Archive for 2011

How This Blog Freed My [Queer] Voice

Sunday, May 8, 2011 § 8

I started this blog last September, as an open assignment for English class.

At that point, I had been interested in the LGBTQ community for years, as I slowly came to the realization that I was a part of it. I was well informed on DADT, Proposition 8, and ENDA, to name just a few issues, and kept my ears perked when the topics of sexuality or gender identity came up among my family and friends. I had strong opinions on these issues, but my mouth was closed. I wasn’t comfortable sharing my views with my friends, family or the rest of the world; it was much easier to remain silent. My voice remained trapped in a gilded cage.

As I sat brainstorming a topic for my blog, there was only one that made me excited to write weekly posts. So, despite a few pangs of worry, I cracked that cage door open just a bit.

I hesitantly created this blog, and you (probably) know the rest. That gilded door swung open more and more. Since that first post in September, I’ve covered topics like the importance of the term “queer”,  the biblical argument against homosexuality, and the construct of gender as binary.

My voice was no longer locked away, hidden behind bars. It was out there for my friends, family, and the rest of the world to hear, and they began to listen. For this, I was glad, because the topics I wrote about aren’t just significant to me, but also to the LGBTQ community as a whole. I wrote, shared my voice, because I wanted to bring about change. I wanted to help people question their assumptions of heterosexism, and to challenge bullying when they see it. I wanted my readers to think about the world in a new way, to open their eyes a bit – and I think in that regard, I succeeded. Through this blog, I was able to open dialogues with my peers, parents, and even LGBTQ activists who I admire greatly, dialogues that would have formerly went unspoken. This blog has done more than just knock that door off of its hinges – it has acted as an extension of my voice, and from that, the change I advocate for in the world. With this blog, I began my career as an activist.

My voice has always been strong, but there was always an aspect of it that was hidden. My voice is many things. It’s intelligent, indignant, and critical, but it’s also queer. Through blogging, I’ve been able to embrace that part of my identity, and finally free my voice out of its cage.

Now, it’s May, and graduation is coming up fast. With it, will come summer, college, and the probable conclusion of this blog (or at least much less frequent updates).

So though this is somewhat of a good-bye post, it’s in no way a good-bye to my passion for LGBTQ equality, or my pride in who I am. This blog set my voice free, and it’s not going to be locked up again. You may not be able to hear it here quite so easily, but if you pop into Brown’s Queer Alliance, or read the Daily Herald, I think you’ll still be able to hear it pretty damn clearly.

And for that, I just wanted to say, to all my readers, a sincere, resounding thank-you.

Why I Choose Silence

Thursday, April 14, 2011 § 3

Today, rather than tomorrow, due to a all-school Pride Assembly on Friday (ironic, right?), my high-school participated in GLSEN’s annual Day of Silence. day of silence

While informing my Global Studies teacher of my decision to participate a few days ago, he remarked that, on the Day of Silence, he liked to have participating students prepare a statement to be read on their behalf. He believed that through these statements, other students would be able to better understand both the Day itself, as well as connect to their classmates.

Mine was as follows:

Today, I choose silence. Today, I am silent for myself, and for all other lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning students. Today, I am silent in order to call attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, intolerance, and harassment at Glenbrook North. Today, I am silent for the 9 out of every 10 LGBT students harassed at their school in the past year, the 2/3rds that felt unsafe, and the 1/3rd who have missed school in the past month due to safety concerns. Today, through silence, I speak.

The effect that the reading of these statements had on my class was palpable. A connection was established that most definitely would’ve been avoided, had my teacher not given me this voice. He let me, and my fellow classmates, share our stories. For that, I’m very grateful.

Unfortunately, not every participating student will have a teacher as cool as mine. But still, I invite you to compose your own statement for why you choose silence. Have it read to your class. Point to it when someone gives you a blank stare after you point to your t-shirt. Share it on facebook or twitter – or simply drop it in the comments section. Happy (early) Day of Silence, everyone!

Update: My classmates’ articulate reflections on their Day of Silence can be found here, here, here and here.

Jean Shorts and Gender Norms

Monday, April 11, 2011 § 4

Over spring break, I went shopping. Among other things, I bought a pair of jean shorts, which I’ve posted below.


Maybe a week later, I was wearing them around my house, and walked into the family room where my dad was sitting on the couch.

