Okay. So, recently, as in a few weeks ago, I got married. I married a gay guy, and I did it for reasons that are advantageous to both of us, and they have nothing to do with feelings. It is, essentially, an arrangement that gives me health insurance (so I can get an invasive surgery that I need to get) and gives him significant material benefits that I won’t bother to go into here.
Although it’s a good story on its own (I met him on a Tuesday, we married on a Wednesday, we had to do the whole ceremony and we giggled the entire time, we even drew up a pre-nup and had it notarized all within eighteen hours between meeting and marrying), I’m bringing it up because it has made me think about something that had already been percolating but that this “getting married” really made real for me. It’s made me think of a LOT of things, actually, including the absurdity of government having a hand in this kind of ridiculous institution. But what I want to talk about here is queerness, femininity, and “visibility.”
See, when I got married, I had to get a ring. I had to get a ring because I had to go with my husband into his place of work and waltz around as his wife for two days while getting his marriage all legitimized and getting my and his benefits solidified. My ring is a $20 simple sterling silver band that’s slightly too big because the kiosk at the mall didn’t have my size so I had to go a half size up. And I kind of love this ring. I don’t love the RING, itself, as a piece of jewelry, I mean it’s fine and all, totally unoffensive, but it’s not particularly lovable in itself. What I love about it is what happens to me when I wear it. What happens is, when I’m wearing it, I feel like I have this inside joke with myself that no one else gets. Not that anyone really notices it, or thinks about it much if they do notice it, but that’s almost precisely it — in a way, it’s like the ultimate symbol of straightness, of heteronormativity. A wedding band, right? And so when I wear it, I “pass” as a regular ol’ married woman. I’m a wife. I’m a straight, blond (oh yeah, my hair is blond now), young, hazel-eyed wife. But the thing is, the joke’s on them because they don’t even know there’s any joke. On the surface I would appear to be one, totally comprehensible, sensible thing and yet? I’m so *not*.
And I guess what it did for me in a way was release me from this idea of “visibility” as my aim. It’s like, ok, I look fucking straight. So? And, to whom? Why? And does that even matter? And the answer is, no, it doesn’t. I actually don’t give two shits whether I’m comprehensible, and I don’t think that comprehensibility or visibility as an aim of queer politics is even particularly desirable. I mean, look, I spent years trying to figure out how to be queer, how to be the “right kind” of queer for the straights, how to be the right “wrong kind” of queer for the other queers, how to (and yes, this is a pattern in my life) liquify myself and take up the shape of whatever space I’m in so as to fit right in. To me this has been partly about attaining a sense of belonging (where since adolescence I’ve tended to acutely feel like I dis-belong). And it’s also been about safety, majorly. Like I’ve got this deeply internalized sense that passing and fitting in are the best way to stay safe. Physically safe, sexually safe, emotionally safe.
So what the hell is my point? My point is, I guess, to repeat what I said before, that I don’t think that comprehensibility or visibility really ought to be a desirable aim of queer/femme politics. Like, what does that say about my relationship to the world if the way I organize myself in it is to best appear a certain way to it (or parts of it)? What that says is that my sense of self comes from outside, comes from how others perceive me, or rather comes from how I imagine others perceive me. And that’s bullshit because, honestly, I don’t think there’s any such thing as an “authentic self” or essence of self that can be authentically reflected or portrayed by your outer appearance. I don’t think there’s any way that every part of who we are will ever be visible to/perceived by/comprehensible to “the world” or “people” or whomever we are aiming to be seen/perceived/comprehended by. And like, if you think about it — when we try to be visible or try to be comprehensible, what is it we’re really reaching for? How do we measure what constitutes visibility? What are we reproducing in that effort? When we aim for inclusion, what remains excluded? When we use certain markers or norms or standards as a way to stay safe, what are we committing those who don’t/can’t access those same standards to? How are these standards also silently determined by whiteness, straightness, cisgenderness, upper-classness, ableness? Am I making any sense?
What it’s about, to me, or ought to be about, is just whatever the fuck we want. I just want to feel moderately okay in the world, and I want to measure that feeling according to my own feelings about and perceptions of myself rather than others’ feelings/perceptions of me. Like, I don’t want to seek to look a certain way in order to feel safe or to belong. Instead, I’d like to seek to look a certain way because it makes me feel bold. And by bold I don’t mean daring, flashy, fancy, etc. I just mean, I want to strive for a feeling of taking up space in my body such that my body feels strong, solid, present, and so that I can in turn try to think beyond a politics of comprehensibility and make room, in my own mind, for the immense possibilities that queerness presents to the world in all of its bodies.
Right, so the wedding ring. Yeah, it makes me feel like laughing hysterically when I have it on because everything it is supposed to symbolize — undying love and commitment to another person for a lifetime — is just totally irrelevant for me in my life right now. Instead, for me, it symbolizes this juxtaposition of who I was raised to be versus who I am; it symbolizes my own freedom from the ties of certain expectations; it symbolizes my commitment to myself that I am capable of making my own way in the world; and it symbolizes that I don’t give a fuck whether I’m “visible” or whether I’m “comprehensible” because honestly, it’s too much goddamn work and it’s not work that I even support.
There’s a lot more I could (and maybe will) say about this stuff in relation specifically to femme politics and femininity. But I’ll save that for now.
The end! You may now congratulate me on my recent nuptials.
