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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.

Looking for Women Representation in HBO’s Newest Series

21 Jan

by Johan Clarke

The new series Looking premiered on HBO this past Sunday, opening with a jab at the “cruising” trope as one of the main characters, played by Jonathan Groff, awkwardly tries it  just for fun. From there, the show begins to look at his failures in the dating world, showing fairly honest portrayals of the lives of gay males in a fairly liberal American city. The show seems like it wants to destroy certain images about the gay community, and in some regards, it does.

To a certain extent, it does better than many other shows that have tried to do the same thing by having characters that are not just white. One of the main three characters in the show is Latino, but the show does not necessarily define him by his background. He and the other Latino character are not exotified (yet), but they keep their identities and are not wholly white-washed.

This representation is nice to see, but some of the creator’s comments on it have been less than ideal. In response to certain concerns that the show would be as lacking in diversity as Girls, which plays on HBO right before Looking, creator Andrew Haigh commented, “We have two very prominent Latin characters. We have an African-American character. We have an Asian-American character, so I think we are dealing with different ethnicities. There’s always a limit to what you can put in a half-hour show and we’ve never tried to represent the whole of the LGBT community because it’s an enormous community made up of lots of different elements. All we can really do is try and tell a story about our characters.” The comments sound similar to many other responses in the past from shows with lack of diversity. They have every right to tell a story about their characters, and as of now they do tell stories about the queer people of color fairly honestly. However, the beginning of his comment is akin to the “I have black friends” argument many people with white-savior complexes tend to use to say or do things they really shouldn’t be doing.

The problem is that they could have these characters, they just choose not to. At the moment, there are no characters on the show who identify as bisexual or pansexual, though Dom, one of the main characters, alluded to a girlfriend in the past, though it was done more as a joke. There are also no trans* characters on the show, furthering trans*-erasure in media. And they also have no lesbians in the show.

In fact, in the entire thirty minutes of the first episode, only one woman had a somewhat significant speaking role (there was one other woman, Augustín’s artist boss, who had a total of about three lines and was on screen for less than half a minute). The show does not even pass the first criterion on the Bechdel test. In a scene at a wedding ceremony, there is a shot of the guests, and the crowd looks uncomfortably masculine. The only female character is Dom’s long-ago ex, who is shown for about a minute as she gives him dating advice in a fierce, almost sassy manner. The only reason she is on screen is because she is a support for the male character to not make a bad decision, treading dangerously close to the rather sexist “fag hag” trope.

Some people may argue that the show is about gay men, so why would there be women? If the show wanted to accurately portray gay life, though, it would have at least more than one woman in it, or the woman would have more screen time. Gay men do not exclusively hang out with other men, and when they do hang out with women, they do not have to be overly feisty and talk only about the men’s love lives. This way of thinking has dangerous implications in creating a new trope of the “token female friend”, as the show is also dangerous to tokenize its characters of color.

If the show is not supposed to have women because it is a show about gay men, then it proves that female characters can only be love interests. Gay men would never have a girlfriend or would never be romantically involved in one, so why would they be allowed a character on the show? In fact, the only woman on the show is an old romantic interest because in media logic, men and women can never just be friends. It’s the same basic logic that fuels the notion of the Friend Zone.

Looking has great promise, but it has also set itself up for possible failure in regards to representation. For a show that claims to represent the real gay man, it does little outside of obsessing with his dating habits. If it wants to really show what it’s like to be queer, it will have to show more than one letter of the acronym LGBTQIA, and show that there are queer women as well, or any women.

Tom Daley Is Not Gay, He’s Just in a Relationship with a Man

2 Dec

by Johan Clarke

Tom Daley recently came out via YouTube with the information that he is in a relationship with another man, surprising many and bringing pride to many different communities. In the wake of the Winter Olympics in a country with incredibly harsh anti-LGBT laws, the news that a well-known and well-respected athlete from the most recent Summer Olympics is queer provides awareness and visibility to a community that in the past has been erased. Stereotypes within the gay community are slowly coming down. More and more athletes are coming out as gay, giving pride and hope for young people who do not feel they fit into certain categories defined by our culture. One can play sports, be one of the team, and not have to be straight or pretend to be something they are not.

