Tag Archive | lgbt

Defining my existence as inappropriate; why should that worry me?

“Sick of your heteronormative bullshit.”

“Sick of your heteronormative bullshit.”

Not long before my 16th birthday we moved to southwest Washington and began attending the church where my maternal grandparents were members. My new Sunday School teacher was a middle-school librarian in his day job. This particular church had all Sunday School classes segregated by gender (which was fairly typical for Southern Baptist Churches3) and by age, so it was a bunch of guys ranging in age from about 14-18 years old. One Sunday morning shortly after we joined the church, the teacher was telling an anecdote from his public school job, and he mentioned the novel Are You There, God? It’s me, Margaret?. “Some of you may have heard of it,” he said.

Without thinking, I nodded my head and said, “Yeah, it’s a pretty good book.”

The teacher turned on me as if I had just transformed into a rattlesnake and was switching my tail ready to strike4. He had the most appalled look on his face. Then the expression changed to very amused condescension, “Oh, Gene! You would never have read this book! It’s a book for girls, and is completely inappropriate for a boy!”

I shrugged and said, “If you say so…”

He shook his head, chuckling even more condescendingly, and then went back to his story.

But I had read the book, several years earlier. I had gone through a pretty intense Judy Blum phase6, see. It started with the novel, Then Again, Maybe I Won’t which was, among other things, about a boy dealing with puberty and significant changes in his family’s financial situation. I had loved the book so much, that I proceeded to read everything else of hers I could get at the public library (or through inter-library loan) in the small Colorado town we had been living in at the time. Sure, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret is a book about (among other things) a girl going through puberty and all that entails. But it’s also a book about one’s relationship with the faith they were raised in, and learning to make adult decisions about what you yourself believe.

The idea of boy’s toys and girl’s toys and boy’s books and girl’s books is pretty messed up when talking about small children, but it seems to me it is much more messed up when talking about teen-agers8. Some people will immediately point out that the teacher may have been so appalled because he thinks of menstruation as a sexual topic9, and good Christian boys who are not yet married10 aren’t supposed to know anything about sex. As if that argument is any less BS than the idea that a boy could never possibly read and enjoy a book that some people think of as a girl’s book.

It’s all heteronormative BS. My church insisted on separating girls from boys in Sunday School classes in part to supposedly thwart sexual improprieties12. But heteronormative BS is not limited to members of fundamentalist evangelical churches.

YouTube's completely BS explanation for why they're restricting videos that just happen to be made my Queer people. (Click to embiggen)

YouTube’s completely BS explanation18 for why they’re restricting videos that just happen to be made my Queer people. (Click to embiggen)

YouTube is hiding some videos touching on various topics related to the LGBT community17. Not sexual videos. Among the videos that have been found to be hidden the Restricted Due to Mature Content label are: trans people showing how to apply make-up, a gay vlogger talking about 8 LGBT African-Americans who ought to be remembered during Black History Month, music videos without sexual content that happen to have been made by queer musicians, some coming out videos, and so forth.

Before anyone tries to lecture me of all people that this doesn’t constitute censorship (which I never said it did), let me explain. YouTube is privately owned, yes. But it offers a service to the public, and therefore must abide by the legal and ethical obligations that comes with offering a public accommodation. They incur those obligations whether or not they charge fees for the service. Among those obligations is one that is sometimes referred to as truth in advertising19: if you represent that your product or service does a thing when it does not, you can face penalties. YouTube claims that it is simply labeling content of a “mature or inappropriate nature” so that other users who choose to surf in restricted mode will not see offensive20 material. They also keep referring to it as a voluntary program.

“8 Black LGBT Americans Who Inspire Me” is not mature content. How to apply foundation, eyeliner, and lipstick is not mature content. “How I Came Out to my Family” is not mature content. Nor are any of those inappropriate.

It is also misleading in the press release to say the program is voluntary. Yes, whether or not a viewer choose to see content that has been labeled “Restricted” is voluntary. Whether a creator’s material is thus labeled is not. Neither are the creators informed that their material has thus been labeled. They have to log into YouTube as a different account and set that account not to view Restricted material and then try to view their own videos to see which ones have been labeled “Restricted.”

So I’m exercising my free speech right to call BS on YouTube. This isn’t a misunderstanding on our part. It is a discriminatory business practice21. It is more of the same old heteronormative BS where anything that admits that queer people exist is treated as if it is pornography, even when they are doing something as innocuous as sharing make-up tips22.


