Category Archives: Politics

Access Vs. Equality

When I was first trying to figure out my way as a young queer, I didn’t really have any role models. I knew that some of the adults around me were gay, but our community was not welcoming and adults who worked with kids also worked hard to stay in the closet. My parents had befriended a gay male couple who gave me a book of Oscar Wilde stories for my 10th birthday (who says we don’t recognize our own?) but we never explicitly talked about sex or sexuality. I did find their collection of Drummer back issues to be both formative and informative, though. I spent my time with a variety of other misfits and broken toys, finding my way through the world of Riot Grrrl and AIDS activism, both shaping my dystopic view of a world that needs some changing, and my sense of self-efficacy to make the change. Though I was never really a Lesbian Avenger or a member of ACT-UP, those organizations and their direct action approaches – unapologetically demanding visibility and recognition – were instrumental in helping me shape my personal aesthetic and activism. I got involved with a variety of issues – women’s health, trans inclusion, antiwar and nonviolence activism, economic justice, corporate responsibility – always being visible as a queer person in the ranks. Why? Because I believed it was important to represent myself while working for justice and equality for all.

When I was in college, someone gave me a copy of Urvashi Vaid’s Virtual Equality: the mainstreaming of gay and lesbian liberation. YES, I thought. I didn’t want to be mainstreamed, to sell a “we’re just like you” message, to walk away from the progressive social justice basis of my activism in service of getting a crummy package of rights in an otherwise unjust system. While I struggled to maintain my voice in an increasingly corporate activism world, I always tried to keep our community diversity in the forefront, and strove confront, rather than avoid, homo- and trans-phobia. Ultimately I couldn’t continue to promote the beautiful diversity of my acronymic experience, and walked away from full-time activism. I couldn’t stomach making my living off a movement that didn’t check its own privilege or work on its own biases; that no longer stood up for reproductive justice and economic access, and failed to speak truth to power. I used to joke that there was no gay sex in the gay rights movement, a bitter observation of our movement’s shift from gay liberation to gay assimilation.

Last week we marked 25 years of ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. Yesterday was May Day, or International Workers Day. There was a time when leading queer activists would have been all over those celebrations. But the mainstream national gay agenda (and let’s be clear, this is not an inclusive agenda) continues to be one of access to the existing power structure – repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act; and inclusion of sexual orientation in laws that prevent employment discrimination and allow hate crime prosecution. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think anyone should be kept from joining the military, recognizing their relationship, or getting a job because of their sexual orientation. But that agenda is a very narrow view of the things that impact our broad and diverse community. It doesn’t address the underlying economic justice issues that lead many young folks to join the military, or the war on women, or the power structure that benefits from racism, misogyny, classism and homophobia. And then yesterday, I found this article by Vaid, who continues to push the envelope on what the queer agenda is and should be. She doesn’t minimize the incredible success that some of these legislative and policy changes represent, and the progress they signify toward inclusion. But, she cautions, “winning these battles for equal rights is not the same as winning a new world, which once was, and should again be, the LGBT movement’s objective.”

I am deeply saddened that I feel that my own life – poly, leather, queer and gender subversive – is a detriment to the current iteration of the LGBT movement. I have taken a step back from LGBT activism because it doesn’t currently represent me. But I hope to find a way to push for an LGBT movement that is a part of a larger justice movement, one which celebrates diversity, fights for substantive equality, and confronts its interal privilege and prejudice. Until then, I will continue to be a visible queer working for movements that embrace and encompass my values.

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Consent, Violence, and Popular Media

I finally made it to see “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” over the weekend. I’d read the book, so I knew there would be violent nonconsensual sexual content, and was concerned to see whether or not this violence was glorified. I’m always uncomfortable being stuck in a movie theater full of people cheering on a rape scene, so going to the movie during the bargain matinée several weeks after the film first opened was a good idea – the Methuselah sitting next to me snored his way through the whole three-hour run time.

I wouldn’t say that the sexual violence was glorified by the film; if anything the point of view of the film is clinical and nonjudgmental, allowing the viewer to draw their own conclusion. But this is a film (and novel) about multiple men who take advantage of, rape, and assault multiple women, and the promo materials gloss over this theme. Ms. Magazine wrote about this in advance of the US release of the Swedish film, under the provocative title “The Rape of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'”. I was pleased that there was no effort to gussy up central character Lisbeth Salander, who has crafted an all-too-familar exterior designed to repel and repulse the male gaze. She is gritty, dark, intentionally unattractive, and though she is victimized, she retains inner strength and autonomy and doesn’t become a “victim”.

I am always a little concerned about glorification of violence, especially that which takes advantage of those already disadvantaged by society, in mainstream media. Even when intended as social commentary, images of violence are often decontextualized and celebrated by viewing audiences. I recall a personal experience of watching “Natural Born Killers”, a film designed to highlight and skewer the media’s glorification of violence and violent offenders. However, this commentary was lost on the largely young, largely male audience, who merely wanted to watch the main characters beat the crap out of everyone. Even with a montage of actual news footage at the beginning, a grotesque sit-com rendering of Mallory’s brutal home life, and disjointed postmodern film techniques, all intended to bring the audience’s attention to the twisted nature of our own society, it was possible to view the film as a violent narrative rather than commentary.

