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Got 99 problems and one-percent feminism is all of them

24 Apr

This post originally appeared in the Georgetown Voice.

by Erin Riordan

On April 12, Georgetown University’s Women in Leadership hosted their inaugural Own It Summit. Tickets for the event sold out within 24 hours, hundreds of students and community members attended and a host of impressive speakers participated in panels and workshops. Despite these remarkable achievements, I would not call the Own It Summit a complete success. While this event certainly did empower female leaders, it also left out a significant number of voices in promoting a narrow view of what kind of woman we talk about when we discuss female leadership and success.

It needs to be acknowledged that this event had several barriers to entry that prevented the summit from being accessible to everyone. The $20 entry fee was an economic barrier for many lower-income students and women, and while there were scholarships offered, it is still likely that this fee was a deterrent for some. The entry fee also sent the message, whether intentional or otherwise, that this was an event for women with the means to pay an entrance fee.

The racial makeup of both the event organizers and panelists was also strongly biased towards the perspectives of white women. While women of color did participate, eight of the ten student organizers were white, and 17 out of the 24 panelists were white. It is possible that the event planners made a conscious effort to include a diverse array of voices, but when a space is so dominated by the perspectives of white women, it reinforces the larger structural dynamic that white voices matter more than voices of color.

These dynamics of race and class impacted the perception of the event, as well as those who felt comfortable attending and participating. I spoke with many friends who decided not to attend the summit because they felt their voices and perspectives would not be adequately represented. One friend, who did attend, left after the first hour, saying, “I didn’t feel that a lot of the topics I engage with when I talk about feminism, like class struggles that affect women, labor rights, and race in particular, were being addressed at all.” She went on to say, ”I sensed that the conference would be talking about your more typical ‘Lean In’ and one-percent feminism, which in my opinion is inherently oppressive and exclusive of the large percentage of women who really do need to be talked about when we talk about gender discrimination.” “One-percent feminism” is generally defined as feminism that focuses mainly on the needs of white, socioeconomically privileged women pursuing more traditional kinds of success.

Any event on campus that aims to further women’s leadership and empowerment needs to better represent the voices of all women. While I am a white woman, racism and racial politics in the workplace matter to me because dismantling racism and supporting my fellow women matters to me. An optional session during the summit on “Women of Color” is not sufficient because everyone should hear the voices of women of color, not just the few who choose to listen.

Similarly, focusing on traditional ideas of high-powered success is not sufficient, as it does not include or acknowledge the realities and struggles of working class and poor women. In the fight for gender justice we cannot just be concerned with the struggles of women who occupy space within mainstream, socioeconomically privileged feminism. Fighting for a national living wage and fair conditions in the workplace is as important to me as fighting for my own fair pay, and that should be reflected in all feminist spaces.

Transwomen also need to be engaged in these conversations, as they face unique struggles in the workplace that should be of concern to every person who claims to support the empowerment of women. Any event that supports women’s leadership needs to include the varied perspectives of women of color, poor and working class women, transwomen, and all the other women whose voices were not heard or adequately represented by the Own It Summit. Without these voices, our movement will only support women who are already privileged in many other areas of their lives. To achieve true justice and support all women, we need to engage and listen to voices that the GUWIL Own It Summit did not represent.

Reacting to the Red Light District

11 Apr

by Nicole Chenelle

When I say that I spent a week in Amsterdam during my semester abroad, most people respond with something along the lines of, “Oh! So did you see the Red Light district?” coupled with wide eyes and giggles. I spent the week in Amsterdam with my Prostitution and the Sex Trade class. We met with NGOs, government organizations, and former sex workers to discuss the status of sex work within the Netherlands. I definitely saw the Red Light district.

This week-long trip to Amsterdam with my Prostitution and the Sex Trade class was the reason I chose to study abroad at the Danish Institute of Study Abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. As a women’s and gender studies minor at Georgetown, the idea of studying prostitution in countries were it is legal was exciting. I had never engaged with prostitution academically, and I was looking forward to the opportunity to study the issue through a lens of legality. My Prostitution and the Sex Trade course included a three-day intensive study in our home base of Copenhagen, where prostitution is legal, a three-day trip to Sweden, where prostitution is legal but the client is criminalized, and this week-long trip to Amsterdam, where brothels, as well as prostitution, is legal.

The Red Light district of Amsterdam cannot be ignored. Centrally located around the city’s oldest church, the Red Light district demands that you notice the sex work happening all around you. Whether it’s the beckoning of the dolled-up women in the windows, the neon lights advertising sex shows, or rainbow-colored condoms hanging in the windows of the Condomerie, sex permeates the atmosphere of Amsterdam. The Red Light district is both a neighborhood which celebrates sex and pleasure and one who’s glitter and lipstick camouflages exploitation and human trafficking.