Footnotes:
1. By “we” I mean my mom, my oldest sister, and myself. Dad had remarried and was living in Utah by that time, with where my step-mom was had just given birth to the youngest of my half-siblings2.

2. It is worth pointing out that the precipitating event of my parents’ divorce was the discovery that Dad had been carrying on an affair with the woman who became my step-mom for years.

3. Many years later that particular church decided to allow a mixed gender Sunday School class, but only for the people over 65 years old. And members who happened to be that age but didn’t want to attend Sunday School in a mixed gender setting were allowed to attend the adult men’s or women’s class, instead. When my grandmother told me about it, she actually tittered and made a comment about how radical it was to let men and women discuss the Bible in the same room. My step-grandfather then commented that, “Well, I guess at our age they don’t expect anyone will misbehave.” From which you can correctly infer that one of the things at least some Evangelicals believe is that you can’t put people of the opposite gender in rooms with closed doors without the very real risk that sexual hijinks will ensue.

4. Which may seem like a really strangely specific metaphor, but because one of the churches we had briefly attended during my nomadic childhood had included some members who were into snake handling5, I actually had seen another man in a church have the exact expression as this teacher did when a rattlesnake in a jar that most of us didn’t realize one of the members had snuck into the church, suddenly got very tired of being trapped in said jar.

5. Snake-handling: A practice in certain Pentecostal and Evangelical churches inspired by a literalistic reading of Mark 16:17–18. Handling venomous snakes without being harmed is seen as a sign of one’s faith and possession of the Holy Spirit.

6. To be fair, many years later, when I mentioned something about Judy Blum during a conversation at work, at least one of my co-workers gave me a rather startled look and asked, “You read Judy Blum when you were a teen-ager?” When I said that I had and mentioned a couple of my favorites7, her response was a very emphatic, “Wow!”

7. Deenie, It’s Not the End of the World, and of course Then Again, Maybe I Won’t.

8. Although, attitudes like this teacher’s make it easy to believe the story that gets shared around from time to time of the adult male legislator with a wife and teen-age children who didn’t know that menstrual blood flow was an involuntary biological function.

9. It’s a biological function that occurs in members of one sex, yes. And it is related to the reproductive cycle, yes. But it’s biology. And sometimes a health issue. Fully functioning adult members of a society ought to have at least a passing knowledge about the health issues of their species, regardless of whether they experience it themselves.

10. I should mention that two of the guys sitting in that Sunday School room with me that morning would, in less than two years time, each have a rushed marriage to their respective girlfriends who would each give birth to their first child only a few months afterward9.

11. A situation which studies have shown again and again and again would happen much less frequently if kids are given accurate information about sex, sexuality, reproduction, et cetera.

12. Because sex (and flirting and dancing14) can only happen between people of opposite sexes, right16?

13. There is no thirteenth footnote.

14. An old joke which was much beloved by my college debate coach (though I’ve heard it from others before and since): “Why do Baptists condemn sex other than missionary position15? Because they’re afraid it might lead to dancing!”

15. It’s true, even married people are not supposed to do anything other than very vanilla sex. Which is the inspiration of a similar joke: “Why do Baptists say it’s sinful for a woman to smoke cigarettes? Because they’re afraid it might lead to oral sex!”

16. Which is ridiculous. I know for a fact I wasn’t the only queer boy sitting in that Sunday School classroom that morning. Not that I had any romantic or sexual relationship with the other guys, just that I and two others each came out of the closet years later. One of them I’ve run into a few times since, as he lives in Seattle, now, too. Last I heard, the other was living in San Diego.

17. YouTube faces social media storm over LGBT-blocking ‘restricted mode’

18. You can read a bit more of YouTube’s side here: YouTube apologizes for blocking LGBT videos. Note that the headline is completely false. YouTube’s statement is not an apology for blocking the content. It says the word “apologize” but it’s for our supposed confusion at not realizing that they’re restricting LGBT content for reasons and not because of other reasons. Except we aren’t confused, we understand perfectly.

19. The principle is not limited to advertising. Any communication about the use of the product can be subject to this scrutiny.

20. Oddly enough, a lot of videos spouting off white supremacist, racist, and anti-queer bigotry (often making the kinds of hate speech which YouTube’s user guidelines says are not allowed) are freely available on the service without the Restricted label. So it is reasonable to conclude that the service is applying a definition of “offensive” that tilts cartoonishly far in one particular political direction.

21. Restricting or denying service due to the sexual orientation or gender identity of the people producing it, which is clearly the case in the vast majority of the identified videos.

