Look, here is my thought on the Elena Kagan issue:

She doesn't publicly identify as a lesbian. OK? Let's drop it. Every time there is a swell of squawking speculation about the undisclosed (homo)sexuality of a public official, it makes me feel really weird. It heavily underscores the fact that queer people are still considered freakish anomalies with a monolithic agenda and no right to privacy.

This brings up something I've been wanting to talk about recently. Let me reiterate: queer people do not have a monolithic agenda or identity. I understand wanting some representation in the public sphere; I understand the desire for queer public officials to be out, proud, and fighting for queer rights/promoting queer visibility. But let's be real. It is very, very hard to shoulder the responsibility of being visibly, publicly queer; and there are many interpretations of what constitutes "queer rights".

I think for all of us, there is such pressure to be a model queer first and a human being second; and a model queer is:

- nonthreatening
- upstanding
- conventional
- exactly the same as a straight person with the sole exception of matching genitals in the bedroom
- haplessly queer (IE "I was just born this way")

I get it, you guys. I do. We've been painted as deviant, repugnant, abnormal, promiscuous, man-hating (lesbians) or Not Real Men (gay men), ineffectual, ugly, a threat to children, a threat to families, diseased, predatory. The sex we have is Not Real Sex (especially dykes; like, can it even be sex if a flesh dick isn't involved?! It's the sexual equivalent of veganism- "Wait, so what can you even EAT?!"). The relationships we have are Not Real Relationships. We are not complex beings; all we are is our queerness, and it is depraved.

So says dominant culture. And I see a lot of queer folks reacting to these assertions by living lives as Exemplary Queers. We Are Just Like You, they say. We Are No Different. We Were Just Born This Way, Just Like You Were Just Born Straight. They strive for upward mobility. They prove that queers can be conventionally attractive, too. That rather than seeking to tear them asunder, queers want nuclear families and children of their own, too. That their relationships are just like straight relationships.

In short, their goal is assimilation.

It is not my place to claim that this goal will not work for them. But it is not my goal, and it won't work for me. I don't choose to entertain the question of What Causes Queerness, and I think that relying on the "I was just born this way and can't help it!" trope too heavily does us a disservice, whether it is true or not. The 'cause' of my queerness should not have any impact on anyone else's willingness to treat me like a human being. I watched a video recently that a friend shared in which a queer girl stated that if she had a choice, she'd choose to be born straight. Now, I understand that what she probably meant was "I would choose to not have to live in a world in which I am hated for being who I am," but I thought it was very telling, and very sad. And I think more of us need to be willing to say that we wouldn't erase our queerness if given the chance. I may be hated for being queer, but I do not hate myself. I do not want to be folded into the straight world, enveloped, until my queerness disappears. It is not who I am entirely, but it is part of who I am, and I will not twist and compress it into something that is more palatable to those who hate queerness.

In short, I do not want to be erased.

I do not care about proving that queers can be conventional, too. I am more interested in critiquing convention. I am not interested in being a Designer Dyke. I am interested in questioning beauty standards (both straight beauty standards AND queer beauty standards, because they are factually different), not adopting them with a queer twist. I am interested in questioning consumption as identity, not in asking, begging, fighting to be acknowledged as a potential consumer. (I will come back to this one, because I would like to write an entry about a film I saw at the Davis Feminist Film Festival that dealt with this issue in a way that dissatisfied me.) I am more interested in extending legitimacy to various social units than in reaffirming the nuclear family headed by the married couple as the only legitimate one. (queer folks, we have been creating and choosing our own families since time immemorial. these bonds are unique. they are part of our culture. why are we so quick to abandon them when the marriage carrot is dangled in front of us?)

I am not exactly the same as a straight person in every respect except for my sexual orientation. That theory works about as well as colorblind or genderblind or any other -blind theory, for me. I think it is appealing because it is simple, and because queer folks are made to feel less than human so often; but life is complex and human beings are complex, and experience is a powerful force. My experience as a woman-born, woman-identified person living in a misogynist, patriarchal culture is different than that of a male-born, male-identified person. People of color experience white supremacy in a different way than white people. Saying that queer and straight people are fundamentally the same is a denial of our experience as an oppressed class of people. This is not a value judgment. This is an acknowledgment of difference.

I would like to see as much effort put into healing our community as we are putting into these causes that are, in my opinion, assimilationist. Assimilating is practical, more convenient than radical reform, and also just...the genuine desire of some people (though it is hard for me to accept this, because it isn't as though we are presented with much choice in the matter). But it should be an option, not a mandate. Not our only means of survival. Which is why I truly do believe that the mainstream queers upon whom I am a poor reflection NEED my radical ass. As much as I need them. We need each other. They need radical queers to keep fighting for the right to be recognized as legitimate human beings without denying our difference. We need them because they fight for the things that some of us do want- like marriage, which I will frankly never, ever fight for because I do not want it and I believe it is destructive. I have to acknowledge that not every queer person is radical and that my agenda can't be every one's agenda, no matter how right I think I am (and I really, really, REALLY DO think I am right. Really a lot. But, you know, so do they. We can and should keep having conversations about this issue, but we may just have to call an impasse an impasse at some point. I'm not gonna kick them out of the queer club for choosing something I wouldn't choose, and I do hope they will start treating me the same way.)