EDIT: Someone just alerted me (god y’all are quick, that was like half an hour) to this post on femmetech.org on “deprivileging in/visibility” which is very much along the lines of what I’m getting at only she does it much better and with way less rambling. I don’t agree with everything she says but I do with a lot of it and I’d like to think about it more… hmm…
There’s something on my mind recently that I’ve been struggling to put to words. When I was out last weekend with ML, we had a good conversation about it and I intended to write about it right away but then I sat and stared at a blank document for a while, the words bottlenecked in the tips of my fingers and I couldn’t type. Maybe this time will be different.
[Trigger warning: this post discusses violent rape.]
There’s a serial rapist in a neighborhood in San Francisco where many of my friends live and where I go to frequently, and he’s struck multiple times. The attacks have been violent and in public in early morning hours. And I’ve been really turned off by the way it has been discoursed in communities I’m tangential to and in general by the patterns I have witnessed over and over in the past, repeated here, as responses to extreme violence against women.
I found out about it because of an email blast by the local rape crisis center to all of its volunteers; the email gave the details of the attacks, I guess just as an advisement to the volunteers about potential hotline callers. It also said that the police are on the case but that they’re asking that it not be brought to media in order that they can find the rapist more easily; media attention might alert him that they’re looking and he could relocate. Before too long this email had spread throughout the various networks I’m a part of and I got it sent to me in various truncated forms several additional times, always along with some sort of cautionary note by the sender about being careful, not walking alone, taking appropriate measures, and finally “be safe.” People are hyperaware and there has been a palpable climate of anxiety.
There are multiple layers of all of this that I struggle with. There’s the obvious fact that the sensationalizing of the street attack and the stranger rape is highly problematic, especially given the ubiquity of rape, sexual assault, and violence perpetrated by non-strangers. For me, though, that’s a more difficult argument to grapple with given that for me it is not a myth, it is not sensational. Still, I can’t write about the problematics of what’s going on in SF right now without bringing that up, the hyper-paranoia and perhaps exaggerated response to this sort of rape, especially in contrast to the silence around all other (and way more common) forms of sexual violence. Related to and beyond that, though, I’m angered by the way this kind of information is just sent into the world to live its own sensationalized life and that it seems like the only real possible reaction to it is fear, and the result is a kind of social control of women operated through this fear. One of my friends called the rape crisis center to ask if they were planning or knew of any organized community or collaborative response and she said they just sounded annoyed and dismissed her. This isn’t to say that it’s their job to put something like that together, but that given the way they disseminated the information and offered no container for coping with the gutteral punch of the email other than to suggest that individuals who have feelings about it call the crisis hotline, a dismissive response to my friend’s inquiry just seems inconsiderate and even irresponsible to me.
I’m also struggling with the faith in the police that that initial message conveyed, and particularly with the lack of questioning the police’s methods which, in this case, was essentially “don’t tell the media because we need to find the guy and if he knows he’s being hunted he’ll move” and to me reads as “we need him to strike again so we can catch him” or, “it’s more important that our strategy for catching him not be interrupted than for the community to be able to feel safe.” When I was subletting in North Berkeley in summer of 2008, there was also a serial rapist who was breaking into the homes of young women who were living alone and violently raping them. I was, in fact, living alone and in the immediate vicinity of his previous attacks when the police knocked on my door, handed me a flyer with “information” and how to contact a tip line, and then left me alone in my ground floor apartment with windows that didn’t lock, shrugging and saying “sorry, can’t help you there” when I asked them, panicked, “well what should I do??” What we should do, apparently, is fear for our lives and our bodies, because what else does this method of disseminating information call for? And, why did the crisis center that historically only will cooperate with police to the extent that it is forced to so blindly follow in the police’s footsteps in this case?
Then there’s the fact that eventually a local newspaper did release a blurry black and white still from a security camera of the suspect, and that the only thing about him that is discernible from this photo is that he is black and that he was wearing a dark hoodie. What is the purpose of this circulating when there is no chance that anyone will actually be able to identify him based on that photo and instead it just sends the message: “be afraid of black men in hoodies.” This is such an ugly dynamic and it’s one that I don’t really know how to untangle. But sending that out into a world in which black men are already racially profiled in super intense ways and experience intense criminalization on a daily basis is irresponsible at best and nasty and racist at worst. This is not to say that it’s racist to talk about a black man being a rapist, or to identify this one as a black man. I’m not saying we should pretend he’s not black or refuse to engage what comes up around his race. I’m just asking, in this case, what is the point of that blurry photo being circulated? If the rest of the messaging around there being a serial rapist is “he’s brutal, he comes up from behind, and he isn’t deterred by fighting back” then how is having a blurry and unidentifiable photo of him helpful for the community? If the logic is the paternal “ladies, just stay inside” then it seems to me that this photo will only exacerbate that as the message by bolstering the public imaginary that all black men are to be feared. It’s just ugly.