22. And if you think that it’s universally offensive for people of some genders or some gender identities to wear make-up, then please explain why we keep having to see the horrific spray-on tan of our deplorable president.

Weekend Update 3/19/2017: Support trans kids

Young girl holds say that says, “I'm the SCARY TRANSGENDER person the Media warned you about.”

“I’m the SCARY TRANSGENDER person the Media warned you about.” (Click to embiggen)

Since I spent the majority of Friday and quite a good chunk of Saturday at the hospital while my husband had surgery and then recovered, I didn’t pay as much attention to the news as I often do. Oh, I did wind up spending a lot of time trying to read news online, but I wasn’t really processing it. When I could concentrate, I worked on a short story that I need to send to a ‘zine editor before the end of the month. Turns out I was also distracted enough Thursday night that I made a rather serious error in Friday links.

One of the stories in my weekly round up of the news this week was: Here’s What Happened At The Parents Of Trans Kids Mardi Gras Float. Which is actually a quite heartwarming stories about the parents of a bunch of trans people who put together a float about how much they love their trans kids and rode Sydney, Australia’s Mardi Gras parade. I originally planned to include that link in the section titles “News for Queers and our Allies,” but I also sometimes have a separate sections for news pertinent to particular portions of the Queer Community. And this week there were a lot of links related to trans people. So I kept moving those links around.

Unfortunately, several of the news pieces this time were about trans people were about less than happy things. Anyway, somehow in the course of moving all the trans pieces together, then moving some of them to another section, then moving others to yet another section, I accidentally moved the happy story about parents who love and support their trans kids to the “This Week in Awful People” section and didn’t notice until today!

So if you haven’t yet, go click on that link and look at the cool pictures and read some good news!

Since we’re on the subject of people being supportive of trans rights: Joe Biden Slams Trump Administration for Rescinding Protections for Trans Kids. Go, Joe! Now there’s a man who knows how to be an ally!

“Instead of focusing on the fact that 40 percent of the homeless youth on the street are identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender [and] rejected by their families out on the street, and what do we do about that, we’re now focusing on whether or not a transgender child, which bathroom they can use.” —form Vice President Joe Biden

And if Joe isn’t enough to convince you to support trans kids: Dear Cis People, Please Support Trans Kids

“In their most vulnerable and difficult stage of life, trans kids are not just facing opposition from their peers, but from the government, from society itself.”

Being supportive of your kid shouldn’t depend on whether your kid conforms to your pre-conceptions of the person or kind of person they should be. Antonia Elle D’orsay posted a great cartoon about this earlier in the month:

If you can, give a donation to: National Center for Transgender Equality. And if you want to help queer kids who have been rejected by their families and kicked out on the street : True Colors Fund or The Ali Forney Center are good places to start. Many communities have local programs focusing on teen homelessness and particularly queer teen homelessness, a quick Google search with the name of your city or town, and the words “queer teen homeless” should point you in the right way.

Orlando Pulse Shooting must be remembered for the anti-queer hate crime that it was

Photo by Monivette Cordeiro, Orlando Weekly.

Photo by Monivette Cordeiro, Orlando Weekly.

Nine months ago today an angry man walked into Pulse, a queer nightclub in Orlando, and murdered 49 people. According to the FBI and his own family, during the weeks and months leading up to the attack, he had become more noticeably outraged every time he saw gay men in public together. He plotted the crime carefully. He set up fake profiles on gay hook-up apps and used conversations there to find out which night clubs would have the biggest crowd. It was a carefully crafted anti-queer hate crime.

A crime that is still being prosecuted: Orlando Nightclub Shooter’s Widow Is Denied Release On Bail.

I’ve written before about why this particular crime hit so hard for queer people in general, and me in particular. I’ve also written about why it is unacceptable to argue there is nothing that we can do about this kind of crime: They used to insist that drunk driving couldn’t be reduced, either. I’ve also written about why we shouldn’t ignore the anti-LGBT hate crime aspect of this act of terror, and why the people who do so are perpetuating and enabling the hate that caused it.

And I’m not the only one: Call the Orlando shooting what it was: a homophobic hate crime, not ‘an attack on us all’.

I didn’t let myself write about the shooting on the 7th- or 8th-month’s mind1 date of the shooting because the lingering depression from election night made it too easy for me to leap into slathering rages over things. I had a very difficult time writing a post at the 6-month mark because of it. But there are reasons we shouldn’t forget: Gov. Rick Scott Honored Pulse But Never Mentioned LGBT People – Florida’s governor described the shooting as terrorism and never noted it targeted queer people.

