Long Live the Butch: Leslie Feinberg & the Trans Day of Remembrance

leslieI sit in shock at my desk, though I knew it was coming, knew Leslie Feinberg was sick, and know how deadly lyme disease can be is.

I sit feeling the shock of grief: Leslie Feinberg died this past weekend.

And today is the Trans Day of Remembrance, and that of itself gets me all weepy about all of those we’ve lost, all the hate, all the fear, and how far we have left to go. It makes me think about “butch flight” and the relationships between butch identity and transmasculine identity. It gets me thinking of my lineage, the legacy I am a part of, and where I came from.

For me, Leslie’s book Stone Butch Blues invented butch identity. If I had the word before the book, it was only as a slur, only as something nobody should want to be. If I had the word before Jess’s story and her tortured restraint of passionate love, it was only used to describe ugly women, unattractive and unwanted. It wasn’t until I read Stone Butch Blues that I realized it described me.

I’m not sure I wanted it to, but I knew that it did. That book made me feel exposed, like someone had found me out. Vulnerable, like someone could come along and pluck my heart from my unguarded chest to do with as they pleased. But also, strangely, it made me feel powerful. I could feel the power that came from being butch, the paradox of growing up a girl and then becoming the suited partner of a beautiful woman, the torture of being such a social outcast, and the deep craving hunger for being accepted.

“My life, forever changed because of Stone Butch Blues. And Leslie Feinberg.”
—Felice Shays
I wasn’t even 20 when I read it, wasn’t identifying as butch yet myself, though I was starting to realize that was growing in me. I was barely out as queer. I recognized myself so much in that book that I hid it in the back of my bookshelf and didn’t pick it up again for almost ten years.

But it is potent, and it seeped into me. It inescapably linked the words butch and stone, and for years I thought that being stone was the only way to be butch. It still feels like the butch/femme culture overly values stone in butches, that the stone—by which I mean, not receiving sexual touch—is one of the measures of the amount of gender dysphoria felt, and therefore the more stone a butch feels, the more butch they are. There is so much belittling in queer culture about masculine-presenting folks who want to be touched in bed, or—gasp!—are bottoms, and they are so often chided for not being a “real butch.”

I have been fighting fighting fighting this for years, both as a queer cultural community wound and internalized in my own body.

I have heard so many butches cite this book as their coming out root, as finally recognizing who they are by reading Jess’s story (Leslie’s story), and so many femmes cite this book as finally feeling like they could be queer and crave a masculine partner, or that it’s the “heartbreaking holy grail of butch perspective.” They have told me they see themselves in Theresa’s butch devotion. For so many of us, Feinberg’s book made our secret budding desires make sense.

“Were it not for Stone Butch Blues, I’d still be stranded on a lonely island of inexplicable gender and sexuality. Many of us would.”— Tara Hardy
Stone Butch Blues came out in 1993, but was set in the 1960s, and I wonder if it wasn’t one of the major seeds which planted 1960s butch/femme nostalgia into our heads while so many of us were coming out in the 1990s. It contributed to how we crave the supposedly thriving butch/femme culture of yore.

I understand being nostalgic for a time that is now romanticized—not only in queer culture but in butch/femme lore and history. Beyond that, it is romanticized in the larger US culture as well, as it is the time post-WWII where this country was thriving, and idealized visions were planted in our collective (un)consciousness. But I also want to remember that while it might seem like butches come from that time, and thrived in that time, what we have now—and the myriad gender identity, expression, and presentation options available to us—is much improved.

“Losing Leslie Feinberg is a gut blow. Hir work has been instrumental in my own life, & the lives of so many queer & trans folks.” — Corey Alexander
Because here’s the thing: There are a lot of problems with those idealized versions of butch/femme relationships. A lot of problems. Beyond the linking of stoneness with butchness, there is an overvaluing of queer masculinity and undervaluing of femininity. This isn’t just in Stone Butch Blues, though it is there—it is all over mainstream culture, and we queers haven’t escaped it: it has permeated queer culture to the core. It has at times felt present even in the articles I’ve read about Leslie Feinberg’s death, where her partner, poet Minnie Bruce Pratt, has often been skipped over. The scholars I know who are studying femmes have a hard time locating them in queer archives, and have often best identified them by looking for their more visible butch partners. This is not good. This is a version of butch that puts femmes as an accessory, as a tool to validate and enhance butch masculinity.

I adore the butch/femme culture. As someone who highly identifies as a femme-oriented butch who is currently dating a trans boy, I adore it even more, and as I have a bit more distance now that I’m a little bit outside of it, I see copious places where the butch/femme culture reinforces the cultural binary gender roles, where it pigeonholes people into boxes of expectation, where people are shaved down to fit labels and not the other way around.

Stone Butch Blues may have invented butch identity for the current queer cultural movements, but we need a reinvention.

We need the new butch.

We need a butch identity where the masculine gender role is criticized and reinvented to include access to all aspects of emotionality, psychology, caretaking, feeling, hobbies, interests, and play.

We need a butch identity where we actively work toward undoing the racist culture that keeps people of color oppressed, their voices marginalized, and their bodies under attack. We need a butch identity which recognizes that butch has been historically a white identity, and that radical queer masculinity looks differently in other cultural contexts.

We need a butch identity where any kind of surgery and hormone taking and body modification is acceptable, supported, and celebrated without commentary on how we knew that butch was “trans all along” or that they are “betraying their womanhood” or teased, “another one bites the dust.”

We need a butch identity where the identity expands to fit who those claiming it, rather than those claiming it shrinking to fit inside of it.

We need a butch identity where it is okay to transition. We need a butch identity where it is okay to wear a dress. We need a butch identity where “butch” is just the starting point of the conversation, and where nobody assumes they know anything about you just because they know you are butch.

We need a butch identity that doesn’t assume topping and dominance as the norm, and that doesn’t put down butches who bottom, who receive touch, who submit beautifully and skillfully and with agency, who crave giving over, who crave being owned. We need a butch identity that doesn’t assume femme partnership as the norm, and that recognizes butches loving butches as a real and valid desire.

We need a butch identity that sees femmes as more than accessories, and that values femininity as solid, legitimate, and radical. We need a butch identity that doesn’t joke that femmes are having “a butch moment” if they fix something or play sports or act tough.

We need a butch identity that embraces the myriad mashup versions of in-between genders, of genderqueerness, male feminity, fagginess, swishiness, and fabulousness. We need a butch identity that rocks glitter and leggings without shame, that encourages purses and boas, and that never makes fun of someone’s “girly drink” or pink button down shirt.

We need new butch icons, we need new butch events. We need to show up at events where butch and femme genders are celebrated and made visible (there are many already out there! Go to them! Participate!). We need to stop prioritizing and privileging masculine versions of queerness. We need to read femme authors like Minnie Bruce Pratt (seriously, have you read S/he? It is one of my top 5 of all time, it’s stunning), we need to work on dismantling white privilege. We need to read trans women like Julia Serano and Janet Mock, we need to listen to Laverne Cox, we need to listen to Ceyenne Doroshow and watch things like the Red Umbrella Project documentary about sex workers, we need to keep refining our activism, we need to work on our own privilege, we need to stay alive.

We need new butch clothes, despite Saint Harridan and Tomboy Tailors and all the other dozen (more?) creators of clothes for dapper queers that have popped up in the last few years, not because we don’t look good in those (damn, we do) but because most of those are suit-and-tie shops, and there are so many more ways to be butch than with a suit-and-tie. Let’s reinvent dapper fashion, let’s never be limited by the narrow masculine options that have existed so far, let’s go farther, let’s have it all.

Even as attached as I am to the word “butch,” we probably need new words. Language evolves as we do. We may even end up turning butch over for some new way to talk about the in-between space we occupy, that tortured passionate place of wanting, that marginalized place of vision and truth.

As much as I would like butch to thrive and live forever, and as invested as I am in this identity, it has roots in dangerous masculine and white culture. I see so much fear that butches are “a dying breed” or that butch/femme culture is dying. I still think it isn’t—Long live the butch!—but if it is, perhaps it is at least a tiny bit in part because we are in a queer culture now that is working to decenter masculinity and whiteness. Perhaps when we fear we are losing butches or losing butch/femme, we are really losing the cultural way we have privileged masculinity and butchness. Perhaps along with this reinvention, we are losing the huge amount of body shame we are forced to carry as butches. Perhaps we are losing the social ostracization that came with butch masculinity and femme femininity.

Perhaps we are moving toward something new, and even better.

I wish we had our own words to describe ourselves to connect us. I don’t want another label. I just wish we had words so pretty we’d go out of our way to say them out loud.” —Jess, p254 in Stone Butch Blues

Why Lesbian Erotica is Valuable Activism

ble14I’m reading some erotica—along with Jen Cross, Carol Queen, Amy Butcher, Xan West, M’kali-Hashiki, Cheryl Dunye, BD Swain, & Jiz Lee—to celebrate the release of Best Lesbian Erotica 2014 this Thursday night. (Details here and here and here.) I’m so excited to have helped curate an amazing lineup, and I am now sacrificing all the luck I have to get a good audience to show up. If you’re in the area, come!

I’ve been thinking about “lesbian erotica” lately, how edgy it is, how valuable it is. There’s a bit of controversy around this particular publication of Best Lesbian Erotica, and while I have a lot of thoughts about that article, I still have a lot of my own feelings about how important lesbian erotica is, and how it helps on the process of building one’s some people’s identities. (“One” here meaning someone FAAB who tends to prefer to sleep with other FAAB people, at least at some point in their life.) [ UPDATE: Katherine commented, “So, why don’t you feel that lesbian erotica is important to building the identity of trans-feminine spectrum lesbians?” And of course that’s a valid point. I’m sorry to have excluded trans women from that statement, and that was an oversight on my part. I was trying to be specific, and ended up being TOO specific. It doesn’t really matter who “one” is in that sentence above, all that matters is that some people use lesbian erotica to develop their own identities, and that’s my point. It is valid for all kinds of genders and orientations, and I never meant to leave anyone out. I’ll try not to write so hastily in the future, and be more careful. See my comment for a bit more of my thoughts. ]

I realized I wrote about my own experience with it, and why I think queer smut (“lesbian erotica”) is valuable activism, in my introduction to the 2012 Best Lesbian Erotica anthology, so I figured I’d share it with you here.

See you Thursday night, right?

Introduction to Best Lesbian Erotica 2012

I know what I want.

I knew exactly what I was looking for when I read the submitted stories for this anthology: dirty, smutty, smart about gender, smart about power, packed full of sex with the bare necessary descriptions of setting and context, and, oh yeah, good writing. It doesn’t have to be dirty in my personal favorite ways—with sultry accoutrements and costuming like stockings and strappy sandals, or with strap-ons and lots of fucking, or with blow jobs and dirty talk. I like stories where the characters are so turned on and lusty that I feel it too, even if it is not my particular kink or pleasure. I like stories with unique descriptions and rolling prose and insatiable narrators and rising and falling action. I like stories where I want to recreate the action for myself, when I am inspired by the delicious positions and settings and words.

Yes, and the words, let’s not forget the words. That’s what these kinds of books are all about, really. If you wanted a quick, easy turn on, you could load up any of dozens of queer porn sites—there is no shortage of real, good queer porn out there these days. But for some of us that is too crass, and a well-done turn of phrase gets us swooning and biting our lips and rubbing our thighs together even more than a dirty video.

I didn’t always know what I wanted. When I was coming out in the late 1990s, though there was a serious lack of queer porn in the video stores, there were plenty of people paving the landscape for what would become the blossoming queer porn of the 2000s. Diana Cage, On Our Backs magazine, Good Vibrations, (Toys in) Babeland, Annie Sprinkle, Susie Bright—and, of course, Tristan Taormino. It was Tristan’s 1998 Best Lesbian Erotica anthology that for me clicked something into place, something I could no longer pretend wasn’t there. I would hide the book in the back of the shelves at the bookstore where I worked so it wouldn’t get purchased, and I’d sandwich it between two others and sneak it into the stock room to read when it was slow. I wore creases into the spine with Toni Amato’s story “Ridin’ Bitch” and Karlyn Lotney’s story “Clash of the Titans.” I was genuinely confused as to why I liked these stories so much. What was this affect they had on me? Why did I love them so much? What did it all mean?

I began to find other books, short stories, and essays that helped move my budding baby dykery along: Nothing But the Girl—oh, swoon. That essay by Anastasia Higgenbotham in Listen Up: Voices From the Next Feminist Generation. Cunt by Inga Muscio. Breathless by Kitty Tsui. And the Herotica series, which was erotica for women before Rachel Kramer Bussel’s prolific erotica editing career.

I bought one of the Herotica books at a little indy bookstore—now gone—on Capitol Hill in Seattle when I visited one summer, before moving there. But it proved to be too threatening to my boyfriend who, enraged some night after yet another argument about my sexuality, stabbed that book and two other lesbian erotica books with the wide-handled screwdriver which I’d used to masturbate since I was a teenager.

These books are filled with three powerful things: 1. women, who are 2. empowered, 3. about their sexuality (which, by the way, does not involve men). Even the books themselves are threatening.

These books of lesbian erotica are not fluff. They are not nothing. They are not frivolous or useless.

For queers coming out and into our own, they are a path.

Fast forward a few years and I’ve managed to snag myself a lesbian bed death relationship, going out of my mind with desire and disconnection. I stopped writing, because the only thing that I was writing was how miserable I felt, how much I wanted out of that relationship—a reality I wasn’t ready to face. I decided that to work off my sexual energy, I would either go to the gym or I would write erotica. Well, I ended up writing a lot of erotica, rediscovering this tool of self-awareness and self-creation that had led me to smut in the first place, and I began writing myself back into my own life, back into the things that I hold most important: connection, touch, release, holding, witness, play.

My first published smut story was in Best Lesbian Erotica 2006. Between the time I wrote it and the time the book came out, I was beginning to end the bed death relationship, in no small part because I’d reminded myself of the value of the erotic, of my own inner erotic world, of erotic words. Between the time I wrote it and the time it came out, I started Sugarbutch Chronicles, which has carried me through these last five plus years, often being my sanctuary, support circle, best friend, and confidant.

Writing these stories, for me, has not been frivolous. They have not been nothing. They are not fluff or useless.

For me, they were a path back to myself when I got lost.

When I was lost, I had no idea what I wanted, aside from the basic daily survivals: work. Eat. Pay bills. Sleep. Shower. But when I wrote, when I connected with my own desire, I felt a little piece of me bloom and become in a bigger way. I felt more like myself.

I turned again to the great books of smut to help me find myself, to help me find a way back to a partner, a lover, a one night stand—hell, even an hour with a Hitachi was sometimes enough. The Leather Daddy and the Femme. Mr. Benson. Switch Hitters: Gay Men Write Lesbian Erotica and Lesbians Write Gay Male Erotica. Back to Basics: Butch/Femme Erotica. Doing It For Daddy. And Best Lesbian Erotica, always Best Lesbian Erotica. I still eagerly buy it every year to see what the guest editor’s tastes are, to see what the new trends are, to read the emerging new writers, to get my rocks off.

I rediscovered what I wanted through reading smut and writing it. Through carving myself a path in connection with a lineage of sex positive dykes and sex radicals and queer kinksters and feminist perverts.

