Category Archives: Heterosexism

Discrimination against people of differing sexual orientations

Gender neutral agenda

[Image: Two mesh bath sponges rest side by side on a blue background. The charcoal gray sponge has a tag reading “mesh sponge.” The lavender sponge has a tag reading “delicate mesh sponge.”]

Target recently announced a move to gender-neutral signage for some of their children’s products. While this is a welcome development for many parents and kids, the horrified responses from people can’t handle this kind of change are sadly predictable. One enterprising person posed as a Target representative and trolled their Facebook page, mockingly responding to and screencapping many comments from angry customers. Complaints of pandering to “political correctness” turned up frequently. Fox News, of course, also asked “Have the PC police gone too far?”

Here’s the thing. Gendering children’s products is flat-out ridiculous, and forcing children to only play with or wear “gender-appropriate” items has serious potential for harm. Trans author S. Bear Bergman has a great essay on raising his son amidst relentless gendering of everything from training toilets to prescription shampoo for lice. He and his spouse aren’t forcing their views of gender-neutrality on their son; they just want him to choose whatever makes him happy.

The idea that “pink is for girls, blue is for boys” is a recent phenomenon. I’ve seen no evidence that boys who wear pink or play with dolls turn out to be gay or trans any more than boys who wear blue and play with trucks. Clothes and toys do not have the power to change a person’s gender or sexual orientation.  And of course, the implication that turning out to be gay or trans would be a bad thing is just ugly. Trans children especially need supportive parents.

Regardless, gender has no color. Look at the charcoal gray and lavender bath sponges pictured at the top of this post. The shelf tag for the gray sponge, and the receipt when I purchased it, read “MENS.” Heaven forbid a man use the wrong color sponge to scrub his manly ass in the shower. (I bought the lavender sponge for my male spouse, for the record. I hate pastels.)

While I can’t speak for Target, I myself do have a “gender-neutral agenda,” because I think that not just children’s products but nearly all products are pointlessly gendered. Eyeglass frames for example. The last time I shopped for them, I was happy to find a store that did not use gendered labeling at all; they merely grouped the products by brand.

As for clothing, I posted yesterday about men’s versus women’s pants. Here it does make more sense to have separate clothing sections, because most adult women have wider hips than men, amongst other differences in body proportions.

But these differences are not consistent even for cis people, and are reversed for most trans men and women. And any department that is separated into “men’s” and “women’s” erases nonbinary people. For clothing you might think “just shop in the department that matches your actual sex” but this is biological determinism. Many nonbinary people do not consider themselves to be male-bodied or female-bodied. (I myself was assigned female at birth, but am agender and male.) And being nonbinary does not imply any particular clothing choice, regardless of a person’s body configuration.

My agenda is not to eliminate gender completely, but to eliminate forcing the gender binary on everything: Clothing, accessories, titles, salutations, single-occupancy restrooms,  and on and on and on. Gender-“nonconforming” people exist. Nonbinary people exist. Intersex people exist. Eliminating forced binary gendering will reflect and honor this reality, rather than erasing the real and valid identities and expressions of children and adults alike.

On echo chambers

[Image: Black and white vanishing perspective of a wooden pier.]

Some people wonder why folks like me are so intolerant of comments questioning the impact of racism, cissexism, and other oppression, and our tactics to fight it. Why do we want to be in an “echo chamber” of people who think just like we do? Why can’t we be open to a variety of opinions? What about free speech?

First of all, freedom of speech does not apply to my personal blog, Facebook page, or any other space I control. As atheist feminist blogger Greta Christina has written, “If you don’t respect my basic right to moderate my own online spaces — don’t bother to comment in any of them.”

But more importantly, these questions, however well-intentioned, overlook the fact that I already live inside an echo chamber 24/7. I am queer, black, agender, and transsexual, and am constantly bombarded with messages that people like me are thugs, freaks, perverts, special snowflakes, and dangerous. I don’t need people to come into my space to tell me what the mainstream already wants me to hear. Nor do I need to subject myself to this dialog in group discussions.

When I post about racism, heterosexism, or cissexism,  I want to hear a resounding echo of people shouting “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore.” I am not just venting, I am urging people to take action.

As someone who suffers from depression to the point that some days updating this blog is the only thing I manage to do, I do not have the energy to educate every person about these issues. Nor am I obligated to do so. That’s where true allies come in, who have the knowledge and patience to amplify the voices of the oppressed, and educate their peers from a place of privilege.