I’ve gotten into the spiral of argument with some people that all hate crimes are crimes intended to cause terror, so it is technically correct to call it a terrorist act. And while that is true, it sidesteps the issue of just who was the crime intended to terrorize? We know that the gunman was targeting queer men. We know that because of all the angry outraged rants his family and colleagues have revealed during questioning. We know because he told his wife that he wanted to kill fags (she knew what he was planning, which is why she’s under arrest). We know because of the conversations he had on hookup apps where he would engage in conversation with gay men and ask which clubs were the hottest—where can he go to find the biggest crowds, the most popular places for gay men to have a good time?

He did not commit this crime to terrorize straight Americans. He was out to kill as many queer men as he could, and to put the fear of death into all queer people not to be out. That’s the point of this crime: to make queer people hide, go back into the closet, stop being out and open and unashamed of who we love. And if you don’t refer to this crime as an anti-queer or anti-gay or anti-LGBT crime, then you are doing exactly what the gunman wanted: you are erasing us from public life and discourse.

And if you get insistent and defensive about failing to mention that it was a anti-queer crime? That tells us, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that on some level, you agree with the gunman.

That’s not me calling you a bigot. That’s you being a bigot.

If you don’t like to think of yourself as a bigot, then you need to do something about that. A really good first step is to admit that being uncomfortable denouncing a crime as an anti-queer/anti-gay/anti-lesbian/anti-LGBT/anti-trans crime is a symptom of some level of prejudice. Which you need to let go of. Start calling this shooting what it was: a hate crime aimed at the LGBT community.

Victims killed in Pulse in Orlando this last weekend.

Victims killed in Pulse in Orlando June 6, 2016. (Click to embiggen) (Facebook/AP/Reuters/Rex)

Yes, 49 people were killed in Orlando that night. 49 queer Americans were gunned down. 49 queer people who just wanted to be out and happy and not have to hide who they were instead were murdered. 49 queer people were murdered by a man who was outraged at the idea of two men kissing in public. Remember them. Don’t erase their identities. Don’t erase their killer’s anti-gay hatred. Don’t ignore the toxic homophobia the pervades American society and fed the gunman’s hatred. Don’t help the killer erase us. Don’t.


Footnotes:

1. “Month’s mind” a practice in some traditions where family and friends gather about a month after someone’s death to celebrate that person’s life2.

2. Yes, I’m pedantic enough that I don’t like using the word “anniversary” to refer to periods of time of less than a year. I know people have been doing it verbally since at least the 1960s, and in writing since the 1980s, and I’m not normally a staunch prescriptionist regarding dictionary definitions, but this one still bugs me a little. Most of the terms that have been proposed to substitute (mensiversary, lunaversay, and uncianniversary) for this monthly commemorations strike me as silly. But knowing that there is an older, if obscure liturgical term, that I can pronounce it easily, I’m going to give it a try.

Weekend Update 3/11/2017: Ex-gay torture, dark clouds, and darker motives

“Some people are like dark clouds, when they disappear, suddenly it's a sunny day.”

“Some people are like dark clouds, when they disappear, suddenly it’s a sunny day.”

I’m sure that someone will tell me (as they have when other infamous bigots have died) that I should not speak ill of the dead. I will point out that the one of the oldest recorded instances of a this admonishment (a Greek text from about 600BC) is more accurately translated as, “Of the dead, nothing spoken unless truthfully.” So in that spirit, let me say that a dark cloud has passed, NARTH Founder and Leader in Ex-Gay Torture Movement Joseph Nicolosi Dead at 70. And that I wholeheartedly endorse the sentiment in this headline about this death: Ex-Gay Therapy Should Die With Its Pioneer, Dr. Joseph Nicolosi.

Nicolosi is just one of many who have profited over the years with the torture and bullying of gay people, often driving them to suicide. He was most recently in the news in 2012 when he tried to sue the state of California to overturn their ban on so-called gay conversion therapy for children and teens. A lawsuit which he lost, thank goodness! And just because another old, hateful bigot has died I know it doesn’t mean that this particular type of oppression is going to end. I can just hope that this death will get is a little closer to that ending, all right?

And in case you don’t know why this practice needs to be banned everywhere, remember that the ex-gay therapists and programs prey on vulnerable youth, making money off their pain, suffering, and sometimes suicides. They use bad therapy including pornography, lies and scare tactics, and discredited medical practices.

