Musings on Life for the Queerly Inclined

Archive for July, 2012

National Lesbian Handbook Updated

Attention, everyone!  Florida’s Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll has released an amendment to the ubiquitous National Lesbian Handbook concerning the dress code for queer women.  What’s that you say–you’ve never heard of the rules for lesbian appearance?  How did you skip that class?  I’m talking about the core of ‘merican culture here!

Lt. Gov. Carroll is facing scrutiny after a former staff member announced that she’d walked in on Carroll and Beatriz Ramos (an aide) in a “compromising position” in Carroll’s office.  According to Carroll, “Black women that look like me don’t engage in relationships like that.”

Lesbian women, take note: you are absolutely not allowed to look like the above photo.  Just so you know.

Several big issues:

1. What does “relationships like that” mean anyway?  Is she talking about extramarital affairs or same-sex ones?  Bueller?

2. Carroll has interpreted this as an attack on her entire family, stating, “My husband doesn’t want to hear that.  He knows the type of woman I am…my kids know the type of woman I am.”  Her phrasing creates a gulf between two distinct types of women, clearly ostracizing the ones who might engage in any same-sex romance or sex.

3. In refuting these rumors, Carroll insinuated something–but what?–about her staff member’s relationship status: “[she is] the one that’s been single for a long time.”  Did Carroll really just throw the queer spotlight on her colleague just because that woman isn’t married?  Like…for real?

4. Beyond gender policing, what are the real implications of Carroll’s remarks about black women and lesbianism?

  • Images of LGBTQ+ history and culture have often misrepresented these communities as primarily (or even exclusively) white.  Here again, Carroll implies that black women must be straight.  [Edited]
  • Queer women are routinely stereotyped as androgynous or masculine in our gender presentations.  No femininity here, right??  Furthermore, we can occupy only three jobs: security guard, police officer, and gym teacher.  Duh.  Everyone knows that.
  • At the intersection of these assumptions, black femme lesbians (and other queer women) are not only rendered invisible, Lt. Gov. Carroll says they simply don’t exist.
  • By holding herself up as the standard of acceptable (heterosexual) womanhood, Carroll is using femininity as a tool to alienate masculine-of-center women while simultaneously erasing feminine queer women.  Seriously?  I just can’t…

In response to Carroll’s bullshit homophobic and femmephobic comments, HuffPo gathered photos of queer women, all tweeted with the hashtag #ThisIsWhatALesbianLooksLike.  I think this was an awesome response and some lovely ladies sent in fierce and touching captions with their photos.  Check out the full article and slide show here.  Shout out to my fabulous femme friend Jessica, who’s classing it up as #76.

I would also like to call y’all’s attention to this article because it has the best title.  Like ever.  Not to mention, some excellent FB comment screenshots.

The moral of the story: check yourself before you spew ignorant fuckery like this, especially if you happen to be laughing through your remarks like they’re no big deal (see video accompanying HuffPo article).  Now hold on a sec while I sit back, relax, and wait for Lt. Gov. Carroll to put her foot further into her mouth as she tries to make her way out of this mess.

All quotes are from HuffPo.

Edit: Nadine Smith, founder and executive director of Equality Florida, has also written a terrific response.  Check it out.

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Everyone Take 2 Big Steps Back

TW: harassment, general obnoxiousness

When the bank associate asked how my day was going, I wasn’t sure how to respond.  In my head I snapped, “It’s 95 degrees out and I fucking hate people.  How do you think those combine?”  Out loud I stuck with “I’ve been better” and muttered something about being busy running errands.  As I sat in the Bank of America office, I wondered to myself about the best ways to tell someone to GTFO.  When I got home, I was still stewing about it, so I made this handy graph:

How to find the illusive fuchsia dot?  What is the maximal combination of polite-ish-ness and firmness that gets the point — “you need to back off” — across, without making a huge scene?  And before you even find that perfect phrase, how do you decide when to call things out?  Do you have the energy?  Feel safe enough?  How do you gauge what “counts” as a big enough deal that you’d say something to interrupt it?