After six years of writing and publishing erotica, I am thrilled to be a guest editor for the series which sparked me into queerness in 1998, thrilled to be choosing stories for the same series that published my very first piece, “The Plow Pose,” in 2006, which helped spark me back to myself. It is so exciting to be contributing to this queer smut hotbed that Cleis Press has helped nurture all these years, and I’m so glad to continue to be part of it in new ways.

I know what I want, now. And lesbian erotica, or as I prefer to call it, queer smut, has helped me not only visualize what is possible, but create a path toward getting what I want.

The stories in tis book reflect my taste, my favorites, my personal hot spots, certainly, but also the best-written stories from a large pile of well-written stories by some of my favorite authors, like Kiki DeLovely and Xan West and Rachel Kramer Bussel. There are some less-well known writers in here whose work you may not be familiar with, yet, but who will leave an impression on you, writers like Anne Grip and Amy Butcher. I found dozens of moments of signposts, signals directing me toward myself, words illuminating my own meridians of ache. With each story, with each act of lust, with each dirty command or submissive plea, I rediscovered my own want.

I hope you find some of what you want within these pages, too.

You can still pick up print copies of Best Lesbian Erotica 2012 via your local queer feminist independent bookstore, or, if you must, through Amazon.

And: Come see me & Jen Cross, Carol Queen, Amy Butcher, Xan West, M’kali-Hashiki, Cheryl Dunye, BD Swain, & Jiz Lee read smut from Best Lesbian Erotica 2014 this Thursday night, 12/12, in San Francisco at the Center for Sex & Culture. $20 at the door includes a copy of the book! Details here.

BUTCH Voices Community Conversations in San Francisco & Boston

Community Conversation in San Francisco

BUTCH Voices presents our first Community Conversations event happening on December 15th, co-sponsored by the Queer Resource Center at City College San Francisco.
Capacity is limited to 60 attendees. So RSVP today. No cost to attend.

RSVP with your name and contact information via email: [email protected]

Saturday, December 15, 2012
10am-3pm
at City College of San Francisco
50 Phelan Avenue
Co-sponsored by BUTCH Voices & City College’s Queer Resource Center

Schedule:
10:00am -10:30am Welcome
10:30am – 12:00pm Session 1
12:00pm -1:00pm Lunch on your own
1:00pm – 2:30pm Session 2
2:30pm-3:00pm Wrap up

Community Conversation in Boston

BUTCH Voices presents our Community Conversations event happening on Saturday, February 16th, co-sponsored by ButchBoi Life and Boston University’s Queer Activists Collective.

Capacity is limited to 50 attendees, so RSVP today. No cost to attend.

RSVP with your name and contact information via email with Boston in the subject line to: [email protected]

Location:
Center for Gender, Sexuality and Activism at Boston University
775 Commonwealth Ave
Boston, MA 02215
Date: February 16th
Time: 9am – 5pm

*Accessibility information for the Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Activism *

For handicap accessibility, there is an elevator down to the basement of the student union where the Center is located.

Public transit and parking:
The nearest T stop (the Boston transit system) is BU Central on the B branch of the green line. Parking is available on the street, but all other lots require permits, so it can be tough to find a spot.

About the Community Conversations

Folks have enjoyed our regional and national conferences and asked for more BUTCH Voices events in their towns. We’re looking to help make those happen where we can. In our ‘off time’ from producing our National Conference, we’re holding Community Conversations in various cities across the United States and Canada.

While our regional and and national conferences are open to all, these Community Conversations are specific to folks who identify as butch, stud, and other masculine of center identities – in order to hold space for each other and foster ways to connect and build community. As always, as an organization we do not make the distinction as to who fits those identities, we leave that up for individuals to decide for themselves.
Topics will be generated by the individuals and groups who attend. We expect regional differences to affect which subjects, philosophies, and concerns each group will focus on. Our goal is to have 20-50 people attend each Community Conversation gathering, and we hope to encourage dialog, connection, and networking as we gear up for next year’s 2013 BUTCH Voices National Conference.

In conjunction with the Community Conversations we are also producing fundraisers for BUTCH Voices. Funds will be split between local organizers to assist their attendance at the National BUTCH Voices conference and with BUTCH Voices National.

We are currently working on Community Conversations and fundraising events in, though not limited to, the following cities: San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, Portland OR, Boston, Atlanta, and Dallas. As cities and dates become available we will announce them here on the BUTCH Voices website, and get the word to you just as soon as we can. Be sure to sign up for our updates and e-newsletters to stay in the know about all things BUTCH Voices here. www.BUTCHVoices.com

If you are interested in being involved in hosting, fundraising, or coordinating a Community Conversation in your city, contact BUTCH Voices outreach at [email protected].

Also! Save the Date – BUTCH Voices 2013 National Conference – August 15-18 in Oakland, CA. Registration and calls for submissions and performers coming soon

Go See Decadent Acts in New York City

In honor of President Obama’s newly announced policy on hospital visitation rights for gay and lesbian couples, I’m encouraging you to go see a play, Decadent Acts, here in New York City, set in the 1980s and facing precisely this issue.

The Washington Post reports, “Officials said Obama had been moved by the story of a lesbian couple in Florida, Janice Langbehn and Lisa Pond, who were kept apart when Pond collapsed of a cerebral aneurysm in February 2007, dying hours later at a hospital without her partner and children by her side. Obama called Langbehn on Thursday evening from Air Force One as he flew to Miami, White House officials said.”

I remember that. I’m glad she got an apology, and acknowledgement, though of course that won’t really provide much solace after losing her partner of eighteen years. Still, that is a great example of something personal becoming political, with the tragic story being capable of moving people to action.

Perhaps someday plays like Decadent Acts will be artifacts, things that the next generation studies when they learn about the history of oppression, instead of current policies and struggles.

I hope you can make it to see it while it’s playing.


Decadent Acts
Written and Directed by Ashley Marinaccio
April 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th at 8:00pm
April 24th and 25th at 2:00 pm
Theater: Beckmann Theatre @ American Theater Of Actors
Address: 314 West 54th Street, 2nd floor, New York, NY 10019

Set in late 1980s New York City, Decadent Acts chronicles the story of a lesbian couple struggling against legislated discrimination. When television personality Farah White falls fatally ill, her partner, professor Jolene Shatila, along with their daughter Nicole, are faced with unexpected challenges that will change their lives forever. From child custody laws, to hospital visitation rights, Decadent Acts spotlights the harsh reality of discriminatory regulations against same-sex partners, plunging emotional and political depths with grace and searing honesty. At a time when the push for full equality is finally building real momentum across the country, this play couldn’t be timelier.

Cost:$18 General/$15 Valid Student ID
Buy Tickets Online or Call: SmartTix at 212-868-4444

Following Up: What’s Next? Queer Activism in the South

After hearing about the fake prom that Constance McMillen was sent to last week, I ranted a bit about what was next in that string of activsm. Many readers had fantastic comments and I want to highlight a couple here:

AllysonIvy said: “What can we do? Join in the movement that’s already happening. Work to get non-discrimination laws passed. ENDA would change so much on the federal level. My state (Tennessee) not only excludes LGBT people from protection against housing and employment discrimination, but has a Democratic candidate for governor who supports an adoption ban. We need federal protection, and we can all work for that. 150,000 people marched on Washington in October. Arrests were made recently when activists protested both DADT and ENDA in Washington. They were speaking up. We speak up in order to make a change. … We need to pay attention to her, sure.. but we also need to pay attention to DADT, DOMA, and ENDA. We need to pay attention to the fact that a man in Oklahoma who was denied the right to have a license plate that says “I’m Gay” was found dead a few weeks ago after having reported threats against his life. We need to pay attention to the fight for gay marriage in all states, not just California. … Southern queers are an amazing bunch. I can say with experience that we are strong as hell. We are strong as hell, and we fight hard. I welcome everyone to join us.”

Sarah quotes Izzy Pellegrine on Feministing: “My name is Izzy Pellegrine and I’m a founding member of the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition, a group that has been working for two years to promote LGBT student rights in MS. MSSC has been working with Constance for months to help organize her fellow students and educate members of her community. We’re hosting our annual Second Chance Prom in her city and opening it up to all young people in the state. (And this is no seven person event!!) Check us out at www.mssafeschools.org

ayellowdog said: “we MUST be aggressive with the government – especially at the federal level. We must make sure that the government is not allowed to forget that there is a huge portion of the citizenry of this country that is not being treated equally and thus is always at risk. We must demand to have it made clear that the 14th amendment includes us too. Legislation for the protection of our rights is crucial, obviously, and we should all work in whatever way we can to make it happen as comprehensively and quickly as possible. However, we will never be able to legislate the opinions of others. Opinions must be swayed, nudged, gradually overcome by the opinion-holders themselves. And this kind of change can only occur if we are strong enough to live among those who think they fear and hate us, usually because they don’t know any better, to befriend them in spite of themselves, to share a common world with them, highlighting for them our common ground. Our (legitimate) defensive outrage at how we are allowed to be treated should be directed towards our elected officials. Everyone else should receive a genuine offer of friendship and goodwill.”

EliDeep recommended GetEqual (on Twitter at @getequal): “GetEqual was founded by Kip Williams and Robin McGehee, who both grew up in the South. Kip’s from Knoxville, and Robin is from Mississippi. I first heard Robin speak at the National Equality March in October. Her speech was the most touching to me because she told all us Southern queers that we weren’t forgotten. Often, the gay community writes off the South as a lost cause, and tells us to just move to more gay friendly places. This is NOT a solution.”

You can still contact the school superintendent and high school principal:
Itawamba County Schools Superintendent Teresa McNeece: [email protected], 662-862-2159 ext. 14
Itawamba Agricultural High School principal Trae Wiygul: [email protected], 662-862-3104

And a few more things:

So What’s Next?: McMillen’s Fake Prom

While I was kind of slow to follow the story, mostly because I thought, okay, wrong-doing that has made national news, clearly everybody else is going to jump in and take care of this and I don’t really have to, I’m kind of outraged by the recent update on Constance McMillan’s fight to go to her high school prom. She was told there was a prom, showed up with her date, where there were only 7 students, and some faculty and teachers. The location and time of the “real” prom, privately held, was kept from her.

You’ve probably already heard this. Jesse James had a nice post on it, Dorothy Snarker posted something too.

I can kind of comprehend that that happened. I mean we’re talking about a school district, a small town, a state, which denied her access to the prom in the first place because of her sexuality and gender expression (with her request to wear a tux). I am not too surprised that they would hold another prom, that students—her peers and classmates and (supposedly?) friends—and parents would deliberately deny her access.

What I can’t comprehend is the shock of it all. Because when something like this happens, the experience of realizing reality isn’t quite what you expected it to be is what is shocking.

She won her court case. She was told there would be a (private) prom she could attend. She walked in, expecting that to be the case (at least, from what I can tell in the statements released so far, she expected that), only to find that she had been cast out, ostracized, again. That is such a shock for a person to sustain.

It’s like losing your job or having someone break up with you—you might think, yeah, we weren’t really that good together, but just the act of NOT SEEING IT COMING can make you feel nutso, and that reality somehow didn’t line up with your expectations is enough to make you lose your mind, just for a few minutes. But the recovery from that momentary loss can really be difficult. Because hey, if you didn’t see THAT coming, what else won’t you see coming? What else is going to just blindside you completely unexpectedly? And of course there’s no way to prepare for that kind of thing, but the mind doesn’t really comprehend that, only that if it happened once, we can learn from it, and prepare, in case it does happen again.

Here’s my question, now, though: what the hell can we do about this? What is the piece of adequate activism here? My first thought is that they MUST be doing something illegal, they must be crossing some line or committing some act of discrimination, because HELLO, they so clearly are.

But they threw a “prom.” Teachers and school administrators showed up at it, so it was a “real” event. That all the other students went somewhere else doesn’t have any legal ramification, somehow, right?

Because it is TOTALLY LEGAL to hold a separate prom. It is totally legal for people to hold private parties and not invite certain people, regardless of whether it is due to their gender identity, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity, or if you just simply don’t like that person. This is, in my understanding, how many of the segregated proms still exist and operate in the South: because they are private. And of course these events are products of a culture that makes it normal to have a segregated prom.

Okay, so: if the students were all making a fuss about this, if the students were saying, “we don’t want two proms, of COURSE this really outta-sight gay lady is included, we all want to go to the same prom, yay differences!” then perhaps we would have one prom, yeah? But the students aren’t really going to do that when it is their parents who are throwing the separate prom in the first place. The kids of those parents are probably elite, privileged, and have, to some degree or another, grown up with discrimination in the water, in the air they breathe. They are probably not very likely to stand up and support Constance.

So what next?

No I mean really, what the hell can we do about this, given that technically, TECHNICALLY, somehow, even though it is so fucking obvious that it is blatant discrimination here, technically it seems to me that they have done nothing wrong. Technically they “threw” a “prom” and invited McMillen, and therefore did what they were told. And given that the students are blaming McMillen (I have heard about that terrible Facebook group, blaming her for ruining their “best high school memories,” nevermind that a) those for whom prom is their “best high school memory” are those who are the ones running the school, in a privileged, elite, and often very hierarchical system that discriminates and puts down others, and b) usually, those for whom prom is the best thing that ever happened to them end up stuck in their own home town, with kids and mortgages and dead-end jobs instead of attending colleges. Not always, of course, but often), they are not going to stand up for her.

So what next? How does the queer community rally around her? This is the time when Kristen and others I’ve been talking to all say, Constance, GET OUT. Leave your teeny little narrow-minded town, like we all did, come to the liberal havens, come to the gay meccas, come find your people. You got handed a nice fat check on the Ellen show and now can go to college wherever you want. Or you could harness this opportunity and make a documentary out of your hardship and ride on this ten minutes of fame all the way to a job in the gay-for-pay queer nonprofit world.

If I had her address I would say that we should all send loving letters of support, signed, your queer family, the one that awaits you and already embraces you. And while it might be comforting to Constance to know that there are people who support her, what about the other students (who will be voting adults soon enough), what about their parents, what about the school officials, what about the school board? What about the town who is blaming her for such an OUTRAGEOUS attempt at doing something like dancing with her loved one at a school dance oh mah gawd what is she thinking!

Is there anything anyone can do about the homophobia that is so clearly deeply embedded in them all already? Aren’t there more options than her just up and leaving?

This is where the question of education comes in. How on earth can one—or, more accurately, can this movement of queer activism—possibly continue to chip away at bigotry and hatred and homophobia? Is it actually possible to reach people, to help change their minds?

Generally, activists say no. Activists aim at that same populace as politicians: the Movable Middle, who could kind of be swayed either way, depending on the day or what they had for breakfast or what was on Oprah yesterday.

Thus this is the part where I vow to continue to do the kind of activism I do, and where I continue to encourage the kind of activism you do, in whatever way you participate in the queer community, even if it’s just by being out and keeping your private life private. Perhaps especially then. Perhaps it really will trickle down, that the general culture will disgrace and shame homophobia such that, at least, it can no longer be done openly, and there will be consequences.

On the good days, I believe we’re already there, or at least got quite a good map and we’re in a nice easy stretch of open road. But on days like this, with news like this, my jaw just drops a little, and I wonder what can we do? What can I do?