If you don’t like what I write, no one’s forcing you to read it. Post in your own space about “all lives matter” if you like. No one’s going to arrest you or beat you or murder you for doing so.

But I will not tolerate any more unsolicited opinions from my oppressors on how to be an effective activist or a “nice” person. Get out of my chamber.

Disclosure and erasure

[Image: A person stands on a street in a parade, holding a large circular red sign reading “I’m Bi!” in white letters.]

The other day I was listening to a work by the late great Leonard Bernstein (Mass, for the record*), and I started perusing his Wikipedia page. I learned that there is debate over his sexual orientation. It’s pretty clear he wasn’t straight, but some, including his ex-wife and a friend, have said he was gay, while others claim he was bisexual.

As a Wikipedia editor on the LGBT Studies task force, I know the importance of self-identification for sexual orientation (as well as gender identity). For living people, the standards are clear: We do not label them as being anything other than straight unless there is documented evidence in reliable publications that they self-identify otherwise. For historical figures, it can be a bit more difficult.

Wikipedia currently categorizes Bernstein under bisexual men and bisexual musicians. I admit that this makes me happy as a former bisexual (I now identify as queer) who is very mindful of bi erasure. I’ve known a lot of bisexuals in opposite-sex marriages and long-term relationships who were presumed to be straight, myself included (before my transition), and some in same-sex relationships who were presumed to be gay. Some did not mind this, as they were not publicly out as bi, which is their right of course.

But for myself, I felt I had to make a point that I was bi, or have my identity erased. This was even more challenging for monogamous bisexuals, who also did not like the assumption that bisexuals all sleep with “anything that moves.” While I and many of my bi friends are polyamorous, being poly is no more inherent to bisexuality than to monosexuality.

So when I was active in the bisexual community, I encouraged people who I thought were bi to come out as such. I didn’t think there was anything weird or shameful about being bi, since so many of my friends were. I thought it was just obvious that most people were somewhere in the middle of the Kinsey scale rather than completely hetero or homosexual, and that we should all embrace our bisexual potential instead of being forced to choose sides.

Since learning more about gender and sex in the course of my transition, I’ve realized the error of my ways. Sexuality is much more complicated than the Kinsey scale implies. I cannot and should not assume anyone’s sexual identity from their behavior or even stated preferences, nor should I pressure anyone to “come out” or identify with any particular label. How a person labels their sexual orientation is for them and them alone to determine. No one else.

I still feel that bi erasure is a big problem, however. I was literally yelling at the screen while watching the first season of Orange is the New Black, as it seemed obvious to me that the central character was bi, yet the writers refused to use the word. The woman whose memoir the series was based on, Piper Kerman, has clearly self-identified as bisexual, so the description of her as an “ex-lesbian” without acknowledging her bisexuality was infuriating to me. (Of course, the series is hardly a realistic depiction of prison life either, as many critics have noted.)

I’ll close by re-iterating that we shouldn’t just throw out all the labels. Labels are useful to help us understand our sexualities better, and find mutual support. But they must be self-chosen.

* Despite being an atheist, or perhaps because of it, I find myself drawn to musicals with Judeo-Christian religious themes. Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat are some of my favorites.

Privilege is not an on/off switch

[Image: A collage of people holding signs, with a question mark in the middle and the Direct Action Everywhere logo at the bottom.]

Edit, June 2016: Since publishing this post I have left Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), as have several others pictured in the above collage. My points about privilege and ranking oppression still stand.

A lot of people misunderstand the concept of privilege. White people and cis men in particular get very defensive when called out on speaking from a place of privilege. “I’m not privileged,” they cry, “I’m not [rich/straight/Christian/American/etc.]”

Here’s the thing. Privilege is not an on/off, yes/no switch. Nor is it something you can assess with an overall rank, despite what well-intentioned but misleading quiz memes might tell you. Privilege consists of many components, including but not limited to: Race, gender, sexual orientation, class, religion, physical and mental ability. Today’s article in Everyday Feminism addresses a lot of common misconceptions about this topic.

As a queer black trans atheist, I am a member of several oppressed groups. Despite this, I still enjoy many privileges. I am financially stable, college-educated, US-American, and English-speaking, for starters. I am also relatively able-bodied and slim.

