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.
I hardly even know where to begin. It’s easy enough to talk about the “stuff” going on in my life — getting our kitten next week (reader poll: Should We Name Our Cat?: a) Gilda b) Greta c) Simone), moving to Oakland at the end of July, starting my summer practicum in a few weeks, seriously considering staying for a PhD but also looking seriously at other PhD programs elsewhere, my part-time library job, which I actually love, family goings-on, the stuff I’ve been reading and obsessing about… and I’m sure I’ll write about more of that stuff here in the coming weeks. It’s summer, after all, and I’m not in class. I’m not intending to let this place die.
But today I want to write, again, about my hair. I wrote about it here already, last fall, when I was starting the project of growing it out. Now it’s nine months later and I’ve got a just-below-chin-length bob and just-above-brow-level bangs. I get my hair colored, too; it’s a sort of auburn with golden streaks right now. It’s funny, when I had quite short hair I never felt unfeminine and as I started identifying more as femme in the past four years or so I always was adamant that I wasn’t femme despite the short hair but rather that the hair was an integral part of my femininity. And certainly this in no way reflects on short-haired femmes in general, but for me — wow, I had no idea how much having longer hair would affect my sense of myself.
I feel so much stronger, so much fiercer, so much more solid in my body. I feel so much more myself, sexier, more flippant. It’s hard to know, actually, how much of that is related to just the hair and how much is related to other things (like this education, my graduate program, which is hardening me and breaking me all at once), but I have felt it as being integrally related to my hair. I don’t feel more feminine, per se, but I feel do feel more femme — like the way I want femme to feel for me. This sounds funny, but I feel more visible — not more visibly queer (in fact I think it’s the opposite), but more apparent to the world. And that doesn’t mean that I’m more apparent to other people but that I’m more apparent to myself. I’m showing up differently, somehow.
Though there is the thing about being more apparent to other people and that’s what I really wanted to write about. The longer my hair has gotten the more I’ve been a target of street harassment. Again, this is not a generalization of women-with-long-hair-get-more-street-harassment, not at all, but that has been my experience, and as I’ve felt more powerful in how I show up and walk around in my body, as I have felt sexier, I have also been getting a lot more desperately unwanted attention. And I don’t know what to do about this because I hate it, that isn’t strong enough, I don’t just hate it I loathe it, it makes me shake with rage.
I don’t quite know how to manage it. When ML and I were talking about moving to Oakland, one of the things she brought up was safety — is that neighborhood safer than, equivalent to, or not as safe as the Mission? And to be honest I can’t take those questions seriously because I never feel safe, ever. Ever. I’m always on my guard, no matter where I am, no matter who’s around. I’ve learned first hand, multiple times, that safety, for women, is an illusion and I feel like debating the nature of the safety of neighborhoods is the privilege of people who do feel safe in places. That probably sounds crass, and intellectually I know it probably is, but what I’m not saying is that we should throw ourselves in the path of danger or, through ignorance, subject ourselves to more of it. (Though even that sentence is victim-blaming, do you see it?) So I try to engage those issues seriously and with care but I end up generally getting really impatient and feeling like it’s all a farse, because honestly whether one neighborhood “seems” safer than another feels so arbitrary and so fictive. Also, racist. But at the same time, I don’t want to be flippant.
And still every week I get yelled at, whistled at, followed, groped, cat-called, in every neighborhood and no matter where I am. I feel less safe with the longer hair, feel somehow more vulnerable as I also feel stronger. Perhaps it’s that as I’ve felt more like me, I’ve felt less like I’m hiding — in short hair and in my body in general — and as I’m hiding less I feel more vulnerable. I don’t know, maybe that’s not it, maybe I’m entirely off base. But I need to figure out a way to respond, for my own sanity… And my hair grows longer.
I also just have to say that there is an adorable, tiny kitten playing on my lap trying to get my attention right now. So I’m going to go dote on her :)
I can’t believe I didn’t post at all in April – at all! I thought I was on such a roll at the end of March; then, classes resumed after spring break, and here I am now – it’s the last week of class, I’m sick in bed for the third time this semester, and I am utterly overwhelmed. But also okay. I’m okay.
