse of the Tragic Lesbian Ending and so on. I was disappointed, but not shocked.

It was the queer editor not knowing about this cliché that shocked me.

And I want to be clear, this isn’t meant to be a slam at either the podcast host nor his interviewee. I’ve been listening to this podcast for months, I like it (heck, I nominated it in the fancast category for the Hugos this year!), I listened to several more episodes after the shocking moment (and I’m all caught up again!), and will continue to recommend it.

But I’m still always disappointed when people in the business are unaware of just how unwelcoming to queer people most pop culture is in general, and sci fi/fantasy is in particular.

I realize that it is hard for non-queer people to grasp this, since they are so used to seeing themselves reflected in every show. Any time I’ve talked about a specific instance of “Bury Your Gays” with non-queer friends, their first reaction is always to explain to me that other people die in the book/movie/series. It isn’t that queer characters should never die. The problem is that nearly every queer character depicted in a relationship in pop culture either dies, or is left alone, bereft, and grieving over the death of the only other queer character in the story at the end.

All. The. Time.

That’s on the rare occasions that queer characters in relationships are included at all. Most often, queer characters simply aren’t in the stories. In those rare cases where queers are included, they are unattached romantically without any plot line other than to be the funny/eccentric sidekick to a straight character, or they die. And quite often it is a senseless death that exists for no reason other than to shock the viewer and give one of the surviving characters a reason to grieve and motivation to accomplish their goal.

One of several infographics at jcwelker.com/post/141225630214/vandelrio-nonadraws-this-is-my-final-project

One of several infographics at jcwelker.com/post/141225630214/vandelrio-nonadraws-this-is-my-final-project

If you think I’m exaggerating, here’s a couple of statistics for you. According to GLAAD, out of the 881 regular characters appearing in all of the primetime network shows during the fall of 2015, 35 of them were lesbian or bisexual women. We are now just a bit over 80 days into 2016, and since January 1, eight of those fictional women who love women have been killed on screen. That’s nearly one quarter (22.85%) of all the women who love women that have been allowed to appear on television screens this year killed.

Imagine, for a moment, if in the last three months 22% of all the regular characters on every single show on network TV had been killed off on screen. That’s 194 characters, almost 2.5 a night. Seriously, if regular characters were being killed off on every television show at that rate, people would be up in arms. They would be sending angry messages to networks executives asking why there is so much more violence in every show. The Daily Show and/or John Oliver would have some epic comedic rants about the murderous spree that all of the network producers had gone on, and those rants would be viral on Youtube.

Right?

If one quarter of all regular characters on network television shows were killed off every 80 days, then every show would have effectively a complete cast turnover every television season. And that makes no sense for a continuing story over multiple seasons, so no show-runners in their right minds would do that.

Fictional murders, senseless deaths on screen, et cetera are not random acts of violence. They are decisions that show runners and writers and network executives make. People are making the decision to kill off queer characters at a much higher rate than any other category of fictional character. Just as a lot of us have called bullshit on writers, producers, and executives who claim they can’t add a queer character to an existing series or franchise until the “right story” comes along, it is at best self-delusion when the decision-makers try to claim that it is just a coincidence that they kill off queer characters at such a high rate.

It is sometimes argued that the only reason that we notice when queer characters are killed off is because there are so few of them to begin with, therefore each loss is especially keenly felt. But that ignores the disproportionate rate of the deaths. Yes, if a quarter of all characters appearing in regular recurring roles in all shows were killed every 80 days, we could argue that the only problem is how few queer characters there are. Even if that were the only reason, the lack of representation itself would still be a problem, as I’ve argued before: Invisible no more: rooting out exclusion as a storyteller.

The truth is that both the lack of representation, and the excessive rate of disposal of the few examples of representation we ever get are symptoms of a deeper problem. Author Junot Diaz summed up the real issue best:

You guys know about vampires? You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?”

There is an agenda to deny us representation—to pretend we don’t exist at all if possible, or to make certain we are perceived as monsters, freaks, or tragedies if we must be acknowledged. Whether a particular storyteller consciously agrees with that agenda or not, whenever you leave us out, or kill us off without thinking about the message it sends, or sit by silently while someone else does those things, you are serving that agenda.

Maybe you should think about that for a bit.

Is it worth the outrage? – part three

tumblr_mzq7ewA3w91qk4s2co1_1280A couple of years ago I set myself a personal goal to “Reduce the Outrage.” I modified it and combined it with another last year, and carried it over again this year1. I’ve been sick off-and-on2 for about nine weeks, which means I’m cranky and prone to overreact a lot of the time. In one of the social/cultural spheres I inhabit, certain events are underway which increases the number of things being said about topics in which I have a lot of personal investment. Add to that the histrionics of the U.S. presidential campaign season, and it is really easy for me to find myself in an outraged state.

I’ve written before about letting oneself become outraged in unproductive ways, becoming resentful rather than doing something constructive, for instance. And I’ve quoted before the old proverb, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then waiting for the other person to die.”

The whole reason I set those goals about reducing outrage is because unproductive outrage is toxic and self-destruction and does no good to anyone.

But anger is a symptom of pain, and it is just as self-destructive to ignore pain. Finding something to do to alleviate the harm isn’t always easy. Root causes of many problems are beyond our control. I’m a writer; language is my primary toolset for tackling many problems. Unfortunately, analysis is something of an obsession with me, so I will over-analyze things and easily fall into a toxic spiral of writing, revising, ranting, revising, trying to be reasonable, revising some more—feeling increasingly frustrated and more outraged at every step.

I’ve been stuck in one such spiral for about two weeks.

Then, through a series of fortuitous clicks (reading one article, clicking a link in it, reading the referenced blog post, clicking a link in it, et cetera), I came across this post from Steve Saus4 from last May that said one of the things I’ve been thinking about so much perfectly: And you shall know them by their works. It says it so well, and more importantly, so succinctly, that I’m just going to quote the whole thing here:

There are two sides in our current culture wars.

But don’t decide which side is which by their names.

You will know them by their actions.

One side works so that everyone should have an opportunity to do something – get married, be nominated for an award, pee in whatever bathroom, be on television.

The other side already can – and has – done all those things. That side works so that only their group can get married, be nominated for an award, pee in a bathroom, or be on television.

Forget the labels for a second.

Are you working to give more people the same chances and opportunities… or to deny chances and opportunities to someone else?

It all comes down to that. Are you working to give people opportunities, or are you trying to keep opportunity out of their hands?


Footnotes:

1. A post has long been brewing about my failure to post monthly goal reports the last two months of last year, and how I’m handling my goals this year.

2. Or maybe it’s continuously and those stretches of several days when I thought I was well in between the symptoms were just pauses in the illness. We’re not sure.3

3. Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that my husband has been sick much of the same time, though frequently our symptoms are out of synch. So when I’ve been feeling almost recovered, he’s been at his worst.

4. Steve Saus is a writer, editor, and publisher who blogs at Idea Trash. A blog which has now joined my regular reading list.

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