Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Note on Farting

In a recent e-mail, someone noted that a student stated that there is a different between a real fart and a fake fart with such differences "proven scientifically". I giggled at the statement and then realized that perhaps such proven-ness should be called into question. So, here I write a note on farting.

What is the difference between a real fart and a fake fart, if such a difference actually exists? And if such a difference "actually" exists in what domain or "frame" does it exist?

There is clearly no difference in sound as I can produce a fake fart that sounds real with my arm pits or with my hands to my mouth OR I can just be silent...and say it was a "SBD" (Silent But Deadly)...I can also point to examples where a "real" fart is laughed off as being "fake" because it just sounds so "real" that a human could not have produced such perfection. One could close one's eyes and realize that it is rather difficult to tell the difference between real and fake, also perhaps illuminating how "realness" and "fakeness" play out differently with different abilities.

Ah, but you are saying, the smell Adam, its the smell that illustrates the difference between "real" and "fake" so to be educative we must take that on. But, alas I can sit next to a smelly person that "fake" farts but because of the context of being next to a smelly person the movement of arms to pits or hands to mouth send out a odorous smell miming or producing a fart-like smell. One in such a situation is left pondering was that "real" or "fake" and one probably realizes that he/she/ze just doesn't know.

So the distinction of "real" and "fake" makes no difference. One could combine the "sound" and the "smell" factors to say make a "fake" fart with one's arms to pits and spray "fake" fart smell from a bottle bought at a joke store and produce a sound/smell that creates the same consequences as a said "real" fart, once again making no difference in effect.

But, as a scientist friend pointed out...a fart is determined by the escape of gas from the...well you know what differentiates a real fart from a fake fart is that escape of gas. This scientific distinction made me realize then that the issue of farting and its authenticity is dependent on the frame by which one thinks about the "fart". One can as a scientist study a fart and say that there is a distinction between "real" and "fake" based on the evidence that has been collected, verified, and used to create the intelligibility of the fart as something that emerges out of a particular oriface of the body. Or, one could look at the issue from a different frame where the fart can be explored historically - how did the fart as something that provokes "disgust" or "laughter" emerge? Why has something that is seemingly natural been imbued with such significance? It is perhaps here that the distinction between "fake" and "real" become unimportant or problematic because the consequences of the "fart" (real or fake) do not produce different reactions, but depending on the space/time of the fart produce laughter or disgust or both simultaneously.

We see then that issues of "real" and "fake" even with the fart are perhaps rather complicated as such issues are dependent on which frame one looks at the issues through. Science may need to make such distinctions between "real" and "fake" while other frame may see such distinctions as problematic because such distinctions allow for different, perhaps hierarchies to emerge.

I leave this note then with a clip from Zizek and his engagement with the Ideology of Toilets which seems fitting with the present topic.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Legalize Gay

I recently was walking past American Apparel and saw this shirt that said "Legalize Gay". I was running late for a meeting so I couldn't stop and purchase it on the spot...I had to wait and hope that such a beautiful shirt would be still available two hours later.

It was still available two hours later. It was available in numerous colors and numerous sizes. I got a small, hoping it would shrink a little and then look super gay. But that's neither here nor there. My purchase of the shirt was done with a hint of irony. Actually, it was bought because I thought it was ridiculous and hysterical. I found it ridiculous and hysterical because I didn't get it and wondered why we should ask to "legalize gay". Of course, you, the reader, might be asking why that is odd so I will explain.

It seems odd because I am not sure how one "legalizes" an identity or perhaps why one would seek such legalization? It seems odd to ask for the government to "legitimate" an identity through legalization because specifying particular identities limits other possible identities. If I change my mind and don't want to be "gay" anymore, am I still a legal or legitimate being if I choose to "be" or "do" something different than "gay"? Such a demand seemingly limits other possibilities not yet "legalized" and as such gives the "government" the capability to delegitimate those identities that are not "legal". Along with this comes of course other areas of life that work along side the "government" such as the medical profession and education system that will also not recognize or "pathologize" those "identities" not legal - and therefore abnormal or delegitimate.

Of course, I recognize the impetus behind the shirts is in relation to Prop 8 in California and the argument to legalize "same sex marriage". Believing that if "gays" can marry, they become first class citizens, failing to see the loss that such a gain simultatenous entails. But I want to think about this in a different way. It seems odd that we "fight" to keep the government out of our bedrooms by relying on that very government to legislate such a request. We want you out of our bedrooms, but we want you in our bedrooms at the same time because we ask that you are in our bedroom so that you "see" that what we do is not "illegal" or something that will put us behind bars. Of course there are benefits to this...the legal realm provides a certain amount of possibilities - legitimate possibilities and safety from the prison. Yet, it also while producing possibilities of legitimacy, simultaneously occludes other possibilities - further marginalizing those possibilities that do not yet have "movement" to seek legitimation or possibilities that refuse to rely on the "legal" to make them legitimate. This can poignantly be seen, not in the realm of the legal, but the realm of the psychiatric where homosexuality was depathologized only to provide the space for gender non-conformity to be pathologized in the form of Gender Identity Disorder. We see in this that as the "homosexual" became officially healthy that other transgressive ways of being (i.e. a sissy boy; a manly girl) became officially 'unofficial' and deemed unhealthy.

What then does it mean to "legalize gay"? Does it mean to normalize the "gay" and move away from the arguably transgressive "nature" that was once associated with "gay" but perhaps moreso these days the "queer"? Does legalizing "gay" also normalize it to be "like them" just as some have sought the "gay" to be...we're just like you and deserve the same rights...While such a strategy provides recognition in the "traditional" sense, does it fail at changing anything? Does "legalizing" gay inevitably defeat what is most desired?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Politics of Bruno

Sacha Baron Cohen's recent film, Bruno, has been causing quite the stir. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation rebuked the film for reinforcing negative stereotypes with the president of the organization stating "the movie was a well-intentioned series of sketches _ some hit the mark and some hit the gay community pretty hard and reinforce some damaging, hurtful stereotypes." While it is understandable having seen the film the ways in which some of the skits could be read as "hurtful" or as "reinforcing stereotypes" such a reading is perhaps problematic as it does nothing to engage the brilliance of the film.

To explore the brilliance of the film, I want to start by noting that I believe GLAAD, similar to other political advocacy groups, engages a politics of identification. In engaging politics in this way, they seek to argue for "positive" images that people can identify with - images that make those who are "different" look reasonable or understandable or intelligible to a "mainstream" audience. There are of course benefits to doing this so I do not mean to delegitimate those benefits. However, in doing so such politics must also engage in the process of disidentification - to distance themselves from images that are negative (i.e. damaging stereotypes). As such, these politics get caught within, as Tim Dean notes, the dialectics of identification and disidentification. What though, might happen if we sought to engage politics away from this dialectic to think about or engage these issues differently? This engagement is not one about positive and negative identifications, but about exploring the ways in which lives are regulated, constrained, liberated, etc. in different ways.

In watching Bruno, I can tell where people might get upset - especially "gay" people. Images of a father holding a baby in a hot tub with sexual acts occurring right next to the baby, "unmentionable sex acts" occuring between two men, etc. Yet, the issue is not that these images are negative, the issue is that we still have an aversion to sex and seeing sex up close and personal makes us uncomfortable...and in such discomfort we seek to distance ourselves from that (i.e. walking out or violently attacking those engaged in such acts) or regulate the ability for such images to be seen (i.e. censorship). Baron Cohen's film exposes this brilliance by doing it, by making people react to these images and in such reactions we see the discomfort and hate people have for difference, for lives that are outside of the norm and unrecognizable...AND in such unrecognizability, people do violence...they ask for a baby to be removed from its home, they throw chairs at two men "wrestling", they seek to turn people "straight"...and in trying to do so, they seek to make, in this case Bruno, normal, the same as everyone else.

Bruno then is a brilliant social commentary that seeks to do politics in a different way...seeks to through the joke, through parody, mock those things that seem to have become "legitimate" or "recognizable". For instance, he mocks transnational adoptions by the stars not because those children do not deserve to be adopted or to have a "life", but because such adoptions provide a certain type of capital to those provides them with this humanitarian gold star and publicity. It also raises fascinating intersections of issues - the role of "culture" in raising a child, the normal "familial structure" that is imagined to be "best" for the child, and the complexity of race relations within the contemporary world. Reading the film at its surface level, as most seem to do, fails miserably to engage this complexity - in part because this complexity fails at allowing us to think about, well, the complexity of these issues that have a history, often times violent, a present, often times violent, and a future, one that is perhaps reparative, but perhaps violent. It is significantly easier to, as GLAAD does, to take a clear-cut stance that divides representations into "positive" or "negative" because it provides a foundation, a starting point...when depending on the context and the bodies involved...those judgments vary as do the starting points.