The science is clear: so-called reparative therapy fuels self-hatred and depression, increases the risk of suicide, and has no effect on a person’s sexual orientation or desires. None.

Source: thedesmondproject.com/Homelessness-Info.html (Click to embiggen)

Joseph Nicolosi caused a lot of people—a lot of vulnerable children—pain and suffering and actually increased the odds they would commit suicide. His propaganda encouraged parents to kick their gay children out on the street, leading to more pain, suffering and death. And he profited from that pain and suffering. The organization he founded still profits from it. So, damn right I’m going to speak ill of the dead.

And the usual arguments why one shouldn’t speak ill (he’s not here to defend himself, think of his grieving family, et cetera) should all be overruled by the fact that there are thousands of dead queer kids who not only aren’t here, either, but had no one to defend them from Nicolosi and his fellow bigots. Their memory and their grieving families deserve the truth. And the truth is, the world is a slightly better place now that Nicolosi isn’t part of it.

And let’s not forget that Vice President Pence is a big advocate for so-called gay conversion therapy for children. So the fight goes on!


In completely unrelated news, The DOJ Just Called for the Firing of 46 Obama-Appointed U.S. State’s Attorneys, Including Preet Bharara. This was very abrupt, and included at least one such prosecutor who was specfically asked to stay on recently by both Donald and Sessions. A mass firing is unusual in itself, and the initial reports of this made it clear it was very disorganized. At least one of the prosecutors admitting that he learned of his firing from the news—not even from a reporter calling for a comment. Also, the Justice Department doesn’t have any replacement prosecutors ready to nominate.

Which leads one to ask what the rush is. And a few people have spoken up: Feinstein: Trump’s firing of US attorneys hurts independence, and Trump “fires” 46 U.S. attorneys: standard practice or outrage? Yesterday’s round up of links included Trump Knows the Feds Are Closing In on Him – The president’s recent tweets aren’t just conspiratorial gibberish – they’re the erratic ravings of a guilty conscience. And that’s not all: Ukrainian attorney calls for probe into text message claims that Paul Manafort ‘knowingly’ had people killed or Connecting Trump’s Dots to Russia or Donald Trump panics over Russia: Jeff Sessions, Priebus, Bannon all huddled at Mar-a-Lago. Hence the weird claims about illegal wiretapping under Obama that went so far that a Fox News correspondent even called them false!

It’s becoming clear that there is more than enough evidence to indict a lot of Donald’s inner circle over various criminal charges, many of which border on treason. And if such an investigation got enough core Republican voters up in arms, Congress might actually do their job and start investigation the president himself. Getting rid of a lot of experienced federal prosecutors who are, by law, supposed to operate somewhat independently is one way to decrease the chances such a thing will come to pass.

It’s also yet another tin-pot dictator move, which this administration keeps doing again and again.

Confessions of a public restroom avoider

“If you don't like trans people using the bathroom, just look away like you do with corruption, war, poverty, environmental destruction, and homelessness.”

“If you don’t like trans people using the bathroom, just look away like you do with corruption, war, poverty, environmental destruction, and homelessness.”

Midway through my second grade year my family moved from Colorado to Nebraska. My dad’s job in the petroleum industry meant that we moved a lot (ten elementary schools in four states). I had a number of unpleasant experiences the first week at the new school. I misunderstood several things. The teachers and other school officials simply didn’t tell me about several rules. And the other kids weren’t exactly welcoming to the new kid. when I say unwelcoming, that’s putting it mildly. The second or third day there, I was cornered in the bathroom by several boys only some of whom I recognized from my classroom. They wanted to know if I was the idiot who got in the wrong line at the lunch room. I don’t remember everything that was said to me, but they communicated as only grade school bullies can that I was a stupid sissy—a freak who didn’t belong with the real boys.

The school was far more regimented than either of the previous grade schools I had attended. There were rules and assigned times for everything. We were sent to the restroom at three specific times each day, for instance. And my new bullies singled me out for taunting and humiliation every single restroom break.

I didn’t want to explain what was happening. Previous incidents of being bullied by other kids had always resulted in my dad yelling at and beating me for being a pushover. When I attempted to stand up for myself as he’d said, I got in trouble at school, which resulted in more yelling and beating. So I couldn’t let my parents know what was happening in the bathroom. And I knew I couldn’t let the teachers know, because eventually they would inform my parents.

So I stopped going to the bathroom.

