Wednesday, October 31, 2007

well, here it is. One night, three weeks of work. I feel accomplished. Hell, I feel positively Divine.

Straights Read This: I Hate You. Or, Ben Is Fed Up And Likes To Swear.

Obviously, the title here is largely in jest. But I am tired of hearing in class, every single fucking time that anything we read doesn’t cater directly to straight liberals’ self-imagination as Redeemers of the Faggots, that the piece is too abrasive to be ‘effective’ in the constant gay struggle to make heteros like us. I’m tired of the arrogant heterocentricity of claiming this about internal critiques such as a queer manifesto (or the above picture). Last I checked, we have yet to read a piece beginning, “Straights Read This:” so maybe, just maybe, people shouldn’t read as if every time a queer person opens their mouth, they have to be subject to how straight people might react.

I’m tired of the only acceptable model of advancement being couched in sameness. I’m tired of the silencing of anger, of radicalism, of deviation from any norm that comes from both within and outside the community, because we have to convince straight people that we are all just. like. them. I’m tired of the assumption of whiteness, of middle-class-ness, that this entails. I look at white middle class heterosexuals and I think, if that’s what I have to be to be accepted, I’m fucked—and not in a good way. Heterosexuality is fucked up. It’s oppressive. It’s got all sorts of baggage in the way of gender, class, and race. It’s abnormal and unnatural. It’s a social disease.

Anger works. ACT UP showed us this. Just ask these folks. It was their passion and anger that forced a straight society that was completely content to let gay men die into acting. It wasn’t because straight people were so nice as to accept gay people a little bit more. It wasn’t because of the progress of some mythical apolitical medical community. It wasn’t because society had just “progressed” far enough that people could do this (how does that even work?). I know that it’s a giant mindfuck to think that gay people could have any influence on straight society, but it’s true. It was all them.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Girls Just Want to Have Fun, or, A Dangerous Dykotomy

Lillian Faderman’s chapter on the lesbian sex wars of the 1980s begins with two quotes, one by Ti-Grace Atkinson, who says, “I do not know any feminist worthy of that name who, if forced to choose between freedom and sex, would choose sex.” The second is by Pat Califia, mocking cultural feminists. We are supposed to identify with the latter. The first is supposed to be laughable in its closed-mindedness and repressiveness.

I don’t think I disagree with the quote. Certainly, the dichotomy is false, although it is ambiguous whether the writer recognizes it as such, however, if those are the battle lines drawn, I know where I come down. Were we to rephrase the dichotomy as being between lesbians having better wages vs. better sex, where would you stand?

Now, obviously, things aren’t so simple. But they aren’t as simple as Faderman posits them to be, either. She constructs the argument as being between cultural feminists, rigid, boring women who like rigid, boring sex, and sex radicals, who she sees as a revolutionary vanguard in empowering women through their sexuality. She’s right on a number of things, such as that the essentialist attitude cultural feminists held toward sex is exceedingly confining, however, she can’t really seem to engage the cultural feminist argument that “Feminism must be about more than exploration of feelings, [the cultural feminists] declared: feminist thought stresses analysis of the political significance of feelings, which the sexual radicals had failed to do in their enthusiasm for ‘improving’ lesbian sex lives.” She is relatively uncritical in her extolling of sex radicals for trying to “…gain access to what has historically been a main bastion of male privilege—freewheeling sexuality.” I find this problematic for a number of reasons.

Obviously, I will not side with cultural feminists in their disdain for promiscuity, for casual sex or multiple sexual partners—but I will share their concern about the gender implications of lesbian objectification of other lesbians. Uncritical investigations of sexual desire, like Faderman’s, conceptualize sexuality as some kind of self-contained, unchanging thing. It is neither. Desire is, at least in part, about where you place yourself in the world, your relationship to social constructs such as gender, race, etc, and the various implications of said constructs. It changes as your relationship to the above changes—for example, many gay men I have known have remarked that they were always only interested in being a ‘top’ before coming to a critical understanding of their own gender and distancing themselves from masculinity. It is also problematic to see sexuality as something fully self-contained—sexuality is simply an intimate and private form of expression. It should be seen as such. For example, I have just as much of a problem with people who express racial prejudice in the bedroom, such as white people who explain that they’re simply “not into” black men or women, as people who express it in other spheres of life. This is why I tend to be cautious of an uncritical understanding of bondage and S/M. In the gay male community, which is my own primary means of understanding these issues, I find it troubling when men desire to dominate other men, as it is so often a problematic assertion of hypermasculinity. I am also uncomfortable with men being only able to see themselves as sexually desirable when tied up and whipped. This general feeling extends to lesbian and heterosexual analogues. I do not find it surprising that the men who go to pride parades dressed in full leather regalia are often the same men who berate and even sometimes spit on men who seem too effeminate. It’s not universal, certainly. But the implications of a sexual fetishization of violence, denigration or other forms of dehumanization I find potentially disturbing for any community.

Dear Larry Kramer...

Dear Larry Kramer,

Thanks for all the hard work.


P.S. I still hate you.

