Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Readings on Ferguson, Gender and Queer Black Activism

A few readings from around the web on police violence and the intersection of race, gender, and gender identity in the wake of the Ferguson decision:

"All over the United States, police and transgender people are often at odds, the result of decades of policing that did not stop crimes but enforced the unwritten laws of patriarchy and ensured social conformity. Black and/or Latinx transgender people often find ourselves the target of increased police hostility, because of white supremacist, transphobic policing being distinctly opposed to our continued existence."

"It is appropriate and necessary for us to acknowledge the critical role that Black lives and struggles for Black liberation have played in inspiring and anchoring, through practice and theory, social movements for the liberation of all people.  The women’s movement, the Chicano liberation movement, queer movements, and many more have adopted the strategies, tactics and theory of the Black liberation movement.  And if we are committed to a world where all lives matter, we are called to support the very movement that inspired and activated so many more.  That means supporting and acknowledging Black lives."

The Audre Lorde Project: Statement: Wake Up, Rise Up
"The murders of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley and Eric Garner prove that Black lives are seen as dangerous and expendable. For those of us that are Queer, Trans, Black and People of Color, our bodies, our gender expression and who we love puts us further away from the "norms" and has falsely perceived us as the most threatening, less than human, and even more dangerous of all bodies."

Further reading on Ferguson and gender:
Pieces by Black feminist writers, scholars, educators, and activists.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Queer Obsession: Why I Love Women's Soccer

Earlier this week, the U.S. women’s soccer team was in Washington, DC to play Haiti in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament. My partner and I and several friends were there - with our two collective babies in tow. Next summer, my wife and I hope to fulfill a several years-long dream of attending a women’s World Cup in person. Since Canada is the 2015 host, we’re planning a soccer-crazed road trip to Montreal. 

If you cared, I could probably name for you every player in the U.S. women’s national team pool right now. I could tell you where most of them played in college, where all of them play professionally, and I could probably ballpark their individual stats (national team appearances, international goals, yellow cards, goalkeeper shutouts, height, typical cleat color… you get the picture…). My wife and I have season tickets to the Washington Spirit, DC’s pro women’s soccer team, which plays in the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League). During the spring and summer, going to the Spirit home games is one of the highlights of our week. When they play an away game, we watch them streamed live on Youtube - grainy, jumpy, unreliable feeds with terrible announcing (this past season, among other things, we suffered through one announcer going on for what felt like days about the weather in Nebraska. There’s no NWSL team in Nebraska, just FYI.). Still, we watch every game. We took our then three-week-old baby to the Spirit’s last home game in August. When they made the semifinals, the game was played in Seattle and didn’t begin on the east coast until 11:00pm. Due to newborn-induced sleep deprivation, I fell asleep before kick-off and couldn’t be roused to watch (my wife tried twice), but loyal fan that she is, my spouse stayed up for the whole game (they lost to the regular season champs), watching on our computer in bed. All summer, I took part in an online NWSL fantasy league and finished 182nd out of some 1,500-plus other soccer-crazed folks. The fantasy league ran a special playoffs challenge at the end of the season in which I tied for 18th place out of 445 participants.

I wasn’t always this kind of sports fan. I’ve always been involved in athletics and have always enjoyed watching pro sports, but I’ve never been the kind of fan who buys season tickets, amasses encyclopedic knowledge of favorite players, or drives hours out of the way to see a game. With most other sports teams I follow, owning a t-shirt or a baseball hat with the team logo on it and catching a couple of live games per year more than satisfies me. 

So what makes this so different? One thing is that it’s not just the sport itself. I love watching soccer in general, but I really love being at NWSL games. Player stereotypes aside (though there are several out queer female pro players in addition to a handful of others who are not explicitly out, but still readily recognizable to those of us looking for them), women’s soccer has a tremendous queer - and specifically, queer female - following, that really shapes the fan environment at games. The atmosphere at NWSL games and U.S. women’s games is different from other pro sporting events. Where else do you go to a pro game and see giant rainbow flags draped over the bleachers? Where in pro men's sports do you see a critical mass of visibly queer folks all around you - on the field, on the team staffs, and in the stands? The games feel celebratory and inclusive in ways that men's sports do not - often for both players and fans.

Professional sporting events are not always the most welcoming environments for female people and/or queer and trans people. Any of us could probably come up with dozens of examples of sexist, homophobic, and transphobic men's sports experiences, but one case in point - I play on a women’s recreational ice hockey team and a few years back, we sold programs at a Washington Capitals NHL game to raise some money for our club. My teammate sold a program to one lady who upon hearing that the funds were supporting our team said, “Women’s hockey? You have got to be kidding me.” She asked for her five dollars back and huffed off. Here we were at a hockey game, working our tails off and hopefully raising a little bit of money in large part to grow the sport of hockey, and this person not only didn’t like that idea, but was so offended by the thought of a women’s hockey team that she decided not to buy a program she otherwise would have. I was pretty taken aback by it, but I think that episode says a lot about the attitudes towards gender that folks commonly encounter at men’s sporting events. Being a male athlete in our culture so frequently becomes about embodying the quintessential elements of conventional masculinity - mental toughness, bravery, aggression, and showing physical strength. Being a female in the male sports environment revolves largely around being a spectator (or “eye candy”). 

The dynamics at women’s sporting events offer a refreshing change from the toxicity that can accompany men’s sports. It’s not that female athletes are all actively challenging the gender binary, proclaiming themselves feminists, and coming out as queer (most are not), but being a pro female athlete in our culture is still subversive by its very nature because it turns the traditional relationship between sports and notions of masculinity and femininity on its head. This is exciting, and also important work, especially as teams deal with the prospect of next year's women's World Cup being played on artificial turf rather than natural grass (no men's World Cup game has ever been - nor, I suspect, ever will be - played on turf. A number of high-profile international female players are suing FIFA for sex discrimination over this issue - read here for more). I also think this dynamic, in addition to a love of soccer, is what has fueled my addiction to the women’s game over the past many years, and my excitement for the future of the sport. 

The world cup qualifying tournament for North and Central America and the Caribbean continues with two semifinal matches this Friday, October 24 (Fox Sports 1). The final, in which the U.S. is likely to play will be Sunday, October 26 at 6pm (also Fox Sports 1). And just FYI, 2015 season tickets for most NWSL teams are already available… 

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


 thegenderbook.com
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.


http://www.thegenderbook.com/communities/4/004/009/184/734//images/4584114930.jpg


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: www.thegenderbook.com











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.