I convinced my mom to let me walk home for lunch instead of eating at the school cafeteria. I don’t remember how I convinced my parents, but I did. I used the restroom at home in the middle of the day. At school, when we were marched off at our appointed times midmorning and midafternoon, I would loiter outside the restroom until we were collected and taken out to recess. Since I was eating at home, I skipped the midday restroom trip. I changed my drinking habits. I stopped using the drinking fountain at school, because if I didn’t drink water I wouldn’t need to pee as often. And so on.

I managed to avoid going into the restroom at that school almost entirely for the rest of the time we lived in that town. I still got bullied on the playground, in the classroom, and so forth. But because teachers were always nearby, the kind of bullying that happened was slightly less horrible that what could happen when a bunch of the mean boys had you trapped in a room that the adults seemed to never enter.

When we moved to a tiny town in Wyoming next, I wasn’t able to avoid the restrooms. The town we moved to didn’t have a school, so we rode a bus to a town almost an hour’s drive away. I can still remember how scared I was at what would happen the first time I went into that school’s bathroom. That school was less regimented, so I as usually able to get by with only one trip per day, and I could time it so I wasn’t using the restroom when a lot of the other boys were. Similarly with the town back in Colorado but near the Kansas border that we moved to for the last part of my third grade. And the next town, and the next.

Even when I was in high school, I learned to avoid certain bathrooms and certain times of the day. Because yes, even in my teen years, there were guys ready and eager to demonstrate to the class faggots just how despised we were, and the boy’s restroom was a place that they could do so with impunity.

I’m not trans. I don’t pretend to speak on behalf of the trans community. But I am very familiar with that cold fear that strikes like a fist in the gut when walking into a public restroom and someone looks at you in a less than friendly way. I’m a grown ass man in my mid-fifties, and there are still moments of anxiety any time I am in a public restroom and there are other people in there with me. There are little checklists that part of my brain runs through. Am I behaving the way I’m supposed to? Is this person going to interpret something I do in the wrong way?

Heck, part of me still freaks out if a straight co-worker strikes up a conversation in the restroom at the office! Making eye contact or saying anything to the wrong guys was the surest way to get bullied when I was a kid, and it doesn’t matter how many years ago that was, the conditioned reflexes are still there—the surge of stress hormones and keying up of fight or flight response happens every time.

So these bills and court fights about where or whether trans people can use restrooms at school and other public accommodations strike close to home. I get really upset that people think keep portraying the queer people as the dangerous ones in public restrooms.

Everyone needs to eat, drink, breathe, and yes, people also need to pee from time to time. We have public restrooms for that. A number of places in our country have had laws and policies that explicitly allow people to use the restroom of the gender they identify with for many years, and there has never, not once, been an incident of a trans or otherwise queer person using those policies to assault anyone in a restroom. The only incidents of people going into a restroom to harass women have been straight anti-gay people doing it to try to make headlines in order to justify these bathroom bills or to yell at a woman who doesn’t want to sign their anti-trans petition.

Seriously.

This isn’t about privacy. It isn’t about protecting women or girls. It is about making it impossible for trans people to exist in public spaces at all. It is about punishing trans and gender non-conforming people. It is about giving bigots an excuse to harass queer people or anyone who seems maybe a little queer.

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!

Why is it always my job to justify my existence?

“...even if [the trump voter] isn't a racist, ableist, xenophobic, misogynist sexual predator, he was fine voting for one.... [my life] would be better off without someone who places trumps showmanship over common human decency...” (click to embiggen)

“…even if [the trump voter] isn’t a racist, ableist, xenophobic, misogynist sexual predator, he was fine voting for one…. [my life] would be better off without someone who places trump’s showmanship over common human decency…” (click to embiggen)

Someone’s at it again. Telling us that the people who gladly voted for the man who swore to take away health care from millions, swore to give religious people the right to discriminate against queers, and swore to kick millions of brown people out of the country—could be persuaded not to vote that way again if only we would talk to them and listen to their side of things.

It seems so reasonable. Simple. Just talk. Listen to their side. We always argue for tolerance, right? Listen to their side of things. Maybe we’ll learn something. And once they see we’re willing to listen, they can be persuaded to see things from our perspective.

Bull.

Seriously, I’m a queer man in my late 50s. I grew up in tiny rural communities attending Southern Baptist Churches. You think I haven’t heard at least a billion times the perspective of the people who think religious freedom means a right to discriminate against me? You think I haven’t heard millions of times why queers don’t deserve civil rights protections? You think I haven’t heard millions of times how they perceive black people, brown people, people with accents, people who don’t attend the same churches as they do?