And then for me there’s the very personal level of struggle. I have been feeling a lot of anger, resentment, irritation with people who have been talking about this and have been having difficulty articulating why. I don’t think even I have really been able to understand myself why those emotions are coming up for me. It came up for me a lot when I was hanging out with one of my friends who lives just blocks away from the most recent attack and she insisted on walking me the one block to my parking spot when I was leaving around midnight. I wasn’t angry at her or irritated at her but I was feeling a mess of angry/frustrated emotions that I couldn’t quite place. I guess the best way for me to explain it is that, for me, this serial rapist on the loose doesn’t change things. I don’t feel any less safe knowing that that’s out there. I don’t feel any more safe at any other time when there isn’t a known rapist on the loose. I always feel that fear, I always feel like any second now it could happen again. I know that when it happened to me there hadn’t been any community warnings and so I guess I just feel like, what do these warnings do, what are they for, if it happens anyway, whether we are prepared for it or not. And, what does it even mean to be prepared for it? It’s impossible, you can’t possibly. I feel like I just have so much resentment that I can’t understand the fear that other people have about it, I can’t understand fear from the side of not-knowing. It makes it hit home for me so much that I live in a different world than they do. My normal is so wildly different. And it’s occasions like this that bring it all back to me when in general I feel like I do a pretty good job of dissociating from it in my daily life. I do a good job of intentional forgetting. Not forgetting that it happened, there is not a single day that goes by that it is not present for me, but forgetting how it makes me different, forgetting the anger and bitterness about it being the background of my daily life.
I didn’t really intend to end here. I wanted to go into a sort of brainstorming session of what might a robust and healthy community response to sexual violence look like, and how might we organize around that more rather than stopping at feeling trapped and afraid? I have thoughts. But I’m feeling drained, so I’m going to stop. More soon. Xoxo.
Well hello there. It seems like I’m beginning every new post in the past few months with some iteration of “it’s been a while.” It has been a while. Schmeesus. Grad school is kicking my heiny. In the best possible way. Also I have two friends visiting from Germany for three weeks. Four people in our tiny little apartment is a bit, um, crowded. And have I mentioned that grad school is a lot of work? It’s a lot. Of work.
This semester I have to decide what I where I want to focus my research, and it’s daunting. My professor last week posed some guiding questions for us to figure out what directions we might go in: “What is difficult for you? What are your histories, your legacies, your family’s histories and legacies? What excites you? What work will make you feel beautiful?” For me, all of those questions have many potential answers, and the answers to all those questions aren’t necessarily coinciding. So I’m mulling over a lot.
I met with the professor individually on Saturday because she noticed, I guess, that I was having a hard time in class with those questions. Not that we were being called on to answer them right away or out loud, but nonetheless I was struggling and she is so intuitive that she noticed. And asked to meet with me. And when we met we spoke about my struggles around identifying where I want to do my life’s work because on the one hand, there are the things that are incredibly personal for me, that come up for me in major ways, that I know I could throw myself into 100% — anti-sexual-violence work being a main one, obviously, and queer/gender identity stuff being another. But I don’t want these things to have to necessarily define my life; I want to be allowed to be excited about other things too; I just struggle with this feeling somehow of betraying myself and also with a fear of stepping into an unknown. When I do work around rape and around gender and around queerness, I can do it boldly because I’m working and speaking as myself, on behalf of myself. On the other hand I would like to cultivate an ability to do other work boldly too, to have faith in my ability to be critical of and participate in the world in ways that do not have to rely on my personal experience as some sort of “expertise.” I want to take risks. So when I met with my professor and talked about all of that, shared some of my life and experiences and struggles, she invited me to think of work that I’m excited about not as a betrayal of my life and struggles but as a way of carrying myself into whatever work I do do. I do not have to leave myself at the doorstep.
So carrying all of this around in my mind, I see a world of possibility.
Mostly for myself (but also in case any of you are vicariously interested in what I might be studying and researching and living the next while), I want to write up some of my excitements. Right now it’s all boiling in my brain, utter chaos, and I want to see it out in front of me. So, here are some of the things I’m feeling excited about:
- How are people in various ways self-reflexive about their genders? Not so much in terms of how they perform gender, but in how they inhabit it. How do people situate themselves in gendered ways in the world? What are their struggles around it? As a femme, for example, if I were my own research subject: how do I make decisions about presenting myself to the world? What do I think about and consider, what do I not think about or consider about my gender? What compels me to femininity? What has been my process of identifying with femininity, or not? How do I understand my gender? What feels exciting/comfortable/scary/uneasy/ambiguous/etc. to me about it? How do I understand my relations to other gendered beings? How is my reflexivity about gender tied (or not) to my understanding of my sexuality? How open am I about my gender, (how) does it shift? Are there ways I feel constricted or confined by my gender, and if so what are they? What is hard about my gender, and how do people react to it? These and more questions… and not just questions of myself, but of others.
- What are ways in which queer politics can be stretched and expanded in exciting ways to form new alliances? I’m thinking about, for example, ways in which queers make families push against heteronormative family models, and ways also in which people of color resist white/heteronormative family models as well. What opportunities exist there for alliance, for together re-defining for society what “family” is and how “family” can and should be protected and understood. This, to me, is more meaningful than a fight for marriage, which I see as one way for queers to form family, but not by a long shot the only way. This isn’t to say I disagree with the marriage equality struggle–I think it is hugely important in many ways–but I am more excited by ways of thinking beyond that in ways that also make room for alliance in struggle. Another example of my thinking around this: ways in which queers and folks of color, especially immigrants (and also keeping in mind that those two loose categories are by no means mutually exclusive) are both targets of nationalist rhetoric and politics in the US: we’re dangerous, a threat to national security, “Other.” And look what’s happening in schools — inclusion of curricula that address our curricula are being threatened, excluded, targeted as dangerous. This is not at all to say that our struggles are the same or to compare them in any quantitative or qualitative way, but rather to point out spaces for possible alliance, ones that I am excited by.