So then, the beauty of Bruno's politics are that they seek to illuminate the problems of identification and how in such identification and its dialectical process with disidentification, exclusions still occur...what his film does produce, in the wake of this critique is an possible politics that seeks not to say "good" or "bad" but challenge its viewer to think about why discomfort, disgust, violence, or anger emerges in the context of difference, of otherness? What pushes people to the edge and asks them to push back to re-establish boundaries - boundaries that challenge one's coherent view of the world? What challenges us to see the world in ways that go against the normative frameworks of race, gender, class, ability, and sexuality? And how in going against such normative frameworks are 'we" changed but also the world changed to allow different viable possibilities to emerge?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Reflections on MJ: The King of Pop

As the spotlight shone down on an empty microphone, the memorial service over and the sound of his music yearning for his voice, I realized I had just witnessed the end of an era for no longer would that microphone be sung into by the King of Pop as his voice is now present only in memory - memories memorialized in his albums. And it is those albums and the sound of his voice, that brought the world together again to say goodbye and begin to heal our own wounds - wounds created by the loss of our King.

Michael wanted to heal the world and he sought to heal that world through his song, through asking his listeners, asking us, to believe not just in his message, but in ourselves and our own ability to heal the world. We are not alone he told us and we weren't alone today as the world came together to mourn the loss of our King. It is there, in the state of mourning, that a thank you should be given to his family as they opened up their own grief to mourn with us, to help us mourn, and in such mourning begin to celebrate the life of the one lost. While some may have called it a spectacle, a bunch of "hoop-la", they miss the beauty of the moment as millions across the globe entered public spaces, sat in private spaces, to watch on TV or live stream on the internet to be together and mourn the lost object of Michael Jackson. This coming together traversed not only the boundaries of private/public but national boundaries and as some have noted illustrated Michael's message in "Black or White" where it doesn't matter if you're black or white. Yet, in this mourning, we see a beautiful figure in Michael Jackson and it is that beauty - a rather queer beauty - that I seek to reflect on.

As I listened to the stars speak of their memories and experiences of Michael, it was apparent that this man was loved by many, even after he had found himself so often in strange predicaments, inevitably creating him as a strange man in the minds of many. While Al Sharpton noted to Michael's children - "your daddy wasn't strange, what was strange was what your daddy had to deal with", his sentiment fails to recognize the importance of Michael's strangeness and how it was his strangeness that captivated us - that made Michael beautiful.

Michael was strange because he believed in kindness - a queer thing to believe in these days - and his message was always one of kindness. In his soft-spoken voice he spoke of his love of the world and of children - sentiments that are often positioned with the feminine. He believed, even with all he had been through and all that goes on in the world that it could be healed. Yet, in such a soft-spokenness he disrupted our images of the masculine male and as such was seen as "strange" for what kind of man would act like that? A "kind" man would but in such kindness must be positioned as "feminine", as less manly. I would argue it was this kindness that was misunderstood and allowed him to be derided for being “jacko the wacko” for being a boy in a man’s body...for being "crazy". Perhaps, as his actions are positioned as "crazy", we can see that it is kindness that is crazy as we would prefer to not allow ourselves to believe in it, questioning it and anyone who embraces it as "strange". But, Michael was put in strange predicaments because he lived in a strange world in a body that was strange...but it was this strange body that allowed us to see other possibilities and it is in his strange body that he had such power.

Michael Jackson was a queer body as he transgressed so many of our naturalized categories. He challenged our assumptions about race, gender, age, and sexuality. He was black, but white - telling us that it didn't matter. Yet, it does as we hear people ask if he wanted to be white, question him for having "white" kids, or claim him for "their" group - defeating his message of healing. He was man but could pass as woman at times, transgressing the gender binary and causing us to take a second look or even mock him for looking so strange. He wanted to show other possibilities, to show it didn't matter...but we want it to matter, we wanted to box him produce him as a coherent "subject". He transgressed sexual norms as people pondered his sex life and accused him of perverse sexual dealings with children. Yet, these disruptions are not as disruptive as his disruptions of age and that adult-child binary.

It is his traversing the adult-child binary that is most fascinating. Berry Gordy Jr. noted that in his personal life, Michael was shy and child-like. Brooke Shields noted that Michael had to grow up and lose out on his childhood as he entered the adult world of the music industry as a child. He was an adult but always seemed child-like but as a child he had to be adult. His growing up was to quick but as a grown up - he grew beside himself to be "child" while "adult". And it was his original loss of childhood that perhaps provoked him to fight for the child and embrace his own child-ness - to forever traverse that strange boundary between the adult and the child. Yet, when "adults" embrace their childness and when men love children such beings are produced as having had something gone awry - something all to evident in Michael's life.

Yet, it is his child-like status that will allow us to remember Michael forever, for the child is never to be lost, the child is to outlive the adult and in dying as the shy, quiet child-like man he was in his personal life, Michael will live on forever young, forever growing beside himself as his life expands across the globe and throughout time to perhaps continue on in his quest to heal the world. In dying as the child, he remains forever child...never an old man, never anything but that which he sought his whole life to find and protect.

In mourning his lost, the world perhaps found moments where it came together and began to see itself healing from its loss, bringing to fruition - albeit fleetingly - Michael's dream…And, in such a moment, the world perhaps began to see healing in other ways as people reached across to aisle to grasp the hand of an other to fleetingly feel connected as they watched Michael go out with style in New York, Milan, Ghana, Hong Kong, and beyond.

And so with that, I end this reflection...thanking Michael for always sharing his genius with the world, even in strife, to help make it a better world. I thank him for his queerness...for transforming his body in strange ways to perform different possibilities, even if such possibilities often got him in the tabloids for being "wacko". You will live in your music as your voice becomes a testament to your dreams. May you rest in peace.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Apology as Speech Act

J.L. Austin in How to do things with Words, notes that there are two types of speech acts – the perlocutionary and illocutionary. For him, perlocutionary speech acts may invite certain effects but are not effects in and of themselves – for instance hate speech can be viewed as possibly producing certain effects BUT is not an injury in and of itself. However, illocutionary effects are an effect in being uttered - for instance where hate speech can be viewed as wounding or injurying the subject that such utterances are hurled at…Austin’s famous example of the illocutionary speech act is that found in the marriage ceremony when the "preacher" states "I now pronounce you husband and wife" as it, when uttered, is the effect (being married). The "preacher" or "justice of peace" who is vested with authority utters phrases that "do" what they say. Of course, this utterance in the current political climate around same-sex marriage is quite interesting when one thinks about the ways such an utterance is controlled by the government and who it sanctions with the ability to have such an utterance made to "do" what it says. As such, this control produces different types of subjects (legitimate subjects that speak – straight - and illegitimate subjects that (can’t) speak – gay/lesbian) causing the various rights-based issues present in the marriage debate. Of course, these issues are further complicated by critiques of marriage in general begun by the feminists and taken up and added to by numerous queer theorists (i.e. Michael Warner, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler).

But, as I contemplated these types of speech acts and the complexity of language, I was drawn to the phrase “I’m sorry” – the apology. What does this phrase do? How does it act? It obviously can act in many different ways and produce different effects. It, in being uttered, seems to produce the subject that was violated and the subject that violated. It allows those involved in the space/time of the utterance to have the injury recognized as the utterer finally allows the one hearing the utterance to see themselves as an injured subject and be recognized as such AND with the utterer recognizing him/her/hirself as the violator and being recognized by the other as the violator.

So, the utterance of “I’m sorry” alludes not only to some violation but produces the subjects of such violation and the subjects own recognition of the violation. The utterance (apology) recognizes some form of injury that needs to be addressed and is that which addresses the injury. Yet, is the utterance “I’m sorry” effective? And how is the effect of such an utterance “determined”? Is it a perlocutionary speech act or an illocutionary speech act to follow Austin's work OR does it traverse those two possibilities…never solely one or the other…dependent on the context in which it was uttered? (i.e. a judge pronouncing a same sex couple as "married" in most states is ineffective, it does not produce the effects the phrase is meant to produce BUT in being uttered allows for the possibility of such an effect to be fought for)

What do I mean by this?

If the apology is an effect in itself, what is it an effect of? Does it negate the injury that asks for such an apology? Does it make possible a recognition of injury or trauma that was previously unknown or unintelligible because of the pain associated with it? Is it immediately healing, closing the wound and having the effect of not producing a married couple, but producing a "healed" relationship?

Or does it only allow for the possibility of an effect to emerge, depending on the subjects that utter and hear such utterance? Does it only open up the possibility for healing to emerge, for recognition to become possible? If so, it’s effectiveness is perhaps dependent on how the utterance is 1) uttered by the subject speaking, 2) taken up by the one who “hears”, and 3) the relationship (history) between those two subjects? This third component is the interesting piece for, as Butler notes, the strength of a speech act depends on the power it achieves through repetition and citation – allowing such speech to gain “authority”. Yet, if one always apologizes, this repetition works in the opposite way…taking away the authority of the utterance. This is of course on the individual level since the “apology” has gained its status "institutionally" by its constant use as a way of relating with/to others or educating people into sociality by different discourse communities (notably the law, religion, and education).