J, C, ML and I have all hooked up a bunch more times since the initial time back in February (that post is password-protected; just email me for the password!). It’s been awesome and lovely. We’re cooling it for a bit now; largely because J and C are going to be in New York all summer but also because we all want to focus a bit on our primary relationships. Also, another classmate of mine, K, is someone that ML and I are both excited about and for different reasons than J and C. I’ll write more about her in the future, I’m sure, because I hope something will come of it. She’s smart and open and sexy and curious and really mindful. She lives way outside the city now, but is probably moving into SF this summer so hopefully there will be more time to spend with her.
Speaking of moving, ML and I may be moving into Oakland this summer. We wouldn’t have come up with that on our own; the short version of the story is that a friend of ours lives in a 3-bedroom house in Temescal and his two roommates are moving out at the end of July. It would be $1000 for both me and ML for the two bedrooms. I.e., $500 each. For a house, with a yard, and two bedrooms, and a living room/dining room/kitchen, our own bathroom… two blocks from BART… And did I mention $500 each? That is an absurdly good deal. So we’re seriously considering it. It would mean living with a roommate, which would be different for us and I’m not sure I’m that excited about that. So we need to have conversations with him to see what his living habits are, etc. I do know that he spends about half his time at his boyfriend’s place anyway, so there’s that.
Another reason why this would be a prudent move is that we are getting a kitten!!! Our current place is tiny and has no easy access to safe outdoors for a cat. A house with a yard would be a much better situation. The kitten we’ll be getting is one of a litter of 4 that our friend’s cat gave birth to on April 15th. We’ll get to take it home with us in mid-June. We haven’t actually identified yet which one we’ll take home with us; we figure we should get to know all of them a bit better through frequent visits and sooner or later we’ll figure out which one we have the best relationship with (or which one seems the best behaved!). This semester has been rough for me in many ways and one night, when I couldn’t stop crying, angry about the world because of street harassment (which will be another post…), ML said, “I know what you need… kitten videos!” and for half an hour we watched kitten videos on youtube and it really did make me feel so much better. I’m looking forward to having something to love like that, something so removed from the hard stuff in the world, something to care for uncomplexly.
I’ve been sitting here for a bit trying to figure out how to write about the things that are on my mind: my summer practicum, drama in my grad school program that I’ve somehow been swept into, gender identity and street harassment, showing up. Showing up especially. This semester has brought up a lot for me and sometimes showing up is all I can manage and sometimes I can’t even manage that, such as the several times I’ve gotten sick. It’s like years worth of pent-up rage and sadness and internalized sexism are oozing out of me out of my control, infecting me with their toxicity. Right now I’m tired, too tired to write about this in depth. But perhaps classes ending will be a chance for me to catch my breath; maybe seeing the kittens again this week will boost me up.
In the meantime, I need to go make myself cayenne and garlic soup to try to kick what seems like a nasty sinus infection. Any other non-medical sinus cleansing tips…?
I’m trying to grow out my hair. The reason I bring this up is because I got an email last week asking me if I had thoughts about femmes and hair, and I responded that “DO I EVER.” Well, that’s not exactly what I said, but something to that effect. I have thoughts about femmes and hair especially now because I’m in the middle of trying to grow mine out. I say “trying” because I am at the point right now where I’m on the verge of tearing it all out because it’s pissing me off so much. (Awkward in-between stage much?)
So, femmes and hair. The best angle I can really appropriately come at this from is that of my own experience and relationship to my hair, obviously, so I’ll start there. I used to have long hair. And now my hair is short. I had straight, long, light brown hair that went halfway down my back. Someone told me once that he didn’t think he’d ever seen me wear my hair the same way twice, and though that is definitely NOT true, I was able to do a lot of different things with it. I wore ponytails, obviously, when I was feeling particularly casual. “Princess ponytails” (as my mother dubbed “half ponytails”) were for when I was feeling particularly feminine or girlish. I would also wear braids, or half-ponytail braids, or pigtail braids, or French braids, or messy buns, or what’s that thing called where you turn your ponytail inside out? Yeah, that. Often I would just wear my hair completely down, blow-dry it… I had a habit of twirling a strand of hair around my finger when I was bored.
