All Genders

I was speaking with my mother yesterday when casually she said “all genders.” This is the language we all must start to embrace and use in our every day vocabulary. When you say both (whether both sexes, both genders, both sexualities etc) you are telling those around you that you subscribe to the gender binary, the male-female binary, the gay-straight binary and all harmful either-or’s that dominate our speech. It seems like such a small thing, to consciously switch from saying both to saying all, or none but it can mean the world to those who are otherwise excluded from the conversation.

Consider all the people who are:

  • gender queer
  • trans*
  • agender
  • gender fluid
  • polyamorous
  • intersex

and I know this is not an extensive list, so please comment and let me know who else is alienated by the language of both. 

To better illustrate my point and to explain other ways of consciously shaping our language to be more inclusive, check out the youtube video below by sexplanations.

 

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Dear Men: A list of what I do not owe you

In a hypothetical situation that very closely (some might even go so far as to say exactly) mirrors reality, I am walking down the street in Istanbul trying to find my way to the shuttle that will take me to the airport. A shoe-shine man drops one of his brushes. I pick it up and hand it back to him.

Dear Shoe-Shine Man:

I do not owe you

  1. where I am from
  2. my name
  3. my age
  4. my marital status
  5. my time

I helped you, but that does not mean you delay me by insisting you shine my shoes and asking me personal questions. My life is my own. My time is my own. I do not not owe you my time. Just because I am a woman walking down the street without a man does not mean I am available.

Do not take my help as flirting. I did nothing to invite your attention and I do not want your attention. Please, shoe-shine man, get a grip on your ego and do not assume that I am straight or that I am automatically interested in you.

Thank you and please be a decent human being.

Another hypothetical situation:

I am walking by myself in Izmir killing some time and decide to get a cup of tea. After passing by  multiple places I deem to be a bit too sketchy, I pick a restaurant, sit down and order.

Dear Waiter,

I do not owe you:

  1. my name
  2. my age
  3. my facebook information
  4. my phone number

I am buying a cup of tea. A woman by herself should not be a walking anomaly. I might give you my name to be polite, but you do not need to know my age. Especially when you tell me you think I’m 15. When I correct you and say that I am twenty, it is poor manners to say “Me too!” and ask if I’m on facebook then hand over your phone for my number. We do not know each other. I have given no indication that I am interested in you in a romantic fashion. Being alone and being American does not make me more available or more flirtatious. It means I’m alone and I’m American.

In the future, please check your ego before you speak to your female customers.

Thank you. Have a nice day.

People have told me the above scenarios are a cultural issue, not a sexist issue. They tell me it is to be expected if I am traveling alone. I tell them that it should never be expected for a woman to receive harassment because that is condoning oppressive treatment.

In addition there is nothing cultural about men believing they have the right to pick up women wherever they are. The same attitude from men exists in America. The pervasive attitude is that all women exist to serve men and that if a man gives you a compliment or asks for your phone number you should be elated. A man showed interest in you! That’s one step closer to the womanly ideal of marriage and a family! And while those ideals are fine for some women as long as it’s what they want, they are not fine for all women. They are certainly not fine for me.

It’s difficult to tell men “no” because of how much we’ve been conditioned to acquiesce to the “more dominant sex.” But as women we need to realize the power in saying “no”. And understanding that we don’t owe men our time simply because we are women.

Be a Good Ally

I took a five-and-a-half hour bus ride out of Istanbul to get to the Gallipoli peninsula.

For those five-and-a-half hours, I had a long conversation with a man also studying abroad through the same program as myself. We had talked a bit before, but had never had the time to just sit and get to know each other. He’s an environmental engineer and I’m a writer, but we talked far more about real world issues we were each trying to solve through our chosen profession.

He knew about racial profiling and understood that racism is still alive today. He knew that when I was canvassing over the past summer, it must have been more difficult for me to be walking around as a woman. I told him it was worse for the canvassers of color who were stopped by the police. He was sympathetic and understood that he has privilege as a straight, white, cisgender man.

But, though he said he supported gay marriage, he would not actively pursue the issue because:

 it wasn’t his issue.

By this point in our conversation, I had explained how I do not believe American governments on any level (from local to national) are actually committed to making positive change. I told him that I wanted to use my creative writing to write better media representations of women, people of color, the queer community and any intersection or variation of the above. He was receptive to my ideas and was clearly considering his own opinions on the matter because he told me he wished he were more informed and could give a stronger opinion.

This is why his response that certain issues were not his issues floored me. By all accounts he was an ally. Not just to the queer community, but to the feminist community and to people of color. He understood that oppression is a contemporary issue that needs to be immediately addressed. So how can he see the problems of the world, know people who are affected by these problems and still believe he is only obligated to care about his issues?