The majority of our class discussions and my own personal musings come back to this question – can you separate freely chosen sex work versus the trafficking of human beings for the purposes of sexual exploitation? Can sex work even be chosen, or do the economic motivators limit the agency of this choice? How can we, or should we even, aid the Eastern European girls in the windows whose boyfriends would legally qualify as pimps? How do we stop the human rights violation of trafficking while allowing individuals to sell sex if that is what they so chose? Is sex work just another form of labor, or is there something about sex which makes it inherently different? These are questions I have spent my semester abroad contemplating, questions that activists and lawmakers have spent their whole careers thinking about, without coming to an obvious conclusion.

Learning about the sex industry in Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands has made my ignorance about the sex trade in the United States glaring apparent. I know prostitution is illegal in the majority of the United States, but it still exists. Criminalizing the prostitute herself (or himself, but most often herself) does nothing but create a cycle of criminality. Marring these women with a criminal record does the opposite of helping them exit the sex industry, but instead, makes getting a job in another profession near impossible. Is the Nordic model, or the criminalization of the customer, the solution for the United States? Criminalizing the men who purchase sex rather than the women themselves is a step in the right direction, yet I worry that the Nordic model merely plays lip-service to the ideal of eradicating prostitution rather than enacting real change. I find myself leaning towards supporting the legalization of prostitution, yet fear that legalization would encourage sex traffickers to do their business in that country. The more I study prostitution and the sex trade, the more I come to appreciate the complexity and nuances of this issue, and the more I recognize that anyone who has a simple solution isn’t thinking hard enough.

Tired

7 Apr

by Anonymous

I should be angry. I should be enraged and impassioned. I should be motivated to fight and struggle. But I’m not. I’m simply too tired.

I’m tired of going to my evolutionary biology class. Tired of being a gay in person in a space where all we talk about is critical importance of heterosexual mating behavior. Homosexual animal behavior was alluded to once – as something bonobos do for fun in their spare time. I’m tired of my sexual orientation being reduced to an outlier in the data.

I’m tired of hearing professors casually use the word “rape” in classes containing survivors of sexual assault.

I’m tired of being warned to avoid certain professors because they’re sexist. (Does anyone even ever say that to male students?)

I’m tired of people believing that my painted nails and long hair tell them anything substantive about me.

I’m tired of explaining why a lesbian cares so much about reproductive choice.

I’m tired of that little bit of discomfort every time I write or say “mi novia” in my Spanish classes.

I’m tired of going to parties with my straight friends and being the only one that doesn’t get the option of a hook-up (I enjoy sex just as much as everyone else.)

I’m tired of my dreams of motherhood being tainted by the extraordinary cost of IVF and the logistic and bureaucratic nightmare of the adoption process.

I’m tired of feeling feminist shame every time I enjoy a TV show or movie that happens to include female characters that personify lofty western beauty standards.

I’m tired of being asked if I have a boyfriend. The answer is always going to be no, no matter how much you’d like to define me by relationships with men.

I’m tired of knowing how much more likely I am to be raped that my hetero best friend. I didn’t do anything to deserve this.

I’m tired of knowing how likely it is that my hetero best friend will be raped before we graduate. She didn’t do anything to deserve this either.

I’m tired of explaining why feminism is still relevant.

I’m tired of being told I talk too much about “women’s issues.” You can bet that no matter how tired I get, I will never stop talking.

Are Allies Entitled to a Voice? To Self-Care?

24 Feb

by Kat Kelley

Despite the oppression I face as a woman, I derive privilege from many of my identities- I am white, a member of the Georgetown community, and- on the spectrums / in the spheres of gender identity and sexual orientation- I pretty much identify and present as cisgendered and heterosexual.

I’m also pretty good at being a feminist, within my communities, but I’m pretty subpar at intersectionality. I have struggled to find my voice as an ‘ally’ on issues that affect marginalized identities that do not define me.

Thus, I’ve made an effort to shut up and education myself, two leading pieces of advice on allyship from Mia McKenzie, founding editor and editor-in-chief of Black Girl Dangerous. McKenzie argues that ally is not a valid title or identity but a “practice,” an “active thing.” She continues on to say that it is ‘exhausting’ and that it “ought to” be, “because the people who experience racism, misogyny, ableism, queerphobia, transphobia, classism, etc. are exhausted. So, why shouldn’t their ‘allies’ be?”

This piece both challenged and rejuvenated my constant regular but inconsistent attempts at allyship. I absolutely agree that I am not entitled to the term ‘ally,’ and actually prefer McKenzie’s interpretation. I fuck up at social justice all the time and often ‘retreat’ into my privilege in the name of self-care. I feel fraudulent as an ‘ally’ every time I ‘pick my battles,’ every time I decide to ignore racist, ableist, heteronormative, or gendernormative microagressions.

I certainly do not want to misrepresent McKenzie’s words; she did not explicitly say that allies are not entitled to a voice or to self-care. I did, however, interpret her words to imply that the role for allies’ voices is limited, and that self-care is a privilege for individuals not experiencing a particular kind of oppression, and that instead of seeking self-care we should resign ourselves to exhaustion.