“You bought those?”, he asked me, a little incredulous.

“Yep, why?” I responded.

“It’s not a big deal or anything, they just look a little girly, rolled up like that”, he replied.

I laughed it off. How often do parents get fashion, anyway?

But it didn’t leave my mind. I wasn’t really bothered by the comment, but the sentiment behind it. The thought that I shouldn’t be wearing the shorts, not because they’re ugly, but because they looked like something a girl might wear.

Behind that thought is the heteronormative assertion that men should act like men, and women, women.

Behind that thought is the misogynistic assumption that no man should want to act like a women, because women are somehow lesser than men. It’s just like the common insult spat out at many less-athletic boys throughout childhood, “you throw like a girl!” 

Often, it’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals that receive the brunt of this heteronormative critique, whether it’s gay men acting femme, lesbian women acting butch, or a trans* individual eschewing gender norms, or rejecting their birth sex completely.

This post is not meant as a critique of my dad, but rather, of our culture as whole. This post is to raise some important questions:

Why, in Western culture, do we so often vilify those who don’t express their gender in ways that we find acceptable based on gender norms? Why do we mock them, beat them, rape them, kill them?

Something, or more realistically, a lot of things, hammered into my dad’s, and most other people’s as well, the notion that there’re two distinct genders – male and female, and that the two should not mix. Maybe its picture books read as a kid, countless other forms of media, or a constant refrain of “act like a man” or “act like a woman”, respectively. Maybe it’s something else completely. Which leads to the most important question:

How do we change this?

In my case, next time someone critiques my dress or demeanor as “girly” or “feminine” I’m going to respond with a simple:

So what? 

I welcome your thoughts.

Queer Secrets: Like Post Secret, Just Gayer

Sunday, March 13, 2011 § 2

I’m a Post Secret junkie.

I love how each secret so perfectly captures a thought or a moment, how each is a story in bite-size form, and how each is a quick peek at someone's soul.

I’ve recently come across Queer Secrets, and I think I’m in love.

It functions just like Post Secret, except the secrets are mostly related to the queer community, and most of the submissions are computer generated. It’s also updated multiple times a day – to me, a definite bonus.

Though the secrets aren’t the happiest – most secrets aren’t – I find the simple act of sharing a secret to be incredibly uplifting. Knowing that people all around the world have found the courage to share a piece of themselves, even anonymously, is empowering.

Equally uplifting is coming across a secret that you can identify with – letting you know that whatever you’re feeling right now, whether that feeling’s wonderful or terrible, someone else is feeling it too.

The secrets embody such basic human emotions as love, uncertainty, and sadness, it shouldn’t be hard to find one or two that resonate with you. Some made me smile, while others almost made me cry. Below are a few from the past few days that grabbed me.

queer secret aidsqueer secret white nightqueer secrests platypus

I’ve gotten into a habit of checking into Queer Secrets at least once a night. Reading the outpouring of emotion there allows me to recharge. The secrets let me reconnect with humanity, to some extent.

I invite you to do the same. Read ‘em, connect with them, and if you feel drawn, consider submitting your own.

What the HU Queer Press and the Westboro Baptist Church Have in Common

Monday, March 7, 2011 § 2

This morning, a friend linked me to this article, about the decision of Harding University to block HU Queer Press, an online LGBTQ zine, on campus.

I was disgusted by the actions of the administration. Though they have the legal right to block access to the zine on their campus, by exercising that right the administration censored the voices of their students. Simply because David Burks, president of Harding University, found the website to be “offensive and degrading”, he found it right to silence their dissenting opinion.

Earlier this week, I also came across a seemingly unrelated news byte on the Westboro Baptist Church.

Among other things, this hate group masquerading as a church is known for its extreme stance against homosexuality, which includes picketing of military funerals, and desecrating the American flag, both of which tie back to their ridiculous belief that every tragedy in the world is linked to homosexuality.

I find their actions to be incredibly offensive and distasteful, as do most.

But all the same, on Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled (SCOTUS opinion here) that the 1st Amendment protects the fundamentalist “church" members’ right to protest outside military funerals, despite the ridiculousness of their actions.

The connection between the HU Queer Press and the Westboro Baptist Church is not immediately clear. The Queer Press celebrates all that is LGBTQ, while the Westboro Baptist church attempts to squash all that is queer.

