***my photos of the march***

25 June
what marriage is.
link : thoughts (2) : track it (0) : in queerness

I was given Jon Rauch's Gay Marriage: Why it's good for gays, good for straights, and good for America by a pal who apparently wanted to make my head fold in upon itself.

We'll leave aside Jon's apparent distaste for all the things I think fondly of where gay culture is concerned, because there are many different queer cultures, and that's a nice thing. We'll leave aside his Log Cabin Republicanness, because the very fact of gay republicans is a testament to how far we've come - that gayness can be a personal identity and not a political one.

We'll just accept Jon for himself, and attack his ideas. Or rather, his ideas as I see them.

See, Jon has a very interesting concept about what marriage is for. His theory is two part. First, marriage is a social structure designed to make young people become "adult" - where "adult" is settled into a normal pattern of working and raising kids and building a little nuclear family. Second, marriage is a guarantee of caretaking for the aged and infirm. To expand Jon's definition, a family is a two-person structure, one that is fixed except for the addition or subtraction (in later life) of children should there be kids involved (kids are, I think rightly, not part of his definition). Only by having that family are people, especially men, officially part of normal, adult society. And only that family will commit to caring for you should you become broken in some way.

I have two problems with that.

No, I have three problems.

First, Jon's concept of adulthood. While he talks about monogamy as his key point about "settling down", there's a strong undercurrent of "be like me" in his notion of adult. Things I think Jon thinks are not adult include: not focusing on providing for a family, being non-monogamous, partying, participation in the wrong political organizations, living with someone, not having a "career", being single, wearing a neon pink muscle tee, voting Green, and having too much fun. Admittedly, I'm reading into things here, but Jon seems to buy into a relatively boring idea of what it means to be a grown up. Well, lots of people do that, and he is a Republican. I can hardly fault him for it.

Second, his assumptions about how family works. A marriage, given the failure rate of marriages these days, hardly looks like a guarantee for your future family. To go into marriage today starry-eyed and certain of growing old together is sweetly optimistic. To look with those starry eyes at marriage as a social institution is just silly.

But - siblings, close friends, roomates, parents, and the network of "urban family" that so many people have today are just as permanent as a spouse might be. The members of my urban family - my best friends, my partner's best friends, our parents, various other relationships - can be counted on to be there for either of us. And if we split up, my half of the family will always be there. They're part of the picture, no matter what. And if anything happens to them, we know we're responsible for helping out. This isn't a modern invention, either - whether family is biologically or legally related or not, extended family is the network people count on. A spouse or partner broadens that family but doesn't eliminate their responsibility for you.

There is a conceit that parents "give up" a child, particularly a daughter, to a new family, but that idea doesn't foot with the reality of urban family life. The things that have changed is biology - we used to have close proximity to our biological extended families, and now we choose family based on proximity (emotional and physical) - and legality - now the subunits of that family may be single, pairs, married folk and unmarried.

Wait, there are four. Four issues!

The third is his general bias against unmarried families ("marriage lite" he calls them) coupled with his insistence on reserving officially sanctioned unions for gay and straight couples. Polyamory he excludes on the grounds that, essentially, they're a very tiny minority of freaks. Why are they scary enough to exclude from marriage rights, if they're so tiny a minority? I felt pretty defensive of the polyamorous folk I know in reading his ready dismissal of the lifestyles they choose and the families they're painstakingly created. He returns to the old argument against polygamy as generally about some men taking up too many of the women, thereby creating a bunch of angry young men - and, oh yeah, polygamy too often occurs in weird religious orders where women are subjugated. The economic danger of men without potential for marriage seems much scarier to Jon (it certainly gets more space in the book) than the possibility that women might get beaten up, but then, I was pretty annoyed before I got to this part of the book. It's quite possible he's not the misogynist I found him to be.

It is entirely possible that the poly families I've encountered are by far the rarity, and that there's a larger group of cultists who would use the legalization of multi-partner marriage to accumulate harems, but I'd like to think that think that people are more sane than that. I think it's highly unlikely that, given as much as feminism and other equality movements have achieved, we're going to see a dramatic swing towards harem-accumulation as a status symbol for anyone other than Trump and Hefner. There's a whole other discussion about polyamory vs. our traditional view of polygamy in this, but suffice to say that I don't think we need to avoid legalizing one thing just because it's sometimes associated with something else that's bad and - by the way - also illegal.