After reading her article, I immediately felt discomfort at her words, in large part due to the fact that my approach to social justice began in 2009, when I became a sexual assault crisis counselor, speaking to survivors of sexual assault on a 24-hour crisis hotline- a position in which self-care is vital. However, being called out on your privilege is uncomfortable, and often elicits a defensive response. I thought that I may just be reacting negatively to her words because of that privilege, because of how convenient it is to retreat into my privilege when I’m exhausted, or trying to maintain a relationship, or trying to study for a midterm or when I’m trying to cope with my own experiences of oppression.

Ultimately, I think we –members of social justice movements – should recognize that for the sustainability, mainstream acceptance (which is unfortunately a pretty valuable thing), and growth of our movements, we need to make a space for part-time allies. I don’t mean that we should validate the allyship of anyone who shares the HRC equality sign on their facebook page, but if someone listens to call-outs when they fuck up, if they strive to be better allies, if they don’t actively perpetuate privilege and oppression, I want them on my team.

Why? People of privileged identities are not entitled to the safe spaces of people of marginalized identities, and they certainly aren’t entitled to a voice in those spaces. However, social justice work is complex and the roles within a given movement are diverse. We need bridge people just as much as we need radical voices that won’t budge. We need people who can do ‘translation’ work, and leverage their privilege and reach the spaces in which they are accepted due to their seemingly-less radical beliefs.

This is coming from someone who six months ago was drunk-crying to her best friend soul mate, partner in feminism, utter idol and inspiration, Erin Riordan, saying “I’m not radical enough.” But ultimately, the Erins of the world could not uproot the patriarchy alone any more than the Kats could. While Erin is unapologetic and uncompromising (weirdly enough those words, just like ‘radical’ don’t always have a positive connotation; to me they are the highest compliments I can give), I could spend hours talking to a misogynist, meeting them where they are, facilitating their break down and challenging of their own biases. While my beliefs are ‘radical’ my approaches are more mainstream, more socially palatable.

We need the Erins of the world to call out HRC for sucking at incorporating trans rights and justice into their work, and we need the HRC equality sign all over Facebook to ensure that LGBTQ-youth know that a portion of their friends support (some of) their rights, so that bigots know that they can’t get away with saying ‘faggot’ in front of many of their peers. The invalidating oversimplification of these roles would be to label them as ‘prinicpled’ vs. ‘pragmatic,’ but ultimately no movement can succeed if they forget those most marginalized or if they alienate the mainstream members of their community.

We need casual allies, we need bridge people, not to speak ‘on behalf’ of people of marginalized identities, but to work within their communities, and encourage people of their privileged identities to recognize, check, and dismantle those privileges.

While I love intra-feminist dialogue, it can be frustrating to talk with individuals who don’t self-identify as feminists and whom need convincing that feminism is relevant, who invalidate the microaggressions I regularly experience as a woman. Allies have an invaluable role to play in validating the experiences of people of marginalized identities to people of privileged identities. I don’t need a man to tell me that my experiences are valid, but other men may respond well to their peers acknowledging that my experiences are valid and that I’m not just sensitive / overreacting / hyperaware.

Finally, self-care is vital to the sustainability of a movement, or of an individual’s work within a movement. Radicalism is more ‘popular’ or tenable in youth because burnout is real. Nonprofits that don’t enable and encourage their employees to practice self-care see debilitating levels of employee turnover.

It’s okay to turn off your feminist lens for 30 minutes to watch TV produced in our rape culture. It’s okay to not call your uncle out for racial microaggressions because you want to enjoy Thanksgiving. It’s okay to prioritize you over ‘the’ movement every now and then. Self-care isn’t selfish, self-care is sustainable.

Audre Lorde selfcare

The Obruni Diaries: A Break from Expectation

6 Nov

by Allyn Faenza

This weekend, nine of us on my program traveled to an area known as Bonwire, which is a small town outside of Kumasi, Ghana. We were divided into small groups and placed with families that spoke little English; we stayed for three days and two nights. We did our best to integrate ourselves into their families by cooking meals, playing with the children, observing the parents in the markets, and attending church services if we felt comfortable. The trip was intended to be an experience for us to learn how Ghanaians in rural villages use their resources to make a living and to see how village life compares to the city life in Accra. And it was just that and much, much more…

A large topic of conversation in my sociology, theology, and history classes at the University of Ghana is the role of women in the Ghanaian family structure of the past and present. The message I keep getting is that wives are largely responsible for housework, cooking, and childrearing, while husbands are expected to leave the home each day to earn the family’s income. Women may work, but they are very rarely the breadwinners for the family; if they do earn the main source of income for their families, it would be emasculating for the man to admit it is so. I have heard students and professors reaffirm these gender roles, and often males and females make no dispute that these roles are the “natural” or “proper” roles for wives and husbands.