Visions of Sexual Freedom

Need a fabulous gift this holiday season? Don’t know what to get your (least) favorite boss or your Grandma? Well! Here ya go: the New York City Sex Blogger 2010 Calendar: Visions of Sexual Freedom.

You’re welcome.

This year’s calendar features 16 bloggers, including myself, Audacia Ray, Calico Lane, Abiola Abrams, Jamye Waxman, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Melissa Gira Grant, Elizabeth Wood, and plenty of other hot pinups, and benefits Sex Work Awareness, a fantastic non-profit organization that puts on the annual Speak Up! media training workshop.

This year, I was photographed with Audacia Ray by Amanda Morgan and featured in April – which has my birthday, Sugarbutch’s inception date, and Dacia’s birthday.

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Me, my photo in this year’s calendar with Audacia Ray (photographed by Amanda Morgan), and Kristen (and her amazing princess dress) at the Sex Blogger Calendar Party in New York City. Photo by Nick McGlynn (thanks!), more photos from him in this set.

The theme for this calendar was “SEXUAL FREEDOM,” and while Dacia and I were discussing what to do, we both were inspired to feature something very New York-y, since New York has been a big part of sexual awakening for both of us. I moved here almost five years ago now, and my sex life and sexuality has changed significantly since I did.

We talked about iconic photographs and couples that we could imitate or reproduce, and eventually settled on the famous shot of the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square. Amanda was totally game for it (though she insisted that we shoot early in the day so we’d have the best light), I hunted down a sailor suit, Dacia queered up her nurse outfit, and voila, there’s the shot.

Vj_day_kissThe original photograph, V-J Day in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt, was taken just after the radio announcement that World War II was over – that the US had “Victory over Japan” – on August 14, 1945. This is a significant time period particularly for queers in the US, as World War II brought people massively congregating in coastal cities like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. For the first time in US history, more people lived in urban environments than in rural environments, and suddenly, queers were finding dozens, hundreds of others like us. This led to those sudden “oh my god I’m not alone” revelation moments, the increasing recognition of the systematic marginalization of us because of our sexuality, and, ultimately, activist organization and the birth of the gay rights movement!

Post-WWII and the subsequent activist movements – like the second wave of feminism – also gave rise to all sorts of new sexual activism, which is absolutely the root of the work I do today. Safe sex, STI information, sexual health, sexual choice, sexual advocacy, sexual agency, ability to have control over how many children we have and how far apart they are, birth control, knowledge, BDSM skills, gender theory, power theory … all of that is built upon earlier movements. And all of those movements, and their intersections, allowed me a significant study of gender and sexuality that has lead me here, to Sugarbutch, and to the 2010 New York City Sex Blogger Calendar.

I bet you can think of a couple people on your holiday list who have been nice enough to get a gift like this calendar, hmmmm?

All proceeds from the calendar, don’t forget, go to Sex Work Awareness which puts on the annual Speak Up! media training workshop. Help support the efforts of this wonderful and much-needed organization through the purchase of a calendar!

Calendars ship upon order and cost $20 a piece plus $3.25 for shipping. And – as a special holiday bonus – through the holiday season, when you buy the 2010 Sex Blogger Calendar you will also get a free MP4 download of the 25 minute director’s cut of Audacia Ray’s film Dacia’s Love Machine, which debuted last year in Berlin. (Link to download will be provided on checkout.)

World AIDS Day: Safer Sex, History, and Interconnectivity

To be honest, I don’t use Sugarbutch often enough as a platform (ahem soapbox) to preach about safer sex practices, and I should. It is fucking important. Since I came of age in the ’90s, pretty much after the Lesbian Sex Wars and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, the people in the queer and kinky and sex-positive community I came into pretty much see safer sex as a given, which is what I learned early on in my process of coming to my sexuality. I am unapologetic about my use of safer sex practices, and while some folks I know have that pang of “oh crap I have to put a damper on the mood and go get my gloves and condoms,” I think that’s just part of the fucking.

I do get occasional comments about my stories on Sugarbutch and how the characters do not use condoms or other barriers. There are a couple reasons for that (in my head) but ultimately, whatever excuses I have for it are kind of futile. It doesn’t really matter if I understand it – the point is, I need to be modeling safer sex, so I will make a commitment to do so.

HIV and AIDS are obviously just one small part of what safer sex means. Honestly I’ll have to do some particular research if I want to make a whole safer sex post – I think in a nutshell it means a) use condoms, dams, and gloves and b) talk to your partners about their sexual history and c) get tested.

It also means, however, sexualizing the act of using barriers. Condoms are still seen as ugly, stifling feeling, and inconvenient – and if we can remake that sexy, more people will practice safer sex. I don’t particularly know how to do this, but I do know that in my own sex life, adding condoms into the process of strapping on a cock feels very gendered in a really hot way, and I have sexualized that act quite a bit. I have more to say on this, but until I get my own thoughts together, think about it: how would it look to sexualize safer sex practices in your sex life? How could you model safer sex in better ways?

If others have suggestions on important things to tell readers about safer sex, please let me know in the comments.

But: back to World AIDS Day. That would be today, December 1st.

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more World AIDS Day materials for download

Started on 1st December 1988, World AIDS Day is about raising money, increasing awareness, fighting prejudice and improving education. The World AIDS Day theme for 2009 is ‘Universal Access and Human Rights’. World AIDS Day is important in reminding people that HIV has not gone away, and that there are many things still to be done. According to UNAIDS estimates, there are now 33.4 million people living with HIV, including 2.1 million children. During 2008 some 2.7 million people became newly infected with the virus and an estimated 2 million people died from AIDS. Around half of all people who become infected with HIV do so before they are 25 and are killed by AIDS before they are 35. The vast majority of people with HIV and AIDS live in lower- and middle-income countries. But HIV today is a threat to men, women and children on all continents around the world. – World AIDS Day text from avert.org

I don’t really consider myself an AIDS activist, not specifically. Indirectly, though, yes – through safer sex advocacy, and through my ever-evolving knowledge of gay history – but I haven’t been heavily involved in a lot of direct AIDS activism.

When I think of AIDS, I always think of the history – specifically, the gay history, the ways that in the US, AIDS has been associated with gay men since the early 1980s. In fact, the first name for the disease, in 1982, before anybody knew what it was, it was called the “gay cancer” and then GRID – “gay related immune deficiency.” That turns my stomach, even now.

I identify more as the child of the AIDS activist movements rather than part of it myself; the activism has significantly declined since the 1990s, probably because the treatments have become more and more effective and the stigmatization around AIDS has lessened.

I often feel a really specific loss when thinking about this epidemic and the direct effects in the GBLT communities. The estimated number of men who have died from AIDS by contracting it through male-to-male sexual contact is more than 22,000 (according to avert.org’s transmission stats).

The LGBT communities lost thousands of people.

I remember meeting some older gay guy in college who was a guest speaker at one of my queer classes. He came in with a photograph of a big group of gay guys at a retreat weekend they’d been on, horsing around and cooking and having a great time being with each other. He said, of all of these guys, I am the only one left. I am the only one who made it beyond 1992. There is no reason it should’ve been me – I was no more or less careful than any of them. But for whatever reason, here I am. They are all gone.

And the absence was so tangible, in his voice, in his stories. He pointed them out, one at a time: this one was in grad school to be a social worker, this one worked with kids, these two were a couple who dreamed of adopting a baby, this one was an amazing writer, this one a pianist. There was so much talent, so much activism, so much potential, lost.

When I think of AIDS, I think of that history. I think of that scar left on the LGBTQ communities that I have inherited. I think of how scared some young queers are of sex, having been brought up on all this knowledge of disease and death. I think of some of my mentors, whose eyes still get glossy with tears when they talk about some of their dearest mentors, lost to this disease.

And now, in the 2000s, AIDS is portrayed pretty differently: a lot of the focus is on Africa and the rate of infection over there, and the rate of apathy over here. This is partly where this topic gets huge and nearly incomprehensible to me (like the difference between five hundred million and five billion dollars. I know there is a difference, I can do the math, but I can’t actually comprehend those amounts in worth and money):

Two-thirds of all people infected with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa, although this region contains little more than 10% of the world’s population. During 2008 alone, an estimated 1.4 million adults and children died as a result of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. Since the beginning of the epidemic more than 15 million Africans have died from AIDS. (source)

Sometimes it seems like this is so far removed from me, but because of globalization and our increasing interconnectivity, and because of the injustices of a system which turned a blind eye to thousands of GBLT deaths, I still know I am connected to it.

I still wish I knew more about what to do about it. It feels like such a big, huge thing, and all I can do is scream into the void and pretend like my voice will do something. Ya know?

It seems like all that anybody’s doing in the US these days are those various (RED) campaigns – I think Starbucks has one, and The Gap, and somewhere I read today said Nike is selling red shoelaces – and I feel kinda torn about the way corporations do that. I think on the one hand, raising awareness, and using an already established brand to get information exposed to all sorts of people, is good, and raising more money is good. I feel like it’s not “real” activism, though, and not very effective, and often thinly veiled attempts to get more sales (because really, these are capitalistic corporations who honor the bottom line of making more money, no matter what their occasional campaigns to help humanity might be). So, I’m skeptical, but I suppose any money at the issue is good, and any awareness raised is good.

Alright, </soapbox>. Thanks for reading.

A few notable links I’ve run across today, also relating to World AIDS Day:

Scarleteen: Help Lift Sex Ed to a Higher Plane

stfund09_160I’ve written about the sex education network Scarleteen before, calling for support and donations to help keep this invaluable resource going strong.

I’ve been following Scarleteen and the work of its Executive Director, Heather Corinna, since probably around 1997 or ’98, and have been enamored especially of her photography and her work on her site femmerotic.com. Seems she’s not doing quite as much photography these days as she used to, though perhaps that’s partially because she’s working full-time AND running Scarleteen. (Yeah, sounds like something I would do, I know.)

Scarleteen’s had a big year – it’s now part of The Center for Sex and Culture out of San Francisco. But it still needs support, by which I mean DONATIONS.

littlesxCorinna also released her book S.E.X. in 2007 – “the in-depth and inclusive sexuality guide! Covering everything from STIs to sexual orientation, body image to birth control, masturbation to misogyny, the anatomy of the clitoris to considering cohabitation, and written for you whether you’re male, female or genderqueer; straight, gay or somewhere in between, this is THE everything-you-need, comprehensive, progressive sexuality handbook to get you through high school, college and the rest of your life.” Donate more than $75 and get a copy of the book.

Please consider passing on $5, $10, $100, $500 to this fantastic resource. You can also follow Scarleteen’s blog to keep up with some of the discussion.

More information about the site and its activism follows.

You probably know Scarleteen has been the premier online sexuality resource for young people worldwide since 1998. We have consistently provided free inclusive, comprehensive and positive sex education, information and support to millions for longer than anyone else online. We built the online model for teen and young adult sex education and have remained online for nearly eleven years to sustain, refine and expand it.

What you might not know is that Scarleteen is the highest ranked online young adult sexuality resource but also the least funded and that the youth who need us most are also the least able to donate. You might not know that we have done all we have with a budget lower than the median annual household income in the U.S. You might not know we have provided the services we have to millions without any federal, state or local funding and that we are fully independent media which depends on public support to survive and grow.

You also might not know Scarleteen is primarily funded by people who care deeply about teens having this kind of vital and valuable service; individuals like you who want better for young people than what they get in schools, on the street or from initiatives whose aim is to intentionally use fearmongering, bias and misinformation about sexuality to try to scare or intimidate young people into serving their own personal, political or religious agendas.

To try and reach our goal, we’re asking supporters to consider a donation of $100 or greater. If that isn’t possible for you, whatever you give will still help and will still be strongly appreciated. To donate now (or to view or link to the rest of this email online), click here. If you’d first like more information on why we’re setting the goal we are, what Scarleteen has done in the last year and during the whole of our tenure, our plans for 2010, and what the scoop is with our budget and expenses, keep reading.

National Coming Out Day & Matthew Shepard

October is my favorite month – I’m going to state it officially for the record. It’s got some significant gay activist dates, like October 11th (in the US – apparently it’s the 12th in the UK), which is National Coming Out Day, and the whole thing is LGBT History Month. And October 12th is the anniversary of Matthew Shepard‘s death.

And this year, I’m sure you’ve heard, was the National Equality March on Washington, and news about its success has been streaming through my reader all day.

Last year, on National Coming Out Day, I wrote about where I was when Matthew died (in the same city as he was, actually) and shared the poem I wrote about it years later.

I still think coming out is one of the very most important things we can do, as queers, as dykes, as butches and femmes, as andro genderqueer gendernonconforming gender rebels, as trans folks, as kinksters. Coming out claims the space we rightfully stand on, and says we accept who we are, and if you don’t, that’s your goddamn problem. Coming out is visibility, and completely overrides whatever the lesbian uniform currently is.

Whoever you are, I urge you to come out to just one more person this week, this month, this year. Come out as whatever particular identity you happen to be. Come out in support of gay rights, come out by calling your coworker on their homophobic jokes. Come out and claim your space.

I ran across this clip of Judy Shepard visiting The Ellen Show last week, on October 9, 2009. She talks about Matthew’s death, her own subsequent activism, what a hate crime is, and the amazing news of the US House of Representatives expanding the Hate Crime definition on October 8th (I know, I don’t usually report on current events, but this is important and relevant to the October Activism).

PS, check out Ellen’s short hair! It just keeps getting shorter! I would love to talk to her someday about her gender and how it’s evolving – has she always been butch, and now that she has some solid fame and notariety she finally feels comfortable expressing herself? Is it Portia’s influence? Is she a reflection of the current culture? (Seems like she always has had very timely hair.) I’m curious, I’d love to hear what she says about it. And I just love that she’s doing more gay activism through her show than she ever has.

Poll: What do you think about labels?

You might want to vote in the poll before you read me yammer on about my own thoughts on labels and identity, so I don’t unfairly influence your answers.

[poll=3]

I realize this is a very non-scientific poll, somewhat limited to the visitors of this site, and therefore not a very good sample of the queer communities’ attitudes toward labels … but hey, you gotta use what you got, right? And this is what I got.

So please, leave comments with more explanations (or feedback on why my poll sucks) about your relationship to labels, and read my own thoughts about labels and identity below.

In pursuing this work of identity, specifically gender and sexual identity, one of the first and deepest and most difficult things I come across is the concept of labels.

I see questions about these things all the time: why do we have to label ourselves? Why is the lesbian community so into labels? Why can’t we move beyond labels? What good are labels? Why do I have to conform to someone else’s idea of what I am or am not? Why can’t I just be me?

One of my “gender rules” (something I’m working on, hopefully more on that in the next few weeks) is that everyone is the expert of their own gender, and so thus to always respect however another person feels about their gender. So if you want to reject labels, and that is the way you feel most like yourself, most liberated, most outside of this confining system of gender, then I say go for it and more power to you.

That’s not the case for me, though, not really. I find a lot of liberation inside of the labels – I don’t feel restricted by them, I feel more free to be more myself than I was before.

So I find this curious. I don’t want to be prostelytizing about how everyone needs labels, and I don’t assume that what works for me works for everyone – or anyone – else. But I do know it works for me, and as I’m developing my own gender theories, I’m struggling a bit to explain why.