His issues are environmental. I respect that. The earth needs an ally too. However, he is not a good ally.

Being a good ally is more than acknowledging issues exist. It is more than saying you support gay marriage or women’s rights. You can say all you want, but if in the end you won’t do anything because you believe you are somehow exempt from responsibility toward helping people who are not your own, you do not understand what an ally is.

The reason I believe American governments are not moving toward equality is because my friend’s reasoning is the norm. Progressive people are saying they support gay rights, anti-racist policies and gender and sexual equality for women but they are not doing anything about it. And if the people on the ground aren’t doing anything about it, how will our government know we are serious about what we say?

Be a good ally and put action to your words. Do more than tell the world you won’t sit back and let bigotry continue. Stand up and don’t let bigotry continue.

We Can’t Segregate “The Gays”

My brother and I don’t talk as much as we used to. Granted, I’m out of state in college for most of the year, but even when I’m home we have a list of subjects we cannot talk about.

  • feminism
  • gay rights
  • race
  • trans* issues
  • gender
  • politics

The list goes on. I love my brother, but we can’t talk about anything that matters and so we just don’t talk. I know I’m not the only one who has conservative family members and I need to ask if anyone has advice on how to have these conversations.

This morning I made the mistake of talking with him about gay rights. I haven’t been home since March 2013 and the last serious conversation I remember us having face-to-face since was trying to show him feminist frequency where he told me he didn’t have to listen because “she’s an ugly feminist.” That conversation blew up into a screaming match and, thankfully, we’ve both learned to much calmer.And we are very calm. We make it a point not to attack the other person only their beliefs. But that doesn’t matter when the subject matter is personal.

When we began the conversation this morning, my brother said how sometimes peoples’ lives are too different and therefore they cannot co-exist without fighting. He gave gay rights as his example. Though he said he believes “those people” are people too and shouldn’t be denied housing or employment, he also believes we should not exist in his line of sight. If a gay couple lived on a street where he was thinking of buying a house he wouldn’t move onto that block. He wants “those people” on one side of town and the rest of the world on the other side where there would be no contact. In his view a country that is homogeneous in race and ethnicity is the most stable country.

I told him that was segregation and he said “Yes, I don’t deny that. I’m honest about what I believe.” And he is honest, I have to admire that, but he kept saying “those people” and he knows I’m queer. That was the most hurtful comment. If he does not want to live on the same block as a queer couple, does he not want to live in the same house as me, a queer woman?

I do not mean to place myself as a victim or as a perfect person under attack, but I explained that separate spheres would inevitably be unequal. In the gay/straight binary, straight is valued more (rightly so, my brother claims, because straight people are the majority–as if having the majority is the deciding factor on what is valued). Because straightness is praised, straight individuals have an easier time getting and keeping a job, and straight (cis-gender) couples, if they are married, have an easier time buying a house and living their lives. Just by being straight, my brother has untold advantages he believes he rightly deserves. Even if he did not mean to cause direct harm to other people, that is what he is doing by protecting his privilege and believing gay people should be pushed into a separate sphere.

Segregation is never the option. I cannot believe this is a topic of conversation in 2014. But it is. And more importantly it should be, as I am well aware racial segregation is still a major issue, and I’m sorry I do not have the time to devote to that in this blog post. All the same, segregation based on sexuality is just as bad and just as prejudiced. Instead of having the conversations to overcome hatred and reach an understanding, my brother and so many others who share his views, would rather gay people go be gay and do their “gay shit” as he says where he cannot see it. There is no dialogue and no room to change this opinion. Straight is right. Gay is wrong.

He says that if he ever has children he does not want them growing up in an environment where they would see queer people. He hates “gay shit” and in his perfect world gay people would not exist. I am glad he knows being queer is not a choice, but it doesn’t matter if he wishes we wouldn’t exist.  Other than myself I don’t think he knows anyone who is queer and he is ready to pass judgment.

I have never felt more devalued as a human being than during this discussion. I was saying words and it did not matter. He was right. I was wrong. And I stood there and we spoke calmly like adults. I was screaming in my head, but I didn’t tell him that “those people” are “my people” and even more they are people and that should be enough!

Segregation is a form of hatred. And my brother acknowledged it as such. He said that “Well maybe it is, but at least I’m honest. Other people will lie and say they love everyone. I hate most people.”

How do you debate that? Please, if someone knows, tell me. How do you debate when the person is coming from a perspective of hatred and admits it? There’s nothing to win and there’s nothing to prove. There is no debate and I know I can act the adult if I must and remain under control, but why? If someone can tell me how to debate this please let me know.

This is not Dragon Ball Z. Or is it?