Today I went to the dentist.  You know the drill — if your teeth are fine, you spend most of your appointment with the hygienist anyway and then see your dentist after your teeth are already clean and polished.  I still go to a children’s dental practice and, being a children’s practice, they kick you out after you graduate from college or reach the 20-something age range.  I went to this appointment knowing that it would be my last there.

After having my teeth cleaned — that joyous process that includes gum-poking metal instrument thingies — my dentist came in.  The first words out of his mouth were “Looks like you’re gonna hafta find yourself an adult dentist” while simultaneously pinching my nose.

Me in my head: You say as you pinch my nose…excuse you?  When I come here you can touch my mouth and nothing else.  When was the last time you pinched the nose of an adult man?

Me: …  *blank stare*

I contemplated saying something, but decided not to.  I didn’t want to be rude and just wanted to leave ASAP.  (Of all the ridiculous societally-conditioned responses, I was worried about being rude to the 67-year-old man who had just pinched my face.)  He called me honey as I scooted out of the office and told me to come back to visit and say hi.

Me in my head: Fuck off.

Now I’m sitting at home pissed off about this encounter, while I’m sure he didn’t give it another thought.  Had I considered for a moment about how much this would bother me after the fact, I would’ve said something.  Instead, I went to the bank, where the oh-so-friendly bank associate and manager tried to start a long conversation with me about my acting career goals, when all I wanted to do was get home.

The big question that I really want to poll: how do you handle microagressions?

  • The dentist who inappropriately pinches your face
  • The guy on the el who interrupts you 3 times to start conversations about nothing, even though you’re absorbed in a book and also have earbuds in, meaning it’s very unlikely that you want to talk to anyone
  • The much older man who approaches you on the train platform, while you’re engrossed in a book and deliberately not looking at anyone, to ask you all about what you’re reading and do you like it and why are you standing so close to my face?!
  • The long line of eyes that turn away from their tasks and stare unabashedly at you as you walk into/out of a building, evaluating everything on/about your body

These events aren’t calamities.  They don’t signal the end of the world; but they do remind us — women in particular — that we live in a society that doesn’t consider our bodies and time our own.  (Note: there are many types of bodies and gender presentations that society considers public property.  This is not exclusively a “women’s issue.”)

There are some actions that are immediately identifiable as harassment.  Someone yelling or honking at you from a car, calling out to you on the street, following you, yelling a slur, etc.  What about more subtle instances that make us uncomfortable?  How do you respond to long, invasive stares?  People chatting you up and “being really nice” when you’ve made it clear you don’t want to talk to them?  Strangers who assume that they deserve your attention and that you should entertain them with conversation (or more).  All the things that we’re told repeatedly “aren’t a big deal” (code for “Why are you so offended when someone invades your space and won’t leave?”)  Any advice about reasonably low-key ways to tell someone to back the fuck up?

Letters to Public Interactions/Institutions

Dear CTA conductor,

You, the one who looked directly at me as I boarded the train, and told me to smile: I will smile when I damn well please and not on command.

Fuck you,

Tamar

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Dear Lincoln Park drug stores,

Stay classy.  Chicago never ceases to come up with brilliant ideas, including this:

Yep, that’s right–the local CVS has a booze section.  Make that an extensive booze section.  New England and its liquor stores can suck it.

Mostly wine and spirits.  The bottles of hard liquor had locks/alarms on them because, ya know, CVS goods usually aren’t worth more than $10.  Classy.

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Dear guys in the truck,

How exactly did you imagine this scene would go down?  I’m honestly curious.

On Friday evening, I was driving to meet a friend.  Having jumped Spider-woman-style directly from the shower out of the window and into the car (as ya do), I realized this would be a putting-mascara-on-in-the-car trip.  (For the record: yes, this is unsafe behavior and I indulge highly infrequently.)  Un/fortunately, there are a couple of intersections within two blocks of my house at which the lights take forever to change.  One of them will actually stay red for up to three and a half minutes (apparently the average wait time at a red is one minute…nobody informed my neighborhood).

While waiting at a long stop light and applying makeup, I heard a light but persistent car horn.  “What is that?” I wondered, “The light is clearly still red.”  The horn kept going.  Turned out it was coming from the enormous truck next to me.  I looked over to find two men–clearly just off work–leaning (head, shoulders, and arms) outta the front passenger window of their company truck, waving madly at me and grinning.  Ummmm…really?

