Fair and Balanced!

Its no secret, or at least should be no surprise, that I do not trust the New York Times. But sometimes they agree with me.

In accordance with the NYT’s aggressive pro-gay-marriage agenda (picture the announcements revenue when we get same-sex nuptuals in New York State!), The Paper of Record has an interesting article arguing that homo relationships are “healthier” on average than straight ones. And by “healthier,” they mean more egalitarian.

Huh.

Thanks for pointing this out!

How do you get a reverse-bikini-tan-line sunburn? If you would like to try this at home, email me for further instruction.

What’s next, people? Marrying dogs?

As the boys say, “unless you’ve been living under a rock” you know that the gay marriage ban in California was overturned last week. Here in my home state, marriage has snuck in under what CNN called a “loophole,” a hole looped by my all-time favorite, Governor Patterson, that orders state functionaries to honor MA and CA marriages here in NY, regardless of our own locally segregationist marriage policies.

Perhaps it is too soon to say, but it looks like the days of orientation-segregated marriage are numbered.

To tell you the truth, it makes me a little nervous. I don’t like marriage, and to be honest, its not entirely transparent why. Back when I was straight, I limited my engagement with this institution to the city’s back-of-the-bus vehicle for gay partnership, because, really, what kind of person buys into segregated institutions, on purpose, from a position of privilege? Plus, I didn’t–and don’t–think rights like health care, pensions, living wages, education, free movement across borders, living wages, and parental rights (etc) should be allocated on the basis of people’s love lives.

Well, that and the consumer-fest of wedding showers and the specter of adult women playing candy-penis-based games at bachelorette parties make my skin crawl. I suspect I won’t like it any better when the tradition is “transformed” into “pin the boobies on the (other) bride”, and vulva cookies instead of penis Popsicles. I love looking at naked people, but truly hate going to strip clubs. Particularly with (my) blood relatives. Gay strip clubs seems likely to only make that kind of scene more awkward.

I don’t like going to church. I hate posing for pictures, and I despise matching dresses, except in the context of vintage Motown. And, any open bar that I have to pay for seems to entirely defeat the purpose.

It appears that marriage, or at least weddings, just may not be for me.

I could just live an let live, and leave it at that. But, Mattilda has been arguing high and low that the evolution of gay marriage as the number-one demand of the movement was a strategic mistake and an example of the worst kind of right-wing, assimilationist politics. This argument strikes me as essentially correct; universal health care would have been a better demand to focus on in the early nineties. If the queer lib movement had done that, the 2008 elections might be somewhat different, and have more actual political content.

Mattilda makes a good case, but not one that tells us much about gay marriage, the issue at hand; things didn’t go her way a decade and a half ago, so here we are.

Where is that again?

A lot of people are worried that gay marriage will fatally maim “gay culture,” further stigmatizing things like hook-ups, sex work and public sex while undermining the political economy of kinky subcultures and all-night dance clubs. If that happens, it will make me sad, but not in an intensely personal sense; I’d feel the kind of dread one might experience as their favorite island paradise is transformed into a hell of matching condos, but not the kind of identity crisis inspired by losing ones physical or spiritual home.

That’s because my preferred mode of sex and romance looks, on the surface, a lot like traditional, monogamous, boring-old marriage. I can take or leave public sex, promiscuity and kink, but I really like partnership, and the intensity and interdependence of two. I like to be someone’s special someone. I like being proud of my partner, becoming part of a family, commitment, cooking dinner and spooning. I realize these good-for-me things are not necessarily tied to monogamy or pair-bonding, much less to marriage. I’m just pointing out the resemblance to popular, romantic view

Which makes it seem like I’m nitpicking on this marriage issue. As my mother constantly asks me, while I mercilessly dissect every latest piece of potentially hopeful news, “Why can’t [I] just be happy?”

Because, thats why. I think underneath my sense of ambivalence, lies a serious flaw in the “new,” supposedly gender-neutral marriage. Namely, the new institution will still be segregated. Inherently so. Expanding marriage is expanding social inequality. I hate that.

Honestly, I wouldn’t really miss house music, if it didn’t make it into the brave new world. And if we think about “gay culture” in those terms, the the ill-effects of gay marriage seem to mostly affect the boys; the political economy of public dyke culture has long been comparatively tenuous at best.