But none of these privileges completely erase the disadvantages I have. My skin color makes me a greater target for police profiling and violence, independent of my class or education. Being a nonbinary trans person means that I experience social dysphoria on a daily basis, even though I have financial access to hormones that help with the physical dysphoria. Being queer means I face possible harassment and violence if I am affectionate with my male spouse in public, even though same-sex marriage is now legal in all fifty US states. And being an atheist means that I am in one of the most despised groups of all in this country, independent of anything else about me.

When it comes to privilege, I find it unhelpful to rank oppression. Many animal rights activists correctly point out that we all enjoy human privilege. But as I’ve argued in my post about veganism and white privilege, that in no way means that racism, sexism, or other human issues are trivial by comparison. Rather than telling women, people of color, and others in disadvantaged groups to stop “playing the victim” because they supposedly have it so much better than non-human animals, we should be recognizing and honoring their struggles alongside our fight to end speciesism.

We should all use what privileges we do have to amplify the voices of those who do not share our advantages. The montage at the top of this post shows some of my fellow animal liberationists from Direct Action Everywhere; I took these photos at our annual forum. As also seen in our most recent video (I can be seen briefly at approximately 3:13), we represent a wide variety of races, genders, and nationalities, in a movement that is dominated by cis white voices. We come together to speak for the non-human animals whose voices have been silenced. I will be joining my DxE friends in San Francisco this Saturday, as we light the path to liberation.

Identity, equality, and oppression

[Image: Two men walk side by side carrying rainbow flags along a crowded Castro Street in San Francisco.]

Last week I posted some thoughts on marriage equality, as I was concerned by commentary I’d read that the legalization of same-sex marriage primarily benefits white cis gay men. While I still don’t believe that to be true, an article published today, “Will Gay Identity Really Disappear Now That We Have Marriage Equality?“, both infuriated me and shed more light on this issue.

This article contains quotes from other authors such as “What do gay men have in common when they don’t have oppression?” and  “There is something wonderful about being part of an oppressed community.” The author also opines that “Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion makes it clear once and for all that we are equal members of society.” He wonders, “Outside of the bedroom, will being gay become more like an ethnic identity?”

These statements are troubling on many levels. First of all, this whole discussion is centering gay men in an issue that affects people of many genders and orientations. As I pointed out in my earlier piece, it’s not “gay marriage” that was won, it’s marriage equality. This includes not only gays but lesbians, bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals, queer and trans people, all of whom may be in same-sex partnerships.

Second, the Obergefell v. Hodges decision in no way makes gay men “equal members of society”. Maybe a white, cisgender, able-bodied gay man who is “raising kids, caring for elderly parents, living in the (gasp) ‘burbs, working in office cubicles,” can believe that he is equal to his straight counterparts. That is , if he’s lucky to live in a city that bans housing and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. The article does touch on this, but vastly underestimates the distance we have left to go, saying “it seems like the final chapter is being written.”

There’s also some pretty disgusting nationalism in the article, saying the marriage equality ruling puts America decades or centuries ahead of the rest of the world “with the exception of Europe,” and hoping that Americans will use social media to “help outcasts everywhere.” Marriage equality or not, I know that I’m sure not feeling patriotic about being a US-American right now.

The notion of nostalgia for that “wonderful” time when all gays could unite based on a common oppressed identity is frankly appalling to me. There is nothing “wonderful”  about being seen as a pervert, a molester, a person who is less than human. As I lived up until recently as a woman and have always had relationships primarily with men, I’ve been fortunate to avoid homo-antagonism directed at me personally. But once I am read consistently as male, there will be places where it is unsafe to walk hand-in-hand with my spouse. The fact that our marriage is now legal everywhere in the US is irrelevant to someone who thinks that homosexuality is a mental illness, a crime against nature, or a perversion of God’s will. (Nevermind the fact that neither of us is actually homosexual; I’m queer and my spouse is bi.)

Perhaps I would feel differently if I were a gay cis man who was active in the movement in earlier decades. But I can’t imagine that many black people who were active in the civil rights movement in the 60s are now deciding that there’s no point in having a black identity. The Black Lives Matter movement has shown that racism is still thriving, despite blacks supposedly being legally equal to whites. And being black in the US is more than being oppressed; it is a culture, an identity of its own.

On being gay possibly evolving into an “ethnic identity”, as the author suggests, that sounds suspiciously like the whole Rachel Dolezal mess. Yes, sexual orientation is separate from gender identity (gender identity being the purported issue in comparing Dolezal to Caitlyn Jenner), though the two are often confused. But neither of these is an ethnicity, nor a race (terms that are also often confused).