When I was 20, I cut my hair short. Pixie short. Largely, this was part of my coming-out process. It was a signal that I wanted to be taken seriously by the queer community at my women’s college, that I wasn’t a LUG. (That is a whole sociological can of worms right there.) As I’ve written before, I understood that being taken seriously as gay necessitated toning down femininity and taking on androgyny or masculinity. (What I didn’t understand was that having a pixie haircut did NOT automatically make me androgynous or masculine!) It turned out that I *loved* the short hair. It framed my face better, made my eyes more prominent (I already have pretty prominent eyes as it is), was super easy to take care of, and looked flirty and fun. Once I passed safely to the other side of my masculandrogynous stage, I totally embraced my pixie hair as femme. Not in an “I’m femme… but I have short hair” way, but in a “hell YEAH I’m femme and I have short hair!” way. No “buts.”
And, yeah, I definitely think that’s put more of a burden of proof on me, in a way. In a community that has so much protection around labels (another whole sociological can of worms that I’m not going to open right now), there have been plenty of occasions I’ve felt weird about my short hair, have felt that I can’t actually be femme with short hair, and that I’m co-opting someone else’s identity by claiming I’m a femme with short hair. (White) femininity and long hair are closely linked in a biconditional relationship in our culture — if you’re a white woman with long hair, you’re perceived to be feminine, and if you’re going to be perceived as feminine, you need to have long hair. It’s a closed loop. But of course, there are so many exceptions to this. Winona Ryder, Natalie Portman, Keira Knightley, and now Emma Watson are all white female celebrities who totally pull off the short hair but still feminine thing.
And yet. Female celebrities cutting off their hair is generally perceived by society-at-large (and forgive the sweeping generalizations) as a bold step away from docile girlishness and toward the re-defining of the self as a “strong woman.” When I Googled “emma watson cuts her hair,” the underlying themes in news articles and blog posts linked in the search results seemed to me to be shock and trepidation: words like edgy, boyish (though I think she looks *far* from boyish), and drastic, and questions posed to the audience like “what do YOU think about Emma’s new look?” underline the notion that white women cutting their hair short is “making a statement” that people can agree or disagree with. Comments to those blog posts and news articles tend to go in one of two directions: either people support the “bold move” and take a “rock on, girl” pro-girl-power stance, OR they think it looks horrible and wax nostalgic about her long hair, regretting the move away from traditional femininity. Long hair, then, can be read as a symbol of traditional white , while short hair is a symbolic move towards liberation. (Emma even calls it “liberating” and “incredible” herself.)
Obviously, Emma is straight (or at least, she has a boyfriend and has never made any statements to the contrary), as are the other celebrities I mentioned. So how do femmes fit into this? I think white femmes who typically pass as straight (which is probably most of us) probably are perceived similarly to straight white women in terms of our hair: long hair is more traditionally feminine, while short hair is a distancing from traditional femininity. Since gayness is also a distancing from traditional femininity, at least in terms of dominant definitions of femininity (which define it in oppositional and exclusive relation to man/masculinity), it makes sense that cutting one’s hair short is a move many women make when trying to find a place in the queer realm. On the other hand, many femmes participate in actively re-defining femininity as un-relative to men and masculinity, partly just by virtue of not being sexual partners of men, and partly by their intentionality in regards to their gender presentation. In that sense, a white femme having long hair, I think, uses a traditional marker of white femininity in a non-traditional way, thus also “queering” the discourse around traditional white femininity. (I think I’m talking in circles now.) A white femme having short hair is still probably read most often as being non-traditionally feminine (if read as feminine at all by hetero-dominance — I think there are many folks in my life, for example, who take ONLY my hair as being signifying of my gender presentation, and assume that just by virtue of having short hair I *can’t* be feminine) and, because even queers are typically socialized by hetero-dominance until a certain point in their young/adult lives, white femmes with short hair might not be taken seriously as feminine by fellow queers, either.
All of this a round-about way of saying: I have short hair. I’m femme. Even if you don’t perceive me as femme (especially when I’m wearing jeans and chucks and no make-up), I’m still femme. Short-haired femmes and long-haired femmes alike are re-defining femininity in our own images, distancing ourselves from a male-defined and male-owned femininity. [Aside: this isn't to say straight women can't participate or aren't participating in re-defining femininity in their own image too. Of course they can and are. I do think, though, that it's probably gotta be a more intentional thing for straight women.] AND, my growing out my hair right now has nothing to do with changing my orientation towards or relationship with my femme-ininity. The reason that I am growing out my hair is that I no longer have an income, and so I can’t afford haircuts. That’s it. The end! Though I think it will be very interesting to see how my understanding of my queer identity and my position in queerness and in community changes, both internally and in terms of external perceptions, as a result of growing longer hair.