I don’t think anyone is really supposed to like Larry Kramer. Known for his huge ego, messiah complex, misanthropy and acidity, one always gets the feeling that in the preschool class of gay activists and writers, Kramer was the recipient of the feared “does not play well with others.” Kramer has spent the past three decades carving a place out for himself as an oftentimes radical gay activist who, unlike other gay activists, especially radical ones, offers nothing but scorn for a gay culture that, in his mind, is too focused on sex to get anything done. His work includes such titles as Faggots and The Tragedy of Today’s Gays. His major theatrical work, The Normal Heart, is quite clearly a retelling of his role in founding the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in the early days of the AIDS crisis, where the main character, like Kramer, just wishes that gay men would listen to him when he tells them that if they could only get each others’ dicks out of their asses for a second, maybe they could mobilize.

Kramer states himself pretty succinctly in Reports from the Holocaust where, after a list of ways in which gay men are denied the privileges of straights—marriage, employment and tax benefits for partnership, joint ownership of property, having children, etc.—he states, “So, rightly or wrongly—wrongly, as it turned out—many gay men decided to make a virtue of the only thing the straight world didn’t have control of: our sexuality… Had we been allowed to marry, many of us would not have felt the obligation to be promiscuous… Thus I think a good case can be made that the AIDS pandemic is the fault of the heterosexual white majority.” (274) Now, there are arguments to be made that the denial of structures such as marriage were a major factor in the development of a sexual regime of promiscuity among gay men, Kramer seems to be missing the forest for the trees in his last assertion. The “good case” that he wants to make is much clearer than he thinks—the fault goes to the heterosexual white majority in that the establishments that they had control over systematically refused to care about gay men dying.

The problem, as I see it, is that Kramer blames straight society for promiscuity, his hated enemy. Essentially, he is saying, “yes, it’s our own fault, but you made us this way. We’re so fucked up because you wouldn’t let us be enough like you.” His own sexual conservatism comes out when he asserts in the above quote that promiscuity was something that most gays were coerced into—a process that begs the question, who’s doing the coercing? Earlier in the article, he notes that he has not had sex in 5 years, himself too emotionally scarred by losing a lover to AIDS to even touch another man. While I certainly will not fault him this, I wonder, what is it that caused Kramer to be unable to find intimacy in an epidemic when other men, even Akbar and Jeff, above, could? Now, I’ll give it to him that gay men are fucked up, big time, as a gay Jew (like Kramer), it is difficult to identify the more neurotic of the communities that I am a part of (the answer, of course, is that gay Jews are the most neurotic people on the face of the planet). But the reason that we are is not that we are not allowed to be like straight people. If we were allowed to live like straights, the problems, the self-hatred, the hatred of other gay men, would persist. These are the results of the violence imposed on gay men through homophobia, heterosexism and masculine ideals. By accepting a heteronormative, psychological understanding of deviance from the domestic ideal as freakish, abnormal, and problematic, Kramer does a disservice to gay men, to those with AIDS, and to himself.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

I am being oppressed by my shampoo!

So, before I embark on an epic three-post-long update, I wanted to simply relay the ways in which the shampoo I just bought at Target has oppressed me. See, I ironically bought herbal essences' "Dangerously Straight" line of shampoo (it comes in a hot pink container). The back of the bottle simply reads:

"I think it's better straight than never.

You love straight hair
and you'll do
anything to get it.
Well, get your straight look
with my lush formula fused
with honeyed pear & silk
that cleans and lays hair down
with a sleek shine.
t's easy.
Get in line right here."

Well, herbal essences, I will have you know that maybe I don't want that straight look! I will not buy in to the heteronormative hair labeling process! My hair will not get in line! I refuse to lay it down! It will be just as gay as it wants to be!

All this being said, I'm shocked that they actually put silk into the shampoo. I've never really put something in my hair that could also be in my shirt. Does that do anything? I feel decadent.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Glorious Death of Mattachine

No social movement organization dies gracefully. Underattended meetings and events are the disparaging hallmark of any movement in decline. But organizations modeled as Mattachine was go especially poorly. This is because the model, that of a moderate representative front, banks its efficacy on the perception of an organized, respectable populace behind it. This leaves it particularly vulnerable to being outstripped and outpaced by its own constituency—which is exactly what happened at Stonewall. Mattachine’s feverish attempts to calm and quell the rioters instantly reframed the group from the dominant force in gay rights into an aging, ineffective dinosaur of an organization, caught up in its own death throes.

Mattachine’s existence and preeminence normalized its approach towards gay rights and bounded the actions of activists within its framework. In a very foucauldian sense, the arrangements of power, even on the margins, structured knowledge around itself—anything that wasn’t Mattachine was foreign, risky, untested, while the Mattachine approach was the way to advance GLBT rights. One look at the actions of someone like Craig, whose discontent with gay activism and the gay community was still filtered through “mainstream” gay activism for many years, shows this. Another look at Jim, who found himself unable to articulate his own perspective on gay activism from a different framework further shows how Mattachine made difficult all other forms of gay activism. The real legacy of Stonewall, therefore, lies in the opening up of gay activism, the death of a stagnant organization—suddenly, without the perception of Mattachine as healthy, unchangeable, gay activism flowered as people were able to bring their own models and experiences—namely, from other 60s social movements—to the struggle for gay rights/gay liberation.

We find ourselves today in a similar position, I would argue. Organizations like HRC put an inoffensive, visible face on the gay community, and in turn, reframe all gay activism around issues like marriage. Even if you do not fully support marriage, in many cases, if you feel the urge to be an activist for the gay community, you have no other choice. Its existence not only flattens debate—making it seem as if all GLBT people want nothing but marriage rights—but normalizes its stance within the GLBT community, making marriage seem like all there is left to advocate for.