- I’m stirred, for obvious reasons, by issues surrounding sexual vi0lence. What would it mean for targets of sexual violence, including cis and trans women, children, elderly, homeless, sex workers, etc. to be able to find empowerment? How can sexual violence education be targeted towards potential perpetrators rather than towards potential victims? (And I don’t mean specifically men but rather, turning the lens of education away from “ways to avoid being raped” and more towards “ways to have justice and cultivate a society free of sexual violence, and ways for folks to be aware of and accountable for their actions and ways of moving through the world.”)
- Moving away now from the stuff around my personal legacies now… I’m interested in Islamophobia and ways in which the West v. Islam bifurcation is harmful to our freedom and justice in the US. Specifically I’m really interested in going to Germany to study this — I think many Western European countries are much more clear-cut case studies of the rise of anti-Islam sentiment in the world. Germany is an interesting case on its own: it has a long history of Turkish migrant workers in the country, many of whom after several generations still do not have citizenship. Turkey, too, is a place with its own West/Islam struggle — Istanbul seeing itself as more “modern” and European in many ways and then eastern Turkey aligning itself more closely with “tradition” and the Middle East (these are gross over-generalizations to be sure). So Germany’s relationship with Turkey is quite illustrative of global trends. In addition, Germany has its awful history of anti-Semitism, which I think in much of the West informs our relationship with Islam in that we are paralyzed by guilt and feel the need to be unreflexively allied with Israel. And, Germany (and Berlin especially, which is where I would want to do my research) itself has the fascinating history of being divided in two after WWII, being split between (capitalist) West and (communist) East. This is not the same split, obviously, as the West/Islam split, but I think it still does strongly inform Germany’s conception of itself with and in the world. There is so much material here. And I would love to be able to go back to Germany and continue fostering my relationship with it.
- At the end of last semester, I wrote a paper about multi-national tourist corporations and the post-tsunami (the December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, that is) reconstruction efforts in specifically Sri Lanka; how tourist corporations, US aid agencies, and Sri Lankan government leaders saw the tsunami reconstruction less as a project to re-build what was lost and more as a project to capitalize on coastal land freed of inhabitants by the waves. So (again, an over-simplified narrative, but still one that holds truth) reconstruction of homes and small businesses was forbidden along much of the damaged coast, and a green light was given to large-scale tourist operations to move in. The idea was that this would stimulate the national economy and provide jobs, but what of people’s homes? What of their autonomous fishing livelihoods? Are those really so easily replaced by jobs as concierges in luxury hotels? The lack of consultation with the tsunami-affected themselves is astonishing, and I was appalled that the money I donated back then was likely not used in ways I would have supported. This paper excited me, motivated me, angered me. And so I’ve developed a strong interest in multi-national corporations and politics of “Third World” development. How can we do “development” work ensuring that people’s lives are prioritized, accounted for, heard, respected, and also ensuring that global nations are growing sustainably and without perpetuating reliance on (and indebtedness to) the US, Europe, Japan?
These are just some of what my mind is busy with these days. Perhaps more to come. What are your thoughts about this? What excites you?
I will continue to write when I can. Miss you all greatly, and much much love.
I’ve been feeling pretty politicized, lately, which has contributed to my not writing as much here (that, and midterms, obviously). What I mean is, this blog has been, for most of its life, an account of my personal life. My verrrrrry personal life, haha. The main reason for that, I think, is that since this blog began, the stuff in my personal life has been the most interesting stuff going on for me. I was working a job I didn’t care for, hadn’t situated myself squarely in any community in the city (part shyness, part being busy, part general feelings of liminality), and was spending most of my intellectual brainpower, outside of work, on thinking about my relationship and my burgeoning personal identities (primarily femme, but also, in smaller ways, “survivor”, feminist, queer, sex-positive…). Thank God for all of that, and for this blog and all of you, because it enabled my mind to continue to open up and expand when my work life was encouraging it to stay stagnant.
Now that I’m full-time in a graduate program (having lost my part-time work, eep. I really need a new part-time job…), it’s like my mind is blowing up. It’s brilliant, it’s like a re-birth. I’m navigating new relationships with classmates and professors, which is time-consuming and exciting. I’m reading a TON of stuff, mostly assigned, but I’m amazed that the assigned reading is actually motivating me to go out and read non-assigned stuff, both for context (e.g. Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge) and just because it excites me (e.g., Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl, which, GO. READ. I’M SERIOUS.). I’m writing a lot for class. And I’m having a ton of conversations both in and outside of class, about things like what I posted about in my last post (which, don’t worry, I’ll be doing follow-up posts on) and about other things: midterm elections, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Tea Party, local politics. (Y’all, San Francisco just passed the most effed up bit of city legislation: Sit/Lie, a law that will *criminalize* sitting on city sidewalks, for any reason, which is ableist, classist, and a total betrayal of our city’s history and the folks that made SF the “free love” city that it is.)
And I’ve hesitated, I guess, to write about all of that stuff, because it’s not my personal life. It’s not just about my own personal identity anymore, but about my identity in the context of larger social and political forces, and just about those larger social and political forces on their own. I feel a bit strange about starting to use this blog as a sociopolitical soapbox (to be clear: when I talk about social politics, I’m not really talking about partisan politics (except in the context of these midterm elections), but I guess something more like progressive identity politics. I’m just not sure this is the platform for that. But you know what? It’s what’s on my mind, so I guess I’ll just roll with it. We’ll see what happens. And for the record, I love feeling more politicized. The blood in my body feels quicker, I feel more alert, more purposeful, more engaged with the world. I’ve been sharing a lot of stuff on my personal Facebook page, and I think I might start moving some of that to this blog’s Facebook page as well because I want to start having those kinds of conversations over here, too.