I have had no choice but to listen for decades!

You cannot talk someone who doesn’t think you’re their equal into accepting your right to autonomy. They may claim that they respect you. They may call you their friend. They may think of you as an exception to the truth they hold deep in their hearts about the inherent inequalities of different types of people. But the only thing that’s going to do is that you will be the person they trot out as proof that they aren’t prejudiced when someone else calls them on it. I know because it’s happened many times to me, personally.

Sure, when I’ve argued that queer people need to live their lives out and proud (if they can safely do so), I have cited the studies that show that actually knowing queer people makes other people more likely to support our rights. But it makes them more likely. It isn’t a magic formula that is guaranteed to change any specific person’s mind.

My evangelical upbringing is especially relevant to this particular argument. Despite making fun of a disabled person, talking about pussy-grabbing, and openly calling for violence against people who disagree, Donald got 80% of the evangelical vote. That’s better than George W. Bush every managed!

And those folks are absolutely convinced that they don’t hate anyone. They will angrily tell you just how much they love you in the same breath that they say that if your rights are protected, that will offend god so much that he will destroy America. They don’t see the contradiction between those statements. When it comes to things like women’s rights and racial issues, they just as emphatically insist that they aren’t bigots. They just know, because they think it’s in the Bible, that women are meant to be subservient to men, and that brown people are meant to be subservient to white people. If they aren’t quite willing to say that last part out loud, what they will fall back on is the separate but equal dodge on race, because god intended the races to be separate, they say.

It’s a weird theological argument: god wouldn’t have made you a woman, or a African-American, or Latino, or whatever, if you weren’t meant to fulfill certain roles in life. Maybe he sees inherent moral weaknesses in your soul. It isn’t at all logical, and most of them can’t articulate it beyond the notion that they believe it’s in the Bible. But that’s what you’re up against: god said it, god did it, god intends it. And no amount of talking or listening or being friends with people whose life experience belies that is going to shake their resolve. They may feel doubts. They may even confess to you that they realize you are a good person despite being in a category they have been taught is inherently not. But they will then shrug, say it’s god’s doing, and they’ll cheerfully vote for any candidate who affirms their ideas.

Even if that candidate also says a lot of things that completely contradict the teachings of their church. Because once they decide that a candidate is god’s choice, they can hand-wave everything away with the old “he works in mysterious ways.”

It’s an exhausting battle.

So, yes, be kind and civil. If you have the time and energy to attempt to be friends with someone, you can. But don’t kid yourself that doing so is more effective than calling your congressperson, or going to a protest, or joining a boycott, or going to town hall meetings, or donating to organizations that protect our rights. And please, don’t let the people in your life who think it’s okay to take away your rights think that you endorse those ideas.

Because you’re just empowering them to hurt others.

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)

Rainbows and mistletoe

db1a7f72996dddab87c646b6e857cea3We need a rainbow Christmas,
Right this very minute!
Egg nog at the brunch bar
With lots of bourbon in it!

Yes we need a rainbow Christmas,
Right this very minute!
My lyrics may be getting slurry,
But Santa dear, we’re in a hurry!

Fling ’round the glitter!
Put up more twinkling lights than the whole Vegas strip!
No need for fruitcake,
We’ve got a great big table of deliciousness,
here!

Cause we’ve grown a little rounder,
Grown a little bolder,
Grown a little prouder,
Grown a little wiser,

And I need a toasty lover,
Snuggling by the fire,
I need a rainbow Christmas now!

We need a rainbow Christmas now!


And if you’d like something a big less sassy:

Pet Shop Boys – It Doesn’t Often Snow At Xmas (Live 2000)

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

(I know the resolution on that isn’t great, but I love the live performance with the live boys’ choir. If you want to see a more glossy production with dancing Christmas trees, click here.)

Happy Holidays!

’Zat you, Santa Claus?

What's wrong with a black Santa?

What’s wrong with a black Santa?

Once again, some butt-hurt white guys are calling for a boycott and otherwise losing their minds because someone has hired an African-American man to play Santa at a mall. I could re-iterate the fact that the historical Saint Nicholas wasn’t a white guy. Or I could go on a rant about people who claim that queers, women, and people of color are the ones who are too sensitive being the ones getting up in arms, but I’d rather talk about Santa.

The real Santa.