There is a perception, espeically of the lesbian communities I think, that lesbians are really into labels. From the outside, a lot of words are thrown around connected to lesbianism and queer women, like butch and femme, dyke, homo, queer, bisexual, I actually think the dominant attitude in lesbian communities is very anti-label, very much a rejection of gender identity and sexual identity words. It seems to me that the heat of the community – the visible folks, the young and activist-oriented – are embracing the word “queer” very strongly, which is a much more inclusive term than many of the others, a huge umbrella under which bi, poly, trans, gay, kinky, genderqueer, non-conforming, et cetera, all can come together and find a place.

What I’m saying is, I think it’s interesting that from the outside, this community appears overly obsessed with labels, but once you get inside of it, there are a lot of ways that the dominant discourse discourages labels and micro-identity development.

But when I started thinking through that, I wondered: maybe that is just true for me and not necessarily a truth about the community as a whole. Perhaps that’s just unique to my experience (and, to be fair, the experience of many other butches and femmes, as I’ve heard stories of gender identity development from many of us and they are similar) and perhaps the dominant community thinks something else. But, I thought, it’s not like there is a study I can turn to about what percentage of queers embrace labels!

And, gee, if I can’t use my blog for research like this, then what the heck is it good for?

I hope the options give a wide enough range of your relationship to the concept of “labels” that one of them fits pretty well for you. If it doesn’t, please do leave a comment and tell me, more specifically, what you think about labels, identity, and you personally.

Save About Face Theatre

One of About Face Theatre’s many supporters emailed me recently with this call for help to keep the theatre’s doors open, staff paid, and the youth theatre program intact. If you can help, please do.

She writes:

As a young femme fresh out of college, I interned at About Face and learned a lot about making queer art that’s accountable to the community. AFT was a great place to work, and I got to see first-hand the high quality of the shows they produced and the impact they’ve had on LGBT youth through their youth program. This is the theatre group that made I Am My Own Wife into the incredible show that it was by the time it hit New York.

Here’s the call for donations and support:

SAVE ABOUT FACE THEATRE!

“This is a space where youth can come and have so much love and support. This is a place for us to be heard” – AFT youth artist

About Face Theatre, one of Chicago’s leading LGBTQ institutions and the original home of Pulitzer-prizewinning I AM MY OWN WIFE, is in danger of closing.

To confront this immediate crisis, About Face has launched a national “FACE THE FUTURE” campaign to save the organization and ensure its future. The About Face Board of Directors is asking for immediate financial contributions in order to keep its doors open, staff paid, and the youth theatre program intact.

About Face Theatre creates exceptional, innovative and adventurous plays to advance the national dialogue on gender and sexual identity If About Face does not survive, the country will lose one of the few high-profile theaters making new work by and about the LGBTQ experience. The award-winning About Face Youth Theater serves queer youth by providing artistic experiences and leadership training.

In response to the economic downturn and significant debt, About Face has reduced its budget by over 30% by implementing staff and production cuts while also postponing our third show. This is the responsible action to take, but it is not enough. If you help us raise $300,000, we will solve our immediate crisis and build a foundation for ongoing financial health. Here’s what you can do:

— DONATE NOW www.aboutfacetheatre.com

— PERSONALIZE THIS EMAIL AND FORWARD IT TO YOUR FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES

Donations can be made at www.aboutfacetheatre.com, by calling (773)784-8565, or by mailing a check to the theatre at 1222 W. Wilson, 2nd Floor West, Chicago, IL 60640.

POST A VIDEO Artistic contributions are encouraged as well, as About Face organizes a web-based video forum for testimony on the importance of About Face Theatre, of mentoring queer youth, and the vital need for innovative artmaking in today’s society. To participate, please email [email protected] or call the AFT office.

Courage Campaign’s “Don’t Divorce!”


“Fidelity”: Don’t Divorce… from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

Have you heard that Ken Starr — and the Prop 8 Legal Defense Fund — filed legal briefs defending the constitutionality of Prop 8 and attempting to forcibly divorce 18,000 same-sex couples that were married in California last year? The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in this case on March 5, 2009, with a decision expected within the next 90 days.

The Courage Campaign has created a video called “Fidelity,” with the permission of musician Regina Spektor, that puts a face to those 18,000 couples and all loving, committed couples seeking full equality under the law.

After you watch the video, please consider joining me in signing the letter to the state Supreme Court and passing this video on to your friends. The more people who see this video, the more people will understand the pain caused by Prop 8 and Ken Starr’s shameful legal proceeding.

What happened in November

Ah, November 2008: forever famous for THE ELECTION OF BARAK OBAMA as the President of the United States. Oh, rejoice, liberals of the US and the world. Except … then there was that pesky little thing about gay marriage amendments in three states, and the amendment that makes it illegal for unmarried folks to adopt in Arkansas.

But that wasn’t all. There was also the New York City Sexbloggers Calendar offical release party.

So even though I was attempting to take time off in November (betcha didn’t know that, huh), there were still many posts.

RELATIONSHIPS

ACTIVISM:

  • Post Election: On Love – and about my disappointment in the 2008 election, despite the fantastic nomination of Obama.
  • Letter to myself: Enough Moping – we took the temperature of the country by seeing how these anti-gay amendments passed so easily. Stop dwelling on the giant blow of the election and channel the hurt energy into activism. Buck the fuck up.

COMMUNITY:

REVIEWS:

In November, I also relaunched Sugarbutch into this new layout – if you’re reading via RSS, come on by and check it out. I’m still working on a “how to read this new layout” type of post, I know it’s rather difficult to tell which posts are new, but I’ve got some plans to fix that and I’ll iron that out in the near future.

Milk: In the Footsteps of Gandhi and King

After You Cannot Live on Hope Alone, the folks at Causecast.org have made a second short film about Harvey Milk.

The life of late San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk in the context of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. This animated documentary charts a time-line of the life of the first openly gay man elected to public office in between events in other civil rights struggles. Produced by Causecast for Focus Features, the piece celebrates the release of the film MILK, in theaters November 26.

I haven’t seen Milk yet – or read many reviews, because I’m waiting to see it for myself first. Hopefully I’ll go this week.

Have you seen it? What’d you think, what were your reactions?

Letter to myself: enough moping

Dear Mr. Sexsmith:

Enough moping already.

In case you haven’t noticed, it is day three and Barack fucking Obama is still the presidential elect. Hello, even his name is radical! None of that Franklin George James John William. We didn’t just imagine that beautiful acceptance speech in our progressive liberal little heads. He’s already started a fantastic website for his Transition Project at www.change.gov and I have never felt so connected before to my government.

Yeah, maybe the expectations are pretty goddamn low after the most unpopular president in modern history. But still, Obama is positioned to be a fantastic leader and creator of change – and, more than that, an inspiration: not only the first black man elected president but also a progressive, liberal, forward-thinking, grassroots-organizing problem-solver who is positioned to help heal the (supposed) divisiveness of the red-state-vs-blue-state divide in this country.

I, like this country and like the rest of the world, am currently crushed out on Obama – and that doesn’t necessarily last, I know. I’m sure eventually we’ll start discovering that he never eats the heel of the loaf of bread or he always leaves his socks in the middle of the floor or he forgets to put the bathmat down, but meanwhile, the honeymoon phase sure is fun, isn’t it?

And maybe, what if, just possibly, the relationship develops into a solid, steady improvement? What if we have common values, common interests, good communication, mutual adoration?

Ah, courtship. I love that feeling of such raw potential.

Speaking of adoration, I am consistently touched whenever I see President-Elect Obama with First Lady-Elect Michelle. (I bet you can’t really use “First Lady-Elect” like that, but I like it.) They adore each other, and it’s beautiful.

What? What’s that? Oh, that little gay marriage thing? Those millions of people who voted that straight marriage is different than gay marriage? That marriage is a “sacred institution” that gays would defile and corrupt?

Or how about the little bee in all of our queer activist bonnets when we realized that voters care about chickens, but not about gay marriage? Or when voters passed 9 out of 10 marijuana initiatives on Tuesday, but gay marriage is still seen as the destruction “the family”?

Yeah, it sucks.

But HELLO, did you think this was going to be easy? Remember what you’re doing here: dismantling the heteronormative nuclear family through both the institutional religion and bias and tradition of the church AND the monolithic ultimate power of the government.

Did you think that was just going to happen overnight?

Did you think the conservative bigots were just going to hand it to us?

Did you think it would be easy?

On Love, Post-Election

How can I write about anything except politics right now? Obama, Obama, Obama. Fivethirtyeight had the projections almost completely accurate. I didn’t see too many major voting mishaps – aside from the long lines at polling places which, as we all know by now, are the new “poll tax.” Which is reassuring! In the last few days I kept hearing, “things are looking good for us, but remember: they cheat.”

So, thank the gods. I’m glad we all got to vote. I’m glad each of our votes counted. I’m so glad to see Obama victorious.

But … then there’s the gay stuff. Prop 8 in California, Prop 102 in Arizona, Prop 2 in Florida. Initiative 1 in Arkansas. Connecticut and Colorado were victories, but with the other four I’m feeling pretty defeated this morning.

I’m angry about this election. I am so grateful for Obama’s landslide win, don’t get me wrong. He ran a fantastic campaign and he did some incredibly gracious, beautiful things with the entire United States, in every place he visited – he wasn’t purely focused on the battleground states, he wasn’t ignoring the South just because it was a given that it’d go red.

But I’m angry about all the other propositions that passed. The literally millions of people who think that me, my relationship, my love, my orientation, my body’s wiring, my queerness is somehow a threat to them, somehow damaging to their way of life, somehow harmful, somehow detrimental to society, somehow bad and wrong and evil.

I take personal offense to these results.

It’s so hard not to. I try pretty hard to ignore the gay marriage activism that are going on in this country – ever since DOMA I’ve been only increasingly discouraged. I’ve written about this recently – my hesitation to think that the gay marriage fight is the end-all be-all of gay activism, that gay marriage is going to get us accepted into the “normal” club. Well, maybe I don’t want to be in the “normal” club.

But this time, I got involved. I got all crazy with 8 Against 8, I read every post Lesbian Dad kept eloquently writing, I researched the state of gay marriage in the US for weeks. I got invested. I named the puppy. I – in my liberal progressive hippie love-will-prevail idealist brain – was not prepared for such a defeat.

Gay marriage is going to revert to being illegal in California. Californians just voted to legally and specifically discriminate against a group of marginalized people. To explicitly and intentionally make us second-class citizens. Less than.

What about Phyllis Lyon, Del Martin’s widow, who just months ago made their more than fifty-year relationship completely equal, valued, valid, legitimate, in the eyes of California law? God I hope they had a good lawyer who put all sorts of forms and documents in place. How stupid and fucked up and time consuming and wasteful that Phyllis and Del even had to go through that, to do the research to figure out what rights and privileges, precisely, they were being denied because they couldn’t get married, and pay a lawyer to draw up the corresponding papers, and enter into a legal agreement with each other.

[It reminds me of If These Walls Could Talk 2, the first segment, with Vanessa Redgrave. Watch it, if you haven’t seen it. I guarantee it will break your heart, but kind of in a good way.]

I want to go back and study the history of interracial marriage – also called miscegenation, which is a great word I don’t know if I knew until today – and see how it was finally overturned. Was it state-by-state? So-called “activist judges?” Did this country watch as, one at a time, states added their own constitutional amendments banning interracial marriage? Were there Mayors who were radical enough to marry interracial couples anyway? How did it finally get overturned? I’ve never been much of a historian, really, I’m much more interested in what’s happening right now, in front of me, how this current system works – and of course it’s important to know where we came from to know how the current system works, but still, I didn’t understand history until I started studying the history of my people, the queers and gender-variants and radicals and revolutionaries.

But still, I don’t have a firm grasp on this particular American activist history, and I want to know how it worked before, because I want it to work again. Because maybe after I know one storyline’s success, I’ll be comforted. Because I’ll remember that it took hundreds of years to gain that particular right to marry, and then I’ll remember that this fight is young, that, despite our headway, there is much farther to go.

I know there is much to celebrate. Perhaps I am taking Obama’s win too much for granted. I know I have a particularly “biased” perspective because I grew up with activist parents in liberal communities; I spend my times in progressive activist circles and queer communities in big cities. There is a piece of me that is saying, “of course Obama was elected, how could it possibly be any other way?” But I said that about Gore and Kerry too, despite that Gore did win the popular vote (don’t get me started) and I’ve seen cardboard cutouts of people that have more personality than Kerry.

Clearly I don’t have a very good grasp on the reality of this country. On how conservative Republicans are capable of organizing people to vote against their own best interest in the name of “values.”

I’ve seen some posts around today already that say having Obama in office we are poised for a Federal lift on the ban on gay marriage, but honestly I don’t know if I believe that. Of course I’d like to think so, sure, but then there’s DOMA, and “37 states have their own Defense of Marriage Acts [and] … 27 states have constitutional amendments.” (source.)

Make that 30, as of November 2008: Arizona, Florida, California.

Times like these I wish I knew more about politics, and history. How can we lift these constitutional amendments out of the states? Do the voters have to vote again? Who can overturn DOMA at the Federal level? Do we need it to go through the courts, or through voting? Do we need certain Supreme Court members in order to have these things overturned? How do we get a Federal constitutional amendment that protects the rights of minorities?

We couldn’t even get something written into the Federal constitution that says that women are equal to men. Remember the ERA? Failed. Failed, failed, failed. It has been introduced in front of every Congress since 1982, and yet we still do not have anything official that says women are equal to men. Is that really so radical, so influential, that there is such opposition to it?

And correct me if I’m wrong here, I am not a constitutional scholar, but: I thought constitutions were for guaranteeing rights, not for taking them away.

Despite that I do understand what people say about the threat of gay marriage, I don’t really understand. I just don’t. Why? Why why why are we so threatening? On bad days – like this one, when literally millions of people voted against my very personal right, my very personal decision to get married – my heart fills up with emotion and I feel like a little kid after another kid yells, “I HATE YOU!” My eyes well up. I didn’t do anything to you. Just – why?

Here’s what gay marriage is: it’s commitment. Building a family, possibly taking care of children, or dogs or cats or hamsters or fish. Finding someone to share your life with. Taking care of each other. Being better together than you are alone.

And here’s what gay marriage is: love.

The simple act of loving another person. Maybe I forget how difficult love is for so many of us. Maybe I’m forgetting that love is often beaten out of us before we are even able to critically think about the world around us, just by nature of growing up in this culture. It really is revolutionary, isn’t it? Just the act of who I love could change the world, and is changing politics.

Despite my frustration at the horrible steps back that we are taking, there is hope. There is change happening.

Obama’s acceptance speech was especially moving. He slipped “gay” right in there with that long list of American identity descriptors – “young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled” – as if it belonged. As if it was no better or worse than any of those other things.

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen, by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different, that their voices could be that difference.

It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled. Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states.

We are, and always will be, the United States of America.

(Full text of Obama’s presidential acceptance speech here, though I do suggest watching the video – he is such an impressive orator.)

I just have to keep remembering: let the soft animal of my body love what it loves. I can do that. I have to do that. I will do that, despite that my government says it’s not good enough. I know, I really do know, underneath it all, under the pink of my skin, in the nest of my heart, that it is enough – that I am enough – that we, my beautiful community, are enough.