I don’t think that the spare, cold eye of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” allows itself to be similarly read as a glorification of violence. The disaffected gaze of the camera and the detachment with which it portrays its various subjects does not permit celebration; the film is subdued and muted even as it deals with extremes of human nature. Yes, viewing violence may inure us to viewing more violence, but in comparison to, say, “Captain America”, the violence is much more realistic and therefore unsettling. The brutality with which certain characters deal with others is shown under stark lighting as a serious flaw in their being. And the nonconsensual nature of sexual violence is clear; there is also some beautifully depicted consensual sexual activity, and the lines between them are not in the least blurred. Mainstream media contributes so much to a rape culture, where sexual violence and aggression of men toward women is celebrated; it is good to see a mainstream film depict rape not as a natural outgrowth of female sexuality but as a violent, violating act.

I exist often in a world where there is a little more gray area around consent and nonconsent, and where “consensual nonconsent” (CNC) is a core concept. I’ve had people ask me how I can be ok with that, both as a person who believes in ahimsa and as someone with a history of sexual assault. In many ways, a world in which consensual nonconsent can exist is the antithesis of a world celebrating rape culture. I’m comfortable with the gray only when everyone understands the black and white. It’s like teaching things to toddlers – they have to understand the rules before you can start making exceptions, because if they don’t understand the rule, they can’t understand the concept of waiving it.

Feeling Justified

Hacked Version of Komen Banner

I’ve never been one to buy all the pink breast cancer awareness stuff – you know, the ubiquitous pink beribboned housewares that ostensibly funded breast cancer research. It always seemed silly to pay an extra $10 when only $.50 was actually going to the specified charities. And in wake of the large, public kerfluffle over the Komen Foundation cutting off Planned Parenthood’s funding, I’m feeling somewhat more self-satisfied than I like to admit in mixed company. (And I’ve also made a small but unrestricted donation to my local Planned Parenthood chapter, and signed up as a potential cancer research subject, because I felt like I should be doing something.) I’m appalled at the ways that political opposition to organizations providing certain legal, constitutionally protected, but controversial medical services (abortion and contraception) to women who are SEEKING THEM OUT, are used to justify pulling funding that will preclude other women from accessing other health services. Shame on Komen.

100 Queer Guys

A while back a friend posted a request for photos for a series he’s doing called “Men Like That: 100 Queer Guys”.Ellison asked if non-men guys could be included, and was invited to submit photos. The other day he posted this photo on Facebook and I’ve never seen Ellison so excited in my life. And this wall of queer guy portraits makes me super happy.

hocking100qm

Some of 100 queer guys....

It’s hard to tell who is whom so here’s an inset with Ellison outlined. I love the photo the painting was drawn from, I loved the trip it was taken during, I love the painting, and I love seeing Ellison be so proud of being included in a project.

The paintings are part of a show called QUEER FROM ZERO TO ONE HUNDRED, which is opening June 21st from 6-9 at the TNC Gallery, 155 First Ave, in NYC. You should go.

Smiling in Hell

“How far do you think that smile will get you when you and your partner are burning in Hell?”

A particularly bonkers homophobe shouted that at me as I walked through a hallway at the State House with my general pleasant mien. So much for a civil debate on LGBT issues.

So you’ll forgive me for not posting yesterday, but I was too busy being made a second class citizen.

Identity

Sometimes you need a good comic to express a complex idea. And since I spent last evening in a hearing on civil union legislation (summary: the “compromise” makes no one happy, because queers don’t want to be second-class citizens, and haters don’t want them getting *any* rights. And the Speaker got called an “uppity queer” by some college kid. Ah, to be 22 again!) I have no new or interesting thoughts. Fortunately, Kate or Die does. Enjoy.

Thanks for Nothin’, Mistah Speakah

In politics, sometimes those who should be your biggest advocates are the first to turn tail and run. Such is the case with Rhode Island’s House Speaker, who has been at best an ambivalent supporter of marriage equality since coming out as gay at a marriage rally in 2004. Rather than taking a position of leadership and encouraging his chamber to do the right thing in voting for equality, and getting folks on the record about their support or opposition, he went back on his promise for a vote on marriage this year, and instead is authoring a second-class civil union bill. Supporters of equality are understandably upset at this move. This colossal lack of leadership should be an embarrassment to every single member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, regardless of their position on marriage equality.

Some prominent incrementalists applaud Fox’s move, citing Vermont’s pioneering move toward civil unions in 2000, and subsequent move to marriage equality in 2009. How quickly we forget that in 2000, when Vermont passed civil union legislation, there was absolutely no recognition for same sex couples anywhere in this country. I remember. Ellison and I started dating at the end of 2000, and those crazy Green Mountain Staters had just entered into an experiment of providing same-sex couples within their borders with access to the state protections provided by Vermont. These unions were not portable, with all rights and recognition dissolving at the state borders. They provided no access to any Federal recognition, or to the rights and responsibilities provided by other states. Within 7 years, Vermont recognized that civil unions were not sufficient to provide the protections they intended, and in 2009 they repealed their civil union law and passed full marriage equality.

Why should we have to make this mistake ourselves? Vermont, Connecticut, and New Hampshire have all recognized that civil unions don’t work, and have converted to full marriage equality. Rhode Island is surrounded on all sides by states that offer marriage equality. Neither Massachusetts nor Connecticut recognize civil unions, so Rhode Islanders will NOT be protected in their neighboring states. While I recognize that there may not be the votes to move marriage equality legislation into the law of the land this year, I am absolutely appalled that an openly gay House Speaker would be the one to cave, and to signal to the legislature that there is no need for courage, no need to stand for equality, and that second class status is good enough. It is one thing to acquiesce and accept what you can get; it is another thing entirely to be the author of inequality and its primary champion. I would love to know all the terms of the back room deal that led to this appalling move.