With this knowledge of Ghanaian culture in my rearview, I expected to see nothing different in my rural home stay, but my expectations shifted suddenly when I met a two-year old named Hattim Muhammed and his father. This weekend my friend Kaela and I shared a home with small family of three children plus their father and mother. Also at the home were the family’s son-in-law and his son Hattim, who were staying at the home for a long visit. However, during the entire weekend, Kaela and I never saw Hattim’s mother. Hattim’s father told me his wife was working in Accra as a nurse, and he was in charge of raising Hattim until they returned to Accra together as a family. I was so taken aback by this gender role swap that I forgot to ask more questions so I could better understand this family dynamic. Hattim and his father played with toys, ate meals, and practiced their English together. The two of them shared an intimate relationship that comes with comfort, respect, and love, which led me to believe that they have spent a good amount of time with one another. Perhaps this was a break in their normal parental roles, or perhaps it is exactly as it appears: the mother is the breadwinner for their family and the father raises Hattim and keeps house.

But what about those traditional gender roles fulfilled by mothers and fathers that my classmates and professors talk about being inherent in Ghanaian culture? Is Hattim’s family the norm or the exception? What would Ghanaians have to say about this family?

This situation was the first time I have seen a father alone with his child. I always see women carrying their babies or young children, and on the rare occasion I see a man carrying a child, his wife is never far behind. Hattim’s family was a dramatic break from my previous experience and education on familial relations in Ghana. I still have questions about this family, but what I am beginning to understand is that Ghanaian culture is very complex and ever-changing. While women in the workplace and men in the home may be the cultural norm of the past and present and future, their roles may be more flexible than I originally thought. I must keep in mind that Ghana is not in a vacuum, completely unaffected by the current trends of international integration of values, norms, expectations, and products. Ghanaians are changing to meet the demands of their country, and slowly but surely this also means Ghanaian families are stepping up to gender normativity to meet the demands of their jobs and children despite traditional roles.

This piece is part of a weekly column about the author’s experiences abroad in Ghana.

How JUPS Changed My Life

3 Nov

by Margaux Nielsen

I fervently believe that everyone should take at least one Justice and Peace Studies (JUPS) class during their time at Georgetown. Full disclosure: I was peripherally involved in the recent formation of the JUPS major, so I may be a little biased. On the other hand, I took my first JUPS class on a whim, and it completely challenged and transformed the way I think – so I may be an example of how important and powerful JUPS can be.

JUPS provides you with a different lens—a different perspective on the world and its problems. Johan Galtung’s conflict triangle, depicting the interconnectedness of direct, structural, and cultural violence, is one of the most significant and foundational concepts in JUPS. In a nutshell, Galtung argues that violence exists in forms other than physical, direct violence. Cultural and structural violence are imbedded in the system, largely unseen but intensely felt. Cultural violence is the intolerance for people who “refuse” to learn English and the dearth of non-whites in media and popular culture. Structural violence is the state of our inner-city public schools and the way men and women assess a woman’s appearance and judge accordingly. These covert forms of violence surround us and influence the way we think and act. JUPS causes you to examine, if not outright challenge, their prevalence and influence in our lives.

Concepts like Galtung’s pushed me to reassess the world around me. And as I opened my eyes to subtle systems of oppression, I realized my place within them. I realized that as a white woman I experience privilege and oppression simultaneously. While I have the opportunities and social standing given to whites in a society structured by white supremacy, I also experience the invisibility and objectification faced by women in a patriarchal society. Both realities helped me to confront the white supremacy latent within me, a constantly ongoing process, and identify myself firmly as a feminist. I credit my life-changing personal growth to JUPS and to the people who teach and take its classes. Both the material itself and the intelligent people who digest it have confronted me with the oppression faced by people different from me and people like me, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Once JUPS introduced me to the idea that structural violence contributes to and sustains inequalities, I saw it all around me. Since my boyfriend and I have become a recognizable couple on campus, many men seem perplexed as to how to interact with me. It seems that if I can’t be treated as a sexual object, I can’t be treated as anything at all. And so, in many – especially male-dominated – social interactions, I stand next to my boyfriend invisible.

“Hi, I’m John.”

He extends his hand to my boyfriend, arm around my shoulder to the right of me. Then, a hesitation. I look directly at him, waiting for the expected, standard introduction. But he doesn’t look at me. Instead, his gaze clumsily stumbles to the ground until it turns to my friend Will.

“Hi, I’m John.”

He extends his hand to Will, to the left of me. Then, he walks away, without even a first glance at me.

I wish I could assure myself that it was an isolated incident, just social awkwardness or a harmless oversight. But it happens all the time. In groups where I am the only woman, I stand physically in the circle but socially outside of it. Conversation flows back and forth, but no one even looks at me, let alone speaks to me. I never realized how much I valued eye contact until I was denied it. Eye contact is so much more than a look; it is recognition, appreciation, respect, and humanity. When I stand in a group that looks at one another but never at me, I can’t help but feel inferior – like my voice and self are not even worth a listen or a glance. No matter how often I speak up or how many faces I defiantly stare into, my comments are dismissed and my looks ignored. Roughly around the fifth separate occasion that the members of these groups interact with me, I am begrudgingly admitted into the circle and bestowed with a glance every now and then or even an occasional chuckle at one of my remarks.