UPDATE, 7pm EST: I know, I know, it’s not completely 100% official yet: the No on Prop 8 folks haven’t given up, and a recount has been demanded. But last count, Yes on 8 was ahead 400,000 votes. Not an easy thing to make up.

Legal Groups File Lawsuit Challenging Proposition 8, Should It Pass: “The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed a writ petition before the California Supreme Court today urging the court to invalidate Proposition 8 if it passes. The petition charges that Proposition 8 is invalid because the initiative process was improperly used in an attempt to undo the constitution’s core commitment to equality for everyone by eliminating a fundamental right from just one group — lesbian and gay Californians.”

Also: There’s a protest rally tonight in West Hollywood: We Shall Not Be Overlooked. Wednesday, November 5, 2008, 7:00pm – 10:00pm, San Vicente Blvd between West Hollywood Park and the Pacific Design Center (647 N San Vincente Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA).

8against8: Ruby and Ami

Ruby & Ami, Seattle, August 2006.
Because along as gay marriage is outlawed, only outlaws will have gay marriages.

Some text by the ever-charming Ruby & Ami, from their website about their wedding (because they’re geeks, duh), Outlaw Wedding:

Ruby: I mean, have you ever been so, so excited about something that you couldn’t hardly keep it to yourself? Well, that’s what this is all about.

This is Ami typing, and I just have to say that I have found one of the most beautiful, smart, funny, challenging, compassionate, irresistible, warm and kind people on this earth. Her name is Ruby, and I’m going to marry her. Every day I have a little moment where I let myself be floored for a second by how much she brings to my life, how much I look forward to getting to see what happens next, and how impossibly lucky I must be to get this much out of life. Alright, alright, enough of the schmoopies- you single folk out there: quit ch’er groanin’, and get yourself to our wedding and get laid. We know the greatest people, OMG! There’s something for everyone in this event, my dearies. Let’s have a magical evening together!

Ruby here. Isn’t she great? That’s really how she talks to me — so sweet. We spend a lot of time grinning at each other. We argue about who’s luckier (and I know I’m right — it’s me).

PS – I hear they are having a baby! Congrats, Ruby & Ami!!

8against8: Clare and Jack

Clare & Jack, September 2008.

Says Clare: “I am wearing a vintage dress and hat from the 30’s (note the vintage strappy heels as well ;), my daughter is wearing a vintage dress from the 50’s and Jack in wearing a super-fly new suit (yum!) . We have some domestic partner benefits here, and we creep closer and closer to legalization every year In Washington state, but we are not legal yet. Hopefully it will move up the coast from California.”

8against8: Did we vote on YOUR marriage?

From the creator:

This is a personal video I made showcasing some of the best video clips and images since gay marriage became legal in California.

In May of 2008, the Supreme Court of California ruled the state was unconstitutionally discriminating against same-sex couples by denying them the “fundamental right to form of a family relationship”: i.e. MARRIAGE.

However, in November 3 states, including California and Arizona will be voting on amending their state constitutions to ban same-sex marriage. Florida’s ban would go further, and threaten domestic partnerships for unmarried couples, even if they’re heterosexual.

All of the images and video clips were from California… however, gay rights groups in either of the 3 states would surely appreciate any donation possible.

8 Against 8: 8 lesbian bloggers – 8 days – raising as much money as we can to defeat Proposition 8 in California. Vote NO on Prop 8!

8against8: Saving Marriage (documentary)

Saving Marriage film trailer:

About the film, from Saving Marriage (the movie) website:

Masschusetts is First

In a historic decision, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court makes that state the first in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.

That puts Massachusetts at the front lines in a war now raging throughout America. On one side are those who believe marriage is a civil right that all couple should have. On the other are people who believe it is a sacred institution reserved for a man and a woman.

Both sides believe they are right. And both sides believe they are saving marriage.

The Political Firestorm

The court ruling allowing gay marriage causes a public outcry that pushes legislators to propose a constitutional amendment that would override the decision and take gay marriage away. Suddenly, the lawmakers find themselves enmeshed in a passionate debate pitting civil rights against tradition.

On the day of the vote, just a few feet from the legislative chamber, thousands of demonstrators from both sides pack the Statehouse to capacity, screaming and singing until they have no voices left. Thousands more spill outside.

At midnight, when legislators cast their vote, the gay marriage advocates suffer a crushing defeat, as the amendment is approved by a razor-thin margin. Gay marriage is one step closer to being made illegal again.

The Fight Continues

But there is still hope. To become law, the amendment must withstand a second vote in eighteen months. For everyday people, the political has become personal, and they intensify their efforts to defeat the amendment.

Two months later, and many months before the second vote is held, the court’s decision goes into effect. Gay and lesbian couples begin marrying all over Massachusetts, even though the pending amendment means their legal status remains in jeopardy.

Overnight, married gay couples become a reality, and people in this small New England state begin to re-examine how they view same-sex relationships.


I haven’t actually seen this film – if you’ve seen it, please do leave a comment and what you thought about it, or write it up on your blog and leave a link.

8 Against 8: 8 lesbian bloggers – 8 days – raising as much as it takes to defeat Proposition 8 in California. Vote NO on Proposition 8!

8against8: Tying the Knot (documentary)

This is part a series (2 of 3) of trailers & write-ups about documentary films about gay marriage.

Watch the trailer for the Tying the Knot documentary:

Reprinted from the Tying the Knot website:

When a bank robber’s bullet ends the life of police officer Lois Marrero, her wife of thirteen years, Mickie, is honored as her surviving spouse but denied all pension benefits. When Sam, an Oklahoma rancher, loses his beloved husband of 22 years, long-estranged cousins of his late spouse try to lay claim to everything Sam has. As Mickie and Sam’s lives are put on trial, they are forced to confront the tragic reality that in the eyes of the law their marriages mean nothing. From an historical trip to the Middle Ages, to gay hippies storming the Manhattan marriage bureau in 1971, Tying the Knot digs deeply into the past and present to uncover the meaning of civil marriage in America today.

TYING THE KNOT is a journey through 5,000 years of history with marriage in mind. Didn’t princes and princesses used to live happily ever after? Author EJ Graff corrects some myths and fairy tales that the Extreme Right has been spinning as of late.

For example, did you know:
• Marriage has been a constant battleground and has changed many times to reflect the values of society?
• Marriage had no religious significance even in the Catholic Church until the Middle Ages?
• Protestant churches have split a number of times over issues related to marriage?

Are these quotes from the 2004 Republican National Convention?
• “This sort of marriage is not in the best interest of children.”
• “God has a plan for marriage and this isn’t it.”
• “Allowing this kind of marriage will pave the way for all sorts of moral depravity.”

In fact, these arguments were made about marriage between a man and a woman. In TYING THE KNOT civil rights attorney Evan Wolfson tells the love story of Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving, who fought a long battle with the Commonwealth of Virginia for the right to marry. The year was 1962. Mildred was black and Richard was white, but their loving lives together were anything but simple.


I haven’t actually seen this film – if you’ve seen it, please do leave a comment and what you thought about it, or write it up on your blog and leave a link.

8 Against 8: 8 lesbian bloggers – 8 days – raising as much as it takes to defeat Proposition 8 in California. Vote NO on Proposition 8!

8against8: I Can’t Marry You (documentary)

This is a series (1 of 3) of trailers & write-ups about documentary films about gay marriage. There is a lot of information out there, a lot of activism happening around this issue, so much organizing. I’m getting overwhelmed researching it all. I’m trying to pass on the best stuff during this 8 Against 8 campaign.

I Can’t Marry You film trailer:

From the I Can’t Marry You website:

The 2003 documentary “I Can’t Marry You,” narrated by host Betty DeGeneres, explores same-sex marriage issues through the personal experiences of twenty gay and lesbian couples who have been in long-term relationships of 10-55+ years. Their poignant and powerful testimonies put faces to, and actual examples of, the painful impact of discrimination on our daughters and sons, sisters and brothers, parents, aunts and uncles, loyal friends, coworkers and tax paying neighbors.

This one-hour program features interviews with:
The twenty couples, their parents and children; Evan Wolfson, the prominent civil rights attorney of Freedom to Marry; John J. McNeill, Former Jesuit Priest and author of “The Church and the Homosexual;” Adam Aronson, of Lambda Legal; and the leaders of the New York Christian Coalition.

Filmmaker, Catherine Gray created this documentary to educate her own gay constituency about the importance of having these rights and to show us that gay and lesbian couples can have healthy, committed long-term relationships. She believes that education is the only way to affect change and win this civil right.

Gray shot the film in large and small cities across the country, including: New York City; Saugatuck, Michigan; Asheville, North Carolina; San Francisco; Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, Florida. She felt it was important to represent diverse couples that vary considerably by age, ethnicity, religious and educational backgrounds.

Our film debuted in New York City at the GLBT Community Center to a sellout crowd.

“I Can’t Marry You” would not have been possible without the support of many individuals and organizations who gave their support, including: Human Rights Campaign, GLAD and Marriage Equality. Unfortunately, until the laws in our country change, marriage for same-sex couples is still a dream.

Buy “I Can’t Marry You” at Wolfe Video, top gay/lesbian-owned exclusive LGBT distributor of films, DVDs, and videos.


I haven’t actually seen this film – if you’ve seen it, please do leave a comment and what you thought about it, or write it up on your blog and leave a link.

8 Against 8: 8 lesbian bloggers – 8 days – raising as much as it takes to defeat Proposition 8 in California. Vote NO on Proposition 8!

Marriage is so gay*

Last week, I dreamt of my future wife.

That’s a strange thing to write down and admit, actually, especially publically; but I thought exactly that when I woke: that was my future wife. I still know exactly how she tasted, smelled, how her waist felt in my arms.

I’m not sure how I feel about marriage, really. My mom has always said I should wait until I’m 30 to get married, and thinks too many people get married too young. I don’t really think the government should have anything to do with my personal relationships, and I don’t think the government should value certain kinds of relationships over others – one man + one woman? What about a triad, a lesbian couple, co-habiting straight men? Who cares how people make a household work, as long as they do?

But: I do believe in commitment, in stating publically that you love someone, in gathering friends & family in a ceremony that celebrates and affirms the difficulty, the support, the community around a relationship.

Since I came to be aware of the inequalities of queer relationships in the eyes of the law in, oh, I don’t know, high school? middle school?, it has just been a given that I couldn’t “actually” get married.

“Whatever,” I told myself. “Like I would get married anyway. Like I want The Church + The State involved in My Relationship.”

And the activist circles I ran in were skeptical of marriage as The Gay Rights Issue: “There is so much to be done!” we argued. “Marriage is such an issue of privilege. What about hate crime legislation, discrimination policies for the workplace, queer homeless youth, AIDS, suicide rates, the drinking/drug problems in the queer communities? What about foster kids and adoption and simply BEING KILLED because of gender and sexual orientation? What about cissexism and trans advocacy?”

Unfortunately, the momentum of queer activism isn’t necessarily in the radical queer youth & college students – it’s with the money. And mostly-white mostly-middle-class homos have already decided what The Gay Issue is: marriage.

It’s a symbol, really: not just a symbol for normalcy, but a symbol for a relationship. And that’s what is at the heart of this movement, the heart of the difference in sexual orientation: the right and ability to choose whom we love, with whom we partner.

While my personal beliefs are still a bit more radical than that, I’ve studied the history of social change enough to know that chnage happens gradually, in pockets, a little bit at a time. I also feel like gay marriage activism is a limited scope – like aiming for the mountaintop instead of the sky – because it still defines marriage as two people, right, we’re still talking about working within the monogamy system here. So while many of our poly friends are going “rah rah gay marriage! And PS, what about us?” the gay marriage activits are kind of saying, “Shhh, we can’t talk about your issues right now.”

But then again, it’s easier to go little-by-little than to overhaul the whole system. It’s a classic social change model conflict – after observing a system of oppression, do we a) work from within it to attempt to change it, or b) throw it out completely and start over? My radicalism wants marriage to be thrown out. I mean really, what good is it? But I feel the same way about other institutions that seem to matter to some feminist theorists and reclaimists, such as Christianity. I don’t personally have any investment in the system of Christianity, so I can’t imagine going inside of it to fix and change the oppression and hierarchical marginalizing structures that are in place – but others do have that investment, and are doing the work to include women in clergy, to research the history of more women saints, of queer history in the church, etc. Lesbian and feminist priests and nuns and churchgoers – what they find in the practice must be worth the work of reclaiming and rebuilding, for them.

Actually, I can draw a parallel here: for me, it is language. I am a poet at heart and never cannot be. People ask me why I use language they deem offensive – dyke, fag, pussy, cunt, slut, butch, femme, queer – and I try to explain it is because I love these words. As if they were delicate glass boxes filled with mud, I pick them up from being buried in the compost heap and wash them, dig the dirt from their creases, make their silver shine, make them see-through again. I am invested in the system of language, even though within it -built into the very makeup – is a hierarchy that says certain people are better, best.

Which brings me to my next point: words. Of course “marriage” is not the same thing as “civil union” or “domestic partnership” – the words are different. “Beautiful” is not the same thing as “cute” or “gorgeous” or “attractive” or “stunning” or “elegant” or “handsome,” right? Those all have slightly different connotations, even if their definitions are overlapping and very similar.

I am a poet. I’ve worked hard to say that sentence. I eat words for breakfast and fall asleep with book after book open on my pillow. I theorize language and meaning and definitions and semantics, revive words that are suffering, influse love and equality and value where I can.

It doesn’t matter how many rights there are in a “civil union” or “domestic partnership,” they will never be marriage, because they are not the same word.

Period.

Mark Twain wrote, “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

It is the difference between fire, and a firefly.

Words are not some static, fixed thing. They are living, they have lives and evolutions, they are manifestations of the culture from where they come, in which they are used. We can change them. They do change and evolve and grow to suit the needs of culture – they reflect a culture, but they also shape a culture. A new concept, term, or phrase can define a movement, a change, activism.

Researching all this information about the state of gay marriage in my country recently has really got me thinking about my own future. I don’t come from a very traditional family, I’ve never thought I would have a very traditional wedding – bridesmaids, groomsmen, white dress, any of that. I’ve received some amazing, beautiful, moving photographs from queers over the last few days, and I find a part of me is craving to have some beautiful party, some celebration, where my love and I can costume up and wear cool clothes and be surrounded by our friends looking dashing.

So I have some ideas forming about what I’d do for my own ceremony. No real dealbreakers, just ideas that I like. Although I am really attached to the idea that our first dance would be choreographed – let’s hope my future wife knows how to swing. (Let’s also hope next time I’ll dream her phone number or URL, so I’ll figure out how to contact her.)


* I hate this common use of “gay” and not infrequently call people on it when I hear them say it. But the tension in this sentence – calling marriage “gay” – cracks me up. Kind of like the bumper sticker I saw at Little Sister’s Bookstore in Vancouver, BC many years ago, which read, “Straight people are so gay.” Hah!

8 Against 8: 8 bloggers – 8 days – as much money as we can raise to defeat Proposition 8 in California. Vote no on Prop 8!

8against8: We are not the enemy


Another photo project: We Are Not the Enemy

Please send work-safe photos with “We are not the enemy” somewhere in the image to [email protected] LGBT pals and groups are welcome; couple status is not required.