In the meantime, life’s pretty good. The weather here is gorgeous. Halloween came and went, and I stayed in all weekend; it was rainy and cold and I wasn’t feeling well anyway. ML is super busy with grad school applications and preparations, but this week we’ve actually managed to have dinner together every night so far, which is very welcome after three weeks of hardly eating together at all. My midterms are over and I’m already swallowed in more reading and beginning to prep for finals. I’m frantically trying to find part-time work but haven’t had any time to put into the search. This week, hopefully. Anybody have any Bay Area progressive connections?
One last thing: Apparently, the Giants won the World Series. I think I was probably the last person in San Francisco to find out. I truly live under a rock in many ways. But guys, the city erupted. It was almost as bad as Massachusetts when the Sox won in 2004. Sports fans!!!
PS: My next post, currently in draft form, is about the consumerization of femininity. It’s been fun to think about and write. I’ll finish it up and post it in the next day or two. Can’t wait to hear feedback…
Day 1 in Puerto Vallarta: GAY CRUISE!!!!!!!!!!!
(Camera was aiming straight up at the sun in this one so I couldn’t see the screen at all… hence it being off-center. Sigh.)
When we were looking at lesbian things to do in Puerto Vallarta, Diana’s Tours was one of the only things that was listed for lesbians. It’s a full-day cruise around the Banderas Bay in a private yacht, including open bar, breakfast, snacks, snorkeling, swimming at a gorgeous private beach, lunch (mmm grilled talapia…) on shore, and the leadership of the amazing Diana, a tough butch Montreal transplant who one day 13 years ago came to Puerto Vallarta for vacation and decided to stay. (Would I had the courage to do something that impulsive!) So mi’lady and I thought “sweet! LESBIANS! and Diana can give us tips on lesbian nightlife!” (since none of the guidebooks, even in the gay sections, had anything at all to say about a lesbian nightlife).
We were wrong. We showed up at the dock the first morning (after confirming at breakfast at the (gay) hotel that we were the only women in the entire establishment), promptly spotted Diana, and were greeted with “You must be Alphafemme and Hr’lady! Welcome!” at which point we realized we were, in fact, the only women on the cruise as well.
Which was fine, of course. Gay guys are a ton of fun. We had a blast that day, and it was totally refreshing being around a group of 20 people with the knowledge that not one of them was checking us out. Plus all the guys were like “omg! lesbians! omg awesome! yay diversity! omg!” and so we felt very embraced.
But honestly, I don’t know that we would have felt as welcome, and might have felt somewhat out of place, if the leader of the tour hadn’t been a lesbian. Somehow, the fact that she was a lesbian validated our presence there. If the leader of the tour had been a gay man, though, and then we’d shown up to all the other passengers being gay men, we probably would’ve felt that we’d somehow not gotten the memo. That they only said they were a gay and lesbian tour in order to sound inclusive, but really, they didn’t actually mean it. Really, it’s just a gay guy party.
And as it turned out, there really isn’t anything for lesbians in Puerto Vallarta. Diana’s Tour is really about the lezziest thing you can do. We asked Diana whether it was just a low season in terms of lesbian tourists, and she said no — her cruise occasionally has a few women, but is mostly gay men. The gay hotels are all male-owned and phallocentric (for real — our hotel had pictures of penises EVERYWHERE). The gay bars and dance clubs are all populated entirely by gay men. The gay beach is a male meat market. “There’s one bar that’s lesbian-owned,” Diana told us, “but none of the clientele are lesbians.”
Where are all the ladies? I think there’s this devil’s spiral thing happening. Lesbians in general are not as affluent as gay men (24% of lesbians live in poverty, compared to 15% of gay men, and lesbian couples are much more likely to be poor than gay male couples–see this Williams Institute report). So financially, it’s not as smart to market to lesbians, because they have a much lower spending power than gay men. (Socially, too — and this is less measurable, but I would guess still a factor — I think lesbians and women are just taken less seriously than gay (and straight) men as decision-making consumers. Also, (white) gay men are just taken for granted as the picture of Gay.) And so gay destinations market to gay men, almost de facto. They include the “and lesbian” tag just to be inclusive, but when push comes to shove, marketing to both gay men and lesbians is hard — we’re different after all! — and so gay men get the push. We dykes get the shove. And then as a result of that, we don’t travel to gay destinations. We know they won’t be oriented to us, so we stay home. Or go into the woods. Or just go to straight places, where we won’t be completely irrelevant as the only women. Invisible, maybe. But not irrelevant.
I see two solutions:
1) “Gay and lesbian” has to start really meaning gay AND LESBIAN. If they’re going to cater to lesbians, cater to frickin lesbians! Show some tits and pussy! Blast M.I.A. and Tegan & Sara and Melissa Etheridge! Have women-specific events! Ladies nights! Anything!
2) DYKES NEED TO GET OUT MORE. The end.
Note: I recognize that I am extremely lucky to be in a demographic that can afford leisure travel, like a trip to Mexico. I think, though, that this point easily transfers to a more general one: white gay men are the face of gay. And it sucks.
Warning: potentially triggering material follows.
A week before Christmas, a lesbian in Richmond (just north of Berkeley in the bay area) was gang raped–four men, one hour, weapons. Apparently, according to the SF Chronicle, she had a rainbow sticker on her car and they targeted her specifically because she was gay.