Unfortunately, most of my interactions with most men are tainted by the structural violence of patriarchy and sexism and their dehumanizing implications. JUPS prompted me not only to notice this behavior but also to understand it. Just as I have been raised with the ideology of white supremacy, men have been raised with the ideology of male superiority. Television, film, advertisements, teachers, mothers, fathers, and friends have, both explicitly and implicitly, taught them that women should be beautiful, thin, agreeable, quiet, and obedient. Even though most people would not deny that women can be plain, chubby, assertive, ambitious, and assertive, it is not what we should be or what we are expected to be. And so, women are treated like the one-dimensional objects that society depicts them as. If everyone always told you that dogs hate chicken, you would assume it was true, even as their eyes beg for the drumstick on your plate.

And so, I return to my most fervent belief: everyone should take a JUPS class. Black and white, rich and poor, SFS and MSB, men and women, and everyone that falls in between those stale dichotomies. Structural and cultural violence create both oppressors and oppressed, and we all need to work together to ensure that we are neither. Though the task is undeniably daunting on both a personal and societal level, we can and must apply the JUPS lens to collectively topple the violence that surrounds us and establish the stable, positive peace that each and every one of us deserves. So please, take that first JUPS class, whether it ends up being a random elective, a minor, or a major, I promise it will impact you for years to come. And I mean, pre-registration starts November 4th, so you can take that first step sooner rather than later.

Problematizing “Coming Out”

11 Oct

by Emily Coccia

Imagine this scenario: a group of self-identified queer women gather together to talk. They come up with topics of discussion, with issues that concern them. But these topics, while important, are never the common bond, the shared experience; instead, they are the areas of division within this already small community. Rather than looking for a shared discourse, a language common to all, they focus on areas of ever-greater marginalization. And as important as those are on an individual basis, one must ask: How is it possible that half of the group leaves disheartened, wondering why in a group that should be their own, there was nothing that applied to them? In a circle with an already-narrow common denominator, why did they feel like they didn’t belong?

As National Coming Out Day rolls by and Georgetown’s LGBTQ groups host events in Red Square, I have to stop and wonder: are we doing more harm than good? When we excessively and compulsively label ourselves, creating ever-narrower bounds for our identity, do we actually seal ourselves off from the possibilities inherent in human existence?

Perhaps this is a side effect of being a student in Intro to Queer Theory, of reading as Foucault problematizes the notion of “coming out,” of revealing the secret, the one secret that defines our identity. As I navigate LGBTQ-labeled spaces, I fail to find a spot for myself. I see people so sure of their identities that they come, not with an L, G, B, T, or Q, but with a list of four or five more designators. And while I can certainly respect this pride and refusal to stand by the norm, I still can’t help but feel that this might not be helping anyone. I feel compelled to buy into this specification, to label myself and box myself into some neat category. I feel how easy (relatively speaking) it would be to take a broad survey and check off the categories that apply to me, to know precisely who I am and who I want as a partner (be that relationship platonic, multiple, or nonexistent).

But frankly, that would be a lie. I don’t want a box. I don’t want a label. I don’t want to “find” myself in a dictionary definition. Instead, I want possibility—an openness to love and happiness, whatever form that might take. I want to find myself on a broad “lesbian continuum” with Adrienne Rich. I want to stand and queer the notions of femininity and masculinity with Judith Butler. I want to talk about the false dichotomy of binaries and the linguistic problems of labels with Eve Sedgwick.

On National Coming Out Day, that’s not the point. The point is to find pride in an identity, to find pride in community—and that’s a beautiful moment. It’s an amazing feeling of pride that emerges from seeing how far Georgetown as a community and America writ large has come. But I can’t help but worry that when the rainbow flags get folded back up, when the door is disassembled, when the day comes to a close, that we will be left with labels that separate and segregate us within an already small community and with specified identities that may close us off from the possibilities of love and happiness standing among the disparate community left around of us.

Queera Personalis: My Journey From Rejection to Reconciliation to Celebration

9 Oct

by Thomas Lloyd

The last few months have been a whirlwind for the LGBTQ community at Georgetown.

We elected our first openly gay student body president and had our LGBTQ history pushed in to the spotlight by outlets like The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and my personal favorite, The Cardinal Newman Society Blog. Those who oppose our advance deride our community as Catholics and Catholic institutions abandoning their values.

I’ve had to answer the same question in dozens of conversations: how has this change come about despite Catholic doctrine?

Having been at Georgetown for over two years now, and having been a gay Catholic my whole life, my answer is simple: It doesn’t. Advancement of LGBTQ issues is critical to the fulfillment of the Catholic mission. These changes are necessary because of Catholic doctrine.