In other news, our date on Sunday evening was perfect. We went for a walk up to Corona Heights, got winded, sat on a bench overlooking the entire east side of the city and felt appropriately invigorated. We ended up deciding to eat out (graduate student budget notwithstanding) and that was an excellent decision because it was so nice not to have to wash up dishes and whatnot. Plus, we got cocktails and fondue — you can’t argue with that! And then, just as planned, we camped out on the living room floor with our featherbed and lots of pillows and blankets and watched old movies on our projector. And then we fucked. It was awesome. It also really subdued my rising anxiety about not having time for and with each other. I feel a whole lot better. This week has been very busy, too, and not without its moments of frustration and anxiety and stress between us, but my anxiety is no longer consuming me in quite the same way it was before.
[9/20/10 Edit: I was thinking some more about this this weekend and realized that I needed to clarify that I'm talking about white femininity and its queering so I went back through and added "white" where necessary. As a white woman, that's the world I have the most thorough understanding of, and I don't feel comfortable making sweeping statements about discourses around femininity in WOC and POC communities. That's actually a topic I'm interested in delving into in graduate school -- but that's another post...]
To the blond guy at 5th & Harrison, 8:40pm, today
Thank you. Thank you for having my back, even though you probably felt a bit awkward about it. Maybe you felt like you should’ve said something, come to my defense, but honestly? Just the fact that you were there, watching, alert, making yourself visible to the douchebag who was all “what, can’t I look at your legs?” and when I said “uh, no” was all “oh I see how it is, you’d rather have a LADY look at your legs, right? Amiright? fucking San Francisco” and kept harassing me, so that he’d know that if he tried anything with me, you would do something about it. I don’t know, I think you did exactly the right thing. If you’d said anything, if you’d stepped in to defend me verbally, I mean that would’ve been fine but honestly I was glad to use my own voice to defend myself, to tell the guy to fuck off. You let me stick up for myself, but also subtly let me know that I wasn’t alone. And then you got on the 47, and a few minutes later I got on the 12, and that was that.
So, thank you. In this city, you’d be surprised how often people just look the other way when that shit happens, and you’d probably be even more surprised to know that even a small gesture from a stranger makes a world of difference.
The other night, I attended a volunteer orientation for the Frameline queer film festival. (You get a voucher to see a film for every volunteer shift you take.) There were probably a hundred fellow volunteers, and most of them were men. But when the volunteer coordinator stepped up to address us, I was surprised – because the volunteer coordinator was a woman. A queer woman. As in, asymmetrical haircut, half a shaved head, totally tatted, hip young San Francisco queer woman. And after a few moments of being surprised, I became perplexed, because after all, it is a queer film festival. So why the surprise at the volunteer coordinator being a queer dyke?
It reminded me of the feeling I got when I first visited my women’s college campus as a junior in high school. Until I visited, I had been pretty vehemently opposed to attending a women’s college. I had thought it would lack diversity (which in retrospect seems laughable). But when I visited, I was suddenly struck – wow, this all exists for the education of women. The male professors and campus police and facilities staff etc., despite being men, were working at an institution that educated women. Women matter! Holy shit! And it dawned on me that it had been so internalized in me that women don’t matter that I was actually surprised and delighted to be confronted with evidence to the contrary.
And I got the same feeling at the very first Dyke March I ever attended in San Francisco, in 2006. I was with my ex-girlfriend at the time, and I remember holding her hand, processing down Valencia, feeling giddy from all the solidarity and empowerment I felt, due in no small part to the fact that there were gay men hanging out of windows, waving rainbow flags and hoisting banners that read “FAGS <3 DYKES” and the like. And I was all, “omg! Gay men love us! They care! Whoaaaaa!”