I don’t know who these hotties are, but I want to meet them. More photos at the We Are Not the Enemy Blog.

8against8: Take a Picture, Take a Stand


The kissing is a protest against the “yes on 102” signs – Vote NO on 102!

Take a Picture, Take a Stand: Grassroots campaign against Proposition 102 in Arizona

From their Flickr Group:

Prop 102 would amend the Arizona Constitution to say “only a union between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state”. This issue is on the ballot for November 4th, even though Arizona residents voted on, and rejected, this issue just two short years ago.

This time around, the “Yes On 102” campaign has a huge budget to spread their message. Their billboards, signs, and radio/television ads are everywhere right now. It’s easy to let that make us feel invisible, marginalized, hopeless….but now, more than ever; we cannot afford to let that happen.

Consider this a call to action! We want to counter those images and messages of divisiveness, exclusion and prejudice with images of inclusion, equality and acceptance.

If you live in Arizona take a picture of you in front of your “No on 102’ lawn sign, print a sign for your car window and take a picture of that, or stand in front of one of the “Yes” signs holding your own handmade sign that shows your support of equality and your desire to defeat this proposition. Kiss, hug, hold hands, flash a big peace sign…whatever you’re inspired to do.*

If you live elsewhere in the country, but want to show your support, make a sign of your own celebrating peace, love, acceptance, equality, love. Involve your children, neighbors – heck, get your pets in the mix too – just make sure to write “No On 102” somewhere on the sign!

Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” To that we add, never underestimate the power of a simple photograph. Our pictures, taken from the heart, often speak louder than our voices ever could. Collectively we believe these images will carry our message of equality forward and outward – spreading a wave of positive energy that will help us defeat this proposition once and for all.

[Ah shit! That reminds me: Riese wanted “no on 8” photos for a photo quilt. I want to send one to her. Better do that. ]

8against8: Ariel and Amy

A couple photos from Ariel Levy’s wedding to Amy Norquist, as published in New York Magazine.

The accompanying article is The Lesbian Bride’s Handbook by Ariel Levy, and discusses Ariel’s process going up to the wedding, especially in buying the wedding dress.

And yes, this is kind of gratuitous eye candy, but I just adore that photograph of Ariel & Amy, they look so happy and so beautiful. (I also really love the idea of wearing a white suit at my own wedding.)

8against8 – 8 bloggers, 8 days, $8,000 – Vote NO on Proposition 8

8against8: Julie and Nikola

Your musical interlude during this week of activism against Proposition 8 is Comedian Julie Goldman’s music video “Commitment Ceremony.”

This so cracks me up. So clever, and such a subtle way to point out how commitment ceremonies are inherently unequal.

Comedian Julie Goldman married Nikola Smith in 2005 in Massachusetts, which, aside from California and Connecticut, also grants same-sex marriage rights.

(photo from Go Magazine)

… If you think Julie is hot and funny (and, uh, who wouldn’t?), also check out a great clip of her stand-up routine where she talks about shopping for her wedding.

We’ve replaced your usual smut with political activism … let’s watch

“What’s going on here?!” You may be asking yourself. “What happened to my usual Sugarbutch Chronicles, with queer eye candy and smut and gender theory?”

Through October 28, it’s the 8 Against 8 campaign, where 8 lesbian bloggers are raising $8,000 over 8 days to defeat Proposition 8 in California. Along with Grace & Grace, Lori Hahn, Kelly at TLL, Dorothy Surrenders, Pam’s House Blend, Riese, Renee at Lesbiatopia, we are writing to raising awareness about the homophobic, bigoted political initiatives that are stripping away equal rights from queers.

It’s not just Proposition 8 in California, it’s also No on amendment 2 in Florida, No on Proposition 102 in Arizona , No on Question 1 in Connecticut, and No on Act 1 in Arkansas. Educate yourself. Talk to your friends & family. Send emails. DO SOMETHING.

The 8 Against 8 roundup on Sugarbutch:
Day 1, Monday:

Day 2, Tuesday:

Day 3, Wednesday:

  • Julie & Nikola, and a video for Julie’s hilarious comedy-song Commitment Ceremony

Day 4, Thursday:

Day 5, Friday:

Day 6, Saturday:

Day 7, Sunday:

Day 8, Monday:

  • Photos of fierce-gorgeous-moving-sexy-hot-inspiring queer weddings!
  • Got photos of YOUR gay wedding you’d like to be featured? Send ’em in to aspiringstud at gmail.com.

We have currently raised: $6,314 of $8,000 as of 10:30am on Wednesday, 22 October! We have reached our goal! Late on Wednesday, October 22, our donations tipped over $8,000. BUT the polls are still saying that we are not guaranteed a win against Proposition 8. Keep donating! Let’s see how far we can go! As of Monday, 27 October, we’ve raised over $13,000!

8against8: Ellen & Portia

Not that this is news, but Ellen Degeneres and Portia De Rossi married in August this year, and Ellen has, for the first time, been a bit political about GBLT issues on her show, taking out ads like this one above urging people to VOTE NO ON PROPOSITION 8.

If you haven’t seen the video clips of their wedding that Ellen played on her show, I highly suggest it. It makes me really teary every time. They are so in love, and their moms are so sweet, and the wedding just looks stunning. As a Hollywood LA wedding should be, I suppose.

8against8 – 8 bloggers, 8 days, $8000 – vote NO on Proposition 8

8against8: Del & Phyllis

What a better place to start on the 8against8 activist week than to highlight the first lesbian couple to be wed in California after the state’s Supreme Court overturned the ban on same-sex marriage in May of 2008. In June, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon were legally wed after being together for over fifty years.

UCLA’s Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy projected in June 2008 that about half of California’s more than 100,000 same-sex couples will wed during the next three years and 68,000 out-of-state couples will travel to California to exchange vows. (via Wikipedia)

Del and Phyllis met in 1952 and were founding members of the Daughters of Bilitis, the US’s first lesbian group, who also published a magazine called The Ladder (you can stop by the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn to see all the old issues of The Ladder). There’s a great video of Del & Phyllis speaking about the DOB on YouTube, please do check it out.

More information at their wikipedia page and also in the documentary film No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, which looks like it’s replayed on PBS on occasion. (It looks like the New York Public Library might have copies, but you can’t actually check them out. I’d really love to see this – if anyone knows how to get hold of a copy, please do let me know.)

Below is a video clip of their exchange of vows.

Del Martin is a bit of butch eye candy herself … there’s a sort of a sneer to her smile, isn’t there? I can’t quite place it but I can sense it. Del died in August 2008 in San Francisco, with her wife by her side. She was 87.

As a budding young activist and baby dyke, discovering the stories of Del and Phyllis were profoundly moving for me… I remember staring at their reproduced black & white photographs in lesbian history books and being profoundly grateful for all they had endured, incredibly sad for the bigotry they experienced, deeply moved by their perseverance and dedication, so relieved that I live in a better time – a culture that tolerates (if not occasionally celebrates) my gender identity, my sexual orientation, and even my history, where my particular subculture came from. There are so many scholars and activists out there doing work on the history of the queer activist movements in the US, and looking through some of Del and Phyllis’s stories always reminds me how recent so much of this history was made.

I know, I’m young, it’s true; I’m 29. I’ve been blessed to grow up in quite a gay-tolerant culture. I look at gay & lesbian activist history in the 50s and 60s and I see my own history, my own legacy, my own inheritance. I’m thrilled to have shoulders like Del and Phyllis to stand on, and to stand up for. I’m so, so glad that they were legally married before Del passed away, so glad they got to witness the beginnings of the legalization of gay marriage in this country.

This history isn’t over yet, though. This is a living history, history with a pulse and breath, with driving activism forces behind it. We are changing things – we already have.

8 Against 8 – 8 bloggers, 8 days, $8,000 – vote NO on Proposition 8

Vote NO on Prop 8

8against8 – 8 bloggers, 8 days, $8,000 – Vote No on Proposition 8!

This marks the beginning of 8 Against 8, where 8 lesbian blogs are writing for 8 days against Proposition 8 in California which would render same-sex marriage illegal and raising a goal of $8,000 to defeat the initiative.

Aside from me, the other 7 bloggers participating in this 8 Against 8 are Grace Chu and Grace Rosen at Grace The Spot, Lori Hahn at Hahn At Home, Kelly Leszczynski at The Lesbian Lifestyle, Dorothy Snarker at Dorothy Surrenders, Pam Spaulding at Pam’s House Blend, Riese at This Girl Called Automatic Win, and Renee Gannon at Lesbiatopia.

In addition to California’s Proposition 8 on the ballot in just a few weeks, Florida has Amendment 2 and Arizona has Proposition 102, both of which would amend their state constitutions to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Arkansas also has Act 1 on the ballot, which would forbid gay and lesbian parents – and any unmarried parents – from adopting children.

Every day during 8 against 8 I’ll be featuring some different things against the initiative. Donate some funds NOW, talk to everyone you know about voting in this year’s election (regardless of their location), urge your Californian friends and family and lovers to VOTE NO on Proposition 8.

8against8 – 8 blogs, 8 days, $8,000 – VOTE NO ON PROPOSITION 8

Eye Candy: Rachel Maddow on Jay Leno


Oh I just can’t resist. I don’t usually do celebrity eye candy, that’s a whole different ballgame really, but I’ve got such a bromance crush going on with Rachel Maddow. She’s been making big headlines lately – she’s got her own show on Air America, The Rachel Maddow Show, (Monday-Friday at 6 p.m. Eastern on Air America Radio, also available streaming from the Air America website), but only recently she got her own MSNBC show (Monday-Friday at 9 p.m. Eastern on MSNBC-TV, and is re-broadcast on MSNBC at 11 p.m. and on Air America Radio the next day at 7 p.m.).

Everybody’s been talking about how out and queer and visibly a bit butch she is. I can never seem to remember to turn on my TV, but I keep watching clips of her online and she is just brilliant.

She took some time to stop and chat with Jay Leno just a few nights ago, October 9th. Now that MSNBC isn’t dressing her up in lipstick and girl suits, she’s back in her own clothes and looks – in a word – hot. Those glasses? Nerdyhot. That shirt? A little bit rockabilly, a little bit cowboy, a little too big, pretty darn butch.

On Matthew Shepard, and Not Getting Eaten Alive

On October 6th, 1998, Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence in Laramie, Wyoming, beaten, and left for dead – because he was gay. He was taken to a nearby trauma hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, and died on October 12th.

I lived in Fort Collins at the time. I was not out, I was living with my high school boyfriend of five years. Nobody I knew was talking about it, aside from the brief acknowledgment in order to look away. There were protesters at the hospital. The Denver newspaper announced that he had died before he actually died.

I remember crying. I remember being so confused as to how this could’ve happened. I remember being terrified to come out in that environment, so I stayed in the closet for two more years.

Years later, after I was living in Seattle and came out and was building an amazing queer community, I saw Matthew’s mom Judy Shepard speak at my college. I’m paraphrasing here, but I remember a few things she said so deeply: “I’m just a mom,” she said. “I’m not an activist, I’m not a historian, I’m just a mom of a really great kid who died because he was gay. People ask me all the time, what can I do, and I always tell them: Come out. Come out everywhere, all the time. People discriminate because they don’t think they know any gay people. They don’t know that the guy they go bowling with is gay, that their office neighbor is gay, that their dry cleaner is gay. They think gay happens “over there” in big coastal cities. Until everyone starts realizing that gay people are just like them, discrimination will keep happening.”

I tell that to people a lot, especially baby dykes (or baby fags or baby queers) who are struggling with coming out. It’s our number one place of activism: to be who we are. To let the soft animal of our bodies love what it loves. It is not easy for any of us, but for some more than others, as there are still very real consequences to coming out and being out, not just with our families and parents (especially) but in our daily lives.

I was searching for some Judy Shepard direct quotes and came across this article from 2001, which relays more of the thoughts I’m trying to articulate:

Matthew came out to her at the age of 18, three years before he died. He decided in his own time and space when to tell his parents about his feelings on his sexuality and how that was important to him. After explaining how she and her husband dealt with Matthew’s coming out, Judy believes that “Your goal in life is to be the best and happiest you can be. Be who you are. Share who you are with the rest of the world.” Come out. Come out to yourself. Come out to your family. Come out to your friends. Be who you are and don’t hide in the closet of fear. Take pride in who you are through and through. […] In closing, Judy illustrated her thoughts that if the corporate world of gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals would come out and be true to themselves, their lives, and the world we live in would be a better place. Maybe Matthew would still be here today. ‘It’s fear and ignorance that killed Matthew. If fear is shed, the violence will go with it.’ Acceptance of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals would not allow fear and ignorance to exist as hate.
Erie Gay News report on Judy Shepard at Mercyhurst April 3 2001.

Years after I left Colorado, when I was in Seattle and studying writing, especially formal poetic forms, I wrote an acrostic poem about Shepard. The acrostic is a form you’ve probably played with as a kid, at least – you take a word and make each letter in the word the first letter of the line of the poem. In this case, the assignment was to write an acrostic about a place, capturing both the essence of the geographical space and an event that occurred there. The title is a reference to the date he was attacked.

    MATTHEW 10:6 (Acrostic)

    Framed in thick oak trees, equidistant, streets
    Open to fields marching toward undisturbed horizons
    Regulation-height lawns burn with summer’s oppression
    Tearing boys from youth, from breath. Behind

    Cinnamon foothills, anger and ignorance sprinkle
    Obstructions in the north winds. An easy tragedy
    Laughs. Tail lights disappear, tangled in this inevitable
    Last night – train whistles whisper, keeping company
    Infused with ghosts. Plucked from a fence,
    No one blinks – hospital doors swing shut.
    Shepard boy releases. The world watches the moon set.

On being a (gender) freak in New York City

I am not noticed much in New York City. My recent trip to Washington State’s Olympic Penninsula reminded me of this and I’ve been more observant of it ever since.

Honestly, to most subway commuters, shoppers, service industry employees, I just don’t register on their freak radar. I dress quite conservatively, usually, for one. I’m often in slacks and button-downs, kakhis and a polo, with a gadget bag and an iPod when I am commuting to and from Manhattan, and I just don’t account for as much attention as someone soliciting for money, someone homeless sleeping on the train, someone with a boa constrictor, someone in a wedding dress.

[Maybe it’s a class thing – upper class and working class are noticed, middle class is generally anonymous and neutral?]

I have often noticed that I pass as male here – that people, service employees especially, call me “sir.” But in watching this a little closer I have noticed that it’s not that I’m passing necessarily, I think people are just not paying close enough attention to me – it’s quite obvious I’m female upon just the slightest attentive glance, and I don’t think most people are consciencious enough of genderqueer-ness to call me “sir” by default.

My freak is not in my display of clothing, my costuming, my visible markers – my freak is that my clothing is on this body, that my gender presentation breaks the sex/gender assumption of my societally-instructed gender role. And honestly, the survival skills of New York mean that you don’t – you can’t – pay too much attention to the average Pats and Jamies around you, because you will either: a) get completely overwhelmed by the input, or b) miss observing the dangerous freak and find yourself in harm’s way. It is a skill that, as an empath, observer, and writer, I have had much struggle learning, as I want to be able to observe and notice the things going on around me, and indeed that is one of the best things about New York City, this huge, constant swirl of energy and life. But while it is energizing in small doses, to live inside of it constantly we must develop thick, massive boundaries as to not take in all of the constant comedy and tragedy around us.