I’ve made this argument before, citing Catholic social teaching, the catechism of the Church, and (unsurprisingly) the Jesuit concept of Cura Peronalis.

But to be honest, I formulated those arguments well after I had made up my mind on how Catholic doctrine fits in with the LGBTQ rights movement. The real game changer for me is my experience. In a way, this is the ultimate form of Catholic argument. As the Universal Church, Catholicism is ultimately about its people and their stories. So for this Coming Out Week, rather than rehash theological arguments I’ve made here and here, I’m going to out myself again, but by sharing my personal faith journey.

Growing up, before I knew that my limp wrist and love of offering my aunt fashion advice meant that I’d be labeled “gay” or “homosexual” (or anything “sexual” for that matter), I never thought that what made me “different” would somehow negatively affect my relationship with God or with the Church. My high voice and flair for the dramatics actually made me an asset at many a church basement musical production of Jesus Christ: A Life (no Jesus since has been able to give Judas the appropriate one-eyebrow raise during the last supper scene).

The Church was the way I connected to my neighborhood. I never went to school near my house. So I made local friends through Sunday school. I joined our boy scouts chapter (however briefly) and taught Sunday school for years. My supervisor, a nun who I affectionately referred to as Sister Gene the Dancing Machine (in a reference to the campy 80’s Gong Show) seemingly embraced my “unconventional” personality.

It wasn’t until I was at the most vulnerable moment in my life that the Church became an “obstacle” to be “overcome”. In high school, my gay mental dam of cognitive dissonance began to break down. My heterosexual identity, built up by years of bullying and abuse from other students, was crumbling under the weight of my real sexual orientation. I starting to think that I might just be “gay,” or that thing that I’d denied being for years because people laughed at me, excluded me, and fought with me.

These conversations with myself about my identity were conducted in the deepest segments of my person. I could feel them as series of tugs in my chest, right next to where I had (usually joyful and joking) conversations with God. There, in my most private and sacred space, I never felt a tension from God related to my identity. If anything, God was a central player in that discussion. I remember the first night that I asked God to change me, to hide the thing that made me a target. I lay awake and silently begged as my eyes burned up. But I never thought God disapproved, just that a bunch of assholes did. God was on my side, right?

Unfortunately, at the same time that I grew increasingly conscious of my sexuality, I also grew increasingly aware of the American political attitudes towards gay people. The debates over LGBT issues were, and still are, imbued with religious arguments against the acceptance or inclusion of gays and lesbians, with almost no religious (let alone Catholic) voices on the other side. Even more unfortunately, the increasingly insecure and paranoid closeted me was very prone to internalize those voices. These included voices of my family members, whose political discussions I began to understand more. I let them pollute my personal and longstanding relationship with my faith.

I would go through what was a painful coming out process, thinking that I couldn’t lean on the support system that had given me community, confidence, and meaning. Further, I was afraid to engage some individuals closest to me because of their association with that same community. At first, this just made me anti-social. But becoming more and more alone in ever-more profound ways led me to moments where I considered and planned suicide.

It was with the support of very loving (and sometimes pushy) friends and teachers that I emerged from my coming out process unscathed. By the time I felt comfortable to come out to my parents and school, I had all but given up on trying to bring together my LGBTQ and Catholic identities. In the same way that I lived with a mental wall between my “heterosexual identity” and obvious homosexual orientation, I erected a new wall between my values and my private life. For some, this could prove dangerous. (un)Luckily for me, I was high school debater with acne, so this didn’t become a concern.

I would go on for years with a simple answer to “How can you be gay and Catholic?”  I would answer with a pithy cop-out, “The Church is about more than sexual orientation.”

At Georgetown, the Jesuit education lived up to its reputation and called me out on my bullshit. My (at the time) conservative roommate lived up to his political affiliation, ordering me to tear down the wall between my identities and engage the questions I had effectively been postponing. There was no getting around the fact that if I wanted to keep identifying as Catholic, I had better get a damn good reason. After all, I would be engaging my orientation (and others’ orientations…) with an octogenarian Priest down the hall.

My reason came as I started to re-understand Catholicism in the way I had as a child: as a sum of individuals from all backgrounds, working together to achieve spiritual fulfillment and salvation by living a life of service, advocacy, and love, just as Christ did. I was a part of that equation, as are a whole host of queers, commies, radicals, republicans, democrats, feminists, NRA members, whatever, even if I had been told for years that we all fell on opposing “sides.”

How did I come back to this understanding? Simply by engaging all of those people that truly make the Catholic Church Universal. Was the Jesuit who told me masturbation made one not a virgin more Catholic than the one who affectionately nicknamed me “a wonderfully irksome shit” because of my work with Pride? Are the ministers behind Love Saxa more Catholic than those who show up at the LGBTQ Resource Center open house or who run the LGBTQ prayer group? Who is anyone, any human being, to answer these questions?