So what do gay men have in common, besides oppression? What is the “gay identity”? I can’t tell you. Despite being legally male and married to a man, I’m not gay. I thought I might be a gay man when I was in early transition, but I realized that I’m not; I’m queer and agender. I personally struggle to fit into any culture revolving around gender identity or sexual orientation (or ethnicity for that matter).

But these cultures absolutely do exist, and will continue to exist for a long time. And so will oppression. Erasing identity is itself oppressive. Assimilation is not the answer to ending heterosexism. Marriage equality was a necessary, but not by any means sufficient, part of gaining full equality for all.

 

 

Welcome, and thoughts on marriage equality

[Image: A rainbow flag partially covering an American flag.]

Welcome! This blog is a new home for my writing and photography, superseding my blogs on LiveJournal and Tumblr, as well as my longer posts on Facebook and Google+. Unlike those sites, this web hosting (at pair Networks) is paid for and controlled by yours truly, and will contain no advertising. (Though I will be exploring a new crowdfunded model to support my photography expenses; I’ll post about that separately.) My primary focus is currently disrupting the kyriarchy, including but not limited to cissexism, heterosexism, racism, and speciesism. So let’s jump right in.

Last Friday, June 26, marked a historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling: Nationwide recognition of same-sex marriage. As I chronicled the fight for marriage equality in California for years, and later (thanks to gender transition) wound up in a same-sex marriage myself, this was big news to me. I wanted to celebrate, but my feelings were tempered by those (correctly) pointing out that same-sex marriage is only one part of the struggle for LGBT equality, particularly for trans people like myself. Some felt that a disproportionate amount of resources were poured into gaining access to an oppressive institution, that allies will now abandon the LGBT community, and that marriage equality primarily benefits privileged cis gay men.

I share the first two concerns, but not the third. I do now agree that too many resources were focused on gaining marriage equality, though I didn’t realize this before my transition. (My spouse and I donated a significant amount of money to HRC back in 2008, when I was still gainfully employed; I now regret supporting this problematic organization.) And I agree that married couples should, ideally, not have benefits over unmarried people, particularly with regard to health care. I sympathize with those who feel that the legal institution of marriage should be abandoned entirely, as personal relationships should be none of the government’s business. (Though as an atheist, I would also not want religious marriage to be the only publicly recognized form of romantic commitment.)

I also recognize that many straight cis people will mistake marriage equality for full equality, much as many white people decided that electing a black president meant that racism is no longer an issue in this country. Such people are not actually allies, as far as I’m concerned, even if they might grant themselves that title.

We cannot do much about money and resources already spent. But as a queer black nonbinary trans person, I am highly motivated to make sure the myriad other issues facing LGBT people – including but not limited to violence, homelessness, employment discrimination, and inadequate healthcare – are not ignored, going forward. Indeed, that is a large part of the purpose of this new blog.

When it comes to the claim that marriage equality primarily benefits cis gay men (and some have qualified that even further to white cis gay men), however, I cannot agree. I refer to “marriage equality” rather than “gay marriage” or even “same-sex marriage” for good reason. This decision means that people in the United States can get married independent of gender or sexual orientation. Lesbians, bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals (yes, some asexuals have romantic partners), queer, and transgender people (regardless of legal sex) all benefit, in addition to cis gay men.

Regardless of race or income level, many couples now have rights that were previously denied to them. Marriage isn’t just about fancy weddings or tax write-offs; legal marital status conveys hundreds of benefits. Yes, many of these benefits should be available to all people regardless of marital status. But it is simply unfair to grant these privileges to some couples and not others, and that particular aspect of discrimination has now been formally addressed in this country.

To my mind, the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling is as significant as Loving v Virginia, which legalized interracial marriage nationwide. My parents were married in 1969 and I was born the following year, a mere three years after the Loving decision. In many states, my parents – a black/white couple – could not have been legally married before that time. They were young college students, and not well-off financially.  Many same-sex couples today, including interracial couples, are in a similar situation. These couples may still struggle financially and be oppressed in countless other ways, but at least now they have the option to marry, anywhere in the country, and not have an existing  marriage invalidated simply by crossing state lines.

So I do celebrate marriage equality. And I continue the struggle for true equality for all.