Archive for November 2010

Gender is a Field

Monday, November 29, 2010 § 6

I recently came across a blog post by Sarah Mei, one of the developers on Diaspora, that got me thinking about how we think-and talk-about gender.

Diaspora is open-source social network that’s currently being developed. It’s meant to eventually be a competitor with facebook, and it’s trying to do this by stressing its privacy and ownership of content, two things that facebook isn’t do so hot at.

What Sarah Mei wrote the post about was her decision to make the “gender” field on the social network blank, letting the user fill in any designation they wished. Instead of choosing between, “Male”, or “Female”, users could write, “dude”, or “gender-queer”, or “andro”, or “lady-like”. Here’s a cool graphic Sarah made showing some of the genders her contacts on the site chose to identify as.

I really applaud this decision by Sarah, and the developers at Diaspora. Though this hasn’t really broached the mainstream consciousness yet, many individuals do in fact have gender identities that fall outside of the generally accepted gender binary.

For those not as familiar with computers, binary refers to the binary numeral system, which is represented by two symbols, 0 and 1. In that system, there’s no 0.2, or .99, or 1.8 There’s two choices, male or female. Nothing in-between or falling outside.

And that’s how most people think about gender. Many people never question this outdated notion, and have never heard of the numerous identities that fall outside this binary (or, they hear them, and then choose to dismiss and belittle the people who have them).

These identities might be genderqueer, genderfuck, two-spirit, bigender (all subcategories of the umbrella term, transgender, though many transgender individuals do not challenge the binary, they simply switch sides) or anything else someone chooses to define themselves as.

Which is why a new way to describe gender is needed. Some people use spectrum, continuum, or simply call gender, fluid.

But I think “field” works pretty well too. Think about it for a second-a gender field. Geographically, fields are expansive, multidimensional (think hills), and have room for just about everyone, whether they’re in a big cluster, or sitting alone by a babbling brook.

But the term field also works with regards to computers and technology. Fields are inherently empty, ready to be filled by whatever someone wants to type in them. There are no two choices, the possibilities are simply endless.

Sarah Mei, I think you might be onto something.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 25, 2010 § 0

We live in a culture (and blogosphere) that tends to err on the side of negativity. And while there’s a lot to be negative about, I vote we put a temporary hold on the downbeat, just for the day.

Today, let’s be grateful for the good things. DADT discharges have momentarily ended, Victoria Kolakowski recently became the first popularly elected transgendered judge in the nation, and the It Gets Better Project has over 5000 user-created videos and over 15 million views.

They’re small things. And there’s so much more that needs to be achieved. But for one day, let’s be grateful. Tomorrow, we can go back to chaining our-selves to the White House fence, and calling out hate groups for what they are. But today, let’s all give thanks for what we do have, and what we have achieved, even if there’s a long way to go.

P.S. Queerty had a great post up yesterday about being thankful for all the beautiful queer kids out in the world. Check it out if you’ve got a few free minutes.

Reteaching Gender and Sexuality

Tuesday, November 23, 2010 § 0

Many of you have probably heard about the It Gets Better Project, which tells LGBTQ youth through stories that their lives will get better with time. While this project has reached thousands of people, it’s also important to examine the root causes of why life is so bad for LGBTQ youth to begin with.

Below is a video that aims to do just that-it begins to examine the systemic issues and beliefs about gender and sexuality that often have such a negative impact on queer youth, while adding more queer voices into the mix.

If you’ve got a few minutes-watch it. And spread it. We can bring about change, but a dialogue needs to spring from somewhere. And this video is a pretty great place to start.

Reteaching Gender and Sexuality from Sid Jordan on Vimeo.

For more information visit

What Teens Can Do to Stop Bullying in Their Communities

Monday, November 15, 2010 § 1

Let’s talk a bit more about bullying. Or specifically, the bullies themselves.

Anti-gay bullying has gotten a lot of press lately, often referenced as the cause for many recent youth suicides. It’s been compared to witch hunting, and in response to all of the coverage countless anti bullying initiatives have sprung up.