So there’s a $10,000 price tag on these guys, and they’re not only going to be charged with sexual assault, assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, et cetera, but their charges will also carry the added “hate crime” designation. Which obviously makes a lot of sense, right? I mean, their attack was pretty clearly motivated by–or at the very least, very charged with–violent homophobia. They probably would not have attacked her had she not had a rainbow sticker on her car, or if she had not in any way appeared to them to be gay. So it makes sense to me that they would be charged with hate crime. It is horrible to be attacked so viciously on account of one’s sexual orientation and it is clear that her being gay was a reason they targeted her.
However, it troubles me that these four men would get a heightened criminal conviction, be more highly sought, or be seen as far worse criminals than would be the case if the victim were a straight woman. For any woman (or man or child or anyone) to be gang raped is horrible beyond belief, and it occurs far too often that women are raped or gang raped or abused by men in any sexual or physical capacity. And we never hear any fuss made about it. Occasionally we see a paragraph in the newspaper about a midnight rape, and we think “oh, how awful” and then we move on, because we’ve heard it so many times before and we’ve forgotten how to be enraged by it. Or worse, we think, “god, what was that woman doing out by herself at that time of night? what was she wearing? I bet she was a prostitute/drug dealer/slut” and can quickly minimize our empathy.
But the truth is, it must be just as horrible for a straight woman to be gang raped at knife-/gun-point by four men over the course of an hour as it is for a lesbian. And men who rape or abuse straight women should not get off any lighter than men who rape and abuse gay women. Those men are all perpetrating hate crimes. Granted, the motivations may be different (“ugh that bulldagger needs to be taught a lesson” vs. “I’m going to get me some of that pussy”) but in the end, it’s always about objectification, dehumanization, assertion that “you belong to me, I can do whatever I want with you, and by the time I’m through you’re going to know that.”
I’d imagine that being raped on account of being a lesbian and being raped on account of being a woman would have somewhat different psychological effects, but they would both be pretty fucking traumatic. As I’ve written here before, I was raped when I was 15 by a complete stranger, and it had nothing to do with my being gay (as there’s no way the man could’ve known) and everything to do with my being a piece of flesh that he was entitled to possess. And I’m telling you, I don’t think it could have possibly been worse if I’d known it was because I was gay. Not that it would’ve been better, but rape is rape and you feel like shit, you feel dirty and violated, you feel stripped of power and dignity and personhood, you feel broken and bruised and hurt, you feel shattered and alone, above all else alone, because everyone around you carries on as normal, and the world doesn’t stop just because your world stopped. I can’t speak for other women (gay or straight) who have been raped or violated, but these are all the things I felt, and I am going to say one thing: it would have made a world of difference if I had known that I would be able to count on a reaction like the reaction this lesbian woman’s gang rape is getting from the lesbian community here in the bay area. If I had known that my going to the police would have inspired a public outrage, then I might have gone to the police. Instead, I had seen too many times that rape is one of those things that people shake their heads about but inevitably excuse, because there must’ve been something wrong with the woman, because only a certain kind of woman gets herself raped.
Rape is always a hate crime. Men who perpetrate rape have not one ounce of like, love, respect, or any positive human emotion for their victims. So I do think that the four rapists of the Richmond lesbian should be charged with hate crime. But I also think people need to understand that any woman who is a victim of rape is a victim of a hate crime, and that when any woman is raped, there needs to be this kind of outrage, this outpouring of love and care for the victim. We all need it. And I think the fact that it’s seen as more outrageous when a lesbian gets raped on account of being a lesbian than when any woman regardless of sexual orientation gets raped on account of being a woman is an indication that we as a culture all contribute to the dehumanization of women, and all contribute to the way in which men own and possess women’s bodies.
I understand why the lesbian population rallies in support of one of their own. That makes sense. My heart aches for her, my gut hardens and my stomach churns for her. My jaw clenches, my eyes well up. I tremble in disbelief, I am dazed. I want to find her, hug her, cry with her. I want to bring her back a piece of her soul, because I remember how long it took for me to get mine back. I want to hold hands with all other lesbians in solidarity and join together to figure out how to combat this violence.
But I also want this to be a reason to join hands with other women, with all women, and with men, in outrage, sorrow, and disbelief over rape of this woman and all women, and I want to use that solidarity to raise passion and fury, and change the way people think of rape and think of women in this country. Because every time a rape goes unreported because a woman is scared of being blamed, every time a rape is excused because the woman brought it on herself, every time another awful rape is passed over because it’s not newsworthy and it’s just the same old, every time a man gets off with a light sentence because if we took it all seriously our prisons would be home to a third of the men in America, every time any of this happens, we are all stripped a little bit more of our humanity and dignity. Gay and straight alike.
I haven’t posted since the election because I didn’t want to write about anything else before I commented on the election. But I have been having the hardest time processing it and figuring out what I even think about it, let alone being able to write about it coherently.
I took Election Day off from work and did No on 8 campaigning in Contra Costa County, one of the most conservative counties in the Bay Area. It was exhausting work, not in terms of being physically demanding but rather in terms of being emotionally draining. It was hard to put myself out there on the streets with No on 8 signs, seeking signs of approval and support or even just mild interest from passersby. I got called a “nigger-loving cunt-munching faggot whore” by one lovely young man. Cunt-munching? Kinda like it. Not gonna lie.
