Monday, March 31, 2014

Queering Taylor Hanson

It's finally spring (or almost spring, if you're among our long-suffering Upper Midwestern kin).  The days are longer, the air is warmer. People are starting to regain that sense of carefree hopefulness buoyed by the fresh air. It's a season perfectly suited to putting all of your favorite bubblegum pop songs at the top of the playlist and blissing out in the sunshine. And on that note, I have a confession to make. I am, and have long been, a Hanson fan. Many people in my life already know, and even embrace, this fact.  Others may have come into this information at some point prior, and depending on personality, filed it away in one of three mental folders: "Things I Wish I Had Not Learned," "Things I Will Not Speak of In Order to Spare My Friend Shame," and "Ways to Shame Friends." In my case, the potential for shaming is quite extensive given that I can't excuse my love for this band as a phase I merely passed through in junior high. Nope. I still listen to them. I went to my first Hanson show not in 1997, but in 2007. I own post-MMMBop Hanson albums that most people probably don't know were ever made (you should really check out their third album, P.S...).

At times I have kept my Hanson love deeply closeted, due to obvious fear of social stigma.  Still, it comes up from time to time, and the more it's come up over the years, the more I have discovered the extent to which a vast number of genderqueer folks, lesbians and trans guys of my generation share this obsession.  I won't name names (apologies to those who are found guilty by association.  Feel free to unfriend me on Facebook. Save yourselves. I'll understand), but it's uncanny - almost person to person, folks I know across the transmasculine spectrum who are around my same age are Hanson fans.

Why is this, you might ask?  It's possible us genderqueer/lesbian/trans dudes just have a super heightened appreciation of stupidly catchy hooks and three-part harmony. But I think it's because we secretly identify deeply with one Mr. Taylor Hanson.  How could we not?  When he and his brothers first hit it big, his high-pitched voice and long hair made everyone think he was a girl. Unlike elsewhere in the U.S., Hanson was not in vogue at all among my junior high classmates and Taylor's androgyny was one of the reasons.  Taylor Hanson brought out the best in sullen teenage America's homophobia and transphobia. But girlish as he may have been, Taylor's tomboyish streak, arguably queer masculinity, and overall gender ambiguity mesmerized me.

After MMMBop, Hanson largely faded from the mainstream. Taylor is still down in Oklahoma somewhere with a wife and a bajillion kids and counting.  I'm pretty sure he's a conservative and/or some kind of born-again Christian.  But for a while in 1997, he performed a lovely kind of gender non-conformity in the public eye, without flinching, and for that, I suspect, he has forever endeared himself to lesbians and genderqueers the world over.                 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Invisible Queer Gets Carded at the Casino

The adventures of the invisible genderqueer continue! This weekend I went out to Delaware to play a hockey game.  Afterwards, some of my teammates wanted to grab a beer and some food before heading back to DC.  A guy at the rink told us the only place around to get drinks was the sports bar in the casino around the corner, so around to the casino we went. 

With my jeans, t-shirt, faded sneakers and hot-mess-post-hockey hair, I thought I was coming across pretty much dyke, though I have no doubt that in rural Delaware, I was looking more disheveled teenage boy.  Obviously, you have to be 21 to enter a casino.  I'm sure you can imagine what happened next.  We had to walk through the casino itself to get to the bar.  As soon as we walked in and I saw the ID check lady look me up and down and then throw me the stink eye, I knew I was likely in for a hassle.  She went straight for me and said "You look pretty young, let me see that ID."  As I was getting out my wallet, she continued, half like she was trying to joke with me and half like she was irritated, "You look like a kid walking in here."  I handed her my driver's license.  She looked back up at me with a skeptical look on her face and shook her head.  She either didn't notice the fact that my driver's license says "female" or did not seem to draw any obvious conclusions from that fact.

"You don't look that old." She said flatly.

A lot of folks might take something like that as a compliment, but in this case it came across more like an accusation.  What was I supposed to say?  I shrugged and took back my ID as she reluctantly waved me in.  It didn't become a real issue - clearly, she let me through - but what if she hadn't?  I suppose I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.  And then rant about it on my handy gender blog.