"Marriage lite" he dismisses because... well, just because it's not marriage. It's not. It's also nicely divorced from all the weight that marriage carries - that weight including not only whatever personal meaning you attach to marriage itself, but the traditions of a wife "belonging" to a husband, of obedience, of relatively narrow gender roles that have relatively recently begun to change. As a feminist, marriage's history makes me uncomfortable entering into it. I don't think you can completely disengage marriage from the history of women's oppression, which is precisely why my longstanding cohabitation has remained just that.

To someone denied marriage, it doubtless looks like a more compelling social contract. But in many ways, marriage has been a burden to women for centuries. Other options aren't necessarily "marriage lite" so much as they're simply not marriage.

Which brings me to what bothers me most about Jon's theories - the way he reduces marriage itself.

The reasons people get married and their expectations of marriage are personal, and as numerous as married couples themselves. A thoughtful marriage is a unique contract between people for the way they plan to live their lives. For many people, there's a very specific religious reason. For others, it's about parenting. For others, it's about love (twue wove). Establishing marriage as the "gold standard" of normal adult family, as Jon would have it, reduces it to just a thing you're supposed to do after you grow up.

I know some people think that way today, but I find that really sad. I certainly don't want to be married, if that's what it means.

I think that modern marriage, apart from its history, is about formalizing your family creation, whatever that means to you (and whatever additionally you may think marriage is). I do think that it should be open to any family who wants to do that. And honestly, I'd rather see civil marriage (or civil contracts, unions, whatever) separated entirely from "marriage", with its various religious meanings and history of gender inequity, than see Jon's vision of marriage be a reality.


03 February
are we fighting the same fight?
link : thoughts (0) : track it (0) : in queerness

I got into a discussion on a complete stranger's LJ post about bisexuality today that was pretty typical of the tension between the gay and bi communities in general. Her contention is, among other things I agree with to varying degrees, bisexual people are better off than gays (particularly legal-rights-wise).

I don't run into that many gay people who believe that bisexuals have it better. I suspect that most gay people (at least those of my cohort and older) have been closeted at some point in their lives, and this gives them the insight that living in the closet feels tremendously, tremendously oppressive. Everyone who is not straight experiences others' implicit assumption of your straightness, for instance. And having been closeted, I think it's pretty easy to see that being able to be legally out and open about your relationships with people of one gender but not another person who you might feel the same about doesn't mean you're fighting a completely different battle than someone who feels they can only be attracted to their same gender.

The fact that I have a male partner now does mean that our relationship is not legislated against, but it does not decrease my experience of being legislated against as a person, as I know that if circumstances change, my relationships could be faced with an entirely different legal status. I would expect that most bi folk don't think of their sexual preference and attraction to people as something they could easily compartmentalize in such a way as to ensure they were always on the right side of marriage law.

I don't contend that bisexual people have it worse than gay folk - but the notion that we aren't fighting the same battles for rights seems absurd.


19 November
gay marriage, hooray?
link : thoughts (5) : track it (0) : in queerness

If you don't know about the Massachusetts ruling that banning gay marriage is unconstitutional, I'd assume you were living in dark, dark hole. You should read the clip Ampersand posted.

But then. It's not getting the sort of instant, overwhelming press I would have expected. Is it a secret? Do, as Eris wonders 3/4 of people think gay marriage is bad? Is this really the blow for freedom we were waiting for, or just another blip (albeit a positive one), one more paint speck in this huge huge Seurat painting?

I feel hesitant. Actually, there's a really good description of how I feel over at Subversive Harmony. I mean, look at all the states with explicit definitions of marriage as man-woman (Virginia being one of them): Wisconsin being the latest. So, some states block the anti-gay laws, then others pass them. It ends up about even.

Or there's New Hampshire's implication that gay sex can't be adulterous, particularly ironic given that state's past tendency towards reasonableness on this issue.

I tend to side with Ampersand when looking at court-driven change. It works sometimes, sometimes it doesn't. Legislative bodies are a much clearer barometer of social change than courts, though both have been known to trump each other on this stuff. I just don't know.

I do know that some of my middle american family and friends think (or thought, rather) that gay marriage is a non-issue because gay people are so promiscuous that they wouldn't want marriage. They don't hate gayness; they just don't have any experience of relating to queer folk. There are people who last heard about gay culture in the eighties and haven't needed to think about gayness since then; maybe they're the 3/4 who oppose gay marriage. Maybe it's just about lack of information?