But, it is this individual level that is perhaps interesting to think about here in terms of how it - the apology - loses authority if constantly repeated. If one constantly apologizes, its ability to “heal” lessens as one becomes “use” to hearing the apology. It becomes transformed into something else – such as an excuse. It is possible in thinking about the apology to see the critical interventions that uttering “hate” speech can have. For instance, if one constantly uses a hateful word (i.e. fag, bitch, cunt) those who hear it can become desensitized to it whereby there is no or “less” injury, but rather a place to parody or subvert such speech…something that can be seen when bullies get mocked for being “bully”. This of course varies on the word being uttered as seen in how some terms (i.e. queer) have been challenged while others with a different history (i.e. the n-word) maintain their ability to wound. But, if we could or would (try to) censor such language and disallow its use – which at times may be productive/beneficial/necessary – we may actually allow such a term to gain strength in its wounding capacity as it does not become excessive, inflated, over-used. Rather, it maintains it's strength as being "taboo", as being hateful.

But that is not my point here - Judith Butler explores that in her text Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative from which i developed these thoughts. My point is thinking about the apology. And it would seem then, that unlike the injurious possibility of words where words wound - "excitable speech" - that the apology as a speech act maintains its authority in not being repeated by the same individual over and over to the same person(s). Its political significance is in its sparing use for grave issues and those grave issues are one's in which reparations are necessary in order for the trauma inflicted to become recognizable, intelligible, etc.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Wounding Words, Words that Wound, and Physical Aggression

Recently, "famed blogger" Perez Hilton had a physical altercation while in Toronto. I am not sure who his attackers were as there are competing stories nor do I write this to condone such violence. However, as I listened to Perez's video discussing the events I was intriqued by the multiple forms of violence being played out. On the one hand Perez was physically assaulted - his body was inflicted with violence via the punches, slaps, kicks of some other or others but on another hand Perez himself assaulted, linguistically, an other via language, his wounding words. Perez recounted these both, noting that violence is never the answer, but positioned violence solely on the side of the physical.

It is at this point that Perez falls short of his analysis. Or more so, provides an analysis that positions him as the victim and the one to be felt for constructing perhaps a binary between the "good" and the "bad"; between the perpetrator and the victim. Now of course there is some importance to this for the trauma of experiencing such violence is something that will take time to understand and bring into symbolization but such will be done through the language that is available to Perez to come to an understanding. He perhaps needs to be the "victim" in order to help himself come to terms with the violence that has been inflicted on his body. BUT, what he fails to address is the violence that his words inflict. He does note that he writes things that anger people or upset them, but he never has physically assaulted anyone or been physically assaulted for saying such things that he says.

Yet, here is where he misses the connection between his words that anger and their wounding capability. He misses the possibility or perhaps wants to deny the possibility that his words that anger some "other" have physical consequences. They are words that inflict bodily harm - just in different ways. They are words that "upset" or "cut" as seen in phrases uttered like "that cut me deep when you said 'x'" or what you said "took the breathe out of me". Words and actions then are not as distinct as often made out to be - a point developed extensively by Judith Butler in Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative. This is not to argue for a silent society where words are not uttered but to argue for an engagement with the language that is used, the words uttered to think about what possibilities and impossibilites they present.

This, the precarity of language, is something that Perez should perhaps know or have at least experienced in "being" a "gay" man. With epithets like "queer" and "faggot" and "sissy" thrown at many an "out or closeted or assumed" gay or experienced through the narratives told of such subjects, the experience of having the "wind knocked out of you" or feeling "sick" because of what someone has hailed you in such injurious ways, seems rather common. Yet, according to one story, Perez shouted "faggot" at Will.I.Am. Perez used wounding words against another subject and perhaps in doing so created an atmosphere of "threat" where his threat was countered, subverted by another threat, another wounding act - one of a physical nature. Perez then is perhaps not the innocent victim nor the guilty perpetrator but exists between those two positions...where he hailed using a violent word and such hailing provoked a violent act in return.

The fascinating aspect of this all then, as Butler expresses, is how words and wounds are words wound, are embodied, just as physical violence wounds and is embodied. How then are we to interact or "speak" to others? What are the ethical responsibilties to think about the words we use and how such words can wound? How can Perez perhaps fight against the use of hate speech while simultaneously using it? How do both instances expose the vulnerability language places on the human subject?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Assemblages and Identities

Puar, in Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times, presents her reader with the notion of an assemblage. She writes that “an assemblage is more attuned to interwoven forces that merge and dissipate time, space, and body against linearity, coherency, and permanency” (212). In presenting this conceptual intervention in Queer Politics and studies, she provides space to engage the tensions between "identity politics" and "queer politics" whereby the identity necessary for identity politics (i.e. rights based movements) is troubled by the contingent, fleeting process of identification. Identity or positionality require a snapshot, a static box that can be held up to fight for a given "x" (i.e. marriage, recogniton). Such notions of identity or position however, as Judith Butler (1990, 1993) has noted, are not natural but constructions constructed throught their repetitions and through such repetition become naturalized or as Puar writes "consolidates the fiction of a seamless stable identity in every space" (212). Identity then demands are coherence over space and inevitably over time...that my identity is the same over space and time. Yet, as queer interventions have argued...such notions of identity are troublesome to those who do not fit into such identity categories or who are violated through such naturalized or privileged identity categories.

Puar's intevention with Assemblage here provokes a recognition and negotiation with the space and time of "being" or "doing" life. She seeks, it appears, to illustrate the problems with identity and positionality and most interestingly theories of intersectionality. It is the assemblage that provides for the engagement with the temporal movement of "doing" life. If one looks at assemblage in art, one realizes that something created through assemblage is dependent on the found objects that are apart of the piece. These found objects are related to the space and time in which the piece is constructed. As a piece of art it can change...its meaning and appearance is dependent on that which is possible in any given time and space. Using this in opposition to identity, an assemblage allows "us" to see the ways in which an engagement with the world and an understanding of that world is related to the time and space in which we are engaged...the exciting although difficult part being an excavation of ways in which such assemblages become naturalized or understood as "identity"...illuminating the tension between identity as a static category and "doing" as a performance assembled from the possibilities possible - be they radical newness, subversive appropriation, or reiteration of norms. It is this tension, the process of "doing" life illustrates how "indeterminancy and determination, change and freeze-framing, go together" (213).

The use of Puar's intervention provides in these queer times, the space to imagine and re-imagine possible ways of "being" or "doing" or "relating" in this world. Yet, it recognizes the complexity of such, refusing to get rid of the necessity of "identity" but recognizing and demanding the recognition of the limitations of such an approach.

Butler, J. (1990). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.
Butler, J. (1993). Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex. New York: Routledge.
Puar, J. K. (2007). Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Speculative Thoughts: On Marriage and Narrativized Life

In a recent conversation with a friend, he told me that he had gone on a couple of dates with an "ex" - noting it was his first time "recycling". Yet, in this "recycling" he was anxious because the "ex" wanted serious commitment, perhaps even marriage and my friend unsure of how he thought of such a state was unsure of what to do. In talking with this friend, I pondered why it is marriage for the "gays" has become so important wherein it seems so many gays, many of them young, want to get married. Now, before I go any further, I don't want to make it seem that I think such a want is "bad" or that individuals who want marriage to be idiotic. It's not my life so I say let go and say "I Do". But, my interest is in why, why such a state has become so dominant, so desireable?

As I thought about this why, I realized relatively quickly that marriage talk saturates the lives of the young "gays". The younger generation of gays who came out Post-AIDS epidemic of the 80's and early 90's (the epidemic still rages of course in different ways) and did not see the devastation and loss (myself included) grew up hearing the often homophobic rhetoric about AIDS - a hearing that I would argue still haunts young gay men in interesting ways. So they grew up in the epidemic BUT came of age (and came out) with the rhetoric of marriage. In this shift of rhetorics from AIDS to marriage, the structuring of the gay subject has perhaps been altered. One can look at the website for the HRC to see this as it focuses almost entirely on marriage with one having to search for information on HIV/AIDS. So, the rhetorics and narratives visible to gays have moved from one that was focused on rights for sex and discussions on "safe(er)" sex TO one focused on rights of economic importance and recognition as a "normal" subject.

In this shift of rhetoric, the narratives of the gay life have changed or at least the dominant narrative has been changed/challenged for good and bad reasons. I do not mean to imply that there is only one narrative of course but that the narrative of gay life that was dominant pre-marriage debates and for which the marriage debate often rests on has been challenged by the dominant narrative of the marriage drive. By this I mean, the marriage debate often pathologizes the promiscuity of the "gay" community by wanting to show "we" are not all like that, that we can be "normal". This change to marriage is not solely "good" or solely "bad" as it is always in tension with other narratives that vy for intelligibility - which is in a sense what my speculative thoughts are about.

So, what are these two narratives and why might this be of interest? I would argue that the first narrative is a narrative about sex. It is a narrative that positions the "gay" male as a very sexual, promiscuous being. It is this sex, the act, that in a sense originally gave rise to the emergence of the term "homosexual" and created a "new species" as Foucault notes in his first volume on The History of Sexuality. So homosexuality became defined in part by the sexual act and in different ways became pathologized through medical, psychiatric, religious, and legal discourses for not abiding by the normal "heterosexual" way of doing things. Yet, as these new species (homosexuals, sodomites, etc.) developed a community, they began to fight back (i.e. the Mattachine Society, Daughters of Bilitis). This all notably "leading up to" the Stonewall Riots and the fights to have the APA de-pathologize homosexuality from their manual of psychiatric disorders in 1973. It was during this time that the sex wars were going on and fights were being waged for sexual liberation...Yet, these fights faced significant difficulty with the wave of conservativism in the 80's along with the emergence of the AIDS epidemic. Yet, for some the fight continued to argue for sexual freedom. Radical political activists and academics made arguments not for a tightening of sexual promiscuity but for smarter promiscuity and challenging the moralisms that limited possibilities.