But, if we look deeper, we can see that gay marriage may, in fact, undermine core feminist principles, reinforcing ideas of domesticity and adulthood that feminists have been battling since domesticity was invented. This expansion of marriage will segregate the gay world in a way that the straight world has long been segregated, dividing us into ‘single’ and ‘married.’ It will expand the reach of a social logic into a sphere once carved out to oppose it, further legitimizing a series of social assumptions that make people’s lives worse, and whch stigmatize the majority of us that don’t meet the marriage–and parenthood– norm. For example:

“Single people would rather be married/are social failures“; Gays “bachelors” and single women have long been stigmatized as lonely, mentally disturbed, socially unsuitable and sexually dangerous. We are cat ladies and pathetic men with tiny dogs. Sex In the City may signal a decade-long extension for women on the marriage imperative, but it’s by no means an amnesty. Everybody wound up hitched, in the end, right?

It’s okay. Don’t tell me how the movie turns out. I don’t want to know. I’m just afraid that adding the choice of gay marriage to the pre fixe menu of adulthood options will only make this worse.

“Single people would rather be married to one person:” The fight for gay marriage makes it hard to talk about families based on mutually supportive romantic relationships between more than two people. When even Dan Savage can’t come out and say that he has your back, you know you are being thrown under the bus of socio-sexual normativity.

“Single people are social children”: Surely I’m not the only one who has faced demotion to the “kids table” upon finding myself single or arriving at family events partner-free? Only to have someone ask when I’ll be “settling down?” More marriage will make us even weirder at Thanksgiving, glaring enviously as our married lesbian cousins are offered more wine, while the singles smile and convince small children to stop throwing soft food.

“Reproduction and parenthood truly gives life meaning–especially for women”: Opponents of gay marriage have been making the rounds arguing idiotically that gay marriage is wrong because children deserve two parents. Personally, I think children deserve at least four parents, but that is another post.

My point here is that these right-wing asswipes assume that the purpose of marriage is to create infrastructure for childbearing and parenthood. One walk around Park Slope and I quickly begin to worry that gay marriage aficionados disagree only in the details.

I think children can be great, but I hate to reinforce the idea that having children is the highest purpose that women–or other adults–have in life. Writing books, doing fantastic plumbing, making art, teaching, being a great friend, aunt or conversationalist also strike me as worthy goals.

Gay parenting, at least in part, also depends particularly heavily on a social structure that systematically separates children in oppressed nations (domestically and internationally) from their families. My thoughts on adoption are much longer than we have time for here, and in no way amount to a blanket condemnation, but it is worth worrying about the degree to which increased heteronormativity among the gay upper-crust can create “demand” in a market for human babies. To the extent that this happens, its a great example of how the heteronormative “success” of some is dependent on the normative failure of others, particularly poor women.

“Friends are nice, but not very important”: We all have priorities. But state-and-culture sanctioned marriage vastly elevates a single relationship above all other relationships we have in life. Fidelity and honesty are the least common denominator for human decency in the context of marriage, but fucking over ones friends is much less stigmatized in society at large that cheating on a spouse. When you “break up” with a friend, few will ask “what happened!?!” or offer condolences. Its my opinion that we’d all be happier with rich social lives filled with significant relationships. Straight culture doesn’t have much time for that perspective; will the gays go the same sad way after marriage?

“Extended family is nice, but not very important”; Marriage has, at various times and places, operated as a kind of treaty between extended families and clans, but in our world reflects the formation of an autonomous, nuclear unit. Stigma against, for example, single mothers, discounts the value of supportive extended family networks and is usually based in the belief that there is one, and only one, right way to go–two parents and one or two kids.

For queer people, “family” can mean a non-biologically based version of this extended family model. As the gay version of the nuclear family becomes more socially valued and–likely–more popular, can both models co-exist?

If not, I know which side I’m on.

“Working class and poor people, and Black people are not responsible or successful”; Related to the assumptions above, its already the case that the straight ideal of marriage and the nuclear family is heavily class-biased and much more difficult to attain and maintain under economic duress; for example, in situations where where workers are forced to migrate long distances away from their families, in circumstances where large percentages of a community are in prison, or where unemployment is high. These days, all over the world, we are talking about a lot of people.