I keep tabs on the Dragon Ball Z facebook page and frequently find their material strikes a chord with me. The page reminds me of all the reasons Goku is a loveable idiot, but such an amazing individual. The page reminds me why I believe in Goku and that there is so much more to DBZ than strong men beating each other to a pulp. Dragon Ball Z has provided me with heroes who are the epitome of fall seven times, get up eight times. 

But, as I’ve mentioned previously, DBZ is not perfect. It’s sexist toward men and it’s sexist toward women. What I haven’t had much time to explore however, is that as an extension of its sexism, DBZ is also homophobic. I’ll use this image posted on the DBZ facebook page to begin my point then I’ll explain further.

To begin, this image is homophobic. Even if it weren’t connected to DBZ, it would be homophobic. In this set of images, to be gay is something you want to get rid of in yourself. It is something that can be cured where you can walk away and be “better.” Especially in the context of this image set, it is the father telling his son not to be gay, to overcome his gayness, and–even worse–that gay here is used as a generic insult. The Great Saiyaman looks stupid and poses funny, that’s so gay! Yes, the Great Saiyaman looks stupid and poses funny, but all that means is that he looks stupid and poses funny. It has nothing to do with his sexuality.

When I first saw this image I commented and said how offensive it is. I also said it’s not DBZ. However, I was quite wrong in that second statement. This image set brings to the forefront homophobia that is present in DBZ, but never discussed.

What some people may not be aware of is that homophobia (and any other form of oppressive thought and action) does not need to be as direct as someone proclaiming “I hate gays” or “homosexuality is a sin.” Most bigotry is more subtle than that, but no less harmful. Because it is silent, it is allowed to persist.

So, how is DBZ homophobic? Let’s look at the images presented of men and women. The men are all the absolute epitome of “traditional masculinity.” They are muscular, they are courageous, they take punishment in battle without complaining and they are unfaltering in their straightness. The special cases are Goku and Piccolo. Goku exists in a state of partial asexuality–though more to comment on his purity than to ever suggest he is queer. Piccolo, as an alien, is also for all purposes asexual–but more to express his alien difference than to highlight a queer identity.

Of the main male characters, Tien is the only one without a love interest and fans speculate he is in a relationship with Chiaotzu. If this is the case and Tien and Chiaotzu are the only queer characters in the show, their relationship is entirely speculative and because Chiaotzu looks and acts so different from every other character, even the hint of being gay becomes something to look askance at. If Tien and Chiaotzu were to be openly together, their queerness would be immediately visible because Chiaotzu does not look or act human. If Chiaotzu is written as a gay character he is an offensive stereotype.

As for the female characters, the few there are are unfaltering in their straightness as well. They may not always be perfect paragons of female virtue–Chi-Chi fights in DB and Bulma is a computer tech and scientist–but Chi-Chi is also introduced from the start as a love interest for Goku and Bulma’s original quest is to find the perfect boyfriend. Android 18 winds up marrying Krillin. Even Launch from DB is last seen chasing after Tien. Lesbianism is a foreign concept in the DBZ universe.

So, when the DBZ facebook page posts an image such as this:

it is actually being very honest about DBZ’s homophobia. In DBZ, being queer is speculative (at best) for the men and impossible for the women. It makes perfect sense that this image set would blatantly highlight the resistance to queers. Being queer can be the butt of jokes because there are no openly queer characters to offset the stereotypes. There is no one to defend the queer community and so to be anything but straight puts you in direct conflict with the rigid gender binary of masculine men and feminine women who only desire heterosexual relationships.

My response is that you cannot “get a little gay” and there is no way to “better” from your gayness because there was never anything to be fixed in the first place. I know I would feel better if Gohan if DBZ was not so heteronormative.

“No, I’m not gay”…I’m just not straight

My mother is a wonderful person who cares deeply about the rights of every human being. Although she initially told me being asexual was a phase I would grow out of, she is now my staunchest supporter. She wants to ensure that I feel comfortable with my sexuality and am treated with respect. She works that this same respect is given to everyone as a matter of course. I am grateful beyond words.

But I spent time visiting my grandfather who believes gay people shouldn’t get married and says he believes so because that’s how he was brought up. I don’t think he understands that being queer is not a choice. And, even more unfortunate, he doesn’t think to question why he holds the beliefs he does. Like my brother, he believes that because he has a right to his own opinions, this right extends to saying whatever he wants. He has no understanding of his privilege as a straight, white cisgender man. And I knew my grandfather was conservative (he watches Fox News religiously), but when I told him his comments were hurtful he did not understand.

“How am I being hurtful?” he asked.

“I have a lot of gay friends and they do not have the same rights that you do–”

He interrupted and turned to me. “Where did you meet these people?”

“At my college. I have a lot of gay friends and they deserve to be married and have lives for themselves. They’re great people.”