You think ima respond well to that?  I already had a mascara wand next to my eye and was watching both the traffic light and my own rear-view mirror.  You think that was a good time to demand my attention?  Please.

The start of another classy night in Chi-town.

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Dear Sprinkles,

Thank you for your genius.  Talk to y’all later–I’m moving to DC stat.

Love T

P.S. Alternately, maybe I’ll just bake rainbow cupcakes with le brother, because that doesn’t involve leaving my kitchen.

What is “female”? Womanhood, Racism, and the Olympic Games

The sports world has been abuzz recently over the case of Caster Semenya, a South African runner and 2012 Olympic hopeful.  Dubbed by some “the fastest woman in the world,” she’s now under investigation for not actually being a woman.  (Everyone’s bullshit detectors should’ve just perked up.)  These two articles break down the case against her.  Essentially, other runners and Olympic officials have accused her of having androgen levels in the “male range” (whatever that means–nobody seems eager to give a precise definition), which according to their logic, give her an unfair advantage over other female competitors.

Some clarifications and a couple huge issues:

1. Androgens are not just “male sex hormones.”  They’re found in all bodies, regardless of assigned sex.  Androgen levels are generally lower in FAAB bodies than MAAB* ones, but there’s variation from person to person.  Besides, Olympians are exceptional athletes, so what makes anyone think that the standards used for us mere mortals would apply?

2. Sex =/= gender.  We divide sports by sex, not gender, so everybody who’s saying that Semenya’s gender is being scientifically investigated needs to step off.  She says she’s a woman, so we’re going with that.

3. From my friend Leila, the BAMF ultimate frisbee player:

“Hormone levels are more indicative of one’s sex than one’s gender identity…A more feminine-presenting woman could have higher testosterone levels than a more masculine-presenting woman, yet is more likely to be left alone in the sports world since she might not fall prey to the traditional argument that sports turn women into butch lesbians.”

Yep, pretty much.  I don’t see the Olympic officials calling for mass testing of all athletes’ hormones in this particular way.  The International Olympic Committee’s new ruling speaks of “the investigated athlete” and describes the formal procedure of “Request[ing] a Female Hyperandrogenism Investiagtion.”  It seems as though other athletes and IOC medical officials can request the investigation of a specific athlete; otherwise no additional testing will take place.  This means only a few athletes will be singled out in this way.  Alienation, much?

4. Let us not ignore the fact that Semenya is a black South African and that North American/European standards of beauty (which have been pushed all over the world) are Eurocentric.  (That is not my controversial opinion; that is a fact.)   When standards of womanhood and femininity are defined by white women, according to phenotypically white features, women of color are the ones scrutinized for not being “womanly” enough.

5. More from the IOC: “women ruled ineligible to compete may opt to medically lower their androgen levels.”  Great.

Semenya may have high levels of androgens, but for the IOC to single her out for testing, state that she must medically interfere with her hormones if she doesn’t pass said testing, and (at the last minute–the Olympics start at the end of this month) threaten not to let her compete is more than unfair.

* FAAB: female assigned at birth; MAAB: male assigned at birth.  Not taking into account trans* people who may have taken hormones. The inclusion and categorization of trans* athletes is a whole other conversation that needs to be had.

Video

“Somebody’s gotta be the best. So why not me?”

Aaaaaand this is wonderful.  Perfect timing.  (Though I gotta admit it’s ever so slightly jarring to hear a 55 y/o woman’s voice coming outta a 9 y/o girl’s mouth.)

Victoria’s Secret > Most Sex-Ed Courses

A couple days ago, I was in Victoria’s Secret.  First of all, let me say that I freakin’ love VS.  So many different types of people shop there, which makes for the best people watching/listening.  Too funny.  As anyone who’s a frequent VS shopper knows, the semi-annual sale just happened, so everything was hella marked down.  Rooting through a huge (and by that point completely disorganized) pile of sale merch?  Don’t mind if I do.