Recently, I read a blog post about the bullying induced suicide of Christian Taylor, and how the bully faced no consequences. He’s still in school, his life goes on as normal, even though his actions led to the end of another.  That story pissed me off. Why aren’t bullies held accountable for their actions? Too many times, bullying is ignored. Excuses are often thrown around, like “they brought it upon themselves by being so different”, or “boys will be boys!”. Frankly, that’s crap.

After ruminating a bit on bullies, my mind sprung to a book we just finished in my English class, The Poisonwood Bible (summary here). The story is about a missionary family (the Prices) who travel to the Congo, and the subsequent affect of this trip on their lives. Around the middle of the book,Tata Kuvudundu, a medicine man in the Congolese village, bullies the missionary family because he disagrees with their western views. He threatens and harasses them and the people close to them. Classic bullying behavior. Eventually, this bullying leads to the death of one of the family members.

The parallels are clear. In both cases, bullying of someone led to death. What’s significant is the way the other villagers in the novel chose to react to this. The other villagers, despite not being the biggest fans of the Prices themselves, shunned the bully. The bully was almost exiled, and lost the regard he was previously held in.

The objectives of bullies is to acquire power over another person. But if bullying leads to a net loss in power, is it worth it for the bully anymore? Tata Kuvudundu lost his respected position through his bullying. If we asked him (which we can’t, cause he’s a fictional character..) I think it’s pretty likely that he’d regret his bullying, not because of his morals, but simply out of practically.

I know high school is not the same as a Congolese village, but in many ways the communities aren’t so different-there are cliques, outcasts, leaders, and of course, bullies. Another thing that’s prevalent in both is peer pressure. Even if school administrators do nothing, teens can still do their part. It's pretty simple in theory, let a bully know that what they’re doing is not okay. If you see someone mocking someone in the hallway-whether it’s for their sexuality, gender identity or expression, or just for being different-let them know that that’s not cool. Many of us have friends who, while they’re nice to us, are not to others. Tell them to cut it out, or drop ‘em like they’re hot (and not in the good way).

I know that standing up to bullies isn’t easy. But it’s one of the few things teens can actually do to try and stop bullying in their communities.

Why the American Library Association’s New “Gay” Award for Youth Literature is More than Just a Token

Thursday, November 4, 2010 § 3

On Monday, the American Library Association announced an addition of a new prize, the Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award, to their Youth Media Awards.

The honor is awarded to English-language books “of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered experience”.

This a big deal.

Books receiving this award are put on the same level as the prestigious John Newberry and Randolph Caldecott medals. With this award, the ALA is essentially saying to librarians that, hey, it’s totally cool for American youth to read about the LGBT experience! In fact, here’s some books excellent books that cover just that!

This message was needed. The amount of books that deal with the LGBT experience in libraries across the US is generally pretty abysmal. In my area (northern suburbs of Chicago), both the school and the  public libraries do a pretty good job in stocking a variety of literature. Sadly, this is not the norm (link to a pdf study by the National Association of School Psychologists).

In thousands of libraries across the United States, lgbt experiences are just not represented in youth literature. Whether its from prejudice or simply ignorance, many librarians choose not to stock teen or children's books that deal with the lgbt community. Fifteen-year old Kentucky blogger Brent posted over the summer on the lack of LGBT literature in his community.

He brought up many great points, foremost in my mind being that many LGBT youth, many marginalized by their communities, turn to books to see that, hey, there’s nothing wrong with me being who I am! Stories are important. As I talked about in my previous post about the It Gets Better Project, people look to stories to see that they’re not alone in the their struggles. With no easily accessible books, that becomes a lot harder.

Robert Stevens, president of the ALA, brings up another. By reading books about the LGBT community, heterosexual and cisgendered youth can hopefully become more tolerant and accepting of their LGBT brothers and sisters. Because, after all, stories are also to take in new experiences, to learn about different groups of people. And again, without books, that’s just not gonna work.

Librarians care about the ALA awards. They’re looked at by librarians across the country when deciding what new book to purchase. Maybe, some hesitant librarians will see that because awards are presented for excellent LGBT youth literature, that there’s nothing wrong or inappropriate about stocking it. Maybe they’ll put in an order for Boy Meets Boy, or 10,000 Dresses. Or maybe they won’t. But hey, it’s a step.

The 2010 Stonewall Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award was given to The Vast of Fields of Ordinary, by Nick Burd.

the vast fields of ordinary

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