However, as these radicals aged or died of AIDS themselves, new activists emerged and new issues emerged. The "movement" changed and began to focus on different rights - namely marriage and adoption. The fight became not to create new possibilities of living in the world, but one of getting access to the world that was already possible. The rhetoric became a rhetoric that sought to become "like them" (straight) because "we" are as Sullivan argued "virtually normal". Being gay was no longer about being different with the potential to disrupt the traditional, but became a side bar that should not detract from being able to be seen as, well, normal.

BUT, what does this mean? I think, speculatively, that it means in part that the gay subject is being conditioned to want to be seen as normal and that "normal" is related to the rhetoric of gay rights - a rhetoric that currently argues for marriage and that through marriage "I" can be seen as not sick, as not pathological, but as a moral, upstanding citizen just like my parents before me. I can create the image of the family that I came from, it is just an image that is slightly different but not vastly for "I" can still strive and achieve the white picket fence and children. I can be a part of the capitalist economic machine that the promiscuous "gay" was a challenge to in some regards.

So, if I return to the beginning of my post...I want to speculate that the drive to be married is not simply an individual wish, but a wish that is in part structured by the discourses that pervasively constrain the possible lives we have access to. Previously, the gay life was perhaps constrained to the sexual, struggling to find more...but now that struggle has placed a shadow on other possibilities. If one wants to fit in and be intelligible, to not have to explain or argue for one's way of simply has to abide by the dominant modes of living, of doing life, which is dominated by marriage speak. "I" want to get married and settle down because it is easier, it requires less stress, less work...not in that being married or committed is simple and stress free...but that it is a different kind of stress that exists within the is not a stress or anxiety that is public as "I" must justify my life or ways of doing life because they are not "normal" or "traditional". This is obviously more complicated since a relationship and its anxieties are still "public" and never solely private...but the dynamics of the private/public are different.

Basically...I suppose my interest in this is how the narratives, the stories we think about telling in our lives are constrained, as they must always be, by the dominant stories we are told. The process then is excavating these narratives to find out other possibilities that lie "beneath" to imagine a story line that is different, livable, and not solely survivable but thrivable.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Shame is the Name of the Game

The concept of shame is a concept that has arguably had a strong impact on communities of individuals that are “different” and for the communities for which these “different” communities are defined against. These communities of “difference” are “shamed” for not being normal, for being different, for not following the straight and narrow by which the “normal” communities define themselves. Politically such communities of difference can unite and fight back to show that “they” are not abnormal, but in actuality…to borrow from Andrew Sullivan “virtually normal”…“we are just like you”. These communities, in making this claim, seek legitimation, recognition, and rights – important things indeed. Yet, in making this claim towards normalcy, what is given up? What is lost when communities or the voices that can speak for a community displace the “negative” the “shameful” in order to be like the rest, to be recognized as, in part, human?

As the “gay” community celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots – for all intensive purposes the event that is considered to have started the modern gay rights movement – I want to think about the negative, the shameful and how in displacing such things, something is lost. As the trannies and queens of Stonewall fought back, harkening in the gay rights movement, so the story goes…Pride set in. It was with Pride gays, lesbians, and the rest of the gang could march down the streets, assert their rights, fight for those rights, and be recognized, at least by some, as subjects. Yet, as the movement continued, this Pride arguably began to displace some of the shameful antics of those “queers” so that the others might fit in and get their piece of the American Pie. I was reminded in a recent interview of Edmund White in Out that the movement has changed drastically from the days of Stonewall. White notes that the leaders of the movement have shifted from the “political radicals” to the “stuffy middle class gays”. And it is arguably these “middle-class gays” that now determine the focus of the movement – namely marriage and adoption rights. Yet, in fighting for these “rights”, other issues are left untouched, except by those political radicals still out there. And in this, those who started the movement, those who were the one’s most often violated, most often visible again have taken the backseat. The queens that threw the first heel, the trannies and street trash that made up much of the Stonewall crowd are still waiting for their turn, still living their “shameful” ways…while the “stuffy” gays buff up their “rights” to be like, well to be normal.

I was reminded of all this recently when attending a Pride celebration with a friend. This friend had never been to a Pride celebration before and in many ways was rather surprised at the event…the costumes, the skin showing, the public intimacy, the “freaks”…were all a bit much for him, perhaps even making him uncomfortable as we sought refuge in a trendy sushi bar whose clientele was much more middle to upper class, and arguably quite white. However, I do not want this to accuse him as an individual for this discomfort, to psychologize him and his unease because this was not about him as an individual but about the bigger issues and the tensions between Pride and shame. Having seen only the “good” gays represented in television and the “bad” gays either made invisible or pathologized and shown to not be “representative” of the “community”, it makes sense that Pride festivals for many “gays” are uncomfortable because everyone and everything comes out of the woodwork. The space of Pride is rather queer…it is not “straight”, it is strange and in such strangeness it is rather fleeting…but a mere day when “I” can do things in public I cannot do in most other “spaces”. Yet, back to the discomfort and how such discomfort seems to emerge when the “good gays” see that which is considered shameful, excessive, bad taste…causing the Pride celebration to become splintered and/or at times “cleaned” up to become a “family” event.

The queer space of Pride struggles with itself as different bodies seek different things…as some bodies seek to show the “good” side of things, the “family friendliness” of the gays while others seek to disrupt these notions, to challenge the normative family to expose, to play with something different…leaving me to ask…Why must Pride be a family event? Why must “we” cater to the concept of the, I would argue “straight family” to celebrate Pride or to be a legitimate public event? One could feasibly think about different concepts of the family, often created by different facets of the “gay” community and how perhaps these families are the ones that deserve to have space, to have an event catered toward them that is in a public space? What would it mean to argue for the legitimacy of these “families” or does arguing for such legitimacy rely on the normative structures, forcing these “queer” family structures to become “normalized”?
I ask…Since the “straight” family has so often abused the “gay” body by kicking them to the streets, by sending them to therapy…why not celebrate the families that the “gays” create, the houses, the connections that are made as the abused bodies of many gays repair their wounds, their losses, not to be victims of the family…but as creators of new families…of families chosen, not born into? And in some cases, families that are “blood” related with the advent of HIV/AIDS and the family tree one could feasibly construct with the line by which one’s infection has followed…(see my earlier post of HIV/AIDS and Family bloodlines)

For more interesting work on Shame see:
Leo Bersani. Intimacies. 2008 (see also Bersani’s “Is the Rectum a Grave” 1988)
Lee Edelman. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. 2004
David Halperin. What do Gay Men Want: An Essay on Sex, Risk, and Subjectivity. 2007.
Heather Love. Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History. 2009.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Notes from the Closet

With discussion about sexuality, in particular homosexuality, comes, it seems, the discussion about the closet…for the story goes that if one is not of the hetero variety that one must “come out” of the closet as something else – the “homo” variety. Those who do not come out are often called “closeted” or “closet-cases” or as suffering from “internalized homophobia” or are “outed” by some other. Yet, it is this concept of the closet that I want to challenge. I have been asked, as a “gay” man, about the closet many times…when did I come out?…who am I out to?…what was it like?…etc. Many a “gay” person will probably relate to these questions as will many a “straight” person. Yet, as I think about my experience with the closet, I become a little disturbed because for the longest time, I never realized there was such a thing – a closet that is. It was not until I was in college that I was asked to “come out” and when I was asked this, I was a bit confused. What was it that I was coming out of and how long have I been “in” whatever it is that I need to “come out” of?

I, of course, realized what it was that I needed to come out of…it was this closet…and not the one that I came out of daily dressed to impress…although my “dressing to impress” was part of the reason I “needed” to “come out” of this new closet I was suddenly finding myself in. So, I learned that I needed to come out of this closet in college and I did as I was told. I came out. Except each time I came out, the response I received was “yeah, we know”, or “finally”, or as my mother said “Adam, I’m your mother, I’ve always known”. Now, I don’t want to get into a conversation about the origins of sexuality in terms of whether and how my “mom” always knew…but I do want to get into the closet or the mentality of the closet to see what it is about. Why was it that I needed to come out as something that everyone I came out to already I knew I “was”? Was it some strange ritual that I was in need of being a part of? Was it for humorous reasons? Was it a part of becoming a subject of a particular kind – a gay kind perhaps…a gay subject? Was it to make “them” comfortable with my “I” so that they could “know” me better…even if I already “knew” myself?