I find it remarkable that Tom Daley has found the courage to do something so brave and come out with his relationship with another man at this pivotal time. Coming out is still an incredibly difficult thing to do, and to do it in front of everyone in the world, to have everybody watch your every move, to judge you without having met you, takes incredible strength. I commend him for doing something so hard, yet so necessary. Daley is helping to change history for the better and creating a safer space for queer youths.

The media’s response, though, is not the most ideal. As I have written in previous articles, I do not like labeling, and I especially do not like labeling that erases other communities. Many of the articles that have come out this morning have titles with the word “gay” in it, yet in the video he posted, he never makes that claim. He says that he is in a relationship with another man and that he is comfortable and feels safe with him, but he does not say the words, “I am gay.” In fact, during the video, he claims, “I still fancy girls, but right now I’m dating a guy and I couldn’t be happier.”

This may seem like an unnecessary difference for some, but this is a prime example of bi erasure, something that has been going on for years. It’s fantastic that Daley has come out with his relationship, but it is not okay that the media has once again mislabeled someone. Daley has not defined his sexuality. He has stated that he is in a relationship with a man, but he has not come out as gay as several articles have claimed. He has not come out as bisexual either, so the media needs to stop saying that he has.

Mislabeling erases many different communities that struggle to have their voices heard. It makes it difficult for people who are unsure about their sexualities or who do not fit with “gay” or “straight” labels. It illegitimazes legitimate relationships and does not allow people to understand or accept themselves in ways they can. We need to stop enforcing labels on people or the great stride Daley made today in this announcement will do little in awareness for the overall queer communities.

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.

Becoming an Ally is the Most Important Decision I’ll Ever Make

8 Oct

by Jayme Amann

Disclaimer: I’ve told this story to very few people. If you wish to contact me about anything in this article, please message me privately because I don’t want to run into issues with my family. Thank you. 

I grew up in an extremely conservative household. Not only was my mother devoutly Catholic and Republican, but she also had very traditional values that dictated my role in life as a straight, Caucasian female. For the most part, I abided by the rules she imposed on me. By age eight I could cook, clean, iron, and do the laundry. My mother dolled me up in ball gowns and entered me in beauty pageants. To me, this was normal; to me, this was expected.

This is not an essay about feminism. My transition towards becoming a “strong, independent woman” (to quote my sorority) came much later in life and was a logical progression. This is about the moment that changed the entire trajectory of my life and made me rethink everything I knew to be true. When I was twelve years old, my brother came out to my mother as gay.

The typical family reaction in the late 20th century is supposed to be that of support and understanding. The first thing out of my mouth was, “what does gay mean?” At age twelve, I had no notion of gender norms or sexual orientation. My experience with gender did not extend far beyond the bounds of the kitchen, and my religion had failed to teach me that a human could be attracted to the same sex. Instead of sitting me down and explaining this new phenomenon to me, my mother disowned my twenty-year-old brother and kicked him out of the house for coming out of the closet.

At the time, I could not comprehend why she called him “the devil” and “an abomination.” I was only twelve years old, but my mother told me that I could no longer see my brother; no longer say I loved him. But I could see that for the first time in my brother’s life he was unconditionally happy, and I wanted to be happy for him. According to a Q&A by the American Psychological Association, “All young people who come out may experience bias [or] discrimination…Supportive families, friends, and schools are important buffers against the negative impacts of these experiences.” My brother did not have this support. My mother abandoned him when he needed her the most. Further, my mother did not succeed in one of the main duties societally designated to her as a “mother”: educating her children. I could not comprehend what was happening, and she made no effort to alleviate my sadness.