But in both cases, both groups are fighting for their right to freedom of speech – no matter how radically different that speech is.

Freedom of speech is what allows me to write this blog. It’s what allows you to comment, whether that comment is respectful and well thought-out, or hasty and bigoted.

It’s also what allows the Westboro church to picket military funerals, and what allows LGBTQ students at Harding University to publish their zine, even if the administration does choose to block it.

Which is why I support both the right of the HU Queer Press to publish, and the right of the Westboro Baptist Church to protest.

Simply put, the importance of freedom of speech transcends ideology.

Why All LGBT Activists Should Be Feminists (and vice-versa)

Monday, February 28, 2011 § 10

LGBT activists and feminists are natural allies because our problems are inherently connected.

Sexism, homophobia, and transphobia all stem from the same thing:


In brief, patriarchy is a social system where males hold the majority of power, where men have privilege, and women are primarily subordinate. In feminist theory, patriarchy is comprised of the social mechanisms that allow men to reproduce and exercise dominance over women.

In many ways, American (and Western society as a whole) is much less patriarchal than it was in decades past, but in many ways patriarchy remains prevalent -- three quick examples are the lack of a female (American) president, the 20% wage gap between men and women, and the widely followed custom of women taking their husband's name.

Patriarchy creates a system with two defined gender roles: a hard, strong, "masculine", male (think Rambo), and a soft, weak, "feminine" female (try a stereotypical 50's house-wife).

Feminists want freedom from these defined gender roles -- they don't want to be locked into being the standard "50's housewife". They want freedom to act however they want, independent of gender.

Many in the LGBT community do break gender roles in how they express themselves. There're butch lesbians, femme gay men, gender queer individuals, and transgender individuals of all stripes, and they'd also like the right to express themselves, independent of their gender or sex.

Even gay men and women that don't deviate from standard gender expressions still challenge the patriarchy in that, instead of having sex and relationships with women and men (respectively), they have relations with members of the same gender. By living the way they want, gay men and women challenge the notion that, even sexually, men are dominant, women are submissive, and that's the "natural order" of things.

Both the LGBT community and women suffer in patriarchal society. They're recipients of harrasment, stereotyping, and prejudice. The suffering is inherently linked, making the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community natural allies to feminists, and in extension, all women.

Which is why I think it's frankly, pretty dumb when gay men rip on women, or radical feminists attack trans individuals.

We're natural allies; let's act like it.

Though I try to avoid melodrama, Benjamin Franklin comes to mind:

We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.

Lady Gaga Has Set the Bar

Monday, February 14, 2011 § 3

It’s been a good year for the LGBT community with regards to pop music.

We’ve had songs like P!nk’s “Raise Your Glass”, Ke$ha’s “We R Who R”, and Katy Perry’s “Firework”, all of which were made with thought towards, or were partially dedicated to the struggles of the LGBT community, especially bullied teens in light of the “It Gets Better Project”.

These songs sent a message to the world that it’s okay to be who you are, whether it’s gay, transgender, lesbian, or under no particular label. Though I might have individual gripes with some of those artists, I really appreciate their support. They set the bar pretty high for any artist who claims to support the LGBT community.

This past Friday, Lady Gaga just knocked that bar up a few more notches, with the release of her new single, “Born This Way”, which she performed for the first time at last night’s Grammys.

Uploaded by caseycarlsonx1. - Classic TV and last night's shows, online.

Gaga’s lyrics include the phrases, "Don't be a drag, just be a queen" and "No matter gay, straight or bi/ Lesbian, transgendered life/ I'm on the right track, baby/ I was born to survive."

As you can see, it’s not really possible for her lyrics to be any more explicit in their support of the LGBT community. Though you might be able to listen to “Firework” without getting its message to bullied gay teens, if you listen to “Born This Way”, you’re gonna get a whole earful of unabashed support for the LGBT community.

To put it simply, in addition to “talking the talk”, she “also walks the walk”. Lady Gaga doesn’t just write songs in support of the LGBT community, she also acts as a high profile activist – a prominent example being her push towards DADT repeal.

While I have my critiques of Lady Gaga, she’s the most high profile supporter the LGBT community has, and she does a pretty darn good job.

I’m in no way saying that all artists need to be blatant in their support of the LGBT community in their music, or act as an activist for them to have my respect. But if they want be considered a valued ally to the LGBT community, Lady Gaga is a good, if tough, act to follow.