I am not sure why it was I needed to come out…except perhaps to fulfill the wishes of those around me who thought I should “come out” because that is what people hear gay people, especially gay kids are in need of – stepping out of the closet. Psychologists, counselors, health educators, all say my kind should do it…come out and be healthy and “find myself” which I respond…”

Excuse me? Find myself? I thought I had until I found out that I was trapped in some closet that I needed to escape from…dressed to impress of course…in order to finally know myself…even though I knew myself already as much as one can ever “know” oneself as one is continually finding oneself through different, new experiences, different “doings” in the world.

So, what is this closet then that I need to come out of? As I’ve noted before, I never had a closet until I was surrounded by people who knew of such a closet and decided that I was in it. No one ever told me the closet existed before I went to college…until college I was happy…I was content…I had friends…I had fun…I had crushes on boys…but then I learned that I was trapped in a closet and had to do battle with the closet door to release myself from some space that didn’t allow me to be, well, me. So, I did it…I came out. I said the words that I was supposed to say “I’m gay” and I perhaps felt better because I was supposed to…one is supposed to be relieved when one “comes out” as any good “counselor” or “psychologist” will tell you…but now I don’t know why I did it. Why did I come out of some closet I had never realized I was in? Was it a joke? Was I just playing along with this closet talk to be intelligible to others? To make the joke work? To make my body readable?

The closet, after all, only exists if someone says it does and in saying so makes it something that can be “read”. It is a space seemingly constructed by those who don’t have to come out of a closet (straight people) or those who are already out of the closet (out gays) for those who are thought to be oppressed and in need of liberation from this closet constructed by people who the person supposedly in the closet doesn’t even know…Aye yi yi…what is this fucking closet. It is obviously a heterosexual construct since “they” and yes I generalize, don’t have to come out. Yet, it is obviously also a homophobic construct that seeks to keep the gay kid out of sight and out of mind, to maintain the illusion of the heterosexual matrix.

But…is it also a homo-normative construct…one that in a sense comes to define what a “gay” subject is, what a normal gay subject is? With the advent of people outing others, i.e. Perez Hilton, has the closet become one of the defining features of how a normal, good, gay subject comes into existence…by coming out of the closet that previous generations had to come out of…and for which I am thankful for as it allows me to write and do the things I do. However, as discourses change, does the closet narrative need to be re-thought? Challenged? Parodied? And how?

I am sure the closet is a bit of all of these and more…I am sure I came out of it because I was around people that told me such a mythical place existed. They were told it existed and believed it existed so they told me it existed and told me that I needed to leave such a mythical place because it was not a healthy place…it was a place of pain, of hidden sorrows, of invisibility, of myths. But, I was never invisible or in pain or in any more sorrow than the next high school student. I was never in this mythical closet until someone placed me there and forced me to come out of it to be legitimate, to be a true gay person who did that which any good “gay” or “healthy” gay is meant to do…Come out and be a “role” model.

But, I don’t come out anymore…it is way to exhausting because I was told that I was ‘always’ in the closet, in constant need to “come out” or choose when and when not to come out. So in such exhaustion… I don’t come out anymore or at least not as often as before – we all fall back into bad habits sometimes. I don’t do that strange ritual anymore because this whole closet business is just too much for me. It is too mythical and I love me a good myth so, that says a lot. I don’t come out because I don’t believe I am “in” anything any more than anyone else is “in” anything and in the need of “coming out” of that thing.

Yet, curiously in writing about not coming out, I perform the process of outing myself. I out myself as someone who is supposed to by many standards be one that comes out…and in saying that I understand I am supposed to come out, but I don’t buy into that concept so I am not going to do it…I, inevitable out myself and making this whole argument a flippin’ waste of time because I am trapped in a closet I don’t believe in nor a closet I want to come out of, but a closet I come out of in saying I am not coming out of it…trapped in the closet narrative.

Oh, for the love of something pretty…why oh why does this closet exist?

See Eve Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet for a more detailed and exciting engagement with the closet.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

In Defense of Barbie

There are many things in children’s “culture” that are problematized and demonized for being bad influences…of ruining children’s innocence and forcing them into adult roles. Arguably, one of the most demonized child toys though, in my opinion is that of Barbie – that beautiful plastic woman with proportions that are impossible to have – literally. This Barbie character in her whiteness, blondeness, and over the years, capacity for befriending multicultural friends, focuses too much on beauty, too much on consumerism, too much on those things that any good “social justice” martyr with feminist beliefs just must oppose. Barbie has been manipulated to believe she must be beautiful, she has tokenized her friends to make money, she has ruined little girls abilities to be more than Barbie herself can be. She has bought into buying pleasure, feeling good because of material purchases. Barbie is no different than the whore that she was in part birthed from…for she, as Shirley Steinberg has pointed out, continues to whore herself out to the corporations.

However, since I am not a “social justice” martyr (anymore) with rather queer feminist tendencies, I want to make an argument for Barbie in all her beauty – I write then, in defense of Barbie. I do this because Barbie is positioned in a place of shame, she is abject to many “liberal” minded people as well as many “conservative” minded people. She is their “Other” who they can blame for the self-esteem issues and eating disorders in our young people. Of course ignoring that anorexics never have large breasts so to those that argue that Barbie is anorexic, and promotes anorexia in girls, I ask what vision of anorexia are you working from.

But, I rather like being in the place of shame, of the abject, to illustrate that it is a livable place, a possible life, a place that can be read for things occluded by most shaming readings.

Barbie – she comes in many different costumes.
Barbie – she once thought “math was hard”.
Barbie – the one with that pink corvette.
Barbie – the one with all that anyone needs to be cool.
Barbie – the one with the man who has a mound of flesh.

But Barbie for me was more than this. Barbie was, like Whitney, my girl. I played with her as a little boy, of course always through my sister since I couldn’t just play with Barbie by myself (unless I did it sneakily) because that is not what little “boys” do. Barbie for me then was the possibility of leaving small town Iowa and being fabulous, of being able to explore and dress, and drive those things that I couldn’t explore, wear, or drive in the “normal” world I lived in. Barbie may have taught my sister that she needed big boobs and a teeny-tiny waist (of which my sister does not have), but Barbie taught me that one could be happy in the “confines” of the feminine, one could enjoy the masquerade that is femininity, and make billions doing it. She taught me the importance, the necessity of aesthetics. She may have whored herself out to the corporate “Man” but she did it laughing all the way to the bank AND in doing so could act in any way her possessor wanted her to – be that as a happy hetero, a lipstick lez, or a bitchin’ CEO. Barbie taught me more than Ken ever could that in this world we can create ourselves, we can change our outfits and try something new…we can be a teacher, a nurse, an airline stewardess, we can think math is hard and still look fabulous, still survive in this world where math is seen as more important than fashion – as if fashion doesn’t require math.

Yet, I recognize that this process of creating the self is more than just putting on an outfit, that such performativity is constrained by the reiterative practices that become naturalized – which is part of the problem with Barbie as a static concept because she only has so many possibilities to perform. So, yes, Barbie’s options are limited by the evil of Mattel and what Mattel allows Barbie to be sold as (i.e. a nurse but not a drug pusher)…but Mattel does not control the ways in which children, in this instance me, played with Barbie. Barbie, to draw from Foucault, is freeer than we feel. She can be anything and we don’t need Mattel to make her so – we can make her so ourselves. I can make Barbie a philosopher like my academic crush Judith, I can make Barbie an actress like Jodie…I can do these things, I can make Barbie anything if my imagination is allowed to explore and make Barbie something I think Barbie could be.

Without Barbie, I would have been stuck with Joe, the violent one – not the plumber and he can’t change his clothes for real men are not sissy clothes changers and well I am not a real man. With Barbie…I can use her nurse costume and still have Barbie perform the role of the drug pusher since as a nurse she has the access. I can. I can I tell you. And in doing this with Barbie, which is “easier” to do than to do in “reality” then I can see these ideas as possibilities, as fictions that can create a reality that I imagine, that I want to experience when I am no longer child, but “adult” given opportunities to explore that which has been “occluded” from my child-eyes.
Barbie, then, provided a place to imagine the aesthetics of life, of fashion, of putting outfits together, and the possibilities of living, in an environment that was constraining. Yes, for some this is just the emergence and continuance of capitalism and consumption…but we cannot but operate within this system of capitalism. We cannot get out of it, for to try to get out of it would probably be illegal for to not be in this system would require so many fundamental changes in how one lived and operated in a society that was capitalistic.

Of course it is easy to critique those who buy excessive clothes and engage in what is positioned as “frivolous” (as I myself have done), but we are all implicated – “you” just make yourself feel better by making “me” your other, by making “me” less than “you” because you are less “capitalistic” than I. But I don’t like capitalism, I just like fashion, it is a part of life that brings me pleasure, not because I need clothes to make me feel “cool” or “pretty” but because they help me perform, they help me be me in whatever way I want to be “me” when I put on whatever it is I put on – knowing that how such clothes are read is never up to me entirely.