Failure to meet these family/marriage norms used to be something that queer people shared with this majority, helping, I think, to contribute to a left queer and liberal gay political spectrum; what will happen (has been happening?) to queer politics as the elite minority of gay people get hitched, fit in, and lose any vestigial sense of connection to other oppressed people?

Sorry. That was rhetorical question.

In any case, you can play this game at home. There are many more oppressive and divisive assumptions that marriage–even gay marriage–help to reinforce. Feel free to contribute–I live for participatory rants. In the mean time, I’ll wrap this over-long post up by suggesting that this kind of (il)logic has always been oppressively applied to gays in the straight world, and to some extent even within the queer sphere. But gay marriage further entrenches this normative logic in a realm where it was once seriously contested. Part of me is glad that it looks like people who want to get married will now be able to, but, as a woman who, in all likelihood will never be a mother, and a human who hopes for liberation not just for the elite, these developments also make me feel a little like dressing up in a sequined mini and heading out for fabulous karaoke rendition of Nowhere to Run.

Hope in Days of Silence

April 30, 2008

On this day in 1939, the New York’s World Fair opened with the theme “The World of Tomorrow.” The fair was attended by tens of millions, and was seen as a beacon of hope for internationalism, peace, prosperity and progress.

On this day in history, six years later, Adolf Hitler shot himself in the head in a Berlin bunker, pushing one of the most violent, nastily nationalist periods of history towards closure.

Which might seem like a depressing start to our morning in blog land, yes. But to me its not; its a reminder that history and social life can change very fast and that “the world of tomorrow “can be a very different one than the world of today, in ways that seem totally improbable and unlikely.

Today, I’m specifically holding out hope that our world of tomorrow will be one in which Black American men have no reason to fear random death-by-firing-squad at the hands of “peace” officers, and for a world in which eighth-graders have no reason to fear violent asassinations delivered by their homophobic classmates.

I find it encouraging that I am not the only one who hopes for these things. It appears that 5,000 schools had participation in this years Day of Silence aimed at drawing attention to the harassment and abuse of LGBTQQ students and in honor of Lawrence King.

And while the rally I recently attended in protest of the legal whitewash of Sean Bell’s murder (incidentally, not at all far from the site of the 1939 fair), was disappointingly small, I find it encouraging that this injustice isn’t going unnoticed–not in New York City classrooms, not in discussions at work, not in activist circles and, despite what NPR thinks, not in communities affected by police brutality.

Two reactions to the trial made me hopeful, each for different reasons:

1) Cynthia McKinney’s statement on the verdict does a great job putting Sean Bell’s murder in context, but also linked it to a call for all of us to imagine something different, and better.

2) I heard an announcement from the Queer Justice League of New York City on the radio yesterday, making connections between police harassment of queer people and police violence in communities of color. I looked up their website, and while I really know nothing about this organization, except that they have an awesome name, that also gave me hope.

————————————

Really, its mostly the name that gives me hope. Like this postcard of the 1939 Fair’s Lagoon of Nations, the fantastical super-hero ring of “Queer Justice League” reminds me of the sometimes secret, sometimes shame-faced connections between a hopeful left-wing politics and the realm of utopia, imagination, and fantasy.

Because, of course, behind all my emphasis on hope this morning lies the stark reality that the present moment gives us little to hang our hope hats on. The movements for Black Liberation, Queer Liberation, Women’s Liberations and Workers’ Liberation are at low tide, to put it mildly. The US economy is in a world of shit, and empty rhetorical cover for a right-wing neoliberal agenda is what passes for a politics of “change” around here these days.

That’s why hope requires a different, more imaginative, engagement with the fourth dimension. I’ve previously alluded to the significance of reflection on the past and past hopes. But maintaining–building–hope, much less any communities or movements rooted in it, requires imagining, often detailed imagining of not only the past and the present, but the future as well.

This is what left-wing activists, queer communities and sci-fi geeks sometimes share–imagining a wholly different kind of economy, and/or new and liberating configurations of ‘family’, and sometimes all of the above on a yet-undiscovered planet.