Where will Invisible Queer go next? Who knows, but I do have a work conference coming up next month.  Maybe someone will mistake me for my colleague's son or Justin Bieber's union organizer alter ego again.  Won't that be fun.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

5 Ridiculous Gender Things

Here are five ridiculous things for no reason at all.  Some related to the holidays, some not.  All related to gender, of course.

5. The "Mancave"
This term seems to have become a buzzword that nobody (or at least all the straight guys on any episode of House Hunters ever) can stop saying.  Specs for a proper "Mancave" can vary, but generally include a large, preferably windowless, room in the basement; a gi-normous television; and a healthy assortment of pro sports team fan paraphernalia.  Admission limited to those with a penis.  Heterosexuality required.

4.  Teen vitamins "for girls" and "for boys"
This phenomenon is nothing new, but the marketing associated with these things is so offensive, I experience shock anew each time I see them.  First, there's this well-known brand, advertising support for "healthy skin" for girls and "healthy muscle function" for boys:

And then there's "Power Teen," with packaging reminiscent of Monster energy drinks, and that appear to feature something called "Feminine Complex" in the girls' version (the boys' version comes with blue instead of pink-themed packaging and does not include "Masculine Complex," but rather "BlemishShield Complex."  Very complex indeed).

One thing's for sure - I feel like I'm getting a feminine complex just from looking at this shit.  Maybe it's a good thing we all just learned that vitamins are slowly destroying our livers.  Maybe next they'll offer us "his and hers" cirrhosis medication.

3. Those "He went to Jared" commercials:
All jewelry commercials are pretty bad, but these take the cake - and since the holidays are nigh, it feels like every other commercial is one of them.  If there's something on TV these days more reliant on traditional gender roles to sell a product, let's hear about it.  The thing about these commercials that I can't get over - besides the sickening heteronormativity - is that lately, they've been advertising the weirdest things, like rainbow-colored diamonds and charm bracelets for adult women, which the commercials seem to suggest should be worn to things like formal work events.  Who is actually wearing this stuff?  Does anyone even want these things?  I can't even.

2. This totally unfortunate greeting card:

Not only is this card horribly transphobic, homophobic, and sexist, it also takes aim at the Wizard of Oz, which has so many delightfully queer elements, and is an all-time favorite movie of mine.  This card is utter sacrilege.  Don't worry, Lion.  You flaunt those curls.  I've got your back.

 1. The "what your guy is really thinking" category of magazine articles and self-help books:

See above re: sexism, heterosexism, and related topics.  Found in everything from Cosmo to all parenting magazines ever, these articles can advise you on how "your guy" wants to have sex, how "your guy" is adjusting to parenthood, or what communication styles work best for (you guessed it) "your guy."  Because god forbid you could just ask him.  Or that he would just tell you.  But that, of course, would then prevent anyone from marketing "men's secrets" to women.  There must be some major conspiracy afoot in which monogamous heterosexual relationships are valued by the culture at large more highly than other kinds of relationships and the people in said heterosexual relationships are subject to immense social pressure to conform to traditional notions of masculinity and femininity, which include the supposed inability of male and female people to properly communicate with one another without the aid of advice literature meant to help women read men's minds and which they must pay good money to obtain.  Oh wait, there is such a conspiracy.  It's called capitalism.  See also: patriarchy.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Gender Book
There's a gender-tastic new book coming out, hopefully in the spring, called The Gender Book.  The project is the work of Mel Reiff Hill and Jay Mays along with, in their own words, "a whole big beautiful community."  This "whole big beautiful community" of folks have contributed both content and financial resources to the book, which is being funded via an Indiegogo campaign (you can join in the effort HERE). 

How I did not know about this project until this week is beyond me - I must have spent this whole fall with my head under a rock - but I know about it now and I have to say that I am pretty stoked.  I have been waiting for something like this for a long time.

The aim of the project is to make gender theory and concepts like performativity accessible to everyone.  The book uses original artwork along with text to convey its message that gender and sex are complex, fluid, and culturally specific.  The authors explain in plain language - but without unnecessary over-simplification - how gender is constructed, how gender differs from physical sex, how gender socialization happens, how different people express gender identity, and so on.