What then is wrong with Barbie? Is the problem with Barbie not Barbie herself but with our own inability to accept that Barbie is a person-doll, a possibility that girls, boys, boy-girls, girl-boys, sissys, punks, faggots, dykes, and others can look to and imagine a life that they do not have access to? Does Barbie, give access to the feminine, so often degraded and argued against for its limitations, actually broaden the possibilities of the feminine – of granting access to the feminine especially for those not “female” bodied? At the end of the day, if a woman, a girl, a drag queen, a trans person, a gender queer, a boy with a fetish uses Barbie to make life pleasurable within the imagination, what right do we have to critique Barbie and tell her that she is bad, that we will not buy her for our children because she, from our own projections, scares us – scares us that our children may choose a life we didn’t choose, a life we disparaged against, a life we didn’t want to live, or a life we always wanted to live but never could. By limiting our children’s access to such a cultural icon, this icon of problematic femininity, do we disparage this form of the feminine and colonize our children to a life we believe they should have NOT the life they could make themselves, like an artist makes a piece of art? Is the critique of Barbie more often about not wanting to grant children access to that vision of femininity that has been seen as passive, as superficial, as easy to manipulate and use RATHER than showing that not granting access to those forms of femininity re-pathologize such femininity as lesser, as not worthy of “positive” evaluations, as not worthy of representation anymore?

So, I say buy me a Barbie, buy me that most feminine of all toys, that doll that performs and perhaps helped construct the feminine ideal and let me imagine the beauty of that doll, of the possibilities that this abjected, shamed doll can provide. Buy me Barbie, by me her little sister doll Bratz, buy me these dolls that are “sexualized,” “skanky,” “slutty,” and “inappropriate” for little girls, boys, bois, gurls and I will show you the possibilities that skanks, sluts, and anything shameful can create possible lives and expose the anxieties of adults around childhood and children in relation to sexuality and the “passive” feminine…or if I cannot I will at least have a new Barbie that you purchased in this capitalistic system for me…

Monday, June 1, 2009

On Gayness

I was recently asked to engage a certain question...a question that I would "like" because of my enjoyment of so-called "wishy washy, non-quantitative (hence [my] hatred for statistics and deficiency in arguing an opponents' points directly, concisely and effectively), "let me tell you about my feelings" pop psychology kinds of topics". [Wow] Of course, such an assessment positioning the quantitative as more solid and less wishy-washy is comical to me since the quantitative still relies on the messiness of "words" or "language" to makes its just currently has a privileged place in most dominant discourses and perhaps suffers from some delusions about its can read the philosophy of science and other historical investigations of science as a discourse for more on this.

But, besides that, I would like to say two more things before I move to my wishy-washy answer...1) I don't hate statistics, I just don't use them. I find other means of rhetorical arguments more enjoyable and thus engage them. 2) In order to argue an opponents points I have to 1) have a legitimate argument to engage in and 2) be able to engage such a debate on my terms, not simply on my opponents terms which would obviously mess up notions of effectiveness, conciseness, and directness since we would both have different criteria by which to judge arguments...BUT

The question I was asked to speak to, in part because of my intelligence I imagine is as follows...

Is sexual orientation just what a person is attracted to ? Or, does it shape our personalities from a biological standpoint, considering that fMRI scans show that the gay male and hetero male brains are different.

An interesting question as it positions sexuality as something that can seemingly 1) be understood completely by the sciences and 2) relies on two discourses from my read - that of psychology (individual attraction) and biology (physical makeup). Since I am neither a psychologist nor a biologist, I do not engage this question from either perspective, although note that these two discourses have a rather immense power in how sexuality is understood/conceptualized in modernity.

Rather, what I find more fascinating is the very construction of sexuality historically. How it came to be that "gay" and "straight" men (and women) existed as such. When did it become possible to identify as a "gay" man, to "be" gay rather than partake in acts with bodies with similar "equipment". One can look at various histories of sexuality for this contested terrain - my go to would be that of Michel Foucault. My interests would also extend into thinking about how different discourses, including the sciences, have at times pathologized the "non-heterosexual" body while simultaneously such "non-hetero" bodies have resisted such pathologization (i.e. fighting the APA to have homosexuality removed from the DSM) but also relied on the sciences to "claim" legitimacy in the "rights" based movement (i.e. if it is genetic, then it is "natural" and we deserve to be human). One can look at the history of the modern "gay" movement for different examples of this, along with the work of various Queer Theorists (i.e. Judith Butler, Leo Bersani, David Halperin) for engagements with discourses and sexuality.

Yet, let me ponder for a second on the question asked of me...the question uses the fMRI as evidence that there is a difference between the "gay" and "straight" male. My question would be...what is the exact evidence and who was included in the sample? Since I don't have access to the actual statistics, I can't fully respond to the statistical analysis done but will ask some broad questions. Did the evidence divide neatly into two camps (all gay men's brains were the same and all straight men's were the same) or is there some overlap whereby it is not so neatly divided (I imagine it is the latter)? As for the sample, were these men self-identified as "straight" and "gay"? What about straight men who have sex with men, but are not gay? What about gay men who don't have sex with men? What about bisexual men? Or men who never come out as gay? Does this research require participants to "identify" in only the way the researchers conceptualize sexual orientation? If so, what does it mean to force someone to "identify" as something they may not actually identify as outside of the research space?

Finally, I will ask how do we know that the differences found in the fMRI are due to sexual orientation? If we, as humans, are looking at the images of brains, we makes sense of those images by interpreting them with the language we have access to at the time of looking. So, setting the research up to look at sexual orientation occludes other possible interpretations since we enter the research with sexual orientation as our "frame".

So, sexuality is could be caused by any number of things, it is never "just" anything. This (sexuality's cause), in my opinion does not matter. An individual who is "gay" does not need to justify their "life" using science (nature) or upbringing (nurture) to be seen as a legitimate human being that deserves rights. Nor should an individual be limited or violated should he/she/ze choose to imagine a life that is not defined by the discourses of sexuality currently dominant in contemporary Western thought (i.e. gay/straight binary). Doing so, making such things possible, is more complicated though as it requires critical resistance to the ways in which such issues are "framed" for us by various discourses (science, religion, psychology, law, education) and a movement away from identity based politics to a politics based on coalition/alliance.

Monday, May 25, 2009

On Secret Admirers

I have a new follower...

His alias is Will Truman Esq...a smart choice for a variety of reasons
1) It plays with one of the first mainstream shows about the "Gays" - Will and Grace - which I will not critique at the moment for its desexualization of the gay male nor its lack of racial, ethnic, and class diversity NOT to mention its lack of the lesbian figure.
2) Will is a lawyer so he is relatively smart, nice looking, and therefore I would be rather smitten to have a similar individual admiring me for such an individual could push me to think in different ways and therefore perhaps write in different ways.

On this last note, unfortunately this Will Truman does not live up to that assumption for "he" only critiques my writing style from an anonymous position. I know not what he looks like, not what he does, nor his interests beyond my dad and showing me that I am not that smart. He does not ask me or show me different ways to think...only belittles a complex writing style and "big words" perhaps showing his own inadequacies as a reader. Perhaps, "Just Jack" would have been a better alias since his image fits moreso with the image he provides or has provided thus far...a funny, pedantic man who only provides humor (which is admirable itself for I appreciate the laugh this provided me)

But, that is perhaps a bit harsh for it is impressive that this admirer has gone to great lengths to be able to comment on my blog...creating a blog for himself where his interests as previously noted center around me - my "dad (not mom because I'm (Will) is gay" and "showing Adam that he is not as smart as he thinks he is". He has in these great lengths provided me a good laugh, but also created a sense of lack as I want more...I want an adversary who can provide more than the simple childhood complaint of "big words".

As I contemplate this development, I realize that perhaps this individual in fact admires me and in good elementary school fashion, has decided to "metaphorically kick" me so not to reveal his admiration. He has lambasted my writing style, said I am too complicated in my writing structure all in an attempt to show that I am not as smart as I think I am...He has done this under an alias perhaps to create a mystery as if such a mystery goes without being "de-mystified" I will be shown to not be as smart as I think I am for I cannot figure out who this admirer is.


He has done this to be able to "talk" to be on my "level" and engage in the random shit I decide to write on. He has taken so much time in creating a "blog" account centered on me to show me that he exists and wants to be a part of my life, if only in the cyber world. He has constructed me as one that has a overinflated ego, one that thinks I am "too smart" perhaps in order to stroke my ego even further...he has, in his admiration, decided to stroke my ego, inflate it further, by saying he needs to deflate it.

I appreciate the ego stroke and your mystery Will Truman. Its unfortunate that your attempt to deflate my ego has just boosted it further. But that's the downfall of trying to take someone down anonymously and putting so much time into it...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

That's so Gay...No, homo

I entitled this entry merging two phrases used rather often by students (and teachers) in the halls of schools but in the attempts to create "safe schools" are phrases policed. I find these phrases rather comical and may myself use them, ironically, everyonce in awhile. I find them comical recognizing that they are also problematic. However, when merged are they still problematic OR in merging them do they, curiously or perhaps queeriously, do something different? Of course, the answer is probably both and thensome...but I want to write about the merging doing "something different"

"That's so gay" is shut down or argued to be shut down, silenced, when uttered because it associates "gay" with "stupid". I say "that's so gay" when I should just say "that's stupid" because gay is not or should not be synonomous with stupid. Of course, I would argue that who says the phrase and when alters that if it is uttered with irony or parody, it illuminates the idiotic nature of the phrase.

