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Archive for March, 2010

So, these two men both came out as gay recently. I’m very happy for them, since I know that can be a hard thing to do. But there is a certain trend I’ve noticed in the commentary surrounding their announcements, and it’s something I feel merits some discussion.

You’ve noticed it I’m sure. People saying “they weren’t out already?” or “that was obvious”, or “I already knew”, or “I’m not surprised”. Now, as I’m sure will come as no surprise, this trend KIND OF BOTHERS ME (I never blog about things that make me happy. I swear, I am a positive person really!). Let me tell you why.

First thing’s first. I feel like there is a context where lack-of-surprise is TOTALLY AWESOME in response to a coming-out announcement. In fact, I would like to think that in a perfect world it would be the typical response. Because really, someone coming out should be no more astonishing than, say, someone having eyes of a different colour than you thought. At least, in all contexts except some specific ones where a person’s orientation might actually be relevant (like ones where you might wish to make The Sexytimes with the person in question).

However. I do not feel the reason people “are not surprised” is this reason! They are “not surprised” because Martin and Hayes are, you see, flamboyant. Because, you see, Sean Hayes played “Jack” on Will & Grace! And Ricky Martin, he does all that dancing and singing and probably has other reasons people perceive him as flamboyant but I know almost nothing about him so it is hard for me to say!

The point is, neither of them really conform to hegemonic definitions of ‘masculinity’. And because of that, they get called gay. And have been since long before they came out.

It doesn’t work that way. You can’t actually tell if someone is gay by looking at them! You can’t. Okay? The most flamboyant guy in the world could be perfectly het*. Or he could be bi, or asexual, or any number of things. You can’t know. To assume that people who don’t fit into that masculine “norm” are gay is relentlessly heterosexist. It really is. Similarly, assuming people who do fit that norm must be het, and feigning (or genuinely feeling) exaggerated shock and surprise when they do come out? Also not that cool! Don’t pre-judge, people. It’s a bad idea. Relying on stereotypes to make predictions about people is a bad idea.

And the thing is, this particular form of heterosexism? Is something I also see coming from within the queer community. Which is ridiculous! We of all people should be dedicated to dismantling stereotypes, not reinforcing them by making snide comments when ‘effeminate’ men or ‘manly’ woman (and god how I hate those descriptors) come out. We of all people should know that not everyone does fit a stereotype, and the damage that can be caused by assuming people do.

Just…really. When talking about celebrities coming out, it’s cool to be glad for them. It’s cool to not give a shit. It’s cool to make cynical assumptions that it’s to boost their waning popularity (well, not really, because it is in most cases a pretty deeply personal decision. And taking that last route sort of invalidates that aspect of it). But please think twice before reacting in a way that holds up the harmful structures that encourage divisiveness and a “het vs. queer: IRRECONCILABLY DIFFERENT” mentality? Please?

*I don’t really like using “straight”. I feel like it has a lot of connotations I’d rather not tie explicitly to heterosexuality (I mean, my grandmother still uses “he’s really straight” to mean “he’s a stand-up guy**”). So I don’t, personally, though this is a preference thing.

**Also a phrase with troublesome connotations, this time related to ableism.

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Here’s the thing. I don’t talk to my mother. I absolutely can’t afford to. That wasn’t an easy decision to make, and I do and I expect always will love her. But when we are involved in each other’s lives, it is worse for both of us.

However, a lot of people don’t get that. There is a conception, I think, that you have an obligation to your parents–and I mean, I think the train of thought that leads to that point is valid. A lot of parents spend many many years caring for their children and providing for their needs; this is something that can hardly be erased (though it is also worth noting a lot of other people are involved in raising a child; I think it’s important not to forget that).

My mother is my mother. I can’t erase that fact, nor would I want to. But she is also one of, if not the most emotionally manipulative person I have ever met. And the former does not excuse the latter. If anything, it makes it worse, because it gave her considerable power over me. Power which, yes, she misused.

Children have a responsibility to their parents. Yes. I agree with that. But you know what? I think parents also have a responsibility to their children. I don’t think it’s as high a responsibility as some people seem to–I don’t believe that if a mother can’t do EVERY SINGLE THING her children need that it makes her a bad person. I feel that’s an unfairly harsh standard (and one almost never applied to men–funny, that).

But I do believe parents have a responsibility to not actively harm their kids. Particularly not repeatedly and with intent. My mom put us through the mill for years, even after we had stopped living with her. She freely admitted to an assessor (brought in during the custody dispute, when we were living with my father) that she has knowingly used guilt as a weapon. And that? Is really inexcusable.