Years of crying myself to sleep later, I now understand that my mother’s judgmental, hateful actions and words were wrong. Thus, when I turned 16 and “came out” to my mother as an Agnostic, Democrat, feminist, and LGBT* ally, my solution was to move in with my brother and his long-term boyfriend. Although it didn’t end up working out (because of the whole minor running away from home thing), I ended up moving in with my father who let me be whoever I damn well pleased.

Everyday of my life I learn something new about myself, my peers, and my notions of society as a whole. I learned the hard way that ignorance is not bliss and that I needed to strive every moment to understand more about this world. Sometimes I slip up. On more than one occasion in the recent past I have said things that I immediately recognize as misinformed notions from my childhood. Breaking down these engrained teachings can be daunting for most people. It took me four years before I began to truly question my mother’s beliefs and became comfortable with who I was as a person.

The most terrifying concept for me to grasp is that my mother is far from alone in this thought process. Thousands of members of the LGBT* community are rejected by their families and have to fight for a support system. There are few things I know for certain in life, but one thing I do know is that sexual orientation is complicated and emotional. The sooner children are exposed to the realities of gender in society, the sooner they are able to understand the importance of supporting those struggling through this transition.

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

Queer Men Should Be Concerned About the Patriarchy

23 Sep

I have been a member of the queer community for most of my life and have been a vocal member now for some time. Though I may not participate that often by doing things like going to the LGBTQ resource center or volunteering at the HRC, I identify as a member of the queer community. I feel as if I have interacted with enough of my own community to point out some things that I have noticed.

The queer community is pretty great. It allows a voice for those who have been voiceless for generations. It provides a safe space for those who are otherwise ostracized, psychologically tormented, or physically abused. It allows people to interact with others who share their identifiers in a world filled with oppression.

However, the queer community is not perfect. Despite being a place that tends to question and blur gender, there are many aspects of the queer community that enforce gender very heavily. For example, I have heard in safe spaces like queer clubs, “I’m gay, boobs are gross, so why are those girls wearing clothes that show them off?”

Unless these girls are completely oblivious and did not notice the drag show that was occuring, I’m pretty sure they were fully aware of the clientele of the establishment. And because they are aware of the clientele, they are aware that you are not interested in them sexually. I know it’s difficult to understand, and it has been stated by many feminists many times, but there is a possibility that the women dressed that way for themselves and not for male attention. If they were going to a queer club, they in fact probably want no male attention. In fact, they may have dressed that way to get female attention. Just because you are male and they are female does not mean that they dressed themselves sexually for you.

I understand that straight people in your safe space are annoying. People don’t go to a place heavily populated by queer people to meet straight people. Fetishization of a community should not be tolerated.At the same time, you cannot disregard allies. Allies are still members of the queer community and if an ally is not helping but wants to, then tell them how to help. Pushing ignorant people out of your life will not end ignorance.

Another thing I have heard from several men in the queer community is that they don’t care about feminism because they are not women and it does not affect them. But feminism isn’t a “woman issue,” it’s a gender issue. Self-identifying men, I know it’s crazy, but you are a member of society, so therefore you have a gender. What’s ridiculous is that I have heard these same people use the argument: “Don’t ask me who the woman is in this relationship because we’re both men.” Is that argument not about gender? Does this argument not identify the problems with traditional gender roles in society? There is no woman in this relationship because it is not a heteronormative relationship. If you use that argument then you are a feminist because you are concerned with the destruction of the patriarchy.

Gay men, just because you are attracted to men does not mean that women are inferior. Just because you are not interested in women sexually does not mean that you should disregard them or their struggles. Just because you do not want to have sex with women does not mean you are allowed to touch a woman without her consent. Based on your sexual orientation, you defy your gender role. If you want equality in the world, you need to help feminists in dismantling the patriarchy. It is the patriarchy, not allies, that are oppressing you.