"No homo" is similarly shut down or argued to be shut down, silenced because it, in a sense, "shames" the homo by positioning "acts" as either "ok" or not and the one's that would "not" be ok are the "homo" ones. I can make my act "ok" by adding an addendum to the act by uttering "no homo".

Both phrases then position "gay" or "homo" as bad, shameful, illegitimate, etc. However, when merged as I merge them in my title, they are altered. How you ask? Well, by adding the addendum "no, homo" to "that's so gay" the "gay" becomes disassociated from "homosexual" and instead becomes simply "stupid". The gay in "that's so gay" can no longer operate the same when "no homo" is added to it since the "no homo" requires a different reading....and a reading that makes it not about "homosexuality".

Of course, this is inevitably much more complicated and the history of both of these phrases - sexually and racially - in need of being further explored. But for now...I think "that's so, homo"

Monday, May 18, 2009

Writing on Walls: Facebook and Childhood Fantasy

I have always loved writing on people's walls on facebook…well not always, but you know what I mean. I think it is funny...but as I thought about it I couldn't but think about how Facebook was inevitably allowing me to do what I had been banned from doing as a child. I was able to write on the wall. Now there are advanced technologies for younger generations where there is a special paint that parent's can buy or special markers that parents can but allowing for their children to write on walls, but when I was growing up there was no such thing. Writing on walls was not allowed because it took hard work or another paint job to remove.

But now, in this world where the "real" and the "cyber" become less distinct, I can't but wonder if that wall that I write on and read is where childhood fantasies come alive, where I can finally write on the walls anything I want to...Is Facebook and its wall all about reliving the things we were stopped from doing as children? I thought so, but then I thought perhaps not
I can write on walls now but it is still sanitized. I am still disciplined from what I write for the wall owner can delete what I say along with the Facebook police deleting what I write because it was "reported". I also don't want to write anything too incriminating because someone else might see it and shit might just hit the fan. Yet, while I can write on walls, I cannot or am not supposed to write on my own wall. It is still uncool to write on one's own wall...perhaps because it is bad to deface one's own property not someone else's since well, you would have to clean up the mess if it was your own wall?

Yet, as Facebook has “evolved” or some might say “devolved” this has changed for we can now comment on our own wall…BUT, that comment is not literally on our own wall, it is on the cyber-wall constructed by an other on our “pages” wall. We comment on their wall posting on our wall…making the walls rather precarious for whose wall is whose and when? We still are not supposed to “write” on our own walls. We can write “what’s on our mind” but we cannot “write on our own wall” which one sees if one looks at one’s own profile and then an “others”. I can write on your wall…but I can only write what’s on my mind…not on my wall…

Perhaps after all this…we are still unable to fulfill our childhood fantasies…as we can only ever write on someone else’s wall, never fully capable of transgressing the taboo of writing on the walls of one’s own…our fantasies still barred from surfacing to “reality”?

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Humanizing Effect of Animals or the Animalizing Effects of Humans?

It was an animal themed day. I watched Oprah for the first time in years and had the (un)fortunate experience of watching X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Oprah was focused on animals, not as simply cuddly and cute creatures but as companions both to humans and to other species. X-Men too was about animals and the struggle between species - human and mutant. In both of these texts, the relationships between human and "other" was rather apparent yet to some extent very different. Oprah's guests, human and animal, illustrated the important relationship between species with one guest noting the emotional reactions and realities of his best friend - a grizzley bear. Animals in this instance are not merely pets...but they are companions capable of interacting on an inter-species level. This is of course not new...humans and animals have been interacting for perhaps all of time, with the advent of domestication altering these relationships to some extent. Yet, what is "new" is perhaps the change from animals as pets to animals as companions. Donna Haraway, feminist philosopher, has most poignantly explored this in her recently published book When Species Meet.

But, my interest is not in re-iterating Haraway - I've but read pieces of this work - and her thoughts underlie this exploration. My interest is in thinking about these two texts and what they perhaps allow us or perhaps just me to think about. X-Men Origins: Wolverine made numerous references to the Logan needing to let out the "animal" (Wolverine) for it is the animal as constructed in the film, that is irrational, blood thristy, without a moral code. The animal in this was not a companion to the human, rather its enemy. The animal side is something that must be fought against and "tamed". This dehumanizing of Logan to become a "killing machine" (animal) is not only seen in films though...but in "real" life whereby prisoners or criminals are called "animals" after they have committed heinous crimes. This of course makes "sense" as framing criminals as "animals" allows for them to be dehumanized - it allows for these humans to become un-human for what they have done and as such be ungreivable...placed in a cell, violated by the state apparatus, and in some instances put to death.

To the second text...Oprah, with the help of Glenn Close, showed a new program called puppies behind bars where inmates train service dogs for returning veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury. The inmates discussed how the puppies allowed them to love again, to experience love again since many of their lives were not filled with love, but rather violence. In this curious coupling of dogs (literal animals) with criminals (figural animals), both species found companions - companions that cared for and loved one another in the ways they knew possible. The animal and human merged whereby both species were transformed by one another and transformed one another...

One might argue at first look that the dogs humanized the inmates but that would make the animals "human" or capable of bringing out the "human" in "animals" or the "non-human"...This makes the line between what is human and what is animal rather blurred for while we might "humanize" animals (both literally through "domestication" and figuratively in literature/fairy tales) they simultaneously "humanize" us (i.e. make us "feel" seemingly "human" things). But "humanize" seems problematic since it is a one-way road to "becoming" human and I do not want to make animals human for doing so would deny their difference - creating sameness and would be rather "human-centric". It also would maintain the privlege of the "human" whereby the "animal" is always the Other, the instinctual, non-human other which allows for "us" to violate animals through abuse (i.e. dog fighting) or entertainment (i.e. circuses). What then is an alternative? Can we get out of humanism? When we critically analyze the relationships humans have with other species seeing them not as simply relationships of domination, but of companionship, do we find a path to create space where the human becomes unstable, unable to define itself against the animal AND the animal becomes unstable, unable to be used to define the human? Does this challenge how we engage the issue of when animals attack humans which often positions the animal as something dispensible, a risk to the human...when it is inevitably the human that is a risk for animals? This is of course tricky...navigating the terrain of interspecies meeting as companions would ask us to challenge our fundamental assumptions about being human, being animal, being humane...

I am not sure how to go about such navigation...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Re-Reading Clothe Wounds

I am currently re-reading Kathryn Bond Stockton's Beautiful Bottom, Beautiful Shame: Where Black Meets Queer. In the text, Stockton is exploring the intersections between black and queer - melding queer studies and black studies through literary texts (i.e. Genet, Morrison, Feinberg). In the first chapter of the text, she examines the notion of clothing, in a sense, as a "second skin". This move is rather intriguing as often, when people compare the state of race and the state of sexuality, the argument is made that one cannot hide their skin color, whereas one can hide their sexuality because it is not worn like skin color. Stockton however argues that perhaps if we examine the notion of clothing, we will see a fascinating intersection - what she terms "switchpoints" - of blackness and queerness. She examines this proposition by examining various texts in which the queer body is understood/defined in part by the clothe that covers the body and how that clothe exposes psychic clothe wounds (Feinberg's butch/femmes, Genet's Querelle).

For instance, Stockton utilizes Feinberg's Stone Butch Blues to illustrate how clothing in the queer community has been something utilized by the homophobic community to ostracize and violate the queer body. Yes, it could be argued that queers could change their clothes and save themselves from assault, but by having to assimilate and change their clothing, these queers are violated - forced to assimilate into a world that has strict clothing restrictions based on gendered norms - restrictions that assault their selves on a psychic level. Of course, as one further explores this, it is perhaps problematic as the clothing of Stockton's examples are "white" bodies, neglecting how queers of color relate to clothe wounds and how clothing operates in different ways in different contexts - relating to class, race, religion, etc.

However, as I re-read this fascinating exposition on psychic cloth wounds, I thought about my own experiences as a (closeted) "gay" youth and as a (out) "gay" young adult, along with my interests in queer theory in education. Clothes are a powerful symbol, a symbol that can illustrate one's economic class, one's fetish for labels, one's desires, etc. But clothes are also raced, gendered, and sexed - as already alluded to. There are social stigmas and stereotypes associated with what we wear everyday. As a youth growing up in the rural Midwest, I tended to wear clothes that labeled me as a "preppy" boy, but also to some a "fag." I spent years, and at times even today, questioning my wardrobe and what it means to wear any particular outfit. How does our clothing, our second skin, portray us to those whose gaze we enter? What does that mean for that gaze when it is the gaze of students? Does it "out" us without having to make a speech act? Does it open us up to violence? Ostracism? Humiliation? Does it allow for the clothed body to play with "identity" and mess with how the gaze of the other can be troubled, confused, questioning "who" is behind the clothes...perhaps eventually realizing there is no "being" behind the clothes...but a "doing", deeds of wearing clothes that create a text of a body to be read?

As I study queer theory more though, these questions become more salient to me, but not from a position of fear, but from a position of performance. How do my clothes perform my "identities" and how do such performances 1) reaffirm the wounds of yesteryear when my second skin caused pain and suffering and 2) overcome those wounds to accept the "shame" that is associated with my second skin, making the psychic wounds livable or making reparations?