So, I don’t see my mom any more. And I regret it sometimes. Pretty much whenever I think about it, frankly.

But what I am regretting is not my decision. I think it was one of the most important decisions I have ever made, both in terms of my own and her wellbeing.

What I regret is that it got to the point where that decision was necessary.

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[Note: I originally posted this on Here Be Dragons, but I like it and am currently stuck for something new to write. So you’re getting a crosspost! Woo!]

So, of late I have been embroiled in writing a paper. Or in trying to write a paper. It’s not at all the same thing. I’ve known my topic for months. I’ve known the specific points I want to make for weeks. I’ve had an outline for structure for quite some time as well. The paper is due tonight. Up until this morning, I’d written one page. Of ten.

Yeah. Executive functionality, not my friend. I’m terrible at getting things done. But that’s not what I want to highlight here. What I want to talk about is people’s reaction to my complaining about not getting my paper done (because of course I complain! I’m an undergrad!). People say things like “Oh, I hate doing the work too”. Or “I’m such a bad procrastinator!”. Or “Yeah, I know. Figuring out how you want to phrase things is tough”. Or “There’s something intimidating about a blank page”.

No. No, no, and no. That is not it. I like writing! (I blog, don’t I?). I’m good at phrasing things. Blank pages do not terrifically overwhelm me!

I want to write this paper. But every time I get close, I skid away. I’ll open up my word document and then spend half an hour on Twitter. Or aimlessly clicking to blogs that aren’t updating that day. Or doing any number of pointless, uninteresting tasks that, frankly? I don’t enjoy all that much. It’s diversionary activity. And I’m not quite sure why I do it, other than one simple truth:

My brain doesn’t really work like everyone else’s. So when you say you “know exactly what [I’m] going through”? You don’t, really. You know the same result – a paper not getting written. But you don’t really seem to explain the process that gets me to that point in my brain. It’s frankly kind of agonizing–I want to write that paper pretty badly! You don’t get it.

So, really, stop telling me you do please? It’s kind of irritating.

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First thing’s first. In order to understand the impetus for my writing this post, you need to read this one here, on meloukhia’s tumblog wandering stars. Apart from being an excellent post everyone should read regardless, it is the post that started me thinking just now.

So, online bullying. Particularly, online bullying in social justice communities. meloukhia has this to say about it:

[Bullying in social justice communities] is something which is never named. Never addressed. It is allowed to continue and we are all complicit in it. We all tolerate it when we turn our backs and say nothing. When we say “well, maybe this person has a point…” When we see it and we will not articulate it, say it, “this is bullying,” we are a part of it.

And ou** is right. I have, frankly, absolutely nothing to add to that. mel’s post is right-on. What I want to talk about here is (as always on this blog), me.

Because, while I don’t think I’ve been an online bully, I am almost positive I have been complicit in it. I have stood by while someone was being abused by someone calling themselves progressive. Probably I have done so even more often than I’ve realized–I feel confident in saying that, much to my chagrin, I’ve probably missed instances of bullying happening in communities I’m part of.

But what I really want to talk about are the instances I don’t miss, the times when, even as I remove myself from a conversation, I’m aware that that’s what I’m doing. The times when I fail to speak up because of fear, or because I feel like I’m not well-enough-informed, or any number of other reasons.

That’s not a good excuse*. When I’m silent in the face of bullying, I am condoning that bullying implicitly. There is a quote somewhere–I don’t remember the exact text, so I am going to paraphrase. What it says is that in conflicts with a power imbalance, refusing to take a side is in itself taking a side. It’s siding with the oppressor, the person with greater power. When I fail to speak up against bullying I see, this is what I am doing. I am enabling that bullying to continue, and enabling the culture that allows other instances of bullying to happen.

Like so many of my posts, I don’t have an easy way to end this. This is not a conclusion to a conversation–it is just the start of one we have so far failed to have, a conversation we need to have. And haven’t been having so far. I thank mel so much for starting it and for making me, personally, face the uncomfortable fact that I have–however unintentionally–been complicit in this, which is inexcusable*. I will give ou the last words, because ou is far more eloquent than I am:

We must be able to identify bullying when we see it, and to call it out. Because this cannot be a productive community, a healthy community, when people are too terrified to speak.

——
*When I say something “isn’t an excuse”, or something is “inexcusable”, please note that I am referring to my own situation. I recognize everyone’s circumstances are different; I recognize things that don’t constitute valid reasons to not do something for me may well be totally reasonable for others. Not everything, of course. But I’m not about to dictate what is an is not an acceptable reason for not participating in a conversation to other people.