The Gender Book will be important for lots of reasons, but I'm most excited because I often feel that the complexities of gender theory fall exclusively within the purview of academics.  I finished my master's degree in 2009 and since then have done relatively little academic reading and writing, but some months ago I pulled a feminist studies reader from the bookshelf and starting slogging through an article on gender identity and performativity.  Having not exercised my scholarly prose muscles for a while, I was a little rusty and found myself doing that thing where you read the same sentence over and over again without absorbing any meaning.  In the end, my brain warmed up and I was able to get through it and pull out the main arguments, but not without some effort.  I sat there wondering if I - a person ostensibly trained to decipher such texts - struggled with this, how on earth would we ever convey these ideas to the mainstream?  I was worried because this stuff is so important and yet almost everything written about it sounds like academics talking to each other and nobody else.  Academic work is important - it helps push the limits of our understanding of history, culture, power, and the assumptions we take for granted, but that work is enhanced when it is also accessible to everyone.  Projects like this invite everyone into the conversation.

The finished book will be available online for free in its electronic version, but if you want to get your hands on some hard copies, you can pre-order via the Indiegogo campaign (see link above).  The campaign runs until the end of December, so there are only a couple of weeks left to contribute.  The book is projected to be completed and ready to print by March 2014.  I'll be counting the days.

For more info (and more previews from the finished book!), visit:

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Let's Speak Queer

The English language does not make things easy on genderqueer folks, or on anyone who prefers the gender neutral over the gender specific (as in "mailman" vs. "mail carrier" - they mean the same thing, but "mailman" rolls so easily off the tongue that despite thinking about this stuff constantly, even I have to take a second every time to remember to say "mail carrier" instead).  English pronouns are tricky.  The sir/ma'am binary makes addressing strangers feel like traversing a social etiquette minefield (at least any cashier/waiter/clothing store clerk who has ever encountered me seems to think so).  

As a matter of fact, I got called "ma'am" and "miss" about seventeen million times the other day while buying a sandwich (Yes.  Seventeen million times.  By precise count of the official binary-O-meter, patent pending.). It threw me off a bit because that happens to me so rarely.  I've let my hair grow out a little bit in the front and I was all bundled up for winter, so I'll blame it on that.  Still, it got me thinking about how we could address strangers using words less gender-charged than "sir" or "ma'am" without resorting to the less-than-polite "Hey you," which most people tend not to appreciate.  Here's my food for thought:

1. "Friend" (In place of sir/ma'am).
You go to order a sandwich and instead of asking you, "What are you having today, ma'am?" the cashier would say "What are you having today, friend?"  This is also helpful for catching the attention of someone whose name you do not know, i.e., "Excuse me, friend!  You've dropped your wallet!"  Added bonus: In addition to being gender neutral, the use of "friend" allows you to avoid the more condescending/potentially offensive "sweetie" or "honey-pie," the awkwardly formal "sir," and the age crapshoot associated with deciding between "ma'am" and "miss." 

2. "Good-lookin" (In place of he/him/she/her/they/them)
Unfortunately, I can't take credit for this one.  A good friend of mine came up with this brilliant idea as a means of talking about folks in the third person without using gendered pronouns (and getting to compliment everyone you're talking about to boot).  Example: "Joe is headed to the store.  Good-lookin is going to pick up a few groceries for us."  Plural use is also encouraged: "My relatives are coming in for a visit.  Good-lookin are the best houseguests ever."

3. "People" (In place of women/men)
I know this one seems obvious, but hear me out - this one is less about language itself and more about gendered language as a marketing ploy.  I cannot even explain to you how excited I would be to find myself at the pharmacy and suddenly see in place of all the bodywash "for women" and deodorant "for men" a display advertising "Soap!  For people!"  I mean, seriously, since when did male-bodied and female-bodied people start needing different soap?  When I was a kid, we had one bar of soap in the bathtub at a time.  Everybody used the same soap.  Everybody got clean.  This is apparently no longer the case for many people.  Now, I do understand that some people like soap that smells like coconuts and daisies.  Some people like soap that smells like industrial-strength laundry detergent.  Still others prefer a hint of fake mountain air.  Although soap-makers assume these preferences fall along gendered lines, none of this means we must have gender apartheid in the soap aisle.  I think soap companies should consider marketing their products in ways that would expand their target audiences.  For instance, a conventionally masculine guy who likes the delicate scent of lavender probably won't buy lavender bodywash "for women," but he might buy lavender bodywash "for people who enjoy lavender," thus expanding the potential consumer base for lavender soap.  I'll be waiting by the phone for that marketing consultant job offer from Suave anytime now.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Homelessness Awareness Week: Queer Youth