I’ve made an extensive study of the topic. Part of this is because for more than 20 years I’ve been writing at least one new Ghost Story to read at our Holiday party. And I’m the sort of obsessive writer who has to run down every rabbit hole of information even slightly related to any project I’m working on. So if you want to get an earful of information on St. Nicholas, various countries’ folklore surrounding Father Christmas, Sinterklaas, Ded Moroz/Grandfather Frost, Pere Noel, La Befana, Tomte, the Hogfather, or all 13 of the Jolasveinar, I’m your guy.

And then there are the companions or anti-Clauses: Krampus, La Pere Fouettard, and Black Peter. And allied mythical creatures such as Julesvenn, Julenisse, and Santa’s elves.

But all of those things are simply the means by which people have sought to encode into folklore the truth about Santa Claus. Fortunately, a version of the truth is being shared around and turned up on my Tumblr feed this week, so rather than paraphrase that, I’m just going to quote Charity Hutchinson:

In our family, we have a special way of transitioning the kids from receiving from Santa, to becoming a Santa. This way, the Santa construct is not a lie that gets discovered, but an unfolding series of good deeds and Christmas spirit.

When they are 6 or 7, whenever you see that dawning suspicion that Santa may not be a material being, that means the child is ready.

I take them out “for coffee” at the local wherever. We get a booth, order our drinks, and the following pronouncement is made:

“You sure have grown an awful lot this year. Not only are you taller, but I can see that your heart has grown, too. [ Point out 2-3 examples of empathetic behavior, consideration of people’s feelings, good deeds etc, the kid has done in the past year]. In fact, your heart has grown so much that I think you are ready to become a Santa Claus.

You probably have noticed that most of the Santas you see are people dressed up like him. Some of your friends might have even told you that there is no Santa. A lot of children think that, because they aren’t ready to BE a Santa yet, but YOU ARE. Tell me the best things about Santa. What does Santa get for all of his trouble? [lead the kid from “cookies” to the good feeling of having done something for someone else]. Well, now YOU are ready to do your first job as a Santa!”

Make sure you maintain the proper conspiratorial tone.

We then have the child choose someone they know–a neighbor, usually. The child’s mission is to secretly, deviously, find out something that the person needs, and then provide it, wrap it, deliver it–and never reveal to the target where it came from. Being a Santa isn’t about getting credit, you see. It’s unselfish giving.

My oldest chose the “witch lady” on the corner. She really was horrible–had a fence around the house and would never let the kids go in and get a stray ball or Frisbee. She’d yell at them to play quieter, etc–a real pill. He noticed when we drove to school that she came out every morning to get her paper in bare feet, so he decided she needed slippers. So then he had to go spy and decide how big her feet were. He hid in the bushes one Saturday, and decided she was a medium. We went to Kmart and bought warm slippers. He wrapped them up, and tagged it “merry Christmas from Santa.” After dinner one evening, he slipped down to her house, and slid the package under her driveway gate. The next morning, we watched her waddle out to get the paper, pick up the present, and go inside. My son was all excited, and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. The next morning, as we drove off, there she was, out getting her paper–wearing the slippers. He was ecstatic. I had to remind him that NO ONE could ever know what he did, or he wouldn’t be a Santa.

Over the years, he chose a good number of targets, always coming up with a unique present just for them. One year, he polished up his bike, put a new seat on it, and gave it to one of our friend’s daughters. These people were and are very poor. We did ask the dad if it was ok. The look on her face, when she saw the bike on the patio with a big bow on it, was almost as good as the look on my son’s face.

When it came time for Son #2 to join the ranks, my oldest came along, and helped with the induction speech. They are both excellent gifters, by the way, and never felt that they had been lied to–because they were let in on the Secret of Being a Santa.

So, yeah, Santa is sometimes black, sometimes asian, sometimes young, sometimes old, sometimes a man, sometimes a woman, sometimes genderfluid. Santa is sometimes pagan, sometimes Buddhist, sometimes atheist, sometimes Jewish. When I’m fulfilling the duties of Santa, then you better believe that Santa Claus is as queer as a clutchpurse full of canaries.

Some people think that nothing can exist that is not comprehensible to their little minds (to quote the late Francis Pharcellus Church in his famous New York Sun editorial responding to a question from a little girl named Virginia). They think admitting those things exist somehow takes something away from them. That somehow kindness shown to some people must always cost someone else. And that’s just wrong. Any heart where love, generosity, and kindness abounds is the heart of Santa. And when you share kindness, you don’t lose it, you gain more.

And that’s the only thing that matters.
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