**”Ou” is meloukhia’s preferred pronoun. Please see this post on ou’s primary website for the explanation why; it’s not my place to provide one.

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Now, I have had problems with my school newspaper’s content in the past–a lot of the time it is, well, not good. Normally I just fume about things that appear in there to myself, and/or to people who also go to my school, because outside of that who cares, really?

However, in this week’s issue there was a letter to the editor (and yes, I know the newspaper is not itself responsible for that content) that was so deeply, hilariously bad I felt the need to go over it in detail. It literally made me laugh. I’m not lying. under the cut, the text, interspersed with my commentary. Warning: heavy snark.

(more…)

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This past week, (on thursday and friday), my school’s library put on an interesting event. The idea behind it was really neat, actually–people who belonged to a variety of marginalized populations volunteered to make themselves available to answer questions people might have. It’s a cool way of educating folks, and since it’s all volunteer, you don’t run into that horrible thing where privileged people are like “I DEMAND YOU TEACH ME, SINCE I CAN’T TEACH MYSELF”.

But the way it was concepted, and the language they used to advertise it, were…problematic. Extremely so, I thought.

Let me introduce you to The Human Library.

The main page doesn’t get too much into weirdness. It speaks of “people meet[ing] face to face to engage in open conversation about these challenges [ie, discrimination]”. That’s really fantastic! But then you look down a bit and see this:

“Check out the catalogue and come by the Human Library reserve desk in the Williams Coffee area of the McLaughlin Library to reserve a spot with one of our ‘books’!”

And, bam. You aren’t talking about people speaking as equals any more. You are demoting the marginalized people, the educators in this situation, to the status of ‘books’. It gets worse when you actually click through to the ‘catalogue’ page. Because all of a sudden, the dehumanization becomes even more pronounced.

Pre-reservation of the books in the Human Library is now closed. Many of the books still have available timeslots. To check availability of the books and to make a reservation[…]

I’m sorry, what? What happened to ‘people’? What happened to ‘open conversation’? You know what you do with books? You read them. They are a thing which you have total control over. This is something that is–or should be–strikingly different from the way you interact with people, actually!

Like…reducing the people who have come in, who have volunteered their time to educate others and challenge misconceptions, to “books” to be “reserved”, that’s…not quite on. It’s demeaning, dehumanizing, and especially worrisome due to being within a context that is supposed to be about building understanding of marginalized people as human.

The event, as far as I can tell, is supposed to lead to greater empathy for marginalized folk. It’s a worthy goal, and I think the way they’re doing it–face-to-face conversation–is a good one. Too bad it’s totally undermined by the language they are using to talk about the project.

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Respect

This post is a rant, with few or no broader social-justice implications. Just so we’re clear on that. I’m kind of pissed off, and I wanted to talk about that, and if I can’t do so on my own blog, then where can I?

So, for those who don’t know, I was until recently talking to a–I thought–rather charming young man from NY state, A. He and I got along extremely well, though were unable to talk that much due to both of us being busy, him getting bronchitis last month, &c, &c.

Anyway. The last time I heard from him was the 10th. I messaged him a couple of times after that, about two weeks apart, just saying, y’know, “I haven’t spoken with you in a while. What’s up?”

I was a little concerned! He had not indicated a lack of interest in any way (in fact had said some time previously that if he ever weren’t interested, he at least respected me enough to say so). So I held on to my assumption that he was just busy.

Until sometime last night, when he dropped me from his Facebook friends. So I guess there wasn’t anything wrong with him, he was just being a shitty person.

It’s like…I don’t care that he apparently changed his mind about being interested in me. That’s cool! Totally understandable! I also don’t–really–care that he apparently felt it’d be better to cut off contact altogether than to have a go at being friends–it’s likely not what I would’ve done, but then, he’s not me. And it’s a valid choice.

What pisses me off is that he apparently couldn’t take five minutes to write a message telling me that that’s what he was going to do. Telling me “look, you seem cool [or even “look, I’ve stopped thinking you’re cool”], but I’m not interested”. That’s all it would have taken.

And then I wouldn’t have spent three fucking weeks wondering “is he alright? Is he just busy? Or is he just shunning me?”

Funny story: I spent a lot of time trying to convince myself I was being paranoid with option 3–I have a tendency to jump to that kind of worst-case scenario even when it’s not warranted. But in this case, I guess I was right on.

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