Archive for February 2011

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!

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