And somehow I got the same feeling while at this orientation – because here was a group consisting largely of middle-aged-ish white gay men and they were all paying attention to this queer-as-fuck dyke, who, by the way, was absolutely hilarious and cute and rocked her job. I felt somehow vicariously visible. And it struck me again, as it did at my first Dyke March and when I first visited my women’s college, that I’m so accustomed to women being invisible to men in any way that’s not sexual. And it’s so consistently ingrained in women that we’re only useful to men as sexual objects that it surprises me every time I find myself in a situation in which I’m being genuinely appreciated, as a woman (or in which women in general are being genuinely appreciated), by a man for a non-sexual reason. And it makes me wish that it would happen more often. Not just to me, on an individual level, but publicly, and in media, and in culture-at-large.
You see, gay men and gay women are natural “bedmates” (har har).* We are among the few combinations of adult human beings that (in general) have a non-romantic/non-sexual connection. And there’s something really special about this bond, I think, that goes largely ignored. And it’s different from the relationship between gay men and straight women, which, if judging by the connotation lent by the term “fag hag” alone, is largely a mutually objectifying relationship (and, yes, that’s a gross oversimplification, but fag hags are not the topic of this post, and the relationship between gay men/straight women has been addressed again and again elsewhere). Maybe I’ll write about my thoughts on that some other time.
No, the point is, I wish the common bond between gay men and gay women were more acknowledged and respected. When I went to Berlin’s pride celebration in 2007, I was struck by how different it felt from San Francisco’s pride. In San Francisco, there’s Dyke March of course, and then Dykes on Bikes lead the main parade the following day. In Berlin, there’s neither – and without the women-centric portions of the celebration, I realized how gay-male-centric the whole celebration felt and was. Specifically, how middle-to-upper-middle-class-white-gay-male-centric. At the time, I remember having conversations with the folks I went with (a mix of genders and sexual orientations) about how these men were taking up all the “space,” probably without even realizing it. Gay pride parade means gay (male) parade. Gay bar means gay (male) bar. Gay issues are gay (male) issues. Gay white men are the default Gay, just like straight white men are the default Human in our society. And obviously, yes, gay men’s issues are super important. Of course they are. It’s just a matter of gay women’s issues also being important. And being similar, yes, but also largely different. The problem is, though, that there have been so few studies on lesbian/queer women’s issues specifically that we don’t even know what our issues are and what distinguishes them from gay men’s issues. And this, of course, isn’t the fault of gay men individually or even as an entity. It’s the fault of a society that naturalizes maleness as the default human, and that renders women a sub-category of human. (Same goes for queer people of color – their issues are woefully under-studied too, and POC are always just sub-categories of a humanity in which White is default and “normal.”)
So, right, individual gay men are busy taking up their own issues and fighting their own battles and taking care of their own survival, which completely totally makes sense. And yet I think it’s really sad that the bond between gay men and gay women is so often overlooked, or dismissed, or undervalued. I think it has tremendous value, as we are perhaps each other’s best natural allies. Sex and romance doesn’t get in between us, not personally and not in terms of prescribed roles. When I see a gay man, I see someone who both understands what it feels like to be queer in this straight world, and who will relate to me inherently free of any sort of sexual tension or sexual judgment. We understand what it feels like to be otherized. The homophobia we each experience often looks and feels different, sure, but when all is said and done, it’s the same animal. We can learn a lot from each other. I have learned a lot from my gay guy friends, and I count one of them as among the best friendships I have. I hate this phrase, but it just is what it is. There’s nothing underneath, no undercurrents, no invisible social glue that’s trying to glue us together in awkward ways. We just get each other. And I wish this were more typical, not just on an individual level but on a socially recognized level. Because then, maybe I wouldn’t be so surprised by gay men holding “fags <3 dykes” signs, or laughing at a queer gal’s jokes.
Has anyone else felt this way? Or is this peculiar to me? Maybe in other communities, gay guy/gal crossover is much more common. But even if that’s the case, where are our friendships ever portrayed in the media (TV, books, news outlets…)? Right, exactly. Never. And why do I not know a single gay male blogger? Where are they all? I just want to be friends, guys!
What’s your experience?
*In this post, I’m addressing specifically gay cismen and gay ciswomen — and yeah, I know that leaves out a lot of people, including queer but not-gay-identified folks, as well as genderqueer and trans people… Sorry about that, this is just what’s most familiar to me.
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.