When one lives in a Universal Church, it becomes impossible to view someone’s unchangeable and loving identity as disordered.  It’s impossible to think that there is one ideal Catholic, or any set of absolutes that can apply to a universal institution. Its impossible to do anything but CELEBRATE the fact that such diversity exists.

To those that disagree, say an alum who graduated 10, 20, 30 or more years ago (Hi, William Blatty, Class of 1950!), I have this to say:

Georgetown is a more Catholic place today than ever before because gay students no longer live in the same fear of being the victims of hate crimes when walking to their dorms.

Georgetown is a more Catholic place today than ever before because gay students needn’t feel like their faith tradition is against them.

Georgetown is a more Catholic place today than ever before because through being more welcoming, our community saves more students from self-harm.

Georgetown is a more Catholic place today than ever before because we are finally “universal” enough to encourage multiple trans* students to make themselves visible.

Georgetown is more Catholic today than ever before because LGBTQ students, with or without faith traditions, have made this university truer to its Jesuit commitment to community in diversity, to social justice, and to Universality.

In the same way that I stopped letting those who didn’t understand the LGBTQ experience pollute my relationship with God, I refuse to let similarly antiquated beliefs taint the conversation of what makes us a Catholic University.

I am gay and I am Catholic. Accepting my identity enabled me to be more Catholic. My University is Catholic, and it is only becoming more LGBTQ-friendly, making it all the more Catholic. This is more than acceptable—this is our motto: Utraque Unum.

Shut Down Georgetown Confessions

4 Oct

by Erin Riordan

I have a lot of friends who have defended Georgetown Confessions. Even as they recognize all the blatant racism, classism, misogyny, etc., they see it as a tool for education and awareness. There are good reasons why they feel this way, and I would love if Georgetown Confessions were a tool for education around social justice issues. But it’s not. It’s a tool of oppression and harassment, and it only further harms those already affected by racism, classism, misogyny, etc. while allowing those who make these comments to feel all the more entitled and powerful.

Comments have disparaged people of color, women, LGBTQ-identifying individuals, people from working class and poor backgrounds, to name only a few of the groups attacked via Confessions. All of these comments have consequences. In our world there are systematic structures of oppression formed around race, class, gender identity, sexuality, ability, immigration status, and more. You need only look to the racial make-up of our prison system, the violence and stigmatization facing black youth and especially young black men, recent cuts to SNAP (the food stamps program), rates of sexual assault on college campuses, rampant transphobia, and the current immigration system to see the most obvious ways this oppression impacts tens of millions of people. Georgetown, as a community that purports to care about its members and especially as a Jesuit university, should do everything in its power to challenge this oppression. Our community should work to dismantle oppression and challenge the privilege of those (including those at Georgetown) who benefit from the systematic disenfranchisement and oppression of others. At the very least, Georgetown should be a place where every community member, whether they be a student, worker, professor, or administrator, feels safe and welcome, and feels safe living out any and all of their identities.

Confessions is the opposite of this safe space. It allows people to make anonymous attacks that support and perpetuate oppression and pain already felt by so many, and when asked to take down derogatory comments the Confessions team has refused.  The comments made about race, gender, class, etc. are deeply problematic and hurtful, and make Georgetown an unsafe space for a countless number of our community members. The message being sent by the people making these comments is that if you have a certain gender identity, or racial identity, or come from a certain economic background, you are not welcome here and you do not belong here. That secretly, and openly, some of your fellow Hoyas do not want you here and will not accept you because they have grown up in a world that tells them not to accept you, and rather than pushing past that ignorance and intolerance they have chosen to reject you and perpetuate centuries of oppression with their words and actions.

I know some people think Confessions has done a good job of exposing underlying racial, gender, and class tensions on campus. I agree, and I do think it is vitally important that we recognize the realities of race, gender, and class in our community. I also know people who bravely challenge these comments and use them as an opportunity for education and awareness. Awareness and education are critical parts of combatting oppression, but we must have a better forum than this. If even one person feels unsafe or hurt by a racist, classist, misogynistic, transphobic, etc. comment that is reason enough in my book for Confessions to be shut down. While hate and ignorance exist at Georgetown, we do not need to foster them and give them a safe space. What we do need is a safe space to discuss our experiences of this campus, our differences, our varied and intersecting identities, and how to better support all of Georgetown’s community members.

Confessions does not even begin to encourage the development of this kind of safe space. Instead, it encourages students to feel entitled to their racism, classism, misogyny, etc. In making these comments anonymously no one has to answer to the consequences of their words or take responsibility for the impact they have on other people, and other people’s perception and experience of our community. The people making these comments likely have a lot of privilege (and have privilege by fact of attending Georgetown alone) and already feel entitled to a whole bunch of things in life. There is a decent chance they have this privilege and yet do not think about why they have it or what that means. Ideally, Georgetown would be a place for people to learn about their privilege, how to challenge it, and how to use it to fight oppression. Instead with Confessions people are being told that it’s okay they have a lot of unfair advantages in life, and not only that, it’s okay for them to harass and degrade those who don’t. It is not just the comments themselves that reinforce oppression; it is the system by which the comments are made that reinforces oppression too.