We went on for a bit, back and forth and getting nowhere. He assured me that if he were to meet any of my gay friends (as if being gay is always as visible as a birthmark or a scar) he would still treat them with courtesy. I wonder if this is worse: closeted homophobia. It certainly feels worse to be on the receiving end.

For years now, I was certain my grandfather has been waiting for me to come out as a lesbian. I have never dated and never showed any interest in boys so therefore the only option for me was lesbianism, in his view. And after all these years he finally asked me the big question:

“Tell me, then are you gay?”

And I stared at him and kept my face blank. “No. No, I am not.” I came so close to following my statement and revealing the truth that No, I’m not gay, but I’m not straight either. 

I’m queer. I’m asexual. I won’t bring home a woman on my arm anymore than I will bring home a man. But I didn’t say any of this and, though I know how lucky I am to have my mother on my side, I felt shoved into the closet. My grandfather and my aunt are my only immediate family I have not yet come out to. I am fortunate that I can easily pass as being straight.

Still, I don’t think my grandfather believed me when I told him I’m not gay. He asked me later that day about when I would want to get married and I told him that I don’t want to get married. He didn’t press the issue then and told me it is my decision–though he would have been able to hold a lovely wedding reception. I was not surprised when he brought up the issue of my refusal to marry to my mother. Again, I see how damaging closeted homophobia is. I fear my grandfather will never see me the same way and, even worse, he will never tell me so and our anger and misunderstanding will simmer away under the surface.

I know I am not the only one to feel closeted and to be concerned about coming out. I know I am incredibly lucky to have my mother as my support network. I know I care about queer issues beyond my own sphere and this conversation with my grandfather really brought homophobia home for me. I am even more dedicated to advocating for queer rights because no one deserves to suffer under homophobia or any other type of bigotry.

A few months ago I spoke on a “Queer + [Blank]” panel  where everyone who spoke came from a place of intersectionality. I have a shirt from the event that proudly displays “Queer + [Blank]” and I have yet to fill in my intersectionality because I am afraid to wear this short outside of my campus environment. When the panel was first being publicized I did not yet know that I was speaking and I talked with a queer friend of mine about the design for the shirts. She is very open about being a lesbian, but she said she had to ask herself whether or not she would want to walk down the street and have everyone know that she is queer. I agreed, but I felt I needed to do buy this shirt because I needed to embrace being queer as an essential part of my identity.

I do not know if I will come out to my grandfather anytime soon, but I will not get married–even if it means I stop entirely passing as straight.

 

My Body My Decisions

For years I wanted to cut my hair short. Not because I identify as queer but because I love short hair. I think short hair is beautiful. I think short curly hair is beautiful and that is the look I wanted.

My brother hates short hair on women. He believes an attractive woman has long straight hair and that this is somehow the ideal. The last time I was home in March I told him I was thinking of cutting my hair short and we talked about how if I stayed in GA for the summer then I wasn’t allowed to cut my hair. This was our deal, for all that it was worth, though I didn’t plan on sticking to this agreement. I didn’t take it too seriously.

Yesterday I cut my hair to my chin, nothing radical, but a good six inches of hair was hacked off and lay in clumps on the floor of Great Clips. And I knew that no matter how much I loved this new style I did not want my brother to see. He would not approve and I would be less-than in his eyes.

But when I Skyped my mother, she of course called my brother over to see my hair cut. He told me flat out: “Your hair is too short.” He asked me: “Why???” Why would I ever do something with my body that he thinks makes me less attractive to men? I wonder.

It didn’t matter that my room mate told me my hair looked adorable, or that my mother told me I looked beautiful. My brother felt he had the right to command my body and my decisions.

So I told him flat out: “I want to hit you right now. You have no right to say what I can and cannot do with my hair.”

He told me, “But I don’t like it.”

“That doesn’t matter. Your opinion has no bearing.”

“None?” He spoke in a soft voice, confused.

“No, I don’t care what you think.”

Silence. For a few moments neither of us spoke as we had nothing more to say until we said our rote I love you’s and hung up.

I am not going to lie, it felt great to tell my straight, white cissgender brother that his opinion does not matter. It felt great to silence someone who so often has the power to silence others. Maybe I am being petty, but even for something as small as a haircut, I am standing my ground and standing up for my rights as a woman.  On a much smaller scale, this is what the war on women comes down to: men believing they know what is right for a woman. And whether it is reproductive rights or as simple as a haircut, no one knows what is best for you, but you.

There is no one standard of beauty. I do not need to adhere to my brother’s  ideas of what a woman should be because they revolve around a world of heteronormativity. But even if I were straight, my decisions are my own and no one has the right to demand I change how I wish to present myself.