But, I cannot think about this solely from an individual perspective because their are queer bodies that do not have the same privileges and opportunities that I have had. The majority of my so called psychic clothe wounds occurred during elementary and high school. Therefore, how do we think about these wounds at the level of education? Do we institute uniforms so everyone conforms, so no psychic wounds because of clothing occurs? Or would "censoring" clothing preference create another psychic wound in which students are not allowed to express their performed identities? What statuses are "privileged" in school uniforms? Are they inherently heteronormative, white, middle class creations? Why do we grant clothing such power in detailing our identities and is our "second skin" that easy to hide in order to hide our sexuality, our queerness? What is the intersection of blackness and queerness in terms of the skin(s) we where? Is an argument against queerness as an oppressed category misinformed by the argument that it can be hidden...when for some, such hiding is nearly impossible and perhaps even deadly?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Fatty, Fatso, Fatass: On Fatness

I enjoy fat kids. In the summer when at the park or beach when all the kids are out playing...I revel in the fat kids...the fat ones that have their shirts off and are in their jiggly splendor but not ashamed of their beautiful fat bodies. I often want to go up to them and jiggle their fatness and tell them no matter what...their fat bodies are always run with their shirts off...and never be ashamed.

Why do I revel in the fat kids? Partially perhaps because I once was a fat kid...but one who was not told that fat was beautiful...but rather told to cover it up. Yet, I grew up and while no longer a "fat" kid, a part of me will always be "fat". In being "fat", I often find myself concerned about the constant discussions about childhood obesity. My concern however is not that kids are obese (although that is a valid concern) but how in focusing on obesity - say in education - it is possible that fat kids are further stigmatized, for it is the fat kid that I would argue is often the legitimate target of abuse. It is no longer acceptable to make fun of the gay kids or the "special ed" kids...but we can still make fun of the fat kid. Now, this making fun may not be blatant name calling, although I imagine it happens often, but rather this making fun comes often in the form of education as we educate that to be healthy one should be "thin"...meaning if one looks down and sees that one is not is not is unhealthy. This occurs beyond education as several airlines charge fatties for an extra seat if they are too large. Some herald this as a good move...yet isn't such a move rather regressive, a bit that because of your appearance and "width" we can treat you you "fat" by making you pay up to take up two seats? Yes, I have set next to a fat person and yes I have been annoyed...yet, I would prefer not to further stigmatize a person for their fatness...yes, they may be able to do something about it, but then again they might not. Yes, they may be an extra burden on health care...but so are a bunch of other people with different issues.

So, while I recognize that obesity is a problem from a "health" or "medical" perspective...I wonder how in privileging those discourses or frames of living if we simultaneously delegitimate those bodies that we seek to make "thin" or a "healthy" size? Perhaps then this is the tension between prevention and on one side we seek to "prevent" future kids from becoming obese...but in doing so are unable to care for those who ARE obese...finding it, in a sense, ok to "beat up" the fat kid, to make them less than all in the name of health, all in the name of the Child so that the Child will see tomorrow, never realizing that tomorrow is always a day away - as Little Orphan Annie maintains.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell: A Queer Perspective

There has been recent criticism and outrage about the lack of support the Obama administration has given to the "gays" and the issues impacting GLBT lives. Since his election, several states have gone all progressive and legalized same-sex marriage - including my home state of Iowa and the Matthew Shepard Act has made immense gains with possible passage in sight. There has also been movement in anti-discrimination rights in employment if my memory serves me correctly. Within this, a few weeks or perhaps months back it was made blatant that the military's DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL (DADT) policy would remain on the books for awhile longer because there are bigger things that the administration needs to worry about.

When I first heard this, I kinda giggled to myself, in part because it would seem to be rather simple to repeal the policy since it seems to lack much support and also because Obama was heralded as the candidate for change and highly liked by the GLBT community (a dangerous generaliation I know). Yet, now a couple of weeks later as I think about this further...I hope bigger things continue to be needed to be worried about in relation to repealing this act. I say this because I think this act provides for an "out" for people who do not seek or want to be in the military. By this I can "come out" to "get out" of the military or to refuse to be an explicit part of the military industrial complex. In doing this, one does not have to "be" just has to come out and then perhaps later go back into the straight closet once out. Now, of couse some might see this as unpatriotic, as using "gay" as an excuse not to do one's duty. However, what is one's duty? Is it to be apart of that "military industrial complex" as numerous social/cultural/political theorists call it? Is it to take orders and spread freedom in the name of freedom under the auspices of something that is really not "freedom"?

I don't know...but I think DADT in being a rather queer piece of legislation that rests on rather strange logic...perhaps even homophobic actually a piece of legislation that allows perhaps just momentarily to get "out" of the complex...a rather straight complex...that seeks in many ways to colonize others in the name of democracy. I wonder then if we embrace DADT in its homophobic logic if we are able to imagine a different purpose for the law...a purpose that is not (entirely) to discriminate against homosexual persons (or more so acts) but to allow those tired of being a part of a military machine - that often rhetorically works to be seen as spreading freedom, of "doing good" but has also historically violated the lives of the Other who is unintelligible to the machine - a way out, a way to subvert the complex.

Is then the drive by GLBT Rights groups to repeal DADT a rather short-sighted drive that is structured by the heteronormativity of the military and government? Does the drive for a repeal seek for "us" (gays) to be like "them" (straights) so that we can show we are as "manly" or "womanly" or "strong" or "proud" to be a patriot? What if one does not seek to be a patriot under such conceptualizations of patriotism? What if one wants a way fighting for DADT a way to do provide a space for those not interested in the military or perhaps disillusioned by the recent wars to move beyond the military industrial complex? Could it be argued that we could fight to make "them" (straights) become like "us" (gays) as we struggle to not fight, to not be a part of the military industrial complex - in part because we are not allowed to? Would such a fight further allow one to see a deconstruction of the "gay/straight" dichotomy since some "gays" want to be a part of the machine and some "straights" vehemently oppose such a machine? Is DADT a queer piece of legislation because it possibly allows "queers" (straight and gay) to put on a despised identity or "acts" to subvert the dominant notions of patriotism? of military service?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sex and the Law

I recently attended an event, a very fine event, that engaged issues of sexuality and gender in education. During the event an attorney specializing in these issues, explored the legal terrain of LGBT rights and their relation to education. For instance, being in Michigan where there is no state anti-discrimination law, it is technically legal to fire someone for the sexual orientation or gender identity. This may not happen often and there are ways in which one can "get around" this lack (i.e. teacher unions can put a clause in the union contract). The information presented then was in many ways useful in thinking about this complex terrain. It was practical and important to be aware of and understand.

Yet, I am not a practical person. I prefer the excessive, the impractical. As I listened to these practical and important issues, I was surprised that often "sex" was either completely ignored or seen as irrelevant. I should note here that I am not talking about "sex" in terms of "biological sex" which in itself is a problematic notion, but about "sex" as in SEX, the act. I asked the lawyer why there was such an aversion to sex in the legal discourse around LGBT rights? Of course the response was, well housing discrimination has nothing to do with sex, having a job has nothing to do with sex, free speech has nothing to do with sex, sex is what happens in the bedroom...we dealt with sex with anti-sodomy laws (i.e. Loving vs. Texas - I believe). Yet, I persisted and disagreed noting that it is "sex" in part that defines sexuality and therefore "homosexuality" and sex can happen beyond the confines of the bedroom. I argued that the reason why judges perhaps operated in part in opposition to LGBT Rights or parents opposed LGBT literature in schools was because of the aversion to sex...that when such issues are engaged the image of "gay sex" enters the imagination and such images frighten, scare, and create an aversion to want to allow such persons to be fully human - the Symbolic is perhaps homophobic. The response again was not satisfying as the attorney noted a case where a girl wore a "gay pride" shirt to school and was asked to take it off because it was promoting "sex"...which was legally defended (successfully) as unconstitutional because it 1) wasn't about sex and 2) was about "pride"...

It was that response that exposed my point. What would the legal consequences of saying, "Yes, she is promoting sex" but even so, she deserves to wear such a shirt, she deserves to be fully human. Why, because sex is sex is sex...people have it, people like it, people don't like it. I want to believe, but I am no legal scholar, that instead of pandering to a de-sexualized society (and the political machine both democratic and republican) where sex is just in the bedroom and "pride" can be removed from the context of sex (perhaps law has forgotten the history of Pride) an engagement with the stigmatized concept of "sex" and embrace of the "homophobic fear" of such sex, different possibilities within the legal realm of discourse and the discourses that operate closely to it (i.e. medical, psychiatric, educational, political) could emerge...What these possibilities would be though is of course unknown, but no more unknown than the current strategies.

For readings that I develop my argument from see:
Leo Bersani (1988) "Is the rectum a grave" in D. Crimp (Ed.). AIDS: Cultual Analysis/Cultural Activism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Didier Eribon (2004) Insult: The Making of the Gay Self. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
David Halperin (2007) What do Gay Men Want: Sex, Risk, and Subjectivity. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.