Georgetown Confessions adds nothing of merit to our campus community. It is an ugly space used to harass and degrade other people. Confessions reinforces a hierarchy that values certain people over others, and fosters a community of hatred and ignorance rather than understanding and love. As a step towards making campus a safer space for everyone, Confessions should be taken down. We should not tolerate this kind of latent hatred, and we have a responsibility to advocate for a better, more tolerant, and more loving campus environment. To quote some of the finest activists for justice in Georgetown’s history, “Our Georgetown is better than this.” 

An Open Letter to Todd Olson, Georgetown Vice President for Student Affairs

2 Oct

Dear Dr. Olson,

On September 19, 2013, The Georgetown Voice featured an article about LGBT+ life here at Georgetown University. The feature did a great job of contextualizing the experiences of queer Hoyas, but I was stopped in my tracks when I reached your statement.

“Todd Olson, Vice President for Student Affairs, articulates that in dealing with gender identity, the University stands firm on its view of gender as binary. ‘There is an emerging view that gender identity is sort of something you play with. I think that it is quite a different view than the Catholic view of identity and of human sexuality.’

There are many words to describe this statement: binarism, cissexism, gender essentialism. These are all descriptions of the idea that gender and sex must exist in certain ways, and describe the social structures that reward and punish people accordingly. All of these descriptions are specific types of oppression, and your statement, along with current Georgetown policies, is oppressive.

Gender is certainly something people can and do play with. Some days I wear makeup, some days I don’t. Some days I shave my legs but not my face. Some days I cry, some days I am affectionate, some days I feel particularly athletic. I was lucky enough to be raised by parents who were accepting of how I expressed my gender. I would often wear dresses, I played soccer on the girls’ team at recess, I cried often. My parents themselves modeled how our lives need not be defined in strict gendered terms: my dad usually cooks and washes dishes; my mom throws a football better than I can. They both tell me they love me anytime I call or Skype. It was honestly not until I came to Georgetown that I realized that I was differently gendered than other people—and that this was somehow wrong. Here on the Hilltop I am constantly confronted by others’ incorrect perceptions of me: that I am a man, that I am wealthy or at least middle class, that I am Catholic, that I am (hetero)sexual, that I am completely healthy and neurotypical. With each of these assumptions comes a sort of privilege, but I am still systematically oppressed.

You see, the thing about gender is that it’s not just all about fun. One can certainly play with gender, but oppression of any sort—including that based on gender—is not a playful matter. In an incredibly visible example, DC has one of the highest rates of violence in the country against trans* folk. While I sincerely doubt you have been out committing hate crimes in your spare time, your statement reflects the fact that there is a general ignorance around trans* and non-binary issues.

How could I not expect you to be ignorant though? I doubt you have ever experienced terror at having to use a public restroom. I doubt you ever have existential crises when you wake up because you can’t stand to gender yourself every morning. I doubt you’ve ever had people openly scowl at you or yell slurs like “tranny” or “faggot.” I doubt you’ve ever been discriminated against by your physician based on your gender. I doubt your sexual education—no matter what form it took—was completely irrelevant to your body and your desires. I doubt people ask you “what” you are before they even know your name. I doubt that people ever use the wrong pronouns to describe you, and especially that you have ever been called an “it.” I doubt your emotional wellbeing has been seriously impacted by body dysmorphia. I doubt any of your ID’s are inaccurate, and that you are prevented from correcting them. I doubt you have ever experienced any sort of violence from family, friends, or relatives based on your gender.

These are all real problems that trans* and gender-nonconforming people face. This is not to say that every trans*/gender-nonconforming person experiences these things, nor that you or other cisgender people necessarily haven’t. However, on a systematic level, these are problems that I and others confront on a regular basis. When you write off issues of binarism as “play,” you are merely perpetuating this oppression. Now, I don’t think that you are a horrible person—far from—nor that you mean any malice. In fact, it may even be that you despise binarism, but due to the politics of your office you are forced into certain positions. Regardless, it is unacceptable to allow this binarism to endure.

You may claim that I am scapegoating you, and this is more than fair. Your statement was not necessarily personal, but it did illuminate Georgetown’s institutional position and American culture at large. I am not asking you to immediately grant gender-neutral housing, as you seem to fear, but I demand that at the very least you stop actively oppressing us. There are both cultural and policy changes to be made here at Georgetown (and nationally), and you have the ability to aid in both. By definition, I am not a “Woman or Man for Others,” but you can choose to be a man for others—all others, not just cismen and ciswomen. I sincerely hope that your ears and mind and heart are open, because my voice will not be silenced until these issues of oppression have been addressed. I know that there is only so much you can do as an individual, but I am more than happy to work alongside you to improve Georgetown and work for our collective liberation.

Sincerely,

J Capecchi