But then, the talk on the disturbing but sometimes funny conservative talk radio sure sounds like people are afraid of gay marriage. Afraid that extending the same privileges to people regardless of gender amounts to devaluing a sacred institution of the union of opposites, where opposition is defined by the possession of certain genitals. Sacredness. It's an argument just this side of "Jesus hates gay people, but he loves me".

I have a hard time grasping that argument. I have a hard time not just dismissing it as evidence of the stupidity of religion, and I don't even believe religion is stupid.

In any case, this week is a landmark for gay rights in Massachusetts. But I don't think it's anywhere near over.


19 September
movement conflict
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I read something in Genderqueer that highlights for me the sorts of frustrating challenges posed by a multi-movement radicalism.

Woman will always be gender queer... woman an inherently fragile project... Feminist and lesbian communities have been deeply unreceptive to [a host of transfolk and their concerns] who seem to threaten the very foundation of woman. p. 58, Riki Wilchins

So. I'm pretty sure that Riki must know and speak to some feminists. And I wonder that this is what gets heard from feminists' mouths to the trans community. What I hear is that - apart from the female separatist environments of a variety of Womyn's festivals - feminists are either not aware of or seriously challenged to deal with trans issues.

I think we're working on not aware of on many fronts; this applies to fat politics, race politics, queer politics, class, etc. as much as to trans politics. Where feminists are white, hetero (or lesbian, honestly), middle class women in the US, we are likely as any group to assume that our personal issues are the issues everyone in our activism must also have. Eh, not true. But I think an intrinsic facet of every human being's politics.

It angers me that the trans community as represented by Wilchins could be so off base on this one. The challenge transgendered folk pose to feminists is not a challenge to the nature of woman - but rather a frequent lack of challenge to woman. If you're not a fairly radical feminist, chances are the only transfolk you know of are ones who claim to identify as a gender other than their biological sex and wish to change the biology or at least the outward appearance to match their insides.

I realize that is only one segment of the trans population, but it's the segment who show up in the mainstream and semi-mainstream media. And that segment is characterized by notions of "internal" gender that conflict dramatically with feminists on either side of the biological determinism fence.

As someone who doesn't have much truck with biological determinism, it's pretty core to my personal beliefs that gender roles aren't based on biology, and that any range of "gendered" behaviors should be acceptable. If you need to change your physical being to match some gendered behaviors you display or would like to display, that sounds a lot like stereotyping and pretty much fucks with my feminist ideology. And on the reverse side, if I were someone who thought motherhood was the biological and spiritual pinnacle of womanhood, and that men and women were inherently different, you'd still be fucking with my head. In that case, yes, maybe your gender-shifting (especially inasmuch as transpeople supercede gender) would challenge my idea of woman. But more feminists seem to fall on my side of the fence than the other.

It's not an easy question to answer. The standard definitions of "woman" and "man", "feminine" and "masculine - which are, in my opinion, 95% cultural - are at the heart of many transpeople's concepts of self (indeed, of many people's concept of self). And that does pit these two movements - both ostensibly about choice and gender - against each other.

It's akin to the question of "sexy" as considered by the fat and feminist communities disparately. Fat people fight to be allowed sexiness. Feminists fight to be allowed non-sexiness. As a fat person, sometimes I'd just like the boundaries of what is objectifiable and beautiful to be expanded; as a feminist, that's not enough for me. I need a complex world of sex and not-sex, a freedom to choose to be either.

The problem here is that the trans movement and the feminist movement seem too willing to just step away from the question of "woman", too willing to ignore the complex realm of gender that we could explore together. It's clear from the most exciting transfeminists that these two movements are more brilliant for being informed one by the other.


22 August
link : thoughts (7) : track it (0) : in fat & health stuff

I love love love love love what Tish says in her Big Fat Blog introduction.

A radical fat liberation movement does not accept. We assert. We assert the right to make our own choices about how to experience our bodies. Some of us like being fat. Some of us celebrate our bodies. And some of us still struggle but we know that our bodies are not inherently wrong.


And yet there's more. I want more.

I'm looking for a revolution that covers all bodies. It isn't enough to have a revolution of fat bodies queer bodies women's bodies trans bodies. It isn't the revolution we need.

Because the revolution we need is about liberation from the duality of bodies entirely. We think that to have beautiful must also mean to have non-beautiful, just as to have woman is to have man, fat thin black white queer straight rich poor.

We like pairs, don't we?