Doing that can make you unpopular, yes. Perhaps it is slightly insane. And uncool. But, I am compelled to argue, its nowhere near as insane and uncool as accepting a total lack of alternatives.

Ode to Good Teachers

April 15, 2008

More good ideas people have already thunk

There are few people I admire more in the world than teachers with the unique capacity to teach to their individual students. Today, I remembered my 10th grade English teacher, a fantastic woman who, personally, probably had little time for queer socialists, but intuited that Oscar Wilde would be good for me. She couldn’t have been more right.

The man has already had every good idea I’ve ever briefly considered, 120 years ago, and with more style. Check it out:

Socialism, Communism, or whatever one chooses to call it, by converting private property into public wealth, and substituting co-operation for competition, will restore society to its proper condition of a thoroughly healthy organism, and insure the material wellbeing of each member of the community. It will, in fact, give Life its proper basis and its proper environment. But for the full development of Life to its highest mode of perfection, something more is needed. What is needed is Individualism. If the Socialism is Authoritarian; if there are Governments armed with economic power as they are now with political power; if, in a word, we are to have Industrial Tyrannies, then the last state of man will be worse than the first. At present, in consequence of the existence of private property, a great many people are enabled to develop a certain very limited amount of individualism. They are either under no necessity to work for their living, or are enabled to choose the sphere of activity that is really congenial to them and gives them pleasure. These are the poets, the philosophers, the men of science, the men of culture – in a word, the real men, the men who have realised themselves, and in whom all Humanity gains a partial realisation. Upon the other hand, there are a great many people who, having no private property of their own, and being always on the brink of sheer starvation, are compelled to do the work of beasts of burden, to do work that is quite uncongenial to them, and to which they are forced by the peremptory, unreasonable, degrading Tyranny of want. These are the poor, and amongst them there is no grace of manner, or charm of speech, or civilisation, or culture, or refinement in pleasures, or joy of life. From their collective force Humanity gains much in material prosperity. But it is only the material result that it gains, and the man who is poor is in himself absolutely of no importance. He is merely the infinitesimal atom of a force that, so far from regarding him, crushes him: indeed, prefers him crushed, as in that case he is far more obedient.

Also:

Yes; there are suggestive things in Individualism. Socialism annihilates family life, for instance. With the abolition of private property, marriage in its present form must disappear. This is part of the programme. Individualism accepts this and makes it fine. It converts the abolition of legal restraint into a form of freedom that will help the full development of personality, and make the love of man and woman more wonderful, more beautiful, and more ennobling. Jesus knew this. He rejected the claims of family life, although they existed in His day and community in a very marked form. “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers ?” He said, when He was told that they wished to speak to Him. When one of His followers asked leave to go and bury his father, “Let the dead bury the dead,” was His terrible answer. He would allow no claim whatsoever to be made on personality.

Really, read the whole thing.

geraldineferraro.jpg

This was an interesting choice of button.
Its strange that I am just now noticing your questionable taste.

Geraldine, Geraldine, Geraldine! Must you? Really?

I think fondly back to a time when, as a very young hater-of-Republicans and larval feminist, I sat around my family table with my cousins banging on things with forks and shouting: “Ronald Regan, He’s No Good! Send Him Back TO HOL-LY-WOOD!” Over and over again. Until our parents began taking us out with rocks from their makeshift bunker behind the couch.

That was all for you, sister. We also used to shout “More Meat! More Meat!,” but I’m pretty sure that was about something else.

In any case, I’d like to focus today on your total ingratitude for that unflagging support. Instead of backing me up on my strangely optimistic assertion that feminism is a movement about ending all oppression and aimed at addressing the problems of all women and people suffering from the patriarchy–even the Black ones!–you have to go and pull a Gloria Steinem.

Frankly, I feel you’re making us look bad. And I don’t even really give a shit about Obama. Its just about you.

Dear Mom

February 29, 2008

momhat.jpg

Too bad it’s pink.

Sorry. You are not a bummer. I love you. I’m sorry I dont want to talk to you very much right now.