When I dress up for a date or for a photo shoot, New York’s reaction to me is slightly different. This is when my masculinity becomes deviant and subversive, even aside from the body it is performed upon, because I start looking like a fag, I add elements of flair and sissy and dress-up and vaudeville, and that is not quite the same conservative masculinity that gets scanned over and does not set off anyone’s freak radar.

So my masculine gender is only “freaky” when it starts to be more feminine, more faggy, more queer. This makes sense now that I’m thinking of it – I just never thought about it like that.

My identity is largely marked by the construction of clothes, costuming, and physical appearance, as I think many butches are, as that’s the most obvious adaptation of the non-normative and subversive gender, and of rejecting the compulsory gender. But strangely I’ve gotten to the point where my construction of this notion of my identity is so “natural” that it doesn’t set off freak radar anymore. It’s only when I take my adopted gender role to more queer places – camping it up, making it more feminine with traditionally feminine colors, adding bold accessories and high contrast – that I start standing out in this city.

Carrying the torch: Obama ’08

It’s hard to admit, but I’m terrified about the upcoming election. I know, many of us are, especially the liberals who so desperately want Bush out of office, who want the democrats to regain power and attempt to undo some of the changes that are eroding our civil rights.

It is no small thing to write about politics on a public forum like this one – it is probably safe to say that my readership is primarily progressive liberals, but certainly not 100%. It is not impossible to get death threats.

Though I was raised by parents who are registered independents and who vote Green, who say the democrats are too conservative for them, who have been activists for decades, who believe in grassroots organizing and social change and that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world, I have been often disillusioned with the political process in this country.

I grew up in Alaska, where the polls close last and we have three electoral votes. This means that as the polls closed around the country, my parents would watch the results roll in and would wait to vote, often until the president had already been announced.

Clearly, our votes really mattered.

I understand now that it was a political strategy – that they would be certain Alaska would not be any sort of swing state or tiebreaker so they could comfortably go vote for the third party. But at the time, it was confusing. I believed that voting was a key important part of a democratic process, that by not voting you’re showing apathy and disinterest, and the only way to contribute is to make your position known.

This is how I witnessed voting until I was 18 and began voting in my own presidential elections – two so far – 2000 and 2004. Which, as certainly you remember, were a disaster. 2000 did not help to restore my faith in the political process of this country. Hanging chads? Seriously? And what happened to all those missing ballots? Oh, they were found in the dumpster out back? Really? Why did all those people get turned away from the polls? They were voting democrat … I see. And someone could win the popular vote but not the electoral vote? Isn’t there something wrong with that? And 2004 … I was kind of excited about Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich for a minute there, but who’d we end up with? A cardboard cut-out. I don’t remember a single thing the guy said, he was so flat and boring. I could for a while quote some of the things Dean and Kucinich had said, but nothing memorable ever came out of Kerry’s mouth.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. I did support Kerry simply because he was the democratic party candidate. Although I resent that part of this system, too – that the political parties to which I am closest aligned do not have serious candidates, or, if they do, they are blamed for the democratic loss of the election, having “stolen” votes away. (This is another can o’worms entirely that I’m not willing to open – debate whether or not the third parties are valid or detrimental somewhere else, please.)

My point is, ever since I was old enough to vote, I’ve lived in George Bush’s America. And even since I was a kid, though I had a brief babyhood with Carter, I’ve grown up in Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush America. Capitalism rules – votes are for sale, influence is for sale, lawmaking is for sale. It’s depressing!

I grew up in the shadow of the civil rights legacy – social change through grassroots activism that clearly worked, that stopped the Vietnam war, that changed women’s gender roles, that shattered segregation, that united queers around the country. Parents and teachers who taught the political movements of the 1960s and ’70s like scripture, and I was – we all were – the next generation, the new movement, those who would pick up the torch and carry on.

And yet … and yet. The Right has been incredibly well-organized and effective. This country is divided on issues vs values. I find it so goddamn hard to believe that the election is so tightly close – I mean really? There are really just as many people voting for Obama as are voting for McCain? How can that be possible? It’s so hard to believe. Just like it’s so hard to believe that Bush Jr. was elected – twice – and took office – twice – and we didn’t stop him – twice.

However much those elections were fixed or rigged or fairly won or a systematic corruption of our voting system, we didn’t do enough to make it stop, did we?

I’m not a political scientist, I hesitate to even write about this because I feel like so many other people are so much more well informed than I am. That was one of the things I loved so much about The Ex, actually, was that she was a political scientist and could engage with me about political issues in ways that really helped me understand. So I know enough to know that I don’t know very much. (Which is why I’m linking like crazy, not only to source myself, but to encourage information gathering from other places. And to put all the links and resources I’ve been collecting in one spot.)

Oh jeez, and then there’s Sarah Palin. And the nonsense about Palin vs Hillary Clinton, which I don’t even want to speak to.

I do have some information about Palin, being that the Alaska Governor’s mansion is down the street from my mom’s house and my aunt works for the legislature. But if you’re paying any attention to the email forwards that are going around about Palin, then you probably already know what I know: basically, she’s vindictive. You’ve probably seen the Kilkenny email, the commentary by Gloria Steinem, and Women Against Sarah Palin. I probably don’t need to tell you about Palin’s anti-feminist, anti-woman, anti-choice, anti-LGBT, anti-freedom philosophies: pro-gun. Anti-abortion. Against same sex marriage. Bans books. Anti-evolution and pro-creationism in public schools. Against sex education in schools. The list goes on.

This stuff depresses me. About now I start thinking, wtf can I do?

Check out the Action Center on barackobama.com for more ideas about what you can do to get involved.

Donate to the Obama campaign.

Encourage everyone to register & vote – voteforchange.com has registration, absentee & early vote info.

If you want Obama buttons for your own site, they’re at /downloads – took me a bit of poking around to find them. I even downloaded an Obama wallpaper for my work computer, which is going to be slightly controversial in my conservative office, but I don’t care.

Meanwhile, fivethirtyeight.com‘s electoral projections are keeping my hopes up.

Creating Conscious Gender

Seems like I kinda stepped in it with this entire intentional gender thing! Lots of comments and emails about that one.

(Almost as bad as I stepped in it when I suggested something like “I noticed your gender from across the room” as a pickup line. Yes, it sounds ridiculous. But there’s just no other way to say that without a) objectifying, and potentially offending or b) assuming a person’s gender and potentially offending. Though perhaps that’s speaking more to my underlying Issue of not wanting to offend people than it is speaking to getting someone’s attention by using gender as a flirtation device. Maybe the more appropriate line for most folks is just, “hey, I think you’re hot.”)

I think the mention of “unconscious” vs “conscious” gender are more accurate descriptors than “intentional” vs “natural” gender. I’ve already mentioned this, but: modern gender theory does not believe gender is “natural” at all, it says gender is socially constructed. It can be constructed consciously, or it can be constructed unconsciously.

But there are ways that I can be more conscious about the ways I carry myself. There are ways that I can study and understand how gender works in this highly, highly gendered society, and figure out and choose the ways I operate within it.

So, here’s a bit of a story about what that process looked like for me:

I was raised in a very feminist household. The rejection of traditional gender roles was instilled in me from very young, by my mother especially, who didn’t take my father’s name, never shaves, never wears makeup or dresses or skirts or heels, was primarily the one to mow the lawn and help me with my math homework, etc.

Though this was deep within my family values, I was particularly susceptible to cultural standards as a teenager (I think we all are, and I have some ideas about why I was in particular, but I won’t go into that here), and I ended up fairly gender-conformist, nearly married – to a cisgendered guy – for five years. I think I had to prove that for me, the model of grown-up relationships really wouldn’t work, that all that society says is actually untrue. Of course, for some people it works just fine to be female-bodied, feminine, and attracted to men – clearly, not so much for me. I think it was precisely because I suspected that this wasn’t true that I had to really prove it for myself.

I’m also firmly based in second wave feminism insofar as I believe every person’s unique life experience is valid and important. I believe each of us is already an expert on our own gender, our own lives. I believe we all have valuable, thoughtful things to add to the conversation of gender (or sexuality, or relationships) regardless of our supposed credentials or expertise or level of study.

That’s the thing about gender – we all have it, we all live in a particularly gendered society, we all have been raised with its influence.

Consciousness-raising groups (in my understanding) started for because there was no formal study of women or the female experience. (I can’t really even imagine a culture that assumed that women’s experiences were included in the male norm, a culture that had no feminist cannon, such a lack of sources to study and know and experience. Thanks, foremothers, for women studies, for feminist studies, for all the work you did!)

So C-R groups created their own sources, using the experiences of the women in the group themselves, treating each like a text, a source, from which they could learn, from which understanding could arise and blossom and grow.

This is how I see this writing project, this community, and all of you who participate and who engage with me – as part of a large consciousness-raising group, where we are all sharing ideas, resources, and experiences to gain greater understanding of our selves, our communities, and the world as a whole.

This too is where my love for narrative fiction overlaps, where reading someone else’s story enhances my understanding of the world, where I feel less separate and more connected and, ultimately, where every story has value, especially the voices to marginalized communities, experiences, bodies, and lives.

So: growing up in a feminist household with rejection of gender roles, then going out into the world and living in a hetero relationship where we were playing out very stereotypical gender roles, then coming out as queer – all this lead me to start studying feminist, queer, and gender theory, seeking out language, concepts, and similar stories to help me explain my own experiences. And within gender theory and studies, I finally found places to get some of my questions – gender roles, gender compulsivity, gender norms, gender within relationships, the intersection of sex & gender – articulated, and then answered.

Such as:

What is gender?
How does it work?
Why are we confined to a binary? Why don’t we have three or eight or fifteen genders?
How does the sex/gender binary function?
What purpose does it serve?
Who benefits? Why, how?
How does it get enforced?
How has it changed over the years?
How is it connected with race, class, sexuality, nationality, religion, etc etc?

And once I started getting ideas about how to answer these questions, I started asking more personal questions of myself, and where I fit in to this huge, permeating, practically invisible system of hierarchy, power, and value.

Such as:

How do I feel comfortable?
What makes me feel powerful?
How do I want my hair?
What looks good on my particular body?
What fits with the way I carry myself, how I treat others, how I see myself?
What type of gender am I attracted to?
How does this relate to my sexuality?

I was simultaneously starting to come into my own as butch, partly because of the lesbian initiation process of rejecting femininity and cutting off your hair (which worked for me, though certainly doesn’t work for all lesbians who go through this), and partly because I started immediately liking femmes who dated butches and who recognized a sort of masculine ‘energy’ in me.

Actually claiming the label and identity category of butch was a more difficult quest for me, one I’ve written about a few times, specifically in terms of masculine posturing and rejecting – as a feminist and lesbian – the things that I see are so problematic with compulsory masculinity in both cisgendered men and in masculine-identified women. (More on that another time.)

Regardless of my questions and hesitations about butch/femme roles and labels, the process was definitely underway. And as it has unfolded deeper and deeper, in more and more aspects of my life, I have found such a home in it, in ways that have been seriously transformative to the ways that I operate in the world.

The basic feminist principles of inherent equality, the wide range of human experience, and celebrating the self as it is are applicable to many, many aspects of gender exploration. But I’ve found that these principles aren’t quite so active in most of the lesbian communities. Yes, there are people doing this work, but we are not the majority – compulsory gender in lesbian communities is usually a sort of gender rejection, an androgyny.

And that works for many people – which is excellent! I will always say you should go with what feels good to you, what makes you feel sexy, powerful, beautiful. For many of us, it is not androgyny that makes us feel good about ourselves, it’s another type of gender expression. There’s a huge gender galaxy out there, a huge range of expression and celebration, and so much to play with.

I don’t pretend that I have all the answers to questions or issues on gender. I have concepts, ideas, and resources, and I have reached some understandings, about both the world and system at large (macro) and my own personal place within it (micro).

I also don’t think my answers will necessarily be your answers.

I encourage you to find your own answers. To ask these questions, to decide consciously where you want to be within this pervasive system.

There have been many of you who have emailed me or commented about my recent writings about conscious vs unconscious gender, and here’s the part where I start to actually take an opinion on this: I think it’s very important to discover, stumble upon, find, or create a conscious gender. Doesn’t matter how you come to it, really, but it does matter to me that we do.

What that conscious gender might look like, of course, is highly varied – perhaps all it’ll take is a moment’s consideration, and a recognition that yeah, I’m where I want to be, that’s enough for me. Maybe it’ll take years of deep exploration and personal omphaloskepsis and meditation and therapy. Maybe it’ll take reading lots of books about the subject, or lots of blogs. Maybe not.

I don’t pretend to know what that process looks like for everybody, all I know is how it looks for me – and how important it has been for me to go through that process, which is, obviously, why I am encouraging it in others.

Look, I know not everybody has the interest in this that I do. And I don’t think everyone needs to start a blog (that becomes their part-time job) and dedicate a big portion of your free time to studying how gender works and what it means to you personally, but I really do think we would begin to move forward if we have some small moments of awareness about gender, about compulsive behavior and categories, about discriminating against butches or femmes or trans folks or androgyny.

When we understand (at least a little) how the system works so that we can begin to see how we fit inside it, and we can be empowered to make the choices that are in our own best interests, rather than in the best interests of those for whom this system is designed to benefit.

But it’s not just that. It’s also because when everybody does better, then everybody does better. It’s also because sometimes I’m lonely out here doing gendered work with a small handful of community. It’s also because, though some small circles of consciousness-raising activists are happening, most gender is still compulsory and not letting up anytime soon. It’s because this binary compulsory gendered system hurts us. It’s because trans and gay kids are getting beat up and murdered. It’s because boys who wear dresses are shamed. It’s because tomboys who want to run around shirtless are shamed. It’s because women are not safe walking alone on the streets of Manhattan at night. It’s because I am not safe walking alone on the streets of Manhattan at night. And we should be able to be safe, I want us to be safe, all of us.

And plus? Underneath some of the hard work here, it’s really fun. It’s dress-up, it’s activism, it’s subversion, it’s sexy. It’s a deep celebration of you, of me, of our interaction with the world, and with each other.

Lesbian stereotypes, reclaiming language, and activism

Yet another case in point: Butch, skinhead, wife-beating, pint drinkers? “Butch, femme, dyke – what kind of lesbian are you? Jeni Quirke explores the negativity surrounding lesbian stereotypes.”

Hey, sounds like a pretty good idea, exploring negative lesbian stereotypes, yeah? Right away, I’m skeptical of her inclusion of “butch” in that title, but I’m curious. Let’s read.

[L]esbians and bisexual women are also guilty of holding stereotypical generalisations and assumptions about each other based on appearance and personality. The words ‘dyke’, ‘baby-dyke’, ‘lipstick lesbian’, ‘pretend lesbian’ and ‘political lezza’ are too often thrown about the lesbian community, at work, in the pub or even from a friend to a friend in a jokey and cheeky way.

So why is this still happening, in a supposedly very tolerant and gay friendly society? It’s quite straightforward for all involved – stereotypes[.] … [W]hy do lesbian and bisexual women also carelessly use the terms ‘butch’, ‘femme’, ‘dyke’[?] … Is it internalised homophobia? … most women don’t even realise they have it or are displaying it.