I'm coming around a corner on the intersection of all the movements I belong in. This is the intersection, the body. The lines drawn upon it to mark acceptable and not. To differentiate.

The pairs assume the existence of A and B where key parts of the definition of each is the opposite. To be A is to be A, but most importantly, to be A is to be not-B. It makes sense psychologically, that there's this desire to define oneself as something and not something else, but I think there's also a cultural component to that psychology.

It's like survey methodologies. People respond to the choices put before them. If I'm two and I'm wondering what I am [Is that when you're two, or later? I'm not sure.], it makes sense to define myself as girl, as not-boy, because no other alternative is present.

I must be A or not-A. I cannot be AB, or BA or ABBA. Why not?

Perhaps it would lead to too many options. There are so many possible combinations already that it would be virtually impossible to define people as anything but themselves if every individual had some uniquely AB sexual preference, some uniquely BA gender, color, size, perspective. The usefulness of definition is that it creates a certain predictability, through the implications of the behaviors associated with each binary body. Simply, a woman is and looks certain ways, does certain things.

An element of predictability seems essential to societal interaction. But what if it weren't?

I've read two books lately that have given me the push more and more to the fringe, farther from binary. Genderqueer (which Ms. 9 generously leant me). And The End of Gay. While one is playing very much in the transgender space and the other very much in the queer one, they're both playing with me in the space where definitions are and should be blurring.

We are. I believe. About to be - if we aren't already - in the midst of the great fucking radical body liberation.

The great fucking radical body liberation will widen the definitions of A and B so much that ultimately, they'll just be one big bubble of difference. In the meantime, though, I'm glad of the fat and queer and gender and race activists who keep their individual revolutions growing and growing and growing. Until, eventually, they jut right up against each other.

And pop.


05 August
the mirror
link : thoughts (1) : track it (0) : in feministy stuff

I got this article in my inbox from the DTMWSIMB list today about mirrors in gyms and health clubs (link to the original study & this article weren't to be had, not even for ready money).

The study, published in the journal Health Psychology, focused on young women who exercised less than 15 minutes a week...

..."The mirrors make women more self-aware, they think of their shortcomings. Things like: 'I look fat, I should be more active'," said Kathleen Martin Ginis, lead author of the study...

...And whether the participant felt comfortable about her body or not, the outcome was the same -- women who did not have to watch themselves exercise felt calmer, more positive and more revitalized at the end of their session.

I alternately exercise in front and out of sight of this mirror from my adolescent baroque period (when everything in my room was white, jewel-toned, and flowered). The mirror itself is somehow quintessentially girly, but my response to it isn't.

I don't know that exercising in front of or away from the mirror effects me much. I do find I last longer when I can't see what I'm doing. I know a lot more about my relationship to mirrors in general. It's not much different from the idea of female to mirror tension.

A woman's expected response to a mirror is a sort of magnetism. We're expected not to avoid the mirror, but not because it's a source of pleasure. Rather, it's a source of self-examination and unkind criticism. This is acceptable. This is ugly. This is too round, too small, too... Perhaps an unexamined life is not worth living, but I could do without some of the implications of an examined face.

We think of the mirror as a blunt, occasionally cruel, reflection of our true selves. As if a true self can appear in two dimensions. And reversed.

So. I'm not surprised that anyone might find exercising in front of a mirror less refreshing. Particularly considering the American approach to exercise as a tragic necessity in the fight against fat and aging (oh, and health - but only if you look thin and young). Exercise, particularly something as uninvolving as the average stationary bike, presents another opportunity for unkindness to oneself. The mirror-gym combination might have a tormenting appeal. I can see the unpleasantness.

Yet I look at the stereotypical gay male relationship with the mirror, and I see the same self-examination - but with a sort of joy and freedom in it. Perhaps it's a co-opting of an unallowed gender behavior? I wonder how a group of variously feminine-performing gay men would feel after a bike ride into the mirror? Stressed? Anxious? Refreshed?

I'd like to look in a mirror and feel nothing. Just - oh, look, there I go... Why does that seem like primarily the province of [straight] men?


29 January
identity | politics
link : thoughts (1) : track it (0) : in queerness

I'm struggling with the idea of this week's We Have Brains question: What does it mean to be queer and a feminist?.

I tend to ask questions when I'm not certain how to answer them, rather than because I have something specific to say. So. I've been contemplating this germ for a few days. This is what I think.

I think it's about identity.

That's the intersection.

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