Queer Homeless Youth
This week is Homelessness Awareness Week.  We all know that LGBT youth are at higher risk of being bullied, harassed, and attacked.  LGBT youth are more likely than their straight and cis-gender peers to suffer from depression or attempt suicide.  LGBT youth and young adults, and particularly trans adults are more likely to be unemployed, impoverished, and unable to access stable housing.  These aren't uplifting facts, but they're important facts to remember this week and every week because LGBT youth are also at higher risk of experiencing homelessness than their straight and cis peers.  When we're talking about homelessness, it's easy to forget about the kids.  We think of the homeless military vets, and we know disability plays a big role in homelessness.  We think of homeless families struggling with unemployment or lack of affordable housing.  We forget, or at least I do, that there are kids who are homeless and all on their own.  As many as 40 percent of those homeless youth identify as LGBT.  40 percent.  

There are a lot of reasons that young people find themselves homeless.  For queer youth, the reasons often tie back to bigotry.  It's not uncommon that kids who come out to their friends, families, or churches are either kicked out or made to feel so miserable about themselves that leaving seems like the only option.  All LGBT youth, homeless or not, have a challenging road to travel.  They might experience teasing and harassment from classmates at school.  They might experience exclusion, both purposeful and inadvertent, from activities and social events that are easy and welcoming to straight and cis kids.  If they come from a religious family, they might be made to think that who they are and what they feel is an affront to god.  Worst of all, they might be told by a frustrated, angry, or fearful parent that if they are gay or lesbian or trans or queer that they aren't welcome at home anymore.

Here are the facts:*

  • As many as 40% of homeless youth are LGBT.
  • 62% of homeless LGBT youth have attempted suicide.
  • 58% of queer homeless young people report being sexually assaulted.   
  • 63% of homeless queer youth cite conflict at home as the reason they are homeless.

That last stat is the most frustrating because it's the most preventable problem and often the most heartbreaking.  There was a story in the Huffington Post several months back written by a woman whose gay son had struggled with drug addiction in his teens, got clean, but then had a relapse as a young adult.  He overdosed and died.  His mother describes how for years after her son came out (he told her he was gay when he was 12), she and his father tried to make him change.  They were sure he could be straight, or at least not be gay.  They were a Christian family and she admits that she and her husband used their son's faith to manipulate him into trying to "overcome" his sexuality.  They told him, essentially, that he would have to choose between Jesus and being gay.  Their son loved Jesus and his mother now acknowledges the agony that this false dichotomy must have caused him.  In telling her story, the thing she says that is most important, I think, is that at the time, she and her husband believed they were acting out of love for their son.  They did not physically threaten or hurt him.  They didn't ask him to leave the house.  They told him they would always love him.  But they quietly, carefully wore him down until he came to the conclusion that because he could not be himself and practice his faith simultaneously, god must not want him.  He turned to drugs.  Much time passed when his family didn't know where he was.  Though they later reconciled and his parents came to embrace him - everything about him - with open arms, unfortunately, we know the story has a tragic ending.    

There are some problems that families can't always solve for their LGBT kids - being bullied at school, or making sure that school officials are sensitive and accepting to LGBT youth, or ensuring that there are education policies in place that reflect the experience of all kids - queer, trans, gay, straight, cis, and everything else.  Families can work to make those things better, but there's no immediate fix.  There is an immediate fix for feeling unloved, unwanted, or uncertain at home.  When children come out, families must make their homes a haven of safety, peace, and love.  It doesn't mean the topic can't be discussed, or parents can't ask questions, but parents can approach the situation respectfully and lovingly.  Don't bully or manipulate.  If you're having a difficult time, share that with your partner, or a friend, or adult relative.  If your child is a teen, you might be able to say something like, "I feel a little scared about this because it is new to me and I have a lot to learn, but I'm sure everything is going to be fine and we can do this together."  Anything else is probably a conversation you should have with another adult and not your child.  