Binary Bullshit

16 Aug

by Anonymous

Gender is a social construct – it’s been one of my favorite phrases since my first Women’s and Gender Studies class. I’ve read academic theories about and deconstructions of the gender binary, personal narratives, talked with trans and genderqueer friends about their experiences. I thought I had a good handle on everything, until I realised that I was trapped in that binary, too.

I was a tomboy for most of my childhood, wanting to play with my male cousins, but instead hiding away in my oldest cousin’s room with my sister as she painted our nails, or being frustrated when they wouldn’t let me roughhouse with them because I was a girl (at which point, I decided to hit them – somewhat playfully – because they wouldn’t retaliate, and I thought they were stupid for doing so).  All that sounds like my inner baby feminist showing itself, but at some point I got this fantasy into my head that I had been born a boy, or partly male, but my parents had made me a girl instead and one day I was going to discover the truth and life would be better. Apparently I was an imaginative child. When I was maybe nine or ten years old, in a fit of ‘but you’d let a boy do insert-activity-here’, my mother asked if I didn’t like being a girl (the implication of the question being did I want to be a boy) and I said no, that wasn’t true, and the conversation ended. But while I said one thing, I remember clearly thinking the exact opposite but knowing, somehow, that I couldn’t say that because it would be bad. And so life continued, a stream of begrudgingly wearing skirts and dresses and makeup and push-up bras, and eventually coming to a vague state of enjoying, or at least accepting, all of it as part of being grown up. The approval I got from my mother, from other family members, from friends and peers – ‘oh wow, you look so grown up!’, ‘damn, you look good!’, squeals of excitement when I showed up places in makeup – and even my ability to see myself reflected in images of femininity around me was enough to make me hide away all of my childhood fantasies.

Over the past year or two, though, doubts about my image began to creep back.  For a while I chalked it up to just needing to find the right ‘look’ – I wasn’t quite femme, but obviously I wasn’t butch, so maybe chapstick lesbian would work for me – but whatever it was, was still within the confines of being a vaguely feminine woman.  And when I settled/gave up on finding a ‘look’, I chalked it up to my self-esteem and body image problems, a history being subtly (or not so subtly) told to lose weight or dress a certain way if I wanted to look good, resulting in my never feeling entirely comfortable in my appearance whether it be weight, hair, muscle definition, strength, or a general feeling of inadequacy.  But everyone deals with stuff like that, so who was I to complain about it and make myself feel special? After a while, these feelings narrowed down more and more to my feminine presentation, and realising that maybe I enjoyed passing as a boy at Genderfunk “too much”, but I still pushed them off playing the Oppression Olympics by convincing myself I was being absurd, that other people had real struggle with this, and I had no right to equate my petty self-esteem issues with that. But shit hit the fan as I was getting out of the shower one night a few weeks ago – I looked in the mirror and thought ‘hey, if I didn’t have boobs, I’d look like a guy!’ and for a brief moment was excited by that.  The flash of clarity, that moment of ‘yes, that is how I want to look’ shocked me and I realised that what was seen cannot be unseen, and my years of ostritching my way through life wasn’t really gonna cut it anymore.

So what does that mean? Well, fuck if I have a straight answer right now. I’ve come to realize, though, that a big part of my struggle has been dealing with the gender binary; I’m strongly attached to my identity as a queer woman, I’m on the whole just fine with my body, I like some “girly” clothes and all that jazz, and most days I don’t even register consciously any discomfort with my gender or gender presentation. But then I have the days where I want to butch it up, when wearing a dress makes me feel nauseous and I look in the mirror and the visual clashes so strongly with the self-image I have in my head.  I look at guys and wish that I could look just a little bit like them, and when my girlfriend told me I looked handsome, it made me feel really good, but my inner angsty feminist riles at the thought of being associated so closely with the male species.  And so I get confused because how can I like some aspects of my female identity but at the same time want so desperately to be more masculine in other ways? Reading over that sentence, even I think it sounds stupidly simple, but at least for me, it’s a whole heck of a lot harder to walk the talk. The gender binary system we have doesn’t allow (at least not easily, by any means) a gender or gender expression that doesn’t equate with female or male, woman or man. So I’m trying to find that space in between, navigating reconciling my academic and theoretical knowledge with my feelings. Wish me luck.