I mean, you are a bummer. Totally a bummer to talk to, anyway. But its not your fault that people are dying and getting into trouble and that they happen to be important people to you and to me. And its not that I dont want to hear about it and help. I do. Thats what I want. But I just don’t know how to help you and take care of myself at the same time right now. I don’t know how to let you take care of me a little bit. And I don’t want to add to your lengthy list of worries.

I think I have to figure that out pretty soon.

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Screen shot from SVU: Can you tell if she’s just been raped?

Or if she’s just had an orgasm?

Does it really matter?

This post inspired me to start writing about an enormous and complex subject which is central to the motivation behind this blog, but which I’ve so far avoided like a darkened street corner or wearing a pony tail: the way misogyny and misogynist baseline assumptions operate in family and love relationships.

The topic of ABW’s criticism of the use and abuse of rape as a plot element is interesting, and a pet peeve of mine; but to my true delight, the comments confirmed the specific irritant which never fails to make me peevish in this regard: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The whole rationale of SVU is that using rape as a plot point is titillating and ceaselessly interesting. Most episodes open with an alluring full-body pan of a sexy corpse, shots which always remind me of that unfortunate epispode of America’s Next Top Model …

This irritating element of the show is combined with the normal retrograde plot formula of all L&O spin-offs: take a “real life” situation and write it as though the exact opposite thing actually happened. For example,when in real life a non-resisting peace protester is murdered by a soldier in the Middle East, L&O will have an Iraq veteran who is murdered, as it turns out, by a spoiled peace protester with a history of planting bombs! Or, perhaps, in reality, a child is found in a closet, starved nearly to death by his foster parents who are in it for the money. In L&O world, after several twists and turns, we learn that a child, seemingly the victim of abuse by his parents, is in fact perpetrating a complex plot to profit financially from an underground ring of of “parent fights” where his poor innocent guardians–who have been hiding their devil-child’s adopted status all along– are forced to attack one-another in poorly lit basements in the inner city, far from their suburban home.

Ok, I made that up, but if you watch the show, you know it could work.

The result of these two factors in SVU is that you not only have a show that uses rape to titillate and thus confuses rape with sex, you also have plots which undermine the audience’s knowledge and assumptions about the banal realities of rape: you get numerous women who are lying about rape; some of them turn out to actually be rapists themselves! You have dozens of straight-A white good girls who were raped because they were really secretly slutty drugged-out prostitutes. You get lots of men, accused of rape, who turn out to be innocent. The real rapists are often serial psychopaths who sometimes get their hands on the show’s stable of tough lady-cops.

Law & Order SVU is a nearly perfect distillation of of the most reactionary possible attitudes toward women, passed off as mainstream or even progressive sensibility dealing with complex phenomena.

I noticed these flaws the first time I ever watched the show, yet I’ve seen probably hundreds of episodes. Some of these episodes caused me to have painful flashbacks to my own experiences with rape; other episodes turned me into an angry ranting bitch; most I just found useful and amusing as objects of dissection.

But it would have been better for me not to watch this show. Twelve amusing discussions are not worth one flashback, and the experiences of watching the show was unpleasant for what it revealed about the person I then loved most in the world. So why did I watch it?

That’s right, The Dude. The Main Dude, or at least The ex-Main Dude.

Its not like he forced me to watch this show; he didn’t care at all whether I watched it or not. But I watched because he watched it, and because I couldn’t look away. And even if I could have looked away, I didn’t want him to watch it without me–without, at some point, having to think about the reality of rape, rather than the glamorous glossy version.

When I criticized the show and complained about my little problem with SVU and flashbacks, the Dude helpfully suggested that I not watch the show. When I asked why he liked the show, he didn’t answer.

I still wish I knew. Or, more accurately, given that we both knew what he liked about it, I wish I knew why he couldn’t or wouldn’t see that as a problem or at least something worthy of discussion. I think, to him, my disapproval of SVU was an expression of different leisure interests; if he liked and I didn’t, well that was because we were healthily individuated. And he would have appreciated it if I didn’t always have to point out what was sexist about the show. Eventually, I didn’t.

The misogynist logic I’m trying to expose here is, I think, this: “Rape=your problem, bitch. Not mine.”