Amid the 5857193 shreds of lace and cotton, I came across something very interesting:

Practice makes perfect?  Hmmm.  “What are they getting at?” I wondered.  Is this a reminder that, despite the fairy-tale romanticized myth of one’s “first time” being a guaranteed magical experience, many people’s first time having is sex is honestly not the best?  Not the most comfortable?  Not the most self-assured?  Not perfect?

Is VS encouraging self-pleasure?  I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that will definitely get better with practice.  Is this a message to a partner, i.e. “with practice (and conversation) you will get to know my body better”?  Either way, I approve.

We’re stuck between abstinence-only sex-ed programs that demonize sex and media that tell us that we should all be having sex–and lots of it–and it should be great and we should inherently be amazing at it and what’s wrong with us if we aren’t???  It’s definitely time to slow down and actually have some critical conversations (especially with young people) about our bodies, sexual (and asexual) agency, communication, and consent.  Not just “no means no” consent, but “this is how to ask for what you want and really check in with your partners about what they want” consent.  Then the world might not be so full of panicked questions like this (and inane answers).

Another intriguing find:

Is VS promoting oral sex on women*?  When was the last time any mainstream media source or consumer advertising endorsed–or even mentioned–that?  Then again, maybe VS is just suggesting making out while practically naked.  I mean…that’s cool too.

*I acknowledge that it is my assumption that most people wearing VS items are women, though I’m sure there are others out there too.  You do you.

I’m a soccer-star-fairy-princess! Duh.

When I was five years old, I decided I wanted to be a soccer player when I grew up (that is, whenever I wasn’t being a movie star or a fairy princess).  I wasn’t especially good at soccer.  In fact, I barely knew how to play.  That wasn’t the point.  I had just learned that women’s soccer wasn’t taken as seriously as men’s soccer and that, comparatively speaking, not very many people watched it.  My five-year-old logic went like this:

“Surely the only reason people take men’s soccer more seriously is that there aren’t very many women playing soccer and so people don’t know about it.  If there were more women soccer players, it would be a much more popular sport and everyone would support it.  Ergo I should be a soccer player and help make it really popular.  If tons of little girls become soccer players, then everyone will pay attention.”

A+ plan, right?  This was 1995 and Mia Hamm was becoming a household name, after she became the youngest USA woman to win the World Cup in 1991.  A whole generation of girls was being ushered into sports camps.

June 23rd marked the 40th anniversary of Title IX (law requiring gender equity in federally funded educational programs, including sports).  Growing up as a post-Title IX child during the “girl power” 90’s, I never really grasped the significance of this law.  I still don’t have a thorough enough understanding of what it was like to be an aspiring female athlete pre-1972.  My family has never been big on team sports.  I follow figure skating like some people follow football (complete with the stereotypical yelling at the TV and threatening to throw things), but I grew up basically ignoring team sports–men’s and women’s equally–so I wasn’t immersed in the culture that glorified men’s teams and disregarded women’s.

When I was three, I began figure skating; when I was 14, I moved over to dance.  Stereotypes aside, these are definitely girl/woman-dominated activities.  (Side note: if you think figure skating isn’t a sport, you are hereby dismissed.)  My friends who were athletic were skaters and dancers.  Again, no connection with dominant sports culture that prioritizes men.

It wasn’t until college that I had friends who were athletes in the world of team sports.  Going to a historically women’s college, the athletes were almost exclusively women.  (Now I’m that weird kid who thinks rugby is primarily a women’s sport and gets confused when people talk about ruggers being upwards of six feet.  Yeah.  Same goes for crew.  Why do people think of this when they think of rowers?)  I began seeing what it means to center sports on women’s teams and how much of these athletes’ lives and passion would be overlooked in a setting that didn’t value them.

Watching this video, something finally clicked.  In it Laurie Priest, MHC’s Director of Athletics, explains that “at Mount Holyoke, women are treated as first-class citizens, because all the opportunities are for women.  Women are not the sideshow.  They get top billing as the only show in town” (4:57).  Ah ha.

That’s what Title IX gets us–confirmation that women are just as deserving of a top-billed spot and consequently merit all the training, facilities, and support that will get them there.  Next step: getting women’s athletics to be recognized with the same prestige accorded men’s.  Oh and maybe I should stop referring to half-time as “intermission”…

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