De-gendering Our Language

24 Jul

by Kat Kelley, Erin Riordan, and Mark Joseph Stern

This is an edited transcript of a discussion between Kat, Erin, and Mark on the topic of how gender is used in our language. The conversation began after a Facebook debate about whether or not “you guys” could be used in a gender-neutral context. 

Erin:  ‪Let’s talk gender, shall we?

Mark:  Yes please! I live to talk gender. ‪If I recall correctly, this conversation was sparked by a Facebook status in which Kat addressed her Facebook friends as “guys,” but noted she meant it in a gender-neutral way. ‪I, being a jerk, commented that I was skeptical that “guys” is ever truly gender neutral. Several courteous comment clashes later, here we are. So Kat—what exactly is your position on this topic?

Kat:  ‪Honestly, I reached out to Erin and was interested in hearing more from you, because I realize that language both creates and is created by our culture, and I want to learn to use language that creates a better culture. I want to learn to use culture that doesn’t oppress people based on their gender identity, but I am wholly ignorant on the topic. My “position” would be that I’m ignorant. And I want to be able to change the way I speak, but at the same time, not speak in a way that alienates certain people from willingness to engage or listen.

Mark:  ‪An admirable goal! There are really two separate issues, I think, when it comes to the “you guys” issue, and they need to be considered independently. One, which isn’t really that fraught, is that our language lacks a second-person plural address—our vosotros, if you will. That leaves various dialects to pick up the slack, hence “y’all” and “you guys.” ‪But “guys” of course was traditionally used to describe men. Which leads to the second issue. How comfortable are we repurposing a word like “guys” in this manner? I’d posit that it’s unique from words like “actor” or “poet,” which were once gender-dichotomized but for which we now use the once-male form for everyone.

Erin:  ‪Yes. I think as much as guys is used in “gender-neutral” contexts, it is still a very gendered term and reasserts “male” and “men” as the gender dominant norm.

Mark:  ‪I would tend to agree.

Kat:  ‪That makes sense. And also it isn’t a title/position the way actor/poet is. It doesn’t tell us anything but the gender of the population. So the repurposing would be more transformative.

Mark:  ‪It’s worth asking at this point, though, why transforming a word like “guys” to mean “everybody” reinforces male norms. I have a gut feeling that it does, but I find it a little tricky to articulate.

Erin:  ‪It seems related to the idea of referring to people as “cis men” and “cis women” rather than “men” and “women.” Using cis de-centers gender norms and gender assumptions, and I think trying to transform “guys” to gender neutral still has issues with re-centering men and cis men as the gender norm.

Mark:  ‪Does our language need a gender norm?

Kat:  ‪I don’t believe it does, however I’m not sure how deep we’d have to go to remove a gender norm.

Erin:  ‪Our language should be more inclusive of all identities, which involves reexamining language and assumptions and norms reinforced by language.

Kat:  ‪I mean, we’d have to refashion the connotations of just ‪about everything. Although there are plenty of intermediary steps before we are achieving that. ‪I mean I think our entire society needs to be de-gendered. We think of everything in terms of gender. And that creates an inherent dichotomy, an inherent inequality between genders and sexes.

Erin:  ‪That said, I think there is a balance between de-gendering society and finding other solutions, because ultimately, gender, like race and class and anything else, exists.

Mark:  ‪Right. Even if the stereotypes we attribute to it are fabricated.

Erin:  ‪Pretending that we can de-gender or de-racialize society also invalidates the fact that these things are all parts of our identities and experiences.

Kat:  ‪However, there are lots of aspects of our lives when gender doesn’t need to be relevant. And yet it is present everywhere.