Fake it 'Til You Make It
The research shows that LGBT youth who feel their families accept them are much less likely to experience negative outcomes like homelessness, drug abuse, suicide, and HIV infection.  The following stats reflect the experiences of transgender folks, but the trend holds true for those across the LGBT community:*
  •  Among trans people who have experienced family rejection, 26% have also been homeless.  
  • 48% of transgender folks who have experienced domestic violence report having been homeless.
  • Among those who experienced family acceptance, only 9% reported experiencing homelessness.

This will be hard for some parents, especially those who hold religious beliefs that homosexuality is a sin, for instance.  In this case, fake it 'til you make it.  Seriously.  Fake it.  Because eventually, you probably will start to change your mind about things.  At the very least, you'll want to be part of your child's life as they become an adult.  You'll see that being happy for your child makes them happy.  You'll see that LGBT folks aren't really that scary.  You'll see that your child is the same amazing person they always were.  And you'll want your child to be around for that, I'm pretty sure.  

Center for American Progress, "3 Barriers that Stand Between LGBT Youth and Healthier Futures."

"Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey."

Upworthy, "INFOGRAPHIC: One of the Biggest Challenges Facing Gay People Isn't Marriage Equality."

Linda Robertson, "Just Because He Breathes: Learning to Truly Love Our Gay Son." 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Invisible Queer Buys a Drink

Here's another one for both the "Cases of Mistaken Identity" and "Your Unsolicited Commentary is Annoying the Shit out of Me" files.  We were at the Washington Capitals game last Wednesday when I was approached by a complete stranger apparently very committed to doing his part to enforce the drinking age.  I had bought two alcoholic beverages and was carrying them back to our seats when I realized I'd forgotten my ticket at the cash register.  I turned around to retrieve it and some guy got in my way and insisted on knowing if I was old enough to drink.  Still focused on getting back to my accidentally abandoned ticket, I said, "Yes, thanks," and tried to continue on my way.  He fell into step beside me and said, "Because you look younger than me and I don't think-..." I cut him off and said, "I'm twenty-nine, actually.  Thanks." He still wouldn't leave me alone, though he expressed surprise at my answer.  I couldn't tell if he was trying to recover from his obvious first assumption that I was a teenage boy, or that he still didn't believe me.  Either way, he looked genuinely shocked at how short I was with him.

Seriously.  WTF.  One, I had obviously been sold the alcohol already, meaning someone whose business it is to ask whether I am of age had already determined that I was, in fact, plenty old enough to purchase drinks.  Second, what was this guy planning to do about his false assumption that I was underage?  Make a citizen's arrest?  I'm just not certain what the point of this conversation was.  It felt like harassment.

I have no doubt that this entire situation transpired because the guy in question had read me as male and could not seem to re-calibrate to read me as female when I informed him that I was an age that wouldn't  make much sense if I were male-bodied (namely, my voice).  To me, this indicates, as I've said before, that people just aren't looking for queer folks.  People see males and females and expect these to be two (and of course, only two) easily distinguishable categories.  Being able to see people who bend the binary, including adult masculine-presenting female-bodied folks, requires expecting those people to exist.  I've found that many people do not have this expectation.  If I see someone who looks like they could be a boy or young man, but who is exhibiting signs that are incongruent with that assumption (i.e., wearing a wedding ring or using the women's restroom or openly carrying alcoholic beverages in a manner that indicates she or he is confident in her or his legal right to purchase and consume such beverages), I would not continue to assume that such a person is a teenager.  I'd assume this person is queer or otherwise gender non-conforming.  I'm still not sure that my "friend" at the hockey arena understood what I was trying to convey to him - that I'm an adult female, not an underage male.  And if he did get the message, he seemed offended that I hadn't provided this information to him more compassionately.  I'm so tired of this.  Can we revive the old "We're here, we're queer" slogan, perhaps adding the addendum, "And some of us are not teenagers.  So stop bothering me, you irritating asshole."  Yeah, I know, it doesn't rhyme.  I'll keep working on it.