...you know, my main flaw as a writer is that I never have a snappy conclusion. I guess because I view all of these things as ongoing conversations that will never have a pat ending. I love a pat ending, but they rarely have a place outside of fiction. t...the end.


double dare ya

Something interesting happened to me on my way home from the gym last night.

I was dressed in typical, fairly unisex gym clothing (shorts and an undershirt). On the off chance that anyone who doesn't know me personally is reading this, I have a generally low-maintenance uh, look; my hair is extremely short (I cut it myself with a buzz cutter), I don't usually wear makeup, don't shave my legs, etc. Basically I choose to eschew all of that costly and time-consuming maintenance that we are meant associate with femininity.

As I walked home from the gym, I saw a young man draped over the door of a car, speaking to a woman inside. As I passed, he laughed, loudly and sarcastically catcalled me, and then said, "SHE LOOK LIKE A MAN!!" and continued laughing.

(Uh, just as a reminder: I look this way on purpose, and do not base my self-worth on my ability to appeal sexually to men, so this wasn't the devastating experience it might otherwise have been; my feelings weren't hurt or anything, so no need to be like "I'm so sorry that happened!!!" etc. I'm not sorry it happened at all! For reasons which I will try to make clear.)

My immediate reaction was to think, "My god. The blatant ways we try to police one another's gender expression and sexuality in order to reinforce our own."

Prior to him noticing me, I noticed him. His body language was overtly masculine; he was peacocking for the woman in the car, towering over her as she sat in the driver's seat, leaning into her space in a way that was simultaneously casual and meaningful.

So here he was, caught in this moment of extreme heterosexual posturing, and suddenly I came into view. His reaction was SO visceral that I have to believe I was read as a threat. Of course I was. I am a woman who is not playing by the established rules of femininity. This indicates two things:
1) I am possibly intentionally withholding sexual availability from men; at the very least, I am clearly not invested in this moment in garnering sexual attention from men, which is a violation of the heterosexual feminine mandate
2) I am encroaching upon his masculinity with my masculinity

That last one. Oof. Of course he reacted by derisively pointing out my transgressive gender presentation! Masculinity belongs to men! All else equal, relative to women, men are free; their freedom derives from their masculinity and their masculinity is an expression of their freedom. Regardless of how you feel about femme identity, I think we can all agree that presenting as ultrafeminine (as it is culturally defined) takes a fucking lot of TIME and MONEY and EFFORT. Women's shoes and clothing is EXPENSIVE. Makeup is EXPENSIVE and takes time to apply. Shaving your legs and armpits and whatever else you may shave takes a lot more time and costs a lot more money than not shaving. Women's haircuts are EXPENSIVE and women's hair tends to take longer to style than men's. etc, etc, etc.

As a woman who does none of these things, I get to hear a lot of women telling me why they could never do x or stop doing y. These justifications tend to center around not wanting to be perceived as masculine or as sexually unattractive to men (or censured by other women; "if I have to do this, YOU should have to do this, too"). Giving up these markers of femininity frees up time and money and effort, but the cost is great. We are daily reminded that as women, our value lies in the approval of men, since men have more social power than we do; and that we are valued most when we are most feminine. The best bauble. If we are willing to be decorative first, we will be highly prized by the average heterosexual man.

(I am deliberately generalizing here because this is a blog post, not a book; but books can and have and will be written about the many ways this scenario is impacted by class, race, age, sexual orientation, able-bodiedness, etc. all worthwhile and important things to consider.)

Choosing not to be a bauble is threatening to men who are invested in maintaining the status quo. A woman who chooses not to be merely decorative and not to place value upon being objectified is a threat to those whose first-class status relies on her second-class status. And so we police one another. So a man derides a woman who presents as even slightly masculine, or who has not done enough work in his estimation for him to consider her a viable sexual option. So women tear one another down in an attempt to form an alliance with the men who occupy that coveted position of relative power and freedom.

And that is why working on this project was important to me.

We are policed by individuals as well as by cultural messages which are dispersed quite blatantly via advertisements. Advertisements convey and reinforce social law and allow others to profit from our acceptance that these are absolute truths rather than constructed meanings open to critique and even rejection. This is nothing short of tragic. These are not theoretical battles; the impact of these social edicts is tangible and inescapable. I am not infrequently told that I should lighten up, calm down, not think so hard or so much, relax, stop being so serious, etc, etc, etc. Truthfully, sometimes I would love to be able to afford the luxury of not thinking about these things perpetually. Every human being wants to rest now and then. But there is always some peacocking social enforcer lurking round the corner, all too willing to remind me that I can never forget, relax, let my guard down, think less.

And so.

(Side note-This marks the end of this blog as a service learning project, but I do think I will continue to discuss feminist issues here in the future.)