Erin:  ‪So that is what I struggle with actually. I think that gender is a huge part of our identities and to pretend it is just a social construct is also really problematic.

Mark:  ‪So is it okay to just start with the obvious, and work our way down?  ‪Or will effective change need to be more subtle and comprehensive?

Kat:  ‪Re: Mark- I think we need to do both. We need to have the “radical” side of it (I use radical in quotes because I don’t think that wanting things like equality should be considered radical) to ‪chip away at the underlying causes. But we also need to make ambitious immediate change, and that requires working our way down.

Mark:  ‪Kat, I agree, but I wonder if taking some relatively simple steps—gender-neutral pronouns, non-gendered normative nouns—might not be a more radical move than we realize. It seems to me that a lot of the language that ends up reinforcing gender norms (and more perniciously gender stereotypes) could be very easily screened out with a little awareness.

Kat:  ‪Sure seems pretty radical every time I try to speak English hah.

Mark:  ‪I’m a strong believer in the ground rule ‪that we shouldn’t specify gender unless it’s apposite to context. The example I use is, “My friends and I went to the bar,” vs. “My male friends don’t like Christine Quinn, probably because they’re sexist.” Unnecessary gendering is actually really common.

Erin:  ‪It is in almost every conversation and almost every part of our language.

Mark:  ‪Indeed. I think that after all the theory and abstractions we produce on this topic, we still need to have a rule, an ask, for the general population. And I think that ask should be that we only ever mention gender when it’s relevant to context.

Kat:  ‪Okay, so how can we, and ideally everyone, make the change? And how do we literally get people to care, and to be able to develop that awareness? I mean this is the most literal sense- like do we need fact sheets on examples of gendered language?

Erin: I think just using the appropriate language ourselves creates a fair amount of awareness, and challenging people in safe contexts when relevant.

Mark:  ‪I agree—the first and best thing you can do is change the way you yourself speak. If it’s a cause I believe in, I can also bring up the practice with friends and encourage them to do the same.

Erin: I think in the times when I make conscious efforts to change my language or to introduce myself and my preferred gender pronouns I usually explain myself afterwards since there is a fair amount of confusion. My own practice ends up leading to some level of raised awareness and education.

Mark:  ‪I think the conversation should be based around modeling your own de-gendered language. If someone asks you why you don’t say “you guys,” or request a preferred gender pronoun, explain away! It’s not pedantic. And if your friends don’t ask, explain anyway. They’re your friends. They signed up to hear your views.

Erin:  Yeah, most people who are my friends know what they’ve gotten into.

Mark:  ‪I try to explain from both a personal and a philosophical angle. In practice, it’s not toooo different from teaching people proper grammar. You use language a certain way, you encourage others to as well. This just happens to be infinitely more important than lay vs. lie.

Erin:  ‪And I think doing it in a way that isn’t blame-y, because a lot of people are sensitive to being told their language is oppressive.

Mark:  ‪It’s not something anybody likes to be told.

Kat:  ‪Yeah. I mean even if people are defensive, they are still learning. You are still planting seeds. But there is a lot of resistance.

Erin:  ‪And I think we too in examining gender and language need to be very ready and willing to be corrected and to reexamine our assumptions.

Kat:  ‪Admitting you fuck up, that it isn’t easy, that you are working on it. Not like “get on my level, oppressor.”

Erin:  Exactly. ‪I think it’s the response of acknowledging the mistake, apologizing, reflecting on it and making an effort to be more conscious in the future. And that we all fuck up both by nature of being human and by nature of the world we live in.

Mark:  ‪Agreed entirely. Okay, so have we reached a consensus?

Erin:  ‪I consent.

Mark:  ‪I consent, and hereby swear to reach out to my friends in an effort to further remove gender-reinforcing norms from my language. Kat?

Kat:  ‪I consent. Enthusiastically.

Mark:  ‪Excellent!