So I was in Contra Costa by myself most of the day, and then came back to San Francisco to watch the results pour in, also by myself. Lissa was working until 7:30 so I sat at a bar in the Castro and watched Obama win Pennsylvania, then Ohio, then Florida… And then when Lissa got out of work I made my way over to the Westin St. Francis Hotel by Union Square where the No on 8 election party was being hosted in a ballroom. We were just entering the hotel when Obama was announced winner, and cheers erupted all across the square. It was like when the Sox won the World Series in 2004, it was like New Years in 2000, only it was way more intense, way more jubilant, there was this prevailing euphoria. And I was carried along by it, weeping as I watched first McCain’s concession speech, and then Obama’s victory speech. The enormity of what we had just accomplished blew me away, took all my solidity out of me. I was like gel. How do I re-establish my conception of myself in an Obama administration? Under a government that I support? I have come of age in an era of dimwitted politics, an era in which liberalism was squelched by fear-mongering and dishonest pandering to an easily misled middle class. And Obama won! Incredible. And mind-boggling. And bawl-worthy.
But then the ballot counts of Prop 8 started coming in, and the mood quickly sobered. My tears became tears of dejection rather than victory. Lissa and I left the Westin around 1am, ready to collapse in bed. I cried myself to sleep, a complete emotional mishmash, not sure whether I was crying for joy or exhaustion or sadness or anger or confusion. And I woke up feeling nothing, really. After all, Prop 8 hadn’t officially been called.
Then over the course of the day, it was called. Prop 8 passed. And my feelings about this election have been so hard for me to decipher that I haven’t known what to write and how to write it. Then this morning, my mom forwarded me this editorial by Judith Warner in the NYT, and it was in writing back to her that I found my voice. Here’s what I wrote:
Thanks, Mom, for forwarding this. How poignant, and true; it just captures so much what this election has felt like for me. I’ve never really felt homophobia and heterosexism so fully as I did on election night. It was a kick in the gut. And it still brings me to tears every time I read something like this. There was an online editorial written by a black straight man calling on fellow black straight men to be queer allies, which had me bawling. There was the youtube clip of Keith Olbermann’s “Special Comment” on his nightly show (if you haven’t seen it, you MUST watch it) which also had me in tears. And now this too. It’s like now, whenever straight people call it what it is, openly, directly, and passionately, I get all teary. Like “oh my god, there are people who care!” Because on election night, watching all those tears streaming down the faces of Obama supporters on TV in Chicago, and here in San Francisco, I just felt so… left out. Of course I rejoiced in and celebrated his win. But I felt, for the first time really, so invisible. Here the first black president of the US was just elected, a triumph of civil rights, and many of the same people who voted for Obama also voted against gay marriage? What? How is that possible? I just couldn’t feel as happy anymore. And sometimes now when I walk around or go about my day, I wonder, “did that person next to me on the muni vote yes on 8? did that person still proudly wearing his obama button vote yes on 8? did that person who was crying for relief and joy at obama’s victory speech vote yes on 8?” It just has taken so much out of me.
So. Anyway. Thanks for passing this on, we need this kind of thing so much. We NEED straight people, who supposedly have nothing invested in this, to be loudly proclaiming “This is about ALL of us.” And it’s really not just about the specific right to marry–because obviously, that doesn’t really affect me right now and honestly I don’t even know that I think it’s the best fight for the gay rights movement to be fighting–but it’s about truly being pushed to second class citizen status. And even I feel the pangs of that.
I ran into my Ex today. I knew it would happen eventually; we both live in San Francisco, and we’re both gay, so we were bound to cross paths at some point. But I didn’t think it would be on a harmless Sunday afternoon downtown.
The day started off innocuously. Actually, it started off really well. For some reason, I was inspired to go to church. Don’t ask why, I certainly don’t know. I grew up singing in the choir at an Episcopal church in my hometown, a fairly conservative, traditional, docile church. But I’ve never felt particularly religious and so I stopped going to church when I left home. But yesterday, for some reason, I decided that I would go to church today, so I went to Glide Methodist church in the Tenderloin. It’s a social justice church, an anti-oppression church, an all-inclusive, welcoming church. So it advertises itself. And I can’t imagine it being more true. It was just, overwhelming. In a good way. I was so moved to be there and feel like part of this force. Especially with our brilliantly momentous election coming up, everyone there was so rallying around this notion of change, of choosing life. And they kept reiterating, “NO ON 8!” There was so much energy and camaraderie… I think I’ll be going back. I know I’ll be going back.
And then I went to vote. They have early voting here in California and I figured I’d do it now so I don’t run into any crises on Tuesday–since I’ve moved recently, I wasn’t sure they’d gotten my change of registration. Turns out I and half the city had the same idea, so I waited in line for three hours–THREE HOURS–at City Hall to vote. Phew. There were No on 8 people campaigning outside, though, reminding us: “Barack Obama says NO ON 8! Arnold Schwarzenegger says NO ON 8! Diane Feinstein says NO ON 8! My mama says NO ON 8!” Et cetera. Cute. And I VOTED!! I nearly cried as I was checking the box for NO on 8 and for Obama. Today I’ve just been really teary for some reason. Been feeling moved, awed, inspired by humanity. So it felt so heavy and meaningful to cast my vote.
And then I finally left City Hall after three and a half hours and there was my Ex, walking by. I was kind of stunned, and I think she was too; we didn’t really know what to say to each other. It was like this wall was up. We were going in different directions, so after a couple minutes of awkward, stammering “so how are you? Yeah, I’m great, I’m happy, blah blah blah,” we parted ways. “Would you want to hang out sometime? Like go with me to the Academy of Sciences?” I asked. “Yeah, sure, that would be cool,” she said, noncommitally. Sigh. Now I’m feeling drained.