Here’s to hoping that the bar gets raised even higher.

5-Ways You Can Use Language to Be an Effective Ally to the LGBT Community

Tuesday, February 8, 2011 § 7

I believe that everyone should be respectful and supportive of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. But, at the same time, it’s not practical or reasonable to expect that everyone march in parades, start protests, etc.

But something that everyone can do with minimal effort is modify their day-to-day language in order to be respectful and supportive of the LGBT community. Below are five ways on how to be an effective ally community just through the use of language; I hope you’ll keep them in mind.

1. When referring to peoples partners, use gender neutral language.

Many people assume that when talking to a man, that they have a female partner (and vice-versa). This reinforces that LGBT individuals are seen as "outside" of society and can alienate someone you just met. So, instead of using, "do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?", with someone you don’t know, try, "are you seeing anyone?", or, "do you have a partner?".

2. Respect people's gender identities when using pronouns and names.

When talking to someone (or about them), respect their gender identity. If an individual was born biologically a woman, but identifies as a man (regardless of their transition status or genitalia), use masculine pronouns when talking about them, and if they've chosen a new male name, use it. Avoid scare quotes around "male" or "female" when writing about transgender individuals, and if an individual prefers gender neutral pronouns like, "ze", use them. If you're not sure about an individuals preferred pronouns after looking at their gender expression, ask them. Transgender individuals go through a ton of crap, so please give them the most basic modicum of human dignity by respecting their identity.

3. Try and learn correct terminology when discussing LGBT issues.

The LGBT community is very confusing, even for those in it, and there’s loads of terminology that’s pretty removed from the general population. That said, if you’d like to be an effective ally, it’s important to try and understand much of the language used . Here’s a list (pdf) of LGBT terminology and their definitions  that should cover most of your bases. Of course there’s no obligation to read it, but you might find it interesting and eye-opening.

Here’s a little taste:

Ally – Someone who confronts heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia,
transphobia, heterosexual and genderstraight privilege in themselves and others;
a concern for the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex people;
and a belief that heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are social
justice issues.

Oh hey, that’s you!

4. Avoid using derogatory slurs, and try and get your friends to stop too.

Like terminology, slurs are tricky things in the LGBT community as well. Some LGBT community members are reclaiming them, others still hold strongly negative feelings Here’s some advice: just because a LGBT friend is reappropriating a former slur, that does not make it okay to use. Pejoratives used against the LGBT community are not yours to reclaim.

You should generally avoid these: faggot, tranny, gay (as pejorative, i.e. that’s so gay), she-male, he-she, and dyke.

There're some other words that are more borderline. Queer (which I discussed at length in an earlier post) is one of them. I’d recommend that queer is used only as an adjective to reference the LGBT [etcetera] community, i.e “queer studies”.

In closing,  if you’re unsure about a word, as an ally, you should probably just avoid it, or ask a member of the sub-community affected by it. Even then, it’s important to remember that even if it doesn’t offend one person, doesn’t mean that it won’t offend others.

5. If you write about the LGBT community, check out GLAAD’s media guide first.

I know most of my readers aren’t journalists, but some of you are, or write in some other capacity. If you’re writing for mass audience, you have a lot of power in shaping how the world sees the LGBT community. If your article, novel, blog post or whatever touches on LGBT issues, I’d recommend that you look at GLAAD’s (the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) media guide first. It’ll ensure that you’re respectful when writing about LGBT issues, and that you don’t marginalize members of the LGBT community, even inadvertently.

I really hope these were informative, and that you’ll keep them in mind. Your language can and will affect LGBT individual’s lives, hopefully in a positive way. Please let me know if you have an questions or comments on what I’ve stated above; I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Note: I obviously can't speak for the whole of the LGBT community, the above points are how I believe an effective ally should use language. As I said above, if you disagree, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Until All LGBT Students Can Serve Openly, ROTC Should Not Be Welcomed Back to College Campuses

Thursday, January 27, 2011 § 4

Like many Americans, on Tuesday, I watched President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address. Though he didn’t spend much time on LGBT issues, Obama did give a nod to his LGBT (and allied) supporters with an oblique reference to the recently passed repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), a long-awaited victory for the LGBT community.