So, when words to describe lesbian identity categories – such as dyke, baby dyke, and lipstick lesbian – are used by heterosexual or gay men who are excluded from and based in ignorant assumptions about the group, it is because of stereotyping, but if lesbians actually use these terms, it is from a place of internalized homophobia.

The use of words such as ‘dyke’, ‘butch’ and ‘femme’ from a lesbian individual or group are almost always meant in a negative way. Often, the only positive times you will hear the words spoken will be from a lesbian who is referring to herself, such as ‘Yeah I’m a butch dyke, but so what? It’s who I am.’ For the individual and for onlookers this proud and defensive statement will seem a very noble and bold thing to say. This it is, but it could also encourage the use of such stereotypes by heterosexual and non-heterosexual people.

So here she’s saying, when I define myself and call myself what I want to be called, when I reclaim the words for myself, it appears to be “very noble and bold,” but really it’s encouraging stereotypes. Who cares if it’s empowering to me in a development of my own gender identity, in putting myself in a historical and cultural context where I recognize the gendered struggles of my foremothers and forefathers and and forebabas and forepapis, really it’s just an invitation to oppress me. Not buying it.

If we are using offensive terms to one another in our own community, then what chance is there that straight people and gay men will stop using them? Are we re-enforcing the terms? And if so why are we doing this to each other and to ourselves? … Possibly the thought that ‘stereotypical’ lesbians such as ‘butch dykes’ are re-enforcing people’s generalisations and giving lesbians a bad name. … Could it be that society on the whole has become addicted and accustomed to using labels or labelling[?]

So now this author claims that butch dykes are giving lesbians a bad name and reinforcing stereotypical lesbianism. Oh, I recognize this tune.

And also, a word about labels: where we are in our cultural identity history, right now, in the West in the early 21st century, we reject labels. Pretty much entirely. Constantly, people are saying “don’t box me in,” “don’t restrict me,” “I’m bigger than that box,” “I’m more than a label,” et cetera. We are not addicted and accustomed to labels. I absolutely think it’s true that labels can be restrictive and limiting when applied without any leniency, and I think it’s true that culturally, we used to have more of a sense of defining people by their gender, age, race, economic status, ethnicity, family history, class, social status, religious beliefs, et cetera – by all of the factors of social hierarchy. But this is precisely what the various activist movements of the 20th century have been working to change, and in many ways, it absolutely has changed. Labels are generally now seen as bad and restrictive.

The well-known and common female stereotypes such as femme , butch and dyke are only there so other people and sometimes even ourselves use to categorise all the ‘types’ or ‘breeds’ of lesbians neatly away into a fileable drawer. [Emphasis added.]

Oh, now I’m just sad. The only reason butch exists is so others – or “sometimes even ourselves,” (implying, of course, how sad that is, that our internalized homophobia is so bad that we limit ourselves so awfully) – can categorize us?

Goddammit, this is just so inaccurate. There is a long history of butch, femme, and genderqueer WARRIORS who are changing laws, making strives, marching in protests, fighting for rights, being visible, working hard, raising kids, making families, contributing to thriving communities, loving, living, and being ourselves.

And now, this perspective of the author of this article becomes even more transparent: the things she is saying here are flat-out gender-phobic. Probably out of ignorance, rather than intentionally malicious, but still. This author clearly cannot imagine that any femme, butch, or dyke would ever be authentically empowered by these labels (as opposed to falsely empowered through internalized homophobia) or claiming them out of some sort of intentional, conscious, educated, contextualized narrative of queer culture, life, identity, and empowerment.

I haven’t even started about the power of reclaiming words, here, which this author completely discounts as even remotely possible. Yes, the word “dyke,” for example, has been used by outsiders to marginalize and oppress people within that group. But part of the process of legitimizing that identity is to take the words that have been used to oppress us and revision them to be valuable, which, by proxy, revisions the identity as valuable as well. This also deflates the potential of the insult: if the word no longer has any negative connotations, and someone shouts “dyke!” from across the street, we can recognize that he’s a) being blatantly and ridiculously homophobic, b) attempting to insult us, and c) stupid and ignorant if he thinks homophobia is acceptable. It’s much easier for this type of encounter not to sting, and not to be taken seriously, when we are used to throwing around the words that are attempted to be used as insults.

Aside from that, there’s the linguistics of it all: “lesbian” sounds like the technical term, like dentifrice instead of toothpaste. It sounds like something you could contract or pick up, it’s long – three syllables – and fairly awkward in the mouth. “Dyke,” however, is short, powerful, with strong, shit-kicking consonants that pops on the tongue. Stronger, tougher, thicker, more powerful.

The author of this article closes with this:

We should all join and work together to end other people’s preconceptions, generalisations and stereotypes by not doing it in and to our own community.

Yes, I agree in part – we should end preconceptions, generalizations, and stereotypes. But what this author is describing is not “doing it in and to our own community” necessarily. People – everyone, women and lesbians and yes, even dykes – have our own agency, our own ability to define for ourselves who we are and what we are doing with it. To speak from outside of a community who uses this language intentionally about the choice of using this language is belittling and offensive, implying that I couldn’t possibly know what I’m doing by using this language.

And I know some of you are thinking, “well, Sinclair, you’re a bit different than the average butch, after all,” but ya know what? I haven’t found that to be true. I have found that most butches I know are incredibly intentional about their identities, and have beautiful things to say about what it’s like to navigate the world as a butch-looking woman, often even if they don’t identify with the label, culture, or politics. Same with the femmes. Butch and femme are no longer default identities to which one gets shoved into the minute one comes out as a lesbian. Queer, dyke, butch, femme – those words are marginalized, othered, looked down upon in many ways. It takes work to come to them, work to claim them, and work to keep them functioning.

This author, like the majority of folks out there – lesbian communities notwithstanding, unfortunately – are missing some key elements and understandings of the history of gender radicalism, what it means to reclaim language, and what it means to adopt these identities. Articles like this really get my boxers in a twist because they appear to be a conscious, intentional analysis of what’s difficult or challenging within the lesbian communities, but in fact, they are reinforcing gender misunderstandings and further marginalizing those of us who do play with gender intentionally, celebrationally, and beautifully.

you like those breasts, eh? wanna keep ’em?

Cynthia Nixon has sent a message to us gay women: learn the facts & take control of your breast health.

Don’t forget those breast exams too – they say it’s so important to detect cancer early. (Doesn’t it feel sometimes like it’s not whether or not you will ever get cancer, but when, and how early you will find it? Sometimes I feel like we live in a scary time, when we’re so susceptible to such mutations of our bodies.) So don’t forget to do those breast exams, your own, your girlfriend’s, your lovers, your fuckbuddy, your booty call … I do find it’s best if you ask first. Just sayin’.

The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation has lots more information on their site at komen.org.

On Privilege & Gender (Part Two)

One more thing:

To Belle, and to the femmes I’ve dated and fucked and longingly admired: Thank you.

Thank you for swooning over my neckties and collared shirts, my perfectly messy short hair, my heavy belt buckles and swagger and the way I order wine for you. Thank you for having my favorite whiskey at your house for me, just for me, thank you for dressing up and looking your best, celebrating the costume of femininity, for putting time into your hair and makeup and outfit and shaved legs and stockings and lingerie straps that bite into flesh and shin splints from high heels and freezing legs from short skirts and the eyelash batting and the way I feel like a million bucks when I’ve got you on my arm.

I appreciate your gender expression, deeply, because I make more sense when I’m next to you. To quote Cody: “Let’s be honest: we need femmes.” I didn’t get who I was until I started dating femmes. This identity does not exist in a vacuum, and, for me, requires the duo dynamic inherently.

I have so much reverence for the femme aesthetic. Am I occasionally jealous of your ability to pass? Yes. But I understand – at least a little – the burdon of it, too, and I want you to share that with me. Femininity is assumed to be for the benefit of straight men, and to subvert that can sometimes mean consequences.

Yeah, I get tired of being on the front lines of visibility sometimes. But when I have a femme on my arm, strutting down the street, freshly fucked and we’re melting into each other, everyone who sees us knows what we are, and I love the second glances we get. I love the tiny revolutions that happen in the faces of strangers passing by.

Passing is not always a privilege. Some femmes I know have even said to me that passing is never a privilege, in fact. (I’m not sure I agree entirely, but I understand the argument.) To force someone to admit that it is a privilege is to force a hierarchy, such a power play, such an insecure I’m-better-than-you kind of move.

I’ve joked occasionally that femmes and other passing queers get to hear what straight people say when they don’t know a queer is listening. My lovers have occasionally told me stories of what they heard at work or school and I’m shocked – especially in PC-Seattle where I used to live, I never heard people saying homophobic – or even homo-ignorant – remarks around me, because I am visibly queer, they knew I was listening. As a writer, as an activist, as an observer of human character, I am fascinated by those conversations and interested in access to those places where I cannot go. Likewise, I sometimes find I have access to intimate (bio-hetero-) male conversations, where they let me in as one-of-the-guys and bitch about their wives, tell sexist jokes, or fawn over girls at the bar. A straight girl – and probably femmes – would probably not have access to these conversations.

I’m remembering a conversation I had with my friend and femme spy once upon a time, where she strongly asserted that there is no privilege in passing as straight, especially because sometimes, when she is presumed straight and then outs herself, she actually finds herself in more danger than she was previously and, I believe she argued, she’d be in more danger than someone visibly queer – a butch – because of the perception that her passing was actually deception.

I definitely see her point there, and it makes me feel highly protective and posessive of femmes, to think of the occasional dangerous situations they may be in. I still think there is some privilege in the femme identity – as there is some in the butch identity, some in an androgynous or genderqueer or any other gender identity, isn’t there? If there was no benefit, what use would it be? I suppose “privilege” here though is not the same as “benefit;” one implies a hierarchical gain within social structures.

Maybe I need to back up here. What is privilege? How do we define it? How do we know when we have it, when we don’t? And what, if anything, do we do with it when we have it? What are our responsibilities with privilege, how do we meet them? How do we avoid abusing our privileges?

Uh, I’ll think about that and get back to you. Chime in your two cents if you feel inspired, please.

Ultimately, though, I really want to stress that comparing degrees of oppression is fruitless and purposeless. Who does it help? Do you really feel better after forcing someone to admit that they have privilege? It’s one thing to have a discussion about it, to acknowledge the intricate complexities within identity hierarchies – it’s another thing to play these I’m-better-than-you games.

Passing, Privilege, & Butch/Femme

In response to what Belle wrote about privilege, guilt, and butch/femme:

I can’t speak (write) for all butches, and I do get that some of us have awful things to say about femmes and passing and privilege. I don’t know what to tell you about all of that, except that I think that it’s bullshit. It comes from a misogynistic bullying place where the one who is bullied and oppressed turns around and bullies the femme who is littler than you.

This is male privilege. This is the heteronormative hierarchy.

I don’t feel “more oppressed” than any given femme, and I resent that game of who has more hardship than whom. Division and in-fighting are ways that our marginalized communities stay broken apart instead of banded together. C’mon, remember Lord of the Rings?

Yes, butches are more visible, and therefore, in some situations, easier targets. But femmes are targets, too, and discriminated against. Hell, there are so few of us who even fall into this butch/femme dynamic – why make enemies of each other?

This past week I appeared as a guest on the Diana Cage Show on Sirius OutQ radio, and she’d had a whole segment of conversation before my part (where I performed some poetry and chatted about breakups, smut, and femmes, what else) where she was talking about “butch training,” I shit you not.

“Who trained you?” she asked me.

“I don’t think I was ‘trained’ … do all butches get trained?” I was confused.

“Oh yeah,” she answered.

“What about femmes?”

“Oh, no, they don’t need to be trained.”

Oh man, did my mind boggle. I don’t think she’s right about that, but let’s say, for a minute, that she is. In what do we need training? Was I doing something wrong? Did I need to be trained? Had I already been, and didn’t know it? Who had trained me?

“I’m not sure I was trained …” I said skeptically.

“Yeah, true, you’re a chivalrous butch. An old-school butch,” she said, as if this meant maybe I didn’t need ‘training’ after all?

“Yeah, I am. And a feminist, hardcore.” But I kept thinking. “Maybe my first big love trained me,” I said. She was the first femme I knew and she whispered in my ear, I think you’re butch, and I came a little and threw up at the same time. I watched how she wished her girlfriends would treat her and tried to be that.

And when I thought about it more later, I think it was my mother, my parents, who probably most deserve credit for “training” me in the ways that I take care of myself and others. Isn’t that what we’re speaking of? How we love, how we care, how we expect the partnership dynamic to work? And, fundamentally, if I may interpolate here, I think the “training” refers to those butches who often have grown up tomboys, one-of-the-guys, with a socialized masculinity. Those butches that treat femmes – and women – and, hell, people – with disrespect and dishonor, and I think it has everything to do with the “tough guise” of masculinity.

My point is, this is often the same type of butch (as much as I shudder to sub-categorize) I’ve heard this “femme privilege” argument come from, too. And I resent it, deeply. It saddens and angers me. I don’t know how to encourage a more wholistic, human range of experience in that type of butch (again, I shudder), wish I did.


But. This is what I have to say to Belle, or to any femme who endours that forced guilt about femme privilege:

Yes, passing is sometimes a privilege, but not always. Just like my visibility is sometimes a privilege, but not always. Tell me about times it was a privilege for you, and times it wasn’t, and then ask me about my stories, too. Tell me what it’s like to walk in your shoes. Let me learn from your experience. It’s hard sometimes to be a queer in this heterodominant society, and it’s hard to be a butch or femme in a lesbian community rooted in androgyny and which associates gender oppression with gender expression.

Fuck, can’t we share this burdon? Can’t we pass this weight around, let it be a little lighter between us? I mean, I know I’m a hippie-feminist-do-gooder-pacifist and all, but I believe in the power of community, deeply.

be a gay Santa!

An acquaintance of mine sent this on to me, she is going to be playing Santa at Sylvia’s Place Homeless Youth Shelter again this year, and they need donated gifts for queer youth.

If you want to be a Gay Santa, they’ll send you a “dear santa” letter from one of the youth, and then you an drop off or mail the gift with their name on it back to the shelter. if you’ve got the means, it sounds like a really fun process to be a part of! I’m excited to participate.

More information about Sylvia’s Place: We provide emergency shelter to homeless LGBTQ youth in New York City. A 2006 report from the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force estimates that a third of homeless youth identify as LGBT. In New York City, this means that something like 8,000 to 10,000 youth are without shelter every night. This has led many to refer to this as an “epidemic” of homelessness among LGBTQ youth. Find out more…

Gay Santa wrote:

Happy Holidays from Sylvia’s Place Homeless Youth Center! We are hoping you will consider being a ‘Gay Santa’ this year.

To participate, send us your postal mailing address and you will be sent a “Dear Santa” letter from a homeless young person asking for a gift. Wrapped gifts, labeled with the young person’s name, can be mailed or dropped off at the shelter: Metropolitan Community Church , 446 W 36th st, NYC NY 10018

Our goal is to make sure each of our young people receive a gift this Christmas. With your support, we know this goal will become a reality.

Many thanks and warm holiday wishes,

Kate Barnhart, Director
MCCNY/Homeless Youth Services
446 W 36th St, NYC NY 10018