Those lips, I kissed those lips,
I woke up with my arms around that body,
tangled up in those legs.
Those eyes, I soared and floated and sank in their gaze,
I ran my fingers through that hair,
fluttered my eyelashes against those cheeks,
Mesmerized by the fantastic reality of our lives and bodies intertwining.
No longer intertwining, as we stand here.
I see those lips, those eyes, that foreign body;
Tactile memories flood my senses, confuse my composure.
The air is thick with evaporated love, like carbon monoxide
Or laughing gas.
A couple feet away,
I could reach out and brush her cheek,
But my arm can’t interpret such a gesture,
and those few feet are unreachable–
What was once so effortless now so utterly impossible.
Today is National Coming Out Day.
COME OUT COME OUT WHEREVER YOU ARE. (The Wizard of Oz, by the way, was one of my favorite movies as a little girl. I think I was in love with Judy Garland. And is it just me, or are there queer subtexts to it? Anyway.)
In honor of it, I will tell my coming out story. Which is not, just to warn you, terribly exciting. But since it is National Coming Out Day, and since I hope that people all over the US today are talking about being queer and knowing people who are queer and all those sorts of things, I will do the same. And maybe my coming out story, undramatic as it is, will add yet another voice to the mix of those who came out unproblematically, without even really having to, well, come out of anything.
For me, the hardest part was coming to terms with it myself. I was 12 when I had my first sexual dream about a girl, and I put it out of my mind. I was in junior high when I fell in love with the girl I called my best friend, but I never admit it to anyone, even myself, except in the form of excruciating journal entries in which I said such things as “please, God, send me a guy to prove I’m not a lesbian!” and “I think I might be in love with Alyssa, but I think she’s in love with Erin and no one will ever love me.” I was tortured. And the fact that three of my best friends came out to me (not publicly came out) and dated each other convinced me that I wasn’t really gay, I was just gay by association. They were rubbing off on me. So I put it out of my mind.
Until I started dating guys. I didn’t like kissing them, and I didn’t like the sex, and I figured I was doomed to bad sex with guys who cared about me but not enough to give me orgasms. They were good guys, but there was something missing.
Then I went to college–women’s college on the east coast. Why did I go to women’s college? Certainly NOT because I wanted to date women. I almost didn’t go to women’s college because I was afraid I’d never be able to date, I’d never meet guys. But there was something about it that I just fell in love with, when I visited as a prospective student, so off I went. And within two weeks, I was out.
There was no defining moment, at least not that I remember. I was just watching and absorbing everything around me, and it wasn’t making sense anymore, being straight, identifying as straight. It just didn’t work. There was no grand announcement, no “Guess what? I’m GAY!” Because people were still starting to get to know each other, so it could just be something that was part of me right from the outset, when people got to know me.
I didn’t come out to my parents and family until my sophomore year of colleg. And then it was a phone call home that went something like this:
“Hi honey, what’s new?”
“Well I’m dating someone new!”
“Oh really? Who?”
“Her name is Stella.”*
“Mom? You there?”
“Alriiiiiiight. You do know that it’s a hard life for gay people, right? I’m worried about you.”
*Her name wasn’t really Stella.
Et cetera. She went into the whole it’s-hard-to-have-kids thing and the people-will-discriminate-against-you thing. DUH. And the is-this-a-phase thing. And my dad is STILL doing all of that. Sigh. But my brother and sister (both younger) were remarkably unconcerned and my parents try. They do try. My mom will send me newspaper clippings and links about gay and lesbian issues. “Thought this might interest you,” she says. Yes, Mom, because all things Homo interest me. But she’s trying. My dad generally avoids talking about it.
I’m not out to my grandparents. They would have conniptions and would probably disown me. And would probably then die of heart attacks. I have no plans to come out to them ever, unless I’m getting married/civilly united/domestically partnered and they’re still around. They’re 90, though, so I’m not too worried about that. I love them, but they’re ridiculously conservative and it’s not worth it to me to try to change them at this point. Or to make them hate me.
And with other people, like friends or employers or co-workers, I don’t come out. I just let it come up. It’s no big “so, you should know I’m gay” thing, it’s a “so I have a funny story, one time my girlfriend and I were blahblahblahing” etc.
I think coming out is slowly becoming obsolete. I think eventually, queers won’t have to come out any more than straight people come out. We won’t have to brace ourselves. Eventually, I think that will be true. I think more and more, especially in urban areas, this is already the case with young people. Sexuality is becoming more of a non-issue. I have hope for the future in this regard. But for now, coming out is still important, so important, for everyone everywhere, because the more visible we are, the more people will know we’re not going anywhere. We’ll become rooted in the American Consciousness. And the more people who know queers and love queers, the more we’re not going anywhere. You know? So, today, on National Coming Out Day, COME OUT!
I’m working on my roommate. She’s super gay, but has trouble saying it. She has trouble saying “I’m gay.” “I’m a lesbian.” “I’m queer.” I think today she might say it. Because it’s NATIONAL COMING OUT DAY.
Also, in honor of the day ‘n all, consider donating money to Equality for All to defeat Proposition 8 on Election Day. We’ll be so sad, so defeated, if it passes, if California constitutionally bans same-sex marriage. We’re so close. But right now, polls indicate that those who want it passed are leading by 5-7 points. So we need help. Just something to consider.