After acknowledging that gay men and women can now serve openly, Obama then called on all colleges to allow ROTC and military recruitment back onto their campuses, which many schools had forbidden in the past due to policies that forbade discrimination based on sexual orientation. While other bloggers have called on colleges to reject this proposal for the sake of peace and student safety, there’s a more obvious and pressing issue that many have missed.

Transgendered individuals can still not serve openly in the military.

Despite popular opinion, the repeal of DADT has no affect on whether transgendered individuals can serve. Individuals whose gender identities or expression do not match their biological sex can still be discharged from the military, due to discriminatory policies held by the United State’s military.

Hopefully these policies will be addressed in the coming years, as it has in other countries throughout the world. In Canada, Australia, Israel, the Czech Republic, Spain and Thailand there is no barrier for entry for transgender soldiers, and many are even supported through diversity programs.

But, in America, the day where the entirety of the LGBT community can openly serve in the military has not yet arrived.

On the majority of the campuses where ROTC is banned (Yale, Brown, Stanford, and Yale, to name a few), gender identity and expression are also protected under non-discrimination policies. Reinstating ROTC and allowing military recruiters back onto their campuses would be in direct violation of their own policies, as well as hypocritical, and openly discriminatory towards their transgender students.

President Obama believes that the repeal of DADT will allow us to “leave behind the divisive battles of the past” and “move forward as one nation”. However, this battle is not over, and will not be until transgendered individuals can serve openly, as gay and lesbian soldiers will soon be able to.

Until then, Mr. President, I respectfully disagree. Colleges should not open their doors to ROTC and military recruiters until all of their LGBT students can serve their country openly and proudly.

Review: The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd

Monday, January 3, 2011 § 6

I first came across Nick Burd's young adult novel, The Vast Fields of Ordinary, while writing my previous post on the MLA's new award for LGBT young adult literature (the Stonewall Book Award for Children and Young Adults). The Vast Fields of Ordinary was the first recipient of this prestigious award, and I decided to pick it up over break, as a welcome break from an endless stream of college applications.
The story is told from Dade Hamilton's perspective, a closeted, gay teenager stuck in the vast fields of Iowa, beginning at the end of his senior year. He contends with a closeted jock boyfriend who refuses to acknowledge him, his parents' crumbling marriage, drugs, his identity, and a new relationship, all before escaping to college in the spring. 

Nick Burd's novel is both a coming-out and a summer-before-college story, two subgenres which aren't exactly fresh. Though Burd's novel is not unique in its premise, it deserves a strong look -- and hopefully a few hours of your time.

One of this novel's outstanding characteristics is its characters, who're so intriguing and full, where I'd love to have some, Dade and his new-found lesbian friend, Lucy, to name a few, leap into my life so we could grab coffee. Others, like Pablo (previously referenced jock) and Dade's parents, can feel free to remain on the page, but that doesn't make them any less developed or "real". 

Burd's prose is also dream-like and, for a first novel, pretty superb. His metaphors easily spring to life; an example, pointed out by this New York Times review (scroll down) is his description of a bra on the grass after a party as a "listless amphibian". His prose perfectly evokes a summer before college: slow, lazy, and hot, but simultaneously rushed and bittersweet.

Through his dreamlike prose and developed characters, Burd manage to adeptly handle its powerful themes of self-acceptance, love, coming-of-age that apply to all of us -- straight and gay alike. 

Burd's novel isn't preoccupied with a sugar-sweet message, and this is what makes it all the more real, and powerful as a work of young-adult LGBT fiction. Though Dade's life definitely "gets better" after coming-out, it's definitely not a magical transformation. The book's message is perhaps best shown in the quote by E.E. Cummings which prefaces the novel, "To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting."

One of my few qualms with the book is its length. The novel felt a bit rushed, though who among us hasn't felt that a summer has gone far too quickly?

My other gripe is with a missing-girl subplot that The Vast Fields of Ordinary spends some of its already too few pages on. Though it did add to the dreamlike nature of the novel, I would've rather had those pages spent on Dade and the other characters, allowing them to grow further. 

The Vast Fields of Ordinary is not for elementary school kids, it's got both drug use and sex. But for those it's written for, teenagers, these aspects just make it more real, and I'd strongly recommend it to anyone high school age and above.

If you've got any questions, or have your own opinions on the novel I'd love to hear them in the comments.
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